On The Edge

Ever start an endeavor and in the process feel that you are hanging on the edge of your comfort zone?  You see yourself standing at a precipice and wonder if you’ll make it, or the vision of the cat hanging by its claws comes to mind.   There have been several times in my life when I have felt myself in this place.

In 1968 I traveled to Europe with a one way ticket, very little money, and after many months of travel I found myself in Algeria.  America and Algeria had broken off diplomatic relations, the American ambassador was living in the Swiss embassy and left the country before I did.  There were armed men on many corners of the city, and the social structure of the country was in transition as this was only six years after their war of independence.  I stayed for three months living on the generosity of many people but my presence in the county was always on shaky ground and anyone who helped me was taking a risk.  I worried for their safety and mine.  There were a few days when I lay curled in a fetal position and wondered how this was going to turn out and if I would ever get back to the US.  Being on the edge taught about my strengths in the face of uncertainty.  Another memory is the birth of my son, Kris.  He was breach.  Most doctors wanted to do a C-section with a first time breach birth but I was determined to have a natural birth without drugs.  I finally found a doctor at my due date whom I trusted.  When I went into labor he was out of town and I would have his replacement.  We meet when I was eight centimeters dilated.  This was not a time to build a relationship and so when the contractions intensified I knew I was on my own.  I remember how the contractions built and as I would get to the top it seemed like riding a huge wave.  I felt stretched to my limit and there I teetering on the edge. Each time I wondered if I could keep relaxing, not resist, and let the wave pass.  Birthing is like flying on the edge – one big surrender.

Some times the situation doesn’t have the visual drama of these two, yet the sense of being on the edge is still quite real.  In the last years this experience has come when I’m experimenting with fermented food.  The worry arises that I will grow botulism and kill either myself or many people.  Botulism is tasteless, odorless, and has no color.  It only grows in an alkaline environment which is why canning green beans has been the culprit throughout the ages.  If you don’t pressure can the beans they can grow this deadly toxin.  I only can acidic vegetable and freeze the rest of my produce from my garden for just this reason.

Then I decided to make sauerkraut, pickles, and my latest project:  Kombucha tea.  These are all acidic based foods and should not trigger my propensity to worry or my inclination to become excessively informed.  But just the thought that something this lethal might happen can get me fretting and losing sleep.  On some occasions I’ve just thrown my efforts away and started over when I wasn’t sure it was ok, or spent considerable time talking to someone whom I consider an authority to find reassurance.  To date, my sauerkraut and dill pickles are a success and a family favorite.  So I’ve calmed down in regards to these foods.

With those successes one would think that I would have confidence to forge ahead when I decided to make my own Kombucha tea, but the nagging concerns still linger:  might I screw this up and make everyone sick?  I combed the web reading numerous accounts of home brewing.  I liked the sites that had great pictures and descriptions of what to expect at every stage.  I tried to find a SCOBY (Serendipitous Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) from local sources but eventually bought one and a brewing system from HappyHerbalist.  I like to know I’m starting with the greatest chance of success.  They sent an 80 page booklet on Kombucha as well, so I was sure any question I had would be addressed.

Right away there were ambiguities in the instructions which caused doubt.  Then my spigot on the brewing container started to leak and I had to disturbed my mushroom as I solved the problem.  One instruction is to not disturb the mushroom (I’d stuck my hand in the brew while fixing the leak).  My mushroom sank to the bottom of the container and I thought it had self destructed.  I took pictures of the surface of my brew, ready to send them off for confirmation that it was OK.  “I don’t think that’s mold but what’s the white stuff?”  I watched more YouTube videos.  I saw the cavalier way that some made their tea and thought, “Anyone can and IS doing this, why do I think I’m failing?”  I bought PH test strips and sought advise at a local beer brewing store.  The guy there was the type of individual who just dives in and never worries.  He didn’t brew Kombucha, but I envied his fearlessness.  At the point where I felt certain I was destined to start over everything turned around.  My mushroom resurfaced, the PH was in the right range, and the smell was semi-sweet with a cider aroma.

My biggest problem now was being patient enough to allow it to fully brew.  In the mean time I connected with a friend who I hadn’t seen for many months.  I told her of my latest adventure and she pulled out her bottle of Kombucha and said she had been brewing for about 8 months.  She wasn’t dead! She came over with a new SCOBY just in case I needed to start afresh and checked my brew.  I love it when I’m in the dark and feeling on the edge and someone shows up to offer a helping hand.  She confirmed that all looked well.  I used her SCOBY to start a second batch.

Several batches later I’m in full production.  I have a continuous brew and a single brew batch.  The benefit of a continuous brew is that the beneficial attributes of a long brew cycle develop and each day I can take off enough to drink.  I like to add flavor to my Kombucha so I do what’s called a secondary fermentation.  I add blueberries, mango, or ginger juice to a container of Kombucha tea and allow it to sit at room temperature for a few days in an airless bottle.  This infuses the Kombucha with that flavor and develops carbonation.

Do I sound confident?  I am, but I still check the PH on every batch just to be sure.  I love making and drinking Kombucha tea.  My friend Susan decided to make Kombucha after reading my post, Foodies Dilemma – Third Update.  I gave her a SCOBY and we are weathering her ups and downs as she closes in on her first successful batch.  If you’re interested and want a little hand holding I’m here for you too.

There are lots of situations where we can feel on the edge.  Sometimes in retrospect it seems foolish to have been so concerned and other times we realize we might never have done that if we’d had any idea of what we were in for.  For me, I tend to jump in and then worry.  This is just my mode of operation.  I’m not going to be different until I am – accept ‘what is’ as if I chose it. I can see my new resolution is perfect here too.

Is standing on the edge scary? Yes, and things don’t always turn out the way we would like.  But I figure if I don’t walk to that edge sometimes, I just might miss a great view.  As always, I’d love to hear your story.  Make a comment and tell me about the times when you’ve felt – on the edge.


7 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds just right for right now. I’m going to taste the stuff today. Can’t wait for the brew store to open tomorrow for the pH strips. It smell right, so I’ll either be dead or in excellent improved health. Thanks Linda. Love your posts.


  2. I heard that Kombucha may help dogs with skin problems. My sweet dog, Henry is plagued with yeast and fungal skin problems. It isn’t food related. The NW is a challenge for his body like so many humans I know. Today I took some of my Kombucha and rubbed it on his skin. This would be so wonderful if it helps. He’s the only one in the family on meds and it would be nice to release both of us from that regime.


  3. Ah, that’s fantastic. I wrote an essay several years ago, called “Living on the Rim: Notes from the Ontologically Insecure” and the last line was, “right on the edge.” it was for an essay contest (which I won by the way), and the topic was on “the life worth living.” At the time, and now, I perceive the life worth living is being on the edge, or on the rim of something. I’ll send you the essay. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, it’s so wonderful.


  4. Posted by Lani on March 10, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    How did it happen that you finally got out of Algeria, was it hard to get out? Is that why you stayed there longer? I was curious about that…


    • My parents sent me $300.00 General Delivery but it never showed up. Events were moving in a bad direction and I really had to get out of the country. Eventually my parents bought a ticket for me through Pan Am airlines.
      On the day I was to leave my boyfriend’s brother was to pick me up but he never showed up. I was desperate to get to the airport as time was running out. At the last moment, Jamal (I stayed with him and his sister for much of the time I lived there) and the only friend with a car came to the apartment. We drove immediately to the airport.
      The next hurdle was to get to the international side. I didn’t really speak French but in my pathetic effort I was able to convince the guard that I had been able to be in the country for 3 months on $60.00 because I’d lived with a family. I still had $20.00 with me (good thing as I needed it when we transferred in France). I was so relieved when I finally got on the airplane. Great adventure but I was happy to be heading home. There were a few more adventures before I landed in the US.


      • Posted by Lani on March 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm

        Kinda nerve wracking. Sounds like more of an adventure than I would like to have at this point in life….

  5. Once I understood what to look for and trusted myself it is straight forward. I brew tea with sugar, let it cool, add it to the existing Kombucha and then the next day pull off the same amount. This is always in a ratio of 10 to 20 percent of the total amount of Kombucha in my brew container.
    I know what you mean though about it being more than you’d want to take on. The advantage of knowing someone who’s brewing is you can ask all the questions you have and get answers when you need them. So if you change your mind, I’m here to mentor.


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