D*S Essay Contest: VOTING!

D*S Essay Contest: VOTING!

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After a week of wonderful essays, it is now time to vote for your favorite! First, I want to thank everyone who shared their amazing stories with us. It was an honor to hear about all of your lives, your adventures, your struggles and what home means to you. From all of us here at Design*Sponge, we thank you for sharing so much with us.

Starting today, you can vote for your favorite essay. The winner will win $500 and voting goes through Tuesday, September 1st at 10am EST. Vote below! Thank you to everyone who shared and everyone and took the time to read and vote here today. xo, grace [Image above by Pamela Jaccarino via #dscolor]

[UPDATE: Normal DS posting will resume TOMORROW, SEPT 2ND! We needed one extra day for catching up after the break. Sorry! -grace]

CLICK HERE to read all of the essay finalists here before voting (in case you missed any!)

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D*S Essay Contest: Stacey LaFayette

D*S Essay Contest: Stacey LaFayette

Beach
[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

When I was young, my family would spend every 4th of July at our beach cabin in Manzanita, on the Oregon Coast. Even though we drove west to get there, we always said we were “going down” to the beach, as though we were descending into a simpler world, one with no phone service or wi-fi or cable. Everyone would go down there; aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents – more people than could reasonably fit in a two-bedroom cabin. I don’t even remember where we all slept. We must have been lined up on the floor in sleeping bags, crammed onto couches and bunk beds. On the morning of the 4th we would all walk the five blocks to the main street, set up folding chairs, and watch the parade. It was a small affair at first, with homemade floats and Manzanita residents driving in their cars and throwing candy to the kids. Gradually it morphed into what it is today, a huge ordeal with dozens of floats made by businesses from up and down the coast, an impressive array of vintage cars, more candy than a kid knows what to do with, and a main street flyover from an F-15 jet.

Then we’d walk back to the cabin, where we’d have a barbecue and eat the biggest steaks known to man, my grandpa’s splurge for the family. In the afternoon we’d walk two blocks to the beach, stopping to try our hand at running up an impossibly steep sand dune. It was nearly vertical, or felt so as a small child, and we would have contests to see who clamber up the highest before giving in to gravity and sliding back down. Then there were sandcastles to build, and seashells to collect, and we’d run away screaming and laughing whenever mom would pick up giant pieces of slimy seaweed and chase after us with them. The nighttime firework show on the beach capped off the holiday, the booms reverberating in my chest and the smoke seeping into my clothes and hair.

Our cabin was built by all of us, bit by bit, over the past thirty-seven years. My grandpa bought the lot for $7,800 in 1976, when Manzanita was just another sleepy beach town whose main draw was the sand and the golf course. It was a quarter acre of tough, windblown trees and scrubby salal bushes. He laid the foundation in 1978, with the help of my dad, my uncle, and my grandma’s uncle . For three years they worked on it. My grandpa saved up for each new piece of the cabin so he could avoid debt. He and my grandma would stay down there on weekends and work on it, living out of a tiny travel trailer until the cabin finally had walls and floors. Even then, it didn’t have any carpet – just rugs and carpet remnants, laid out like patchwork on the rough wooden floors. The basement bedroom and bathroom only had bare sheetrock walls for about twenty-five years before we got around to painting them. It was one of the least stylish homes I’ve ever seen – and yet, no one cared. Our experiences down there were so much more interesting than the decor.

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D*S Essay Contest: Susanna-Cole King

D*S Essay Contest: Susanna-Cole King

Susanna-Cole King, Design Sponge Contest
[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Home is sleeping in on Sunday, sun squeezing tangerine past window shades and blanketing the bed, womb of warmth. It’s a temple for prayers, and late-night eurekas, as much as for brushing teeth, and puttering around in pajamas. It’s barefooted on worn, wide planks of oak that bear the birthmarks of a hundred and thirty years, mottled with eggshell and crimson dribbles of paint; sun fading.

Home is for books, a wisp of cotton clothed flesh in a cocoon of quilts, paperbacks dog-eared on pillow cases, the fragrant aroma of apples in the slow cooker in autumn, the crescendos of cicadas seeping into the marrow of bones in summer. Home is dust jackets dappled with sun spots and toothy tears, cloth-bound, plastic sleeved, the ghost of a coffee cup on one, marbled endpapers on another, faded slate gray annotations in pencil, embraced in cedar bookcases or precariously teetering on window ledges in diamond-edged stacks, guardian angels of sleep. It’s guts and grins and rhythm, and a lump in the throat.

*Photo above by Lindsay Anne Belliveau

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Home is the harbor, the beacon of light plunging through darkness, the anchor on the ocean floor when tossed by tempests and tumultuous seas, that waits when eyelids are drooping into crescent moons, waxing, waning, when feet ache, hearts ache, head aches, never betraying the hiccuping sobs into the pillow, fists pounding, soft echoes on mattress springs. It’s walls that will listen with rapt attention; never say can’t, never laugh at outlandishness, brazenness, unbridled dreams.

Home is healing a bad day, a decade of illness, beating eggs until arms ache, snail trails of clover honey on the table, the hum of cooking wholesome food, and slowly, slowly, a small hope growing. It’s the humble theater for old floorboards aching in their joints, heart pounding, dancing doldrums into joy, always a beat off, never a damn given.
Home is messy-headed, eating cake for breakfast. It’s legs folded on braided rugs, paper tides in a sea of ephemera browned softy as a bruise, faded snapshots swimming at the knees, pulled into pleasing arrangements, and hung bespoke from clothespins. It’s rummaging through desk drawers, heavy with letters and rumpled poems; sweating out everything at a buttery yellow typewriter, in wicker-bottomed chair, tap, tap, tap, ding!

Home is the ecstasy of losing all sense of the hours ebbing and flowing, of no longer being beneath the heel of the small hand that ticks in its dictatorship. It’s belly aching, side splitting laughter swallowed in a breathy silence, when muscles go slack, and not a soul in the room can sit straight anymore, clutching the table, plates of home cooking, devoured over animated conversation. Home is for the loudness of company, and the quiet of solitude.

Home is for the beloved; anything is art, everything on the walls. It’s for the beautiful, the useful, the storied, worn, and already loved. Home is mementos of those who voices once husked warmly around, a fading memory of generations who have come and come to pass, but not been forgotten.

Home is the view from the windows, neat rows of houses squeezed so tightly together that not even a murmur let out in drowsy sleep, could pass between. It’s rowhouses of grand pizazz, neoclassical, Parisian bohemia, red-bricked or glazed in white and robin’s egg blue. Rowhouses hatted with roofs of coal black fish scales that shimmer when it rains, faded cedar shakes, and sloping eaves. Home is rows snaggletoothed, here or there, a house punched loose from its crooked grin, vacantness, abandonment.

Home is where paradise collides with anarchy, gunshots splitting the night over the lull of moonlit fountains, where presidents once roamed, where slaves fled to freedom, where the war on racism roars on. It’s aristocrats and junkies, prostitutes and policemen, doctors and drug dealers, heirs and starving artists; the strange juxtapositions of a small town, big city.

Home is an uncertain world, it’s growing together, as neighbors, as humans, unafraid to put roots in shaky ground, to plant the seeds so that one day there might be a better hope, a future as luminous as golden sunlight through the kaleidoscope of trees grown tall.

Home is folding myself, a head taller, into my mother’s arms after a long time. -Susanna-Cole King

D*S Essay Contest: Kate Schaefer

D*S Essay Contest: Kate Schaefer

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[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Eight years. Two thousand nine hundred twenty days since I sat on the edge of my bed with a cloudy head.

“I have something to tell you…”

My heartbeat began banging an uneven rhythm in my chest, in my ears, behind my eyes.

BAM. BAM. BAM. A percussionist inside of my ribcage.

I don’t even think I responded. I tensed up, ready for the blow. Sat down. Prepared.

“I have cancer.”

Then some talk about treatment, probably some tears from the other end. To be honest, the conversation is a hazy mist that hangs in the recesses of my memory. It’s the low-lying fog that is only detectable from a distance; stand in the middle of it and the tangible quality it has seems to dissipate. All that to say, I really don’t remember the conversation when my mother told me she had cancer.

Truthfully, it almost never crossed my mind that I could lose my mother at forty-seven years old. I never thought this disease would kill her. She was the most capable person I had ever known and I strived to be half of the person that she is.

But then the chemo began. Generally speaking, she felt fine. But there were days, unnerving days, where she would cry on the phone. Where she would complain of feeling ill. Where she sat on the couch and said she just needed to feel bad for herself.

And then I saw her. Home from photography school for a visit, I saw my newly afflicted mother; cancer-ridden, bald, skin pale & crepe-y.

What happened to the powerhouse I had always known? Where did the strong, able-bodied woman go? The one who had reared two kids like it was effortless? The one who maintained a marriage, a household and an increasingly successful career? She was frail. She was still positive, still herself, just a little bit weaker. She was shadow of herself, the same shape around the edges, but all of the details were a bit dark and blurry.

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D*S Essay Contest: Domenique Osborne

D*S Essay Contest: Domenique Osborne

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[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Home Is Where You Lay Your Fork

My grandfather was a bricklayer and a baker.

One by trade, the other by passion.

His huge, work-scarred hands would massage and knead and stir, as though he were working a massive drum of mortar. No dough or frosting or sweet, berry filling was safe from his constant ministrations.

Each family gathering starred one of Nonno’s creations: a shimmering blueberry tart. Tins of powder-flecked cookies, piled high like jewels. A kugelhopf, studded with bits of dried fruit. But the grand dame of any gathering was his tiramisu with its extravagant layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers luxuriating on feathery beds of egg and mascarpone.

When I finally left home for a lovely college on the other side of the state, he was so disappointed that I hadn’t chosen something closer to home.

To him.

The man who had packed up his wife and baby and left his parents, siblings and the sugar-capped peaks of Northern Italy for a new life in the creeping sprawl of Detroit was upset that I was going to college 130 miles away.

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D*S Essay Contest: Liberty Lausterer

D*S Essay Contest: Liberty Lausterer

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[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Mary Oliver’s poem, “Magellan,” begins:

Like Magellan, let us find our islands

To die in, far from home, from anywhere

Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,

Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.

I used to think home looked like the 1950’s ranch on a hill in the lush, green suburbs. Man, I swooned over that house. I still do. It had pocket doors, corner windows, a fifteen foot fireplace made of Bedford stone, hand laid from local quarries. There were the thin red oak floors that gave off the most wonderful smell on the first warm day of spring, and the original seafoam green tiles in the bathroom that mimicked an island oasis. On a wall in that bathroom we hung a giant poster of the Susan Constant, one of three ships on the voyage to the Jamestown colony. We were pilgrims after all, this being our first home, colonizing our own bit of land in southern Indiana.

A local doctor had the house built, and I imagined he had a hand in its design. Either because of his sense of humor, or a desire to make something utterly unique, the layout of the house was  topsy turvy. Friends, family, and the local Sears guy would all get lost in it. What’s not to love about a house that invites you to make use of your internal navigation system?

After we moved in we immediately set to tearing up the old carpet, pulling out a million and one staples, and scraping up the linoleum floor in the laundry room using a spackling knife. We tore out a row of yew bushes along the front of the house that hadn’t been trimmed since the 1970’s, unearthing one of two built in planters. Huge stones were dug up and hauled around the yard.

In a short time span we purchased an ax, a shop vac, the world’s largest screwdriver, an industrial sized ladder, not to mention countless rented implements. When we think back to those initial weeks and months we recall feeling superhuman. The adrenaline that coursed through our veins, having acquired our own bit of Eden, was so intense we accomplished near heroic feats.

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D*S Essay Contest: Louisa Purchase

D*S Essay Contest: Louisa Purchase

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[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

One sunny morning this April our friend, Gerard, pulled up in our driveway. A professional plasterer by trade, he had come to skim-coat three rooms in our house. Just as he was opening the door to his van, his phone rang. Gerard wondered, he told me later, whether he should answer – after all, he’d a long day ahead of him and needed to get started. But he picked up the phone. The news was so unexpected that it left him stunned, sitting in the driveway, clueless about what to do next.

Rewind 18 months and, after a year of marriage, Ian and I purchased our first home together. Located on the south west coast of England in Exmouth, Devon, the house is a pale yellow 1930s semi-detached, very common in the UK. It has three bedrooms, a small back garden, and is plain, solid and well-built. A big draw for us when deciding to purchase the property was its proximity to Ian’s work as a science teacher at the local secondary school, and to a beautiful, wide, sandy stretch of beach, which we loved. The house was just the kind of project we had been looking for. It had been owned by the same elderly couple for over 40 years, and needed cosmetic, rather than structural, improvement.

For Ian, buying the house meant fulfilling a lifetime’s ambition. Early on in our relationship, he told me that all he really wanted in life was to get married and live simply, somewhere by the sea, with a baby and a dog. Buying the house was a significant step towards making this dream a reality, and we fully expected the baby would arrive in due course (maybe even the dog, too).

Throughout Ian’s life his parents had purchased properties, renovated them, and sold them on. He had always been keen to pitch in with the rest of the family, but had been hindered by his health. He had developed a problem with his kidneys at a young age, and in the course of his life had undergone three kidney transplants. Now in his thirties he was relatively fit and healthy- more so than he had ever been. This was his chance to get stuck in, manage his own project, and prove to himself and everyone else that he could do it. Whilst Ian had remained coolly non-committal throughout the course of our property search, his response when I showed him the online listing for the house was decisive: ‘Yep, that’s it. That’s the one we’re going to buy.’ It seemed that it was meant to be.

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D*S Essay Contest: Leah Pellegrini

D*S Essay Contest: Leah Pellegrini

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[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Home Is Where the Hum Is

My upstairs apartment neighbor vacuums only at sunrise. I sometimes wake to the soft hum passing across the floor over my head. I’m not sure who she is, nor even that she’s female, but I envision her with tired hands like leather laced with wrinkles, wearing a sweet and sleepy sort of smile. Behind my shut eyes, I see her shuffling in the same slippers she’s kept for years, embroidered with tiny roses across the toes, as she tangles the thick cord of the vacuum around her ankles.

If it’s not the vacuum, it’s the shower, and I hear the water rushing gently through the pipes in the walls. I imagine those slippers waiting just outside her bathroom door, still warm, and her teapot steaming on the stove. I stand slowly from my twin-sized bed and draw up my sheets, tucking them into the sides of the mattress and fluffing my pillows, while above me, there’s that gentle purr of solidarity in the shared ritual of a fresh start.

I make my breakfast to the shrill of the next-door toddler’s tantrums. I flip my eggs while she flips furniture, sending board games and books flying helter-skelter into the walls. She stomps, and the floors shake, and the butter bubbles frothier around the edges of my pan. By the time I’m sitting at my Ikea dining table, sipping coffee, her mom or dad has managed to wrangle her unwillingly out the door. “I don’t want to go,” she shrieks. “No!” I think about human inertia while I stare into my mug, willing the billowing swirl of almond milk to translate into some sort of motivational message.

I do my novice yoga routine in my kitchen-cum-living room with the window wide open, listening to a distant jackhammer (somewhere, someone is always constructing something) and a mob of kids entering the school across the street. They sob their goodbyes to their mothers and squeal their hellos to each other as I rest in my own Child’s Pose on my hardwood floor.

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D*S Essay Contest: Ashley Hallmark

D*S Essay Contest: Ashley Hallmark

AshleyHallmark - Meaning of Home Essay
[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Mud brown walls.

Beige carpets that are in dire need of a shampoo.

An offensive odor coming from the kitchen sink and dishwasher.

Generic spec home layout.

Our new home.

An abundance of morning light that streams softly through the windows.

A large backyard.

A defiant, struggling, beautiful rose bush with sherbet orange blooms.

Our new home.

_______________________________________________________________

I have lived in four different houses in four different states in the last year.

The white-washed walled rental in Mesa.

The beautiful, poorly insulated old cabin on nine acres in upstate New York.

The comfort and relief of my sister’s house in Missouri.

And now a die-cut and stamped suburb variation in South Carolina.

With each move, the meaning of home shifted and became more and more elusive. I found myself squinting at its fuzzy outlines in frustration, and when I got tired of squinting, I crated the idea and shoved it into a corner. Home was more of a physical structure with empty veins than a haven with a beating heart.

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D*S Essay Contest: Gabi Menezes

D*S Essay Contest: Gabi Menezes

The White Bed- Gabi Menezes
[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

What Home Means to Me: A Nomad Unrolls Her Carpets and Unties Her Shoes

After ten years of traveling to more than 90 countries, covering war, famine, and refugee movements as a reporter and film maker, I began to dream of a white bed. The bed would be nothing like the beds that I had become accustomed to: grubby, mismatched sheets in cheap hotels. The bed would be crisp, and clean, and smell of fabric softener. Most importantly it would be a stable and constant. The bed was a sign that it was a time to stop. That the life that I had chosen was no longer the life that I wanted. Some might call this period in life a crisis, but I knew it an acute form of homesickness. I was unsure whether I was capable of finding the cure, which had to be building a home.

Since I had left my childhood home at 18, my entire adult had been one of movement, living out of suitcases, and ready to pack them for the next country that promised adventure. As a journalist, I was always preparing for the next story and a new country.

The sparsely furnished apartments that I lived in were not considered ‘home’ but a ‘base.’ I had little experience in standing still. I kept wondering: Who was I without traveling? When in fact the question should have been: Who could I be?

My family had long since moved from my childhood home, which was just a memory. For a long time, I had felt unjustly deprived of something that was my right: a home that I could always go back to. But actually aside from feelings of nostalgia, the reality is that space was never mine, and not a true reflection of me. ‘Home’ as adult had the potential to be both. I began with basics. ‘Home’ had to be a place where I had friends and a smattering of family ties. London, with its grey light and sky-high rent was not a place I necessarily would choose, but it had ties that would keep me grounded.

I found a tiny one-bedroom apartment, in a neighborhood that combined London grittiness with sweet cafes and trendy clothing shops. After moving in, I felt overwhelmed by white walls and a sense of commitment. How did people commit to one place? How did they get over a heartbreak or disappointment without fleeing to a different country and immersing themselves in an emergency, literally an earthquake or a tsunami? But along with the fears and worries of creating a completely new life, I also was excited by the potential of the white walls. My parent’s basement was a ignored treasure trove of things that I had purchased with an eye to the future when some day I would be a real grown up. That day hadn’t quite come in the way I envisaged, but then does it for any of us? I did have some satisfaction of finally unrolling a fiery orange, red, and grey kilim rug bought in Afghanistan in the quick half hour that security permitted foreign aid workers to remain in one place in a market. I unwrapped a treasured black and white photograph by the wonderful Malian photographer Malick Sidibé, and framed a white beaded milk jug cover made by my grandmother for another time when milk did not come in cartons. I unpacked a suitcase of printed textiles from our former home in Zimbabwe. And finally my books! I was able to put on shelves books that felt like a physical part of myself. I realized that having prided myself on having lived out of two suitcases for so long, I am no minimalist. I love that objects also hold the traces of our history, show our personalities and reflect our desires. I feel that our homes are our personal museums of memory that anchor us to not only places, but also to people and our pasts. The small one bedroom apartment is an extension of myself as much as the clothes I wear.

One of the things that I searched for found was my white bed. It was curved and slightly decadent with an upholstered linen headboard. I made it up with Portuguese linen collected by my mum at various Lisbon fairs and plump down pillows. I felt a sense of relief when it was set up, and translated from a dream to reality. It represented not only commitment but also shelter. It was something new, but also stable. It was a space that I was beginning to define as mine.

One of the secrets for the cure for homesickness is that a home is also a community. For so long I had never been a part of my friend’s lives. I dropped in for a couple of days, met in restaurants for dinners where I tried to cram in a years worth of connection and catching up. Being at home in a place, made me a better friend. I have a space to host dinner parties, where my friends can discover that I am a fantastic cook. They can also come over, and catch up on drizzly, uneventful days with cups of tea. When I get invited to birthday parties, it means that I can show up, with cake! The act of standing still and committing to a place meant investing in much more: an extended community. Both deep and meaningful, and every day, my neighborhood includes the guys at the amazing fishmongers, who showed me how to clean calamari. I often say hello to the wonderful sisters who run the pharmacy down the road, and I make the occasional promotional film for the indie theatre company that plays in the back of the local pub. Travel carries with it both a sense of anonymity, but also the sense that you are always the other, the stranger. Now I am part of a community, something that I didn’t even know I had missed.

But of course things are never straight forward. I’m telling the story as if there is a tidy end, when of course there is only change. The act of transformation is not linear, but I imagine it more in waves with peaks and troughs. Of course, I still travel. I can’t imagine my life staying in one place. I’m told that I still travel more than most people will in three lifetimes. But having somewhere to come back to has given my travel a different quality. It is temporary. I am not always looking for the next country or story, but looking behind. When I miss something, when I am feeling homesick, it is not overwhelmingly sad, because I feel it with the comfort of knowing that I have a bed to go back to.

Gabi Menezes

D*S Essay Contest: Katie Bennett

D*S Essay Contest: Katie Bennett

Katie VW bus
[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

As a little girl growing up in Oregon, I had two homes. Every two weeks my older sister and I would pack our suitcases (soft-sided, navy blue) and move from our mom’s to our dad’s then back again. Dad’s house had the best trees for climbing – a tall cherry, a gnarled pear, a trio of plums – all laden with fruit at different times across the summer months. His house was narrow and old, with the kitchen and bath tacked on the back some decades past and held up with stacks of cinderblocks. The floors of those rooms were sloped, and in the clawfoot bathtub I’d have to brace my legs against the end to keep from sliding down the drain along with my hot pink Mr. Bubble bathwater. Over the course of many years my dad and grandpa Wayne tore those rooms off and built others and his house and my childhood smelled of the sawdust of constant construction, and the buzz of long summer days were punctuated with the staccato beat of the hammer. And it felt like home.

Mom’s house was newer, built at the top of a hill and surrounded by woods. I’d hold elaborate funerals for the chipmunks and velvety-soft shrews I sometimes found dead beneath the trees. Her house smelled of coffee percolating and Fendi perfume, and sounded like her soft voice reading me Betsy-Tacy books, my head resting on a chest that was later made lumpy, but no less comfortable, with the scar tissue of breast cancer surgery. And it felt like home. At seventeen, after drifting through high school, I moved into my best friend’s robin’s egg-blue VW van. We named him Jimmy and headed south to California then east and north through Colorado and into Nebraska, where a nice guy showed us where to crawl underneath the van and hit it with a hammer to make it start so we could continue north to Quebec and south to Florida — a year-long looping figure 8 of the country. At night we’d pull onto dirt roads, into friendly driveways, into truck stops and grocery store parking lots. We’d close the colorful calico curtains her mom had sewn before we left and we’d look at our maps, and that felt like home.

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D*S Essay Contest: Erin Hill

D*S Essay Contest: Erin Hill

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[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

“In a home like this, in some way, my days would proceed as never before.”
-William Least Heat-Moon in the foreward to Sandy Sorlien’s Fifty Houses: Images From the American Road

One year ago, I bought a house for all the wrong reasons.

Because I was nearing 40 and wanted an Important Adult Life Experience that I could celebrate, as so many other adult rites of passage had eluded me or had never seemed desirable in the first place.

Because I had moved five times in the previous ten years and craved permanence.

Because I wanted to prove (to whom, exactly?) that I could do it BY. MYSELF.

Because my mom had died six months earlier, and I thought a physical house, a place of my own, would ground me. Heal me. Keep me from floating away like a big grief balloon…connect me to her by giving me a place to do what we both loved to do: bring a house back to life, make it a home room by room, turn it beautiful and personal and fill it with stories.

I know now: I expected too much from this brick and mortar and stucco. I expected it to settle me, to soothe me, to quell my anxiety and answer all my questions about The Future. Unrealistic and unfair as it is to expect another person to fix me, it’s equally unfair to expect my house to fix me.

I know better, but I forgot myself in my grief — or, as my mother used to say, chuckling, “I lost my head.” I have long believed that houses, especially the old ones, have souls. I remember now that I respect this old house for so many reasons, chief among them that a World War II veteran built it by hand from the ground up in 1954. The outhouse he used as he worked still stands on the far back corner of the property, leaning slightly to the right, looking quaint with its triangle cutout and its grapevine wreath on the door, the first nail I drove after I closed on the house. I respect this house’s moods and whims and quirks, just as I do my partner’s. Some days it’s on — the morning light is beautiful glinting off the barn’s tin roof across the field, and the breeze coming through the kitchen window is the perfect temperature, smelling faintly of honeysuckle — while some days it’s off: stuffy, with cantankerous plumbing and clogged gutters and a well pump that’s suddenly not sounding right (when did that start??). As the caretaker, mine is a balancing act, a learning when to ignore, soothe, love tough, or call the doctor (read: plumber).

[Continued after the jump…]

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D*S Essay Contest: Daniel Schutz

D*S Essay Contest: Daniel Schutz

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[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

“much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow…”
-William Carlos Williams

Seven years after my mom died my dad threw away a pair of salt and pepper shakers that my mom had kept on the stove. They were tan, ceramic, and looked vaguely like coffee mugs. They were not something one would find in a magazine, or a blog, or even a flea market. There was no aesthetic value to them even in a fun, kitschy kind of way. I’m not sure how they ever came to be in our house but they were always there, sitting on the stove and splattered with oil. I could count on their presence in much the same way that I counted on seeing a dark stain on the carpet by the left foot of my parents’ coffee table or an old dress shirt in my closet I’d never wear again but could not bring myself to give away. They were benign and unremarkable objects and yet there they were all the same, signifiers of a place I called home.

After my mom died most of her things remained in the house. My parents’ bedroom furniture- a bed frame, dresser, and dressing table-handed down to my mom by her grandmother ,is still used by my dad. The dressing table, however, is now where he checks his blood pressure every morning and every night. And as he sits there, waiting for that cuff to puff and then deflate around his arm, my dad looks at photos my mom stuck into the corners of the dressing table mirror; me in diapers on a panda bear rug being held by my dad; my parent’s kissing in front of a blank wall; and me in a soccer uniform, my head as big as the ball I am holding.

For a man who had done so little to change the house, to leave so much of what made it our home, he was able to throw away the salt and pepper shakers with seeming and frustrating ease. He could not even remember the shakers at first inquiry. He thought, perhaps, he had only put them away in a cabinet. Perhaps in the one to the left of the stove where he keeps his multi-vitamins. No, the shakers were not there. My dress shirt was still in my closet, buttoned all the way up and hanging on a plastic hanger. The carpet stain in the living room was definitely still there and had begun colonizing several new territories. But those shakers, those had to go. Or maybe they didn’t.

[Continued after the jump…]

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D*S Essay Contest: L.V. Smith

D*S Essay Contest: L.V. Smith

dad, cat, and kerosene lamp
[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Home

When they were young and childless, my parents were antique hunters, weekend ransackers of estate sales and flea markets, foragers for unwormed wood and rustic lines. Each Saturday they drove out from Toledo into Amish country, following narrow roads like stitching in the crazy quilt of soy and corn, looking for pockets and exits where the past was sold. They hunted in barn-styled warehouse with acres of Shaker chairs and in villages with nothing but a gas station and a curio shop, spilling out onto the porch of a clapboard house or stacked behind a dusty plate window.

Interior design then had a vision of this countryside, one stuffed with cabbage roses, white wicker furniture, and blue-scarfed ducks. My parents filled their apartment with reclaimed oak antiques and relics of a pre-electric age—kerosene lamps and flat iron—almost in dissent.

In the early 80s my father worked building tracts of petite mansions in the sprawl north of Columbus—fake marble receptacles for a thousand Laura Ashley couches and cherry Chippendale chairs. He was laid off during the recession and recoiled from those homes so thoroughly he enrolled in a graduate program of labor history within a year. It was perilously unstylish field in a world of hollowed-out unions and trickle down economics. He learned utopian politics there, borrowed, in all their handicrafted romanticism, from William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement. It was political program that elevated traditionally made furniture beside common ownership. He’d build his own bureaus and tables later, in Mission and Arts & Crafts styles, more pieces than we could cram in our house. But in the 1980s he concerned with historical salvage, with stripping and straining battered relics back to use. The more mangled the piece, the cheaper, the better. My parents hunted for water-ringed surfaces and unsteady legs, trash to polish. My father thought it was an appropriate hobby for an historian and, in an absurd deus ex machina, found a cache of letters from a strikebreaker in an old trunk.

My parents had no family relics, no inheritances; they had to fashion that past for themselves. My mother spent most of her childhood in a billowy white farmhouse, hemmed into a small plot when its orchards were turned into rows of houses. Her parents bought it because it was cheap and big and their only considerations of décor were the necessary tessellations of beds and dressers to cram seven kids into three bedrooms. In photos, they have plaid couches, knotted pine walls, avocado fridges, chunky Seventies cross-stitching, images of saints. Everything was handed down or bought cheap and quickly broken, and when my mother left, her possessions could fit in a single cardboard box.

[continued after the jump…]

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D*S Essay Contest: Andrea Raisfield

D*S Essay Contest: Andrea Raisfield

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[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Sleeping Al Fresco

About 14 years ago, we went on a family vacation to Hawaii. We rented a pretty cabin in Hana, Maui with our three kids. The bedrooms were spacious and well-appointed, each one with a skylight, and silhouetted against each skylight was a cheerfully chirping gecko, posing like a character out of a children’s book, but it was the futon bed on the screened-in porch (the lanai as it is called there) which called to my husband and me, and that is where we chose to sleep. Two weeks later, we arrived home to Bedford. I had barely dropped my suitcase on the floor of my bedroom before heading down to the mattress store to buy a futon bed for our own screened porch.

Since then, our nights sleeping al fresco have spread across nearly half the year. In April, we turn on the electric blanket about 20 minutes before venturing out into the chill of the early spring night; that, a down comforter, and the most elemental source of heat, another body, and we are as snug as can be. When summer blooms full on, we switch to a woven linen blanket, at once weighty and weightless. In late September, we plug in the electric blanket once again, and by early November, when it becomes too cold to hold a book in our hands, we move back into our bedroom (and its delicious heated floor) for the winter.

What is so elementally appealing about sleeping outside? For us, it has never been about the health benefits, which, according to a slew of sources, are real and varied: improved activity of the lungs by increasing oxygen assimilation, a strengthening of the central nervous system, and the stimulation of vital glands of internal secretion that produce hormones and tone up the skin. On the occasional solo night in the cold, when I’m scrunched up tight in a ball, I think about a New York Times piece about the benefits of cold sleeping to produce something known as “brown fat,” the kind we want in our bodies, and that makes the mild discomfort less so.

The healthy dividends are a mere bonus. We sleep outside because it just feels so good. A butterfly in Osaka flaps its wings, and our back porch in Bedford, my cheek is gently buffeted by a puff of air. During storms, we feel the spray of mist against our faces. Thunder comes from all sides. Lightning creates momentary strobe-lit tableaux, each window framing a distinct composition of trees against a steely sky. Sometimes we are woken from sleep thinking there’s a party gone out of hand nearby. We realize it is the near-human sound of a pack of coyotes wilding on a terrified mammal in the surrounding woods.

We listen with the rapt attention we’d give the most exotic nature documentary on TV. Nights on the screened porch are a study of the delineation between one thing and another. The place where my warm breath meets cool air. The distant place where an owl’s soft pipe song interrupts the velvet texture of silence. The place where, devoid of man-made sounds, we modern people can feel and hear night as it has been since un-modern times. In the dark calm of my Bedford backyard, I can begin to decode the language of the natural world. I listen for variations in the crickets’ song, try to guess where that barking dog is barking from, and attempt to record in my mind an animal’s nighttime cry so that I might search it online in the morning—the distress call of a baby fox? The ratchety chitter of a raccoon in a standoff with a cat? My cat?

“There are on earth,” wrote Jean Giono in his 1935 book, The Joy of Man’s Desiring, “moments of great beauty and peace.” Nights spent sleeping out our screened porch, we have access to so many more of those moments. –Andrea Raisfield