The Good Life.

I have been redecorating my house.

All of it.

Something about turning fifty, and living in an increasingly harsh world and all has me wanting something like that. Something like remodeling my entire life so that the outside matches my insides, I mean. I want our home to be a haven for us and other weary sojourners. I want respite care from daily life – every day. I want plants and lights and whole homemade food and baskets of warm, fluffy towels with cookies. I want to be able to be a light and a resting place, and I am willing to hold that space for as long as it takes. I want no time unspent loving on me and my people.  I made an announcement that sounded like this sometime around Christmas of last year. While the naysayers nayed, I brushed my shoulders off and got to work converting our house into an art gallery and studio. That we live in.

This ambitious goal is complicated by the fact that my parents built this house and raised their children in it. Meaning I run into artifacts from my childhood on the regular; a toboggan, a clock from my mother’s office, a skateboard some cousin left behind. I found this in a basement file cabinet a couple of weeks ago, stacked just this way. It’s a picture of my youngest on the day she finished preschool on top of one of my father’s notebooks. The two of them have never met yet there she is, with my daddy’s smile in the middle of her face.


And underneath their smile are his notebooks. This one is 95th in a series that would climb into the hundreds. Hundreds of times, that guy sat and planned what would happen in the next season of his life. Deliberate, choose, coordinate, implement, evaluate. As an urban planner and community developer with an undergraduate degree in physical education, he spent his whole career making families and the city stronger using physical fitness and sports. Every season of every year the goal was to have fun, learn things and be a good neighbor. This book, and others like it, served as a map of every coach and play guard in our city, meant to be studied and referred to frequently. Come to think of it; my whole life, his whole notion of parenthood and community growing up was a series of projects- each having their own book.

There was no TV in our house, most times, and when we got one, children were not allowed to watch it on weeknights. And so we turned to our imaginations and made books. That project of the moment engulfed all our free time; we’d talk about it over supper, ask for trips to the library or AAA to research hotels and atlases.  Part scrapbook, part budget, with a good bit of travel guide thrown in, our family books were the road map to the future. See something cool you might need on your adventure in the Sears Catalog? Rip it out, and put it in your book. Coupons for road trip snacks? In the book. A list of people you’re going to need to call for help? The book.

Every one was better than the last:

  • Coaching and winning with the first integrated track club in Wisconsin (this one, dad made alone, but it was the model for all the other books to come)
  • Olympic games in Canada
  • Camping trips for 90 children and our families
  • 101 ways to play with snow closely followed by
  • Could our backyard be a putt putt course/ volleyball court/urban farm?
  • Drive to see the Pacific Ocean for ourselves
  • Family reunions, Backyard festivals and celebrations
  • An outdoor skating rink in our neighborhood park
  • Host family in a global youth exchange program
  • Customized college tours ( 3)
  • Renewed vows 25th anniversary
  • daughter’s wedding, son’s wedding

Books and books and books. And we had so much fun.  Like, we had regularly-splitting-our-sides-enjoying-ourselves kind of lives. And I would dare say it was because of the energy we spent crafting those lives. We were not spared hard times by these projects, but they made the good times so very good. I remember emptying the contents of one binder in a recycling bin, ripping off the cover, and beginning to fill it with the next story without any regrets. In fact, I was excited to trash a book, because I was making space for the next story to begin. The books are not the important part of making a book, it’s the life you get while you’re making the book that matters.

And this moment, this swirl of half finished projects and drying paint had me longing for a book.

I needed a special book and went to dig out one Gregory made me a few years ago.  I’ve never written in it- I found it too beautiful, too rare. He treated the leather and stamped little bees around the edges before tying it closed around the hand sewn pages. The pages are blank as they must be, the paper fairly thick. It will have to hold drawings and paint and glued on pieces of magazines and fabric. I’ll have a place for all the receipts and paint samples that drift around the kitchen, wishing they had a place to be. I can take down the sign I’ve taped to the side of a cabinet in our dining room.

The sign says:

  • Spider plants
  • Epoxy (with four hash tags, I need six)
  • Foyer Rug!

This belongs in my book! Then, it will make sense that I’m spending all my free time on interior design in a perfectly good house. And all my pocket money on paint and hardware store items.

That settles it. I am making a book. This one is called The Good Life.

Thanks, Amen.


About thanks amen

Michelle is an artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin whose professional experience spans working as an educator, nonprofit executive, and consultant. She has a fear of clowns and pecans, and works every day to listen at least twice as much as she talks.
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