One of the things I so love about travel and touring is getting a much more powerful sense of history; standing in and on the places where events and lives long past have happened, whether grand or insignificant, utterly changes my understanding of those people and occurrences. My first trip overseas, that Grand Tour I was so privileged to take in college with my older sister, was an awakening I never expected. I hoped the trip would be a cure for my sophomore blues, and indeed it was, beyond anything I could have planned or dreamt before, but more than that I was startled by how connected I felt to history.

The drizzly and cold autumn day when we visited Canterbury Cathedral was atmospheric enough in its way, but I remember standing on stone steps worn into a soft bowl by the thousands of footsteps that had passed over them in the centuries of its existence, looking up into a palely gold ray from a lamp, seeing the motes of dust whirling in it, and feeling that time itself was floating down around me in delicate pieces, that the spirit of every person who had ever set foot on that same smooth hollow in the stone was present there with me in that very moment. It was almost as though I could hear their voices and see the scenes of the past play out in the faint gloom around me, all overlapping and yet perfectly present. I felt my own place in the whole of the human timeline in an entirely different way than I ever expected, tinier than ever, yet surprisingly more concrete and tangible.

This was reinforced later in the same journey many times, as we passed through or visited (not necessarily in this order) England, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and stood in the very footprints of many a person, going down the winding passages and cobbled side-streets that had seen multitudes of significant moments long since fled. As this was the first time I visited Norway, the rooting ground of my ancestors from every branch of my family tree, it is no surprise in retrospect that many of those potent realizations came to me in that place—but as usual, hindsight is ever so much clearer than was my youthful wisdom in those days. It was moving, more meaningful than I can express, to get to know the relatives in Norway with whom my family had maintained contact: my maternal grandfather’s sisters and brother-in-law, nieces and nephew. These were days before cheap telephonic long distance, let alone email and internet communiqués, so we had only briefly even met most of these people when they visited America once in my younger years, yet they not only took us in as visitors, Tante Anna and Onkel Alf kept my sister and me with them for a full month and took us to see the family’s two longtime farms, the graves where many of our ancestors were sleeping underfoot. This was incredibly touching, a genealogical history lesson, but the more so because it was taught by the eldest of our remaining family there.

What moved me the most, in fact, was when on arriving in Oslo at our mother’s cousin’s home before we even came down south to be with his parents, we explored the great city a little on our own during the days, while he was at work and his wife and children off having their own day of adventures. It was all so humbling and so magical to feel for the first time that I understood a tiny bit more of my own family lineage and how our people fit into the larger world. We did visit many of the obligatory and famous tourist sites, knowing that there was no direct link to our ancestors, only cultural ones. So I was quite stunned when we visited the Viking Ship Museum and, standing before these ancient vessels, I was absolutely electrified with a sense of shared history coursing through my veins. My forebears were undoubtedly humble subsistence farmers, not the bold and violent and adventurous Viking strain we know through film and television, never mind through the great Sagas—but I felt for the first time something connecting me to those long-gone people all the same.
Photo: Enter the Time Machine

By now I have traveled a fair amount more. I have been on this planet more than twice as long, and I think I might even be a little bit wiser through my experiences in that life than I was back then. But I approach every narrow stone passageway, every weathered door, every window with its rippling antique panes presenting everything that’s beyond them like a warped post-impressionist fiction of itself, I expect to learn something not only about what is there in front of me and around me, but what is inside me. And I know that I will learn something, too, about how I fit into that larger, and ever so mysterious, world if I am wise and patient and alert enough to notice it. So much has gone by. So much remains ahead, yet unknown.

Knock Down the Fortress


Battlements Better Breached

In the windows, down the rooftops, through the stonework of her walls,

All the shadows gone at midday, softly as an echo falls,

Whispered secrets came to haunt her, spoken like a jailer’s dream

Though the sun would flame and flourish and the loneliness extreme

Drove her near the brink of madness, still she boarded up her heart;

All the same, away with sadness! Every ending is the start

Of a different adventure—little did our lady know

That her fortress wouldn’t save her, with its brave protective show,

But when breached and doors thrown open, halls filled up with ringing song,

She’d be rescued by companions she’d been fearful of so long.

Hospitality and kindness, love and great companion friends

Altogether bring salvation: joy is where this story ends.

Windows into the Heart


Shells of glass to shield from winter

Leaf and flower, root and seed

Give the tender lives inside them

Shelter that they crave and need

In the warming arms of friendship

We in kind find safety, grace,

Shelter from the world’s hard trials

In that other shielding placephoto

All in the Details (Small and Large), Part 2

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Pale yellow and gold and bronze add to the cozy warmth of the dark ash woodwork in the guest bathroom but with the dash of teal I think it doesn’t get too claustrophobic. A faux stone tall backsplash helps to cover some of the sins of the non-removable and painted-over wallpaper with better-wearing toughness in this wet room.

We’ve moved on to more complicated things . . .

Specifically, to the bathroom improvements we have had on our wish list since buying a house with four stereotypical ’70s bathroom counters all made of one-piece slabs of olive green marbleized acrylic of extreme fakeyositude, with integrated shell shaped sinks that, no pun intended, made our hearts sink every time we saw them. Besides being hideous and worn, they showed every speck of dirt and dust that came within their vortices, and they made us infinitely sad.

Now, we did have a little practice on bathroom reno from our first bout during the move-in preparations. The guest bath was both too decrepit and untenably ugly to be offered to people we actually liked as any sort of relief from need. I couldn’t tear out all of the wallpaper in there, having found quite speedily that aside from the kitchen wallpaper this house had paper glued directly to its unprimed wallboard, so I applied a heavy coat of oil-based primer and evened out the seams as best I could with lightweight spackle, finished corners and edges with caulking and filling holes with both caulk and spackle, and primed yet again. Then I could at least paint much of the remaining wall surface in there. The tiny shower stall was sturdily tiled in yellow–thankfully, a light shade, since it would be hard to remove–so I painted the walls a paler yellow yet and called it good.


The living room is getting lighter all the time . . .

The majority of the house being paneled or wainscoted–again, thankfully, in better quality than the flimsy plastic-looking stuff popularized in the later 1970s–with dark-stained ash, I opted to play off of the coziness and old-fashioned qualities of the cabinets and trim in the two small bathrooms and leave them dark, collecting all of the bits of bronze-tinted hardware randomly installed around the house and finishing those rooms with that color of metalwork for face plates and towel bars and robe hooks and a few dark wood and gilt trimmings. In the guest bathroom, as we were making our move-in improvements, I played off of the idea that washrooms are often reading rooms and hung up a couple of vintage books on the walls along with the requisite magazine holder. We did ‘invest’ in replacing the counter and sink with a simple composite scrap our contractor had around and a plain porcelain bowl, and I bought a gilt picture frame at a discount store and trimmed the inside edge with gold braid, to mask the edges of the old unframed mirror.

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‘Finger Trap’ (by Patrick McCormick) joins a couple of my graphite drawings, and possibly the only extant sample of my wildly rudimentary stitchery, in the living room. Now, how to get enough light to see all of it . . .

Meanwhile, our home’s openness means that while genuinely private rooms like the baths and bedrooms could and perhaps should have distinctive features of their own, the adjoining spaces in the living areas being so open to each other means it’s best to at least be reasonably compatible, if not coordinated. I’d rather not get bored, so I hope to find a happy medium and not risk severe matchy-matchy disease sneaking up on me for having tried too hard. The main thing I want to have been truly through-designed in this place to make it home and happy is lots of light. Artificial and natural. And the openness of the floor plan should lend itself to that kind of flow. The trick is enhancing what is unfortunately innate in a dark-paneled house, especially one built in an era not best remembered as the era of intelligent room lighting.


It’s not ultra-bright, but in daytime, sheers let in a little gentle natural light without overheating the living space. After all, the flanking phony tree scenery gives a little boost of a pretend view, too.

The living room one of the darker spots in the house because of its position and direction and the big floofy flowering pear tree in front of its main window. My first line of defense was to install LED rope lights in the ceiling recess in there (giving us a low ambient light any time we wish) and add wall up-lights to the three corners other than the one where I keep my vintage 50s torchiere–that lamp my sisters and I called the Space Needle Light when we were little and it lived at our Grandma and Grandpa’s place. There was not a lot of window light in general, but of course the dark brown Venetian blinds that came with the place weren’t a big help. I’ve recently replaced the blinds on the small driveway-side window with a very simple accordion-pleated white translucent blind so a whole lot more light comes in steadily. I opened up the front window blind too, hung up pale golden-tan sheers, and will probably do the same in the dining room window that balances the living room one. I think having the sheers under the dining room’s carved valance (Gramps’s artistry from his youth in Norway) will hide the shaggy mounting hardware behind and underneath the valance anyway! Not least of all, having better light in the living and dining rooms will help to show off things like Gramps’s carved valance and picture frames in the dining room and the artwork and my exceedingly rustic faux cruel, I mean crewel, stitchery on the throw pillow in the living room.

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You can see–and see *through*–how much space is here between living and dining rooms for entertaining . . .

And having fun stuff to look at in the house can do nearly as much toward house-warming as having a nicely built house itself can do. It’s another reason we keep moving forward with the renovations and projects over time. The biggest change here lately has to have been the bathroom renovations in the Jack and Jill bath and, most of all, in the master en suite.


Grandpa’s carvings grace the front wall of the dining room and will be all the more visible if I put in some sheer curtains so the Venetian blinds can stay open more of the time.

(To be continued tomorrow . . . )