April 14, 2009

Eat Your To-Do List

My Summer To-Do List

When I started my first teaching job after finishing my undergraduate degree, I had the pleasure of working side-by-side with a master To-Do lister. Steve, a teacher of 20 years, was the real deal when it came to managing life via Post-It notes. He came to work each day with not just one To-Do list, but with a whole collection of To-Do lists. These small pieces of paper would be neatly folded and stuffed into his back pocket for safe-keeping.

Steve's lists seemed to break from chronological time and enter the cosmological, the eternal. How could one person complete that many tasks per day? The challenge seemed impossible to my lazy, 22-year-old self. No one could conquer that many errands and events and activities in one day without somehow stopping the flow of time--or leaving the temporal plane altogether. No one, that is, except for Steve, armed with his list-making pencil.

Steve's To-Do lists ranged from the short-term (hourly, daily), to the long-term (weekly, monthly, etc.) Throughout the day errands would be marked off with the authoritative line of a pencil, and, without hesitation, new errands and events would be included.

Without a doubt, Steve got things done. And I didn't. Go figure.

Steve's organizational methods seemed somewhat appealing to me, but at the ripe and hippied age of 22, I hesitated to manage my own life in such a manner. I shuddered to think of what these Post-It notes would do to my image. (Is not washing your hair and wearing hole-in-the-knee jeans an image? Maybe. Is it one that should be upheld in the workplace? Probably not, but the 22-year-old version of me paid no mind to values like "professionalism in the workplace." Instead, she lived by this value: "Why the hell not?!")

The 22-year-old me also thought the President was part-lizard, part-alien. As you can see, she was clearly not ready for To-Do lists.

Steve and I worked at a small charter high school south of Tucson. I was an assistant teacher, and Steve was the lead instructor. Aside from occasional visits from case managers and other school administrators, Steve and I were pretty much alone. Well, except for our students--our creative, rambunctious, and, at times, angsty students.

I guess you could say that all 30 of us were alone...in a together sort of way. I mean, this wasn't your traditional busting-at-the-seams high school with cheerleaders and cafeterias and Save the Saguaro clubs and locker-sniffing police dogs. No, this school was small. Very, very small. In fact, the entire school occupied one room (yes, just one room) in a three-room adobe building in the middle of the Sonora Desert.

Yes, the 30 of us were very alone together. And when the occasional dust storm would roll through and turn our entire universe red, we felt like we might be the only people alive in the world. Alive and alone, together.

As a result of this shared isolation, none of us could keep many secrets. We all knew who Margarita was dating. Victor's efforts to win back an old girlfriend went unnoticed by few. And if Veronica was tired of doing work, not a soul was left unawares...mostly because she would sigh, dramatically close her book, then yell, "Uh, I'm tired of doing work!" Nope, nothing in our one-room school remained a secret for long.

As much as I loved these cozy quarters, our own batch of problems arose from time to time. Aside from the normal issues one would expect from enclosing a large group of teenagers in a small room for hours on end, some of the problems--or, I guess you could say my problems--were To-Do list related. Try as I might to ignore Steve's perfect Post-Its, there were days when I just couldn't. The minute I turned away from one pink and perfect list, my eyes would fall upon an even pinker and more perfect list. I felt like "the other child"--the one who is forced to stare for eternity at the "much better child's" Nobel Peace Prize trophy sitting proudly on the mantle of a one-room cabin. Day in day out, she (your humble, disheveled, and hippied "other child") must sit and confront that symbol of "betterness," unable to escape its glare.

One night I decided to take matters into my own hands. If Steve could organize his life with a few strokes of a pencil, then maybe I could, too. So, I went home, and I created my own To-Do list. And I failed at it. Horribly. As much as I want to share with you here some of the goals I listed on that piece of paper, I realize now that I had better not. That list is embarrassing. I have an image to uphold, after all. (Even though I fear it's the same unwashed, hole-in-the-jeans image I struggled to uphold at the age of 22. With a few hints of wrinkles. And cowboy boots instead of soiled tennis shoes. Otherwise, same old pseudo-hippie!)

That first To-Do list was hard. I couldn't come up with any specific and practical tasks in need of completion, so I resorted to the abstract. In other words, my To-Do list became a sort of personal manifesto, wrought with new agey statements like "live free, love free!" and "carry your roots with you!" The page was littered with enthusiasm (as evidenced by the army of exclamation marks), and I'm sure the word "transcendental" probably made a few appearances.

Oh, to be 22 again. No, I wasn't yet ready for To-Do lists at that age. Give a freshly educated 22-year-old the task of developing a To-Do list, and he/she will inevitably turn it into a manifesto. Especially if that 22-year-old graduated with a degree in English.

Surprisingly, though, I now find To-Do lists a little more appealing. In fact, now that I'm a proud card-carrying member of the late-20s demographic, To-Do listing seem pretty necessary. A To-Do list represents logic and structure, a 22-year-old's two worst enemies. But at 28, logic (in small doses) becomes a somewhat cozy idea. It's sort of like a calculator on tax day: you don't really want to use it, but if it wasn't there to support your crappy math skills, you would be left to do battle with the government all alone. In this light, logic is a both a friend and a radical. Logic is a comrade. (Man, I'm getting old!)

Since things are a little chaotic around these parts at the moment--tax preparation, grading, nail-biting, etc.--I thought I'd try my hand at a little Summer To-Do Listing. With Summer Break just 4 weeks away, I find myself full of hope: hope for warmth, relaxation, mimosas, and mangoes. And, when you really think about it, what is a To-Do list but a documentation of our day-t0-day hope? Even if what appears on that list seems a burden at first, we can look forward to the satisfaction of its completion. Once we finish doing the laundry or dying our mustaches--or whatever might appear on our lists--we achieve the freedom to move onto the lists that matter. My lists below fit into this latter category: what to do when the To-Do list has been eradicated!

To do this summer:
1. Buy a silk robe
2. Buy slippers made of feathers
3. Wear silk robe and feather slippers
4. Find a palm tree
5. Drink mimosas under said palm tree while wearing said robe and slippers
6. Uh, what else do you want from me? The list ended at #5, dude.

Hmmm. Okay, here are some more lists...only because you insisted. (Didn't you? Hello?) Let's move on to some food-related To-Do lists. Yay!

To prepare:
1. Lots of stuff with fresh, Carolina-grown berries. Like these:
And these: 2. Green corn tamales
3. Black cherry jelly [check! I completed this while compiling my list. Man, Steve would be proud! I'll be blogging about this yummy concoction soon.]
4. Juices and licuados infused with chiles
5. Cherry corn scones (using Sweet Amandine's recipe)
6. Jewelry tarts (using Hadley Gets Crafty's recipe)
7. Millions of batches of sorbets infused with the likes of thyme, basil, lavender, etc.
8. Red wine (using my brother's awesome wine-making apparatus)
9. Homemade pizza
10. Pickled hot peppers
11. Mole sauce (if I can get my hands on the 7,000 ingredients)
12. As many purple foods as I can handle!
13. Muscadine grape jam
15. Many raw goodies inspired by Bridget at Perpetually Creating

To read:
David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris (which comes out in May!):
2. Finish Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life

To do with friends and family:
1. Cook with Emily, Jack and Hazel before they move to the Old World
2. Bake some mystical bread with Jaime in the New World
3. Feast on some vegan goodness with Estacia in the West
4. Help my brother start up his own bee colony...for the love of honey!!! And beekeeper suits!

Misc. food to-do stuff:
1. Blog, blog, blog away! I hope to catch up on some old posts and develop some new beauties. If you're interested in writing a guest post (please? pretty please?), email me your ideas at themoodykitchen@hotmail.com
2. Take more blurry pictures of grapefruit, like this one:
To waste:
1. Nothing. Not an ounce of this summer shall be wasted.

What are you including in your own culinary To-Do list for the summer? What 3 recipes or experiments do you wish to conquer in these sunniest of months?


Hadley Gets Crafty said...

Man, there was a time when it seemed like everyone in Arizona thought Bushy-poo and even Ms. Clinton were reptilian shapeshifters. I am so glad to have lived in a place where such an attitude was totally acceptable. I, myself, didn't go through that phase. I went through the "organize a giant protest/wear only black/pierce your nose/get tattoos" phase.

I'm so honored to be on the to-do list! Let me know how your tart turns out. Also, my friend Yasmin has started a magazine, and might be looking for crafts, essays, and/or recipes. If you're interested, head over here: http://www.parasolmag.com/


Jada Ach said...

Yeah, I think Jack and Jay were responsible for spreading the reptilian theory. Which makes me wonder...how was it that THEY became privy to this information?! Hmmm...

Hadley Gets Crafty said...

There was a book long before there was Jack and Jay. The folks I knew who truly believed this strange theory encountered it in one of this guy's books: http://www.davidicke.com/index.php/


Of course, It's entirely possible that Jack and Jay were super secret government spies...

Jess said...

"Alive and alone, together." Thank you for that, for putting it down on the page.

I must admit - I'm kind of a list maker extraordinaire, though it sounds like your co-teacher would put me to shame. My lists would be well-served by some of your spirited, exclamatory to-dos! I should give the "personal manifesto" style of list making a try.

And yes, yes! Make those yummy scones! How fun to see them up there on your to do list. Thank you!