Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Empathy for Our 3-Year-Old

Last summer my son befriended a girl at our local park who was one year older than him.  They played nicely together, so the mother and I exchanged contact information and met a few more times before school started back up.  One day, the mother was trying to leave the park and sweetly asked her daughter to put away her sand toys.  The girl paused and gave her mother a piercing cold look, then went back to playing.  The mom giggled softly and whispered to me, "This is what you can look forward to at 3 years old: the big middle finger."

I've been looking back on that moment a lot lately!  The beginning of parenthood was pure joy for me and passed quickly in a blur.  My son is a blessing, but my husband and I are finding that parenting is becoming more difficult as he gets older.  At 3 years old, he is dealing with a flurry of emotions as he explores his world more, is starting to separate from me a bit, and wants to have more control over his experience.

It's easy to fall back into my old reactive ways when he and I clash and I'm in a hurry or only thinking about MY needs.  Though I may not completely understand why my son is not going with the flow as he used to, I am determined to try and understand.  It's important to stop myself and see clearly how I'm feeling.  When it's anger and frustration, the seeds of rage, I must stop before losing my cool.  When I do go off and start yelling it can be scary for both of us, so I've learned to at least pause and let my emotions diffuse a bit before communicating my needs.

With a daily meditation practice, it is easier to achieve a clear frame of mind quickly.  Then I am able to shift my perspective and connect with my son on a deeper level.  Here's some questions I may ask myself next to reestablish our empathetic bond:

What is he doing right now and what may he be feeling?
How does he feel when I ask him to do something else?
How does it feel to be his size, with his communication skills and physical capabilities?
How does it feel to always have to comply with my wishes?
Does he feel heard?

The book "Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids" by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson has been very helpful in providing me with tools to reconnect with my son during tense moments and finding a middle-ground where both our needs are met.  This book is also my introduction to Non-violent Communication, which I find very intriguing and hope to learn more about.

Empathy is the key to building, then maintaining a close relationship with our children.  By fostering it, I am able to refrain from being too authoritarian, a parental position that I feel is not fair for my son and not aligned with my authentic nature.  Instead, I can remain the loving, respectful, and nurturing mother I always hope to be.  And most of the time, my son looks like this:


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sourdough Bread Making: A Labor of Love

I've always enjoyed baking from scratch.  It is hugely satisfying when I create something grand from just a few basic ingredients.

I thought making sourdough bread would be no different than making a cake.  After all, haven't people been baking with sourdough for thousands of years?  How complex could it be when many mastered the technique before Kitchen Aids?  Well, I can say after several attempts that it's certainly not easy.

I recently tried making sourdough bread with a wild starter for the 4th time.  I am proud to say that it was a success!  The starter is robust and really sour.  It's my new baby; one that I only need to take care of a few times a week!

The starter was cultivated with the bacteria and yeast present in my kitchen, and based on instructions from Mike at Sourdough Home.  I thought the starter was ready after a week since it was bubbly, even though it wasn't doubling in size.  The bread that resulted from the first bake was small and dense, but nice and sour.

Cultures for Health provided more information and answered many questions that I had.  If anyone is  interested in making sourdough bread, I suggest going to this site first and watching their videos.  First timers may actually want to purchase one of the several starters that they sell instead of cultivating it from scratch.  Following the Basic Sourdough Bread instructions from one of the videos, my bread dough did not double during the proofing, but resulted in a bread that was less dense than my previous attempt once baked.

I tried the recipe again a week later.  Since I keep my starter in the refrigerator, I have to feed it 3 times, 12 hours apart, so it takes 1.5 days just to get the starter ready to bake with.  This time, it was as bubbly as ever and doubled within a few hours during the feedings alone.  After adding the flour, salt, and water, the bread dough rose nicely while proofing and baking.  It was light and sour: the consistency and flavor our family desired.

I suspect that it has taken 3 weeks for the starter to mature, which is why my first couple of batches were not impressive.  So please, if you do embark on this journey, DO NOT GIVE UP!  Be patient and persistent!  And with a mature, well cared for starter, you can make sourdough bread for years to come.  (I'm trying not to think about the previous 3 times I tried baking with a week old starter - I threw them out when not satisfied with the loaves.)

My shaping and proofing steps still need to be fine-tuned, and I would like to explore making different shapes of artisan bread.  Linked here is a video from FiveFlourFingers that has been helpful.

One can see, based on my experience, that there are many ways to make sourdough bread and tons of guidance on the web.  It can be very confusing!  I'm getting close to making my ideal recipe though; one that is mine but influenced by countless bakers before me.