This Old House
has some things to teach me
Months ago, while Ross and I were away, two of my kids called to tell us they “found a house.” It was sweet. I loved the idea of them venturing out to houses together. I loved that they wandered through towns I never considered touring houses I would never think to look at. I loved that they were imagining futures in all kinds of spaces.
But when they sent me the listing I thought Wow. But, no.
It looked big. It felt fancy.
I’m not fancy.
And who wants to clean something that big? And what’s with the green walls?
But my kids said just check it out.
So I did.
And it was BIG. It had chandeliers and multiple fireplaces, two staircases… and a sunroom. Beautiful. Really beautiful. But old. A house in a historic district. And not our style at all (though I really couldn’t say what our style was anymore).
Totally impractical. And I could already see that the gutters needed replacing.
But as Ross took in the high ceilings and wandered into the giant kitchen, I watched him get swept away in this impractical dream. Check out this butler’s pantry… with a wine fridge!
We don’t even drink.
And what would it cost to heat this place… and clean this place?
But this old… young… part of me kept noticing the sparkle coming off the chandelier and I caught myself daydreaming.
And then my youngest daughter escorted me to “her room” - three times the size of her little bedroom with its own fireplace. My heart melted a little.
Upstairs in the master bedroom, another chandelier. A little alcove with exposed brick and french doors that led to a little landing overlooking a sprawling backyard.
I got chills.
And then I saw the master bath. More french doors and a beautiful freestanding tub. For some reason, my eyes welled up with tears.
On the third floor, Ross discovered the perfect space for his Daoist altar. It was the first house we’d seen to really check this box. The house was sweeping us off our feet.
My mind clenched onto “reality” (whatever that was). A voice in my head continued to protest, You don’t NEED this house. You’re not a materialist. You know nothing about this area.
And it was right. I don’t. I’m not. And I didn’t.
But other voices were chiming in with childlike enthusiasm. You could do yoga in that sunroom! We could put our holiday cards on that mantle… read books and drink coffee on that porch…
The house had become a dream house. A play house. And suddenly I wanted to dream. And play.
When I asked Elephant for guidance, her response was simply,
Soften your gaze and you will be happy.
So I loosened my grip on practical details, let the edges of my thoughts go soft and I did feel happy. You could almost hear the crackle as possibility chipped away at old calcified thinking. Letting go was a little scary, but mostly exhilarating.
I love my “don’t forget to dream” house. Throughout an unseasonably warm November, Ross and I spent many mornings taking our morning coffee from room to room and smiling together as we tried out each setting.
There’s so much space. Things can unfold and expand here.
There’s something about this place. I swear it has a soul… and old grandmotherly one - regal and poised, but playful and eager to make memories. It’s clear she’s endured a few scrapes, has been patched up, even gutted an reconfigured - and all of it adds to her character. She seems amenable to playing dress up and has clearly rocked a few styles over the decades. But her charm isn’t dependent on the embellishments. And her light and space is an invitation.
So we hauled in our unfancy furniture and, since we don’t have enough to fill the rooms, we are playfully inhabiting empty spaces while we decide how we want to live the next chapter.
Our ping pong table now occupies the living room and I can’t help noticing that we do more living there since we created this temporary situation. Perhaps the nice furniture can wait.
Somehow, the slants in the floor don’t bother me. Nor the cracks in the plaster… or the drafty old windows. I don’t even mind going up and down multiple flights of stairs to do laundry (I thought I would HATE this). They’ve all become part of the adventure - tracing over the dreams and memories of other inhabitants as I outline something new for me. I painted the spare bedroom and hung my daughter’s paintings all over the walls. I am suddenly interested in velvet. Who knew?
Like so many of my best lessons, this one came from my kids.
All work and no play makes Ann a dull girl.
And I’m not a dull girl. As a full-spectrum human being, I like a little sparkle... and velvet apparently. But I have been neglecting some of those parts. Some I had almost forgotten. So my kids went exploring and “found a house.”
Leave it to them to remind me that we can’t save humanity without honoring all the parts of humanity. They found me a house that reignited so many impractical, playful parts. Space to reimagine. Rooms to offer new perspective. Blank canvases everywhere. A big backyard with grass and trees. And two giant gingko trees (my mother’s family crest) that blanket my front yard in golden leaves in the fall.
All of it reminds me of the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. I’m looking forward to creating my little corner of that beautiful world with the people I love most.
What a wonderful story and piece of writing. The house looks so so majestic! I know exactly what you mean when you narrate your initial thoughts. And I'm so happy you let yourself get on that magic carpet with your family. Keep writing your amazing stories. Maybe you should also do a video blog v-log?
You reminded me it's time to try to come out of chronic sadness and combat.
I actually have interior design things to tell you when we speak. Just that we had the house painted. Doug's house. Today the door was done—it's a bright dark yet not dark red called "Radish," and I keep staring at it when I pass it by. Have you ever watched Caroline Winkler on YouTube?
My guilty pleasure is interior design videos, by millennials (!) on YouTube. But I'm going to lose the "guilty," as it is all connected to joy, living, happiness, memories, all the things we want.
Beautiful piece. And congratulations to all of you!!!
Houses from the turn of the century were made for living in,and families and to stand the test of time. Looks like a beautiful find!