What makes “home” home for you?

By Caitlin Kelly

A walk along the Palisades, on the western shore of the Hudson River


One of the great essayists is Pam Houston, a 55-year-old American, whose most recent story is a lovely paean to her Colorado ranch, the one she bought and paid for, alone, through her writing and teaching — hardly well-paid pursuits.

She’s a woman and a writer I admire, (and have never met), someone with a deep hunger for adventure and who has chosen, and savored, an unconventional life.

This, from Outside magazine:

It’s hard for anybody to put their finger on the moment when life changes from being something that is nearly all in front of you to something that happened while your attention was elsewhere. I bought this ranch in 1993. I was 31, and it seems to me now that I knew practically nothing about anything. My first book, Cowboys Are My Weakness, had just come out, and for the first time ever I had a little bit of money. When I say a little bit, I mean it, and yet it was more money than I had ever imagined having: $21,000. My agent said, “Don’t spend it all on hiking boots,” and I took her advice as seriously as any I have ever received.

I had no job, no place to live except my North Face VE 24 tent—which was my preferred housing anyhow—and nine-tenths of a Ph.D. All I knew about ownership was that it was good if all your belongings fit into the back of your vehicle, which in my case they did. A lemon yellow Toyota Corolla. Everything, including the dog.

The entire essay is a great read about how we find/make a home. Here’s a bit more:

I had no way to imagine, in that first moment of seeing it, that the view out the kitchen window—of the barn and the corral and the Divide behind it—would become the backdrop for the rest of my life. That I would take thousands of photographs of that same scene, in every kind of light, in every kind of weather. That I would write five more books (and counting) sitting at that kitchen table (never at my desk), looking, intermittently, out at that barn. That it would become the solace, for decades, for whatever ailed me, and that whenever it was threatened—and it would be threatened, by fire, flood, cellphone-tower installation, greedy housesitters, and careless drunks—I would fight for it as though I had cut down the trees and stripped the logs myself.

I feel a bit this way about my one-bedroom suburban apartment, bought at the same age as Pam and one, like her, I’ve stayed in since then.

Between September 1982 and June of 1989 I moved from Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire-New York. I had won a fellowship, had a great newspaper job, made new friends, took another newspaper job, found a man I wanted to marry and followed him from my native Canada to the U.S.

But it was a lot of moving and adjusting and I was worn out by it all. Anyone who’s moved around a lot, let alone changed countries a few times, knows it can be wearying.

We ended up here, my first husband and I, because he found a medical residency position nearby, and friends had suggested this as an attractive town. I knew nothing of New York state, nor the suburbs, having primarily lived in large cities — Toronto, Montreal, London and Paris.

My New York view, straight northwest up and over the Hudson River, is only now blocked in summer as lush treetops block my sight-line. But the view is spectacular in every season — with snow, fog, rainstorms sweeping downriver and enormous barges pushed by tugboats heading north.

A new, gorgeous bridge has just opened, spanning the river, as elegant as a Calatrava.


The walkway along our town’s reservoir

The apartment, on our building’s top floor, is generally quiet — on a curving, hilly residential street lined with ancient stone walls — and regular sounds are crickets, hawks overhead and leaves rustling. We even hear coyotes now.

The town has a large reservoir whose landmarks — if you can call them that — are three small black turtles sunning themselves on the rocks and a cormorant who spreads his wings to dry, and looks like an out-take from a 17th-century Japanese print.

On the eastern bank of the Hudson River, we have the prettiest commute possible to New York City, and the haunting sound of train whistles as Amtrak rockets back and forth to upstate, Vermont and Canada,

The left is before; the right is after. I designed our galley kitchen

Our town has massively gentrified in the past decade or so, losing its two diners and its restaurant prices have gone crazy-high. Parking has become difficult to find.

But its combination of ethnicities and income levels, its handsome 19th century buildings and high-tech firms doing 21st century bio-engineering, make for an interesting mix.

I can be in midtown Manhattan within 30 to 40 minutes — or sit by the river here and watch the sunset; it’s a 5.5 hour drive to the Canadian border, and about the same distance to D.C., where we have good friends.

What our town, Tarrytown, NY, doesn’t have is any sort of interesting nightlife, or news-stands or much in the way of culture. But I save a fortune by not being tempted daily to spend money in a large city full of amusements and distractions.

I often wonder if or when we’ll move. We’re not able to rent our home, (a co-op with annoying house rules), so that’s a limiting factor.

My dream has been to move back to France, probably Paris, at least part-time. But we’ll see.

It’s not always easy to find a place that meets all your criteria: shared political ideals, a lovely landscape, enough good jobs, a decent climate, friendships, culture, ready access to the outdoors, quality medical care — and affordable housing.

And, these days, some protection from fire, hurricanes and flooding…


How about you?


What makes your home feel like the right place for you?


44 thoughts on “What makes “home” home for you?

  1. I never suspected I would end up living in the suburbs long term, since I love the urban life. But it’s ended up being unpredictably wonderful as well. I think what makes it home for me is the feeling of peace and the ability to shed my daily stress when I close that door behind me.

    1. Exactly! I can’t believe I live in the suburbs — except I love my town and many things about this area. I enjoy “the city” (aka NYC) but also enjoy the calm and beauty here.

      Glad you have found a good spot to land!

  2. I often think home is as much a state of mind as anything else; for my part, I’ve been living in New Zealand’s capital for over 30 years, but still always think of ‘home’ as my original city, Napier, where I was brought up.

  3. I adored living in NYC for 20 years – and miss it like a lover. I really am a BIG CITY girl. I do my best to appreciate what I consider ‘the burbs’ in various “cities” since forced to move, but I must admit they never have felt like home nearly as much as my Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan. I felt like I was dying living in the isolation of the country – even though I love to visit.

    I jumped over from a reblog to see what you had to say about Pam Houston. I discovered her quite early. I fell in love with her writing when I read ‘Jackson is only one of my dogs’ in a magazine – long before ‘Cowboys.’ I’m glad to read that she got a home out of that book, but dismayed to read how little she received for it.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!

  4. I love Pam Houston’s writing. I’m going to spend part of my lunch break reading her essay.

    I was up your way this weekend — a bit north of you at the Van Cortlandt Manor. You’re so right about the Metro North ride. It’s absolutely lovely. I’m sure the fall colors will make the view stunning.

    1. Right? 🙂

      So glad you got north for a bit…we were way up in Litchfield County, CT visiting friends this past weekend. Glad you enjoyed that Hudson-side ride. I love it in all seasons.

  5. The fact that I have so much control over my apartment makes it my home. I decide the furniture, the decorations, the meals, everything. And if something needs repairs, all I need to do is put in a phone call. It’s wonderful, and I’m always looking for ways to make it even more special.

      1. Yeah, but in America that kind of treated like it’s a Rite of Passage. If you don’t have your license by the time you’re 18, you’re considered a little weird.

        Then again, I never pretended to be normal.

      2. I know. I know. But that is also very American — because so many people live in places with shitty or non-existent options like decent/steady bus service or local trains. It’s a policy choice.

  6. how lovely it is there. i grew up in the suburbs north of Detroit and used to come to ann arbor when i was a little girl, to attend football games with my father. it was not until i was 40, quit my job and moved here for grad school, that i finally found my home at last. i knew that i would find a way to move here to stay, and i have. everything about it felt like home to me.

  7. I didn’t think I would be living in NWT. Home is still the Okanagan Valley, but we are considering other options.

    Are you thinking seriously of leaving the US? There’s more to life than politics, but #45 is doing a lot of damage. I guess that could also be a reason to stay, too. 🙂

  8. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail

  9. quietwoman

    Right now my “home” if you want to call it that is in a toss up between three areas….Denton, with all its coffee shops, endless other interests like a great art culture/society is where I reside now, Ft. Worth is attractive because of down town and my mission to the homeless Jews and other Jews there, and lastly West Texas with the peace and quiet and country towns where my daughters reside. Truly, like you I have right now a free spirit, or at least one that deserves the freedom that used to be in the world….no traffic, highways, just land land land as far as you can see with no restrictions (fences)…like in the movie he dances with wolves. But the homeless are being taken advantage of. They are being rounded up like cattle and given a cot and food in exchange for their “freedom”. The streets downtown are barren as the life of the city is slowly vanishing. They are being arrested now for using the sidewalks and the shelters are run like psyc. wards….where can you go to escape? Truly, what makes a home a home is when Jesus is there. So my home is my heart where he resides.

  10. “It’s hard for anybody to put their finger on the moment when life changes from being something that is nearly all in front of you to something that happened while your attention was elsewhere.” That alone was worth the read! Wise words. I love your tale of your home. It’s obvious how much it means to you. My home just felt right when we looked at it, years ago. I remember sitting on the sofa, looking out the window and thinking–“Yes, this should be my view. Feels right.” It’s not a stunning view–it’s of the houses across the street. But it still just feels right:).

  11. She is such a great writer…:-)

    I’ve lived in quite a few places, but owning my own home is very comforting. I hated being vulnerable to greedy landlords and living in a few places that really needed work.

    So glad you found a good spot!

  12. In about two weeks my wife and I will have lived in our North Carolina home for twenty years. In this time, much longer than I have ever lived anywhere, I have experienced so much it’s hard to know where to start.
    There has been a roof replacement,a major foundation repair and lots of stuff in between; the sort of thing one might expect from an old house. There has also been love and grief, blame and redemption. The love we have for one another has been put to the test within these walls and, like these walls, it continues to stand.
    I have learned every squeak of the floor as well as the assorted creaks and pops in the night. They sound like home.
    I don’t intend to leave this house. I have put down roots here and for the first time I feel like I have a hometown, a place where I belong.

  13. Its nice really to have a place u can call your home….Im far from u….my home is here in the Philippines….i really dream of going there….but u know im limited as of now….but still i find my place home here with my 2 kids….being happy and lovibg them…so thats my home….

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