Beware Of The Urge To Hoard

As a child, I observed my grandmother clean the kitchen. She disposed of all the unnecessary things, scrubbed every surface by washing and wiping them diligently. At regular intervals, she repeated this process with every room in the house. My mother, I can say with total confidence, is the chip off the old block. Keeping things organized and clean is not just her habit but also her hobby and passion. I wonder where those genes disappeared when it came to me. I clean my house no doubt, but that passion is completely missing.

For almost the last ten years, I have been living in the same old house. It has two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a laundry room and a storeroom. Every room, including the laundry room, is large. The problem with large spaces is that we tend to accumulate things. Over the decade, we had collected many things. Moving out from that house was nothing short of a nightmare.

It is at this juncture that I realized that I have been hoarding. Embarrassed by my situation, I got into a feverish pace of disposing and giving away things that I don’t really need. Things that we usually collect and pile up in corner cupboards are:

  • Old clothes: We stop using clothes that we grow out of, but somehow we don’t throw them away. They just sit there collecting dust. Removing old clothes is a very good way to declutter the house.
  • Old newspapers, books and magazines: What do I say about this one! Both my son and I love to read. We have a collection of books that we don’t have the heart to throw away. I managed to dispose of some and give some away yet, I have quite a few books that I am emotionally attached to. But, clearing them frequently is what I advise.
  • CD’s/ DVD’s/Records: This one was a surprise for me. I never expected to see so many CD’s/DVD’s in my house. The more I cleaned the more I found. We cleared at least fifty per cent of what we had and still, I have more to sort through in the collection.
  • Old electronic items: This category includes old phones, chargers, gadgets that no longer work and a few gadgets that we do not need anymore. They just lie in a corner covered in dust and grime. After a while, I don’t remember if it’s useless or otherwise. I had been lazy in getting them fixed or disposing of them. Now we have a ton of things to ship to the garbage bin.
  • Old expired items: This category is a critical one. We need to regularly check the expiry date on medications, cosmetics and food items stored in the kitchen. We need to get rid of items that are past their expiration date. This is one thing that I never miss out, fortunately. Laziness in this area means putting the whole family at risk.
  • Old bags: Yep! That’s what I said. Old handbags and school bags, lunch kits have a way of getting settled into cozy areas of the house. We tend to collect them out of nostalgia but, they should be cleared at the earliest.
  • Recycling Projects: These projects intend to use up the leftover and unwanted items. Make something interesting out of them and reduce the unnecessary stuff. However, the end result is often the opposite of this. We end up accumulating more waste with a project in mind, but never come around to finishing it.
  • Unfinished projects: This category is linked to the above pointer. I collect things with the idea of making some craft item but, these things rarely see the light of day. I have a hard time letting go of such projects. Every time I look at them, I hope to finish the project and make an art piece. I had to close my eyes and throw away all those things. From now on, I am setting a time limit of six months on such projects. If I don’t finish in that time, I have to throw those things because it means I will never have enough time to do it.

Finally, after clearing out all of these things, the house felt lighter and brighter. Our new house is smaller than the old one; the downsizing has helped us a lot. Cleaning the house is a never-ending task. I decided to devote a day or two, every month, for decluttering the house. If you have any other suggestions on this topic, I will be very happy to hear from you. Feel free to write your opinions in the comments section below. Enjoy!

Image Source: IStock

My Tryst With Cooking

Let me start by stating that I am not a bad cook. My cooking skills are not bad, but they are not great either. When I cook dinner, it is edible, but not exceptional. I am just glad that it is not unforgettable for the wrong reasons.

Having made that fact clear, I have to admit that my skills at cooking are not stellar. They are not anything to feel proud of. I have tried to follow the cookbook, but it was not helpful. I also tried to practice my skill with my mom and sister as they are good cooks. I followed their instructions to the tee, but no avail. I can cook any dish and it may taste good, but something is always amiss. Sometimes, the vegetables turn mushy or the cake is crumbly or the skin of the chicken is burnt. If everything else turns out right, the dish just does not look appetizing. The complaints are accompanied by jokes more often than not. There was a time when I was tasked with cooking daily as a way to practice. However, I believe that was just an excuse to assign the chore to me.

Despite my lack of natural talent at cooking, I decided not to give up. I decided to observe and learn any nuances that are not shared. I watched cooking shows, sat through boring discussions and gossip with my aunts to pick up some tricks, attended classes etc. I was successful in making a few observations that proved useful. Here are some findings:
● My cakes were crumbly because I didn’t use enough butter. The point is, use the correct ingredients and get the measurements right. Replacing cream with butter, or butter with oil or lettuce with cabbage etc. is not always advisable. Each component has its flavour. The taste is bound to change when you replace it.
● Be mindful about the quality of the ingredients. A bad batch of potatoes can ruin your potato salad or mashed potatoes. Stale meat or vegetables can ruin the best of dishes.
● Cooking requires patience. Wait till the vegetable or meat is tender or cooked thoroughly before you proceed to the next step. In a curry, adding water before the vegetable or meat has lost its natural moisture will spoil the dish. The vegetable or meat will not absorb the flavour of the spices.
● Do not rush the dish. Give it time to cook sufficiently. Setting the stove on high won’t make the dish cook faster. It will just burn and ruin everything. Cooking at the correct heat setting is critical to the outcome.
● Pay attention to the terminology used in cookbooks. Sauteing, boiling, frying, shallow frying, simmering, grilling, roasting, double boiling etc. are all different processes and they all have different effects on the dish. Interchanging the processes could spell disaster to the dish. Just because you do not have an oven, you can’t replace baking with grilling.
● The ingredients and the procedure are crucial to the outcome but it is equally important to understand the flavours. Not all spices or flavours work well together. Some spices do not suit certain cooking styles. For example, using ingredients like oregano or olives or avocados in Indian dishes does not generally taste as good. Using dry spices while grilling might not have the same result as the spice will just end up charring the dish and the flavour will not be absorbed.

I have listed a few basic procedural pointers to be wary of. Each style of cooking has its own set of tips and tricks. I have only just scratched the surface of the vast world of cooking. I hope to master it someday and share many more tips too.

Walking Is The Best Meditation

I consider walking as the best ways of meditation that we all can follow. It is not just a means to get to a destination. It is not just a workout for the body, but it is an exercise for the soul as well. We have all heard of people, who do their best thinking when they go out on walks. We have also heard of taking a walk to cool one’s mind. Some people practise walking as a hobby. However, to me walking is nothing but meditation.

When my mind is in turmoil, or when I am unable to hold a single thought for long, I take a walk to clear up my mind. There is something therapeutic about walking along a path all by yourself, preferably in nature. With no noise or other opinions clouding my mind, I find it easier to breathe and sort through the jumble in my mind easily.

In today’s world, concrete jungles are everywhere and finding a shady tree to sit under is a rarity. Walking among buildings doesn’t have the same impact as nature, but I will have to adjust until I can find a good park or walking trail near my home. I just pick a quiet lane that is lined with tree and pretend that I am walking in a park.

Some of the best places for a relaxing walk are the beach or along the river. There is a very relaxing effect that is generated by the sound of flowing water. The sound of gushing washing, tinkling sounds of a waterfall, the sound of waves, etc always sets the mind at ease. At times when I am particularly troubled, I play the sounds of water on Youtube. I am instantly taken back to that peaceful memories.

How Do We Decide Who Is Right??

In the last few weeks, we have seen many controversial and disturbing events that took place around the world. Mass shootings in the USA, protest against the regime in Hong Kong, reorganization bill in J&K (India), Ebola crisis in Congo, increased tensions in Iran, terror threats in Afghanistan, etc. We hear many such unfortunate and troubling news items daily. It makes us wonder about the dilemma of humankind. In many cases, it also instigates unrest in other parts of the world. People try to show their solidarity and support to the victims by taking out protest rallies and marches elsewhere. Some even resort to violence in the name of standing up for the oppressed.

All this might seem like a positive move to unite the world as one. Whether I show solidarity toward the army for quashing an attempt to revolt or march with the citizens of Hong Kong against police brutality, or dispute human rights violations by China, there is an equal number of people who support the opposite side. Herein lies my question. How do we decide who is right and who is wrong? What is propaganda and what is the fact? How do we identify the difficult truth, when it is surrounded by misinformation?

It is always easier to believe the words of deceit than to examine and find the truth for yourself. Since we cannot be everywhere and watch reality with our own eyes, we rely on news and social media to know the truth. When these people deceive us with smokescreens and play with our sensibilities, it is time to stop and make the effort to seek out the truth ourself. When you see two opposing viewpoints, try to find the truth behind the words of each party. Don’t fall for the sweet and soothing words of anyone who promises an easy way out. Believe in the words of those who show reality, however painful it is. The ones who appear to be victims may not always be the wronged party. The aggressors may not always be oppressors. Sometimes, they are just balancing mistakes long due.

I am not interested in telling people what is right and what is wrong. We must come to that conclusion on our own after digging for the truth. Social media, WhatsApp forwards, celebrity endorsements and speeches should not blind us from fact checking. Just because our favourite icons support a cause or make a statement, it need not be the factually correct. The media can be easily manipulated to promote a certain agenda or viewpoint. I can only urge people to think on their own and not become the mouthpiece fearmongers and xenophobes.

Historic Sam Sharpe Square In Montego Bay

Nested in the centre of Down Town, Montego Bay, is the popular Sam Sharpe Square. This historic place is bustling with pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It was originally called Charles Square.

Sir Charles Knowles was the governor of Jamaica from 1752 to 1756. James Lawrence who was the custos of the parish in 1755, laid out the parade in the town of Montego Bay and named the square as “Charles Square” in honour of the governor.

Charles Square was renamed as Sam Sharpe Square in the year 1976 to honour Jamaican National Hero Samuel Sharpe. He was from Montego Bay and was executed in the market place for being the main instigator of the 1831 Slave Rebellion at Kensington Estate nearby.

Here are a few images of what the square looked like then based on the images sourced from the National Library of Jamaica .

Today, Sam Sharpe Square boasts of several historic monuments such as the Sam Sharpe Monument, the Cage, the Civic Centre and the Freedom Monument and a fountain.

The cage, a wooden structure was originally built in 1806. It was used as a jail for runaway slaves, unruly seamen and vagrants. In 1822, the Vestry replaced the wooden structure with a stone and brick structure you see in the picture above. In later years, it was used for other purposes. Today, it is a place where they sell phone cards and other things.

Sam Sharpe Monument

Kay Sullivan designed the Sam Sharpe monument and it depicts Samuel Sharpe standing with a Bible in his hand and talking to the slaves. Samuel Sharpe was instrumental in the abolition of slavery in Jamaica. He was a Baptist Preacher and a great leader. Through his religious meetings, he communicated with other slaves and encouraged political thinking.

The Montego Bay Cultural Centre formerly called as the Montego Bay Civic Centre is a majestic structure that catches your eye as soon as you reach the Sam Sharpe Square. This facility has undergone major refurbishing by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and involved a cost of $109 million. This place now houses an art gallery, a museum, space for the performing arts, a bistro, an artisan village and a gift shop.

It is a collaborative effort of the TEF, the St. James Parish Council, the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Urban Development Corporation (UDC).

Originally, this building served a different and grim purpose. It was the Old Court House and was built in 1774. This is the place where many African slaves were tried. Samuel Sharpe was also tried here for his involvement in the Emancipation War on 19 April 1832 and he was sentenced to execution by hanging.

By 1959, the court offices and local government offices had become too large for the building to accommodate them and the court offices were moved to new premises on St. James Street. A fire destroyed the courthouse in 1968. In 2001, the Urban Development Corporation restored the building with funding from the Venezuelan Government through the San Jose Accord. It was reopened as the Montego Bay Civic Centre. It is a multi-faceted facility with provision for a museum, art gallery, performing arts and conferencing facilities.

The Freedom Monument was erected in 2007 to memorialize the enslaved persons who participated in 1831-32 war of emancipation.

In this picture, you can see what the Old Court House looked like in the early 1900s.

Here are a few more pictures I clicked at the square.

View of the back of the Montego Bay Cultural Center. While I was clicking these snaps, the bystanders told me that there were prisons here too.

A patty shop to snack at if you are tired or you could buy a few fruits at this pushcart.

When you visit Montego Bay, don’t miss a trip to the Sam Sharpe Square in Down Town.

Image Source: National Library of Jamaica and Jamaica National Museum. Click on the images to go to their website.

Rainy days are gloomy days

For the longest time, I never understood why people called rainy days gloomy. People generally love rain, so I figured it should be a paradise when it was raining all day. After the rain, the air feels cleaner, everything looks bright, the birds are singing their hearts out and the weather is more cheerful.

The above statement would contradict the title of my post. So, let me tell you how I realised that rainy days are gloomy.

If it rains once or twice and then the sky clears up, it would be a fun kind of weather. It sets up a holiday mood and everyone wants to go for picnics or at least a long drive on a winding road. The trouble is when the rains continue for days on end.

I’m not even speaking about the water logging or flooding in rivers. The damage to property or infrastructure is a different issue. I am complaining more about the big puddles that splash water on us, wet and sticky seats in buses and trains, the fungus and flies that gather on food that is left outside, slippery surfaces, etc. Footwear getting stuck in the mud, dirty water stains on clothes etc are just a few embarrassing instances. The list is endless. Everywhere one goes, you can smell wet and moist clothes. The absence of the sun makes everything look dull. The moisture makes the air heavy.

With so many complaints, it is only obvious that our day will be gloomy. So, what is there to love in monsoon season? Sitting comfortably, wrapped up in a warm and cosy blanket with a hot mug of coffee sounds enticing. Staying dry and clean at home while watching the rain from the windows also sounds good. Another famous Indian pastime during the monsoon is hot and fried snacks, preferably savoury. Let me know if you have better ideas.

Is There Anything Like Too Much Self-help?

For those of you who read my articles regularly and follow me, you would know that I am a believer of self-help and self-improvement. I strongly believe that every one of us has the potential to be better and greater. We just need to recognize the hidden potential and constantly improve our self for a better tomorrow. For me to find a friend who shares a similar attitude was a blessing. I felt that the universe was giving me a sign. It turned out to be that the universe was actually, teaching me a lesson.

I am a staunch believer in self-awareness and self-improvement. Any problem or issue that we face can be handled or eliminated without outside meddling. I believe this is the best way to handle them. At my workplace, I found a friend who thinks in the same way as I do and believes in the same things. I felt like I found my sister from another mister. We shared information and knowledge we gathered on self-help. We researched all the programs that were being conducted in our city and attended a few. She would often come up to me and tell me about some new teacher or self-help guru. She was always finding someone new and better, who ‘made it so much easier to learn’.

Too many cooks spoil the brotth

Initially, I tried to keep up with her and followed every new guru that she found. However, as I adapted myself to the teachings of one, she would come up with a new guy who, apparently is the best person out there. Soon, I started to recognize a pattern, my friends would start following a teacher and praise them sky high in the beginning, but once they got down to handling the issues at the core, or when they asked her to face her fears, my friend ditched that teacher. She would look for someone new. She would make an excuse that the old teacher didn’t understand the situation and that the new teacher had a better way of handling things.

Through all this, I noticed that she was not achieving anything. She was not solving her issues, or facing the real problem. Since I was riding along with her, I ended up confused and disoriented myself. I couldn’t follow the teachings of one teacher and my mind was a mixture of so many different thought processes. I realized that I had put my hand on too many things and lost focus on the actual goal of self-improvement.

So, what have I learned from this experience? Self-improvement is a solo project. It is not a team effort. Take your time to pick the right teacher, but once you find someone you like, stick with them to the end. Do not try to jump ship halfway through the journey.