When in doubt, throw it out!

Many years ago, I worked at a restaurant as a larder cook. I knew very little when I started, but over time, I learnt skills such as slicing, piping, and presenting food – skills that have stood me in good stead. Another thing I learnt was that left over food needed to be treated with care. The chef’s rule was, ‘when in doubt, throw it out.’ Obeying this rule has probably saved many from stomach upsets or worse.

I often cite this rule when I am faced with clutter. It applies just as well to plastic containers, useless gadgets, and the mountain of papers I have kept. Yet stuff accumulates and multiplies like weeds. Especially paper. As I write, my desk is cluttered with paper I need to sort, throw out or shred.

The end of the year is the time I tend to favour for a ‘spring’ clean. The days between Christmas and New Year are perfect for this job. Sometimes I throw out more than I should, but that is rare. More often than not, I don’t delve deep enough. This year, I am determined to go through papers I have kept because ‘they could come in useful someday’ and purge anything I haven’t looked at in the past year. Ten-year-old lesson plans and other teaching resources will be added to this pile. I’m not about to throw out sentimental letters or tax files – these will stay. It is the amassed pile of articles (now years out of date) and hard-copy work files that I will discard. If I have enough time, I will also tackle the computer and delete pesky duplicates and any unnecessary files!

I swore I wasn’t going to make a New Year’s resolution, yet this is beginning to sound like one. Could I call it some mad, end of year tenacious pluck, and avoid the weight of expectation?

I suppose it really doesn’t matter what I call it. All that matters is that I can reclaim my desk and eradicate feelings of overwhelm whenever I enter my study. I want to start the year with that fleeting sense of control.

Wish me luck!

Happy Christmas from Australia

I wish you all a glorious Christmas. In particular:

  • Harmony at the lunch or dinner table
  • Pleasant interactions with family
  • Equanimity if things don’t go according to plan
  • Gratitude for even the smallest gestures
  • Compassion for others and yourself
  • An expanding heart
  • Generosity of spirit
  • Acceptance of your own limits
  • Time out to recharge

Thank you so much for reading my weekly blogs, letting me know when you like something and occasionally leaving a comment. I truly appreciate each and every one of you!

Morning pages

There are weeks when writing is hard. I just had one of them. Illness, deadlines, and distractions all got in the way, and I didn’t write. Although, strictly speaking this isn’t true. I always write something, it just might not be a blog post. In this past week I have written a job application (not my favourite kind of writing) and I have written in my journal. It is the one thing I manage to do almost every day of the year.

I try to follow Julia Cameron’s rule of three handwritten pages first thing in the morning. When time is tight, I will write one page rather than not write at all. As my friend Kellie likes to remind me, ‘done is better than perfect.’ When I write longhand, words flow from my pen as if my right hand was connected to my thoughts. Sometimes when I read a sentence back, I notice that I have written the first part of a word and finished it with the next one. It is fast, unedited, stream of consciousness writing.

Most of the time, my scribbles are not worth reading. They chronicle mundanities of life, sometimes strange dreams and on rare occasions, I might get some insight. Still, I persist. As Julia Cameron suggests, morning pages are for my eyes only and they are not meant to be creative writing but a way to clear the mind.

Weeks go by when I think that the morning pages have done nothing at all for me. Then I realise that getting those initial thoughts out of my system allow me to face the day without ‘stuff’ circling in my mind. I can leave all those thoughts in the journal. It is like having a container for loose change, only that in this case the container holds loose thoughts.

Every now and again, a solution to a problem presents itself in the pages. Granted, it doesn’t happen often. These are like little nuggets of gold that are left behind when all the dirt has been washed away. I can’t expect to find a nugget every day but when I do, I know that the process has worked its charm.

It takes me about fifteen minutes in the morning to write three pages. I don’t use prompts. I simply pick up the pen, put it to paper and let it glide across the page. I enter an almost a meditative state where I watch the pen do its work. I sit with a cup of tea, write, sip, write some more and finally close the journal. I rarely read what I have written, although it can be useful to go back after a few months and get a sense of how things have shifted.

I recommend the habit of morning pages. They allow you to clear away the cobwebs and start the day unburdened. You might find it the most worthwhile fifteen minutes of your day.

Hanging out the washing

Much of our lives is lived through insignificant routines. We shower, have breakfast, brush our teeth, cook, shop, do the washing, hang it out. We usually complete these chores the same way without ever questioning why. Most of the time we are on autopilot.

Take hanging out the washing for example. Everyone has a theory about the best way to do it. Whether it is putting like items together, not folding sheets, jeans to be hung from the top or T-shirts from the bottom, logical justifications abound. There are even YouTube clips showing the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to complete this chore.

Of course, I also have my way of doing things, but I have never been a stickler for rules. According to YouTube, my washing line would hardly pass muster. To me, if I’m in the right mood, hanging out the washing is a chance to act on a whim and see where my imagination takes me. I have had many favourite types of pegs for example. The colourful ones allowed for a myriad of different patterns – all blue one day or green and red the next. But I gave up on plastic pegs as they perish quickly and only add to the landfill. Next, I bought circular wire pegs from the Blind Society. The problem with these was that they were all dark green and I lost too many in the grass. I did wonder whether this was a cosmic joke played on us sighted people. Red would definitely have been a better choice of colour. Eventually, I bought some stainless-steel pegs which will probably last twenty years or more. They are bright and shiny and easily identified when dropped.

When it comes to pegging clothes, my underwear is suspended in rows like fruit bats hanging from a Morton Bay fig tree. My socks look like Christmas stockings waiting to be filled. The rest is hung higgledy-piggledy as my fancy takes me. I do like trialling different shapes that I can make with clothes, my favourite being a cow which requires a jacket and a T-shirt, as in Helga Stentzel’s washing line artwork (https://www.helgastentzel.com/). As I play with the different combinations, hanging out the washing is no longer a chore but a chance to be creative and escape the mundanity of a boring household chore.

The extra few minutes I spend give me a chance to enjoy a fanciful moment and smile at my crazy creations. I become playful, which is a feeling foreign to so many adults. I like that I don’t have a set way to hang out the washing, that I don’t bow down to the gods of ‘efficiency’ in my private life. There’s more than enough of that nonsense in the workplace without bringing it home.

The car park

There are times when spending a little extra cash could save your sanity. But then, what is your sanity worth when compared to a good story?

This story starts with my daughter Ella and I arriving in Adelaide. We drove around the block twice, looking for an entrance to the hotel carpark. There wasn’t one. The bartender/concierge advised us to park in one of the many carparks in the area.

‘There’s a cheap one right across the road,’ he added, noting my displeasure at having to drive further afield and pay for the inconvenience. 

While I took our luggage upstairs, Ella went to park the car. She returned a short time later with a smug look.

‘I was looking for the pay station and found a note saying it’s unattended. We can park there for free,’ she said, satisfied with her discovery.

The following day, I went across the road to look for a parking attendant. I eventually found a bum-bagged, dishevelled employee to whom I explained that we needed parking for four days. He grunted in a manner that a certain breed of young men has finessed.

‘Sixty,’ he said.

‘Can I drive in and out at any time?’ I asked.


‘We’re leaving on Sunday,’ I ventured

‘Mm,’ he acknowledged without looking up once.

I moved my car closer to the entrance of the unlit, cavernous space. With its broken windows and filthy floors, it would have made a perfect setting for a British murder series. I couldn’t help but look for the acid bath which surely was hidden in a corner somewhere. It didn’t help that Ella and I had listened to a whodunnit while driving to Adelaide. In that story, the body was stuffed into a freezer in a basement.

The following day, I ventured across the road to retrieve my car. I was glad I had parked it close to the entrance as there wasn’t a soul in sight. Not even the young grunt. I drove to Port Adelaide, walked along the schmick, renovated wharf and went past a house where I had lived in my late teens. It was still there but across the road were the ever-multiplying modern townhouses. The area is still far from genteel, but it has climbed up a rung or two in the property market. I took a couple of obligatory photos while the next-door dogs barked incessantly. It was time to leave before someone peered out from behind a curtain and called the police.

I was tempted to drive to the beach but decided against it. The beach could wait for another day. I drove back to dingy parking lot, locked the doors, and bolted across the road to the safety of the hotel.

The next morning was Saturday. We slept in and Ella was running late.

‘Could you drop me off?’ she pleaded after downing her triple shot espresso. Not that it seemed to make much difference to her demeanour.

‘Sure,’ I said, planning a day at the beach with a good book in hand.

As we crossed the road, Ella was first to notice.

‘The roller door is shut!’ she cried.

It is uncanny how a day can turn 180 before the mind has time to absorb the consequences. Ella was already jumping into an Uber while I stood fuming in front of the locked door. I called the number on the sign and listening to a message.

‘The person you are calling is unavailable. No message will be left as the mailbox is full.’

I dialled again in disbelief. Unsurprisingly, I received the same message. Over the course of the next six hours, I became intimate with the recorded voice.

I accosted two police officers in Rundle Mall and explained my plight.

‘Yeah, that’s a pretty shonky outfit. You’d be better off parking in one of the other places. There’ve had a few break ins and I guess that’s why they locked it up.’

‘But it says 24 hours!’ I said.

‘Go back. I’m sure you’ll find that they’re open by now,’ the friendlier of the two advised.

I walked the four city blocks to the carpark, buoyed by the optimism of the boys in blue.

There’s nothing more shattering than false hope. The roller door was still firmly shut. In desperation I asked the bartender if he knew about their opening hours.

‘They’re usually open. There’s a side door off a lane you can try,’ he said while polishing beer glasses. I don’t know whether he seriously thought I could drive my car through a side door, but I investigated anyway.

The lane was heavily graffitied but harmless in daylight. I found the side door jimmied. The deadlock bolt banged against the splintered door frame. Without thinking, I entered. A shaft of light from the open door allowed me to see my car in the distance. The only other vehicle was a white van.

‘Hello?’ I shouted into the void. No answer.

I felt a shiver go down my spine. Surely, it was safer to leave now and come back with Ella. My fingerprints were all over the jimmied door by now. Was I breaking and entering? Surely not. It was broken already. Entering? Well yes. Maybe my partner in crime could work out a way to get the car out.

Ella wasn’t given a choice when she returned in the afternoon.

‘We’re going over,’ I said. ‘I have a plan. We could try to lift the roller door.’

Undeterred by her mother’s crazy idea, Ella jumped into action. We entered the carpark, called out in case an axe murderer was about to make himself known and made our way to the front. The chain on the roller door was padlocked and I was ready to admit defeat. Sure, I had thought about ramming the door, but my car would have come off worse. As satisfying as it would have been, a thin thread of sanity stopped me from doing a full Thelma and Louise job on the carpark.

‘I can’t believe you are going to give up,’ said Ella.

At moments like these, she is truly my daughter. Of course, we wouldn’t give up! We made our way to the back and found another roller door. No padlock on this one! I tried to pull on the chain, but my exertions led nowhere. Ella on the other hand could move it about 10 cm. At that rate it would be midnight before we could drive the car out. Still, she was a determined young Quasimodo, pulling the chain with all her might.

I went out to see whether I could help push it up from the outside. No hope. That’s when two curious young men walked past. One looked back at me, so I said hello.

‘Do you need a hand?’ he asked.

What does it look like, I thought but I was savvy enough to offer a huge smile and coo ‘Yes please!’

‘We don’t need a hand,’ came Ella’s muffled voice.

‘Oh yes we do!’ I answered as I implicated two innocent men in our trespassing/ breaking and entering operation. The taller one was clearly gym junkie. It took him less than a minute to pull the door high enough for me to drive through it. He even pulled it shut, which I certainly wouldn’t have done. After our heartfelt thank you and waves goodbye, we drove off never to see the men again.

Moral of the story: Park in a reputable carpark.

Alternative moral 1: Be prepared for any crazy eventuality and act accordingly.

Alternative moral 2: Never be afraid to ask for help, especially when doing something slightly mad.

Alternative moral 3: When in doubt, go for the option that offers a memorable story.

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