Things have been quiet around here as our family has been camping in Humboldt County with Jeremy's college friend, Ray, and his husband Mike. Happily we were able to bring our pup Tuna, who can finally survive a car trip with the assistance of Dramamine. (I'll just give the barest mention of the time he threw up pig's feet in the backseat and leave it at that.)
Our family needed this trip in a serious way. I think most teachers and faculty spouses can do nothing but laugh bitterly when accused of all the "time off" teachers enjoy. Y'know, every state and federal holiday, winter and spring break, to say nothing of three whole months of summer... man, those teachers hardly work at all! The idea of "vacation days," though, is a joke to most teachers. Jeremy works more and harder than almost anyone I know. As he likes to say, "Waldorf teacher by day, Waldorf teacher by night."
During the school year, Jeremy's work day starts long before the morning bell and ends when he goes to sleep at night. Summer is divided between intensive, on-site training, curriculum planning, all-day meetings, researching, meeting with parents, and designing his new classroom. He's still at the school almost all day, every day. Instead of pleasure reading, he pages through history books and required reading, collecting poetry and short stories to share with the class. I can't remember the last time he read a book that was just for him, unrelated to his class. This will be his third year with these kids and his devotion to their education runs deep.
The burnout rate for teachers is fairly high, and I think it's even higher for Waldorf teachers, in part because the schools tend to be run by faculty consensus instead of a bureaucratic administration. So in addition to class time, training, festivals, field trips, and everything else specifically related to the class, the teachers are on various committees dedicated to running the day-to-day operations of the school as well as community outreach and physical upkeep. The teachers can often be heard checking in with each other, making sure they're well-rested and supported by the community at large. But it's difficult to adequately support someone who voluntarily works as much as a teacher does. You just have to hope they're keeping it together from sheer will and maintaining passion for the job.
What I'm trying to say is that this summer has been horrendously stressful and this camping trip was exactly what we needed!
First we went down to Napa to meet up with another classmate of Jeremy's and Ray's, Lori, who put us up in her house for the night. That drive is bittersweet because Jeremy has mentioned the possibility of moving us down there in a few years so our kids can attend a Waldorf high school. So every time we're in the area I'm trying to imagine leaving Mendocino and living there instead.
I still can't quite see it -- I just love this place so much, and the community is so important to me -- but I'm trying to keep an open mind.
We took Ray & Mike back to our place in Ukiah and drove up to Humboldt the next day. We camped on the Eel River the first night and right on the beach the next night. We went swimming, made sandcastles, drank a really absurd amount of wine, made a really absurd number of "that's what s/he said" jokes, grilled a whole salmon, and walked through the redwoods on the way home.
Every time, every single time, I just have to say it out loud: "I can't believe we can just drive here." I bet Jeremy is really sick of hearing it, but he never says so.
To me the water looked insanely cold on the coast, so I sat on the beach with Tuna, who is usually a water dog but seemed anxious about the waves. Thankfully, Isaiah and Willow had an absolute blast. I think the trip was good for them, too, getting them out of the summer rut, giving them a chance to run wild on the beach, in the water, along the river, up a tree, whatever they needed to do.
And I couldn't stop grinning, watching them interact with Mike & Ray, who are soon to realize their dream of becoming parents. Isaiah was especially disappointed to say goodbye, but we're planning to visit this winter.
Until this trip I was prepared to scrap the summer as a disappointment. I had to abandon the garden at the farm so I've just been twiddling my thumbs, paging through seed catalogs like well-worn pornography. As much as we love it here, and as patient as we're trying to be, so many plans have fallen through and so much stress has piled on, I've just been counting the days until school starts again. This trip, and being able to spend time with Ray & Mike, totally redeemed the summer.
Hey, I just remembered that this is supposed to be a recipe post!
These pickles are aspirational. I didn't grow the beans or the zucchini, but instead of being depressed about that I'm going to be grateful for CSA baskets and the gardens plotted out in my mind.
The flavors in these two pickles are very different. The zucchini is sweet & sour, but don't be put off by that if you, like me, usually hate bread & butter pickles. To me the store-bought canned pickles are achingly sweet and just wrong in some way, but the sweet flavor of these homemade pickles is subtle and more than tolerable. They're good for burgers, hot dogs, and other salty meats. These pickles are also very pretty; I plan to give some away for gifts.
The basil beans, on the other hand, are deeply aromatic and intensely sour, ideal for chopping up into salads or enjoying right out of the jar. They're not very attractive as the green washes out, but still delicious.
Sweet & Sour Zucchini Pickles with Honey
3 pounds zucchini (about 9 or 10), sliced thickly
1 red onion, sliced into half-circles
4 c. apple cider vinegar
1 c. water
2/3 c. honey
1/4 c. sea salt
2 T. mustard seeds
1 T. celery seeds
Sterilize three quart jars (or 6 pint jars). Combine the vinegar, water, honey, salt, mustard, and celery seeds in a small pot and bring to a boil. As soon as the brine boils, turn off the heat.
Layer the zucchini and onions into the jars. Pour the brine into each jar to cover the zucchini. Cap and seal each jar. Let stand three days before enjoying.
Pickled Basil Beans
3 pound green beans, trimmed
1 white onion, sliced into half-circles
2 handfuls fresh basil
6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
2 c. white wine vinegar
1/2 c. water
3 T. sea salt
6 T. mustard seeds
2 T. peppercorns
Sterilize two quart jars (or four pints). Combine the vinegar, water, salt, mustard, and peppercorns in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.
Layer the beans, onion, basil, and garlic into the jars. Pour the brine over the beans, then cap and seal each jar. Let stand for three days before enjoying.
Hope you're having a wonderful summer!