Where’s My Space?

“Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must  harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.”
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

The other night I was listening to one of my favorite Pandora Radio stations when an advertisement broke in for an apartment rental search company. The selling point for the ad was that a couple’s search for an apartment together was successful because it had a “man cave for him and plenty of closet space for her.”  I had to stop what I was doing because of its two implied messages. Women need closet space? Men need a “cave”  in order to retreat from their partners and/or children? The ad reeks of sexism and notions of a privileged class. It assumes that women have an overabundance of clothes and shoes and need substantial storage for them, and only men are entitled to an extra room just for themselves.

I don’t know about you, but I have one closet that houses all of my clothes and shoes for every season. When I was married, I shared that closet only by storing my out- of- season clothes in a makeshift hanging area in the basement.  That very same area also housed the family’s cold/wet weather gear. (My home has no closet space on the first floor so when colder weather does arrive, we hang our coats in the mudroom.)  All of my other clothing items are stored in a dresser or in a plastic container under the bed. I believe that this is quite efficient, practical and frugal considering the fact that I am a runner and yogi in a four season climate. Would closet space be a possible selling point for me if I moved to a new home? Sure!  But not because I am a female in search of wardrobe storage!  Seriously, 3 closets for 3 people ( 2 are male) is quite a tight arrangement.

The need for a man cave is a 21st century idea born of the sexist belief that women control all household matters-cooking, cleaning and decorating- and enjoy those responsibilities. Hence, because men now must also be more “sensitive”, it has resulted in their emasculation. They need a space to freely express themselves. Further, this concept presumes that all men are alike-they yearn for a place to hang their deer heads, NASCAR posters and read pornography. It has become so commonplace globally that Ikea opened a store in Melbourne, Australia with a “manland”.  The space was created so that men who didn’t  want to join their partners in shopping could have a place to relax and enjoy themselves in a “manly way”.  There are now man cave websites dedicated to decorating ideas and contests for the best caves, among other things.

The truth is that they are few of us in this world who have the square footage to enjoy a room of our own. Heck, I write this blog from my kitchen table because my desk shares space with the living area!  If someone is watching TV or the boys have company, the only other choice is my bed. And besides, the kitchen table is less crowded than my desk is! Additionally, my yoga mat is on the rug in front of the desk and my strength training equipment shares space with my washing machine, furnace and other basement storage items. We are squeezed but it seems to work.

For most of us living communally is an economic reality- we need help with the rent or mortgage. For others it is a lifestyle choice: marriage, children or one half of a couple. I think the trick is to find a way to have your creative “space” and share it within this realm. Didn’t we learn this in Kindergarten?

I have no doubt that I aspire to a clean and orderly home that is decorated as an aesthetic expression of my life and identity. However, this is not because I am female!  I am the homeowner; I have pride of place just like everyone else.

Truthfully, I have never given a thought to designing a room of my own. Maybe I need to engage in some fantastical thinking. And so do you! When my dream space is complete, I’ll share it with you and invite you to do the same.

Enjoy the reverie!

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Renovation, Reclamation, Rebirth

I give this to take with you. Nothing remains as it was. If you know this you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.

                                                                                      -Judith Minty

I love where I live.  It has taken me at least  two decades to come to this realization and I am glad that it is not too late. I awaken each morning to the quiet of the day and  am guaranteed an encounter with some form of wildlife as I head out for my early morning run.  When I wake up, I love to look out my bedroom window at my vast backyard that bends towards the deep, deep woods. I often will dash outside to see the sunrise and to get a “feel” for the day.

The kitchen sink window is by far a favorite feature of mine. I call it my “perch” for a few reasons. It allowed me to observe my sons playing when they were little and to also keep a close eye on the fire pit antics during their teenage years. It’s a great place to view fireflies in the summer, wild lightning storms during hot, humid days and windy blizzards in the winter. I especially appreciate the refreshing breeze that comes in even on the hottest days of the year.

My appreciation has deepened recently and for reasons that would appear to be paradoxical.  This summer I engaged in my first independent home improvement project!  Usually, home repairs are nothing if not a pain in the neck. At times- in fact, I am having one right now- it is an emergency plumbing situation that leaves you no choice but to buck up and take care of it. This is when I dislike owning a home for sure.

The toughest part of deciding on a renovation is the fiscal investment. For me, money is always tight, tight, tight; I have no second income as back up. Like everyone else, I have the mortgage and college educational expenses that eat up a good chunk of my salary.  As a result, it has taken me years to finally bite the bullet and get something done.  In many ways, I believe that my decision was based on faith alone!

The other piece that makes a renovation difficult is deciding on whom to hire. As a single woman, I fear getting ripped off because of my gender as well as my lack of knowledge. I spent a good amount of time asking around before I decided to hire my handyman.

Anyway, I finally made the decision to repair my decrepit mudroom. The floor was in tough structural shape after it had suffered what was probably years of water damage. Only an expert could fix it. Once I knew that my room was on solid ground, I began the process of picking out paint and flooring. This, my friends, was the best part! Colors, that in the past, I would never I have chosen adorn the walls and floor. It looks so good that I want to sleep in it!  When you enter my home, you immediately get a feeling of comfort, warmth and welcome.

The mudroom is at the back of the house and serves as its main entry. Since we had limited access to it for a bit, the boys had to enter through the front. My old home has a farmer’s porch that is severely underused as it was a reminder of a time when I very sad. I would go there to cry.  When the crying was done, I avoided the porch as much as possible. One day my youngest son called to me, saying, “Hey, we should really clean this up and paint that ceiling white!”
We set to work and in less than a week, the porch is well on its way to renewal. When I sat down during a break from excavating  the moss and mildew, I began to feel a sense of peace and a clearing away of all the sorrow that I had once felt.

So despite the current plumbing glitch, I remain solid in my continued commitment to this place and space . I look forward to the  darkness of this humid night, watching the bats fly about in search of their nightly feast and  falling asleep to the hum of the crickets.

Sweet Cravings

Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.

-Erma Bombeck

Anyone that knows me well understands my adoration for dessert. Not a day goes by when I do not plan for or have on hand something that is delightfully sweet. In fact, there have only been a few times in my life that I have gone without it. Childbirth and the stomach flu come to mind.

My love for what I call my “fourth meal” of the day is rooted in my childhood. My father’s father was a baker during the Depression and he would regularly provide to his large brood the day old cakes, etc that did not sell. So, upon marrying my dad, my mom provided him with various confections as well.  The treats were not necessarily fancy either. I think it was just the idea that we could have dessert if we cleaned our plates that may have gotten my brother and I hooked.

When I think of dessert from that era, the following foods come to mind:

Chocolate pudding (stirred on the stove)

Jello 1-2-3 ( I would eat the bottom first because the top was my favorite part)

Jello with Cool Whip (now I hate the stuff!)

Pistachio Cake ( made from boxed yellow cake mix with Jello pistachio pudding mix- it was  green!)

Wowie Cake ( THE birthday cake in our house-chocolate sheet cake made without eggs or milk)

Gingerbread Cake ( warm with whip cream on a cold winter’s night)

My mom’s apple pie (the best)

The first memory that I have from my childhood actually involves dessert. I was four years old when the Blackout of 1965 happened. I clearly remember watching the Art Linkletter Show (holding my ubiquitous yellow blanket) when suddenly everything went dark. I ran into the kitchen sans blanket, to find my mother. She had just made butterscotch pudding. Of course, I was very frightened, and in my haste, I  left the blanket by the television. Then I became more distraught of course. Well, mom got a flashlight and candles and we quickly retrieved my blanket. Something about losing the power that night had the three of us ( my dad was away on a business trip and knew nothing of the situation) understand that we would be without electricity for long time.  So, to make it fun, my mom set up the kitchen table with candles and dessert for us. Well,being the Nervous Nellie that I was, I could not eat it ( Oh, I guess this is another rare time that I missed out! ). My brother, who appeared to take the whole thing in stride, quickly scoffed my share down. I really don’t eat butterscotch pudding anymore either…

My desire for dessert can sometimes be extreme.  I recall a time when my then husband, 14 month old son and I were staying in a hotel. We had arrived late in the evening;  in time to put our toddler to sleep. In order to accomplish the task, we dimmed the lights and took up temporary residence in the  bathroom with a  plan to emerge when he was asleep. Well, of course, I still needed dessert so I sent my husband on a mission to come back with something sweet.  It was a success! I have a warm memory of the two of us sitting on the edge of the bathroom sink enjoying Drake’s Coffee Cakes!

There were many years that my only dessert was ice cream-regardless of the season. I love the coldness and smooth texture of this delight- but I am picky about brands ( I will not name the two that I refuse to eat).  Believe it or not, I used to always use the excuse that it was a good source of calcium! Although I still enjoy it, I have significantly less of it nowadays. But  then again,  tonight I will be having Newman’s Ginger-O’s with a bit of french vanilla-the best flavor accompaniment.

My dessert list today is very different from that of my young life.  Here’s a list of favorites:

Chocolate ( no surprise)

Key Lime Pie ( the real deal only)

Chocolate Cream Pie (also must be authentic)

Brownies (sometimes with ice cream but never with nuts)

Cupcakes (Trader Joe’s french vanilla with homemade frosting-yum!)

Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (they never last long!)

The only rule that I have regarding dessert is that it must be eaten after supper. Dessert is my reward after I have put in a long hard-working day, done my exercising  and eaten very well. There is also something sacred about ending the day on a sweet note.

So I say this to you: Carpe Diem! Grab a cookie or two -one in each hand for balance- exhale, smile and enjoy!

What is Your Cultural Groove?

Upon first glance, working class suburbia would seem a place devoid of an authentic culture.  After all, my childhood hometown was, and continues to be, a place that is overwhelming white, filled with small ranch houses, older capes, and a main thoroughfare that is packed with strip malls and small office buildings. However, if I were to define my culture based on this shallow exterior, I would be doing it an injustice.

Both my parents grew up in two different small cities just outside of a larger city in the Northeast. Like all young couples that married in the late 1950’s, they were drawn toward dreams of homeowner-ship. Within seven months of my birth, they left their small apartment behind and moved to the town that my brother and I were to grow up in.

I have come to realize over the years- through stories that my mother told me and through example-the great sacrifices that my folks made in order to offer us a better life. Early on, my father needed to work two full-time jobs so that he  could support his family. Back then, of course, it was nearly unheard of that women worked outside the home once the children were born.  But for many working class households, it was an absolute necessity to have a second income. Frankly, I have always wondered why this past phenomenon isn’t  part of a larger public discussion today. These days we always talk about the need for both parents to work. In my day (gosh don’t I sound old!),  the money was needed for food and the  mortgage for the small ranch house- not for lavish vacations and other material items. Please don’t get me wrong- I know that the need for two incomes just to feed your family still exists today.  But I also see the pursuit of more tangible things in my generation- a great shift in the overall culture to be sure.

But I digress. The better life that  I am speaking of included endless times of running around in the woods with the neighborhood kids, swimming in the pool and long bike rides to lakes and the coast. And along with the traditional culture of 1960’s and 70’s suburban childhood, came a more subtle change-one that broadened my family’s horizons. Since the work my father did was closely associated with a university and since he also was becoming a dedicated runner, our family crossed paths with people from all generations and ethnic backgrounds who enjoyed the sport as well. Our home became a haven for hungry graduate students and other idealistic youth as well as people old enough to be my parents’ parents! Because my brother and I met so many different kinds of people, we learned compassion for, and an understanding of, others who existed beyond the borders of our little town.

These changes set the stage for  a newer definition of culture and its accompanying values for my family as well as myself.

So, as I was growing up, running became our focus for family time as well as our social network.  It was especially  exciting to be a female runner in those days! Women were just beginning to become more visible in the sport and I can say for certain that running gave me strong self-confidence and leadership skills in other areas of my life.  Moreover, I witnessed my father sacrifice his own running career in order to provide increased opportunities for my brother and I. Additionally, both my parents helped to support various youth in the neighborhood and town in their running endeavors.

My parents taught me that culture is not just about your ethnic heritage and where you live but how you live.

Therein lies the “groove”!

Certainly, too much of the 21st century’s “busy and distracted” and selfish culture creeps into our lives today and attempts to throw us off track. But even if it has, it doesn’t mean that we’ve lost our groove! Sometimes it just gets put in a pile of someone else’s agenda for a while.

The trick is that you have to learn to create a way of life that fits you and those you love. It means staying grounded and resolute in that idea. What is it that you value? How do you want to live your life?

When I think of how I grew up, it can be summed up in two words: Building Relationships. Now, I cannot say the my life thus far is an exact replica of my parents’ . That is impossible.  I can only  say for sure that I wanted that life and tried darn hard to bring in some of the same experiences. In truth, it has only been in the last five years that I can say my life fits into this mold. And guess what?  It came from letting go of all that I had known in my adult life.  The life that I once lived was shallow and not what it appeared to be.  I had a hand in making sure that it looked perfect because I was too afraid to face the fact that I thought I had been a failure.

But good gosh! It wasn’t failure; I had lost my groove. I wanted it back- not just for myself but for my kids. They deserved to enjoy a legacy where they had an opportunity to understand that life is about relationships with others. They needed to know that Community-, whether it is a faith-based, family-based ( in any incarnation), school- based, town- based, athletically- based (or all of the above)- was where it’s at.

Sometimes finding your cultural groove means risking the end of relationships that are detrimental to how you want to live. If it is harming you, then it will harm those you love in the long run ( no pun intended). Pick it out of that pile and make it your own again my friend!

I have come to understand that you have to ride the rough waves at times -and for a lot longer than you want to- in order to find that spot on the shore that allows you to live more honestly and freely.

And yes, it is absolutely worth it.  I guess you could say that I’ve reclaimed my spot on the beach. Boy,  it feels good to sink my feet in the sand!