Blackberry Mountain
I remember having to stay after English-II Honors class my freshmen year of high school.  My teacher asked about my behavior during classes, and I simply told her The King and I was one of the most boring books I have ever read and found it all to be useless.  I was proud.  I thought it was cool that I told her how dumb the book was, and carried the attitude throughout English classes in high school and college, managing to get by with a B in most cases.  It’s funny how prideful I was on being such a nonintellectual.  What’s more ironic?  I met and fell in love with a poetry loving, fiction writing, English major.  Not only did that happen, but I married him so I am now wife to a writer.  Really the irony here does make me wonder if someone up there is giggling a little as I struggle to find the literature in myself. 

Jeremy writes most days, and upon returning home from work I am often greeted with a new poem or short story segment.  Some days the work is completely new to me and other days I find myself anxious to hear the next part of a developing story.  It is not always easy for me to sit and listen and understand what is being shared with me, because it is really much easier to be prideful about my lack of intellectual interest.  Jeremy has been writing for years, since long before I met him.  In the years since we have been married he has written quite a lot keeping me amazed at the ideas he produces.  I have learned a lot about the creative process as I have watched it work its magic through Jeremy’s pen and then again through his editing.  While there is part of me that still squirms at the thought of sitting and interpreting a story or poem, I am finding it to be a completely new learning experience (since it seems I goofed through the course the first time round).

I’ve been reading a book, on spirituality, with a lot of big words and lengthy descriptions that I am not used to.  I usually would put the book down pretty quickly, but Jeremy suggested holding the book in one hand and a pen in the other with a dictionary nearby.  I have taken a while to read the book but have learned so much, and even have notes in the margins to reflect on.  The process takes longer but everything else in life is so fast paced I am finding that it is actually quite nice to take time to read a piece of literature slowly, searching for the true meaning on the pages.  Even more, I am finding that I am able to use the same curiosity needed for reading, in work and everyday life.  Recently while preparing a children’s lesson for church, I realized that the ways we read and interpret scripture are not so different from the ways we read and interpret literature, and on the same page, the ways scripture was written—poetically, with deeper meaning, using metaphors, with passion—are very similar to the ways literature is written today and has been all the thousands of years in between. 

The thing about reading carefully and finding meaning is that I spend more time with one piece of literature in my hand no matter if it is scripture, a sappy romance novel, a book on spirituality, or a novel written by my husband.  Once I, the reader, dig in and find that there are layers to each piece of work and that everything is not on the surface, I can not help thinking about how much was put into the work by the author.  Living with a writer has really shown me this, and that for writers, so much is involved in pouring out your thoughts onto paper and forming them in a way that others will understand.  For the brave souls that put their work out there, writing means sharing your most personal ideas and beliefs with friends, family, and strangers, opening yourselves up to be criticized, praised, or unfortunately ignored.  Kudos to all of you for your hard work!

Through reading and writing, the mind can exercise and work in ways we cannot fathom.  When I take time to read, I find that my life is less stressful.  It allows me to spend time out of my constantly buzzing schedule and be still—to use my mind and not let it run on auto pilot.  Today I encourage you to read a little slower and dig a little deeper, you might be surprised at what you find.  And be sure to read Jeremy’s latest entries under A Writer’s Journal. 

"Peaches on the shelf, taters in the bin, supper's ready everybody come on in and taste a little love of summer."  Ed Kilbourne

I recently received an email from my high school Sunday school teacher.  I had not seen or heard from her since I graduated college and moved to Cherryville, so the email came as a surprise. A truly pleasant one.  She emailed to see how we are doing, and filled me in on a few things about her life.  She then began to inquire about canning—my dad (her pastor) had mentioned my attempts at canning a couple summers ago and she wanted to know more.  She asked a few questions about whether I had gardened or bought produce, if I was successful, and how I learned about it.  She mentioned that while being out of work for a few years she had started to appreciate a simpler life, and felt that God had blessed her by opening her eyes to this :).    

As I pondered how to respond I began thinking about the “farm”, and the canning and gardening that awaits me.  I always thought gardening was neat but not much more, until I married Jeremy and moved to the country.  We didn't jump straight into gardening.  We got started our second summer here and have been building on slowly since.   Jeremy is the "main gardener".  His grandfather used to farm this land so it seems like it was meant to be.  While he is the main gardener, I do my share with the dirt, and in the kitchen putting the taste of summer into jars.  I have grown very fond of gardening and learn more from it each year.  There is something very special to digging in the soil and watching seeds grow that were planted by my own hands.  I have a lot more to learn, and having a goal to fill up jars with as much food as possible helps a lot. 

When I first decided to can, I started to ask friends and family what they could tell me to help get me started.  My mom said she had tried it when she was first married, but it was such a hassle that she did not keep it up.  My grandmother was raised on a farm and helped her mother garden and can all the time, because that is how they fed their family.  I thought for sure that I could call her and she would tell me everything I needed to know.  Unfortunately, I found that after growing up on a farm and having no choice but to help her mom all those years, she had grown to want nothing to do with farm life, and could not recall her former skills to share with me.  I was able to find a friend at church that provided me with suggestions and even several cases of jars, which gave me a good place to start. 

I have canned a little for the past two summers---tomatoes, salsa, green beans, pickles (unsuccessfully), peaches, apple butter, and strawberry jam.  Almost everything I canned came from our garden--- the fruits did not...strawberries came from a local farm, peaches purchased by mom and dad in Gaffney, South Carolina—home of the giant peach, and apples from Jeremy's family in Virginia.  My favorite canned good thus far is a batch of apple butter I made with Virginia apples.  I set my goal too high last year and did not can as much as I had hoped, but plan to try again this year.  Either way, I have had some success, and still have jars of different things I use here and there.  I learn more each year and continue to work on improving my canning set up, skills, and most importantly, what is grown to be put in jars. 

As we move towards a more sustainable lifestyle, I find that it takes a lot of work, but the efforts put towards a garden, canning, raising chickens and all the other tasks that come with this so called 'simple life', are extremely rewarding.  Lessons on life are learned along the way, muscles are grown (remember there is a lot of digging to be done), and when I sit down to a meal-- whether it is a summer meal prepared fresh out of the garden, or February, and a jar of apple butter is carried out to be put on a piece of toast--I know exactly who did the work, and promise the food tastes a little better.  These are the blessings that God has opened my eyes to see.