Profile: Some much needed humour and respite in the kitchen with writer and baker extraordinaire Belinda Burston
By Belinda Burston
I returned from a trip to northern Ontario in mid-September and plunged into work with my small home-based pie business. Thanksgiving was a short five weeks away, and it felt as though I had stepped from the platform onto a runaway train. As the train gathered momentum, by the week before Thanksgiving, I worked much longer daily than was sensible, but I had no sense of control over the situation. Once it was over, I had another ten weeks to work hard before Christmas, making a flyer and order form, spreadsheets, shopping for ingredients, then trying to bake a vast quantity of Christmas cakes in time for them to mature. Seized by an illogical drive to have enough to fill demand, I had no sense of setting any limit myself.
Like a maniac, I baked. A dear friend brought me a funny Advent calendar in the form of one of my favourite coconut licorice allsorts for each day in a plastic Nordica cottage cheese container. It came like a little Advent kit, with a battery-operated tealight candle to turn on as I meditated on Advent. I was so busy that I sometimes had to count the yellow and pink allsorts to find out how many I’d missed and eat several at once. As for quiet reflection with my tealight candle flickering—well, that didn’t happen.
Everything built to a crescendo as Christmas week began. Christmas was on a Friday, and although I usually cherish Sunday as a day of rest, I knew that I had to work hard as soon as our online church service was over. It was early Monday morning by the time I went to bed. Usually, I fall asleep quickly, especially when exhausted. This time as soon as I lay down, I felt wide awake and aware of my heart pounding as a terrifying sense of impending doom rolled over me. I felt as though I’d jumped off the train platform this time, and the train was rumbling towards me. I had to pray and deliberately relax before eventually being able to sleep for a few hours. Over the next days before Christmas Eve, I baked an intimidating amount of remaining items and prepared orders for pick up in a breathless state. By Christmas Eve, not for the first time, I said to myself, “I can’t do this anymore.”
My Nearest and Dearest had been a silent witness to my self-inflicted servitude. He even helped, making up pie boxes or picking up items I needed. But when I confessed that I needed to make a change, his great relief showed, and I marvelled at his patience with my folly.
Strengths and weaknesses run parallel in my beloved venture; My passion for baking with loving attention to quality, my love of people and connection; a desire to please; a reluctance to admit my limits; a heart for giving; a failure to take charge!
Once the immediate crisis is over and the stress fades, the optimistic belief that somehow I can do better next time to manage takes over. I realize now that the solution is to act, rather than be acted on, to use a hackneyed phrase. Drastic change, not tweaking, is called for. I hope to keep the parts that I love—that bring me so much joy, but I have some essential things to learn in starting a new year. One of them is widening my field of vision to see the bigger picture—the impact on my spiritual life, key relationships, other callings, and the overall quality of my life. My strength of walking through doors that God opens can be an excuse to avoid discernment, wisdom and hard decisions.
I see the problem more clearly than ever before, and I don’t want to repeat the experience of the past four months. It’s time for some growing up and growing wiser. I don’t quite want to escape from Pie Island, but I want to enjoy the beach.