Monday, March 21, 2016

Canned dirt

The first time of doing anything new can be exciting, but it can also be darned intimidating.  I'm thinking, for example, of a student who came to my home for lunch last month and who said, sort of wistfully, "Yeah, someday I'd like to learn to bake bread."  Even after I wrote down a recipe, she kept saying, "Someday I'll learn . . . "  so I walked her into my kitchen and handed her a bowl.

"Here, put the water in the bowl. Okay, now add the yeast.  Now the flour . . . "  Five minutes later, she had a dough ready to rise.  And she was floored: "You mean that's it?  That's all you do?"

And that's what I mean.  Doing something for the first time is hard because of the chasm of the unknown, more than it's hard because of the task itself.

And in the same way, doing something for a second, third, or nth time becomes a snap.  For example, this weekend I spent a half hour getting my tomatoes and peppers started.  I knew from past experience that the part I dislike most about seed-starting is gathering supplies from the basement and garage, so I tasked N-son with carrying things while I finished up some dishes.  From the basement: two-dozen pint jars and one-dozen cup jars, plus the shoe box of seeds.  From the garage: the potting soil and the tarp to keep the table clean. (It's so nice to know what I'm doing now well enough that I can delegate to others!  I can't delegate well when I'm still making stuff up as I'm going along.)  I got the ladle and funnel myself.  And, voila!  I was ready to start my seeds.
Keeping the bag of potting soil in a bucket makes for easy carrying
and also for less spilling while I'm potting up plants.
I already had potting soil and seeds from a previous year.  I already had canning jars from . . . well, from being a little nutso about loving canning jars.  This year the one new thing I'm trying new is to use canning jar lids instead of a dry cleaner bag or clear plastic tarp to keep moisture in until things start sprouting.  I'm crossing my fingers that the glass on the side of the jars lets enough light in to tell the seeds to wake up.  If this doesn't work, I'll cry for my dead seeds, and then go back to plastic tarp next year.

And, half-an-hour later, all the seeds were in jars, the tarp had been shaken out outside, the supplies were put away, and any mess was cleaned up.  All that was left on the table was a set of flowers I'd planted years ago.  More past-me making the life of now-me a little easier and prettier.


  1. I really want to learn from you. I'd love to make bread, and learn how to can (not just freezer can), but that initial inertia is tough to get over.

    1. That initial inertia (say it three times fast) is truly a bear. Not to mention, it's always less intimidating doing something new with another person instead of by yourself.

      Funny story: one of my grad school friends from China tried over and over to make pizza by herself. She finally got to the point where she was able to make the dough, and asked a couple of us US students what kind of cheese to use. "Any soft cheese, like mozzarella". So the next day we asked Ying how her pizza-making went. "TERRIBLE!" she told us. It turns out the "soft cheese" she'd used was cream cheese. She'd made pizza soup -- blech. So I totally appreciate how "easy" can translate into not-easy.

      And it's true: all of these things are really easy once you know how to do them, but they seem impossible before you try.