Trail markers

j and l runI tell myself that I will remember them, running along the sidewalk to the pool, all sun-bleached hair and palpable joy. I will remember their sand-covered toes, the warm sweaty weight of their heads on my shoulder, the exact way that Lucas says “I not too little,” and how Jacob sounds out “square” as “scary.” I tell myself that I will remember, I will remember just how this summer is. I take pictures, to be my trail markers.

boys at pool

Of course, I know enough by now to tell you that memory doesn’t work that way. summer skyWe can’t find the way back, not exactly. These photos in fall, or winter, or summers years from now, they will be sharper and fuzzier all at once. But still, I imagine them as blazes, returning me to this precise place and time, to this summer. I imagine the boys following them, back along a path of barely-there recollection. I think about how someday in their memories this summer will have merged into other summers, all those days coming together and forming the solid, the definite, the stories of their childhood. I have thought about this before. August does this to me.

NorCal Summer

I tell myself that I will remember, and I make notes, notes that are both intense and meaningless in their brevity. Their bright striped towels. The fog that finally lifted. The red daisies, the purpley-brown worms searched for so intently.

Lu worm

Feet slipped through the chair’s ladderback, fruit plates after swimming, olives on Grandma Diane’s enameled tea plates. Slumped on the couch each late afternoon, sharing and fighting over books. Creature powers. Jacob lifting his chin and walking so purposefully, slowly, carefully through the shallow end. Lucas fighting my arms away, “I can swim! I do it myself!” Digging in the rich brown dirt that the mole churns up, planting strawberries in pots on the patio.

Lu feet


mole dirtJacob reaching out when Lucas is scared, Lucas wanting Jacob to be the one to read to him for “morning read.”

breakfast table

Their breakfasts with Kyle, the sun slanting and bright, the day so much promise and chatter as they tell him their plans. Digging games, building games, ball games and hiding games. Lucas’s anguished conviction that Bactine can make anything feel better, Jacob’s steadfast insistence that it doesn’t hurt, and he did mean to do that. They smell like clean laundry and oatmeal cookies and sweaty feet and mud. Their eyes are so big, and their smiles, and their imaginations.

highway 1

I think they will remember. They will remember the row crops on Highway 1, the marine layer, the thick tule rolling in as the sun goes down. They will remember apricots and plums, berries and melons. Pizza on Friday nights, and ice cream in sugar cones. Swimming, always swimming, and dinners outside with friends – especially the dinners that end well past bedtime, when it is dark and the crickets are singing. They probably won’t remember being carried to the car, barely awake, and falling asleep on the way home.  I will remember that, and the way their hair looks the next morning, all pool-spiked and sleep-mussed.

Of course, there are things I hope they forget – me being grumpy on hot afternoons, the reason Jacob learned the word “irritating”, their Monday morning blues when Kyle heads back to the office after weekends full of Daddy time. But mostly, I hope it’s all there for them, somewhere. Sand on their toes, sun on their heads, and us telling them, over and over again, how much we love them.



August is a heartbreaker, the nights darkening earlier even as the days get bluer-skied and sunnier. It feels like summer is starting, but really it is winding down. We have found our summertime groove, but will soon be changing it all up. Jam is right for August; it is memory in action, a summer’s bounty jarred for days ahead, deepened and preserved.

I was lucky enough this year to get invited back to can again with Ann and Eleanor – this time another friend, Audrey, also joined us. I’m pretty sure that when my kids think back on summertime, they will remember my excitement about the all-day canning party that Ann hosts. She told me that after two years I am now officially part of the tradition – an honor and a joy. The boys have become connoisseurs of berry jam, and have declared a definite favorite. When Eleanor arrived to deliver our bounty a couple weeks after we had canned it all, she was barely through the front door before they started hollering. “Plumberry butter! I want to open a jar of plumberry butter first!”

And I can’t say that I blame them. Sweet and tart, with the full deep fruitiness of a jam but a delicate, smooth texture almost like a jelly, Ann’s Plumberry Butter is a treat on toast, or crepes, or yogurt. It’s worth adding to your canning repertoire, however small that repertoire may be. Once you’ve tried it, this jam is one you’ll find your way back to again and again.  For my kids, it has already become a solid, a definite – a flavor of their summers.

plumberry butter on toastPlumberry Butter
Recipe courtesy of Ann Hestand. (Thanks Ann!)

In my post from last year on learning about preservation, I have some process notes on canning for beginners. Alana Chernila‘s book The Homemade Pantry is a great resource for beginning canners, as is Marisa McClellan’s Food in Jars. Also, Jess’s post on apricot jam has me curious to try her innovative canning method – and itching to get my hands on The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders. (If you have it – is it as delightful as it appears to be? I’m thinking the answer is heck yeah.)

This is a gorgeously bright combination of berry-sweet with plum-tart. A Santa Rosa plum works really nicely here, but any red plum that is not too watery will work. The plum is here primarily to provide depth and tangy tartness to the backbone of rich berry sweet – but it also contributes an important textural silky-smoothness. It is hard to get just berries to have a ‘buttery’ quality in a preserve based on whole fruit, not juice – but the plums make a little magic happen here, both flavor and texture wise.

There’s a lot of sugar, because it’s jam and it’s getting water-bath preserved. I’m cautious about sugar intake, as we’ve discussed. I think one of the benefits of making your own jam is, you know just how much sugar is in it … and you portion it out to your kids accordingly. Enjoy it as a treat – a breakfast treat on toast, sure, but also exceptionally good over vanilla ice cream.

(Remember that when you are tempted to eat an entire jar with a spoon.)

1 quart blackberries
2 pounds plums (Santa Rosas are terrific)
1/2 cup water
7 cups sugar
1 pouch Certo

Wash and pick over berries. Wash, dry and pit the plums, but do not peel them. Cut the plums into small pieces.

Combine the fruit and water in a saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil and then simmer, covered, for five minutes.

Force the fruit mixture through a food mill to remove seeds. (We used one that attaches to Ann’s first generation Kitchen Aid mixer – they no longer make them, but a regular food mill will also work. I have this one at home.) Measure 4 1/2 cups of the pulp into a very large saucepan. If needed, add water to make the full amount. (4 1/2 cups).

Add the sugar, and mix well. Heat to a full rolling boil; boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in pectin; skim.

Ladle into sterilized hot jars to within 1/8 inch of jar top. Wipe jar rim; adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath five minutes. Remove from canner and let sit for 24 hours.

Makes eight half pints.

J readingstrawberry potsLu pizzaLu creature powercouch timemore toesbeachswing

14 thoughts on “Trail markers

  1. Oh my…. After the wedding, we sat under a beach umbrella by the hotel pool and spoke of the wonder that is Hannah, and exquisite offerings like this one. I so agree about the counter-intuitive wistfulness of this month of waning light. “Jam is… memory in action.” Wow. I think I’ll go have breakfast! ~xo

  2. So poignant! I don’t have the words.

    What is that book Jacob is reading with the little rectangular lists? It looks good!

    • Hi Cara! J is reading the ULTIMATE DINOPEDIA book from National Geographic. It is a top-three favorite for him right now. It pulls no punches – we have talked about carnivores, cannibals, and mating, thanks to this one :)

  3. You had me at “Trail Markers.” And if it’s any consolation, you do remember — maybe not perfectly, but meaingfully. You look at the young woman weeks away from heading off to college on the opposite coast and remember (as if it were yesterday), the toddler who marched into your room with this update about her younger sister, “Grace is frying in her frib!” Thankfully, my soon-to-be college student no longer has that F and K sound confusion. You’ll remember “feet slipped through the ladderback.” I guarantee it.

    • Bill I have your girls in my head as sort of eternally in late elementary school. Your family gives me great hope for the teenage years, and the potential for staying close with our kids even as they get big … Also I’m glad Grace wasn’t left to fry in her frib. What a good big sister.

Post a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s