Sunday, May 3 2020

a broken oven, a grilled pizza, and worms in the yard

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Dear Journal,

Good morning everyone! Hope you're enjoying this beautiful Sunday morning. Marissa is particularly excited, because as far as we know, she just began her last full day of being pregnant. That means this is the last full day where her wardrobe is limited to a single pair of pants paired with one of my old tech conference t shirts (shout out to Big Panda for unintentionally making the most cruel and ironic maternity shirt of all time). That means there's only one full more day where she needs to scooch all of the chilly, delicious beer in the fridge aside to get to her mundane supply of bottled water and La Croix. There's only one more full day where she has to put up with my dumb joke where I hold my hand under her protruding stomach and say "How many fingers am I holding up?" If this were a marathon, I imagine the finish line would be coming into view right about now, and I would be feeling excited too.

Sadly, the last few days of being pregnant may have been harder than the whole thing put together. Rodney and I woke up to Marissa on the couch, wearily recounting her night of tossing in bed, puking, and back aches - all the while doing very little sleeping. So Rodney and I gave her the morning off, and after unwrapping a few cereal bars, we headed outside to play.

Rodney and I spent the morning bouncing between sports. First we'd throw the baseball to each other, then we'd kick the soccer ball around, and then we'd shoot some hoops with a basketball. All the while, Rodney insisted we run over to the plastic steering wheel mounted to the side of his playhouse and, in between each rotation, give the wheel a spin.

"SPIN THAT WHEEL!" he commanded.

"Oh I get it," I said. "We're spinning the wheel to select a new sport - just like Dude Perfect does in their combo sports battles." Rodney nodded, as if to say yeah, you finally caught on.

I also introduced Rodney to the wonder of lobbing balls up to the roof of our shed and letting them roll back down, which to him opened up hundreds of possibilities for new and exciting trick shots - as well as more opportunities to lose his ball over the side of the fence.

Rodney and I headed inside to make lunch, where after a quick visit to the stove, we transformed a meager set of Chinese food leftovers into an exciting bowl of fried rice. We added sliced breaded chicken, a few scoops of kimchi, a squirt of gochujaang, and several glugs of delicious, sweet soy sauce - oh, and of course, we tossed in a handful of decadent shredded Wisconsin cheddar. Together, we munched on our fried rice on the back porch, silently studying the yard to plan more stunts.

After playing outside for another few hours, I sent Rodney up to his room for some quiet time. By then, Marissa had emerged from her mid-morning make-up sleep and joined me in the kitchen while I started on the evening's pizza. I mixed a batch of dough, diced an onion, and blended a can of tomatoes for the sauce.

"I love when I have lots of time to make this pizza," I said. "I think this is going to be the best sfincione we've ever made. I've got homemade bread crumbs this time, and I decided to use up a can of our San Marzanos."

Marissa closed her eyes and imagined a hot pizza coming out of the oven. "I'm excited," she said. "I haven't really eaten anything all day, and I'm starting to get hungry."

Rodney came out of his room, and the three of us played in the yard for a while. An hour before dinner, I sprang out of my chair to pre-heat the oven and assemble the pizza. I poured out the dough onto a sheet pan, ladled on the sauce, sprinkled the ensemble with a ripped up ball of fresh mozzarella, and finally spooned over the delicious pecorino and bread crumb topping. The pizza was ready for the oven.

I spun around to open the oven door, and to my surprise, it was still pre-heating. I cracked open the door and felt inside - drafty, ice cold. I clicked the oven off and on again. Still no luck. My heart sank, realizing something was broken.

"Hey honey? I need your help, I think something is up with our oven," I yelled into the yard. Marissa joined me in the kitchen to investigate. The two of us started googling.

"You should be able to get to the igniter by taking off the bottom panel," Marissa narrated. She handed me a screwdriver, and after a struggle, I managed to pry open the thin piece of metal and set it aside, exposing the long heating element. I reached up to hit the bake button. The igniter clicked, sending a thing blue flame up the heating element, then vanished.

I sat there for a minute, surrounded by screws and panels strewn on the kitchen floor, googling. "Now I'm on like hobbyists forums... 'get out your multimeter and check the consistency of the power draw'," I read. "Yeah that's not happening. Our oven is broken, we gotta call somebody."

"I'll make some phone calls," said Marissa with a sigh. "Do you want me to just order a pizza too?"

I looked longingly at the sfincione on the counter. It looked so beautiful, with it's bright orange sauce held up by pillowy dough and flecks of fresh cheese.

"No," I replied sternly. "I have an idea."

I pulled the cover off my grill, filled the chimney with charcoal, and lit the stack. I returned to the kitchen to put the pizza tray back in the fridge.

"You're going to try to grill it?" asked Marissa.

"Yeah, may as well try it. If it doesn't work, we'll just order something," I replied.

"We can try to cut it up, and use the pizza stone," suggested Marissa.

"Eh," I hemmed. "It's so mooshy before it's baked, it's basically a liquid. I think we would lose the pizza."

I finished assembling the grill, pouring the white charcoal into the base, finishing with a few chunks of wood along the sides. "Is this going to ruin our pan?" asked Marissa.

"It might," I laughed. "But my plan was just to use a shit ton of tinfoil underneath."

I lowered the pan onto the roaring flames and shut the lid. For the next twenty minutes, I did my best to take my mind off the last minute cooking experiment, chatting with Marissa at the table. She had taken out the box of Goldfish crackers to tide Rodney's hunger.

"I think it's time to check on the pizza," I said springing out of my chair. I held my breath and lifted the kettle lid, Marissa anxiously peering over my shoulder. The pizza was bubbling in oil, golden brown, and the cheese was melting. I poked the crust and quickly shut the lid.

"So that is looking really good," I said, exhaling in relief. "Ten more minutes and we eat."

I retrieved the pizza from the grill, scraping it out of the pan over the counter top. Aside from a few scorched pieces in the middle, it came out incredible. "It's a little smoky," said Marissa studying the first bite, "but in a good way. It just tastes a bit like the grill. Way to improvise with this."

"Thanks," I replied. "I'm bummed about our oven, especially because of this bread kick we've been on. But this helped - I think I needed this pizza to turn out."

After dinner, we put Rodney to bed, and Marissa and I returned to the porch to sit outside by the fire. I stoked the grill with some lighter fluid, and Marissa marched around the yard to find some sticks.

"Hey," called out in the yard with some hesitation. "Have you seen how many worms are out here?"

"What do you mean?" I replied.

"There's a lot of worms. Oh my gosh. There's a ton of worms. Come here, look at this." Marissa beckoned me over, and holding the pale light of her phone to the ground, the worms came into view. Dozens - hundreds of them scurrying around, slipping in and out of little plugs in the ground.

"Aren't worms... a good thing?" I asked rhetorically.

"But this many?" replied Marissa. "I'm so grossed out right now. Let's go google this."

I took out my phone and opened a browser tab. I chuckled. "But what do I even google?"

"Just try 'why do I have millions of worms in my yard?'" laughed Marissa.

Sitting around the fire, we did some reading. "So the good news is that they're almost never a problem," narrated Marissa. "But some yards have so many that they can kind of screw up the soil. Oh look, it says you can shock the soil - that sounds easy."

"What does that look like?" I asked.

Marissa silently read on. "Oh, OK that sounds pretty gross. It says they put a charge in the soil, and it makes all the worms crawl up at once, then you just scoop them up and throw them away." Marissa shuddered. "I can't stop thinking of them all crawling up at once!" She mimicked thousands of wriggling worms emerging from the ground, wagging her arms and fingers.

"Oh really?" I replied. "I was picturing more of like a playdough spaghetti maker kind of situation." I held my fingers upright, slowly pushing them through the imaginary earth.

"So I guess we just assume that it's a good thing for now," said Marissa. "Hey, that must mean we'll have an easy time growing grass back there."

Thanks for stopping by this morning. I hope you have a wonderful day.