I had the crazy notion to paint the
kitchen ceiling a couple of weeks ago. I gathered ladders and tarps
and brushes. I lined the wall with blue painter's tape along the
wall. I grabbed the ceiling paint from the garage. I blasted the
radio and began.
Two hours later, I stood back to admire
my work. I washed brushes and pads and rollers. I dragged the
ladder to the garage and folded up my tarp.
“Looks good,” my husband said, when
he came home from work.
“I don't know,” I said. “Don't
you think it looks kind of shiny?” I switched on the light.
He squinted at the ceiling. Was he
reaching for his sunglasses? “Maybe when it dries completely, it
won't be as bad,” he said.
But the ceiling was still shiny the
I stupidly soldiered on. The second
coat made the ceiling even brighter. I checked the can. Semigloss.
The telephone rang. It was my sister.
“What's going on?”
“I just painted the ceiling in
She laughed. “Why'd you do that?”
“I don't know. I didn't read the
The following day, I ran to the
hardware; bought the proper paint. Again, I dragged the painting
supplies into the kitchen.
I frowned at my husband, roller in
hand. “Why do I always have to paint?”
He smiled. “You're good at it.” He
went outside to mow the lawn.
I finished the first coat and stood
back to admire my work. “Looks good,” my husband said, grabbing
a handful of pretzels and watching.
“Yeah, but now the rest of the
kitchen looks horrible.” The trim was dull and dirty. The wall
paint was chipped in the corner. The cabinets needed a good
The kids came to my rescue,
volunteering to do the trim work while I coated the ceiling for the
forth time in as many days.
“Looks good!” I said. And I meant
We washed brushes; hung up ladders;
wiped up paint spills. And a few hours later, I said goodnight. “I'm
beat,” I said, going around the house, shutting windows. I paused
in the kitchen. Something wasn't right. “Uh, V?”
“Did you do this window?”
“Yep!” She grinned.
“Did you close the window when
you painted it?”
“Look.” I pointed to the part that
didn't get painted. The part that was grey and discusting.
I thought of the brushes lovingly
washed and hung to dry. I thought of my promise not to do any more
painting for another month. I thought of my painty pants hanging in
I pushed the window out of my head.
For days, I ignored the half-painted
window. It was easy, what with the warm spell and the open window
and the lace curtain hung over it. Who would notice it?
Every day, I wrote paint window
on my to-do list.
And then I loaded up my to-do list so
that there would be no more time at the end of the day to paint.
Until last Thursday.
On Thursday, I first coated the window.
And on Friday, I intended to paint.
Instead, I got caught up in cooking.
* * *
I've been learning how to ferment
foods. Basically you cut up all of your vegetables, mix them in a
brine and let them age on your countertop. I like the idea of
fermenting: I like that I'm preserving more of my family's food. I
like that it forces me to slow down. I like feeling connected to the
I blasted the radio. I cut up
tomatillos and bell peppers—orange and red and yellow. I donned
gloves and chopped the hottest peppers I had on hand. I crushed
garlic and diced onions. I added salt and cilantro. Then I packed the
whole thing into a tall glass jar.
I set it on the counter. I stood back
to admire my jar of tomatilla salsa.
It needed a friend.
I cut up two of the six heads of
cabbage I'd picked up at the farmer's market. I shredded a carrot on
top. I added salt and celery seed and caraway seed. I packed it in a
crock and weighed it down with a jar of vinegar.
I admired my crock of saurkraut sitting
next to my jar of tomatillo salsa.
I wanted a taste.
But fermenting takes time—several
days to several months, even years, depending upon what you're doing.
I had to ignore my ferments.
I wanted something to eat.
I preheated the oven. I put tomatoes in
a rosting pan and added carrots and fresh herbs from my garden. I
chopped garlic and onion and drizzled the mixture with olive oil
pressed from my exchange student's olive trees.
When it was done, I ran it through the
blender before putting it in a saucepan. I added butter and sugar;
salt and pepper and fennel seed.
I dipped in a spoon.
It was delicious.
I never did get that window done.
I assigned it to Saturday's todo list.
* * *
Squints came home from school in a grumpy mood.
“What's wrong?” I said.
He handed me the school fundraiser
packet: Magazines. “Everyone's going to win cool prizes but me.”
He flounced on the couch.
Years ago, when she was in
Kindergarten, Filibuster won a prize for selling magazines for her
school. Her award? A limo ride to McDonalds. For lunch. During
My husband and I refused to sign the
permission slip; refused Filibuster her prize. So while the other
winners bounced on red vinyl seats and enjoyed French fries, our
daugher ate peanut butter and jelly in the school cafeteria.
“What cool prizes,” I asked
Squints. “some crappy toy that's going to break in two seconds?”
“No. Everyone's meeting X.” Now
for the X, insert a well-known, badly-behaved athlete of your choice.
“Everyone is meeting X,” I
repeated. Big deal, I added to myself. Who wants to meet him?
“Everyone who turns in a lot of
“We already ordered from V,” I
said. “We'll order one more each. Look at my tomatilla salsa.”
He barely gave my beautiful jar a
glance. “I could fill out a lot of postcards.”
For those of you unfamiliar with how
this whole magazine sales thing works, let me explain: In addition to
the five thousand order forms, there's a stack of blank postcards in
each student's magazine selling “kit”. The kids are supposed
fill out a postcard with the name and address of basically everyone
they've ever met.
“You're not filling out those
postcards,” I told him.
“I don't think your grandparents
would be very happy with us. They don't want all that junk mail.”
“What if I filled out a card for
everyone in our house? That would make six.”
“Are you kidding me? No.”
“I have to. They said. Or they'll
“Oh, really?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Tell you what. If they get mad, give them my phone number and
have them call me.”
And he's right.
It is stupid.
It's stupid to yank kids out of the
classroom for an hourlong “assembly”. It's stupid to promise
kids free prom tickets or candy bars or a meeting with X. It's
stupid to take kids in a limo trip to McDonalds.
It's stupid to force or pressure or
coerce kids to raise money for their school.
“It's OK,” he replied.
“Want to try my tomato sauce?”
And I really really wish I could say I
will do my painting tomorrow, but I've got to catch up on the stack
of crappy magazines growing on my bedside table; sitting there
fermenting while I ignore them.
Perhaps next week.
Labels: Creative non-fiction