December 15, 2011
We asked Sandy Foster, the curator of a simply wonderful design website, My Shabby Streamside Studio, to do a blog this year as she had done last December to share with us what the holidays mean to her.
Her articles here on TWE are very popular, and we thought our audience would be interested in hearing from her again. As always, times change, things happen, and life can gobsmack you. Here’s her story this year…
By Sandy Foster/December 15, 2011
Stars. Sparkle, glitter, dreams, fire, light. Last Christmas, my life was starry as a clear sub-zero winter’s night in the Catskills.
This Christmas, my life is as dark as a grave.
– I’m divorced
– my new unfinished house which was a real house and not my little shabby streamside studio where you see me above burnt to the ground just before Thanksgiving
– the homesteading book about it and my once enviable life obviously is nixed
– my Maltese dog Belle is dead
– I’ll see my 3 babies – my dogs – for a few hours in December
– I paid $600 for dental work for my Maltese Zuzu
– and $900 in car repairs
– I gained 10 pounds
Without my old dreams, I’m disoriented. Without a home, I’m dispossessed. Even though my husband and I parted ways, I’m still missing my dearest friend.
The last ten years of my life were spent working two full-time jobs that were a four hour drive south from the Catskills so I could arrive where I was last year: a simple life without a mortgage. I put my dreams of being an author/stylist/ photographer on hold while working good (but unfulfilling) jobs with benefits.
I was homeless as a teen. All I’ve ever wanted was a little refuge to call my own. I built it; I unexpectedly got a lot of press on it. My dreams finally were coming true.
A scintillating new career was just beyond reach. Most ‘ditch the city for the country’ stories you hear about are of well-heeled individuals that left six-figure jobs or sold six-figure homes. I wasn’t one of them.
My refuge in the form of a real home is like a flake of down in the air. The moment I reach it, it sidesteps away. I’m not materialistic; I’m proud to own few possessions; but my sentimentalism for some makes it difficult to accept their loss.
This lantern’s light once lit our table at our wedding, then our little campsite on our honeymoon in the Catskills. I used it in the very first magazine feature I sold. I lost five matching 19th century porch columns I bought for $25 at a yard sale. It will cost me $380 at a salvage yard to replace them.
“I see light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s always dark.”
It looked like a tiny house for tiny money, but I was going to be able to live there. I make tiny money. A host of practical reasons existed for where I sited the new place, the top two being accessibility and indoor plumbing.
For me, the fiscal setback is monstrous, especially in light of the fact I need $7,000 in photography equipment and a $5,000 credit card is maxed. That’s where I’m at.
So, I’m living with Mom, looking for a night job. I seek the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s always dark. Holiday scenes that once inspired me pain me. Christmas music guaranteed to cheer me saddens instead.
I visited my original studio on the hill to get a few shots for a magazine feature. The old comfort is there, and irony.
Like millions worldwide, I wish I could live in it. I’d never afford the additions necessary and a new septic system making minimum wage.
Like the Grinch, my “heart is full of unwashed socks.” (Last year, I wrote a bubbly post here to be understanding of Grinches.) The spark of creativity in my heart doesn’t ignite. I’m uninterested in designing vignettes and shooting. Or even putting up a tree.
“…their burning passion for what they do heated my blackened heart.”
Neil Peart wrote of losing his daughter, wife, dog, and career in his memoir Ghost Rider, and one passage stays with me. It goes something like this: In the West, we say, “once burnt, twice shy.” But in Africa, they say, “wood once burned is easier to light.”
Another great Canadian writer’s final sentence in her novel Cat’s Eye stays with me as well. Referring to stars, Margaret Atwood wrote, “It’s old light, and there’s not much of it. But it’s enough to see by.”
I go out in the warm un-Christmasy evening. The sun, our nearest star, sets. It is cloudy. Stars can lead us home if we navigate by them. I cannot see the stars. I am lost. I know they’re still there. But I’m still lost.
I return to the place in the woods where three mere weeks ago I cut larch branches for holiday styling and shooting.
They burnt along with my house. There are more branches. Their seeded cones are lovely along the dainty twigs. I remember some seeds need fire to germinate. I weep.
A few days ago a star appeared. A design star. A prominent author/stylist/photographer contacted me to be in her upcoming holiday book. Another star friend (also doing a book) commented on my blog, and we got to sharing, too. Their compassion buoyed me; their burning passion for what they do heated my blackened heart. And it’s lit anew.
I review the pictures in the first magazine feature I sold, pictures taken last Christmas. The style is ultra frou-frou to suit that magazine. The woman behind the lens was so hopeful someone would want the story. I cringe remembering my excitement imagining myself reading the article as I am now, because I assumed a sweeter life surely would come with it.
In the images I see a silly, pink, happy sappy fantasy Christmas. I actually smile. I get an idea for another feature. Now I know I’m on the mend.
Credit Photos of Sandy on the porch with her doggies: Todd L. Foster