Not “Labor Day” but “Labor Weekend”

I finally have a minute to sit and relax and I decided to write a blog posting.  It’s the end of a holiday weekend and tomorrow morning I will have to go back to work.  The holiday we celebrated today was Labor Day…a day made into a holiday by the government to recognize the laborer that help make this country what it is.  Or maybe I should say what it was a few years back…before the professional welfare cases decided to make a holiday called “Labor Life” in which they took the rest of their life off work and pulled in a welfare check from the government because it was easier.

Oh wait, I have already digressed.  Let me get back on track.

So it is the end of a holiday to celebrate the labor force.  Many of my friends did something to celebrate the holiday.  Some had a cookout which gave them a couple of hours of enjoyment.  Others went camping which gave them a couple of days of enjoyment.  Me, I spent the weekend laboring.

(Now before I get too far on this, let me point out that I have multiple blogs.  This is the first and maybe only time, that I will share this post on both blogs.  Why do I do that?  Because one blog is about whatever is going on in the world that I want to comment on.  The other is in regards to my measly efforts to grow a garden and be a successful urban farmer.  For those that are all about ROI, it is not to drive traffic to both blogs.)

Now that I am being clear on the blog (or have I confused you more) let me tell you about my garden.  I have had this garden for pretty much the whole time I have lived in this house: 14 years.  For the first few years the garden was small as I was not very experienced at gardening.  I had helped my dad when I was young, but when I was finally the age where I could understand what was going on with the plants, he had decided to stop growing any produce.  So I never really learned all the techniques.  I just planted the easy stuff.  You know, stuff like zucchini, radishes, beets, carrots, corn and a tomato plant.  My garden plot was 6 ft. by 24 ft.  It wasn’t too big and if I had extra room I just planted more corn.

My garden now takes up almost half of my backyard.  Well, maybe more like 1/3, but add in a chicken coop and pen; I have definitely given up lawn space for dirt.  Oh yeah, and weeds and rocks.  Those are the two things that grow the best. (I bet you never knew rocks could grow, but I can show you otherwise.  I wish I could harvest this many potatoes every year.)

Over the years I have conditioned the soil, removed as many rocks as possible, done what I can to keep the weeds at bay, and try my hardest to have a successful harvest.  This year I decided to give up on a couple of easy things because they just weren’t worth the effort.  I tried my hardest to maximize the space possible.  I thought about what I would want to eat when the season was done.  And I also thought about what canning I would have to do so that food wouldn’t go to waste while trying to get another family in the neighborhood to accept an overgrown zucchini.

This year I knew I would need to make more salsa (or at least I thought I would…I found a whole case tonight from three years ago).  And then I thought that it would be fun to make some spaghetti sauce from scratch.

I also wanted melons and since I only live two hours north of the melon capital of the world, or at least Utah, I figured I could have the same success.  So I am growing three different kinds of melon: watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.

The garden grew and grew.  And the weeds grew even better.  But low and behold, I have produce.  Lots of it.  And I have already given a bit of it away.  And so has my wife.  Yet somehow this was still a labor weekend.  Why?  Because it all decided to ripen at the same time.

So guess what I did?  I didn’t make salsa.  I actually did that three weeks ago while recovering from my gall bladder surgery.  I made 27 pints of it.  It should be enough to last the year, unless we give a lot away for Christmas gifts.

This weekend I did spend a lot of time canning.  On Saturday, I did seven quart bottles of peaches.  I still have enough peaches from the first tree to do 3-4 more bottles.  The other tree will be ripened soon too, but those will either be frozen or made into nectar, or both.

When I was done with the peaches I turned to my jalapeno pepper plants.  There were a lot.  Even after completing all of that salsa I had more peppers than I knew what to do with.  So I decided to make jelly.  My wife and I love it with cream cheese on Club Crackers.  It makes a great holiday treat around New Year’s Eve.  I had red jalapenos and green jalapenos.  I wanted the jelly to look good so I separated the peppers by color.  I made 16 half-pints of red jalapeno jelly and 7 half-pints of green jalapeno jelly.  That is 23 jars total.  The red is hotter and the green is sweeter and they both taste great.

I took Sunday off from gardening labor and had a day of rest.  God created a day of rest from our labors and it happens every week.  I don’t think the government needed to create a holiday for it, but I won’t complain about an extra day out of the office.

Today brought more laboring in the kitchen.  I wanted to make spaghetti sauce and the conditions were just right: I had a day off work and the tomato plants were full of ripe tomatoes.  I put my daughter to work and she was a great helper.  I had her start by picking the tomatoes.  Over 40 pounds worth of the red fruit that everyone calls a vegetable.  They looked great.  We also picked some bell peppers to add to the sauce.

It took two hours to blanch and peel the tomatoes.  It took another six hours to cook the sauce and get it to a point where I could bottle it.  There were 9 quart bottles total so I had to process in two batches (the last batch is processing as I write this).  It was a lot of work.

Yes, it was work.  I labored on Labor Day.  And I loved it. In fact, I loved the whole weekend.  Something about harvesting and canning fills my soul with satisfaction.  In the last three weeks, I have canned about 60 jars of food that will last us at least until next year’s harvest.  It is awesome to think about.  It is a sight to behold.  And it will be nice to enjoy eating, especially in January when there is snow on the ground.

I know gardening isn’t for everyone and neither is canning the harvest.  But nothing beats eating something that you grew yourself.  And the sense of accomplishment when it is canned is just the cherry on top.  Do I feel bad for myself?  Not at all. I am now thinking about what else I can harvest and can.  How about strawberry-rhubarb jam?  How about end of garden relish?  Maybe even some more salsa…just because I have ingredients.  It may be the only Christmas gift you get from me.  Wouldn’t you be lucky?!  I think we all are when we see the success we experience in growing a bountiful garden.

I am blessed.

Just another view from a Palmtree.

Scary Days Ahead

It was the first day of school. Nobody could prepare me for this. My mom said it would be fun. My friends were excited that we would have more time at school together. My teacher the previous year said that the next year would be even better.

However, I was scared.

Mrs. Johnson only looked nice in the school pictures. In person she was a different person. Yeah, some of the kids liked her. But not me. She was Dorothy’s wicked witch to me. All she was missing on that first day of school was green skin and a big wart on her chin. Well, I guess she didn’t have the black pointed hat or black dress or striped socks or black shoes. Instead she had black hair and big rimmed glasses.

She was younger then my previous teacher but she was still old. Older than my mom that is. And to me that meant she was going to be strict. And she was. But that was 36 years ago. I was six years old. It was first grade.

My worst memory that year came during the winter. Our classroom had it’s own bathroom at the back. And next to the bathroom door was an outside door that led to the playground. It made for some great convenience when playing took higher priority than running off to the bathroom when the urge came on. There were some close calls that could have been terrible experiences for many kids had the bathroom been any further away from that door.

But one day, that urge came to one particular student and what could have been a close call turned in to a horrible experience. Why? Not because child wanted to continue playing until the last moment possible before running off to the toilet. No, in this case the student decided to head right away to the bathroom. But relief was not to be on that particular day.

The teacher was enjoying her 15 minutes of freedom while the kids were at recess. She didn’t want to be bothered at all. Especially with any kids that would be opening the outside door and letting the cold wind blow inside. So on this particular occasion, the student with the potty urge was denied access. Upon coming through the door a loud, stern voice sent a command to turn right around and head back outside.

After pleading his case, after begging to be able to use the bathroom, the student was given an ultimatum of going back outside or getting privileges taken away. Actually, the privileges would be taken away no matter what if he didn’t leave immediately. How long it took him to leave would determine how many privileges would be taken away.

But the kid had to go pee really bad. She didn’t care. He couldn’t hold it any longer.

I have a hard time deciding what was the worst part of that experience. First of all, there was the puddle on the floor that all of my classmates would see as then came inside from recess. Next, they would know it was me because there I was in wet pants. Third, I knew when the teacher saw the mess I would be dead meat. What is a boy to do?

Well, she told me to go back outside…so I did. Wet pants in below freezing weather. A playground full of kids that would for sure notice my pants. It was really enjoyable. NOT!!!

At the end of the playground was an undeveloped field. On the other side of the field was a park. Through the park and across the street was a church. And behind that church was my house. I ran.

I cried the whole way home.

When I got home I told my mom what had happened. I changed my clothes into something dry. I drank some hot chocolate. And then I was taken back to school. I don’t remember if my mom talked with the teacher or not. All I remember is that I didn’t want to be in her class any more. She was a mean lady in my mind and she didn’t like me at all.

I was six years old. I was scared.

Tomorrow my youngest goes off to start the first grade. She too is six years old. But she is blessed. Mrs. Johnson retired a long time ago. She might even be dead.

Starting a new school year can be a scary experience for kids. Whether it is because they are changing schools or because they are going to have a teacher that they have never met, a new school year can cause a bit of anxiety. Add to that the pressure that parents put on their children to do their best in class, to pay attention, to get all homework done, etc. It is a surprise at times that we don’t have kids experiencing panic attacks more often.

So what can I as a parent do to help my child have a better experience than me? Well, gratefully the teachers are more considerate, patient, and understanding at the elementary school that my kids go to. But I can also help my daughter to learn to be more cognizant of what is going on with her…in all aspects. If we teach our kids to be responsible for themselves, they will have more success than I had on that cold winter day. Walking home with frozen pants isn’t fun.

I don’t want my daughter to do that.

Kids, there are 180 school days in the year. I am sure that more than one of them will be a little bit scary. Go forward and conquer it.

Parents, there are 180 school days in the year and you won’t be able to watch your child and protect them every minute that they are at school. Some days will be a little bit scary. Teach your child correctly, trust them to make correct decisions, and let everything else fall into place on its own.

And if you are a teacher, please let the child that is about to look control of his bodily functions use the bathroom. It will save a mess on the floor and in their clothes, it will save the child from teasing, ridiculing, and over all feeling bad. Most of all, it will save that child’s dignity. And we all know how important that can be.

Just another view from a Palmtree.