At least that’s what I keep telling myself as I look at our dining table covered with our IKEA fleece blanket and topped with the red ceramic dish from Morrakesh, a green lantern for the decor box, a candle boat from Sri Lanka made out of coconut something or the other, cords-a-plenty, the monitor that needs a new home. Never mind that we still haven’t sold this table so we can put the wooden one behind it in its proper place as our dining table.

Day two of The Giant Flat Cleanse of 2012 – it has a name now – is coming to an end, and I feel good after scrubbing dirt off the floor, and toothbrushing dust out of crevices in our balcony door. But the mess on our dining table reminds me that all good things take time. There are no quick fixes in the process of bringing order to our lives; all things – whether it’s stuff, lifestyles, attitudes, relationships – need to be assessed carefully and then put back in its proper place.

So here’s to patience and the effort it takes to see the big picture because it is a good picture.

Sometimes life converges on you, a mountain of problems, worries and issues that require attention now. You knew it was coming, but the immediacy and urgency of it all takes you by surprise because you need to stop everything and charter a new course.

This must have been what happened to me when I started making the conscious decision to spend less time in front of the computer. I started to see the things in my life that were out of order, the places in my relationships that needed work and what my body was trying to say to me. And I ended up in a difficult place of sorts but with a clear plan.

We can’t accurately see our needs until we can clearly see what is filling us. And the best way to find what is truly filling us is to go without, to remove our crutches, our fillers, our safety nets. 

So the next two weeks are for detoxing. Tomorrow, we start going through our flat, room by room: deep cleaning, evaluating all of our possessions and re-organizing. Yesterday I began two weeks without caffeine, sugar, alcohol, meat and dairy. There are other things I am doing as well, but those are more personal. I have found time and time again that when I begin to put one area of my life in order – in the right order – other areas follow. I wonder what other surprises are waiting in the weeks to come.

  • Veggie Bruschetta     Lunches are the most difficult for me to figure out when I’m not eating meat, mostly because I don’t always plan my lunches in advance. This quick bruschetta was lunch today, and the only sad thing about it was that there were two instead of four or even six. I’ll be making this again. My base was our standard nut bread from Coop. I topped that with mashed avocado, sliced (ripe) tomatoes and a few basil leaves. In a small frying pan, I sauteed slices of garlic until the kitchen was fragrant then I added sliced mushrooms and let it cook until not done-but-not-too-done. And I added that mixture on top of the tomatoes, sprinkled it with salt and ate it for lunch. Divine.

Austria officially won my heart, and no, it wasn’t the endless opportunities to serenade Husband with my best version of The hiiiiiilllllls are aliiiive with the Sound of Music, ah ah ah ah. I may not be 16 going on 17, but I still tried to have confidence in confidence alone and took every opportunity for serenading; singing is one of my favourite things after all.

We spent a week in the Salzkammergut region of Austria, which is an hour out of Salzburg, a city that is known in Europe for its quaint charm and outstanding classical music and a city that is known to the English-speaking world as home of The Sound of Music. We stayed in St. Wolfgang on the Wolfgansee (a lake).

Here are a few of my favourite things from our trip:

1. Austria is stunning in every way. The lake is perfect colour, surrounded on all sides by beautiful mountains. St. Wolfgang is a peaceful place and not overrun by tourists.

2. Austria and Austrians keep the German and Swiss cleanliness and efficiency but pair it with Southern European warmth and friendliness. It’s a great combination.

3. Almdudler. Partly because of the name because, really, it’s called Almdudler, and you pronounce it “Alm” plus “doodler.” But mostly I loved it because of the taste. I’m not a soft drinks person, and I can’t stand fizzy water, but this drink was fabulous. Wikipedia compares it to ginger ale, but I don’t think that is remotely correct. I have never tasted anything like it, but I had one nearly every day. Refreshing, tasty, unique. Long live the Austrians.

4. Boats. I love them. Any kind of boat, any kind of water. It is freedom, beauty, peacefulness and calm.

5. Watching Small One climb up a big-kid slide like a little mountain climber. The look of determination on his face is priceless.

6. Visiting Salzburg – I don’t know when I first started dreaming about seeing this city, but it was a long, long time ago. I was only there for a day, but it did not disappoint. Even though I live in Europe, I haven’t seen many of the most famous sites, but I have seen enough to know that my “type” of city isn’t the big, glittering kind (except for Paris, my favourite). I love the smaller, mid-sized cities that have well-preserved old towns, colourful buildings and quaint alleyways. Salzburg has all of those things and more.

7. The Sound of Music connection. Husband had to remind me that his participation in the tour was a significant act of love and sacrifice on his behalf. It’s a good thing he told me because I would not have recognised it as such because who wouldn’t want to go on a Sound of Music tour, am I right, am I right? I say connection here because I don’t want to recommend the tour company we used. Our guide was hilarious and full of disappointing interesting information (did you know that the von Trapp family did not actually cross the Swiss Alps on foot and escape to Switzerland? They took a train to Italy then got a boat to England. It took me a while to get over that). But we hardly went to any of the big sites, only to the lake across the outside of the house and the gazebo used for I am 16 Going on 17. 

Here I am “running” around the fountain featured in the Do-Re-Mi song. I think this is in the Mirabell gardens

8. We had dinner at this place in St. Wolfgang, and sadly I cannot remember its name. The food was good, but the ambience was probably one of most favourite. Its terrace was on the lake, and our table was a meter away from the water. The decor was simple but co-ordinated and colourful. We watched the swans and ducks paddle away and fish out of the water for insects hovering above them. The sunset was lovely.

9. Settlers of Catan marathons with Husband and his brothers even though I sadly only won one game. Next time.

10. This fountain in Salzburg – I think it is the Pegasus fountain. It might be my favourite fountain in the world.

I’m on holiday for the next little while and will be taking a holiday from the computer as well (except for posting these), but I’ve asked a few of my friends to keep this blog going. All of these ladies write blogs – or have written blogs – that I read regularly, but most importantly they are people I know in real life. 

Anna and I met during my first visit to Geneva, and she was one of the delightful fixtures of my almost-first-two-years here. She’s brilliant, funny and makes brownies that disappear within minutes at a party. I love what she’s written here, in part because it helps me to understand the place where I currently live a bit better, but also for the insights that it provides on places and how the places where we live affect us. Here’s Anna:

Switzerland just might be the world capital of privacy and discretion. This is the culture that practically invented banking secrecy and, while subcontracting for some banks and corporations in Geneva, I signed away my rights on a regular basis to everything short of my firstborn in the event that I breached any aspect of the multi-page confidentiality agreements. Public transport is eerily quiet, a sort of self-enforcing privacy policy – because if you’re the one talking, you’re the only one talking, and in home-of-the-U.N. Geneva it doesn’t matter how obscure a language is: someone within earshot understands it.

And then there are the noise ordinances, which are in effect from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weeknights and something like 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekends. Traditionally those don’t just mean “Turn down your music”; they mean “Don’t flush the toilet.” In expat circles, it seems everyone has heard of the naïve foreigner who decides to throw a dinner party for all his friends and, in a bid to avoid crossing his lone set of Swiss neighbors, invites these neighbors to attend. As the story goes, the neighbors show up, socialize, have a lovely time, and then excuse themselves at 10 p.m. and go home to phone in a noise complaint to the police at 10:01. I’ve come to consider this an urban legend, since everyone I’ve heard it from swears it happened to someone they know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did once happen to someone somewhere.

Once you adjust, there’s a lot to appreciate about a culture that places a premium on privacy and calm. Apartment life is uncharacteristically peaceful; unruly teenagers on the street are summarily shushed; and in many neighborhoods you can sleep with the windows thrown wide open and have no idea you’re in the middle of a city. When God and life brought me, a transplant from the rural Midwestern U.S., to a university neighborhood in suburban Boston four months ago after several years in Geneva, I came prepared to pine for peace and quiet.

After years in poured-concrete apartment buildings that could double as bomb shelters (except that they don’t have to, because the basements actually ARE bomb shelters, but that’s another blog post altogether), “home” is now an early-20th-century dual-family house with slamming doors and echoing stairs and upstairs neighbors with hardwood floors whom I suspect of keeping Irish-step-dancing elephants as housepets. The house next door is home to a group of jazz musicians who like their late-night jam sessions. I live two blocks over from a fire station. A dump truck is inexplicably backing the wrong way up my one-way street at 9 p.m., beeping as it goes, at this very moment. Peace and quiet, it ain’t. But, to my surprise, the change has been a welcome one.

For my first week here, lying awake in bed while people stomped around upstairs and held band practice next door with sirens wailing intermittently in the distance, I was so frustrated I cried. Then, gradually, I realized that this life is real. Real people forget things and go racing up the stairs to retrieve them. Real people get drawn into their music and lose track of time. Real people call the fire department and trip car alarms and hit Snooze too many times every morning. When I’m living six people to a house and a dozen or two houses to a block, or stacked in the human filing cabinets we call apartment buildings, I should be aware of everyone around me going about their lives.

In Switzerland, I had the privilege of coming home at the end of every day and forgetting that anyone else existed. Now, I have the privilege of coming home at the end of every day and remembering that I’m not alone.

I’m on holiday for the next little while and will be taking a holiday from the computer as well (except for posting these), but I’ve asked a few of my friends to keep this blog going. All of these ladies write blogs – or have written blogs – that I read regularly, but most importantly they are people I know in real life. 

I am thrilled to introduce you to Amy, one of my dearest friends in the whole world. She and her husband, Kyle, write at a brand new marriage blog, I Do and I Do. Amy and I met during our first week at university, and even though our early lives could not have been more different, we shared common interests and dreams. She will always be a kindred spirit, a friend of the heart. The years have seen us grow up, move out, get jobs, husbands and children, and I am thankful that even though our life circumstances have drastically changed from that first week as carefree freshmen, we still call each other friends. Amy has worked as a copy editor and in communications for an international community-development organization, and now she stays at home with her children, Owen and Audrey. Make sure you check out I Do and I Do. Kyle and Amy are hilarious and fabulous writers, but more than that, I know that they are the real deal, non pretentious who are open and honest about their lives and opinions, and they have plenty of wise and insightful things to say about marriage. Here’s Amy:

Dr. Seuss is my hero. Seriously, I’m convinced that anyone who can communicate effectively with children is in tune with the world in a magical way.

“A person’s a person, no matter how small,” Horton the elephant said.It convicts me every time.

Just as I was feeling all weepy and inspired by the ways in which elephants continually speak to me (emphasis on the elephant at the zoo who locked eyes with me and … wait for it … lifted his trunk high in the sky and waved at me with the tip of his trunk in a way so intentional that we unquestionably shared a “moment”), Wikipedia tells me that Dr. Seuss wrote Horton Hears a Who as an allegory about America’s post-World War II occupation in Japan. But I dismissed Wikipedia since I decided that the story had to have been inspired by marriage.

See, when my pastor discussed on Sunday how people are people, my first thought was that I should probably try harder to like people. My next thoughts were of the people I encounter regularly out of necessity: the cashier at the grocery store, the postal carrier, the teenager at Smoothie King. They all have stories. They probably have loved ones, heartaches, secrets and their favorite flavor of ice cream. Then I began thinking about my family, specifically my husband, sitting to my right.

How often do I see him as a person? He was once a 3-year-old, like my son, mostly innocent and holding hostage the heart of his mother. He was once a confused adolescent, probably a little awkward, playing imaginary football games all by himself in the backyard. Then he became a man, navigating life, figuring out this woman to whom he’s pledged his commitment, all the while teaching that little boy how to dribble a soccer ball and telling a baby girl that she’s beautiful.

Sometimes I forget that he’s more than the man who goes to work every day. I forget that he’s more than a partner who helps juggle the logistics of children. I forget that he’s more than the guy who tends the lawn, takes out the trash and changes dirty diapers. In my selfishness, I dismiss his selflessness. In my laziness, I don’t accept his lovingness. In my self-centeredness, I neglect his self.

I don’t see the ways I need to give because I’m too busy taking.

He is a child of God, the father of my children and my best friend.

So, Kyle: Let’s get rich and build a house on a mountain. You can eat vanilla ice cream all day and I promise that I will fold all the laundry.