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Chill Out
by Mary Whitsell

Just before Christmas last year, the refrigerator decided to take a vacation. Can’t say I blame it.

Things got out of hand when I went back to work in November. Instead of discarding the last inch of juice or milk, my husband and kids just put it back in the fridge. New items were bought and only partially consumed. Things soured, curdled and festered. Soon people were holding their noses every time the fridge door was opened, and its shelves were full to bursting: I counted three bottles of catsup, four jars each of preserved peppers and olives, five tubs of margarine – and I’ve lost track of the mayonnaise, but let’s just say that if a football team wanted a week’s worth of sandwiches, we’d have been good to go.

My old-fashioned ideas about using up what we’ve got don’t work in this household. New stuff is routinely purchased before the old is finished. Understandably more popular than the old, it is quickly opened and dipped into. New stuff quickly becomes sort-of-new stuff, and soon we have old, sort-of-old, and sort-of-new-but-dipped-into stuff – and you stand a better chance of finding Penicillin than you do of finding jam without bread crumbs in it.

When I stayed at home, I always used up leftovers. I grated the last desiccated hunk of cheese into a casserole. Put the three-day-old leftover mashed potatoes into the bread dough. Recycled the dubious ratatouille into a pasta sauce. They say the only things you don’t want to see being made are laws and sausages, but you should have watched me fix dinner when the refrigerator needing cleaning.

Just before Christmas, I realized that the stuff inside the fridge was warmer than the stuff outside. All the milk had turned to yoghurt. Juice cartons were obviously swollen, and everything stank to high heaven. In the freezer, melted chocolate ice cream (one of seven tubs, all approximately 1/8th full) mixed with defrosted mackerel juices. Pumpkin puree bled into thawed peas.

I felt like weeping, throwing out all my carefully labelled soups, casseroles, and home-grown fruit and vegetables. Months earlier I’d filled all those containers in a fit of energetic optimism, picturing myself home from work in my smart, new business clothes, ready to cook the items I’d thoughtfully managed to defrost that morning. It’s the story of my life: I try to make things easier on myself and all I end up doing is stockpiling one hell of a mess.

Somewhere the refrigerator’s frost-free soul is basking in tropical warmth, sipping pina coladas, laughing at the thought of all those festering jam jars and almost-empty milk cartons it no longer has to worry about.

I’m tempted to go join it.