Wednesday, August 14, 2013

That time when canning tomatoes resulted in the fire department in our house in the middle of the night

Yeah, about that.

Yesterday we set out to can bunches of tomatoes. It's the time of year when it seems like every spare moment is dedicated to storing away some local, in-season produce to savor during the long winter months. Last Saturday was dedicated to freezing countless peaches, and the next few weekends are busy, so tomatoes landed on a week night this year. E and I spent the better part of yesterday purchasing tomatoes, gathering canning supplies from my parents' home, buying lids, and prepping as best I could. I had the canner filled with hot water and jars washed and ready when Chou arrived home from work later than usual. Chou took one look at the pile of tomatoes and jars, and was convinced we were going to run out of jars. I had extrapolated last years' numbers when gathering jars and was convinced we had just enough with one or two to spare. Regardless, there was plenty more to do to prepare, and we didn't actually get started filling jars until 6:30pm. I really prefer to do large projects on weekends, but it's just not always possible, and a few late nights in the summer prove more than worth it when we're digging into home preserved goodness mid-winter.

Chou getting into a rhythm
Despite the late start, we made steady progress. E was content to sit and watch us for quite awhile, snacking on a tomato or two as she observed. When she got bored with the canning, she sat and read some books to herself while still on her seat in the kitchen. I had to stop and laugh and cringe at the disaster that was our house in the midst of it all, and commented to Chou that it would take a solid twenty-four hours of cleaning to get the house back in order. The contents of our counters were on the washer, dryer, and dining room table to make room for us to work, and boxes of tomatoes and jars made walking throughout the kitchen challenging. Add to that the tomato juice and general splatter than always occurs when canning, and it was a mess. I was in pajamas, and was the most presentable of the three of us. 

E helping out
Several hours in, E moved on and was playing by herself in the living room. I noticed it was too quiet and went to check on her but got distracted. When I got around to peeking into the living room, she was sprinkling dried oregano on herself and the dogs and had already emptied half a bulk container. I mentally added vacuuming to the cleaning list.

E helping herself
Eventually it was time for E to go to bed, so at a nice lull in the canning I gathered her up and headed to bed. She snuggled in with a book, and Chou and I continued on with the tomatoes.  We had a running bet all night on whether we'd run out of jars or tomatoes first so we were anxious to finish. We got down to the last little pile of tomatoes and four remaining jars, both still convinced we were right. It was 11:30 and I was more than ready for bed. As Chou was filling the last of the jars, an alarm went off in our house. We found the carbon monoxide alarm that was beeping and flipped it over to see the alarm as we reached to pull the batteries out. Rather than the "replace batteries" light we were expecting to be lit, it was the "carbon monoxide detected, move to fresh air" light flashing as the alarm continued to beep. Instead of heading to our warm beds, I ran up and grabbed E and some clothes while Chou turned off the canner that was still boiling away with tomatoes. We opened a few windows, took the dogs and E out to the car, and called the cops. Within minutes the fire department showed up, lights flashing and blocking our entire street, in full get-up. So glad the entire neighborhood could share in our excitement.

I was really hoping for a false alarm, even though I would have felt terrible for calling everyone out so late at night, but the fire department's detectors went off before they even got inside our house. They found slightly elevated concentrations throughout the entire house, but couldn't pinpoint a source, so they called the gas company. I sat in the car mortified at the number of people in my disaster-of-a-house while Chou and E got to know our wonderful firemen quite well in the forty minutes it took for the gas company to show up. Most of our neighbors made sure we were fine, and one of them even came and wrapped a blanket around E, because they thought she looked cold. A few of our neighbors popped popcorn. Well, maybe not, but they may as well have. 

By the time the gas company showed up, the levels in the house were back down to zero. They concluded our constant use of the stove for the past five hours had caused the build up and we were good to go, but they suggested keeping the windows open all night and getting out immediately should the alarm sound again (so not comforting.) The fire department also did not approve of our placement of smoke detectors, so they'll be back in the next few weeks to install them where they want them. I guess it's better safe than sorry.

It was after 1am when we were able to come back inside, and we still had several batches of jars to go into the canner. We finally got to stuff the last of the tomatoes into jars, with one and a half jars to spare (point for me!) All three of us were wide awake at that point, so it was well after two o'clock when we finally headed to bed. Needless to say we did not wake up to run this morning. There's always tomorrow for that.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Stone Harbor Tidal Pools

[The post with way too many pictures. You've been warned.]

Last week was my family's annual vacation in Stone Harbor. This year everyone (my parents, sisters with their husbands/families, and my mom's parents) was able to make it, making the time away so fun! My grandparents spent their summers in the area when they were growing up, and my mom visited as a girl. We love this small town with its open beaches, nature preserves, beautiful mansions, and amazing food.

Each year a few of us try to take a day to walk down to the end of the island. As the tide goes out, it leaves tidal pools full of warm water and wildlife. E enjoyed wading in the pools with fish swimming around her and hermit crabs scurrying along nearby.