“Home, as Wendell Berry points out, is not just a building but an enactment. It is the alchemy by which wood and glass and stone, field and mountain and sky, are transformed by domesticity…If these three nomadic years have taught me anything, it is that only a small part of being home is the house itself. It is also how we choose, over time, to imbue a place with meaning, how we inhabit the spaces we claim—making the beds, cleaning the refrigerator, and adoring the walls; offering dinner to a friend, sweeping the garage, stalking the peonies in May, shoveling the walkways after snow.” Katrina Kenison in The Gift of An Ordinary Day.
Over the last year so many of the books I’ve read have left a fingerprint on my heart—Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life by Karen Maezen Miller, Devotion by Dani Shapiro, Buddhism for Mothers, by Sarah Napthali, to name a few. Each has played an important part in my journey to find myself, and to live a live filled with grace and contentment. But none spoke to my soul as intensely as The Gift of An Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison. In so many ways Katrina is a kindred spirit. Not only was I completely and utterly uplifted by the elegance of her prose, but I was moved to tears time and again as I read her story.
The book is subtitled A mother’s memoir, but don’t be deceived. It is, for certain, a discussion and reflection on the challenges of raising adolescents and learning to adjust to a mother’s changing role in her sons’ lives, but even more it is a spiritual awakening. As Katrina herself describes, it’s about her “effort to welcome change and shift along with it.”
To fully illustrate the significance of change in her life, her story follows the path of her family’s move from a Boston suburb to building a brand new home many miles away from all that they know. She writes of a longing to simplify life, and embarks on a journey to find her family’s place in rural New Hampshire. In this, I am acutely familiar and it was from this connection that I felt her words speak to me.
When my husband and I were first married, almost 11 years ago, we had but one dream. We wanted to build a house of our own. The first five years of our marriage were all about making it happen. We spent years pouring over house plans, reading design books, and talking endless hours about what we hoped to create. At three years we purchased a vacant slice of land. There it stood, dense with trees and brush, earnestly waiting to help us fulfill our dreams.
The first summer and winter after it became ours, we spent weekend after weekend trekking from our house to the lot. We’d pack a picnic, a hot thermos of coffee and we’d work side by side for hours, clearing, cutting, burning, piling and readying it for the big build. In the evenings we’d curl up in bed with a laptop and a design program. Jay, a civil engineering technologist, worked on the plans, calculating and illustrating each section, each structural piece. We’d tweak and discuss every wall, every door, every room. He’d pulled it all together, right there on a the screen. We relished in showing the plans to friends, in describing how we envisioned each room. Bit by bit, the dream was coming together.
In the spring of 2004 we broke ground.
It had been a year since we’d set the project in motion. I was 27, he was 29. We were fiercely united and committed to making it happen. But little did I know the real work had hardly begun. The home that we had envisioned, every nook, every cranny, born from a desire to do it ourselves, and propelled by love, tears, sweat, blood and frustration, would take 4 months until we could move in. We’d sold our first house, we had a deadline, and we focused on it.
Over that four months I was tested in ways I can honestly say I had never been before and never been again. It was the most physically and emotionally challenging experience of my life. I would argue, even harder that having a baby. Our marriage came within a breath of falling apart. The destruction was close, so close I could practically taste it. I learned so much about perseverance, about pushing through when you think you have nothing left to push with.
I learned about concrete blocks, how to use a compound mitre-saw, how to measure, cut and insulate a wall stud. I learned that it’s better to paint a house when you have running water, and that bathrooms can be made from tarps and trees. I learned not to panic when you dig a hole and come back to find it filled to brimming with water, and far more than I ever imagined possible about water-proofing a basement with tar. Yes. Tar.
At the same time I learned about patience, and kindness, and giving in when you need to. I learned that you can make your dreams happen if you are only willing to stay the course. And I learned to love my husband more deeply than I ever thought possible. He was the light that keep the dream bright. He was the focus that kept our eye on the ball. He was the one who worked hours and hours, long into the night, fuelled by an urgency that wasn’t immediately obvious to me. He kept us on course, and for that I love him.
And so, as I read The Gift of An Ordinary Day, and cherished each memory of Katrina’s, nodding in understanding and kinship for what it means to move forward with something that feels right but may seem absurd. And I’m grateful, so deeply grateful for her wisdom about what it means to live life each day, full of wonder for the simple things and the joy of “moving more deeply into the present.”
This book was a gift for me, an exquisite gift rich with memories of where I’ve been and hope for where I’m going.
Thank you Katrina.