Author and curator Cynthia Cummins has been devoted to homeowners and homebuyers for three decades and counting. Visit KindredSFhomes.com for more information on San Francisco real estate.

Reading time: 4 minutes

“Home is the nicest word there is,” wrote Laura Ingalls Wilder.

About 5 years ago, I grabbed that quote and printed it on Moo cards used to promote RealEstateTherapy.org. Those teal-colored squares appeared at every open house I conducted, and I tucked them into thank you notes or attached them with ribbons to gift jars of honey left on doorsteps.

The words lent a soft, homey touch to what was (in reality) a straight-up marketing strategy.

Shameless self promotion is integral to a successful real estate career. (If you don’t tell people what you do for a living, they’ll never know.) Yet I was resistant to traditional “closing” techniques like asking three times for people’s contact info at open houses, cold calling entire neighborhoods, paying for Zillow leads. I just couldn’t screw up the courage or drum up the money to do those things. So I cast about for alternatives.

My background as a reporter and freelance journalist prompted me to start writing about real estate and home. It was a way to gain more satisfaction from my work while simultaneously creating more opportunity. I wanted a unique angle that would motivate me to execute a plan, and I found it.

But even as I was writing about home being “nice” and everything, my motivation was mostly mercenary. (If I’m being honest.) There were plenty of other things I would have rather written about: The pain of my Appalachian ancestors, the struggle of being a working wife and mother, my love of music. I had children’s stories in my head, and a tale about an ancient and powerful incubus visiting sleeping, modern-day women.

Because it helped pay for college educations and orthodontia, I wrote instead about real estate and the meaning of home: The way people think home buying is just a “deal” (it’s not). The silly things agents do and say because they believe they’re “selling” something (they’re not). The idea of home as sanctuary. These themes were alive for me – at least intellectually. I believed home was a sanctuary, but home was also a paycheck for me.

And then something weird and unanticipated happened. The COVID-19 crisis arose. People all around the world fell ill or dying. The global economy went into a spin. Our U. S. government bungled its response. A confusing, alarming, apocalyptic fog shrouded San Francisco.

We were ordered to shelter in place, to stop what we were doing, to stay where we were safe, to seek sanctuary: To stay at home.

“Shelter” and “sanctuary” took on a whole new meaning and home truly became “the nicest place there is.” Partly because it became “the only place there is” for those lucky enough to have a home.

This brought me back to thinking about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie books. I read the whole series to my boys when they were young, yet I rather glibly adopted her nicest-word-there-is quote without revisiting those tomes.

Talk about crisis and sanctuary! The Long Winter is the story of how the Ingalls family survived the blizzard of 1881. Forced indoors and cut off from all supplies, they nearly starved while “sheltering in place.” No supermarkets or food delivery.

“The bean barrel was empty. The cracker barrel was empty. The little brine in the bottom of the pork barrel had no pork in it. The long flat codfish box held only a little salt scattered in its bottom. The dried-apple and dried-blackberry box were empty.”

And, of course, their contact with other humans was nonexistent. No internet, no mobile phones, no Netflix, no podcasts, no Zoom conferencing. No roads, no trains, no ride sharing, no walking, no bicycles.

“Laura tried to listen but she felt stupid and numb. Pa’s voice slid away into the ceaseless noises of the storm. She felt that the blizzard must stop before she could do anything, before she could even listen or think, but it would never stop. It had been blowing forever… All day and all night the house trembled, the winds roared and screamed, the snow scoured against the walls and over the roof where the frosty nails came through. In other houses there were people, there must be lights, but they were too far away to seem real.”

As I write this, I’ve been stuck inside for about 17 days. But I’ve had plenty of contact with family and friends across the globe, and I can see people walk by on the sidewalk and hear their voices. There’s plenty of food in the house. (Maybe a little too much food, given the interruption in my daily exercise routine!) We’re isolated but not alone.

I, who’ve been writing about home for 7+ years, have gained a whole new perspective. I’m more grateful for my humble home than ever before. And I understand how tenuous it all is, too.

“It was so wonderful to be there, safe at home, sheltered from the winds and the cold. Laura thought that this must be a little like heaven, where the weary are at rest.”

Wishing you ease and rest in your home. Now and always.