Jun 052011

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson 

In this latest book, Bill Bryson takes a close look at the history of something we all take for granted: our homes. When Bryson bought an old rectory for his home upon returning to England, he began to wonder why it was laid out the way it was. For example, why is the kitchen was at one end of the house and the dining room at the other. Characteristically of Bill Bryson, a question like that leads to a research project. Like his other books, he provides a brilliant insight into questions I’ve always contemplated, but hadn’t put into words.

Bryson takes his home apart, room by room, and discovers the origin. He begins, naturally, at the very first houses and investigates what each room was used for, how they evolved over the years and the history of the world along the same time. He talks about building materials, lay outs, why certain rooms were put next to each other and why others were put at opposite ends.

He studies the people that lived in the houses, too. Explanations of the people who owned the houses are told right along side the servants, those who really ran the house. I found this explanation most enlightening. It was horrid work to run a house in the era before electricity. Servants worked 18 to 20 hours days to keep everything perfect for their wealthier masters. The worst task had to have been the endless hauling of water to all points of the house, several times each day. I can’t imagine the effort involved for the servants should the lady of the house decide to take a bath. First the water had to be drawn from the well to the fire to be heated. Then it had to be hauled up the steep back stairs to the mistresses bath. It had to be kept the correct temperature. Once the bath was complete, the water had to be hauled back down again. The request for a bath could easily create several hours of work for someone else.

From the vantage point of where we are in history, it is hard to remember most labor saving devices at home have come along in just the last 50 to 100 years. I can remember growing up in a house without a dishwasher. Most people wouldn’t consider it a luxury appliance anymore. Plumbing, electricity, vacuums, stoves, refrigerators and even closets are such wonderful improvements that didn’t exist until recently. The notion of living without them is now a hobby called camping.

Bryson, with his usual quick wit, tells story after story of the evolution of the way we live. It is a lively and fascinating narrative that only bogs down in a few places. The breadth of Western civilization history he covers in commendable. Tying it all back to his house, room by room, is very novel. I thoroughly enjoyed my education. I will no doubt revisit this book again, as I found it fascinating and engaging. After enjoying A Short History of Nearly Everything, I can hardly wait to see the next topic Bryson decides to take on. Few people can get away taking on such a large subject, covering it completely and keeping the reader from falling asleep. Well done, Mr. Bryson!

Apr 072011

Businesses usually break their year into quarters, report on the results at the end of each. Ninety days is a good length of time in which progress can be shown without causing too much distraction through constant checking. In talking with a couple friends, they agree this is a good time for taking stock of personal goals as well. Daily life gets messy quickly. For example, back in January, I was happily renting a house with no plans for change. In the last 30 days of the quarter, we found a house, bought it and moved. Wow. My head is still spinning over how we pulled that off.

Of course, that major of a life event comes at a price. Many of my plans, activities and goals were thrown into disarray. I quit exercising completely, I gained back all the weight I had lost, all but quit writing and haven’t touched my lathe since January. Naturally, I went to my dark, self-pity place and was pretty down on myself. At my coach’s urging, after she kicked my butt, I started listing all the things I did accomplish in this quarter. Good medicine indeed.

Probably my proudest accomplishment for the quarter is this blog. I am pleased with the progress so far. The writing has helped me sort through many different thoughts and try them on for size. I have enjoyed the opportunity to present ideas and gain your feedback. The kind words and pushed me in new directions I hadn’t considered. Thank you all for that. It is very humbling to realize there have been 1277 visits in the first quarter. Not too bad for a blog without a lot of promotion. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

We found, bought and moved into a wonderful new house between February 14 and March 14. I wrote about it only a little here. What I didn’t cover were the miracles that occurred that made it all happen. When our agent, Buffy Schwieger, told us we needed to get pre-qualified on Feb.11, I laughed. I thought it waste of time. There were at least a dozen things that had to happen before we could even consider buying a house. Still, she insisted on going to look at another house on Feb. 14. I happened to see one pop up on the listings  and suggested we take a look at it, too, even though it was $30,000 beyond our range.

Well, to make a long story short, it was the house for us. Miracle after miracle happened in the next ten days, including the bank accepting our offer $33,000 below their price, our house in Boise finally getting a renter, obtaining financing and our current landlord finding a new renter, letting us out of our lease. I could go on, but I won’t. It became obvious that we were supposed to move into this house. Fast. When heavenly forces move mountains for your good, you better get in step and move with them. Ever packed and moved in a week? My wife is amazing!

I pushed my running all the way to 5k. I actually made it the entire distance February 21st. While I haven’t run in a month, I did go out this morning, figuring I would have to start all over again, huffing and puffing to get to 1 minute. I am thrilled to find out I didn’t slide backward that far. I didn’t really time it, but I didn’t die either. I can recover and still hit my goal of running in a 5K.

I have read 12 books so far in 2011. I am a little off my initial pace, but I am still making great progress. I have several waiting for me to write reviews. I owe at least four that attention. I am reading three others right now and they are just as good. I have been finding some very good books lately. They are thought provoking, insightful and even entertaining. I can’t tell enough people about the Chocolate Wars, even though a lot of my regained weight can be traced to my renewed cravings for chocolate after reading it.

Yes, it has been a good quarter. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have made progress toward my goals. I am more on track than I thought I was. I have some adjustments to make, but with three quarters of the year left, I can easily make them happen. And, as my previous vice president and friend, Gary Bronson, says, “The best is yet to come!”

Image credit: ToastyKen

Feb 042011

No, it really isn't this small...

When we moved to Utah this year, we moved into a house much smaller than we had in Boise. On paper, it is bigger, but the basement is unfinished, but it is only used for storage. At first, it felt cramped and we all complained. Now, well, sometimes less is more.

We noticed tonight we spend more time together as a family. Sure, there are times when we all drift off to our respective bedrooms. However, there are times where everyone congregates together. We may not even talk to each other, but there is something about just being around each other than feels good.

A couple weeks ago we made a new rule that has distrupted our lives some. We decided the upstairs, where all the bedrooms are located, is a computer free zone. We used to all huddle in our rooms with our laptops. We didn’t see each other much. Now we sit around the table or living room with our computers together. And we talk more, too. We discuss what we are reading, ask for tips to find something faster or show each other dumb movie clips on YouTube.  The distance has also encouraged us to do other, quieter things upstairs, such as read, talk and just sit and think. It is a little oasis from the turmoil of life.

So, as we look for a house to purchase, we are starting to see things with different eyes. Smaller houses are becoming more attractive. The smaller space we use to think we couldn’t live in is now inviting and cozy. Think of all the associated savings, too. Of course the mortgage is smaller, as is the insurance, heating and cooling costs and other utility bills. When spring comes, we may even get out of the house more. Added exercise!

What else have you noticed where smaller is better and less is more? What experiences led you to this discovery? What have been the benefits? Downfalls? Please share your thoughts in the comments.