A Case for Kitchen Walls (My Rally Cry Against Open Concept)

The kitchen is the heart of the home.  –author unknown

When I was a kid I remember telling my Mom all about my dream house.  I mean, if Barbie could have a dream house…surely I could, too.  In my simplistic, imaginary abode there would be few rooms (less to clean,) one room completely without furniture (reserved exclusively for me,) and absolutely NO KITCHEN.  “How will you eat?” she asked, “Where will you prepare your food?”  Okay, Mom, I didn’t have it all worked out.  I always thought food was overrated anyway, but in a pinch I figured a microwave and a mini refrigerator would bail me out.  Eventually, I developed a love for baking and thus a kitchen became a necessary evil in my small mind, but it still didn’t make me an overall fan of the kitchen.  In fact at that point, I started championing the idea of paper everything.  Paper plates, paper cups, disposable silverware, etc.  I even spoke of inventing paper pots and pans (I was a tween at this point and HATED doing the dishes!)  Finally, as a young adult preparing my own meals in a “one-butt” kitchen, I gave up on the idea of the “kitchen-free” home.

Fast forward many years (and many kitchens later,) and I practically double over laughing at myself for these crazy anti-kitchen ideas.  Especially now that I claim the kitchen as my favorite room in the whole house.  No, it’s not because I somehow became a master chef (we all know that didn’t happen.)  The reality is that no one in my home seems to really enjoy being in the kitchen. For our family, the kitchen is for doing homework afterschool and grabbing the occasional meal together.  This means that I basically have this room all to myself, ALL THE TIME.  As an introvert…this qualifies as my own little inner sactum.  And I like it that way.  So when everybody on HGTV demands open concept, I’m the one screaming at the television, “DON’T DO IT!”  Keep your walls, people.  Whatever you do, keep your walls!!!

Obviously, no one is listening to me.  Kitchen remodels are underway as we speak and the people are clamoring for the open concept.  Apparently, we’re all hosting large dinner parties and get-togethers thus making the need for a life without walls mandatory.  I believe the folks on HGTV call this ideal for “entertaining” and everyone on the planet is doing this but me!  Look, I’ve had the open concept kitchen before.  It meant that I was subject to watch/listen to whatever the person in the “family” part of the room had on the television.  It meant no private phone calls.  It meant constant interruptions.  If I wanted to take in a little talk radio or music (as I am prone to do,) I had to do so via ear buds which meant I couldn’t hear my kiddos (this is imperative as everyone knows that the best time to act up is when mom is out of earshot.)  The open concept was also problematic whenever company decided to drop by unexpectedly (as is apt to happen in a parsonage.)  Oh yes…on HGTV the kitchen portion of the open concept is always spotless.  In real life, however, the kitchen is a constant work in progress.  I don’t know about you, but a pile of dishes in the background quickly negates any inclination toward hospitality.  I just remember feeling so self-conscious.  I know, real friends don’t judge…but come on, it’s a little weird to have your breakfast leftovers hanging out for all to see.  Then there’s the smell.  Okay, we all burn the bacon every once in a while, but sitting down on your couch and catching a whiff of it in the fabric of your decorative pillows hours later is just not worth it.  And since I’m laying out my case, have you ever noticed that food travels just a little easier in the open concept home?  Toddlers suddenly believe that mac and cheese is good at the kitchen table, but even better on the living room floor.  Uuugggghhhh.

kitchenI could go on and on about the pitfalls of the open concept, but what really inspires me are all the perks of having a “real” kitchen (complete with WALLS.)  This is my space.  I control the lighting, the radio, and the level of activity in this room.  I can quickly whip something up for dinner or I can methodically (and slowly) try out a new recipe with the level of concentration a less-than-great cook requires.  I can spread out without the risk of someone “observing” and judging the madness.  I can multi-task and take my time cleaning up (or better yet, I can just walk away.)  Like a dictator, I can make sure food doesn’t wander out of this space.  While kitchen smells always migrate, I am less likely to catch a whiff of “Taco Tuesday” in the couch cushions on Wednesday morning.  Still, my all time favorite argument in defense of kitchen walls is that I can dance.  A lot.  I can blast New Kids on the Block, George Strait, or my non-stop Christmas music and jitterbug, two-step and let loose to my heart’s delight.  It’s at times like these that walls make all the difference.

I’m no interior designer (and no one is asking,) but I have a feeling that the open concept is here to stay.  As much as I love HGTV, I am fully aware of the more/bigger/better/different agenda that permeates our culture and homes.  Still, I will not be deterred.  Say it loud, say it proud…I AM ALL FOR WALLS…because if cooking is good for the soul, then the sanctity of the kitchen must be a personal heaven.

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence.  (Lamentations 3:28)

 

 

 

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Dear Daughter…Marry a Chef (You’ll Thank Me Later)

Eating is a necessity but cooking is an art. —Unknown

When I was a kid, I would tell my mother that I wanted to live in a house without a kitchen.  Actually, if I remember correctly, we had several conversations about it.  I’m fairly certain that I’ve even brought up the subject with a couple of past boyfriends (just to let them know what they were in for—yes, I’m a courteous girl :).)  And my poor husband, he knows all too well how much I LOATHE the kitchen.  Turns out that it’s not really the kitchen that I have a problem with…I mean I always planned to have a microwave and a refrigerator (I’m not stupid.)  What I really hate is the COOKING that takes place in the kitchen!

Kiss the Cook :)

Kiss the Cook 🙂

Maybe my dislike for cooking comes from possessing a very plain and boring palate.  For example…I’m pretty much a beans and rice girl.  When we go out for dinner I typically choose one of three entrees:  cheeseburger, pizza or chicken, and I’m not really into sweets.  There isn’t an adventurous bone in my body when it comes to trying new foods (asparagus anyone?)  And I’m actually very okay with this.  I view eating in the same manner that I see the need for sleep–a mere necessity and nothing more.  I have a hard time relating to a lot of my foodie friends who rave about their latest food find and go on and on about “pairing” this delectable tidbit with that scrumptious delicacy (am I even using those words right?)  I really just don’t get it.

In my own defense, I WANTED to get it.  I wanted to be a so called “expert” in the kitchen.  While I make a mean sandwich, there actually was a time when I secretly aspired to be whiz in the kitchen.  I own a lot of cookbooks, including the elusive Joy of Cooking CD-ROM (lol) and at one point I was absolutely addicted to the Food Network.  Like many stay-at-home moms, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, and Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) were not only my idols, but also my best friends.  As soon as it was acceptable for me to turn off Nickelodeon (11am or so) I would quickly click the channel to see what my “friends” were whipping up for lunch and dinner.  Never has anyone been more into “homemade” and “from scratch” as yours truly.  I was rolling out dough, making my own stock, and a regular in the fresh herb section at our local supermarket.  I’m not sure if I crossed the line into “cooking obsessed,” but I’m pretty sure I was right on the edge.  When my three year old daughter started to request tuning into Rachael Ray instead of Dora the Explorer I finally woke up.

To be honest, I was spending a lot of time, energy and money on a hobby that I hated.  Not only did I not enjoy cooking, but truth be told, I was NOT very good at it.  In hindsight, I realize that I was fighting a losing battle.  Don’t get me wrong…I have the utmost respect for foodies and chefs alike.  It just turns out that it’s not my thing.  Slowly, I stopped turning in to the Food Network and filling my time with other things.  I began adhering more to the Sandra Lee method of food prep—“Seventy percent store-bought, ready-made plus 30 percent fresh allows you to take 100 percent of the credit.” Her kitchen motto was all that was left of my so called “love of cooking.”

Needless to say, my family didn’t starve to death.  Not once has any one ever said, “Oh, Anna, how I wish you could go back to making (fill in the blank.)”  While there are few remaining recipes that I rely on all these years later, I don’t really sweat it…especially since my children inherited my same plain and boring palate.  We primarily live on the basics:  a variety of chicken dinners, tacos, spaghetti, LOTS of sandwiches and whatever my husband can grill.  It’s not exciting, but it fills a hole.  What used to make me feel like a failure as a wife and mother, now has crossed over into the realm of acceptance.  I no longer want to be a good cook.  If I could, I honestly would quit cooking altogether and live on cereal. Unfortunately, that is not an option.  Sigh.

So here it is…I am over the mom pressure from the foodie crowd (I couldn’t grow or can anything to save my life.) I will be the first one to shout from the rooftops that being a successful wife, mother, & homemaker doesn’t mean that you are required to be a culinary genius, too.  Just because you stay home with your kids does not mean your worth and value is tied up in what’s for dinner.  Serving chicken nuggets does not make you less of a woman.  I wish someone had told me all of this years ago.  Today, the only chef I pay attention to on the Food Network is Guy Fieri…and that’s because I like to drool over the food (mostly cheeseburgers and barbeque) he samples on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”  Mmmmm….

I completely understand that no “knight-in-shining-apron” is going to come to my kitchen rescue anytime soon.  Research shows that even in today’s modern society, woman are responsible for nearly 80% of household food prep.  And while a growing number of men are becoming more and more comfortable in the family kitchen, I realize that meals will continue to fall into the woman/wife/mom category for the foreseeable future.  And that’s okay because I’ve already been coaching my daughter to marry a chef.  Problem solved.  (You’re welcome.)

Today’s menu has two choices:  TAKE IT or LEAVE IT!

My World According to George Strait

I’m usually in the mood right after dinner.  Something about a full belly, a mountain of dishes, left overs sealed in GladWare, and disinfecting the counter tops seems to put me in a George Strait state of mind.  There’s nothing like classic George when you feel like singing at the top of your lungs while your heart breaks into a thousand pieces as you simultaneously two-step with a broom…the occasional teardrop running down your cheek.  Good times 🙂

imaginary george fan photo

My imaginary fan meet up with George Strait. Hope Martina doesn’t mind that I inserted my face over hers in this photo!

I don’t think anyone would classify me as a country music fan…although there were a few years in the mid-nineties where I “walked the line.”  Okay, I’ll confess—I had a hat at the time, but it was just for the Little Texas concert at the county fair!  My get-up was technically faux cowgirl…you know, trendy “booties” instead of real ropers, but I never went as far as having a belt buckle or Wrangler jeans.  I did have a few radio presets dedicated to the local country music station at age 18, but all of it faded away just as quickly as it set in.  Yet somehow, I managed to fall (and stay) in love with George Strait.  And back in the day, I would have donned all that western wear, moved to Texas and developed a real southern drawl just for him.  I mean, if I was ever going to go for a cowboy…it would have had to have been him—because if you’re gonna love a cowboy, why not love one who can sing?

While clearing the kitchen table and belting out a little George, the thought occurred to me—almost every song reminds me of a place in time.  Memories, days gone by, people who I know and have known.  It appears that several of his tunes have served as the soundtrack to many different seasons in my life.  Crushes, first love, long drives, adventure, good times and bad.  Right or Wrong, Fool Hearted Memory, A Fire I Can’t Put Out…seem to speak to times of young love and the intense feelings that often come with those first break ups and let downs.  It was like George was the only one in the world who knew exactly how I felt!  Then there were catchy tunes like The Fireman that remind me of KU and driving home with my roommate Sara in her hot, little red car.  You Can’t Make a Heart Love Somebody, Easy Come, Easy Go, and Write This Down mark times where I learned important lessons about moving on and trusting God’s plan in both life and relationships.  Twangy feel good music like Am I Blue always make me want to dance the day away.  And two of my favorites–The Chair and All My Ex’s Live in Texas remind me of my parents–especially my dad’s band and concerts in the park downtown on summer evenings.

Unlike my other music phases, my George fanaticism began at a young age.  I remember hearing George in the background while I learned to sew at my Grandma’s house.  His songs seemed to play non-stop the first time I visited the great state of Texas (not to mention every time that I’ve ever stepped foot there.)  George rode shot-gun with my best friend, Amy and I on our great Tulia, TX adventure in college.  Later, his music again played on the radio appropriately setting the stage for a trip to Nashville.  And it was George who traveled with me when I moved from Kansas to California.  He was my cowboy companion as I cruised the interstate…thank goodness for a cassette player with auto-reverse!  I laughed out loud while listening to Ocean Front Property in Arizona…scoping the horizon for his imaginary piece of real estate as I neared Phoenix.  One song after another served as the backdrop to beautiful countryside and endless highway.  And it was Heartland that later satisfied my soul when I found myself homesick for family and friends back in the Midwest.  Other songs like Carrying Your Love with Me and I Cross My Heart remind me of true love, family values, and faith in God.

I know I’m not the only one with memories like these.  And it’s been equally as fun to introduce my children to George’s music.  His CD 50 Number Ones was on our vacation playlist as we traveled through Denver, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Lake Tahoe and finally into the San Francisco Bay area a few summers ago.  They claim not to like him…but one glance in the rear view mirror and it’s hard not to notice them singing along.  Just tonight my son belted out three songs in a row as he wandered into the kitchen asking aloud, “How do I know every single word?”  My daughter rolls her eyes when I bust out a little George in the car on the way home from basketball games.  Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday George Strait makes his way onto their playlists.  I imagine them sheepishly trying explain to their friends that these songs remind them of their mom and childhood!  Better yet, I’d love to hear their take on the little ditty I call my “ultimate George Strait life song”—Ace in the Hole.  They frequently give me the oddest looks when I tell them that there’s a life lesson in that song that will serve them well…if they just pay attention.  Sure, Mom…sure.

While my radio presets today run the gamut from News Talk and Christian contemporary to Pop and Top 40, modern technology makes it easy enough to find George when and wherever the mood strikes.  I don’t have any crazy aspirations of ever meeting George Strait.  In fact, it’s probably better this way.  I’ve been lucky enough to see him in concert twice and I’m good with that.  As for me, our occasional kitchen-after-dinner meet-ups will continue to suffice, especially since they’ve been going on for years.  Besides…who would two-step with the broom if George and I  didn’t have these now and again country rendezvous?

Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.  —Plato