Last week I learned how to can.
Laugh, if you must, but my husband, JP, believes I am deficient in the skills of happy homemakers. If you were to go downstairs into the knotty-pine basement of his childhood home, you too would have marveled at the closet shelves where his mother stored her many jars of home-grown pickled peppers, vegetables and lots and lots of tomatoes.
JP’s mother not only worked full-time at a factory but she also did all of the cleaning, cooking and canning. And still does.
(You can read about my wonderful mother-in-law’s feats in the kitchen including making phyllo dough from scratch – yes, you read that right – here: )https://wittyworriedandwolf.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/the-nice-jewish-girl-and-the-macedonian-mother-in-law/
I have neither a knotty-pine basement nor did I, until recently, know how to preserve anything in cans or jars.
That is not to say I am not a good cook. I am, as was my mother, a good cook. I love reading about food, getting new cookbooks as a gifts and trying out new recipes.
But I am not a baker because that requires the careful following of directions which I do not do.
On a whim (and with JP’s strong encouragement), I signed up to take a morning class in canning taught by a lovely young woman in her home kitchen where I learned how to make up a batch of peach/rhubarb/ginger jam to put in clear glass jars.
I was one of four students chopping, peeling and stirring. Perhaps I was the youngest, me not quite Medicare-aged; the other women likely slightly beyond but hard to tell. And since it was a weekday morning and we all live in/near Washington DC, the inevitable question came up as we chatted around the center island of the sunny kitchen:
“What do you do now that you are no longer employed?”
(when you are not learning to can, that is.)
- volunteer as a medical doctor in a clinic for indigent patients
- write about foreign monetary policies
- play tennis 3x a week
- go birdwatching
- hike Mt. Everest
Hike Mt. Everest?
That last one stopped me in my tracks
My own activities have significantly lower (no pun intended) expectations. Just before the morning canning class I was rather thrilled with myself that I managed to remember to:
(a) set my alarm the night before,
(b) take a shower and get dressed on time,
(c) arrive at the canning class only a little bit late.
My efforts to stay on daily task did not compare with a recent hike on Mt. Everest.
My classmate, the ardent hiker, told us about the many countries in which she regularly hikes. She was as warm and friendly as she could be. Yet obviously far more active, energetic and outdoorsy than I have been or ever will be.
Our lack of knowledge about making jam was perhaps, the only thing we had in common.
Is it ridiculous to still find yourself in comparative mode? To wonder that you are not filling your days with enough productive activities? Not measuring up to the expectations of what post-career/second-stage/semi-retirement life has to offer?
I thought about this a bit after the class ended. It wasn’t jealousy I felt at her list of adventurous activities; it was awe.
My list of excuses for physical slothfulness is a long one. Look, I point, to the left-over from 2x open heart surgeries within 3 months. The weariness and some mild depression are the consequences I live with. And while there are many things I do – and some I even do well – I will not be climbing Mt. Everest soon. Or any other mountain. Ever.
And to those (few) who suggest I should set bigger goals for myself, create a ginormous “bucket” list of ambitious activities, I say “who are you to judge” or something more unprintable than that. To each her own.
But I can take great pleasure in meeting women who do accomplish amazing things in their semi-retirement. Like climbing Mt. Everest.
And also take great pleasure in making jam with them on a sunny weekday morning.