Baking Bread, Creating Home

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I walk into our Cambridge apartment and immediately feel a sense of panic. I know this feeling too well. It’s the feeling I get when I come home and it doesn’t feel like home.

We caught an early morning flight from Orlando, getting up at four in the morning to make it to the airport on time. We were with other travelers, all heading somewhere, all bleary-eyed and with mussed hair, even those who look classy at five in the morning needed some work. We were all in our own worlds, our own zones, willing the security line to move faster, periodically checking for our boarding passes and to make sure everyone of our traveling companions was present.

We made a short stop in Philadelphia, changed planes and then on to Boston where we caught a cab. The cab driver was Egyptian, thrilled that we spoke some Arabic. In the short ride from airport to apartment we learned a lot about him. All of us come with a story and his begins in Alexandria by the Mediterranean Sea.

I was in the house only five minutes when I began to make bread, desperate to belong, aching to make this not feel like I’m in a strange, alien land where I will never truly belong. This is ridiculous. I’ve lived here seven years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere. Why do I feel this way? 

I set 2 Tablespoons of yeast aside in a small bowl with a teaspoon of sugar and a bit of warm water so it will proof before I put it in with the other ingredients. My mother taught me this long ago in Pakistan. I have no idea if American yeast needs this. Sometimes I suspect it doesn’t, suspect that I can just put it straight into the bread, but I’m loathe to stop this ritual.

I begin to gather ingredients into my large, glass bowl.

A cup of oatmeal.

Half a cup of whole wheat flour.

Half a cup of brown sugar

I light a candle and within minutes it’s pungent, sweet smell fills the room. I am busy now, not thinking, determined to create belonging, create home through my actions if not through my geographic location.

One tablespoon salt.

Two tablespoons butter.

Two cups of boiling water poured over the ingredients. 

I busy myself while I wait until it cools down so I can add the yeast. My heart is slowly calming, my anxiety decreasing. I can do this. I can create home.

I steep strong Irish Breakfast tea in a china tea pot, hearing my mom’s voice “Tea makes everything better.” 

We’ve just come from warmth. We’ve just come from family. We’ve just come from a gathering with most of my kids, and all but one of my husband’s family. We’ve just come from a place where a sister-in-law pulls me aside and whispers “I worry about you and Cliff, going all over the world like you do.” Where I hug her and thank her for worrying, reassure her that we’re fine, that I fear waking up to a cold world so much more than I fear what we occasionally get to do overseas. A gathering where hugs and good conversation abounded, and we witnessed the best of family.

“Home is where there are people who have stories about you.*” a friend who knows this world between writes on my blog recently. She tells me her son, a third culture kid, announced this during Christmas break. Today the stories feel curiously absent.

Five cups of white flour.

Mix and knead until smooth, five to ten minutes. 

I mix and knead, pounding my heart into the bread. It’s smooth and beautiful and I set it to rise on a warm stove, covered in a left over Christmas napkin, slightly damp though I’m not sure why I dampen it.

The bread will be ready to punch down in forty-five minutes, ready for the oven in another forty-five.

This redemptive task, making bread, is grounding me. Somehow I know as long as I can bake bread, I can make order out of chaos, belonging out of insecurity and disconnection. I can create home. 

*From Joshua Racey, son of my friend Ruth, a third culture kid who then raised her own kids in Egypt and Jordan.

Picture Credit: with word art by Marilyn R. Gardner.

8 thoughts on “Baking Bread, Creating Home

  1. Baking bread, steeping tea, following a brief interlude where you could speak a foreign language with a stranger. Sounds like home. And I’ve been told yeast nowadays doesn’t need sugar to activate it. But why take the risk? Isn’t make it the exact same way you always did part of the joy? Thanks for the post!


  2. Marilyn, after that packed-full-fun-weekend and your early morning get-up-and-go fly back-home trip, and then the energy to bake bread that makes home feel like home leaves me speechless! I would have been so worn out. Guess I’m lazy. I’d have to check myself into my bed for a few hours before I’d really feel at home. The thought of a slice of your homemade bread fresh from the oven to go with my homemade marmalade is making me restless, and hungry. Polly, put the kettle on!


    1. Bettie, having so recently experienced your gift of hospitality, I am amazed at how much you are still doing. We were truly blessed in our time with you and Hu, and your wonderful adult kids. I hope you gave yourself a good rest after we left. If I were there, I would be glad to put the kettle on!


  3. I’ve concluded that there are some things that tie our hearts and minds to our bodies and allow us, somehow, to live a little closer to the part of the earth we are currently in. But I echo Robynn’s words. I don’t want to be rooted, and yet, here I am, trying to hold back my inevitable roots. It’s time I do something that will tie my mind and heart to this place where my body is. Something that has existed for longer than I have. Something like making bread.


  4. Aha, you’ve forgotten – you dampen the cloth over the rising bread because your Mama told you to do it that way! And take heart there in cold New England, the days are getting longer, spring will come, bare trees will burst out into bloom. And for you and for Robynn, remember that the restless feeling of home not feeling like home is put there in our hearts by God. He never intended us to feel completely at home in this world, but He is even now preparing that home for us. Be blessed today as you bless someone else.


    1. Dear Marilyn’s Mom, Your reply warmed my heart and encouragement this morning. It was a blessed reminder of the good of not belonging, because “He never intended us to feel completely at home in this world”. ~ Lou Ann


  5. I’ve been battling restlessness and rootlessness this week. Actually, that’s not quite true….I want rootlessness and I feel restless! I want to up and leave. Go somewhere. I want to pack for a trip. I want my packing lists to get lost amongst my travel documents. I want to print off my boarding pass. I want to travel. But…alas, I’m forced to have roots. I’m forced to settle here. Now. And this week it makes me feel very sad and I wonder if my life has meaning. Perhaps I should make bread. Perhaps I should set the yeast and begin the ritual of measuring out my emotions along with the ingredients into the bowl.
    Thank you for admitting that still, seven years in, you still feel these things. I think you maybe understand me. And there’s some morbid comfort in knowing we are not alone in this stuff. I love you Marilyn. xo


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