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CASCADE OBSERVATIONS: Some musings on giving and receiving

The tomatoes still hang heavy on the vine, but a quick perusal of The Oregonian this morning tells me a different season is upon us — advertisements for holiday bazaars fill three pages of the morning newspaper. ‘Tis almost the season for giving, for receiving and for overusing credit cards.

If you know an amateur gardener or an accomplished farmer, the season of giving and receiving neither starts nor ends in December. It begins with the first generous gift of ripe produce in early summer. Though I pride myself on financially supporting local produce stands and farmers markets, I also gratefully accept generous gifts from my green thumb friends.

A large box of beautiful ripe cherries arrived on my doorstep in early July. After gobbling up as many handfuls of the fresh fruit as my intestines could bear, I set to work drying the rest. Up from the basement came my trusty cherry pitter. One by one the gorgeous orbs rolled down the chute, pitted and bound for the food dehydrator.

Once dry, they will languish in the dark cool basement, waiting their next incarnation. In December, they’ll be dipped in dark chocolate and packaged as gifts for friends, completing the cycle of giving, receiving, and giving once again.

Over the course of the summer, other fruits and vegetables have come our way, and pounds of them have left our garden for other kitchens. Our tomatoes have been abundant this summer. We’ve made gallons of tomato sauce and tomato paste.

Our food dryer has run non-stop, turning bushels of Sweet One Million cherry tomatoes into tiny tomato chips that literally explode in your mouth. We’ve made tomato pickles and ketchup. And still, there are basketfuls of tomatoes to give away.

When I take the extras to work, my friends quickly fill their bags with tomatoes. The next day, they give some of them back to me, transformed into delicious salsas.

In addition to tomatoes, our other “cash” crop must certainly be chiles. My husband is a connoisseur of all things spicy. He grows myriad varieties of chiles, from Serranos to Bird Dung (yes, this is truly its name). When they ripen, he puts some in a smoker, and others go directly into the food dryer.

The day he pulverizes his dried crop into unique chile powders, he wears a breathing mask, and the rest of us evacuate the house until the toxic dust settles. Those of our friends who can “take the heat” are recipients of the small jars of volcanic spice.

When it comes to charities, the season of soliciting gifts is limitless, although the requests do seem to ramp up as the winter holidays approach. My husband and I give generously and happily to worthy charities. I try to be civil when I’m bombarded with requests for donations. I worked in development for several nonprofits, and am fully aware of how critically important donations are.

Still, when a charity solicits me month after month (even when I have recently given a donation) my blood begins to simmer. Worse, when I receive free unsolicited “gifts” — everything from address stickers to dream catchers, ugly calendars to hideous tote bags — I boil over. If charitable organizations think this is the way to get my donation, they are mistaken.

As I age, and my memory falters, I’ve started keeping an elaborate table of the donations I make, when I make them and how often a charity solicits me over the course of the year. When the phone rings at dinnertime, and a pleading voice asks for my support, I pull out my chart and check; more often than not, the caller is affiliated with an organization that I have already supported during the year. I kindly explain this to the caller, and hang up the phone.

There are a few charities that give me back much more than I give them. First among these must be the FISH Food Bank. We give to FISH both monetarily and as volunteers. About once a month, we work at the food bank, helping needy clients fill their bags with free food for their families and themselves.

We get all types at the food bank, from homeless people with no ability to heat their food, to migrant workers, to life-long local residents recently out of work. With each and every transaction, there is a feeling of mutual respect. Both the clients and the volunteers are courteous and grateful — we all get something back from our visit to the food bank.

When people ask me what I do for a living, and they hear I am an elementary school teacher, many of them respond by saying “Oh, that must be so fun!” Fun is not the word I would use to describe what we do. Teaching young children of poverty is challenging and exhausting, but never boring.

When our students understand a complex concept, write a lovely piece of prose or create a beautiful painting, we know the word to describe our work: rewarding. If we’re lucky, we are not only rewarded with an evanescent feeling; our students give us handcrafted notes, filled with adorable drawings, a few misspelled words and heartfelt gratitude. I save these notes; they are all precious gifts, and I the lucky recipient.

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Mid Valley Elementary School students are currently designing beautiful note cards for all occasions (see photos above). If you would like to give to the school’s PTO, and receive in return some of these cards, please contact me at peggy.kelter@hood-river.k12.or.us. Boxes of 10 cards sell for $14.95.

Orders will arrive around Thanksgiving.

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