Friday, June 09, 2006

It's Not Home Without...



Recently, my husband and I moved to an apartment from a large old fixer-upper that we, well, didn't fix up. It's been a great move, and we love our new space. We moved to an unusal apartment complex built in the 1970s. Nothing unusual was ever built in the 1970s, you say? Here's what is special about this place, and why it couldn't be built today. It is located in a forest. Lots of trees were left standing, the buildings were nestled into the landscape, and you reach many of them by wooden walkways. None of this could be done today due to housing laws that require handicap accessibility in multi-unit buildings. The top left photo is the view from the balcony of our third floor apartment. The trees literally touch the railing.

Even though I am absolutely delighted with our new digs, I found that I still need the same basic things I've always needed in order to really feel at home. What are they? Here's my absolute must-haves for feeling at home:
  • A separate room for watching television, so that the living room remains free of this intrusion from the outside world
  • A clothesline - we put a small retractable clothesline on our balcony. I never feel so virtuous or industrious as when I manage to get my sheets hung out on Saturday morning
  • A window fan - I grew up in house with such a fan; even after we got air conditioning, on any night that it cooled off just a little, we opened the windows and turned on the fan. (Yes, I really am so old that I can remember a time when most people didn't have a/c; when I was a kid theaters had icy looking signs that boasted "Air Conditioned.") Because window fans create their breeze by drawing air through the house rather than blowing air in, they can efficiently cool an entire house. Ours worked so well that sometime in the middle of the night, even in the middle of the summer, we were reaching for a blanket. Best sleep ever, with fresh air instead of the stale, refrigerated air you get with air conditioning. I'm planning an article on the ins and outs of cooling without air conditioning; I've converted my husband, maybe I'll convert you. (Don't get me wrong; when it's humid and miserable, I turn on the air like everyone else; I just can do it less often, which saves energy and $$$.)
  • A rag bag - An avid dumpster diver, a few years ago I found an old cotton bedspread in the trash, the kind with nubby loops in a pattern. It had a few good sized holes and was clearly beyond use as a bedspread. I'd recently discovered The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn, and was enjoying the process of learning to find practical uses for found items. I was also battling to keep a huge old house clean, and had succumbed to temptation and bought a Swiffer, even though the environmental impact of using disposable cleaning supplies nagged at my conscience. Well, I soon discovered that by cutting the worn out bedspread into rectangular pieces the size of the swiffer refills, I could have the convenience of a Swiffer without adding to the landfill. I even kept a bedspread out of said landfill. The nubby loops that created the design on the bedspread made great texture for stubborn sticky spots on the floor. I filled a spray bottle with some cleaning solution, which cut down on the amount of water used as well. The same bedspread remnants are still in use today, along with other "repurposed" rags. I keep a separate dirty laundry receptacle for cleaning rags, and launder about once a month when I have a good sized load, once again feeling virtuous way beyond what is warranted for such a small accomplishment in my environmental crusade.
  • A window over the kitchen sink - now, this I don't have, so my point is this is so basic I can't understand why builders wouldn't put the kitchen sink in a spot where you can have a window to look out while doing dishes and chopping onions. I do have a patio door just to the side of the kitchen that overlooks a hillside where deer and wild turkey frequently roam, so I can't complain too loudly.
  • A water filter on the kitchen sink - self explanatory
  • A large dutch oven - in all my years of keeping house, I have used two heavy dutch ovens to create wonderful soups and stews that fill the house with heavenly smells and are the core of what says "home" to me. The first one was my grandmother's, and was left behind in a traumatic move across country to escape an abusive relationship. To this day, I search every thrift store and antique mall I visit for one like it, because it was an unusual Swedish modern design from the 60s, white enamel. Just last month, I found a coffee maker in the same design (see photo), which I'm using to hold kitchen utensils. If anyone out there knows where I can find a square dutch oven of the same pattern, let me know. I bought my second dutch oven at an estate sale, evidence of my theory that right before people die, their grown children buy them expensive cookware and kitchen items, creating a secondary market and eliminating all need to fork out the big bucks at the big box stores. Just one of my many ways of Stickin' It To The Man.
  • A basket of mismatched place mats and napkins - to those of you who buy special placemats, napkins and runners for every holiday, need to get over yourselves, and deserve a Tired Butt Society rant. I've lived off the fat of the land my entire life, scooping up table linens in thrift stores and at estate sales, never paying more than .25. I like 100% cotton, mostly white; no muss, no fuss. If one gets stained, no tears. Kids (or grandkids, as the case may be) can set the table with any combination they like. Laundering? Same principle as the rag bag - a separate receptacle, wash 'em about every two weeks. I've never in my entire life bought paper napkins, now where the hell's my Nobel?
  • A shady spot for eating/sitting outdoors – I love the lost art of porchsitting


Okay, that's my list. I'm sure there are as many ways of making ourselves feel at home as there are homes. We nurture ourselves by creating our own rituals and traditions, borrowing from our parents and grandparents, adding and adapting as societal changes and our own circumstances demand. What’s your list?

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