Recently, I heard someone read the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire. It moved me to the very marrow of my bones. It made me understand, on a level that I never had before, why people come to this country.
The majority of Americans have been very lucky and have never experienced the feeling that if you stay home, the place you have always lived, then you will surely die. We have never had things explode all around us. We have never lived under the imminent threat of gang rape or abduction or starvation. Most of us know what it is to feel relatively safe.
This poem gives a voice to refugees. It’s a voice that you have never heard before. It’s insight that all of us need to have. Before you say, “Go back to where you come from,” please read this poem.
Read “Home” by Warsan Shire on Genius. (And make sure you read the whole thing! There are a few ads in the middle that you need to scroll past.)
About two years ago, I bought a house that I love. The place fit me like a glove. The neighborhood made me feel welcome and safe. This was home. I could see myself growing old there.
And then I got married, to the realtor who helped me find that dream home (and could help you, too, by the way. Just sayin’). And suddenly the house no longer fit. The house that was just right for me was entirely too small for two adults and three rambunctious dogs. And so I packed once again.
While trying to figure out what to do with the place, I continued to stay there once a week so it wouldn’t look completely abandoned. But as more and more of my stuff was moved from one abode to another, it increasingly felt like I was camping. And my camping days are pretty much over.
Ultimately, we decided to rent the place out, and there was much maneuvering to find what we hoped would be the best tenants. (Fingers crossed.) They will be moving in soon. They will make my home their home, and it will inevitably change.
Recently I spent the last night in my home. I built my last fire. I took my last bath in my deep, luxurious tub. I cooked my last quesadilla in my kitchen with the inexplicably high countertops. I gazed at the glowing stars that I had painted on the bedroom ceiling the very night I moved in.
I wish I could have sat on the back porch, for hours, reading, like I used to do. The back porch is my favorite place. But the freezing temperatures prevented that.
I had very mixed emotions, walking out that door the next morning, knowing that from now on I’d only be an occasional visitor in my perfect little house. There was sadness, yes, and misty eyes, but also relief. I’m glad that things seem to be working out.
But the best part of this very multifaceted feeling was that I was also anxious to leave. Because I wanted to go home. And home was no longer that place. It’s becoming someplace else. And that’s not only okay, but it’s also great.
It’s a strange experience, occupying a space that someone else had made her own for decades. All the furniture has been picked out, all the walls are painted, the art chosen, the plants planted. She’s not here, and yet she’s everywhere.
Which is not a bad thing, necessarily. For the most part, I like her taste. I would have liked her, I’m sure. But it’s time to make this place ours.
Slowly, but surely, we’re introducing change. We’re adding the new and getting rid of the old. We’re keeping the good, and getting rid of what no longer fits. We’re rearranging. We’re changing colors, here and there. We’ve had a garage sale. We’ve planted a tree.
Just recently we painted a glow-in-the-dark milky way on the ceiling. Adolescent as that may sound, I’ve had it in my last two houses, and I find it comforting to stare at as I drift off to sleep. So doing that meant a lot to me.
You don’t really think too much about marking territory unless you have dogs, but we humans do it, too. We just do it with paint and pillows and photos. It’s how you make a house a home.
So yeah, this happened: I got dressed in grubby clothes, complete with an extra t-shirt to cover my hair, and a face mask and safety glasses and gloves, and I dragged my fat self under my house. Mission: installing insulation on the sub-floor.
I think it’s important to know one’s house from top to bottom, but I’ve never known a crawl space that wasn’t unspeakably gross, and this one is no exception. Despite the extra t-shirt, I was picking spider eggs out of my hair in the shower later that day. Fortunately, the rat poop was at a minimum, but it was still there. And I was blowing fiberglass and dust out of my nose for hours afterward. I knew I would feel it in the morning, and I wasn’t wrong.
Why do I put myself through this? For starters, I’m cheap, and can’t justify paying someone else to do something that I can do myself. But mostly it’s simply because I can, and I’m proud of this. When I was a teenager, I had a summer job with the Youth Conservation Corps and it taught me that I’m capable of a heck of a lot.
My whole life, I’ve been told I couldn’t do things. Because I’m a girl. Because I’m too young or too old or too weak or, well, because it’s just not done. So I used to change the oil in my car myself. I took vacations alone in the woods. I traveled overseas by myself. And I’ve done more than one home improvement project in my day. It does wonders for my self-esteem.
Sooner or later I’ll reach an age where crawling under my house will be foolhardy at best. I can see that time off on the horizon, but it gets a little closer every day. I wonder if I’ll be sad or relieved when that day finally comes?
My advice would be to ignore the naysayers. If you have the brains to learn how to do something (God bless Youtube), and the physical ability to pull it off, then do it yourself as often as you can. You’ll value the results more, and you’ll gain the confidence you need to climb over the next hurdle that crosses your path.
“Hey, where was that place that you got all the cool used doors and grates and glass blocks for the house you used to own here in Jacksonville?” He asked.
“Burkhalters,” I replied, and a tsunami of nostalgia washed over me.
I absolutely love salvage yards. I don’t know why more people don’t take advantage of them. If it’s true that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” then why not make use of older construction elements?
All over the country, beautiful old houses and buildings get torn down, and you better believe that those parts of the construction that can be resold will be. So why not get some gorgeous old handmade French doors instead of the uninspiring new ones that are on the market these days? Put a little copper-colored rustoleum on a wrought iron heating grate and you have a gorgeous design element for your home. Think of it as the ultimate form of recycling. The possibilities are endless.
That’s why I love salvage. The possibilities. But you have to leave your expectations at home. You can’t go in with preconceived notions. You can think, “I’m looking for a door,” for example, but if you’ve got it in your head that you want an 8 panel door with an arc of stained glass windows across the top, brass handles and a peep hole, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
Salvage yards are an entirely different spiritual shopping journey. They are not just one more errand on the old to-do list. They’re an adventure. Close cousins to junk yards, they’re often in sketchy neighborhoods. You don’t walk in to a nice, clean, orderly space, grab everything that’s on your list and walk out. You have vague ideas. And then you wander around, sometimes seeing rats scurrying about from the corner of your eye. You dig through piles of stuff with sharp, rusty edges. You wait until something speaks to your soul. You imagine how something would look once you slap a coat of paint on it. You expect to get dirty. You also expect to have to go back more than once. Patience, Grasshopper.
Right now I’m at the beginning stage of the relationship with my new (to me) house. Things I’m doing now, like adding insulation, require new product. But once those elements are dealt with, I can’t wait to get down and even dirtier to make my house unique!
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No, not the city in Alaska. The word. A place to drop anchor. Most people long for this. Now that I’m a homeowner again, I kind of feel like I’ve finally found such a place. It’s wonderful. It’s a huge relief. As a matter of fact, for the first time in my life, I look forward to coming home, I feel safe here, and I am a part of a community. I’ve had maybe one or two of those things before, but never all three simultaneously. I’m 52, and this is a first. And I like it. A lot.
But anchorage is one of those amazing words that brings up conflicting emotions in me, depending upon the context. I hate to see people who are trapped in their lives. There’s nothing worse than doing a job that you hate because you feel as though you have no choice. It’s awful to stay in a relationship simply because you’re afraid to be alone. (Been there. Done that.) It’s heartbreaking to see someone stay someplace simply because it’s all he or she has ever known.
I know several people who have limited themselves in one way or another, and it makes me very sad. To me it looks like wasted potential. I want the most for the people I love. My expectations for them are high. It makes me crazy when I know people are capable of more than they are allowing themselves to achieve. I want everyone to go to college and travel and take risks. But a lot of people don’t do these things. Their fears hang on their necks like… anchors.
And now’s when I have to remind myself that everyone is allowed to live their own life. If you are content living in the place where you were born, and never expanding your horizons or learning anything new or being exposed to other cultures, then it’s really none of my business. You can and will make your own choices, including making no choices at all.
Is your anchor a connection or a hindrance? I’ll let you determine your own anchorage, as you have every right to do. Meanwhile, I’ll try to scream into my pillow as quietly as I possibly can.
Hi, I’m Quagmire! My mom would describe me as a little black Dachshund with a milk mustache and a serious screw loose. I’ve been known to lunge at a cop’s ankles, but hey, I have no front teeth, so I’m only trying to prove a point. I’ve also brought some strange grocery items into the house, and I refuse to admit where they come from. (More on that here.) But for all my quirks, I know I’m loved. For a dog, that’s really all that matters.
Mom is allowing me to be a guest writer on her blog today because I think she realized I have a need to vent. I recently had a very strange week. I think it will help if I can talk about it for a change. You people don’t seem to understand me when I bark.
For about a month now, I’ve watched as mom has put things into boxes. And she seemed very stressed out. It didn’t seem like boxing stuff up was helping. I tried to tell her that, but she wasn’t listening.
Then, very recently, those boxes started disappearing. I mean, it was really kind of creepy. I’d go outside to play, and when I’d come back in, things would be gone, and mom would be all sweaty. I started getting stressed out, too, and clingy. Very, very clingy. I was afraid that mom might disappear next!
Then one day, these intruders came into the house! I tried to protect our territory by barking and growling, and for my trouble, I got closed into the back yard! When mom let me in again, every piece of furniture was gone! And mom seemed happy about it. Now when I barked, I could hear an echo. How strange.
Next thing I knew, I was being stuffed into our car. Stuffed is the right word. There wasn’t much room. It was full of boxes and stuff. I kind of felt like I was part of the stuff, so I insisted on sitting on mom’s lap as she drove. Normally she’d never allow that, but I think she could tell I was really freaked out.
Next thing I know, we pull into this driveway, and mom carries me into this back yard, sits on the grass, and says, “Check it out, buddy! This is all yours!”
I wandered around, sniffing all the new sniffs, and checking the perimeter for security breaches. There were none. (Darn.) I was thrilled to see there were plenty of little hidey-holes for when I want to be in stealth mode, and there was lots of soft grass for when I feel the need to wriggle around on my back.
And then… gasp! I discovered that there’s another dog on the other side of the fence! His name is Hendrix, and we are now fence running buddies. He gets me when I bark, and keeps me up on the good gossip. We plan to play poker when our parents aren’t home.
I was thrilled to see some of our stuff on the patio. It’s always nice to have familiar smells. But I did have a brief moment of panic when mom left me in the yard. And suddenly I could see those same intruders driving up! Mom! Make them go away! They stole everything from the house last time! Let me at ’em! Call the cops!
But I must admit I’m easily distracted. (Mom says I have the attention span of a hummingbird. So sue me.) I went back to playing with Hendrix.
I guess a few hours passed, and suddenly mom came out the back door of this house. What was she doing in there? She didn’t even let me do a preliminary security check!
But when she let me in, it was like Christmas morning. All our stuff was in there! Boxes and furniture everywhere. She let me inspect every nook and cranny.
I was really happy to see our bed, especially when I discovered that when I’m on it, I have a perfect view of the street. That will make my job of keeping everything under control a lot easier.
After all this excitement, as you can imagine, we decided to take a nap. As I drifted off to sleep in her arms, I heard mom say, “We’re home, Quaggie! We’re home.”
Since I know that home is another word for love, I am one happy dog.
When you rent a place that you know has been a rental property for many years, you tend to think of it as having no emotional history whatsoever. It’s easy to assume that it’s just a space that has been occupied by a long line of non-owners who came, paid their rent, and then moved on. Maybe I’m unique in this way, but I like to think that the house I am in has been a home, and I’m just continuing that tradition. With that in mind, I’ve decided to write a letter to the people who are about to move into the place I’ve just vacated.
Dear New Tenants:
Welcome to your new home. My name is Barb, and I have lived here with my dogs for the past 3 years. It’s hard for me to leave this place. I’ve loved every minute of my stay here.
I came here from Florida, and I didn’t know a soul. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest before, and it was all very new to me. It’s kind of scary to start over when you’re in your 50’s, but that’s what I did.
As I struggled to get used to a new job and make new friends, and as I attempted to grasp a completely different culture, this house was my stability. I looked forward to coming home each day. In the warmer months I would sit in this wonderful back yard and eat my dinner while my dogs played, and the wind blew gently through the trees. I’d watch the birds and bask in the peaceful solitude.
When feeling sad or lonely, I’d take a nice long bath. And I’ve always felt safe here, so I was able to sleep better in this place than I have anywhere in my entire life. I’ll miss cooking in the kitchen and gazing out the window. I’ve made plans here. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried here.
Paula and Kevin and Jackson next door have become very good friends to me, and I will miss knowing they are only a shout away. I’ve had many delightful conversations with them as they stood in their back yard and I looked down from my bedroom window. If you have any questions about the neighborhood, I’m sure they would be happy to answer them for you. Also, if you have any questions specifically about this wonderful house, they know how to contact me.
I have bought a house down in Xxxxxxxx, simply because I knew that rent in this area would be going up each year, and would quickly get too expensive for me. If not for that, I’d have stayed here for the rest of my days. I will have tears in my eyes when I lock the door for the final time.
I hope you come to love this place as much as I did, and that you continue to fill it with happy memories. I wish you well.
According to Alice in Wonderland, if I’m not mistaken, any day that is not your birthday is your “unbirthday”, and is worthy of celebration. But that kind of sounds like work to me. So I pick the day that is 6 months away from my birthday, and celebrate that as my “official” unbirthday. On that day, I give myself gifts and/or I pamper myself. I celebrate the very “me-ness” of me.
But this unbirthday is going to be very special, indeed, because it will be the first night that my dog Quagmire and I will get to sleep in my brand new (to me) house! Granted, I’ll still have a few more days of moving, and, let’s face it, probably years of unpacking, and the place will probably be a shambles, with boxes everywhere, but still… I’ll be in my home.
Do you get the significance of that? After years of being at the mercy of landlords with their arbitrary rules, and sometimes their outright cruelty at worst and personality disorders at best, I will be free. Free to make a home of my own. That night I will lie in my bed and look up at the ceiling. My ceiling. And I’ll reflect on how stressful it has been to get to this point.
And I’ll be proud of myself. Because I did it. I made it. And with any luck, I’ll never have to freakin’ move again.
And I’ll probably order pizza delivery, eat it while taking a bath in my nice big tub, and give Quagmire a few extra treats. Because I can. And because God knows we’ll have earned them.
So, it’s official! I am buying a house! I’m so excited.
During this waiting period, while all the paperwork gets processed, and in between packing by fits and starts, I am starting to imagine the many ways I will make this house a home.
First of all, this place is really, really small. And it has very little storage. I see several trips to IKEA for shelving and cabinetry in my future.
And while the house is small, the yard is fairly big. My dog Quagmire is going to love it! But I’m going to need a lawnmower. And lots and lots of plants, to take up some of that space so I have less need for the lawnmower. I’ve always wanted a weeping blue aster pine, but I’m not sure if they fare well in Washington State. I’ll have to do some homework. I also insist on having a lilac bush and a forsythia, because my mother adored them. And I love Chinese maples. Oooh! And tulip trees! And junipers!
And I’ll need a couch. And tools. And…
Whoa, Nelly. Get a grip. All this is going to cost money. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Yadda yadda.
Oh, leave me alone! Can’t you see I’m nesting, here?