Monday, December 8, 2008


Leftovers are a very personal thing, so I hesitate to mention them here except that they taught me a lesson recently. Everyone handles leftovers differently. There are those creative and courageous souls who, even while making dinner, are already thinking about what they can do with the leftovers the next day. I’d like to be clear, I am not one of those! Don’t get me wrong. I can’t stand to throw perfectly good food away, especially food I worked hard to prepare. Simply throwing uneaten food into the garbage isn’t an option.

My compromise is to spoon it into plastic food containers—if I can find the matching lids—and tuck it into the refrigerator. I do this to console myself (from guilt about starving children in China, I’m sure) because I know even while I’m storing the food that I will never, ever reheat it by choice. No matter how creative you get with it, it’s still reheated food. There are a few exceptions, of course. Chili, heavy winter soups, homemade spaghetti sauce fall into this category for me. But if given a choice, I don’t eat leftovers. Living in a snow belt in Michigan, leftovers in winter do tend to allay fear of being stranded for a day while snowed in. “In the worst of cases, we could always eat leftovers,” I think, which smacks of survival rather than real enjoyment.

These plastic food containers will stay stacked and sometimes labeled on the refrigerator shelves until they migrate their way all the way to the back, where they go through a mysterious process that turns them into what an old friend calls ‘meat cake’. Unidentifiable and smelly, the next step is feeding them to the garbage disposal. In the end, I’m still throwing away food, but at this stage it’s no longer good food so my conscience is soothed.

Although I know everyone won’t share my dismal view of leftovers, I think we can all agree that life would be a sad thing if they were all we had to eat and offer to others. I carry this metaphor to all areas of my life. How tragic to habitually live a life of leftovers. My lesson for my children here would be this: Never let what you do to earn a living leave you with nothing but leftovers to offer to the rest of your life (family, home responsibilities, hobbies, interests, community involvement, passions, dreams, friends…).

There are people who allow their jobs to so deplete them they adopt the attitude upon arriving home of, “I gave at the office.” Let’s face it; that’s no more attractive than ‘meat cake’, and surely smacks more of survival than life. We must do more than fill our present place to be truly happy, so I’ll call on Winston Churchill’s words to make my point: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” And that’s my prayer for you, Lindsey, Ethan and Corban. Give your best and be happy.

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