Friday, May 25, 2012

When Life Defrosts ~ Life Lessons from The Freezer

These are SO yummy!
Today's post is really long, but I know so many people that could use it right now, that I felt it was the right time to put it up.

I have a big upright freezer in my garage. It's great. I can stock up on big party size lasagnas (because whoever made the so-called family size didn't eat lasagna with my family) and Hot Pockets when they're on sale. I can make my own freezer meals. I can buy Costco-size boxes of ice cream sandwiches.

Which is actually where my problem began.

We made a trip to Costco for essentials. No ice cream sandwiches are not essentials, but the freezer section is right next to the diaper section, so they were easy enough to grab. I got home, threw the box of ice cream sandwiches in my big freezer and the diapers in my son's room. Then I went about life.

The next day I went to get dinner out of the freezer (freezer meals are AWESOME!) and found something very disturbing. On top of the freezer was an electrical tool of some sort. I didn't look to see what it was, and frankly I don't care. What mattered was that it had a cord, which fell when I threw the ice cream sandwiches into the freezer, and prevented the door from sealing right, which meant big problems in the freezer 24 hours later.

Now, I know it's just a freezer and there are much greater crisis moments in life, but I think the same steps can be applied to any unexpected change in plans that crops up. Sometimes each step might just take a little longer.

So how do you handle the crisis?

1. Accept and Regroup

The first thing I did was throw the cord up over the top of the freezer and slam the door.

The second thing I did was bawl my eyes out. I'd been strung so tight by this point in the afternoon (it was not the best day of my life) that I just broke after the freezer thing happened. I went back in the house, crying so hard that hubby-dearest couldn't understand a thing. Finally he made out the word freezer and I think he thought the freezer had exploded. I give him credit for holding me until I calmed down instead of running outside to figure out what on earth I was talking about.

Before you can handle a situation, you need to accept it. I was not ready to accept that I had to throw away a lot of food. I could not yet come to terms with the fact that my evening was suddenly going to be spent in front of very cold appliances.

Whenever possible, step away from the immediate reminder. Have an emotional moment if need be. Come to grips with reality and then pull yourself together. I don't think there's anything wrong with an emotional gut response as long as you don't let it drive your actions and you move past it.

2. Realistically Assess the Problem

When I first realized that there were soggy things in the freezer, I imagined everything was ruined. Had I not taken a moment to calm down, I would have just started chucking hundreds of dollars of food in the trash can while sobbing and hiccuping.

Not good and not helpful.

Once I calmed down, we went out and looked through the freezer together. Yes, much of it was lost, especially stuff in the door. But there were sections that were still really cold - at least refrigerator cold. We were going to have to check things and a lot wouldn't be salvageable, but it was better than if the freezer had completely died. Then we would've been out all the food AND the freezer.

The reason you make no decisions in your emotional acceptance stage is that you don't really know what you have yet. Even if something truly horrible happens and the doctor comes in with the words "You have cancer" that doesn't give you the whole picture.

My dad had a section of skin removed off of his hand years ago. It was the beginning stages of skin cancer, but it was easily removed and there was no sign of it anywhere else. For him, that dreaded word didn't have a lot of power in the true situation. But if he had just called me and said, "I have cancer" my world would have crumbled because in my head I would immediately put him at stage 5 with only months to live.

It's very important to know what you are actually dealing with.

3. Recover and Move Forward

I cleaned out the freezer portion of our side by side unit in the house, so that what was still frozen could be put in there. My husband starting checking the contents of the outside freezer. We took what needed to be cooked right away and had us a crazy dinner. There was some pizza, a chicken pot pie, a couple of breakfast sandwiches, and some chimichangas.

Some other items that had thawed got put in the fridge so I could cook them for dinner the next day. Just as if I'd taken them out of the freezer a couple of days before to thaw in the fridge, like I normally do.

Yes, we still had to throw out a lot of food, but we managed to save a lot more than I thought we would. The stuff at the very back of the freezer was still solid. The worst part was that the boxes were soggy from the melting ice. (It's an old freezer, ice crusts on the walls and shelves.) We recovered what we could and then moved on, doing the best we could with what was left.

Life is like that. If you live in the what ifs and the shoulda woulda couldas, you'll never move forward. We don't have time machines, and I don't think we'd like the results if we did, so we have to play the hand we're dealt. For me, it was a half-defrosted freezer. This time, anyway. I had to deal with it. Because if I'd ignored it, the consequences would have been disastrous.

4. Take Advantage of Your New Position

The freezer (did I mention it's old?) was in desperate need of defrosting. Ice was caked on the ceiling in chunks about three inches thick. The top shelf was nearly unusable. I just hadn't wanted to take the time to pull everything out and let it go through it's defrost cycle. If you are familiar with those old freezers, you know it's something you have to do every couple of years.

This isn't mine. Mine was worse.
I wish I'd thought to take a picture of mine. 
Well, everything was out of the freezer, so now was a great time to do it. Well, maybe not a great time, because we had to keep going outside through the night to empty the drip pan, but it was a time that worked.

I now also have both of my freezers cleaned out and organized. That's a bonus, too.

Many times you end up where you had no intention of going, but you find things you can do there that you couldn't do before. If you've lived through the frightening horror of being laid off and not being able to find more work, you can take advantage of the extra time. When you aren't job hunting, take nature walks with your kids. My kids normally don't see my husband until dinner time. If he gets off in time to pick them up at school, they act like Christmas came early.

Take advantage of these surprise moments. Try to find something good to come out of your moment of tragedy.

5. Learn So That You Can Handle It Better Next Time

In the end, you'll have to deal with much worse things than a defrosted freezer. I know there are worse things in my past and, unfortunately, worse things in my future.

It's all about scale though. The freezer was a crisis that took about three hours to go through all the steps above. Small scale, small time. When something bigger comes along, it may takes days or even weeks to get through everything. But the process remains the same.

And you know what ended up being the worst thing about it all? I never got to eat an ice cream sandwich.
By HTO via Wikimedia Commons


  1. wonderful guidelines to dealing with almost any problem or disaster---i would have been sad about all of those delicious ice-cream sandwiches too!

  2. I haven't managed to make it back over to Costco yet either. Sadly the grocery store doesn't carry the same ones. Oh well. If that's the worst thing that happens in my week I'm in pretty good shape.