Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nesting Instinct

by Zinta Aistars
The last time I recall having this intense of a nesting instinct, I was nine months very pregnant. We had just moved south from Michigan to just outside of Cincinnati, across the Ohio River and on the Kentucky side. I’d never lived in such a big house, but there was no time to be dazzled. The clock was ticking, the calendar pages were flying away, the due date was approaching—there was no time to spare. With hubby at work in his new job, a newly minted chief of a department overseeing 800 employees, he was gone, gone, gone, and I and my round belly were the only ones in the new house to unpack and make it Home.
It took some interesting belly gyrations and heavy-load tricks to paint the new nursery, unpack stacks of boxes, and arrange the house just so. I worked at a frenzied pace, fierce in my determination. I wanted it all to be ready and perfect for our first baby. And it was. And she was.
But that was a long time ago, a long way away, in a marriage that has been long over, and I am oh too wonderfully far into midlife to be growing that kind of belly.
So what’s with the nesting instinct?
What is it, who is it, that I am preparing to birth now? Paint brush in hand, dabbed all over with dark brown paint—autumn brown, states the can, hardly a nursery shade—I am coating the deck walls and railings with a fresh new coat.
This, after a long list of other home repairs and improvements. With much gratitude to my handy son, all grown up baby #2, my bathroom is now entirely renovated, from repainted ceiling down to new porcelain floor tiles and vanity. One of the bedrooms has been renovated; the others have been prepped. The living and dining rooms were gutted and redone a couple years ago. Landscaping has transformed the front of the house.
After 14 years—count ‘em! 14!—of having a non-working dishwasher in my kitchen, I bought a top of the line new machine for my son to install. I’d forgotten it was there, felt no need, but now that I had this new purring appliance, I couldn’t be more delighted.
A renovation of the downstairs bathroom has just begun, the family room soon to follow, and I have been eyeing that living room carpet and thinking … new hardwood floors? a gas fireplace installed on the freestanding wall?
What gives?
I let the paintbrush drip into the paint can for a moment to access my progress. Just a few months ago, I very nearly bought a new house closer to work. Two weeks from closing, with the seller giving me an opening with his reluctance to make the repairs my home inspector had pointed out, I did a quick backpedal. I walked. I recommitted to my 110-mile daily commute—oh, it’s not that bad!—and starting showering my current house with gifts instead. 
And it’s not just the home repairs and buffing up. Something else has been going on with me. I’ve been cooking up a storm of garden fresh vegetables and farm-raised meats into delicious meals, freezing many for a winter day to come. Every Friday, I stop by Harvest of Joy in Shelbyville, an organic farm run by my friend Amy, gardener and poet extraordinaire, and pick up my CSA share. Every Friday, I bring home a tote full of tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeño peppers, sweet peppers, green onions, eggplant, broccoli, basil, dill, zucchini, salad greens, kale, turnips, beets, snap beans, cantaloupe, until the bounty spills in vivid color across my kitchen counters. 
I think I’m going to have to buy an extra freezer. All week I cook and prepare, marveling at how good food tastes when it’s this fresh. What I can’t eat, I stash. Great pots of water boil as I trim beans to blanch, then freeze. My eyes water from slicing and dicing jalapeño peppers to freeze for autumn chili.  Dish after dish of diced green onions are stacked in my freezer to use in those weeks when the garden will lie fallow.
Am I feeding an army?
No, just me. And my visiting all grown up babies, and my dear friends, and my much beloved family, and that special face waiting so patiently at the brand new front door to come in, please come in and be welcome!
Yet I am struck with how much I resemble a squirrel, padding my nest with a comfortable lining, storing away a stash of yummy nuts for the winter, scampering this way and that to get all ready.
Ready for what?
All my life, as long as I can remember, I have longed for Home with a capital H. I have always found myself in various degrees of Home in many different places, notably on this shore, the United States, as well as on the Baltic shore, in Latvia, where my ethnic roots go deep. That still remains so. And for all my moving about during my life, I have left pieces of myself in many places that I’ve lived. I have roots in Cincinnati, where both of my children were born, but in some ways even more in the Keweenaw, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where wild beauty resonates in me in ways I do not feel anywhere else.
I still can’t say where the coming years will take me. On many travels, I’m sure, although I’ve been exploring nearby places more than the beyond and distant yonder in the last few years.
Certainly this house here, now, the one where I’ve lived the past 16 or so years, is not nearly the best of them all. But it’s mine. I am dutifully paying it off. If it little resembles today what it once was, it is because I have been infusing it with my own personality, my own joie de vivre, expressions of myself in terms of art and color and mood, mementoes of those other places I also love, and of those many people who matter to me.
What all that swirl comes down to … is that I can create Home wherever I am. Because no place is perfect. No one place holds me entirely. Every place on earth is temporary. Why not make this one its very best and most suited to me?
Even as I watch the world swirl around me. Such madness. Debates about debt and default, world markets crashing, housing markets diving, retirement plans turning to smoke, what’s a middling old girl to do? Slow down and get my acorns in a row. Make the best of what I have. On one hand, dressing up my nest to be as nice as I can make it. On the other, paying off all debt, trimming those numbers down to zero, so that the madness need not affect me.
If I was nesting then, those decades ago, in preparation for the birth of a baby, I seem to be nesting now for the birth of a retirement nest egg, complete with nest. Haven’t I worked toward this end all my roller coaster life? I see that golden place ahead, even if it is yet many years …. but I want to plan now, be ready, have my winter stash safe in its bounty.
Funny, it suddenly occurs to me—what I am doing is a combination of cuts and targeted spending. I am investing and saving, but I am also spending to build a future. It takes both approaches to get it right.
I dip my brush in the paint and cover one more board. The night is coming on, getting too dark to really see what I am doing. Time for rest. The old deck is looking sharp. I visualize the new fire pit, the patio chairs and sofa with welded coffee table to hold my book and chilled glass. Ah, those warm and breezy evenings … I am sure I will enjoy many to come, right here, creating the perfect place for them. Eventually, this will become a sun room, with windowed walls, but until I save for that, this will be exactly right.
Just as there is no Mr. Perfect, I’ve discovered—there is no perfect Home. We need to bring it to ourselves, create it around us, own it, make it ours. Sustainable, reasonable, beautiful, peaceful. Wherever we are at this moment in time.  


  1. I love your pieces .... you are a great writer : )

  2. Thanks for reminding me that our place on earth is only temporary and imperfect. I've been feeling so much angst as I get ready to move back to the U.S. after a year in China. I'm going through a nesting phase, too, and just want to be "home," wherever that is, so I can surround myself with the things I love. But I know you're right... wherever I end up, I will make it home. Thanks for a great post.

  3. Sounds like you have a great story to tell when you get Home, from one Home to the next ...