So. Where I live, it snowed today. A lot. In fact, it is still snowing as I write this. The roads were terrible, and half of our buses were forty-five minutes late. My 20 minute commute was a cool 50. We really shouldn’t have been in school today. (After all, is this not why we have snow days–to date unused–BUILT INTO our schedule?) But we did. And I was pretty crabby about it.
But about half way through the day, when it became apparent that this was, in fact, the snow storm predicted and not some silly, little flurries to tease us in mid-March, my principal sent an email to the staff that said, effectively, “The roads are garbage. As soon as the kids are gone, get out of here.”
I listened. I packed up my stuff before I went out to bus duty. I cancelled my voice lesson for tonight on my way out the door. I drove myself home. Fortunately, I drove home between gusting snow showers, and made it home in decent time. I dug myself a spot to park in the building parking lot, parked and headed in. Ready to snuggle in for the night.
It was only 4:11.
Being home by 4:11 is unheard of in my weekly grind. I have other commitments that keep me away from home. I stay late and get stuff done at work. I go to the grocery store and run errands. I go out to dinner with friends. I don’t roll into my apartment for the night until after six.
And if I do, my time is allotted. I have forty-five minutes between commitments and I have to get these six things done. But tonight, I got home, and I had four and a half unaccounted hours at my disposal. FOUR AND A HALF HOURS! That’s like half a day of work! And, because I’d come straight home, I still had energy to do more than throw myself on the sofa.
I had legitimate free time, and not “free time” in the not-at-work-sense, but FREE time–time that was not committed to any activity in my mind. Outside of Saturday morning, this is an extremely rare occurrence in my life. I tend to allocate time in my head, even my free time. Things like, “I really need to clean the bathroom,” or “Oh, I can run to the bank then,” tend to crowd my existence. But not tonight. The roads weren’t bad, but there was no guarantee how long that would last. I couldn’t go anywhere but home. I had time. FREE time!
Well, what like any self-respecting Midwesterner presented with a snowstorm, naturally I had to make chili. But unlike my usual, get-this-done-because-I’ve-only-got-an-hour weeknight speed cooking, tonight, I had FREE time. I cranked up my Partridge Family Pandora station (it’s been my jam, lately), and started cooking. With FREE time, cooking in my kitchen becomes a major production. I use my stirring spoon as a microphone, and the big kitchen window is my audience. (My neighbors always keep their blinds down. But if they ever open them, they’re going to see a crazy girl singing with great conviction to their backyard.) I also dance around like I can actually dance.
To be clear, I am a terrible dancer. I am self-aware enough to know that, while I am good at a great many things, dancing is not among them…but this doesn’t stop me. In my kitchen, I have no one who can tell me I can’t. (Willful self-delusion is a powerful thing…) Believe me, in my head, I am awesome. I can bust a serious move. (Reality is different, but there are no witnesses…and if a tree falls in a wood and no one hears it, does it really fall?)
As I write this, my candles are lighted, the chili is simmering on the stove and that warm, savory spiced aroma drifts past me. I have a glass of red beside the computer. King Harvest is rocking “Dancing in the Moonlight.” The snow is blowing around outside while my radiators wheeze like tea kettles. It’s a good moment to pause and savor. This is what winter is all about. This is what it is to have FREE time.
If you’d like to try out the rocking vegetarian chili (don’t worry–there’s no tofu here!), you can check it out here or check under the “Recipes” tab.