Living the Life, One Chore at a Time

A friend once told me I’d make somebody a good wife someday. My mother taught all of her children how to cook and clean for themselves, and I happen to like a clean house (book and magazine clutter aside), so I take that as a compliment.

But in Belfast the concept of the house husband is coming to the fore, the result of circumstances. Marilynn is teaching two classes and working on her next book project, so she goes to her office five days a week. In America, she does most of the shopping and probably 60%-70% of the cooking. I cut the coupons, do the dishes, take care of the house and yard and cook/grill as directed.

With a car and grocery store flyers, Marilynn prepares a week’s menu based on what’s on sale that week, going to Publix for most items and filling in with purchases from Kroger and Aldi. Here, with no car and a tiny refrigerator, that paradigm is turned on its head.

Most days, we have no idea what we’re having for dinner. So off I go to Tesco, cloth grocery bags in hand, rain (mostly) or shine, to see either what’s been discounted or what looks good. More complex recipes often require ingredients we’ll not use through during our time here, so we try and keep it simple. But it requires grocery shopping nearly every day.

Good friends from England who recently spent a semester in Georgia complained about the high grocery prices compared with prices at home. And after several months in Belfast, I see where UK prices are better across the board. They don’t really do weekly flyers, but they do discount certain items for certain periods of time. But I already know that one of the kinds of yogurt I like will be on special whenever I shop, so one still can ferret out bargains.

Take the meal pictured at top, the same type of meal I’d prepare in the States, with steak, baked potatoes and broccoli. The price here, under $9 US. I’d pay that easy for just the steaks in America.

Shillings for the heat, lights

I remember watching British period dramas where the young single women or young families living in urban flats put shillings in a meter to heat water for a bath or turn on the lights or stove. We have the modern day equivalent to that—plastic top-up cards for the gas and the electricity. It makes it easy for the university (our landlord) because it doesn’t have to worry about getting left with unpaid bills amid the turnover in staff housing.

When you need to put money on the meter, you take the card to a participating news agent, tell the clerk how much you need to put on the card and pay for it. Then at home, insert the card into the gas meter to transfer your payment or punch in the confirmation number for the electricity.

The top-up option is available to homeowners, too, but according to a couple people I spoke with, topping up a card is more expensive than paying your bill monthly.

That’s what radiators are for

Not many homes have clothes dryers, so we’re left with an oversized drying rack, two retractable lines that run the length of the shower—and six beautiful radiators. When the heat is on, a radiator can dry a towel in 30 minutes. It’s too hot for the radiators at present, and I’m not sure this one big towel I put on the drying rack will ever get dry.

It can be an engineering challenge, however, to figure out what might air dry, what’s better suited to the radiator and what must never go on the radiator. A pair of jeans, for example, needs to be turned on the radiator at least once. So that’s what I do when taking a break from work, turn clothes on the radiator that aren’t dry, fold what is, and transfer items from the drying rack to a radiator to speed the process along.

Yes, it’s all in a day’s work for this house husband.

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