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I have always feared that I suffer from OCD. Among other symptoms, I hate loose ends, fixate on details, get way too much satisfaction from raking leaves and (as you know) am obsessed with the idea of cleaning my drawers. On the other hand, I am perfectly capable of overlooking the mail that accumulates on the dining room table and have successfully ignored the clutter on my bedside tables for years, so I hope I am not a candidate for clinical intervention.

But you really have no idea of the state of your mental health until your house is a construction zone and you are holed up in one room trying to convince yourself that the chaos beyond the door has no bearing on your life.

My house is rather minuscule, but usually the only time it feels that way to me is when I am trying to find a place for something that doesn’t already have one. That’s when I wander around noticing that every square inch is accounted for.

So what happens when you remove not a few square inches, but hundreds of cubic feet from being functional space, and need to move all the stuff that used to fit into it somewhere else? Things get crowded, to say the least.

At the moment, my guest bedroom is stacked with boxes. The refrigerator is in the living room, along with the new stove hood, sink, faucet and other items awaiting installation; to make room for that, all the furniture is pushed together in a useless jumble. The garage is crammed full of cabinets awaiting installation. The shed is full of what used to be in the garage. And of course the kitchen and dining room have been ceded to my contractor.

Basically, my house has been reduced to one room of livable space: my bedroom.

I have endured renovations before, so I knew what I was in for with this one, and planned accordingly. I was determined to keep my bedroom an oasis of calm.


I forgot about the bookcase in the dining room that holds about 100 cookbooks. It had to go somewhere, so it is now in my bedroom and listing dangerously. I sure hope we don’t get even a mild earthquake in the next few weeks, as death by falling cookbooks during a kitchen renovation would be way too ironic.

With the rainy season starting, my original plan to rely on the outdoor kitchen had to be scrapped. To survive, I needed to move the microwave into my room. And the toaster. And some basic pantry staples. I also brought in a small table from the patio to serve as desk and dining table.

Plus, you know the mail that usually accumulates on the dining room table so I can ignore it? It is now piling up in a stack on my bedroom floor, where it is a lot harder to overlook. Junk mail is a bit like the loaves and fishes — no matter how many urgent fundraising appeals I consign to the trash, twice as many arrive that day to replace them.

Ack! There is stuff everywhere. My room is starting to feel less like an oasis and more like a desert isle after a storm, with flotsam and jetsam washed up on all its beaches. I don’t know if this is OCD or just plain cabin fever, but I’m ready to spell out S.O.S. in junk mail and try to wave down a hot air balloon to rescue me.

And we’re barely two weeks into the process.

Fortunately, I’m heading to Florida for Thanksgiving momentarily. I’m hoping a week at my sister Judy’s impossibly pristine house will replenish my sanity reserves to help me get through the next month or so.

Then, when I get back, I’m going to figure out what I can do to get some order back into my small bit of real estate so I can avoid checking into the mental ward.

I think I’ll start by cleaning off my bedside tables.

I just noticed how cluttered they are.

Pickled Beets

From “Deep Run Roots” by Vivian Howard

Knowing that I would be confined to the burners in my rain-soaked outdoor kitchen, I chose the simplest recipe I could find in the wonderful cookbook selected for this month’s cook/book club meeting. The beets turned out great, so I’m sharing it with you.

Unfortunately, I didn’t look at the recipe before I packed away half the ingredients, so making this in the current state of my house still required several major spelunking excavations in the guest bedroom.

I suspect your spices and sugar are a bit more conveniently located, so you should be able to whip up these delicious beets in no time. I recommend doing it this week. They’d make a beautiful addition to any Thanksgiving table.

2-3 bunches beets

3 cups cider vinegar

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2 cups water

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3 cloves

3 bay leaves

2 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. chili flakes

3 star anise

To cook the beets, wash them, trim off the stems and place them in a saucepan covered with 2 inches water. Boil, covered, until just tender, about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the beets.

When they are done, drain and set them aside to cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel them (the skins should slip right off) and slice into 1/2-inch rounds. Place the rounds in a large jar or similar container.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot brine onto the beets in the jar, covering them completely.

Cool to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for up to three months.

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Betty Teller wishes you a happy and delicious Thanksgiving spent in an environment that doesn’t bring out your inner crazy. Send your mental health tips to