The glass jars stood neatly in their rows. The light reflected off the quilted pattern of the glass, making it sparkle. Brilliant colors shone through: The pink of the strawberry jam, the deep purple of grape jam, the velvet look of apple butter.
It was a beautiful display. Colorful. Inspiring. Tasty. Encouraging.
As I stood there looking at the glass canning jars, I marveled at the fact that this was something I had done. From start to finish, putting in the hard work and now getting to see the end result.
You see, I got into canning a few years ago. At first it started out as an experiment. My children were growing and eating more and I wanted to see if making and canning some of my own food would really save money (and be more tasty!). So, I started small with applesauce and apple butter. Plus, it seemed like these two things would be the hardest to mess up!
Oh, I know, some people look at me like I have three heads when I tell them that I make and can my own applesauce and apple butter. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend why you would put all this time, energy, and effort into canning food when you can just buy it at the store.
But there’s something about canning. There’s something about the process. There’s something about families coming together to help prepare and work through the steps of preserving the food correctly. And then the joy when they get to open the jars they worked so hard to help make. Joy that comes days, weeks, months, even years later as a new can is opened and the food inside is enjoyed.
But what does all this have to do with anything? How can reminiscing about canning be worthwhile? Well, just like canning is a process, life is a process, a journey that you’re on whether you want to be or not.
Making the Decision
Let’s face it, canning is not something you do on a whim! It takes a decision, dedication, preparation, and hard work to bring this idea into a reality. There is purpose and intent behind it. You make a decision and then follow through on that decision step by step.
But here’s the thing: You don’t make just one decision in the canning process. You make the decision to start canning. Then you have to decide on the food you want to can, let’s say it’s applesauce. From there, you have to put your decision into action and go out and purchase the apples to make the applesauce. You have to live out the decision you made. It’s a step by step process that involves making and following through on a lot of decisions.
Life is full of decisions. And you are the one who makes those decisions in your life. Oh, I know it’s easy to “go with the flow” and “take life as it comes,” but did you realize that going with the flow is a decision in and of itself? It’s true! Whether you decide to take action or whether you decide to go with the flow, you’re making a decision. You’re either consciously choosing to walk through life with purpose or you’re choosing to allow other people and other circumstances to determine the course of your life for you.
Which then begs the question: What kind of decisions are you making in your life? Are you choosing your path? Are you being purposeful in your choices? Or are you letting other people or other circumstances determine your path?
Start with the Raw Ingredients
No matter what you decide to can, one of the first things you do is to prepare the food you’ll be sealing into the canning jars. When you decide to can applesauce, you go out and purchase the apples you’ll need to make the applesauce. No one can stand over a bunch of empty canning jars, wave a magic wand and make homemade applesauce appear, right?
Just like you have to start with the raw ingredients in canning, you have “raw ingredients” in your life, too. You may have heard them referred to as gifts, talents, a natural bent, or your own perspective. (Usually the phrase “raw ingredients” isn’t used when talking about humans, but you get where I’m going with this one, right?)
You have a unique set of gifts and talents that is specific to you alone. Whether you choose to believe it or not, you bring a lot to the table, my Friend! Now, hearing that might be easy, but it’s another thing to believe it, isn’t it? It’s another thing to identify your gifts and talents. It’s easy to help others see their gifts, but it’s a totally different thing when it comes to pinpointing your own!
So how do you do it? How do you begin to identify your unique gifting? Here’s a couple questions to start you thinking:
- What lights you up inside? What is one thing you do that you enjoy like none other?
- What do other people tell you you’re good at? What things do they come to you for advice and help on?
- What is something you enjoy doing so much that you could do it for years and not get bored?
- What do you want to do? When you have the choice to do anything, what do you choose to do?
Preparation is Key
When it comes to canning, one of the key elements is preparation. You have to prepare the jars and the lids themselves by washing them and making sure they are sanitized. You have to take the raw ingredients you’ve chosen and prepare the food to go into the canning jars. When you can applesauce, you need to cut up the apples, cook them, and mash them or blend them to create the right consistency. And, let’s face it, these steps take time, right?
The preparation phase is probably one of the most tedious steps in canning and yet it’s one of the most essential. If the food you’re canning isn’t prepared before you seal it in the cans, it won’t magically turn into the food you want on the shelf. If you can a whole apple, it won’t magically turn into applesauce sitting on your shelf. If you don’t clean your jars properly, you could potentially introduce germs and bacteria to the food, making the food spoil while it sits on the shelf even if it is sealed. Preparation is absolutely essential.
It’s like this when it comes to your gifts and talents. You see, simply identifying your gifts and talents is not enough. You have to work with them. You have to use them. You have to develop them in order to become even better at them.
Think about it this way: A rabbit, an eagle, a fish, and a squirrel are all in a class together. This class focuses on four main skills: flying, swimming, running, and climbing. As they went through these four lessons, the rabbit found that he excelled at running, did okay at climbing, but did poorly at flying and swimming. But instead of allowing the rabbit to focus on and hone his talent in running, the instructors made him spend more and more time practicing flying and swimming. But the crazy thing is the rabbit found it hard to get any better at flying and swimming. In fact, the more he worked to improve his flying and swimming, the more his running talent seemed to go from excellent to mediocre. Instead of being able to focus on and improve on his talent of running, he was made to practice the other areas until he “passed” those lessons.
Have you ever felt like a rabbit trying to fly? Or a fish trying to run? Or a squirrel trying to swim? Are you working so hard at one thing because you think that’s what you’re “supposed” to do? Are you working to enhance your natural gifts and abilities or are you a rabbit that’s trying to learn to fly?
Here’s another way to think about it: If you’re naturally gifted at cooking, if you love trying out new things and new recipes, spending time in the kitchen learning new skills and enhancing the natural talent you have is wonderful! It’s like an eagle learning to fly better. On the other hand, if you’re not naturally gifted at cooking and you really don’t like spending time in the kitchen, it could be very beneficial to learn a few things, but you wouldn’t want to spend your time learning how to be a chef. That’s not where your gifts and talents are. It would be like the rabbit trying to learn how to fly.
What are your natural gifts and talents? How can you enhance your natural skills and get better at what you already excel at? Keep in mind, I’m not saying you should never learn a new skill. If you’re not naturally gifted at doing laundry, you should still do the laundry! (Otherwise it would get really expensive really quick having to buy new clothes all the time!) What I am saying is you should focus on learning more about those thing you’re naturally gifted in. Learn new things, yes. But give a heavier weight to those areas where you can rise among the rest. Be the rabbit in the running class. Be the fish in the swimming class. Be the eagle in the flying class.
Filling the Jars
One of the truly fascinating things about canning is how you fill the jars themselves. Now, don’t tune me out here, okay? I promise I have a point!
You see, once you have your applesauce ready and once you have your jars prepped and ready for the food to go in them, the next step is to physically put the food in the jar. But did you know that how much food goes into each jar is important? It’s true! You want to fill the jar so the applesauce is just to the bottom of the rim. If you don’t put enough in, the pressure from the the sealing process will be too much and the jar might implode. But it’s also possible to put too much food in the jar and the food will expand too much, causing the jar to explode in that same process.
It’s a wonderful dance of balance and harmony. You want the balance of filling it enough, but not too much, but at the same time everything must work in harmony. The ratios of what’s inside the jar are not exactly the same from jar to jar. There is harmony in what fills the jar.
It’s like this in life. You see, your life is similar to the glass jar. The things you do and the things you spend your time on, your activities and responsibilities are like the applesauce and the air that goes into the jar. If there is too much of one thing – even a good thing – then things get out of balance and the jar might explode. On the other hand, if there is not enough then the jar might implode.
Just like knowing what to put in your canning jar is extremely important, knowing what to fill your life with is very important also. You want to create harmony in your life. Don’t strive for balance in everything. You see, if everything in your life is in balance, then everything is of equal importance which means nothing is important. Don’t try to achieve perfect balance in your life. Instead, strive for harmony.
Sealing in the Goodness
My grandmother had this big canning pot. I mean, this thing was made right because it has been around for at least 75 years and it’s still going strong. The same pot that she used to lock in the goodness of her homemade jams and jellies my mom and I still use to seal in the freshness of the applesauce and apple butter we make. I can’t begin to imagine the countless mason jars that have journeyed through this canning pot and been sealed and preserved and enjoyed later.
One of the unique features of this particular canning pot is a metal label attached to the handle with my grandma’s last name on it. I remember years ago asking my dad why that label was there. I mean, labeling a pot that you keep in your own house seems odd, right?
Well, it turns out that my grandpa made that metal label for my grandma because my grandma and her friends would get together and have a ‘canning party.’ They would all bring their canning supplies, get together in one kitchen, and spend the day together laughing, talking, enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company and friendship all while working like crazy preparing and preserving food in jars for their families. The tag on the canning pot was a way to make sure that my grandma came home with the right canning pot at the end of the day!
It’s interesting how taking a closed jar filled with applesauce, submerging it into a huge pot full of boiling water, letting it boil for 20 minutes, and then removing it does so much to change the properties of the jar. Oh, the jar itself doesn’t change, but the food inside is sealed. It’s preserved. The food is kept fresh to be enjoyed at a later time.
So often, this is what life feels like, isn’t it? There are times and seasons where it feels like you’re closed off from anyone and everyone. Then, on top of that, you’re put into a situation that feels extremely similar to a pot of boiling water. And, let’s face it, when you’re in that place, when you’re in that boiling water, you don’t know when you’ll be coming out of it, right?
But here’s the thing I know: That situation has a purpose. Oh, you may not see it right away. Just like in canning you might not enjoy the fruits of your labor right away, but all those lessons you’re learning, all those things you’re going through, they do have a purpose. And when the time is right, you’ll see that purpose and you’ll benefit from the lessons you learned in this trying time.
There’s one more thing: Good friendships are vital! Good friends will walk with you, will be there for you when you need it. Good friends will laugh with you and cry with you. Good friends will give you perspective on your situation when you’ve lost sight of that perspective yourself. Good friendships make the journey worthwhile and a lot more fun!
Conformation and Compliments
One of the coolest things about canning comes once you pull the jars out of the hot water bath and set them on the counter to cool. As they rest, they’ll begin to pop. Oh, don’t worry, the jars won’t start spontaneously exploding or anything like that! But the lids of the cans will bow down and be pulled towards the food you sealed in the jar. This is one of the ways you know your jars are properly sealed and the food inside won’t go bad.
As the lids bow downward, they make this popping sound. It’s the craziest thing to hear someone talk about and a really hard thing to describe. But when you’re the one walking through all the steps of canning, hearing that lovely popping sound just makes you smile. It’s almost like someone walking up to you and giving you a heartfelt compliment telling you you did something perfectly right. It is, as my grandmother calls it, “canning music.”
Now, I know it’s impossible to know whether or not you’ve done everything right in your life. It would be impractical for someone to follow you around telling you whenever you did something, anything right. But think for a moment about the last time you received a heartfelt, honest, unsolicited compliment. How did that make you feel? Approved of? Loved? Accepted? Like you were doing something right? All warm and fuzzy inside?
On the other hand, when is the last time you gave a compliment just because? Giving compliments is such a simple way to show love. It’s such a simple way to show your friends that you appreciate them and treasure them. But, let’s be honest, it is so easy to overlook this super simple yet vitally important tool, right?
So what would it look like if you watched for ways to compliment others? What if you made it your goal to give at least 3 compliments today for no other reason other than wanting to show someone else that you genuinely care about them?
Creating a Legacy
It never fails. Every time I start pulling out my canning supplies, I start to feel this kinship with my grandmothers. A kinship with times past. A feeling like I’m a part of something bigger than myself. Like I’m not alone.
You see, my grandmother learned to can from her mother. And then she taught my mother and my aunts how to can. My mom, in turn, taught me (with a few tidbits of wisdom from my grandma over the phone). Now, I find myself teaching my daughters this canning process.
Now, I know you can go to the grocery store and buy applesauce or apple butter or strawberry jam off the shelf. Today, canning is much more of a personal decision than of a means of survival like it used to be. But at the same time, it’s a legacy.
It’s a legacy that connects you to your past and gives you good, fresh, homemade food in the process! But the question remains: What legacy are you leaving? What legacies are you instilling in your children? What treasured traditions are you passing down not because you have to, but because they carry a deeper meaning to you?
If you’ve never thought about it. Even if you’ve never started a tradition with your own children, it’s never too late to start! What is something you can do, sometime you want your children to remember with fond memories?
Remember, creating a legacy is all about being you, using your unique gifts and talents, investing in those important relationships, and showing love to the ones you love.
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Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.