In a Very Hot Place

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Not to shed crocodile tears, but don’t you feel sorry for my pain?

In the humid human jungle, there is a rapacious beast that cheerily attacks and devours the happiness of many a poor body.

Menopause. Yessiree, I’m sufficiently past the mid-century mark to be personally acquainted with the joys of middle- and slightly past middle-age. I managed, thanks to magical genes or good luck or some jolly combination of the two, to enter into the mysterious temple of Menopause well ahead of the dull-normal average age of 51. I guess my body just couldn’t wait for the fun. Forty years old? Yay! Sure, I can go right ahead and get on that crazy train.

My doctor thought I might just be a fanciful young’un, imagining I was wandering into menopausal territory at the tender age of forty. Until I described my hot flashes. She already knew about my newly accomplished slide to the bottom of a depressive slope, a thing that (while it is seldom developed in complete isolation from other qualities or characteristics of health issues) can sometimes also be a symptom of menopause. She was not one of those dismissive, demeaning doctors who would’ve opted to imply that I was some kind of hysteric or stupid person. So she did a little checking into my state of being in other ways and lo, what I was experiencing was indeed early onset menopause. Or perimenopause, to be more medically precise.

Anyway, I’m now well past a dozen years of this fun and am still here to tell the tale. What’s particularly interesting to me is that it’s not wildly improbable that I’m, well, okay. I think I might’ve bought, at least a little, into the popular mythology that makes menopause universally into a horror of monstrous proportions. I will never minimize the true suffering that some women experience during menopause, a very real horror. But me, I’ve spent over a decade in the strange land of menopause, and I’m still ticking along.

One thing that I have working in my favor, besides that I have relatively few symptoms and lots of blessed good luck, is that I have great support. I have always existed in the midst of a family, friends and acquaintances where topics of real and everyday importance are generally discussed in real and everyday ways. No big deal. Imperfections, illness, death, human failings, and yeah, menopause. These are all realities and unavoidable. Sometimes painful, sometimes inexpressibly difficult, ugly, terrifying, awful. But in all of that, normal. So why would we be so foolish as to pretend otherwise, to let them loom, magnified, as the sort of thing we can never name, let alone discuss, with others who are statistically likely to have shared the experience and might even have wisdom to share in how to survive?

I’m trying to be smart about protecting myself from the bone density loss that is typical of many women in menopause, taking supplements and keeping active as my doctors have recommended. As an exercise hater, this one isn’t easy for me. I do keep current with monitoring and treating my depression so that I am sad only what seems to me a pretty normal amount and about pretty average things, not depressed in extreme and unhealthy and perniciously persistent ways as I was before I began finding the right health regimen of counseling and medication to keep me on a better path. I use extra skin moisturizer and the occasional application of hair creme rinse because despite having been an almost magically oily youth (and having had to battle high-grade acne as a result) I do find that in my advancing years I now have fairly dry skin and hair.

The big annoyance that remains for me is that my internal thermostat broke when I turned 40. My body forgot how to regulate its own temperature, so now I can go in a matter of seconds from the freezing Undead-body temp I was so long accustomed to experiencing in pre-menopausal years to the miracle of my torso becoming a microwave oven and right back again in a few minutes. Sometimes many times a day. This fun, for thirteen years and counting. And yet I am not a wreck.

The best defense I’ve found thus far is a simple little device that is a hybrid of that grand old invention, the hot water bottle, and the slightly newer iteration of the athlete’s curative bag of ice, a flat water-filled-sponge-containing rectangular envelope thingy that goes by the euphonious rapper-appropriate name of Chillow (trademark registered) and can be laid across my overheated midriff when I can’t seem to get my inner temperature moderated. It’s no cure, but it helps, and help is far better than misery. Even a good old fashioned accordion-folded fan fluttered southern belle-style beats undue discomfort.

I would never be so self-indulgent or ridiculous to call my sufferings massive or anything nearly as important as those of women who endure the real pain possible with menopause and its related conditions. That would be both silly and hypocritical. I’m average, plain and simple and normal, in this experience, even when I’m not exactly on the middle line of the statistical charts. But I can assure you that if you are heading into menopausal territory or someone you know is on her way, there is a path through this particular jungle and you need not be devoured by the beasts met along the way.

See you on the other side of the [very sweaty] swamp.

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If the jungle is ruled by a hippo, is it a hippocracy?

Be Cool, Man, be Cool

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Yep, it’s December. I know this from looking at the calendar, and various people have assured me of it as well. But the weather sure isn’t contributing any confirming info to the mix right now. It’s still been in the neighborhood of 80°F (26°C) nearly every day. This is December? My little old northern-born soul is mighty confused.

The garden is confused, too. It’s finally cool enough overnight that the tenderest greens have wilted back, but there are still roses blooming in the area, and the grass has only slowed its growth, not stopped. Even the migratory birds seem to dawdle in the air rather than hustling off to more southerly climes. Who needs to go to warmer places when it’s still warm here!

I suppose I should enjoy the option I still have to do things like garden without frying myself or paint the front door and know it’ll dry in a couple of hours easily. But what this old broad would really enjoy is getting back to weather that both keeps me from frying whether or not I garden and perhaps even lets me keep my cool indoors and while lounging around. Maybe I should just grab a popsicle, turn up the fan, and remember that life in Texas is a whole different universe of experience than any life I’ve had elsewhere. Not a bad thing in general, after all.photo

Hot Flash Fiction 2

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Though bleary, psychedelic and portentous dreams had haunted him into a knot by daylight it was neither dark nor stormy that morning. Tarryble Slye was in such a grim and grimy mood when he finally wrestled awake that he decided not to get out of bed until it was darker, for his business with Methden Gartinen was ugly enough to require at the very least a whiff of midnight, better yet a night gripped by a walloping storm. Whether the requisite pelting of rain and blasts of lightning came or not, Slye was determined to drag himself out of bed as late as he possibly could, and put off tonight’s assigned meeting as late as he could get away with it too. That rat Gartinen had made the whole thing sound as innocuous as he could and even offered to pick up the dinner tab beforehand, but there was no mistaking that once he was out of bed Slye was going to be sorely sorry he’d ever crawled out at all. He was already sorry he’d committed to showing up, and backing out of it wasn’t an option; maybe he ought to accept the proffered payoff: a paper-wrapped catch of fish and chips was probably the best thing he could hope to get out of this lousy, evil-tinged day.

Man, how he hated doing taxes.

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Foodie Tuesday: I’m Roasting! No, I’m Frying!

 

photoOh, I know, you all thought I was having hot flashes again. [Not that I wasn’t.]

But it’s Food Fun day again, and I’m referring to cooking edibles this time. Old broads still gotta eat.

And since much of the time I am thermostatically challenged myself, I generally try to find ways to make the hot foods I’m preparing require the least possible amount of time putting me in near contact with the oven or cooktop. Why risk further overheating, of either myself or my preparations, should I need to stray far afield from the heated zones of the kitchen.

One fairly easy solution, though it seems somewhat counterintuitive to me, is to roast or fry food. Yes, they’re relatively high heat methods of cookery. But by using them, I can usually evade the stand-and-stir duty: do all of the prep before even turning on the oven, then tuck the food into the would-be fiery furnace, set the temperature and timer, and head off to cooler climes until the alarm sounds for my triumphant return to check and/or finish the dish, and serve and/or eat it. Simple as that.

Roasted beetroot, for example, a nice way to enhance the flavors and textures of a cool late-summer salad, gets cleaned and quartered and then needs nothing more than a small amount of fat and perhaps a tiny bit of seasoning before it pops into the tanning booth. Goat cheese is delicious when lightly coated and shallow-fried, even if like me you’re not quite the culinary artist to present it with perfect Cordon Bleu pizzazz, and it takes no more than a couple of minutes, tops, at the cooker to brown that fine crumb crust.photo

Roasted Beetroot and Goat Cheese Salad

Scrub and quarter a handful of medium-sized beets. (Clean and save the greens and stems.) Toss the beetroot pieces with a little fat (oil or melted butter; I used coconut oil to keep its noticeable flavor to a minimum), salt and pepper and scatter them in or on a baking or roasting pan. Since I was making such a small (2-person) meal, I just made a pseudo-pan out of heavy aluminum foil to keep any juices from dripping around the oven. Roast the roots at 350°F just until tender–10-20 minutes, depending on your oven and the size of the beet pieces.

Meanwhile, pat 1/2-cup batches of cold chèvre (goat cheese) into patties and coat them with coarse almond flour, pressing it in on all sides. Quick-fry these in a little butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. You can see from my photos that I am far from adept at this part, so mine look less like haute cuisine than like something unearthed at Herculaneum, but I assure you, they taste quite fine.

Using in tandem these two homely yet highly edible items plus a small assortment of others, you can quickly assemble a presentable version of some hotshot chef’s beetroot-and-goat-cheese concoction and your stomach will not be critiquing the view anyhow. My version, this time around, consisted of a few of the tenderer, prettier beet greens pared down to the leaf and laid on the plate, a bit of peeled cucumber slices arranged in a green frame around the rest of the plate, and all topped with the chèvre rounds and roasted roots and a sprig or two of fresh dill. I’m sure that roasting any sweet enough veg or tuber–sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin, parsnip for example–would make a similarly fine complement to the bright, fresh taste of the cheese, which in turn could be substituted for with any nice salty/sour cheese, undoubtedly.

Which of course leads me to another hot-weather or hot-mama advantage of this preparation: the leftovers (if any) lend themselves to innumerable variant cold, cool or room temperature dishes that can be popped out of fridge or freezer next time the climate or one’s overheated innards require such things. Behold tomorrow’s dish: minced beet greens and stems, steamed quickly in the microwave while the beetroot was roasting, and now blended with that remaining diced vegetal goodness, some leftover quinoa, some diced dried apricots, a few pine nuts, a little orange dressing . . . and the beet goes on . . .photo

 

Hot Flash Fiction 1: Pedigreed

I know it’s been around, arguably, for generations, but the extreme short story seems to have undergone quite the revival in recent times, being popularly called in the English-speaking and -writing world Flash Fiction. Me, I’m an old lady and slow to keep up with any sort of trend. Or, to give myself partial credit, I am so old that I was already around the first time half this stuff was popular.

Never mind all of that. In the way of condensed arts, I’ve always been particularly enamored of short forms, miniatures and compact performances that have rich enough content to hold up under speedy scrutiny yet continue to beckon one for a second and third and thirtieth look, or at the very least, to get one’s nose a whole lot closer to the subject before waving farewell. That applies to works by others (short stories, small photos and drawings, children’s books, one-act plays, songs comprising one or two brief movements, and snappy quatrains), and very much to my own productions. Since you lovely people already know full well that I have the attention span of an end-of-season Mayfly, you can easily surmise that this obsession with tiny-tude is merely a natural outgrowth of my laziness and tangential, caroming path through life.

Which is, of course, partly true. But I’ve also been known to commit to larger-scale projects and yes, in real life, honest-to-goodness fact, to complete them, too. Sometimes, I’ll readily admit, this happens at a very, verrrrrrrrrrry slow pace. But though I have made murals twenty feet wide, rebuilt gardens from the bulldozer up, written and/or drawn every single day for years at a time, my heart does retain its deep affection for the minute, yea verily for that minutiae that can happen in a minute. But only if it’s worth the effort. There are still those larger goals to be achieved and metaphorical mountains to be climbed that require my continuing attentions between spurts of compact acting. And it’s the very change from the massive to the mini that makes those idiosyncratic idioms of iota-size such excellent crevice fillers and so appealing as a respite from larger concerns.

So, old though I may be, I’m trailing in the dust of your every trend–unless you’ll allow that I am only lapping myself in circles, having written couplets, sketched 3-second figures and made one-bite desserts since I was hardly bigger than a molecule myself. I like to think that I’m gradually getting better than I was back then, at least. Practice, practice.digital collage

They were justifiably proud of their daughter’s pedigree, but it was precisely this family resemblance that first drew the unkind attentions of those catty girls in the sorority.

Like Ice Cream on a Blistering Day

digital collageIf I’ve learned anything in moving from the Pacific Northwest to Texas, it’s how to handle a wider range of temperatures than I was accustomed to experiencing on a regular basis. Part of that is thanks, I suspect, to a gradual cyclic change of the climate in general, and that was helpful in its way: the extremes at both ends of the weather spectrum had gotten slightly extended outward before I left western Washington, so while it was nowhere near as common to have three-digit Fahrenheit temperatures (around 38C) as it is here in my newer home, it came closer more often. And I can certainly credit a combination of my own tendency to freeze exceedingly easily, even to the point of having a nervelessly cold nose, during much of the year with the counterbalance of that delightful boon of aging, a personal microwave having been activated in my torso at various intervals from my arrival at a Certain Age and forward.photo

Then there was this relocation to Texas and the discovery that even a freezy-bones like me can learn to love air conditioning in the good old summertime, and conversely, that it really doesn’t have to be snowy, icy or even a notably low temperature to feel bitterly cold in the winter if the wind is howling through town sharply enough at the moment.

So what I’m working on is a sort of low-rent version of biofeedback: learning to think my way toward hot-and-cold happiness. Not hugely successfully, thus far, mind you–this is very much a work in progress. But I’m trying to convince myself that if other people can find the blast of the cold air returns in cafes and grocery aisles pleasant and comfortable, surely the temperature can’t be untenable for me. That if they can like sipping screamingly hot coffee or soup on a cool day and not develop third-degree burns, I should be able to warm up my refrigerated self in wintertime without having to set my socks on fire.photo

Now that it’s May and has passed 90F/32C at a hasty trot, I do need to get the whole plot in gear. While my brain is not necessarily already operating at top speed in gathering the necessary data to combat the actual, and already pretty nearly oppressive, heat, maybe if I dig deep into my treasury of imagination and do my best to imagine myself cooling off, there just may be hope yet.photo

Hunk of Burning Lady-Love

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I'm in the full bloom of my life . . .

A Real Hottie

O radiant beauty, dost thou know

What microwaves thine innards so–

Pray, can it be that bane of men

And women both, yea, estrogen?

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Go ahead, my man, and throw me bouquets!