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The first crocuses have appeared
and it is heartening to see honeybees enjoying their pollen.
I spent the day outside with the bees, boiling off the maple sap we collected yesterday. On our small set up, a ten gallon pan sits on top dripping sap into the boiling pan. Theoretically, this means that the boiling pan never loses its boil because only a slow steady drip of warmed up sap falls into it. But when I wander off into the garden to poke around, things can slow down anyways, because I haven’t kept loading the firebox.
Here is the scene that greets me all day as I try to keep things boiling.
We have had a strange syrup season. While we usually get at least a run or two of sap in February, we did not get a single run until well into March and then bam bam bam, run after run.
This is our neighbor, Jim Taylor at his family’s sugarhouse. He and his brothers have five thousand taps to our forty. They have been boiling for ten days straight and Jim said they had 10,000 gallons of sap to get through today.
While my syrup has been mostly dark, Jim says they have made a fair amount of the pale Frenchmen’s blonde syrup. This is what gets the big money around here, so they are happy about that. I like the dark stuff better because it has more maple taste.
As I was writing this, my Jim came home from his teaching job and grabbed me to go collect the day’s sap. I took the camera along to show you the sights. As we put our sap buckets down on some maple trees down in town, we have a collecting tank in the back of a truck for the collecting runs.
Here Jim is pouring a couple of gallons of sap into the collecting tank, with one of the generous maples in the background.
Yes, I know. Maple sugaring is not exactly a dramatic process, but it is a beautiful one.
And a sweet one too. Here’s the recipe for the most outrageous maple dessert we make. I made it for the menfolk last night as they watched NCAA basketball. Their team won so there was happiness all round. Go UConn.
2 cups flour
1 cup butter
1 cup chopped nuts
Combine and press into a 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes then cool.
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup cream, whipped
Blend and spread on first layer when it is cool.
3 cups maple syrup, the darker the better
2/3 cup flour
Mix in a saucepan then bring to boil, stirring all the time to prevent sticking. Cool and spread on second layer.
i cup cream, whipped
Spread on third layer.
Lots of layers. Probably why we only make it once a year. But you won’t regret the effort if you try it. I promise.
One of the gifts of this time of contraction is that it gives us an opportunity to practice a skill that may have grown dusty with disuse. During the past decades of economic expansion and affluence, its been all too easy to lose the talent for enjoying small things, small moments, small pleasures, the talent for figuring out what in the realm of the everyday gives us delight without requiring anything from our pocketbooks.
One of the small pleasures I am enjoying right now are my daily visits to the Snowdrops in the Arbor Garden. It may be 12 degrees outside with a fierce wind howling, but gosh darn it, the Snowdrops are perky.
I actually think this kind of enjoyment of small simple moments could leave us all happier than our global buffet of options left us.
The problem with a surfeit of goods is that when we are presented with unlimited vacation options, unlimited shopping venues, and forty nine brands of cat food, we begin to think that in every situation there is a perfect choice with no downsides. While this is never true, we experience it as true. This leads to crazy decision making and restless peak bagging, the idea that we MUST do Paris for breakfast, Rome for lunch, and Las Vegas for dinner or we won’t be happy or complete or fulfilled.
When we think the perfect outfit for the perfect meal in the perfect place exists, we lose track of the positives in the choices we actually made and are flooded with restless feelings of dissatisfaction and endless second guessing. Instead of getting on with it, we recall the choices we didn’t make and imagine that one of them was a better option than what we chose.
As we eat that gelato on the Spanish Steps, we think maybe lunch would have been better in Monte Carlo than in Rome. Fewer carbs.
I hope these times will encourage us to simplify our lives and our expectations. This would give us all a chance to discover that our restlessness has less to do with our choices and more to do with our anxieties about our choices. If things do get simpler, we will have a chance to discover just how much joy and energy we lost agonizing about volumizing in the shampoo aisle when Prell would have been just fine.
I mention Prell because when I think of the shampoo selection of my childhood it was Prell, Head & Shoulders, and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. This choice was enough. And later, when I was a teenager, it felt wildly expansive to have the option of that new upstart brand, Herbal Essences. A choice of four felt enormous. Now, there are so many hair products available, it seems a small rainforest was destroyed for the sake of each hair follicle.
Sometimes less is less and sometimes less is more.
Imagine growing up a couple hundred years ago in a small isolated village. Let’s call it Prellville. If you lived in Prellville, you had only a couple hundred people to compare yourself with. You didn’t feel bad about yourself because you didn’t look like Giselle Bundchen or play football like Tom Brady, because the prettiest girl in Prellville had a wart on her nose and the best athlete had athlete’s foot. This meant your looks fit somewhere into a smaller spectrum of beauty and talent and so did your throwing arm.
Frankly, I think this scenario was probably refreshing. Maybe not the lice or crop failures, but there were up sides to life in ancient Prellville. You were encouraged to get on with your life without expecting the impossible. You married a nice person or not, without expecting to land America’s Next Top Model or Brad Pitt. There weren’t many career options in Prellville so maybe you enjoyed the job that was your lot and maybe you didn’t, but your joy in life probably had more to do with your attitude than your options. And one attitude that your life did not indulged you in was an attitude of maximizing, thinking that the perfect choice existed in every situation and that nothing would suffice but the perfect choice.
Living without that attitude was one of the truly good things about life in Prellville.
Honestly, when are we going to notice that the people we credit with making one perfect choice after another don’t exactly look happy. As far as I can tell, most Masters of the Universe are the first rats entering the rat race every morning and the last to leave it. Their hair may be blessed with the hippest, hottest, most expensive products, but how exactly are they enjoying this?
I guess what I am saying is that if current circumstances continue to slow our society down, we may find surprising joys in the slower pace. While our minds will want to clamor on and on about safaris not taken and gems not purchased, our hearts will be quite content with the Snowdrops. Which really leads us to the only choice worth making, heart or mind? Which is going to run our lives?
On town meeting day, the school gymnasium was rife with rumors about the imminent Wife Swap. I don’t know how many little old ladies I had to convince that I really wasn’t going to make the swap. Really!
This weekend the maple sap ran and so did I, from one outdoor project to another. I stoked fires, hauled buckets of sap, climbed ladders, and clipped branches. And I must say, it all made me think about how likely it would be that NBC could find a replacement wife that would be willing to finish off the strange pruning that Maurice the moose began or clean up after a moose that had chewed his way through an orchard of fiber.
As my grandfather would have said, “Not Bloody Likely.”
Winter in northern New Hampshire lasts many moons many long moons an eternity. For me, this means a lot of crappy reality TV.
Because there are just so many evenings when I want to huddle around a roaring fire reading the classics. Yes, I do read every night and yes, 90% 75% 50% 2% of the books I read are great works of art, but this winter has gone on for so long and been so persistently cold that Jim tells me we are going to run out of firewood for the stove that heats our home BEFORE the end of this particularly tiresome winter. And I am sorry. No fire, no Charles Dickens.
And anyways, a girl’s gotta live! It can’t all be Jane Austen.
So while many some the occasional evening is spent with Mr. Darcy, some evenings I spend with the “The Bachelor”, or at the Brooklyn “Real World” house dump, or with my friend, Whitney, in “The City”.
My excuse? I still have a teenager in the house. I still am a teenager. I always was more low brow than high. The moose made me do it. With all our label problems, I have been sniffing too much varnish and glue to think clearly and make good choices.
So yes, I was there Monday night when the bachelor Jason proposed to Melissa on a New Zealand hilltop, then I was there five minutes later in an ABC studio far, far away when Jason broke up with Melissa so he could pick up where he left off with another bachelorette, one of the twenty four ladies he had previously discarded.
I was also there the next night at the “After the Rose Ceremony, part II” when the bachelor was aglow with love for his replacement squeeze.
Things haven’t been much better on “The City” where snarky Olivia, over at Diane Von Furstenberg, has taken credit for pulling the clothes for a magazine cover shoot with Jessica Alba when in fact….. our plucky heroine Whitney pulled the winning outfit. Plus Whitney’s boyfriend is staying out ’til five am with his ex, while simultaneously living at Whit’s place.
Ah young romance!
And everyone in my family is tired of me pontificating about the action on “Real World” and how it reflects the problems of our times.
In a household of great religious, social, and gender identity diversity, this group is fighting about the dishes. As four very spoiled girls refuse to wash a single cup or plate, take out their trash, or lift a finger around their luxury “Real World” digs because, “they are adults and don’t need to be told what to do.” the four boys in the house are on the warpath, trying to get them to be responsible about their messes.
Besides the boys warming the cockles of mothers’ hearts everywhere, this unexpected dynamic fits into my thesis about the crisis of personal responsibility plaguing our culture. And frankly, my own children are tired of me reminding them about this.
So anyways, until now, I have been only a spectator in all this TV reality drama, a noisy opinionated spectator, but nothing more than that. Then two days ago I received an inquiry from ABC to see if I was interested in being on their reality TV show “Wife Swap”.
I kid you not.
Apparently, I would go live for a week or two in another family as the temporary wife and mother of a new brood, while this family’s wife and mother would come and be the temporary factotum here.
The letter from the casting director tells me that they are looking for an animal communicator and somehow decided that was sort of what I did. Hmmmmm. I can only guess how much of the website they read………. VERY LITTLE, because I would say that talking to animals was the least of my oddities.
In any case, no one needs a film crew to imagine how this one would play itself out. Can’t you just write this script already?
I will be sent off to some household where my new family thinks someone who talks to animals is crazy and works for Satan. This will cause sparks to fly. Lots of sparks. Because not only do I talk to animals, but I work for Fairies and Angels. I also see colored lights around people. Around my new husband’s head I will probably see red. He and our viewing audience will think I am certifiable and maybe my new husband will certify me right then and there. On reality TV! My moment on “Wife Swap” will be more exciting than “the Most Dramatic Rose Ceremony ever” and that’s saying something!
Meanwhile, what about Jim and Will? Apparently the new wife and mother is supposed to right the ship in a household woefully out of balance. Would Will and Jim provide enough fodder for the new wife? Would they get their fair share of air time when at my new household someone has been called in to do an exorcism on me?????????
Yup, there are some serious problems with Jim and Will. I may be just the wacky handful that all good reality TV shows are looking for, but the Sheehan men are vanilla to my rocky road. Will has no piercings, tattoos, drug or attitude problems. We could work up some issues fast, but maybe nothing more exciting than a serious milkshake addiction. He does like two milkshakes a day and who can blame him? He is growing faster than bamboo. We also could try to drum up some disciplinary problems. I mean the kid does experience an occasional lapse about feeding the dogs at five sharp.
And Jim? I am sorry but there is nothing incendiary about a guy who does the laundry AND takes care of all car problems. If his new wife wants a dramatic challenge, she is going to be bored bored bored. And I am afraid that if ABC needs dual drama at both my new household and my old one, they are going to be sorely disappointed.
I guess I will just have to pass on this chance of a lifetime,
But if any of you animal communicators out there are ready for a rumble, I’d be happy to forward on the name and email address of the casting director to you. He wants you and if you sign up, I promise to watch. We’ll be out of firewood by then and will be huddling around the TV looking for the kind of warmth only reality TV can bring.