Photography

I got my first “real” (interchangeable lens) camera for my birthday and I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve always liked taking pictures and had an inexpensive digital point-and-shoot as a pre-teen, then a better quality point-and-shoot with more manual options as a teen, and now an iPhone. Despite my love of photography as a hobby, I’ve never really had aspirations of doing it professionally, so my mindset has always been “convenience/accessibility is key.” Phone cameras may be rendering point-and-shoot cameras obsolete, but for good reason: the wonderful convenience of being able to take pretty decent quality photos without needing to carry multiple devices on a day-to-day basis. Of course, it does beg the question of what is really worth documenting on the daily, and now we probably all have thousands of excess photos that we’d be better off without, and there’s certainly the issue of getting so caught up documenting life that you forget to be present, but I won’t get into all that now.

Because now, I’m putting a bit of that convenience aside and loving the experience of getting back to “slow photography” as I’d like to call it. Tapping a couple times on a screen to take a photo can make you forget how satisfying it is to look through a viewfinder, adjust settings and dials, hold a lens and press down to activate the shutter. It’s like creating an illustration on a computer vs. drawing or painting, or listening to a spotify playlist vs. putting a record on; neither is better or worse, but I think in this digital age, sometimes you just need to experience the analog version. It’s more psychologically satisfying, probably (I didn’t research that statement so don’t quote me haha).

The camera I got, after a brief but thorough research session, is the Fujifilm X-T1 with the 18-55mm kit lens. It’s an older model with many favorable reviews from professionals and hobbyists saying they still love using it even alongside the newer version. The last time I bought a camera, mirrorless technology was still in its early years, but I knew that this time I wanted a mirrorless because I’m just not the type of person who would want to lug around a bulkier DSLR for hobby photography, plus I love the classic film camera look. Mostly, it feels good to have the option to take high quality photos, especially for potential future trips. I’ve heard good things about the pancake lens, so that’s next on my wishlist as it seems like a great option to make the camera even more compact and travel-friendly. So far I’m super impressed with the quality of the kit lens and how quickly I’m learning to navigate the camera controls (it has dials on top for all the main stuff so there’s no need to go through a bunch of menus, which is really nice and adds to the tactile appeal). I still love my iPhone, but it sort of feels like getting a new pair of glasses with a stronger prescription and everything is way more crisp and clear.

Also, it reminds me of my grandpa, always with a camera around his neck from the late 1930s to the ’00s. I have several old “toy” cameras from his collection on my bookshelf and I think he’d appreciate how many of his grandchildren wound up loving photography. Most of us seem to have inherited the affinity (or perhaps deep-seated need) to document our lives. I also perhaps inherited my favorite color from him (always comes back to green), and a love of nature, which is my favorite thing to photograph. Now if only more blooms would arrive, they’re running late this spring and I am anxious to have more subjects to practice on. 🙂 Happy Earth Day (and birthday, in my dad’s case)!

Twenty-two

Today is my birthday! My first birthday with this blog, I guess that’s a small milestone of some sort? It’s funny how once you’re past twenty-one, all those momentous years of coming-of-age have pretty much happened and now it’s just a slow roll approaching thirty. Not to be cynical, because I’m very much a fan of birthdays and I think every year feels momentous in a way, but I do tend to have a moment every birthday where I wrestle with my emotions and expectations. Every holiday comes with excitement and the desire to spend the day in a joyful and meaningful way, but a birthday is like a private little holiday just for you, with no guarantee of time off or the participation of others.

Maybe you can relate to these odd feelings. I’m not the type to seek attention, so while I definitely appreciate being appreciated, I find that I enjoy this new kind of birthday that comes with being an adult, the kind where it falls on a Monday and you have your regular obligations and you just sort of go on with your life, though maybe everyone is extra nice to you for the day. 🙂 I always end up feeling super loved, which I’m grateful for, and I really enjoy just seeing that pretty little date everywhere…4/16. My own special significant set of numbers. I do love April as a whole, though, because I happen to have quite a few family members that share this month of birth, so it’s a string of happy little significant calendar dates.

Something that has hit me in the last year or two is not to get so hung up on individual dates, though. Sure, you may have those days on the calendar that make you feel like you have to do something exciting or feel a certain way, but they come and go like any other day, so why not try to value every day instead of stressing over the ones that “should” be important? For me, having a pet oddly helps with that mindset. As far as my little rabbit is concerned, holidays are no different from any other day (except maybe they’re worse because we leave him all alone while we’re extra busy celebrating!) Benjamin Bun doesn’t care that it’s my birthday, he just wants more head pets and playtime like always, and honestly, that’s a really grounding concept to me. We humans over-complicate our lives and could benefit from some reminders of simple living from our small furry friends. Anyway, you know me, I could go on. Another day, another analysis of what lessons I can apply to find more peace in my life.

I do want to check in briefly regarding my resolutions, because technically a birthday is like your own personal New Year’s Day, so it seems like a good time to allow myself another reset. 🙂 I will say I’m doing pretty well with my personal goals so far! I have a streak of over 100 days of practicing French using my Duolingo app, I’ve been attending ballet class again regularly and improving steadily, and I’ve only bought one article of clothing this year (with a gift card for my birthday), so that spending fast turned out to be way easier that I expected. The ones I need to work on more: being online less, digital decluttering, and actually attempting to illustrate a story. I’ve slowly started going through my hard drive of photos but I haven’t devoted much time to it; as for the illustrating, I’ve done enough miscellaneous practice and need to start working on a concrete project and give myself some deadlines. And to be honest, being online less has not happened at all, I’ve been pretty horrible lately about being glued to my computer for the majority of my spare time, I really need to change that.

So, twenty-two is my new lucky number. I really do think every new year is my new favorite age and I hope I keep up that mindset, because it must mean that I’m learning and getting better, little by little.

 

Simplicity

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of simplicity. I’m a believer in minimalism and less-is-more as I’ve mentioned before. However, when it comes to art, I think simplicity is the trickiest thing. I still generally believe simple is better in art and design, but it has to be done well otherwise it feels like cheating in a way. I’ve been kind of struggling with that lately as I examine the things I create and the works of other artists that I admire. Sometimes when you step back and look at more minimal art, it starts to beg the question of what constitutes art, and whether you can really communicate a vision or higher skill level with something that is not outrageously detailed or complex.

I mean, this is coming from someone who wants to be a children’s book author, so I guess I admire art that is almost childlike in simplicity no matter whether I think it’s a particularly impressive type of art. But still, sometimes I get that little bit of pride creeping in and I think, hmm, I should draw something really detailed and photo-realistic just so I can share something that proves I can do “real” art. Which is silly, because like I said, I’m a believer in simple art as well as complex art, and I don’t necessarily think one shows more skill than the other, because they’re both tricky in different ways.

Ultimately, I find that my favorite artists hit that beautiful balance of simplicity and complexity–there is enough detail in their art to keep the eye moving, but not too much that it becomes overwhelming. I like just enough detail to make an image feel alive but not so much that it feels like reality. Sort of an alive-but-in-another-world kind of vibe, the kind that makes you wonder how it can feel so real and yet so unreal at the same time. The ones that come to mind are all my favorite 20th century children’s book illustrators, such as Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Dahlov Ipcar, Tove Jansson, Ludwig Bemelmans, Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter, even Tolkien. Some more detailed than others, but all with an inherent simplicity of spirit. (Beatrix Potter and Tolkien, you might argue, put quite a lot of detail in their illustrations. I would argue back that though more realistic in style, they still maintain some restraint, keeping to simple vignettes with not too much going on in one frame.) All with the alive and otherworldly quality to their images. Modern illustrators that I enjoy following on instagram for the same reasons are Oana Befort, Teagan White, Dinara Mirtalipova, Maggie Cole, Anna Bond, Jon Klassen, Jacob Escobedo, and Rebecca Green.

Now that you just skimmed over all those names, rolling your eyes and thinking “what a geek!!” haha…I must say, it’s true, I’m a total illustration geek. It’s starting to feel like my industry. Just like I admired and researched the innovations of Charles and Ray Eames when I was interested in industrial design, now as an aspiring illustrator I find myself drawn to poring over the work of artists that inspire me, some that captured my eye even before I could read. As much as I feel the need to prove myself by doing a little bit of everything, I think I can’t escape an inherent simplicity in my own work. Is it laziness, incompetence? I don’t think so. I think those inclined to complexity will just make everything complex, and those inclined to simplicity will not be able to go into extreme detail without it feeling forced. Neither one is more “real” art than the other; the opposing style can be a good exercise but it does not “prove” true skill, per se.

I know I’ve hit another slow period on the blog, this is just what’s been on my mind recently, waiting to be worked out in writing, on the topic of art and my future aspirations for my own illustration style. Lots of pondering direction and not enough actual experimenting, which I will hopefully start to change soon, though my calendar is starting to pick up with a lot more events and plans lately. I still have a long way to go, but I’m going to embrace my natural inclination for simplicity, enjoy the journey and note the progress along the way. I’m not sure this post will be all that interesting to anyone not inclined to nerding-out over illustration, so if you actually read this, merci beaucoup, many thanks and kudos to you for supporting my rambling. 🙂

(P.S. Christ is Risen and Happy Bright Week!)

Fear

Sometimes I write two whole new posts before what I really want to talk about next comes out. I write one, finish, realize it’s something I want to save for another time, save it, start a new draft on a different topic, write more, save it. Then, the next day, realize that once again what I wrote doesn’t quite feel relevant, feels like thoughts that need revisited in the near future…because I’ve realized what I really want to post about, right now. Sometimes I feel like I could find something relevant to say about any topic, but this blog is a lot of figuring out what is most applicable to my life in the very present moment, and hashing it out like a therapy session in mini-blog-essay format. Today’s topic, that I finally uncovered, is fear.

I’ve been listening to The Shins’ latest album a lot (didn’t love it at first, but it grew on me) and one of my favorite songs on it is called “The Fear.” The lyrics touch on that detrimental habit of living in fear of things going wrong instead of just enjoying a happy time while it lasts. I can relate to an extent, because I’ve always sort of been a fearful person. I’m sentimental, I don’t love change, and I occasionally find myself worrying about how I’ll get through inevitable sad and stressful things in the future. I also have tendencies to imagine worst case scenarios involuntarily, dark thoughts that creep in usually just for a second, but it’s enough that I have that sort of inherent fear inside.

Some people are fearless types, those who love challenges and will jump into anything headfirst without considering what could go wrong. But I was always a careful kid. For example, if I was climbing a tall tree, I couldn’t help but have a brief picture enter my mind of losing my grip and plunging down through the branches to the ground. A gruesome thought, for sure, but that is a peek into the head of a non-fearless person, always considering consequences. Luckily, my cousin is a fearless type who motivated me to keep climbing anyway, to an exhilarating view at rooftop height, until the neighbor’s own fear of us falling (on her property) led her to call and ask us to stop.

Year after year of learning to trust myself and continue to embrace challenges has made me more fearless than ever, and I can usually push aside any dark warning thoughts with more realistic, not-so-fatalistic outcomes. Honestly, I’ve always been pretty good at trusting God to keep me safe as well, the fear really only creeps into situations where I’m in control (or, as in-control as I can be). But as the song lyrics say, “this fear is a terrible drug,” a hard one to quit. It still numbs my rational senses with silent panic at times, making me want to avoid things that trigger that I-can’t-do-it mentality. In yoga class, any thought of doing a handstand without a wall or a spotter for security makes my palms sweat. I have fallen out of inversions plenty of times without getting hurt, but that nagging fear is still there. On one hand, it’s a sign that I probably need to get a bit stronger before I can solidly balance in a handstand without some help, but it also kind of holds me back from really closing the distance towards making it happen.

Perhaps the top of the list of fears, though, is that fear of the unknown. The fear of the future that we all have to an extent, not knowing what our decisions will lead to or whether we’ll be able to reach our loftier goals. The fear of failure even despite past failures that turned out okay. All those variables that seem like they’ll never line up the way we hoped. Again, it’s a fear to strive to abandon for faith if you have that belief in God looking out for you as any good parent would, and ultimately there’s nothing to be gained from fearing the unknown, nothing but unnecessary pain and worry and paranoia.

2 Timothy 1:7  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

See what I said about my posts being like mini therapy sessions? I don’t know about you, but I already feel a lot better about those silly fears I hold on to so tightly. I’m gradually learning to loosen my grip. If you have something that’s been weighing on you, I highly encourage you to do some writing therapy of your own. In a journal or a word document, however you prefer, just get down some streams of thought until you get to what’s really bothering you, and try giving yourself advice as if you were writing a blog post or a letter to a friend. Grammar doesn’t matter, just connect some dots, past memories and current struggles, quotes and stories you’ve read. It really helps, I promise.

Structure

Every time I feel like I’m struggling to be productive and make progress, or if I’m feeling restless and stuck, it’s usually because I’ve let go of structure. Structure in life is so important. It’s one of those contradictions…more structure leads to more freedom. When you have important structure in place in your life, you have the freedom to be, to do, to pursue. When you have your values settled, you don’t have to constantly overthink everything; you know immediately where your priorities lie. When you have routines and habits and guidelines to follow as you live day to day, you can maintain your health to the extent of your control. When you know your responsibilities and goals and obligations, you have things to do and places to be, and the want-to-do’s can then fall into place in between those must-do’s. When you have no structure, suddenly the choices paralyze you. What to do today, tomorrow? What to eat, not eat? What to work towards? What to believe? These answers are easy with appropriate structure in place, but without it, anything could be the answer, and those questions remain up in the air.

Children need structure to grow and flourish. My grandmothers were guiding lights in my life in this department, as well as my mom, who  continues to provide and encourage structure, the maintenance of the foundation laid. Today is International Women’s Day, and I thought it topical to reflect on this necessary and wonderful structure provided by the women in my life. “Structure” is a solid, almost harsh word, but I associate it with nurturing, support, strength, tradition, and freedom. Of course, my Orthodox faith is a major source of structure in my life, and it’s fitting that the top human example of our faith is a woman, the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, who is “the most exalted and most honoured person by God. She is the most revered and most loved by humans. She is a binding force for all Christians.” Women truly are a binding force in the world. We have a gift to nurture and love and be gentle, and to raise the future generations, to raise our boys and girls to be good men and women. A humble young woman gave birth to God and now we can look to her, our heavenly mother, for guidance, for protection, to intercede on our behalf.

So on this International Women’s Day, I’m thankful for the structure provided by the women in my life, in heaven and on earth, and I strive to remember their example and be the good woman good women raised me to be.

I’ll end by sharing this lovely icon of the Virgin Mary by Madame Struve, the French woman iconographer who did many of the icons for my home parish in the 1960s (I love her use of color, softer and more varied choices than the more frequent bold primary colors in traditional iconography).

Hatching

The late winter/early spring time, from about February to April, is sort of like a baby bird hatching from an egg. Slow, tedious, a struggle. It’s exciting when that first taste of warmth comes early in the year: a rare, sunny, no-coat day. The first poke of the tiny egg-tooth through the shell. A bit of progress, then nothing for a while, resting, the chill returning. Then another bit of warmth, maybe a few days this time, more mild than the first burst, but sustained. Slowly, more of the cold shell is chipped away, until finally, the new life is freed and the warmth is here to stay. A bit more transition as the feathers dry and fluff up in the warm air…the trees finally getting their leaves and blooms back, the grass finally greener, perking up.

I think we’re all feeling that test of patience at the moment. Enjoying the peeks of what is to come, but frustrated at the slow process. Wanting that sunlight and fresh air, getting tired of wearing the same coat and boots and sweater layers. When I was in fifth grade, we incubated eggs as a class, waited for the baby chickens to grow and hatch. I remember that excitement when the first chicks began to peck through, but I also remember the slowness. It took days for them to finish hatching, but the waves of new life were an exciting reward for the waiting. Soon we had quite the group of cute, tiny, fluffy new friends that made the school days much more fun and fresh.

Spring is my favorite season. It is the season in which I was born, and my name means “green shoot” or “blooming.” I also live somewhere with pretty long, dreary winters, so I think the new growth of this season in particular adds a very welcome, highly anticipated freshness to the days each year. It is the season of Easter, and eggs are also used as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. I honestly had a bit of writer’s block for the first time when I was trying to think of what to write/illustrate for this post, but I saw some beautiful blue and brown chicken eggs in an instagram photo and suddenly had my inspiration. Funny how the simplest things can hold a lot of meaning.

Whether you are excited for the season of new life in plant growth or the approaching celebration of our new life in Christ after His ultimate sacrifice, I hope you enjoy the process. The patience found in observing the slow hatch is sometimes the best part.

Stillness

It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you’re embracing stillness in life, but if it’s always stillness in front of a screen, it doesn’t really count. In the spirit of Lent (and the weekly theme from @astillsmallpoint ) I’ve been trying to embrace the more refreshing type of stillness by devoting more time to screen-less activities, such as trying to give more care to the living things I share a home with: replanting and propagating house plants, and spending more time with my pet bunny. I think they appreciate the extra attention.

My priest said in his sermon last Sunday that we would all benefit more if we focused on fasting from screens and guarding our hearts as much as we worry about fasting from various foods. He makes a valid point…food isn’t necessarily the biggest distraction from our spiritual lives for most of us in this age. I’m still pretty bad at picking up a real bible or prayer book instead of the ease of an app on my phone, but I’d like to try harder to separate those kind of soulful, important activities from the glow of a screen.

I’m thinking I might try an occasional “instagram blog” like this instead of always just linking away to an article on my blog. I know some people never really read blogs anymore, and prefer a long instagram caption, or maybe don’t even read the long captions, but I’m going to try this here and there anyway. I’ll still post this “mini blog” on my actual blog if you prefer to read it here, it will just originate as an instagram caption instead of the other way around. 🙂 Also, @elsielarson just released a new filter pack for #acolorstory and Moon Stone might be my favorite filter of all time.

(P.S. I haven’t used categories or tags on my blog at all yet…I sort of decided at the beginning to delay until I had posted for a while so that I could see what kind of categorizations would actually be useful and not overly specific, and then apply them retroactively. I think it’s about time I come up with those and get a bit more organized around here…)

Serving

1 Peter 4: 8-10: And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

I have been doing some daily devotionals with a couple family members recently, and one touched on the fact that we are called to serve others, and through this we can find true feelings of purpose and security. Serving others has been a big topic on my mind lately. Giving of ourselves–using our time and talents to benefit and help others–is so important in life. Lent has just begun, and I’ve been a lot more of a homebody lately outside of general obligations, so I’ve started to feel that itch to do more for other people.

One thing I’ve always struggled with is finding bigger ways to serve others. I know that the little ways add up, but they also require a lot less effort and therefore are fulfilling in a smaller way. I love making a homemade card to send someone as a surprise to brighten their day, or to do a small chore for my parents that I know will help them, or to just give out compliments or encouragement on social media to friends and strangers. But, these are easy things, so I am trying to be better at seeking out more challenging ways to serve others if I can, or at least to be more open to going out of my way to help with a larger task or project where needed.

I know that I am not exactly in a position to serve people in very big ways at this point in my life, so I’m not exactly disappointed in myself for not being able to build a school in a third world country or donate large sums of money, but I do feel that keeping this topic in mind is important in challenging myself, and I don’t think those types of goals are all that unrealistic. One of my first blog posts was about stepping out of your comfort zone more often in order to grow as a person. I am very comfortable with doing small things for people on a daily basis, and that is wonderful, but that means that I can probably be doing more. When you become comfortable, it is time to move forward to the next level, and I want to keep that in mind for Lent. Whether it is using my talents to help my church or community,  making more time to connect with others to offer support, or just trying to do a bit more of the daily small things, serving others is an important habit to keep.

I am very excited to participate in a new community on instagram that was just established with the goal of bringing together creative Orthodox Christian women: #astillsmallpoint. This is another way to serve, by bringing people together, fostering connections and a space to encourage/be encouraged. On Sunday evening, I attended the Forgiveness Sunday vespers service that I had not been to for several years, and it reminded me of the beauty and necessity of having a community of like-minded people to hold you accountable and to pray for you as you navigate life and all its challenges. I believe that someone praying for another person genuinely is the most beautiful, loving thing, so that is another way that I try to remember to serve others–by including them in my prayers. I think it is an even more profound, pure expression of love for someone when you pray for them without them asking; just because you care about them so much that you interrupt asking for your own help to make sure to ask God to help them also.

It’s funny to make this connection, but I have been watching Marvel’s Daredevil and the Defenders on Netflix with my parents lately, and that also kind of brings serving to mind. It helps that Daredevil/Matt Murdock is a Catholic, but when you think about it, superhero-type stories kind of center on the most extreme level of serving others–devoting your life to protecting (and potentially dying for) the lives of civilians. “Superheroes” have been given extraordinary gifts, and so they use those gifts in extraordinary ways to keep innocent people safe. That is pretty much the essence of the bible verse I quoted above: we are each given certain gifts, and the level of your gifts equals the level that you are expected to serve others.

Thank goodness I’m not a superhero…they don’t seem to get much sleep. 😉

Consistency

Did you notice the sneaky mini re-design? The logo I’ve had up for these last six months was decent, but I have to be honest: it was more like a draft than a finished product. The filename even had the word “temp” in it because it really was meant to be temporary. It was not my best craftsmanship, and it’s really quite amazing how much my digital art skills have grown just in the months since I made it. Where the last header had too little going on, this new one might have a little too much going on, but the difference here is that I now have so many ideas popping up (like little mushrooms in the grassy meadow of my brain–to tie in the photo above lol), I can hardly keep up. I’m going to throw out a quote here that again, I’m sure I saw on pinterest at some point:

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” – Maya Angelou

Can I just take a second to say: this is THE TRUTH.

I have never really had a shortage of ideas for projects, usually I’m in a constant state of more ideas than time. As a person who enjoys all manner of creative expression, my brain is just used to finding inspiration for all sorts of projects in everyday life and continually filing ideas away, although I’m also kind of lazy when it comes to actually committing to pulling out supplies and making things, so most of that inspiration gathers dust for a while before finally being used in an occasional burst of energy, sometimes all combined into one experiment, or I get tired of an idea before even getting around to trying it.

Since starting this blog and having a more regular habit of creating (drawing/digital illustration/graphic design), I find that I have more ideas than ever, but I’m also way better at executing them and improving them. When I used to create more rarely, every effort felt more significant, so the results were usually worse than expected because my expectations were too high, or I tried to do too many things all at once. Now, the nature of my creations is more ephemeral, it’s about the practice rather than aiming to create something great. As a result, I find it much easier to call something finished and move on rather than giving in to perfectionism, and honestly my creations seem to be better as a result. I also find that all the inspiration in my brain is finally translating more smoothly. Because I’m more consistent with my practice, my own style is starting to come through, whereas when I used to make something once in a blue moon, I would get caught up trying too hard to achieve a specific thing and it would look forced or copied.

I’ve noticed similar results in my yoga practice. Last semester when I was in a bit of a rut, I wasn’t consistent and I wasn’t making much progress. Since I have some more time this semester, I have been making sure to show up to classes consistently and the progress is kind of crazy. I can feel my strength building week to week, and I am suddenly making breakthroughs on little things I was never able to fully get before. I’ve also made surprising progress in a short time since going back to ballet class. Last week, Miss Jill said that I had great energy in my dégagés, and Miss Abbey complimented my jumps–and we laughed about it because those were not my strengths in the past! Funny what comes out when you return to something after some time off.

It all makes sense, but it’s still kind of mind blowing how fast progress can build when you strive for establishing habits instead of specific goals. Consistency really is the key, but it can also be the hardest thing to start and maintain. Looking back on the resolutions I’ve made for this year, they all basically involve building consistency in various areas of my life. I’m doing pretty well with that so far, but it definitely involves daily intention.

Luckily, that’s what this blog is all about. 😉

Home

Homes bring me so much joy. I love old doorknobs, nooks and crannies, third floors, sloped ceilings, built-ins. I get so attached to interior spaces that I spend any length of time in and every time I drive past a house that has some kind of intriguing detail I wish I could knock on the door and ask for a full tour. I love having grown up in a house nearing 100 years old, with drafty, wavy-glass windows that shift in the frames when the wind blows, a bedroom door with a skeleton key lock that now only unlocks from the outside (I’ve tested this and accidentally imprisoned myself twice), such creaky wood floors that I am completely desensitized to bumps in the night, laundry chutes to the basement (so convenient) and an old door upstairs that leads out onto a flat section of the roof for optimal sunset viewing.

I loved my maternal grandparents’ sprawling split-level mid-century ranch in a rural small town, with room after room after room (having housed ten people once upon a time) of special custom-built details including a dumbwaiter, a furnace, and a fireplace. Garage, carport, side paths, looping driveway, a rock garden extending in tiers off the back enclosed porch stocked with gardening supplies. Large windows overlooking an expansive backyard dotted with islands of greenery, an old metal swingset and slide, and a stone shrine with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Bird feeders and birdbaths in front, a purple martin house high above the pond in the back at the end of the sloping yard where you could find patches of bluets, mushrooms, a few lost feathers, the occasional fallen robin’s egg, and a certain Mr. Toad. A mulch pile, a woodpile, flower gardens throughout. Indoors, lots of pastel paint colors and a few instances of shag carpeting. Stowed in every room were artifacts of 100 years lived: books, love letters, tools and supplies, table settings, records and well-loved toys. A time capsule of a 20th century immigrant doctor’s family, most idyllic in the spring and fall, the property covered in blooms or blanketed in leaves with family gathering for Easter egg hunts and Thanksgiving feasts.

My paternal grandparents’ home was much smaller in contrast though it housed almost as many people and details: a simple two-story home in a large suburb of a Midwestern city with a small attic and basement, some furnishings updated/some old. The mantle above the fireplace covered year-round in layers of framed photos and birthday cards and spare keys and bowling trophies. Stacks of books and photos of family on every surface, art on almost every wall: a few oil paintings by my grandmother and a couple pieces by her oldest son (my dad). A stone path leading around the house past various flowering bushes and the side door to a front stoop painted brick red and shaded by a few trees and rhododendrons. Opposite, a narrow driveway curving to an end at a double garage and an aging basketball hoop, the tiny backyard framed with seasoned apple and pear trees and a well-tended vegetable garden, grapevines and berry bushes wrapping around the garage, and a couple of chairs and benches for warm-weather seating. A perfect image of the family of high school sweethearts, at peak magic when overstuffed with visitors, decade-spanning decorations, homemade gingerbread, conversation and piano-playing as snow fell outside the bay window on Christmas Eve.

As I’m sure you could surmise, I immediately love any story with immersive descriptions of interior spaces, gardens or grounds. I remember The Little White Horse as having especially magical descriptions of the properties and interiors in the story, it’s one of my favorites, though I haven’t reread it in some years. Mostly when I think of art I’d like to make or stories I’d like to write, they either revolve around idyllic nature settings (the home of animals or fairies), or magic interiors full of character and specific detail. I think it’s a large part of why people love Harry Potter or Wes Anderson films…there’s something about a castle full of nooks and secret passageways or a stunningly detailed bedroom that feels like magic, whether magic is literally involved or not.

On a darker note, I think my obsession with homes is also why I (and most others, I’m sure) find stories of haunted houses, home invasions, living in war-torn countries, or even hurricanes and natural disasters especially disturbing; the home is supposed to be the ultimate place of refuge, and to feel vulnerable and unsafe in your own home is a terrifying thing. I count my blessings that my home experiences have been so ideal and comforting my whole life so far.

I love thinking about the living spaces I’ve experienced, and writing out my favorite details of my families’ homes was quite therapeutic seeing as one is long ago emptied and sold and the other is beginning the same process. I could write forever on my love of interiors, gathering spaces, sacred spaces; such a distinctly human thing. I know I often throw around generalizations in these essays I write, saying “most others” “many people” “we” “humans” etc. Those are the kind of the topics I like exploring: human nature, things that seem so broadly relatable once I step back. I mean, if I’m being honest, I guess I feel that every topic is broadly relatable in some way. As much as I often have felt like a weirdo or an outsider in my life, I know that we all come from the same place. Your life is yours alone and you are the only you that will ever exist, but the heart of your experiences are universal. Emotions are universal.

If you made it all the way through this, I hope you enjoyed as I got carried away in nostalgia paying homage to the homes I grew up in.