Making Room for Christmas

Josephine Baldizzi came to this country as a young girl from Sicily. Her family lived on the Lower East Side of New York from 1928 to 1935, in a small tenement apartment at 97 Orchard Street.

In those depression years, there was no money for Christmas presents or decorations, so her father, Adolfo, traveled  the city, scavenging fallen pine branches from other peoples’ trees. Returning home, he put his carpentry skills to work, drilling holes into a long piece of wood and using the scavenged branches to create a Christmas tree for his family.

Josephine told the story with obvious pleasure. “He would make his own tree, shape it, tie it to the wall, and then get ornaments and dress it all up,” she said. There were glass ornaments, some lights and tinsel for the tree. For the children, there was a tray filled with traditional holiday treats – marzipan, dried fruits, walnuts, chestnuts, and oranges. It was, she said later, both memorable and magical.

Josephine was my parents’ age, and her story was their story. But by the time I began celebrating Christmas, the Depression had passed. Fresh, fragrant Christmas trees were commonplace, and the excitement of presents was real.

Still, our Christmas was made more than purchased. We cut paper snowflakes, and pasted strips of old magazines into colorful chains. We strung together long garlands of popcorn and cranberries with needles, thread and a thimble. Sometimes, we shaped tin foil around those same thimbles and hung our glittering “bells” among the garlands, but when a set of colored aluminum bells appeared, we tied them with ribbons and gave up bell-making. The new bells joined other cherished traditions, and still ring with gentle clarity as they swing from the branches of my tree.

A few years ago, I took on a new Christmas project, one requiring even less in the way of material. All that’s needed is a way to measure, and some imagination. If you don’t have a metal tape, the kind used by carpenters of contractors, any sort will do.  If you don’t have a tape measure, a ruler will suffice. Precision isn’t important, only the ability to make rough measurements.

Once you have your tape or ruler, find a place in your home that seems about 10′ x 10′ square. If you aren’t certain what 10′ looks like, do some measuring.  Reel out the tape across a living room or bedroom floor. Get a feel for the space, then find a corner of your dwelling where 10′ x 10′ can be easily visualized.

My own 10′ x 10′ space is my dining area. It’s exactly that size,  if you don’t count a little built-out alcove. Facing the east wall, I sit at a teak computer desk with an open hutch, the printer and scanner tucked neatly beside it. To the north is my beloved window, my ever-changing view of water and sky.  Behind me, the oak dining table that graced my parents’ first home and two pressed-back chairs caned by my mother take a bit of space, and on the other side of the table, on the west wall,  are two shallow, mission-style china cabinets with glass fronts.To the south, against a half-wall separating the dining and kitchen areas, a small Chinese tea cabinet holds cameras, candles, a few skeins of yarn, and an assortment of shells, seed pods and rocks.

I spend most of my at-home waking hours here, reading, writing or dreaming, surrounded by some of my favorite possessions – a print of cowgirl Helen Bonham, a collection of oil lamps, a Paul de Longpré watercolor, a few Victorian photographs.

It’s a lovely, comfortable room, but in the end it’s only a room – one of five in my apartment, 100 square feet carved from 840.  Granted, I’ve lived in spaces hardly larger than this room.  The sailboat I lived aboard could sleep four in a pinch, but the usable space was about a hundred square feet.  The cabin where I experienced the acorn storm  held everything needed for country comfort  – a woodstove and bed, a propane stove, chainsaws, a table and chairs – in an expansive 196 square feet of space. 

But those were temporary living quarters, even when “temporary” was measured in months rather than weekends.   For much of the world, 10′ x 10′  isn’t a getaway but a way of life, a routine, an inescapable reality.

In an extraordinary collection called 100 x 100,  German photographer Michael Wolf recorded the lives of 100 residents in their 100 square foot flats in Shek Kip Mei, Hong Kong’s oldest public housing estate.

Located in Sham Shui Po, one of Hong Kong’s eighteen Administrative Districts, Shek Kip Mei was the first resettlement estate built after a tragic squatter fire on Christmas Eve, 1953 left approximately 50,000 people homeless. Refugees from Mainland China, they had been living on mixed agricultural and Crown land just north of the Walled City of Kowloon, itself the site of a squatter fire in 1950.  While there is some disagreement about the nature of the government’s response to the tragedies, there’s no question the beginnings of Hong Kong’s current housing policy can be traced to the Shek Kip Mei fire.

Completed in two phases during the middle 1950s, Lower and Upper Shek Kip Mei Estates comprised 42 blocks of 6, 7 and 13 storey buildings.  Redesigned, reconfigured and rennovated over the years, Shek Kip Mei became more livable, but remained what it was in its inception: minimal housing for the maximum number of people.

In April of 2007, shortly before residents were to begin moving out in advance of Shek Kip Mei’s demolition, photographer Michael Wolf and a social worker began knocking on doors. An accomplished urban photographer who worked extensively in Hong Kong, Wolf had focused exclusively on building exteriors. At the urging of friends he moved inside, and in the space of only four days compiled a compelling portrait of urban life. In an interview with the New York Times’ Valerie Lipinski, Mr. Wolf said,

“I had the methodology worked out. You open the door, and you put the camera with one foot of the tripod inside. I used a small flash to bounce off the ceiling. I wanted to see into every corner. I took three or four photographs and moved on to the next one. If someone said no, I didn’t waste any time trying to convince them.
In total, I photographed 118 rooms. When I had them all printed, it was almost a new looking at these interiors, because while I was photographing, I really didn’t have time to look really at what I was seeing.”

The visual impact of the homes’ small size and clutter can be overwhelming, but the words of the residents hardly communicate a sense of deprivation.  While taking his photographs, Mr. Wolf asked each resident a few questions:  How long have you lived here? What do you do for a living? Do you like living in Shek Kip Mei? Despite differences in age and length of residency, the same good qualities were mentioned repeatedly – convenient transportation, friendly neighbors, low rent, dependable air conditioning.  It all sounds so very, very familiar.

Today, Shek Kip Mei is gone, nearly all of its residents re-located into slightly larger living spaces within the same District.  A single block (Block 41, Mei Ho House) has been transformed into a youth hostel, preserved for its historical value and as a reminder of the resourceful people who lived their lives within its walls.

In the same manner, Josephine Baldizzi’s family apartment has been preserved, its 325 square feet now part of New York’s Tenement Museum.

Pondering these quite different spaces, I marvel at their similarities even as I’m reminded of how our measure of things can change over the years. 

For now, I have space and light, the luxury of privacy and freedom of movement.  Just across the road in a local nursing home,  residents are living out their lives in hundred-square-foot rooms,  limited by age and illness as surely as residents of Shek Kip Mei were limited by poverty and displacement. 

Crowded into tiny trailers and rented rooms, survivors of Hurricane Sandy continue to rebuild their lives much as immigrants to New York, Boston and Minneapolis built their new lives, one step at a time.

Suddenly, in my own hundred square feet of space, I feel the richness of life, and the coming of Christmas becomes as simple to conceive as a childhood craft.  Lighting an oil lamp far older than my years, I move it to the middle of my parents’ table.  Clearing a stack of papers from the tea chest, I set out two bare-branched metal pines, their branches tipped in copper.  My grandmother’s ceramic angels peer down at me from the hutch, warmed by candlelight,  and the cat sighs with pleasure as I lay out her sheepskin.

Watching the warm, fine mist beginning to drift, I know the evening darkness will settle early, and there are chores still to be done. I slide the tape measure back into its drawer and smile.  Christmas is coming, and there’s more than enough room for Christmas in a hundred square feet of space.

Comments always are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, just click below. And, please – no Reblogging.

91 thoughts on “Making Room for Christmas

  1. Your ability to tell a story never ceases to amaze me. Wonderful memories of your earlier years are lovingly brought to life with your personable twist on words.

    Loved the descriptions of heirloons that grace your 10×10 foot space. And I really enjoyed seeing those eye opening pics of the folks that lived in those 10×10′ spaces. Very interesting. I continue to learn something new each time you present a new post.

    Happy Christmas, Linda

    Regards, yvonne

    1. Yvonne,

      I’m so glad to see you’ve been “re-connected”. It’s always good when these little life issues can be solved without inordinate amounts of time or money.

      As the old saying goes, everybody’s got to be somewhere, and I do love seeing peoples’ “somewheres”. I thought it was especially interesting that the “front room” in the Baldizzi’s 325 square foot home was 10’x10′. It’s a size that I’ve seen pop up again and again. I haven’t a clue what it might mean, but it’s obvious enough to take note of. Maybe our early caves were 10’x10′!

      If I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that simple can be sufficient, whether it’s living space or celebrations. I suspect you understand that, too.

      Happy Christmas to you – I hope every minute’s a joy.


  2. Your writing always delights me, but even more, your thoughts. I think you are right, the best part of our indoor lives are contained in the small area where we store our real passions, be they material or ethereal, usually both.

    1. montucky,

      I grew up in the era of formal living rooms, the direct descendants of the parlors and front rooms of my grandparents’ generation. It always seemed funny to me that a house should have a “living” room where no living was done.

      We spent most of our evenings in what we called the “den”. The television was there, along with built-in bookcases, cupboards for my dad’s stamp collection and a closet filled with mom’s yarn. Being a kid, I’d often drift off to my room to play or to read, but we all knew where the heart of our home was, and that’s where we always returned.


  3. Those photographs are impactful. It’s always eye-opening to see how others live with so little, and how they continue to see the positive parts of their lives. Our house was between three and four hundred square feet when I was a kid. Six of us lived there. My house is too big for me now. There was a time when I didn’t know a house could be too big.

    For $1275/month you can live in a 100-square-foot apartment in Harlem.

    1. Bella,

      Occasionally I think about downsizing from my current 840 sq. feet to the smallest one-bedroom apartment here, which is about 720 square feet. What keeps me from making the move isn’t the size, but the view I’d lose. I just can’t bring myself to give that up. Maybe it’s my inner Virginia Woolf. Remember that passage from “The Waves”, where she writes, “It is the panorama of life…seen from the third storey window that delights me”?

      At least that Harlem apartment has windows. The rent seems a little steep, but it is NYC, so there’s that. I happened across an article this morning that was sounding a cautionary note. Mental health experts are warning that ex-Mayor Bloomberg’s vaunted micro-housing (apts. of 250-370 sq. feet) could lead to depression, claustrophobia, alcoholism – probably Grinchiness, too, although that wasn’t mentioned in the article.

      Perhaps all that’s true.Then again, it’s possible today’s single young professionals are more delicate than folks like the Baldizzi family – or yours.


    1. eremophila,

      Just think – your snails don’t have to worry about such things. They carry their homes with them – and can estivate right where they are.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post – and gave me a chance with your comment to use my new word!


  4. A fascinating story and the pictures really give you a sense of that place, now gone. What you do there in your own abode to honor Christmas sounds Beautiful and so very Creative!
    Wishing you a lovely Holiday, my dear…..and look for something in your mail from The West Coast!

    1. OldOldLady of the Hills,

      The world is richer than we can imagine, and more complex. There’s always a discovery just around the corner, like your friend’s tile house. What a beautiful job you did of telling the story of that space!

      Of course, speaking of rich… If we decide we don’t like small, there’s always Chateau des Fleurs and its friends over in Bel-Air. Of course, only 40,000 sq.feet is living space – the rest is underground parking. My goodness.

      Every good wish to you for the holidays, and many thanks for the gift of your comments. I’ll drop a line when Santa gets here!


  5. Morning Linda:

    When we bought our home, thirty-three years ago, we planned it to be the right size for a family of four. Aura, myself and two siblings. The latter never materialized, so more than half of our house is empty.

    One bedroom was transformed into a home office, another is a guest room used by the Twisters when they stay overnight, and the third one is the master room where we manufacture our nightly dreams.

    Decorations are minimalistic, probably due to our roots. My wife and I are from humble countryside extraction, where less is better than more.

    Our Christmas decorations consist of a small wreath which we hang every year in our front door and a birthplace, “nacimiento”. to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. We are Roman Catholics, as most Panamanians are.

    Christmas is just around the corner, so this is as good a time as any to wish you a Merry Christmas and in addition to thank you for all your wonderful narrations and pictures you have provided us during the year. I can’t describe in printed words, how much we cherish them when they are released out into the wild from your computer to the outside world to see.

    Merry Christmas, my dear Linda.


    1. Omar,

      The good news is that you do have space for the Twisters to stay and to play – and room for you to play, too, now that I think about it! Your space isn’t empty. It’s just being used differently than you imagined, and that happens to all of us. After all, how could you have imagined the technological marvels in “your” space thirty-three years ago?

      I guessed and was right that your “nacimiento” is a nativity scene. I always regretted not bringing one back from Liberia. Perhaps one day. You can see a nice example here. One of my Italian friends has added to her “presepe” or nativity scene for years. It’s a wonderful tradition.

      Thank you for the Christmas greetings, and for your kind words about my efforts here. I’ve always said my readers are the best, and your encouragement has been a treasure.

      Best wishes to you and your whole family for a blessed holiday season.


  6. Your space sounds lovely. To the north is a view of the sea and sky, WOW! Knowing you I’m sure you are surrounded by beauty, the beauty of memories, the simple beauty of what’s useful and things that open your mind to weave such beautiful stories, reflections and crafted essays.

    Recently, it occurred to me to ask my mother to draw a map of her house on Baldwin Street. I saw it once from the outside, and she has referenced it so many times, I wanted to be sure I have her drawing as she remembers it. What struck me about her drawing was that her mother and dad had turned a large pantry into an eating space. Imagine a closet turned into a room. Yes, there was a dining room but according to her they preferred to eat together conveniently located in their kitchen in their small space.

    Once again, your title lured me in. Such a perfect one. Merry Christmas, Linda.

    1. Georgette,

      Now, I have to say that my water and sky isn’t precisely “sea” and sky. The water is the main fairway of South Shore Harbor Marina. It’s long and wide and uninterrupted until it reaches the townhouses on the other side, but it is “Clear” Lake, after all!

      On the other hand, my upstairs and downstairs neighbors and I are the only ones who have such unobstructed views. Other people overlook the marina, but they get to look at docks, boats or other buildings. This time of year, the moonsets are beautiful. The sun’s too far south to be seen now at sunset, but in the summer it moves far enough north that I get to watch it set over JSC.

      What a good idea, to have your mother sketch out her home. Are you writing down stories, too? I certainly wish I’d been more diligent about such things.

      As for turning a pantry into a breakfast nook – from what I’ve seen of some walk-in closets of late, they could make perfectly suitable bedrooms.

      When my folks built their house in the late 50s, they designed a pass-through bar between the kitchen and dining room with cupboards above. On the kitchen side, there was a row of drawers built into the bar. Then, just below, was a solid piece that could be pulled out to serve as a table. With only three of us in the family, that was where the bulk of our meals were eaten. Once we were done, we’d pick up the dishes and then shove the counter back in. I’ve never seen another one, but it was a wonderful space saver.

      There was one other thing my mother demanded and got. She wanted a pull-out block of wood about three inches thick, three inches wide and perhaps four inches long. It was for her meat grinder, of course!

      Oh, how I wish I could have some of our Swedish potato sausage for Christmas dinner. I should see if there’s a Swedish deli in Houston that makes it – I’m certainly not going to go to all that work!

      Merry Christmas to you and yours!


  7. I remember seeing Michael Wolfe’s photos of the residents and their apartments in Shek Kip Mei in National Geographic. It amazed me how organized the they were (they had to be!) and how much they were able to get into those small spaces.

      1. Gué,

        I did a little snooping around, and couldn’t find him in either place. Of course, it’s been some time since this project was completed, so I might have had to dig farther than I did. He certainly deserved to be in both places, as far as I’m concerned.

        Every time I go back to the photos, I notice something that I missed earlier. And the individual differences are so interesting. One thing that does strike me every time is the straightforward gaze of the people. For being taken so quickly and almost informally, the photos have the feel of formal Victorian portraits.

        I have a friend who keeps a big sign on her refrigerator that says, “Are You Ready for Michael Wolf to Show Up With His Camera?” Now, there’s a terrifying thought!


    1. You know, Steve – I hadn’t a clue, so I went looking. I discovered the popcorn industry actually got it’s start in Iowa, and developed there. In a nice history of the American Popcorn Company, makers of Jolly Time, there’s this.

      “During the 1930s popcorn grew in popularity because it was an inexpensive snack during economically difficult times, at the movies and at home. A ten-ounce can of Jolly Time cost ten cents, and popcorn could be enjoyed at home while listening to the radio. To promote popcorn as a snack, American Pop Corn offered an electric popcorn popper and a can of Jolly Time pop corn for one dollar, shipped anywhere in the country. Thousands of customers responded.”

      By the time I came along, sales had doubled and then quadrupled. I don’t remember eating much popcorn as a kid but I do remember that it had to be popped on the stove. When we weren’t stringing it at Christmas time, we were whining for red and green homemade popcorn balls. I wouldn’t mind one of those right now.


        1. What a great site. I will say that its recipes are a little too cutesy for me, but the science of “what makes popcorn pop” and the slow-motion videos were great. I notice they even include the fact that corn (maize) is a grass. I didn’t know that until rather recently, myself, thanks to Mr. Portraits of Wildflowers!

    1. Becca,

      Many of us do have more than we need. I’ve already done my year-end run through the house, looking at what’s really here and what needs to go elsewhere.

      It was a special pleasure to take the last of the superfluous Christmas decorations to the church resale shop this year. What remains either has memories attached or simply pleases me so that I can’t imagine being without it. It’s nice.

      There’s one possible exception to all this, of course. I’m not sure any of us ever has more Christmas cookies than we need!


  8. It is true that the amount of physical space isn’t the important gauge of happiness or spirit; its really the size of your heart and the warmth you create. Like the Grinch, we can be touched and allow our hearts to swell up a size or two!!

    Thanks for your sweet perspective…Merry Christmas!!


    1. Judy,

      It’s not the size of the space, or the number of the presents, or any of those things that the merchandisers like to tempt us with.

      Long before I heard of Dolly Parton, I knew the phrase “hard candy Christmas”. That’s what Christmas stockings were filled with – an apple, an orange, a handful of nuts, a candy cane, and a little bag of filled candies. We never thought we were deprived – it was just wonderful that Santa would think of us.

      Thank goodness for the Vermont Country Store, and their willingness to keep memories stocked on their shelves! Merry Christmas!


  9. Merry Christmas, Linda. Lovely ending sentences to wrap up a lovely post. You spread joy with your words. Have I thanked you for your gifts?

    1. Rosemary,

      Down here on the Gulf Coast, fog, drizzle, and early darkness are our signs of winter. If we can’t have a white Christmas, we’ll take a gray one. That kind of weather always makes me reflective – I’m glad you enjoyed the post’s ending.

      Actually, you have thanked me for my gifts in a way I didn’t realize until this afternoon, when I took out your watercolor again. I was so completely entranced by the acorns and leaves I missed your business card and note, which had dropped down into the pocket of the folder. Now I’ve found them, and can only say it was an absolute pleasure to go digging about in the woods for you.

      I do so love the ways the circle keeps turning, this leading to that, then leading back to this again. I’m anxious for the New Year to come. I’m ready to begin getting back in a routine and writing about some experiences that are just waiting – like our acorns.

      Merry Christmas to you, and the ones you hold dear.


  10. I’m looking forward to searching out Michael Wolf’s work — sounds fascinating.

    Several elderly friends have moved into small spaces and have had to make choices about what beloved pieces of furniture and belongings could go with them. It certainly makes me consider my own things in light of what may well be my future space. But, yes, there will always be room for Christmas. You are ready for Christmas.

    1. nikkipolani,

      It was such a trauma for Mom to make her first move, from Iowa to Kansas. From Kansas to Texas was easier, logistically, because so much already had been released. Unfortunately, the need to move a second time brought memories of the previous move and – well, you can imagine. But we found ways to adjust.

      Of course it’s impossible to consider space and Christmas without remember Madeleine L’Engle’s exquisite poem. I’m sure you saw that Arti posted it again, but it never can be posted too often.

      “This is the irrational season
      when love blooms bright and wild.
      Had Mary been filled with reason
      there’d have been no room for the child.”

      Merry Christmas to you and Roomie, and all who round your table go!


    1. Gary, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I’ve known of Michael Wolf for a couple of years, but he came to mind again when I read Josephine Baldizzi’s story, and the history of the Lower East Side tenements.

      To a certain degree, Josephine’s story was my mother’s story. I wish she’d been willing to share more with me than she did, but she felt the natural inclination of a mother to protect her child from unpleasant realities. I’m only glad I was able to keep her in her own home until those last weeks. It was worth it.

      At least now we have some delightful and more seasonal weather for these last days before Christmas. I hope all goes easily and well for your family – and Merry Christmas to you!


  11. I am happy with my home and the space I have. I can do almost anything I want. Not everyone has that, of course. I visited the 100×100 link and looked at all the pictures of those homes. Some were well kept and expressed some of the owner’s personality, it seemed. Others seemed to not know how to cope with the smallness. People usually make the best of their surroundings.

    Interesting and thought provoking post. You did good.

    1. Jim,

      The variety among the Shek Kip Mei tenants was intriguing, wasn’t it? I suppose it’s really no different than the variety among those of us in more fortunate circumstances. I have a couple of friends whose places are organized beyond belief, and some whose homes always look like a tornado’s just gone through.

      And of course the elderly or infirm are a special case. Many of them would keep their homes tidier, more pleasant, if only they could. Even I was abysmally slow on the uptake with my own Mom. I thought she just wasn’t being as diligent about keeping house, until the day came when I realized she couldn’t keep house as she always had.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have that excuse, yet!

      But you’re exactly right. People usually do try to make the best of their circumstances and surroundings – not to mention the events of their lives. I suppose the Christmas season’s a pretty good time to remind ourselves to support the ones who could use a little help.

      On another subject entirely, I just received notification from Stanford of their winter online courses. You can see the whole list here.
      I thought of you when I saw the first one, about forest monitoring. It reminded me of your post about the subject.


      1. ‘remind ourselves to support the ones who could use a little help’…is always good advice regardless of the season. Many more are slipping through the cracks these days.

        Those are some interesting courses in that list. I will bookmark that and look at it some more.

        Thanks for your excellent writing. Have a Merry Christmas.

  12. Linda, my friend, how often you write of exactly what I’m feeling. First of all, ironically enough, Kevin (of whom came the post with the fox and the bunny we both liked) was the first to tell me of these apartments that were 100 x 100. The concept has always fascinated me, because I am surely anti-American in so many of my points of view, size being one of them. I remember a trip in Italy, where families were settling in their seaside bungalows for their vacation. These bungalows held little more than two bunkbeds and a kitchen table, yet you never saw so much joy.

    I’m embarrassed by the gifts the children in my class give me. I bring them home and feel overcome by excess. I long for the simple, the minimal, the elegant and the meaningful in my life. Surplus is too much on so many accounts.

    The very beginning of your post reminds me of the girl in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. To get a tree, she and her brother stood without falling while a tree salesman threw a tree at the waiting children. It sounds horrific in the retelling here, but there’s something noble about earning a tree. I guess it’s something about appreciation that is lacking today.

    And, I think the space you described where your teak desk sits by your beloved window is just perfect.

    1. Bellezza,

      I’ve been enjoying myself after reading your comment, remembering the gifts I gave to my grade school teachers. It’s a little hazy, but I know that none of them was purchased. We gave homemade fudge, or woven hot pads – that sort of thing.

      What I remember above all is my mother suggesting that the gifts should be nice, but not so nice that they would embarass classmates who weren’t able to give so much. Can you imagine? Restraint, in order to prevent hurt feelings? It’s no wonder I sometimes feel as though I was raised in another world. I was.

      “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was one of my favorites. I read it for the first time on my grandparents’ front porch, in a wooden swing. I remember crying when I read about the tree-throwing. I thought that’s what my dad had to do to get a tree. (I was reading well ahead of my grade level at that point and occasionally misunderstood things.)

      I actually found a Brooklynite who’s posted that section of the book online, with the title “A Christmas Tree Grows in Brooklyn”. It’s far more touching now than it was fearsome then – I’m glad to have re-read it.

      Perfection’s hard to come by these days, but I hope your Christmas is as nearly perfect as possible, and that your beloved son is safe.


  13. Linda,

    You know, I studied urban sociology in my university days, and my masters thesis was on exactly this topic, and my findings pointed to the notion that density of living space was not the determining factor for life satisfaction (albeit I didn’t study HK as a specific example). Rather, it’s social interactions and relationships, a refutation of the physical and environmental determinism so prevalent during the 1960’s.

    While I was growing up in HK in that era, I was aware of all these government subsidized housing complexes which were called ‘estates’, no kidding, another more colloquial description was ‘pigeon hole residences.’ During that time in HK, those were solutions to many who were homeless or living in poverty (many had fled as refugees from the Communist take-over of Mainland China in 1949).

    You’d never know kids that came from such kind of social housing could have excelled in school and gone on to major universities in the U.S. That’s what HK was like, as long as you work hard, study hard, you could make yourself a bright future. And those government subsidized housing complexes were a ‘blessing’ to many, albeit after a while they too had become obsolete and were replaced by newer constructions. HK was a social model of public housing in its urban development, and most residents were grateful to have a place to call home.

    So your post is spot-on. What we need is not more things, but enriched social interactions and relationships. And Christmas is the best time to ponder relationship beyond the human level to reach into the depth of our spirit. God dwelling among us, so small a space, lowly and confining, a cattle’s manger. And from that tiny spot lay the source of boundless blessings. Thank you for a precious, thought-provoking piece.

    1. Arti,

      I’ve just spent some time trying to track down a quotation I believe to be from Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil”. I can’t positively source it, but this is what it says: “The difference between ten companions and one companion is not very great, but the difference between one and none is immeasurable.”

      I’ve heard it stated more simply as, “the difference between one and none is infinite”. Whether that’s true mathematically I can’t say. But when it comes to friendship, a room in which to live, family members to turn to or even a dollar in the pocket, it’s absolutely true.

      What the refugees in Hong Kong and the immigrants in New York experienced was that difference between having no place in the world to call their own and having at least one little corner of security and comfort. When you add to that hundred square feet of space the support of family, a network of neighbors, and the assistance of social agencies, success becomes possible.

      I think you’re right that the power of the nativity story lies, at least in part, in its ability to show us that our journey, too, has put us on the road and left us without lodging. Whether we believe it or not, the promise of the incarnation is that we never travel alone – that the infinite distance between one and none has been bridged.


    1. Merry Christmas to you, dear Nia. I hope your holidays are filled with good things – especially laughter and beauty. I think this next year will be a good one, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.


  14. It was nice to read your comment on my blog.

    I enjoyed your post very much – your narrative went so well with the photos. People can live in very small spaces and be happy. Here they are building huge McMansions – I wonder why houses need to be so large. We went to the Tenement Museum on Orchard St, NY, several years ago. We visited the German apartment. It was fascinating and difficult to be in such a small and dark place. I always plan to go back and see the other apartments there. I think being inside the tiny flat makes people realize the conditions immigrants had to live under – I wish more rich people who visit (wishful thinking I know.)

    I have been in very small huts in Senegal and Gabon (both in Africa) – very clean with happy families. Too many people are obsessed with always getting more and more – happiness is not made of “things.”
    May your Christmas be merry and 2014 a happy year for you.

    1. vagabonde,

      A friend lives in a Houston neighborhood where the small (and sometimes smaller) homes are being sold and torn down in order to build very large homes. Seeing a 1950s house being replaced wouldn’t be so bad, but in many cases the wonderful trees are being cut down in order to allow a larger house to expand across the whole of the lot. That seems short-sighted to me, but of course no one’s asked my opinion.

      There does seems to be a bit of a vicious circle in more affluent societies. We move to a larger space, and then fill that space with “stuff”. At that point, downsizing becomes more complicated because we have to figure out what to do with the “stuff” – all of which is important, necessary, possibly useful in the future and so on.

      Now we have people making quite good livings renting out space to people so they can store their extra “stuff”. In most cases, a simple dollars and cents approach ought to win people over to decluttering. The same person who pays a thousand dollars in space rental over a year often could replace everything in that space for $500. What people we are!

      It must have been so interesting to visit the Tenement Museum. If you do go back, I hope you’ll write about it. I’d love to visit there myself.

      A Happy Christmas to you, and all good wishes for the New Year.


  15. Life on a boat will certainly point out what is necessary to live – and enjoy it. (You must keep that view – otherwise you’d just find yourself perched outside somewhere all the time)

    I have a little bell from my mother’s tree – it’s a bit old and battered, but rings still. Life was different with construction paper and the battle of creativity on the block.

    Wonderful poem by Madeleine L’Engle.

    Merry Christmas and star bright!

    1. phil,

      Now you’ve got me laughing. I’ve been in the business too long – say “star bright” to me and the first thing I think of is Star Brite . My gosh. Not going to wish on those stars!

      I much prefer the stars, silence and solitude you mentioned on your blog tonight. I’m not traveling until Christmas day, so I’ll be working tomorrow and Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to it. Being on the docks rather than in a mall or on the road is just fine.

      Be sure and give your mother’s bell a few shakes this year in honor of George Bailey. We need to help as many angels as we can get their wings!

      Merry Christmas to you!


      1. I giggled over the Star Brite a bit. Will jingle that bell a bit. Travel safely. Had planned to meet you to empanadas or something – but kid’s sick again (long story, but toxic building event in Aug, had to go mover her, now possibly again – fill you in when you get back and have time.
        Keep an eye out for joy and wonders – you know they are waiting for you! Merriest of Christmas wishes

    1. Emily, this Christmas season must be so special for you. There’s a version of “In the Bleak Midwinter” that makes me think of you every time I watch it. You’ll see why.

      Enjoy, and Merry Christmas to you and your family.


  16. I live in a small space, too. Now that I’m used to this size I think I could go even smaller. There are smaller houses and apts out there waiting for me…

    I have a few things I kept that belonged to my mother. Christmas was her favorite time. But I don’t put her ornaments out. It’s still far too painful for me. I’d rather keep those things as memories- and I won’t give/sell those items to just anyone. It’s been a sad December so I look forward to the new year.

    Thank you for this post. I love the imagery of where you sit and your window. I miss living near open water.

    1. Martha,

      I suppose it was phil’s comment about boats that started me thinking about ways in which “smaller is beautiful” as we age.

      Most people I know who’ve been injured below decks while offshore in bad weather have been in larger boats, where they were tossed around. In a smaller boat, where you can hang on all the way through, it’s much safer.

      As I watched my mom age, I noticed that she tended to move around the perimeter of rooms, where she could either hang on or reach out to balance herself. Before she moved down here, when she still was living in her relatively large house, her falls always took place in the living room or other rooms where she was away from the security of walls and furniture. It’s an interesting issue to ponder.

      I think all of us have had a painful holiday season or two. I certainly have had mine – although enough time has passed now that I can tell the stories with a great deal of good humor and laughter. But through it all, I kept at least the tradition of the tree and ornaments. I like to think of the combination of my “tree of life” – and decorating is a wonderful time of remembrance. My very favorite ornament? Right now, it’s this one.

      Merry Christmas – you certainly have a white one!


  17. AS ALWAYS… What a beautiful, fascinating, and thoughtful story. Truly. Growing up in military housing — which at times involved trailers and sharing the same bedroom with my brother, sigh — I’m exceptionally grateful for my little living space. Always! Perspective is everything, and insight into others’ lives is critical. Thanks for this wonderful reminder.

    Blessings to you this holiday season; I hope that you and yours are kept safe and sound. :)

    1. FeyGirl,

      I gained a new appreciation for small spaces after Tropical Storm Allison, when so many of us landed in things like small RVs or campers in driveways while the reconstruction went on.

      Being an only child, I never had to share a bedroom, but that also meant I wasn’t fully prepared for the reality of room-mates when I went off to college. We’ll give you a gold star for sharing with your brother!

      One of the beautiful realities of the world is that the smallest spaces can contain the biggest hearts – that’s a perspective that we need to remind each other of, over and over.

      Thank you so much for your holiday wishes. I hope you have blue skies, bird carols and much love!


  18. Small houses are very popular these days among advocates of simple living. The houses favored by the “small house” or “tiny house” movement are usually between 100 and 400 square feet. Here’s the one Cherie wants us to build.

    Another one that’s getting attention these days is this 196 square foot beauty.

    When we built our house it was modest by comparison to those of my peers. Now I see it as a largely wasted space that we have to heat and air condition.

    1. Bill,

      Those are some lovely places. Coincidentally, I happened across this a day or so ago. It’s really quite wonderful.

      I do tend to daydream differently these days. The primitive cabin in the woods was wonderful, and still would be. Ten years down the road, or fifteen, I may view things differently. Young and strong in the woods is one thing. Elderly and less strong is another. Healthy and able to get out and about from a hundred square foot home base is one thing. Confined to that same space is another.

      Of course, learning to live gracefully and graciously with whatever our reality is, is the trick. That’s a life-long project, I suppose.


  19. When you picture a “writer” sitting at her desk, pecking away on the keyboard, do you see her in a huge room, at a huge table, a room adorned with high ceilings and a fireplace? I venture not. Even though my space is a little larger than 100 sq. feet, it’s exactly like your space. When I’m home, I spend about 90% of my time in this room. The only time I’m not in here is if I’m cooking, doing laundry or some chore outdoors.

    May I ask a question about the 10×10 apartments? Could they cook? And what kind of bathroom facilities did they have?

    Anyway, this is one of my favorite pieces, the list of which just keeps growing. I could picture your dining room work space, and the words sheepskin made me wonder what happened to the one my special son used when he was an infant . . . . I think my storage unit is about 10×10, and I’ve read stories of homeless people living in their storage units until they got caught and evicted. Wonderfully written!

    Merry Christmas, Linda.

    1. Bayou Woman,

      Here’s a series you may enjoy as much as I do – “Writers’ Rooms”. It’s compelling to be able to see both the variety of spaces other writers inhabit and to read their descriptions and reflections.

      I couldn’t find any answers about showers and such, but I’m assuming there were common facilities, much like a college dorm or some of the hostels I’ve stayed in. I think cooking in the apartments was common. If you’ll notice, there are some veggies on the floor next to the older man, up above, and as I looked through the photos I saw rice cookers, bowls with chopsticks and so on.

      While I was poking around I found an account of the damage done to three of the estates during Typhoon Sam, in 1999. Within six days, everyone whose apartment was rendered uninhabitable was in new quarters. Perhaps we should send a few FEMA folks over to Hong Kong, hmmmm?

      It’s not just the homeless who live in storage spaces. Some of the quirky do, too. There was a varnisher here who managed to evade the powers-that-be at a local storage place for months and months. He had all the comforts of home, including a little fridge and a place to cook. He went down to the library to use the computers. He’s gone, now. He met an Eastern European woman online, went over to meet her and got married. As far as I know, she hasn’t evicted him.

      Enjoy the festivities over the next few days, and give that special son of yours an extra hug for me.


  20. Very moving photos and description. It reminds me of a short, but wise saying. “if you lack what you need, use what you have” … I hope your Christmas is special.

    1. sherri,

      Our parents and grandparents were masters of doing just that. So were the people of Shek Kip Mei, I suspect, and refugees like them around the world. I watch the elderly learn to “make do”, and wounded veterans who are putting their lives back together. All of us have more than we imagine – it’s learning how much can be done with it that’s the trick.

      I’ll be in the Hill Country for Christmas, sharing it with friends who are lucky to be here, healthwise. That’s special enough for me.

      A beautiful and joyous Christmas to you!


  21. I’ve toured the huge mansions of New York and Rhode Island, and I’ve visited friends and relatives in their tiny apartments. Each has the same life at its core, except that one is inflated to make room for additional possessions, while the other is condensed to house the essential. In all cases, I imagine, I would be dwelling in the hundred square feet right around me.

    Thank you for another thought- and emotion-provoking post, Linda. And for mentioning the Tenement Museum. My family also emigrated to New York from Sicily in the 1920s, just as Josephine did. I intend to visit the Museum on our next trip there.

    1. Charles,

      Every home does have a “heart”, doesn’t it? In some its the kitchen, in some the family room, in some the “office” – whatever that means.

      I actually knew a woman years ago who lived in an affluent section of Houston, in a very big house.She ruefully complained that she and her husband were thinking of installing a communication system, as they so often “lost” each other among the rooms. I’m not sure constantly stumbling over other people would be better, but it couldn’t be any worse.

      I knew of your Italian and east coast roots, of course, but I didn’t know your family came from Sicily. I’m glad I chose Josephine’s story – and I’ll look forward to hearing about your visit to the museum, whenever it happens.

      Best wishes for a heart-warming celebration of the holidays. Here’s a song you won’t be hearing at the grocery! Enjoy, and Happy Christmas!


  22. What a fascinating glimpse into what can be done with 100 sq. ft. of space! Some folks pack every inch with “stuff,” treasures they can’t live without, while others know it’s not “stuff” that makes a space a home.

    Most people today, at least in this country, are convinced they HAVE to have much more space than that to live. Ginormous houses with impressive grounds go for a premium, and who gets to enjoy them but the cleaning lady and the landscaper?? Because the owners, of course, are working so they can keep up with the massive payments on their prize!

    Happy Christmas to you and yours!

    1. Debbie,

      Merry Day after Christmas! I’ve done a little traveling myself, a little celebrating and a little over-eating. It’s the holiday season, after all!

      You know, I think it really is a rule of the universe that “stuff” expands to fill the space available. Now that I’ve done so much culling to reduce the clutter in my life, I have empty space – and what a temptation it can be to start filling it up again. But of course, that would defeat the purpose – to create a little breathing room, to allow the truly important “things” to shine. I suppose it’s a continual battle for most of us.

      I just heard a story today about a couple who have a huge and quite beautiful second home near where I’m visiting. They come and spend time in it perhaps three of four times a year. The rest of the time? It stands empty, except for those who care for it. I’d not be willing to say they shouldn’t have it – and it does provide employment for several people – but still, it makes me pause.

      I hope your Christmas was wonderful. Safe travels – no lane cutting!


  23. I have more space than I need — and more furniture than I need (or use!)

    Oh, my mom has a “living room” too. A gorgeous couch and beautifully upholstered chairs — that nobody ever sits in. (It reminds me of the old Irish stories — the parlor was never used unless somebody died: that was where they laid family members out in their coffins. Family and friends gathered and carried the coffin to the church.)

    When she and dad were married, you had to have “good” china and crystal and silverware and nice table linens to entertain “properly” — She even has a silver tea service. I don’t begrudge her any of it. Considering where she grew up — on a farm with no electricity or indoor plumbing, sleeping two and three to a bed. My dad told tales of their family (four boys and a girl) having to move in with his grandparents who lived out in the country. Each of the children was given a row in the garden where they could plant anything they wanted. My dad planted popcorn. They made fun of him when it was planted, but they soon found out how filling it was when there wasn’t much of anything else.

    I need to downsize too. We can all live in less space if we organize it properly. Do a search on the internet for “Tiny Homes” or “Tiny Houses” — a lot of them are hand built, tiny and beautifully organized and cost ridiculously little to operate and maintain.

    1. WOL,

      I can’t begin to tell you how many discussions I had with Mom about using her “good” china, silver and so on. I understood perfectly well the desire to keep it, to preserve it, but it always seemed sad to me that she wasn’t able to fully enjoy it while using it. On the other hand, I did find a way to replace her first set of “real” china, piece by piece, and we did use that in her latter years, even though it was only the pattern and not the pieces that were the same.

      Funny that you should mention tiny houses. As I was driving I-10 from Houston to San Antonio, I saw a company that must be relatively new. It’s called Tiny Texas Houses, and it creates new, small living spaces from repurposed materials. I haven’t really looked through the website yet, but it looks wonderful.

      I had a friend in Kerrville who was a woodworker – he often made trips here and there to buy up old barns, outbuildings and such. He only bought good wood, especially cypress, and then built furniture from it. Looks like the Tiny Texas Houses people are using the same game plan.

      I hope you Christmas was fine,and that the weather was good. It’s been cloudy, hazy and gray in the hill country – so much so that every photo looks washed out. But, it’s still been fun, and the kitty-sitter says all’s well at home.


  24. I have always lived to the amount of space I have. This is not a good thing, not one of which I boast but a plain fact. As I look toward paring down (if for no other reason than to make the process easier in the future) I am touched by the memories of things — not the things themselves, so much. The person who gave it, the day I found it. One day I will be in that 10×10 room, give or take and what will be there with me?

    How you weave a story — one with a bit of a lesson, a touch of nostalgia, the introduction of something new. A beautiful post and timely for this day.

    I send you warm, lovely Merry Christmas greetings. I hope you are spending it with those who are special to you, who make or have made a difference in your life. Peace and joy in 2014.

    1. Jeanie,

      For my part, I hope your space, and your neighbors’, and Rick’s, all are warm and safe, with no tree limbs through the roofs or burst pipes. A white Christmas is lovely. A frozen-solid Christmas? Not so much. I just heard on San Antonio news that Michigan still is struggling to get power back. I hope it happens soon.

      It amazes me when I look at your trees to think that each decoration represents a memory. I’m not sure my mind is capable of so much remembering! I have touchstone memories, treasured memories, indelible memories, but I sometimes think I’ve reached a time in life where some memories need to be let go to make room for new ones.

      It’s been a good Christmas, albeit a quiet one. There are changes on the horizon, and it’s entirely possible some I shared this holiday with won’t be here next year. Age and poor health do take their toll, and being able to acknowledge that and still celebrate is one of the best gifts of all.

      Here’s to 2014, and all the changes we’ll make for ourselves!


  25. Linda, this is just wonderful. It weaves so many human threads together in the thematic tapestry of living and work space. By an odd synchronicity, I was so taken by the creative shambles of my own writer’s workspace this afternoon ( before reading your post!) that I took a photograph of it, and may now use it as part of a New Year post, inspired by this lovely, evocative piece of yours.

    My room is high up in our third floor tenement flat, overlooking the river. In the photo, you can see both my grandfathers looking down from the wall at my creative clutter. You can also see the road, glistening just now with rain, which weaves away from our street as it crosses the river below.

    I love my writer’s corner. Think I’ll finish that half-eaten biscuit now, drink the remains of the Earl Grey tea I made this afternoon, cold but still tasty in the bottom of my ‘i am quite unusually brilliant’ ( I wish!) mug, put out the light, and go to bed.
    Happy Christmas!

    1. Anne,

      It just occurred to me this morning that space alone isn’t the issue. The freedom to “create” one’s space is equally important. I’m tucked into a very nice motel room that has a good bit more space than my 10’x10′, but it’s almost unbearably sterile. Even the “art” that’s supposed to make it feel more welcoming, doesn’t. Perhaps we continually “grow” our space like a shell around us, with our little accretions making the space truly ours.

      You have a view, as I do. You have your grandfathers gazing down at you, just as I have my ancestors around me. And yet the feel of each space would be different – unlike these institutional rooms. It’s no wonder that good nursing homes and such make a point of encouraging family members to make those small spaces more personal. As with so much in life, it’s never just about the numbers.

      As a matter of fact, while I’ve had a good bit of fun doing research in this rented room in the evenings. I suspect that our “writers corners” support more creative endeavors to a degree we often don’t realize!


  26. A lovely and warm story, Linda! Seeing the photos of the HK one-room apartments, they look so tiny. Yet, if they are the 10x10ft size, then my space must look more spacious to me than in these photos. I measured the width of one room of my three-room apartment; just a couple of inches more than ten feet, the length being much longer, around twice that. The apartment is divided into two long tunnels — one being the lounge/dining and galley kitchen, the other the bedroom and bathroom. It was recently measured using a laser measurer and comes to 46 square meters; I don’t know what that is in feet.

    It used to be my mother’s unit and every time I visited it, I always thought to myself that it is a glorified coffin or bedsitter! LOL. Most first visitors’ comment is “This is small!” She had great taste and could have been an interior decorator and made the most of the space. Since moving in I’ve reduced the amount of furniture, so that it now does have more space and, maybe, that is what makes it feel a lot bigger than the HK units. Placement of items always makes a huge difference.

    Christmas this year has been displaying just a few obvious Christmassy things, but no huge tree (I’ve never personally had a proper tree in my adult life, mainly for the cost involved and disposal of it later). My small wooden tree, some baubles, a poinsettia doyly and, of course, the Christmas themselves all make up some colourful sense of the season. I like it just like that! Light streams into the lounge room and I can see the jungle that is my garden too. Home.

    Merry Christmas, Linda! :-P

    1. janina,

      That simple word – “home” – says it all. How we turn a space into a home is a matter of taste, effort, decision-making and time. Sometimes, it happens before we become fully conscious of what we’ve done – and then we realize how comfortable we’ve become in our little space.

      Furniture-culling took some time for me, but little by little, it’s happening. It took some time for me to realize, for example, that I wasn’t going to be hosting dinners for twelve any more, and I don’t need that huge table or all those chairs! Even at holidays, death and distance have made family gatherings far different than they were even ten years ago. The fact that “Christmas dinner” evokes memories of twenty adults and three children’s tables shouldn’t dictate my household arrangment!

      Like you, I depend on a few treasured items and bits of color to make things cheery and bright. My smallish artificial tree resembles a multi-trunked Texas hill country cedar – colored lights and ornaments from every stage and place of my life make it truly a “tree of life”. Nothing more is needed.

      Your home sounds quite lovely. I hope your celebrations were an equal delight. Now, it’s time to begin thinking of a new year!


      1. I’d love to see what a multi-trunked Texas hill country cedar looks like; it’s pushing the boundaries of my imagination, Linda! ;)

        Making our spaces comfy — I’ve moved around quite a bit and, each time, I seem to have divested myself of stuff I really don’t need or, perhaps, couldn’t fit into my new abode and, therefore, would sell those things, thinking that I could always buy again if needed. I ended up ‘travelling light’, literally and metaphorically. I felt so much better! So, once I’d moved into my mother’s unit (now my home), the most dominant part of my baggage used to be (no longer) my rather large library. I value books highly and the knowledge contained therein. I don’t like disposing of books, but when you don’t have the space, ya gotta! I still have some books, but at least I do have a local library I can borrow from, which I do frequently, and also a Kobo e-book reader, also loaded up with plenty of goodies to explore. As an ‘arty’ type, often in my homes I’d have a little nook with small knick-knacks and photos and cards of artful objects either sitting on my desk, or on a pinboard or stuck directly onto the wall. They are examples of what I like and who I am, I suppose. As they just landed where they did, without too much thought, they brought/bring a sense of coziness and friendliness that I know others feel, as they have said so.

        Now to your comment : “Just across the road in a local nursing home, residents are living out their lives in hundred-square-foot rooms, limited by age and illness as surely as residents of Shek Kip Mei were limited by poverty and displacement.” For 2014, the huge challenge for me will be to find a low-level aged care facility I can move into. Whether that will happen quickly, I can’t say, as often there is a long waiting list and for many years, where demand outstrips supply in this country. Referring to your comment, I’ve seen and been in a nursing home (only for respite) and was not impressed, for the place and what it must do to the residents! A tiny room, certainly not 10x10ft, no space for anything really, a prison cell. Downsizing one’s possessions to fit into such a space will be the hardest thing for me to do, but, then, I’m hoping it won’t be so bad (I’ve not seen any facilities as yet).

        Blessings on you for 2014, and good luck for the coming year. Cheers from Downunder! :0)

        1. Oh, those books! I’ve always loved books, but like you I’ve moved a good bit, and I finally got tired of toting all of them around with me.And there simply isn’t any reason to keep books in storage. Better they should go to someone who can use them. Besides – now I have room for the new books I’m enjoying!

          My mother always was torn. She thought she “ought” to go into a care facility, to make things easier on me. But, she didn’t want to make the move. We were lucky – it wasn’t always easy, but she was able to stay in her home until her last hospitalization. Being able to do so is the best reason I can think of to maintain good health.

          I can do without most things, but spare me the nursing home room I once saw – with a view of a brick wall. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, the elderly are still alive, and can enjoy sunshine and birdsong as much as anyone!

          We’ll see what the new year brings – I hope it’s good for us both!


  27. Beautiful stories (in each of these spaces) that made me reflect. Although my family and I have been living in a house with three rooms + living room, there is a particular place in the living room that I spend most of my time : the one with windows all around, a véranda, you could call it, I imagine. The landscape I see is made of houses on one side, fields and houses/farms on the South and forests on the North/West. What more could I wish for – but sea sometimes ;)

    The question of the space we inhabit is a very important one and I know that personally I could do with less, much less. Right now the Christmas Tree stands in the véranda bringing nature inside the house and shining warmly in the evening. A place I enjoy being in to write to you too. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

    1. Isa,

      I can see your tree in that space, having had a glimpse or two through the windows over the years. I have a friend who read your comment and suggested Tahiti as an option for both mountains and sea, but we agreed that snow would be in short supply in the South Seas, and that might be a disqualifier. Clearly, travel is the answer!

      I’ve been trying to think if there is any lack in my space, and the only thing I can come up with is in the kitchen. There’s enough counter space, but it’s chopped up into small segments, and I would enjoy one longer counter. Of course, I’ve made do without it for several years, so clearly such a redesign would be a luxury and not a necessity.

      And as I’m sure you know, the relationship of animals to their space is also interesting. Dixie Rose has specific places she enjoys, according to the season, and she has quite a routine: morning on the sofa, mid-day on a particular chair, evenings when I’m on the computer on another chair near to me. Clearly, the concept of personal space isn’t species-specific!

      I hope your Christmas was warm and delightful. I keep my tree up until Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, and I’m looking forward to getting home to enjoy it.


  28. Many thanks for this post – especially apt at Christmas, when we think about God embracing (a) precious little space.

    In our parts houses are getting ridiculously large, and our house from the 50s seems especially odd. We have not succumbed to the addition rage. Living in less seems to require a certain grace, as you note above, and grace never seems to be our first choice! But once we settle into it there is a pay off. I often think of how happy I am on my little boat. Having said that, I am sure its allure would lessen after an extended stay! A happy medium is always the best it seems.

    Hope you had a great Christmas! Allen

    1. Allen,

      The manger was small – no question about that. The stable wasn’t much bigger, and even the inn would have been modest by our standards. No matter. There was space enough.

      I met a fellow this morning who’s staying here in Kerrville with his young son. They’re spending the next week working on their sailboat at a nearby lake. It’s not a large boat, but they both were beaming at the thought of their chores. The dad said, “It’s not all that big, but it’s big enough for us.” There’s the secret, right there – figuring out for ourselves what our personal “big enough” might be. It isn’t always what “the world” tells us it should be.

      Christmas was quiet, and a good bit warmer and less harrowing than yours. We just were watching some footage on tv tonight. It looks like there’s still plenty of recovery to be done. At least you’re going to have a couple of days above freezing before the next blast arrives!


    1. Thanks, Andrew. I thought about you when I first came across Michael Wolf’s photographs. While not “street photography”, his images have a wonderful immediacy. They’re “real” in the most wonderful way.

      As for bringing all the elements together, it seems to me they beautifullly represent that old saying that “everyone’s gotta be somewhere”. All of these “somewheres” are memorable, and touching.


  29. It’s a magical part of being human—they way we carve out places where we feel at home. Right now, I’m at the Reading Center that is the Saturday morning coziness that lets me get online. The way the staff interact with one another and the patterns of sunlight that come through the windows are becoming more familiar each week.

    One of my New Year’s resolutions is to dig out of the mess I found when I started my new job and to make my cubicle Claudialike.

    When I look around my new home, it isn’t one house, but a box of chocolates holding individual treats—a kitchen warm and ready to cook in, a breezy patio with chipmunks falling out of the big bush onto my head, a welcoming bedroom that is always there for me at the end of the day.

    Linda, I wish you a great 2014 in your hundred square feet and in your traveling.

    1. Claudia,

      I’d trade a good bit for a home with falling chipmunks. Some people think double garages and in-ground pools are neat, but the world provides a good bit of entertainment all by itself.

      I’m curious about the Reading Center – is that another way of saying “library”? I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term – well, except for the Christian Science Reading Rooms. Whatever it is, it certainly sounds more appealing than Starbucks.

      The best internet café I’ve ever found is on the Frio River in Concan. The sign outside says “Beer, Ammo, Burgers, Internet Access”. There’s a huge oak tree with a picnic table and a even bigger satellite dish. It was great – and much more convenient than going down the road to the cemetery gate, where you can connect to Verizon.

      I never had to work in a cube, but it sounds like something I wouldn’t like one little bit. I can understand the impulse to personalize it somehow. I hope they give you some latitude. I have a friend who works in a place where nothing personal is allowed – no photos, no little coffee pot, no plants. I don’t understand the rationale, but there’s a good bit about corporate life I don’t understand.

      Well, off we go toward 2014. I hope the new year’s as warm and welcoming for you as your new house is!


      1. The reading center is considered a branch of the county library system. It has a limited collection and hours, but a lovely environment except for its lack of ammo, burgers,and beer.

        Now I’m wondering about your comment– does Verizon give you a better Internet rate when you’re dead?

        1. Oh! Now that I think of it… maybe they do. No, it’s just a fact of life once you’re really, REALLY out in the country. There’s no internet unless you have a satellite dish or find one of “those” places where the great internet gods allow signals to be received. At Concan, you either can go north about five miles to a county road intersection at the top of a hill, or south to the cemetery, which is about two miles. Or, you can go down to Uvalde to the internet cafe, where for $5/hr you can get a terminal and a cup of coffee. ;-)

  30. Very sobering, amiga; here I am wishing for an even-bigger studio, and I marvel at the challenge of tackling a large painting while confined to a small space like that. I think I’d switch to miniatures! but how would one capture the vastness of a towering tree?!

    I’ve missed reading your post and am glad to finally be home, slow internet and all!

    1. Z!

      Look at this! You’re home, connected and commenting and I’m the one who’s been out running the country and falling behind on all things interwebz-y!

      That’s an interesting question you pose, about the tree. On the one hand, we have Georgia O’Keeffe, who painted tiny, delicate flowers on large canvases. I wonder if there is anyone who’s gone the other direction, expressing “large” in a small way…? (Wait…let me go look…)

      Yes! I tracked down the work of Mark Reep, who shows in at least one of the same galleries as Gary Myers. I can look and look at his work – it’s astonishing to see the power conveyed by large subjects in small formats.

      I’m glad you’re home, and wish you all the best for the coming year. I’m anxious to see what projects you have simmering on the “back burner” – there surely are some!


  31. A fascinating post. I do so love a documentary ;)

    Hong Kong was part of Britain until the late 90’s – I think it came into our hands after the second opium war and a treaty with the Chinese. I mention this because this kind of social housing must have been part of a whole British policy at the time…it was a time of massive slum clearance and new housing estates all over the UK. The Hong Kong ones seem to have been more successful than many of the estates here…now these high rises are being pulled down to make way for more ‘user friendly’ housing…low rise or terraces which are associated with less social exclusion. I wonder if it is all a matter of expectation…why should they work in Hong Kong and not here? It could be cultural also…they may not have been 100% happy, but weren’t going to tell anyone official – like a social worker/photographer!

    I like your point though. It is possible to feel wonderfully enriched by things other than raw consumption. I saw an interesting documentary about Japan and how the birth rate is falling dramatically…the government is very worried. But is seems that an abundance of affluence (something all countries aspire to) and the predominance of computers has made young Japanese people (particularly the men it seems) very unmotivated to hitch up with the opposite sex – why bother, when you can have an online relationship! With an ageing population to support things are not adding up…other affluent economies are watching how Japan handles this phenomena. So, a bit of striving and hope for a better future seems to be what motivates human beings.

    Beautiful words and thoughts.

    Happy Twixtmas Linda – new word!

    1. thinkingcowgirl,

      I don’t know enough to comment on Hong Kong housing generally, but the original residents of Shek Kip Mei were refugees from mainland China, so I imagine they valued their new residences rather highly.

      The other thing that occurs to me is that there surely are cultural differences in play here. When I got to the Liberian bush, I didn’t have any problem with the food, the lack of electricity, or the modes of travel. But my expectations regarding privacy took quite a hit! I suspect that residents of the Hong Kong housing estates might be more comfortable with less privacy, too – that would make a difference.

      I did get caught up in reading about how the needs of residents were met after a couple of serious typhoons damaged the housing. The resettlement was fast, efficient and relatively trouble-free. We should be so lucky here! I do think the quality of life in such projects depends to a degree on the quality of the supporting bureaucracy, too – another place where we could use a good deal of improvement.

      Your comments about Japan are interesting. There are some real parallels there with the problems emerging with the structure of our new health care debacle system. The expectation was that young, healthy people would sign up, and that their premiums would help support older and less healthy people. It’s not working out so well right now. Time will tell how it finally shakes out.

      In any event, we have a fresh new year waiting in the wings. Best wishes to you all – sing a chorus of Auld Lang Syne to the girls for me!


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