Friday, May 21, 2010

Hard Times and Peach Preserves

May 8

Life lately has been such a duality of gorgeous moments and then episodes of intense grief, loss and stress. Some of the things that have gone on: deaths of significant figures in our lives, a roofing job gone wrong, both cars in the shop, a job loss, and seizures. At some point in the string of events, Craig and I started talking about karma.

At first we talked along the vein of, "What must I have done in another life?" Which feels like such a tidy, simple way to try and make sense of what my friend so aptly called "a real shit storm." Our conversation ended with meditating again on this idea: karma is not what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens. What happens is just a moment, how you respond, that is your life.

It is a significant balm in a time of sadness or even real depression to consider that while the events of life may be beyond our control, we have such a deep and wide choice about how to relate to those events. To feel our tiny fulcrums of freedom while enveloped in stress can shift our heart to a calm, soft and resilient place. Nothing is more impossible than feeling truly, absolutely stuck and victim to events.

Craig and I have been giving each other a wide berth through this last spate of events. Being supportive and gentle, or at least not overly reactive. When I get remote in my anxiety, Craig gives me space and put lots of honey in my tea, as if to sweeten me from the inside out. And when he got angry and reactive, he went out to mow on the tractor and go at the invasive Buckthorn with the weed whacker. Eventually, we found our equilibrium again, and set out to work and deal with things one step at at time.

With each other, Craig and I are finding our way through joy and adversity. We help each other get the time we need to be creative, to mope, to be alone, to be together. Colby's seizures have taught us to cull the moments of joy to a depth that is new for us both. The mental habits of staying open even when things are really hard has proved powerful and helpful.

A few days later, the roof job was back on track, the funerals were set, one of the cars was back from the mechanic, and I was going through the fruit Flannery and I had canned last spring and summer. I found a last jar of peach and basil preserve, a recipe from Honey From A Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia, by Patience Gray. I thought again about habits and happiness. Good habits are habits that work for you, for your health, for your financial reality, for your deep sense of happiness and resilience.

Setting the last jar of peach and basil preserve on the kitchen table, the deep golden orange of sugar and sunny fruit, a strand of basil curled at the bottom of the jar, I felt a moment of love for this habit too, this long tradition of canning. A tradition to preserve harvest and survive the winter, it brings beauty and sweetness to the stark reality of a barren, winter landscape. Surviving hard times through preserving beauty.

Marmellata Di Pesche - Preserve of Ripe Peaches
from: Honey From A Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia, by Patience Gray
(This recipe is best in June or July, depending on your climate)
Pour boiling water over large, ripe, blushing peaches. This makes them easy to peel. Cut in large chunks. Use 1 1/2 lb sugar per 2 1/2 lb peaches. Squeeze 2 or 3 lemons over the sugar and peach slices in a pan and cook on low heat while stirring. The sugar quickly melts and raising the heat you go on stirring, marvelling at the changing colour of the fruit reminding one of Modigliani's paintings. In 10 minutes or so, the jam is an intense gold, the fruit transparent. Put two sprigs of basil. Make sure that the syrup really is at setting point or the marmellata will not keep.


  1. so intensely beautiful. it's an honor to read. i want to print it out and fold it up and put it somewhere safe and special. thank you.

  2. Seems that after reading each essay my mouth, and eyes are watering.

  3. i just found your blog and i so love it. i have a blog called postcards from a peaceful divorce in which i chronicle my own ways of keeping love alive with my ex. i so admire the way you do it from within your marriage. you are an inspiration!

  4. I love this, "When I get remote in my anxiety, Craig gives me space and put lots of honey in my tea, as if to sweeten me from the inside out." And you! xoxo