Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Can Can.

As I have previously alluded to, I tend to be somewhat...obsessive in my hobbies.  I started compiling a "canning and preserving" type birthday present for my older sister this summer as she had expressed an interest in it.  She has a beautiful, large vegetable garden, and preserving is one way to actually use forty zucchini that ripen at the same time!  I bought her Canning for a New Generation, a fantastic book that I had taken out of the library at one point, a few canning tools that she didn't already have, and then proceeded to check out every canning and preserving book I could reserve at the library.  Somewhere along the line of copying interesting recipes for her from the stack of books, I caught the canning bug.  It wasn't always pretty.  Some evenings ended like this photo (note the time on the clock, p.m.), with jars that wouldn't seal, and with the knowledge that my sweet but still-not-sleeping-through-the-night child would be wailing in a couple of hours.  A few hours after that, they would both be up for the day with much more energy than me.  Sigh.

But practise makes perfect, or at least some good jars o'jam, and some hilarious reactions from my husband to our growing collection of jam.  Little did he know that I was already onto planning my adventures in pickles.  He's a gem, just like my gem coloured jams.  He even smiled when I bought these brass duck bookends at the thrift store even after I indicated that my brass animal decor collecting was over.  Turns out that seven is perfect number of brass animals to have in the home, not five.  And four of them got spray painted, so they don't really count, anyhow.

Dollar-fifty for the pair!  Really, who could resist?

Above is a sampling of my first batches of jams, jellies, and fruit butters: Top row: Grapefruit Marmelade, Watermelon Crabapple Jelly,  Apple Cinnamon Butter, Bottom row: Blackberry Raspberry Jam, Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade Jam, Concord Grape Jam, and Plum Jam.  The grape jam is probably my favourite.  The grapes came from my Grandma's grape vine, so they had no pesticides or other sprays, without paying the price of organic grapes.  Win.  I once bought organic grapes and it wasn't until I got home that I realized I had just paid close to thirteen dollars for a bunch of grapes.  Eep.  I've always enjoyed store-bought grape jelly, but grape jam with the grape skins has just the right balance of sour and sweet, and it's the most beautiful colour too.
Making your own jam has a few benefits over store-bought jam.  You can create flavour combinations you won't find in stores (Ginger-Peach, Strawberry-Thai Basil, or Raspberry Cocoa Jam, to name a few), it's usually much cheaper, you can avoid artificial colourings and preservatives, and it just tastes better, in my humble opinion.  I'm allergic to oranges, and after reading in all the canning books that pectin, a natural gelling agent for making jam, is usually made from apple or orange skins, I realized that I've been eating oranges hidden under the "pectin" label of ingredients for a long time.  Some recipes call for powdered pectin, but it's easy to find recipes that don't use pectin, or even to modify recipes to take out the pectin.  This also serves as a good excuse for my latest hobby - I practically have to make my own jam then, right?!
Peach jam, bean pickles, carrot pickles, and good old cukes. 
I've done all of the work on the stove after the kids are in bed because two boiling pots and two active kids are not a good combination, but just to prove that I haven't abandoned them for sweet spreads, here is some photo proof.

I love these guys!

This crazy slide at the pumpkin patch was pretty much a free fall with a big bang at the end!

A perfect day for picking apples at the pumpkin patch.  

Here are some of my picks for canning books for anyone who is interested:

Canning for a New Generation by Lianna Krissoff

 You Can Can from Better Homes & Gardens

Can It! also from BHG

Happy Jamming!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

You Are Special

"High school is never over."

I seldom remember quotes from movies, but this line had me in stitches when I heard it in "The Jane Austen Book Club."  Perhaps it became memorable in my mind because it is true, and, paradoxically, not true.  I was lucky enough to have, in retrospect, a pretty decent high school experience.  My parents sacrificed financially to send the three of us to private school, a decision that was also difficult given that both my parents were educators in the public school system.  It was a fantastic school, and I have many fond memories of my years there.  I was never one of the popular kids, but I had good friends.   Despite my relatively fortunate circumstances, high school is never easy.  My teen years, like those of most people, I surmise, were emotionally intense, fraught with social anxieties, skewed self-image, and a sense that my identity and how people viewed me were solidified for all time.  I don't know that I ever truly realized at that age that I was still growing and changing, and that I would continue to do so as a person for the rest of my life.  After spending the majority of my time with the same group of peers every weekday for so many years, it was hard to imagine a life outside of that social structure.  I assumed, even if I didn't consciously process it as such, that I would always be the Andrea who was told to speak up in class, was hopelessly uncoordinated in team sports, and was a shoe-in for the public-speaking spoof award.  Who was the brilliant one who approved giving spoof awards to self-conscious teenagers at a school event anyways?
Fourteen years later, I am a different person.  And, as a side note, how old does it make me feel that I graduated fourteen years ago?  Quite old.  Life changes us; people change us.  High-school ends, and the memories of the box I was in fade.  And yet, on a rare occasion, something will trigger a resurrection of high-school me.  A random flashback, or a chance meeting of a high school peer will flip a switch somewhere inside me, and I can momentarily remember what it feels like to feel so...alone, even in the midst of people.  And for a moment, I realize that there's a part inside me where high school is never over.
I'm heartbroken about the almost-sixteen year old girl from my area who took her own life this past week.  Every time I leave town, I see the banner created in her honour stretched across the underpass and I wish there was a way to turn back the clock and pull her out of the deep end.  I wish she had known that high school does end; there is life on the other side.
High school does end, and on the other side, you come to realize that you are not alone.  You are worth so much more than you can imagine, and you were created for a purpose.  Away from the constructs of high school and the insecurities of being a teenager, we have more in common that we think: we endeavour to find love, careers, purpose, and family.  We all, sooner or later, face heartbreaks, setbacks, and learn to fight for those we love.  There will always be unkind people who build up their own self-esteem by tearing down others, but bullies are generally in their prime in high school.  Life as an adult is not always easy, of course; there are still relationships to navigate.  The falseness of popularity, however, melts away over time, and you can choose whom you want to spend your time with.  You might even get a podium to eloquently put bullies in their place someday too...

I have to admit that I'm already nervous about sending my sweet, sensitive oldest child to kindergarten next year.  We sometimes read books about bullying, because we encounter kindness and unkindness pretty early on in life, whether we label it bullying or not.  My favourites so far are One by Kathryn Otoshi, and You are Special by Max Lucado.  We all need a little reminder sometimes that we are special, n'est-ce pas?  We are lovely because our Creator loves us.

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