Passing the Baton

Its Memorial Day weekend, and I’m spending a relaxing, lazy weekend at my beach house in California, after a couple of weeks of hard work. The weather isn’t great, and I just took a nice walk under gray skies, enjoying the scenery, and saying hi to my neighbours, as I walked along. Until a few years ago, I owned a second house across the street, which allowed our whole family to come to the beach, with spouses and significant others and friends. We’re a big group, and having two houses worked well. And even with two houses, on many occasions, both houses were bursting at the seams. (I keep fold up rollaway beds everywhere, and inflatable mattresses, and can turn a room into a dormitory in the blink of an eye!!!) It’s the kind of overcrowded family weekend I really enjoy (you have to enjoy crowds, if you have 9 kids!!!). Although admittedly, in recent years, it doesn’t happen often to have all of us together, only on holidays or for special occasions.

As many of you have read or heard about, I discovered a few years ago that I had been embezzled for many years by one of my most trusted employees. It was a terrible blow in a lot of ways, financially of course (I’ll spare you the details), and emotionally, it is a powerful form of betrayal that affected and upset me in many ways. One of them was that on the advice of that trusted employee, I sold the second house at the beach. (I closed my beloved art gallery, on advice from the same source, and the homeless street outreach program I had run and worked on for eleven years, losing that was especially hard, and I still miss both the gallery and the homeless work enormously, but things change and you have to move on.). I trusted her implicitly, albeit foolishly, and when she told me to sell the second beach house, I did. It was a lesson in not being so trusting thereafter, and not following advice I assumed was better than my own. There are upsides and downsides to everything in life. The upsides are not negligible in this case. And despite advice that may have been questionable in motivation, I sold the house when the real estate market was still solid before the downturn in the economy, and doing so allowed me to add to my apartment in Paris, and my kids actually use the apartment in Paris a lot more than the beach house, which they only came to a few times a year by the time I sold it. And I like having more space in Paris too. So some of the results of that sale are good things for me. There’s a blessing in everything. The downside is that when we all do get together at the beach now, I have to rent a second house to accommodate everyone. But it’s easier and more sensible to rent a second house a few weekends a year, than to maintain a house that is seldom used. So maybe selling that house turned out to be a good thing. But I’m sentimental about the places I live, and every time I saw that house since I sold it, I had a little niggle of regret and sense of loss. Even if we didn’t use it much, we loved it, and it was home to us.

I always have strong feelings about my homes, even if they’re just rented apartments, and especially if they’re homes I own. Who lived there before? What happened to them? Why did they leave?  And who lives there now, after I leave or sell them? Do they love them as I did? Oddly, I have always lived in old houses, and not modern ones. I am a master of restoration, and have never built a new house. The house that I lived in for many years when my children were born was built in 1895, the one we have lived in now for 22 years was built in 1910. A tiny jewel of a house that I bought years ago, and one of my kids lives in now is one of the oldest houses in San Francisco, and was built in 1863. The property we owned in Napa was a Victorian ranch built in 1857, and the building where I live in Paris was built in 1812. You can feel the history in an old house, seeping through its pores, and I love the sense of that, and imagining who lived there before, even recently. My apartment in Paris was supposedly lived in by Prince, the singing artist, before me, and he left a multitude of fabulous closets (rare in a Paris apartment), and we’re about the same size so the closets work great for me. I’ve also heard rumors about a family who lived there before me, and a marriage that ended unhappily. I found papers suggesting that on a high shelf when I moved in, and had a priest come in to bless the apartment and get rid of any ‘bad vibes’ that might have been there before. My homes are important to me, I spend a lot of time in them, and work there, and I’m always intrigued by previous owners or residents and their histories. (I wrote a book inspired by that several years ago, called ‘The House’, about a young woman who inherits a house). I think of houses and homes, and even apartments as living beings of their own, that hang onto those histories. And I always hope that future residents will enjoy those homes as much as I did.

We didn’t have many years of history with the second beach house I sold, but I liked it anyway. And as I said, seeing it always gave me a slight sense of loss. It was a luxury, we didn’t need it, but we had good times there and it was nice to have, and it’s a pretty house. Not huge, but cozy and nice, with a peaceful view of a lagoon. I never met the people who bought it, although we corresponded when they bought it, and it was a second home for them too. All I knew was that they had three young kids, but we’d never met. Today, when I was out walking, I saw a man drive up, park outside that house, and about to go in. In a rare bold moment (I’m usually very shy, and prefer to go unnoticed), I asked if he was the owner, and he said yes, and I told him who I was. He was extremely nice, and I asked if they’re enjoying the house. “We couldn’t love it more” he said simply, and I could see it in his eyes. And that simple phrase did it for me.  Any last regret, or sense of loss, disappeared in that instant. The house had found its rightful owners and was in good hands. We rarely used it, and we really don’t need a second house at the beach. My kids are grown, many live in other cities, some have country homes of their own now. Whatever the reasons for our giving it up, it was time to let go, and let someone else enjoy it as we had. I was sooooo happy to know that the house was in good hands, and much loved. It was like passing the baton. I didn’t need to be grabby and hold onto it, or regret it or miss it. It’s now in the hands of this young family who “couldn’t love it more”, whose kids will grow up there on weekends and create memories there of their own. It is truly theirs now, and no longer mine. I don’t need it, we’re fine with renting a second house a couple of weekends a year.  As I walked away, I felt lighter than I have in a long time. I had no regrets, no sense of loss at last, in those few moments of chatting with the new owner and hearing how much they love the house, I wished him well, silently gave him and his family my blessing, and passed him the baton.

Love, Danielle

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11 Comments so far
  1. Nicole June 5, 2012 2:20 am

    Dear Ms Steel

    Speaking of houses.

    On a visit to San Francisco about four years ago when the Tutankhamun Exhibition was on- (AN EXPERIENCE I WILL NEVER FORGET so lucky to have been there at time) Anyway I digress, we took a day tour of your beautiful city and the tour guide pointed out your house on a hill, and all the tourists in the bus (men included) got up abruptly from their seats and proceeded to snap pictures. I never got to see your home as there were far too many people squashed at the one side of the bus window taking pictures LOL.

    I felt a little sad afterwards. I could not help thinking how intrusive and awful it must be for you to have tour groups specifically taking that route just so they can point out your house. I can not imagine that scenario ever happening in Paris. No wonder you love it there so much who can blame you.

    How you remain calm and just go about your day with that happening everyday is amazing.I would go NUTS if I had to see bus loads of over, eager tourists going past all day taking pictures of my home. I would end up living like a vampire never going to close to the windows Lol.

    Take care Ms Steel, and sorry about the beach house but at least she’s in good hands!

  2. KIM June 5, 2012 8:38 am

    Dear Ms. Steel,

    I am such a huge fan of yours I can’t believe I didn’t realize you were blogging. I have nearly all of your books if not all in my collection. My sister has added to my collection recently and I have not had time to check which ones I may still lack. We began a new business venture recently and I am a bit over whelmed at time. Anyway, I did not see where I can sign up for e-mail notices when you add to your blog. Is there a way to do this? I hope so. It would be easier for me to follow you.

    I know summer is one of your favorite times of year when you get to spend time with your children. My children are home as well and I love it. I hope you have a safe and happy summer with all of your loved ones.



  3. benedetta June 6, 2012 11:51 am

    dear lady steel read his post for us fans is how to take a step in his life … one step … but too sporadically ever considered alternative routes?? for example in his blog has ever thought about putting the maybe video of his daily life? I do not know … maybe by speaking of how and where he works, his beloved clothes, love the decor, of his amazing collection of jewels?? even often leaving us a glimpse. I do not know .. dedicating a video to every issue??? perhaps starting with his dogs???? or photos of his home in Paris of which we have repeatedly heard from her??? is true that wants to keep some privacy, but give us the opportunity to make a second pass in his life and to feel closer to her heart … with love and a lot of hot rome
    benedetta barducci

  4. Janey Jone-Acevedo June 7, 2012 9:27 am

    Dear Ms Steel,
    I have read just about every book you’ve written. My favorite was Lightening even though I didn’t like how it ended, Her husband was a jerk and she shouldn’t have taken him back. I would love it if you could write a book about a divorced couple telling their stories from each person’s side. I would be especially interested in how the person who betrayed the spouse feels. I know for me it seemed like the grass was always greener on his side. I’ll bet there are lots of us out there that feel the same and would like to know what the betrayer feels what regrets they have if any.
    Keep writing those great stories.

  5. Kim June 7, 2012 10:37 am

    Ms. Steel,

    I, just like Janey,have read most of your books and like her idea. I just finished reading Rogue and read it in two days! However, I was left wanting more and what I really wanted was that conversation or the true reconnection of Blake and Maxine. It was evident that they had a connection in the book, but I felt he owed her more… I know the idea is to infer what will come next, but sometimes I just want the book to tell me :)! Love your books and your blog!

  6. Michael Dies June 7, 2012 10:43 pm

    Miss Steele, My name is Michael, I live in Florida in the United States, My Mother is 83 yrs old and probably has read every book you ever wrote. Her health is slowley going wayward but she is doing ok for now. It would be a high light in her life if I could somehow get something from you signed book, letter anything. She loves your writings and has boxes and boxes of your books. She is in a retirement home and really all she does is read. If your would consider this I would appreciate it, if not I would understand

  7. Oleg June 8, 2012 11:29 am

    Dear Ms Steel,

    Its eight wonder of the world to have opportunity to communicate and read blog(s) of favorite writers and artists. I never knew that at some point in my life I accidentally start reading your books. How it happened ? That’s odd but I noticed my grandmother reading one of your books and recently when I opened my digital library I for some reason decided to read and see why she [my grandmother] was so crazy about it. I always trusted my grandparents since they read thousands of books and whatever they suggested I loved it.
    So here I am your fan and blog readers who admire your talent and ability to transform your own and imaginable real world experience and feeling into great masterpieces which I believe will survive many many years. I bet. Just like Erich Maria Remarque you have this kind of invisible lines connecting stories and characters, people and faith. Reading your books I live inside them and can say it worse it.
    I hope you continue writing because that’s makes us moving forward and overcome our weaknesses.


  8. Lynne Mantell June 13, 2012 3:04 am

    Dear Danielle
    I love the way you turn bad events traumas into blessings. It is such a positive way to look at things. If we are patient it is true what seems so hurtful at the time is God (or karma or angels whatever your belief) teaching us a life lesson or
    showing us a kinder way.
    I recently read betrayal I got it from the library. As I read it I hoped none of it was based on experience, but after reading your blog realize it was. I am sorry for that.
    You do not deserve it but I know you have even put a positive spin on that hurtful cruel experience.
    My favourite of your books is The long road home. I also thought His bright life very moving and honest portrayal of bi polar.
    I am reading the ranch at the moment. My other favourite is vanished.
    Thank you for all your hard work.
    Love from

  9. Mike Reid June 15, 2012 4:56 pm

    Hi Danielle- I read that book (the House) what a great story. I also remember reading something about your talents as a designer & the master of restoration seems right down that path too. I’m not to shabby myself when it comes to woodworking although their our alot of good carpenters out their. I also remember reading that story about that devious friend who befriended you and stole you loot- the hard part is the violation of the trust you lost in this person. I’m sure the judge threw the hammer @ em. Getting back to restorations and old house’s is very interesting too. I love getting involved in great projects that involve using my God given talents(woodworking & design work) it’s a natural – I’m sure yours our too – referring to master of restoration. The House was a great & interesting tale – I remember the gentlemen lived in the attic – hahaha – a beautiful Victorian if I’m correct- SF has alot of gorgeous ones that need good carpenters to maintain- I need a good project to keep me busy – keep up the good work & don’t let one bad apple ruin the sauce- seeyasoon – mike

  10. Mary June 20, 2012 3:29 am

    Hi Danielle,
    My father had a dream, after being in the worst battles of the war like Iwo Jima. He held onto his dream to marry,have kids, and build his own home. He did all that. The house he built is just a small cape cod no garage,he ordered the blue prints from an ad in a magazine. He built it by working on it weekends and nights,he bought the building materials as he went along. It took many years to finish. We moved in as children into the basement so he could sell the house in the city and keep working on his dream.Time had a way of taking its toll and it was never completely done but good enough. Fourty years later my father passed. I was always the kid that stayed to help so I tried to help my mother clean it up and make it beautiful again from new windows,shining up the old wood floors,fix the plumming… Mom wanted to live her life out in their castle. Now life has thrown in the unexpected twist. I always being the kid that stayed, moved in with mom to help her she is now in her 80’s. Along comes the sons and sues her and I in court to incompasitate her to take the house. Some how through a three year court battle they won, now they come to her home after being gone out of her life for seven years and are removing moms things. I still live in my fathers house with mom but I believe our days are numbered. I used to believe that good comes in strange packages but not this.My fathers dream has become an object of greed and mom is devastated. I think dad would be proud mom and I restored the old cape cod into the fullfillment of his dreams but his bigger dream was to fill his house with a family and love.All that has been lost to the sons greed. I already mourn the loss, the loss of love, the loss of dad, the loss of this gift of home. I say good bye to the apple trees,good bye to the animals,good bye to the small medow,good bye to our pet’s who are burried here. This hurts, I so love our home in so many ways and my brothers just see money. Somehow I hope there is a blessing in this right now I’m not so sure.

  11. Shirley Petroski July 21, 2012 4:12 pm

    Hi Danielle, I am just now reading The Wedding, and recently have read many other books you have written. I really enjoy them. Thank you, I am so sorry to hear of your Daughters dog passing. I certainly understand your feelings. These animals are so a part if our family. We also lost our 20 year old Daughter a few years ago. So we also know what you have been through losing you Son. Her name was Krista, a beautiful, cheerful, caring girl. We loved her dearly, as you did your Son. Please have a beautiful Summer. and stay happy and healthy.We love you. Shirley