My contractor barely touches the basement wall and it crumbles.
In this season of gratitude, be sure to thank your home. The walls reflect who and what you love. The roof protects you. The floor keeps you balanced. The windows invite adventure.
Sometimes, we have to see our home with new eyes to appreciate what we have.
For the last five months my husband and I lived with our daughter and her family while the foundation of our condo was being replaced — not repaired, replaced.
The building is 36 years old. When the original foundation was poured, the cement contained pyrrhotite, an ingredient in some soils that, over time swells, cracks, and turns to powder. Imagine placing the palm of your hand flat against your basement wall and the wall crumbles like an overbaked cookie.
Now you might be thinking, well, if the walls were literally crumbling, why wasn’t the building collapsing? It was. Reports of crumbling foundations in Connecticut started in 2015. Some homes were so bad, town inspectors declared them unsafe and condemned the buildings. The owners were forced to move out.
Of course, all buildings settle over time. Vertical cracks in a foundation are not unusual and, usually, are not cause for alarm. But when those cracks widen, enough to insert a human hand, well, that’s a problem.
With pyrrhotite, the hallmark is the horizontal crack. These thin, hairline fractures might be hard to see in the beginning. For one thing, most of the foundation of a building is below ground level. You’d notice the cracks from the inside, unless, like us, you had a finished basement.
Instead, I noticed that closet and cabinet doors wouldn’t close. Deadbolt locks wouldn’t engage. When my husband left the water running in the bathroom sink, the sink overflowed, spilling water only to one side, running at a tilt through the bathroom into the bedroom. The backsplash behind the kitchen sink separated from the wall. The whole wall bowed. A fiberglass bathtub cracked.
The process of arranging for my condo building to be repaired is a story all its own and not one I’m recounting here. This is about my home, my physical home.
I believe in the power of place and the ancient view: As above, so below. As within, so without. I see my condo as a living entity that reflects what’s happening in my life.
Back in 2016 when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I immediately made a plan for how I would tackle the disease. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could no more contain my husband’s decline than I could keep the doors of my kitchen cabinets shut.
For a year or so, I watched my language, being careful not to use the word “Alzheimer’s” with anyone other than family and close friends. I didn’t want to be faced with questions I didn’t want to answer. All too soon, it became evident to anyone who spoke with him for more than a few minutes that he wasn’t, as the phrase goes, in his right mind.
My social worker, Amanda, encouraged me to use the words “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s.” She said doing so would make it easier for me to find kindred spirits. And besides, I couldn’t keep the truth locked up, just as I couldn’t lock my back door. As the condo building slowly tilted, the components of the deadbolt lock refused to line up. In the last year before the foundation was replaced, my own contractor came six times to readjust the lock.
In the metaphysical world, water is the element of emotions. If you read my previous article, the one based on episode 54 of my podcast, Ritual Recipes, you know that it took me more than two years to accept the facts that my husband has Alzheimer’s, that the disease is fatal, and that there is no cure. About the time I made peace with that reality, my husband left the water running in the sink of the upstairs bathroom. I was downstairs. It wasn’t till I carried a basket of clean laundry upstairs that I heard the sound and saw the river. It was a trickle compared to the flood of emotions I let go!
I have a little cottage style kitchen with “little” being the important word. It works for me, especially because the window over the kitchen sink aligns beautifully with the path of the rising moon. I didn’t know that when we bought the condo. At the time, I was drawn to the nature center right across the street.
About 15 years ago, we did some minor renovations. I had the cabinets resurfaced with a chalky white ceramic glaze. I had the countertops replaced with a deep, forest green granite, and had a new backsplash of white textured square tiles. Every now and then, instead of a plain white tile, I have a decorative tile of variegated red and pink geraniums with variegated green leaves. I love those flowered tiles.
In the mystery tradition I belong to, the essential oil of rose geranium is used in initiation. That’s because initiation is often held outdoors, at night. The essential oil of rose geranium is well known for helping repel ticks.
The calk between the tiles and the granite cracked. The wall right behind the sink bowed. I have a black wrought iron baker’s rack near the sink. The rack is filled with plants. I know from experience that when a plant outgrows its container, the container can break. Six months ago, I would look at that bowed wall and think about how my husband’s Alzheimer’s has forced me to grow. I look at the geranium tiles and feel that I’m being initiated into a new reality.
Now that the building has a new foundation and the building sits as it should, I’ve had the deadbolt on the back door adjusted again. The lock was jammed so tightly, the contractor had to use a crowbar to open the door so he could get to the lock. It works fine now. I feel secure again.
I had a few plumbing issues that had to be addressed right away. Those have been taken care of.
I can replace the calk between the kitchen tile and the granite. The problem now is just cosmetic.
The biggest physical change is that I no longer have a finished basement. My ritual room is gone, as is my sewing room, the cedar closet, and my husband’s work bench. Rooms that held important parts of my life have been demolished.
I’ve been working on a new floorplan. I won’t be able to afford to renovate the whole basement yet. So I’m starting with one 8×7 nook. It’s going to be my podcast studio. Sometime after the first of the year, I’m launching a second podcast called “My Spouse Has Dementia.”
In the meantime, here’s a simple Thanksgiving ritual to awaken and deepen the connection to your home.
Carry a pretty bowl that will fit in the palm of your hand. Fill the bowl with water. If you want, add a few drops of essential oil. My go-to is always frankincense.
Walk through each room. Look at your walls. Do they hold art? Maybe something you purchased while on vacation. Something you made. Or something made for you by someone you love. Maybe you have a homemade growth chart showing children’s names and ages. Maybe your walls are bare, giving you space to breathe.
What color are your walls? How does the color make you feel? Are you happy with the choice you made? Are you eager for a change?
Moving clockwise around each room, stand before each wall. Use your fingers and sprinkle a few drops of water on each wall and especially into the corners. As you do, say: Thank you, walls, for providing structure, shelter, and a sense of security.
In every room that has running water — kitchen, bathroom, laundry room — turn on the water and say: Thank you, water, for helping me get in touch with my deepest emotions.
Walk barefoot through each room. Stop for a moment. Feel what’s beneath your feet. Wood? Carpet? Tile? Stone? Be aware that a major energy point is the ball of your foot, right where the ball meets the arch. Called the kidney point, it’s a hub of energy for your whole body.
For years, my daughter practiced reflexology. She told me some cultures believe the spirit enters the body through the kidney point on the feet. I immediately thought of the footprints on birth certificates. Yes, they’re for identification purposes. I think those ink prints also show an energy portal.
You don’t have to believe that to get the benefit of grounding your body by feeling the connection between your feet and the floor. As you do, move your body, dance, or just bounce. And say: Thank you, floor, for always supporting me and helping me stay grounded.
You can expand this ritual to acknowledge other parts of your home:
- The kitchen stove: Thank you for enabling me to create nourishing meals.
- A bookcase: Thank you for holding knowledge and entertainment.
- A desk: Thank you for working with me to manage my household. Or, Thank you for supporting my creative work.
- A bed: Thank you for the healing sanctuary of sleep. Or, Thank you for this oasis of passion.
- A mirror: Thank you for reflecting what I need to see.
As you can imagine, this could be a long list! What’s important is that you realize your home and the items in it have energy. Thanking everything you put on the list can give you a new perspective about where you live.
You can do this ritual over any number of days. You can make some aspects of it a daily practice.
Take this ritual to the outside of your home. Acknowledge and thank whatever plants and trees are growing near you. Do they have a connection to mythology? Are they known for medicinal properties? For me, that means: Thank you, weeping cherry, for reminding me that both joy and sorrow are part of life.
Unless you’re Native American, you aren’t descended from the original stewards of the land you live on now. Acknowledge those First People. How? Sprinkle a pinch of cornmeal outside your front door and acknowledge those who came before you. For me, that means: I stand on the land of the Podunk tribe. I honor your ancestors. Help me care for this land as you once did.
Travel has become increasingly difficult for my husband. So this Thanksgiving, our daughter, son-in-love, and grandson are coming here. Gathering with family and friends is always special. That’s true whether everyone is seated at one dining room table or feasting on scattered card tables and tv trays.
However you celebrate the holiday, think about how the energy in your home can foster creativity, provide security, support healing, create a sense of peace. If you haven’t thanked your home for all it provides, now is a good time.
One last thing. If you do use essential oils in the ritual I described earlier, do a sprinkle test on an inconspicuous place on your wall first!