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!