Sunday, September 29, 2013

My Kindle And Other Miracles

Thanks to all of you who sent good wishes both here and by e-mail.  It worked:   my survival now appears inevitable.

Two days ago I left the house on non-medical business (lunch with a friend) for the first time in a month, and was amazed to see that, while I was suffering my attack of shingles, fall had arrived in Vermont--the time of year when the drive to the post office is so beautiful it hurts.

Between the pain and the pain meds, my memories of the last few weeks are hazy, but I do know I could not have survived without my Kindle.  In the days before the diagnosis, when the pain at night would keep me pacing, trying to hold out for another hour before waking up my spouse to take me to the ER, I slogged through a big chunk of the Journals of Thomas Merton.   I was unable to follow a plot or a line of argument, but Merton's oscillations from self-doubt to elation fit the rhythms of my mind as it was brought to focus, over and over, on the physical pain.

After Merton, when my brain started to clear a bit, there was a Trollope novel.  I don't know what I'm going to do when I run out of Trollope novels--I'm almost through his entire oeuvre.  Perhaps I should start saving them for emergencies.  Finally I read a hugely entertaining biography of the six Mitford sisters (Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford, is one of my favorite novels).  Compared to what their mother had to endure, having shingles seemed a piece of cake.

Thanks to my beloved Kindle I could, in the middle of the night, my breath sour and my hair unwashed, press a few keys and have a book come winging to me out of the ether, as precious and consoling as a percocet.

But the shingles wasn't all bad, and in fact it worked a small miracle:  I lost ten pounds in two weeks, literally without lifting a finger (I didn't have the strength to lift a finger).  As someone who can go whole decades without losing her appetite, when it went away and stayed away I was filled with curiosity.  Why wasn't I hungry?  Why was I, a lifetime member of the clean-plate club, now pushing away most of my dinner untouched?  Why did nothing--not a ripe tomato still warm from the sun, or an apple from my tree, or a slice of home-made bread--hold the slightest appeal?

Then a couple of days ago, as I was sprinkling blueberries on a small dish of yoghurt---drearily thinking protein, antioxidants, acidophilus--I suddenly noticed a wet sensation in my mouth.  I was salivating!

Since that moment I've been thinking about food a lot, and wondering how I might recapture that elegant standoffishness towards meals that I enjoyed so briefly.  How can I hang on to that viral windfall, those vanished pounds?  I have no idea, but I suspect it will require lifting a finger or two every once in a while.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Troubles And Tribulations

It is about time I came out of the hole where I've been hiding the last couple of weeks and explained the reason for my silence.

I've been suffering from a hard-to-diagnose case of shingles which necessitated a couple of trips to the ER, two treks to a distant medical center, and treatment with an antiviral that I couldn't tolerate.

The pain is mostly gone now, but I feel like I've been hit by a fleet of UPS trucks.  I hope to be able to resume writing soon, and to find that you're still there when I do.

P.S.  For those of you who are wondering:  I did have the shingles vaccine a few years ago.  It does not guarantee that one won't get the disease, but supposedly makes it less virulent.  (I cannot imagine what the virulent version must be like.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Canning Jars For The Soul

Although I have never canned so much as a single bean, my kitchen is full of canning jars.  Some are squat, some tall, some blue, and some clear.  Some have bubbles in the glass, and many have the old bail fasteners, grown gray and dull with age.  The oldest have glass-lined zinc screw tops, also gray and dull.

I collect jars the way some people collect cats--I wait for them to come to me.  It started with some wide-mouth, gallon-size jars that were left behind by the couple who sold us our first house.  The jars, with their geometric embossed designs, have a 1940s look. Their green tops have been screwed and unscrewed so many times that the threads are hopelessly worn, and the only way to get them to stay on is to line them with wax paper. We have lived in eight houses since that first one, and in each house those three jars--one holding white flour, one holding whole-wheat flour, and one holding the incredibly hot red peppers that I grow and dry--have held pride of place on the kitchen counter.

 But my most important acquisition, the one that told me in no uncertain terms that the universe intended for me to be a keeper of jars, took place at the town dump.
Unlike many of my friends and neighbors, I do not enjoy my monthly trips to the dump.  In fact, that is the one time when I wish I lived elsewhere than in my green Vermont--somewhere with curb-side trash pick-up and recycling.  But one hot summer day, while I was concentrating on breathing through my mouth to avoid the dump fug, I saw, next to the old recliners and dinette sets and boxes of paperbacks, two cardboard boxes filled with antique canning jars, the jetsam of some dead grandmother's pantry. 

I rushed them home as if they were a box of kittens, gave them a good wash, and set them out on the counter.  The afternoon light coming through the window shone right through them as I ramsacked the pantry for pasta, beans, quinoa (the ancient grain of the Incas!), chia seeds, scottish oatmeal, barley, and lentils.  Then I cut open the store packaging and poured the contents into my heaven-sent  jars. 

Since then I have added to my collection by more traditional means.  I have bought a few old jars at a yard sale, and a couple of brand-new Italian ones from a fancy kitchen store in a mall somewhere.  And when people give me little jars of jelly or preserves that they have made, I always find something to put in them after I've eaten the contents--herbs for tea, or a small bag of pumpkin seeds.

Why so many canning jars, when I don't can?  I like their looks--I'd rather have a row of bright jars full of staples on a shelf than a row of cellophane bags or cardboard boxes.  And the jars allow me to fantasize that my food comes not from the supermarket but from the bins of some idealized and non-existent village general store.

Most of all, the jars enable me to maintain an illusion of old-fashioned domesticity, without the unremitting labor and monotony.   I can pretend that those homely and charming vessels are daily used by a cheerful female presence, the angel of the house--someone not remotely like me.

Sometimes I look at those jars and imagine my daughters kneeling among packing boxes--some marked "trash," others "Goodwill"--in the kitchen after my death, saying to each other, "Why do you suppose she had such a thing for canning jars?  God knows she never canned anything."