Summer’s End–Family, Community, and Canning.

School started this week, and for the first time, its arrival felt bittersweet. Usually, by this time, I feel like I will sell my soul to their teachers in exchange for removing the Heathens from my home for a few hours a day. August means we’ve devolved into who-looked-at-who the wrong way, which in turn, ends up being a crossover between “Who Moved My Cheese?” and The Hunger Games.  This year, however, summer seemed to fly by at a too-rapid pace. It doesn’t help that G-Man is a junior, Bear is a freshman, and Bean is in (gulp!) first grade. I wish I had a few more days at the pool or the camp, but in the end, the promise of less than 100-degree heat means that I’ll get over it quickly. So, the summer recap:

We had our epic family reunion with my 80-plus cousins who are just as zany as we are, fun days at the Gulf and the camp, questionable fishing, and general mayhem:

There was some knitting, which I will post about tomorrow:

I smoked and cooked at bit (including hosting 4th of July for our neighborhood, and tackling fresh pasta):

But, if I had to sum up this summer, I would call it The Summer of Canning. We spent the spring installing and planting several raised beds in our postage stamp-sized back yard. We hope to adopt a year-round gardening plan down the road, but ultimately, I think the Husband and I feel called to find a balance between the frantic digital pace of modern daily life, and the skills, traditions, and values that we internalized from our parents and grandparents.

We want to raise well-balanced, knowledgeable kids that have adequate life skills by graduation, or at least some exposure to many things and the attitude that they can figure crap out if they try. This isn’t just about gardening. G-Man must have changed tires on the family car six times this summer as we dealt with failing tires and those pesky nails the contractors down the road kept dropping. He also has a bank account, and I’ll send that kid to the Kroger at the drop of at hat, which means he now knows where to find vinegar and pectin, and the difference between a poblano and a banana pepper. G-Man and Bear can cook a meal, bake a mean cookie, and follow a recipe while adapting if needed. As such, the garden is another extension of our desire for fresh produce and deliciousness, while modelling life skills that might keep our kids from being left for zombie bait in the event of a Walking Dead scenario. Kidding…Kidding…

But, with that garden, came the dilemma of keeping up with it. I swore to the Husband that I would not let his efforts go to waste. I’ve written about canning before, but this behemoth was beyond my ability to manage, or at least my available time. But then, the blessing came. My neighbor had never canned and wanted to learn, so I did a quick recipe with her (that she brought over) so she could get the basics. One thing led to another. Before long, we transformed into a well-oiled operation of shared labor and shared bounty. We worked side-by-side each week, harvesting, prepping, and putting up recipe after recipe. We fought the bugs, the heat, our restless kids, and the burn of hot peppers from forgotten gloves. As the days blended together, we visited, shared stories and memories, and ended up with overflowing pantries of salsa, jalapeno jelly, serrano jelly, pickled peppers and onions, cucumber relish, pickles, spicy tomato jam, pickled jalapenos, and more.


We even put together and vacuum-sealed bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers for fall and winter entertaining. A full pantry and freezer soothes my soul and makes me feel more connected to the strong women in my family tree. That was something I didn’t expect, but I’ll take any day.

Over these intense kitchen sessions, I noted to my neighbor that I can now see why chores like canning, quilting, butchering, and harvesting historically often turned into group events. People helped their neighbors or friends with these labor-intensive activities not only to share the load, but also to connect in a way we now have lost, and which we often miss in our disconnected, overworked, digital lives. (and yes, I get the irony of saying that on my digital blog, but I do believe we can all find a better balance between the power of the internet to connect and educate us, and the temptation for it to consume us at the expense of genuine experiences). Whether we were enveloped by steam from the canner, or got lost in the hours of chopping 12 pounds of tomatoes at a time, we strengthened our bonds as both friends and neighbors in a way that made me feel closer to her, and my family’s history and traditions.

So, as I come to summer’s end, I still feel like it flew by, but as I reflect, I also think of it as time of connecting with family and neighbors, cultivating skills, and transitioning from the tragedy of losing my father to letting the light back in. That, if anything, was probably the best takeaway of all.

But you know what’s even better about summer’s end? I can now plan the Halloween decorations and party. Mwhahahah!

The Summer of the Fish

It’s no secret that we love to fish, and now that Bean is older and a wee bit more patient, we get to go a lot more often. Thus far this summer, we’ve fished the waterways of south Louisiana, a local lake, and down on the shores of Galveston. We still have plenty of side trips planned (assuming the brutal Louisiana heat doesn’t cook us to death), so I hereby declare this the Summer of the Fish!

Summer’s End

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imageimage image imageimage imageAfter the past two crappiest summers ever, I was determined that this summer would finally break the curse and help me not want to curl up whimpering under the covers until October. I’m happy to report that we managed a great couple of months, and in the end, I accomplished a singular goal–To live this season in the moment, enjoying my family, and making connections with my extended family.

At the close of this summer, I can say that there were: swimming, pools, pool games, waterslides, rivers, bonfires, barbecues, cookouts, card games, cabins, road trips, fishing, going-away parties, fire works, block parties, family reunions, and much more. Alas, however, I am ready for fall, and I foresee many Halloween crafts in the near future!

A Fish and a Finished Knit.

DSC_0011We ran down to south Louisiana this weekend for a little fishing and catching up with friends. Despite the fact that it was eleventy-million degrees, we still had fun.

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Despite the fact that I am working on my husband’s epic sweater, I needed an easy project for travelling so I whipped up a hat for charity. My cousins participate in a big Christmas project for the Seamen’s Church Institute  and I promised to send some hats their way. Overall, we caught many fish and had a blast. We’ll definitely go back when the weather cools off a bit.

hat

Pattern: Oliver’s Cap

Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease in Forest Green

Needles: Size 8 circulars and DPNs

Notes: As many other knitters noted, this pattern runs small so I added about 3/4 of an inch before starting the decreases. Next time, I may add another inch or so of ribbing as well.

 

 

Post-Thanksgiving Rest

towelWelp, I survived a Thanksgiving marathon like no other. To be honest, we had a great holiday, and despite hosting 20 of our family and friends, things proceeded smoothly and happily. As I was giving my dad the event recap, he asked in exasperation, “Who even has 20 chairs?!?” This girl, Dad…this girl.

During the days of preparation, my neighbor’s daughter stopped by and handed me this kitchen towel as a sweet pre-holiday gift. That 11 year old was on to something. I accepted ahead of time that big holidays can be chaotic, and that if something went wrong, it really would be ok. I’m  so over the pressure for picture-perfect gatherings, and I realized that once you have that mentality, you certainly enjoy them a lot more. I enjoyed the preparations, and approached the whole she-bang with very uncharacteristic calm. We ended up with a wonderful meal, a bucket of leftovers, and happy memories. We even got to spend unexpected extra time with my husband’s great uncle, which resulted in days of happy stories and tree trimming.

As I talked about in this recent post, we made a special effort this year make the most of our leftovers and to stretch them into as many meals as possible. We did the traditional next-day paninis with everything  on them:

 

panini.JPGWe also made and froze several casseroles of turkey tetrazzini, several quarts of turkey soup, and ham pot pies.

Now, it’s time to slow down a bit, catch up on work, and enjoy the first bit of sunshine we’ve seen. Not to mention my pressing need to pick up the pace on those last-minute knitted gifts! We won’t even get into the mess that has overtaken my house. Or the laundry pile…Dear God, the laundry pile…

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well! I’ll just be over here, closing the laundry room door.

A Collection of Random Events From an Overheated and Sleep-Deprived Loony Tune

Last week was not a good week around here. My little corner of Louisiana broke the record high temperature for October at 97 degrees. You read that right. Ninety-freaking-seven. Fall is still elusive, and rather than boots and scarves, I’m still rocking the cutoffs, tank tops, and sandals. The heat that never ends has made everyone snarly, and it’s definitely worn our it’s welcome. It’s not helping things that my Fitbit confirmed that my sleep habits lately leave a lot to be desired. I need a nap and a major attitude adjustment.

With the school Halloween carnival just around the corner, I’ve been deep in planning and organization mode, while also trying to balance work and the Heathens. While my sewing machine has taken up residence on my dining room table, it’s been cranking out carnival booth backdrops rather than anything fun. However, the boys brightened up this less-than-fun week with perfect report cards, which earned them dinner at their favorite restaurant and this mom a margarita.

After our week of record heat, my husband was out of town over the weekend, so I hosted my sister, her boyfriend, and his kids for a delicious Sunday lunch and fun. In typical sister fashion, she played on all the scooters, the seesaw, the pink powerwheels, but boyfriend and I drew the line on riding the skateboard. She has a tendency to forget that she is no longer 13, and very accident prone. I’m sure my neighbors wonder if she’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket, but’s it is highly entertaining to watch a nearly 40 year old woman ride a go-cart.

Meanwhile, I cast on for the Starshower cowl, but progress is slow with so much to do.

cowlNow, I’m off to buy pumpkins for next week, as I learned my lesson last year. Come Monday, you will be hard pressed to find them as retailers are clearing the way for Christmas inventory. And maybe I’ll make some pumpkin bread. If it doesn’t feel like fall, at least it can taste like it, right?

Seriously? Seriously…Come ON Already!

I am really trying to work on that whole gratitude concept. Even during this worst summer ever, I still found grace in small things every day. The rational side of my brain also knows that I am blessed beyond measure, with a wonderful family, a safe, happy home, and the security of knowing that we have everything we need. I know this. I really do.

But then, some a$$hole just had to get enterprising and clone my debit card. Ya know, the one that has never left my wallet and is still in my possession? How he or she accomplished this feat is beyond me, but card cloning seems to be surging in my little corner of Louisiana. This oh-so-lovely person then went on a shopping spree at Marshall’s two days before my mortgage payment was due.

Now, I know I should be looking on the bright side. The bank will give the money back (eventually), and my mortgage company will wave all of the late penalties (after I jump through burning hoops of fire to prove that this, in fact, really happened). But right now, I’m just selfishly wondering if we could just catch a dang break. Did I mention I’m sick too?

So yeah, I know it could be worse, and I’ll get over my tantrum soon. But seriously, Marshall’s? If you were going to drain my bank account, you could have at least done it on something better than cheap clothes! Talk about adding insult to injury…

Labor Day, Red Jalapenos, and Kicking Summer to the Curb

gmanWe had a quiet, yet very fun holiday weekend. My husband set up the waterslide on Saturday, and let the neighborhood kids run wild while I canned the last crop of jalapenos.

Jelly

I had inadvertently let the most recent crop of jalapenos turn red on the bush, which was a first for me. However, I wasn’t going to let them go to waste even if I was worried about how they would perform. The resulting jelly turned out fine, and seemed maybe slightly spicier than the original version. I read conflicting opinions on the internet as to whether jalapenos are more or less spicy as they mature, so I’d say you just have to try it yourself to decide. If you do want to test a red jalapeno for spiciness, I’d suggest a recipe with a small amount of jalapeno to compare, and not some bold experiment like bacon-wrapped red jalapeno poppers. Better safe than tongue-burned. Unless you’re a weirdo, and are into that kind of thing.

Sunday was fill of fun times with family (and good food), while Monday was grilling with the neighbors followed by a quiet afternoon of movie-watching with the kids.

Bean

It was the symbolic end of summer, and I am so very past ready for cool weather and the fun traditions of fall. I just hope the weather takes a turn for the better soon, because this burning heat sure sucks all of the fun out of September. Summer, you’ve overstayed your welcome, and it’s time for you to go now.

My husband stays I have to wait a couple more weeks before breaking out the fall decorations. We’ll see who wins that one, won’t we?

The Point at Which My Heart Broke

B and G

So, yeah. I don’t even know how to start. Last summer was, what I thought, the worst summer ever. I lost my grandmother and dealt with the grief that came from realizing how much her passing affected relationships with our extended family. Dealing with that grief was a long, slow climb to acceptance, with plenty of setbacks along the way. My sister and I vowed that this summer had to be better. We’d have fun, and wash away the last of those bitter memories.

And then my mom called. She hadn’t been feeling well and the doctor sent her to the hospital for some tests. She told me not to worry, to enjoy my weekend, and talked about taking the Heathens to a movie that next week. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there and that’s a long story for another day. Three weeks later, we lost her after an exhausting fight for hope and healing. She was only 57.

Grief like this is an acid that is constantly bubbling in the back of your throat. It robs you of common sense, good judgement, and makes you do and say a lot of things you regret. That’s why I don’t want to write about it just yet. I need time to let wisdom come out of the chaos. However, in the midst of the suffocating fog, there have been incredible family and friends who lifted us up and carried us through. That has helped me get barely back into perspective, and is holding me up as we try to move forward. Right now, every day is a battle to breathe, but I know I’ll learn something through this process.

What I realized so far is that I have been so busy working and keeping things going over the past year that I’ve stopped doing so many things that bring me joy. My camera has a layer of dust on it. My knitting bag sits abandoned. I’ve thrown together meals thoughtlessly when I love to cook. I can’t even tell you the last time I went to the gym or finished a book. I’ve just been plodding along, and if I look back over the past year, I feel like it just passed me by. Then, this tragedy changed my world overnight.

So, if there is one thing my mom taught me, it’s that if you don’t like the way things are going, get off your ass and do something about it. She was the hardest working person I knew, and her memory reminds me that my family deserves a mom who checks back into life and promotes joy in all things. One day, when I can write about this, I will. But for now, I’ll commit to making the effort to shake off this fog and live. If that wisdom and serenity part could just hurry up, I sure would appreciate it.