The Power of Giving Up

Peace comes easily
When you listen, act, accept
Truth over worry.
It is a little early for Lent, and, well, I’m a little not Catholic, but I’ve been reflecting on the power of giving up. I’m not talking about giving up when the going gets tough. When I’m working out and my arms are begging me to stop yet I know I have 3 more reps in me… I won’t give up. When my daughter complains because everyone else on the basketball team makes baskets but her (not true, by the way), I won’t let her give up.

I’m talking about who gives a shit other than the pissy-little-tyrant-in-my-brain ‘giving up’. I’m learning a lot from this brand of release.

I experienced this a few months ago. A devoted audio book listener, I had heard an enthralling book by David McCullough about the year 1776 in the Revolutionary War. Each night after listening to it during my bedtime bathroom routine, I would crawl into bed and tell my husband how amazing the book was and how I couldn’t believe we actually won the war. This foray into history long forgotten (had I ever learned it?) made me long for more about our Founding Fathers. Up next, Ben Franklin’s biography.

Oh jesus help me. It was horrible. I could have lived through the dry points in the story where it took the author nearly 6 hours to fully describe a few simple things about his early life — that he fled his brother’s apprenticeship for Philadelphia where studiousness , daring and little luck helped him on his way… But the narrator would have made Fifty Shades of Gray un-listenable. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how people like him get and keep these jobs. Doesn’t anyone listen to his work? Have they spent even 5 minutes trying to understand how someone can read a sentence with action and intrigue and still make you want to take your own life?

I was a solid 9 hours into this book (it was 24 hours overall) when something amazing occurred to me. Why did I need to finish it? Who would care? No teacher would scold me. No book report would go un-written. Not a single bad thing would happen.   Yet, if I stopped listening, I realized that several good things would happen. I would no longer want to smash my iPod player. I would stop telling my husband what a horrible listen it was. True, I wouldn’t have any new and interesting tidbits about our earliest years as a country to share with others, but… It just didn’t matter.

So I returned the book to Audible. They gave me a partial credit. No one mocked me. No one sneered. Such new territory I was treading.

Today my daughter asked me, “Mom, have you ever quit a book before?”

I replied that I had… and asked why she brought it up. Given she reads almost nonstop, this was an interesting question.

“I quit a book today,” she said sheepishly. “The Hobbit. Just didn’t want to keep reading.”

“I totally understand. That’s a tough one to get into. There is nothing wrong with quitting a book.” And with that, she was done worrying. Oh to have had that role modeled for me early in life.

So I began reflecting on what else I could just “give up” without anyone noticing or caring. And it came to me. I can give up holiday baking. For many years, I baked away an entire weekend, making tons of cookies and candies for our friends and relatives. But I haven’t really done a mega-baking fest in years yet I allow a ton of guilt to overtake me in early December when I realize I can’t fit in two days of baking in a now kid-filled life.  I feel horrible. So tonight I decided I am no longer a Christmas baker.  I’m done, I’m over it. I will continue to make Bourbon Balls, because frankly it is the only thing everyone remembers about my baking anyway, and it’s fun to get a little tanked while I make them.  And I’ll likely keep making caramels. But I am giving up the rest. All the guilt associated with a  no-longer-relevant tradition is released.

I feel lighter already. I’m serious… this is a joyful feeling. I must explore giving up more things (or more guilt). Try it yourself. Instead of giving something, give up something. Best gift under the tree.

The next best gift under the tree is Bourbon Balls. Recipe below. Enjoy. I plan to in a few weeks.

Bourbon Balls

3 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers (about 75) (one normal sized box)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup finely chopped pecans
¼ cup cocoa
½ cup bourbon (get the good stuff… and sometimes I do closer to 3/4 cup)
¼ cup light corn syrup
Granulated or powdered sugar

Crush the wafers by putting them in a double layer of zip bags and beating/rolling the crap out of them with a rolling pin. Mix the crushed wafers with the powdered sugar, pecans and cocoa. Stir in bourbon and corn syrup. Shape mixture into 1 inch balls as you watch a good movie. Roll balls in granulated sugar. Eat several as you go, just to be sure they are good enough. Refrigerate the ones you haven’t scarfed down in a tightly covered container several days before serving. Open the fridge a few times a day to get a wiff of the Bourbon and to sample them to be sure they are mellowing nicely. Yield: About 5 dozen cookies minus two dozen or so you have eaten in advance.

No. More.Tomatoes. Please.

Nothing is as sweet
As a ripe tomato, plucked,
Eaten, garden side.

Clearly, I am incapable of basic math. There are 4 of us in my family. I planted 15 tomato plants. Each of those plants has thrived (I have the water bill to prove it).  We have harvested what seems like hundreds of flipping tomatoes. I sit here at the computer, with a view to the back yard and my garden and can see even more red dots all over the plants, fruit waiting to be picked. How did I imagine we would eat all that these produce?

I am so sick of tomatoes I don’t know what to do. Today, Frank asked me if I wanted a BLT, my favorite vehicle for tomato consumption this time of year. Is there anything better than a red-fresh tomato and bacon (second only to mac and cheese as a favorite food of mine), with crisp lettuce, a smear of mayo on good old-fashioned white bread? I say there is not. Except when you are freaking sick of tomatoes. So when asked tonight, I said the nearly unthinkable: “No, I don’t. I’m tired of bacon. I’m tired of tomatoes.” Somewhere, a little part of me died.

My friends now scurry away when they see me carrying a brown sack. They know I’m about to foist upon them some tomatoes, and possibly some carrots, for that too was a bumper crop this year. They have tried politely declining, but since that stopped working 3 weeks ago, they just feign deafness and profess a desire for a scenic route through the school parking lot, and manage to dodge me thanks to the slow-moving school bus. (Who knew Jen could do a crouching roll under the school bus before jumping on the Johnston’s SUV to hitch a ride to her own car down the way?)

Why don’t I can them, you ask? Because that to me is worse. I would just repeat tomato consumption over and over across the winter, reminding myself repeatedly that I’m an idiot. If this were 1776 and we were, say, living in Boston during the siege by the British, surrounded by rebels in the countryside, too poor to move or take sides, then yes, I wouldn’t mind eating jar after jar of tomatoes. But this isn’t Boston, this isn’t 1776.

So I’m declaring that I’m officially done being a farmer this season. Any further fruiting will just become compost for the betterment of the dirt.  I’m hopeful that just like I forget what a pain Halloween is about April each year, just in time to start answering my kids when they ask how soon it comes again, next spring I’ll be raring to be a farmer, eager to put stuff in the ground to see what will grow. Just god, please help me do the math.

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