“M” is for Melting

This post is brought to you today by the letter “M,” a seemingly random alphabet selection, but actually quite relevant, as it represents my current body condition. Yes, I’m melting, just a few seconds at a time. At the youthful age of 52, I’m experiencing hot flashes. And let me tell you, for the first time in a long time, I want air conditioning! Not constantly, of course. I’m coming to know the sensation of a slow heat infusing my skin…really an interesting feeling, especially as I’ve been chilly most of my life. I’m the one with a light sweater when most of the rest of the world is ready for short sleeves. My last office was nick-named “the womb” because I kept it oh-so-toasty with a little space heater. Well, I do live in Alaska. And even in the southeast rainforest part of the state, there is a lot of chilly weather here. You don’t have to live in the Arctic to be cold in Alaska.

But that may be changing…who knows if my own personal summer will outlast the calendar pages? (Borrowed that phrase from a friend…the best description I’ve heard for this experience!) Well, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting for this…and now it’s finally happening. And I have to acknowledge: I’m just a wee bit sad…a little nostalgic. Not for a monthly event, but for what it represented. And even though I haven’t been able to kid myself for a while that I’m young, somehow, this transition seals more than just a chapter. Like the passage from full and busy motherhood to empty nest, something has changed, gone, and I won’t get it back. I can’t recover the time of life, the physical part of myself that is changing, literally moment to moment.

So I read about this phase of life…should I be taking hormones? Or look for natural supplements to mitigate symptoms and support good health? I have a nightly rhythm with my sheets…on, then off, then on again. Oddly, one of the biggest impacts I’ve noticed, aside from the actual sensation of the flash of heat, is the disruption to my sleep cycle. Hard to sleep soundly when I can’t decide: cover; no cover; cover; no cover. NO COVER!

Most houses in Ketchikan do not have air-conditioning. Just not necessary. And normally I would agree. Except that it’s June, and we’re having a real taste of summer here. Doesn’t happen every year. Some summers whiz by on a Tuesday, and if you’re stuck in a meeting, or out of town that day, you could miss the whole thing. (This has actually happened to me…pretty much went four seasons in a turtle-neck a couple of years since we moved here.) Well, this summer we’re doing a little better. And I’m thinking of where I can drive myself each afternoon when it really warms up. My car has air-conditioning. Safeway has air-conditioning. Wal-Mart is air-conditioned. I’m sure you see a pattern here. I’m looking for a little relief from the heat. Can’t believe those words just typed themselves onto my screen.

So far, Rob is still intact. I haven’t dissolved in a heap of emotion. I haven’t turned into a raging maniac. You hear stories about this transition. I don’t want to spin out of control, to feel I’ve unleashed the Kraken. Mostly I just want to be myself, the me I’m familiar with, good and bad, warts and all. I don’t want hormones, or lack of them, to define me. Can I be bigger than menopause? Ah, another use for the letter “M!” Well, you might as well have two for the price of one! And the alliteration is good. Melting menopause. Menopause melting. Works either way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go stand in front of my fridge. It’s the best I can do for air-conditioning at this time of night when my retail options are closed.

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Use what you’re given

I saw this recently and liked the thought…

Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater.

If you give her sperm, she’ll give you a baby.
If you give her a house, she’ll give you a home.
If you give her groceries, she’ll give you a meal.
If you give her a smile, she’ll give you her heart.

Preserved lemons; or, genetic memories calling?

I’m preserving lemons even as I write. It is a work in progress. Yesterday I satisfied my inner Martha Stewart with a home kitchen exercise that fulfilled multiple needs at once. The prep work for making preserved lemons is ridiculously fast and simple. But as the process itself takes about three weeks of wait time, the jar of lemons sitting in plain view all that time on my kitchen counter, it feels like I’m engaged in a much more complex endeavor. And the result, three lemons, so beautifully softened by kosher salt and time, can be stored in the fridge for up to a year. Nice! I’ll have a lengthy period of time to enjoy the fruits of my labors.

Let me tell you how intense those labors were.

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It all began with a beautiful image of these lemons on a food blog. The accompanying text promised flavor so luscious, so bright, so wonderful…well, I was inspired to put my hands on a Mason jar and buy some new lids to try this at once. There isn’t really even a recipe. You just choose the size jar you want to use, select a few lemons (I used three); you wash and quarter the lemons, slicing not quite through with each cut, so that the pieces stay attached. Then you fill the cut areas with kosher salt, stuff the lemons into the canning jar, and put a lid on. You don’t even have to go through a sterilizing process, just run the jar and the lid through the dishwasher before using. I did add a little extra salt on top of the last lemon, following the well known, “if a little is good, a lot is better” philosophy. That’s it. Now I just wait for the magic to happen.

Supposedly, in the next three weeks, the lemons will soften, and their flavor, enhanced by the salt, will intensify. You can use slivers of the lemon rind in salads, or add slices to roasting meat, or find your own unique ways to utilize your bounty. Already, overnight, the lemons have released some of their juices; a small amount of liquid has pooled at the base of the jar. I understand that lemon-watching can become quite an obsession during this period, requiring regular checks to see what they’ve done overnight, or since I left for work, or between dinner and bedtime…you get the idea. I’m going to have a regular entertainment center on my counter!

I’m looking forward to trying these in my favorite lemony recipes. But the preserves are just the bonus. The real joy in this is that I’m feeding some need within myself to be domestic, beyond home-cooked meals and laundry processing. I don’t understand where it comes from. I’m not even aware the need is there. Until I see something like this blog post, and I’m fired with an intense desire to can, or preserve, or somehow participate in the time-honored arts of a farm kitchen.

Really, if I believed in genetic memory, I would think I’m experiencing the combined promptings of grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and all sorts of extended kin, who were queens of the garden: canning, freezing, making jams and pickles all summer. Like the little red hen, immortalized in the story of an industrious chicken who works for her chicks, my ancestors were not corporate ladder-climbers. But they worked, none the less. It would even be safe to say they were driven: growing, harvesting and processing all season long. As a child, my summers were blighted with never-ending buckets of black-eyed peas, butter beans, and worst of all, lady peas, those tiny peas that require HOURS of shelling to produce a “mess” of peas large enough to be worth cooking. My siblings and I shelled, and shelled, and shelled some more.

Then I grew up and left home, and I don’t think I’ve shelled anything since. I’ve dabbled in flower gardening, actually grown a few tomatoes and herbs. This year I grew a pot of lettuce, and I have a pot of rosemary. My prize outdoor edible is a rhubarb plant. I love to harvest the stalks and chop up quantities to freeze for winter cobblers and pies. That’s pretty satisfying. But there’s something about canning…don’t know what it is. Mind you, I don’t really want to go whole hog. I don’t want to invest in home canning operations or stockpile jars. But now and then, a little freezer jam, or this find…preserved lemons…that seems just about right for me. I get all of the pleasure of anticipating jars of produce, thriftily and skillfully (!) stored for later use, without the intense labor of serious canning.

My next effort at this type of kitchen magic is making my own vanilla. Found a recipe (same thing, you just split vanilla beans open, add a good quality vodka, and wait for the liquid to darken). Simplicity in itself! The particular charm here is the beautiful jars I’ve found for vanilla storage. I have to admit, that’s the real hook of this experiment. I have a long-standing clear glass fetish love of clear glass, and cool bottles always call to me. Check out this company: see my find? You can order in bulk, or buy one bottle at a time. How fun is that?! But more on this later, when my bottles have arrived and I’ve completed my commitment to the lemons.

As an adult, I turned to people like Martha Stewart for inspiration. She gardens more elegantly than my family members did, I have to give her that. When Martha is in her garden, she looks invitingly rustic, never seems to break a sweat, or even get very dirty; and she always has interesting tools, perfect rows of plants, or wonderful raised planter boxes, no doubt designed by an upscale firm specializing in agricultural architecture. Martha changed my view of gardening. It went from something decidedly un-glamorous to a skill to be proud of, or at least interested in. Thus my move from reluctant child pea-sheller to an adult, able to appreciate the pleasure of having home-grown produce. I’m happy to say that for many years now, I’ve appreciated the talent and skill that I was dismissive of when I was younger. It seemed a given at the time. Didn’t everyone’s grandmothers garden and can?

Well, maybe there is something to genetic memory. Or at least the inspiration that comes from memories of seeing the hard work and skill that generations of women put into feeding families. Martha made it cool to be in the kitchen, to have my own domestic skills. But my grandmothers made it real for me. I can close my eyes and see rows of finished cans of beans lined up on the counter, or freezer bags full of corn, cooling, waiting to be tucked away for a winter meal.

Hmmm…wonder what else I can preserve in salt…or vodka…I might be on to a whole new thing. And if it’s a good thing (thank you, Martha!), some lucky ones of you might be getting these as Christmas happys. We’ll know in about three weeks.

In the meantime, if you’re wondering, I’ll be perched at my kitchen counter, watching the magic unfold in slow motion.

Funny!

Saw these recently…I’m not familiar with this artist*, but I like the way she thinks! I saw some cards with these quotes, and one thing lead to another. She has a plethora of items available from a variety of sources. Actually, I don’t know if these quotations are original to Shannon, but I’m giving her credit.

 
Quotes from Shannon Martin:
 
“If it weren’t for my mood swings, I wouldn’t get any exercise at all.”
 
“My liquid diet is going well, so far I’ve lost two days.”
 
“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”
 
“Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.”
 
“I want my children to have all the things I couldn’t afford. Then I want to move in with them.”
 
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
 
“You can’t scare me. I have children.”

 
 
*You can find her products on Amazon.
 
 
 

Friday funny (but true)

This is for all the wonderful women out there, and for one in particular: an amazing woman I know and love, who is rising to the challenge:

“Women are angels.

And when someone breaks our wings, we simply continue to fly…on a broomstick.

We’re flexible like that.”

Sometimes you have to use your broomstick…but you keep on flying, whatever life hands you!

In the company of women

My friend calls to see if I want to go to dinner…”girls’ night out.” Usually we get together on a week night so we don’t impact weekend family time. We all work, so weekend time is premium, and everyone respects that. And somehow, dinner out on a week night seems like an extra special treat. Nice to know I don’t have to think about what to make for dinner, just about what to order. As much as I love puttering around the kitchen and stirring up my favorite foods, I’m always appreciative of someone else doing the cooking.

There’s no set schedule for these outings. Sometimes we’ve made it a monthly event, but it’s always casual, determined by travel demands and how hectic life is for each of us. There are times when adding anything, even something that should be fun, is just too much. Some weeks are like that. Some months are like that.

We come from diverse backgrounds, this little group. All my adult life, I’ve been fortunate to have girlfriends. For a long time, the primary bond was formed through my children. You know, you meet the moms in your kids’ circle, in the carpool group, through youth group, soccer, etc., etc., etc. In more recent years, post children, and after a couple of relocations, my friendships grow out of work relationships or other ties, but I’m no longer connected through kid activities.

Although we are of similar ages, some of us are in the empty nest phase (me) and others still have kids at home. Our conversation reflects this. I now talk about a grandchild, and celebrating her first birthday. I have a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law. The women who are a bit behind me, either in age or in life cycle, still have school events to plan for, graduations, college. But regardless, we’re close enough in experience that we speak each other’s language.

The little circle of friends I have here comes from all over: Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Mexico, Washington, the mid-West. Alaska casts a wide net, drawing people for many reasons. Most of my friends came here with husbands, but a few came alone and have made a home here, drawn by the adventure, the beauty, the uniqueness of the state.

We talk about the same things that women everywhere speak of: family concerns, work, hobbies, new finds, frustrations, the next trip out (when you live on an island, travel is always a big event and commitment, both in time and money). Husbands. Children. What broke recently and how much it cost to fix it. Sometimes we share from the heart, expose bits of ourselves to the others. Sometimes the evening is all laughter and fun. But always, there is awareness that for a few hours, we are women as well as wives, daughters, mothers, employees. Actually, we are girls, and on a good night, diners at the tables around us smile as they recognize the camaraderie that occurs in the company of women. We giggle, tell our stories, sympathize, encourage, hug, share appetizers and desserts, tell each other we’ll do it again soon. Most nights we leave the restaurant just before the staff closes up, realizing guiltily that it’s late and tomorrow is a work day.

But no matter, that’s part of the charm. When you’re with girlfriends, enjoying “girls’ night out,” you don’t watch the clock or notice the passing time. You’re just celebrating the moment. Here’s hoping you have good women in your life. (And if you happen to be a guy reading this, just change the references from female to male. It’s good for men to bond too, and I hear that sometimes happens.)