what makes a house a home.

My favorite part of all of Saturday—after a morning of farmer’s market, library, and lake—was curling up on the sofa in the long stretch of quiet afternoon, sipping coffee and perusing a giant stack of library books with my husband.

Something that David and I find distractingly restful is learning more about a topic which interests us—even if it has seemingly little relevance to our current life.

For instance, I’m reading Sheetrock and Shellac: A Thinking Persons Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement, by David Owen.  Do we own a home or a yard?  No.  Do we actually have any idea what we’ll do and where we’ll live next?  Nope.  Do I even enjoy home improvement or getting dirty or working with my hands?  No, I certainly do not.

I look at my creative, DIY-savvy, green-thumbed friends and family members with envy (as I believe some of them may look on my ability to read books quickly with envy), and think, wistfully, I’ll never be like that.

And yet, David and I are both currently devouring books on gardening and “urban homesteading” and DIY projects.  It keeps us from fixating on the uncertainties we’re facing and gives us something else to talk about.

(I actually recommend this practice for most seasons of life and especially stressful ones; even just keeping a light, topical book [Cooking? Thoughtful eating? Art? Exercise?  An international memoir?] in my purse or on the back of the toilet to skim through has kept me more-or-less sane through mothering screaming infants and cross-Atlantic moves).

David Owen is a New Yorker staff writer, and this book is a memoir of his home remodeling experiences over the course of twenty years or so.  He’s one of those writers whose way with words makes me want to open my laptop and write . . . in other words, he’s inspiring.  Witty, informative, and still profound in his descriptions of our relationship with our home and our possessions, in a way that’s reminiscent of Wendell Berry.

David was reading The Wall Street Journal: Complete Home Owner’s Guidebook yesterday, and, though these books contain two entirely different approaches, we discovered many truths that resonate.  Like the fact that buying a home is almost never an investment—more money is poured into it through the years than will ever be made out of it.

Sobering for us, as potential first-time home buyers at some point in the future, and we are thankful for the cautionary word to be frugal and not to rush things.

At the same time, buying a home is hugely valuable, in a non-monetary way, because it’s the stage on which (in which?) we live our lives.   Our homes are inextricably woven into our memory bank and filled with meaning, with nearly the same vividness as a family member or a beloved pet.  And, as we shape our home(s) throughout a lifetime, they in turn shape us.

Here’s an example: Owen and his wife, Ann Hodgman, spent the first seven years of their marriage in a rented, one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.  When they found out they were expecting their first child, they hired a company to come and close in their postage-stamp dining room for a nursery.  However, when the project was completed, they looked at the tiny new room and looked at the ever-growing pile of baby items they were accumulating and realized there was just not enough space there for a nursery.

So, Owen had the idea of moving the master bed into the new space, and giving the baby the spacious bedroom.  Despite criticism from friends that they were spoiling the baby, and misgivings about essentially having a combined living room/dining room/master bedroom, Owen and his wife discovered, only through actually making the switch, that the situation worked perfectly.  They didn’t have baby furniture overtaking their apartment, and they could still host friends late into the evening without fear of waking the newborn across the space of a thin dividing wall.

Owen concludes, commenting both about that story and home renovation projects in general, “Ann and I set out to turn our apartment into the kind of place that we thought we wanted to live in, and we ended up meeting it halfway, by becoming the kind of people, who, it turned out, would live in a place like ours.”

And that is an idea I love.

Although we have never owned a house, we’ve been shaped by all the spaces we’ve settled into; our family rhythms and our memories are intertwined with this specific parade of apartments and condo and infamous periwinkle blue 1980’s trailer.

The other thing I love about this book—which is something I loved about The Urban Homestead—is its emphasis that most of the events in life are about process, not result.  An unexpected plumbing problem in the bathroom is not an interruption to an otherwise tranquil Saturday (or insert: pulling weeds, washing dishes, baking a casserole), but it becomes that particular Saturday, becomes the plot in which our family memories—and even our character—are fleshed out.

Do we look on the necessary project as a hindrance or an adventure?  Do we hem and haw and bark our frustration at one another, or do we pull ourselves out of task mode long enough to grab our kids, explain this new project, laugh at the sheer inconvenience of it, and celebrate later with a bowl of ice cream over a job well done?

Our goal is not a finished (whatever that means), design-blog-perfect home, but the twists and turns of living together in our space, the adventure of making it ours, and the challenge of projects-yet-unfinished.

These are values that are being woven into our hearts of late.  Because they aren’t, by nature, who David and I are.  Believe it or not, both of us are task-oriented rather than people-oriented, we love our plans and do not want them interrupted, and—I hate to admit this—would rather just plow ahead and take care of about any chore around the house in ten minutes on our own, rather than subject ourselves to the lengthened, chaotic, imperfect process of doing it with our children.

But these mundane events are life—they are the memories our children will carry with them into the future even more than our carefully thought out once-a-year family vacation.  These are the settings in which Judah and Amelie learn cheerfulness, repentance, and kindness—or, conversely, grouchiness, defensiveness, and sharp words.

Because David and I are ever-in-transition apartment-dwellers, we generally can’t be bothered with yard work or recycling beyond tossing plastics into a provided tub, and we generally don’t stick around anywhere long enough to see seeds take root and nurtured into food-bearing plants.

There’s a time and a place for everything.  Sometimes, a certain time requires flexibility; it was easier for our family to pack up and move across the globe precisely because of our lifestyle.  And I am forever grateful for that life-changing experience.

I hope this next season will bring time for settling down a little more, for owning our own home, and practicing these everyday family rhythms David Owen writes about so cleverly and meaningfully.

But I’m fooling myself if I think buying a house will solve the problems of my impatient heart and magically transform me into a relaxed, engaged mother-and-homemaker.  If I’m not learning these habits today, in our borrowed Irmo house, I’ll never practice them in my own place.


Our hearts are full from a week of reconnecting with friends from church and from Columbia . . . dinners and play dates and lunch meetings, and we look forward to another one ahead of us.  So to recharge from and for all the fun, we declared today “family day.”

and judah was thrilled with the declaration!

“take my picture, Mommy!” (I don’t think he’s ever said those words before)

it’s so fitting that a Carolina farmer’s market be punctuated by a palm tree

choosing tomatoes for tonight’s calzones

our friend Nick’s coffee company–get the iced coffee, sweetened with milk

stopping for made-on-site donuts: the kids love the apple cider and we love the blueberry!

sneaking a sip

there’s live music, and one restaurant comes out and makes a breakfast plate that is out-of-this-world

next stop: the Irmo public library

and we rounded it out with a swim at the Lake Murray beach

“can we come here every day?”

i love a man who chooses to spend nap time making mozzarella

and, as for my afternoon?

. . . where to even begin?

p.s. thanks for praying for us this week. so many emotions, but, yes, we are truly able to rest.

this and that.

farmer’s market bounty, to tide us over until we can grow our own

two handsome guys

betsy picked these up at an antique store . . . the kids are enamored!

the “black-throated blend,” a good remedy for the olympics hangover

rediscovering pretzels

lots of contented playing alone for this introvert

i made a new friend!

dal and chappati.


dal and chappati.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011



tea party on the balcony.


tea party on the balcony.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Amie and I have been enjoying our three-hour mornings while Judah is at preschool.  We go outside.  We read books.  Watch some Bob the Builder.  And we always make sure to save time for a tea party on the balcony with our friends.






Sunday, July 24, 2011


While you folks in the U.S. are experiencing record heat waves, we are neck-deep in monsoon season, with temps in the high 70’s/low 80’s, breezes, and rain several times a week. 

We have a love/hate relationship with our swimming pool, which is been clean and swim-able maybe forty percent of the time we’ve lived here, but this weekend it’s looking gorgeous, so the kids have been begging for a swim.


trying out the water

it is freezing cold!

. . . but that didn’t stop these kiddos!

some curious onlookers (notice the jeans and sweater).  You will find people wearing jackets and hats already.  South Asians just aren’t cut out for cold weather, and they’ll be the first to tell you that.

It feels strange to have swimming season all but over in late July.  But it’s hard to complain about this gorgeous weather.


day by day.


day by day.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


God is leading me step by step and day by day.

I am once again in the place of feeling like all is outside my control, that I have no idea what tomorrow holds or what next year holds, that this has to be a walk of faith or nothing.

It is still a hard place to be in, just like it was six months ago.  I had hoped – had planned – to have more certainty at this point in our story.  But it doesn’t seem like certainty is God’s will for me right now.  Or maybe it is.  But maybe certainty in who he is, not in what my life is.

The fears come creeping back often, nosing impatiently against my hands and the backs of my legs, greedy to take hold of me.

I don’t want to be clammed up with fear. 

I want to be quieted by hope and joy and trust.  I want to be like my children, my three-year-old and my now-two-year-old, who embrace each day for what it is: a gift.  Who instinctively know that it’s more important to sit on the couch and read books with Mommy or to wrestle Kung Fu Panda-style on the floor with Daddy – in short, to live in this moment – than to sit and worry about the future.

They keep me anchored to now.  They remind me that the most important thing about my day is the tone of voice in which I speak to my family (there is so much power in that tone) or whether I’ve taken time to stop and smile at my downstairs neighbor when she calls out a greeting.  Figuring out where we should live next year or reorganizing a roomful of toys can wait.  In this moment, my eight-months-pregnant friend Maggie is at home recovering from jet-lag, and I have thirty free minutes to run over and see how she is doing.

It doesn’t feel like checking something off a list.  It doesn’t feel like anything I can measure or “feel good about accomplishing.”  But it shouldn’t feel that way.  My family, my downstairs neighbor, my friend Maggie aren’t projects.  They’re not interruptions.  They’re people.  They’re complex.  If my mind is perpetually dwelling in my to-do list, or in the “not yet” of my future, I won’t be able to stop and notice them.

A friend who works in the north of our country told David, “The older I get, the more convinced I am that success on the mission field doesn’t mean some grand, public accomplishment that I can put my name to; it means simply being faithful in the small things.  Loving my family.  Loving my neighbors.  Loving my church.”

Living in India has been nothing if not humbling thus far.  I don’t really think any fact of our existence here has turned out the way I imagined it would.

And I so love my plans and my lists.  They make me feel good about myself.  They make me feel productive and important.  They give me a means of measuring myself against other people and seeing that I’m doing pretty well.

It’s interesting that God would bring me to a place where I have spent the last eight months feeling very unproductive and very unimportant.  To a place of having to look my self-righteousness square in the face, in all its ugliness.  To a place of having to see just how little I really see and love people for who they are – not for who I want them to be.

I think all of this seeing broke me down to my core for awhile.

And you know what’s left? 

Someone who is learning – very slowly – to just stop.  And to listen to that quiet nudging of the Holy Spirit.  Who can say, “I’ve had everything stripped away, so now I have the time to sit quietly on the floor and play Cars with Judah this morning, and to walk a little slower through the breezeway in case a neighbor wants to chat, and to have my schedule rearranged for a last-minute visitor.”  I have nothing to lose.

“Being faithful in the small things” feels very messy.  It feels uncomfortable and disruptive.  It feels very un-glamorous.  It feels out of my control.

It’s all I really want for my life.



the neighborhood.


the neighborhood.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I love how Martha’s visit and picture-taking allow us to view our neighborhood with new eyes.  Here are some of our everyday sights (above: nighttime view of our city from Richey and Keli’s balcony):


the street in front of our apartment complex.  our apartments are to the left.

we see (and smell) lots of this: sewage and garbage.

Martha’s fruit stand, on the way to pick up Judah from school.

Judah’s school is a ten-minute walk from our apartment (the school year is in full-swing, and, though he complains about having to go, he secretly loves it).

the busy street corner where our tailor’s shop is located.

we’re still trying to figure out what this sign means.

local phone/internet office where David walks to pay our phone bill. 

everywhere you go in our city, there are half-finished construction projects.  it is heart-breaking to see the whole families who live and work in these skeleton buildings.