A Long Time Coming

Only If You Try

Shannon SaiaI recently won a Ball FreshTech Canner in a Grit blogging contest, and I couldn't have been more surprised. It's an incredible tool that I probably wouldn't have bought for myself, so I think it's very cool.

Ball FreshTech Canner

It's been here for a few days, and I still haven't taken it out of the box yet, partly because I started a new job this week and I have been slammed with unfamiliar activities, and partly because, well, I'm a little freaked. When I think of pressure canners, I can't help but think of explosions and food poisoning. I'm not proud of it, but this is new territory for me. 

I was with a coworker this afternoon and I happened to mention the canner to him.

"I'll show you what you do with it," he said, and promptly led me out to his garage, where he showed me a whole shelf full of home-canned food: chicken, soups, relishes, carrots, beans, tomatoes ... it was amazing. He even sent me home with samples, which I can't wait to try.

Canned Goods

Still, I have been feeling leery about trying this new thing that involves risk. I'm not a fan. And yet, I will definitely be putting this canner through its paces sometime in the future, because a wise little girl taught me, seven years ago now, that pretty much everything good or significant in life begins with three little letters: TRY.

As the parent of a young child, I spent a lot of time thinking about the content of her education. She was not yet “school age,” but we were still educating her every day. The education that she was getting would equip her — or not — for more academic activities. Which is why this was the very core of our homeschool curriculum: Try again.

I have been instructing my daughter in try again her entire life — from so early, in fact, that I didn’t realize that I was doing it. When she was very little, and she would erupt in a fit of frustration about something, I would tell her, you have two choices: ask for help, or try again. I wasn’t trying to teach her to always try again. I was trying to get her to stop screaming. In fact, I was so unfocused on the try again part that when it became clear it had taken root in my daughter’s character, it came as a surprise to me. Once I became aware of the extent to which she had internalized this lesson, though, I went out of my way to reinforce it.

My daughter loved to “be” other people, and one of the things I wanted to do was to take her to a play so she could see people onstage. Much to my delight, the absolute perfect opportunity cropped up. A local arts center put on a production of Sleeping Beauty, with a cast consisting of about fifty local kids. When I told my daughter that I’d gotten us tickets to see this production, she said, “I want to do that.” She was still pretty young, and it seemed prudent for her to actually see a play and know what one is before auditioning for one. Her response: “I don’t want to watch! I want to act!”

I explained to her what audition meant, and what a play was, and we’d been talking about it a lot. A few days before the performance, she announced, “I’m going to be in a play when I get older.” Every day or so, out of the blue, she would turn to me and say, “I’m going to audition and if they say yes I can be in it, and if they say no, I’ll try again.”

Because you see, when I defined “audition” for her, I included “try again”.

She enjoyed the play. I would like for her to have been a little more quiet; a little more still. But when you’re three, it’s hard to see over the heads of the people in front of you. It’s hard to sit silently still for an hour and a half, and all things considered, she did pretty well. At one point, she turned to me and whispered, “Can I go up there?”

“Where?” I whispered back. “On the stage?”

“Yes,” she nodded.


She watched. She laughed. She commented. She clapped. When it was over, we went back out into the lobby. I asked her if she enjoyed the play. Yes. I asked her if she was ready to go. No.

“I want to see Sleeping Beauty,” she said.


“I want to talk to her.”

“You mean the actress?”

She nodded. “I want to talk to her.”

“I think she’s pretty busy right now,” I told her. “She hasn’t come out yet. She might not even come out this way. She’s probably backstage changing out of her costume.” I looked down through the doors of the auditorium. “Look, she’s on stage right now, getting her picture taken,” I told her.

“I want to talk to her.”

Changing. Busy. Pictures. She may not come out. And the thing that was inherent in all of those excuses that I was making: Sleeping Beauty doesn’t have time for you. Just listen to me. For shame.

My daughter had a desire and she expressed it. She did not conceive of disappointment or failure. I would have accepted any of my excuses to avoid the potential of discomfort or embarrassment. And that’s when it first dawned on me that “try again” is more than the building back up of fallen blocks. Before try again, there must be a try. Sooner or later, both try and try again are going to take you out of your comfort zone, and traveling outside of my comfort zone has never been my modus operandi.

My daughter was no longer the student here. The grasshopper was teaching me.

“We’ll wait here for a few minutes,” I said finally. “Maybe she’ll come out.”

My daughter did get a chance to talk to Sleeping Beauty. We went down to the front of the auditorium. Her father got Beauty’s attention as she stepped down off of the stage. My daughter looked so small there amongst all of those adults and teenagers, but only in stature. Her personality, her spirit, her self-confidence was as large as anyone’s there.

I don’t know what they said to one another. I only know that Beauty leaned down towards my daughter and hugged her. They exchanged some words. My daughter’s face was positively aglow.

It was an amazing moment. Small in the overall scheme of things, I suppose, but momentous for my daughter, and momentous for me. The whole time that I watched her there, I was only one small gesture away from dissolving into sobs.

I think that I was just so proud of her.

Later, we were watching Max and Ruby on Nick Jr. It was the episode called “Max’s Music” or something like that. Ruby’s friends were arriving so that their musical trio could practice. Ruby was at the piano

“Do you want to play the piano?” I asked my daughter.


Ruby stood in the middle of her living room carpet. She said something about taking these instruments off “the stage.”

My daughter said, “That’s not a stage.”

“Do you still want to be on a stage?” I asked her.

She nodded. She said, “I want to act.”

“I think you need to be a little older to audition,” I told her. I’d looked into it. The local playhouses and theatre companies didn’t start letting kids audition until they were five or six. My daughter nodded, okay with that.

I’ve tried a lot of new things for the first time this year. I’ve started a garden from seeds. I’ve grown things that I’ve never grown before. I’ve canned pickles and tomatoes, sauces, jam, and relishes. I’ve made sauerkraut in a mason jar. And don’t even get me started on blogging. A year ago I didn’t even take “blogging” seriously as a vocabulary word. Today, I find that I am discovering people out there in cyberspace that I not only take seriously, but respect and admire. One’s world is always ready and waiting and able to expand.

But only if you try.

Only if you try again.

So... What can I say? I am absolutely going to have to can something because, for one thing, I sure want the grasshopper to be proud of me. I believe some research is in order. When I actually do the deed, I will be sure to post about it here.

Get Shannon's e-book, How To Be At Home: Essays on Parenting, Patience, and Creativity for FREE at www.shelfspacebooks.com.

How Soon Will an Instant Orchard Bear Fruit? (Part 2)

Shannon Saia

For the beginning of this story, see: How Soon Will an Instant Orchard Bear Fruit? (Part 1)

The trees finally arrived in late December. They came all together in one very narrow, very tall box that I found leaning against my front door one evening. It was too dark to plant them then, so I drug the box inside and pried it open to inspect the goods. Trees are shipped when they are dormant, and my trees were “bare root.” If you have ever ordered a tree and received a stick, you’ll know what I was feeling when I opened the box. This is it? I hauled the box out onto the deck and left it there until the next day when, on a cold, damp, grey morning, I went outside to inspect them.

When I pulled them out of the box and very gently disentangled them, what struck me most was how very different these three “sticks” looked. For one thing, they were three quite distinct colors. Propped up side by side, they looked like a United Colors of Benneton ad on the side of a bus. The structure of the branches was different from tree to tree, too. Who knew?

I drug them all over to the small hill I had chosen as the site of my orchard. I laid them out on their sides with their tops pointing to approximately the spot where I intended to plant them. The roots of each tree were wrapped in black plastic and taped up securely. They were damp, and an amber-colored liquid was leaking out of them, which totally freaked me out. When I opened this suspicious-looking package, I found the roots were packed in some kind of orange, gel-like substance that looked like a translucent cottage cheese, presumably to keep the roots damp. When I lifted the roots out of this stuff, I was surprised that even the roots looked like sticks — or, more accurately, like a claw.

All of which is to say that it takes a real feat of imagination to envision the bare-root tree as a verdant and burgeoning resident of Eden.

The planting directions said to mix the backfill soil with some sand to ensure the soil would drain properly, and fortunately I already had several pockets of sand in the middle of my backyard, leftover from having leveled out an inflatable pool the previous summer. I dug the holes and mixed the dirt I had removed with the mycorrhizal fungi and — remembering our late fig free — only a few spades full of sand in a large, old, plastic pot. I enlisted my daughter to hold each stick upright as I dumped the contents of the pot back into the hole and patted the mix down firmly around the roots. Within an hour we had gone from gardeners to backyard homesteaders. We had our orchard.

The directions said that they shouldn’t be fertilized their first year, and that they didn’t really need to be watered in the winter. So I mulched around each tree, and then I ignored them.

For almost four months I ignored them. And then, as spring began to erupt all around us, I realized with delight that my sticks were getting leaves. These delicate, fuzzy leaves unfurled and spread broadly towards the light. All three trees quickly started to put out new shoots and to grow. Which was great, except ... well, none of them bloomed. I’m no horticulturalist. I’m just a self-taught backyard gardener with, at that time, about six years of experience under my belt. But I was pretty sure that in order for us to get any fruit that year, these trees were going to need to bloom.

So I did what I always do in this situation: I Googled in a panic. Some poking around online suggested that it may be two to five years after planting that my trees would begin to bear fruit.

Instant orchard indeed.

Still, I figured, it wasn’t a total loss. The squirrels were safe, for now, from my wrath. And maybe we anxious gardeners need the glittering promise of an “instant orchard” to get us to plant fruit trees. There are plenty of things in my life that, had I known how long they were going to take to come to fruition, I may have been too despairing to begin. Gardening is all about having appreciation and patience for unseen — or unnoticed — processes. Planting a seed or a bare root tree truly is a triumph of the imagination.

Fast forward four years. Present day.

A few weekends ago I was outside cutting my grass, pushing a mower around in my “orchard,” and I found a piece of fruit ― an apple, to be exact. It was small, hard, red, pock-marked, half-rotten, and half-eaten. At long last, someone in my backyard ecosystem has enjoyed an apple. Maybe a couple of different someones, who knows? All I know is that none of them were me. Still, for a moment, I couldn’t help but be encouraged. My orchard has borne fruit! I hastily inspected my trees. There was no sign of any other apple, and the apricots and the almonds were still MIA. But one thing was for sure: the Garden Delicious variety of apple tree is, indeed, self-fertile.

I posed the question in the title of this post: How soon will an instant orchard bear fruit? And my backyard science experiment has confirmed that an “instant” orchard will begin to bear fruit at the five-year mark. An instant orchard may not produce a single edible apple — for a human, anyway — but it sure gives a girl a perspective on what an “instant” means in geological time.

It’s fall ... go plant a tree!!

Apple tree
Photo by Fotolia/xalanx

S.M.R. Saia is the author of the children’s books Little Ant and the Butterfly and Little Ant Goes to a Picnic, as well as a book of gardening essays titled, Confessions of a Vegetable Lover: Scandalous Stories of Love, Lust, and Betrayal in a Backyard Garden.