Kitchen Clarity


Kitchen Clarity

There’s something joyful about a transparent kitchen. I swapped my opaque containers out for clear ones. I love mason jars because of the ability to see what’s in them. I like to know what I’m eating, drinking and storing. I love being able to see it. I also like these jars because they represent something old and sturdy, like a truth rediscovered anew, such as the idea that fat really isn’t terrible to consume (it’s processed food that is making you sluggish, fat, and sick!) and how bone broth is such a health-giving tradition and locally grown food is the best.

I like a clean fridge and an orderly pantry. I want to know what I have at a glance. It makes me feel light and free and happy to open a door and know instantly what is there and what is missing. My food-is-love husband gets pleasure from a stuffed fridge. That represents security and comfort for him. We’ve learned to compromise. I don’t mind spending a lot of money on organic food. I figure you pay the price sooner or later with cash or health, so it may as well be up front. He loves quantity. So we’ve settled on buying organic eggs and milk and sometimes grass fed meat.

We both enjoy cooking. I like experimenting with new recipes. It’s a creative outlet for me, and a useful one at that. Like not wanting to wear the same dress twice in a row, I often search for novel dishes to cook up. My husband cooks from memory and typically sticks to his usual delicious favorites. We seem to agree that spending time in the kitchen is worthwhile, and if we’re going to be hanging out there, it may as well be inviting.
If you feel stuck in any area of your life, starting with the physical can get you moving forward- cleaning out your home and your car. Exercising. And if you are in a rut with your dietary habits, why not start with the kitchen? Purge it of anything you don’t want to consume. Clear it and clean it and start fresh. Fresh food and wholesome ingredients and simple recipes and staples in clear view; an uncluttered kitchen can be a great start for a clear mind and body. The kitchen is often the center of a home. We typically eat at least three times a day, so doesn’t this area deserve a lot of attention? Food is medicine. You are what you eat. There is a lot of truth to these old sayings. Food is sustenance, and a clean kitchen invites the flow of something good to nourish us, body and spirit.

Where can all that stuff go?

For anyone who is doing more than just your average spring cleaning, and needs places to put all the stuff they may be clearing out of their homes, I have shared a few links below to help the process.   In addition to yard sales, and Craigslist, you may be looking to donate some of your things. Goodwill and  Big Brother organizations are just two of many good options. Unwanted stuff needn’t go in a landfill. There are plenty of people and organizations that may be able to put it to good use. Knowing that makes it easier for some people to let their clutter go. Just be careful not to let the donation period drag on for years!



Live Like You Were Moving


We’ve all heard the song “Live Like You Were Dying”, which is good advice, really. But what if we also lived like we were moving? I don’t mean in the way that you don’t settle in to a place or get attached to your home or your area (though that works for some people too). I just mean live like you were going to have to pack up everything you own tomorrow.

Would you bring it all? Really? Even the nearly empty bottle of nail polish, and the wide brimmed hat that you never wear.? The chipped pie plate in the back of the cabinet, the television in the attic, the fourth pair of flip-flops? Who loves all that stuff?

I may have been thinking of this because of all the houses selling. People are packing up and moving and moving is hard work; harder still if you move stuff you should have left behind. I think it can be refreshing though, when everything that is moved is chosen consciously. Do I want to keep this? Do I even like this? Would I miss it? Rather than packing up everything and having to deal with it all later- to live with it all later- the wanted and the unwanted- why not sort through it before you move? Even if you have no plans whatsoever to move, it is freeing to live like you are moving.

When a house is going up for sale, a realtor will usually tell the owners to clean it up, put some things in storage, keep the furniture to a minimum. It makes the space look bigger, more open and inviting, less cluttered. And if this is so, why wouldn’t we want to live this way even when we aren’t selling our home?

It’s been a particularly busy weekend –a birthday celebration for my father, an Easter dinner, watching the Boston Marathon (my sister ran!), guests, driving my daughter back to school. It was a joyous weekend, but it’s time to get back to writing, and it happens to be trash day. Out with the old and unused. After gathering the trash and recyclables, I had room left in each barrel and seized the opportunity to do a little extra purging. New week, fresh writing, and spring is eeking through in fits and starts. No room in my life for old hair products, a ripped sheet set or Tupperware without covers. Would I bring this stuff with me if I were moving? Not a chance. Out to the curb, out of my life, gone from my line of vision, my mind, my cabinets. It is a season of renewal and new beginnings. We don’t have to be moving to start fresh. Sometimes the newness, even if it’s a mystery, reveals itself after we’ve purged.

Ahh the sweetness of a new day, a fresh week, an empty table top. I look around me and everything I have is everything I need. It is raining hard outside, a puddle forming at the root of the tree I see from my window. Firmly planted, even in its bareness it looks so alive, so strong, so rooted in time and place. There’s only a wall and some space between me and the tree, inside and outside.   I look between the two and think of packing up what is in here to bring it out there. What would I take? Everything that is in here? Pretty close, I think. I have no plans to move, but if I did, I think I’d be ready.

On Hoarding Words

ImageThe closest I’ve come to understanding the hoarding tendency is through my habit of collecting books. I am a hoarder of words. I take comfort in books- the words, the covers, the sight of them filling a large bookshelf, or waiting for me on my nightstand or on my desk. Most of the books I read come from libraries, (I don’t own a kindle), but I’ve still managed to acquire a significant collection of books over the years. The thought of parting with some of these books has made me reluctant, greedy, as though my actual cells might suffer. They are only books after all, but I understand the life force that went into creating them, and the salubrious effect words can have, raising people above ignorance or setting in motion imaginings that can have lasting and ripple effects. They can transport a person to another time and place or simply bring them back to themselves.

I go through phases of reading certain types of books. One book leads to the next and the next and I just can’t stop. Often I will stumble on the mention of a book that makes it to my ‘to read’ list and if I like it, I will read others by the same author. When I’ve exhausted that author, I move on. Or if I really, really like the author, I read all that I can find about that author. My memoir -reading phase lasted months, perhaps a year. It started with The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball, a New York City journalist who was sent to interview a farmer in upstate New York. She fell in love and left the city to join him in the hard labor of farming. I find it intriguing to read about people’s life altering decisions, and how they come about. Kimball’s whole life changed when she went to interview this farmer. Weary from her New York City life, I guess she was ripe for this change. Perhaps they were destined to meet. She became a farmer- or rather discovered she is a farmer, whichever it is. She and her husband (they married and had two children) now feed their community and their family organically, a labor of love and tenacity. Kimball’s dramatic change fuels her writing.

Despite all my reading, I think I may have been the last person to read The Liars’ Club by Mary Carr. At a recent writing workshop, the facilitator handed out excerpts from this book, and said “I’m sure everyone here is very familiar with this book”. I was familiar with it, but only because I happened to have read it the previous week! Leave no book unread is what I took away from that. Published in 1995, The Liars’ Club dramatically revived the art of memoir. Mary Carr’s command of the English language, along with her honesty, grit and courage left me in awe. I read Carr’s other memoirs as well and by the end of the last one I actually felt a sense of grief parting with these real life characters I had gotten to know so well. I read interviews Carr had given, and in one of these there was mention of another memoirist, Augusta Burroughs, which led me to read his books, including Running With Scissors. Fun fact, I found out he lives in the town where my daughters attend college. Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini is fiction that reads like memoir. Like a lot of fiction, the author’s real experiences are on the page. Calling it fiction allowed his father, the tyrant in the story, to temporarily deny its truth. Conroy offers up his angst to the page, one scene at a time. Like Mary Carr’s, his words do not convey self-pity, but rather a detached yet descriptive unfolding of his history.

I like reading anything about the brain and how it works and changes, and affects behavior. And then there are some of the classics that I skimmed in school and want to reread. The Catcher in the Rye brought me to another memoir, At Home in the World, written by Joyce Maynard, an author who broke the silence on her relationship with the famous J.D. Salinger. As sometimes happens with writing, her honesty triggered both praise and ridicule from readers.

I came across the name of Caroline Myss whose work appealed to my interest in health. Her book, Sacred Contracts, touches on the remarkable lives of Jesus and Buddha and so many saints. Using a new theory of archetypes that references the works of Jung and Plato, Myss describes an intricate map of how we can interpret our own sacred contracts, finding the purpose and meaning in our seemingly ordinary lives. Near the end of her 366 page book, I am struck by the simplicity of these words: “Each choice either serves your highest good or detracts from it”. There you have it. Every day decision making stripped down to the essential in that one sentence.

Then there are writing books. So many books on writing, and just when I think that surely I’ve read them all, I uncover ten more. The War of Art, the Artist’s Way, Bird by Bird, First Draft in 30 Days. There are also the books that are both memoirs and books on writing, like Stephen King’s On Writing and Theo Pauline Nestor’s Writing Is My Drink. Plus all the technical books on writing. There is a lot of helpful writing advice out there, but I have concluded that by far the best advice is this: apply ass to chair. And reading does eventually bring me back to the chair, to the page, where life and thoughts and history and all the words I’ve hoarded churn out into something of my own.

Reading can be a way to avoid the work of writing though. Devouring others’ stories is surely easier than writing our own. I think most of us have ways of procrastinating, avoiding that difficult project for just one more day. Why is it sometimes so hard to sit down and face the page? It’s the sitting down and starting that is often the hardest. In Working It Out is a book of essays written by 23 Writers, Artists, Scientists and Scholars who reflect on their lives and work. In this book, Virginia Valian writes of her struggle to sit down and work on her graduate thesis. Eventually, after much procrastinating and anxiety, she commits to fifteen minutes a day. “A nice solid amount of time, an amount of time I knew I could live through every day”, she writes. Her long essay in its entirety can be found here:

During a brief lull in my reading, I got the idea that I should be able to speak about my writing. I hope this isn’t another tactic of mine to distract me from my writing. But here’s how I justify the idea. Though I talk about my writing in a writing group, I need practice in a more formal setting, as in really speak about it; leave the comfort of the page and face a visible audience, and present something that I have written. One never knows when this may come in handy. Writers like to write. But don’t we need to talk about our writing too? So I joined Toastmasters, a club that supports the task of improving ones public speaking skills, and I gave my first speech. This initial presentation, called the ice breaker, can be on any topic that reflects the life or interests of the speaker. I chose the topic of how simplifying enhances creativity. I took many of the words for my speech directly from this blog. Despite the mixed audience, my speech was very well received. It flowed. People were interested and inspired. This was encouraging. I surprised myself. I can write. I can put a few sentences together. But speak? I hardly knew I could speak. It was only a six minute speech, given to a small room of friendly people, but I liked the idea of contributing something to an audience, even in some small way.

So back to the books. Releasing some that I owned, that I don’t think I’ll want to keep coming back to, was my most difficult step in simplifying. Really, it has been my only difficult step in letting go of stuff. I still own books. And I still read compulsively. But I now give less importance to the tangible book. It’s what it leaves me with, how it expands my mind or fuels my own writing that is the real gift in its pages. Holding it is nice. But releasing it is better.







Without darkness, we wouldn’t know light. And without winter, how would we know spring? The sun is out, the wind and snow have relented, at least for now, so bring on the spring cleaning! I am so ready to shed layers and dust and stuff. It’s not truly spring cleaning until we can open the windows, but I’m going to start somewhere.

A donation truck is coming through our neighborhood tomorrow, so that gave me extra incentive to get started now. I personally like to start with my bedroom.  Yesterday, I went through every piece of clothing, and even tried on the questionable ones until all that was left was what I really wanted.   It brought back the memory of when my daughters were little and I’d have them go through their clothing at the start of each season, figuring out what still fit and passing on what didn’t to their younger sister, or donating it. They used to call this the fashion game, and they had fun with it.  This sorting became a seasonal habit that stuck with themLast week, one of them told me her college sent an email to the students, suggesting they bring home some winter items when they leave for spring break. “It’s like my mother talking”, she said. Of course she was planning to go through her stuff and bring home her winter items. 

Seems there are always those clothing items that sit in a drawer, untouched.  Yesterday, I finally let go of my camisole tanks.  They’re pretty. I like them. Except that I never actually wear them. These camisoles are meant to be worn under other tops. That makes two tops, plus an undergarment. That’s three layers.  I really just don’t like layering. And if you are going out, you probably need a coat or a sweater. There’s four. How can we ever get to the important stuff of life if just getting dressed requires four layers?  I can hardly stand to put on my winter coat, in fact, which is a bit of a problem in New England from, say, November through March. (It has been my mission to find the thinnest possible winter coat that is still warm). So after offering the camisoles to my daughters, (can you believe they turned them down? I mean, who doesn’t want their mother’s clothes?!) I put them in the donation bag.  I also purged a purse and a few tops and jeans that really never fit right and a pair of shoes and a few other things.  Oh and I finally got rid of my ski pants. I loved these ski pants at one time in my life-the time that I skied.

My shorts still sit in a bin in my closet, and I think they’ll be there for quite a while longer. But the clocks were moved ahead today, and spring beckons.  It was actually somewhat comfortable outside and there is a collective sigh of relief, almost joy?  Once my clothes were bagged up, I dusted and vacuumed and changed the sheets, and voila. Master bedroom, check.  Next time, the kitchen.   If you clean it, spring will come.  That’s my motto this month.