“My house is me, and I am it, and it is all my dreams.”

When my son was in third grade, he was in a play called the Big Orange Splot. It was, I believe a previously unperformed play. The story was about people in one neighborhood where everyone was to maintain their home to look exactly like everyone else’s right down to color. One day a big orange splot falls out of the sky onto someone’s roof. The reaction of the neighborhood was immediate. This would not be tolerated. The person whose house had the big orange splot decided that he liked it and intended to keep it. Chaos ensued. A line that came out of the play has been with me ever since, “My house is me and I am it and it is all my dreams.” I hadn’t thought about this line for a while until this week when we were in an area that might have to evacuate due to fire. It reminded me about my feeling of home.

As I looked around the house at everything and started to consider what I might need to take should we have to evacuate, I was filled with grief. What if what I bring is all that we have left? As a person who tends to, what we call Spiral in my family and worry about all the worst case scenarios, I lost control. I was weepy as I video scanned the interiors of my house in case we needed to use this for insurance purposes. I could barely think about this possibility.

This house was purchased with hope that we could get back on our feet and return to the place my husband and I began when we were first married. The house is a project. We have put so much love and energy into it. With so many things it needs, it has been a slow process. If you don’t have the money, you have to use time. Ever so slowly, my vision for the house is materializing. Unfortunately, we have to spend large chunks of money on very unglamourous projects such as a new septic system. Expensive and nothing shows. Not that you don’t have to maintain the infrastructure, but it sure would have been nice to spend the money on a new kitchen floor or cabinets. No one said ever” My what a lovely septic system you have!”

My fears about the fire have been allayed, but we are still in the midst of a series of horrifying heat spells. September and October are typically warm months, but with global warming, we are experiencing record setting temperatures everyday. The worry of fire always there. Now, I better understand the line from the play, I love this house probably more than the other houses we have lived in because we are free to craft a different life for ourselves. We are a work in progress…..In the context of the play, I also consider that it is not just about me, but also appreciating each others desire to define how they want to live.

Cleaning Up

I am sitting here watching a little bird pick up small pieces of weed and straw from our yard’s dodgiest location, the dog yard. Now I know that the little bird will create a wonderful nest out of all these scraps. It is in a sense recycling all the little bits to create a wonderful nest for its eggs and eventually its baby birds. As much as we all try, it is very difficult to keep our own nests tidy and recycle things. It could be a full time job.

When I was younger, I was often very critical of homes where yards and houses seem to run to rack and ruin. Why did they let those vines, creep over the entire front porch? Why was the broken bicycle allowed to disintegrate in the front yard? What was the deal with all the broken pottery on the walkway to the house? Even though I have more time as we are Sheltering in Place, I still can’t get rid of the feeling that I am not keeping up with the growing list of items to clean, replace, repair, repaint. And Now as the weather is getting dry and afternoons are breezy, I will have to contend with dust as well. Lots and lots of dust. I feel like I am becoming one of those people.

On Saturdays, I usually pick some larger projects like painting a small space, organizing something or getting rid of stuff though at this time that’s a little tough because the places I would like to donate to are closed. Still, I do have a lot of ideas.

For long time, I was reluctant to part with anything because it all reminded me of our old life with it’s abundance of travel, meals out, the parties, the entertaining- never on a small scale, spending way too much money on crap that I didn’t need. It is still hard to look at photos of that time. These, too, are stashed away in boxes.

Many of my decisions in life have been driven by fear. Once I discovered that I was my own worst enemy, attracting more bad luck by worrying about every little thing. When you have experienced a lot of traumas in your life, you tend to fall off the ledge pretty easily. It can get so bad, it is debilitating. One evening while sitting on the couch cocktail in hand, I thought for a minute ” Right here, right now, everything is ok.” This was a revelation to me. I discovered a quote that I love. It was written by Julian of Norwich, a medieval Christian mystic, ” All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” I now have this tattooed around my left wrist. Occasionally, I still freak out, but now, with practice, I am usually am able to talk myself off of the ledge

Weirdly enough, cleaning, tidying, painting, any sort of results driven activity will help me turn my thinking around. Anais Nin had a great quote about tidying up which has really resonated with me because I get it. I have to paraphrase because I don’t remember the exact quote, but something to the effect of “When I cannot bear outer pressures anymore, I begin to put order in my belongings….. As if unable to organize and control my life, I seek to exert this on the world of objects.”

Right now, I have some time to do projects. I have found working from home a wonderful respite from Daily commutes and 10 hour work days. I just hope that I will keep my motivation to keep tidying up and moving forward when we all return to our somewhat routine lives.

What We Do For Love

My childhood was rather tumultuous growing up. After my mother died when I was about 9 years old, we had a couple of housekeepers. One had no interest in making any changes, the other made some limited mediocre changes which frankly, I doubt that my dad even noticed. Then my dad married my stepmother when I was 12. She wanted to revamp everything. I know she wanted to make our house her home, but she had really different taste and not great taste. I tended to look askanse at all the changes. Paint, cheap furniture and I was sort of appalled that she got rid of most of my mother’s good furniture. Of course, my stepmother’s taste was nothing like my mother’s. My stepmother favored a weird combo of cheap Mediterranean and Danish modern and a few pieces from my mother that she deemed salvageable. My mother on the other hand was a died in the wool East coaster so a lot of her stuff was antique or based on antiques. She liked found pieces and old family stuff. She had good taste. Much of my taste was based on what I absorbed from her while growing up. I’d say the biggest problem that I had with all these changes was that I missed my home being as my mother had created it. I think a more astute person would have wanted to move a little more slowly in this process and perhaps enlisted my family’s thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, my father was in his own misery.

I think my fascination with houses developed from this experience. I have always been enamored of old houses and houses in general. My husband is always surprised that I can remember the floor plans of most houses I have been in. We have owned a lot of houses and I have probably moved about 4 times in my life more than the average person. Each house had it’s own way of life and style, but in truth, I think that I keep wanting to recreate the comfort of my childhood home. What I missed.

It’s really not possible but I keep looking for that sense of permanence that illusive thing I miss. With each house we look at, I imagine what that life will be like in that house. It’s a little like trying on clothes, but on a much bigger scale- life! I fell in love with Interior Design from my mother. The way she put things together, the colors she used, the items she salvaged and repurposed. I am good at design, but never pursued it as a career because I hate sales, ugh. I love restorative work, rebuilding bringing back what was lost.

Now, the house we are in was a “purchase in haste repent at leisure” sort of a deal. After 2008 we had to put our house on the market and frankly, it was really too big for us anyway with our son off at college. It took three years to sell with the market in free fall. Finally, with a buyer in hand, we had to find a house and close escrow in less than 40 days. I picked this house because I knew we could get it cheap because it was a wreck and in a somewhat remote location. I had thought we would have enough money to do all the work necessary in the first couple of years, but that illusion quickly evaporated after a sudden downturn in my husband’s business.

So here’s the repent at leisure part. We have been here 8 years and only managed to get a few things done like that new roof, some painting, built a deck, done some foundation work replaced some of the heating system ( a wall Heater), and replaced the tub surround in my bathroom. We still have to replace all the windows, redo some of the siding, paint the rest of the inside of the house, redo the kitchen, build fences, new water heating system. Oh and did I mention the retaining walls slowly sliding down the hill returning the land to nature. All of this takes time and we both work full time. What keeps me going is that I am trying to do the best I can for my house and my family. It is both a frustrating and lovely journey.

Old House

I am sitting on my bed.  I have just hung a picture.  I stand back to look at it after hanging it and realize the top on this small picture is flush to the wall  and the bottom is about 1/2″ away from the wall.  I wondered how could anyone build something so badly. Was the idea just to provide shelter and who gives a darn about level or plum or what?

The whole house is built this way, but it’s not like you go around with a level when you buy a house to see if everything is square.  Old houses shift, settle, slide especially on a slope as we are.  Unfortunately,  you sometimes don’t discover the issues until you have lived  in the house a while.

Judging by the architecture in the main living area, the house was built in the 20’s sometime.  It was a small one room cabin with a sleeping porch at the back. Then there is an addition at the back side that is 2 stories.  The main post holding it up appears to be an old telephone pole.  The concrete has a scrawled inscription with a date of 1944.  The original listing for the house says built in 1944, but that would be wrong. That’s only that addition that was built then, and then of course there were subsequent additions added on to either side of the little one room cabin to accommodate a kitchen, a bathroom  and a living room.  These parts are the really bad construction.

The windows are all old 60’s  single pane aluminum windows. You know, the kind that rattle when you walk by.  When the wind blows sometimes, I worry about them getting broken.  They just rattle even louder.  Downstairs in the house are sliders.  The ceilings are extraordinarily low in some places only slightly over 6 feet.  The sliding glass doors which are peculiarly, also not standard height are installed inside out and consequently water drains into the frame when it rains.

As I sit and look around at the poor workmanship, poor plaster patches where maybe a door was or around the windows, I wonder why anyone would build something so badly. Was it just to provide shelter for a growing family with no means to hire professional workers, was all the material salvaged from something else? I suspect it was. I am picturing the home owner slowly adding on as the family grew  taking his time using what he could find or barter.

When we initially wanted to replace the roof, I went to get a permit at the county offices. The woman at the desk told me she would issue the permit, but that I need to go see the planning department, because there was no record of a house on the lot.  That about told me all I needed to know.