My husband frequently looks at something I have just finished around the house and comments, “That’s nice, dear, but don’t you have more necessary things to get done? Like getting the kids to pick up their toys or something?”
So far, I’ve managed not to throw anything at him when he says these things. I think we have a totally different definition of “necessary.”
Take today, for example. A few months ago, I dug a four foot long trench and filled it with concrete to edge a new section of garden. (This section was the last one to complete the encircling of the house and two outlying gardens, mostly to put in an edging that the blasted Bermuda grass can’t get through or under. It’s bad when the Home Depot guys start to recognize you. “You’re back again!?! Lady, what are you building with all this concrete? A bridge?”) This new section of garden removed a significant little chunk of lawn that was especially difficult to mow, and about twelve feet worth of edging. It required a lot of digging and sifting for Bermuda grass runners; not one of my favorite garden chores. You’d think the husband would be grateful. “Did that really have to get done now?” he asked. Fortunately, I was too tired to throw anything at him. I bought a pair of foo dogs, rearranged some other pathway stones from elsewhere in the garden, and had a nice start to a little Chinese-themed corner to the garden. The top of the concrete edge was left to be finished later with a mosaic like the pebble mosaics in the Imperial Gardens behind the Forbidden City in Beijing. “Right,” he said.
Well, today he comes home to find me crouched over a group of plastic baggies filled with pebbles sorted by color. The baby is outside in her playpen, testing out the echo across the little lake we live on. (Brick townhouses down one side of the lake make for some really great echoes… I’m sure anyone outside wondered what I was doing to the child to make her that mad. Evil mommy, dragged baby outside with a bunch of toys to play in the shade on a nice summer day…) As the husband passed with the mower, he looked over the back fence at me and my pebbles, shook his head, and mouthed, “Geek!”
By now, I take that as something of a compliment. Sort of like the friend who (fondly but somewhat seriously) calls me “Martha Stewart on crack,” a description that my mother agreed with, adding, “We got her a subscription to the magazine, but we assumed she understood that nobody actually does any of those projects…”
Now, many of those projects are not “necessary.” I did not need a collage of the trip to China to hang in the hall. Neither do I need gardens this big. And off-white is a reasonably acceptable color for walls. And the kitchen cabinets were functional before I stripped and refinished them. And we did not need a cute little pebble mosaic of pomegranates and leaves.
The cabinets don’t work any better now that I’ve painted them (except that I was determined not to replace them after all the work of sanding, priming, base coat, faux finish, setting up the art projector, and painting the saints, so I fixed most of the problems the cabinets had). And it’s a great reminder to be patient, watch your tongue, and trust God when you have a saint “watching” you from the cabinet door while you’re trying to discipline their little namesake! (It’s sort of the “family litany”; the cabinets were painted with the saints we’re named after or particularly like. That’s St. Joseph holding baby Jesus on the left, and St. Josephine Bakhita on the right. St. Catherine of Siena and St. Martin de Porres are on the back. St. Agatha Lin Zhao (a Chinese martyr), St. Fiacre (patron saint of gardeners), St. Pascual (patron saint of cooks), and St. Thomas Aquinas (who should be the patron saint of bloggers who can’t write short posts) are on the insides of the doors.)
Yeah, I’ll admit it: many of my projects are not necessary in the way that doing the laundry is necessary. Laundry, though, is not exactly mentally stimulating. There’s a sense of success when the nearly impossible pile of vacation laundry gets run through the machine, the clothesline, and the dryer and gets folded only a day or two after getting home. But it isn’t the same as the feeling of success looking at a crazy, complex idea that came out better than expected. Like terracing the hill down to the lake for the garden. Or the dark blue ceiling in the kitchen that looked crazy, but now everyone raves about it.
You can hire someone to do the housework. You can pay someone to wash and fold the laundry and deliver it back to your doorstep. You can eat out and pay someone else to create a wonderful dinner. You can buy quilts and dresses and costumes at the store. You can buy a birdhouse and pay a mowing service instead of working with your kids. Painters, landscapers, decorators… you can hire them all. But it isn’t really yours until you work on it. I’ve watched decorators on TV come in and do a fabulous makeover… but they also removed the wedding picture and crucifix from the mantel to replace them with “prettier”, but meaningless, decoration. The previous occupants of my house didn’t do anything with it; it really felt like they were just renters, not really settled, not quite owners.
Your house should reflect you and your family, even if it’s just in the pictures you hang. My house is colorful, because off-white just isn’t me; it never felt comfortable, it was someone else’s color. My house is definitely Catholic, because so are we; there’s something in every room to remind us of our faith, to remind us that Christ is watching over the family. My house is comfortable, with big fuzzy blankets on the couches waiting for a child to snuggle up in them, with toys all over the place, with stacks of books waiting to be read. My husband managed to describe our house to someone at the office as “country eclectic” (I was impressed; he isn’t exactly the type to read decorating magazines), because it is somewhat country (in a sort of American colonial and French way), with eclectic international touches from a lot of travelling, mostly with the Navy. (and then there’s the “we love Tolkein” room, with the map of Middle Earth painted on the wall and two reproduction swords from the movies… but I’ll save that for another post…)
So, I guess this post is an argument that all of those personal touches are, in fact, necessary to making a home. Somewhere we lost sight of that in the rush to shrug off housework as boring, meaningless, and demeaning. Nobody else cares about your house or your family like you do. Even if you need to pay for some of these services, remember that it does make a difference when you find some area you can use to put your own touch on your home.
Beauty is not “necessary” like laundry and getting food on the table, but it is necessary to our souls. We skip beauty for the sake of efficiency at our peril.
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft
And from thy slender store two loaves alone are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul.
Gulistanof Moslih Eddin Saadi