A Ride Through France

I’ve spent the past three weeks watching the Tour de France.  I know nothing about cycling except that the sport has been riddled with doping scandals.  This year was no different.  During the final week of the tour police raided the hotel rooms and vehicles of one of the teams searching for drugs. They didn’t find any, but it cast a shadow over the race.

I first tuned in to watch the race because I wanted to see the background shots of the French countryside with its castles, chateaus, villages, churches and Roman ruins.  The race began in Brittany, moved east, and then south to Nimes and Carcassonne.  Nimes was built by the ancient Romans and their arena is still used today for concerts.  Carcassonne also dates to the Roman era although the medieval walled city and fortress are why tourists visit today.

From there the race moved into the Pyrenees Mountains. These mountains are as magnificent as the Rocky Mountains. Not surprisingly, the winners of these group stages grew up in mountainous areas.  One such winner was a young American, Sepp Kuss, from Durango, Colorado. Expect to hear much more of him, by the way.

Expect to hear much more about Tadej Pogacar, the young Slovenian who won the Tour de France with a whopping 5-minute lead over his nearest competitor.  He also snagged three of the four color jerseys: yellow (Tour winner), polk-dot (King of the Mountain), and white (best young rider).  He couldn’t have done any of it without the support of his team.

The Tour de France is simultaneously a group sport and a test of individual stamina.   Riders participate as part of a team and support their lead cyclist.  Pogacar’s teammates helped him stay at the front of the peloton in every stage of the race, away from the wrecks near the back of the pack.  Pogacar’s stamina helped him win two of the four most difficult mountain climbs.

It was fascinating to watch the camaraderie of the riders. Riders in the back of the pack supported each other without regard to team affiliation, sharing food and water and encouraging each other to keep going.  When a spectator caused a massive crash in Stage 3, the riders protested the poor security and narrow roads by staging a slow ride and an hour-long stoppage during the next stage.

The race ended in Paris on Sunday.  It was a fascinating journey through the French countryside.  But what kept me tuning in every day was watching the camaraderie of the riders. We all want to be respected by our peers for our diligence, honesty and hard work.  The Tour de France epitomizes that.  

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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The Other Side of the Couch – No Words

Clouds and Sorrow

As I begin this piece tonight I find myself faced with putting into words what cannot be, can never be, put into words, because words can only carry us so far into experience.  Tonight I am faced with an attempt to put into words the enormity of the events of these last days, weeks, months, even years that have piled on, each one unique unto itself and yet combining into what is now greater, harder, more challenging than all its parts. And yet I am going to try, because the trying perhaps is in itself a healing process.

It began slowly – he said after we were all together that Christmas of 2018, somewhat offhandedly, oh by the way, I am having a CT scan when I get back to Berkeley– maybe have fatty liver.  Not too much alarm there – then in January the startling news of a tumor in the liver, size of a softball.  Surgery to come.  Removal of two-thirds of his liver in March, 2019.  Reports – it is not primary liver cancer, it is bile-duct cancer.  What?  Very rare.  OF course.  Not well understood.

The fight began.  He, a scientist and geneticist, participated fully in his treatment, sought information, found clinical trials.  A trial he entered gave him, remarkably, almost 21 months of additional, high-quality life.  In spite of COVID he thrived, creating family connections and friend connections across the globe, hosting as he always did, connecting others.

November, 2020 – she called, having experience shortness of breath – went to the ER for removal of a liquid surrounding the lungs.  In the process of this, a CT scan revealed an abdominal mass.  When surgically removed and reviewed – ovarian cancer of a rare and slow-growing type (which meant not responsive to chemo).  In January of 2021 she entered a clinical trial.  She did very well.

Suddenly things began to change.  For him, the clinical trial stopped working.  The cancer invaded the biliary tree in the liver, and all attempts to help bile leave the liver were unavailing.  Although another trial showed promise, the fight to get there was lost.  He left us on May 2, 2021, having survived 21 months post-diagnosis of a type of cancer that rarely if ever allows for more than months of life.

And while all this was happening, she was doing well.  A dancer, a lover of nature, she thrived on this beautiful island.  From January 2021 to June 2021 she was upbeat, feeling good, feeling positive, enjoying life in paradise, her name for her home on Maui.

Suddenly things began to change.  A sensation of pressure in her legs – unclear origin.  Suddenly problems with digestion.  Next discomfort in abdomen – visit to ER revealing fluid gathered in the abdomen, which when drained showed signs of advanced cancer.  Further hospitalization showed the cancer suddenly invading all major organs.

She went home to her beloved partner and entered hospice care on June 30.  We arrived – her sisters, her niece, her brother-in-law – on July 3.  She knew us.  She thanked us for coming.

She left us on July 4, 2021.

A brother.  A sister.  Both younger than I – ages 70 and 67.  Both lost to rare cancers that overwhelmed the best efforts and best care each could have.  There is no one to blame.  Everyone loved them and fought hard for them, but the cancers were relentless in their proliferation.  They both died surrounded by those who loved them.

And now, those who loved them are faced with the daily task of getting up each day and living lives from which their daily presence is gone.  Those who loved them have to pick up the pieces of life, to face the bureaucracy of death, the death certificates, the computer passwords, the search for things like safe deposit box keys, the bank accounts.

Those who loved them have to distribute their earthly possessions, decide what to keep, what to give, what to do with the remains of a life.

And yet most of all, those who loved them are faced with walking through each day with the reality of their absence.  Many things are said about death – but for me the truth is that death is absence and loss of the precious connection between human souls.  I carry them with me in my heart, but I want to hear them, and talk with them, and remember with them, and that will never be again.

So today I mourn the loss of my brother Glenn Hammonds and my sister Lindsay Hammonds – two bright stars who blazed through this world too quickly and left it too soon.  I am only at the beginning of the journey of grief. Today I can only feel the loss.  Perhaps happy memories will help, but not yet.

Friends, hold each other close.  Don’t wait to be together.  These COVID months have stopped us in so many ways – but for COVID I would have spent months with each of them instead of having to wait for vaccination to make it safe to go. I am grateful I was able to be with both of them before they died. Don’t wait.  Life is not a given, and we are given now, but nothing else is sure.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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And Now This…

When the pandemic first rolled into our lives, my husband and I were still basking in the glow of a magical week long trip to Hawaii with our grown children to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Two days from now, we will be celebrating our 42nd. The months in between have been for us, as for most people, challenging, difficult and exhausting. As individuals we have faced our fears about the virus, dealt with social isolation and met professional challenges. As a couple we have dealt with adapting to a new way of living and working together, learning to find small pleasures in becoming co-workers who are also married. Tomorrow, things shift again as my husband returns to his office, at least for now, on a part time basis. And once again, we will evolve and shift our new found daily rituals into something else.

Over the years we have weathered a lot of change. We began as teenagers and grew up through college and post college degrees, became parents, lost parents, handled financial struggles, illnesses and a cross-country move. It’s really just the stuff of life. We are more fortunate than many, less so than some. The one constant in my life has been our relationship which, while sometimes difficult, has always served to ground me and make me feel safe and loved in an uncertain world.

This past year and a half, I’ve had a LOT more time to study my husband, to listen to his Zoom calls, to observe how he moves through a day. It’s interesting to see how my spouse conducts himself at work, something I never was able to experience before now. The change in tone of voice, his body language, the way he solves problems, all things I could never know when he was at his office. I’m grateful I have been able to see this side of him as it helps me to understand what he goes through each day and why he sometimes comes home with work on his mind. I also appreciate his ability to shift gears and listen to me when I pop into his office for a quick visit or to share something about my work day.

All in all, this pandemic experience has been good for our marriage. For a bit of time we have been able to blend our lives, share small daily moments and see each other in a new way. We’ve each had to adjust and learn to share our home office, learned to set and respect new boundaries with each other and appreciate our differences. Perhaps most important is that even in a long relationship, there are unexpected challenges life throws at us and we are resilient and strong enough to weather it. He is still my best friend, my favorite person and the love of my life.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org . and follow her on Instagram @barbdab58

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No License Needed

On June 2, 2021, Governor Lee signed a bill into law that allows people to buy guns without a license or safety training (“permitless carry”). The law goes into effect on July 1, 2021. That means in Tennessee and 11 other states (so far) with similar laws…

I need a driver’s license to drive a car.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills you.

I need a license to be a mental health counselor to counsel you to not kill yourself.

But I don’t need a license or a psych evaluation to own the gun that kills you.

I need a license to cut your hair.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that parts your hair with a bullet and kills you.

I need a license to own a bakery to bake your birthday cake.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills you before you celebrate your next birthday.

I need a license to build a house.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills you, destroying your home and family.

I need a license to be a medical doctor who saves lives.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that can rip your body to shreds and kill you.

I need a license to be a schoolteacher.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills school children.

I need a license to own a funeral home that will prepare you for burial.

But I don’t need a license to own the gun that kills you and puts you in a coffin.

How many people die each year in the U.S. from gun violence?  There is no accurate body count because the NRA and its cynical enablers in Congress and in state legislatures passed laws prohibiting government agencies from gathering that information. Congress once threatened to defund the CDC if it didn’t stop tracking statistics on gun violence.  (The CDC had noticed that gun violence spreads much the same as infectious diseases.)  

There is also no agreed definition of “mass shooting” for the same reason. We’ve had either 225 or 232 mass shootings during the 150 days from January 1 – May 31, 2021.  That’s a mass shooting every 0.6 day in 2021. 

Can any of the politicians supporting these “constitutional carry” laws honestly say with a straight face to the police who must assume for their own safety that every encounter is a deadly-force situation, or to the battered women who know their batterers now have even easier access to guns with which to violate orders of protection, or to the parents afraid that their child will die in the next school shooting that looser gun laws make our society safer?  Honestly and sincerely?

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses to create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Joy and Pain

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

These last few weeks have left me a bit empty emotionally and creatively, which is why this post is late. The excitement of being able to think about a future after COVID has given way to anxiety about when to wear a mask, how to travel safely, whether to travel at all, how to begin to re-enter the world. It’s all pretty exhausting and overwhelming. Added to the mix is the excitement and joy that my daughter has finally landed her dream job and will be moving back across the country to Los Angeles. It’s a complicated endeavor that needs to be completed in a scant few weeks and involves a cross country driving trip (my husband will be doing that), finding a place to live and getting her stuff moved. And professionally, let’s just say it’s been complicated. As a newspaper editor and reporter for a Jewish publication, the escalation of violence in Israel and the current ceasefire have meant difficult information to sift through and report while I watch unfolding misery on both sides. And finally, this last weekend saw an ugly and painful display of antisemitism in my city brought on by one woman who used a yellow star as a symbol of being unvaccinated.

To unpack some of this, I’ll first focus on my daughter because her situation is one that brings me joy and relief. Last summer during the height of the pandemic, she lost her job. Since then she has pieced together a living, often working two and three jobs, while applying for and interviewing for something in her field. I watched her bravely persevere and overcome worry while dealing with grief and anger, most of the time with a smile on her face. She is one of the strongest people I know and I am so proud of her resilience and courage.

As for the COVID pandemic, I guess I’m doing what most people are doing and trying to take baby steps to rejoin the living. As an extrovert in normal times, I’m surprised by how exhausted I feel at the effort it takes to make and execute simple plans. I feel overwhelmed at choosing a restaurant, preferring to either cook at home or order in. There are a few local places that have wrapped us in comfort the last year and a half (thanks to the crew at answer.) and it feels so much easier to just do that. But we are venturing out a bit and when we do, I feel almost normal. I’ve said, “hello,” to some clothes I haven’t worn in a long time, praying everything still fits (thankfully, so far, it all does). I have two short trips planned this summer and a big trip in the Fall. I’m anxious about traveling, but also looking forward to the change of scenery.

My professional challenges are more difficult to explore. As a journalist I’ve been trained to look at as many sides of an issue as possible, to be fair in analyzing and presenting the facts and to be balanced in my coverage. Lately though, the rising antisemitism in this country and around the world has shaken me. I am, after all, a Jew in America, raised to love Israel by parents who watched and prayed as the tiny country was born over 70 years ago out of the ashes of the Holocaust. My father-in-law was a survivor of German ghettos, concentration camps and death marches. The last trip he took before his early death at age 52 was to visit Israel, to experience the joy and relief at a Jewish homeland.

I traveled to Israel for the first time as a 15-year-old teen and have visited a few times since, watching the country grow from a developing land into a high tech, modern day marvel. Is it perfect? No. Did growth come at a high price? Most definitely. Does it deserve both criticism and admiration for the choices made in the face of daily existential threat? Absolutely. But since when does criticizing your country render you unpatriotic or worse, guilty of some sort of treason? I was raised to question, to voice my opinion, to push back against injustice, to challenge the status quo, and that includes my views about Israel. But make no mistake, I am a Zionist, I am fully committed to its existence as the only Democratic country in the Middle East. And that democracy demands that I speak up and speak out. I do not pretend to understand what it is like to live with constant threat, rockets and bombs. And there is certainly plenty of misery to go around on both sides.

And now I turn to the antisemitism infecting my own city. The pain I felt when I saw a local shopkeeper peddling the yellow star of David, emblazoned with, “not vaccinated,” to an often uninformed public, was immediate and deep. My stomach turned over as I read with horror the words in the social media comments. My community’s response was fast and direct, spreading to the greater Nashville area and reaching the pages and airways of national news outlets. Most of the woman’s vendors have stopped their supply of merchandise to her store and have made their outrage known. It has been both gratifying and comforting to know there are many people who were also reviled by the post. But the pain lingers like a handprint slapped on my heart. Sadness weighs on me and the creeping fear that history may repeat itself keeps me awake.

I pray my family’s suffering at the hands of those who sought to destroy us was not in vain. Never again.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org . and follow her on Instagram @barbdab58

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The Story of Easter, And the Girl Who Loved Her

I love horses.  No, I mean, I REALLY, REALLY LOVE horses.  So, when I came upon the Canadian television series, Heartland, which actually began in 2007, I was instantly hooked.  I found it on Netflix, and, at this writing, I just finished the 6th of the total 13 seasons.  Tears here.

Based on Lauren Brooke’s +/- 26-novel series begun in 2000 (20 series and 5 extra special editions, according to equipepper.com), the story of Amy Fleming and an assortment of characters, especially family members, is based in Virginia, where she, her family, and friends, heal and help abused, mistreated, or “difficult” horses.  At Heartland, “They attempt to help the abused horses by using psychologically based therapies instead of more traditional training methods.”  Perhaps you’ve seen or read the series, as I’m a bit late in catching on.

I allow myself to watch one or two episodes in a sitting.  Sometime I can’t help getting carried away and watching more because the focus on the horses brings me close to my dear, sweet pony (just barely big enough to be a horse), Easter.

Our meeting and ensuing relationship was quite magical, so much like some of those in the series.  If you’ve never had the extraordinary experience of mutual love with a horse, let me assure you, there is no experience in the world like it.  You see, meeting my Easter came from a situation much like many of the equine characters in the series.  She was quite misunderstood and so was shuffled from rider to rider, getting them off her back in one way or another, until she was just locked away in a stall and ignored.  One day, we met.  We connected.  I asked about her and was told “the story.”  It was about to change.

It was at a summer camp in the mountains of Georgia where I had been a camper for a couple of years and then became a counselor.  We were able to spend the rest of the summer together on trail rides.  Of course, no one could believe I was riding Easter, as her reputation was far from stellar.  But there we were, a team.  Unfortunately, summers come to an end.  I had to leave my beloved pony and return home.  It was off to college and over two years before Easter was back in my life.  One birthday morning, after a pretty wild night of partying with friends, I woke to a commotion outside the mobile home on the little farm my partner and I lived on.  I staggered, literally, to the back door and a startled pony with a wide-eyed, shocked look on her face, which I know mirrored mine, was standing in front of me.  No lie.  Neither of us was believing it, but there we were.  My partner had convinced the unfeeling woman who owned the camp, and refused to sell her to me two years earlier, to sell her, and had her shipped down for my birthday.  Talk about magical.  I won’t talk about the end.  Just know we were together for many, many good years.

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher.  She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations.  She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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Support the Gig Economy

We’re in a time warp on employment law.  The economy has shifted toward a gig economy model, but the Biden administration seems to be stuck in the 1930’s factory model. 

Start with the gig economy.  The shift began in the 1980’s when business schools preached the benefits of “shareholder” value to the exclusion of all other considerations.  The bean counters scrutinized each company’s expenses in slash and burn operations. First to go was in-house training of workers.

Second to go was entire swathes of workers.  The downsized workers were often hired back as independent contractors to do their old jobs.  The “savings” on not paying employee benefits to them created “shareholder” value.  Senior management promptly rewarded themselves with bigger pay packets and stock options while shoveling a few dollars more to their shareholders as dividends.

(Business leaders now moan about their inability to find workers with the appropriate skills but are still unwilling to invest in their workers.  In an article a few years ago in The Wall Street Journal business leaders admitted they would not invest in training their workers because they didn’t want to lose their investment when the employees left. The irony of demanding loyalty from workers while offering nothing in return is apparently lost of these overpaid masters of the universe.)

By the 2000’s, the internet had lowered the cost of starting a business.  The switch to a gig economy accelerated during last year’s covid.  Many workers pushed into unemployment during the past year have decided to bet on themselves by starting their own businesses.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration seems to be stuck in the past. Don’t get me wrong. Biden’s boffos are a distinct relief after Trump’s minions tried to resurrect the 1980’s by dismembering every law that might protect workers.

But the Biden administration’s approach will undermine the gig economy, the most dynamic part of our economy now that most big businesses are monopolies dominating their industries.  Recent Department of Labor guidance makes it more difficult to classify workers as independent contractors.  The rationale is that too many companies deliberately misclassify workers as independent contractors in order to save on payroll taxes and employee benefits.  That is true.

However, that’s no reason to rip the heart out of the gig economy.   Instead of rolling back the economic clock, it’s time to change how employee benefits are offered.  Employee benefits like health care, fair wages and overtime pay were forced on employers in the 1930’s in a clever maneuver to bust the unions; and indirectly to fight communism since most Americans believed that all union organizers were commies.

That was then. Now we need to free up workers to use their skills and interests to the best of their abilities. Instead of looking backward, the Biden administration should imagine how the future of work could look.

It’s time to create individual health accounts, just as there are individual retirement accounts.  Allow gig workers to top up their IRA’s with amounts equivalent to an employer’s 401(k) match.  Give gig workers a tax credit to cover a set number of vacation and sick days each year.

Some people prefer traditional employment. Some people are suited to be gig workers.  The benefit of encouraging a hybrid economic model, part traditional and part gig, will unleash the creative abilities of our country. 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. We also integrate HR compliance into the company-wide compliance program through internal controls and advising on how to mitigate risks with insurance. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com). For my musings on history, visit History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts here on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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The Other Side of the Couch – The Weight of Grief

Grief Image

I am not unfamiliar with grieving, and yet each time Life requires that I encounter it, I am yet again surprised by its strength.  I know from past encounters that the intensity will pass – there will come a time that I am not aware almost every waking moment of the depth of this loss.  But that time has not yet arrived.

My husband and I both lost beloved brothers – barely two weeks apart – to metastatic cancer.  Both men lived wonderful lives – one a world traveller and humanitarian, the other a brilliant scientist and sharer of knowledge and kindness. Their accomplishments were many, but it is their connections to their families and communities that live on in my memory.

Grief is heavy.  Grief is physical.  I am sleeping but wake up exhausted nonetheless.  Moments of unexpected sadness come at random moments – just now, thinking about Glenn, wishing I could tell him about a new find in our family tree, wishing I could ask him a computer question.  Little things.

I am grateful that I was able to spend time with him in person.  My daughter and I went to California – the vaccine finally giving us the opportunity to go – we would have gone long since but the pandemic stopped us.  We were able to be with him – to say we loved each other – to essentially say goodbye.  We hoped it was not the last time – but it turned out that way.

The words of a poem by Steven Spender have meant a lot to me in these last days – in particular the last several lines. 

I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great

“Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields 
See how these names are feted by the waving grass 
And by the streamers of white cloud 
And whispers of wind in the listening sky. 
The names of those who in their lives fought for life 
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center. 
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun, 
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”

My brother touched many lives – and for me, that is the measure of greatness. Love to you, Glenn, and Godspeed. 

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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Sourdough, Gardening, Life

One of my early loaves made for Valentine’s Day

This year we are planning a landscaping project and deck remodel, so I have decided not to plant my spring/summer garden. I really wrestled with what to do because I just love getting out into the dirt, tending to the vegetables and watching them grow. I also love preparing and eating the fresh zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other assorted crops throughout the Summer and into the Fall. I’m still considering a small container garden.

I have decided to continue my Winter project: sourdough baking. During the cold, dark months my son and I began cultivating a couple of starters. If you’ve been following me on Instagram @barbdab58 you’ve seen some of my efforts. It has been a lot of fun watching this little science experiment literally come alive in front of our eyes! Mix water and flour, let it sit on the counter and lo and behold, it bubbles, ferments and develops a pungent, delicious fragrance! Then we combine it with more flour, water and salt and it bakes into a bubbly, poofy, crusty loaf.

Over the last few months, we’ve experimented with different types of flour starters. We have one made from regular all-purpose flour and one from whole wheat flour. Each has its own unique fragrance, taste and personality. In fact, tradition dictates that we might name our starters and so we have introduced Rob and Laura Petrie, named after the main characters on my favorite TV show, The Dick Van Dyke Show. Rob is the lively, bubbly all-purpose starter and Laura is the more exotic, complicated, delicate whole wheat. We’ve also tried a few different flavors in our bread. We’ve used oats and maple syrup, garlic, onions and one that substitutes beer for the water. We’ve had successes and failures. This past weekend, we had a huge success with our original, classic sourdough. Previously we failed with an oatmeal loaf that was too wet, a whole wheat/regular blend that did not rise enough and a garlic loaf that was too garlicky. Early on, we had some failed starters, as well.

In sourdough, as in life, success depends on planning, patience, experience and that extra something intangible. Maybe it’s luck. But I also think it’s the love and attention paid and the focus and will to succeed. Last week I made my oatmeal/maple syrup loaf by myself. My son was busy and unable to participate. The loaf was tasty, with nice crumb and a toasty crust. But it was somewhat lackluster and rather flat. So this week I decided to go back to the basics, together with my son, and make the classic version. We took the starter out of the fridge, fed it, waited for the perfect timing when it was active and bubbly, and then began our process of mixing the dough, letting it rest, stretching and folding before letting it ferment overnight. In the morning, the dough was fluffy and shiny, with little bubbles just beneath the surface, and it smelled fantastic! After shaping and proofing, my son worked his magic scoring the loaf and into the oven it went. The result was a nearly perfect, golden loaf with a slightly charred crust and inside it was moist and tangy. As we reflected on how this loaf was different, better, my son declared that it was because we made it together, with love, as we’d planned, each contributing to the end result in our own way.

Last year’s garden

My sourdough journey has mirrored my gardening process, too. Nurturing something from the beginning stages, developing patience through trial and error and adding in lots and lots of love. This year has presented all of us with unforeseen challenges and the need to pivot and adapt to an ever changing set of circumstances. We’ve had to take the long view as we navigate our way out of this pandemic. There have been failures and successes and as we begin to emerge from our isolation, it is clear life is different, most likely permanently changed. But hopefully what appears is beautiful, the result of hard work, planning, patience and love. A beautiful juicy red tomato, a fragrant crusty sourdough, a meaningful vibrant life.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org . and follow her on Instagram @barbdab58

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SPRING HAS SPRUNG!!!

Indeed, it has!  And, thanks to the weather and the way I have been scheduled at work, I’ve had lots of time to work my “gardens.”  In fact, I’ve been so immersed, yesterday’s scheduled HerSavvy post slid right on by me. 

So…

My hummingbird feeders have been out since early this month and, while I haven’t seen any of my hummers yet, the sweet liquid goes down steadily, so they must be sneaking about when I’m not home.  I do believe I was “buzzed” by one this past weekend. I’m anxious to see my little friends again. 

I just LOVE tomatoes and it is very special to me to be able to share them around with my neighbors.  I have a “pot” garden on my patio for the smaller varieties and several of a full-sized variety planted in front of my condo.  The Super Sweet 100 is a cherry variety that does well in a large pot with a tomato stake to support it.  I’m trying out a new variety as well.  Its name is Chocolate Sprinkles.  Gotta love that!  I bought them as starts, so I’ll pinch their tops once they get a bit taller.  Doing this will help them fill out and not get spindly.  The four starts in the front, Bonnie Originals, are in the ground.  They’re of the large slicing type, so, while they are staked too, I like to let them “crawl’ once they’re really going.  At this point, everyone is doing great and looking fabulous.  I planted in a mixture of top soil and compost with manure.  Been quite a while since I’ve had the time and been able, physically, to dig in the dirt.  I’m excited.

I’m about to expand this year with a small bed off the patio for some Bush variety Blue Lake beans and Early Golden Acre cabbage.  We’ll see how THAT goes…

The front garden has some herbs and flower bulbs amidst the shrubs that were there when I moved in.  There are some very vibrant Comfrey plants I transplanted when I moved here, some yarrow, and some flower bulbs I got from my dear friend and fellow gardener, Kate Stephenson.  I can’t remember what they are (I got them from her early last fall and I’ve slept a bunch since then.) and I expect they won’t bloom until next year, but they’re doing great.

This is all probably a lot more than you want to know, but maybe you found a couple of nuggets in my ramblings.  Maybe you’re already a gardener, certainly more of one than I am, or maybe this is some inspiration for you.  Either way, dig it!

*Edit today:

Chocolate Sprinkles are early bloomers… REALLY early!!! 🙂

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher.  She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations.  She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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