Time Devoted

 

Rice pudding 101915

 

When I was a little girl, I spent at least one night a week at my grandparents’ house. They lived in my school district, so I could ride the bus right to their house and run across the wide, grassy lawn to the open door. Inside, GramBea was in the kitchen, already filling a baggie with raisins and apple slices for my snack. I played outside while she worked on dinner and practiced her piano on the 4-season porch.

 

When I came back in around dinnertime, I sat at the pretty drop-leaf table in the kitchen and watched GramBea stir a knob of butter into a pot of brown rice, then peer into the oven to see if the chicken was done.  Now and then, she stood still and listened to whatever news Tom Brokaw was delivering from the tiny television next to the stove, nodding a little or snorting in disgust. Dinner, when it was served, asked nothing of me. Everything GramBea fed me was familiar, nourishing, and somehow more than the sum of its parts.

 

If I was lucky and the weather had been cool enough to keep the oven on all day, dessert was rice pudding –served cold in a white tulip bowl. Rice pudding is still my ultimate comfort food. It has only six ingredients: milk, rice, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. The technique, too, is simple — mix everything together in a deep casserole dish and stick it in the oven for roughly three hours, stirring every once in a while until you think it’s done. It couldn’t be easier, but it’s like any ritual: you have to give it careful, sacred attention to do it justice. You can’t merely spend three hours making rice pudding … you have to devote three hours to making rice pudding. That distinction took me a long time to understand, but I get it now. I am the only grandchild who really loved it, so when GramBea made rice pudding — stirring every 30 minutes for the first couple of hours, then after another 20, then maybe 15, then two 10-minute intervals at the end– she was giving me more than just her time. There was something else in there, too. Devotion.

 

I want to give my life some careful, sacred attention and do it justice.

 

A couple of months ago, I bought a little daybook and began keeping a daily log of my activities. One of the reasons for this new habit was to shame myself into being more productive. Once I had been forced to write “8:00-noon: Facebook and whatever” a few times, I picked up my knitting needles again and put myself on a strict cooking and baking schedule.

 

The other reason, the more important reason I began keeping a record of what I do each day, was to make sure my days are at least partially made up of meaningful work and activities that reflect who I really am (or at least who I’m trying to be). I want to give my life some careful, sacred attention and do it justice.

 

Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

 

That isn’t great news for those of us who spend our days in minivans with bickering children. Anyway, I only mostly agree with it.  On most days, I spend my time: I get my stuff done, I keep my promises, I enjoy myself or I don’t. I suppose you could say that’s also how I spend my life. But there are also days — or at least parts of days– I devote: to nurturing, comfort, protection, love, community, and everything else that matters to me. So that means my life is made up of that devotion, too.

 

For time to be devoted, not merely spent, I have to give each moment more than just my attention — more, even, than my full attention. The time I devote becomes more than a commodity, more than something that can be spent. Time devoted is me offering my best available self  to a broken corner of the world I can reach: does someone need to be fed? Comforted? Protected? Loved? I am here. I give myself to that need in this moment.

 

The time I devote becomes more than a commodity, more than something that can be spent. Time devoted is me offering my best available self  to a broken corner of the world I can reach …

 

I wish there were a widely accepted formula for how to balance Time Spent with Time Devoted, but even if there were, I wouldn’t be able or willing to apply it. Sometimes I approach what I’m doing with the deepest reverence but then can’t sustain it; sometimes my work doesn’t turn out to be worthy of my devotion; sometimes I run to the grocery store, intending to pick up a couple of things for lunches or a rotisserie chicken for dinner, and wind up buying the ingredients for rice pudding. I’m surprised by devotion as often as I plan it, so intention isn’t always what distinguishes one kind of time from the other. I intended to spend last weekend relaxing with my family after a rather shaky start to the school year, but wound up devoting most of my time and myself to supporting a family I have never met, who just lost their little girl. I think part of devotion is reception; if I’m asking the questions about who needs me, then I have to be willing to hear the answers above the roar of my own plans.

 

And part of devotion is discernment. I can’t give everything I have to everything I do … if everything is sacred, then nothing is.  On most days, I will spend my time: I will get my stuff done, keep my promises, and enjoy myself or not. But on some days I will pour milk, rice, sugar, and vanilla into a deep casserole dish and add a pinch of salt, grate nutmeg over the top. I will put it in the oven, stir all afternoon, devote my best self to it, feed it to any broken corner of the world I can reach until it becomes more than the sum of its parts. Until my life becomes more than the sum of its parts.

 

Rice pudding Dish 112815

 

GramBea’s RICE PUDDING  

           
2 quarts milk (2% is best in my opinion, but of course you could make it with 1% or whole; I wouldn’t use skim)

½ cup long-grain white rice

½ cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

pinch of salt

freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 325˚F. In a deep 2-qt casserole, combine first five ingredients, then grate nutmeg on top. Bake at 325˚F for about an hour and a half, stirring with a wooden spoon every half an hour.  Then turn oven up to 350˚F and bake until pudding thickens to desired consistency, stirring every 10-15 minutes. Cooking time should be between 2 ½  and 3 hours.
Cool pudding to room temperature and then chill it in the refrigerator, at least 2 hours or overnight.

GramBea served it plain, but I add fresh bananas and whipped cream 😉

 

Begging the Question

 

Last Day at Eden Lake
© 2015 Marta C Drew

 

We do all of the laundry. Imagine if the Alps, the Himalayas, and the Rockies were all connected and made out of inside-out sweatshirts, Pixar jammies, and tiny Hello Kitty panties. That’s most of our laundry rooms on most days.

 

We cook. We spend hours, days, weeks, months, YEARS collecting recipes, then shop for the obscure ingredients, then defend what we spent on them, then prepare the meal, then –most of the time –clean up. This is what we hear if the meal is phenomenal:

 

“Good dinner Honey.”

 

Then someone farts, then someone burps, then everyone talks about how AWESOME that was, how they can’t BELIEVE how CRAZY EXCELLENT that fart-and-burp combo was. AMAZING. This is what we hear if the meal was damn good:

 

“It’s okay, but not really my favorite.” This from our nine-year-old son, who tells us in the voice he will one day use to break up with unstable girlfriends.

 

Just use the education, the talent, the imagination, style and mind-blowing sexiness that got you here, on this bathroom floor with this pee and these gloves (I hope) and this toilet, and get it done.

 

We keep the house clean while our people work (harder than they’re ever willing to work at anything else) to keep the place looking like a low-budget zoo habitat. Why is that sticky? What kind of crumbs are those? What is that weird smell? Best not to ask. Just use the education, the talent, the imagination, style and mind-blowing sexiness that got you here, on this bathroom floor with this pee and these gloves (I hope) and this toilet, and get it done.

 

We civilize:

“That is a sofa, not a jungle gym. Please refrain from jumping on it.”

“If my cooking makes you feel like you have to throw up, please do so in the bathroom. Thank you.”

“I’d rather not see that far into you.”

“I’m afraid you’ll find that fart jokes, like houseguests and fish, start to grow old after about day three.”

“Etiquette dictates that you should not finish your dinner before the person who cooked it for you has begun.”

“The world is not your petting zoo …there are some things and people we need not touch to enjoy.”

“Try not to eat anything you found in your nose.”

“You are not the center of the universe. That position is held by the sun …the exquisitely silent sun.”

 

This is not an exhaustive list.

 

We grow people. First we grow them inside of us, then push them out (I don’t want to talk about it) and grow them on the outside. Some of us breastfeed, some of us formula feed, some of us do both. Either way, we’re up several times a night feeding/diapering/burping/checking to make sure they’re breathing.

 

As they grow, we read article after article about the scientific link between child nutrition and our shitty mothering, the scientific link between childhood depression and our shitty mothering, the scientific link between child stupidity and our shitty mothering. We make our own baby food with fruits and vegetables we grew ourselves (lots of spare time in this job) from heirloom organic seeds we found in the Sundance catalog for $700.00 per envelope. We harvest the vegetables, put them through a food mill, a food processor, a strainer, and finally into a ceramic personalized bowl that seemed like a great idea when we were pregnant. From there, our stupid baby (our fault) throws the whole mess on the floor.

 

Then we cry and give them a dusty jar of Gerbers, which they devour as if Chef Thomas Keller made it himself.

 

We agonize over the right friends, the right schools, the right combination of athletics and artistic enrichment. We read to them, make sure they do their homework, sign them up for camp. We douse them in sunscreen and bugspray only to find out in August that everyone else knew in June that the brand of sunscreen we use is full of potent carcinogens. Then we self-flagellate.

 

As they grow, we read article after article about the scientific link between child nutrition and our shitty mothering, the scientific link between childhood depression and our shitty mothering, the scientific link between child stupidity and our shitty mothering.

 

We check daily for lice, rashes, viruses, depression, tumors, drug abuse, seizures, eating disorders, anxiety, and whatever else is going around. We volunteer at school (but not too much), we get involved with sports (but not too much), we show up at every poetry reading, tipi-making event, book club, swim meet, hockey game, glockenspiel recital, and gallery opening to cheer and take a thousand digital photos, which we immediately put into custom photo books for the grandparents. We forget to order one for ourselves.

 

When they’re sick or injured –whether it’s bad or not– we read and sing and carry them, though they’re much too big to be carried and we’ll need months of chiropractic work afterwards, for what feels like miles through schools, across fields, malls, museums, hospitals until they feel better, falling asleep in our shaking arms. We hold them down for immunizations or IV inserts or basic dental work. We crawl in bed with them at 3:30 am to scratch their backs while they cough so hard they almost throw up. We tell them for the thousand-and-tenth time that they’re safe and cozy in their beds; the “funder” won’t hurt them.

 

We do all of this –or most of it– gladly, grateful for the experience, for the infinite expansion of our hearts and minds. But it does beg the question:

 

Why, whywhywhy, WHY, when people ask us if we work, do we keep saying no?

 

Drewlets together Easter 2010