Starters, Quitters, and Finishers

I hope you've missed me or at least noticed I've been out of touch. There's been a lot going on. I've been working on the launch of a new business, editing a book  I'm hoping to  -- I will -- publish shortly, working with visiting chefs and speaking at Boston University. Oh, and there was the bombing of course.

Every Finish is a Start

Right at the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon, two homemade bombs exploded robbing some of their lives, others of their loved ones, and preventing many athletes from getting their chance to finish this race - a race that is one of the most celebrated of moments in sports. From our communal response it is clear that rather than an end of innocence, although it did get a little dented, this was a start of something bigger. This reminded all of us that Boston is a tough town and a compassionate one, for the most part. All around us resilience is in evidence. Even as I edit this piece Fenway Park is filling with chefs and guests cooking and eating all to benefit the One Fund.

We often use the term "Boom!" to signify something fantastic in social media; as in "Finished a post, invoiced one client and landed another before Noon. Boom!"  It used to signify something really good. When I begin to say the word now, there’s a catch in my throat. “Boom!” as a positive exclamation is going to have to wait. At least until we stop jumping from a loud bang when a delivery truck drops its ramp. We are all a little stricken around here, still.

We have, most of us, begun to live our "normal" lives again. Then something happens. We see a new news story, arrest of suspects' Dartmouth friends, someone leaves the hospital vowing to run again. We visit the memorial and see a plush toy bearing the message "Love Wins" and we cry.

Love Wins

We hear helicopters or sirens and we cringe.

So we are grateful for all of your concern, your well-wishes and hugs. The tears from friends in Newtown CT, the virtual hugs from friends in NYC, we appreciate them all.

Re-Start [ed]

As I've put one foot in front of the other, trying to move forward and past (do we really move past?) silly things happen, like when I dropped my iPhone on my foot. My fourth toe, left foot offered just enough cushion to save my fancy phone. Hobbling down Boylston Street the other day I almost stopped short when I realized I was complaining about this bruised toe nearly on the same spot where people lost lives and limbs. Windows are still being repaired and replaced. The lives and limbs are not so easily repaired, but people are valiantly carrying on. I give myself a private smack upside my head, and vow to stop complaining about the toe.

My balance of writing versus everything-else has skewed heavily toward everything-else. I've been paying more attention to friends, spending more time with loved ones. And just a now and then, I've been getting the itch to write. Writing and editing old stories comes easier. Writing something new, here, has been anything but. Everything that is in my normal scope seems trite.

Starter

Cooking has been something of a healing process. Through feeding friends and family I begin to break through the fog of the surreal and find relief from the sadness to reconnect with what is real and worth celebrating.

Do you crave carbs when you’re blue? I do. In this state of in-between, I reached into the back of the fridge for my sourdough starter. I tried to remember the last time I fed it. I nearly cried out loud when I lifted the lid and discovered where a nice bubbly starter had once lived, there now lay a deep crevassed hockey puck of sorts.

Almost Dead

Quitters

When I was a kid my folks were big on finishing things. "We are not raising a Quitter." This was the answer when I asked to quit ballet, when I asked to quit Japanese language lessons. "We are not raising a Quitter." While I was, in fact, allowed to quit things that were making me unhappy, I was sternly advised that these were special exceptions and that quitting was one of the worst things one could do in life.

Quitting is a cardinal sin. Quitting was just behind wasting food. I think murder was like fifth or sixth.

Seriously, our family’s seven deadly sins went something like this:

  1. Lying.
  2. Wasting food.
  3. Failing to refill the ice cube trays for Dad’s Scotch.
  4. Quitting.
  5. Being undisciplined.
  6. Getting less than straight A’s on a report card.
  7. Murder.

...

When I got better at reasoning with them, in smart ways, it became harder for them to argue. This can be a handy skill when you have get around one of these rules.

When I asked to quit Girl Scouts for example I began with simple protests, "We're not learning real camping skills. They take us to campsites where the tents are on platforms and have cots. There's a cook! And a kitchen!"

"We are not raising a Quitter."

I countered that I wanted to learn real scouting skills "like the BOY scouts are learning: how to read a map, pitch a tent, build a fire, etc."

Then I added the thing that I found the most ridiculous and insulting:

"Mom, I'm pretty sure if I'm lost in the woods somewhere, knowing how to make a macramé purse out of a margarine tub is not going to save me!"

Sarcasm wins in my family -- especially if coupled with truth. Even if you're eleven.

In the end I think these may represent the sum total of things I was allowed to quit: ballet (I stunk at it); Japanese (hated being different); scouts (silly waste of time). These may also have been the sum total of extracurricular activities I tried. Mostly, I kept my head down, got good grades and was relieved to find my younger sister excelled at everything she tried (ballet - she took to it like a fish to water; swimming - won ribbons her first race). This seemed to take the pressure off me finding something else to be good at.

Quitting when you don't want to

I used to run. Short races, not marathons. I started with 5Ks then moved on the 10Ks and while I was never good, I got tremendous satisfaction from getting better, each run, each race. I set goals like dropping my time, increasing my distances. I achieved them. My peak was a ten miler. I had hoped to one day run a half marathon. But I had to quit running. My knees simply cannot take it. I have saved the bibs from my races and somehow I just cannot part with them.

race bibs

I have one signed by Joan Benoit Samuelson! On several, I wrote my splits on the back. I really miss it. They didn't raise a Quitter.

Back to the Start(er)

You may imagine then, that when I saw this poor, neglected sourdough starter,  dried and shriveled in its crock, I was distraught. I was ashamed. But I was not going to give up on it. This was both food (see Seven Deadly Sins above, #2) and an opportunity to demonstrate my tenacity and resourcefulness; to show I am not a Quitter.

I now have a bubbly frothy revived starter. Soon I will bake some sourdough bread. I will share it with friends. I will remember those that are still suffering from the bombing and will make a promise to myself not to quit.

And maybe I’ll set a repeating alert in my fancy phone to feed that starter. After all, I wouldn't want it to think I’d quit on it.

 

Sourdough starter recovery

My first loaf from the resuscitated starter is in progress now. Stay tuned. And never, ever quit.

Ed note: Here's the Boston Strong Starter giving back.