Saturday, January 18, 2014

An Egregious Violation of Convenience

The only thing crazier than these hats is who's wearing them.
Wanna hear something crazy? After decades of baking my own homemade bread, I did the unthinkable. I got myself a breadmaker. It's a nice one that, if you're using rapid-rising yeast, will crank out a fragrant, perfectly browned, two pound loaf of bread in just two hours and eight minutes. Nothing crazy about that, right? I mean, what could possibly be more logical than employing this efficient little machine that's designed for the sole purpose of making my life easier? I'll tell you what's crazy about it. Me. Yeah, me. 


In case you were wondering, this here's a table top
After two years of neglect, I wrestled said machine out from the lonely corner it occupied under the stainless steel worktable, the top of which my husband had labeled, along with every other appliance in our kitchen. He'd gotten hold of a label-maker at work and just went to town.  I'm guessing it was his sincere desire that there'd be no confusion about whether or not that shiny thing you step on when you want to throw something away was indeed a trash can. Thanks to his efforts, I now know that the concave rectangle with the attached faucet is actually a kitchen sink.

Anyway, this was right after Thanksgiving. I had a ton of leftover mashed sweet potatoes that I needed to use, and since I hate throwing perfectly good food away, I made the obvious choice: soup. But, I still had about a cup or so of the sweet potatoes to repurpose. They were seasoned with salt and pepper, so I couldn't use them to make pancakes. Wait a minute...pancakes are a kind of bread...how about some bread? I googled "breadmaker," "potato," and "whole wheat," and found a simple recipe that, based on my extensive (if amateur) baking experience, would produce excellent results. It took less than 10 minutes to assemble all the ingredients. We were two hours and eight minutes away from crusty butter-slathered bread and piping hot soup. Man, I was on a roll.

"No Mommy, I didn't take the screwdriver." :-D
What happened next amounts to an egregious violation of convenience. After programming the breadmaker, closing the lid, and pressing "on," which under normal circumstances signals "Step away from the machine," I stood there, frozen. Watching. Monitoring. Calculating. And, most dangerous of all, thinking. It was just like when I was 7 and got my Suzy Homemaker electric oven for Christmas, the one I tried to pry open with a screwdriver whilst baking an impossibly tiny cake. I wanted to be a part of what was going on in there. I wanted control. Fortunately, for me and my parents, I managed to avoid electrocution. 

OK, back to the remote present. Once those beater blades started rotating, I grabbed a spatula, flipped open the lid, and began assisting the dough in its transfigurational journey. I guess part of me just didn't trust that the specified proportions were correct or that the flour would be adequately hydrated since I store it in the freezer or that those goddamn tiny flippers could knead four and two-thirds cups of flour into a workable dough without my help.

The irresistibly doughy inner sanctum...hurry, close the lid!
So, I poked and prodded and scraped. I became concerned that the dough was too dry, so I started adding water, which turned it into a gloppy goo, which then prompted me to add more flour. This went on for a good twenty minutes. Given all these additions, I fretted that the dough still wasn't properly kneaded, so I reset the machine to repeat the mixing cycle. I might have been hallucinating, but I sensed the machine was heaving with every well-intended intervention, struggling under the weight of my oppression. In retrospect, there's no doubt about it...that ungrateful, good-for-nothing breadmaker was resisting me! And, it had the audacity to do so at the inception of my homemade soup and bread kick.

This next paragraph is going to seem oddly out of place. Please bear with me. I've been dealing with a family situation; my 17 year old nephew's been acting out at home and school, getting into trouble with Johnny Law, and his father (my youngest brother) is exasperated and exhausted. I understand how both of them are feeling right now. Been there, done that. Both adolescence and (segments of) my parenting experience have resembled Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Why did I have to be such a non-conformist? Why couldn't I just follow the rules? Be respectful of authority like everyone else? Was it karma that my sons didn't follow the rules, either? Was flying under the radar too much to ask?

Gleefully molesting the forbidden med cart while the charge nurse was away
It finally occurred to me that flying under the radar had never been presented to them as a possibility, although it had become a way of life for me. You might say it was silently acknowledged, but never actively discussed. What exactly do I mean by flying under the radar? It means living life on your own terms, without seeking society's approval or drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Keeping it on the down low. Doing what you want to do without harming yourself or anyone else. It's more about following your heart and being true to yourself than it is about not getting caught. To a conformist, this is the equivalent of dishonesty and subversion. It's unthinkable. So many what ifs. But, to someone who's not driven by pleasing authority, it's the closest you can get to realizing your freedom within the constructs of a society that was forged by the desire for individuality, but no longer values it. You do what you gotta do. 

Me and my boys, keeping our noses clean...
So, with all the focus on my nephew's situation over the past few days, I've relived some of my own excruciating moments in parenthood. There are no easy answers. What I do know is this. Our children are autonomous individuals. They are not extensions of us, nor are they receptacles for our projected fears and expectations. We cannot presume to know what's best for them. We cannot assume that what's right for us is also going to be right for them. The best we can do is share our own experiences honestly and support them as they're navigating through those of their own, without taking their chosen path personally. That's perhaps the toughest (but most rewarding) lesson I've learned as a parent.



Instead of eating out last night, Spartacus and I decided to stay in. The refrigerator was empty and the cupboards were bare, except for a one liter box of organic carrot-cashew-ginger soup. And a can of sweet potato puree. Hmm. Reaching back into the dark recess beneath the stainless steel tabletop, I pried the breadmaker from its niche. I swear I could feel it shuddering. She's baaaaack....nooooooo! Don't worry, I thought, reassuringly. Tonight's gonna be a good good night. 

Love at first bite.
And good it was. Different. Because I've made this bread soooo many times in the last few weeks, I measured out the ingredients from memory: sprouted whole wheat flour, sea salt, instant yeast, coconut oil, filtered water, raw honey, organic sweet potato puree, and vital wheat gluten. Once I got it all dumped inside the bread mixer, I closed the lid, and let it do its thing. OK, I have to be honest, I peeked inside once at the beginning of the knead cycle to scrape the clumped up flour from the edges. Other than those minor infractions, I successfully resisted the urge to micromanage my breadmaker. In return, I was rewarded with time to sit down and write this blog post as well as a delicious, hands-free loaf of bread. It was a true Lao-tzu moment. There's a quote of his that I've always liked, something to the effect of "leave people alone and they will do the right thing." Maybe that's what convenience is really all about. Let it be. Trust in the way things are as Nature takes its course. Trust yourself and you'll never be dependent upon authority.

Labeling Spartacus
So, to recap. My asshole breadmaker ended up being a metaphor for simplicity, individuality, discretion, and trust. I'm pretty sure the damn thing was flying under the radar the entire time I thought I was providing expert guidance. When left to its own devices, that machine managed to exceed my expectations. Imagine that. My sons demonstrated the same propensity years before, once I quit meddling in their affairs. Supervising a breadmaking machine seems pretty benign, doesn't it? But, the same unwillingness to leave well enough alone is what fuels the moral busybodying that continues to divide the human race. Just like all of my kitchen appliances, we end up being labeled. I don't know about you, but the only label I've willingly worn is a Chiquita Banana sticker. It peeled right off. In my experience, defiance only becomes problematic in the absence of accountability. Keep your nose clean, and people will stay out of your hair.




23 comments:

  1. Kris, Some are born free, some are born irreverent and some are born rebels -the rest, I'm afraid, are just cookie-cutter crap. The breadmaker is a compelling symbolism. I am sure I am going to respect my twins' individuality more after reading this.

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    1. Respecting twindividuality can be a challenge at times! Mine never wanted to dress alike, so we got over that hurdle pretty early in the game. But, learning to view them as people with distinctly individual needs has been very helpful in understanding my sometimes complicated relationships with my own siblings.

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  2. Fabulous post, Kris. Love the way you always manage to combine humor with deep insight in your writing. Using the breadmaker as a metaphor for life itself. What you say here beautifully expands on two of my favorite sayings, "The secret of making better is letting alone," by Lao-tzu and "Live unknown," by Epicurus. By the time I was 20, I'd had enough of banging my head against the implacable wall of authority and decided to live my life humbly and happily in the shadows. There is an inward rebellion which is much more effective and satisfying than the outward one. That's where true freedom lies.

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    1. Thanks, Marty. My sense of humor is what's gotten me through some especially rough patches in my lifetime; it's what keeps me from taking myself too seriously. Love those quotes, especially the Epicurus one. You and I have a lot in common. I completely agree about that inner rebellion is where true freedom lies.

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  3. Keep your nose out of the bread maker's business Helena, let it do it's thing in peace ha ha ha ha. But I see the point you're making and I love the quote you used 'leave people alone and they will do the right thing'. Sometimes (and as hard as it is) we just have to let folk do what they have to do, and allow them to experience the consequences, just like we did in our young days.

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    1. I completely agree, RPD. There's another saying I like, "Leave well enough alone." Applies to technology as well as life!

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  4. Love the old snaps Kris - a picture of innocent nosecleanliness. Although, can't see you keeping your nose clean ALL of the time.
    Cheers, ic

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    1. I had to dig through a trunk to find that picture of me in the dress...need to get my sister to send me copies of the rest of our family photos, as I like using my own photos in my blog. As for nosecleanliness, I still run into a few boogers from time to time :-D

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  5. Love this post. I think it captures your essence so well. Smart, crazy, curious and centered with such a unique perspective on the world.

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    1. Thanks, Janene. I had such fun writing this one; it just seemed to flow. I appreciate you having shared the link on FB, too :-)

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  6. you "unthinkable deed" was a right move! we all need more free time. freedom is never enough! i recently discovered an authentic sichuan (a province in china where i came from) restaurant and it literally saved my life!

    i love the "flying under radar" analogy. individualism is the true humanism, though mistaken by many people (especially the cultures like chinese) as "selfish". i my self has been accused "selfish" simply because i have my own life to live.

    love your interpretation of parenting. spot on! i think all parents can give to children is unconditional love. there are lots of other things that parents cannot control.

    "defiance only becomes problematic in the absence of accountability". very thoughtful.

    Great post! i will certainly read it again.


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    1. Conveniences, like my breadmaker and your Sichuan restaurant, definitely help make life a little easier and free up precious time. I've run into the same accusations about how individualism and living life on my own terms is selfish, but I no longer pay them no nevermind. In one ear and out the other. Parenting has taught me more about myself than any other challenge I've had in life. It's a source of great pleasure for me. Glad you liked the post, Yun!

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  7. This made me giggle cause I could just see the whole scenario unfolding. Very fun post. :)

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    1. Hee hee, Dani, I did my share of giggling as I wrote this. Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for commenting!

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  8. Kris, a great post, fun and introspective. I could just picture you wrestling with that breadmaker for control LOL! Such a cute picture of you at age 7 but I could see the wheels turning behind those big blue eyes, just waiting for the chance to pry open that Suzy Homemaker oven! Nice transition from making bread to making one’s way in life as an individual. Love your free spirit and non-conformist nature! That’s the way to truly enjoy life.

    Your sweet potato bread looks so delicious. Leaving the breadmaker alone to do its own thing giving you the time to write your blog post was a “true Lao-tzu moment” and I like that quote too. Totally agree about how moral busybodies label and divide the human race. Well said. (Got some of those moral busybody classmates on my Facebook page LOL!)

    Love all the photos. The one with the two of you in baker’s hats is priceless. Btw, your paragraph on Spartucus’ labeling had me in stitches! Good thing he labeled “table top” or one might have mistaken it for a stove LOL!.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Madilyn. Yes, indeed, the wheels were turning long before age 7...I stuck scissors in my eye at age 2, LOL. The sweet potato bread is truly to die for. Such a versatile recipe. Need to try it with regular potatoes as well. We've all got those moral busybodies in our lives, I suppose. I try my best to ignore them, but that is sometimes easier said than done. I need to do a photo album of all of Spartacus's labels...it was so funny the night I first discovered them. I was like, WTF?! Hee hee.

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  9. Helena this was an AWESOME post! I liked how the post took a shift in a different direction. I think that's fairly natural because that's life. My blog titled "No Title" is themed to not being labeled; I feel one can never be put into a box because everyday something in our life changes; even our passions change and we might have different views on how we see something....your post is a prime example of that. Love this post! =)

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    1. Dean, I know what you mean about how our passions and views are subject to change. I think that's a good thing to know about ourselves, that we don't have to be so rigid in our opinions or take ourselves so seriously. Thanks for commenting!

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  10. Great post. Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing to do.

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  11. I have run into similar issues with my computer as it does an update and I feel it is stuck, or some other issue. Probably because of that little gauge that runs full speed till 88% in under a minute, then takes ten or so minutes to reach 89%.

    Thankfully after destroying only a couple of computers, I learned to just leave the thing alone, and go watch TV for a while as it worked.

    Enjoyed the post.

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    1. Oh yes, I know exactly what you're talking about. You're sitting there, watching it like a hawk, so it naturally seems like something's wrong when it slows down like that. You're right about leaving well enough alone...works like a charm.

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  12. Wow Kris, I don't even know where to start here. As I have never used a breadmaker I cannot begin to wonder what goes thru someone who is impatients' mind. However, I learned that when I "smoke" that it is best to just not do anything for best results.

    As far as family goes, well, that is another story. We cannot make someone be responsible for their own actions. The harder we try the more we will fail. Sometimes it is best to let things work themselves out. Eventhough we may not like the overall results we will need to accept them for who or what they are. As parents we feel our job is to guide, when in reality it is to be there as they grow into whom they will become. We aren't always going to be happy with the actions of lack of actions from others, but we need to know that it is happening for a reason. What's the reason? It comes clear later and then we realize that no matter what we attempt that the results will remain the same. Sometimes we have family members who suck the life out of everyone, its just the way it is sadly.

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