Thursday, November 29, 2018

Holiday Perfection

One year I struggled to create a Hallmark-perfect holiday season. Instead, chaos ensued.

Chicken Soup for the Soul shared the story of my goofy failure in their new release, "The Wonder of Christmas."

Holiday Perfection
The kitchen’s mustard-yellow oven mocked me from its 1970’s built-in perch. I glared at the offensive appliance, roughly the size of a child’s easy-bake oven. Next week our entire family would arrive for Thanksgiving dinner in our new home. I wanted everything to be perfect, but there was no way to fit a turkey in that tiny oven.  
Who lived here before us? Elves? 

My husband Jake shuffled into the room. “It’s midnight. What’s wrong?”
“Why did the builders put a miniature stove in a large home?” I fumed. “I can’t make a perfect Thanksgiving turkey in this stupid thing.”

Jake rubbed his eyes and yawned. “Let’s replace it.”
My heart did a momentary happy dance before reality crashed in. “We just moved. We don’t have funds for a new one.”
Jake wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “We’ll buy a used one.” He gestured to my nemesis. “We can rip this out now if you want.” 

At midnight, the idea made perfect sense. We grabbed tools, removed the old built-in appliance, and cleaned the decades of greasy dirt left behind.

The next morning we found an online ad proclaiming, “New stove for sale. $60.”
Hopping into our pickup, we drove over for a look. A friendly young couple met us at the door and led us around back to large shed. The husband said, “We bought this stove back home in Iowa, but there was already one here when we moved in last year. This one’s just been sittin’ in the shed, so we figured to sell it.”
I swiped a layer of dust off the appliance with my finger. Underneath it the white stove gleamed. It looked perfect. Since sixty dollars comprised our entire remodel budget, we bought it. The two men loaded it into the truck, and Jake and I drove home congratulating ourselves on finding a bargain. 

Once we maneuvered the stove into the kitchen, we notice an odd smell. 

“It probably just needs a good cleaning,” I said. We scrubbed every inch we could reach, inside and out, but the odor increased.
As the stench permeated the entire house, Jake shared his horrible realization. “I think a dead mouse is stuck in the insulation, but I can’t get to it without ripping the stove apart.” 

“Holiday guest expect aromas like pine boughs or gingerbread. Our house reeks of rodent carcass. We need to do something,” I whined.
So we ran the self-cleaning feature repeatedly every day. 
By Thanksgiving the stink had dissipated. Mostly. I felt confident that by the time our guests arrived, the delectable scent of perfectly roasted turkey would cover any lingering odor.
Humming, I stuffed the turkey, slid it into the new range and inspected the side dishes. Ruby colored cranberry sauce, potatoes waiting to be mashed, pumpkin pies from the bakery all passed the perfection inspection. 

The freshly cleaned house looked perfect, so I dressed, put on makeup, and did my hair. I wanted to look perfect too. Or as perfect as possible despite wrinkles and acne.
As family members arrived we greeted them, gave the house tour, then sat together, chatting and laughing. After a time Jake pulled me aside. “Honey, the turkey isn’t cooking.”

I hurried to the kitchen and opened the stove door. The huge raw turkey perched sadly in the cold oven.
 Agh! Had I burned out the stove with repeated mouse cremations? I stood paralyzed, dismay tap dancing across my brain.
My eagle-eyed mom glided into the kitchen and within seconds pointed out the problem. “Sweetheart, it will cook faster if you turn on the oven.” She tapped the knob, firmly fixed in the “off” position. 

Panic set in. “What are we going to do? There’s a house full of people and nothing to feed them except raw turkey!”
Jake sauntered downstairs and brought up large ham from the basement fridge. At my questioning look he winked. “I wanted it on hand just in case.”
And he was perfectly right, as usual.
That Thanksgiving our family ate ham sandwiches. And ribbed me unmercifully about not turning on the stove.
Although far from what I’d envisioned, that Thanksgiving was perfect in its own way. While munching my sandwich, I realized I didn’t need to strive for magazine-perfect food presentations or a picture perfect house. 

My focus didn’t need to be on perfection, but rather gratefulness. I looked around the table and thanked God for the people in my life.

My husband who showed me love in unexpected ways, like ripping out a stove because it bothered me. And having the foresight to tuck away an emergency ham.
My mother who still taught me cooking basics--like flipping the knob to the “on” setting.
And our precious daughter and grandson, siblings, cousins. I silently thanked God for the perfect blessing of having family together.

We invited everyone back for Christmas. This time, rather than trying to make everything perfect, we decided to skip the fancy turkey dinner and offer crockpots of soup instead.
I even made sure to turn the dials onto the “high” setting so the soup would cook in time for Christmas dinner.

Only one thing would have made those crockpots of soup more perfect.
If I’d remembered to plug them in.