I’m settling into the serenity of a silent street, shedding the business of the day. The sweet stillness never fails to inspire when I type under the blanket of night and shadows dance around me, the laptop screen casting a small web of light as I type my way to clarity. Four years ago this week, I moved in, expecting to rent for a while then get married and buy a place. Now, it’s home for the long term, and I’m okay with that.
My landlord stopped by tonight to fix a few things in the kitchen. I thought I’d need to defend the empty garden beds to prove I’m still loving on the property, but there was no need. In fact, he asked if I would ever be interested in buying the house. My brain quickly accessed my father’s “Financial Manifesto”, and I knew that based on his important tips of financial wisdom, I am still not in a position to buy a home. Would I be interested though? It’s something to put on the back burner.
Saving money always seems easier when there’s a goal in mind, and I’ve found when immediate gratification is not possible, I enjoy the long-awaited accomplishment much sweeter. As it is, I’ve got something on the back burner most nights in that rented kitchen, and I love being greeted by the delicious aroma of whatever spices and dishes I experimented with that day. A $15 Goodwill kitchen makeover has earned that room my second favorite place to be… second to this white wicker love seat.
I started out blogging about growth in the garden, but I didn’t plant this year. In the spring, I wasn’t going to be living here, writing here. So, this summer, time spent toiling in the dirty soil is now spent laboring over a hot stove. I challenged myself to prepare three new recipes each week, trying to step outside my comfort zone. It’s a different therapy entirely than tending a garden because every day I am making something new from things that already are… and hoping that the combined product is pleasing.
In the kitchen, learning from trial and error is expected and encouraged. When I serve up a new dish, I make the disclaimer, “Okay, this is the first time I’m making this, so I promise it will be better the next time.” Sometimes, it’s better because I tweaked the recipe to fit my taste buds. I’ve made my aunt’s Jamaican curry chicken three times in the past month. While working in Syracuse, I was influenced by the in-house chef at my job who prepared a Chinese curry and potatoes dish that still makes my mouth water years later. With a little research, I made a few alterations to marry the two, and I think my own curry chicken has finally replaced French fries as my favorite food.
I’m gaining confidence in the kitchen and grocery store by consulting the internet before planning my meals. Cooking on a budget from scratch is easy when you have the right ingredients in the cabinets. Dollar Tree surprised me with its range of spices at the best prices I’ve found in town, even better than the ethnic grocery stores. Aldi’s meat fills my fridge and freezer at a fraction of the cost of other grocery stores, and I make it last two weeks. Instead of buying marinades and boxed sides, I use small portions of common ingredients I already have. I trust Google searches to save money by offering me alternatives to rare, pricey ingredients that would only serve one particular dish.
When I turned my writer’s growth indoors this summer, I wasn’t sure I’d find my green thumb had a direct transfer past the old familiar staples I’ve prepared for decades, all ones my mother taught me how to make. Instead, I’m rediscovering my independence, finding myself willing to do things I’ve never done before. I essentially quit smoking, though some would argue picking up vaping isn’t an improvement. I feel better. I smell better. I don’t miss out on life while I’m stepping out for a clove. Maybe the damage to my upper register is permanent, but I’m singing in the shower again and liking the melody my clear throat chirps out. I am happier with myself, and that’s enough.
Returning to a house filled with a mix of ginger, garlic, and rice vinegar was especially gratifying on Sunday when I tried something even more outside my comfort zone. While the teriyaki chicken slow cooked for six hours in my crock pot, I changed the front engine mount on my car. Light bulbs and fuses never fazed me, and changing the oil on my Honda was a good foundation, but this job was intense. My friend intended to guide and assist, but an hour and a half in, we knew it was a two person job. The OEM part didn’t line up perfectly, but just a tenth of a millimeter was enough to prevent the bolt from catching.
After a lot of trial and error, all the tools were put away by sunset; I was satisfied at having accomplished a practical goal and saved several hundred dollars by trying to do what I never thought I could do, with the help of someone who had the tools and experience to monitor the progress. My car sounds better than it has in years, and it feels good to get my hands dirty. Driving my car now feels a lot like looking at my flowering garden beds used to, that something good has grown from me. My mechanic mentor asked what I’d learned that day. Essentially, instruction manuals have a place, but the best strategy when working under the hood is to see and react, applying logic more in accordance with dissembling and reassembling a 3D jigsaw puzzle. It’s exactly the opposite of kitchen intuition, where following the recipe exactly should yield a palatable meal.
There are different kinds of wisdom, and I’ve never considered myself to be wise. I mastered my own little wheelhouses in wordsmithing and technology, and in those arenas, I trust my intuition. In other areas, I still have to stop myself from picking up the phone and calling my parents, who will, invariably, tell me the right thing to do. If I’m ever going to be a wise old woman, gaining independence by forcing myself to stand firm without a cheerleading squad puts me in the right place now. Ego would trick me into thinking that my beliefs are gospel. I want to live, experience, and develop all the types of intuition that life will demand of me. Perhaps wisdom is more like core curriculum, where the learner has to have ownership for lasting effect.
This summer, I’m learning by doing. I didn’t make as many lists. I’m experimenting with a more flexible, intuitive approach to existing on this planet. Where did all my plans and lists get me? I can’t make myself better yesterday. Why dwell in the darkness of the shadows behind me, as dark as the night around me, when the light is ahead, forward movement, like the laptop screen illuminating my fingertips?
I’m still here. I’m still writing. I’m better today than I was yesterday, and subsequently happier and more balanced. I can’t go back to fix or change anything in the shadows. Good can come from me today, and moving forward. The kitchen is teaching me how to adapt to the brave new world I fashioned for myself, and if summer has a lesson, it’s that wisdom will come with experience, after all.