Being Placemakers — A Book Review

Christie Purifoy’s GORGEOUS new book is an absolute must-read.
It is now on my husband’s stack.

Christie Purifoy’s new book, “Placemaker, Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty and Peace,” is — hands down — the most beautiful book I have read in a long, long time. As I read, I was reminded of so many favorites from my past reading life — Madeleine L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Frederick Buechner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Walter Wangerin to name a few. She skillfully and creatively takes the stuff of everyday life and weaves from her own story, from the books she reads, and from the places she has lived, a gorgeous tapestry of discovery, commitment, serendipity and joy. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

“Placemaker” takes us on a journey. It’s not necessarily a straight ahead trek, but then is anything worth doing straight ahead? She uses trees, gardens, family anguish, wilderness wanderings, joyous homecomings, showing us her own deepening sense of what it means to be home.

Is there any more glorious word in the English language than that one? It’s what we all long for, reach for, sometimes touch and, if we’re really lucky, occasionally find. And home is multifaceted, involving places and things — buildings and gardens, brick and mortar, dirt and compost; it involves stories — including history and personalities from the past, the literal and figurative meaning of very particular trees in very particular places; and, of course, it also involves all kinds of people — spouses and children, siblings and neighbors, friends nearby and far away.

Our current small home on the Mesa, overlooking the entire city of Santa Barbara and the mountains behind, with a tiny peek at the harbor way off to the right. It’s part of a tract of homes built in 1950 and sits at the top of a hill, just off one of the main drags of this town that connects mountains and ocean. It has been a good growing-old-together space.

As I read about all the homes Christie and her husband have made over the years of their marriage, I couldn’t help but think about the ones Dick and I have made over our many years together, a few of which are featured in this post. Subscribers to my monthly newsletter have already seen some of these, but as I continue to respond to Christie’s lovely storytelling in this place, it seemed ‘right and good’ to lace my own stories into the mix.

The gift God gave us when we made a major move 120 miles north in our 50s for me to take a pastoral job. Four months without a home base, eleven months to sell our home in Altadena and then this glorious spot for retreating and entertaining — a ranch style built in 1960. Our son and his family have enjoyed it — and renovated it a bit — since we downsized almost four years ago. We lived here for 18 years and worked with a friend who was an architect to make significant changes.

I found myself in tears at several points during this read — good tears — tears of recognition and gratitude and remembering. She writes lyrically about things like beauty, longing, the importance of limits, the role of dead and dying things to the ongoing life of the planet, the necessity of wilderness experiences, the different values found in moving from place to place and staying put in one, letting our roots sink deeply into the soil of a particular kind of life.

A formal Mediterranean style built in the 1920’s — the largest of our 3 homes in Altadena — and, in some ways, my least favorite. BUT it was the place from which seminary was launched and completed for me, our son graduated from both high school and college and our two younger children’s significant others made great use of the guest room, living with us anywhere from a summer to a semester. We were there for 8 years.

A recurring thread through all of this lovely story-telling is Christie’s growing hunger for and acquisition of very specific kinds of knowledge. She learns about trees — what’s indigenous to where, and who planted and cared for them over the years. And she learns about cooking, gardening, planting seeds — both literal and figurative — in every new place. She shares her knowledge with us, telling us about beautiful public gardens, about people from the past who made the present as lovely as it is by planting and tending those gardens. What a gift to be educated as well as enthralled, instructed as well as lovingly entertained.

The heart of our family story, built in the early 1930’s — 13 years here, until our eldest daughter was married, our second girl off to college and we were down from five to three,
with our son still in high school.

Always, this knowledge is used in service of placemaking — of intentionally cultivating beauty and hospitality everywhere the growing Purifoy family lives. Spiraling through all that intentionality, readers are privileged to see an exquisite mix of sorrow and joy, gain and loss, settledness and restlessness, peace and struggle.

Placemaking, it seems, is never easy, but it is always, always good.

Get your own copy just as quickly as you can. You will not be sorry.

The first home we owned, not the first one we made — 1940’s tract home in Altadena CA. Arrived in 1970 with a 2 year old and a newborn, left in 1975 with 3 kids, ages 3, 5, 7.

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Comments

  1. Gwen Acres says

    Lovely Diana! “Home” indeed is the best place to be and the word our hearts call out as we long for comfort and placement. Loved looking at the homes over the years of your Trautwein life. The one I live in now is the first home I have owned. I will look for Christie’s book. It appeals to my hygge heart. Thank you for the recommendation.

  2. Lynn Morrissey says

    Diana, such a well-written review (you’re surely a wonderful author yourself), and I love how you intertwine Christie’s journey of place with a photo journey of places of your own. I loved seeing all the houses you’ve called home. We have only owned two. The first, Linden Cottage (we name our houses), was sadly razed in the name of progress (that word is surely in the eye of the beholder). I still lament its destruction (and there is a watercolor painting of it above my computer as I type). Our second house, Ingleside, has been home nearly twenty years. I didn’t call it home at first, still longing for Linden. But, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is, and we have brought our hearts here. I can tell you and Christie put heart into all you do and write. And this heartfelt review, makes me want to go back and savor her lyricism all the more lingeringly! Thank you so much for sharing.
    Love
    Lynn

    • Thanks for the kind words of encouragement, Lynn! And for the story of your homes — I love the idea of naming them!

  3. You have enticed us well to read Christie’s book–I’ve put it on my wish list! Meanwhile, these words of yours sent ME down Memory Lane: “…people from the past who made the present as lovely as it is by planting and tending those gardens.” I’m thinking of the garden of my spirit, and all the Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders,, mentors, Bible study teachers, pastors, and more that planted and tended my garden, participating in who I am today. Praise God for each one–their dedication, example, and loving attention!

    • Diana Trautwein says

      Those are rich memories, Nancy. I have a similar list, my own particular ‘communion of saints.’ Thanks for these good words.

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