Friday, August 29, 2008

A jar of summer~

Today I decided to stock the larder for the coming winter. The abundance of peaches, some so ripe and ready that they are dropping off the tree, warrants more that the momentary pleasure of eating them with brown sugar and cream for breakfast.

I could eat peaches and cream for three meals a day, and still not eat them all before they drop to the ground for the ants, and something else that bites chunks from them sometime in the night.

I figured I could make peach preserves and have myself a golden taste of August when the snow flies and the wind beats on the windows this December.

I needed Ball jars. I'd given away the jars left over from my last domestic surge, an unpleasant event involving yellow beans several years ago. Since then I learned it was easier-- and therefore more my style-- to vacuum pack, and freeze fruit and veggies. And then, I stopped doing even that. Who wants yellow beans in the winter? Although, as I write that I feel a twinge of awareness that many people have far less on their plates than I do, and would devour yellow beans anytime, and here I am sticking my over-fed nose up at eating them in December.

So it's a little of that guilt, too, that makes me decide to can peaches today. That, and the idea of peaches on oatmeal in the middle of a New England blizzard. My mouth waters in anticipation.

I left the store having overestimated how many Ball jars I'd need. I stacked four 12-packs in the passenger's seat. The car treated me like a negligent mother, flashing the seatbelt light, then "pinging" in an ever-increasing tempo until I pulled over and buckled up my jar babies.

Of the 48 jars I bought, I filled four with peach preserves. Lots of labor to produce quintuplets. Loads of peaches to peel, and slice, but peaches are juicy and they take up much less space after simmering for a while. Still, four jars will get me through the month of December.

I had a moment of being very hard on myself-- about the time I took a nap while waiting for the sugar to "draw the juices" from the peaches. The recipe said this would take two or three hours and I was sleepy. As I was drifting off I chastised myself. If I was in a little house on a prairie and my family depended on what I preserved for their survival through the months of winter, would I take a nap? Probably not, but only because the house in my imagination had only one room and I had five crying children under the age of ten wandering near an open fireplace while I tried to get comfortable on my cornhusk mattress.

In real life, I had a nice nap, and woke to finish "putting up" my four pints of peaches. Good thing I have an empty nest. But I just might can some salsa and tomato sauce tomorrow. And maybe put some of my seashells in some of the other jars. That's a nice touch of summer that will see me through the winter when the peaches are gone.
"In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."~ Albert Camus

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mature and female~

I went to the bookstore today to find something about photography. But first I did the circuitous route I always take, starting with the bargain books outside on the sidewalk, and then the half-price book tables inside, then on through the various genres, whether interested in them or not. There is just something pleasant about being surrounded by books, even the ones I wouldn't read if someone paid me.

I watch people no matter where I am, and watching someone pick a book from the shelf and browse through it is interesting. I always wonder if the man in the "relationships" section is conscious that he's being observed reading a chapter called "How to Please Your Mate." I glance sideways from the corner of my eye while unobtrusively flipping through a book. Who knows? Maybe I'm being observed reading, "What You Wish Your Husband Understood About Emotions." Totally made up book, but someone should write it.

The pile of books in my arms grew until I finally went to the coffee bar to sit and sip and look them over. As always happens, I left more books behind than I took home. I left with two photography books and The Female Brain. The Female Brain cover blurb says, the author "follows the development of women's brains from birth through the teen years, to courting, pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing, and on to menopause and beyond."

I probably should have just stood and read the pages on menopause and beyond, but you never know who might be watching you from the corner of their eye in a bookstore. So instead I paid $14.00 for the 22 pages entitled "The Mature Female Brain" that pertain to me.

I find the brain fascinating and have read many books about brain research. I actually had a bit of a reputation for a while in the teachers' room for being the "brain expert," as my friend Nancy dubbed me. I suppose dropping terms like "anterior cingulate gyrus" into the conversation made me seem likes an expert, but I'm far from it.

To be honest this book attracted me because of the dialogue I saw while skimming. Apparently a man asked his mature-brained wife where his lunch was? Hadn't she brought salami? He'd wanted a sandwich, poor thing. Unbeknownst to him, the hormones in his wife's brain that used to nurture him had faded, and now she no longer did all the nesting things he'd come to expect. Fortunately for the husband, his wife took hormones for other issues and her former cooking and sock-picking-up self returned.

I don't take, nor intend to take, hormones of any sort. Ever. Instead, I've marked that chapter to show my husband when he asks, "What's for supper?"
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose."~Dr. Seuss

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Peach season~

It's peach season again in the northeast. Forget the year-round imported peaches I ignore in the supermarket. Fresh picked local peaches are mounded in local farm stands.

But better still, the tree in our back yard is hanging heavy with peaches almost, but not quite, ripe. One, riper than the rest, dropped onto the grass when my husband bumped a branch while mowing the lawn. When he was finished, we shared it, the way we do with the first fruit from each of our trees, including the first tiny cherry we carefully divide in half.

Bruce peeled off the skin and sliced the peach into wedges. Our peaches are fuzzier than store-bought peaches, and the skin is speckled with black fungus spots. But underneath the golden flesh drips with flavorful juice. This one was so delicious that I've checked the fruit daily since tasting that one, gently squeezing to see if it's ready to pick. And eat.

The other day we took a bike ride on a trail that curved along the Rhode Island coast. The trip was 15 miles each way, so we took our time stopping to take pictures., and at one point to examine fresh produce, preserves, and baked goods in a farmer's market set up in a shady park. The peaches, pink and softly fuzzed, caught my eye, and before we hopped back on the bikes I bought one.

I told the lady behind the table how good our own peaches were, but that hers looked so much better. "Ours have skin speckled with black spots," I told her.

She wrinkled her nose. "Oh, that's a fungus," she said.

"What to you do to avoid it," I asked. "Do you spray?"

She was horrified. "No! We don't use chemicals. We hire a company to treat the peaches."

She became distracted by a man she thought had just stuffed an ear of corn down his shorts, so I didn't get to ask how the company treated for the fungus without chemicals.

With the memory of my back-yard peach making my mouth water, I stood beside my bike and bit into the fruit. It was a flavorless mush, pale fleshed and dry. I finished it only because I paid for it-- I was raised not to waste money or food-- but I enjoyed it not at all. Ick.

I'm sure there are things we can do to eliminate the fungus, and make the preaches have more eye appeal, but I'd stack the flavor of our peaches against any other peach anywhere. Hands down. There is no better peach than the ones on the tree in my back yard. Just close your eyes and open your mouth.

Read Inner Beauty, last summer's peach story.
“Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring and because it has fresh peaches in it” ~Thomas Walker

Friday, August 8, 2008

Does it matter?

Egocentricity: the state of being self-centered. And who isn't? How can you not view the world, and experience it, through your own eyes, filter it through your own experience, make sense of it through what you understand?

Did you watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games in Beijing? Look at China shine! Did your heart not recognize China's pride? Were their ceremonies not magnificent? Did you see the precision, the care, the unity, represented in each presentation? I was so impressed and moved. But I see this event, I understand it, as if it were staged in the USA and paid for by private donations. It's not.

At what expense-- at whose expense-- am I seeing this grander-than-ever introduction to an event that hearkens back to the ancient Athenians? An event performed in far simpler venues, for simpler reasons. Or were they?

Does what dazzles my eye, and impresses through technology-- a history lesson delivered via pyrotechnics-- also impress those who were hurt by the very country that stages the event that captures my imagination? This is a nation's pride on display for all the world to see. But what of the individual citizens? Are they dazzled?

At what expense to her own people did China display her glory? Halfway through the event a nagging voice said . . . be not deceived. This comes at great expense to many. And still I watch . . . one eye amazed and applauding, and the other spilling a tear. There was Tiananmen; there is Tibet.

And yet . . . we have our human rights violations, our horrors, in our brief 232-year history. Shameful ones. Have we risen above them yet? How much harder might it be for an ancient country like China, one bound in traditions for millennia the way its girls' feet were once bound? Might they need a longer time to unwrap the bindings?

Do you not see the beauty of the young athletes? Do their proud excited smiles not capture your heart? Skin colors from coal to cream. Does it matter? A language for every color-- some with alphabets, some without-- the words sound different, but they say the same thing. Does it matter? Do you see the symbols in the ceremonies? Peace, unity, harmony, togetherness, love . . . Do we not all want this?

What matters most? Our differences, or similarities? What matters most? Power, or understanding? What matters most? But it isn't this simple, is it? It isn't this simple at all.

It should be, but we just don't know how to make it work . . . yet. I'm not turning a blind eye to civil right violations. None of us should, in our country or any other. The love for our fellow man has to burn like the flame in the Olympic torch, and be carried from place to place until it burns in every heart.

It seems a distant hope, but I'd like to think it's possible.
The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that's wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us.~John Williams

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Would you trust this dog?

Seems dogs have issues that can be sorted out with a DNA test. For a price-- $55 to $200-- pet owners can get their mixed breeds tested to find out exactly what their genetic makeup is.

My first thought when I read the story in The Boston Globe was why would you care? I mean, apart from curiosity, why spend the money? I just wouldn't be curious enough. People often times know less about the babies they adopt. And we're talking dogs.

An aside here: I know a man, a South African black who is as white as I am, who paid $300 dollars to find out his genetic mix. This man has a fascinating story of growing up in South Africa. When he came to the US and applied for a professorship at a state college, he overheard a conversation through the door as he waited for his interview. Whoever the South African was, the blacker the better, someone said. I guess racial quotas were at stake. But he got the job, pale as he was.

Anyway, just as knowing a child's family history is useful to doctors, so it is with dogs and vets. The tests are marketed as a way to promote awareness of health issues that might arise in a dog. Some breeds are prone to hip displasia, some to breathing problems, for example.

And then, there's the issue of breed profiling, a close cousin to racial profiling, or judging a book by its cover. The dog of suspicion in today's world is the pit bull. Apparently if a dog even has a hint of pit bull-- the shape of the head, a barrel chest-- the MSPCA has to label it as being part pit bull.

And so what?

Well, for one thing, dog owners don't want their dogs associating with such rabble, and for another, doggie day care centers and landlords can discriminate against any dog perceived to be part pit bull. And in Boston these dogs must be muzzled on public property.

There is no, "don't ask, don't tell" in the canine world, and no canine equal rights amendment. No Doggy Liberties Union. And lots and lots of dogs have features that just might be pit bull.

Interestingly though, a vet who has been classifying dogs for ten years was amazed how wrong she was when test results came back. "I realized, I didn't know squat, " she said.

Makes me think. You can't judge a dog by its looks. Nor a human. It what's inside that counts, and I don't mean the DNA. I mean the heart.
A dog is not "almost human" and I know of no greater insult to the canine race than to describe it as such. ~John Holmes