In my entire school career, no one taught me how to enjoy myself. Our constitution proclaims that everyone is entitled to the pursuit of happiness. But sometimes the very things we think will make us happy turn out to be the things that cause us unhappiness. You might be happy that you can afford to eat out every night. But after six months, or a year or two, you might realize that you have sacrificed your health and gained twenty pounds. You could have spent the extra money on your future, instead of instant gratification.
Now in my fiftieth year, I have learned without a moment’s hesitation that happiness has only two sources: love and labor. We’re all victims when it comes to love. But labor, well either you work or you don’t work. You know which one it is you’re doing. You could be a master with a thousand slaves and never be as happy as the woman or man who has the satisfaction of achieving a goal, of breaking a sweat and accomplishing a task. We all must learn to find enjoyment in our work, pay attention to the details, do the very best we can and contribute to a common cause. But we also have to enjoy the benefits!
Growing our own food and preserving it requires extra hours in the summer time. This is when it is important to enjoy the work, because it can go on from early morning until late at night. Sometimes it requires the sacrifice of time that might otherwise be spent on a vacation or in the swimming pool or even at a paying job. Even if you don’t grow most of your own food, you’ll put in some hours in the kitchen if you decide to buy some bushels of food and do some canning, freezing and drying for the winter. I do enjoy myself in the garden and in the kitchen. But I also enjoy the fact that the work is seasonal.
In spring and summer I am a wife, mother, gardener and kitchen mechanic (my husband’s words.) It is all consuming. I get enjoyment and benefits from doing the work. I get the added benefit of having very little to do in the garden or the kitchen in the late fall and winter. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around I go from processing bushels and batches, to the luxury of taking out my own version of processed food for quick meals during busy school weeks, and relaxed weekends. I am also free to entertain my alternate personality, the writer obsessed with getting words on paper, not wanting to be disturbed by mundane chores and the needs of other people. I enjoy not having to do anything in the kitchen as much as I enjoy spending whole days in the kitchen. I enjoy not having to water the garden as much as I enjoy watering my garden while reciting poetry to the fruits and vegetables. Conversely I couldn’t stand to be chained to my keyboard all year long, forcing myself to write like an automaton because that’s supposed to be my job. But please don’t take away my winter days.
Winter days of enjoyment in the bathtub with an herb sachet from my summer garden. Winter days giving myself hot oil scalp treatments with a deliciously scented infused oil that I made with home grown lavender, going into the kitchen only to take some eggplant parmesan from the freezer and start some dough in the bread machine. I call that my extended benefits. Winter is also the time when I like to try new recipes in the kitchen. I have a plethora of ingredients, all washed, chopped, minced, pureed, sautéed ahead of time, cutting preparation time down to the bare bones. Most of it is already done. Put some canned sweet potato in the oven in the syrup you canned it in, with some lemon slices on top, and voilá, you have sweet potato souffle and it’s delicious. Take some frozen chopped spinach from the freezer, mix it up with some cream and boiled eggs and put it in the oven and you have a gourmet baked spinach dish. Cook up some frozen fruit with a little something sweet, press some easy pie dough into a pie dish and stick it in the oven for a dessert your kids will remember when they’re grown.
Part of growing and processing your own food is that you get to choose the foods that you want to eat. You get to prepare them exactly the way you like them. You can grow the herbs that smell good to you, that soothe you in some tea. Your whole goal is actually to achieve your own enjoyment, and you know better than anyone what tastes good, smells good, feels good to you. So make sure you remember why you are working so hard. Reap all your rewards: saved money, slim figure, good health and well earned leisure time surrounded by your achievements.