House Charms


A few years ago, Jim and I decided to do a snowbird dress-rehearsal. We packed up our 25-foot Tioga and headed south, then west, for the winter. Days before our mid-December departure, our friend Helen brought us the pictured house charm, which she handcrafted from her own handmade paper. We took it along on the road and set it out whenever we set up house in a new location. Since returning the following April, it has always been open and on display somewhere in our stationary home. With the green paper tortoise shell on the back, my friend reminds me that home is not a static concept.

A couple of weeks ago, Helen and I met at Madison’s Arts + Literature Laboratory to listen as people read their poems from a chapbook entitled, Where I Want to Live: Poems for Fair & Affordable Housing. I was moved by the writing and bought the book. We both did. In none of the poems read aloud or any of those I’ve read on my own, was the focus on the dwelling itself. People wrote about community, bus rides, lemonade, equality, nature and music; not architecture, number of rooms, a workshop, or colors of paint. They wrote about safety. They wrote about belonging. They wrote about contentment.

That winter on the road, I was homesick. Sure, I missed the physical comfort of my bed in my house and preparing meals in my own kitchen but that wasn’t what my heart missed. My heart missed my neighborhood, the people in it, and the particular sense of belonging that my fortuitous placement offers me. Without a roof and a hearth of our own, we probably couldn’t just hang out on this block and have the same satisfying experience of sharing day-to-day life with our little community of neighbors.

I’m acutely aware of all this when I read the gentle words from philosopher Gaston Bachelard, chosen by Helen for her sweet little pop-up houses:

The house shelters daydreaming,

The house protects the dreamer,

The house allows one to dream in peace.

Helen told me that she had been thinking a lot about houses and concepts of home when the idea for these little works of art came to her. Until recently, they’ve been made solely as gifts for friends. Now she’s begun making house charms to sell, giving the lion’s share of the proceeds to help Occupy Madison house the homeless in our community. If you would like one of your own, you can contact Helen by email at


If you come to Brava’s Thrive After 55 Expo on August 22, find my table and drop your card in the hat for a chance to win a house charm. I’ll be drawing a name every couple of hours and giving away three during the event.