house or home

I’ve been thinking of what makes a house a home. But, after doing a blog search, I found a plethora of others waxing eloquently on this very question. But, these words, “It’s the little things that make a house a home” keep playing their tune through my head. They are from “Back Home Again,” sung by John Denver (1943-1997). “Like a fire softly burning and supper on the stove. And the light in your eyes that makes me warm,” the song goes on to say. With that tune stuck in my head, I guess I’ll add my thoughts to all those already out there!

Certainly, for those blessed with family, home is home because of the fellowship found there: “It’s the sweetest thing I know of, just spending time with you.” There is a saying, “Home is where the heart is,” that embraces this aspect of home. Home is where your loved ones are; home is with the one you love.

Another saying about home: “There’s no place like home.” This one makes me think of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz because it is what L. Frank Baum has his character Dorothy say three times, as she taps her heels together, when she wants to return her Kansas farmhouse. (I don’t know if this line was just in the 1939 movie or if it is original to the book.) (But then, there is the expression, “You can never go home again,” which refers to how change is inevitable.)

And another version of this: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” I found that this comes from a song written in 1822 called, “Home! Sweet Home!” John Howard Payne wrote these lines for his song: “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” It is possible that Baum was familiar with this song and took his famous line from it.

So, what makes a house a home? Home is where you live, where you start your day and end it, where you take refuge and find comfort, where you relax, the place where your personal things are kept, a place that reflects you and inspires you to grow, and a place where you can express yourself openly. When I moved, the “things” that I found the most comfort in having unpacked were my books.

Here are some beautiful scenes around my home: a vase of daffodils and daisy-like feverfew on the kitchen windowsill; a fire in the fireplace; a picnic table on the patio; a quilt on the bed; a stack of Bibles on a table; homemade applesauce muffins in the kitchen . . . . Homey!

I am grateful to God for my home. It is not a model home. It’s a bit messy most always. I have piles of papers here and there. As I write, we have fourteen three-week-old chicks chirping in troughs in the dining room. Someone of us is always tracking mud inside. But, still, I am grateful for my home. Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with my home and the family in it!

That said, I am still pondering this. You see, I grieved my husband by buying lots of flower seed packets this week. Yes, of course, I also bought the requisite vegetable seeds. But he sees no need for the time spent on flowers. Okay. This, I guess, is where our definitions (of what makes our house a home) differ. I thought that an area that is already planted with rose bushes could become a cottage-type flower garden by the addition of a variety of flowers. I pictured several hollyhocks, some Shasta daisies, lavender, and so forth. I was anticipating having very happy bees in my hive come summer and a pretty scene to view while sitting on the patio.

I recently completed reading a biographical novel called Rosanna of the Amish by Joseph W. Yoder (the 1995 Herald Press centennial edition). In it, Rosanna’s adoptive mother Elizabeth comes to live with her new husband, Bishop Shem, and takes note of conditions at his house: “Here windows needed washing, floors needed scrubbing, the tinware was unpolished, the stove had lost its luster, and there were no flowers in the house or in the yard.” (This story took place in the 1800’s.) From this, I gather that to Elizabeth, cleanliness and flowers made a house a home.

I was with a couple of friends, Kate and Mary, today and I asked them what five things  they would choose to make an empty house homey. Aside from family, of course, Kate immediately said she would want books in her home. Mary said that she would want family photos on the walls and some sort of warmth, such as a wood-burning stove. Oh, and Kate said she would want a big table and chairs so that everyone could eat together. So, there are five things that make a house a home!

I wasn’t raised with pets but when my son was little, I let him get a beta fish. What I took note of, when we got that little fish in its bowl, was that when I came home to our apartment, I felt that it was more homey having something alive there. Perhaps, for many, having pets at home is part of the equation.

The writer Alexandra Stoddard speaks of what she called “grace notes” in her books. These were her special touches that lent her home a more aesthetically pleasing aire. An example might be wrapping a bundle of personal letters with a pretty ribbon and placing them in a basket on your desk. Certainly, such small but charming touches would not be found in a sterile house.

I also had a friend who once shooed away my apologies for a “messy” home by telling me about her childhood in a very sterile house. She said that she was always so thrilled to visit in her little friend’s home where there were always lots of projects and activities going on. Homeschoolers, take note! All that creating and learning makes for a dynamic and lively environment. Maybe it would actually be a good thing to leave out the knitting and the marked-up maps and the shell collection and the injured bird in its temporary rustic wire cage. Home: where is found things to fascinate over and take interest in.

And, here is a final thought: Homes in which there is evidence of the human touch are more inviting than homes in which everything you see is simply mass-produced. There is a real difference. For example, a homemade quilt verses a store-bought bedspread or a handmade pottery plate verses a plastic plate from Target. The eyes pick up on these kind of things and the brain computes them as either “home” or “house.” Likewise with the God-touched. For example, having plants and flowers in the home makes for a more pleasant environment for all.

And as John Denver sang, “Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend / Yes, ‘n, hey it’s good to be back home again.”

What are your top five home-making touches for your own “Home Sweet Home?

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