Cleaning The Mirror

January has been an amazing month for me.  As I wrote in a recent post titled, Post-Holiday Confessions From A Decorator, I had some really, really heavy-duty stuff to deal with the first couple of weeks of the month – which is why I chose to use the holidays to be still, to be quiet and to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas.  Last week was my “down time” to review and then renew after all the heavy-duty stuff I had experienced had come and gone.  Little did I know that a simple trip to the movies over the weekend would be the proverbial wake-up call for me to listen up and that another big lesson was coming…

Important messages come to me from the oddest places.   Some of the messages are good and some well, suffice it to say, not so good.  Here’s an example of a good one – I remember when I first began my blog I had numerous articles written and ready yet, I still couldn’t find the words for my opening post that in my view would best explain what I meant by my tag line – Everything begins in the home.  I fretted and fretted for weeks trying to come up with just the right words.  Then I attended my niece, Britney’s wedding and voila, the words were said out loud to me.  Funny- I had been searching for the words in my head – little did I know that I would hear them from someone else.  I remember I felt cold chills come over me when the words started from the lips of Reverend Bob McAden.  A voice in my head said, “Listen up Jamie.  Here are the words you have been searching for”.  I listened and boy oh boy, they certainly were the words I needed.  So, once more thank you Rev. McAden for the words you spoke and then allowed me to share in my blog post, The Sacredness Of Home.  They were (and still are) the perfect words to explain and express the importance of HOME.

Anyway, I had another one of those messages this past Saturday and at the oddest place – the movies!  Here I was thinking I would sit back and be entertained.  Oh no, not this time around – this “not so good” message was meant to teach me I still had work to do on myself.

The Man in the Mirror

The movie, Joyful Noise started out normal enough but something came over me when the Michael Jackson song, Man In The Mirror began to be sung by the incredibly gifted singer-actress, Keke Palmer.  I felt goose bumps begin to erupt, I felt the pulsations in my body of recognition that it was time to focus and I felt the overwhelming knowledge that I was supposed to listen up to every single word…

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways…

If you wanna make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself and then make the change”

Hearing those words brought me a flashback of this past Christmas Eve.  My David and I spent the entire Christmas Eve day in downtown Chicago.  Being home alone we thought that this would be a fun and different way to spend the day so we rode the train into the city and went exploring.  We walked and walked and walked.  It was cold and windy so we both had on heavy coats, scarves, hats and gloves.  While walking down Rush Street a man approached me and asked for my spare change.  Ever the polite southern woman I answered him, “No thank you”.  After all, I was walking briskly in the cold and would have had to take my gloves off to get to my purse to get to my spare change – way too much time and trouble.  Well, I didn’t think another thing about it until about ten minutes later the man was ahead of us on the street talking to another gentleman.  He turned to me and said, “I want you to know I don’t ask people for money all the time.  I just recently lost my job.  You don’t need to be sorry for not giving me yours”.  I was mortified to say the least.  Had I seen my reflection in the mirrored storefronts I passed, I am sure my cheeks would have been red.  But the real shock came two blocks later when we crossed the street and headed in a different direction.  At the intersection David watched the man continue down the street and then stop to talk to a homeless woman.  David watched him take all the money from his pockets and give it to the woman (clearly someone that needed it more than he did) and then walk away. When David told me this, I was stunned and truly humbled.  Here I was busy on my way (on Christmas Eve no less) and I didn’t take the time to give my money to a down and out man on the street when just a few minutes later he gave what he had to someone less fortunate.  It was all I could do to keep walking and not run for the nearest alleyway to privately shed tears of shame and sorrow.  Would I have liked to see myself in a mirror at that moment in time?   Not hardly!

Cleaning my own mirror

So when Keke Palmer sang the words I realized change (actually more change) needed to begin with me.  I needed to look in the mirror, take a look at myself and make a change.  W.O.W.  Here I was comfortably sitting in the movie theatre, “convalescing” from a grueling few weeks of immense stress with the assumption that I had “prevailed” through all the trials and tribulations of the last five years, wanting to relax and enjoy a hit musical-movie.  Yet somehow I was being reminded of Christmas Eve in downtown Chicago in a not so flattering way.  I could visualize the man on Rush Street in total detail.  I even remember the homeless lady- she was wearing a white coat and carrying all her belongings in a grocery cart.

Hearing the words of this song put so much into perspective for me.  The words brought on a myriad of thoughts to ponder and truth be told – many of which might take years to work through.

  • Everyone has their own vantage point from which they view life.
  • The way we present ourselves to the world must always reflect our true selves.
  • Mirrors reflect our true colors not the black and white we perceive.
  • To inspire change in others we must first change ourselves as thoroughly and effectively as we can.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Love is the most important verb in the English language.

I’m not sure where I am going with all this newfound insight.  I just know that besides carrying small bottles of hand sanitizer with me everywhere I go, I will also carry small bottles of Windex in case I ever lose “clear sight” of the reflection others see of me in my words and actions.  Moving forward I want to “clearly” see my true self in the mirror and at the same time I want to present to my family, my friends, my fellow human beings and my earth home the true reflection of who I am.  And, in each and every moment of each and every day I need to be mindful of the power I have as an individual to inspire change in the world.  Let it begin with me as I clean the mirror.

“And no message could have been any clearer

If you wanna make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself and then make the change”

A House Becomes A Home When…

As I have discussed in recent posts, I believe that any space that is used for shelter can be considered a house.  You don’t have to own it, the size doesn’t really matter and it can serve as shelter for anyone.  Just ask my dear friend Kenny that I talk about in my recent article, Houseless Not Homeless.

Let’s assume for the moment though that the space is a house.

I have moved to many new houses, many new cities and many new states both growing up and as an adult.  What  has mattered most to me in each move was creating the homey feeling in the new house as soon as possible.

Nothing like a hobbyhorse to make you feel like you are home

Benjamin in Springfield, VA

Benjamin in Springfield, VA

Take the first move that my oldest son probably remembers.  We moved from Charlotte, NC to Northern VA.  My son, Benjamin’s most treasured thing was his hobbyhorse.  So, I made sure the movers put it last on the moving truck so that it came off first.  I can still remember him rocking on his hobbyhorse in the grass outside the front of the house while the rest of our household goods got moved in.  He rocked and rocked with not a care in the world for what was going on around him.  With the hobbyhorse there, Benjamin (and I) felt like home was right there.   All was right in the world!

Another example – David and I moved to the Chicago area two years ago.  We sold our home quickly and the new owners wanted to move in just as quickly.  So, we rented a house in order to take the time to decide where we wanted to live in the area.  We rented a brand new house from a woman that had built it as a speculative piece of property to sell.  Obviously with the housing market not doing so well she decided to rent it.  We became her tenants.  About two weeks after we moved in she came by to check on things. She said she had a wonderful vacuum and would be willing to regularly clean the house for me (for a fee of course).  I kindly declined her offer and was surprised that she was so offended by my rejection.

Her response to me when I declined her offer was, “Well, you know this is my house.  I know every inch of it and I would clean it thoroughly”.

I just smiled and said nothing.  But, what I was thinking was,

“This may be your house but it’s my home”.  You see what I mean?  A house is a house until you make it your unique homespace.  I had no desire for her (as my landlord) to regularly see how I live.  Not that I have anything to hide, it just didn’t appeal to me.

(By the way, two years later we are still renting.  The market still isn’t so good and we have actually found that this new chapter in our lives of renting is really fun.  We are footloose and fancy-free! Ask anyone that knows us!!)

What makes a house a home

When I knew I was planning to write a post about what makes a house become a home, I thought through many different directions I could take to discuss the topic.  After going on lots of different tangents, I realized the best way to express this belief was to ask others to collaborate.  So, I have asked friends and family members to give me their own version of what makes a house become a home.  I hope you enjoy reading some of their answers.  I also hope your own feelings about your homespace mirror much of what you will read.  Enjoy and feel free to share your version, too!

Susie Sale; Charlotte, NC
“Yes, everything does begin at home…that is where I regroup and find my strength. The flowers are lovely… looking at the petals on a flower make you see the beauty of God and what a wondrous person he really is.  How can anyone doubt him?”

Blair Kernodle Scheepers; Pretoria, South Africa
“All our treasure we’ve found around the globe.  From the African folk art we picked up in Cape Town to the birdhouse we bought in the North Carolina Mountains.  Each piece helps tell the story of us and makes our house a home.”

David Solganik; Westmont, IL
“A house becomes a home when the refrigerator is stocked.”

Beth Borum Ketchum; Portsmouth, VA
“When you first walk into the house you get a warm feeling.  The house just flows from one room to the other and the colors continue from one room to the other.  It is fresh and inviting.”

Lindsay Cannata Solganik; Cleveland, OH
We made our house our home by creating an environment fitting to our needs.  A place where can spend time together as a family, cook meals, create memories, and rejuvenate from the drains of daily living. Our goal was to create warm and inviting comfy spaces that are all extremely usable (including the living room and dining room!) We love to unwind together in the family and living room, cook yummy meals in the kitchen, and eat in the dining room! Our home has become our safe place - the place we retire to at the end of every day and week feeling comfortable, safe, and at peace.

The best of all

I think my daughter summed up her view of home perfectly in a recent phone call.  She called to tell me that she had completed one of her chores she had given herself on her “summer’s to do list”.  She had tackled the kitchen pantry- a chore she was dreading.   And, what a surprise she found!  Tucked way back on a shelf was a lunch box I had given her one year as an Advent gift (more on that tradition later).  It was a lunch box depicting the cast of The Wizard of Oz.  This movie was her all time favorite when she was growing up.  In fact, each morning when she woke up she would walk down the hall; thumb in her mouth, night-night trailing between her legs asking, “Watch ya-ha-ha please.”

Wizard of Oz lunchbox

Photo credit: Sammi Blake

That’s what she called the movie, as she was both scared and fascinated with the wicked witch!  Day after day she wanted to watch this movie.  Day after day she sat mesmerized.

Anyway, she had forgotten about this lunchbox as she had put it in the pantry to hold recipes in and well, like I said, it got forgotten.

When she rediscovered it during her cleaning craze, she was thrilled and decided to put it on one of the shelves in Ansley’s nursery.  Sammi told me that as she carried it up the stairs to the nursery, she turned it around and read,

“There’s no place like home.”

Things had come full circle for Sammi and me that day.  Her love of the movie (and my memories of Sammi all those years ago) was what inspired me to get the lunchbox.  Now she had her own daughter to share it with and as Sammi said to me,

“You know Mom, there really is no place like home”.

Yep, she’s right.

Houseless Not Homeless

I called an old friend today.  I had not spoken to him since early spring and at the time we ended our last call I had promised to be in touch the next week.  I broke my promise.  David (aka “My darling Life Partner”) had some health issues arise and so I lost track of time and well, just got around to calling him today.  Sad but, true.  Anyway, we talked for over an hour.  I called him at the beginning of my exercise walk at the park.  I finally had to end the call when my phone kept beeping that I had no more juice.  Besides which, I needed time to digest the conversation.

All day I have vacillated between pure awe, sadness, humility and quite frankly, the need to cry buckets of tears.  In fact, while listening to him on my cell phone I had to fight the urge to find a quiet space in the park, curl up and sob- not for grief of this dear man’s plight but, sheer humility. The man’s words truly humbled me.  You see he spoke about becoming homeless, only he called it “houseless”.

Swirling through my head all day have been images of the beautiful fabrics I have worked with, the gorgeous furniture and accessories I have placed in homes of clients, the money spent on materialism.  Kenny brought me back to the basics.  How deeply thought provoking.

But, let me take you back to how we became friends to begin with.

An unlikely friendship.

About twelve years ago, give or take a year, I built a new house.  It was my first home after selling the house I lived in during my marriage.  Kenny was on the construction crew for the overall townhome project.

Kenny was always friendly, always smiling and was kind to my kids.  After I moved in he even began to do some custom work for me in my house.  He built the cutest brick doggie door you can ever imagine off my deck and did wonders in my backyardscape.

But, coming from two very different walks of life, we had very little in common or so it seemed on the surface.  There didn’t seem to be much there for a friendship to bloom.

It did though.  Turns out, we are more alike than we are different.  I suspect most of us are once we get past our egos, our need to keep up with “The Jones’ ” and the superficial side of life – but, hold that thought for another day.

9/11 sealed the friendship.

Our friendship grew after a very specific event.  9/11.  Need I say more?  Does bringing up September 11th bring back a flood of memories of where you were and what you were doing at the exact time you learned about the attack?

I was out of town doing some work.  In fact, I was in Richmond, VA with an artist (Karen Peppers) doing some custom work in my brother, Don’s home.  His home sits on over 30 acres out in the country, away from everything.  I still can hear him racing in the door screaming, “Turn on the TV.  New York has just been attacked by terrorists.”

We all stood there stunned and then of course, turned on the television.  The silence was eerie.  But, I soon thought of my kids, Ben, Sammi and Jimmy at home in Charlotte.  Sammi was home from college watching Jimmy- no worries there.

Until now…  I was terrified that I was away, even for Ben although he was living on his own.  What if terrorists attacked Charlotte?

I called home.  Sammi said the construction crew on the site had stopped working and Kenny had come by to check on them.  In fact, as soon as the news spread about the plane crash, he became as glued to the television in my house as did Sammi and Jimmy.  Each day until I got home, he checked on them.  He even ate meals with them.  I will always remember his kindness and after that, he became part of the family.

We lost touch for a while after I moved to Chicago until our phone conversation this past spring.  When we talked this past spring I was stunned to find that he was divorced and living in Texas.  He was just as surprised to hear I was now living in the Chicago area.  Then, today while beginning a long exercise walk at the park I thought of Kenny and so I called him.  More surprises- he told me he had moved back “home” to Pensacola, FL.  Also, he filled in all the gory details of becoming “houseless” after leaving Charlotte.

Kenny said, “Jamie, I am finally home.”

He didn’t mean physically.  He meant emotionally.  Anyone walking past me on the trail surely saw the shock on my face.  I couldn’t get my mouth to close and I felt like my eyes were bulging.  But, I could feel Kenny’s big smile!

“Jamie, you don’t need a house to have a home.  I have never been homeless, just houseless.”

He went on to say that his wife had built stronger walls around him with her anger and abuse than the walls in their actual home.  He said he had to leave it all after one last massive episode and so his red truck became his home as he made his way from Charlotte, NC to Texas and finally to Florida.

Home sweet home.

His truck gave him shelter.  But it also gave him the home he was craving.  He said to me, “You see Jamie, home is a safe haven.  It is a place where you can live without fear.  My truck gave me that.  Even in the cramped quarters often sleeping upright in the seat, I felt more at home than I ever did in the house I had with my wife.”

Months after living in his truck in towns working throughout Texas, Kenny said he made the decision to really go home – to extended family in Pensacola, FL.

I’ll always, always remember his words, “Jamie, when I crossed the state line into Alabama, I took both hands off the steering wheel and say, ‘Thank you God.’  Then, when I crossed the line into Florida, I raised my hands again and shouted, ‘Home Sweet Home’.  I am finally home.”

Thank you Kenny for your words.  You are one of the wisest human beings I have ever been honored to know.  I am deeply indebted to you for what you have reminded me of in such a profound way:

Home is not a place or a space.  It is a feeling that gives us the sanctuary in which to bloom.

Welcome home, Kenny…

Sunset over lake

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

One thought…

Home is where the heart is.