Summer Safety

In light of a couple of scary days this week, involving Emergency Room trips and visits from the Fire Department, I’ve got summer safety on my mind. The dangers in Manitoba during the winter have a lot to do with ice, snow, and blizzards. Things that can easily be avoided from the warmth of a cozy home. In the summer, there are different things that we need to watch out for when we can no longer bear to stay inside. It is a season that can be enjoyed to it’s fullest, so long as you keep in mind a few mild warnings about summer safety.

With my position coordinating Fruit Share, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time outside. It’s been wonderful to be out in the sunshine, visiting people’s gardens and picking rhubarb. Not to say there haven’t been a couple of hints that there are things I should be paying attention to. So far I have only suffered bug bites and sunburn, but recent warnings have me thinking I should arm myself a little more carefully in the future. Planning to spend the weekend outdoors? Consider making sure yourself and family are prepared for whatever Manitoba might be bringing.

All I’ve been wanting is a lemonade stand. I’ve been working diligently, my mind filled with lemons and sugar and stirring. Dreaming up new fruit combinations to make the most refreshing and delicious of summer drinks. However, much to my dismay, I find myself roadblocked by the rules. It would seem that having a lemonade stand is no longer as simple as it was when I was a little girl. 

Growing up in a quiet, residential neighborhood, my brothers and I had our fair share of lemonade opportunities. One stand that immediately comes to mind was when I was probably six or seven and my younger brother and I set up shop in front of our house. My mom made us a sign with beautiful handwriting, advertising Lemonde 10¢. We did not immediately catch her mistake, trying to sell The World (in French!) for a paltry dime. It was unmistakable, the excitement at the prospect of selling something home-made and finding appreciative customers. (Also making our big dollars of course!) Another time, my best friend and I decided to put a new spin on our stand and decided to sell all things raspberry. Jars of fresh berries and an assortment of raspberry candies were carefully arranged on our small table. It might not have been our most successful sale, but here I am, twenty years later with plans of tables filled with sweets and fruit. 

But no lemonade. Not yet. 

It would seem that where lemons and juices are concerned, things are a little stickier. Understandably there are food safe concerns whenever something is being made and sold, but there seem to be extra stiff lemonade limitations. My home is safe for the making of pies, cakes, jams, and jellies. Lemonade requires the use of a commercial grade kitchen for the juicing and mixing for it to be considered safe. And they don’t come easy! In planning for our pie workshop, it took me almost three weeks to track down a kitchen that would allow us to bake for free. However, I have made a firm commitment to making lemonade out of these lemons, and finding a way to have my stand. 

Until then, I will continue to dream of exotic fruit mixtures and the satisfaction of squishing a lemon into smithereens. I will dream of my perfect stand, attracting customers like swarms of bees to the hive. I will have to start small, but maybe, one day, I’ll take on Le Monde

This Friday, June 21st, marks the Summer Solstice in North America. 

Summer Solstice, or Midsummer Day, occurs when the Sun’s rays are directly lined up with the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5 degrees North of the equator. This allows for the longest period of daylight in the year for those in the Northern Hemisphere, a reason for celebration for many countries and cultures. The word Solstice comes from the Latin word Solstitiumsol (sun) and stitium (to stop), which helps to describe the day that never seems to end. Traditionally, it was known as the wedding of heaven and earth, a day of alignment with the cosmos. For farmers, it meant the midpoint between the hardships of planting and harvesting (and a much needed rest). The sunshine on this day is said to have strong restorative powers, making those who revel in it appear younger and healthier. Even the morning dew, if walked through with bare feet, is said to make one more viral and less prone to illness. 

Across the world, the Solstice invokes the spirit of celebration with parades, concerts, and festivals. In Sweden, they have a country-wide Midsommardagen festival to honor the day of light. Little girls are known to collect nine different types of flowers, and on the eve of the Solstice, they place them under their pillows so that they might dream of their future husbands. The day of- men, women, and children all wear freshly woven wreaths and dance about the maypole.  At Stonehenge, near Salisbury England, many gather as they have for thousands of years to greet the rising sun. It is tradition in these countries, along with many others, to try to stay up all night, singing and dancing around a bonfire. Special events are also prevalent in North America, often with additional environmental and ecological themes. 

I once borrowed a novel from a friend, possibly many years back now, that planted the seed of an idea in my brain. I don’t think it was a particularly good book, but the beginning held something enticing that lured me in. It started off with a woman in her cozy, home kitchen, baking pies. The author went about describing them in delicious detail, the perfection of the crust and warm filling, the care at which the woman wrapped and placed them into boxes. I was in love with the idea of this kitchen filled with fragrant, sugary delights, and quickly imagined myself in her shoes. It only got better as it was revealed that this woman’s only purpose in life was to deliver these pies across town to those who were in need. From there the story became something a bit more tragic and unhappy, but the pie part, the sweet part, stuck. 

So where do I find myself years down the road? Packing boxes with warm, freshly-baked pies, and carting them around town to local charities. It feels again like one of those plans that my brain made without me. Little steps over many years that have allowed me to live out a dream. To deliver pies and see those expressions that I had only imagined in the past. And they didn’t let me down, not one bit. In fact, I was almost overwhelmed by the sincere surprise and thanks that I received. Each time I turned to walk away I had a grin that couldn’t be contained on my face. With the first donation made, I was already dreaming up what I could make next before even returning to my car. With the next, my heart swelled as a Volunteer at our local Samaritan House reacted with shock and delight at being told that the pie was for them to enjoy as a thank you for being a part of our mission. As my vehicle emptied, my heart grew fuller. (I know, I’m getting a bit sappy, but there are few things in my life that have warmed my heart so much.)

I didn’t plan to make pies for any selfish reasons, for the rewards or accolades they might bring me. The reactions and gratitude I received were my surprises, my gifts. It was worth burned fingers and a messy kitchen. It was worth bug bites and tired arms and hours spent sweating in the sun. I may still have thought to make pies had I not read the book, but I recognize that little seed it planted, now all grown-up. The reality of it was much more rewarding than what I could have imagined or hoped for. I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I can make others happy and have the same in return. I must admit that this feeling, the one I get each time I share with my community, has got me hooked. I encourage anyone with the heart and time to help to please join our mission by visiting www.fruitshare.ca to sign up and help make our city just that much sweeter. 

A Better Me, A Better Community:

Today, I’m home sick.

At first, I was concerned that after the weekend off, a day on the couch would put me terribly behind. I was hugely relieved to find that my laptop works with remarkable similarity to the desktop in my office (surprise!). So here I am, pajama-clad, and messy-haired. Why? Because somehow this Fruit Share business has worked it’s way deep into my psyche and I can’t stop thinking about it. 

Also, because I’ve decided it’s time to make a change in my life. A promise to do better for myself and follow the advice that I give. There is no doubt in my mind that I am home today because my body is trying to tell me to take better care of it. I don’t want to feel sick because my system is trying to work out the garbage I put in it. So much so, that it decided that it wanted no more to do with all the chemically-sugary-fair that I treated it to over the weekend. 

My body has been trying to tell me for years what it doesn’t like. It doesn’t want all the sugary drinks that I think are refreshing. It hates the heavy, yeasty bread that sits preserved on shelves and on top of my fridge. It really doesn’t want the dirty oils that flash-fry the processed treats that make my mouth water. It does not need full-fat, extra cheese on top of the pizza. I know all of these things, and yet I can’t convince my brain of it. 

I’ve been a vegetarian for going on five years. I made this decision, amazingly, as a New Year’s Resolution in the middle of one of the coldest prairie winters that I remember. At the time I was spending countless hours working out in the gym. Counting calories, grams of protein, fiber, and fat. I had a personal trainer who was sculpting my muscles into that of some kind of She-Hulk. I ran, I cycled, I pumped, I sweat. The change came as an addition to these healthy life-style hobbies, but also as a final push to do something that I had thought about my whole life. My reasons are many and it’s a choice that I’ve stuck to since, despite the sometimes difficult ramifications. (Turning down holiday turkey can come off as kind of cruel to the person who just spent a dozen hours perfecting it). 

It the aftermath of a very difficult period of time in my life, I find myself looking to get back to that lifestyle. My approach has changed a bit. I’m no longer going to train like i’m headed to the Olympics, although I did love feeling that strong. I want to ride my bike in the sunshine and use my muscles digging in the garden and navigating the push-mower. I’m not going to count each calorie, but I’m going to be tough about what actually goes on my plate. I’ve been touting the importance of eating fresh and local, and that’s what I aim to do. On the brink of turning 28, I’m going to start to actually listen to my body. It may know more than I give it credit for.

So, my plan, for whoever is interested in the goals of a late-twenties, vegetarian, local-produce-pusher. I’m moving into the very center of downtown starting July 1st. I will be within walking distance to both the garden I coordinate and the office where I work. I will use my legs and other connected muscles to get there on a daily basis. I will break-up with the foods my body hates and vow to only buy locally produced grains, fruits, and veggies (with addition to locally raised meat for my carnivorous husband). I will eat only food that has been grown and shipped from within Manitoba, Brandon-area when available. I will pay it forward and put what I have to spend back into the community. I will watch my mood, energy, spending, and waistline. Maybe I’ll surprise myself, and the ripples of this decision will spread further in the pond than I think possible. 

Have suggestions? Comments? Want to help cheer me along? (That always feels good!)

Find me at fruitsharebrandon@gmail.com- @bdnfruitshare on Twitter- and www.fruitshare.ca on the World Wide Web.
Also, on the couch for the remainder of the afternoon with a cup of tea and a nice, soft pillow. 

Waste Not, Want Not

Today, June 5th, is World Environment Day (WED). An event that is being celebrated across the globe, open to anyone and everyone looking to help make a difference. WED began in 1972 and was first set in motion at the opening of the Stockholm UN Conference. It is one of the main vehicles that the United Nations uses to stimulate worldwide awareness of environmental issues. This year, their main focus is their “Think, Eat, and Save” campaign, urging individuals to use less and waste less food. According to their research, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year, enough to easily feed the starving population of Sub-Saharan Africa. Their plea is that we consider more closely how we use and discard food, making a commitment to reducing our foodprints.

At our current state, with over 7 billion people spread out over the earth, it is evident that we cannot continue to misuse valuable, natural resources. At the moment, global food production takes up 25% of habitable land and is responsible for 70% of fresh water consumption. (Seems a little greedy to me!) One cannot help but be alarmed to find that 80% of deforestation is directly due to food production, as is 30% of the greenhouse gases threatening our climate. Doesn’t it make sense that we start purposefully selecting food with less environmental impact? Especially when you learn that 1 in 7 people in the world go to bed hungry every night and that 20,000 children under the age of five die daily from hunger. That’s with an estimated 1/3 of global food production finding it’s way to the garbage instead of the dinner table. 

Need any other reasons to become involved and consider the message that WED is sending out? Here’s a couple! It gives power to individuals to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development.  It celebrates achievements made towards protecting the environment and highlights the strength of collective decision. It also strives to encourage everyone to do more with less and to work as a whole in an effort to force food production processes to become more efficient. The regenerative capacity of our planet has been exceeded and it’s important that in looking to the future we find ways to provide for the millions and billions of people who will come after us. 

Improving our lives as a result of improving the environment is called Euthenics, and it is something that everyone can have a hand in. Buying locally and buying organic are ways to help protect the environment from added harmful substances such as pesticides and fuel emissions. Buying less, spending less, and wasting less. I will do my part by not only making a commitment to wasting less food in my own home, but making sure that less of our local produce is lost. It is to our advantage that WED is looking at the same goals that Fruit Share Brandon is, giving a boost to our mission. Providing for those without, making smart choices about how we treat our environment, and working to reduce the loss of fresh food through waste. 

Want to learn more and get involved? Visit http://www.unep.org/wed/ for more information on World Environment Day and www.fruitshare.ca to register and help in your own community. 

Tonight, I make jam.

It will not be the first time that I take on this task and hopefully not the last. However, this jam has to be the most delicious of my attempts, because it’s going to be shared with others. Potentially many others! That to me indicates that this has to be the best jam I’ve ever made- period. (Ok, going to ease up on myself a bit….best rhubarb jam ever made. Period.)

There are a few instances where the making of jam stands out very clearly in my mind. The first is my Mother making jam in our kitchen while I was still very young. I remember accompanying her as she visited a friend, who lent us a very strange looking contraption for the making of our spread- jelly- to be specific in this situation. I can’t quite put all the pieces together in my mind, but it was a type of sieve, removing peel and seeds as the hot jelly oozed through the mesh. My mother had raided our chokecherry tree in hopes of making the tart little berries into something a bit more palatable. I remember wondering what Certo was and what wax had to do with the making of something to eat. I was close at hand while she made this jelly, watching as the fruit mixed with generous doses of sugar, boiling happily on the stove. I can clearly recall the beautiful, opaque color that filled the perfect row of jars that lined our fridge. I  don’t remember the taste, but I’m sure it was a welcome relief to the always shocking taste of a raw chokecherry.

I also remember making jam with my Grandmother, strawberry this time. My grandparents could always be counted on for at least one annual pilgrimage to a local strawberry U-pick farm. Strawberries on ice cream. Strawberries in pie. Strawberries to be stirred over the stove endlessly, waiting for them to thicken. My grandmother had found tiny little jars to fill with jam to give to my brothers and I. My love for anything delicate and dainty, I treasured these little pots of preserves. I had no interest in eating it on crackers or toast, a small spoon directly from jar to mouth worked best. For many years, and to this day, strawberry jam has remained my favorite. I can’t help but attribute it to the fact that I got the real deal, made with love and aching stirring arms.

The third sticky memory that immediately comes to mind involves my two brothers and both of their girlfriends. A couple of summers ago we all found ourselves squeezed into an apartment kitchen, our eyes all trained on the boiling pot. The sweet scent of sugary pin-cherries filling the space and steaming up the windows. It amused me and warmed my heart to watch both of my brothers take their turns in stirring, clearly interested in the process. Extra hands helping carefully put jars into a boiling pot of water and take them out again, prepping for the final step. Again, the beautiful light color of pink, the perfect cherry blush. A group effort, a shared success.

Tonight I go it alone, unless my husband becomes curious about my culinary craftiness.  Should you care to taste the sweet rewards of my fruity devotion, come down to the Brandon Global Market this week, where samples will be available. Warning: I may just hug you if you tell me it’s the best ever. Period. 

Today my thinking
Is feeling fluffy.
Like soft little clouds,
All light and puffy.

My thoughts are consumed
By sunshine and sky.
Wish I was a bird
And knew how to fly.

Above and around
The tops of the trees.
Resting my wings while
I play on the breeze.

When swooping down fast
To catch my next meal.
I speed towards earth,
I plummet with zeal.

I’ll sing my best notes,
And not miss a key.
While building my home,
A nest in your tree.

I’d dance in the rain,
I’d eat all your bugs.
I’d ask you for nothing,
Not even your hugs.

If only I could,
Fly up with the birds.
Make my dream real just
by saying the words.