“Home” resources

What does “home” mean? When is “progress” a step backwards? If we are building for a community in need, we must consult the community to see what it values. What about co-housing – sharing resources?


The Pruitt-Igoe myth. Housing project in St Louis.

Surviving Progress. Overconsumption, environmental collapse.

The Human Scale. Architect Jan Gehl. Cities for people – human sized, meant for livabilit

Tomorrow we disappear. India slums rehab. Doing for people (the poor) versus doing to people.

Commune. About Black bear ranch. Features Peter Coyote

Urbanized. Documentary by Gary Hustwit about design. “Who is allowed to shape our cities, and how do they do it? And how does the design of our cities affect our lives?” (from the description)

Blackout. “The lights went out and all hell broke loose” – about the chaos that followed the July 13, 1977 New York City blackout. Haves and have-nots.

“10 that changed America” – 10 homes, parks, and towns that changed our nation. Urban design, relationship of environment upon the people who live in it. Shaping people by where they live.

A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba, Brazil


“Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World” by Chapin, Ross

“A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction” by Alexander, Christopher W.

“Microshelters: 59 Creative Cabins, Tiny Houses, Tree Houses, and Other Small Structures” by Diedricksen, Derek

The old house

The old saying is true – you can’t ever go home again. I decided to see if there were any images of the house I grew up in online. Turns out there are a lot. I’m a little freaked out, actually.

One – the house is no longer for sale, so why are the pictures up? This benefits me, of course, but do the current owners care if the whole world can see inside their home?

Two – what did they do to the house!? It looks so spare, so lifeless. Where are the books? They ripped out all the bookshelves. I’m a little suspicious of people who don’t read. The wall colors are a bit bland and noncommittal. Maybe these are “staging” pictures, and not pictures of the seller’s furnishings. It took me a while to figure out what they’d done with the half-bath downstairs. The yard! My mother lovingly landscaped it – and it has all grown over. So sad.

Three – it sold for what!? I sold this house in 1998 for $69,900. The couple who bought it assured me that they were going to live there a long time. I’d gone to school with the husband, and as he was a real estate agent, we were able to talk before the sale. The neighbors had all expressed concern that they didn’t want someone to buy it and flip it – they wanted a neighbor, not an investor. He assured me that he was here to stay. Well – turns out that was only for seven years, because they sold it for nearly double what they paid for it, at $127,500. I feel a little cheated, and lied to. Then it sold again two years later for $141,000. Eight years later it sold again for $155,000. Stunningly, that owner put it back on the market not two months later for $163,000, but it didn’t sell.

We lived in that house for 30 years. It was home, not a house. I still have dreams that are set in it. That was what defined “home” to me, and in many ways it was ideal. I needed to move because I couldn’t afford it, and I needed to get away from some bad situations that were happening in my life. But in some ways, I want that house back. I especially would have liked to have found a house that size (3 bedrooms, 1.5 bath, 1600 sq feet) for the price I got for it. My current house has the same number of rooms and is 400 sq feet smaller – and cost $30K more!

Here’s the info from the listing –

“A comfortable and charming 1920’s Dutch Colonial that is conveniently located. This well maintained home offers character and charm with original hardwood floors and two piece crown molding throughout. The large living room offers hidden wiring for wall mount flat screen tv giving way for more spacious living. The separate dining room and adjacent kitchen offer a great flow for entertaining; enjoy double oven plus gas range with microwave hood. The second level offers 3 bedrooms, one with an oversized closet and a full bathroom. Don’t miss the 1/2 bathroom off the kitchen and the large unfinished basement, great for storage with walk out access to backyard. Enjoy days and evenings on the side screened in porch.”

I’m amused that they did all that work with the house, but the basement is still unfinished. The basement is huge – you could live in just it. But, it is haunted, so there’s that. Wonder if they know? I called a friend to exorcise it before I moved, but who knows if the ghost actually left? Sometimes they don’t want to leave. Maybe that is why the house sold four times in 17 years.

Here are the pictures of the front of the house

front left

front left close

Go in the front door and here’s the living room
living room


living 3

living 4

Turn around from that last picture (this is to the left of the living room) to see the dining room
dining room

This is looking back towards the living room from the dining room
dining 2

Here’s the kitchen as soon as you enter from the dining room

kitchen 2

kitchen 3

kitchen 4

They enclosed the back porch and changed how you get into the bathroom downstairs

kitchen to porch

Here is the half bath that is attached to the kitchen.

kitchen bathroom

Outside, the back porch area (this did not exist, nor did that immense fence)

back porch1

back porch2

back porch 3

back porch 4

back porch 5

back porch 6

back porch 7

The sad-looking yard


Back in the living room, go right to go out on to the side porch

side porch

side porch2

Back in the living room, the stairs going up.


At the top of the stairs, looking towards the main bathroom


In the bathroom itself.

The bedroom on the Southwest corner (the one my brother had initially, and after he moved I took it.)

bedroom 1a

bedroom 1b

The bedroom in the Northwest corner (my parent’s bedroom)
bedroom 2a

bedroom 2b

The bedroom in the South – a dark, small room. This was the one I had, as the youngest.

bedroom 3a

Houses on top of houses

I have noticed that I really am interested in houses on top of houses. Not apartment complexes, but separate houses built one on top of each other, almost randomly, stair-stepping up a hillside. I looked on Pinterest and discovered there are several such house-collections (Villages? Towns?) all across the world.

I’m not sure why I like this, since I value privacy and certainly didn’t like sharing walls with other people when I lived in a townhouse. You hear (and sometimes smell) everything your neighbors do. Sometimes the noises are very disturbing to the point that perhaps the police need to be called.

So why do I like this? I decided to dig deeper using these images.

The last picture I found was a big part of it. This is in Santorini, Greece.
Amalfi stairs

Steps on the outside of a building, attached to the wall. Something very intriguing to me here. You can come and go without anyone in the house knowing. Private access. You share a house, but not a life. Not all is revealed.

Yet also part of what I like with these large collections of houses is how does anyone get home? What is the “road” and what is your neighbor’s roof? Sometimes the two are the same.

This is in Masuleh, Iran
Masuleh Iran2

Closer –
Masuleh Iran

Here is Kandovan village, near Tabriz, Iran. It was constructed from a cave system.
Kandovan Iran
Kandovan Tabriz Iran
Kandovan Tabriz Iran2

This is in Turkey – Ortahisar.
Ortahisar Turkey

Here is El Aleuf, M’Zab, Iran. While not stacked on top of each other, it is still intriguing to me because the walls are all shared, like one house grew onto another. It looks like a nest or a hive, rather than a planned thing. More organic.
El Aleuf

Then there are shanty towns, barrios, favelas in Brazil.
favela Brazil

One got painted – it is Santa Marta. The people are still very poor, but at least their houses are beautiful.
favela Santa Marta Brazil

This is Cinque Terre, Nanarola, Northern Italy
Cinque Terre1
Cinque Terre2
Cinque Terre3
Cinque Terre4

This is on the Amalfi coast, Positano, Southern Italy
Almalfi Italy1

These are all Santorini, Greece

This is a Buddhist monastery, Phuktal, in Ladakh, India
Phuktal India1
Phuktal India2
Phuktal monastery Ladakh

Here are some similar ideas, of housing complexes that no longer exist. They are further from the main idea, but still close enough that they say something to it.

This is Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong
Kowloon China2

and this is Derinkuyu

How do you get home? What is it like to share walls and roofs with people? How well do you know them? Does living close create community? Or are people so close that they crave distance?

I like the ideas I’m reading about communal living, intentional communities, and cohousing.

I don’t think these are that at all. I think for most of these villages/towns they were unintentional – a lot of people wanted to live in the same place. Some had no choice – they were very poor and built wherever they could. Sharing a wall or a roof meant you didn’t have to build one. Some of these are very wealthy places – highly desired tourist destinations as well. Some are slums.

Yet they all share the same idea – shared houses, stacked on top of each other. No distinct roads or easy ways to get to your home.

How would you draw a map? How would you tell others how to get to your home?

Maybe that is part of the point – it is so hard to get there that you can get lost inside it, never worrying about people visiting you. You are hidden in plain sight. The very nature of it means that you have privacy, in a seemingly counter-intuitive way.

(All pictures are from Pinterest.)

The perfect house

A home is a sanctuary, an entrance into a special place to recharge and restore.

The perfect home for me involves a lot of places to lounge about near natural sunlight.

There would be reading nooks with lots of pillows.

The bedroom would have a view onto the garden.

The dining room would have an entire wall be a window. The focus is on the outside, not the inside. Notice the sparse furniture. Simple, efficient.

The yard would be enclosed in such a way that nobody could get in, but the walls would be concealed on my side with plants. This would provide safety without a sense of being trapped.

The back yard would have a staircase

That led to an outside room, perhaps like a Japanese tea house. But it would have cushions and pillows.

In some ways I like the idea of an outside bathroom. It feels daring and bold.

But it also seems like it would be cold and drafty.

So then there is the idea of a bathroom that has a lot of light – again, the idea of a private yard would be necessary.

A view out onto a Japanese tea garden would be excellent.

The house would have no straight lines – all curves and waves, with white or cream on the walls. The color would come from the floor and accessories like pillows.

And there would be a lot of books. And tea. And craft supplies.

Books on Japanese garden/home design

I spent one summer studying what makes a Japanese garden distinctly Japanese. These books were very helpful on my quest. Some of them cover interiors as well as exteriors of Japanese homes, so there is more to them than just gardens. I found it quite interesting that the Japanese word for “home” is composed of two characters – the one for “house” and the one for “garden”. A house isn’t a home unless it has a garden. The home is often designed around the garden, rather than the other way around.

A Path Through the Japanese Garden by Bryan Albright and Constance Tindale

The Japanese House: Architecture and Interiors by Alexandra Black

Zen Gardens by Erik Borja

Quiet Beauty: The Japanese Gardens of North America by Kendall Brown

The New Asian Architecture: Vernacular Traditions and Contemporary Style by William Lim

Japan Style: Architecture Interiors Design by Geeta Mehta

Japan Modern: New Ideas for Contemporary Living by Michiko Rico Nose

The Art of Japanese Architecture by Michiko Young

Serene Gardens – creating Japanese design and detail in the western garden. by Yoko Kawaguchi

Creating Japanese Gardens by Philip Cave

Expected death

Imagine if you got pregnant, and you weren’t told anything about what was going to happen to you. Or imagine if you were the friend of someone who got pregnant, and knew nothing. Neither of you had been through it or known anybody who had been through it. You’d not read about it even. When the contractions start to happen and the water breaks, it is going to be pretty scary. When the baby is born, you’ll both be freaked out.

But if you know what to expect – if you know that it is normal – then you’ll know what to do. You’ll stay calm and handle it.

Death is like that too. There are certain identifiable things that happen, and they are only scary if they aren’t known. They are different from how things are otherwise, and because they are different they can be unsettling. But they don’t have to be.

We’ve medicalized birth and death in Western society, and it is to our loss. We’ve forgotten what it is to go through these natural human experiences. We used to see birth and death in our homes, because we would all live together as a family, several generations together. We didn’t go to the hospital to give birth or die, with strangers or alone.

There are plenty of fine articles online where you can read up on the signs of death, so I’m not going to repeat their information. I will tell you that the more you learn, the more you’ll make a difficult situation easier.

Not learning about it won’t make it not happen. It will just make it harder when it does happen.

Finding home without a map.

We had a dog when I was growing up who was named Chumley. My brother picked him out, and my brother named him. Somehow, though, the dog ended up becoming my dog, and not in the good way. Somehow I, the younger sister, ended up having to make sure the dog was fed and watered and walked. This turned out to be a regular occurrence with my brother and pets. He’d get them, and then I’d have to take care of them. Perhaps this is part of where I learned to be a caretaker of others and not myself. But this is not that story.

This story is about a time where Chumley ran away. Most dogs know how to stay in the yard, but not Chumley. That dog was a wire haired fox terrier, and they aren’t really mentally intact dogs. Those dogs are a bit high strung and wild. They really aren’t the best around small children, and sometimes I think they really aren’t the best around themselves. They get a bit excitable all the time and kind of lose their minds.

Chumley was an inside dog in the biggest possible way. If we let him out without a leash he’d just run and run and run. Even with a leash it was hard. He was always straining at the leash, pulling me along, nearly choking himself to get to the next place. He made a hoarse, desperate sound all the time as he pulled ahead. The walk was a real workout for my shoulder muscles and not really very fun. I suspect it wasn’t very fun for him either.

He was so scattered that he even had to poop inside. We had newspapers in the kitchen, and that is where he would go. I can’t even imagine how I thought that was normal, to have food and crap and pee in the same room. It was what was introduced to me as normal, though, so I went with it. I didn’t know otherwise.

One time, before Christmas, he got out. He slipped out of the front door and went running. He kept running. Before we even realized it he was gone gone gone.

Days went by.

It was getting colder. It wasn’t too cold, because it was Chattanooga, and white Christmases are really rare. Brown with mud was more like it. But it was cold-ish, and this dog wasn’t an outside dog, and how was he eating and getting water? What was happening to him? Was he OK? Was he dead? There was no way he could have defended himself against another dog. He was like the clown of the circus.

Maybe we looked for him. Maybe we didn’t. I don’t remember. I hope we did. I could tell you that we put out an all points bulletin and stapled “Lost Dog” flyers on telephone poles, but I’d be lying. I don’t know if we even got in the car and drove around, calling out his name.

Maybe we just thought he wanted out.

I can understand that. I can empathize with that.

He didn’t choose to be there. He wanted to be out. He wanted to eat grass and poop outside and sniff other dog’s butts. He wanted to roll in mud puddles.

He wanted to be a dog.

And we weren’t letting him.

So, he was gone, for days.

Just about the time that we thought he must be dead (at worst) or adopted by another family (at best), he came back.

But he didn’t come back alone. There was this other dog with him. There was this smallish mutt beside him. Some dog that we’d never seen.

I played all over that neighborhood, and I knew every dog within a three mile radius of my house. I didn’t know this dog.

Somehow, this dog, this strange dog, had found Chumley and brought him back home.

I have no idea how he knew where Chumley’s home was. I have no idea how they communicated. All I know was that it was three days later and Chumley was dirty and tired and his feet were bloody from all that running outside, but he was home.

And I understand some of it now.

Sometimes I’m Chumley, and sometimes I’m the mutt. Sometimes my husband is Chumley, and sometimes he is the mutt. Sometimes we have to take turns walking each other home.

And sometimes home isn’t where we feel at home, but we stay there anyway. And sometimes “home” is more about the places in our heads and our hearts, rather than where we sleep and keep our stuff.

And sometimes all we want to do is run away as far as possible.

Sometimes I don’t feel at home in my self, my being, my “me”. Sometimes all I want to do is run away.

Sometimes I go up to my star stones. Sometimes I write. Sometimes I take a hot bath. Sometimes it is so bad that I have to do all three.

Sometimes I’m so upset and angry that I’m on fire and I don’t even realize it.

Sometimes the person I want to run away from is my husband.

Sometimes I want him to fix this fire burning in me, to put it out, to stomp on it and then call for a firetruck. Sometimes I want him to know what to do, what to say, how to stand just right that this fire will die down to a pretty little candle, contained in a glass dish. Something simple. Something safe. Something easy.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed at the bonfire of my emotions and feelings and I’m on fire and all I want to do is light up everything around me and leave it all a charred, smoking hulk of rubble for the forensics team to walk through and try to figure out what happened two days later when it cools down enough to be safe to pick through the pieces.

And then it turns. It changes.

I’ll have been gone for three days, or three minutes, or three hours. No matter how long, I’ve been right here, but I’ve been gone in my hurt and anger and loss and pain.

And somehow he finds me, and brings me back home.

Poem – home

Here we are.
We have buildings in our childhoods
and the surest way of knowing
is this –

Once you know what the way home is
you can get to the shelter.
This line between us
is there.

Many people who don’t know
make your life
more than a little sad,
more than a lot crazy.

Even though they are hungry for a
entry, a door, a way in,
they are not allowed.

Home is a place
in your heart
and some
even though
they live
in big homes
are homeless.

(Predictive text meditation, using the letters “home” as line starters and the intention “What is home? Is it a place? How do you know when you get there?”)

Poem – adoption, alone

We are all adopted. We are all lost, drifting.

No matter how your parents
are related to you
biologically, legally
makes no difference.

We are all just trying to find our way home.

People who are dying often say they just want to go home,
even if they are in their living room at the time.

We all want to go home. We are all lost.
We all crave belonging.

The gang member, the biker, the kid in the black trenchcoat,
all are trying to find themselves.

We are all shuffling, rubbing up against each other
saying the secret passwords of our tribe
hoping they will let us in.

Every one of us suffers from a little bit of abandonment

now and then

every one of us
wonders where we fit in.

Even when we are
with family
we know
deep down
we are all faking it.

We all have to find our way
out of here
and back to where we belong.

We all have to find ourselves.

We look to others to do it.
We hope to see our own reflection
in them.

We join clubs, we go to conventions,
and momentarily
we feel home.
we feel that we are understood.

But when we get back from the meeting
back from the show
we are left
by ourselves, alone again.

If we are not happy
by ourselves
we cannot truly be happy
with others.

We are all faking it,
this connection.

We are always trying to go home
By going somewhere we are not.