My first foray into preserving this year, or ever, really, was peach jam. I bought a sackful–they were warm, soft, small, wonderful perfect peaches. We continued to eat our fill but I feared we wouldn’t be able to finish them all before they went bad. Hence, the jamming.

I learned a few things from this experiment that I hope will educate me as I attempt to preserve our summer bounty for the winter. To not buy everything from the grocery store–it is kind of a foreign concept to me. But this year, in light of so much: increasing food costs, my own understanding about food production, and a yearning to capture a piece of the past, to preserve not just these fruits and vegetables, but also to preserve the knowledge that comes with doing it.

Anyway, here’s what I learned:

Use freestone peaches. Early peaches are not freestones–mine weren’t.  It is a bitch to cut around the pits, and I hate to waste even an iota of fruit.

Use white sugar. I used turbinado sugar, which tasted fine, but made the jam look like a brown mess.

Don’t use to much lemon juice. I did, and it made the jam taste a little too soury. I’m cool with soury, but I know not everyone is.

But the stuff was definitely edible. The subtleness of peaches means it isn’t going to stand up to peanut butter, but on warm toast, a muffin or a biscuit it is quite nice.

I hear the tiny clink, clink, clink of Thomas’ wheels coming from my bedroom. Although the big boy bed was extremely exciting today, and comfortable enough for a nap, it brought on immense sadness when approached for bedtime. We tucked in, we read stories, we tucked in again. I got up to leave, but no. There was no screaming, but sad, slow tears. Tears that know this whole growing up business is not as good as the big people make it out to be.

Our compromise was to sleep in MommyDaddy bed, as it is called, the location of most naps since we moved to VA. I read a little, the “mommybook” that “is not interesting to me,” but the light was too distracting. So we turned of the light and just cuddled, quietly, but there is only so much I can take of this, and the lengthy list of chores I have awaiting me kept me from being able to relax. I realize that I have created this overcomplicated system of caring for Mega, that laying beside him and feigning sleep perhaps isn’t what is best for him, that he should be able to do this on his own, but again, I love him, I want his world to be a small, safe, secure place for him where he feels loved and comfortable. He’s only 2, after all.

He hears his daddy sneeze downstairs and says “bless you, daddy.” He is trying to sleep, trying to be a good boy, to do what he needs to do for us and for himself. I sneak out of the room, but he catches me. “I need to go potty, sweetheart.” The importance of this task is not questioned.

I don’t return. I sneak into my office and begin to type. He near silently spins the wheels of his Thomas train and the Fire Chief’s truck he found buried under a seat cushion right before bed. Yesterday, in the crib, these actions would have occurred silently. I would have been bustling about my business downstairs without a second thought. Tonight, I am mindful. Each precious action is noticed by me, tugs at my heartstrings.

I do none of the chores on my mental list, as it is nearing 10 by the time I get downstairs. Man and I watch part of John Adams (Abigail, you kick some serious ass), and just before the Continental Congress votes to declare independence, I sneak upstairs to move him back into his room. “Mommy?” the sleepy boy asks. “Mommy?” I make sure that Thomas, Fire Chief, and his ever present blankie “bikky” accompany us.

We get into his room and I try to tuck him in again. “No,” he says. “Just leave me.” This isn’t the first time he’s made this request to me and I know it will not be the last. But I’m his mommy. I wait until I know he’s asleep and tuck him in again, in the car and truck patterned sheets that he and I talked about so excitedly, and were elated to buy, wash, and outfit the bed with. He will probably kick them off in the course of the night, but I can go to sleep knowing that at least, I tried.

I was advised, recently, not to burn my bridges. This is good advice.

However, in this particular situation, I am awfully tired of being the fireman all the time. I am tired of embers burning my skin, yet still forcing a smile. Oh no, I’m fine. That’s what you have to keep saying. Oh yeah, we all see that huge elephant over there but we’re not allowed to talk about it

I’m tired. I’m tired of looking at the phone and seeing that, again, no calls. Will I cave and call? Or will you call and pretend nothing happened? I’m not sure I can live with either resolution. Perhaps it is time for this bridge to come down. Maybe there is another way to ford this stream.

Me: “So who do you like, McCain or Obama?”

Mega: “I like … John McCain!”

Me: (trying to mask disappointment in my voice) “Really? John McCain?’

Mega: (pauses) “Rockabama?”

Me: (probably sounding too excited this time) “You like Barack Obama?”

Mega: “I like … Mommy.”

Me: “That’s a good answer.”

There is a huge mirror in my bathroom, directly opposite the tub. And I have perfected the art of redirecting my glance so that I almost never have to see myself in it.

I am not sure what I am afraid of. When I really think about it, though, it isn’t fear that keeps my gaze away but disappointment. Not just my body, because, lo, that is a sad state of affairs, but other things, too. I let that girl in the mirror down. There was so much she aspired to, and she still has so many dreams. It is so hard for me to keep up with her. Sometimes I just want to take a nap. Too often I do.

Part of the reason for this blog is for me to start exercising some long-atrophied muscles. I’m tired of thinking “If I’d started XYZ project when I first thought of it 9 million years ago, just think how much would be finished!” That is poisonous thinking, loser thinking, and doesn’t help me suffocate my own inner loser with the very loud voice.

I’m trying hard. Ideas are starting to flow more freely. I’m sore, but it is the good kind.

I always thought that I would have a big dog, my heart lurching when I spied greyhound and Great Dane rescue fairs. But what I have is a rat terrier, a tiny, spotty, oddy-body thing with petite feet, and question-mark tail. She has allergies, snores, and has terrible breath. But I needed this dog, I needed to be needed by her, and, quite obviously, she needed me, too.

I came across a list I made with my sophomore-year college roommate many moons ago, about the qualities I sought in a boyfriend. While a sense of humor and kind to his mother ranked high, one characteristic that came up time and again was fondness of dogs. So, of course, I’d marry the Man, who grew up on a farm and thinks animals have their place, either out in the barn or on your plate.

And that’s it.

But I still wanted a dog, knew I needed a dog. My hand felt incomplete without a leash attached. I wanted that dance of joy greeting when I got home from work every day.

Now, I didn’t just rush out and get any old dog, although I did try, much to the Man’s chagrin. First I brought home Andy, a cute beagle I fostered for a local animal rescue. He was a sweet dog, but had been abused. We were living in an apartment at the time and didn’t really have the time to spend with him to help him heal. So, when a beagle-loving family with kids called and asked about him, I knew it was the best for him to move on with his life.

Next was B, who I “borrowed” from my friend and co-worker T for a weekend. He is a big, sweet bear of a dog. Or since he’s gold and fuzzy, maybe a lion? He was a wonderful dog, but … at the end of the day, T wanted her dog back. So …

Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be?

Now, these events happened over the course of several years. About a year after the B debacle, I sauntered into a Pet Supplies Plus to get some aspen chips and timothy hay for the guinea pigs (a girl’s got to have pets, you know). And, the local shelter was having an adoption day, so I went to see. Just to look, of course. And I asked about one dog, a cute little shaggy brown faced, black backed puppy, but he had been featured on a local newscast the night before and summarily adopted. The man running the adoption event must have smelled desperation on me, and he placed a small, furry body in my arms. “She’s a sweetie,” he said. I remember he was missing his two front teeth and had an Australian accent. “I only brought her because today’s her last day.” The dog started to lick my arm. I got out my checkbook.

Man was less than impressed that I had adopted a dog without even asking. “But it was her last day,” I protested. “At the very least, we could find someone else for her to live with. Her last actions in this world can’t be licking my arm.”

The dog hadn’t been spayed yet, so the shelter wouldn’t let us take her until after the operation. It was a tense few days, as Man was in between business trips. I made him come with me to the shelter, where we had to go through an orientation session before they’d let us take our new pets home. He left to go outside about 2 minutes into the presentation, claiming that the dander was bothering his allergies. To this day he contends that it was only the dander that was bothering him, but I knew he was pissed. Marriage, if nothing, is about compromise. It was really important for me to do this, and I needed him to help me out with it.

I happily went through the seminar and then they led us into the adoption room. All of the dogs were in cages and we had to wait for them to be let out to us. The dog was still weak and groggy from her spay surgery, curled up in a ball in her cage. But as I knelt down to peep inside at her, she thumped her tail on the cage floor. This was one smart little dog.

The Man claims that he didn’t think she’d live very long, noting how small and pathetic she acted when we first brought her home. But she’s a survivor, and today she sleeps in the same bed as the Man who swore he doesn’t like dogs (and still says this, as he holds her in his lap and she licks his face).

We don’t know anything about the 4 or so years she had before us. She had some puppies, we can tell from her stretched out nipples. And she’s had some trauma, as noted by the scars on her front paws and a 2-inch pin the vet removed from her leg when we took her in to investigate a persistent limp.

She is utterly devoted to Mega, which is good. She wants to be where ever he is, despite certain danger. She isn’t the kind of dog to go off and do her own thing. She is a true pack animal, and we are her pack, for better or worse. She’ll stick with us.

Tonight we are having thunderstorms, of which Muttley is deathly afraid. She squeezed into the rocking chair with me and Mega while we read stories, and she is currently buried in a blanket on the couch next to the Man. She is our conscience, our soul. She reminds us what devotion and unconditional love truly are. When she needs us, she doesn’t think twice about asking. She loves us so much she has no idea we have warts. In so many ways, I wish I could be more like her. And I am so glad that she is part of my life.

I am afraid of the sun. I guess this is a normal occurrence as I leave tempestuous youth and slouch toward 40. I spent many a summer baking my shoulders and regret every moment of it, but lathering on the sunscreen, like flossing, I think it is one of those things that people TELL you is good for you, but you finally have to come to the conclusion yourself that you need to take care of it before it is too late. Consider too that I came of age in the day of the super-tan Coppertone Girl.

The other thing I didn’t really realize about the sun, I guess because I don’t listen or just wasn’t able to put two and two together, is that YOU NEED TO PROTECT YOUR EYES, fool. When I got glasses a few years ago, I got a pair of prescription sunglasses as well, but managed to break them this year. Now, I’m waiting for our medical reimbursement plan to kick in before I get a new pair, so to get me through I picked up a pair of granny sunglasses to wear over my specs. Yeah, they are SUPER attractive. But, I can see, so who has the last laugh now, suckas?

In addition to this, I am effectively using 100% SPF these days on my face, and 85% on the rest of me. My facial moisturizer is 30 SPF, and I just got some 70 sunscreen for the face. I also use 15 spf moisturizer for the bod, and have 70 SPF sunscreen for the body as well.

I put sunscreen on Mega when he dresses and then again before we go outside. I am so, so scared of him getting sunburned. His legs are already bruised to oblivion, a trait I feel is unavoidable for toddlers, but that soft, soft skin–I want it to stay perfect forever. There are like 5 tattoo parlors in Blacksburg, and every time we pass one I think “if you ever do that to yourself I will cry forever.” Seriously, does that tribal band around your bicep or Mighty Mouse on your shoulder really express a true hidden aspect of yourself? Because with the prevalence of tattoos these days, to me they seem a lot more like fitting in than standing out.

I don’t know what they psychology about it is, but I do believe that that slightly golden-brown tone looks healthy, but the reality of it, well … I’ve just read too much at this point. Vanity will not get in the way of my health this summer, blindingly pale as my calves may be.

So Mega and I will be rocking it out in the shade in our lite-brite skin, and loving every minute of it.