November 2010 Archives

Home is Wherever My Hands Get Dirty

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Pinny who never moults 2.jpgAfter five months of applying (and reapplying) for a HAMP loan to stay in our home, we've decided to let it go into foreclosure.  It could be many months before the bank will even look at our continually resubmitted paperwork and in the meantime we've had time to consider the direction our life has been going in, what our true needs are, and what "home" really means.

We've been homeowners for 10 years and I admit that I fell into the faulty belief that if I owned a home I would be stable, wouldn't ever have to move, and I could plant fruit trees and watch them mature.  When I moved into my first home and gushed to my dad that I would never move again he said I was wrong, that I would outgrow that house and move at least once or twice more.  Turns out he was right.

I've planted fruit trees in three out of four homes I've owned in a decade and seen not a single one mature because we have either outgrown our house, been forced to sell it in order to not to lose our equity in it, and then two more homes later and we just keep moving, just keep moving.


Curly-Sue or Mo 2.jpgOwning a home gave me the freedom to discover cooking, gardening, housekeeping, and keeping hens.  It gave me the inspiration to learn to can my own food and it taught me to ask what I can do for myself so that I can avoid calling someone in to do it for me. 

Owning a home guarantees nothing.  Most people don't own a greater percentage of their home than the bank does.  Most people don't live in the same home for more than a few years because in spite of how far civilization has come, people are becoming more nomadic again. 

orb weaver out front 2.jpg
I have had this hunger to "settle" for as long as I can remember because I resented moving so much as a kid.  I hated it.  My son is learning to hate it too.  I kept thinking that the best thing in life is to have a little plot of land of your own to grow food on and a house you love and will grow old and die in.  It's a combination of an American myth and my own fairytale.  It's what we're supposed to want.  It's what we're supposed to work ourselves stiff for.

I had the house I never wanted to leave.  I had the house I wanted to die in.  I had it all.  I had every bit of that dream and life carried it away from me on a foul wind.  Ever since losing the house of my dreams I've clung to the same ideal, trying to recreate what I had.  Every time I try to recreate it rips right out of my hands and leaves me with a wrecked foundation and a bunch of matchsticks to start over with.

I knew there had to be a message in there somewhere.

Sometimes life has to kick you in the head until you learn to duck and cover.  Sometimes you have to stop trying to rebuild the same thing over and over again.  Sometimes you have to look at everything differently and under the bare-bulb light of raw interrogation.  What if what you think you want so bad isn't what you need and what if creating the life you need leads to to a life you really want?

Home is not about ownership of property.  Home is not about owning anything at all.  Home is about what kind of a life you can make with the materials you are given and that you are able to find.  Home is about nourishment.  It's about self sufficiency.  Self sufficiency isn't just about having a garage full of tools or a field of wheat, though those things are good if you have them and can keep them.  Self sufficiency is about rolling your sleeves up no matter where you are or what you're doing and asking what you can do to improve a situation, a person, or a place.  It's about rolling up your sleeves to make things with your own two hands.  You don't have to own a house to make things with your hands or to fix situations, places, or people.

I despise the old saying "Home is where the heart is" because it's such a shameless oversimplification and meant to provoke a warm (predictable) emotional response from people and the people who say it usually aren't homeless or heartbroken.

Home is where you nourish yourself and your family.  Whether you do that in a house you own, or a rental, in an apartment, or in a commune.  Home can be the shelter you took your kids to to be safe and warm.  Home isn't anything as simple as your heart. It's earthier, harder, and primal.

As we've been waiting and waiting for the bank to answer our plea for assistance I've had a lot of time to ask myself what I need and whether what I need is what I want.  They aren't necessarily the same thing.  What I need, and what my family needs, is to reduce our responsibilities and burdens.  We need to cut out about fifty percent of our belongings.  We need to pare down, lighten up, get back to the core things we need in order to take care of ourselves.  We need a living space that's half the size of what we have because we can't take care of what we've got with our limited time and income.  We need to either have a postage stamp yard or no yard because as passionate as I am about gardening, that's not what I need right now.

We need to have time to enjoy each other's company without constantly dealing with all the little/big things that are falling apart right now or the things we've obligated ourselves to do or the things we should be doing as homeowners and can't and are therefore constantly stressed out about.

The decision to let the house go into foreclosure hasn't been an easy one and though I have to admit that it's making me more emotional than I like being, it already feels like a tremendous load is about to lift from my life.  It feels as though this is the first right decision I've made in five years.  It isn't easy to pry my fingers from the ghost of the dream I spent ten years fixated on.  It's hard to let go of something everyone else thinks you should die trying to hang onto.

A house is just a house.  I can't live my life as though an apocalypse is about to render all people without acreage into starving vagabonds.  A house isn't a home if it keeps you from doing what you're really supposed to be doing.  A house isn't a home if it drains more from you than it fills you with.

The only truly sad thing about this decision is that I must find a home for my 9 loved hens.  The oldest three, Dot, Flower-bud, and Pinny are my sweet old biddies who have served me so well and who will take hens that are at the end of their laying cycles to let them retire in comfort?  I'm heavy with the need to relocate them but there's no question about it and there's so much to do to prepare for the future move, the sooner they get settled somewhere safe and good, the sooner I can deal with the change ahead.

My life has never been settled and I see now that it doesn't matter.  What matters is that the best day of every week is when Philip, Max, and I go out to dinner together.  What matters is that I can cook amazing food and support local growers and sew and nourish my family in any shelter.  What matters is that I finish writing my book and get it published.  What matters is that I teach my son not to dogmatically hang onto ideals that don't work for him as an individual. 

What I hope for is a cottage no bigger than one thousand square feet, a tiny yard for my pets to enjoy, a good kitchen, and a corner to write in.  Or perhaps we'll find a cool old apartment downtown above the stores.

We won't likely move until late spring so I have time to weed through and curate my belongings down to an essential collection.


Yesterday Max asked me what I most want.  What thing do I really really want the most?  I couldn't think of anything I want.  I need some new sheets but that's not what he meant.  I don't want anything.  I haven't got an appetite for things the way I used to and it reminds me of when I was first married and I was filled with earthly wants and desires.  I remember burning with the desire to own a home when I was living in our sweet old apartment in San Francisco and here I am, seventeen years later, on the other side of it all.  What I'm remembering is how amazing my apple green vintage kitchen was. 

I've been in a lot of different kitchens and I expect I'll cook in a lot more before I die.

Home is wherever my two hardworking do-it-yourself hands dig in and get dirty.

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