Put to Good Use, Again


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The most important tool in the kitchen, I heard a TV chef say, is the spatula for scraping pots and bowls because we shouldn’t waste food.

It’s not often that we hear about frugal housekeeping from a celebrity. But chefs, I’ve learned, are all about reducing waste.

A lot of houses could benefit from the practices of a good commercial kitchen. Managing waste is the big one.

Our homes are large recycling bins, starting with the house itself, which is often a “reuse” from the previous owner. We buy it and reshape it, and, along with new stuff, fill it with heirlooms and hand-me-downs.

At my own house this month, a few lovingly worn household items will get a second life when they’re uprooted and sent packing to a loft in a former (recycled) Detroit warehouse where one of our family will “set up housekeeping,” as my grandmother liked to say.

The slipcovered Quatrine sofa, now into its second retirement, will be a frat-house style placeholder for more contemporary seating down the road. I like to think that its presence will infuse the new space with memories of the dog that napped on the cushions while her family settled in beside her, watching movies that graduated from Wallace & Gromit to Office Space.

As the sofa invites friends to come sit awhile in a foreign location, old conversations will mingle with new. Words, like furnishings, do circle back.

As a girl, when I heard my mother refer to “a month of Sundays,” I thought it meant a whole month of nothing but Sundays: everyone at home, no work, Sunday dinners, bacon-and-egg breakfasts, board games, and afternoon movies in black and white — all month, every day.

I still prefer that childhood interpretation to the true meaning: a long time.

All week long, the day of leisure glimmers, dreamlike on the horizon. Much of the anticipation involves just the thought of being home.

Houses perform a practical duty. They send us out into the world like mothers tending their school kids: squeaky clean (thanks to the bath), pressed and ironed (courtesy of the laundry room), breakfasted and caffeinated with packed lunch in hand (from the pantry and refrigerator), and welcomed home to supper (warmed by the kitchen range).

But as much as we rely on the pragmatic valet services they perform, homes offer an even more supportive role: comfort — a place where we can just be.

At a recent event at the Detroit Institute of Arts, standing in Rivera Court surrounded by murals of laborers, I asked a visitor from Los Angeles about his “carmageddon” experience. “It was great,” he said, “we all had to stay home”  — a rare day, one when time circled back on itself, which is never a waste.


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