Queen Penelope is my classical role model because of the devious things we women writers and housewives do in the middle of the night. And I don’t mean sex; I mean getting up and working when convention says we’re supposed to be sleeping. It’s the only way of serving our own ends but we don’t tell a soul.
Her husband King Odysseus went off sailing around the Greek islands and didn’t show up for 20 years, except for one surprise visit home. Meanwhile 108 suitors lined up outside her door, raring to take his place in her bed. Penelope kept on sitting at her loom, weaving her tapestry calmly. She said she would make up her mind when her work was done. Then she got up secretly in the middle of the night and undid what she had done that day.
In my analogy, my husband’s mind moved off to a far-away place when he invited a favorite, exotic house guest for a week in August. Inwardly I panicked over how we could preserve our casual, self-centered lifestyle, be perfect hosts and serve good meals for seven whole days in an immaculate house surrounded by a tidy garden.
My husband was busy with heavy garden chores; house, boat and car maintenance; stacking the dishwasher; making applesauce from our bumper crop of Melbas and solving the big problems like the economy, Donald Trump and Isis. I would be responsible for getting everything else together.
At least 108 unwanted challenges lined up at my door. This could make my blood pressure rise and tempers flare. For days we organized and worked so that we felt in pretty good shape by the night before our guest arrived. Still, I needed Penelope’s help.
We retired and fell asleep at 11 p.m. but I awoke at 3:26 a.m. and stole out of the room with a flashlight to do a few things to save time and mess-ups the next day.
1.Our laundry is just off the kitchen and I headed there. My husband’s clean shirts were hanging to dry but I put them in the electricity-gobbling dryer so I didn’t have to iron them.
2. The white floor mat from the guest bathroom was soiled, as was a load of underwear, so I threw them in the washing machine and turned it on.
The Ham Soup and the Fridge
1. My best company meal-in-one soup was made but its 12″-diameter pot was taking up too much room in the jammed fridge. To be ready for dinner after we picked our guest up, I put three servings of the meat and liquid, with its beans and onion, into a smaller, pyrex bowl. I peeled and added three carrots and three potatoes, covered them with the liquid and put the meal on to cook in the microwave oven for 30 minutes.
(Just then I heard my husband getting out of bed so I ran upstairs and by the time he came out of the bathroom I was snuggled down under the covers. He asked me if I was wearing my housecoat because I was cold and I said “Yes.” I waited for him to fall asleep again and came back downstairs at 4:28 a.m.)
2.The rest of the soup now fit into a smaller Dutch oven, so I transferred it, cleaned the pot and used it as a basin to wash out some dirty plastic milk bags stashed under the sink (we re-use them for storage) and hung them up to dry. I fit the Dutch oven full of soup into the basement fridge by removing two baskets of Melbas.
3. I carried these and packages of frozen salmon and bacon to the upstairs fridge.
4. By taking out two tins of sweets I’d baked the night before, I could fit the baskets into the fridge, ready for my husband to take over the kitchen and make applesauce when he got up.
The Cake and Cookies
I cut my oatmeal squares and Linzer pastry into serving pieces. The squares went into the cookie jar and the cake into a cookie tin.
The Garden and Patio
My i-pad weather site said it would be a sunny day, so I hung the laundry up on our patio where it could dry quickly. Wet underwear hanging overhead wouldn’t make the kind of impression on our guest I was seeking.
(At 6:30 a.m. I went back to sleep and got up at the same time as my husband at 8:30 a.m.)
We ate breakfast, drank coffee, watched the news and answered g-mails and Skype calls. After we went out to buy groceries, I napped while he made applesauce. Before we had to leave for the airport I had cleaned the white plastic garden chairs and umbrella table with bleach, weeded the roses along the front curb, taken in the laundry and put the finishing touches on the guest bedroom and bathroom. All was ready.
If anyone had found out and asked me that day what I had done in the night, I would have said, “Nothing,” because that’s what devious Penelopes always say.
We met our guest’s flight at 6:30 p.m., came back to our humble but beautiful (to us) home and garden and had a lovely dinner. It was all fit for a countess, if not a queen.
Happy Reading from Cozybookbasics!
My novel now in progress will tell the story of a sixty year marriage with its many intricate adventures.