When Life Gives You Lemons

When life gives you lemons

I’m sitting in my kitchen, Sarah McLachlan’ Song for a Winter’s Night is filling the room. In my hand is a cup of hot lemon – that concoction of lemon, honey and ginger that is both soothing and nostalgic. My mother used to make it for us when we had colds; I make it for my kids, but hardly ever think to make it for myself.

But this week things have been different. We’ve been drinking it in an attempt to ward off colds and worry. My sister Jessie kick-started this rhythm. We – the four sisters and our mom – have spent the past week visiting my Dad in the hospital. Every morning, before we set out, she’d pack a thermos with this concoction inside. It would soften the brightest florescent lights, the dark, windowless family room, and the sound of the intubation tube.

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A week ago Thursday, on a quiet snowy morning in Sherbrooke Village, my father drove down Main street in his grey pickup truck. As he approached a service station, he waved to his friend passing by, as country people do. But as he passed, his friend looked in her rear view mirror and watched as my Dad’s truck veered off the road and hit a telephone pole. She spun around, called 911, then alerted Donny, the owner of the station. Donny is a friend of my Dad’s and a volunteer first responder. The latter explains why he had defibrillators at the ready (or jumper cables as my Dad later called them) and immediately began working on my Dad along side a nurse who happened to be near bye when the accident occurred. Soon my Dad was in a helicopter en route to the Cardiac Care Unit in Halifax, almost 250 km away.

My youngest sister Jessie flew in from Vancouver. I cut a trip to Quebec short. We joined my other sisters and our mom in the CCU, and waited.

Waited while his body was kept unconscious and cooled for neuro protection. Waited to know if his bones were broken when he struck the telephone pole. Waited for tests. Waited to see if he would come out of sedation. Waited to know if he would still be the same man. Waited and listened with other grieving people in the family room down the hall.

We’re a small community, but one that stretches and grows beyond the hospital walls, supporting and feeding each other, holding each other up and saving lives.

And making us laugh. Like the afternoon, early in the week, when we lost Jessie in the hospital. She wasn’t at our Dad’s beside. She wasn’t in the family room, or wandering the halls. Eventually we found her, lying on the CCU public bathroom floor, blond hair spread across the tiles like a mermaid dressed for a Canadian winter. She later explained that ‘hospital aroma and grief had collided within,’ and nothing but the cool floor tiles could soothe her.

In her mind, she says she looked like this:

Or this:

sleeping beauty

Either way, she needed hot lemon. 

Jessie’s hot lemon recipe was inspired by our friend Sherrie Graham from Wellington Farm. The key is to preserve lemons in raw honey so they’re ready and waiting when you need them most. Sherrie’s method calls for whole, sliced lemons; Jessie likes to peel the lemons, remove the seeds and purée them with honey and ginger. Both methods work beautifully. 

And by the way, yesterday my Dad had a tiny defibrillator put in next to his heart, his own personal jumper cables if the need strikes again. He’ll be going home to Sherbrooke Village tomorrow, smart and funny as ever. 

Sherrie Graham’s Honey Lemon Tea Concentrate 

In Sherrie’s words:

You’ll need:

  • 500mL jar and lid 
  • at least two lemons, preferably organic
  • raw (unpasteurized) honey (enough to cover the lemons)
  • Optional: fresh or dried ginger, fresh or dried turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, red pepper flakes – these can be added to the mixture in your mug as you make a cup

I use a 500mL jar, wash and thinly slice a couple of lemons and drop them in. Because the peel is in there, too, I buy organic lemons if I can find them. Sometimes in the winter you can find a bag for a comparable price to conventionally grown. But please don’t lose sleep over whether the lemons are organic or not. I also add in some thinly sliced ginger. (Tip: I keep ginger in the freezer so it can be easily grated / sliced as needed without the annoying strings getting in the way. Another tip: peel fresh ginger with a spoon. Seriously. It sounds bananas, but it works the best by far.)

Cover the honey and ginger with raw (unpasteurized) honey. The honey preserves the lemons, sweetens the concentrate and provides all of the soothing and healing that honey is so good at. I usually squish it all down and around a bit with a spoon so the lemons are submerged and there aren’t any air pockets. This can be kept in the fridge for ages. You can occasionally top it up if you like, or use  up one jar and start a fresh one (that’s how I do it.) 

To use the concentrate, spoon some of the honeyed lemons into a mug, and top up with hot water. If you find it’s bitter, add some more honey right to your mug. Since I first made this a few years ago, I have a few variations I enjoy – I’ll add a dash of ground cinnamon, some fresh turmeric if I’m lucky enough to have some on hand, some ground pepper or red pepper flakes if my nose is stuffy. It is always soothing.

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