Simplicity yields great satisfaction in everyday life


I like simple things.

I like to harvest mussels off the beach at low tide and knit scarves. I like to slather homemade bread with butter moments after it has been pulled out of the oven.

And I like to stir my pot of sourdough starter.

My family understands my love of kitchen chemistry, but I’m quite aware my regular attention to the sourdough starter as it proofs is a bit of a mystery to them. They see a creamy yellow, bubbly concoction with a distinctive smell. I see pancakes and bread, muffins and cookies, and heavenly life lessons.

Least you think I am terribly odd, I am not the Lone Ranger when it comes to feeding my sourdough starter and cooking with it. A Google search of the word sourdough produces more than three million sites in 64-hundredths of a second. A whole lot of us have more than a passing interest in sourdough.

From accounts dating back 5,000 years, it seems ancient Egyptians were the first to notice that flour and water left outside ferments, forming a bubbly mixture that can produce bread with a lighter texture and tantalizing taste. Today we understand that air contains airborne yeasts composed of billions of tiny microscopic plants that ferment when they come in contact with flour, water and a small amount of sugar. Each sourdough is unique to its area. Some people prefer sourdough made in the San Francisco Bay area. Others are intrigued by longevity. Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter is still available, free to those who mail in their request.

Our American history books tell us that pioneers understood the great value of sourdough and took extreme care to protect their starters because they were a cheap, dependable and never-ending source of pancakes, biscuits and breads. In her book, “Alaska Sourdough,” expert chef Ruth Allman writes that Alaskan prospectors were unaware of laboratory tests claiming that sourdough contains the greatest amount of protein for its weight and size of any comparable food. They understood that a 50-pound sack of flour and a sourdough pot could help sustain them through a long, cold winter.

Feed your starter and it can live for decades. Share it and it will feed countless people.

You see, there is more to this story than the satisfaction gained from stirring and baking. When I look at my starter, I see goodness resulting from simplicity and commonness. This mirrors a godly truth I want to not only understand but embrace, especially today as we quiver in financial worry. As I watch my son’s college account diminish before my eyes. As I search for work because my employer’s shrinking budget eliminated my position and it remains a goal in our household to provide college educations for our children.

Americans should have known better. We should have resisted the messages splashed across magazines, TV sets and computer screens that have devalued simplicity and thriftiness. We’ve been told that feeling content happens when we have the personal trainer, the facelift, the house cleaning service, the powerful job, the big-screen TV, the vacation home, the latest Dooney and Brooke handbag, the BlackBerry and the big diamond.

We’ve been told it’s good to embrace the American Dream and perfectly OK to borrow beyond our means to get it.

Far too many believe all this, especially when most of us encounter daily experiences that feel small in comparison. We earn modest salaries. We drive used minivans. We cheer from soccer sidelines under umbrellas. We dish food from slow cookers and wonder how we will save enough money to put tires on the car. We worry that purchasing the Homecoming dress might impact the Christmas budget.

Rather than attending movie premiers we are teaching English. We’re opening our homes to Bible studies, answering phones and greeting customers. We’re bathing Alzheimer’s patients and lubing cars. We’re installing kitchen appliances and repairing computers. We’re cleaning teeth, vaccinating pets and selling insurance. We’re blow-drying hair and manipulating post-surgical knees. There is more routine than pure excitement. Outside our immediate circles and families, few know us.

Yet God says we are never to discount the value of our work or our place in the world. We are to do something good for someone and watch for the ways he will use it. We are not to despise our modest lives but each day believe his message — that he loves us and sees us as truly significant players in this human drama. We are to make plans, be patient, work hard and earn our way toward our goals.

Let’s ask God to stir us up and shake the foundations of our beliefs. It is out of our changes in motivation and attitude that God promises to produce the most wondrous of human experiences: deep and profound contentment with the people and activities that fill our lives.

Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and speaker who makes her home on Whidbey Island. Her award-winning column has run for 12 years in Western Washington newspapers. E-mail comments and speaking requests to faithfulliving@hotmail.com.

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