The Great Potato Fire

When Ben goes out of town, I generally eat only two things for dinner– Panera Thai chopped chicken salad, or Manwich sloppy joes. The Panera salad would be my number one choice at all times, as I love restaurants but hate buying gigantic pants, so the salad is a good compromise, but it is also fairly expensive, so I have to limit myself. Which leaves me with the Manwich, because I never learned how to cook, and sloppy joes push my culinary skills to the max.

My mother tried to teach me, but I just wasn’t interested. Why learn to cook, when food could just magically appear when someone else cooked it? And as a very anxious person, I tend to worry far too much about cooking to actually enjoy the process– what if I’m doing it wrong? What if this tastes disgusting? What if I poison someone with my inferiorly prepared chicken breast?

But I think the true reason I steer clear of cooking is The Great Potato Fire of 2001.

Allow me to set the scene– it was the end of my first semester in graduate school. My roommate had just moved out, taking with her all of the furniture and the means to pay the cable bill, so I was sitting on the floor in the living room in my pajamas at 3 pm on a Wednesday, sewing a sock monkey as a Christmas present and watching a video cassette of The Mikado that I had gotten from the library. You know, as one does from time to time. I was hungry, but I had no money– and not the “oh, I couldn’t possibly afford sushi and sake!” kind of no money, but the “it’s cool to use washcloths as toilet paper until I can afford to buy more as long as I wash them, right?” kind.

There was no money. But there was a potato.

One big, fat, perfect potato. The kind of potato that begs you to give its worthless existence some meaning by turning it into french fries.

Where I got the idea that I knew how to prepare french fries, I have no idea. I guess when you have no furniture and you’re watching light opera in your pajamas on a weekday afternoon, you develop a sort of hubris that you wouldn’t normally exhibit out in the world. But I went to work, carefully slicing the potato into fries, warming oil on the stove, sliding the potatoes into the pan. Yes, yes! This was all going according to plan! I can cook! Someone call my mom!

I had vague memories of my dad making fries in the Fry Daddy when I was growing up, and it didn’t seem like you needed to stand guard over the Fry Daddy at all times. So I went to check my e-mail.

This, in hindsight, may have been a mistake.

It only took a few minutes before I noticed that something seemed wrong. At first, it was almost imperceptible– the air just started to feel oily, as if I had chosen to skip eating the french fries and intended to inhale them in vapor form instead (a not altogether unpleasant experience– someone call the vape people and get them on this!). By the time I thought to investigate, the vapor had evolved into a white, voluminous smoke– a smoke that turned tornado gray and then erupted into flames before I even made it all the way to the stove.

I had finally done it. I had set my kitchen on fire.

Unsure of how to proceed, but unwilling to die in my pajamas surrounded by sock monkey detritus, I sprinted into the parking lot and began screaming for help. As luck would have it, the maintenance man just happened to be out doing his rounds, and he trotted over, much more slowly than one would hope when one is standing in a parking lot screaming for help. Upon surveying the situation, he calmly opened the cabinet under my sink, removed the fire extinguisher that apparently had been there all along, and put the fire out, simultaneously saving my life and robbing me of the only opportunity I had ever had to use a fire extinguisher under legitimate circumstances.

“There you go,” he said. “Enjoy your day.”

After he departed, I surveyed the damage. The walls behind the stove were scorched black, and the stove itself was enveloped in the pinkish-white foam of the fire extinguisher. I looked forlornly at the cremains of my last potato, swimming in rapidly congealing grease and foam. I had no money. I had no potato. And now I had a giant mess. That I was going to have to clean up myself.

I thought for a moment of simply abandoning the apartment, allowing it to be annexed by the two angry pit bulls that lived next door. But, knowing that if I did so, I would never get my security deposit back (and blissfully unaware in the moment that setting your kitchen on fire pretty much automatically costs you your security deposit, anyway), I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. The pan containing the fries had warped, so rather than try to salvage it, I just carried the whole situation out to the dumpster and threw it in, grease, fries, foam and all. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning out the nooks and crannies of my stove, and scrubbing (futilely) at the scorch marks on the walls. And in those moments, I learned two very important things:

  1. I had just physically passed through the portal from childhood to adulthood
  2. I was never, ever, ever going to cook anything again if I didn’t absolutely have to

That night, my best friend Ashley took pity on me and bought me a Chick-Fil-A dinner. Soon after, I flew home for Christmas, and when I returned, flush with parent money, I found a second job to ensure that I would always have enough money to keep myself in cereal and restaurant food for the rest of my days.

Ben loves to cook and he is terrific at it, and he has tried to teach me several times, but nothing ever sticks. Maybe if I hadn’t left to check my e-mail the day of the Great Potato Fire, things would have turned out very differently, and I would be a world class cook by now. I like to think that’s true, but honestly, given my attention span, it was never really a question of if I would set the kitchen on fire. It was just a question of when. 

How to paint pottery: a step by step tutorial

This afternoon, I went pottery painting with my mom and cousin. I am generally leery of anything that involves artistic skill, but I was hopeful, after my recent forays into the art world with the 100 Days project and the Bottle of Fun that my skills would have improved since my last attempt.

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“Shitshow,” paint and glaze on ceramic, Kim Oja, 2012

I decided that an updated family portrait was in order, as Rosie constantly points to this masterpiece and shouts “MEEEE!” (which I guess means that she can at least vaguely recognize that the adults depicted are supposed to be Ben and me, so that’s something?). Things started out so promisingly:

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Look at those heads! So round and perfect! I honestly should have stopped here, called it a minimalist representation, and kicked back and played Best Fiends until my mom and cousin were done. But then I immediately proceeded to fuck it up by attempting to give us bodies:

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I knew even as I was doing it that my sleeves were a huge mistake. I should have just had everyone standing with their hands behind their backs, which is how I have drawn basically every person ever, because arms and hands are hard. Now, I look like a braless woman with huge boobs flopping off in opposite directions. But this is folk art! I will persevere!

Meanwhile, my mom and my cousin Katie were working on their perfectly legitimate pieces of art.

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But instead I pressed on. Since matching clothes were a theme in the original portrait, I proceeded to continue the thread here.

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Okay, I made the puff sleeves work on my outfit. Other than Ben’s massive drop crotch, this was all going very well. But then– DISASTER!

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It turns out glasses are not nearly as easy to paint onto a plate as one might think! So now the rest of us are just chilling out with Batman. At this point, the pottery painting staff confiscated my plate for about 20 minutes to attempt to undo the damage I had inflicted upon my poor, unsuspecting husband. (They were kind of snide about it, too, I wanted to be like, you know, you don’t know for certain that my husband isn’t actually Batman.)

By this point, I was becoming impatient. Katie and my mom had turned in masterpieces:

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And I was waiting for the staff to attempt to salvage the remains of my Batman family portrait. When they brought it back to me with the top half of Ben’s head obliterated, I gritted my teeth and dove back in. Who needs shoes? We will rock bare feet rendered lovingly in the exact shape of baked potatoes! Hair is an abstract concept! Slap some retro typewriter stamps on that baby for added kitsch effect and call it good!

Finally, my masterpiece was complete.

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I feel like I did an excellent job of capturing the true personality and aesthetic of my children.

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Nailed it.

And in my opinion, the piece de resistance here is the cat, which I added only after Katie pointed out that my children would be super pissed if she wasn’t there. I tried using a stamp to just add in a rudimentary cat shape, but it came out as a black blob, and so I had no choice but to attempt to freehand this beauty.

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We had to leave our pottery behind to be glazed and fired, and, in my case, laughed at and mocked incessantly, and probably put up on several Pinterest Fail boards. We won’t see the finished products until Friday, but I’m assuming it’s not really going to help mine any, unless they glaze it so heavily that you can’t actually see the design underneath. But when it comes home, I will still hang it proudly next to our original family portrait, where it can be admired for all eternity until we put our house on the market some day in the future and the realtor demands I take it down because it’s scaring away potential clients.

Nap Town

You know, I don’t normally like to brag. Yes, I’m amazing, and also beautiful and 47% fluent in two languages, but I mean, I don’t really like to draw attention to it. But today, I did something unprecedented and I think you all deserve to know about it.

Now, before I go into details, I just want to mention that what I did today should not be attempted by an amateur. I am a professional at what I do, and am inherently aware of the risks that accompany my potentially reckless actions. For me, it paid off. For you, probably not so much, because you haven’t trained as hard as I have, and you probably just don’t want it as much. I’m not doubting your dedication; I’m just saying.

What could this possibly be, you ask? Has Kim secretly been training for a marathon, and that whole THESE SWEATPANTS ARE THE ONLY THING THAT FITS ME RIGHT NOW persona is just a ruse? No, that would require leaving the house, and seriously, these sweatpants really are the only thing that fits me right now, so that’s not happening.

Friends, I am here to tell you that today, I did the impossible.

Today, I took two naps, while my children were awake and fully aware of my presence in the home.

Not just one nap. No; that is for beginners. I perfected one nap years ago. But I always believed two naps was out of the reach of any mortal human. Until today.

How did I accomplish this? Conditions were optimal– two daughters who somehow awoke both happy and willing to play with each other, as opposed to our usual morning routine, which finds Rosie on the verge of mass genocide and Addie too lazy to even breathe on her own. The two of them disappeared into the basement to play, and I stole nap #1 like a narcoleptic ninja.

Nap #2 came after an afternoon at a birthday party at Playground World, which is a magical place that is just as fun as it sounds. Exhausted from two hours of trampoline-induced nausea, Rosie crashed, and Addie entered Power Save mode, which generally finds her on the couch, watching Jessie and gently powdering her face with the crumbs from a bag of Lime Tostitos. With her distracted, I took Rosie to our room and cuddled with her until we both slipped into the luxurious arms of Nap Town, Playground World’s sleepy neighbor.

I hope that my status as Bi-Daily Napper doesn’t intimidate you. I am still the same friendly, approachable Kim you’ve always known. Except I have finally, for the first time in five years, gotten the proper amount of sleep, so I’m assuming that at this point, I can levitate objects with my mind.