Behind the Picket Fence: Create a life you fancy.
For the News-Register
While chatting with a group of friends, decorating styles came up. As in, what's your decorating style? Terms like "shabby chic," "farmhouse style," "minimalist" and "bohemian" bounced around the conversation.
At some point, it was clear I was the only one not to contribute. "Um. Well. I'd say I roll with kind of a work-in-progress, ‘cluttered chic’ style. Can that be a thing?"
The discussion then turned to a more philosophical one about what really makes a home feel like "home." That was a little trickier to answer, because mine really has felt like a work-in-progress for about eight years. So that's basically from the moment we got the keys to a home I was so in love with the moment I saw it, I knew it was where I wanted us to raise our babies.
The previous owner had impeccable style. I don't know what you'd call it exactly, but it was worthy of some Better Homes & Gardens coverage. Unfortunately, when moving day came, her stuff was all gone, and with it, the style that made the home seem so much like what I wanted but didn't know how to create myself.
So, there's one answer. Home, I think, is something we create with our intentions and actions. Since my divorce, though, there's been a lot of non-action. Or rather, there’s been plenty of action in juggling all the responsibilities of managing a home, working full time and raising two boys who are no longer babies. But it feels more like barely keeping up on things, instead of actually making progress on any of my decorating dreams.
So, there's that: Home is where you live your real life. And for me right now, that means no sooner have you pulled the bacon out of the oven than there's spilled, hot bacon grease all over the floor, which turns into a fun ice rink for a little bit.
And then when you're done cleaning up that mess, the bacon has mysteriously disappeared but somehow, despite eating an entire pound of bacon between the two of them, there are two boys wondering what's for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.
At that moment, and frankly, for a few days to follow, my kitchen is "decorated" with the remains of that mess and the evidence of quickly trying to cobble something else together before everyone is heading out to where we needed to be.
Because no matter what our mothers taught us, most of us don't put everything away immediately. It is, however, a highly recommended practice. And for good reason.
There is little more discouraging than waking up to a fresh day with remnants of yesterday's disaster on the counters. This is where cultivating cleaning habits you stick to no matter what comes in really handy. You know, stuff like soaking pots right away so you're not working out your biceps scrubbing them quickly in time to make soup for the next meal — that kind of thing.
Speaking of soup, I'm teaching my boys how to cook. My youngest made Avgolemeno soup last week, and if you haven't had that, you should try it because it's delicious. When it came time to put dinner on the table, he wanted to serve it out of a fancy bowl. I tried to convince him to just ladle it from the soup pot.
"Mom, you don't spend this much time on something and then just serve it like that!" And, yes, he did help me with the dishes. Because it mattered to him how the table looked, he carefully set it while declaring: "I love fancy."
He put out cloth napkins, a full place setting for each of us and carefully arranged the bread bowl and plates. He refuses to touch butter, so his brother contributed that to the arrangement. Instead of using the butter dish, his brother tossed the whole stick, still in its wrapper, in the middle of the table.
"There. I hate fancy," he said, shrugging.
I surveyed the scene, Jake drinking out of his crystal goblet, Sam sipping water out of the container closest to him and me with my water poured into my beloved, ubiquitous mason jar.
Ideally, home is a place you can really be yourself and drink out of whatever you please. Home is where you can be fancy, or not. I suppose I'm a pretty good balance between my boys' degrees of fancy.
As we're eating the soup, which two-thirds of us loved, Jake said: "Wherever we are together, that is home."
"Oh, Jake. I love that!" I was touched, and told him so.
"Mom," his brown eyes flashed as he nodded toward the wall behind me, "It literally says that on the wall."
Ah. Right. One of my first acts of decorating my home in a way I loved was finding that sign in an antique store, buying it, leaning it against the wall for a year and, finally, hanging it up where it could remind me what matters more to me than decorating.
Perhaps the whole point of home is figuring out how to be ourselves throughout life's changing circumstances. Because physical homes change, who lives with us in our homes changes and all along the way, so do we.
Home, I've decided, is where we figure ourselves out as we continue to be, well, a work-in-progress.