If We Can Can, You Can Too

My maternal grandparents lived on a farm in North Carolina. Growing up, my grandmother would haul 5-gallon buckets of fresh produce from the garden to the house in a little red wagon, scattering chickens in her wake. It seems idyllic now but back then, it was just another day in the life. With 7 children and 41 grandchildren, everything that my grandmother did was on a large scale. For breakfast, she made grits in a stock pot and cooked 2 dozen eggs at a time. It’s no wonder then that watching her can tomatoes and green beans as a child left me with the impression that it was an all-day job that involved an assembly line of aunts and cousins, a giant pressure cooker, and more jars than I had ever seen, even at Walmart.

Fast forward 35 years…

With our tiny garden and our CSA baskets winding down, Angie and I started thinking about how we might continue to enjoy the fresh tastes of summer all year long. Last year we froze so much squash and zucchini that I swore we were never going to freeze anything else for as long as we lived. And the tomatoes! We boiled, cooked, and froze gallons upon gallons of cherry tomatoes that we gleaned from our neighbor’s neglected garden. I never wanted to see another tomato either. But, as usually happens with things like this, we changed our minds – but not before we sold one of our freezers. So…to shake things up a bit, we decided we would give water bath canning a go this year.

Unlike the canning process I witnessed as a young girl, water bath canning is pretty simple. No explosive [pressure cooker] experience or assembly line of relatives required. You can use any deep pot for water bath canning. We used our stock pot. We already had a collection of jars from our regular salsa purchases at the Farmer’s Market and rings/lids from Angie’s mom, so all we had to purchase was our ingredients and a jar grabber. (One attempt to pull hot jars out of scalding water with a pair of tongs was enough to render buying this $3 gadget a no-brainer.)

Last summer, we experimented with pickling jalapenos. This year, we branched out. Along with pickled jalapenos, so far, we have canned 3 jars of Bread ‘n Butter Pickles (or as Angie told her mom by mistake, Sweet ‘n Bread Pickles) and 10 jars of salsa. All the ingredients came from our garden or the Farmer’s Market.

I used a few online resources to get started, including:

Water Bath Canning for High Acid Foods

Canning Homemade Salsa

Million Dollar Pickles

Quick Pickled Jalapenos*

*This recipe doesn’t have canning directions, so I just used the times listed below.

Our experience/experiment left us with a few nuggets of wisdom for future use as well:

  1. Water bath canning only works with high acid foods and jams or jellies. If you’re pickling anything in vinegar, you can use a water bath canner.
  2. Tomatoes are an exception. You can water bath can them if you use lemon juice in the recipe.
  3. A butter knife works perfectly for freeing air bubbles from your jars.
  4. Water bath canning is a relatively quick process. 15 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts.
  5. If your seal doesn’t “pop”, refrigerate and eat that jar first. (So far, all our seals have popped).

We had a lot of fun trying our hand at making some of the things we buy frequently at the Farmer’s Market, and by my calculations, we saved a lot of money too. On average, a jar of salsa costs $5 and a jar of pickles $4.50 at the market. To buy what we made would have cost us $68 at the market. To make it, cost $23, which includes the cost of the jar grabber.

Now, where’s that easy button??

Retirement Redefined

A few years ago, Angie and I were watching a football game on TV when a commercial for TD Ameritrade came on. I wasn’t really paying attention but for some reason when I heard the word retirement, I spontaneously muttered, “I think I will retire tomorrow.” It sounded good in my head and of course, impractical at the same time, as it tumbled off my tongue. Though I expected no response, I still remember to this day what Angie said – just one little word, okay. This wasn’t the same okay that I usually get when she’s reading and only half listening to me. It was more like the one I get when I suggest we go get ice cream.

“And then what will we do?” I asked with a hint of sarcasm that was mainly directed at myself for suggesting such a thing in the first place.

Without missing a beat, she said, “Well, if it rains like they say it’s going to, then we’ll watch movies.”

It was just that simple. And yet that profound.

For several days after that, I pondered the question: Just what is retirement anyway?

In my grandparents’ day, retirement meant you were old enough to receive your company’s pension and could spend your days doing all the things you had dreamed of while working for 40+ years. Today, I turn on the news and retirement means that our older generation is no longer employable in their career field but can’t support themselves because they’ve overspent and under-planned, so now they must work at Walmart. Don’t believe it? Just Google “Americans Unable to Retire” and you’ll be bombarded with sad statistics like 85% of Americans are worried about retirement, only 54% have a retirement savings account, and 24% fear they will never be able to retire.

Or maybe it’s time we call bull-crap on those statistics and the pessimists who publish them and come up with our own definition of retirement.

Jacob Fisker did. He’s the author of Early Retirement Extreme.

Pete did. You may know him as Mr. Money Mustache.

Long, long ago, the definition of retirement was simply to withdraw to some place, especially for the sake of privacy. I like that. I like it a lot!

If I were going to craft my own definition of retirement, I might start out pretty similar, with one that has nothing to do with money. But you can’t do that, I hear you saying. Money has to be the starting point. You have to have enough of it to survive once you aren’t working anymore.

Nope. Not in my definition.

Retirement is not a financial achievement, though as Americans, we’ve come to see it that way. We work for years to reach a point where we can buy back our most valuable resource – time – and use it as we see fit. We think retirement is when we can travel, spend time with loved ones, take on new hobbies, or simply greet the day with no intentions. No wonder so many of us find the concept of early retirement so appealing! We want to do those things now. If we wait until TD Ameritrade says that we have enough money, most of us will be long past dead!

Retirement shouldn’t be about how you spend your money, but rather, how you spend your day. If you want to work, that’s okay. If you want to fish all day, that’s fine too. It’s your life, live it however you want. And don’t wait until you reach some arbitrary age or ask permission from some greedy brokerage firm to do it. Retirement starts the day that you choose to spend your time pursuing life instead of money.

Retirement is a state of mind, a place of peaceful living and time spent with loved ones, a nap on the couch, or an afternoon enjoying a good book. Retirement is getting up each day, knowing your time is your own, regardless of what you choose to do with it. And by that definition, retirement is a place we can arrive at any age.