Making Room For Respair
For most folks, New Year’s is all about fresh starts, at least nominally. I recently heard a cute quip: “New Years Resolutions go in one year and out the other.” All too true, so I try to get the jump on things by spending the first few days of each year making clean starts. I often spend New Year’s Day washing curtains and cleaning the windows so they sparkle when (if) the sun comes out. This year, I’ve been washing not just the curtains but all the extra window coverings necessitated by the prolonged sub-freezing days and nights, and rejoicing in the renewed light that fills our little home once again.
As for those resolutions, personally I find it best to work up to large shifts of habit or consciousness by starting with something small and manageable. One favorite new year’s task is to investigate the contents of the post-holiday refrigerator. Since my family is still in quarantine, mealtime census has been low and I’ve been labeling everything with the date it was made or opened to avoid finding interesting molds in those mysterious back-of-the-fridge containers. I started the task with the freezer and found an astonishing number of bagged bits of bread. I always think a slightly stale loaf end could be useful as crumbs or in stuffing, but I only make stuffing once or twice a year, and there are only so many dishes improved by crumbs. Out they went to feed the hungry birds and squirrels, all very appreciative of the unexpected bounty.
My Geezer Freezer
When my kids were growing up, our freezer was famously known as The Freezer Of Death because a cascade of nameless, sketchily lodged packages rained down on the incautious. When I was a kid, our freezer held many packages labeled ‘needs work’, remnants of less than successful meals. Now I’ve got a geezer freezer, the kind fond grandparents develop when grandkids are frequent dinner guests. My initial excavation disclosed an astonishing variety of half-empty ice cream containers, as my grandkids adore mixing unusual kinds of ice cream into cold “soup.” Anything with frost crystals got the toss, including two boxes of dubious fruit bars left over from summer, which freed up lots of space for holiday leftovers (all labeled and dated, of course!).
Another motherlode involved many pounds of beautiful butter. I always buy nice butter when it’s on sale. Don’t you? Doesn’t everybody? Good butter certainly comes in handy when there are onions to caramelize and cookies to bake, right? I also buy lovely tea on sale, which is why I have several dozen boxes of (mostly) different kinds on my tea shelf. Surely that’s normal? There are also a number of half-used packets of pepperoni for pizza—those little bags get lost so easily! Any that smelled a bit off got binned and the rest were united, labeled and dated(!) and put in a better spot on the freezer door (plus we made sourdough pizza for dinner, yum!). After this massive clearing out, what’s left is obvious and easy to find, and only actual assets are left of the previous random jumble.
Next, I did the vegetable bins, which get cleaned out fairly regularly so are not too daunting. In fact, it’s a pleasure to see them full of crisp greens from my little pea patch, harvested under the snow. We’ve been enjoying them in stir fries and soups and today we found that we quite like finely shredded kale and chicory on pizza. After washing each shelf and replacing whatever made the cut, I took on The Door, home to innumerable condiments. It’s so easy to fall for a special zowie flavoring, perhaps something you enjoyed at a restaurant or friend’s house, and decide to stock up and make something similar at home. You do, and it’s good, but really not something you want to eat very often so the little bottle of whatever sauce goes in the fridge. Right? Admitting that the remainder was never going to be used helped empty out the main clutter, exposing many bottles of vinegars made last summer. I had intended to give them to friends for holiday gifts, but with covid19 cases exploding here, there haven’t been any fun little get-togethers. Still, vinegar keeps well, so the plum and nectarine vanilla and cardamom pear vinegars can wait until when it’s safe to gather again.
A New Old Word
As I cleaned, I found myself saying a new word over and over. A friend sent me a note about it, saying he’d read an article in the Guardian about this long-forgotten word that deserves great attention in these troubled times. Apparently coined in 1425 and seldom if ever used since, the work is “respair” and is defined as the renewal of hope after a time of despair. Indeed, it is the perfect word for our time, when renewal of hope is vital to our wellbeing, to our daily balance, to our very sanity. It’s a noun and a verb, so we can respair, as in discover new hope, and we can experience respair, as in the refreshed feelings that hope awakens in our spirits. May the New Year be one of respair for us all and for our precious planet!