Marda Stoliar has improved the world in war torn countries and countries with repressive regimes as well as wealthy and poverty-stricken U.S. neighborhoods. She didn’t do it through politics or activism; she did it through baking. Sheila has had a life and career that has spanned across geographies, years, and roles. She’s worked in health and medical research. She was a community organizer, has worked in public broadcasting, started a nonprofit and has raised money for documentary films.
A few years ago, as Marda started telling Sheila about her students and their special reasons for learning to bake, Sheila was lit up by Marda’s work and the impact it had on the world. Today, they join the show to talk about discovering a passion, persisting through hardship, and how pursuing your vocation – your passion work – can enhance your impact on the world.
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01:03 – Jonathan introduces today’s guests, Marda Stoliar & Sheila Rittenberg, who join the show to discuss early financial lessons they learned and what it means to truly pursue your passion work
08:00 – Marda’s gift, explained
10:19 – Sheila reflects on her career and what inspired her to make the documentary Marda’s Gift
18:05 – The Bread Doctor
25:23 – How Marda inspires her students through positivity, resources, and education
32:44 – One extra step we can take to truly understand our path and one thing to avoid
35:46 – A hidden gem walking among us
37:33 – One thing about Sheila that she would like others to know about her and the last thing she changed her mind about
39:22 – How listeners can learn more about the documentary Marda’s Gift
40:39 – Why Marda provides one-on-one classes
43:29 – The Forty-Six Percent Chocolate Rule
45:59 – Marda opens up about a difficult time in her career
51:22 – Finding your passion work and why Marda continues her work
59:26 – Marda describes her ‘perfect day’
1:00:51 – Jonathan thanks Marda for joining the show today to share her story
“Success for me was not about being rich. Success for me was finding a vocation, finding work, finding a purpose to matter in the world – to make a difference.” (06:07) (Sheila)
“I became a community organizer in those days because I was so riled up about the political action I was involved in. So it was a natural fit and the opportunity was there. It just felt right.” (13:36) (Sheila)
“There is only one life. What is most important? How can you impact others by taking risks yourself? So, we’re all models in whatever we do – in the way we walk our dog, in the way we discipline our children, in the way we speak to a clerk in a store – we are all modeling all the time.” (22:32) (Sheila)
“One person’s actions can have a ripple effect that we don’t necessarily think about when we think about changing jobs, or volunteering somewhere, or learning a new skill or trade so that we can help high school kids learn how to build. I don’t know, I’m making this up. But every step is inspirational. And so I hope that comes across in the film. That is a key lesson.” (24:11) (Sheila)
“I actually believe that, as a country, we don’t invest enough in our education system. Education and knowledge are the first stepping stones. They can and do change the world.” (30:53) (Sheila)
“It’s so important that you address one person’s interests and their needs and give them what they need, not what you want to teach a group of people.” (40:50) (Marda)
“I learned how to bake bread in Venice. I learned how to bake pastries in Paris as I was going to work as a shoe designer. I would work all day as a shoe designer and then I’d go work in a bakery all night. I don’t know why. I just did. I never planned on opening a bakery. In my life things just happen, but they’re all creative.” (49:41) (Marda)
“If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it. I just wouldn’t do it. Waking up to something you don’t want to do? That would be so sad.” (57:32) (Marda)
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Jonathan DeYoe: Hello. Welcome back. On this episode of the Mindful Money podcast, I’m chatting with Marda Stoliar and Sheila Rittenberg. Marda has improved the world in war torn countries and countries with repressive regimes, as well as wealthy and poverty stricken U. S. Neighborhoods. She didn’t do it through politics or activism. She did it through baking. Sheila, uh, has had a life and career that has spanned across geographies, years, and roles. She’s worked in health and medical research. She was a community organizer. She worked in public broadcasting, started a nonprofit, and has raised money for documentary films. A few years ago, as Marda Stalliard was telling Sheila about her students and their special reasons for learning to bake, Sheila was lit up by Marta’s work and the impact it had on the world. Today, we want to talk about discovering a passion persisting through hardship and how pursuing your vocation, your passion work, can enhance your impact on the world. So, Marda and Sheila, welcome to the Mindful Money podcast.
Marda Stoliar: Thank you.
Sheila Rittenberg: Thanks so much, Jonathan.
Jonathan DeYoe: So I’m excited to have this conversation. I know we had a nice preliminary talk, and I think I’ve been able to pull some things out of that I think are going to be juicy for our audience. So, first, where do you call home, and where are you connecting from today?
Sheila Rittenberg: Right. Well, I am in Bend, Oregon, which is in central Oregon and usually is much drier than how people might think about Oregon and Portland, where there’s a lot of rain, but I have to admit that today it’s quite rainy. But yesterday I was skiing, so life is good.
Jonathan DeYoe: Life is good. Skiing and rain. We need that, right? Where did you grow up?
Sheila Rittenberg: I grew up in Montreal, Canada, in eastern Canada. Montreal is in the province of Quebec, quite a cosmopolitan city. I actually never really believed I would be happy in a small town or would live in a small town, but I’m delighted to be here in central Oregon. Bend grew from a mill town in the before that in the late seventy s the population was perhaps around 15,000 and today we are almost at 100,000. That growth, as usual, has brought a lot of pros and cons. With it has come a lot of nice services and access to good food and shopping and so on. Cons. Some residents feel the growth has been a little too much too fast.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I think that story plays out across the country.
Sheila Rittenberg: Exactly.
Jonathan DeYoe: When you were growing up, like in your first two decades of life, what kind of lessons did you learn about money, entrepreneurship and just sort of general success?
Sheila Rittenberg: Wow. First two decades of life. Yeah, okay.
Jonathan DeYoe: While ago.
Sheila Rittenberg: Yeah, exactly. Well, it’s interesting, I’m 71, so I grew up in the late fifty s and sixty s and sort of came of age in the early seventy s and in the fifty s. Certainly in Montreal it was very much an unleashed society. Post war people were looking to enjoy themselves, to dine out at supper clubs and dance and be entertained and be entertaining, and my family went along with that. So there was not a lot of attention paid to saving and squirreling away long reserves, although my parents had peers who were doing that. But, uh, my particular family was, I suppose, into having more of a good time and enjoying life’s offerings. So I have to be honest and say I didn’t have many lessons in my first two decades around money and financial planning. And certainly when I went out on my own in my early twenty s, I started to think about those things quite seriously.
Jonathan DeYoe: So you thought I was asking about the good lessons, but I was asking about the lessons good and bad. So let me say, it sounds like one of the lessons you learned about success was that you should have a good time now, you should live now. Right? Is that a lesson learned?
Sheila Rittenberg: Yes, uh, it was a lesson learned.
Jonathan DeYoe: Thank you. Sure. I talked to so many people and I learned some good lessons. I also learned some really bad lessons as a kid and some of them stick out. And so I want to get a level set before we begin into some of the stuff that you’ve done. Can you point to an experience like, this is something I saw my parents do, or, uh, this is an experience I had with a peer that’s sort of become an integral part of your money story? Not just money, but success story.
Sheila Rittenberg: My goodness, Jonathan, tough questions do easy here. Well, I think I define success, uh, perhaps a little differently than some others. So success for me was not about being rich. Success for me was finding a vocation, finding work, finding a purpose, to matter in the world, to make a difference. And I would say that’s another lesson and a good lesson from my family and from the first two decades, I was brought up with those values that we are here, we live, we want to have a good time, we also need to contribute and care and sow the seeds for change. And as I mentioned, I came of age in the early seventy? S, and that was certainly a tumultuous time of change. We had a cultural revolution going on. We had a political uprising both in Canada and in the US. We had a war in. And you uh, know, I was deeply into that and I was happy and I was not rich.
Jonathan DeYoe: I think most of the folks that listen to this podcast will agree that it’s not about the money, but we all have the lessons, and some of those lessons got in our way. Some of them are beneficial, so we want to cover those up front. Just before we dig into Marta’s gift, did I miss anything, or is there anything about your background that you wanted to highlight before you found Marty’s gift?
Sheila Rittenberg: Well, I have not been afraid to make personal changes, so I have taken certain leaps of faith in jobs changing fields, believing that I could taking the chance. And as we get into our discussion about the film, I think you’ll see some of those principles reflected there.
Jonathan DeYoe: I’ve pulled out a few very specific questions along those lines, so I look forward to that. So, as a starting spot, what is Marta’s gift? Not a description of the film, but what is her gift?
Sheila Rittenberg: Wow. Well, that could take about an hour to answer, but I’ll try to be concise. Marda Stolier is a creative virtuoso. She in her early career, was a shoe designer, and she grew to be a baker and then a, uh, european baking teacher. Her gift is that creativity that is boundless. She loves a creative challenge. When she has described her early career to me, a question I’ve asked her is, well, why did you do that? It was about photography or it was about shoes before she was even into shoes. And she would say, well, I had to. It was creative and wonderful and I had to try it. So she is not afraid of these challenges, and her gift is instilling that in her students. She does not stop at 80% or 60%. She makes sure her students are at 100%. And if they come to her because they want to start a bakery, for example, which many do, she will draw the architectural blueprints of that bakery. She will run them through a series, like an interrogation of equipment and what they’re prepared to purchase or acquire or what they’re not, because she wants them to succeed. And so I guess her gift is faith and belief in people, in humanity, that they can do enough to be the success they want to be.
Jonathan DeYoe: Beautiful. That’s what I kind of took out of it as well, along with some other things. But before we go to those, it doesn’t sound to me like you were aimless or lost or anything like that. It sounds to me like you just tried a bunch of stuff, and then you sort of bumped into Marda and started thinking about Marta’s gift. But running into Marta’s story, it sort of turned on a light for you, and I want to see if we can unpack. What did it feel like to have that light turned on? Like I was doing all this stuff and then this.
Sheila Rittenberg: Right, well, I have to fill in a little there. There’s a few gray edges. I had a very fulfilling career, and I was lit up and engaged and very happy in my career. I felt I was making the kind of contribution that mattered. I was also planning to retire in 2019, and I was frightened that I wouldn’t have a purpose any longer. I was frightened that I would kind of. I don’t know, I guess I have to go back to the idea of not mattering, and that’s difficult for me. It’s just a very difficult concept for me to accept for myself. So I’ve known Marda for now about 18 years, and the concept of a story about her had been simmering for a long time. I never had the bandwidth to do anything about it. And so the forces joined as I was preparing to retire. Well, now I’m going to have a lot of time, and this is a story that needs to be told. So that was kind of the first phase. Then once I got into it, was kind of a whole world lighting up. I got back to a lot of old contacts in my public broadcasting days or from my public broadcasting days. I spoke to a lot of people who I thought might want to support the film financially and otherwise. And I put together a team, a director, producer, and later on a social media. You know, it felt like there was this community coming together around the message, around the idea of the film and who Marda is and was. So I felt supported. I felt lit up because there was engagement. I became very busy, too busy. But it was almost like one of my jobs, and the way one of my jobs would feed me is sort of how getting into the film and the film production, what it did for me as well.
Jonathan DeYoe: So I can’t speak for individuals, but my general sense from just like reading the newspaper, reading the headlines, is there’s a lot of m malaise about work right now. And it sounds like you’ve been lucky in that you’ve been lit up by a number of things throughout your career. And I’m wondering, were you taught as a kid to recognize those things that lit you up and say, oh, that’s the right path? And then how did you recognize those things?
Sheila Rittenberg: I don’t know, Jonathan. I stumbled along early on. I was not taught that. And when I was 18 and 19 in university, I did not have a plan. Absolutely not. But I became a community organizer in those days because I was so riled up about the political action I was involved in. And so it was a natural and the opportunity was there. And I don’t quite know how to answer that. It just felt right. And from the community organizing position, I worked for a consulting firm and we did social planning. So we planned municipalities, we planned their recreation services, educational services, health services and tourism, and how that whole system should kind of operate essibly. And that felt right. We were helping people, we were helping these systems and these entities improve and we were trying to streamline them. And I guess as I matured, I always, I suppose, intellectualized things. And I loved studying, I loved being at school. So I guess intellectually it began to really fit together. I was an activist, and I liked that feeling. I liked what I was doing, I liked the impact, and it kind of went from there. And each job and position that followed, I don’t think I would have taken anything that didn’t offer that type of experience.
Jonathan DeYoe: It’s almost intuitive. I mean, you’re following an intuitive sense of what feels right when you’re looking at these opportunities. And I’m wondering if there was, because I know people struggle to find that. I know that either it’s difficult to trust our intuition, like we know the thing, or it’s scared of the thing, or we don’t know the thing. And so what is it that enabled you to say, uh, that’s the thing and I’m going to do the thing?
Sheila Rittenberg: Well, now I’ll make a distinction. In the later part of my work years, I did know the thing. It was different than intuitive. It was also intuitive, but it was just a different thing because I was older, wiser, more experienced, but when I was younger, absolutely not. It was like 1ft in front of the other. And, yeah, this feels right, and I feel good about myself. I think that was always part of it. If I had been a. I don’t know quite what to say, but like a teller in a bank, it’s great to be a teller in a bank. Lots of people are tellers. I would have been miserable, and it’s just not for me. Right. Uh, what is that thing? Maybe it’s a little bit like finding your partner in life. Maybe you just know. I don’t know. How did I know that thing?
Jonathan DeYoe: May not be possible to answer.
Sheila Rittenberg: It may not. I’ve always been more intense and passionate than some other people. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes that’s a bad thing. So in my early years, I guess that passion and intensity backed me up in responding to opportunities in a certain way, or responding to certain opportunities. They just rang true. Now, I’ll give you another example. So my first two positions I’ve described to you, uh, I was a community organizer. That was all about change. And then I was a consultant in this social planning. My third position was with a large corporation in Canada, and I was their first equal employment opportunity officer. So this was about equalizing opportunities for women. Mainly. It wasn’t so much about race, at least with my position. It was more about the women’s movement and equalizing those opportunities. And I hated it. So it was about change, right? We were talking about women and making sure they had equal access, but it was the most, um, bureaucratic, paper driven, rule driven environment that I had ever been in. And I was miserable, so I lasted, I don’t know, maybe two years, maybe a little more. So I, uh, don’t know. You knew to pivot? I did.
Jonathan DeYoe: You knew to pivot, right. You knew to change.
Sheila Rittenberg: Yes.
Jonathan DeYoe: So one of Marta’s students, the bread doctor, he did a serious lane change in his own life as well. Can you tell us that story?
Sheila Rittenberg: Yes, it’s a wonderful story. Esdon Sluker is the name of this man who is a subject in our film. He lives in a very small town called Torrington, Wyoming, and he’s an emergency room doctor and has know his whole professional career. He also loved baking. And about nine, eight, nine years ago, maybe a little less, he and his wife began to worry about their daughter Eleanor, who has down syndrome. And Eleanor was about to graduate from high school. So now what? And the flukigers are not the sort of people to sort of sit by and see what happens. So Esdin and Lisa took the moment to really analyze and understand what they could do here. And they decided to open a family bakery. Eston needed some kind of break from the intensity of his work. He was burned out as an ER doc, and they knew that Eleanor loved math and loved interacting with community members who, of course, would come in and out of the shop, and they felt this would work. And so Esdon got online and looked up baking schools and found Marda And about six years later, now or seven years later, there is this wonderful bakery called the bread doctor, and the whole family works there, including Eleanor. And Esdin cut down his time at the hospital to two days a week, and the rest of the time, the bakery is not open seven days a week. I think it’s open four days a week. So the rest of the time, he’s at the bakery and he works crazy hours. He’s up at putting that dough together, and this is their life now.
Jonathan DeYoe: I remember, I don’t know, I must have been nine or ten, but there was a commercial on tv that was like, time to make the, I think it’s a Dunkin donuts commercial. Time to make the donuts, right? And it was the guy getting up, dark of the night, no one else was around, and had to make the donuts. So that’s now his life. There are some lessons that we learn in that, I think, and I don’t know if they were intentional lessons, but one of the things is sometimes we go down the wrong path, and it’s not so much the wrong path, but it’s a path that leads to burnout, and it’s difficult. And I think there’s another one where it’s okay to pivot, like it’s okay to make a change. And the beautiful one from that story to me is they were given a beautiful child, a loving child, who was going to have some challenges. And so they decided they were going to make a change to sort of create a community to support with, uh, a business. I’m just really impressed by that. So what other lessons do you think were being taught by both Marda in what she’s doing and in the story of the bread doctor in the movie?
Sheila Rittenberg: Well, Eston and his family did more than pivot to the bakery. They also moved to Torrington, Wyoming, to begin with because of Eleanor, and they felt that Eleanor, growing up in a small town, would be more supportive for her. I honestly can’t remember where they were living before, but it was bigger than Torrington, so it goes know, even pre bakery now. I’m sorry, would you repeat where you wanted to come in on that question. The lessons?
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. What are the lessons that you think the story teaches? Because I think the movie itself or the film itself is actually teaching us lessons about things as we go. And I noticed this one was bulk. I’m just wondering, what are the lessons you want us to learn from the story?
Sheila Rittenberg: Well, I think you and I have already touched on a couple of them. Belief in yourself that you can change, make change, you can change lanes in life. There’s many of us who are not in a privileged position to even consider that. And of course, I realize that. And there’s another sector of people who are, and in that sector, I meet people all the time who are really unhappy, and it just doesn’t make sense to me. Uh, we hear this all the time, but there is only one life. What is most important, how can you impact others by taking risks yourself. So we’re all models in whatever we do, in the way we walk our dog, in the way we discipline our children, in the way we speak to a clerk in a store. We are all modeling all the time. And so one of us may take a leap and say, like Esdon did and know, I love medicine. I’m burned out. I’m going to take a chance. This is important for my daughter. It’s also important for me. And what a, uh, lesson it’s been for all of Torrington. I mean, the community has revitalized to some extent, or is on that path because there’s so much increased tourism coming, visitors coming to Torrington. There’s been an economic impact from one person’s decision, and that person was enabled by Marda It could have been another teacher, I’m sure, but from this one woman, late in life in Little Bend, Oregon, she has had a touch all along the way leading to the revitalization of Torrington. The happy life of a young woman with down syndrome, the creativity of a doctor burned out, and the general love in that family. She’s part of that family. Well, I think that is a core message of the film, that one person’s actions can have a ripple effect that we don’t necessarily think about when we think about changing jobs or volunteering somewhere or learning a new skill, a new trade, so that we can help high school kids learn how to build. I don’t know. I’m making this up, but every step is inspirational. That’s the word I want. And so I hope that comes across in the film. That is a key message, a key lesson.
Jonathan DeYoe: And I think that, uh, one of the interesting things is the story of the bread doctor is one of 400 stories, and I’m sure that the 400 students, some of them wanted to learn how to bake so they could make something nice for their family, and others wanted to go all the way and build a bakery and have business that way. But the idea, uh, that you just laid out that we have this economic impact. We started a business, and people are coming to the town. It’s revitalizing the town. All that stuff is true. And then there’s the simpler story of the person who just learned how to bake something nice and then took that home to their family, and their family enjoyed it, and that put smiles on their face. So it brought joy to that family. Right. So what is it that Marda does that supports the belief that I can do this? How does she teach in a way that people can go, yeah, I can run this bakery, or in a way that I didn’t do this before, but now I’m confident I can go home and I can bake this thing for my family. How does she imbue students with belief in themselves?
Sheila Rittenberg: Right. I think two main ways. One aspect of it is, one time I baked some banana bread and served it to Marda and I was disappointed in it, and I gave all the disclaimers, well, it’s this and it’s that. Uh, but here it is anyway. And she took a bite, and she said, what’s good about it? What’s right about it? So she always starts from the positive, and she builds little step by step on that, from that, and, uh, she’ll tell me that not all students have it. Some people just don’t have it, but many others, uh, they need that positivity, and they need to recognize what it is, what little ledge they can rest on. They can step up to rest on that ledge of new learning and then go up to the next ledge. So, one answer is positivity and really driving that home with every student. The other aspect of it, I believe, is she equips them sufficiently. She equips them with knowledge, with tools. I mean, literally tools that you use. One would use baking, and she fills the gaps. So it’s not only about formulas with Marda when a student comes, they might say, I want to learn the apple cake that my grandmother made, and I want to sell that online. I want to freeze it, and I want to sell it online. Well, okay, but where will it be made? What kind of equipment do you have? Do you purchase that equipment? If so, how do you know what to buy? What will you set up for people? How will people interact with you, et cetera. So she’s a businesswoman, and she is going to make sure that business, whatever that business may be, is equipped to succeed. She has had, I can’t tell you how many trips to students home cities. I can remember one in particular where a young woman came with her mother. They wanted to start a bakery. This was a bonding experience for them because the dad had just died, um, unexpectedly, and the daughter and the mom wanted this big thing to do together. Great. So they came to Marda and the first thing she does is sit them down and run through this sort of interrogation. And it was clear that they had not thought through the end picture. So it was a concept, but that’s all it was. And she turned to them and said, you don’t need to be here. I need to be where you are to case out what you have, what you don’t have, what kind of facility, where the equipment will go, et cetera. And they did take the actual baking lessons later on, but she helped them, um, conceptualize and define what that whole undertaking would look like. So she stops at nothing. She’s had people come to her, and they do want to bake just because they miss their grandmother. But the large majority of them consists of people who want to shift lanes, who have this dream, who think they might be able. You know, they wind up with the.
Jonathan DeYoe: Right person, I guess, and not taking anything away from Marda and what she’s done. I think it’s fantastic. It’s beautiful. I’m wondering if we can sort of find the things that she did. And I think you just identified two things. I just want to highlight those two things. The first thing is the positivity. And the second thing is some version of resources, like, how do you develop the belief in yourself, whether your thing is baking or rock climbing or whatever thing is, uh, well, positivity. You’ll believe in yourself, the positive belief, and then make sure you have the resources. And I think those are two nuggets that anybody listening to the podcast, whether they want to be a baker or not, can take away and go, okay, positivity, resources. Is that a fair summary? Is there something else that we’re missing?
Sheila Rittenberg: Yes, absolutely. I would add in there, and I guess it’s implicit in the resources part, but I would add education, knowledge, whether.
Jonathan DeYoe: The rock climb the most important resource.
Sheila Rittenberg: Yeah. And so you asked me earlier what lit me up in this whole thing. I’ve always treasured education and study, and I see the difference it makes in kids. I have kids. I have grown kids now, and I understand what happened to them as they went through their education. And I support certain educational institutions because I believe so much in it. And I actually believe that as a country, we don’t invest enough in our education system. And so education and knowledge really is the first stepping stone, and it can and does change the know. Another small example, and I’m just saying this, whether it’s relevant or not, just because I have to, but occasionally I go and have my nails done. And as most of us who do that, there are people from Vietnam usually doing the nails. And I have seen this young woman over and over who helps me with my nails. She speaks hardly any English. And I just had this vision of her at 60, she must be 20 now. And I had this vision of her at 60, still sitting and doing nails. And so I said to her, do you go to school? And we wound up in a conversation, and as much as we could, and I asked her if she would like some help with her English. So we’re still talking about that. I, uh, think she’s afraid, and I hope ultimately she’ll say yes, but without that tool, without that knowledge and education, she’s going to just sit there, and that could be okay with her. I mean, I guess I’m casting a judgment on that, but I do wish the best for her and for young people, and I think education can open up a huge amount for them.
Jonathan DeYoe: So actually speak to her for a second. So maybe she’s on the path that she loves. Maybe she’s not on the path that she loves. Maybe there would be another path that would be more interesting to her. Maybe. Can you simplify for the listeners? Uh, and for me, what is like one action step that we could take to discover or confirm that, yeah, this is the right path we’re on. And then as a follow up, what’s something that maybe we’ve been told or maybe you just know doesn’t work, that you can say, don’t do that, because that blinds us to the path that we’re on. Maybe in her instance, what would help her get on the right path? And not without the judgment that maybe she’s not. Maybe she is. Maybe she just needs a confirmation that this is her path. But then what would keep her from being blind to the right path?
Sheila Rittenberg: Well, I think she’s closing her eyes. She said to me initially, I don’t have time. Well, we all have time. It depends what we think of as time. And investing a half an hour a day can make a huge difference. So uh, I think opening eyes to possibilities. I think people sometimes are their own worst enemies. I think they come up with a whole list of reasons why not to do something. What is driving that? Is it fear? Is it insecurity? Maybe that’s the same as fear. I don’t know. Is it lack of confidence? That’s kind of in the same ballpark. Is it being on the wrong path and not having the energy to get on the right one? Because you have three kids at home and you’re a single parent, there’s all kinds of situations that can play in here. But I think if we open our eyes to this kind of Alice in Wonderland, anything is possible. Maybe we take a tiny little something of that and maybe we learn how to knit. And when we knit, we give those scarves away to kids who don’t have them. That’s huge. And we can do that at 10:00 at night.
Jonathan DeYoe: It strikes me, we asked this question in a different way a little earlier, and one of Marta’s gifts is that positivity. So when there are people who are unable to see the possibilities, one of the things that we can do for them is to offer that positivity and. No, no. Just try. Just take one step, and you take one step, you’d be one step closer. And I think that’s sort of full circle in that a little bit.
Sheila Rittenberg: Yes. Thank you for articulating that. And I think what goes along with that is turning things on their head a bit. We get so accustomed to thinking about certain things the same way. Well, I can’t play hockey. I don’t have time. Well, let’s break that apart a little bit. Maybe there’s a different way of playing hockey, or maybe you played hockey, and now you can know there’s different ways of looking at it and turning it around. And I think we put a lot of blockades, uh, in front of ourselves.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, for sure. In the movie, there’s a moment where somebody speaks of Marda as. And I’m not going to get the phrase quite right, but it’s a hidden gem walking among us. I’m wondering where the sense of hidden gem ness comes from. I mean, is it the positivity, or is it something more than that?
Sheila Rittenberg: Well, I think part of it comes from the culture in Bend, Oregon, and that I know the moment you’re speaking of, and that little event took place in Bend. We have a lot of people who are doing unusual things under the radar. People like the ones I’m thinking of, um, have come here years ago because they’re out of the limelight now. Marda likes the limelight, but it’s sort know you walk around here and you think it’s a ski town, and there’s a lot more going on when you kind of get underneath a little bit. Marda also looks like many of us. So I think the hidden gem is that you might overlook or you might not intuit or notice just how special she is. And I think that goes for a lot of people. And I’m sorry about that, because I think we should be able to take a moment to take some time to learn how special everyone is.
Jonathan DeYoe: That’s the dream right? There is our ability to recognize the Geminis in each of us. Right.
Marda Stoliar: Yeah.
Jonathan DeYoe: I think that’s a fantastic summary. I’m actually looking forward to. I think it’s in a few days from now, having a conversation with Marda and sort of tagging some of those questions, asking her about the bakery and about her past a little bit on the back of this, or weaving it through, however we figure out how to do that. But before we do that, I want to go back and ask you a couple personal things. Is there anything about you that people don’t know, or maybe you’ve told them and they don’t remember it anymore, that you really want them to know?
Sheila Rittenberg: Well, boy, Jonathan, you asked tough questions. I speak three languages, or I speak one very fluently, and two are very rusty. I once took care of sheep on a sheep farm for a month and hated it. I now hate sheep. I handled a lot of difficult things alone, like a, uh, divorce, bringing up kids. My ex husband was certainly a part of that. But there was a lot of singleness, too, in that picture. Yeah, those are some of the things I don’t know if I’m on the right stuff.
Jonathan DeYoe: Good stuff. Uh, good stuff. Uh, and then what was the last thing you changed your mind about?
Sheila Rittenberg: The last thing I changed my mind about? Let’s see. Well, I stopped eating a lot of meat, so I decided that animals that are slaughtered commercially are not. They suffer and animal welfare. Yeah. So they’re not on my plate. Right. I mean, I do eat some meat. I’m not a strident vegetarian, but, uh. Definitely a big change there.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. I mean, I’ve heard answers as much as this morning or as little as this morning. I was going to have peaches in my cereal, and I decided that I have a plum instead. That kind of weird things. But also I hear big things as well. I just like to see how people think about mind changes. I think that we all need to change our mind or be open to other things a little bit more. So I just popped that in there. Tell us how people can connect with you and tell us how they can find more information about the short film. Marda’s gift.
Sheila Rittenberg: Yes. Thank you. Well, there is a website, of course, Mardafilm, uh, Marda film, and there’s a trailer of the film on there. There’s my contact information. The team who directed and produced this is outlined. We have some updating of the site to do, of course. So what your audience will not see there is the list of film festivals we’ve submitted to, and we’ve already been accepted at one, and we have won an award at another. Also, two PBS stations have picked up the film. It won’t surprise you that one of those stations is Wyoming PBS and the other is Oregon PBS. And we’re hoping to broaden that. So martafilm.com is probably the best entree. We’re also on Instagram LinkedIn.
Jonathan DeYoe: Okay, great. And I watched the know when we talked about a month ago, and I watched it again today. And so it’s a beautiful little film. I highly recommend it. Everyone should check it out. And if you’d stay on for a second, I would like to chat about some of the questions for Marda So just a few questions, Marda I was curious as I watched the film, why one on one? Why not teach classes or have, like, a digital university of sorts?
Marda Stoliar: It’s so important that you address one person’s interests and their needs and give them what they need, not what you want to teach. A group of people I taught in a culinary school, I saw what happened. They’d make one loaf of bread, and if it wasn’t any good, oops. Tomorrow we’re making pastries. It said to me, if you’re really serious about opening a bakery, don’t go to a culinary school because they may never touch on what you need. And so I teach one on one. I don’t make as much money as I would otherwise, but if somebody comes to me and said, I want to do a moroccan bakery, then we do a moroccan bakery. And, uh, I’ve done this for enough years that I sort of have everything sort of figured out. Look at where the person lives, what the availability of equipment, what the availability of ingredients, what they are, and work around their problems and work around the things that they really need. But maybe they’re going to have to import and then how to import. And I, uh, try to get to a person early so that they don’t buy the wrong equipment, or they don’t sign a lease to the wrong piece of land that they want to build a bakery and a, ah, parking lot or whatever. I try to get there early enough so that they don’t have some missteps.
Jonathan DeYoe: That are very expensive, it seems like. And it’s really important to point this out. You’re not teaching baking, you’re teaching the baking business. It’s like from beginning to end. If you want to learn how to open a know, buy the equipment, lease the space, lay it all know, make it customer friendly, and then hone the flavors to the audience that’s local, whether it’s Wyoming or southern California or Morocco, you’re going end to.
Marda Stoliar: Well, that’s. I think I’m the only person that does that. I don’t know why I chose that, except that I saw people with problems and not enough space and trying to make a living in a space that would never work because you couldn’t get there. There was no parking. They couldn’t make a turn for ten blocks to come back to it or whatever the problem was. I just felt that it’s better if I help them from the beginning.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Also, this came from the film. And I have to tell you, I just absolutely cracked up at the specificity of this. Tell us about the 46% chocolate rule.
Marda Stoliar: Well, there is a study done now and then by different universities and schools around the world on baking and the type of flour they use, et cetera. But they came up with the fact that to a lot of people, baking and bakeries means chocolate. Well, where else would they get it? I mean, if they don’t get it from a bakery, the study that’s been done, and it’s been done three or four times in different areas around the world, is that when somebody walks through in the door, they want chocolate, where else are they going to get it? Uh, when somebody says, I’d like you to come look and see what I’m doing, and I look, and they only have 22% chocolate. In their pastry case, I’ll say, if you had 46% chocolate, you would make more money. And sometimes they listen to me and then they’re amazed. But then I’ll say to them, what kind of chocolate do you like? Well, I only like milk chocolate. Okay. It means you don’t like dark chocolate. Oh, I’ll eat dark chocolate, but I really want milk chocolate. And I’ll say, what about white chocolate? No, that’s not chocolate. So the story really is that you need something for breakfast that has chocolate in it. You need something for lunch that has chocolate in it, and you need something for dessert. In the evening, that’s chocolate. And especially in the evening, it’s just one of the things that you look at. Are they having seasonal products in season? Do you try to sell people strawberries in February? People tend to want to eat seasonally, whether you like it or not. They like pumps in November, December, they like strawberries when strawberries are in season. And of course, when strawberries aren’t in season, they taste a little bit like potatoes. There’s no flavor of anything. So we have ways of fixing that.
Jonathan DeYoe: So in the uniqueness of the stores and the bakeries that you set up, the 46% chocolate rule, that’s like the one rule that goes across, whether it’s moroccan or southern californian or Wyoming, chocolate’s required. Absolutely.
Marda Stoliar: Absolutely.
Jonathan DeYoe: That’s the one. Okay. This, uh, might be a hard question, and I asked this question because our listeners are often faced with a point of struggle in their life. And so I want to ask you about the period where you had to go in for hand surgery and you couldn’t bake as well anymore. And between that period and the time where you set up the baking school, what was that like? What were you going through emotionally when you couldn’t do the thing you loved? And now you had to come up with a way to pivot and engage that life in a different way.
Marda Stoliar: I didn’t mean to start a school. I really didn’t. I had a bakery, and I lost the use of my hands. I even talked the doctor into doing both hands at the same time. People shouldn’t do that. Not a good plan. I was asked, when I was recuperating from my hand surgery, to go to China to teach bread baking for the US department of Agriculture. And while I was teaching in China, and I was basically teaching teachers, I was teaching teachers like at, uh, Beijing University or places like that, where I had nothing but professors in some form of food production in China. And they would say to me, oh, we’re going to send some people to your school. And I said, I don’t have a school. Yes, we’re going to send six of them. I don’t have a school. Well, after about four or five years, I named the school. Actually, my brother in law named it for me, international school of baking, because it didn’t really matter to me where the students were coming from, whether it was Qatar or Mozambique or whether it. I just. I think I’ve never said it’s. I just named the school. And then they kept sending people to me. And some of the people wanted to defect. They didn’t want to, just, they were family from high ranking officials in China that wanted their children to be able to come to the US. So they would send like, uh, four real students and two that wanted to defect. And that was always a project because I would have to go to the police here in Bend and say, if anybody comes here to defect, tell them do it in LA, because LA is a good place to do that.
Jonathan DeYoe: Bend is harder.
Marda Stoliar: Well, they’d never had anybody defect in Bend, Oregon. Pendleton, Oregon, had a bigger. They called me and said that the people went to the police department to defect in Pendleton, Oregon. And so they called me. So that’s why I knew to go to my police. And the people did go to LA, and yes, they did defect. The two of. So it’s been an interesting project.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I want to go back. I’m going to try to ask this question again because I think we got sidetracked a little bit. So forget about the time between hand surgeries and the opening of the school and whether or not you’re going to open the school. When you realized, hey, my hands don’t work as well as they once worked, did you have, uh, an emotional response? Were you worried about your future? It seems like it’s pretty easy that you were able to pivot to teaching because the students were just basically given to you. But was there a concern there for a minute? Wow, what am I going to do next?
Marda Stoliar: I don’t think I’m bright enough to know I was a shoe designer in New York.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yep.
Marda Stoliar: I graduated from Pratt institute in fashion and I learned how to bake in Venice breads. I learned how to bake pastries in Paris as I was going to work as a shoe designer in those places, I would work all day as a shoe designer and then I’d go work in a bakery all night. I don’t know why. I just did. I never planned on opening a bakery in my life. Things just happen, but they’re all creative. Whether it’s a shoe or whether it’s a Mont Blanc cookie, it doesn’t matter.
Jonathan DeYoe: Just do something creative. You may appreciate this something my father said, just referencing your prior comment. My dad said when I was probably, I don’t know, 1215 years old, he said, jonathan, what you need to be is you need to be too stupid to fail. Just let it all come to you.
Marda Stoliar: I think my parents have said that, and not in the same words, but I don’t think my parents ever worried about if I was going to fail or not. My father wasn’t real excited about me going to college in Brooklyn in the Bedford Stiverson neighborhood, but I survived it. I went to NYU. I did anthropology, a shoe designer. I designed what I felt was going to sell, and then 90, uh, percent I designed what was going to sell, and 10% I was going to design for educational purposes what the future was going to look like, because monetarily, that’s where the stores would accept. They would accept 10% going on the sale table and 90% being sold.
Jonathan DeYoe: Got it. You said something that was very interesting to me, is that you, uh, don’t think your parents worried about it? You never worried about striving for success or getting there. Do you think that’s different when you were growing up? And give us an idea what that time frame is. I know I’m not supposed to ask how old you are, so what was the time frame you were growing up versus, like, today, when kids seem to be struggling to just figure out what they want to study in college, and it just seems to be much very competitive and very stressful.
Marda Stoliar: Know, I think I was very fortunate because I decided I was going to be a shoe designer, I think maybe the third grade or fourth grade. And my mother insisted that I did this because we were going to have to go to the Portland library and write a paper on what we wanted to be when we grew up. And there was nothing in the library on shoe designers. So I felt I didn’t have to write a story. My mother felt that was my real calling. It was one of those things. And I never changed my mind until I became a shoe designer. And they told me I couldn’t make it because you had to really be in a shoe family, in a shoe business to ever make it. And I, um, didn’t have any family that was in the shoe business in New York. In fact, about 65,000 men and 100 women. And I think there were two gentiles, myself and one other one. Then we found another one eventually, but it never occurred to me that I couldn’t be successful. It just never occurred to me.
Jonathan DeYoe: So what do you think causes so much stress for kids these days about? And by kids, I mean, I’m 50, so kids is 25, 30, and younger at this point, 80. Why do you think they’re so stressed about finding the right thing?
Marda Stoliar: I’m 81, still working. I think that I was just fortunate to have a direction. I wanted my life to go. I think most children today have no idea. Even when they go to college, they start changing. They’re in engineering, and then they’re going to be a doctor. Then all of a sudden, they say they’re going to be. And this is one person at a bakery that I come in contact with every year. And he’s had. I think he’s on his fourth plan of attack for life. He, uh, started out going to be a bookkeeper. Halfway through that, he thought he needed to be an engineer. And then after that, he decided that he wanted to go back to school and get a master’s in early childhood development and work with troubled boys. Of course, I’m very happy because he’s still working in that bakery as, um, a dishwasher. And basically, the day he gets his doctorate’s degree, that bakery is going to have to change totally because he manufactures about one fourth of the things that go out in that bakery as the dishwasher. He does english muffins and lemon bars and chicken pot pies. It just goes on and on. Um, that those are his jobs along with being a dishwasher doesn’t phase him right, but seems and changed. It’s been good for us because eight years, he’s still finding himself, but that’s hard. I didn’t have that problem. I just knew I was going to be a shoe designer. And I gave myself five years to be the top of the heap, and that’s what I did.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Never a worry.
Marda Stoliar: No.
Jonathan DeYoe: So, um, you said 81. Say again?
Marda Stoliar: I’m not bright enough to worry.
Jonathan DeYoe: Exactly. Going back to my dad. So talk to us. I don’t meet many folks. My dad is kind of one who are 81 and still going strong and thinking about the next thing and trying to innovate and trying to create new things. So tell us about retirement. And I’m going to quote something from the film that says I’m going to keep working as long as people keep hiring me. Do you think you’re unique in that thinking?
Marda Stoliar: I don’t know. I have no idea. People just. Well, I just had somebody this morning that had a big conundrum because she wanted to make a big chinese Fortune cookie, but she wanted to make a big one. And Fortune cookie Dough doesn’t do well, big. You have to have a mold for it. And of course, in China, I’ve taught Fortune cookie. That was a disaster. The Chinese had never seen fortune cookies. And I’ll go off on a little tangent here, because it was fun. We went to a man on the street that told fortunes and we gave him some rice Paper, and he made little fortunes, and we took it to the class, and we made fortune cookies, and we took it out of the oven, and they ate them, the cookie, and they had purple, uh, they ate the fortune. They had purple tongues. They said it didn’t taste very good.
Jonathan DeYoe: Because didn’t know what to do with them.
Sheila Rittenberg: Yeah.
Marda Stoliar: Fortune cookies came from CaliFoRnia, so it was a problem. But somebody called, uh, what kind of a formula can I use to make a Fortune cookie? Now, she was a student of mine 20 years ago, and I still hear from her all the time. And when she has a project, she calls me. I don’t think she thinks I’m totally senile yet, but, yeah, I’m wondering.
Jonathan DeYoe: The thing that sort of sticks in the back of my head here is you’ve loved the things you’ve set out to do. I wonder how important the love of the thing that you set out to do was in your being successful at those things, because you didn’t choose to become a doctor. You didn’t want to be a doctor, but you loved shoes, you loved baking. So is that what enabled you to be who you are?
Marda Stoliar: If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it.
Jonathan DeYoe: Right.
Marda Stoliar: I just wouldn’t do it.
Jonathan DeYoe: That’s our lesson right there.
Marda Stoliar: Yeah. I wouldn’t do it because waking up to something you don’t want to do that would be so sad.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Well, I think a lot of people deal with it, for sure. A lot of people don’t love what they do, and they end up slogging through. So I’m a mentor to students at Cal, that’s University of California, Berkeley, and I met a couple students who were just convinced that they had to be engineers. Their parents said, you have to be engineers. You got to study math, you got to study science, you got to engineering. And this kid didn’t want to be an engineer, but he was just told he had to, and so he did, and it was a slog, and it was difficult. He didn’t know how to tell his parents otherwise. I think there’s a lot of pressure put on kids, both on peer groups, on college academic process. Parents, um, people don’t have the same opportunity to figure out what they really love today that they once did. And so it’s a kudos to everyone that is able to find that thing that they love. So if somebody wants to be a baker, who do they call?
Marda Stoliar: Well, the bread doctor looked up on the Internet and said, this woman’s crazy if she thinks that I can learn how to open a bakery in 20 days. She’s nuts. Well, the day he arrived here, he really was convinced I was nuts. And the following day, he called his wife and said, it’s okay. Maybe she is nuts, but she’s a good nut, and I can learn a lot.
Jonathan DeYoe: She’s good nuts.
Marda Stoliar: Yeah. And he is amazing because he still calls me, I would say, at least once a month to just say thank you. If that isn’t something wonderful, I don’t know what is. And that’s been going on for eight years.
Jonathan DeYoe: I like to ask everyone kind of a little bit more personal question towards the end of, uh, this conversation. And can you name for us, or can you describe for us in your words, in your life, what would be your perfect day?
Marda Stoliar: Baking. If I don’t have a student, I bake.
Jonathan DeYoe: Wow. How do you not weigh 800 pounds? If I baked every day, that would be.
Marda Stoliar: I don’t eat it. I give it to people.
Jonathan DeYoe: Oh, that’s so beautiful. That’s heart. I love it.
Marda Stoliar: I just left her a message that said, look at the table by your front door. And then she knows there’s something there. Isn’t that what I did?
Jonathan DeYoe: That’s awesome.
Marda Stoliar: But some days I feel like bread, and other days I feel like chocolates. Some days. Yesterday, I made candied citrus peel because I know that I’m going to need it in making something else. And I bought the biggest pomelo. Huh, you’ve ever seen. And one pomelo made four pounds of candied citrus peel. So it isn’t something that’s an end product. Sometimes it’s something I’m going to need sometime.
Sheila Rittenberg: Right?
Marda Stoliar: Uh, because when I have a student and they open a bakery, I give them a list of everything that should be in their freezer every day. Because you don’t want to have to start making all the parts. You don’t want to do that. You want to be able to reach in and grab everything you need. So I guess I still do that to myself.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Marda I want to say thank you for being on the Mindful Money podcast. I’ve loved our conversation. I think we have a lot of stuff here to share, and I hope the story helps, supports the film, and I really appreciate your being here.
Marda Stoliar: Well, thank you for inviting me.
Sheila Rittenberg: Thanks so much, Jonathan, for this opportunity.