Monday, September 5, 2016

Flying Solo on Labor Day

Saturday I went to a local farmer’s market to buy produce, specifically Early Elberta peaches.  They are always on around Labor Day, and they are the best peaches for canning.  Firm, tart, and freestone, they are my favorites to bottle. Three boxes of peaches, two boxes of pears, two boxes of Gala apples, a bag of corn, and a melon later, my wallet was a lot thinner and my project list was growing. 

Today I am celebrating Labor Day by working.  Seems appropriate, doesn’t it?  While the pears will take a few more days to ripen, and the apples will hold for a little while, those peaches need attention.

Pears and peaches for canning.
In the fall, at harvest time, I like re-stocking my home with canned goods and bottled produce.  We fill pantry shelves with staples we use for cooking year round, and augment our storage with bottled salsa, green beans, pickles, peaches, pears, and more.  Canning season stretches from mid-spring (strawberry jam) to October (corn and salsa) for me.  Already this year I have put aside strawberry jam, zucchini relish, apricot jam, and green beans.  And today it is peaches.  Lots of peaches.

I have a love/hate relationship with canning.  It’s a lot of work.  Certainly it is easier to walk into a grocery store and buy a can of peaches.  But have you eaten commercially canned peaches?  Ick.  They are processed while still a little unripe, and therefore are overly firm and not as flavorful.  Home canned peaches, on the other hand, can be bottled at the peak of the season and when just ripe.  I can be my own quality control. 

My first memories of canning are vague.  A canning kitchen is not the safest place for a young child.  Boiling kettles and sharp knives can quickly lead to scalds and cuts.  I remember my mother and her sisters gathering in mom’s kitchen and canning.  As a child, I didn’t participate, but I remember long days, dozens of quarts of fruit, and my mother and aunts talking and working together.  My grandfather had an apricot tree.  My mother said he called apricots the “Queen of Fruit,” and that they were a personal favorite of his.  One summer,  I remember  my parents getting creative when inundated with bushels of apricots from Grandad’s tree.  Dad built screens to cover rows of apricots spread out on tables drying in the sun.  The screens let the sun in to dry the fruit, but kept the bugs out. My parents made apricot leather and apricot nectar.  We ate a lot of apricots that year. 

Another year, my folks invested in a pressure canner, and we children were enlisted to help prepare green beans for canning.  Their pressure canner now resides at my house.  My family and I grow green beans in the garden each summer, and my children work to pick, snip and wash the beans for canning.  Having more helping hands makes the work go faster.

Green beans from the garden.

Usually I head to my mom’s house on canning days when fruit is in season, but this year, I am processing peaches on my own.  I have canned enough that the solo journey today does not seem too daunting.  It has been a year since I last did peaches, and I scroll through the information stored in my memory banks to lay out the necessary supplies.  Preparation is important to the process. My counter holds clean quart jars and bands to go over the lids.  I have a bowl for scalded peaches and an old pie tin to hold skins and pits.  My knife rests on the island, waiting to be pressed into service.  On the stove are three pots:  one heating canning lids, one holding boiled syrup, and one with boiling water to scald the fruit.  Everything is at the ready; it’s time to begin.

Lids, syrup, and peaches on the stove.

I sort peaches and load the best ones into a mesh laundry bag (these laundry bags are perfect for scalding fruit, and they wash clean easily).  I dip the peaches into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then transfer them to the bowl.  When the peaches are ripe, the skins slip off easily after scalding.  I slice the peach in half, slip the skin, pluck out the pit, and place the halves in the bottles.  Once the bottle is filled, I pour in the syrup, check for air bubbles, wipe the rims, put on a lid, and screw it in place with a band.  Occasionally I stop to mix more syrup, and scald more peaches.  

Peeling peaches and filling jars.

I think about sitting in my mom’s kitchen with my grandmother and sisters and canning peaches.  My sister and I would grimace as the sticky peach juice drizzled from our hands down our forearms.  My grandma could out-pace us filling jars well into her nineties.  My mom would mix syrup on the stove and scald the peaches, bringing them to us at the table.  Canning was a social venture, and if a peach half didn’t fit in a bottle, I would pop it in my mouth and snack as I worked.  But today is quiet.  I put a CD in the player, and before long, Adele has me feeling nostalgic.  7 quarts later I move on to Christina Perri to add a little angst to the day.  Later I decide to perk things up with some Maroon 5.  Who knows?  I may be hitting the Guns N Roses before the day is through.

Once I have filled 21 quarts, I move on to a batch of jam.  Jam is all about precision and timing.  I measure the sugar and open the pectin.  My jars and lids are ready.  Once those crushed peaches are on the stove, things move quickly.  Bring to a boil, and while stirring constantly, add pectin and sugar.  Continue stirring while the mixture returns to a boil.  Set the timer with one hand while stirring, stirring, stirring.  Boil one minute, remove from the heat, skim off the foam and bottle.  My little half-pints are filled and ready to process. (And if you have never had the privilege of smearing that warm peach jam foam on a piece of toast, you are missing out!)

Two of my 21 bottles today.

Then it is on to processing in a water bath, 7 jars at a time. Once everything is out of the canners, I line the hot jars up on clean towels on the counter and listen for the satisfying “pop” each lid makes as it seals.  Things didn’t go perfectly smooth this year.  Some of the peaches were more blemished than usual, and my bottles leaked syrup out the top when I removed them from the canner. Worst case scenario is that some of the jars won’t seal.  Best case is the syrup will be a little low and I’ll have to wash off the sticky jars before putting them in the pantry.

My back aches from standing and canning for hours, but 21 quarts of fresh peaches and 7 half-pints of jam are worth it.  It is a satisfying effort.  This winter it will be so easy to serve peaches and cottage cheese with lunch or dinner, or have peach jam and whip cream on homemade waffles.  Flying solo this Labor Day was a success, but I confess I am glad my 2 boxes of apples are at my mom’s house, and that I will be making applesauce with my mom and sisters. I am also sure my husband will continue to lead out on salsa bottling day, and just let me be the helper.  I can check peaches off my list, so now only pears, applesauce, salsa, and corn remain.

 I think there are good reasons why people used to gather to raise a barn, bring in the harvest, or preserve the food.  Not only were the skills and traditions passed from generation to generation, but relationships were renewed and strengthened as people worked side by side. Canning with my family reminds me I am blessed with amazing people in my life, and for that, I am grateful. to tackle that mountain of squash!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Visiting the Salt Lake City Cemetery

Spring at the Salt Lake City Cemetery

I love cemeteries. I always have. I know some people don't love them, but when I visit a cemetery it calls to mind all the Memorial Day trips with my parents and grandparents. As children, my siblings and I were especially partial to cemeteries with headstones of all sizes and shapes. It was amazing to see stones taller than me. Some monuments begged to be climbed on, although my parents informed us it was not allowed in cemetery etiquette.

Rolling terrain of the Salt Lake City Cemetery

Cemeteries say a lot about who we are. A Shoshone cemetery in the Wind River area in Wyoming is different from the ones I visit on Memorial Day weekend. And I love them both. Each culture has its own burial traditions.  I have been to the sobering fields of Arlington and I have visited the artistic tombs of Pere Lachaise in France.Someday I really want to visit Highgate cemetery in London.

I have been to Charles Lindburgh's grave on Maui, and stopped at small family cemeteries on road trips. I have visited a Catholic cemetery and a Protestant cemetery in a small mining community in southern Utah, each with its own unique style. The Chinese cemetery was no longer there; a wealthy Chinese businessman paid to relocate it to China so that the remains of the Chinese immigrants could be buried in their ancestral homeland.

Sentiment on a headstone.

I love the poignancy of the human experience recorded in granite and sandstone: an infant buried near its parents, a family together in repose, a woman of ripe old age. I love the sculptures. The epitaphs range from humorous to profound.  I like history, too. Once on a family vacation we stopped by the grave of Wild Bill Hickok. I am forever grateful to a woman I will never meet who many years ago transcribed the headstone information in the Old Abercorn Cemetery in Quebec. I gleaned so many names, dates, and other important information about ancestors from her painstaking work of recording what was carved into fading headstones.

Apparently a relative of "The" Daniel Boone rests here.

On this visit to the Salt Lake City Cemetery, though, I had specific goals. First, a pair of great horned owls has been nesting in the cemetery for the past six years. I wanted to see an owl for my bird list. They nest in the cemetery in April, and it is easy to see why. The area has ample trees, wide open spaces for hunting squirrels and small rodents, and it is peaceful.  We tromped around for quite awhile before a cemetery employee pointed us to the trees the owls prefer this year. Sure enough, we found a great horned owl resting on a branch.

Great Horned Owl

It was impossible to get a great photograph, but you get the idea. We also saw an abundance of magpies, and one brown creeper. Brown creepers are on my short list of favorite birds, so that was fun.

Several years ago, I visited the Salt Lake City Cemetery looking for the marker of my husband's ancestor, William Lewis. We were unsuccessful in locating it that day, so armed with a map and location information, I set out to try again.

William Lewis marker, Salt Lake City Cemetery

It is pretty big. And prominent. I am not sure how we missed this the first time! However, it is also worn and faded, and I think the horizontal slab with detailed names and dates on the west side of this sandstone monument is new.

Surely we would have noticed this if it had been there before.

But, there he is, William Lewis. This marker calls him the "Poet Laureate of Wales." Who knew? 

Another great epitaph.

The Salt Lake City Cemetery has its share of stories. One is that a ghost will appear at Emo's grave if you go perform the proper ritual. "Emo's Grave" is really the grave of Jacob E. Moritz. (I hear cemetery security discourages people from attempting to summon the ghost. Bear in mind the cemetery closes at dusk). There are also tales of Jean Baptiste, who infamously robbed graves during his tenure as a gravedigger. He was eventually exiled to Fremont Island in the Great Salt Lake. One grave I wanted to visit is that of Lilly E. Gray. 

Grave of Lilly E. Gray in the Salt Lake City Cemetery

For some unknown reason, her gravestone is carved "Victim of the Beast 666." Lilly lived a pretty long life. The best information I came across in reading about her headstone is that her husband (who survived her) was considered to be a little bit crazy. So maybe he had this put on her marker because he was insane. I couldn't help but feel a little bit sorry for Lilly.

Sculpture in the Salt Lake City Cemetery

Overall, I thought my visit to the Salt Lake City Cemetery was a resounding success. Besides accomplishing my goals of seeing an owl and finding William Lewis' grave, I had a good walk, enjoyed great weather, soaked in the peace and solitude of the cemetery, and read several wonderful epitaphs. Also, the cemetery employees and caretakers we encountered were very nice and helpful.

Military section of the Salt Lake City Cemetery

If you visit the Salt Lake City Cemetery, you can pre-print a map showing the grave locations of prominent Utahns, many of them past presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Have an ancestor buried in the cemetery? I suggest a search of the online database or a visit to the cemetery office to find the grave location before heading out into the grounds. As the cemetery covers 250 acres, it is a good idea to know where you are going! The cemetery streets are laid out in a grid, so with a map, it is pretty easy to find your way around. Some of the "streets" are very narrow, so park on the wider roads and be prepared to do a little walking.

A request from one of the cemetery's residents!

This cemetery is a wonderful place to visit for all ages. It is beautiful, well-maintained,  and contains wonderful parts of our local history. You just might see some great birds as well!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Visiting The Lego Americana Roadshow

Iconic American buildings and memorials built out of Lego--what's not to love? Yesterday I checked out the displays at a local mall, and was amazed by the intricacy and detail of these models.

A view of the Capitol building

The Lego Americana Roadshow is touring malls around the country. This stop, in Utah, is the second mall on the tour.  The displays feature nine incredible models of American landmarks:  the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court building, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Old North Church, Independence Hall, and the Liberty Bell. 

The Statue of Liberty

Master Builders spent many hours creating these wonderful models. I found the fabric design in the Statue of Liberty's dress particularly interesting. The design skill that went into forming Lego bricks into convincing fabric folds is pretty spectacular. 

Independence Hall

There are signs near each model giving the details about the construction, as well as information about the historical building or monument.  For example, the Liberty Bell took two Lego Master Builders 430 hours to complete. The sign also informs the visitor that the spelling of Pensylvania with one "n" was correct for the time period. The words are formed in Lego brick on the model bell.

The Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell is a 1:1 ratio construction, meaning this model is the same size as the actual Liberty Bell. The infamous crack on the bell is captured in brick. Each model has incredible attention to detail.

The Washington Monument

The Washington Monument towers over mall visitors. This giant obelisk may not have the intricate details of some of the other buildings, but is still impressive.

The White House

The White House compound includes the annex buildings. Make sure you walk around these buildings to see the details on all sides. I loved the little doorknobs on the building doors.

The Supreme Court

The model builders even built the relief sculptures on the building facades. The Lincoln Memorial has a Lego Lincoln inside. Mall patrons tossed pennies inside the model. I liked the statues outside the Supreme Court building.

Statue in front of the Supreme Court

The grandest model of all, by far, is the Capitol. It spans 25 feet 7 inches in the mall, and it took a team of eight builders 1700 hours to complete. It is a stunning centerpiece to this exhibit.

The Lego Capitol Building

If you need something to do this weekend with the kids, stop by Fashion Place Mall and check out the Lego. These models are impressive for visitors of all ages. There is also a Lego play area in the mall where your little builders can try their hand at building their own creations. 

The Lego Americana Roadshow has been at the Fashion Place Mall since March 7. This exhibit closes in Utah on the 22nd, so if you haven't had a chance to see it, swing by the mall today. The construction is amazing, and best of all, the event is free. The tour will continue in Colorado. For the complete roadshow schedule, check out the event's Facebook page.  For information about Fashion Place Mall, including a map, click here.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

52 Weeks to a Clean House - Week 10: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Cleaning, and Me

Mary & Laura Ingalls doing chores - illustration by Garth Williams

In the novel, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura describes her mother's cleaning schedule. After the beds are made and the dishes are done, Caroline tackles the work for that day.
  • Wash on Monday
  • Iron on Tuesday
  • Mend on Wednesday
  • Churn on Thursday
  • Clean on Friday
  • Bake on Saturday
  • Rest on Sunday
I love the simplicity and rhythm of her routine. My days vary so much, I have not yet successfully assigned a particular chore to a set day. I am learning, though, that I need to accomplish basic chores early in the week. My chores also differ from Caroline's. She didn't have such items as "pay the bills," "clean the bathrooms," and "go to the grocery store" on her schedule. But then again, I don't have to devote entire days to ironing and mending clothes, either.

This week I struggled to fit in regular cleaning with the other things on my calendar and then inspiration hit. Mary and Laura are doing the chores. I have children! I assigned out some Saturday jobs and while they were being done, I got another file drawer under control. 

I might even have time to do some reading today! 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

52 Weeks to a Clean House: Week 9 - Creative Names for Filing Labels, and Other "Assign"-ments!

I am still de-junking the office! I haven't finished yet, but I haven't quit yet either. The sorting and purging goes on...and on...and on.  How on earth did I ever accumulate so much stuff?  On the bright side, I have purged enough papers that some of my file drawers are pretty empty and ready for the next step.  Under Julie Morgenstern's SPACE organization acronym, "Assign" follows "Sort" and "Purge. With 2015 financial papers piling up, it was time to assign them a new home.

There is room in the file drawer!

Of course, assigning means no more files labeled "Papers to File" or my favorite, "Miscellaneous." I had to actually make decisions about the papers. In the book "One Year to An Organized Life," Regina Leeds suggests several filing categories to contain the paper tornadoes that whirl through our lives. I read her ideas, and then went to work on my own system.

There just isn't a way to make file drawer photos interesting. But it IS all organized.

I have my prior-year financial information in one drawer, along with old tax returns, and then have my current financial files in the other drawer. Yes, that should keep me from searching frantically for my 2015 papers during next year's tax season. I also made files for insurance information (life, auto, homeowner's, health, and the insurance I bought on our aging water line that could disintegrate at any time).  Then I ran into paperwork on my AAA membership. Where, exactly, am I supposed to file that? Hmmm.  Miscellaneous? No, not again. I am NOT making new "miscellaneous" files.

I ultimately decided to file the AAA papers in a file near my auto insurance. After all, AAA is my insurance for roadside assistance, right? And I decided I am more likely to look for the information near my insurance policies than in a paid bill file.

After my files were set up, I took my stack of 2015 documents and filed them away. It takes a little time to get used to a new system, and it felt a little awkward at first. I am sure I will make adjustments to my files along the way. I am hoping as I use these files regularly, I will get more efficient at my filing.

The box pile is shrinking!

This "Assign" phase entails a lot of decision making. What will happen if I grow weary of making decisions about all of these papers? I think I will check a thesaurus and see how many other ways I can label "Miscellaneous."  (Sundry, Odd, and Motley all sound promising. I think I might be on to something!)

Happy Filing!