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Strawberry Jam Under the Sun

This week, I’ve been busy re-establishing my life, which for me involves so much more than just finding employment and a place to live. I’ve been immersing myself in activities that I believe will thrust me into the company of people and events that enrich one’s world. In other words, I’m getting involved.

 Last month I went to my first meeting with the Sarasota Book Club. The book up for discussion was “Salt, A World History.” I thought the factual, non-fiction book a strange choice since most book clubs lean towards literary novels, but I plowed through the book and went to the meeting anyway.  I felt like a nervous little kid walking into a new classroom as I pulled up to a woman’s home and walked through the foyer to face strangers. I’m used to book club meetings being held in less intimate settings, like a library. But the moment I walked in the door I felt at home. I was greeted by a lovely, social group of 20 plus readers (sometimes, when a more popular book is on the agenda they have up to 60 people in attendance, I’m told – that is huge for a reading discussion group in my opinion.) The member’s newsletter encouraged everyone to bring food, so I wasn’t surprised by the table laden with salad, brownies, lasagna, and appetizers (I brought sweet and sour meatballs). The afternoon began with a huge lunch spread, then moved on to a vibrant discussion about the book. I so enjoyed being in the company of people like me, nerds willing to pass up hanging at the beach on a gorgeous Saturday to do something mundane, in this case, discussing a dry history book….  Intellectual stimulation – sad to say that’s my idea of a cheap thrill.

Speaking of books, this week I met someone who recently experienced a trying passage of life – she’s been successfully battling a brain aneurism. The family is interested in hiring me to ghost write a book about the ordeal, so I made plans to meet with them to discuss the possibilities. Not much money involved, but I sense this would be a great learning project for me, and I can use a challenging distraction from my personal issues, so I’m game. We’ll see if anything comes of that.

This morning I contacted the Sarasota Senior Center to volunteer my services to teach writing classes, specifically memoir and journaling. I’ve always felt more grounded when a small part of my life is devoted to volunteer work, and I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be rewarding to help older people preserve their life stories for their families and for prosperity. The problem is, every time I tried to get something along those lines started in my small town in Georgia, I hit a wall.  In Sarasota, thanks to the sheer numbers of the population and the available money allotted to non-profits, opportunities abound, so I’m going to try again. I pursued my MFA for personal life enrichment rather than career training, but the more I think about it, all that effort could be channeled to enhancing the lives of others as well. I don’t know if I’m going to be any good at the task of teaching writing as opposed to dance, but hey, I’ve offered my services for free, so the worst that can happen is I’ll develop some teaching skills and meet some wonderful older friends.

I joined two writer’s groups in Sarasota hoping to turn my attentions back to the dream I had hoped to pursue full time when I retired from my business. It didn’t work out for me due to other family choices, but the fact that writing can’t be a full time pursuit now doesn’t mean I can’t plug away at it. The Florida Writers Association has asked me to lead a new writer’s group in my area. Cool beans.  But I look forward to participation more than taking on the responsibility of leadership. The diverse input you get from hanging with an eclectic group of writers in any fiction group is priceless. I joined the Sarasota Author’s Connection as well, because it offers readings and book signings along with short writing sessions that interest me too. Haven’t joined any romance writer’s groups. Guess I’ve evolved beyond that. In a way, I’m sorry. Anyway, that covers the writing angle of life.

Next is running. Yes, I’m running again – not well,but steadily. Not a day goes by that I don’t head out the door, look up at the brilliant sunshine and the flat stretches of pathway beckoning to me and don’t feel charmed by Sarasota. I was disenchanted with this town when I left, but I’ve returned like the prodigal son, with new appreciation for the quality of life here. Running is one of the things I missed most about Florida, the emphasis on health and wellness, the active culture and the beautiful weather allowing consistency if you love exercising outside. I was not a very active member of the running club when I lived here last, but with a mere $20 a year membership fee I thought, “what the heck”. I rejoined the Sarasota Running club, hoping it might inspire me to go to a few races. For good measure, I also joined the Lakewood Ranch running club. They have some wonderful social events for runners that will get me out of the house and among people who make fitness a priority. Last but not least, I’ve looked into the Sarasota bike club. They organize long rides on weekends that start right by my home. The problem is, I’m a bit intimidated by this group. I have no clue how far or how fast I can ride. I’m guessing I’ll be an abysmal slow-poke if I just show up without some preliminary training. One of these days I have to get my bike out and ride as far as I can and time my ride – then I’ll check the distance with my car. I’ll probably think I’m going 20 miles at a good clip, but find out I’ve gone two in slow motion. But hey, the fact that I want to evolve from a runner to a bike rider doesn’t mean I expect to be good at it. Never been a good runner either – but I do love plodding along and feeling my heart race. Makes me feel alive. Riding might prove the same.

The other day I was driving down the street and a stand was set up selling flats of fresh picked strawberries from plant city. My heart went pang and I thought, “If I was in Georgia, I’d pick some up and make jam or wine . . . I will really miss the organic, natural element of my former life.”

Then it occurred to me that moving doesn’t mean I have to give up the things that enriched my life in the country. People are but the collective experiences of their lives, so everything I learned and loved in Georgia is still with me, and always will be.  I swerved over and bought two flats of gorgeous, plump strawberries. When I got them home, I looked at my tiny kitchen and thought, “who am I kidding…. I am not set up for this kind of thing…” but the dang strawberries didn’t fit in my fridge, so I had to make something out of them. I went to my garage and pulled out my canning materials, dragged them upstairs and at 11:00 that night was finishing my second batch of jam. It was such a pleasure to be cooking again. There I was, rocking out to the blues in my kitchen, singing as I ran a hand over the steam as it shot out of the top of my pressure cooker while I licked strawberry jam off a big wooden spoon. Figuring out how much steam pressure was appropriate was a new experiment for me. A part of my old canning pot was missing after the move so I was attempting a new method. That meant breaking out the pressure cooker for the first time. Cool tool.  Anyway, I now have 24 jars of fresh strawberry jam resting on my counter. Of course I’ll only use about two or three jars myself, and I’ll no doubt want to make other sorts of jams as different fruit comes into season, so I’ll be giving most of what I made last night away. But making jam is not about eating – it’s about cooking and having a gift of food for others on hand at all times. So shoot me. I love feeding others.

Someone asked me the other day if I miss my “expansive life”, a life that included raising llamas and growing tomatoes. I responded that I really didn’t think my life was expansive because of where I lived, but more because of how I lived. I like to think I embrace and explore the opportunities present in a given life situation.  You can lead an expansive life anywhere – it is simply a matter of seeking ongoing growth as a person – of being curious enough about the world to get off your duff and live large. I certainly hope my children have learned that from me if nothing else. 

Frankly, I felt my world was expansive when I lived in New York and I dived into dance and theater fearlessly. I felt it was expansive in Sarasota when I learned about running a small business, bought my first home, had a family and began writing. I felt it was expansive in Georgia as I experimented with organic living and explored the natural world. No one place has ever been more educational or stimulating than another…. no single place was better or worse – just different. Collectively, my life has felt expansive – not because any of those lifestyles were uniquely different from how other people in the area lived, but because moving from place to place provided me with diverse life experience.  Change is good. 

What’s important is to not lose sight of the fact that a person can make strawberry jam in Georgia, Sarasota or Timbuktu. I have a counter full of jars to prove it.

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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