27 Nov Hardly Ready for the Holidays

Jill and I are racing to our house-rehab deadline. As usual, I was overly ambitious when I submitted another historic tax credit rehab project proposal two years ago. Oh, the things I said I would do! Replace the roof, fix the garage (whose roof was caving in), finish the porch, finish the pantry, on and on. If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you’ll notice that it seems I’m always racing to a deadline. This comes of my being an eternal and thoroughly unrealistic optimist. Every time I eye a prospective project, I image finishing it in three days instead of nine or one week instead of three. We’ve been working on the pantry – a tiny four-by-thirteen-foot room – for months.

What happens is this: we try something new, like tiling the pantry wall above the new counter. Then we like what we’ve done so much, we conclude that we have to do the same to the other wall. Then the pantry’s looking so good, we figure we’ve got to refinish the floor too. Then, as I’m refinishing the floor, I notice that we never did finish the wall under the pantry sink. And so on.

We’ve had Will helping us. He finished the floor on the second-story porch, which came out great. Some of you have asked about Will’s broken tooth. The pocketful of cash I loaned him for the extraction was too big a temptation. I should have known. Sometimes he asks me to hold his earnings until the weekend has passed. There are, let us say, too many distractions when he’s not working. Which explains, in part, why he’s working all the time.

When I saw him the day after his dentist appointment, Will just shook his head sadly.

“You didn’t go?” I asked.

“No, Mister Ron, I didn’t.”

“The money’s gone?”

“All gone.”

“What happened?”

“Sometimes, you know, I meet a girl. You got to treat her right, you know. Before I know it, my money’s long gone.” He shrugged and shook his head again. “Sorry.”

I shrugged too.

Will has since worked off that debt. I tell him it looks like we’ll have to go to the dentist’s together. Maybe Jill will join us. It’ll be a field trip.

Jill and I are celebrating her having passed her Ph.D. exams. I’m proud of her. She’s an outstanding student (on full scholarship) but I can’t stand to watch the way she studies because she puts everything off till the last minute, often pulling all nighters to get the assignment done. It’s good to have her back finally. Good also to have her help with the house. She’s the painting and detail expert. She’s also the taskmaster and very dangerous to take to a salvage warehouse. We drove to North Carolina for an early Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago and stopped at Governor’s antique building supplies in Mechanicsville, Virginia. I thought I was safe – we didn’t have much time to shop and we couldn’t take anything big because we didn’t have Jill’s SUV. But Jill found these really cool wrought iron light sconces for our front stoop. And two cool glass globes to go with them. So there I was, walking to the car with a smoking wallet and yet another project. It’s going to be nearly impossible to mount those sconces to our building. For starters, I’ll have to drill through five inches of stone, then a wall of brick. Watch for news of that attempt in the next few weeks.

Jill and I reminisced the other day about our Cincinnati Thanksgiving. A few years ago, Tom and Dorothy — her father and stepmom – invited us to make them Thanksgiving dinner at their house in Cincinnati. We immediately agreed, picturing a quiet, cozy dinner. We sent them a shopping list and expected everything to be in order when we arrived. We discovered that they had put the turkey in their fridge, as we had instructed. But the turkey was frozen. And it was now six p.m. Thanksgiving eve. We learned also that Dorothy had moved the festivities to her pizza restaurant, a franchise she co-owned with one of her sons. the restaurant would be closed and we’d have it all to ourselves. But it wasn’t going to be the four of us. About twenty other family members would be joining us, Dorothy announced. “About twenty?” I crokaed, glancing sharply to Jill, who only blinked at me and shrugged.

“It’ll be great,” Dorothy continued. “You’ll have a whole professional kitchen to yourself!”

I had never cooked in a professional kitchen. Could be fun, I thought.

Tom opened the freezer drawer and pulled out a pack of green beans. “We got green beans!”

Dear man, he wasn’t joking. Two hours later, Jill and I returned from the grocery store with six bags of food. We had the turkey immersed in warm water in the sink. “Is that going to be all right?” Dorothy worried over my shoulder as I checked the very frozen bird. She meant, would we die of food poisoning if we left the turkey out all night? Later, in the guest room, I moanaed to Jill: “If we ruin this dinner, we’ll taking the blame. Doesn’t matter that Mom and Pop are poor planners.” Jill got up at six the next morning and started peeling potatoes.

She and I had learned not to tell anybody there was butter – lots of butter — in them. We were in a margarine household. “Transfat alert!” I joked. Whenever Dorothy or Tom drifted through the kitchen, I shoved the butter behind a pot or covered it with a lid. We had bought two pounds of butter. There’d be butter in and on everything.

At ten, we put in the turkey. “This won’t be ready until about five,” I warned.

Dorothy waved away my concern. “We’ll be fine.”

Jill asked what time she had told everyone to arrive at the restaurant.

“Four o’clock!” Dorothy chirped. “But we won’t be ready,” I insisted.

“Oh, that’s fine,” Dorothy continued. “We always gather at four.” Again I exchanged a bug-eyed What-the-hell? expression with Jill.

We cooked hard. All day. Four o’clock came and went. We pulled the turkey out at five. To our profound dismay, we discovered that there was hardly any fat in the turkey pan. Was this a special-order fatless bird? We’d have to improvise. At five-thirty, we sent Tom and Dorothy to the restaurant with the bird and the stuffing. Jill and I stayed behind to make the gravy and finish the potatoes and make the salad. I don’t recall everything we put in the gravy-that-wasn’t-gravy. The turkey butt, chicken broth, Worcester sauce, all kinds of odds and ends from the pantry. We tested and tasted and tested some more. Finally, at six-thirty, we gave up and took what we had to the restaurant, which was a forty minute drive. We had three pies on the back seat, the potatoes in a pot on the rear floor, in the company of yams, beans, and salad. Jill held the steaming pot of gravy on the floor, braced with her ankles. I took a corner too fast and a cupful of hot gravy doused Jill’s right foot. “Everybody’s gonna hate us,” I groused. Jill dabbed at her soggy shoe with a paper towel. She said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

When we arrived at Pizza-Fest, we learned that the children had already eaten two hours earlier. All the pizza they’d wanted. We also learned that, since this was a pizza franchise, its kitchen was equipped only with a single large pizza oven that was no higher and no wider than a pizza pan. There was no stove top and no conventional oven. The“cooks” would set the pizza on a conveyor belt and the belt would run the pizza through fifteen minutes of heating in the custom oven. “Why didn’t anybody warn us?” I growled at Jill. The mashed potatoes, the yams, the green beans, the stuffing (one of Jill’s specialties), and the turkey –- all of it we spread out on pizza pans and ran through the oven. As we awaited dinner, I discovered happily that Pizza-fest had wine. I filled a water glass with it. One of the teenagers said to Jill and me, “Don’t worry. This happens every year.” I poured another glass.

In the end, the company was pleasant and the food, despite the setbacks, was good. Okay, the gravy was a disaster. But nobody died of food poisoning. And Jill and I derived considerable satisfaction in seeing the diet-conscious grown-ups down those buttery potatoes.