Flash cards for hot flashes make parlor game out of menopause

One good thing about being an aging female baby boomer is that you don't have to go through anything alone. Just yell, "Is it hot in here or is it me?" in a crowded room to find out how much company you have.

And if you don't think there's anything funny about menopause, then you haven't met Minerva the Meno Maven.

She's the alter ego of Moss Beach resident Jackie Brookman. Trained as a psychotherapist, Brookman has taken the highs, lows, embarrassments and everything else about menopause and put them into a deck of cards called Heatwave Conversation Cards.

Directed at the 40- to 55 -year-old woman and those who have to put up with her, these oversized, sturdy cards are designed to be used as a guide, Tarot adviser or game played with other similarly situated women. The idea came to Brookman a couple of years ago when she was sitting with some old friends.

"How's your menopause going?" Brookman asked one of the women.

"I'm fine," Sybil said in her rich Southern drawl. "I don't have that many symptoms except that sometimes I feel like I'm losing my mind."

And the concept for Heatwave was born. Then the real work began.

"I read about a dozen books, drew from [my own] experiences, talked to everyone under the sun," says Brookman, who is nearly 49. She included her two post-menopausal sisters in her research. Then she took the information she gathered, added a measure of her own professional background and a heavy dose of humor, and produced a deck of 66 cards.

The cards are divided into seven "suits" ranging from "Hormone Hell" and "Out of Balance" to "Meno-Management Workshops" and "Hormone Heights." There's even a suit for the Sybils of the world, those who prefer to think they're losing their mind rather than going through the big M. It's called "Fantasy Land," where chocolate is a vegetable and you can freeze your personal biological time clock and always look 35. Each card presents a question and dispenses advice, wisdom and hope for the future. And your journey's guide is Minerva.

"Why Minerva?" Brookman asks. "I like the name, Minerva, goddess of wisdom. I liked how it sounded: Minerva the Menopause Maven."

For the physical embodiment of Minerva, Brookman found an illustrator in, of all places, Iowa. Jennifer Black-Reinhardt drew Minerva as Brookman envisioned her: a zaftig, "hello gorgeous" kind of a kvetchy maven personified as an overdressed, middle-aged Jewish woman. According to Brookman, the Jewish overtones were part of the whole image.

"I think Jewish women are more vocal no matter what kind of a time they're having with menopause," said Brookman. "I'm Jewish, my humor is very Jewish and Jewish women generally really relate to this card deck."

To Brookman's surprise, it's not just women who find her cards helpful. They've turned out to be a service for the whole family.

"Children understand their mother better," says Brookman adding that husbands read them too. "They're not only for women but also for the people who love and care about them."

Although Minerva disclaims any medical training and dispenses only practical advice, she has gotten the endorsement of at least one prominent doctor, Susan Love of breast care and hormone fame.

Brookman says the cards can be used in a variety of ways. As a game, they are dealt out to a group of women. Each woman reads her card out loud and relates it to her own experience. Then everyone else gets a chance to chime in with her story. To use them alone, find the suit that best describes where you are in the ever-changing midlife journey and find out what Minerva has to say about it. You can see what's in store ahead or just address a problem you're having. For instance, if you find yourself walking into rooms and forgetting why, "Healing the Heatwave" tells you first to avoid walking into those rooms and then to try a memory enhancing tea like Ginky-winky.

The cards are positive and humorous, presenting aging at a time of change and new opportunities.

"One good thing about aging is that I no longer worry about what people think about me," says Brookman adding that aging is also about accepting who you are and liking that person. There are even lots of good things about menopause besides the fact that it doesn't last forever.

"When [your period] ceases for a year, you don't have to worry about birth control. Women experience that as quite positive and liberating. There are psychological and spiritual aspects [of menopause] that are quite positive."

Oh yes, and if you follow Minerva's advice you'll never again find yourself wanting to rip your clothes off when your internal thermometer rises and you sweat up your best designer suit.

"Meno fashion dictates, 'Know thy wardrobe choices,'" Minerva advises. "Nix the Armani suits. Trade them in for porous fabrics. Layers, layers, layers is your mantra!"