Zen and the Art of Oven Cleaning

photo: Erica Herd

I’ve been meaning to clean the stove for six years. We moved into the house seven years ago. Every time I’m about to clean the oven, it seems something comes up or I think of something more important to do. This afternoon I was filled with the spirit of the oven. I had to do it, no excuses. There were 2 cans of oven cleaner under the kitchen sink—CVS brand and a name brand. I asked my husband Lorin which to use and he said, “The one with the blue top.” That was the name brand. Opening the top revealed a nest of fuzzy crud that didn’t bode well, so I opted for the CVS brand cleaner. Cleaning an oven is not a task to be taken lightly. You have to abide by the rules:

  1. make sure the oven is cold
  2. do not spray cleaner near an open flame
  3. lay newspapers or paper towels on floor to catch the drippings
  4. wear “long” rubber gloves
  5. open the windows
  6. shake well and spray 8 to 10 inches from surface
  7. close the oven door and wait 2 hours
  8. after 2 hours, wipe with paper towels, a rag or sponge and lots of warm water

In addition to the rubber gloves, I wore an apron and covered my nose and mouth with a bandana. The “domestic outlaw” look is popular this year. It was also necessary to move the pet food dishes and water bowl into the dining room and keep the cats out of the kitchen. I waited the requisite 2 hours—enough time to watch the entirety of August, Osage County on cable—and began Phase 2: the wiping down. Buckets of water and a sponge and scads of paper towels later, this phase was complete. It was a very satisfying experience, seriously. The results were tangible. Before: caked on mess, grime, oven grease. After: smooth, clean surfaces, not sparkling, but noticeably improved. If only all of life could be so simple. Why did I wait so long to clean the oven? Were there really so many more important things to do, or I was simply being lazy? I love baking and enjoy cooking, so a clean oven is a source of pride.

Right now we don’t have the cash for home improvements, but that doesn’t mean simple, concrete tasks can’t be accomplished, tasks that improve our surroundings and how we feel about our environment and ourselves. I can’t control Congress, but I can control my kitchen. It all starts with an oven.


Zen Bus Driver

Ralph Kramden statue at rush hour (evening)

Ralph Kramden statue at rush hour (evening)  (photo by Erica Herd)

I took the early bus to work this morning, the 7:45 which arrives at 7:43. I wasn’t feeling great – have a pinched nerve in my neck, I think, but I hunkered down in my seat, and continued reading Gone Girl on my iPad. My seat mate wore a floral dress and crocheted black shawl and big dark glasses, her mop of dark bangs curtaining the lenses as she read a paperback. All in all, a serene and uneventful trip.

The New Jersey Transit bus drivers are a varying lot: some are gruff, some friendly, some unintelligible. Our Christian driver says over the intercom, “Enjoy the grace of God” and wishes us a “blessed day” as we depart. One driver acts as a tour guide, remarking on the forsythias on the side of the side of the turnpike and how they only bloom in spring. When she was our nighttime driver, she announced each stop (which not all the drivers do) in an erotic, bordering on pornographic purr: “Summit Avenue and Prospect, Summ-iiiit Aaav-e-nuuuue.” Commuters giggled and laughed out loud, but she didn’t seem to notice or care. She would give some of the male passengers a “ come hither” ogle as they departed. I haven’t seen her in a while, perhaps she retired.

Today the driver was silent until we reached our destination, Port Authority (aka “PA”). As we pulled in, he announced over the intercom, “Please remember to take all your belongings and have a peaceful and mindful day.”

Now that’s a first! What a refreshing change from the Big Brother announcements in PA and signs that say “If you see something, say something,” and the “TEXT AGAINST TERROR” campaign: “NJ TRANSIT Reminds Customers to Report Suspicious Activity at 1-888-TIPS-NJT.”

(photo credit: KnowAddiction.nj.gov)

There’s also a NJ marketing campaign to fight heroin abuse. Some buses tout the sign, “Your medicine cabinet could be the gateway to heroin.” More fear, another “war” against something. I’ve made it a personal crusade to fight against the Fear Campaigns. I’m not living in denial. I know there are terrible things going on in the world, but I’m tired of the Fear Bullying. I agree with the bus driver, let’s not have a “safe” day as they say on the MTA, but a “peaceful and mindful” one. We can be aware without allowing ourselves to be terrorized by another “war” or campaign.