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I haven’t seen a woolly caterpillar yet but they surely are putting on winter coats. My coats have been moved to the front of the closet and most summer wear has been put away. I can feel winter peeking around the corner. It’s akin to discovering the first gray hair and realizing that time is relentless in its forward march. Of course you can color your hair and start buying wrinkle cream if that helps with denial, but you’d better step up the exercise program and watch the diet if quality of life is your goal.

Our ancestors knew how to improve the quality of life during the season of short sun. They called it “putting by for winter.” That was not done just for comfort, so much as survival, because you couldn’t just run to the grocery store when you wanted a can of peaches. I grew up in a home and community where putting by was practiced, and never got over it.

All the women in my childhood had cellars or pantries where shelves were lined with gleaming jars of many colored jellies, jams, fruits, and vegetables. I didn’t inherit the canning gene, but Bruce and my children did, so they keep our shelves looking pretty. I’m the freezer person hereabouts, and our freezer shelves are overflowing. The only things left in the garden are beets and carrots, and they’ll keep a while there. The potatoes are put away in buckets of sand in the garage. We’ll use them up before the temps drop far enough to freeze in there.

I think of putting by for winter as a country thing, but at church coffee hour, many of my town friends speak of canning. Nothing relieves the aching back like knowing you are eating food that was raised and handled properly, and there’s probably an element of generational connection involved for some of us.

Preparation comes in many forms. School shopping, cramming for an exam, signing up for a few college courses while still in high school, all qualify. On the ranch we yard the hay bales, precondition calves, pregnancy test cows, watch the markets, push the pencil, and tighten our belts, while giving thanks for the overflowing shelves and freezers.

Athletes lift weights, run on the treadmill, and show up for practice in hopes for a successful season. Mothers get out last year’s winter garb and have kids try it on in order to know who gets new and who will wear hand-me-downs. My daughter is the oldest sibling and the poor kid never got a girly pink or purple winter coat. Blue and red can be passed on to brothers, you know.

Amid all this activity, it would be good to stop and give thanks for what we have, even if it’s not quite what we hoped for. You can never have an oversupply of gratitude, and there’s always room in the heart for more.

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