Canning is a messy business. Over the weekend I canned a batch of salsa, only seven pints, and by the time I finished, there were dirty dishtowels everywhere. Everywhere. In the sink, on the table, on the stove. By the time I had washed and dried bowls and cutting board and knives, there were even more towels.
How did Ma Ingalls do it?
We know Ma canned, because Laura refers to her doing so in The Long Winter. So if Ma was canning at the homestead shanty at De Smet, we are not talking a big room. We are not talking about a family that had a lot of towels either.
My good friend Margo and I often dissect the Little House saga with painstaking precision. Where did Ma go the bathroom? And now this all consuming question: how did Ma can?
I am not planning on a lot of canning this year. My heart is not in it and, other than the salsa, I am not sure I want to lay up treasures in my earthly pantry.
That's as far as I got.
My writing got set aside for lots of reasons. A concert cancellation lead to Warren being able to leave town for a week and we made tentative plans for a long overdue break. Aunt Ginger unexpectedly went into the hospital for the better part of the last week of August, an adventure that started at 8 p.m.on Monday and segued into rehab at a nursing facility at 4:00 p.m. the following Friday. Our vacation plans tottered and threatened to all with the medical crisis, but once Ginger was safely ensconced in the nursing home, I felt I could leave town with impunity.
So we fled. Fled to Cape Hatteras and the gift of a cottage at the ocean. Fled to a week of no office, no Symphony, no hospital, no much of anything. Oh, we did a little bit of going out and looking: Monticello on the way to the cape, the Wright Brothers National Monument when we got there, but for the most part we kept quiet and stayed home. The ocean was a short walk over a dune and we both spent time walking or just sitting and listening.
The cape is two weeks behind us and I am still playing catchup. (But I'm closer, really I am.) The great news is that Aunt Ginger was released today from the nursing home and is now back home in her own comfort zone. She lives a block away from me, so now she is a short stroll away instead of driving across town.
It's good to be writing again. I did write some while I was gone, but not blogging posts. It's good to be back, but because I am still catching up, I am finishing this post with my September Myeloma Beacon column:
I once read an article in which the author described her habit of working herself into an illness requiring hospitalization about every two years. She did this routinely until a doctor finally pointed out to her that scheduling a vacation every so often would be a more cost-effective, healthier practice. The author, who had been eschewing vacations as a waste of time, became a convert.
I read that article decades ago. I read it back in the pre-computer, pre-cell phone, pre-tablet, pre-plugged in 24/7/365 era. Today, a similar article would have to start with the precept, “disconnect.” While I agreed with the author’s conclusion, I too have been guilty of not taking time for myself but instead pushing myself to the point of dropping.
Not this year. The first week of September, I took an unplugged, “health first” vacation. It was made possible by the generous loan of an ocean cottage by a very good friend and an unexpected opening in my husband’s too tight schedule. A last-minute medical crisis of a family member managed to resolve to the point I felt I could leave town without worrying too much. So the first day of September, we were on the road to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Living with myeloma, I never forget the reality of having a chronic, terminal cancer. Every time something new and different emerges (the latest being veins that spontaneously break), I flinch. I try to spend my days not dwelling on it, but the truth is that myeloma is never far from my mind.
But for the vacation, it was, at least much of the time. There is a timeless quality to the ocean, an eternal pattern in the waves. Sitting on the beach and watching them roll in, I could shove myeloma to the far corner of my mind.
To my surprise, my awareness of the cancer was strongest the first time we walked up over the dune and dropped down onto the shore. I stood for the longest time just watching the waves, closing my eyes to listen to the surf. Then I turned to my husband.
“I didn’t realize until just now how much I was afraid I would never see the ocean again,” I told him, my voice hoarse with emotion. I sensed a weight lifting from me as I took in the sounds, the smells, the sights. I stored them up greedily, hoarding them for when the surf is too faint and distant to sense.
Prior to our leaving on the trip, my husband asked me what I wanted to do while we were on vacation. My answer came quickly.
“Sit on the beach, listen to the waves, and do nothing.”
Okay, we did a little more than that. We toured Monticello en route to the ocean, and we ventured away from the cottage a few other times as well. And we did watch some old movies (old, old movies: “Giant” (1956) was the newest of the lot) on television. But a lot of the vacation was spent reading and resting and watching the waves.
The great naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote, “[a] man may stand [at the shore] and put all America behind him.” He was writing of Cape Cod, which he walked the length of more than once in his lifetime. I was considerably farther south, but my sentiments were one with Thoreau’s.
On Cape Hatteras, I could stand facing the ocean and put all America, as well as all of my myeloma, behind me.
And I did.