Saturday, June 06, 2009

History of One Lady's Kitchens

To My Most Amiable Readers...

As I drizzled raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries over thick slices of angel food cake in my itsy bitsy Chilean kitchen, I couldn't help but see some insanity in my cooking space/hospitality knack ratio. I love having guests. I love cooking. But serving 20 guests out of my little kitchen quickly becomes stressful as I try to make four square feet of counter space an adequate work station for the demands of a full menu. As I seriously considered putting the dressed desserts on the floor until they were all ready, I thought back over my various kitchens over my nine years as a wife.

It was my first kitchen, and boy was it dazzling. I mean, with the gold-flecked countertops and all. The sea foam green vinyl breakfast nook set the tone perfectly for the 60's dream kitchen I claimed as my own as a young 20 year-old bride. It had a sort of space-age feel to it...there was a built-in blender in the countertop, and holders for tin foil and paper towels folded down out of the wall from stainless steel panels. Best of all, it had oodles of cabinets and countertops, though admittedly this was rather wasted as I was not yet much of a cook. Okay, so I knew nothing. But we had marvelous milkshake parties, with the built-in blender and our spanking new oster blender whirring away. Six months later found us pondering a new direction.

We both were aware of this undertow of purpose which some call a "call" or a destiny or finding one's vocation, but it never let us "settle". This purpose was most plainly stated as missions; living in an international setting, making God known and remembered. If I ever happened to lament our thrift store furnishings and dream an IKEA dream, something deep inside would say "not now". As I longed to paint walls a color I'd chosen, that something would say, "that's not the way I have for you".

To better prepare ourselves for, what we could feel to be certain, our future missions work, we decided that Dustin at least should finish his degree in Biblical Studies. I longed to finish mine as well, but we didn't have the cash. Finding Canada a cheap place to study, we headed up to Saskatchewan...the coldest, flattest place to eat good donuts and have riotous times. We moved into a basement apartment and I surveyed my second kitchen. Less countertop space to be sure and a tiny space to put a four-person table. But that small space became a welcoming hub for hungry college students and neighbors. Rising each day, I knew I needed to get something in the oven, whether bread, pies, cookies, or a cake, because unexpected visitors were expected. Friday night pizza was a favorite and many "happened" to drop by just when the pizzas were coming out of the tiny oven. It was in this small kitchen that I learned to cook and stretch my culinary horizons. I had a habit of making sourdough bread every two days and when the loaves were still hot from the oven, I'd wrap one in a towel and head out into the bitter cold, praying that God would direct me to whomever needed bread that day. One day I arrived with said bundle at Darrel and Kristin's home (fellow married students). She later confided to me that they ate the whole loaf immediately as their money had run out and they had no food.

Kitchen number three was a charmer and tinier yet than my Canada kitchen. Dustin's dad let us stay rent-free during summer break from college in an old row home in downtown Lancaster, PA. Entering our living room (which could fit a couch and that's about it), you turn left passing a bathroom and arrive at the kitchen (which is about the size of an average walk-in closet), then you come to the bedroom where a cardtable is set up in the corner to eat at. This kitchen was used the least of all my kitchens as summer in the city is hot and humid and that little home was a furnace. When Dustin would come home from work I'd have food packed in a picnic basket and we'd head to a park to catch the breeze and wade in the river to cool down.

After finishing college, we moved back to Pennsylvania unclear about the next step to take concerning our purpose, our call, our vocation. We resumed work at a local youth center and found a rancher to rent in a typical 1970's development. This is my egg yolk kitchen. The woman who owned the home was slightly mad (and not in the angry sense). The cabinets were yellow, the wallpaper was yellow and orange, and the ceiling was yellow...and the curtains...can you guess? Yellow. It had a slightly bigger kitchen than the furnace kitchen and we had fun entertaining friends and having game nights in that yellow cube. Again thoughts of painting walls...colors that I would choose...and buying furniture that I actually liked the looks of constantly harranged me, especially after visits to homes owned by friends and acquaintances that looked like IKEA or Pier 1 poster children. I was fighting a full-blown battle of materialism and self-expressionism dependent on that. My comfort was in my purpose, my destiny, that floating orb of adventure just out of sight, that, when found would make all present sacrifices pale. And a new dream was being formed within me as Sophia's little kicks and jabs captured my wonder as I laid on an out-of-style couch in an out-of-style room and beamed a smile of awe.

Finding theological unity, we joined Landisville Mennonite Church and found that they were letting the small 1740's log cabin which was the original church building back in said year. We moved in and I encountered kitchen number five in my third year of marriage. It was large, but not usefully large, as one entire wall held neither cabinet nor countertop, but merely white paint. My father-in-law replaced the warped countertop and corroded faucet, for which I was quite grateful. This home had much personality. Low doorways, heavy ancient doors with immense cast iron medieval hinges. A privy in the garden shed. A walk-in fireplace in In this kitchen my love of canning found full strength as the bounty from my large garden was transformed into salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc. I grew larger and larger but continued my canning and nesting activity until I went into labor and welcomed our daughter Sophia to our lives. My world rocked and spun with joy. My contentment was deep and I lacked nothing and that bare wall now had a playpen in front of it where a laughing baby girl cooed at me while I cooked.

We packed our suitcases and with much excitement I put in the maternity clothes which I'd be needing while we lived and studied in Costa Rica. We were off to learn Spanish as we'd been assigned a three-year term serving with EMM in Chile. I was excited/nervous/terrified and Sophia was now an 18 month-old ball of energy. Arriving in Costa Rica, I met kitchen number six. By far the most hilariously small. Even a bachelor living on spaghetti-o's would find it lacking. There was the sink which stood under the window that faced the concrete wall. Then there was the stove...the electric stove that zapped us occassionally and took twenty minutes to boil water. Then the tiny refrigerator with a shoebox-sized freezer inside which grew horrendous frost every four days, reducing usable space to a pencil box-size. Then the two feet of counter. I kid you not. But in that small kitchen we had some great parties, including a full-fledge Costa Rican meal with three chefs in that small space! Our tiny living room easily became a dance floor and we made the most of every square foot, forming friendships that have lasted to this day. That kitchen also had the unique distinction of hosting lizards and roaming battalions of ants. I learned to keep my floors very very clean.

Arriving in Chile after the birth of our son Edison, we found kitchen number seven in a two-bedroom apartment which we shared with another family (Chileans) with two children. The kitchen was a shared affair as were all meals, bathroom schedules, and so on. Quite the stretching experience. Especially coming home and seeing scary fishheads gaping at me, picked clean of meat and wondering what sort of dinner was on the way that evening. The view was beautiful. The canal in the foreground and Tenglo island behind it, I watched ships come in as I prepared (with anxiety) meals for our mixed families (their children never ate what I made, because it was strange to them). They moved out a month later and I immediately settled in to making the kitchen clean and organized (I have OCD, didn't you know?). That kitchen was the sight of quite a bit of hosting over the following year.

Kitchen number eight is the one I have now in a suburb here in Puerto Montt. It's quite functional, but quite small. All white. So I had the yolk and now I have the white. Everything must have an exact place or chaos ensues and things falling out of cabinets is one of the things that makes me want to run screaming around the cul-de-sac. We had a brief reprieve from kitchen number eight as we spent five months in the states in a basement suite of Dustin's cousins home. Okay, basement palace. Two of our entire home here in Chile would fit in our living space there. And there were soaring cabinets up to the high ceilings. The drawers shut themselves softly and glided like they were dipped in butter. There was a massive refrigerator and an oven that had a temperature gauge. There was a dishwasher and a garbage disposal, and an ice maker....I was blown away. I've never known any of these luxuries in my wifely kitchen history. There were lights under the cabinets so I didn't have to squint at recipes under dim overhead lighting. I felt almost lost. I ignored the dishwasher and handwashed dishes because I'd forget to use it. The garbage disposal scared me, and I mangled two forks in it thinking I was flipping the light switch. But how fun to cook in such a space, to not have to play tetris tactics when putting groceries away.

Returning to Chile, I opened a drawer in my kitchen and it seemed broken. It came out so rough that I asked Dustin if it needed fixed. He laughed and told me he had thought the same, but realized it had always been that way; that we had simply gotten used to the smooth drawers of the other place. It made me wonder how many things I've gotten used to as a missionary. But I thank the Lord for that; for numbing the annoyances so that we can focus on the work He has for us here. Our vocation, our destiny, our purpose has proved to be a great adventure; more fulfilling than any beautifully decorated home or fantastic professional kitchen could ever be. So I will serve Him here and He will understand if I put desserts on the floor.

Your Most Devoted, Sarah