When I want to write and don’t know where to start, I go to my surroundings. Here I sit, sideways with legs up, on the love seat I bought during the first summer of the pandemic. It, along with the matching ottoman, is the most expensive piece of furniture I’ve purchased. A few months later, a friend of mine with excellent taste closed her office down since she was no longer using it because COVID. She said she was going to sell the furniture. I offered her a deal: Give me a break on price and I’d buy it all, handle moving it out of her office, save her the hassle of Craigslisting individual pieces and the time required to deal with potential buyers. Several truck trips over the bridges and back later, her good taste fills my home, complements my pricey love seat, all of it midcentury-mod-ish, furniture with legs, in cool grays, rich browns and a stately black that goes well with our wood stove. The pallette may sound drab, but we have a 15’x30’ great room with an orange wall that everyone loves – much to my dismay, as I’ve been begging Bobby for a color refresh – with windows all along that wall letting in the green outside, plus an expansive bookshelf, all of which is to say, visitor eyes have a lot to take in as it is. 

Come June, Bobby and I will have resided in this house for 20 years. Before moving in, we lived in a house in Ridgewood Heights. I think that place was about 800 square feet. (Our current is closer to 1200.) I remember it as dark, the kind of house that makes you wonder what the people who built it were thinking. Why are most of the windows on the north and east sides? Why is the light switch behind the refrigerator? Why are the cabinets exceptionally high on the wall? But the house, shaped like a small barn, had some charm, too. Mostly because of the broad yard, the garden space, the wonderful neighbors, the fantastic elementary school within walking distance. When Bobby transferred from CR to HSU (now Cal Poly Humboldt!) and I landed a job at the Arcata Eye (now, along the with McKinleyville Press, the Mad River Union), we hoped to move to Arcata.

But finding a place to rent in Arcata proved as challenging back then as it is now, especially with a dog and three children. Potential landlords and property managers made no effort to hide their disdain for a young family barely making enough money to get by (we’d always paid our rent!), not when a world full of students to exploit awaited. But that rejection made me consider an email that came through on the KHSU list-serv from a fellow volunteer looking for tenants for her house in Manila. Two bedrooms and an office, it read. The office could maybe be a small third bedroom. I responded. We set a time to look. I had my doubts as our only other time checking out a Manila rental led us to a dilapidated row of apartments on a street that looked like one you wouldn’t want to walk down at night. Or during the day. 

This place, however, this place stood on the beach side of town. We rolled into the driveway to find a well-built two-story house with a beachy vibe, a mud room, an outbuilding. I walked into spaciousness and light and wanted it for my family instantly. Our soon-to-be landlords told us they’d built the home for themselves – which explained the sense of love woven throughout – but had an opportunity to buy some land and build a new home down the way. They now wanted to rent the space they’d created to people who would care for it like they did. Fortunately, we turned out to be those people.

Before Humboldt, we went through a dark period that had us living at my mother-in-law’s. While there, I wrote this in my journal:

“What is a home? Home is my own space, a place I can relax and simply be. Home is somewhere I’ve made my own. Privacy. Somewhere I can open up, not be closed in. A place with lots of pillows. A place where I can let my personality out and it crawls up the walls. Small enough to feel cozy, but large enough to feel free. Home has a stereo. I can play soft, mellow music or hard, fast and loud. Home has a bookshelf. Home is kid-friendly. Kids can jump on the beds in my home. Cats can walk on the furniture. I want a whole room just for my beads. My home has a great bathroom, lots of closet-space and a user-friendly kitchen. My home is within walking distance to a good café. Home is warm, light, airy, comforting.”

When I wrote that, I had one child who would turn four the following month and was pregnant with one who would be born in March. I was 24 years old. When Bobby and I stepped into the foyer of the house in Manila, I was 32 with three children, ages 12, 8 and 6. The house does not have a great bathroom or lots of closet space, and I gave up beading long enough ago that I forgot until reading my journal that making necklaces was a thing I did. Manila does not have a good café! But I can walk to the beach and everything else I wished for came true when we moved in. Yes, tough times, some exceptionally so, happened between these walls. Even with warmth and light, hard times happen. Financial insecurity, parenting challenges, relationship struggles, all the drama that comes with being a family, with being human. 

But 20 years in and I think about all the times reading books out loud as the kids cozied up on the couch, all the brunches and parties that filled our home with laughter, all the pancakes and cookies made in the kitchen, the sheer ongoing joy to live this close to the ocean in a home that lights up on even the gloomiest days, that stays warm even on the coldest. May this house stay our home forever.