Tuesday, May 30, 2017

This old house

This morning I had the pleasure of spending time with one of my former first graders who has become a dear friend.  During the summer before Dustin’s second grade year, he and his sister helped me plant annuals in the backyard, a moment in time I remember with such clarity, it’s as if it happened last season. 
Over the course of our conversation today, Dustin mentioned that he’s been saving up to buy a house next spring. 
“Really?” I asked.  “Where?  I’m hoping to sell mine soon.”
“Oh, I’d LOVE to buy your house,” he smiled.  “It’s awesome!”
“When I move can I take some stuff from the garden?” I asked.
“Whatever you want,” Dustin laughed.
“I’ll make sure I leave it looking great.”
“I’m sure you will.”
“Let’s set that intention for next year and see what happens,” I suggested.  “If it’s meant to be, it will be.”
Pulling up in the drive this afternoon, I thought about how wonderful it will be to keep taking care of this old house for someone who will love it just as much as I do…and will let me visit the place that has been both my stability and my sanctuary for almost twenty-six years. 
So here’s a blog from 2015…for Dustin, Andrew, and everyone who knows how to make a house into a home.

This old house
Originally published on July 6, 2015

What a lovely stretch of weather we've been having in my hometown this week.  After nearly two months of practically non-stop rainfall, I thought we had been magically transported to the Pacific northwest, but alas...five days in a row of sunshine and moderate temps finally gave me the chance to repair a leaky window frame on my sun porch.  So last Friday, I found my trusty caulk knife and got to work.  Unfortunately the job turned out to be a lot more work that I thought, for as I pulled back the old grout, a huge chunk of the wood frame came with it. In fact, the more I poked the rotten wood, the more it crumbled onto the sill like a stale brownie. 
My first thought was How long has this been rotting?
My second thought was Where's Norm Abram when you need him?
Then I did what I always do and found a YouTube video that showed me how to repair dry rot and got to work.  Pronto.

When I was a kid, rainy Sunday afternoons were filled with PBS "how to" shows, and my favorite was This Old House.  Each week I was enthralled by how Norm and his crew could renovate and repair even the hairiest of horrors an ancient abode could dish up.  Mind you, I had no desire to learn how to do any of it myself.  It was just a heck of a lot of fun to watch the pros at work.  Maybe that's how people feel when they watch me knit a pair of socks and say, "I could never do that!"
Yet since I became a home owner, I've had the furnace and air conditioning replaced (after the old one caught fire while I was hostessing a baby shower), put in new windows (as the old casements leaked cold air and rainwater), a new roof (the old one was rotting beyond repair), refinished the hardwood floors (which were hidden treasures beneath the carpeting I had laid that Labor Day weekend in 1991), and redecorated every single room in the house at least three times. 
It's been a heck of a lot of work, but I'm proud to say I've learned a lot in the process...and not just about home repair.
While I never imagined I would live here almost twenty-five years (and have tried to escape a time or two), my home has been a touchstone as I've traversed the precarious canyon from early adulthood to middle age.   For the initial decade, it was an anchor to the past and all the things I thought I should be.  I attended a church closer to my house and joined the choir, as well as various other committees.  When I watched most of my friends get married, I sank my roots deeply into creating a nest of my own.  When they started having babies, I volunteered as a nursery nanny at Toledo Hospital where I rocked newborns on Monday nights, fulfilling my need to love and nurture something outside of myself. 
In the second decade, the stability of the house provided a platform from which to jump into the unknown.  When I realized I would need to leave teaching if I were to ever create a healthy family, the house provided a sanctuary for me to build a yoga business.  Here I've written novels, children’s books, and countless blogs and articles.  Here I've painstakingly taken myself apart and meticulously put myself back together again...and have done so more than once.
In 2008, when my heart was set on moving to Big Sur, I put the house on the market and left in April of that year, never anticipating the devastating financial crash that was soon to follow.  In the hopes of ridding myself of all ties to my past, I lowered the price on the house twice, then hit my limit.  At that time, I prayed for someone, anyone, to come along and relieve me of what I considered to be a tremendous albatross.  My friend, Yvonne, recently revealed that during the year I was gone, she earnestly prayed my house would not sell, that I didn't seem fully content and happy to be in California. 
I'm glad that she knows me so well, and even more so, overjoyed that Yvonne's prayers were answered instead of mine.

I imagine the many incarnations my home and gardens have encountered are actually reflections of my inner growth, the struggles I've encountered, the new colors with which I've learned to paint, both internally and externally.  Each room has been gleaned of its excess and honed until it personifies a season.  My bedroom is winter into spring with its warm and cool colors blended effortlessly with undertones of green.  In my dining room, I painted the cornices with wildflowers and decorated it with things that represent the renewal of springtime.  The office and connected sun porch reflect summertime with their bright yellow walls and white curtains.  My favorite season, autumn, is echoed in the living room where earthy colors are anchored by a beautiful pine wood floor, a gift of the original owner.
Through all these years, my home and surrounding gardens have been the constants in my life.  They have been peaceful companions as I've made the slow, steady transition from school teacher to yoga instructor to novelist to writer.  They have witnessed every tear and triumph, every fit of anger and wave of fear.  As the house is sixty-five years old, it's caused me grief and pushed me to my financial limits, but it's also challenged me to be mindful of my continual evolution. 
And always, it has been both a respite and an incredibly peaceful sanctuary.

A few summers ago I walked up the stairs from the basement.  When I reached the kitchen, I stood in awe, realizing that this home is truly mine.  Everything in it belongs to me.  Every room, every object, every memory.  This house and all the growth that surrounds it are touchstones and symbols of myself.  For it's within the safe haven of these walls that I continually learn to embrace the life I've been given. 
The longer I live here, the more beautiful the gardens, the more comforting the rooms.  Still, I've grown less attached to the tangible nature of my house.  Its structure is simply the foundation, but my spirit has been the transforming element, the gardener, the decorator, and the inherent nurturer.  With this discovery has come the joyful awareness that I have the ability to create a home wherever I might live in the future.
One day soon this old house will belong to another, and when it does, I pray that whoever lives within these walls will feel safe enough, as I have, to tell their own story and to tell it well.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Not right now

Spring has finally arrived in my hometown, but it’s been slow growing.  For weeks, there have been long stretches of gloomy, rainy days.  The furnace is still on, and it’s often too chilly to enjoy the sunroom until late in the afternoon.  I thought that once the season of renewal appeared, I’d feel a burst of energy that gave me the momentum to plant my garden, write a book, and hike to my heart’s content.
But not right now.
For a while, I’ve had to make myself get out of bed.  Cajole myself into cleaning the house.  Bribe myself to sit at the computer and try to string words together.  I can blame it on the rain or the fact that I’m still wearing fleece and woolen socks.  I can foist my frustrations on the fact that I’m going through menopause.   Or I can face the reality that I’m about to surrender to something I’m not comfortable with at all, and that makes me feel profoundly sad.
I’m not alone.  In the past few days I’ve connected with two girlfriends whose mothers are terminally ill.  Another friend’s daughter recently had her third miscarriage.  Another one lost a friend who had lived in her neighborhood when their daughters were very young.  With Mother’s Day in the wings, it’s heartbreaking to know how many women I treasure will be celebrating a bittersweet holiday.   Last night, I dreamt of my own mother who I haven’t seen in more than seven years, and woke up in the middle of the night in tears, unable to stop crying even as I drove across town this morning.  Sometimes I wonder if my grieving will take a lifetime, or if I’ll ever fully understand the complicated dynamics that led to the silence between us.
These days I’m exploring an idea Ariel Levy writes about in her memoir, The Rules Do Not ApplyThe idea that in life, unlike in writing, the drive to analyze and influence might be something worth relinquishing was to me a revelation.   As a classroom teacher, I worked with of hundreds of children.   As a yoga instructor, I’ve had the opportunity to practice with an incredible number of students.  As a writer, I imagine that my work has influenced readers around the world, most of whom I will never meet.  It’s been an honor and a privilege to teach, an uncommon blessing to write, and I wouldn’t trade one moment of it for anything.
Still, for a while now I’ve been trying to decide how I want to spend the rest of my life.  It was a quiet revelation when I turned fifty last September, and ever since, an inner revolution has been stirring inside me.  Now, more than ever, I realize how precious time is and that once spent, we can never get it back.  I’ve wasted years waiting for my life to start.  Decades waiting for people to change.  Half a lifetime wondering, What am I supposed to do? 
I used to think I knew the answer.
But not right now.
So I’m going to take some time off from Facebook, from writing and blogging so I can figure out my next move both professionally and personally.  I may choose to give up on something I’ve worked for since I was in my late twenties.  I may choose to find a salaried job so I can eventually sell my house and move to a more peaceful place.  I may choose to wait a while longer and see what time will tell.   In surrendering to the fact that I have no idea what the future will bring, I accept that trying to analyze or predict it is fruitless.  The only way out of this long, dark tunnel is through it, step by step. 

When I was little and asked my mother for something she didn’t want me to have, her answer was usually, “Not right now, Kate.”
I’d wait and impatiently wonder, If not now, when?
Sometimes I’d eventually get what I had wanted.  Sometimes not.
As I sat down to write this blog, I gently spun that question a different way -- If I don’t take the time to walk through this uncomfortable place right now, when will I?  
For all of us who are welcoming spring with a heavy heart, I’m hopeful that in time, we will live our way to the answers to our questions.  That we’ll find moments of peace along the way.  That while the blessings of our journey may seem out of our reach right now, we will continue to know that they are waiting in the wings, better than we could ever imagine.