Friday, October 03, 2014

I Got Problems

I always have been and always will be a words kinda gal. I love the sound of words, the beauty of them on paper and how they sound when spoken. I love the power behind them, the things they can accomplish, the feelings they can evoke. Numbers just can’t do that. Numbers are solid, logical, tangible… and insanely frustrating. Words can’t always be captured by the voice and have many different meanings to many different people. The number five is always going to equal the number five. But say any word – any word you can think of – to five different people and it will likely be interpreted five different ways. 

Numbers are just not the primary language spoken by my brain. It took from 3rd grade to 6th grade before I could finally do multiplication without breaking out into a cold sweat. I took Algebra I my Freshman year and passed it by the skin of my teeth. I started my Sophomore year in Algebra II and after one week of that nonsense I marched into Mr. Lippe’s office with arms crossed, determined look on my face, demanding that he remove me at once from that vile class and put me into something else, anything else. He moved me over to Business Math, a class I passed with an A. I went on to end my high school math career with Accounting I and II, passing both with A’s. It’s not that I can’t do math, it’s that I just prefer not to. The add/subtract/multiply/divide kind of math is do-able. Please do not put letters in there. That’s where it gets all jumbly – like a really sick and twisted can of algebra soup.

Last year our son made it through Algebra I with a resounding A at the end of the year. The program we use is computer-based, thorough, and very easy to understand, but starting out this year in Algebra II has been challenging to say the least. He suffers from the same phenomenon I do: Mathematical Amnesia. If I learn a math concept I can do it all day long. But if I sleep? You can forget about me remembering a dadgum thing the next day.

I’ve been learning Algebra II right along with him this year, a task that has gotten easier in my old age – a fact I find very strange considering I have maternal oatmeal brain and am on medication for nerve pain that messes with my memory. This past week they introduced “distance” word problems. One might think I, a word person, could do word problems. One would be wrong. Oh. So. Wrong.  I loathe word problems. They never, ever make sense to me.  “If Bob is on a subway car traveling at 15mph and Douglas is on a rocket ship to Mars traveling at 27mph, how long will it take the two of them to create a macramé sculpture of the Mona Lisa using only their toes?” That’s how I interpret every single word problem I ever encounter.

It took my son and me nearly 30 minutes to figure out a particularly difficult problem one day and when we eventually got it right, you should’ve seen the high-fiving and hollering that was executed right there at the dining room table. Then we got into my secret stash of chocolate. And soon after that he decided that college didn’t seem like a real fun option for him after all and “homeless street person” sounded safely math-free. I patted his leg, handed him another Reese’s Cup and said, “Or you could always just homeschool your own kids, son. And learn it at 41 like I am.”


I’m really not looking forward to telling my husband that our soon-to-be-homeless son won’t be blessing us with grandchildren. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Canned

Published in the Miami News-Record, September 14, 2014

This past week I had my first experience with canning. Well, I say first experience, but I guess I should clarify. I witnessed my mom and Uncle David canning before now, but I was a kid and I was sitting on a barstool in the kitchen at my Papa and Memaw’s farm eating a piece of Roman Meal bread with real butter on it, swinging my legs, chatting up a storm about nothing in particular, not being at all quiet or even remotely un-annoying. So, yeah, this experience really was altogether new.

One of my husband’s brothers has had this amazing apple tree for years now, but this is the first I have ever heard of it. I’m sure proximity has something to do with it, seeing as how we used to live 20 miles away and now we have clear line of sight between our two houses. Paul walked in the house the other night with four Walmart sacks just full of apples and I was like a kid on Christmas morning, clapping my hands and squealing with a strange glee that surprised even me. I don’t even really like apples all that much. I will eat apple pie and apple crisp, but it’s very rare you’ll see me eating a raw apple and you’ll never, ever see me eating applesauce. Why I got so excited at the sight of those apples is beyond me. Maybe it was because I was still feeling adventurous after this summer’s first garden, maybe it was because I felt nostalgic for those childhood days at the farm, or maybe it’s because I’m a glutton for punishment and like to pile my plate as high as I can with as many activities as I possibly can. I’m going with the last one.

And really now, who couldn’t use about 40 pounds of apples just sitting around their kitchen on any given day?

Our oldest daughter had a minor surgery last week and I had cleared our schedule for the days after. I figured it was as good a time as any to try my hand at canning. I was going to can apple butter. I’d never had apple butter, but it seemed like an obvious choice with that many apples in my possession. Mom also gave me a recipe for apple pie filling and I was determined to can that as well. The first thing I had to do was go to Walmart for a water bath, a jar grabber, some seals (I had jars and rings), and some lemon juice. Then I forgot the lemon juice and had to have my sister-in-law pick some up on her way home from work. (Thank God for a Walmart associate in the family.)

The first day got away from me. Then, there was the next day. On Thursday I managed to start. Bright and early that morning, with paring knife in hand, I was determined to show those apples who was boss. Then I saw the recipe for apple butter called for TWELVE POUNDS of apples. I measured out one pound and realized that I didn’t own a stock pot big enough to hold 12 whole pounds of apples. I used my math skills to cut the recipe down by 1/3 and got started.

I referred to my recipe and directions a lot. I consulted the internet a lot. I texted and called my mom a lot. I finally got the water bath to agree to a “vigorous boil”, started ladling my hot apple butter into my hot jars, to realize that four pounds of apples yields… about four measly pint jars of apple butter.
I won’t even tell you how my first experience at blackberry butter went. Let’s just say that after five hours of reducing, I now have two pints of blackberry syrup that is so strong it’ll put hair on your chest, strip wallpaper, and remove corrosion from car batteries.


I might just stick to gardening. 

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