Pickles in jars

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Ah, the satisfying pop! of canning jar lids as they cool. A little music for the ears after a few hot hours of work.

Today, I made Ashley English’s Dill Pickle recipe. So, so simple. Compared to my Granny’s labor intensive sweet pickle recipe I usually make. Today was all about just getting the canning equipment out of storage, cleaning everything up, and making sure the stove in this house would actually heat the water bath to a rolling boil. It was touch and go for a while as the water just refused to ripple beyond a few little bubbles, but a thick rag on top of the lid for insulation seemed to help matters along.

When we moved back from Canada in early May, we were delighted to find a little slightly out of practice garden plot in the front yard of the house we are renting. It was late for planting, but we threw a few things in the ground in the hopes that our girls would at least have the fun of watching growing things maybe produce something to eat. The squash and tomatoes did not germinate and the corn is still a question mark, but the cucumbers were champs. Our few little late vines weren’t enough to make a batch of pickles, but that is what farmer’s markets are for, right?

My plan is to use up the jars I have already to make some tomato basil sauce (our four basil plants have not disappointed and the tomatoes will come from the farmer’s market) before school starts. We are also hunting for nearby orchards and I will definitely be putting up jars of all things apple and peach soon.

What are you canning this season?

Voices and votes

One side of the sign my daughter helped me make.
One side of the sign my daughter helped me make.

I heard the noise from blocks away, as I walked down the greenway with my homemade sign. Crowds usually make me nervous, but on that day I wanted the feeling of being part of something big and loud. IMG_1074 The mood on this bright sunny day was like a family festival, with children running around in the grass and friends laughing together. Elderly men and women, young parents and toddlers mingled in between the towering city buildings. It was so hot that several people passed out, even though organizers hurriedly carried around boxes full of cold water bottles and urged everyone to stay hydrated. Shirts and signs introduced strangers to each other as people declared the groups they represented and the issue they cared about: Voter suppression is wrong. It harms peoples of all faiths and walks of life. It matters. IMG_1076 The North Carolina conservatives in control of the state legislature passed some of the most sweeping voter suppression efforts in the nation as soon at the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and removed pre-clearance for this former Confederate state. The NAACP of NC has taken the state to trial in my town and organized the rally on the first day of court. This trial matters as it works its way through federal court and shapes the rights of voters nationwide. IMG_1084 The characters that turn out to a political rally can be so eclectic and inspiring. The Raging Grannies, the church groups, the militant activists, all gathered in solidarity around one issue: the right to vote. We were raising our voices to declare together the right for all people to perform the fundamental democratic act of voting. IMG_1079 It felt so good. It felt empowering and energizing in that cliched way that collective action can. As one in a crowd, you feel as if you are making a difference. And, with voting rights on trial, it brought home the feeling that every voice and every single vote counts. IMG_1088 In the face of recent horrific crimes, institutional racism, and crippling inequality, I have at times fallen prey to feeling paralyzed and powerless. What can one person do, after all? Well, one person can march as one of many. One person can vote and be counted. One person can commit to registering a hundred more to vote and then even help drive them to the polling place. One person can join with others and know that every little step matters when you are marching through the streets with a thousand like-minded souls.

The other side of my sign.
The other side of my sign.

Lingering in hatred for just a moment

My last post was simply to share a poem about peace that reminded me to seek solace in wild spaces when the darkness of the world encroaches. I hoped that reflecting a little light back out towards the darkness would help me and others. Perhaps it did. I have been trying to read, to meditate, to be with my family, and to take the tangible steps of donating to a food bank and joining a local grassroots group in the hope of contributing to solving social problems that I care deeply about.

But, yet, I have also lingered in the darkness a bit. I cannot stop myself from reading pieces of righteous outrage. Being outraged myself at violence and hatred and close-mindedness and insensitivity. As a child of The South who has always somewhat loathed the spaces and symbolism and culture and history and food of the rural southern Mississippi region, I feel a deep connection with this second poem as well. In its own way, it makes me feel better because it seems deeply true. When I read this poem, I know all the beauty and ugliness of every single line – the smells and tastes and vibrancy and decay that forms the place I once called home and always wanted to escape.

For the South

I hate your hills white with dogwood

or pink with redbud in spring

as if you invented hope, as if

in the middle of red clay,

limestone outcroppings,

and oak trees dead with fungus

something slight and beautiful

should make us smile.

I hate the way honeysuckle drapes

fences, blooms in the ditch

where everyone dumps garbage;

the evening air sweet with cedar

and fields of burley;

the way irises and buttercups

mark the old dimensions of a house

destroyed a hundred years ago;

how a span of Queen Anne’s lace

rocks the whole moon, and the sumac

runs dark against the hill.

I hate the drawl, the lazy voice

saying I’ve been away so long

I sound like I’m from nowhere;

the old hand gathering snowballs or peonies

or forking up an extra dish of greens,

bitter, just the way I like them.

~ Neal Bowers

Added: After posting this, I read a piece about the power of poetry that speaks exactly to how I’ve been feeling lately.

In search of peace

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry
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These words have been speaking to me this week, reminding me to
search outdoors for peace in moments of turmoil.

{ this moment }

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A Friday ritual from SouleMama. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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painted grass, planted trees

My girl looked outside this morning and said “Mama! Did you paint the grass?”

Her tone was lighthearted on this gorgeous spring Earth Day when the dewy grass is such a brilliant shade of green that it does almost look like fresh wet paint. But, she knows the difference between this natural brightness and the fake green of manicured “poison grass” lawns with their little “keep children and pets off for their own safety” signs. Oh, how we prefer the realness of untreated grass!

We talk often of protecting our Earth and taking care of the planet that takes care of us. Earth Day becomes then, for us, a day of celebration. It’s a sort of bookend to autumn harvest festivals that give thanks for the bounty of seasonal food. In spring, we come awake and give thanks for the beauty of our earth. We also reflect on what it means to be grateful and purposeful.

Since I so often post about books and libraries and reading, I thought today I would share a few favorite earthy quotes. The last one is my favorite right now, as I look towards returning to North Carolina in less than two weeks and set down some roots.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every [person’s] needs, but not every [person’s] greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

“When you realize the value of all life you dwell less on past and concentrate more on the conservation of the future.”  ― Dian Fossey

“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a spectulator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” ― Henry David Thoreau

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”  ― Rachel Carson

“It is our collective and individual responsibility to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live.” ― Dalai Lama

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking. It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” ― Wangari Maathai

Wine Country

So, we have been living smack in the middle of Ontario wine country this year and let me just say: The local/regional wines have gone a long way towards easing the harshness of this winter. As we drive around, exploring the parks and even taking a sugar maple tour hike through snowy woods, we have been astonished by the acres of vineyards and landscape dotted with wineries. Local wines go so very well with the salmon we’ve been eating more of and the regional veggies this greenbelt has to offer. Having spent almost a decade in southern Indiana and enjoyed having local vineyards to visit and wines to taste, it’s been lovely to sample what Ontario has to offer.

Update: I am one fortunate woman. After giving a keynote at a student conference I was gifted this bottle of local wine by the conference organizer. We are going to save it for the end of the month and use it to toast our last night in Canada!
Update: I am one fortunate woman. After giving a keynote at a student conference I was gifted this bottle of local wine by the conference organizer. We are going to save it for the end of the month and use it to toast our last night in Canada!

 

When we return to North Carolina (soon!) our mission will be to immerse ourselves in the local food and drink culture. Not only as consumers, but as community gardeners and food bank supporters. Finding our way into the food culture of a place helps us feel rooted and tastes oh, so very good.

Balance

The only flowers we see on this vernal equinox are the ones we gathered at the bustling indoor farmer’s market. This morning was decidedly gray, but the snow has almost all melted and the birds are filling the air with dancing and song. By noon, we were outside at a playground, basking in the relative warmth. I stretched, I swung, I lifted my face to the sun and saw the light dancing on my eyelids.

Though I am not so sure that the length of ours days and nights are equal at this moment, in this place, I am thinking about balance in life and self. There is no better time, with new life ready to burst from the ground, to purge the weary aspects of work and life. To embrace new experiences and resolve to be just a little more purposeful, a little more kind to ourselves and gentle with each other.  For me, this means making time for a little mani/pedi action with my girl today and to visit a new yoga studio tomorrow morning. These are such small things when written down, but feel big when lived and carried throughout our days. Balance is what I will strive for in the coming year, more than I ever have before, and I wish it for you, too.

 

 

A sense of snow

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The ground has been snow-covered for upwards of six weeks, the temperature painfully low for most of those days. It’s not just our imagination, our relative lack of experience with harsh winters. No, “Environment Canada meteorologist Maxime Desharnais says it was the persistent cold and wind that set this year apart” and helped make this February the coldest on record for our new Southern Ontario home.

The snow we don’t mind. The extreme low temperatures have been unbearable, yet have made me acutely aware of minor fluctuations and the effect that even a degree or two shift can have on snow. As we live with snow day after day, the subtle differences in how it falls, clings, packs, feels underfoot or in our mouths, puts me in mind of cultures that have an intimate relationship with snow and ice and wield a plethora of words to describe its different characteristics.

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As I meditate on snow, I think often of a book I read some time ago that built a mystery around Smilla’s Sense of Snow. I know a film adaptation was made and though I do tend to quite like Julia Ormond and Gabriel Byrne, I have never managed to see the film. The book was quite enjoyable, however, and well worth a little light winter reading.

Since the bitter cold keeps us mostly inside our house rather than inside our snow forts, winter reading is happening in droves for our little ones. One all-time favorite go-to book of snowy wonder is (of course) Ezra Jack Keats’ simple masterpiece.

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A second favorite around here features one of our favorite children’s book illustrators, Hiroe Nakata.

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So, the snow compresses and the prospect of a warm breeze and mushy thaw still eludes us, but we learn — from books and from snow. And from time and a promise of seasons that shift, if slowly.

 

Art in the moment

The unexpected encounter with art.

The experience of raw emotion skillfully displayed by the practiced performer.

The blurring of genres in a presentation that includes live singing, short films, personal reflection, and scholarly conversation.

Family Ties
Family Ties

I thoroughly enjoyed, and have been reflecting on, the Family Ties event that I had an opportunity to attend this week.  Toronto based artists Vivek Shraya and Casey Mecija  screened short films that explore their relationships with parents whose acceptance and support shaped their lives in powerful ways.  While the films were quite interesting, it was the artists’ comments about their creative processes and personal experiences that created the most memorable moments of the evening.