Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Reading from 2015

Nonviolence: A Dangerous History by Mark Kurlansky
The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Third Person Rural by Noel Perrin
White Elephants by Katie Haegale
A Lapsed Anarchist Guide to Being a Better Leader by Ari Weinzweig
Buddha's Book of Sleep by Joseph Emet
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Buddha's Book of Stress Reduction by Joseph Emet
Cod by Mark Kurlansky
The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
Notes from a Small Country by Bill Bryson
How To Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present by Thich Nhat Hanh
The New Bread Basket by Amy Halloran

Work by Thich Nat Han

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Horoscopes: Be A Believer

I can't lie, I'm a believer in horoscopes. I'm a true Cancer through and through. My scope almost always resonates with me.

Yesterday my horoscope read as follows:

"A repressed desire to explore one of your talents may be making you uneasy. You may have put this off for a long time but it is part of your nature and needs to be expressed. You probably have many good reasons for putting it off with so much already on your plate. However, this pursuit is important to defining yourself and to fulfilling your dreams, and you shouldn't put it off any longer. You don't have to take it on in a big way, but you should start taking small steps at least."

After meditating on it for a bit, I realized: art. My art in general and art for Small World. Making it a part of my life, my work flow, and how I express. It's been so much less present in my life for the past few years and I miss it. I need it. It makes me happy to create in that way.

Yesterday (and a bit today), I made some things for the bakery. A label that was needed and some drawings that I intend to use for a business card:

I feel good about this.

Monday, February 2, 2015


Even as a little kid, February always felt like the hardest month of the year to me. The cold has been well settled in since November and we've endured the 31 days apiece that December and January has to offer. In November the winter is just beginning, in December we are filled with holiday spirit, and in January we are ready to relax from the previous year and start fresh with a new one. By the time February rolls around, however, we are well settled in the new year and March is on the horizon with hopes of spring. Even with only 28 days (29 on occasion) the ever-present slow and cold temperatures makes February feel like the longest month of the year. And even with each days awarding us a few more moments of daylight, the darkness of winter still feels heavy.

In the last days of January we were hit with the first hearty snow storm I've seen in Vermont since arriving. Even with so many cold days the lack of snow afforded some relative ease to winter life. Driving was safer and I was always dry from the ankles up. It certainly felt like a kick in the face when four inches appeared in the wee hours of the morning and I drove into the bakery on unplowed roads. Clearly, winter is still here and here to stay for a while yet.

Even in all the snowy beauty and the constant stimulus of new people and places, the old heavy feeling of February bared down on me today. Tired of cold and yearning for spring bike ride and summertime shorts. Even to get down to my lighter coat would be a plus.

I keep reminding myself to be in the present moment and appreciate it for what it is. Each time I check the weather for the day, sunrise is nearly at 7am and sundown has just about stretched to 5pm. Truly glorious progress. We've had more sunny days here than cloudy ones which is an amazing phenomena for a northern state. And honestly, the snow is beautiful and offers you things that no other season can. It allows you to walk across frozen streams that you'd be hard pressed to traverse in warmer temperatures. The way the snow clings to trees branches is magic and grace. And when the sun shines, it's brighter thanks to the reflection of the snow. There is a lot to be grateful for.

This February I'd like to work to turn over anew, as far as Februarys go. Keep the fresh momentum of January resolutions going. Find ways to stay bright in the cold dark winter days. Keep the body healthy and the mind clear. And keep watching the sun reclaim small bits of either side of the day.

Finnish, helmikuu: "month of the pearl"Polish and Ukrainian, luty or лютий: the month of ice or hard frost.Macedoniansechko (сечко): the month of cutting [wood]Czechúnor: the month of submerging [of river ice]
Croatians, veljača
: the meaning is unknown but may come from the word for "greater," a possible reference to the days increasing in length

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fire and Smoke

I had many goals upon coming to Bread & Butter this winter but one stands up above all others. To understand the wood fired oven: what it's made of, how it feels physically to load wood and and bread, light and manage the fire, integrate myself in the schedule, and to experience the bread that it bakes. Of all the things in the bakery this is the most foreign to me. Even if the flours are different, the scale is in pounds, the doughs are wet, and the mixer is a different model I have a basis in what gluten is and how to develop it, how to zero a scale, and how it shape. And yes, I know how ovens work. I understand what the heat does to the bread. But at Small World I just set the temperature, flip the On switch, and put my attention elsewhere. The convention oven (usually) doesn't need much baby sitting.

On my first day, I walked in to find a large pile of pine slab on the bakery floor that Adam had loaded in not too long ago. He pulled the oven doors out and began to explain how to load the wood in while tossing it into place. "Try to keep the largest pieces towards the front and center. The fire reaches the back corners last and if there are big pieces back there they burn slower and it takes longer to get the oven closed down. You can also toss them all the way back until the hit the wall and make sure the stay a few inches behind the second brick. Okay, do you want to load the rest of the wood?" Oh boy, do I! As I moved through the stack, I gave each piece a good look to decide where it should go: keeping the big pieces front and center and keeping the small piece evenly distributed around the sides. Once it was all in, we torn up some flour bags, stuffed them lightly under the front pieces of wood, and struck a match to it. "You can tell the pine really wants to burn" Adam remarked as the wood caught flame with impressive speed.

It wasn't long until much of the front had caught fire and beautiful orange flames ranged in a lively manner. Once they were going pretty good we put a half dozen loose bricks standing wide and upright in front of the oven to help control the air flow and put oven door back in. A special door with a hole and it's own sliding metal door was put in the center spot. This door reminded open for a little while as the fire got going.

Every now and again we'd check it. "See how the flames are lapping the reduction arch? They are moving up the flue, just pushing heat out. So we'll close the door down about half way and damp the flue down about half way to control the fire so it doesn't burn to quickly." Reduction arch, right. Flue, gotcha. Air flow, how's the moving again? Books? Yea, I have some reading to do. I could feel myself getting it slowly and surely, but knew that there were going to be a lot of subtleties to learn before I really got to know how this box of flame and stone worked and how to give it what it needed.

It was only on my third bake that Adam suggested that I man the oven firing solo with the goal of learning it more intimately (and so he could enjoy a temperate weather run and as well as the novelty of having someone who could complete bakery prep smoothly). It was a suggestion I accepted with slight nerves and a request for some steps to follow along the way: a lot of lapping flames and damping things down until closing up completely in 2 hours at the most. Okay, great, got it...I think..

As I spent the next hour or so peaking in at the flames and thinking about what do next (if anything?), I realized that I had not been thrown in the deep end of learning and experience like this in a long time. Maybe not since Luke and Eli left me alone with the bread for the first time 3 years ago. Enough though it was kinda scary I did my best to acknowledge that only lessons would come from this and that it was pretty unlikely that'd I do anything that would hurt the bake for the morning. Although I did wish that Adam has left behind some of that confidence he seemed to have in with because I was starting to feel a little uncertain. After about 2 hours are seeing flames coming under and up the reduction arch and closing the front door and damper gradually, I still wasn't sure if the oven was ready to close up. After talking it out with Behka, one of the other Bread and Butter employees, and juggling around the little I knew about the oven I figured "alright I'll close it and see what happens".

Immediately after closing the door and damper, a strong puff of smoke crept out from around the doors. Adam mentioned this might happen and that once or twice was probably fine. But it puffed again. And then again, sort off continuously this time. As the smell of wood smoke and uncertainty filled the room I decided to slide to the oven open to investigate. Where there was a strong fire a moment ago was darkness and small coals since the fire had just been completely choked of oxygen. Just as I was thinking "Shit, I killed it" a puff of smoke blast out directly in my face and the fire came back to life in a healthy raging manner. Well, maybe it's not ready to close up just yet...

I waited until the fire grew smaller and until I figured Adam wouldn't be too much longer to do any troubleshooting before closing it up and going home. It was very counterintuitive to walk away from a fire and it was definitely an afternoon that challenged my self-confidence and problem solving skills. I left waiting to hear how the oven was doing (turns out a made a small but very amendable mistake and the next day's bake went great) and appreciating the humbling experience of being tossed in the deep end of fire and smoke. I have a lot to learn. But each time we load and light wood in the beginning and eat the bread at the end of the bake I understand a little more and remember why I came.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea

With the Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence just across the street from my home, I've developed a curiosity about the moment over the years. Last month I picked up Mark Kurlansky's Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea in a bookstore hoping to learn more about it. The book gives an thoughtful and thorough history of the world through it's wars and anti-war movements. It highlights how violence works and how non-violence combats it. How non-violence can succeed and fail and how it can be a hard battle but more rewarding battle that those of warfare.
It is a book I'd highly recommend. I wish it were taught it our public school system and replace the skewed perspectives they currently offer.

The Twenty-Five Lessons:

  1. There is no proactive for word nonviolence.
  2. Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.
  3. Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state.
  4. Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.
  5. A rebel can be defanged and co-opted by making him a saint after he is dead.
  6. Somewhere behind every war there are always a few founding lies.
  7. A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting in the wings.
  8. People who go to war start to resemble their enemy.
  9. A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral argument. If the violent side can provoke the nonviolent side into violence, the violent side has won.
  10. The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power.
  11. The longer a war lasts, the less popular it becomes.
  12. The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it cannon conceive of power without force.
  13. It is often not the largest but the best organized and most articulate group that prevails.
  14. All debate momentarily ends with an "enforced silence" once the first shots are fired.
  15. A shooting wat is not necessary to overthrow an established power but is used to consolidate the revolution itself.
  16. Violence does not resolve. It always leads to more violence.
  17. Warfare produces peace activists. A group of veterans is a likely place to find peace activists.
  18. People motivated by fear do not act well.
  19. While it is perfectly feasible to convince a people faced with brutal repression to rise up in a suicidal attack on their oppressor, it is almost impossible to convince them to meet deadly violence with nonviolent resistance.
  20. Wars do not have to be sold to the general public if they can be carried out by an all-volunteer professional military.
  21. Once you start the business of killing, you just get "deeper and deeper" without limits.
  22. Violence always comes with a supposedly rational explanation -- which is only dismissed as irrational if the violence fails.
  23. Violence is a virus that infects and takes over.
  24. The miracle is that despite all of society's promotion of warfare, most soldiers find warfare to be a wrenching departure from their own moral values.
  25. The hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done.

The Cold Mountains

Since arriving to Vermont I've experienced cold like I've near experienced before. Standing outside at the Rochester Public Market in 5 degree weather last year may have earned me some serious cred but below zero is a new level of cold. Its bites and stings faster than you can get your gloves on. It makes your respect the limits and frailty of the body. If one were out for long enough without the proper clothing things could become serious quickly. Initially I felt like an underprepared wimp. Are my sweaters really not warm enough? Why would anyone leave the warm house in this? But around here, folks sure do.

Although it sounds like Western New York has been experiencing similar temperatures to Northwestern Vermont, winter has a different flavor here. In Rochester we often find ourselves hunkering down. Most of us are indoors as much as possible; it's rare to find the adventurer or runner that toughs out the single digits and the piles of snow. Here, however, I'm noticing that more people are venturing into nature regardless of the temperatures. Sometimes the more snow the better. Skiing and snowboarding are regular activities as are hiking and snow shoeing. Even runners and cyclists are still doing their thing. And gear is the name of the game: crampons? microspikes? It's a whole universe of outdoor adventure and sporting that I am just becoming introduced to.

Once my fingers and mind thawed from the frigid cold, I realized "Fuck, I'm in the Green Mountain State. It would be such a waste to not experience it while I'm here." We've also been getting blessed with more sunlight than I've seen during any northern winter to date which makes staying indoors seem unreasonable. So on my day off (that's right, day off) I headed south towards to mountains to Waterbury where Christina would be my guide and hiking buddy up Stowe Pinnacle.

Layered up and with microspikes strapped to our feet, we started making our way up with mountain. It was only 1.65 miles to the top but it was uphill the whole way. With the sun shining on the snow and the trees barren the woods were bright and open. It felt wonderful to breath in fresh mountain air. Lucky for us the trail had been traversed a lot lately and the snow was stamped down to make for easier walking. Either way it would have been very frustrating if not impossible to hike without the microspikes. They are a very cool invention. 


Along the way we'd stop tracks of small winter critter or of snowshoers who had pasted through earlier. We made some brief breath-catching breaks, a stop at a teepee, and some laying in the snow to cool off breaks (for Christina, I had left my waterproof snow pants behind). About halfway up I found myself shedding mittens and hat and breaking sweat. Layer in 1 tee shirt, 2 long shelves, 1 flannel, 1 sweater, and 1 coat (and that was just the top layer*) I came to respect that my layering logic came from standing still under the Public Market shed. Christina brought up the slightly disturbing idea of sweating too much and having it freeze. It was about zero degrees, after all. Note: less clothing next time.
*bottom layer was 1 paid legging, 1 pair leg warmers, 2 pairs socks, and boots

The last .65 miles was a push -- steep, so close yet so far. But the top was breathtakingly rewarding.

As we stood at the top, now exposed completely to the wind and body temperatures cooling rapidly, I understood why these people lived here and why they invested in spiked shoes and cold weather gear and braved the cold mountain passes that lead to summits. The mountains have a way of reminding you of your place in the world. Everything feels sturdy and strong. On the way up the mountain ask things of you and, if you respond with grace and respect, you are sweetly rewarded. Even if it is only for a cold and windy moment you can see the world from a magical perspective. You are just as atop it as you are within it. You didn't conquer the mountain but you became a part it. As your journey back down, you are a little brighter and calmer and lighter for it. 

In the cold and snow we are shown beauty, peace, and magic in a way that no other season can offer.*

*This message brought to you by mircosprikes.