Standing in line at the supermarket check stand, nobody can deny that we're on the dreary downside of a new year.
Tabloid headlines scream the weight-loss secrets of the stars, while traditional women's magazines sing siren songs of money-saving, belly-busting, speed-cleaning tips and techniques.
We ourselves? All those resolutions that looked so basic, so easy, so noble through the champagne haze of New Year's Eve have lost their rosy glow viewed in the stark light of a morning cup of coffee.
With the children back to school and holiday decorations back in their attic boxes, our resolve for a better, thinner, healthier and wealthier year has once more washed up against the hard and niggling realities of daily life.
Be of good cheer! There's a tried-and-true boost for just about anybody's New Year's resolutions. [I'm talking garden-variety resolutions here: weight loss, financial prudence, better home or personal organization. If you've vowed that this is the year you read the Russians, my hat's off to you but you're on your own!]
I'm talking about cleaning the refrigerator. Spearing the Great White Whale.
Think about it! The refrigerator holds it all: food and finance, weight and well-being, organization and chaos, all rolled into one big cold box. Dive into that baby with a detached eye, a hardened heart and one small hour of time and you're on the road to weight loss, better household management, and a healthier budget.
The timing couldn't be better, because I know what your refrigerator looks like! Plastic food storage containers pile in unsteady ziggurats in every corner--and why is it that the largest bowls and boxes hold the smallest amounts of food?
Open cans of olive juice have lost plastic wrap coverings to a succession of sneaking fingers. A yellow sticky puddle surrounds the triangular hole in the top of the can of evaporated milk. Crumbs and butter dot the face of the leftover cranberry sauce.
Greasy zipper storage bags hold what's left of the Christmas turkey: one lone drumstick and several dried and curling slices of overdone breast meat. Sliced remnants of margarine sticks hide in unlikely places, waiting to hurl themselves to the oblivion of the kitchen floor when the refrigerator door is opened.
Where to begin? There's a bit of an aesthetic to spearing the Great White Whale.
There's something to be said about waiting until the weight-loss advertising jingles displace the mental Muzak drone of holiday carols. This is not a job in which holiday sentiment is an asset. A spat with one's spouse or children will also fuel the harpoon, but same is not recommended in the interest of family harmony.
Think tough. Firm. Resolved. Then gather your tools: a large, lined garbage can, a sink-ful of soapy water, spray bottles of degreaser and window cleaner, lots of cleaning cloths and a pen and notepad. Clear the kitchen counters so you can sort and spread out with impunity, and an empty dishwasher should await your container collection.
Most important, before you begin, turn your refrigerator off--and unplug it, too, for good measure. We want the only shocks you receive to be from the code dates on some of your food!
Start at the top. Remove everything from the top refrigerator shelf. Holiday leftovers go directly into the garbage can. Show no pity or mercy! If it hasn't been eaten by now, it's because the family will scream if presented with ham in one more disguise. Open everything, and when it doubt, toss it out!
Plastic food storage containers are consigned to the dishwasher after a brief rinse. The shelf goes directly to the sink's soapy water. While it soaks off the grime of Christmas past, use your degreaser spray to clean the refrigerator's ceiling and walls down to the next shelf. Wash the shelf, dry and replace it--but don't put any food back, not yet!
Work your way from top to bottom, and you'll build up enough steam to tackle the vegetable crisper. Amazing, isn't it, how innocent little tomatoes and shy stalks of celery undergo such a malign transformation in the crisper!
Pull 'em out, pull 'em all out, and unless you bought the vegetable desperado in question within the last week, throw 'em out!
Don't forget the gooey residue puddled up under the meat drawer!
When every shelf, wall and crisper is sparkling, pay attention to the dreaded door shelves. Toss all the dribs and drabs of jelly, the salad dressings with code dates from the last decade, the stale carton of eggnog, and the teeny-weeny jars of "gourmet" this-and-that from the gift packs of Christmas Past. Be ruthless!
When the door is empty, look lively! Many newer door shelves are designed to come apart--a great help in cleaning year-old orange juice from those little nooks and crannies. One way or another, clean it out. Use window cleaner to kill the greasy fingerprints on the chrome and see-through plastic.
"But Cynthia!", I hear you cry, "what does cleaning the refrigerator have to do with New Year's resolutions?" Bear with me. We've now reached the part where we transcend our Hazel the Housemaid routine and think.
You are standing in your kitchen, face-to-face with a clean and empty refrigerator, a garbage can brimming with discarded food, a dishwasher full of plastic foodcontainers and the few hardy survivors of your harpooning session. What can be learned from all this?