Canning Notes for Next Year

photo (2)Every year for at least ten (to judge by the date on one dusty jar that I can’t bring myself either to open or to throw away), I make and can salsa and sauce with tomatoes from our garden. Every year, I have to remember how all over again. Same goes for buying school supplies and baking birthday cakes and filling out tax forms—all the seasonal skills that my brain buries deep in long-term storage. I mean, I have the recipes. It’s the timing and the rhythm I lose.

Although this memory problem is not improving as the years pass, I am getting better about preparing to forget. Last fall, for example, after our annual big trip south for Thanksgiving, I sent myself an email alert for the following November with instructions like “make sure the kids do their homework BEFORE the ride home” and “bring Mom a bread basket” and “MORE DISH TOWELS.”

And so, as this year’s canning season winds down, I am preparing a little cheat sheet for 2015:

  1. Although their sheer quantity and inexorable ripening may appear aggressive—even hostile—your tomatoes are not your enemy. Remember the years when, due to blight, you had to buy tomatoes at Indian Ladder Farms, beg heirloom beauties from a kindly green-thumbed librarian, scrounge the culled crops at the Co-op. Remember the year you ran out of pasta sauce.
  2. Everything in your kitchen is about to get wet. Move the damn library books.
  3. Your children and your husband will continue to regard the kitchen as a place in which to locate snacks and meals. This is a perfectly normal misapprehension, which should be corrected gently, if possible.
  4. Even things that are taking forever to cook will eventually burn.
  5. Yes, you’ve done the math, and no, canning your own sauce and salsa does not make actual economical sense, especially if you factor in your billable hourly wage. Or the minimum wage.
  6. Speaking of which, it’s OK to send your husband to Subway, where they put pale pink sliced “tomato” on your children’s subs, so that you can stay home and wrestle with 100 pounds of true tomatoes. I’m not sure why, but it is.
  7. Swim goggles will keep your eyes from watering when you slice onions. For best results, however, you have to put them on. (Note: Aprons also work better when donned.)
  8. Jars of sauce should be left on the counter “to cool” until your backache subsides or until your next dinner guests notice them, whichever comes second.
  9. If you think you smell something burning, you’re right.

If you’d like to try canning your own salsa, you can find the recipe here. Feel free to call my red phone for advice, but do it soon: birthday cake season is fast approaching.

The Anxious Heart of Our National Anthem

I’m happy to report that today’s post comes via The Post. It’s a meditation on a little song we sing all the time but don’t think much about. Click on the image to read the piece . . .

Washington Post

Promises, Promises


August 31, 1997

We wrote our wedding vows so long ago that I couldn’t find them on my computer. Surely I meant to transfer them from the first clunky PC desktop we had to my sister’s hand-me-down Mac laptop to her next hand-me-down Mac laptop to my current one. Those vows were on my mind because our anniversary is coming up, and two friends are getting married soon after. I’m fascinated, as you may recall, by the challenge of creating ceremonial language outside of a religious context; our wedding vows were probably my first attempt. But I couldn’t find them anywhere, except printed out and framed along with our wedding photo.

So I set out to copy them for you—five sentences of prologue and then the actual vows—but I couldn’t quite do it. Not the whole thing. I was 27 then, and reading the vows now at age 44 makes me cringe a little. Though Adam and I together decided on what we wanted to vow to one another, I was the one to decide on how. And, 17 years later, the writer in me has some complaints. The prologue sets up an elaborate analogy about building a home (with the help of our friends, on the foundation of our families, etc.), and though I still like the image of leaving the door of our marriage unlocked so our loved ones can enter, the general effect is a little careful and (am I allowed to say this?) tedious. When you read it, you’re just waiting to get to the good part.

The vows themselves are so hopeful they break my heart. Like reading your New Year’s resolutions in August. Or worse: reading resolutions from five or ten years ago. The promises we made were serious and demanding and we have broken all of them. But the most forgiving one—the one that shows that, although we were young, we knew ourselves and each other pretty well before we married—promises to “try.” That’s the word that keeps the vows alive despite the wear and tear. “Try” is how I look at New Year’s resolutions, too: that they should guide and inspire you to move in the right direction over the course of the year. Or a marriage. Not make you feel shitty because you didn’t immediately become—or can’t always be—your best self, but give you the courage to wake up the next morning and try again.

♦ ♦ ♦

We promise each other: I will turn to you when I am in need and care for you when you are.

We promise each other: I will take strength from who you are, forgive who you are not, and remind you who you want to be.

We promise each other: I will try to remember, whether sunk in sorrow or distracted by the day-to-day, what I feel at this moment—my sense of good fortune, my sheer joy at being with you.

We say to each other: Knowing my family and friends surround me, knowing who I am and who I want to be—with this strength and certainty I say to you,

I have only one life, it is only so long, and I choose to spend it with you.

♦ ♦ ♦

Come to think of it, we’re still working on the home, too.


Note: if you like these vows, you can use them at your own wedding, as long as you buy a few copies of A Walk Down the Aisle: Notes on a Modern Wedding. Or get a few friends to subscribe to my blog. Or send me a picture of your wedding and a copy of your version of these vows so I can post them here. 


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