A Better Home

I flew home last night from Charlotte, NC. There have been less than a hand full of times I’ve ever needed to be home so badly. You see I’ve been gone all but about four days since early February. Not only did I miss two snowfalls we had in Chicago during that time but also, I missed home. It’s that simple. As much as I’ve said in other posts that home is where the heart is and though my heart traveled with me, I’ve been away from all the comforts my personal home brings me – coffee in the wee hours each morning with my David while we play Scrabble on our IPads, solitary walks in nature, my own home-cooked meals, my dog and my writing (hard to do when traveling) to name a few. Most of all I’ve missed my quiet time with David. He is absolutely positively the love of my life. As is our tradition when I return home from traveling, last night we went to our fave restaurant just a stone’s throw away from our house. Vincitori’s Italian – quaint and ever so yummy, it is my comfort place to go to when I get home. The restaurant was packed so we ate at the bar. Let me tell you, I was giddy with happiness. I kept patting David’s leg, rubbing his back and smiling at him while thinking in my head, there’s no place like home. Hallelujah, I felt finally home. Truly, home never felt better than this. And that my friends made me realize that being away from home for so long and dealing with all that went on these last few weeks gave me a new appreciation for home which in turn gave me a better home to return to.

Two other people I know have recently been gifted a better home to live in. One I learned about through a chance encounter one of the hair stylists at the salon I go to had with a new client. The other I know personally. Both of these people are now living in better homes. I know they are blessed and I know their families are as well. Let me explain…

Maurice’s gift gave someone a better home

No matter where I go I tend to be a “Chatty Cathy” and have tons of unusual stories to tell. Even at the salon I go to many of the stylists there know me and know this about me so the last time I was there getting highlights one of the stylists came over to talk. In no time she told me about the odd encounter she had the day before. A walk-in client had come in and so she cut her hair. They began a casual conversation and before long they started talking about where they both went to high school. When the stylist said where she went the woman in the chair said, “I didn’t go there but the mother of the boy that gave me his kidney did.” That remark led to more connecting the dots until oddly enough the hair stylist realized the boy she was talking about was Maurice, a 16-year-old boy that had lived with his mother above her condo years ago in Chicago. You see some guys that wanted his jacket gunned down Maurice in cold blood in front of their building on a day Maurice was excited about going to a concert that evening with his mother, the hair stylist and her son. He later died at the hospital from the gunshot wound. His mother decided to donate all his organs that could be donated. Now all these years later a woman that was a recipient of Maurice’s kidney was sitting in her chair. Talk about synchronicity! What a gift both these women received. The hair stylist got to see what Maurice had done for someone and the woman; well Maurice gave her a better home to live in while here on earth.

A better home for Chris

Chris Brami is my daughter-in-law Kathleen’s father. Well, actually he was her father as he recently passed away. He was diagnosed a few years ago with Alzheimer’s – what my own mother has so I understand it in an up close and personal way. But for a man so young, it was heart wrenching to have happen. He was in the prime of life if you ask me. Chris’s condition rapidly progressed the last few months and just this February while I was visiting he passed away. Kathleen, her mother (Susan) and her sister (Meredith) dealt with some pretty horrific stuff while he spiraled down. Finally towards the end it was apparent to them all that he needed to go home to a better place. I’ll never forget the last days of his life as I was staying with Kathleen and my son. The morning he passed will be etched in my mind forever. I awoke and walked out of my bedroom. As early as it was Kathleen and Ben were dressed and leaving. She had just gotten the call from her mother that he had passed. Kathleen said to me, “We said our goodbyes last night and left him in private. We knew he was ready to go to a better place. We gave him the space to do it and he did it in his own way. He went home to a better place.”

Strive for the best home right here and now

I think everything we experience, every person we meet can teach us valuable lessons. I remember the day the hair stylist told me her story I asked her what she learned from it all. She said, “Well, I learned the importance of donating organs. Maurice’s kidney saved someone’s life and really, donating is a simple thing to do.” And I’ll never forget the peace that came for everyone knowing Chris had gone on to a better home. Maurice’s story and Chris’s family consciously letting him go to a better place have given me much to ponder. Add to that the weeks upon weeks I have been gone from my own home and believe you me, I feel more connected to home than ever before. How about you? Is your home all you want it to be? Can you think of ways to make it better? If so, why not start now to make a change? After all, home should offer us the best sanctuary for our souls that is possible.

To being home…

Chris Brami, July 22,1955 ~ February 7,2013

Chris Brami, July 22,1955 ~ February 7,2013

Lighting ~ An Important Element In Home Decor

Just recently my daughter, Sammi and I began a large project with new clients.  The space is a beautiful high-rise condo overlooking Uptown Charlotte.  Each room has an expanse of windows that are the length of the room.  The view from these windows is spectacular to say the least.  In fact, if you’re a football fan, you can see the Carolina Panthers’ Stadium as well as the gorgeous cityscape.

Because I’m all about natural light filtering into interior spaces, I love these windows for more than just the incredible view.  With all the light that can come in on a daily basis, I know the psychological benefits my clients will derive from this.  But aside from the natural light that comes into the condo, Sammi and I have a blank canvas to work with for other lighting choices.  In fact, the entire space is a blank canvas for us, as we’ll be completely furnishing the new digs for our clients.  Talk about fun!

A few days ago we sat down with the couple and discussed lighting options.  I found myself explaining to them my philosophy about lighting and why lighting was a crucial element in home décor.  While talking to them I told them a story about a client we had several years ago – a pro football player.  We furnished his new home from top to bottom and of course we also paid much attention to the lighting detail in his home.  After our work was complete, he had a house-warming party.  Much to my amusement, when he hosted this first big party in his home he called me early the morning of and asked me to come over an hour before the party (we were attending the party) to turn on all the lights for the party.  Clearly, he was still learning about all the lighting options we had created for him but at the same time, he understood the important WOW! Factor the lighting would make for his guests and so he wanted to make sure the mood was set when his guests began to arrive.  I watched our two clients listen to this story and chuckle over it and yet; it was clear they, too were beginning to understand the importance of proper lighting in their own new home.

After leaving this meeting with our new clients I realized a simple lesson on lighting would be a great Blog post.  So I hope you garner new insight on the impact lighting has in your own personal space.  You see lighting plays a key role in creating beauty in your space.  As an “armchair psychologist of the home” I believe that Living Beautifully = Living Well.  Lighting, like every other choice you make in your home décor ultimately has psychological affects on you and anyone that spends time in your home.  So, for the best feel good vibes you can get from your lighting, illuminate in layers.

Three “must have” layers of Lighting in your home

There are three layers of lighting you should use in your home lighting décor.   When combined together they create a mood for your space.  They are:

  • Task Lighting
  • Ambient Lighting
  • Interest Lighting

Task Lighting – This type of lighting is what I call “general lighting” as it is the lighting that is used to identify spaces and allow for the rooms to be lit for safety, etc.  This type of lighting is usually the overhead lighting in each room be it a chandelier in the center of the room, can lights spaced evenly on the ceiling of the room or a ceiling fan with an attached light.

Ambient Lighting – This type of lighting is what I call the “personalized lighting” as it is the lighting that is specifically chosen by the homeowners to be a part of the décor.  This lighting can make or break the feel good vibes of your space and should be carefully planned out.  Table lamps, floor lamps and wall sconces are all forms of ambient lighting.

Interest Lighting – This type of lighting is what I call “surprise lighting” as it’s the lighting that goes the extra mile to create atmosphere thereby adding to the warm fuzzies you get from being in the space.  Picture lights, accent floor lights and yes, undermount cabinet lighting are all forms of interest lighting.  (You may think undermount cabinet lighting is task lighting but it is so much more than that. It allows for added impact.)

All three of these forms of lighting should be part of your design plan for your home décor.  Each of these layers creates a focal point of some kind in your space, regardless of its location in the room.  Remember this and be cognizant of the impact each of these layers of lighting has on your space, particularly with how they combine for an overall affect.  Also, be aware of what I call “the brightness factor” of lighting and understand that increasing OR decreasing the brightness of each form of lighting changes the space.  For that reason in every home I work in, I make sure every single light can have flexible brightness.  I drive my electricians crazy at times when doing ceiling and wall lighting because I require dimmer switches on E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.  I even put dimmers on undermount cabinet lighting in kitchens and bar areas.  (Believe you me, when entertaining in your home or wanting to have simple low lighting on in the evening, undermount cabinet lighting in the kitchen sets the mood for relaxation!)

Minute Details of Lighting – Do’s and Don’ts

Pay attention to the minute details of your lighting.   Here are some simple do’s and don’ts:

  • Do use three way bulbs for your table lamps and dimmers for all other lighting.
  • Do dust regularly ALL your lampshades and ceiling fans. (Obvious dust on ceiling fans is the worst of the worst.)
  • Do hide all the electrical cords of your lighting as best and as safely as you can.  (Visible cords take away from the beauty of your lighting.)
  • Don’t use lampshades that are the wrong size or style for your lamps.
  • Don’t leave the plastic protective wrappers on your lampshades.

I’m looking forward to all the ways the lighting for this new project will “brighten” the space and create real beauty within.  I also look forward to the  “ah-ha” moment our clients will have when they see the impact that these three layers of lighting creates!  Most importantly, I look forward to how the lighting will make them feel, as I know their lighting is an important part of the décor that Sammi and I are intentionally adding to their space for living beautifully in order to live well.  And for you, my hope is that the lighting in your space brings beauty and wellness to you and yours as well!

To lighting up life…

What’s In Your Attic?

Capital One Credit Card Company’s tag line, “What’s in your wallet?” leads you to think that their credit card is an important item for you to carry in your wallet.  After all, each item most of us have in our wallets is there for a reason.  We choose what we have in our wallets down to which photos we have in them, which receipts we hold onto, what identifications cards we have in them and yes, which credit cards we carry in them.  Many of us are even organized enough to know how much money we carry in our wallets and even make sure the dollar bills are neatly arranged in sequential order.

The same should go for our attic spaces.  Important items we want to save, protect and store should be what’s in our attics and yet; very often this space becomes the dumping ground for our junk.

I’ll never forget my David’s close encounter of the worst kind the last time he was in our attic.  It was almost exactly three years ago.  We had known for months that we would be moving from Charlotte, NC to “The Windy City” and so I had made a schedule of things we needed to get done before we moved.  Now understand I mean this with the utmost love and affection for my David but, “Harry Homemaker” he’s not.  Not even remotely.  So of course he put off and put off and put off his chore of cleaning the attic. (By the way, he opted to choose this chore!)  So, finally the weekend before the movers were to arrive, he decided to tackle the attic- cleaning, decluttering and organizing it.  Needless to say, with so little time to get the job done, most of the junk came to Chicago in the moving van.  But, the reason I’m telling this story is because of what happened when we moved.  You see the attic was a filthy mess (due to years of neglect) when David finally broke down and went up there to tackle it.  Dust, dirt, grime, bat droppings – you name it, it was there.  So, a few days later on the road trip to Chicago he started feeling funny.  Well, he got worse and worse and so literally upon hitting Naperville I took him to the emergency room.  Shock of all shocks, he was admitted for double pneumonia.  What a wonderful welcome to our new digs that was!  After several days in the hospital, we put two and two together and realized what probably triggered the pneumonia was the nasty air and surroundings of the attic.  So, moral of the story- clean and declutter your attic.  Clean it of dust, dirt and cobwebs.  Keep only what you really want to save and take the rest of your unneeded stuff to Habitat Restore, Consignment Shops or other charities for someone else to use and enjoy.  And remember, a clean attic creates a healthy environment for you!

Attics in our HOMES

In our being HOMES we have attics much like the ones in our physical dwellings.  And many of us ignore these attics much like we ignore our physical attics.  We fill these invisible attics of our hearts, minds and souls with boxes of junk that we don’t want to deal with and we let these boxes sit there year after year gathering more dust, dirt and grime – all the while continuing to create a horribly unhealthy environment for us.  Boxes of hurt.  Boxes of anger.  Boxes of humiliation.  Boxes of jealousy.  Boxes of fear.  Boxes of regret.  And so on and so on…

I take my job as a Decorator and a Homespace Coach very seriously.  Part of what I do is share with my clients ways that they can better live in their space in order to live harmoniously within themselves.  So, I can tell you absolutely, positively that cleaning up the attic is an important chore to tackle- and I mean this both figuratively and literally. Cleaning up spaces like the attic make both your physical space and your mental space healthier.

So, don’t put off cleaning your attic for another day.  Face the chore and do it knowing how good you will feel once you have completed the task.  We all have boxes in our attics we choose to ignore.  But, I can promise you the clean up is well worth it.  For if you put off and keep putting off, it might make you sick.  Deal with the boxes in your attic that need to be removed, even if you tackle them one at a time.  The freedom you will get from it is indescribable.  And let me tell you, when you clean up your attic it allows for more space inside for beautiful things to reside there.  I know this first hand as I’ve done the cleaning of my own invisible attic!  I have Missy (not her real name) to thank for forcing me to clean up my attic. Thank you Missy, you helped me tackle the boxes in my attic I was choosing to ignore.  My prayer for you is that one-day you will find the courage to tackle your own.  You will free yourself and honey, money can’t buy freedom like that!

To cleaning the attic…

Learning About Life Through Your Pet

I grew up in a household that included three brothers and two sisters.  From the earliest that I can remember, we had pets.  Usually, we had several!

You name the type of animal and while growing up, the Balzer family had it one time or another.  Dogs, cats, rats, mice, snakes and yep, a squirrel.  I will never forget the day I got off the school bus and came home to a baby squirrel.  We named him Peanuts.

Now, I know this is hard to believe – often when I tell people about Peanuts they figure I am confused with where he lived.  Surely he lived outside, or surely he lived in a cage is what people say.  Nope, Peanuts lived in our house and had the run of it.  Of course, he did have a cage – but most of the time he ran freely and went where he wanted to.  I remember often sitting in the den watching TV and in Peanuts would scamper.  He would jump onto the sofa and then jump onto my shoulder to nap nestled there snug as could be enjoying the warm sunshine coming through the window.  It is hard to imagine it all now but he was treated like any other family pet!

Cathy and Colby

Cathy and Colby

We even had chickens once.  My youngest brother, Tommy was quite persuasive when he wanted something.  (Maybe he should have gone into politics!)  He convinced our mom to get chickens so we could have fresh eggs everyday – I guess he saw this as a great value kind of thing. (Of course, he is also the brother that once charged admission to neighborhood kids and moms to watch him walk the telephone wires!)  I don’t remember getting many eggs but we sure got tons of complaints from the neighbors from their noise!

The chickens didn’t last long…

Life with pets

Randy and Miso

Randy and Miso

Having a family pet livens up your homespace.  I will never forget George.  He was my cousins’, the Purvis family’s pet duck.  My cousins, Shell, Tony and Andy lived at the beach (Sandbridge, VA).  I loved our visits with them and it was great fun to watch George running around.  He was nonstop entertainment!

My Step-grandson, Austin has a pet turtle named “Spike”. For months and months he had begged for a turtle.  His dad, Brent and my daughter, Sammi told him that once he began to show responsibility enough to have one, they would try to get him one.  Austin set about doing anything and everything to prove his responsible side.  That made Sammi start to fret over how they would get a turtle as they aren’t the easiest pets to find.  One day Austin’s dream came true and what joy for me to get to witness it.

Austin and Spike

Austin and Spike

I happened to be visiting them in Charlotte and  Sammi and I took a nature walk on the greenway.  Out of the corner of her eye Sammi spied a baby turtle.  I just happened to have a small box handy in my purse (don’t ask why, my lips are sealed) so Sammi reached into the water and scooped the turtle up.  When Austin got home from school that day he got a surprise!  Since then Spike has gotten bigger and bigger and Austin has been able to learn more about life as he has cared for him each day!

Pets teach life lessons

Without a doubt I believe that having pets in your homespace broadens your education and impacts you in a multitude of ways.  I know it did for my siblings and me. I feel for kids that grow up in homes that don’t have pets.  I think they are missing out on learning valuable life lessons.  Here are a few life lessons I know having pets teach us:

Sonya and Natasha

Sonya and Natasha

  • Pets give you someone to constantly love and nurture.  They never get enough and love in return unconditionally.
  • Having a pet gives you companionship and can make you feel less lonely as you always have someone to talk to, to touch and be touched in return.
  • Pets encourage and create times of laughter in us.  We find humor in playing with them and love watching them for entertainment.
  • Pets teach children about responsibility.  Helping to take care of the family pet is often a child’s first chore and responsibility as part of the family.
  • Pets teach us to love and also how to accept loss.  The loss of a pet is sometimes a child’s first experience with death.  Though extremely difficult, coping skills and the process of grieving are learned.
  • Pets teach young adults how to “parent”.  Young adults and young couples often bond with their pets in a way that plants the seeds for later parenting.  (I believe that it is no coincidence that many pet names these days are what are normally human names such as Maggie, Hazel, Gretchen and Duncan.)
  • Pets often help get us exercising more, particularly dogs.  Pets needing exercise give us a chance to do the same.
  • Pets can lead you to more social contact.  People very often interact with other pet owners through their pets.  How often have you known someone as Moe’s Mom (or whatever the pet’s name is)?
  • Pets relax us and can help reduce stress.
  • Pets become part of our families.

Spread the love

Lucy

Lucy

Interacting with animals impacts us all in many positive ways.  I say spread the love in every direction you can with your pet.   Share your pet with others that aren’t fortunate enough to be able to have one.  One way to do this is to visit folks that live in Assisted Living Facilities.  As often as we can we Balzer siblings take our pets to visit our mom at Richfield where she now lives as I discussed in a recent post, Creating Comfort In An Assisted Living Facility.  She loves interacting with them and so do the other residents.  Another way to spread the love is to visit shut-ins with your pet.  More often than not elderly folks and those that are confined to their homes love playing  and visiting with pets.

Pure and simple, pets open our hearts and open our minds with their unconditional love.

Enjoy the love…

This Place We Call Home

On June 20, 1782 the Bald Eagle was chosen as the emblem of the United States of America to symbolize all our nation stood for – long life, great strength and absolute freedom.  Today this majestic creature continues to stand for what we proud Americans have always believed- our country is the home of the free.

Something happened though to put a kink in our belief system about America.  The events of September 11, 2001 gave all of us living in America a shocking wake up call.  Home no longer felt as secure.

Out of nowhere planes crashed into The Twin Towers  of the World Trade Center in New York, The Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside killing many Americans, all in the name of politics.

I believe that those that perished made their way to a better home.  Those left to pick up the pieces, the grieving families and friends of those that died had to begin to redefine what “Home” means.  I suspect some have worked through much of the grief and have a renewed sense of what matters in life and cherish each and every moment.  But, others I feel sure are still grappling with the process.

I was shocked on September 2001 just as everyone was.  As I mentioned in my post, Houseless Not Homeless, I was in Richmond, VA doing some work at my brother, Don’s house.  Richmond is but a few hours from Washington, DC and that in and of itself was eerie.  But, the sounds of silence were deafening when we walked outside that day- no planes in the sky anywhere.  Period.  I was scared to death and stunned that our country had fallen prey to such evil.  I, like most Americans was used to things like this happening on the soil of other countries- not ours.  In a matter of minutes I had a feeling of vulnerability, insecurity and simple gut wrenching fear.  Most of us did.

But, I had already come to know this fear of losing my sense of home well.  Before September 11th I had lived with it for many, many years.

Let me explain…

Losing the sense of home

Bald eagle perched in tree

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

In the late 1990’s I became a statistic of divorce.  Married almost twenty years and with three kids, my world unraveled in what felt like a skinny second.  Everything changed.  I mean everything.  What happened?  More than a divorce, I lost my family unit.  That was the most important thing to me in the world.  It didn’t matter where I lived, what I was doing, or what I was facing, when my family unit was in tact I felt safe.   Home for me had always been defined as my family and now my safety net was gone.

In losing this safety net I lost what grounded me.  In fact, up until just a couple of years ago I carried a pit in my stomach at all times.  I can only describe it as a pit of fear –  fear of the unknown.  You see, my world had been uprooted and I couldn’t figure out how to reconnect and secure it again.  At the same time that I carried the pit in my stomach, I was plagued with almost nightly dreams that took place in the last house I lived in with my complete family.  Oddly enough, the dreams constantly varied in the details of what was happening but, the house was always the same -  the one in a neighborhood called Giverny in Charlotte, NC – the place I called home.  In some dreams I was putting new curtains up, others I was working in the yard planting flowers and still others I was sitting with friends on the front steps. Regardless of the dream situation, it was clear to me time after time that through these dreams I was processing a redefining of “Home”.  Hence, the new decorating and landscaping in my dreams!  Psychologically, I took from these constant dreams that I now needed to redefine what home meant to me.  I needed to regain the safety and security I had lost.

Then, out of nowhere came a wake up call.  A chance encounter in December of 2006 (oddly enough, approximately ten years after my marital issues arose)  forced me to reckon with my past and all I had lost.  Though the ensuing years have been full of ugliness, drama and consequences I have emerged on the other side of this encounter more centered, fulfilled and blissful than I ever could imagine.  In the process, I learned where “Home” really is – in my heart and soul.  With it there, I have no chance of disconnecting from it ever again.

Now I am in the refining “Home” phase. How exhilarating!

Home’s rightful place is in the heart

What I learned was something I need to pass on.  I learned that I had inaccurately defined home all those years.  I had put the meaning of home outside myself.  It should have been centered in me- smack  dab in my heart and soul.  If I had first had it there, I could have been better prepared for losing my family structure.

Remember my article, Houseless Not Homeless?  Remember how Kenny never lost his sense of home because all the while, even living in his red truck home was in his heart?  Kenny understood better than anyone I have ever met the truth about where home needs to reside.

Bald eagle watching nest

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

A few weeks ago by sheer coincidence (and I really don’t believe in coincidences) I learned about a tragic event that had occurred in the house David and I are renting.  Oddly enough, I learned about this event two days before my post, “What Makes A House A Home was published.  In the article I mention my landlord and her near obsession with this house.  In fact, I talk about how it is her “house” but, it is my “home”.  I assumed she was obsessed with the house because she had wanted to sell it and was worried about “renters” living in it. Oh my gosh, was I ever humbled with news of what had happened here.  It just goes to show you, assumptions are only that- assumptions.  The truth was she absolutely positively lost her meaning of home one tragic evening here in this house.   Dear God, no  wonder she is so attached to it.  I only hope she someday redefines home and I hope this place called “Home”  moves into her heart.  It is her only chance to live again.

Baby bald eagle

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Which leads me back to defining what home is.  I do not for a second believe that I have experienced the worst of the worst in losing my sense of home.  Never have I been without shelter (like so many, many people), never have I been forced from my house (through acts of evil) and never have I faced horrific living conditions (such as concentration camps, relocation camps, political prisons).  I cannot imagine what levels of strength it would take to rise up after an experience such as one of these and try to find home again.  Nonetheless, up until a few years ago my life was missing the wholeness I had once had when my family was intact.  So, I looked inside myself and found it again.

Wake up America

My chance encounter in 2006 was my wake up call to redefining home and putting it in its rightful place- my heart.

Kenny has it in his heart and I pray that my landlord finds a way to put it in her’s as well.

All of us can take adversity, trauma and tragedy to create the balance in our lives we so desperately need.  I believe it begins in the home.

Fly like an eagle

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

On a larger scale, this is what we Americans have had to do as a Nation after the horrible events of September 11, 2001.  Every single one of us has had to redefine what home here in the United States means.  This place called home cannot live outside of us.  No one can create it for us or provide it for us.  It must come from within.  The truth of the matter is that if we have accurately redefined “Home” we are better for it.  We smile bigger smiles, laugh deeper laughs and love with abandon.  For if we put “Home” in our hearts, nothing but love can burst forth.

I urge each of you to embrace the shift that September 11, 2001 and now its 10th anniversary has given us the opportunity to make.  Shift your priorities, shift your values and shift your attitudes to a more basic level of love.  As the country music duo, “Big and Rich” urged the audience to do the other night in concert at Naperville’s Last Fling, get on board the Love Train.

Don’t be left behind at the station.

When you get right down to it, love is everything.  And remember, everything begins in the home.

Love with abandon…

NOTE:  Nature Photographer, Susan Muehl has been capturing the beauty of these magnificent bald eagles throughout the last two years at a lake near her home, Lake Accotink Park in Springfield VA.  They gave birth to twins this spring – to life and living in the U.S.A.!