Comparatively Speaking: Making Jam or Climbing Mt. Everest?

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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: )

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.






Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Female Friends, friendship, Husbands, Marriage, Midlife, Relationships, Retirement, Second Careers, Semi-Retired, Travel, Women, Women's Health

6 responses to “Comparatively Speaking: Making Jam or Climbing Mt. Everest?

  1. I just watched the movie Everest and the whole time I was thinking how much I don’t get the drive these people must have to achieve such a feat.I too appreciate it but a nice jar of jam I get and equally appreciate!


  2. You have done so many amazing things, Nancy! And now you can can! 🙂


  3. Me, I would do neither: neither canning nor hiking. If I hiked anywhere, I would be tripping over every tree root, unseen log, and rocks in existence to the point where my knees and hands will be bleeding profusely. But thankfully, I’m not a hemophiliac. As for canning, I’m not a cook. Let other folks make jams, peanut butter, and other foods for the rest of us noncanners to enjoy. Incidentally, why is the practice called canning when what you’re really doing is putting the stuff in jars? So why can’t you call what you’re doing jarring? Just asking. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think canning is super advanced! I cook a lot, but have never even considered that one.


  5. Sue L

    My husband had us watch Everest and that squashed any remote desire I have for any adventure like that. Not that there was any desire for that to begin with, but it extinguished any possibility. Nope, never going to consider that. I’m actually a fairly adventurous person too. There is no comparison to jam!

    I have been making/canning jam and pickles for about 25 years (I’m 51). Now it is only jam as we don’t eat pickles as much anymore. That is not even remotely like hiking Everest! Like anything else it is easy with practice. I can make a full recipe of jam in 45 minutes including fruit prep and all clean up (depending on fruit – blueberries are quick, pomegranates are a lot of work). I think it is the “will it seal and really stay safe at room temperature” that scares people. Once you understand and have confidence, the rest is easy.


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