Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On Canning, Smart Phones and Being Real


Canning is my new homemaking obsession. I absolutely LOVE it! 

Peach-Cilantro Salsa: Honestly, not as good as I had hoped - but will still be a nice garnish on tacos and such.
I canned food like a mad woman this past weekend; Nectarine jam, peach jam, peach-cilantro salsa, sliced peaches in vanilla syrup, homemade ketchup and crushed tomatoes. I’ve decided I won’t be doing that many different recipes or different kinds of fruit all at once again, but also that I will make canning -- smaller batches of things -- a new homemaking norm in my life.

Canned peaches in vanilla syrup - insanely good, and homemade ketchup - with a nice little zing from the cayenne.
It was quite surprising to me as I boiled, sliced, diced, peeled, funneled, lidded and boiled some more, how incredibly fulfilling the work was to me. I’ve been pondering all weekend why I loved it so much. The work was hard, time-intensive and a bit nit-picky. I think the why behind that ties in to the same reason I love to make our bread from home-ground wheat, and why I have loved getting my hands dirty in our garden (though it has yet to be fruitful for us.)

In our modern world – in industrialized nations at least - almost every body has a Smart phone or a tablet. These incredible devices are miracles in many respects. How amazing is it, that at the push of a button, I am able to see and talk with my family 15 hours away on a little machine I hold in my hand? Or that I can search for recipes by ingredient, and see hundreds of ratings and reviews on each one as I make my choice? With my iPad I keep informed about current events, and can even watch snippets of history-in-the-making. I can look up most everyone I went to high school or college with and take a peek at their facebook page to see how they are doing. I add a kick to my step with Pandora, as it streams Ingrid Michaelson (or any other artist or genre that I feel drawn to for the moment) and I dance around the house with my littlies. Plus, I write stuff in this little corner of cyberspace, and *Poof!* 200 people read my post. Seriously, technology is amazing. But, I like many others have a deep-seeded belief, that while technology is often a blessing in our lives, its excessive use is choking the very best parts of life for us.

We carry these devices around with us everywhere. While they do legitimately help us as we go along our way, I fear that we are also unwittingly becoming handicapped with how excessively we use them (and the internet) in general. We use them to skimp out on work we might have easily done on paper or in our heads 10 years ago – like, for example – simple addition and subtraction, or finding an address with a physical map. We’ve become so confident in our ability to just “google search” something, that we take it for granted that we don’t actually own the knowledge in our minds and would never be able to produce it on demand. We’ve become so accustomed to being informed or entertained in tiny snippets, that we are always ready to move on to the next thing, ever more impatient. Our interest in a beautiful moment is not about being there fully – but about capturing it to share it with the rest of the world. Before long the minutes we spend on our devices turn to hours, and days and years of our lives that we have spent living in a digital wonderland where we have not gained any real skills or deep knowledge, developed any intimate relationships, or used our time in a way that makes us feel proud to be alive. These devices are sucking the life and drive right out of us.

Juxtopose that image now, to my canning experience this weekend. 

Sterilizing jars in my pressure canner on the left, and boiling diced nectarines for jam on the right. My oven must be tired from this weekend, too.
I carefully plopped three peaches at a time into a pot of boiling water. After a minute of rolling them around in their steamy bubbly water bath I scooped them out and dropped them into a bowl of water with a floating chunk of ice – which audibly cracked as the hot peaches touched its cold surface. Every velvety peach rested for a moment in my hands as I pulled its gentle skin from its meat and discarded it into a pile. Each peach fruit let out a little roar – like velcro being undone - as the pits were pulled from their center cavities. And each little peach half was chop, chop, chop, chop, chopped into slices. Every. Single. One. On occasion I’d become even better acquainted – though not always fondly, I’ll admit - with a peach who wouldn’t give up his skin, or with a softer, slightly older peach of whom I might have to carefully cut out an extra bruise or two. I squeezed lemon halves in my juicer until their pulpy insides flipped out like translucent citrus-smelling hair. Sweet steamy aromas filled my kitchen as the hum of the overhead fan pulled the steam backward and up the vent. I peeled back tomato skins and dug out cores and seeds with my thumbnail. I pushed and squished and prodded at the pulp of boiled, blended tomatoes in a sieve in order to separate the seeds and skin from sauce – which Squire then boiled and stirred every 5 minutes for 2 hours until it was just the right consistency. I wiped the rims of glass jars of varying heights with a damp napkin to wipe away the thin, chalky, bumpy layer of minerals that had attached themselves to the glass thread and lip during the boiling process. Then I listened and my heart leapt up each time I heard the lids seal with little popcorn pops. At each evening’s end, I gazed at the food I had once held in my hands – the beautiful, rich, real colors of real food I had really held in my own two hands, and basked in the beauty and usefulness of the full jars of food, already offering bounteous fall color to my home and waiting to provide nourishment and enjoyment to my family and friends. My full cupboards – the fruit of my labors – there before my eyes! So fulfilling. So real.

My cupboard shelves filled with beautiful canned deliciousness. :)
Lately, I’ve noticed a whole lot of talk about being “real” on blogs and other social media outlets. I’ve thought about the whole debate about how best to be “real,” and I declare – I think we’re all missing the point! Our desperate pleas for “reality” – things as they really are – on blogs and other online mediums, speak volumes to me about the intimacy of which we have been robbed, and of the misperception of what is “real” life is exactly. Because of our acceptance of the digitial as an acceptable counterfeit for what’s actually real in our lives, we become upset when what is being presented online seems too perfect in comparison to what we experience every day. It hurts to admit it, but “Real” life, isn’t on facebook or a blog post – nope, not even this one.* It’s not on Pinterest or Twitter, or in the text message from the person sitting right next to you in the same room.

What’s real, is experienced live with our own two physical hands, and with tired feet and sore backs. It is spoken and sung with our own vocal chords. It is experienced in quiet cherished moments when cameras aren’t snapping photographs for Instagram. It is faced with the real tremble of pain, sorrow, or anger. It is felt under our bare feet on our dirty kitchen floors. It is enjoyed as we truly look into our children’s eyes and revel in that moment there with them – without wondering about how to capture it for everyone else to see. What’s real – isn’t captured on, experienced through, or shared with a smart phone. All of the realest moments – come as we are fully engaged and absorbed in our present physical and spiritual space.

That’s what I loved about canning so much, I’ve decided. Canning was my opportunity, to slow down, forget about the blinking distraction that is the internet. My opportunity to hold something real, and of nourishing value in my hands, to learn an actual skill that I will use to benefit myself and my family, and to create and fill physical space with the beautiful evidence of the work I had done. My fingerprints are now left in my cupboard. Just like my fingerprints – and Lincoln’s - were left on these homemade pretzels. 

Lincoln made all the pretzels in the center - on his own! What a kid!
They are on the desk that Squire built. They are in each and every hand-crafted good, and hand-made goodie in our home.

I'm probably some kind of hypocrite for having taken photos of all these things for this post on my iPad. Admitting that lessens the level of hypocrisy some, I hope. ;) But doing things by hand - that, to me, is one poignant way to be real. It’s one of my most favorite ways to be real. Cottage-craft, wood-working, and homemaking skills are not a passing fad, but a beautiful stewardship over the good gifts God has provided for us on this Earth. When we use our hands, and our time, and our rapt attention to preserve God’s good gifts (our children being chief among them), we find joy in those small tasks and those moments of time, as we mirror His creative power.

What does being real mean to you?

*So, I’m definitely not advocating that we shouldn’t read – especially excellent books! Nor is this an aethistic argument that “if you can’t see it, it isn’t real!” Inspired books, some well-written blog posts, some music and some video clips and films capture glimpses of spiritual truth and matter that is too fine for us to percieve with our clunky mortal senses. As we use our time to study the fruit of certain principles, and meditate on the truths we find in good books and other media – and then actually apply what we learn – that can be a dramatic force for us on our paths to real happiness in not only a physical, temporal sense, but in an Eternal sense as well. 

P.S. Thank you Melanie for all your help! It was much appreciated, and needed! :)

2 comments:

  1. I grew so much in my garden this year. So many things that I had never grown before! And I preserved and used as much as I could. I grew some red potatoes (from the store that had grown eyes) in a cleaned out trashcan and made a huge pot of cheesy potato soup with it, half of which I froze. We ate our squash fresh-cooked, canned into dill relish, and blanched and froze chunks for later this winter. I grew tomatoes, and then canned them into tomato sauce. Just to name a few things.

    It was absolutely exciting to me, as well as humbling. It made me so grateful that I can do this grow-and-preserve process to help my family save money and grow/preserve things that taste millions of times better than store-bought without our livelihood depending on it. If my squash didn't grow, I could go to the store and pick some up. When my crops were devastated by insects, I could swiftly go online and find or purchase a remedy, or simply say "oh well. Maybe next year." If my plants were thirsty, I walked over to the faucet, opened the valve, and let out as much water as I wanted. I didn't have to hope and pray that rain would come, or find ways to save rain water for the next drought, or pull water up from a well.

    This past spring and summer has made me so much more grateful for what those before went through. I'm grateful I get to learn these things--from successes and failures--without the pressure of starvation or extreme hardship.

    I think you're right about having to experience what is real with your own two hands. Those moments of awe at what you have accomplished, feelings of sadness in failure, or the incredible things we can learn if we're quiet and ponder ARE intimate. They don't ALL need to be shared. MOST of them don't need to be shared. Time in my garden, moments of pondering, intimate experiences with my family are real to me. Things that are raw, or earthy. In touch.

    I think the balancing act comes in when we look and see all of the beautiful and wonderful things that others are doing, and we begin to compare ourselves. I know many women who quit blogging because they couldn't stop trying to compete with the perfect pictures. The thing is, it's wonderful to be "REAL", but it's also fulfilling and fun to blog, share, and talk about it. To express what we've learned. Maybe the blogging and talking about it aren't as spontaneous as what is REAL, but I'd rather see pictures and read posts that are beautiful and inspiring, than read about the awful things people experience every day.

    Bring on the illustrations and expressions of what is REAL to somebody, even if it is the only beautiful moment of their day in a terrible life. I promise to discard my envy of your moment and replace it with happiness for you and hope for self.

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    Replies
    1. Beautiful comment, Katie. Amen to everyhting you said. Also, you are awesome! Great work on harvesting and preserving all that food from your garden. I am right there with ya on being grateful to be able to learn these skills in times of plenty - otherwise, my family wouldn't survive for long! Haha! :) I hope you are doing well. I nee to give you a call some time and catch up. Love you, cousin. :)

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