Unexpected Problems: Or, the Story of a Life

unexpectedproblemsToday, right before my next shift was about to begin, my husband came thundering up the stairs. “What’s happening?” he yelled. “A pipe is leaking in the basement!”

Great. Definitely not how I had expected to begin the day.

A pipe in one of our basement rooms had sprung a leak, spraying water over the contents of one of our shelves and the floor. “I need your help, now!” my husband told me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help him as my work shift would soon begin.

Wonderful.

As with so many problems, this one hadn’t been expected. Not a super-bad problem as in someone going to the hospital, but I was still bummed. Majorly. As the water had been turned off to stop the impromptu basement shower, I began thinking of all the parts of my day that this would affect, everything from flushing the toilet to washing the dishes. Yes, I was instantly down in the dumps. That perspective only deepened when we heard from the plumber that he couldn’t help us until tomorrow. Yup, not what I had planned at all.

My husband continued working downstairs as my own work began online. And my viewpoint–and my mood–began to shift. Luckily, we had caught the problem early, and so no major damage to that room occurred. Too, my husband was there to clean up and prepare the room for the plumber, allowing me to finish my own work upstairs. And by golly, we had prepared for such a problem by having water stored in our home. Yes, I was seeing things a bit differently.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would have much preferred for that pipe to stay intact this morning. But life has a way of putting bends in our roads, whether a burst pipe or a lost job. This pessimist is trying to think of this particular kink in my plans as a blessing in disguise. We were prepared–somewhat–and we have each other. That certainly doesn’t make me Pollyanna, but it’s a start.

On Cooking and Cleaning and Generally Having a Ball

Original Photo by  taliesin on Morguefile.com
Original Photo by taliesin on Morguefile.com

The past few days have been spent in a frenzy of baking and cleaning. I have made two batches of chocolates, chicken and dumplings, assorted other meals, and a breakfast casserole that’s currently waiting for the oven. Additionally, there have been mucho cleaning and dog bathing. Why? There’s really no reason—no friends or family visiting from afar. No reason to put myself out, and yet, I enjoy it.

Yes, that has been quite a revelation over the past few days. I have thought about all of those years that I spent reading history and literature, thinking that I was doing important work. I certainly enjoyed the intellectual challenge, but I don’t know that I ever really had fun while I was in college. Perhaps this view is only in hindsight, when I have received so little return on my degrees. Maybe it is “sour grapes,” and I am latching on to the one thing that remains, cooking and cleaning. I am still partially employed, but it is not fulfilling work. And finding additional work has been difficult, if not impossible.

I am sore and worn out from my work lately. Still, tired as I am, I get a kick out of baking and cooking and generally being a housewife. I find myself collecting recipes on Pinterest and looking longingly at various home projects. Puttering around the house with my animals, I have been happy. The life that I once thought degrading seems a bit sunnier now.

On my way to the store yesterday, I thought about my grandparents who had very little education. They didn’t travel worldwide, take expensive vacations, or have fancy stuff. However, they knew how to manage money, garden, cook from scratch, and take care of their family. And they certainly weren’t afraid of a little work. Some today would consider that to be a “small” life, one that hadn’t truly been lived. Still, I think they had a richer life, one that focused on those things that truly matter, and they had work that was fulfilling and meaningful.

Somehow chickens and a garden sound mighty fine to me. And one final thought came to me on my shopping trip: finding meaning in any work that you do. Can any work be meaningful and fulfilling? Possibly. I guess it depends on where our heart is.

Dinner Time

Original Photo by  kumarnm on Morguefile.com
Original Photo by kumarnm on Morguefile.com

Lately, my husband and I often wind up having a conversation such as that below around dinner time:

Him: “What do you want for dinner?”

Me: “Mmm…I don’t know.”

Him: “Do you want to go out?”

Me: “No, let’s just fix something here.”

Him: “What? A frozen pizza?”

Perhaps you too have such conversations in your own home. The inevitable nature of them makes them somewhat humorous and pitiful at the same time. With the speed and busy-ness of our daily lives, many often leave behind organizing their home life in favor of the ease of frozen foods or restaurants.

This didn’t always occur in our household. I admit that I have become rather lazy in this area of our lives. After spending much of my energy attempting to find recipes that everyone would enjoy, I decided that we would just eat frozen food. And we have for a few months now.

With the cool summer and the continuing lack of job prospects, I’m thinking I’m going to have to return to my organized, frugal ways and make my own meals and other food items such as yogurt and granola. Much more in the way of work for myself, but certainly cheaper as far as grocery bills.

Last night, we had a conversation similar to that above. After some fruitless discussion, we were close to going out for Thai food. I searched for the phone number and considered the price of the meal, which would have been somewhat expensive; I decided then and there to whip us up a meal from the food we had on hand. Maybe not Thai, but it was spicy. It’s just too bad we didn’t have a bit of something to drink along with it.

I have to admit that it felt darn good to be cooking again. There’s something innately satisfying about creating something on the fly and feeding your family. Definitely more satisfying than warming up a frozen meal or a pizza, and probably more nutritious.

Who knows? Perhaps my return to my old frugal, DIY self may provide some fodder for another blog. At the very least, we’ll be getting away from constant meals of frozen foods and the futility of having the same conversation every day.

Cooking

Original Photo by mconnors  on Morguefile.com
Original Photo by mconnors on Morguefile.com

Growing up, I just knew I was going to be a career woman. Unlike the woman in the Enjoli commercial, I might bring home the bacon, but I wouldn’t have to fry it up in the pan. Soon enough my ambitious plans for kitchen freedom would face the reality of adulthood and marriage. As a wife, I would need to learn cooking skills, often to humorous results.

My mother insisted that I take home economics in high school. Much of our class time, though, consisted of discussions of measurements, with very little cooking. Indeed, we spent quite a bit of our time discussing cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons, along with writing down random recipes on index cards. Our one moment in the kitchen consisted of making pizzas with mostly prepared ingredients. For some reason, though, my group ran out of time for shredding the cheese for our pizza; I came up with the brilliant idea of making up for the lack by using Parmesan to fill in the gaps. It was edible, if not exactly Italian.

Still this lack of knowledge of cooking didn’t bother me. I was going to be a working woman and so wouldn’t need such pedestrian information. Yeah, right. When I married my husband, my idea of grocery shopping consisted of buying the big box of frozen corn dogs. For the first few months, my husband and I lived off of such prepared meals. Luckily, I married a forgiving man.

Soon I would need shopping and cooking skills, however. In order to survive on my paycheck, we needed to live as frugally as possible, and that finally required me to fry up the bacon myself. I spent hours and hours reading on the internet and in books in order to obtain the information and the recipes that I would need. Unfortunately, as with my home economics class, I would soon realize that information does not always translate into ability.

For my first cooking adventures, I generally chose casseroles, usually Mr. Food’s recipes in the beginning and later moving on to recipes that I found on the internet. My husband regretfully calls this the “Summer of Casseroles.” My inexperience in cooking led to our eating every variation of tuna casserole possible–whether Mexican or Italian, with vegetables or without, and with rice or noodles. During this early time, I also learned to evaluate a recipe as I eventually realized that not all recipes are good. This would certainly apply to a Spanish casserole that I baked during this time. Although it looked good on the website, the casserole was a soupy mess due to a lack of noodles in the recipe.

I also found a rather brilliant idea in my research–making bean burritos ahead of time and putting them in the freezer. I happily purchased a truckload of ingredients and went to work on my burrito assembly line. My husband came home to witness the process with a somewhat bewildered look. After I had stuffed the freezer with my pre-made burritos, though, he realized how easy it was to grab one for lunch. We eventually grew tired of the many bean burritos, but it was a good idea at the time.

Yes, I was very inexperienced in both cooking and baking. Although I had baked muffins and cookies, I had never baked more practical items such as bread and rolls. This would take yet more research and experimentation, especially when it came to yeast bread. No-knead breads were becoming popular at that time, though, and so I was in luck. Indeed, here was something domestic that was easy; my husband certainly appreciated having fresh bread with his meals. It was only later that I learned how to make fresh bread the old-fashioned way, with lots of elbow grease and loving care.

So now that I’m middle-aged, I will wholeheartedly admit that the skills related to cooking have become my most useful. All of my knowledge of English and American literature would not be able to feed my husband and myself. I have since moved on from these cooking basics to food storage and whole wheat baking, but those early casseroles provided me with the foundation for more advanced kitchen adventures.

Marriage would have been much easier, however, if I had learned to fry up that bacon beforehand, or simply even taken an interest in it. Having a kind husband with a sense of humor—and a strong stomach—made the process of learning to cook a bit easier, though.