Groceries: the BIG FUN job

Saturday morning. Quickly-quickly, before it gets to noon…! I’ll have to try prepare these posts in advance, Saturday mornings are the leisure part of our week (before it gets busy again towards noon, which is where I’m heading now…)

We do grocery shopping and laundry and fix things and other house stuff on Saturdays. It’s a good time to do this, I find. During the years, we’ve had one possible activity scheduled for the kids in the afternoon, though we’ve tried to avoid it in the early years as they’re more likely to be invited to birthday parties at this time. Talking about organizing your life so you stay (pretty much) on top of things?

Let’s talk about that grocery list today. Ideally, you’d shop for the whole week. That doesn’t exactly work as fantastic as it sounds in larger families if you don’t have two fridges or a separate freezer – and we don’t. We mostly cook from scratch, and I‘m mostly the one who does the cooking (almost daily; I know, but you get used to it), so I need to first do another list of possible dishes to cook in the following week. I have a friend who’s a dedicated working mother – and when I say “dedicated”, it’s in all respects. She has two altars she constantly dies on: work during the day, home during the night and weekends. To keep up with everything, on Saturdays she cooks for the entire following week. I could NEVER do that, it’s too depressing. But hey, if it works for you, go ahead and try it. I’ve adapted this by having a (tentative) idea of what I’ll be feeding my gang weekly.

My cooking list is usually 8 or 9 items long and it includes the daily dinners for the next six evenings and some loose thoughts on lunches or snacks, depending on the time of the year (school-time or summer vacation). I’ve developed an array of dishes which are easy and quick to make, need only a few ingredients and feed tons of people, plus leftovers for next day lunch bags. True that the bulk of these dishes come from the Romanian cuisine, which I’ve been brought up with and might sound strange to anybody who’s not Eastern European or Mediterranean – but you can always adapt it to the cuisine you know and love best. One of the dishes is necessarily some soup – why? Most complicated thing about it is the chopping – other than that, you just put everything in a pot and let it boil until ready. I’ll continue to post recipes on my Wednesday series.

Here’s a possible cooking list for the week:

Chicken and yellow beans (the Greeks call it fasolakia, same thing)

Fish (oven) + corn and peas (boiled)

Pasta with meat/mushrooms/peppers

Pizza

Chicken soup with vegetables and dumplings

Baked potatoes/ hummus/green salad/tomatoes etc. (vegan)

Munchies, snack bars, deli & cheeses for sandwiches

Banana bread / some kind of sweet pie………

Sometimes, I get ready-made dinners – once a month is no big deal, even for healthy-living crazed people. Or we get take out. Or I feel like trying Turkish recipes or Thai or fancy French ones like coq-au-vin (which is really a variation of a Romanian similar recipe, only we use white wine whereas the French use red). Once you start cooking, you get the hang of it and you can vary stuff. The idea is to get to the point when you don’t worry. You cook with whatever is in the fridge (and a little extra, which might require a trip to the store in the middle of the week). Which brings me to the REALLY fun part of doing the groceries!

My husband insists he does the Saturday shopping. He asks for my list, completes it with one or two things he likes, and then sticks to it almost religiously. Like most men, he has little imagination, (mildly) forgets about replenishing kitchen supplies like salt, oil, napkins and the like, plus he does. not. do. the. cooking. (he insists he cooks as much as I do. Sure.) He’s been annoyed for years that by next Wednesday (or some other aleatory day) I do a second (might I say, light) round of groceries. We disagree, obviously. He constantly bugs me about dropping that habit – and why on earth, why can’t I just stick to the list if I come along shopping with him? (does this resonate with any other women?)

So one time, it was I who got so annoyed with him that I let him cook with whatever he bought. Not just that Saturday night, but FOR SOME TIME afterwards. Guess what happened. That Saturday he did some barbecue, nice, he’s good at that. Sunday afternoon, I had to go out running some errands, and asked before I left the house: “so what’s for dinner tonight, honey?” He looked at me aslant and said: “it’s OK, I got it.” I get back home two hours later to find him cooking lasagna (a favourite of his, I never cook lasagna, his is perfect). “Lasagna?” I say with laughter in my voice. “I don’t recall you getting minced meat yesterday.” “I went to the shop and bought some.” he says, avoiding my gaze. “Oh.” I burst out laughing. “It didn’t last you till Wednesday.” He makes himself busy. Funny, right? Lasagna was great that night and it lasted, you got it, for another night. Surprise, surprise, on Tuesday night there was no more. “And what’s for dinner, darling?” Oops. “Err… we have stuff in the fridge.” Right. Sandwiches. We also had some pasta and cheese three nights later.

We lasted like this for about two weeks. The kids started to beg: “moooom, stop this… when are you gonna cook again?” I looked at the love of my life and raised my eyebrows. His lips were pretty tight closed. Ever since, he hasn’t commented much on either the grocery list, my mid-week second round of shopping or my cooking. Getting organized and sticking to a point is working in all respects, trust me. Just find your own way to do it.

Happy Saturday!

A Woman’s Job

Is it career or is it family or is it both? Or is there any other choice?

I’ve been torn between choices for a good number of years. In world’s years, that means nothing – in the finite time of my life, it feels too long. Time is precious and how can I use it wisely? I can do many things, literally. And when I say I can do them, that means well enough. I can draw, cook, write, teach, solve difficult problems, sew, knit, garden, design architectural plans. I can keep deadlines and manage projects of all kinds including the complex ones of a five-people household. I know the sophisticated grammar of two languages, a lot of history, advanced Math, geography, physics and politics. Some may think it’s ridiculous I can’t decide, that I don’t have a career. After all, women these days can do everything. Well, that’s exactly the problem, I’d say.

We are conditioned to think about what we’ll become when we grow up. It’s in what you’re taught when young, in your parents’ behavior and their life choices, it’s in your peers’ success (or lack of) and personal relations – ultimately, it’s in how much you let all of these affect you. Add to this your partner’s behavior, goals (or doubts), dreams and actions – that’s a biggie for no small reason: you two are supposed to share a life together.

Is it any wonder that contemporary women like me find themselves tangled in definitions of womanhood? At times, we can be focused or unfocused, depressed, overwhelmed, excited, sad, good busy, bad busy, frustrated – are we happy though? Are we at peace with our choices – or the incapacity of making at least one? Happy to be vertical, happy to breathe. Are you? There’s so much pressure. It has always been, but if we try compare to past times, it does look like there’s much more to fit in a day. It’s hard to resist that – especially when everybody behaves (and expects others to act) like a computer.

We do have many dimensions, but see, we’re not machines. Despite their amazing managing capacity (which is a thing of the head) women are ruled by their heart, and their actions – analytical as they may be – carry the heavy burden of pain. Formerly abused girls or women are likely to develop into feminist bitches who abuse others, or depressed addicts of sorts who continue to let themselves be bullied. It is quite rare that such women would snap out of destructive patterns and become balanced individuals.

Is this generalizing? Probably – and I’m no psychologist so I shouldn’t even talk. In my little life experience, I had lost some of my feminine dimensions along the way. Once aware of that, I have tried hard to retrieve them, as if they were applications which I could upload back into my system after a reset to factory standards. Hmm… some worked, some didn’t. Sure they didn’t – what factory am I talking about? Maybe it’s a matter of time and discipline. Maybe it’s matter of acceptance, of loss, of aging, of trust and belief.

A friend brought me some colorful yarns yesterday and I got inspired to start knitting. As I was doing row after row, I remembered how long it takes to make a pullover. In contemporary currency, it’s not worth it. I could spend my time much more efficiently. My thoughts floated to my mother who would knit and knit in the dullness of the office in the hydro-energetic institute where she worked. There were not many projects which engineers would work on during those communist years. People showed up at work in the morning and found ways to fill their 8-hour work days. My mom was a trained engineer whose real profession was to make colorful clothes for us in a country wrapped in gray bleakness. She would sew and knit countless pieces. I was the best dressed teenager in the high-school, no kidding. Not one single item survived… I gave them away, stupid me. Well, they did lose appeal, they went out of fashion. Thinking back, I should have kept some because they had timelessness sewn in. Fortunately, I still have some cards she wrote after we immigrated. I miss her.

I also miss my grandmother. She had worked twelve years in a flour factory moving heavy sacks around and when she finally retired, she cleaned our house, she cooked good food. She was quiet and stern. She was the reliable background, not much of a different career than that. I miss some of my teachers too, and colleagues from the museums and architectural companies I have worked for. They were exquisite professionals who did their jobs well. And as The Beatles say, some are dead and some are living, in my life I’ve loved them all.

Is it then only love that remains? Do you, my dear fellow woman, know the power of your heart? If there is pure love in your work, you are blessed. If you can wrap your family in love and give them hope and courage, you are blessed. If you can do everything, then you are blessed. And if you cannot decide on more than today’s effort, you are still blessed. A woman’s job may very well be that undefined matter of the heart, which takes shape according to the circumstances. Sometimes, we need to use the brain to get things straight – but please, please don’t dwell in the analytics. It’s hard when they tell you differently, when both men and women try to convince you that you’re a man. It’s hard when you’re a good planner. It’s very hard to detach but it’s worth it. Peace is not found in charts and problem solving, but in songs and in the – sometimes annoyingly perfect – geometry of the circle. The wheels of the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round… all through the town…

Woman, you can bring misery or you can bring joy. What would you like to be remembered for? Do you care to be remembered?

I am too scattered. Can I love so much?