Starting Over

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

Have you ever baked cookies or a pie and realized that after all your preparations and work — that the delectably sweet thing you created burned to a crisp in an overly hot oven? Cookies are susceptible to overbaking, so I suspect that most of you have eaten an extra crispy cookie or they came out of your own oven, making you ready to pitch them in the trash.

Then you start over. Sooner or later, you find yourself back in the kitchen, ready to start again and pay attention in a different way.

I love cookies and I never met a pie I did not like. But I do not bake – I throw clay. Recently, over the Christmas break, my kiln load of four months’ work overfired. By a lot. So my beautiful large serving bowl — my favorite of the whole group – looked like a cake whose icing had melted and the flowers and swirls of color dripped down like rain on sidewalk chalk art, into an unredeemable mess. Other pieces that were supposed to be a bright and cheerful aqua celadon were dull greyish green. I was devastated and felt like I wasted a precious week in the studio, a time for renewal of spirit, mind and body. Like I said, it took me four months to create enough work to fill the kiln and most of it was a disappointment. To say I was grumpy is to put it mildly. I was baffled and obsessed and found myself talking about it way too much.

The problem was I did not know why the kiln fired so extremely hot since there was no evidence of anything wrong until after it had cooled. It takes about ten hours for the kiln to get to the desired 2228 degrees and then another 12 hours to cool, so we are not talking about an afternoon. It took me a while to figure out that I needed to get a kiln technician to examine my equipment and help me find a way out of this enormous funk.

Enter Chris Powell, a former production potter, teacher and genius kiln fixer. He saw the problem right away and with a few adjustments to the digital readout on the control box, all was well. This avoided my worst nightmare — that I would need to replace essential parts to the kiln.

After an hour of stimulating conversation about the technical aspect of our common craft, Chris left and I had a new leaser on my potter’s life, as well as a plan to make some corrections in my studio practice.  A new start, another chapter was about to begin.

Starting over can happen any time under any circumstances: baking cookies, making pots, in our spiritual life, in our relationships. Starting over is the beautiful thing about being a human being. Mistakes do not have to define us, they help us become more of who we are meant to be. Starting over is a gift we give ourselves, and a gift we can give each other. Starting over says that what I made is not really all that bad, it’s not the end of the world. Just do it again, better the next time and don’t torture yourself over small things. Encourage each other.

Starting over gives everyone another chance to get it right, whether it be in cookies, clay or people. So the next time you bite into an overly crispy cookie, tell the baker, “It’s delicious.”

Posted in News, Weekly Word

21 responses to “Starting Over

  1. Hello Anne! My “starting over” story began with YOU last February when I contacted you about the retreat house in Elkins Park and Sr Mary Eileen Fallon. I was lucky enough to get in touch with her thanks to you and I wrote to her several times but in April, my sister passed tragically from domestic abuse and so for the past 10 months I have been dealing with family issues and though I kept writing to “SME” I was unable to see her. I was planning to visit with her this weekend and had sent her a valentine’s card telling her I would be there soon but just a few days ago received a very sad call from her friend Mary. I was told that SME had in fact passed away on January 16th. I was devastated…the cookies were burnt…the pottery was shattered and I was forced to accept the reality and the finality that this time the “gift you give yourself” when starting over was not to least for me. I do not have to tell you how awesome SME was…and I do have so many wonderful memories of us all working and singing at the retreat house…that will have to suffice and I know I am blessed to have enjoyed her friendship even if it takes me back 50 years!!! so I am sure you are wondering why am I posting here…well..I was searching for the condolences page and somehow…there you were talking about starting over and second chances and I thought..” the Lord has led me to this page and at least I know that you understand my sorrow in losing such a special friend…I guess my second chance will have to wait a bit longer! God be with you Anne and take it from me…it doesn’t pay to put off renewal…of any kind…not at our age!!! Thank you for your special reflection and for your help guiding me to SME…may she rest in peace!!!!

  2. My ‘starting overs’ have been in being missioned to 5 different countries. Each time the request came, my reaction was, “this must be a mistake!”. Yet each ‘mistake’ that moved me out of my comfort zone held new and unexpected gifts beyond my limited imaginings. Thank you for the reminder to see the accidents as possibilities/opportunities to reflect, discover and grow beyond.

  3. Anne, Next fiasco for me. . .”Judith, its nothing but a “burnt cookie”! Thank you once again.

  4. I LOVE this. Relating to life “mistakes”…could I have been kinder, gentler..did I walk in faith? The “burnt cookies” or ruined pottery tells me that God says “There is a better way. Let Me readjust…trust…and start anew”…

  5. Anne,
    God bless you and your cookies!!!! MISTAKES !!!
    That’s my middle name!
    Loved your article; send me your delicious cookies- yummy!
    Guess who from good ole N.O.????? Retired in OH!
    Geaux Saints!!!

    Love and Prayers,

  6. Some people like crispy cookies, but as usual I found your writing gave me a good reminder not to “catastrophize” occurrences that are less than that. I am happy to hear that your situation was resolved without great expense, etc. I understand how frustrating it is to have an investment of time and materials not turn into the expected finished product. I love how you write, thank you for this entry

  7. Thanks, Anne!
    Very good reflection and advice. I love to bake and had just discovered that I needed to start over with a recipe that didn’t come out right! (according to my expectations!)

  8. Anne,
    I totally and I mean totally loved your Blog. You hit on so many batches of cookie dough, pie crust pie fillings met the garbage disposal and not the awaiting palates of those whose saliva was in over kill just waiting for one of Maureen’s work of arts. I just picked myself and started all over again.
    I know my pasteries come out 9 tenths of the time it’s the one tenth that always got me into trouble the one tenth being my “pride” I had to tell myself “pride cometh before the fall” And again I’d say “Maureen, pick yourself up and start all over again.”
    Again Anne, thank you for your words that led me to mine. Peace, Maureen

  9. Are you sure your over baked pots are not beautiful to someone? If you haven’t thrown them out, I’d love to have one to remind me when I have to start over, it’s another chance for grace. Thanks for encouraging us to start over when it seems like we’re stuck and seem to be getting no where. That takes courage.

  10. Thanks, Anne, I needed this reflection today. I get to start over with something with a peace I did not have before.

  11. Anne, I love this reflection! As one who has baked cookies and pies, I’ve been there. I do empathize with your kiln’s “theft” of so much of your precision handiwork. Thanks for the reminder that we can always start over… something our Gracious, Loving God always allows!


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