Sheltering a family's dreams

We four live in a small house, on a large place. The living room, dining room, and kitchen are one, and large, 11 feet by 31 feet, for such a small house. We have a sink, a pitcher pump, a wood-fired cookstove, table and chairs, and cabinets in the kitchen area. The heater for the living room backs up to the cookstove. The girls' desks are in the living room, along with bookcases, boxes of manuscripts, drawings, and other creations, hanging jackets, two chairs, and miscellaneous.

We are 45 degrees north, and only the back room is insulated, so we use the living room, with east and north windows, more in summer than we do in winter.

My writing table is in the back room, with my filing cabinet, shelves for some of everyone's writing and art supplies, the bed Laura and I sleep in, which is also used as a reading center, work surface, and conference area. There is a heater in the back room, Laura's writing table, and two to four chairs, depending; two night stands; and wood for the stove. Eleven feet, 4 inches, by 15 feet, 2 inches.

The girls' bedroom is in between, with two beds, two drawer chests, and 40 square feet of open floor.

No television. We scatter out or gather together. Juniper has been working on a drawing, 29 by 38 inches, at times during the past few days. She draws at the kitchen table. When she isn't drawing, her drawing-in-progress is on the large beanbag cushion on the kitchen floor, or on one of the beds. The cushion on the kitchen floor is for jumping over or onto, for resting, for a place to put large drawings or other items that need somewhere to be.

When I rebuilt and insulated the back room, I made a large doorway into the girls' room. In the doorway there is access to the ends of the shelves that divide the two rooms. They form a ladder into the attic and are also used for climbing up and jumping off. The large doorway lines up with the kitchen doorway, so the girls can achieve speed before they leap off the higher floor of their room into the back room.

Winter weather is severe here. It doesn't encourage a lot of outdoor activity, even with good winter clothes, so we don't discourage strenuous activity indoors, nor the noise that goes with it. I don't recall this conversation, but Amanda says she heard a friend ask how I can concentrate enough to write while the girls are playing around me. She says I answered that their playing doesn't bother me as long as they take all the corrals and toy animals off my lap when I want to stand up, and move them off my chair when I'm ready to sit down again.

When I'm not using my writing table, anyone else can use it. My writing board placed over my manuscripts keeps out materials divided. My typewriter is our typewriter.

We cooperate. On our coldest nights, I stay up most of the night, writing and keeping the heaters fueled, then sleep late. Laura gets up soon after I go to bed, does exercises by the bed, and studies by the lamps on my writing table. She knows I'm a light sleeper, so she does these things quietly. Sometimes the girls play games among many toys on the floor by the bed in the morning. They can enjoy what they're doing while quiet for quite some time. Sometimes they read. They have school, with Laura as their teacher, in the kitchen after the cookstove warms the area.

In winter, we all use the back room more than other rooms. Big south windows let in good light and heat from the sun. After dark, it's the easiest room in which to place kerosene lamps so that everyone has good light for reading, though food projects, art, building, writing, and reading often go on in the kitchen evenings, with lamps on the kitchen table.

This afternoon, Juniper is drawing. Amanda is building a magazine on the other end of the kitchen table. The drawing moves, but all the magazine materials would be hard to move without upsetting the careful order of Amanda's work. We eat around, in spots we open up on the table, or from plates on our laps.

To some, our house will appear to be messy and disorderly. Several years ago, we made a brief experiment, intending to achieve a more orderly appearance. We decided all projects would be picked up and put away by the end of the day. It didn't work, so it didn't last. It interrupts the orderly continuity of a project to have to gather all the materials and put them away and then get them out again the next morning.

We decided that our definitions of orderly and disorderly were wrong. If a work area in the house is progressing toward order, not in the appearance of the area, but in that the work in the area will achieve a desired goal, then that work area is orderly. Any appearance of disorder is in the perspective of the viewer.

As our definitions of orderly and disorderly changed with our awareness that function is more important than appearance, so we see that this small house has been large in the way it has sheltered our family and nurtured our projects, talents, and dreams.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.