Uncovering layers


For the last walk of the year I planned to take my dog for a short stroll around the block, fifteen minutes tops so I wouldn’t have to brave the drizzling cold for too long but her nose kept following layers of smells on lawns, bushes and piles of leaves that beckoned to be recognized at that particular moment. Good-bye short walk, hello to more fresh air.The “stop- go” movements gave me a chance to copy her actions without crawling on all fours digging my nose into the ground but rather sniffing around the past, mostly in circles about people, places and events that were memorable to me during the past year. A cycle that draws to a close and in certain parts of the world has already been wrapped up, severed like the umbilical cord of a newborn making way for the new sibling of time to arrive with all the fanfare and lights accustomed to new beginnings.

“Wait” I call out to the layers of grey foggy patches in the East, but the fireworks and cheers drown out my request and like a cat that uses her claws to unravel a ball of wool, I hold onto the string of time and march along to my next destination.

Before I get to the corner near the house with the Las-Vegas-style Christmas decorations I have to use my little flashlight to illuminate what my dog had just deposited, swiftly scoop the droppings into a lavender-scented, environmentally friendly bag that I expertly tie to keep the contents contained. The manufacturer of the bags claims that it only costs “pennies per poop” which is rather reassuring when it comes to my finances. My steps become a little lighter and faster since my dog has turned the corner on the last stretch towards home and I am relieved when thinking about my last meal.

Every New Years Eve I maintain my financial security by eating lentils. I follow a custom that dates back to my youth which was spent in the Black Forest region in Germany. Inhabitants there are referred to as Swabians and known to be quite frugal. Their philosophy is based on the simple truth that “wealth comes from hard work” and people take pride in following that philosophy. Most of my relatives and other folks in the village where I grew up cooked a certain kind of lentil stew on the last day of the old year and legend declared that by eating lentils (which in shape resemble coins) on December 31st, one will be assured of financial stability in the year to come. This legend did not foresee a drastic influx in people’s bank accounts ( or the swelling of a “savings-sock” that many folks kept under their mattress) but it reminded everybody to be frugal. Frugal with their time, frugal with their money and frugal with their sentiments. They would not say things like: ” May you be virtually wrapped in a blanket of abundance that allows your motivation to propel you towards success and generates love from the innermost well of your heart to unquestioningly flow into the universe.” Instead they would say: “embrace your abundance of success and love” because they remove the unnecessary layers of words and prefer to make concise, direct statements.

Removing layers, scooping up things that are no longer needed and embracing a new future has no boundaries. I’m not talking about forgetting and leaving “the old” behind but rather about being selective on what needs to be carried forward.This old year runs like a cartoon character on fast forward as my mind glimpses at events, places and people who shared my path. I hear laughter and music , words and barks that enhance the good feeling of belonging, of being welcomed, of being home.

“Woof, woof, woof”, says my dog as she leads me into our driveway, up the steps and into the yard.

“Good dog,” I reply as I remove her harness, dispose of the poop bag and rub her fur dry with a towel as a typical “wet-dog” smell lifts from her hair. Once inside, the wet-dog smell mingles with the aroma of the lentil stew and I proceed to set the table. I reflect on the words by British author Douglas Adams and agree that: “I may not have gone where I intended to go but I think that I have ended up where I needed to be.”

Lentil stew recipe:  saute a chopped onion in olive oil, add garlic, salt, cumin and optional fresh ginger. Add a few finely cubed carrots and fill the pot half with water. Add your choice of powdered or a cube of vegetable stock or chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add brown lentils, about 400 g or more depending on how thick you like your stew. For a non-vegetarian option you could use a couple of slices of cubed bacon (smoked for extra flavour) to simmer along in the pot. The lentils may take up to 45 minutes to cook to reach the required softness. You may add some chopped up spinach and a couple of spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar. Half a bushel of chopped up fresh cilantro is optional.The lentil stew is usually served over a helping of spaetzle (which is a type of egg noodle from Swabia). Add balsamic vinegar to individual taste. Noodles may be substituted with rice, or just a slice of whole grain bread. Measurements for most ingredients are not provided since I rarely measure when it comes to cooking and prefer to  just chop, add and taste a bit until I know it will be good.

May I be your clutter consultant?


Determination propelled me this week-end to tackle something that I have put off for quite a while and I’m sure that some of you can relate to it, and have been there before: de-cluttering my room. While I sat amongst piles of papers and other paraphernalia I organized things in three groups: definitely discard, re-allocate (either in the same spot or somewhere else in the house) and keep and use (subgroup: keep and hold without actually using). Now you might think that I’m showing signs of a hoarder and it may well be that I am emotionally attached to things that I should have let go off long ago. I’m exaggerating a bit when I use the word ‘hoarder’ since my room (and other rooms in the house) are not really stuffed to the ceiling with hazardous items and if I hold my breath and squeeze my belly and behind, I can easily get around all the furniture, books and clothing and shoes that are strategically placed all around the house. It’s not an obstacle course and  should I be blindfolded I would maneuver with ease without tripping. Same goes for all my family members, some of whom might object and would tell you that certain things quite often get in their way.

Since I’m on this path to learn how to get by with less, I have jumped into this de-clutter mode a few times without actually getting rid of anything. I merely moved items from one place to another creating the illusion of more space in certain areas of the house while cramming things that don’t necessarily belong on let’s say the shelves in the linen closet right in between the towels, sheets and pillows.

“What is that garden gnome with the chipped off paint doing on my favourite towel?” My husband turns to me in our narrow hallway, holding the ceramic creature in front of my face as I cough a little bit until I can think of an appropriate response.

“I washed it yesterday and must have put it on the shelf when I looked for an older towel to dry it with. Thanks so much for finding it. I’ll put it right back out on the front steps.”

“Why would you do that, it’s a piece of junk, just toss it in the garbage.”  My husband hands me the gnome expecting me to take it to the nearest waste receptacle or to our recycling bin. I clutch the little fellow with the red cheeks and hat, mumble something about needing to check on the soup bubbling on the stove and slink off to the kitchen.

How can I explain that I would feel guilty should I throw out that gnome since it travelled with us to all the homes we lived in and that I remember how we bought it together at a local Canadian Tire store when our firstborn showed an interest in helping her dad to dig in the dirt.

My rational mind sides with my husband, telling me that there is no need to be sentimentally attached to objects, that you can always recall an event, place or person without having an object to act as your memory trigger and that the object is only that – an object whereas the memory, the sentimental connection simply needs to be stored in your brain as such and will keep in your heart for as long as you allow it to be. But I love that gnome, or so I tell myself.

I repositioned him behind the bird bath in the backyard for the time being and know he will be safe until my husband decides to plant spring bulbs in that area. I have analyzed this kind of behaviour many times as I’m sure that you have, too if you are wondering what makes us hang onto objects that no longer serve our needs. Perhaps I should engage my editorial mind when it comes to de-cluttering the house. Remove all that is not necessary, has not been used of over a month or has grown white fuzz and emits a biting odour. Out goes the half tomato and cheese sandwich from the lower shelf of the fridge, the old pleated skirt that’s become too tight around the waist and the wicker end table that was a cast off from an old friend who moved to South Africa and could not take all her furniture. I’m not even sure why it came about that I took the end table and matching chair from my friend. There must be some folks in my neighbourhood who would love to be the new owners of this wicker furniture who would actually use it as a table and chair and not just as a dust collector or door stopper.

But right now’s not a good time with Christmas approaching my neighbours have other things on their minds than making space to welcome second-hand furniture into their homes. One part of me wants to be brave enough to just haul these items away, give it to Goodwill, a charity who knows some folks who don’t have any tables or chairs and would really make use of my donated stuff. I will mark my calendar, pick a date in early January 2014 when these items and more will be removed from my home and deposited with a local charity. Or advertise on one of the free list servings- but then strangers would know what I have to give away and where I live and they might come to my home to ask for these freebies. On my front lawn some might get into a scuffle when two or more people come to collect my rejected furniture. I might have to call an ambulance to assist the injured and give a statement to the police about who punched whom and who said what unpleasant word to whom all because of the somehow inherited furniture that I decided to no longer keep. I can’t let that happen. So I best hang onto the table and chair for a wee bit longer. I can pile a whole bunch of books on the table and drape unfashionable, non-fitting clothing over the back of the chair. I’m glad that’s solved.

“Look at all the space in the closet, see how easy the hangers move along the rod again” I’ll drag my husband to the bedroom and in a “voila” armsweeping gesture point to the half-empty closet. He looks impressed and mumbles something about me being on a roll and not letting him prevent me from going at it in all other rooms in the house.

Come springtime you’ll be able to waltz from room to room without stubbing your toe into hindering objects when you come by for a visit. You might leave with a book or a colourful sweater and some advice on how to de-clutter your space. If you can’t wait till then, give me a call and I’ll see you sooner and help you to make some space, get rid of all the things that you no longer need and remove all that no longer serves you.