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My Dream House


Until today, there’s been a box under my bed I haven’t opened since before James died. It’s full of architectural plans, magazine photos, fabric swatches and paint chips. It’s the house we were due to start building, two weeks after he died. The box has awakened a longing in me, not just for our house, but for the person who “got me.” In many ways, James and I were mirror images of one another.


The box under my bed is untainted by anything or anyone who came before us. Even before we found our land and sold our house in the city, we couldn’t wait to leave it all behind us. For two years we explored Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, going so far as to put a contract on a house, 30 minutes from Aspen.

The home was wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling windows that overlooked Mount Sopris and the Roaring Fork River. The bone structure was there, but it needed a facelift. We hired an architect. My friend Charles, who owned a mortgage company in Denver, met us there with a builder friend of his. Together we walked every foot of that house, and specked out—in detail—how much bang we could get for our buck. In the end, we decided not to buy, because it would be years before we could live there full-time. While some things aren’t meant to be, others are so right on, it’s like you’ve been struck by lightning.

I remember every detail of the day we found our place in the Texas Hill Country. We’d seen numerous properties, but none of them spoke to us. The first day we drove our property, it was midmorning. Just me and James. We drove his truck until the land stopped short of the canyon. Like two kids who’d broken away from the grownups, we hiked to the bottom and found a live water creek, pouring from the limestone walls and surrounded by ferns. Twenty minutes later, we agreed on a building site. With broken tree limbs and tools from the back of his truck, we began laying out the rooms of our dream house. It was like we were high, on the best drug in the world.

I remember the day the mortgage banker met us at the little 100-year-old house on the property. “This old house’s in such bad shape, I imagine you’ll want to tear it down,” he said. “So we’re not even going to put a value on it.”

James shot me a quick, but subtle look. One that said, “I know you’re going to turn this “little house” into a jewel box, but don’t let him know that.”

It’s been over four years since James died, and I’m not sure I’ll ever build our dream house. While the Little House I live in is indeed a jewel box, it’s only 484 square feet. I’ll always miss James, but sometimes I miss our things in storage as well: our possessions and the furniture and light fixtures I purchased for our new house.

At some point I must decide what to do with it all. Do I keep any of it, or will that part of my life be memories that remain archived, like the dreams in the box under my bed?

What about your dream house? Have you built, renovated or lived in it, or are you thinking about downsizing?

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22 thoughts on “My Dream House”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. One blog post told me so much more about you and I appreciate your candor. You know, I am conflicted about “house stuff.” We are in our dream neighborhood, and I *love* the amount of space in our house. But we bought more house than we could afford (live and learn, right?) so we have never been able to do much with it except try to keep our heads above water. That said, our youngest is in 11th grade and we aren’t going to need all this space for that much longer, so I think for the sake of our space needs and our pocketbooks, we will be looking at downsizing. // I usually consider myself pretty neutral as far as specific wants re: houses but there are two “ideals” that I still wish I had when I am honest with myself: red brick (our current house in the dream neighborhood is yellow siding) and there’s a specific window style I love — isn’t that crazy? — but it has just always spoken to me. I even did a blog post about it a long time ago. // One last thought: I was truly humbled by being able to travel through Central America on two trips with Unbound. The people who had a crudely drawn and worded sign that said “Welcome” on a home with a dirt floor and aluminum ceiling made me feel as welcome as some of the finest homes I have ever visited; it was a lesson I was fortunate to be taught.

    • Paula,
      I think this is about the time we start to question whether what we have is more than we should pay, or more than we want to maintain. There’s nothing like a good reality check, from someone who’s life is drastically different from ours, to put things in perspective. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico and Central America with joyous people who lived in thatched huts and graciously tended to me like I was an honored guest in their castle… and I was.

  2. I have been there and you stirred a lot of emotion in me. I liked what you said about missing your possessions as well. Even though they are just ‘things’ they carry a lot of memories. Thank you for sharing from your heart.

    • Carol,
      It’s more that I miss my “stuff” than I miss the house. Not the big stuff, but the little things packed away in boxes I’ll never find again unless it’s all unpacked. In some ways, it’s like those things were lost in a fire.

  3. Brenda, your blog is the most beautiful I’ve seen in all my years of blogging, and your words are always wonderful. I’m very sorry about James and your plans. Maybe creating a smaller version of your dream house would be a tribute to him. Just a thought. We made it to our dream home last September and it makes me very happy and content. I wish you the same contentedness.

    • Barbara,
      Your wonderful compliment has energized me. Thank you. I’ve thought about building a smaller version, but am not sure that’s in my best financial interest. I don’t want to windup living in a cardboard box. Then I’d REALLY long for the archived memories under my bed.

  4. Your writing is so powerful and moving Brenda! I can imagine you miss your things. Yes, they may just seem like things to some people, but the memories are so rich. I have possessions like that in storage and long to have a place to put them. But I also want to downsize and simplify our lives. Tough call. Have a great weekend. xox

    • Jennifer,
      Coming from you, that means a lot. Isn’t it ironic: There is nothing simple about simplifying our lives?

  5. I can’t believe it’s been four years since James died! Where does the time go? The nearest we had to a dream house was a second home with a dock in a beautiful lake with mountain views. I am glad we did not move there for several reasons, and especially in view of what ultimately happened to our marriage. The house I am in now is downsized, but perfect for my lifestyle and current medical condition. Keep dreaming. I do. Happy Fourth! xox

    • Sweet Jan,
      My day always brightens when I see you here! Considering what you and I have been through… especially you, I realize it’s our dreams that propel us forward. Without them… Oh, gosh! I don’t even want to go there.

  6. Brenda, I had tears in my eyes before the end of the first paragraph. I know what it’s like to be with someone who just ‘gets you’ and because of your story I hold David that little bit tighter and appreciate him so much more, I know this won’t bring much comfort but I wanted to say that when you share your heartfelt stories in the beautiful way that you do, you inspire others in so many ways. I hope you work out what to do soon. I have a funny relationship with our home, we bought it thinking we would only be here for a couple of years and then move to Australia, and eight years later we’re still in it! I can’t help but feel like it’s always been a place I’ve been passing through, so it’s only this year that have I really put any real effort into turning it into a sanctuary (a job that never seems to end!) xx

    • Esther,
      Like you, I write because something compels us to do so. If along the way, we inspire someone, that’s the cherry on the sundae. My Little House is already a jewel box, but I miss my things in storage, plus I don’t have enough space here to add anything else… I did, however, buy a Polaroid self-portrait Stevie Nicks did, years ago that’s been digitally printed from the original Polaroid. I’m hanging it in my tiny bedroom. It’s my cherry on the sundae!

  7. So moving! I know what it feels like to have that person in your life who just “gets you” and my heart aches for you. I spent years longing for my dream house but lately I’ve been coming to the realization that turning whereever I live into a “dream home” with the family that I love makes me happier than I ever thought. I wasted too much time chasing after what I thought would be my dream house and now I’m at a point where I’m just counting my blessings. Well, and maybe planning a few smaller scale renovation projects!

    • Amy,
      Your point about wherever you live is your dream home speaks to the very heart of how I named my website, 1010ParkPlace. We’ve all played Monopoly. Park Place is the most desirable property, but the least landed on. It also has the highest rent and taxes. While we all aspire to have our own Park Place, at some point, regardless of where we live, we’ve made it our Park Place. Our dream home. When I restored the Little House from the brink of total ruin, I made it so fabulous. Even though it’s small, it’s perfect for me and my dogs, but it was only supposed to be our temporary residence while we built our dream house on the same piece of property. Two years, tops! Then the Little House was to become “the guest casita.” I LOVE the Little House! It’s home now. More than anything, I miss James, and yes, I miss our things. Since I can’t afford to keep paying on those storage units, forever, It will be a painful day when I actually get rid of all of them.

      I’m happy you’ve had someone in your life who “gets you” and that you count your blessings. That in and of itself is a blessing, but then you already know that, wise lady.
      XO, Brenda

  8. That was beautiful. I’m so sorry—I can’t imagine.
    I sold my apartment in NY which might have been the biggest mistake I ever made or not. I bought a house a few blocks from the ocean in South Carolina. It’s nothing special. small rooms, small ceilings—I’ve always had 11 feet or higher. I didn’t change the footprint but changed everything else about it. Didn’t realize I had property until I had a carpenter make a three story deck—that sounds much grander than it is. I bought it for the proximity to town and the ocean–and because it has a second floor deck which is my favorite part of the house.

    • I love places with high ceilings and hardwood floors. My Little House is only 484 sq ft, but it has both. While we can’t change the decisions we’ve already made, we can find ways to make them into lemonade. Sounds like you’re doing that. A house near town and the ocean, with a deck you love! Just keep making more and more of that house your own, until it feels like the right decision. XO

    • Thank you, Carol. Good or bad, the unknown is a big part of what keeps us moving forward, isn’t it? You’re the first person here I’ve told, but this post made me decide to sell my property and build a smaller version of our dream house, someplace else. I never thought this would happen. I’m excited. xoxox, Brenda

  9. Brenda, You made your experience very real for all of us. I am at a point in my life where what you are experiencing is a looming probability. Aging does have it’s downside. But your words resounded with me in a positive way. Moving forward is not a choice after we are alone. Your jewel box of a house sounds perfect. And the idea that you will dig through your archived collection to build a house part yours but also honoring your marriage sounds so perfect.

    In the end we all know that it isn’t the house because we can be at home anywhere. But a box full of hope and memories? Well, now we are talking about what makes a house a home.

    Be well and keep on doing what you are doing. You are freaking awesome!

    • Barbara,
      I’m happy to know there’s someone else who “gets me,” although where we’re at in life isn’t easy. At some point–soon–I hope to share my next step with you. For the first time since James died, I’m really excited. “Freaking awesome!” Best compliment anybody’s ever paid me! Thank you. xoxox, Brenda

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