Sunday, November 21, 2010

Carrots, potatoes and timing

The other day we were planning a pot roast dinner to share with our next door neighbours. One of them is highly allergic to our cats. When we invite them for dinner, we make it at our place and truck it over to their place in a wheelbarrow.

John was in charge of the pot roast, and began cooking it in the early afternoon. By 4 o'clock the simmering meat was dressing the air with tantalizing smells. Meanwhile, I had made beet salad, and peeled and cubed carrots for the roast. John said he would peel potatoes and cook both vegetables. Our friends were taking care of dessert. We were due at their place at 6. Luckily, they live two minutes away.

The clock ticked away. It was 5 p.m. Was John planning on cooking the veggies in the pot with the meat? If so, he had better get a move on. Such was my thinking.

Meanwhile, John sat in his office upstairs, immersed in some mysterious alchemy as he programmed his new toy, a tiny 5”x7” laptop computer. As usual, he had fallen prey to the trance of geekdom. Hours could go by without him realizing it.

On the other hand, I'm hard-wired to a clock. I'm forever slicing my day into 15-minute periods, checking the time, figuring out what has to be done by when – and then doing it. Here was a classic set-up: John oblivious to the time, and me clanging around like one of those kid's alarm clocks with the smiley face and the oversize metal bell on top.

At least three times it was on the tip of my tongue to remind John of the time and what he still had to do. Mentally, I crafted these reminders carefully: “John, would you like me to peel the potatoes?” Hint Hint. Or, “Honey, what were your plans for the potatoes and carrots?” Hint Hint HINT. Or, taking a page from Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication, which I had recently read, “Sweetie, would you be willing to....” To what? “To get your ass down here and finish cooking?!”

I bit my tongue, heeding an inner voice that calmly told me that it was none of my business, that John always kept his promises around cooking, that in the worst case, we could finish cooking the stuff at our friends' place. Meanwhile, my emotions felt hot and simmering, just like the roast. I could barely keep a lid on them. The cool inner voice invited me to stay with the emotional heat, observe it, feel it.

At 5:15 I fled to the bathroom to take a shower, closing the door just a little more sharply than normal. It wasn't quite a slam, but inclined towards an exclamation mark. “Observe the irritation,” said the voice. “Notice its edgy sharpness. Feel it boiling in the chest.” At 5:20 I briskly toweled myself off, slapped my old terry robe around me, and stalked to the bedroom to dress. I purposely avoided looking at John as I passed his office. “Notice your hot and flushed face. Feel the heat behind your tongue.” As I was pulling on my jeans, I heard John's chair creak and his footsteps patter down the stairs. It was 5:30.

I found him in the kitchen peeling potatoes, water on the stove nearing a boil, the cooking carrots immersed in the thick tasty gravy enveloping tender chunks of meat. He greeted me with a warm smile. I was grateful that I had kept my inner frenzy to myself – although, what would have happened if I had told John what was going on inside me? That too would have been worth observing.

The potatoes went into the pot, and were done in 15 minutes. Everything was ready to go by 5:55. Perfect timing.


  1. hahaha, I had a woman in my office on Friday, with her theory of men, she thinks that every man is just a bit mentally challenged. She explained that she can stomp around the house, slam doors, bang pots, yet 'he' doesn't seem to notice a thing. She then stands in his face and states 'blah, blah, blah!!' only to which 'he' with a look of astonishment and surprise voices ' are you not happy?, I didn't realize, why didn't you say something?', to which she rolls her eyes so far into her head, she can read her own mind!

  2. A graceful and funny riff on an oh-so familiar experience...I love how you captured the ways the human mind works to convince us of things that aren't real at all...I love how you showed mindfulness in action so honestly and with humility. Wonderful piece, Mary Lou.

  3. beautiful writing Mary Lou, You have captured so well the reality of everyday life. This is so true on a personal and professional levels.
    thank you for for sharing your experience and your view.