a good home
“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” George Augustus Moore
In the winter, when the world is shrouded in a white so cold it’s blue, I often find myself standing in the frozen dark looking into my home. I spy on the people inside, warmed by flickering fires and candlelight that glows orange through the windows. I watch as dogs sleep, warm and soft, and the things I love are illuminated in a way I don’t normally see them. It’s one of my favourite things to do on still winter evenings - to peek into my world with different eyes. A voyeur into my own life.
I love my home. I love my home and she loves me. And while I have found things to love in all of the homes that I have lived in, this is the one for me. It took us awhile, to find our rhythm together, but we have. I’ve come to understand this house, I’ve learned from her solidness and excavated her authenticity. In return we’ve found the honesty of our home.
Our home was built some 160-170 years ago in a time where the wood and the stone that was needed to create her would have been pulled and dug and sawn from the fields and forests surrounding us. She knew only heat from the burning of the same wood that held her skeleton. She stands, to this day, on a foundation of stone three feet thick. A workman we recently hired gave up trying to get through her rocky bottom, left while the rubble was still on the ground and the job not yet half done. The extra heating ducts we were hoping for, just a dream. She was born in a time of the real and it remains all she knows.
There’s been a few iterations of this house’s lifetime sheltering humans. Some people covered her in vinyl. I suspect that made her itchy. Some thought plastic-y paint a fair enough skin. I wonder if that made her wince. Still, her bones remained and remain. It takes more than a bad hairdo to wipe out a gal.
I’ve written before about using natural materials in our house. And I strongly believe that there’s more to wood than the veneer. There’s more to brass than the shine. There’s more to stone than the cobbled effect of a concrete stamp. And there’s more to wool and fur and linen than the aesthetics. All of these things are elements from the earth. Creations from creation, just like us. They resonate and hold harmony and vibrate a warmth and calm in a home.
Sip a warm cup of tea in a handmade mug and now do it in one from a chain store. Let’s make that tea one you foraged from the wilds and dried from the sun instead of one in a plastic tea bag bought from an anonymous company. Pay attention. Take your time. Hold it and feel it and witness the difference. It’s there for you if you want to experience it. Up to you.
There’s this woman that I know that I get the honour of calling “friend”. Her name is Andrea and she lives in a beautiful farmhouse on a beautiful organic farm just a short bit from here. I wish that I could gather you all up in school busses and bring you on a tour of her home. That would be so much more effective than me looking for the words to express a feeling. Alas, I can’t gather the humans or the busses so maybe we could just pretend that we’re at Andrea’s front door and we’re heading into her home and I will tell you what we’re seeing and smelling and feeling.
First, just a step in the door and can we just stop here for a moment? Can you feel it? Her whole home just embraced us with warmth. There is so much life here, ours and her’s and the lives of all those that were in this home and used this old furniture, sat at that beautiful harvest table in front of us. There are farm dogs and farm cats and humans coming in and out. This is a working farm. Breakfast has been eaten and already there are pots bubbling with the evening meal. It smells of good food in here, like rich and delicious and real food that takes time to cook. Onions in globs of butter, maybe. Old cast iron pots, stained with time and use, sending smoke signals of nourishment into the air. The furniture is all made of real wood and none of it is new. It all has character, has been loved and has lived other lives. All of that shares this space with us. If you look close enough, you will see the ghosts still sitting on their sofas, reading their books while they smoke a good pipe. There are pictures on the walls and furniture that swallows you whole. There are books and stained glass and dark wood floors. There are jars and fermenting things and souring things on her counters. In the winter, the wood stove would heat our bones, but this is summer and the screened in porch blows a breeze right through the centre of the home. In her hallway, jars of preserves line the shelves. It is one of the most enchanting homes I have ever been in. Andrea and her family are welcoming, but her home stands on its own and holds any new visitor with a generosity not often shared by a space. Can you feel it? I wonder how many people actually get to experience her home in the physical and miss it altogether?
And that’s what this essay is about - not missing it. We’ve created these odd little boxes to hold our lives. We erect walls and a roof and temperature controlled environments. We pump water in and pump water out. We can make fire in our boxes and pump out the smoke. We can look out the glass to see the rising sun or the starry sky. It is altogether strange and an incredible, miraculous comfort. But that comfort comes with a price. We know now that homes can be sources of toxins that make us sick. Everything from mold, off-gassing fabrics and synthetic materials, wifi, LED lights, EMF exposure, fluoridated water etc.. can bombard us in a home. But our homes can also be our most meaningful sanctuaries, cocoons that wrap us in belonging and nurturing.
Home has always been important to me. My mother had an eye and a talent for beautifying a home. She never had a lot of money, but I witnessed what she was able to pull off on a meagre budget. I always thought we had the nicest home of any of our friends, but looking back, we usually had the most humble home. It’s just that my mom’s talents created beauty without the shortcut of materialism.
I took that with me into my life. When we moved every few years with the military, we weren’t moving into new homes we were buying. We were moving into military housing. Some of that housing was the pits, but I usually found something to love in every home we lived in. Our budget was also very limited and what can you do when you’ll be moving again in a couple of years? In fact, why do anything when you’ll be moving soon enough? Because what you surround yourself with matters. Because aesthetics tell the story of your life. If you are surrounded by things that don’t inspire you, if you don’t see beauty, how can you be convinced of its presence?
I remember getting to a new, bland military house and the first thing I would do was paint. Yes, I’d have to paint again before we left, but so what, we needed to live while we were there. Our possessions were few but they were possessions that had meaning to us. I have never wanted to go out and buy a bunch of cheap furniture to fill a space. I’d rather have fewer bits that can breathe and that are of high quality. For years, our living room had a vintage sofa I got for a song and covered in wool. We had a vintage solid wood coffee table with an old nubby vase on it that I would fill with whatever was blooming. There was probably pictures on the walls, and always plants. Plants everywhere. And that’s it. Each room, simple and warm and well loved. I always had plants, always had a garden. Flowers were the first thing I planted at a new home. Flowers and paint and I was well on my way.
The aesthetics of a home matter, but why do they matter and what does that even mean? Have you ever walked into a technically handsome home but it left you cold? The owner seems to have followed the trends pretty well and the collection of things in the home look fine on their own, but there is no soul there. It’s like people follow directions on how to decorate instead of what brings them joy. There’s no pounding heart circulating a lovely energy through the floorboards and around your body. It’s just stuff, arranged just so, but without effect. It’s why technically correct design can feel so superficial. A lot of that comes from mass production and the energy that brings with it. Fast and harried and profit over quality is not what I want to be bathing in. I’d rather not have it than have that. In everything a message.
I want my home to be a home of order and warmth and beauty. When there is mayhem in my life, my home is the first to reflect that. Piles and disorder on counters and in closets reflect what’s going on inside of me. A calm, steady Tara lives in a calm, organised home. The two are inseparable. I can look around my kitchen right now and see counters spilling over with things fermenting, jars of just-canned piccalilli cooling, milk clabbering, and piles of plums and peaches waiting to be processed. It’s summer, there’s bustle, and my home and my body are aligned in the overwhelm.
And yet… Here I am sitting in the little corner of my kitchen that I insisted had to be when we renovated a few years ago. It’s a simple little corner with an L-shaped bench that our friend, and master craftsman, Tim, made for us. The wood is a huge hunk of ash we bought from a fella’ down the road. The joinery is all wood pegs and skill. On top of my bench is a reindeer hide I bought in Iceland a few years ago when my husband and I went there. Every time I feel this fur I remember that trip and how beautiful it all was. There’s a wool pillow behind my back. I made it and I love it. It’s an image of our youngest daughter milking her beloved cow, Ursula. There are plants in old crocks on the window ledge beside my head and a big, solid brass planter with two swan heads on it that my little sister rescued from a barn for me because she knew it was something that I would love. The floor is made of solid raw oak boards that I painted with lye and soap. The walls are made of layers of lime plaster that breathes in when I breathe out. That’s it, that’s all that’s here. My little corner of salvation and order that I knew I would need in times like this.
But my simple corner wouldn’t be what it is with a plastic chair and some polyester pillows. It could still be pretty, but beauty is felt, not just seen. I would be more happy in a corner like this sitting on a folded up wool blanket on the floor with a pillow or two than stuffing it with a placeholder from a factory far away. It’s why it takes me forever to find anything and why I buy treasures without knowing their place. The place comes and the treasures will too, when they’re supposed to.
It takes patience and perseverance to wait for the right thing to come your way when you make the switch to buying things used. I, quite literally, just found a pair of salt and pepper shakers I adored. That’s right, this is the first time in my life I have a pair of salt and pepper shakers. I have had a little bowl with a little spoon as my salt dispenser on my table for thirty years. Last week, I found a salt and pepper shaker set that belonged to me. See, I’ll wait. And then, when it comes, it’s an especially appreciated part of the little world in my home. If it doesn’t delight me, like really delight me, it’s not welcome.
If you’re new to creating a life for yourself out on your own, my recommendation would be to curate your surroundings in the same way you curate your relationships. Do you really love this thing? Will you love it in three years? Who cares what’s on trend or what someone else says is beautiful. What do you think is beautiful? What makes you feel good? Is it made of natural materials? Just like whole foods nourish our bodies, so too do the real materials of our earth. Wear clothes made of them and dress your home in them, too.
A home is not a home without love. Cook real food! Fill your home with the fragrance of nourishment. Open your windows and let in the world even when it’s cold. Let the wind blow through her, right up her skirt. We all need a little thrill now and then. Fill your home with plants and music and good books on real paper and acorns and feathers you find on your forest walks. And fill your home with good people that leave their love like crumbs on the floor. You, too, most of all - leave the crumbs wherever you go.
And, lastly, stand outside in the dark every now and then and look inside your home. I hope you are overwhelmed with the desire to go in. If not, there’s work to be done and it has nothing to do with money, honey.
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