Outdoing Myself

Last you heard, I was a hobbling one-woman vigilante. I’m pleased to report that my calf is almost fully functional again. In fact, it’s in a happy place: I was capable of taking a walk with my friend during the lovely weather yesterday (once I told her to slow down) but I’m not quite up to my usual exercise class.

However, aside from walking in an almost-normal fashion, yesterday was another example of some poor life choices. Specifically, I almost burned our house down.

Cute W had his annual meeting for work, which means he left on Sunday morning to head out of town (missing J playing some exceptional volleyball at her weekend tournament), and he just arrived home this afternoon, Tuesday. Whenever the girls hear that Cute W is going out of town on business, their immediate, perhaps only reaction, is “What are we going to eat?”

In the olden days they’d get excited about ordering Chinese takeout, a meal for which Cute W has little enthusiasm due to its usual greasiness. Now that the girls are older and they, too, turn up their noses at greasy Chinese takeout, they’ve turned to their new Dad’s Away Favorite: Gnocchi, Chickpea, & Collards with Cheddar. They’ve really evolved on this one. When they were little, they pretty much avoided the collards and ate everything else, leaving me take care of the greens. Then they started eating the collards. And now the collards-chickpea mixture is their favorite part, so much so that I double it.

Another thing about eating at our house lately is that I prepare dinner very, very early. The girls are usually done with track practice by 4:45 or 5 pm, and they’ll often have another sports practice or other obligation later in the evening. So I try to have food ready when it’s time to pick them up. They’re definitely going to arrive home from track starving, so I’d rather have dinner available than have them roving through the pantry like Snack Marauders.

So! Yesterday, I had my monthly meeting for WGGS, at which I planned to stay until one of the girls called me for a ride home from track, and then J and I had another evening function. So I was rushing to get in as much dinner prep as possible before heading to my meeting. I made excellent progress, basically finishing the gnocchi-chickpea mixture before it was time to jet off to the meeting in the Stockade, about a ten-minute drive from home.

I had probably been at the meeting for 45 minutes before I had a sudden flash: did I turn the stove burner off? Probably. I mean, I always do, right? But I couldn’t remember doing it. It worried me. Now, I’m supposed to be taking notes during this meeting, but I decide to text the couple who live next door. They responded, but they weren’t home to check. I fretted a little bit. Was I being paranoid? I texted the neighbors next door on the other side. No response. At this point I was anxiously awaiting potential texts from the neighbors or texts or calls from the girls looking for a ride home, and so of course when the phone rang I answered it right in the middle of the meeting, and it turned out to be a complete stranger from whom I’d been expecting a call but with whom I had no desire to speak at that exact moment. I hastily got off the phone and decided it was time to bug out of the meeting and drive home, just in case.

At this point I was feeling a little panicky, and I drove slightly too fast saying “Pleasedon’tlettheburnerbeonpleasedon’tlettheburnerbeonpleasedon’tlettheburnerbeon” out loud for almost the entire trip, except for when J called to request a pick-up at the high school, at which point I acted like everything was totally chill and sure, honey, of course, I’m on my way. Just like always. Your mom who’s got it together. That’s me. Everything is awesome.

I drove up our street and gave myself a pep talk. There were no emergency vehicles, no visible flames. Everything was going to be fine.

Still, I was worried enough that I left the car running, door flung open, in the driveway when I got to the house. Really, I was hoping that I would run into the kitchen to see the burner was off and the yummy dinner was cooked to perfection just from being left to steam a bit on the cooling burner while I’d been away. And then I’d run back out to grab the girls at school and unleash them on their dinner, just like usual.

But that is not what happened.

The entire house was filled with smoke, and the two smoke detectors were beeping loudly and incessantly. It was smoky enough that I was coughing and my throat hurt. I ran to the stove and yanked the pan off and turned the burner off, then headed to the smoke detectors because it was difficult to think with all the noise. We’d recently changed our smoke detectors, and the new ones didn’t work quite the same way. I used to be able to tug out the battery compartment to shut off the noise, but these don’t have separate compartments. I basically ripped one detector apart in my quest to locate the non-existent removeable batteries. I was able to quiet the sound for a minute, but since there was literally no place in the house that wasn’t smoky, it just started up again.

Meanwhile I was worried about our kitties and clearing the house of smoke in general, so I gave up and just started opening tons of windows. Except since we took the kitchen window screens out while we were repainting and I didn’t want the indoor cats jumping outside, I couldn’t open those windows yet. Instead, I ran around to all the other windows in the house. At this point, one of my next door neighbors showed up. She hadn’t seen my text, but her husband had, and he’d called her to check it out. Which is actually hilarious because at that point I’d think she’d be hard-pressed not to notice that our house was in crisis mode, with tons of loud beeps and billowing smoke flowing out the windows. But it took his phone call, and I’m so glad he called her. I was still in a panic and running around without a calm action plan in mind. She made all sorts of clever, sensible choices like bringing the smoke detectors and the offending pan outside the house. Then she offered to keep opening windows while I ran to fetch the girls, since they were expecting me. Actually, she offered to pick up the girls for me, but I rejected that plan because if a neighbor picked them up and said I was home coping with a small fire situation, they’d be likely to freak out.

Anyway, here’s the pan.

Y’all, it’s like full-on ash from a campfire in that pan. This is a super high-quality KitchenAid stainless steel pan that is almost too heavy sometimes, but it’s managed to survive this traumatic event, which is amazing. I feel like it was excellent luck that I was using such a good, extra-big pan, and that I had covered the food with a lid, which probably helped things from getting even more out of hand.

But as you can see, dinner did not survive. This was a huge bummer because the girls were excited for the meal, and J and I had to do a quick turn-around to get ourselves presentable and out the door for her next thing within the hour, which meant a shower, dress-up, and new hair for her and an outfit that smelled marginally less like charcoal briquets for me. I ran to Subway for sandwiches for the girls, but skipped it for myself. Almost destroying your home and pets can mess with your appetite.

Today, I picked the girls up after track practice and they were deeply disappointed to learn that I hadn’t prepared the chickpea and collards meal for dinner tonight. They’d also each had friends turn to them in class and ask, “Do you smell smoke?”

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