Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Since late June, they've been stacking up in my office closet, boxes of canning jars filled with jams and pickles and sauces:
strawberry, strawberry rhubarb, strawberry vanilla
raspberry, raspberry rhubarb, raspberry chocolate liqueur sauce, raspberry with orange liqueur, raspberry peach
dilly beans, lemon beans, Asian (soy-ginger) beans
blueberry, blubarb, spiced blueberry
dill pickles, bread and butter
peach, peach raspberry, peach ginger, peach tomato salsa
mild tomato salsa, bruschetta

16 boxes of jars, 180 jars in all, not counting those I've already traded or given away (or eaten), and I don't think I'm quite done yet.

I've loved picking in the sun and the heat and the humidity and the rain. I've loved standing in the steamy kitchen with juice dripping off the counter on to my toes, standing until my legs and back ache. I love the ping of a good seal and the early tastes of the jars that don't seal. I love my weekly canning date with my friend and her big garden and raspberry patch and two kids. I love my new canning friends and trading goods. I love thinking ahead to winter and what we will eat and what I will give away. I've loved simply watching them stack up, seeing the fruits of my labor, tangible proof of how I spent my days, the abundance of it.

I chafe often at not having time to do so many things I want to do. Writing and craft projects and bigger cooking projects and gardening and reading pile up underneath the dirty diapers and the laundry waiting to be folded. I sit down at night, too tired to get motivated. So I grumble and I look with amazement at other people with as many or more kids as me. I see them write and tend a big garden and chickens and well-maintained blogs. How do you do it?  I always want to know, but I realized after I posed the question to Angie (who answered today) that people have been asking me that all summer as I posted on FB about my canning escapades.

So I started thinking about how I do it. Sometimes Brian takes the kids, but usually I have both girls in tow, and the friend I usually can with often has both of hers. How did we do it? Occasionally there were extra hands or kids not there. Sometimes the babies would nap. We put babies in backpacks and offered lots of homemade popsicles. There was a sandtable and a trampoline and a hammock and a tricycle. Kathleen ate goldfish crackers and drank more juice than I ever allow (or even have) at home. Kids (the four year old and the two and a half year old) helped wash jars and pick berries and snap beans. We had painting projects and stories at lunch and ice cream when we were all done. We sang and cajoled and took turns refereeing arguments. And every now and then, we just had to laugh as four kids erupted into tears right at the point where we just needed to get hot stuff into hot jars.

I made it a priority. I hate people telling me that to do something I really care about I have to make it a priority (even though I know it's true). But because I know it's true, I've been working on choosing.

I have prioritized running, because I want to get back in shape and because it helps clear my head.

I have prioritized writing in the mornings that Elizabeth is up at 5 and everyone else is sleeping. I feed her and then (if I don't fall asleep on the couch with her), I make myself coffee and I write. Even if the dishes are piled up in the sink or diapers need to get in the washer or I'm behind on my work. I write until one of my girls needs me. It doesn't feel like enough really, but it feels like the right balance for now.

I prioritized canning this summer. At least once a week from late June to the last days of August, I met with my friend and put something into jars. Because I love doing it, because I love spreading jam on Kathleen's toast when she asks me for some "blubabane" jam. I love giving jars of jams and pickles at Christmas. I love tasting summer on cold winter days. I love being connected to my food and the past.

I can look at the list of projects still untouched or my weed filled garden or the mess of my office and sigh about what I can't seem to do, or I can look at that stack of boxes and the notebook filling up and my sweaty running clothes and realize I'm doing okay. And I can listen to Kathleen making Elizabeth laugh and laugh and laugh. I can snuggle with my girl at nap time. I can say yes when she asks for a story or to do music or to sit and color with her. I can have all this abundance of life. Sometimes I just have to remember to see it.


  1. Just happened upon your blog and loved this post! I am planning on reading some previous postings.. just need to make it a priority ;). I too have a list of projects and sympathetically relate and felt hopeful that all I need to do is step back and just enjoy it all!

  2. I am so in awe of this post. Do you grow all that stuff yourself? Or buy some? You must have a huge backyard and veggie patch! We grow our own fruit and veg, but on a very small scale and never enough to bottle or preserve for the following year. But our place is tiny. That's on of the main reasons we are itching to move somewhere bigger. Bigger yard, bigger veggie patch! I wish I could sample some of your canned goods or be there to help you make them. Sounds so much fun and like a wonderful tradition.

  3. I love this post. Canning to me seems mysterious and hard work. I would wonder how people find the time to tend a garden, then can it. And I totally agree that the answer, "Because I prioritize it" kind of sucks. And yet, it is the truth. Many years ago, when I was single and couldn't even write a poem, let alone a 1600 word blog post after a day at work, I thought there must be some magic there, some selling of souls, some trick. But no, it is just sitting your butt in a seat and writing it. It reminds me of the quote by cyclist Greg LeMond after a journalist asked him if cycling the distance of the Tour de France gets easier after you win it, and his answer was "It doesn't get easier, you just get faster." And sometimes that is how I feel about writing and art, it isn't that it is easier to sit down and write when you want to watch television, or zone out, but you get better at sitting and getting it done. Sorry to write so much in your comments. I'd love to hear more about canning and your work around it. How did you get started? Is it something you grew up doing?

  4. That is so cool! I am absolutely mystified by and terrified of canning! It is something I'd love to do, but I have a tendency to wing things, occasionally, and I just know I'd be the one with delicious botulism. So I sit in awe of any and all who can can :)

    You've inspired me. I am going to prioritize some things I've been meaning to prioritize for a long time.

  5. This post has me smiling so hard, there's so much warmth and so much simple truth here, and just what I needed to read right now. x