Of pickles, procrastination and promises

jars of pickles

I loved her from the moment I met her. Lois is at once kind, humble and sweet, yet also tough, strong and wise. At 84 and recently widowed, she is grieving. Her eyes will redden and rim with tears at inexplicable moments; you can’t live and love for more than 60 years with a good man and not have every aspect of life upended when he is gone. And yet, at a time when some people would succumb to self-pity, give up or give in, shy away from others or shrivel up in bitterness, Lois actively engages in life and in her work, seeking out opportunities to enrich the lives of others.

I know, because she has enriched my life.

The first time I met Lois, I came home and told my husband, “When I grow up, I want to be just like her.” She made me lunch that day. Everything was homemade: from sweet grape juice, to savoury casseroles, to buttermilk pie that melted in my mouth. And the pickles! I had never tasted such delicious pickles, and said so. When I left, she gifted me a jar of them. My family devoured them in one sitting. So the next time I saw Lois, I asked for her pickle recipe, and vowed to try my hand at pickle-making when the season came around.

Cucumber season came around a couple of weeks ago, and as I harvested a few tasty ones from my small garden I thought about pickles. I told myself I should get out and purchase the supplies I would need. I should visit a farmer’s market and buy the pickling cucumbers and the dill. But I can be a world-class procrastinator when I’m afraid or intimidated, and with only limited canning experience, the prospect of making pickles felt like an enormous hurdle.

Hearing of my stalling tactics, Lois took pity and said she would gladly mentor me through the process. And so it was that early yesterday I found myself touring her impressive flower and vegetable gardens as she wielded a spade, digging up the fresh garlic we would need.

Standing in her kitchen, sterilizing jars, scrubbing and trimming cucumbers, she told me stories from her life, and of lessons she’s learned. When at one point I commented on her impressive gardening, culinary and home-making skills she reminded me, with a story from her childhood, how she’d learned that we’re all given gifts, and it’s our duty to steward those gifts to the best of our ability.

Then, because it seems she will not receive a compliment without giving one in return, she said, “I couldn’t ever go to Africa and write a book.

Jars of relish and sweet pickles

Relish and sweet pickles in Lois’ kitchen.

We worked from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. You can see some of the fruits of our efforts above. (The photo at the top of the page shows dill and bread-and-butter pickles, the one immediately above – sweet pickles and relish).

At the end of our day, I thanked Lois for her generosity and labour. I told her she’d given me a gift that would last throughout the year – and maybe even for generations to come.

“A labour of love,” she clarified with a hug, and a smile.

At lunch time today, my 20-year-old daughter sampled some of the relish.

“Mmmmm …” she murmured, licking the spoon. “How do you make relish, mom?”

“I’ll show you next year,” I promised. “We’ll make it together.”

*

“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” 

– Henry Van Dyke

 *

Advertisements

Reality … augmenting not required

Geese

It was Saturday, and a beautiful day for a drive and a picnic, so we packed some sandwiches, loaded Percy (our border collie) into the car, and found a small town park located on the bank of a meandering river.

Scoring a table under the canopy of a large maple tree, we settled in to visit and nibble our lunch. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves. We had to hush Percy repeatedly for not-so-gently barking his excitement at the passing dogs, geese and people strolling by. The geese and the people seemed to be out in droves, but were, for the most part, ignoring one another.

Nearby, 15 or 20 young men and women stood clustered under an ancient oak. To a person, they stared intently at cell phones. Throughout our visit, others approached them – walking alone or in small groups of twos and threes – but each in a similar posture: cell phone raised, head tilted down, eyes focussed intently on the tiny screen.

It didn’t take us long to realize we were witnessing the Pokemon Go game in action, and like amateur anthropologists, amused ourselves watching those who’d come to the same park that day seeking to capture mythical creatures rather than a picnic spot.

Soon a young mother approached, arms outstretched pushing not a cell phone’s buttons but a stroller. Her baby wore a white bonnet and sunsuit, tied at the shoulders, the colour of the sky. The baby kicked her legs in that happy way that babies do when they’re anticipating something lovely, then leaned forward, straining, yearning to escape the confines of her seat.

The mother parked the stroller not far from us, spread a blanket on the grass, then set her little one down on it with a sippy cup. Later, the mother carried her daughter in arms over to see the river, pointing out the ducks, geese and seagulls. They stayed there as long as we did.

When it was time to leave, I walked over to admire the baby and say “hello.” The little girl looked up at me as I greeted her and responded instantly with a broad smile. My heart melted.

She was a beautiful baby, 9 months old, her mother said. Pudgy and soft looking, with chubby thigh rolls, long eye-lashes framing big blue eyes, and white fuzz from now absent socks clinging to the underside of her toes, she positively sparkled with delight at my hello. Her mother seemed equally happy to engage, and told me her little girl loved being out-of-doors; that was clear, for she had seemed entirely happy and content the entire time.

I felt captivated: by the baby’s delight at my cooing, and by her innocence.

Packing up our picnic and walking past all of those people staring at all of those tiny screens, it occurred to me that maybe I had found the most precious of all the treasures hiding in the park that day.

*

“Our unwillingness to silence our phones often amounts to an effective silencing of our own insight as we edge out of our imaginations the time required to actually experience it.”

– David Dark, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious

 

A much-needed thing

Cave Quest VBS Logo

 

I admit I had mixed, somewhat ambivalent feelings going into this week. Feelings that combined thoughts of:

I know I need to do this,

with

but it will be hard, 

with

but it will also be fun,

with

but I’m getting too old for this.

It was Kidz Kamp at our wee little church – that five-day period that rolls around each summer during which scores of community kids descend on our church property for a fun-filled, day-camp-in-the-suburbs-in-their-own-neighbourhood kind of experience.

Our church has been staging Kidz Kamp for years. Known to an earlier generation as “VBS” (or Vacation Bible School) the week always includes songs (led by an energetic youth band) with lots of dancing in the aisles, games, crafts, videos, enough cheering and hollering to give even the most devoted leader a headache, and Bible stories told in thoroughly dramatic fashion. The planning, work and preparation required to pull it all off are enormous.

This year, 115 campers attended the camp which followed the Cave Quest curriculum. Offering oversight were some 60 leaders – including adults (“Senior Leaders”), teens (“Junior Leaders”) and pre-teens (“Leaders-In-Training” or LITs). An army of other volunteers (featuring many of our church’s most senior citizens) worked behind-the-scenes to provide everything from security to first aid, drinks and snacks.

Kidz Kamp today is a well-oiled machine; it is a wonder to behold and to participate in. The sheer organizational efficiency required to pull it all off in a way that keeps everyone happy and safe is breath-taking. From pre-planned traffic routes – moving the various groups of kids from station-to-station and activity-to-activity inside and outside the church at 25 minute intervals (from 9 a.m. to noon each day) – to the creative crafts that were pre-planned, pre-cut and sorted into bins.

Our group was the “Rubies” – six lovely girls ages 8 to 11 plus a Junior Leader, an LIT and me.

I realized on Day One that I was not the only adult who went into Kidz Kamp feeling tired, a bit overwhelmed, wondering what I’d gotten myself into, praying for the mental capacity to be able to remember all my campers’ names, and for the energy, good cheer and patience to get through it all.

And I realized today on Day Five – as I felt a surge of genuine affection for each of my young campers and co-leaders, along with a teensy bit of regret that the week’s end had come – that God had answered our prayers.

Ours is a challenging world, and these are trying times. Growing up cannot be easy.

Teaching kids that God loves them, and that He will be there for them through good times and bad is not just a good thing; it is a much-needed thing.

At the start of the day today, my LIT presented me with a hand-made card, thanking me for being her senior leader and saying she hoped we would work together again next year.

Hand made note card

Hand made note card to me!

I have to say: I hope we do too.

Here’s a link to one of my favourite songs of the week, “My Hope Is In the Lord.”

 

 

 

Looking elsewhere

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

— Fred Rogers

We’ve been experiencing a hot, dry summer here in southern Ontario. The kind of summer that entices cicadas to celebrate with concerts while the day is still young, but compels most everyone else – who can’t flee to a lake or poolside – to choose instead the artificial hum of air conditioning. It’s been the kind of summer that turns grass golden and brittle, until it crunches like crackers beneath your feet.

For those who follow the news (and who can avoid it?) it’s also been a summer of shock and sadness. Too many innocents – indeed too much innocence – lost in the midst of too much violence. It’s almost enough to make a person lose sight of all the goodness and beauty we trust is still here. But maybe it’s precisely at times like these that we have to train our eyes to focus elsewhere for the beauty that surely still exists.

Take the grass for instance: it’s a shame about the grass. But the same conditions that persuade lawns to go dormant at times like this permit other plants to thrive. Captivating plants like chicory with its delicate sky-tinted petals, and exquisite Queen Anne’s Lace. Such subversives appear to wait in secret anticipation of the moment when, presented with just the right opportunity, they shoot upwards to reveal their hitherto forgotten existence; and seemingly overnight send long stems reaching, reaching.

I’m thinking about these wily weeds today; they’ve been in evidence everywhere recently as Percy (our family’s border collie) and I have taken our walks. Strong and resilient, they prosper in spite of the drought that makes the grass all around them appear to die. And I’m thinking their example has something to teach us.

The secret of these plants’ success against the odds is their roots; tough, swollen and deeply penetrating, they tap into sources of nourishment and sustenance far beyond the limits to which the threadlike roots of the little grass plants can reach. The loveliness of such weeds and wildflowers is there for anyone with eyes to see: frothy blooms in shades that nourish the soul surrounded by feathery green foliage, made all the more obvious, even, by their now brown and brittle surroundings. The fact that no one cuts the grass while dormant, ensures invasive neighbours thrive.

It is the oppressive heat and wretched drought that not only encourage weeds and wildflowers to flourish in fields and along roadsides, but enable them to do so.

I think Mrs. Rogers had it right.