ah, justification

come, sit, stayI spend far more time thinking about my house–what’s in it, where things should go, how it’s organized, what color things are, etc.–than I ever in my life intended. I thought I had a novel in me. OK, maybe a short story. Fine, an essay. But I thought I had some literary ambition.

Apparently I don’t. I’d rather re-decorate.

This has brought me a fair bit of shame–literary ambitions being far more lofty than the repainting of bedrooms and the rearrangement of furniture. I’d think, “This is what God is preserving my life for–to feel great satisfaction when I clean out the attic?” “Shouldn’t I be writing a memoir to God’s faithfulness rather than perseverating on de-junking the garage?”

Shame until I read this passage from a book of Jonathan Franzen’s essays that my sister passed along to me. Franzen, author of the best-selling novel The Corrections, writes about his mother’s house which he is responsible for selling after she dies.

In the days after the memorial service, as my brothers and I went from room to room and handled things, I came to feel that the house had been my mother’s novel, the concrete story she told about herself. She’d started with the cheap, homely department-store boilerplate she’d bought in 1944. She’d added and replaced various passages as funds permitted, re-upholstering sofas and armchairs, accumulating artwork ever less awful than the prints she’d picked up as a twenty-three-year-old, abandoning her original arbitrary color scheme as she discovered and refined the true interior colors that she carried within her like a destiny. She pondered the arrangements of paintings on a wall like a writer pondering commas. She sat in the rooms year after year and asked herself what might suit her even better. What she wanted was for you to come inside and feel embraced and delighted by what she’d made; she was showing you herself, by way of hospitality; she wanted you to stay.

Each time I read this passage (and I’ve read it plenty) I feel a little less ashamed of my preoccupation–of the decorating magazines I am loathe to part with. Of the trips to thrift stores that make me slightly giddy. “I’m writing,” I tell myself now as I snap up yet another owl figurine–this one a brass set of three–yay! “And, since writing is really re-writing (or so says Scott Henkel), then decorating is really re-decorating.”

And I’ve got tubs of unused thrift store treasure to prove it. Commas, I mean. Tubs of edited commas and semi-colons in my attic. Whole paragraphs of throw pillows. First and second drafts of photos sent to my sister for comments. Cut and pasted chapters of furniture in our bedrooms. Former editions of paint colors rusting in their cans in the basement.

Perhaps our home is my novel and I might be a writer after all. My daughter an essayist, in her freshly painted bright red room, the furniture just where she wants it and the mineral poster perfectly positioned above the dresser.

Thank you, Jonathan Franzen. I think I would have liked to have your mom come over. And for her to stay for a latte.

summer is off to a great start

Summer has started splendidly for our family.

We started with a Memorial Day weekend trip to Madison to see our dear friends Jane and Jamie and their family. We travelled with Bob and Heather and their charming Ben and Cate.

The ferry across Lake Michigan was a blast–not just going up on deck, but playing with all manner of plastic toys in the main cabin, and gorging on vintage-inspired penny candy compliments of Ben and Cate’s awesome Oma. Heather and I thought the best one was the Chik’n Stix. Is there a more yummy-sounding confection?

on deckh and t on deckcandy from Omacheckin stick

The kids had great fun in Madison. Three girls, three boys, three dads, three moms, it all felt very trinitarian. Below are several shots including photos of the six kids, Jane and Luke, and girlfriends 1.0 holding girlfriends 2.0. And a parting shot of our gracious hosts.

vanderssix friendsjamie 3jamie 2jamie 1<

Last weekend I travelled to Chicago with Chris to meet Becki. Our Annual Sister Weekend has now officially changed to Sibling Weekend. Now that we all know our spiritual gifts, Becki and I thrifted, visited museum gift shops and celebrity sighted, while Chris attended a real estate law conference and waxed philosophically about the bed-bugs and arachnids he was sure inhabited our awesome thrift-store scores. Low-light of the weekend was getting my wallet stolen at our first thrift store (could it possibly have happened while I was stuck in a dress, laughing, and Becki was taking my picture looking like a teletubby during a stick-up?--photo evidence below). Highlights were laughing with my siblings until I almost fell out of the restaurant booth, meeting my new friend Joan Cusack (ahem, ahem, photo evidence below), seeing our dear Kiff VandenHeuval in his show at the Goodman, and telling stories with him post-show and closing down the restaurant. A perfect start to the summer.

a stick upbec and chrisbex and chrissiblings on timerKiff at Goodman
becki and chrissisters in chicJoan C