What Makes a House a Home?

Have you ever walked into someone’s home and felt immediately at home? It’s as if the house itself embraces you in a warm hug when you walk in and says, “Welcome.”

What  about the houses that, although they’re decorated tastefully–even professionally and expensively–still seem to lack that sense of warmth and coziness? Personally, I always feel sort of sad for the occupants of a house that isn’t warm and welcoming. I imagine the lives of such a house’s occupants are missing something crucial for their personal well-being. Living in a house that is cold and lifeless is like being in a loveless marriage–you’ll survive and your basic needs are likely to be met, but you’ll never thrive there.

Personally, I’ve lived in every sort of house you can imagine: old/new, modest/extravagant, house/apartment/mobile home. My first place in Alaska was a sorely neglected little one-bedroom mobile home that had mushrooms growing in the hallway. I was flat broke and starting from scratch to rebuild my life after leaving everything I ever knew behind in Colorado a few months prior. The rent was $300/month, and the owner was willing to let me clean the place up and make repairs in lieu of the first month’s rent. I’m pretty handy, and the one thing I did have the sense to bring with me to Alaska was my (rather large) collection of tools, so it was a really good deal for me. Within a couple of weeks, that neglected little singlewide was clean, dry, warm, and cozy. I only lived there for six months, but it was my first real home in Alaska, and I adored it.

About three years later, I’d managed to get back on my feet financially, and I bought a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Anchorage. It was an eighties tract home that had been built during the tail end of the Alaska Pipeline boom, so it wasn’t built well, and it was one of those houses that lacked any hint of warmth when we first met. Still, that house spoke to me. It wasn’t the nicest house I looked at, and it was in desperate need of TLC and some expensive repairs. It needed a new roof, and it had some serious drainage issues. It had been neglected for a long time, and its most recent residents were heavy smokers, so the entire house needed to be deep cleaned and repainted. Yet, there was something about it that compelled me to make an offer on it anyway. I felt the strangest sense of camaraderie with that sad, neglected house. It was as if we were long-lost friends.

A couple of months later when I moved in and started working on the place, it slowly revealed its secrets to me. That house, much like my childhood home, had witnessed terrible acts of violence and substance abuse. As I stripped the walls in the bedrooms and living area, I discovered dozens of fist-sized holes that had been patched over. When I tore out the drywall in the second bath, I found piles of dirty hypodermic needles that had been stuffed through one of those holes. When I finally stripped the walls in the room I chose to use as my home office to the original wall covering, I discovered pale blue walls that made me think it must have been a little boy’s bedroom originally. That room, too, was scarred with fist-sized holes, and even a few boot-sized holes above the base board. I cried for that little boy one night while I worked to smooth over the poorly patched holes, and I cried for the little girl that I once was.

That house, much like me, had an awful lot of healing to do. We sort of healed one another as I worked, room by room, to infuse it with the warmth and love that was missing when I bought it. I sold that house in 2006 just before I moved back to Colorado, and I’ve often wondered if the house retained its warmth. I hope it did.

As I mentioned in a recent post, we recently moved to Colorado Springs. We’re living in an apartment for now. The complex is brand new, and it seems to appeal primarily to young, single professionals, though there are several families living here as well. I look forward to owning another house soon because I miss having a dog, and I’m anxious to grow a garden. Our apartment will be our home for at least the next eleven months, though, and now that all of our furniture is in place and our artwork is on the walls, it’s starting to feel like the sort of warm, cozy sanctuary that every home is meant to be.

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New Beginnings

We’ve been living in Colorado Springs for just over two weeks now, and it’s already starting to feel like home. Our little 6th grader thoroughly enjoyed her first week of middle school, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how competent and organized the school’s administration and staff have proved to be thus far. They took virtually all of the fear and anxiety out of the first day of middle school for the 6th graders by breaking them into small teams of 10-15 students and assigning an 8th grade mentor to help show them the ropes and make them feel welcome. The mentors are called WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) Kids, and they are some of the brightest, friendliest, and most polite 8th graders I’ve ever met. All this from our second choice school. And a public school at that! Not bad, Colorado Springs. Not bad at all.

Things are going to work out for us here, I think. My husband likes his job. Our daughter loves her school. As for me, I am cautiously optimistic that I’ll find my own brand of personal satisfaction and fulfillment here, too. Just as soon as I finish unpacking boxes and getting our new home in order.

Duality

My husband and I are in our second year of marriage, and this weekend we will be moving into our second apartment in the second city in which we’ve lived together. According to certain schools of thought, 2015 is the second year of a new energy on this planet. Human nature is changing. Evolving, hopefully. And the new energy consciousness is in its second year of development. The terrible twos. Duality.

As I’ve been packing up our household this week, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how the duality of this new age is manifesting in my life. I’ve heard estimates that 90,000 people are planning to move to the Denver Metro Area this year. Meanwhile, we three Reamys are happily moving out.

Denver has never been a city with which I’ve resonated. Since moving back to Colorado in 2006, many friends and relatives have tried to convince me to move to Denver. I flat out rejected that idea until Matt asked me to move to Denver with him in 2013. I didn’t even hesitate to say yes to him. I’d never consider living in Denver as a single woman, but when it comes to my husband–my heart–home is with him, wherever that may be.

Things fell into place for us so easily at first, it seemed obvious that we were on exactly the right path. We found the perfect apartment in the perfect neighborhood next to one of the best green belts in the metro area. Matt had a good job that he enjoyed. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we also managed to land in the perfect elementary school boundary for our daughter, who ended up coming to live with us less than a year after we got married. That first year was pretty near perfect. Neither of us loved Denver, but we were happy enough to think maybe things would work out for us here. Denver started to lose its shine over this past year, however.

Professionally, Matt started to feel like he was slogging through mud. Organizational issues at one company created unnecessary and frustrating barriers for him and his team, so he switched jobs. He met some top professionals and learned some useful skills at his second gig in Denver, but the corporate culture wasn’t a good fit. That, combined with a brutal commute to and from LoDo every day took a heavy toll on my poor husband.

Meanwhile, I was feeling restless and uncomfortable in my own skin while being continually surrounded by 1.2 million people. I started noticing how angry Denver drivers are, and how disconnected people are from reality. Once our daughter came to live with us, I started noticing a conspicuous lack of family friendliness. On weekends, we inevitably found ourselves getting out of town. We either went west into the mountains or south to Colorado Springs, which is where Matt lived before we got married. On one of those trips to Springs, I realized that’s where we should be living.

Every city has it’s own vibe and Denver’s energy has always felt scattered and frenetic to me. Living near a green belt helped to mitigate the effects of that energy for a while, but the longer we stayed here, the harder it’s been for me to stay centered and balanced amidst Denver’s chaos. I suggested to Matt that maybe we should consider moving to Colorado Springs, and once again we found ourselves back in a good energetic flow.

Matt landed a great job almost immediately after letting his head hunter know he was interested in finding work in Springs. We found a fabulous school for our daughter and learned that Springs has a world class youth symphony, which is something that Denver (a city more than four times the size of Springs) lacks. As I researched schools and the youth symphony, it was clear that Colorado Springs is a much more family-friendly city than Denver. Not surprisingly, it’s a conservative enclave in an increasingly liberal state.

We’re under no illusions that life in Colorado Springs is going to be perfect. It is still located, after all, in the state I like to call Middle California. Colorado’s politics is bizarre, to say the least. I’m not sure it’ll ever be a good fit for us in that regard, but it’s where we’re at for now. And living in a considerably smaller, more family-friendly, more politically conservative city will undoubtedly be more comfortable for Matt and me. More importantly, it’s a city where our amazingly talented young cellist will have access to the kinds of educational opportunities that will allow her to achieve her full potential.

Large/small, light/dark, right/left. Duality.

What living in Denver has confirmed for me (and I suspect for my husband as well) is that the choices we make in terms of community matter. The environment in which we choose to live affects us profoundly. We gave Denver a fair shot–two years of our lives, and the first two years of our marriage. As we prepare to move to Colorado Springs, though, I feel like we’re taking a giant step in the right direction. Springs may not be where we ultimately decide to settle down, but it already feels more like home than Denver.