Our House, Our Home

A house is a haven for everything my we hold dear, not just for objects of nostalgia but for the life that we have built and continue to build and share together.   It echoes of conversations, laughs, whispers, tears, and an overflow of love.

Before my mother-in-law comes over though (or anyone for that matter), I have to clean. I vacuum vigorously our dark wood tiled floors, agonizing over the small tufts of white dog fur that seem to forever evade the suction of the vacuum. I fluff and arrange the pillows on the sofas. I put everything in its place, moving like a whirlwind from one room to another and back again. Above all though, I have a thing for how my house smells. Our house was built in 1960, and sometimes the damp and dirt of years passed creep in through the old windows mingling with the scent of last night’s dinner wafting from the trashcan in the kitchen. I light candles: sweet, fresh, and bold fragranced candles.

I know I’m not alone in this tradition. It’s common practice to do our best to make our house look like the inspiration for a still life work of art when people come to visit. The video Company is Coming on YouTube has over four million views for a reason, though I solemnly swear I’m not that bad! (Check it out: Company is Coming)

But truly the best things about the places we live are the things that make it feel like home. Home is about comfort. Home is about feeling safe and feeling like you belong. It is a refuge from the outside world. It is a personal haven. It is where you can put on your PJs as soon as you walk in the door.

When K bought this house and asked me to move in with him, I said no. Twice. Eventually he used his magic to convince me, and we moved in together while the house was still under considerable renovation. Construction was unavoidably pushed back a month, so when we moved in, only half of the house had flooring. The movers unloaded all of our furniture and belongings in a cluster on one side of the house. For someone who thrives on organization, it was a stressful time, though I like to say it was good practice in facing challenges.

K and I were in love and hopeful this house would begin to feel like our home, like a place where we could continue to grow and flourish as a couple. It did, and we got married a year later. Initially we had no set plans for how long we would stay in this house. We have talked frequently about the future as we continue to make improvements and renovate. We talk about the best way to add market value to the property and how to get back the money we have put into it, but with every change we make, this house feels more and more like us. It’s ours. It’s our beginning and such a big part of our story. I am beginning to think less and less of the future and instead focus more on how happy and content I am now where we are.

I like the components of our house that truly make it ours. We did the floors, some of the walls, the lighting, the wiring, the molding, the paint, the doors. Our touch as a couple in love, as a partnership, is everywhere. This week we are finally finishing the second bathroom. K and I have been happily sharing a bathroom this whole time, and I have grown used to it. While the newly remodeled bathroom is set to be primarily mine, I suspect I will miss sharing with my husband. I like both starting and ending my days along side him, like when we brush our teeth at the same time.  I think I’ll keep that tradition going.

My home has evidence of our life in every nook because that’s what it is, a home, not just a house. Our personalities and character come through in everything.

My mother-in-law came over last weekend. I went through my process of cleaning and straightening as usual. The doorbell rang, and when I opened the door to her smiling face, she looked at me and said, “Lobster.” I must have looked confused because she said it again and pointed down at my welcome mat. Ah yes, my front doormat has a picture of a lobster on it. Because why not?

She steps inside and after a minute of chatting she remarks to me how the house always looks so comfortable and serene. She notes that everything is always clean and the house always smells so good. Her comments make me smile stupidly. Part of me wonders if she compliments our house in an effort to be a good guest and a supportive mother-in-law, but as I gaze around the living room I feel a swell of happiness.

The cool blue walls showcase nicely the framed print of my favorite painting, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which I got at the Uffizi in Italy where the original painting hangs. The wide wall-mounted bookcase, part of the house when we bought it, is full of K’s collection of old books, including an old mechanic’s manual of his grandfather’s and a 1927 edition of Heidi I gave him this summer. The Pachira tree K got me for my birthday sits tall on its stand, absorbing the rays of sunlight floating in through the window.   Dog toys and dog beds are scattered everywhere, despite the fact that I just picked all of them up an hour ago. The room is full of photos and mementos and pieces of us.

Homes are like this. They become part of us. Whether it’s your first home, the home of your parents, or your forever home, cherish all that you have. Cherish the memories and all the little moments that piece together your story and all that you have experienced. Take a minute to pause and appreciate the comfort and warmth and love you are so very fortunate to have surrounding you.

I don’t know how long we will be in this house. We continue to update it, improve it, add our personal touches. But as long as we are here, it will be a place where we always feel comfort and love. It is our home.

Be the Change

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
-Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

Some days in this world are harder than others. Some days there is more uncertainty and unrest. We shake our fists at the institutions, at the broken systems, and at each other. We rage against the injustice of it all. We yell and scream, unleashing an exhaustive amount of negative energy that wraps us in a fog and seeps into everything around us.

We draw lines in the sand. We distance ourselves from our family, from people we once called friends.   We subject ourselves to demoralizing media, and we feel isolated, powerless, and scared. We act out, set things on fire, and hurt each other. In our misguided displays of loss, anger, frustration, and fear, we deepen the darkness of the time. We make things worse.

If we want change, if we are inspired to take action, we have to start with ourselves. We have to take a step back and take a long hard look in the mirror. Are we behaving like the people we think others should be? Are we practicing what we preach? After all, we can’t expect others to follow a way of life that we do not follow ourselves.

The key is to set the example. If you want to influence change, do and be all of the things you think others should be. Lead and show others the way by exemplifying the character traits you value the most, such as honesty, integrity, tolerance, and kindness. Hold yourself to the same, if not higher, standards that you hold others.

When we are angry and frustrated, we want to be heard. We want others to listen to us. But when we feel those words and actions swelling up in our chests and rising up ready and desperate to explode out of us, it’s time to take a step back to gain some clarity. If we want others to listen, then we must do the same. Take deep breaths and listen to the wind, to the birds, to the rustling leaves. Listen to the sounds of home and comfort, to life happening around us, and calm your thoughts.

Then open your mind to the thoughts of others. One of the greatest things about being human is our ability to discuss ideas, to share and debate opposing viewpoints rationally and without raging at one another. Wipe away those lines in the sand and reconnect with others. Listen to your loved ones, your teachers. Talk and share your thoughts and ideas, but also listen. In listening, we open our minds to new possibilities.

Attempting to understand the perspectives of others helps us grow and gain insight. We are all walking our own unique paths, trying to follow a way of life that we believe is the best way. We make decisions based on the knowledge and experiences that have contributed to our individual perspectives and that have formed our ideologies.   We cannot all be wrong, and we cannot all be right.

If we believe others should practice tolerance, then we must practice as well. It is important that we look beyond the point immediately in front of us and try to understand the viewpoints of others, their experiences, their passions and belief systems. We then begin to better relate to each other.

We don’t like what we don’t understand. We are scared of the unknown, and we allow fear to push us in whatever direction it wants. Sometimes it pushes us to run away, but no matter how far or long we run, fear will be right behind us. If we want others to be brave and seek to understand, we have to do the same.

We have to face our fears. Fear is a powerful tactic, and throughout history it has been used as a tool of influence and control. We cannot let fear goad us into thoughtless action. We cannot let fear dictate who we are. We cannot let it lead us down a path of hatred and judgment and anger. We must learn about the things that scare us or that we don’t understand, deconstruct them and put them back together.

We are all fallible and must take responsibility for ourselves, even when we feel inclined to blame something or someone else. None of us like to be judged, especially by others who lack the knowledge and proximity to understand us. None of us feel good when we are treated as anything less than what and who we are.

It is the golden rule of human interaction to treat others as you wish to be treated. If we crave more kindness and compassion in this world, then we have to create it. We start by simply being kinder to the people we encounter. Love and kindness have a ripple effect. When we experience it, we are more likely to pass it on to others. The energy we put out into the world increases exponentially and eventually makes its way back to us.

Positive change starts with ourselves, but there are many direct social and community contributions we can make. Rather than let feelings of hate, fear, or self-righteousness control and weaken us, we can share and spread messages of love, kindness, and tolerance. We can teach our children to be tolerant and brave and guide them along the pathways of morality and compassion. We can educate ourselves on the needs of our community and take action, volunteer our time and skill sets to causes we believe in and wish to positively influence.

We must aim high and practice becoming the people that inhabit our visions of an ideal world. Bit by bit we can transform, and all of that love and light will radiate outward and warm the people around us. We have to channel our passion and energy into the things we believe in, and we have to do it in a positive way and productive way. Then we can influence change within our communities, our neighborhoods, our cities. Together, we can influence the world.

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