After twelve months, one broken dishwasher, and thirty dinners burned in a temperamental oven, we moved across the street from one rental house into another. This was June 28, 2014. I was six months pregnant with our second baby, and spent the day pulling a haphazardly packed radio flyer wagon between the two houses. Back and forth, back and forth. Between the pregnant lady pulling dishes across the street in a child’s toy and a small crew of people carrying couches and tables from one driveway to the other—we collected quite a few stares from neighbors walking their dogs.
I remember hitting 15,000 steps on my Fitbit that day and earning every slice of pizza I ate that night. As I waddled from room to room, shuffling belongings and mapping out artwork for each wall in my head, I stopped in the hallway and noticed, for the first time, the ceiling fan in what would be our new bedroom.
I hated it.
I realize “hate” is a strong feeling to associate with something as trivial as a ceiling fan, but this is not a lie nor an exaggeration: every single day I looked at that fan, and every single day I thought about how much I didn’t like it.
This continued for 912 days.
Our bedroom is bright and modern, and probably my favorite room in the house. Our furniture is white and our bed frame is grey and when of all the clothes are picked up off the floor, this bedroom serves as an adult respite from the rest of our toy-littered home. The white tufted duvet comforter was a bit of a risk considering the ages of our children, but we’ve managed to keep it (mostly) untainted with regular washings. Every afternoon around 4pm, light dances across the wall where I’ve taped a few family photos next to the large mirror that hangs above our dresser. My favorite necklaces dangle from a birdcage jewelry hanger on the adjacent wall, and there are a number of candles around the room that I light regularly when I’m reading or writing in bed. The sliding glass doors open to the corner of our backyard, giving me a perfect view of the kids releasing their pre-dinner energy on the trampoline while I fold laundry or read a magazine on the floor.
The ceiling fan, by contrast, is dark brown with a yellowish frosted light fixture and brass details. On its best day, it looks like it belongs in the “free” section of Craigslist. This house was built in 1973, and while much of it has been updated—like the laminate floors and quasi-modern kitchen cabinets—there’s still plenty of 70’s charm, like the vintage tile in the entryway, the blue and white checkered countertops in the bathroom, and the stone fireplace. I actually adore those details, and think they give the house a ton of character.
But there’s “charming” and there’s “ugly” and I’ll let you guess which category the ceiling fan falls under.
When you walk down the hallway, the doorway of our room becomes a frame, positioning the fan as the main subject. Everything else in our room is bright and luminous, but because the ceiling fan is dark, your eyes are drawn to it, like a real life What Doesn’t Belong game.
Not one to keep opinions to myself on the subject of home decor (or anything, really), I complain about the fan incessantly to my husband.
It’s just … awful.
That fan hurts my eyes. Doesn’t it hurt your eyes?
Will you take a picture of me and the kids right here? Make sure you crop out the fan.
I plead for a new one. A new fan, a new light, heck we could swap it out for a hanging lightbulb and I’d be thrilled. I need to get my husband on board because when it comes to spending any significant amount of money on something house-related, both parties need to agree. Also: I need him to play handyman and actually take the fan down.
The problem is—my husband doesn’t care about the ceiling fan. At all. To him, it is not an eyesore. It is a functional light and fan. And of course, his main argument: This isn’t our house. We don’t own this home. We rent this home. Why on earth would we use our own money to improve a light fixture that isn’t broken?
He says this calmly and matter-of-factly, which only makes me more angry.
“BUT WE LIVE HERE!” I yell one day in the middle of the same argument we’ve had 20 times. It’s become apparent that if the house belonged to us, he would have signed off on this swap a long time ago.
“I wake up in this house every day,” I persist, “I take care of our children in this house every day. I stare at that stupid ugly ceiling fan EVERY SINGLE DAY and I hate it!”
His eyes widen, not sure what to do with the adult tantrum I am throwing. I rub my temples, also not sure what to do with the big emotions I feel over something as stupid as a ceiling fan.
That is, until I realize my feelings have nothing to do with the ceiling fan at all.
Once upon a time, we put a 20% down payment on a brand new house. The year was 2006 and if you have any experience with real estate in the last decade or so, you know exactly how that story ends. The housing bubble popped, 3.1 million foreclosures were filed, and homes all over our neighborhood became vacant.
In that sense, we were lucky. We both had stable jobs. We did not lose our house, and were able to refinance before eventually doing a short sale in 2013. After living there for seven years, our house sold for 43% less than what we paid for it. Ouch.
I will never forget sitting on the couch with a real estate agent, going over our options:
Get out now while you can.
Stay in this house for another 10-15 years.
We had never planned to stay there forever—in that exact house or even in that exact city. We lived in a small two-story house with zero lot line and no backyard, 50 minutes away from my husband’s job. We had never planned to grow a family there.
We did not take the decision lightly. We talked to our parents, a real estate agent, and even our CPA. Everyone agreed: this sucks, but you should get out while you can. Rent for a few years, rebuild your credit, buy again when you’re ready.
Between our original down payment and the equity we had accumulated, we lost over $105,000 in that home. Just like that, poof. Gone with the swipe of a signature.
We’ve gone over it time and time again: where did we go wrong? How did this happen? How could we have prevented it? How could we have known? We were so young—why did we feel pressured to buy a house in the first place?
I occasionally think about the money lost and sigh a big sigh when I picture a hundred thousand dollars being flushed down a gigantic toilet, but the truth is: I still don’t regret getting out of that house. We now rent in a beautiful neighborhood. A dream neighborhood that we could never afford to buy in, actually. We live on a sweet street with good neighbors and incredible sunsets. I made a new best friend who lives five minutes from this house and I don’t think that would have happened had we not moved here. We found an incredible church. Our kids are enrolled in neighborhood public schools that we love. We live two minutes away from the pediatrician, dentist, and Carson’s eye doctor.
Speaking of Carson, we brought him home from the hospital to this house. Everett learned how to ride a bike on the sidewalk of this street. The very first copy of The Magic of Motherhood that I held in my hands was delivered to this porch. We are racking up memories like a wedding bar tab.
And I guess that’s why I struggled with the ceiling fan so much. It reminded me, day after day, that this house is only a placeholder.
But the thing is: I don’t think of this house as a placeholder.
This house is not an in-between for me; it’s not a stepping stone to a bigger, better house with our name on the deed. This is the house where we’ve been fortunate to live for three and a half years, and it’s been good to us. It’s the only house Carson knows. Coffee + Crumbs was launched here—three days after we moved in—and grew beyond my wildest dreams under this roof. These walls have kept us safe and warm and provided space for thousands upon thousands of memories.
I’ve spent so much of my life waiting for the next big thing—waiting to graduate, waiting to get married, waiting to have kids, waiting to have the life I've pictured since I was 12.
And now look at me. I graduated, got married, had two kids, found my dream job, and this stupid ceiling fan is still taunting me every day: you’re not there yet.
After living in this house for 912 days, I made a proposition to my husband, Brett. One of my business credit cards accumulates cash back rewards, and I had been saving them for a rainy day. I offered to transfer that money into our checking account, get permission from the landlord, and order something new. I’d do most of the legwork; I just needed him to remove the fan and install whatever I bought.
Amused, he agreed.
Twenty minutes online, one secure checkout, and seven days later, we had a gorgeous new pendant sitting on the porch. He swapped it out in a single afternoon.
I could not believe the difference it made.
“I LOVE IT SO MUCH!” I said over and over again, fifty times the following week.
“Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Doesn’t it make such a big difference?”
“Doesn’t it look SO GOOD?!”
Brett didn’t even try to play it cool—he wholeheartedly agreed.
In the end, this story isn’t about a ceiling fan.
It’s about putting your feet on the ground in your very real circumstances and treating every part of this one and only blink-of-an-eye life like a gift to unwrap.
Maybe you also have an ugly ceiling fan in your life, or something else you’ve been waiting to change. Maybe you thought you'd be married by now, but you're not, so you’ve never taken the time to learn how to cook because you eat alone most nights. Or maybe you’ve got a dress hanging in your closet, but you’re waiting to lose five pounds before you let yourself wear it. Maybe you’re only going to be in the city you live for two years and it seems dumb to invest in friendships when you’re just going to leave anyway. Maybe you rent your house, and haven’t bothered to hang pictures on the wall because what’s the point? Maybe you want to write, but you’re waiting for your kids to get older so you have more time.
More time. Less body.
When I, then I’ll.
Wait. Wait. Wait.
Do you ever get sick of waiting for your life to fall into place?
I mean, what if you learned how to cook for one right now? What’s the worst that could happen? You’d nourish your body with a home cooked meal that you made with your own two hands. What if you wore the dress today? Do you think you might feel beautiful in it anyway, just as you are? Is there any harm in making friends, even though you’re going to move in two years? Do you believe friendships—even the ones that don’t last forever—are wasted? (I don’t.)
So maybe today is the day.
Maybe today is the day you start to write. I can tell you from experience that you’ll never regret writing a story down, but you will definitely regret letting one fade from memory. Maybe today is the day you hang pictures on the wall and finally take that hideous ceiling fan out of your room, even though someone else technically pays the mortgage.
(Oops, there I go again.)
Like I said, this story isn’t about the ceiling fan.
It’s about fully embracing where you are—right here, right now, in this place—and believing that you can find holy and sacred and extraordinary goodness even in the most temporary of circumstances.
After all, this side of heaven is one big placeholder already. A speck in the universe that God has graciously filled with sunrises and tulips and coffee creamer and capiz shells.
We might as well enjoy the blink, and add a little bit of beauty wherever we go.