Friday, January 22, 2010
A couple of months ago I spent a few minutes cleaning the old baking products from my pantry: cake flour, baking powder, etc. I was inspired by a spill I discovered after a few teenagers had a craving for homemade pie and took it upon themselves to make a crust from scratch. For some reason I felt really good after I cleaned that shelf. (Am I weird or what?) I later hinted to a few friends that maybe I'd start a new blog ala Julie and Julia; each blog would discuss and explore the value of cleaning. But I couldn't come up with a catchy title; somehow Gail & Heloise didn't have the same ring. And besides, I don't really like to clean.
To me, cleaning is boring. When I have to clean, I do the bare minimum, sort of like one of my kids approaching a history assignment. You do what you have to do (and I certainly don't like things dirty), but eventually it gets boring and you wander off to something more fun, like eating chocolate or going for a walk. The good news, and the bad news, is that the cleaning project is always there waiting for you when you return.
But every once in a while, I do like to purge, which in my mind is different from cleaning. And that's what I really did in my pantry that day anyway. I purged powdery substances. Then, last week I purged a whole lot of shoes, which was horribly painful, but in the end, when I looked at my less-cluttered closet, I realized it was a cleansing ritual and I felt okay.
Now I'm hooked, and today I decided to attack my spice cabinet. Fortunately, I didn't have any more old McCormick's spice tins (if you do, your spices are more than 15 years old), but I know some of mine were seriously aged. Depending on who you believe, herbs and spices can last from 6 months to 4 years. Whole/dried herbs last longer than powdered ones. Of course most spice brands don't bother putting an expiration date on the jar, and of course I have not been very consistent at marking the date purchased when I buy them. So I had to resort to the tried-and-true method of determining whether they were salvable...the sniff test, and when in doubt, taste.
Turns out I was able to save more than I'd expected, but I dumped a lot too, from bay leaves we brought home from Grenada several years ago to the orange peel I rarely use. The onion powder was clumped somehow, so that had to go. The ground thyme and sage were actually dated, by me, and the year of purchase was, well, too long ago to mention. And then there was the mace. Who uses mace? Why did I even have it in my pantry? I have no idea when or why I bought it, and the sniff test was inconclusive (what the heck is mace supposed to smell like, anyway?) so out it went.
One thing that came of this project is that I now get to replenish, and although I don't like to shop for most things (other than shoes and boots), I do like to shop for spices. I love those pretty glass jars lined up in alphabetical order in the store, filled with gold and red and green leaves and powders and pods, with names that evoke images of faraway places, like Jamaican ginger and szechuan pepper or madras curry or zydeco dust. And this exercise of going through the spices also brought back memories of parties and people of my past, like the thyme, sage, and poultry seasoning in Grandma Ruth's Thanksgiving dressing recipe and the sesame seeds in my old favorite hummus recipe that showed up as an appetizer numerous times. But the best part of today's purging exercise was getting to sniff and taste all those spicy, pungent, aromatic leaves and powders. Wow, what a rush.
So now the spice cabinet's clean, and the baking product shelf is orderly, and there are no longer jumbles of shoes in my closet. I feel a little cleaner, a little lighter. Life looks a little clearer now. But I'm afraid I am hooked. Hi, my name's Gail and I'm a purgaholic.
I look around at my kitchen, my closet, my office (oh dear), and my kids.
The question now is, what's next?
Friday, January 15, 2010
I am not Imelda Marcos, but I did have 56 shoes at last count. I am not Richard Reid, but I am a bit of a shoe terrorist.
You see, I had a plantars wart. There, I said it. It's so hard to admit; sounds so ugly. But it is a pretty common problem, I've learned. It started out as no big deal, but last year it started to mutate into a giant alien. My podiatrist and I waged a ferocious war, knowing full well it was a weapon of mass destruction that must be destroyed. After several months, lots of money, a fair amount of discomfort and much inconvenience for my entire family, it seems that the monster has left my body, although I don't want to jinx anything so I won't say that aloud or even begin to celebrate.
Besides, I don't feel much like celebrating because I'm in mourning. My podiatrist suggested I throw away all my shoes just in case the HPV that causes plantars warts lives on, even without a host, in my footwear.
Throw them ALL away?
You've got to be kidding. There are thousands of dollars wrapped up in those babies, and furthermore a lot of them are actually comfortable. They've traveled to China and Alaska and Chicago with me. They've attended weddings and parties and school plays. They've been splashed by chlorinated water in Idaho and they've been sucked into quicksandlike mud in Texas. It's not that they're gorgeous Prada creations; most of them are actually Danskos and Merrills and Ariats and Uggs and Keens. But they're mine, all mine. They represent me.
They've been loyal to me; I've been loyal to them. They're like kids but they don't talk back. (Okay, some of them do, and that's why I never wear them. And those are the ones I don't mind pitching.)
Yes, I'm attached to my shoes, but I was also raised by a survivor of the Great Depression and I'm living in the midst of the Great Recession, which means I don't like to throw away anything, least of all fantastic shoes in great shape. But I can't donate them because I can't bear the thought of passing on the alien HPV to an unknowing victim.
So I've spent the last few days dividing them into categories: the ones I never wear, the ones that can be washed in hot water, the ones whose insoles can be replaced. The ones I can bear to part with and the ones I can't let go of. The ones I know were never exposed to the wart and the ones who have been intimate with it. And then I recategorize them again, and again, trying to find some way to save the favorites from the dump. All the while, the shoes are lined up one next to the other, looking all innocent, but I know that at least one of them, if not more, is a terrorist waiting to attack once again; like a little rogue band, plotting to reinfect me and recreate yet another episode of podiatric terror.
So here I am, mourning the loss of my little terrorist wonders, waiting for the strength or divine intervention to let them go.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
"You give me the slip between garlic and lilies, as if this is what comes of my unprotected loves..."
This is how Sarah Barber begins her poem about lost love in To a Ring I Lost Planting Bulbs. Whether it's a lost ring, a lost game, or a lost job, loss is so much more than just a thing that goes away.
I discovered a few days ago that I'd lost a set of car keys, but I couldn't just shrug this away. I had to spend hours combing through pockets and drawers, peeking under sofas and pillows, and even inspecting the puppy's crate, and then I went on to interrogating everyone but the mailman about whether they'd seen my keys. I had to retrace and then retrace again my steps on the last day I'd seen them, trying to figure out where they might have given me the slip. At day's end, there was no sign of the buggers and I was emotionally and physically drained.
Because it's not just about the keys. Clearly I can get a new set made. It's about having to admit it's my fault, which means I've lost my reliability. It's about the day-long search that produced gum wrappers and dust bunnies and pine cones tracked in by the dog, which means a lot of lost time. And it's about giving in and giving up, admitting defeat, which means a loss of dignity.
We all know those jangly little creatures didn't exactly get up from the dinner table, pack a bag, and runaway. They're not teenage kids, for crying out loud. More likely they're sitting exactly where I left them - not in a pocket of my favorite jeans or in a zipped compartment in my purse, and certainly not in the pot where my keys are supposed to be - but surely they're sitting right where I left them in some completely ridiculous and illogical and forgettable place, and some day (maybe weeks or months from now) I'll stumble upon them and feel totally stupid.
Until that day comes, though, I won't be able to rest completely. I'll continue to search my memory for a clue, and check behind furniture and inside shoes I hadn't thought to check before, and suspect everyone who comes and goes that they might have my car keys, and therefore the keys to my inner peace, in their posession.
And now that I think about it that way, I guess car keys - especially lost keys - are a lot more like teenage kids than you'd think. Especially the way you need them more than they need you, and the part about feeling stupid. The big difference, as I see it, is that I can get a new set of car keys made.
Posted by Gail Elizabeth Kretchmer at 11:30 AM
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Today on NPR I heard a comment that the skies will never be safe 100% of the time. The comment didn't surprise me; I'm a realist. I'm also a mom, and I learned long ago that if someone - whether he's 3 or 23 - wants to circumvent a system, he will do so provided he has a strong desire, a decent plan, and a bit of good fortune. It doesn't necessarily mean he's smarter than the authorities he's trying to beat (at least that's what I've reminded myself whenever my kids have pulled the wool over my eyes) but it does mean that shit does happen. That's life.
I've also heard a lot of banter since the botched terrorist plot on 12/25 about whether our security systems are failing us. They probably are. But that doesn't mean that I won't fly ever again, because besides being a realist I'm an idealist, someone who still believes in the goodness of mankind. I believe there are more good guys out there than bad ones, and there have been numerous terrorist plots stopped because of good people who stepped in and did what they had to do.
So it seems to me (and others too) that there must be a way to harness, maybe even capitalize on, this goodness in our global attempts to combat terrorism. We still need to keep on beefing up the airport security; we need to keep trying to outsmart the terrorists. But we have some safety measures right in front of us we need to deploy: each other.
Think about all those times you've heard flight attendants ask the people in the exit row for verbal confirmation that they're able and willing to assist the crew in the event of an emergency. Granted, I am also a cynic (while being a realist and an idealist) and I do actually wonder how many people say "yes" because they don't want to give up the extra legroom and the opportunity to sit behind someone who can't recline his seat. I wonder, too, how many people say yes but in an actual emergency would just open the hatch and jump out to save their own skin.
But really, why not take that a step further? Why not ask for verbal confirmation of all passengers if they're able and willing to assist the crew in the event of a terrorist emergency? If you say no, the flight attendant can either re-seat you so that the good guys are evenly distributed in the plane, or they can re-seat you right out the door. Better yet, why not have a special passenger class for the good guys who are willing to fight off terrorists; you've got first class and elite mileage class and anti-terrorist class ahead of the coach passengers. In fact, let the anti-terrorist fighters board first ahead of everyone else. Let them get the aisle seats. Give them oodles of pretzels and plenty of soda and even a free snack pack or two. Hell, give them a discount and lots of free miles. Just make sure they're evenly scattered throughout the plane, including coach - where most of the terrorists seem to fly - and by all means don't give them any free, cheap sparkling wine.
While you're at it, why not include this in the airline marketing plan? We have the government-employed federal marshalls on flights every now and then, but why not offer anti-terrorist training to all passengers? The passenger pays a nice fee, attends some classes on what to watch for and how to take down the bomb-laden lunatic, and then gets a bunch of perks from now until eternity on his or her travel plans.
Sound like capitalist vigilantism? Maybe. But if that's what it takes to make our skies friendly again, then maybe it's the way to go.
Sometimes I don't feel like sitting in the exit row because I'm not sure I want to, or should, be responsible for everyone else. I probably wouldn't sign up for the anti-terrorist classes either for the same reason. The perks wouldn't be enough for me. But I think there are plenty of dudes out there willing to give it a try. And I'd gladly sit in a center seat and be the last one to board if it meant I was giving up my privileges to one of the good guys: someone able and willing to save my life by stopping terror in the skies.