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By Jill Greenwood

If you are a teacher, you pretty much spend your summers how you please. Some work because they want or need to. Others sit back and let the dog days wash over them. Me? I pretty much use it as a time to recharge my batteries. I don’t take on another job in the summer partially because I enjoy traveling. When my daughters were little, they would visit their grandparents in Ohio for a week each. Maybe when the girls were gone, Dave and I would sneak away to Montreal or some place quiet and just be. Usually at the end of their two weeks, I’d join them for a week and see my parents and my in-laws, often times spending a few days with Erika in Columbus. Getting that three-week “break” was enough to put most of my year in perspective, and it worked for the longest time.

After a while, though, it seemed like the batteries weren’t holding their charge for very long. I’d start to get tangled up in the whole, “Have I done this?” checklist mentality and pretty soon the panic of school starting again and not accomplishing a fucking thing would creep back in. So a few years ago, I decided that summers were going to be strictly for enrichment. If there was something that I saw during the school year that I wanted to do, I’d make a mental note (not going to lie – I’d write it on the palm of my hand first or text it to myself later) to add that to the summer wish list. Quilting a few years back? Sure . . . I’ll try it. Reading a classic book? OK . . . nothing ventured, nothing gained. Cooking actual food? What the hell! Sleep in until 7 AM? Ummm . . . no, can’t do it. But this enrichment thing had been working for me.

So, what have I been enriching this summer, you might ask? Well, partially thanks to a “mystery” rash – impetigo, poison ivy, algae, contact dermatitis – my July has been one of some personal soul searching and very little enriching. My weight isn’t what I would like, but more importantly, my health isn’t what I would like. And to me, that’s the an unforgivable sin. I came back from Ohio weighing the most I’ve weighed in years. I came back on the verge of depression. I came back pumped full of steroids that fuck with your chemistry. But I also came back with two huge bags full of homegrown produce. And with the attitude that my summer of enrichment was going to finish up being about me. Not about how to be a better teacher or wife or mother or sister or daughter or knitter or reader. Just about being a better me. I’m being selfish and making it all about me.

I’ve cooked more in the past week than I have all year. I’ve made two batches of refrigerator pickles (one even successfully!). My mandolin has received such a workout to transform pounds of zucchini into tiny shreds that it surely must feel like it’s in a porno for foodies. I’ve been using Pinterest to find recipes that will be easy, healthy, and satisfy a meat-lover and a meat-tolerator (I tried to quit you, Pinterest, I really did). Yesterday, after grocery shopping for the first time in a month (go ahead . . . wrap your brain around that one), I came home with two containers of Mason jars and a plan. Tiffani’s written about them in the past, and a quick spin through Pinterest has just about as many ideas as you can shake a stick at. So I decided that this summer about me would include something to get ready for the school year: making a Mason jar salad. Because once that alarm begins to ring at 4:45 AM at the end of August, a prepared lunch makes the difference between do-or-die. I think the salads took about 15 minutes to assemble, even calculating the calories for the two types. For that little amount of prep work, it’s kinda criminal that I didn’t do it sooner.

Even the pantry got an organizational makeover, with grains being stored in individual half-pints (because what was I going to do with the ten extra half-pints that I didn’t need for refrigerator oatmeal). Truth be told, they are bloody perfect. One container = one grain for dinner time. Snap a photo of the label and store it in Evernote. Calculate the calories and store it in LoseIt! Obsession? Yes, please. And I pitched shit with abandon. In the past, I’ve kept the food that was long past its sell-by date because I felt guilty about it. “Someone is starving out there, and I squandered these delicious freeze-dried cherries that were good until 2005? They’re freeze-dried . . . they still must be good!” But this time, that selfish nature that I’m embracing – rolling around in in like a pig in shit, more like it – forced me to throw it away. Chuck that salad dressing. Get rid of the relish. Mayo really does go bad. Beer actually will flatten if you don’t drink it.

There are still about four long weeks before that alarm will start blaring its tones and harassing me to solve math problems (yup . . . I use a math alarm clock to get my ass out of bed in the morning). In that time, I think I can squeeze in a few more experiments with my Mason jars. My limited storage space in the kitchen is begging for some TLC, so I’m 99% sure that I can get some magic out of them. I’ve been inspired by My New Roots to incorporate my raw and whole foods into my life, especially her Happy Crackers and Raw Cashew Dreamcake (seriously had to resist the urge to lick the monitor when I saw that one). I’m reading books I feel like just because. And if I feel like sitting and watching a marathon of The Real Housewives of New Jersey/NYC/OC/Beverley Hills/Atlanta, so be it. Perhaps they could all benefit from a few Mason jars here and there.

Before you know it, August will be knocking on the calendar door, beckoning me with her alarms and her bells and her calls to the classroom. I need to cram a little bit more enrichment into my life. How are we going to do this enriching thing together? Because just about everything is more fun with a partner to share the journey. Suggest away!

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  1. July 30, 2012

    You cooking makes me insanely happy, but you knew that. Make a big thing of quinoa on Sunday and toast it in the salads, make quinoa cakes, or eat it like Oatmeal. Yes, I love quinoa.

    • Jill #
      July 30, 2012

      I have red and white quinoa, so I’m thinking of putting it in the salads next week. And those smashed roasted potatoes last night? They might have been the most sinfully delicious thing I’ve ever made. I’m making those crackers for Dave sometime this week . . . but I told him I will draw the line at making my own yogurt (and tampons). He was happy with that.

      • July 30, 2012

        Come on. Give yogurt a try.

      • joelynnej #
        July 30, 2012

        Lol, but JILL! If you make your own yogurt you can dip your homemade tampon in it and have a homemade yeast infection cure! BAHAHA!

      • Jill #
        July 31, 2012

        If only I could manufacture my own Diflucan, I’d be all set with the inevitable yeast infection rears its ugly head.

  2. July 30, 2012

    I don’t understand. What do you mean beer that you don’t drink? I’m not familiar with that concept.
    But I DO love the idea of a math alarm clock! Husbandio’s head would explode every morning.

    • Jill #
      July 30, 2012

      Occasionally, and I’ll admit it can be rare, I buy beer I don’t always drink. It’s a sacrilege for sure (and I’ll try to use it in chili or bread), but the last two times, I haven’t finished the six-pack (oh, yes, my state limits you to either a six-pack or a case). So I bit the bullet and poured about six from two different sixes down the drain. Starting fresh (plus a box of wine).

      And the math alarm clock? My husband doesn’t even move. Slept through an earthquake once, he did.

  3. jessica #
    July 30, 2012

    i was also wondering how you had beer in the fridge that didn’t get consumed!
    i am actually getting ready to clean out the fridge, too. for different reasons (two small children and juice on tap do not mix well – literally a puddle of apple juice sitting in the bottom of the fridge with a trail down the front of all the drawers).
    those salads look so good! i think i may have to give that a go. i usually have whatever the kids are eating and well, it’s boring. a salad already in the fridge would be so much better!

    i’m still wrapping my head around the fact that you don’t start school for a few more weeks. every year this blows me away for some reason. school starts here on wednesday. WEDNESDAY! poor kids . . .

    • Jill #
      July 30, 2012

      Shocking about the beer, but it’s a sad fact for me. Sometimes I really want one and then I don’t for a long, long time.

      I’m shocked that schools are starting on Wednesday, but nothing truly surprises me any more. But I’m just grateful that we are starting before Labor Day this year. Starting after (huge in the Northeast) is the craziest shit I’ve ever endured!

  4. Michelle #
    July 30, 2012

    the salads look delicious, but if you really wanted to get a jump on things you could make the cookies, brownies, or fudge in a jar and have them all ready for holiday gift giving- me I am still too selfish to do anything remotely possible to plan for September- but next week I have itech bootcamp. So this might be my last week of summer.

    • Jill #
      July 30, 2012

      Nope . . . no cookies just yet! Let me relish in this “I’m eating better!” bullshit for a while. But there are some adorable “cakes-in-a-Mason-jar” recipes out there . . . might be something to try for conferences (because lord knows they are oh-so much fun on their own). Have fun at Bootcamp! I loved it . . . then again, I’m am that kind of tecno-nerd who would.

  5. July 31, 2012

    Try to make some dishes during these final weeks that you would never have thought of doing before. For example, if you enjoy Greek-like food, you could make schwarmas (which are kind of like pita pocket sandwhiches with grilled meat, tomatoes and cucumbers, a hummus like spread, and other assorted items). Or perhaps learn how to make crepes and put meat or dessert items inside them. By enrhiching your food options to do something different – and I will guiltily admit, international in flavor – you’ll feel like you used these last few weeks to do something different!

    • Jill #
      July 31, 2012

      I have always wanted to try crepes (I’m married to a man who will stalk a good crepe-maker to the ends of the earth; truly, he plans his Vegas trips around the casinos who handle Jean-Phillippe) . . . and one of my favorite pasta dishes involves spinach and feta. I’ll just toss the tomatoes on for good measure!

  6. July 31, 2012

    One of my personal favorite healthy meals is the following: pasta, spinach, tomato, garlic, and feta. Cook the pasta while you sautee the rest. Mix and enjoy!

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