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I couldn’t wait for 2020 to be over. I sprinted out of that abysmal year like I was escaping a burning building … only to find that 2021 was smoldering, too.

COVID-19 was still raging, people were still rioting, businesses and schools were still closed, and we were all still stuck at home with Netflix and TikTok.

A new year is supposed to feel like a fresh start, but other than a new spider vein I found on my thigh last week, all I saw was same ol', same ol'. Rejuvenation seemed impossible, because 2021 just wasn’t ready yet.

For military spouses, personal renewal usually doesn’t mean getting a chin lift or booking a trip to visit the Dalai Lama. The revival that we encounter comes in more budget-friendly forms, such as buying a new sweater from the clearance rack at TJ Maxx or taking a Pedi-Egg to our calluses.

This month, I endeavored to do a little cleaning around the house to boost my sagging spirits. First, I lifted the couch cushions to reveal $3.96 in coins, two ballpoint pens, the DVD clicker we lost two moves ago, and a veritable snack mix of old popcorn, fuzzy gummy bears, stale peanuts and pulverized goldfish crackers. Next, I pulled the master bed away from the wall to discover a dust bunny large enough to knit into a pair of knee socks. Then, I rummaged through our closets to fill thrift store donation bags with dressy clothes that we haven’t worn since the pandemic began.

This mini-purge felt good, but I needed more to break through my stubborn funk. I considered giving myself a hot oil hair treatment, organizing the junk drawer and bleaching the grout, but I needed something that would really make a noticeable difference.

Then, it came to me: The Refrigerator.

Despite the appliance’s perfect chill of 36 degrees Fahrenheit, I knew there were food items lurking in the back that were no longer edible. Items forgotten about months ago, hidden behind the OJ and the leftover pot roast. Purging all things rotting would provide both actual and symbolic relief.

I began with the freezer, hoping to find a forgotten casserole dish to cook for dinner. However, after chipping away the thick layer of frost, I found only brownish blocks of unidentifiable meat encased in unlabeled storage bags, and a sticky can of daiquiri mix. Turkey leg or hamburger patty? Who knew? I thought about licking each bag to determine the contents, but instead, I hedged my best guess, knowing I might inadvertently cook Ham Hock Sloppy Joes or Rump Roast Noodle Soup.

Next, I cleared out the small shelves on the refrigerator door. For some unknown reason, jelly jars, dressing bottles, mustard pots and pickle jars tended to breed and multiply here. My inner hoarder took a deep breath — the world would not implode if I threw out that almost empty jar of apricot spread, or the bottle of Catalina dressing I used a quarter cup of for a recipe last summer.

Moving to the refrigerator shelves, I found food items that were so old, they might be mistaken for something else altogether. Expired feta looked like bleu cheese. Expired sour cream masqueraded as small curd cottage cheese but smelled like dirty feet. Expired apple juice made a "pffzzzt" sound when I turned the cap, and gave off an aroma reminiscent of tequila.

A quick poke in the lunchmeat drawer revealed slippery slices of iridescent pastrami, before moving on to the vegetable crispers. As anyone who’s ever grabbed for a cucumber only to find a log of mush knows, this area of the fridge can challenge even the strongest constitution. While mentally paralyzing my gag reflex, I tossed out rusty lettuce, milky tomatoes, shriveled apples and blackened cauliflower florets.

Once all the odiferous offenders had been removed from our refrigerator, I gave it a good scrub with disinfectant, popped open a fresh box of baking soda and headed off to the commissary for replacement vittles. Considering that military family budgets don’t often include funds for cosmetic surgery and exotic spiritual pilgrimages, a clean refrigerator might be as good as renewal gets in 2021.

Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@gmail.com

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