Home Fires Burning

With lengthening evenings and more activity moving indoors, it is a good time to ponder home life. Your home should be delighted in. It should not be shrouded in shame, secrecy, or be something you are eager to abandon. When the home is functioning properly, family and life flow out abundantly to the exterior world. The joy within overflows naturally, spilling out into all aspects of existence. In the busyness of life, are you luxuriating in your home and family?

As a child of a hoarder that endured horrific living conditions for 18 years, I appreciate the importance of a clean and captivating home more than most. My childhood home was something to escape. It was a complex ecosystem that housed a healthy kingdom of mold, fungi, mildew, a menagerie of bugs, and rodents. Filth and rot were endemic. Somehow I find myself thankful for these horrible experiences that helped shape values that I treasure today.

Unbeknownst to most readers, my monthly call in this column to delight in simple pleasures originates in their deprivation. Crushing loneliness in outer darkness has enabled me to bask in the brightness of simple joys that nearly everyone overlooks.

While growing up the television was on constantly, as ubiquitous as a freezer running in the summer. It was as essential as an appliance, an escape hatch from the hard realities of life.

Today, sitting with family or friends in my quiet living room that fronts our street in Duluth brings me great joy. The couch provides ample room for us to sit in repose. Bob Dylan formerly slept on it when he visited his brother in college, who was a friend of the neighbor I bought it from. It is about one hundred years old, and exudes history.

The two couches of my past, nearly joined as an L, were burdened under several feet of debris. They merely served as a solid structure for the landfill in the living room to steadily grow upon. Rarely were there adequate seating arrangements.

My current living room provides space on the floor for a rustic coffee table, which is often graced with cups of tea or coffee that are enjoyed between pages of a good book or conversation. Formerly I was lucky to have adequate paths that led into and out of the room. There was no room for such an item.

Evenings in our home are a delight when the television is off, and we all gather together to read our individual books. I love this activity. Silence and serenity enjoyed together bring peace to our home. As a consequence for poor behavior, I recently banned all screen time. My twin children were unhappy about this, but their conduct improved almost immediately. Fights are dwindling in number. I haven’t heard them complain once about being bored. They know the television is not an option, and settle down immediately to create art, read books, or build with Legos. I am astounded at how quickly this happened, and struggle with how to meter the TV back into our lives. I would love to dispose of it altogether.

My children need to experience the absence of screen time regularly. Their minds burst forth with greater creativity and clarity. It hasn’t been adequate to simply restrict it to a limited portion of each day. Often that single hour may have been the best opportunity for them to shift gears into rewarding pursuits. Not having the option at all causes the mind to go after other options. Life slows down and you are able to think more clearly.

Slowing down is crucial for all of us. Just this evening, after a difficult day, we spent over an hour baking Yukon Gold potatoes from the garden in the same fire used for a weenie roast. Sitting beside my son at home as we slowly prepared the meal under a darkening sky was sublime. The darkness forced us to sense the doneness of the hot dogs as popping juices sent subtle vibrations through the sticks. The coolness of the evening was warmed by love and quiet understanding. It was a great reminder to never give up on a day.

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