coming home: the power of a clean kitchen

This morning I woke up and walked into the kitchen and I found that it was clean. The counters were polished and clear, the dishes put away, the floor swept. I sighed – and a deep, rich contentment washed through me.

It was still dark when I sat down with my tea to ponder this tiny, perfect miracle: this clean kitchen.

These days, I am busy beyond my boundaries – and this is good, really good busyness- the kind people pray will happen – but it leaves little energy for housework. My husband, an artist/inventor/architect, is busier than me – and no more inclined to housekeeping. We keep up, in a loose and general way – and while it’s not scary messy, I always wish it were different. Which is where this story really begins…

You see, our family has lived in this rented house for 15 years; and for all of that time, I’ve been putting off settling in, waiting until we move into a different house – the perfect house in which I always imagined I’d raise my children. For years, I’ve been building that house in my imagination, envisioning upholstery fabric and window treatment; every bright and cheery corner:

  • the breakfast room off the kitchen, flooded with sunlight
  • the airy family room with plump down cushions where we all cuddle in our sweats and pjs, munching healthy treats and watching fabulous films
  • there are two bathrooms stacked with fluffy white towels
  • and a guest bathroom, a jewel box, wallpapered in French Country blue; the sink, sitting atop a grainy brown-green slab of granite, is a beautiful bowl, hand built by my friend Jane Herold,
  • the kitchen, wallpapered in Pierre Deux Soulieado, has white country French cabinetry made by Smallbone with Mackenzie Childs drawer pulls; there’s a Viking range (of course) and Le Creuset cookware; the wooden stools that we pull to the counter are upholstered with a tasteful red and white stripe that coordinates beautifully with the Soulieado.

Of course, my perfect house has gardens – raised beds bursting with organically grown tomatoes; kales, runner beans; in the shade there are iris from my mother’s garden; and, running all the way around the house, my masterpiece, a tangle of perennials, climbing roses, hydrangea, peony.

During all of this time, we have lived in a sweet old farmhouse with a kind and and understanding landlord who has let me paint and wallpaper the kitchen; tear up the floor tile; remove redundant doors between living room and kitchen. She’s let my husband build a home office. Several years ago, she gave me permission to dig up the side yard and put in that vegetable garden.

It’s a beautiful arrangement. The landlord maintains a stable of horses in the vast acreage behind our home; her daughter keeps a summer cottage here.  We cherish the ‘we’re all one big happy family’ feeling – and take care of our own home repairs, replacing rundown appliances, patching the roof.

In a very real way, we have all of the experiences of home ownership without the mortgage (and the investment value). It works for all of us. And yet, this other house visits me – in early mornings, in the shower, as I fall into bed – this dream, this phantom limb of a home calling me. And all the time that we have lived here, I have also lived there.

So anyway…

Yesterday afternoon, I cleaned up the kitchen. Rather than putting off the scrubbing in lieu of a blog post, a column deadline, an urgent email – I put on an apron and started doing the dishes. Midway through, arms up to my elbows in soapy water, I caught myself humming. (I really do like doing dishes, I remembered.) And then my son came home from work and I pointed him toward the skillet he’d used to make paella the night before.  As he took up the sponge; I pulled out the vacuum.

About an hour later, after the polishing and putting away was done, my son and I were driving to a family gathering in Long Island when he said, “Let’s do that all the time. Let’s live in the house as if we like living there.”

And I felt something shift inside of me. Something big and deep and wide.

As if we liked living there. Our children have a way of reading straight through our posturing and excuses; a way of seeing to the bottom of the wishing well.

Which is how I found myself sitting, at sunrise, at the polished kitchen counter with my morning tea, contemplating a little miracle. And that’s when that other house quietly, simply, easily slipped across the boundary between someday and today and shifted right into now. This is my home, I realized. Here, where my family gathers, retreats, visits, rests. This is my slice of the world – right here in this kitchen. 

It’s perfect.

I flashed back to a moment, a few months ago, when I was sitting beside my mother in a darkened theater watching “The Descendants.” In the film, a family was deciding what to do with a sacred land trust; at the same time, a mother was dying. People were saying goodbye; people were negotiating real estate deals. People were losing everything. People were about to become very wealthy. I was crying a lot. My mother, sitting beside me, kept looking at me. I was holding, on and off, her hand.

Today, I suddenly got it. I saw why that film got to me with its message of “cherish what you have today”. I saw how, with a simple act of devotion to this kitchen, a bit of scrubbing and a pot of white tulips, I had  finally honored the place that has honored and nurtured and held my family for 15 years. This home.

Today, I came into present time and accepted things as they are. I am already home.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara

I loved this post. Thank you so much for sharing the joys of your kitchen and your home. I want to have a sign now made to hang on our front decking that says – for all the world to see “We love living here”
Your son hit the nail on the head. Perfect and thank you again.

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Amy

What a great idea – I have a framed thank you card on the wall here – and that sign, “We like living here,” would be perfect just above it.

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julie

oh Amy – you nailed it again. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t feel that in some way I am not giving my house credit where credit is due. And think, “maybe if I treated this house as if I loved it, it would become a house that I love.” Good, bad, or indifferent, it is, after all these years, despite all my daydreams, and protestations of its temporariness, home.

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Hakikah

Perfection. Thank you and thank you son.

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Nikki

This is the first time I’ve read your posts. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!! This is just want I needed, it’s what I’ve been going through. I’m going to live like I like living here, because really I do. Thanks again.

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Aqiylah

Amen. This post is such a blessing! Home really is where the heart is.

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Karina B. Heart

Thank you for this. I’ve spent the past decade trying to buy houses and finding myself in rental after rental after rental. Some of those rentals were utterly disastrous. Some were lovely. This past September, after another failed attempt at home ownership, I moved into a 2 family walk-up with my 2 kids and our cats. When I got here, I thought it was another temporary living arrangement. But, I soon came to realize: It’s the perfect size. It’s in the perfect location. The way the light moves through the rooms is stunning. When my landlord recently told me I could paint and he’d be happy to renovate my kitchen, I felt my roots go deep down into the earth here. I’m home. It’ll be another 10 years before my kids are grown. And although I don’t own this place, it’s mine. We’re home.
Thank you for echoing so beautifully what I’ve been feeling.
Welcome Home.

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Amy

Isn’t it funny the way that a particular slant of light (or the light of a kind landlord) can change our experience of ‘home’ – and of ownership?
Thank you Karina – for your lovely comment and for visiting my blog.

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Mornan

Hi Amy. Your son hit the nail on the head. Home really is where the heart is.

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Alicen

This is wonderful! This is me in so many ways as I am trying to find balance through a transition. Right down to the MacK C in my kitchen, my collection is growing and I smile as i admire all my different pieces. Thank you for making these thoughts of mine seem normal!

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Amy

Clinking imaginary teacups with you. :)

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Andrea Maurer

Lovely, Amy. Just lovely. Congratulations on your new home! XO

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Martina

Good post, Amy.

Yes, we are often already home. It takes us time to realize it, accept it and become comfortable and at ease with it.

Martina

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Lynne Bier

That was so heartfelt and beautifully written that I found myself wanting to linger over every thought and description. From the other comments it is clear that you hit a chord deep within us all. Thank you.

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andrea

this comment sums up exactly how i feel, loved this, thank you for sharing! x

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Casey

This is a great post. I’m very glad Erin Margolin posted about it on Twitter.

Thanks for the reminder,

Casey

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Amy

I’m glad, too – thank s for visiting the blog. :)

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Michele

Well said and a great reminder to bask in the moment wherever you are.

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sarah belin-zerbib

Beautiful Amy, your post made me all teary. Much love to you, like a lot.

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Megan Matthieson

I know that we know these things, that we have the wisdom and we come to the task. But I always forget how we have to choose to keep knowing them- to come back to them like a mantra. This beautiful moment now holds everything. xo

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Amy

I have this experience, too, lately. I am finding that simply holding my attention in the present moment opens the world. Amazing. We think it’s so difficult – and it’s right here.

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Marjory

This is beautiful Amy, all of it, the yearning, the simple and divine act of scrubbing, the sinking into the love that is already manifest in the spaces you inhabit. Welcome home. Bless you.

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Kat Jaibur

Wow. That son of yours! Profound. Before you revealed who cleaned the kitchen, I suspected elves had broken in. “Let’s live in this house as if we like living there.” I’m going to write that on the chalkboard in my kitchen. I have a cute house, but I have been mad at it (yes!) since we’ve had flea trouble this winter. Okay, maybe even longer. I am mad that it didn’t come with elves, and frustrated by the stuff… oh, the stuff… that keeps coming into it and won’t leave. (As if WE have nothing to do with creating this. ) I think your son hit the nail on the head. I’m going to forgive the house…and us…and start living like we like it here. Because we do. Thanks, Amy!

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Amy

Elves are good, too! :)

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Julie Daley

Amy, Your son’s words are so wise, as are yours. I’ve found that the soul craves simple acts of beauty, such as washing and cleaning. Thank you.

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Laura Ozarow Doreson

Hi Sister-Cousin, welcome to the present!
I, too, constantly talk about the perfect home to have, like Mom did. My daughter reminded me on a recent morn,when complaining our home was never clean, that we have a home, unlike some kids she attends school with.

It reminded me, in light of the big changes I purposefully made over the last few months in my life, that we are all where we are, we have what we have and we do what we do. So, just BE. Enjoy the pleasure in a rising, rainbow soap bubble in a sinkful of dirty dishes. Morning tea on the porch, listening to the wind chimes, examining the newly sprouted tulips.

This is life, happiness and enjoyment. And the living of the games we play on Earth to have these simple pleasures!

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Joy

Beautiful! My little family moved into a temporary space to transition from living on a boat to land. While in this space, I held off on decorating or adding items to what was already there because I felt it ‘wasn’t ours’.

I see now, perhaps this mindset allowed space in all realms to be “on hold” –my online space, my space holding connections and full creative expression. Thank you for sharing your reflection that illuminated my own:)

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dawn

do you remember me, dawn v. from ww. article? i have an amazing and true story to tell you about living in the present AND on both sides at the same time. the seam. the angela told me i could. i never asked, they came again and again.

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Mrs. Jen B

Oh, Amy.

After our call yesterday I’ve been spending some time reading over things we discussed, and exploring your blog a bit more (though I have yet to read the post you pointed out to me – that’s next).

And in light of what we talked about re: our living situation with f-in-law, this resonates so so deeply with me.

It was a fine line we walked when we first came here – we didn’t want to change things too much because we didn’t want him to feel as though we were imposing or taking over, while at the same time we didn’t know how much he would actually remember about the way things were before he became ill.

He didn’t remember too much, as it turned out. Give him his giant TV and his chair and he’s okay.

So here we are with a house we take care of but isn’t really “ours”. Talk about living in limbo.

We have made big changes – completely redoing two rooms to make them more serviceable (the dining room was an exercise/junk room – that doesn’t work for us!) as well as smaller ones which he had neglected for a long time. He was the king of clutter.

Still, there’s that feeling of “But this isn’t really MY home”. I didn’t choose it. I didn’t go house hunting. Though, funny story, when we would come here to visit years ago and I would get bored or distracted, I would sit and think of all the things I’d do if this house were mine. Still. It’s not “my” house.

But it is. It is. And it will be as long as he’s alive and able to live here, and most likely after that (we’ve already discussed buying the house after he passes).

Hence the cleaning up the gardens and the raking of the needles yesterday, and the little projects I want to get done this spring and summer. There’s no reason to wait – life is NOW.

I think we need to continue to honor ourselves here, because it is our corner of the world and whether or not we chose to be in this situation, here is where we are. All we can choose is how to fully live in this space.

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Melissa

Dearest Amy,
I am sure this post speaks to many women, as we are always challenged to find our perfect place in the world. Today, I find myself in a place that I never imagined living just off the Intersate somewhere in South Dakota. I often, like you, think of what my life would look like in another house in another place. Your post gently nudged me into remembering that this space is my home, and recalling a moment I shared with my 4 year old son. Sometimes I talk about moving somewhere else, maybe back to Texas. The last time we had this conversation, he dug in his heels. I will only go if we can take our house with us.
I smile now, knowing that we have made a home, here in the Plaines, and it means something.
Thanks for the lovely post.

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Tre ~ (@thoughtbythought)

we really do dwell in our thoughts and your moment of appreciating tenderly sharing the mental zig zag between the now and the what could be…and the strain that put on you…i get it so muchly so.
i’ve done that not just with home
but with who i am as a woman vs who i’m ‘to be’ or ‘might become’
i’ve done that with making peace with now vs thinking of womanhood when married.
i’ve done it with adoring the children that are each moment vs the when or if i have my own.
ive done the back and forth mental tug of war between now and ‘when’ so much and probably 3 yrs ago but each day really since..that sinking into the woman of NOW has just been all.
very healing
very transforming.
very true.
giddy beyond to have found your blog….and twitter.:)
warm hugs for your courage and stand.
tre ~

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