Considering Cottages

Updated: May 14, 2020

A cottage best expresses what is conjured up in my imagination when I hear the word home. A cottage is hidden away, it’s safe ~ always beautiful in the way it is surrounded by vining blooms ~ and comfortable, because it’s small but just the right size. In the world of fantasy a cottage is home to Elizabeth Goudge’s heroines and J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits, but in reality it is a small modest dwelling for working class commoners. A cottage hangs suspended somewhere between fantasy and reality. It is both magical and common ~ a place where beauty and life is cultivated; gardens are tended, books fill shelves, visitors are welcomed ~ all the goodness of life lived simply and yet extraordinarily in a cottage.

“The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

Robert Lewis Stevenson

A real cottage is where I found myself after three years of marriage. It was only temporary. The first few years were spent surviving the early years of child rearing. Our first son was born abroad two years earlier and we soon added a daughter to the eight-hundred fifty square feet of back house. It was ok - until it wasn’t. About the fifth year my heart began to grow restless. The temporary arrangement was looking more permanent. Our third son joined us after year eight and it became clear that something had to change. It wasn’t that I needed more space or even a different space but my heart’s struggle to embrace our God given circumstance needed to find rest. I wanted to dream again and bring beauty right where I was but I didn’t know how to start when reality felt anything but inspired.

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”


Books taken off my own bookshelves, collected at first for my kids, where a part of that embrace. I have always been a collector, a blessing and a curse, of things that tell stories. I traveled quite a bit before marriage and loved finding treasures at foreign antiques shops, flea markets and sidewalk art/book stalls. But books were only a thing of beauty because of what they were outside ~ not for the gift of what they were inside. I am a late bloomer in the reading world, but I found this world to be a welcoming one. During three months of bed rest in 2009, I met a kindred company of fictional characters that shared so much of my heart and mind. In the stacks on my bedside table Chaim Potok, Gene Stratton-Porter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Florence Barclay and C.S. Lewis told me tales that assured me I wasn’t alone. God used those stories to reach deep into places I didn’t yet know were in need of healing and gentle altering.

By wisdom a house is built and by understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with every precious and beautiful treasure.

Proverbs 24:4

Soon after I began healing from my bed-bound ailment I acquired, in the words of Mary Lennox {The Secret Garden}, “a bit of earth“. It was literally that; a patch of dirt on the side yard, a few yards along a pool fence that separated us from the big house and new life in the form of a garden began. A rambling rosebush, fragrant lavender bushes, red geraniums in wood barrels, happy zinnia, dreamy dahlia, winding nasturtium, climbing bougainvillea, quintessential foxglove, I learned their names and they became a part of my days. Then came fruit trees, lemon, orange, pomegranate to add to the plum, apricot and apple already existing on the property. It was seven years into living at the cottage before we started planting or tending our garden, but each Spring following became a new adventure Of creative expression. I took literary cues for my garden choices, flowers or shrubs mentioned in books. Sometimes I took note of varieties from trips we'd take as a family and include them as flourishing reminders of joy. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing as a gardener, but being outside working towards creating something beautiful brought peace and contentment. I found being among my new garden friends and enjoying the surprises of beauty they yielded all year long planted hope so much disappointment had taken root.

“Your own life seems to you like a very small lighted room, with darkness all around it, and you can’t see out into the darkness and know what is happening there. But light and warmth from your own room can go out into the darkness if you don’t have the windows selfishly curtained, keep a brave fire burning, and light all the happy candles you can.”

Gentian Hill, Elizabeth Goudge

When “cottage” no longer was my shackle, the “less then”, the “not enough” it became the place where I began to flourish. I began to see the treasure of small spaces, the gift of the garden, the anticipation of a classic novel at bedtime, and the beauty of a simple but extraordinary life. After eleven years, I could finally see more of what the cottage was and not what it wasn’t. Cottage Bookshelves was an Instagram account I started as a project to document some of the treasure I found in books, in the garden and in the seemingly endless days of a life ~ which is very much suspended somewhere between reality than fantasy when Hope and Grace are present. It was stepping back to consider how the bookshelves of my mind grew with thoughts greater than myself and continues to grow.

“Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, 'a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.“

The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien

We moved from our cottage almost two years ago. Eight hundred fifty square feet has become twelve hundred and from a quiet suburb neighborhood to an urban city downtown. Our current house is one hundred years old but full of Craftsman character. This home, our new “cottage”, still has plenty of inadequacies. I am a slow and over contemplative learner but I am seeing that just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder so is every perfect gift. It is not always in the package of perfection and idealism, but is certainly from above. The cottage has come to represent a beautiful gift, hidden then found once I beheld its beauties within and without. So my eyes are opening now, seeing the gift, looking for beauty. My hope is that this home would be a safe place ~ beautiful and comfortable ~ suspended somewhere between reality and fantasy, filled with good things to pour out. And though I’d rather tell you all about the journey over a cup of tea and something delicious, I am grateful that you'd sit through my rambles here, thank you!

Some family favorite cottage picture books:

Badger’s New House by Robin Muller

Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem

So Many Bunnies & One more Bunny by Rick Walton

Books I read in 2009 that started the habit:

Uncle Tom‘s Cabin

The Rosary

The Chosen

Until We Have Faces

Green Dolphin Street

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