I’m a pretty happy guy. Most of my friends, co-workers and acquaintances consider me to be a guy with a positive outlook on life. Recently even my ex-wife referred to me as the “most positive person that she knew.” A year or two ago the idea of even talking to my ex-wife seemed somewhere between remote and impossible. To have her say those words is remarkable. I’m grateful.
Let’s just say yesterday was one of the exceptions to the norm in Jim’s positive minded groove. Yesterday was one of those days that I was reminded that even the person with the most positive attitude is going to have some days where the external circumstances have an alternate plan for your day. Yesterday challenged me in many ways.
I’m happy to say that in retrospect all of the challenges came in the category of small stuff, but as a collective sum, those challenges pushed my buttons quite sufficiently. The way I had hoped the early part of my day would look as I woke didn’t pan out at all. By the time I was on my way to work on Labor Day, I was already in a bit of a mood.
Christiana and I had both accepted the fact that we would work on Labor Day this year since our trip to Ireland was so soon and we didn’t want to take additional days off. The decision would reach regrettable in lightning fast fashion.
I had a number of missteps even in getting out of the house in the morning. I will leave those points out of the story, but suffice it to say that my Uber driver, the same one I have had a few times now, was very tuned in to notice that I wasn’t my normal, pleasant, conversational self.
When I got to work after a train ride that took twice its normal time because of the holiday schedule, I discovered that we were slightly short staffed for the volume I expected. Normally things like that don’t bother me. Yesterday they did.
My job is pretty simple. Be nice to people. Tell a few stories. Make sure the front end of the restaurant and the phones run smoothly. Tell people where to sit. Grab and serve wine. Usually I have no problem staying in control of any of those things. Today I had trouble with ALL of them.
I had challenges on the phone. I had challenges on the floor. People told me they wanted to move because it was too dark. People told me they didn’t like the way their waiter approached them so they wanted a new waiter. People said their wine was too warm. People said they didn’t want to sit next to the big family. One person even let their child throw everything from crayons to butter to water on the floor and then complained that the floors were too dirty and that they were a slipping hazard. Seriously?
When the day finally ended I was all to willing to go find some peace and calm and do nothing. Unfortunately I had a to do list waiting for me at home. I have a book proposal to complete before we leave for Ireland. I have bills to look over. We have an application for a speaking job that is due within a week. The house is in need of some cleaning. Laundry is in progress. I had hoped to get a workout in before it got dark. I decided to stop at Trader Joe’s and get stuff to make tacos so I could go home, fix a simple meal and get to work.
My normal entry pattern when I get home is to park the car in the garage. Enter the house off the back deck into the kitchen and drop my things. As soon as I dropped my things I noticed the Whole Foods paper shopping bag full of peaches. I had wanted to make peach jam last night, but I got home too late from my Mom’s house and we were out of cane sugar. I should have bought cane sugar while I was at Trader Joe’s but I forgot. Loser! I thought to myself that the pattern of the day had just spilled into the night. Lack of contentment. Lack of accomplishment.
I could have blown the whole jam making thing off and gone about writing, or cleaning or anything else on the to do list for that matter, but I just couldn’t put it out of my mind. I put away the groceries I bought. I looked back at the bag of peaches.
I had gathered the peaches, about 75 of them, from a friends back yard on Saturday. We had gotten together to practice yoga and so I could see his new house. In the backyard they had a peach tree that was literally collapsing with fruit. I asked if they had eaten any of the peaches. His wife said that the neighbor had eaten a few and said they were delicious. She then said, “Feel free to take as many as you want.”
After yoga and a house tour, I grabbed a Whole Foods paper shopping bag that had been doubled up in the Whole Foods way. I loaded it with as many good size peaches as I could manage to fit in the bag. When I got home from my yoga practice I set the bag on my kitchen floor and there it remained until Monday night when I arrived at home still without any sugar.
I started a load of laundry and began to convince myself that I had too much to do to try to make peach jam. I reminded myself that I’d never even made peach jam and that I had no idea what to do. I rationalized with myself that the peaches were free anyways. Why should I care if the peaches would be rotten before I had another chance to make jam?
But each time I walked the through the kitchen for the next half an hour, that bag of peaches spoke to me and said this, “Why are you being so wasteful? If you didn’t intend to use us then why didn’t you leave us on the tree so we could disintegrate back into the earth with our brothers and sisters?”
I considered all the other things I needed to do. I thought about the sad and confused mood I had been in all day. I really had no desire to go anywhere. I just wanted to open a bottle of wine and do a few light chores. I looked at the bag of peaches one last time. And then I grabbed my keys and ran to the small fruit market about two miles away to buy sugar and fresh lemons. The lemons are to prevent the peaches from turning brown and to add acidity. I may never have made peach jam before, but I do know my way around a kitchen!
When I got home from the store I started peeling peaches. I looked up a few tips for making peach jam on the internet and got to work. After I had peeled about 15 peaches, I thought to myself, “This could take all night.” I began to question my decision. I had seen a tip in one of the recipes I read that I should blanch the peaches for two minutes in order to make the peeling easier. This to me seemed like a giant waste of time and an extra step.
After peeling another 10 peaches, and about 10 minutes later, I decided to start boiling some water. I put 15 peaches in the pot of boiling water for two minutes. When I took them out and brought them to the sink the skins literally washed right off under the cool running water. How was this possible?! I actually added a step and saved time? This is so NOT Jim Herbert.
After I had peeled and sliced all the peaches, I transferred them to my favorite Le Crueset stock pot and began the process of reducing them with sugar and their natural juices. I had no plans to can the peach jam so I used only three ingredients. Peaches, organic cane sugar and fresh lemon juice. I realized that the jam might not be as thick as it would be if I added other ingredients but I really didn’t care.
By about 10 p.m. the pot of peaches and sugar had reduced to about half its beginning volume and had changed to a beautiful golden orange color. I had been tasting and stirring the bubbly mixture along the way and was pleased with the results. I removed the pot from the stovetop and placed it in an ice bath in the kitchen sink. Like I said, I know my way around the kitchen.
Since I had no plan on making peach jam until about 48 hours ago, I had no jars at ready access to use. I went the the refrigerator and found a couple of old jars of salsa and one jar of raspberry jam that were just about totally empty. I scrubbed them out thoroughly. I scoured the pantry and found a large, blue, vintage mason jar leftover from our wedding and a smaller clear one that someone must have given us homemade jam in at some point.
After the jam had cooled sufficiently, and after I had made and eaten my tacos, I ladled the jam into the jars and placed them on my kitchen counter. I went back to the sink and cleaned up my mess, which was sizable. I put away the taco leftovers. I wiped down the counters. Then I returned to the jars of jam so I could move them to the fridge. As I looked at the jars, I got choked up with an overwhelming sense of joy in my heart. I thought to myself, “Why am I getting emotional over a few jars of peach jam?”
And then it hit me. I had already saved the 75 peaches that I brought home from rotting on the ground in my friend’s backyard. I had been given a second chanced to let them rot on my kitchen floor, but I didn’t let them rot. I chose another path. I had prioritized not wasting food over my very long to do list. Once again the phrase, this is so NOT Jim Herbert flashed through my mind.
I could have done all the laundry. I could have wrote for a few hours. I could have scrubbed the toilet. I could have drank wine and watched those damn OSU buckeyes roll over Virginia Tech. Instead I created something delicious from fruit that was very likely to go rotten if I hadn’t showed it some love and attention.
I looked at the clock. It was 11:45 p.m. Christiana had texted me from work and told me she was almost done and that she’d had a great night. And then I realized that I’d had a great night too… I chose to get almost nothing done on my to do list, but I chose to create. I chose a path that delivered me back to a place of contentment with my day, with 15 minutes to left to spare before that day ended.
I chose to save a bag of peaches and in return it saved my day.