In Shauna Niequist’s book, Present Over Perfect, she describes creating simplicity in her spaces— her closet, her bookshelves, her kitchen. “Let’s live lightly, freely, courageously,” Shauna writes, “surrounded only by what brings joy, simplicity, beauty” (185). For her, this meant "nothing but white plates" in her cabinets, plates delicate and simple that she knew would be a joy to have at her table.
In Annelise Jolley’s essay “Capturing the Numinous: On Mary Karr’s Sacred Carnality,” not only does she discuss Lit (one of my favorite books of all time), she also talks about food and hospitality, about what draws readers into stories. Jolley narrates some advice given to her by a writing teacher that “Writing about food is a hospitable move in literature.” Jolley elaborates that “food welcomes readers into the story.” Food draws us into stories because it draws us into life.
I felt drawn into my own life this week, drawn in by the words of these women, drawn by food, drawn in by the things in work, friendship, and home that I’ve left undigested. I think about how I can create a space for friends, for God and relationship, in my home and in my life, a space that welcomes them in like a new-set table.
When I first moved into my apartment in the Seattle neighborhood of Magnolia almost five months ago, I didn’t realize what I needed to make it feel like a home. Gradually, I’ve bought things that I didn’t know I needed, but that made the place feel like mine. A turquoise jar for the whisk and spatulas. A holder on my desk for stamps and postcards. The air freshener that Nana used, called linen & sky, set in a basket above the toilet with three neat rolls of toilet paper. A large blue pot with a leaf pattern on it that holds a bright pink cannas lily that I planted today. Gradually, I'm making my home, making my life a space to hold those dear to me and the God I love.
Inspired by Niequist and Jolley, by hospitality and appetite, I go to the grocery store. Stock my fridge with sliced Swiss cheese and mango juice. Buy my favorite snack (these mini beef dogs called ‘lil smokies that my mom used to make for parties) and cherry garcia ice cream. I buy lilies for my table, all green and shut, not yet bloomed. Take time to read more words. Make my space filled up, a home to my simplest needs. I'm drawn into my own story by the food that's in it, anything green and growing on my table, too.
Almost every night, around 9:30 when the Seattle summer is bruised periwinkle, I go for a walk. When I get home, I journal.
This space, these habits, all of it, this is my white plate. Set out before me, my life, like a blank page, is something I can fill, something that fills me.
Last week was one of the first times I’d had anyone over for dinner, due to the virus. I was nervous about cooking, even though it was only a couple of friends. I made tacos, one of the few dishes on my repertoire. Cut up lettuce and tomato and put them in separate bowls. Set out sour cream and shredded cheese, guacamole and chips. Made rice from one of those 90 second microwavable packs. The simple joy of sitting down at my table—which my roommate and I found on the side of a road in great condition, minus a wobbly leg—was a breath of clean air.
There’s something about making your space a home and sharing it with others. Knowing who you want to fill your life with, who you want to fill up at your table. I think that’s what truly makes a space a home.
And how you decorate helps, too.
My roommate gave me permission to decorate how I want, so the apartment is all blues and white, dark wood and lit candles, overgrowths of green plants—silver pothos, a split-leaf philodendron, devil’s ivy. The bathroom has one of those Hobby Lobby signs that says “fresh & clean.” I set out blue and white towels and light candles with the wax poured inside of shells. My apartment, in some ways, reminds me of Gig Harbor. Of the beach and white sails and a blue sky. A friend once said my apartment building looks like a beach resort. Nestled in Magnolia, with open roses and sea air, it’s not far off. Almost as good as the real thing.
My grandparents have lived in Gig Harbor almost since I’ve been born, and it’s where they grew up. I spent summers visiting Nana and Pop, walking through Nana’s garden overflowing with dahlias and little yellow flowers she’d pick and set by my bedside. We’d visit Nanny and Papa at the beach house, and I’d retrieve the plastic bucket and shovel in their musty greenhouse, go out to the beach and build castles in the sand, take in a mouthful of saltwater. When Nana and Pop moved into the beach house after Nanny and Papa died, they took down the wall that had separated the bedroom from the living room and opened up the whole room. The living room has a wall of windows out to the beach, where we watched seagulls swoop down to the Sound to catch silver fish in hooked mouths. The view was the decoration. The home was built around it. Literally. Sure, Nana made it a home with her yellow fat man cookie jar and little signs that say “Nana’s House,” picked flowers in Nanny’s favorite vase, a swan with a clear bowl of a body. But the view was home, and the people we watched it with.
This season of life, I watch my parents gradually clear out my grandparent’s beach house to make it their own home. Nana and Pop are in assisted living, and Pop drives up on weekdays, takes care of the lawn, fiddles with things in the garage. My mom buys new towels and pillowcases, cleans out the closets. My parents rent a house; Mom’s all neutrals and yellow light and dark wood. Her decor reminds me of big meals, of chicken tetrazzini and glasses of milk and red wine. It’s strange to think of the beach house looking different than it does now.
I imagine when they’re settled into the beach house, mom will have it spick and span with tan couches and white pillows, clear glass vases. Vestiges of the old will remain: Pop’s guitar propped in his old office, which we called “the box,” lined with C.S. Lewis paperbacks. Nana’s yellow place mats. And, of course, we’ll have the view that’s like coming home.
Now, I write at my table.
One of my old professors, now a dear friend and mentor, says that I’m getting my “kitchen table MFA." This same professor sends me a picture of his son at Cannon Beach from a trip their family took: his son holds a blue plastic shovel and concentrates on filling a yellow sandcastle mold.
Now, I'm an open window. Before, I was made of glass and fragile togetherness, and it's like the wind threw me open, and I'm finally awake to the world and its color, its impossible breath, and it sweeps me out to the Sound, and my life with God is the view, and I'm building my home around that view.
Tonight, I will go for a walk in my neighborhood and look at the lilacs, listen to the heartbeat of God strong and true beneath mine, try my best to transcribe that onto a page. I will eat Ben & Jerry's milk n' cookies ice cream and tortilla chips, I will drink a tall glass of water.
I’m awake to what I want to fill my life, my body and my soul and my home with, and it feels so good.
God invites me into my life with His infinite hospitality. This is my white plate. And I’m still filling it. Taste and see.