In 2001, when we returned home from our 6 week trip to Africa, travelling with only a backpack each, one of the first things my husband said was, “We have way too much stuff.”
We looked at each other and nodded.
Almost six years ago we moved form one side of the country to the other. Before we left we gave much of our stuff away. Reason one, we were moving to a much smaller house. Two, because moving stuff across Canada translates into roughly a dollar a pound. So on examining each article for packing, one had to consider; is this item worth $1.00 per pound to keep. Three, we had way too much stuff.
There were several weeks between the time we arrived and our moving van delivered our goods. We subsisted with minimal dishes scrounged from relatives, two lawn chairs, used inside and out, and a blow up mattress from Walmart. It was a relaxing and wonderful time. All was so simple. Coffee, food, deck, beer, beach, sunshine. No paperwork, nothing to dust, nothing to put away. Glorious, really.
Eventually the moving van arrived. Oh we thought we had given so much away, and honestly we did. But imagine having all of your belongings organized on top of a king sized bed. Then take that stuff and organize it neatly into a crib.
That’s what we were dealing with.
The unpacking began. We filled all the cupboards and closets and shelves and there were still more boxes. Many with nebulous names remained stacked in the basement but each time I Charlie Chaplinned down the stairs to get something from the freezer those boxes unsettled me. They did get unpacked over time, the contents added to another pile somewhere, crammed into a closet. This unsettled me more. Digging through closets on the off chance of finding what I was looking for was enough to make me want to a smash a dish or two, even though I began meeting with a small group of women who work on becoming ‘present’ and zen-like. So frustrated with losing valuable ‘present’ time, digging through various cupboards or closet I shoved items back in a messy heap, thinking, ‘I’ll tend to that later,’ creating even more angst upon subsequent opening of that closet door.
Often we would go buy another of the thing we couldn’t find, just because we needed it which just exacerbated the problem and made me nuts really. I’d know we already have three hatchets. But where are they???
About once a month I woke up with the sole purpose of organizing the house from top to bottom. The day would start with me hauling everything out of a number of closets and drawers and making a huge pile. Then I began to sort and put items into various boxes and bins and put them away. Did I label anything? No need for that. Surely I would remember where things were because my orderly scheme was so masterful. That night I’d go to bed exhausted and content. I was organized.
And then I would pursue other things. Like painting. And I’d wonder, Where are the paintbrushes? Geez I can’t remember. The nails to hang pictures? The gardening spade? The light bulbs? Haven’t got a clue. And so I rooted, tearing closets apart, shoving things back in again in complete disorder.
Oh it was a viscous cycle. Kind of like Groundhog Day, only not so frequent. Get up. Haul everything out. Reorganize. Put it away. Labels? Notes? No need for that. This time I have it all figured out. I am so clever.
Then I need something. I root … create a mess … shove it back … close door…
That was going on for two years.
During that time I have two drawers under the stove-top where I keep kitchen utensils. Yes, I have that much figured out. Thing is, there are two drawers, so the utensils go in one drawer or the other depending on which has space available. Several times a day I need one of those utensils. I open one drawer, searching for the garlic press. Dig around. Can’t find. Open other drawer, dig around. Can’t find. Open first drawer again. Rummage through the items. Can’t find. Close drawer. Try the other drawer again. Still can’t find. This may sound trite and silly but it takes me two minutes to find the garlic press. And you may be thinking, so what. But imagine if it takes two minutes each time you need a spatula, or the ice cream scoop, or the potato masher? I could be doing something fun!
One morning in our third year I wake up with a purpose. I am going to organize those two drawers.
I take all the items from both drawers and lay them on the kitchen table. I sit down at the table and look at the pile of items. And I look at them for quite a while, drinking coffee, thinking, ‘how will I do this thing?’
And the answer comes to me. Some of the utensils are all metal. The whisk, the cheese grater, the ice cream scoop. Others have wooden handles and plastic parts. The spatulas, the oatmeal paddle, the vegetable peelers.
Suddenly I have a plan. I put the all metal things into one drawer. And anything with wood or plastic parts into the other. It is done.
Being in the kitchen many times a day, I open those drawers. I realize I don’t mind being in the kitchen so much. All I have to think is, ‘I need the rice scoop. It is plastic. It is in the drawer on the left.’
I love my utensil drawers.
And so I continued with my quest to organize. But with a new rule. One little space per week. I set up criteria for a shelf or drawer then organized it that way. Extra stuff went elsewhere for the time being. Then I learned it, lived with it; and anytime I found an item that matched said criteria, I put it there. And when the space became crowded, I gave some of it away. For example, when all towels were gathered and stacked, they are upwards of 20. Who needs that many towels? Not a family of two. Out some of them go.
After almost six years, there are spaces around the stuff in our closets and drawers. I know where things are, all because of those kitchen utensils. Okay, not all of the time. There are still occasional moments of rooting and slamming doors.
But for the most part, finding stuff is easy. And putting stuff away is too. And less is more. I like it.
More time for the beach.
I once asked a very healthy/fit friend what she eats for breakfast. She replied. On Monday I have an egg and toast with peanut butter. On Tuesday I have oatmeal with… , on Wednesday I have … . I watched her thinking, ‘Like, come on really. Every Wednesday of your life you eat the same thing for breakfast.’ And then thought about what I eat for breakfast. Oatmeal. Starting every January I eat mostly oatmeal until I get sick of the thought, usually sometime in June or July. Then I start on eggs. That too gets old. Then a very short cold cereal period and the rest of the year is a free for all. Until the new year rolls around and I start with oatmeal again.
And so really who’s the dullard here? I guess what I am saying is … I have to remind myself quite often not to knock an idea until I’ve tried it. I didn’t actually latch onto the breakfast menu thing… because I really like oatmeal and sometimes I have to think hard to know what day it is. But I have adopted that concept into other parts of my life, and frankly it’s a gem. Structure and order can be a very good thing.
And with that idea in mind I thought about what to write about here, and not wanting not to go on and on about the same old things, I decided I shall do a travel blurb one Sunday a month. Mind you nothing fancy, rather a sharing of some of the memorable moments lingering in the storage pockets of my brain.
So here we go.
Some years ago, my husband and I along with some friends from Vancouver embarked on one of those overland adventure camping tours. This one was going from Capetown, South Africa to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, a trip chosen for the route, the time of year, and the fact that there was a cook on board.
I started the adventure in Cape Town with a visit to a local beauty salon to have my head shaved. This was to alleviate any worries/problems around washing hair due to uncertainties regarding shower facilities at African campsites. Yes, sadly, I depend on having a hair dryer. My hair just looks better that way. And I was willing to bet money on the fact that finding power to run a hair dryer at said facilities was unlikely at best.
So I got rid of the hair.
And I must say I highly recommend this for anyone traveling on a camping adventure tour anywhere anytime. One cannot imagine the joy of not having hair to comb or hair to wash. Of not having to carry around a hair dryer or those liquid containers that spill all over your backpack, or waiting for hair to dry, or pulling it back or tying it up or constantly brushing it out of your eyes.
All was all fine and off we go on our overland adventure. I put on a hat, and take off the hat later and do not have hat hair. I am liking it.
Day two we detour through desert-like wasteland to an oasis type of place with palm trees and exquisite pools. Everyone is happy. We swim and frolic. And when it is time to leave I get out of the pool, towel dry and dress in less than 2 minutes. Because there is no hair to fuss over.
Now lots of great stuff is happening on this trip, the wildlife, the scenery, but if I get started on that, we’d be here all day.
After a week or so we arrive at a campsite and set up our tent, and with a few minutes to spare before lunch I head to a fabulous pool which happens to be a stone’s throw away, because it is hot and I now have the ability to swim and dry and be ready in a snap. Got ten minutes? Go for a swim. I am so there!
At the pool gate I remove flip flops, walk six steps onto the pool deck and step on something that stings me right between toe number two and three. It blinkin’ hurts. I look down and see a HUGE wasp writhing in stunned agony. I am very allergic to wasp bites and immediately experience an adrenalin rush and the knowing that my foot is about to swell up like a watermelon.
So I hobble madly back to the campsite because after lunch we are scheduled to do a rather extensive canyon hike and I ain’t missin’ out on that. And a hike up into the dunes to watch the sun set is scheduled for the evening. I curse quietly while rifling through my backpack. Finding the necessary items, I slip my injured foot into a thick sock, shove it into my hiking boot and lace her up tight. Then I pop a Benedryl.
The hikes are both fantastic and my foot is sore but usable in stumpy fashion. I feel the foot straining against the inside my boot all day and at bedtime, so I take another Benedryl and sleep with the boot laced on, because tomorrow is another hiking day and I can’t have it all swollen up.
The next day we hike some more, and that is worth a moment’s pause. I had told my husband once that I wanted to be in a place in the desert where sand dunes are all I can see in any direction. So several of us do that, fortunately leaving footsteps to follow back. Otherwise we may have perished there…
That evening we arrive in Swapukmund, Namibia where we check into a hotel. Standing on the main street, if you look look one way you see the Atlantic Ocean, and if you turn turn in the opposite direction you see the town ending and then piles and piles of sand. This is bit of a rest stop; two days to see the sites, sleep in beds and do laundry. And time off for the cook and driver. We put our bags into assigned rooms and head to the hotel bar. At this point my boot has been on with the same sock for almost 36 hours, but it is happy hour. My new favorite happy hour pleasure is Amarula, which if you haven’t tried it …. get some, pour it over ice. You won’t be sorry.
By this point the group has done the big old bonding thing and we are one big happy family. Seriously these are excellent people, so it is very loud with all the guffawing. I put up my foot up and take off the boot and sock. This may sound gross, but no one seems to mind. We have been camping, after all. And everyone is getting that tanned face, windswept crusty hair look. And all our clothes are stiff with sand and grime.
Once unbound my foot is a site to behold. I am reminded of time lapse photography where you can watch a plant grow, as I sit sipping lovely little double Amarulas on ice, watching my foot swell up. Almost like a puffer fish or one of those frogs from tropical climes that swells up at the throat.
It is clear there will be no getting that boot back on anytime soon.
The talk comes around to deciding about dinner. It becomes part of the consideration when choosing a restaurant that I can’t get too far since I only have one foot with a shoe on it.
Off we go to find food. There is a pizza place in the next block. It has a pale blue facade with a large awning depicting the Italian name of the place which brings to my mind ‘Neapolitan Ice Cream’, and the Italian flag. So maybe it was called Napoli or something along those lines. A couple in the group turns up their noses a little when we pause as a group to consider, being skeptical regarding eating pizza anywhere outside of Italy or North America. But I flash them the old sad puppy face and the others clearly want to eat. In we go. We order lots of pizzas.
The pizzas are brought out and to my surprise these look and smell stupendous. The crusts are chewy and crispy with cornmeal underneath, the sauce is to die for and all the lovely toppings are grilled to perfection. And the cheese. Oh my my. I eat and eat and eat.
I say to my friend, “This is some of the best pizza I have ever had. And I mean in my entire life. And I have eaten a lot of pizza. I think the pizza in Winnipeg is better. But this comes really close,” and then I add, “I’m going to tell people about this place.”
She looks at me for a moment and says, ” Who are you going to tell?”
Hey I won’t make a habit of this but I wasn’t quite finished so …
What with all the mad rushes to the beach to glean coal, one can imagine the devastation to said stocks. And it came to pass that on some days there was no coal to be had. Not one piece. I neglected to say that on some days that first year we gathered upwards of twelve pieces. We’d bring them home to lay on counter to admire before adding to the current bucket or vase. Yes and we do have internet and cable. And friends. But life is simple in the Mouton.
So as I said, more people looking …. such fierce competition, and really my husband and I weren’t completely obtuse with respect to guests and Nova Scotia hospitality. We weren’t about to place a big old scar onto that well deserved reputation. We’re the dummies/hospitable hosts that told people and pointed it out and said, ‘yes take some home.’
So needless to say the coal became the equivalent of an endangered species in the inanimate realm, and finding it became even more rare and thrilling. Which became a problem because by then I had become somewhat of a beach collecting junkie. And I am not talking about live things like shells or sea urchins or sand dollars since I have no interest in taking live things away from the seashore. I know every little living thing has a purpose. Besides they stink by the time you get them home.
It was during this dry coal hunting spell that I noticed the beach glass. Well you can probably guess the rest but I’ll tell you anyway. I began to collect sea glass. I still had coal in my sights, but sea glass wasn’t such a bad alternative. So glass became the bounty and coal the rare gem. And I filled a ceramic bowl with glass. And then a bigger bowl. And then empty peanut butter tubs into a milk crate. And another…
And my husband said, “What are you going to do with all that glass?” and I said, “I’m not sure, but I’ll think of something.” and my sister-in-law said, “I can teach you to make jewelry.” and I said, “I don’t wear jewelry, why would I want to make it.” And she responded with, “I’ll show you anyway.”
Which lead to the whole fancy dog house thing. She showed me how to wire up glass and it got me thinking. And the result of all that is I began to make angels. Early on I took some to a craft fair and before I drove away, my husband said, “Don’t be disappointed if you don’t sell any.” Well it was a two hour sale and I came home with a wad of bills and he smiled and said, ‘Wow, you better come up with a name for them.’
So now I make angels in the fancy dog house and it is a good thing. Not all day and every day. Just when it seems like a good thing to do.
And leading up to the idea of taking over that cabin for my own purposes which now my husband refers to as the sweat shop. Yes I have a little factory out there.
We moved to this area…never mind all that. We live by a fabulous beach. We walk to the fabulous beach a lot. On a tour during the purchase of this house (I wasn’t there), my husband noticed in the basement, along a ledge were several lumps of coal. Not dull ugly coal. This was sleek, shiny coal. My husband was curious because he played baseball in a Cape Breton coal mining town for several seasons in his youth. So he knew a little about coal. He asked, “What’s with the coal?”
The fellow told him… In a nutshell, a boat carrying coal fromVirginiain the 1920’s ran aground somewhere out in the bay and lost all her cargo. And so, he said, it washes up onto the beach. He left the coal on the ledge for us.
I saw it and loved it because it is black and shiny and rock solid but lighter in weight, with sparkly seams. And so began my quest for coal because I love to scrounge and hunt, especially stuff that doesn’t bite.
During our first years, on our daily beach walks it became a ritual to look for coal. We timed our walks around low tides, best times for gathering. Sometimes we collected politely and cooperatively, one of us doing the high tide line, the other walking the close to the waters edge. Other times it was dog-eat-dog, a mad sprint to grab a piece in view. Sometimes we faked each other out. A normal amount was 2-4 pieces each. There were days we collected more, but there was size and quality to consider, the gleam and sheen and streaks. It was thrilling for me, my adrenalin flowing at a feverish pitch when I spotted a piece, especially a big one, some in the size range of a lemon, the rush of contentment with putting such a piece into my pocket or bag.
We put the coal into a dish on the mantel and soon needed a bucket. Robert bought me an enormous glass vase and I filled that and placed it on the floor. Our guests noticed and asked. We told them. We shouldn’t have because all of our visitors began to participate in the hunt for coal. That’s how nice this coal was. They kept it. They didn’t even give us a cut. They’d sneak off to the beach before us to look for it.
I need to go out for a while. Be back in a bit…
For those who’ve left comments, I offer apologies for not responding. I am still getting the hang of this; the links, menus, widgets and submenus…
Recently I saw a show on PBS about ‘changing the brain to change your life’. I tuned in, partly because PBS shows tend to have fewer commercial breaks.
The host suggested that we have the ability to improve the health of our brains, which in turn improves the quality of our lives. To do this there are 7 principles to follow. I watched for a while, because I was curious for myself …and Sidney Crosby. Here is some of what was suggested:
- Use food as medicine. And eat like a gorilla, i.e. plenty of seeds, nuts and greens and low fat proteins. I’m not sure the gorillas eat low fat proteins…I’ll have to check.
- Wear a helmet to protect the head. Yes.
- Exercise the body: walk, run, lift weights. Blood flow…oxygen, you know…
- Exercise the brain. This requires stimulating each of the four quadrants on a regular basis. So if you think you’re warding off Alzheimer’s by doing daily crossword puzzles…time to rethink. The host equated this behaviour with going to the gym, doing right arm curls, leaving the gym, and thinking you’ve had a workout. I’ll call the brain quadrants a, b, c and d.
a) True, crossword puzzling will stimulate this quadrant, but a steady diet of ‘same old’ is rarely good; so’ mix it up’, he said. See how many words you can make using the letters in ‘narcissist’. Do a math problem.… ‘If a train leaves Station A travelling west at 120 kph, what time will it intersect with an eastbound train leaving Moose Jaw at 9:00 am EST….’ ( for the record, he didn’t give that particular example. I made it up)
b) Do hand-eye coordination exercises… juggling is good or learning new dance steps. Mennonites should stick to juggling.
c) Learn something new. Every day.
d) I can’t remember ‘d’.
Six years ago I learned something about painting. We had just bought this house. The exterior needed to be painted and since neither of us is fond of ladders, my husband went in search of qualified painters. He started by asking for recommendations at the various local paint and hardware stores. After one crew received several ‘thumbs up’, he sought them out by going to the house they were currently painting.
At first the paint-speckled lead guy pretty much ignored him. But my husband is persistent and continued chatting. So the guy said, ‘Yay-yah…, maybe we kin git to you fellas in Octoba…,’ (It was June). But my husband chatted on and happened to use the word ‘cash’.
Later that day a white van pulled into our driveway and two of the painters emerged to ‘look the job over’.
The following evening we arrived home to a see buckets and hoses strewn about the deck and four guys washing/prepping the house. ‘Wow,’ we said to each other, ‘this is good’. Friday evening, they were back. They scraped. Early Saturday morning they arrived with brushes and paint. They painted.
‘How long will the job take?’ I asked during one break.
“We’ll be here (pronounced ‘hee-yah) tomorrow…then next weekend…maybe we’ll git done next Sundi,” one of them said.
Sunday morning, a large pot of coffee was on… but no white van appeared. It was 8, then 8:30, then 9, then 9:30. I decided to phone the head guy. This was the gist of our conversation:
Me: Hello, it is Mary calling. From Port Mouton…I am wondering…are you painting today?
Him: The boys didn’t pick me up this mornin’.
(Silence on both ends.)
Me: Are you coming later today?
Him: The boys….they was out partying (pronounced like ‘pottying’) last night. They didn’t come to get me this mornin’.
Me: Will they be coming to get you later?
He says: The boys was out partying last night. They ain’t comin’ to get me. (Pauses) They’ve been partying.
Me: So you aren’t painting today.
Him: No we ain’t there (pronounced ‘they-ya’).
Me: You aren’t coming today.
Him sounding a wee bit impatient: We ain’t there. When we’re there… we do the painting. When we ain’t there, we ain’t painting. (Pause) We ain’t there.
I get it.
When they are here, they are painting. If they ain’t here, they ain’t painting.
Just back from the west coast, and have made some little decisions, one of which is that I am going to start posting once a week, most likely on weekends. So today is the start of all of that and this one for those of you out there with a book missing page 160. See above by ‘About’…there’s a little link there to show that missing page. You can read it now.
If you are wondering why some books are missing this page…well, it’s a long story, so the abbreviated version is this. No one really knows why, but a bunch of books were printed without page 160. And I might add that I do not wish to sound catty or disrespectful toward either printer or publisher. Things happen. We’ve taken the necessary steps to rectify the situation, but some of these ‘special’ books slipped through the cracks. Apologies on all behalves.
For those of you who haven’t read my wonderful (blush, blush) book, you can read a sample page. And I would bet a few dollars it isn’t the best page in the book, or anywhere near it. So if you like the page at all, you’ll probably like all the others a whole lot more.
Just wanting to get this page out, in case you are stalled at page 159 and seemingly can’t proceed.
Come back next week, and we’ll get on with things.
The lovely folks at Mission City Record have written a little feature on myself and my book, “Mennonite Girl”. Click here or the image below to read what they had to say!
Mennonite Girl is out there! A little tip on getting a book, since some stores have copies, but they are mostly located in Nova Scotia.
So… my suggestion is to go directly to the publishers site and order. Thing is… if you order one, the shipping cost is around $8.00, which is a bit steep. Yes I truly am a Mennonite girl.
Here’s the thing; if you order ten copies, the shipping is around $15.00, which works out to $1.50 per copy. Much better value per book, as my friend Kathleen would say. Anyway, that is my tip of the week, regarding ordering. Here’s the link: www.brylerpublications.com
And if you happen to live in the Mission, BC area, my sister has a supply of books out there. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t forget to tell your friends, especially if they are Mennonite. They might like it.
Welcome to this blog/website. This is brand new to me… am stumped for words, but that too shall pass.
I would like to announce the recent publication of Mennonite Girl, through Bryler Publications, Inc in Chester, Nova Scotia. Check it out at www.brylerpublications.com