1902 Victorian

Bringing our old house out of the disco era and back into the Victorian.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Houseblogging Out Loud

If Houseblogs.net were a physical place, it might just be Eutaw, Alabama. Nowhere except online (and on football-loving college campuses) have I ever found such a community of people all obsessed with the same thing.

Maybe it’s this way in all small, historic towns, but I think we love our houses even more in Eutaw because they’re all we’ve got. Our poor little burg has nothing much going for it except the old buildings. The county is poor; the square with its non-functioning fountain is a little sad; the schools have a terrible reputation; and the grocery store doesn’t carry a good variety of 100 Calorie Packs.

Instead, we take pride in our old homes. In other towns you might be introduced by who your relatives are, who you know, or where you work. Not in Eutaw. When you see folks out and about in Eutaw – and you inevitably do see someone you know or almost know – you introduce yourself by house. My standard greeting is, “I’m Kristin, we live in the Parkins’ house?”

Then they’ll say, “Oh, I love that house!” and/or tell me they knew Mrs. Parkins. Then they’ll ask how it’s coming or what we’re working on. And when I tell them, they actually care!

Many of the old house owners in Eutaw have been here for years, and they’ll reminisce about the time when they were like us, newly married or freshly retired, working on the house, spending money, living amidst the dust and disrepair.

Then they’ll tell us how glad they are we came here. How thrilled they are to have new people – young people, in particular – coming in and taking care of the houses.

And the talk will always turn to the needy houses in town. When one comes up for sale, we all turn into salesmen and try to find the “right” buyers who will love it the way we all do. And we sit around at dinner and discuss what we’d do if it were ours. In private, we calculate whether we could swing it, whether we’d sell it or rent it or open a business in it.

I think we’d all love to buy every neglected house in Eutaw and rescue it. We’d all love to see every house painted.

But that’s not to say we agree on every point. Some folks are die-hards, some folks are compromisers, some folks just want a pretty shell to fill up with modern stuff. Whatever our opinion, it’s usually a strong one. And if you’re not at dinner, you’ll probably get criticized for some of your choices.

People, too, aren’t afraid to give constructive criticism right to your face, and some are bolder about it than others. We love these houses, and we want them protected. If that means being a little blunt now and again, well it’s for the greater good.

Likewise, you learn to take criticism and advice, heed what you will and ignore the rest.

See now why it’s like I’m living in the middle of Houseblogs.net? And why I love it so?

Friday, May 26, 2006


I noticed this morning that another giant branch has fallen off the old pecan tree between our house and the neighbors'. Back in March a branch broke off during a storm, but this time there was no storm.

Makes me nervous that the old girl is doomed. It's a really big tree, and I love really big trees, especially pecan trees. Pecan trees are possibly my favorite type of tree, though they have strong competition from sycamores.

They have a distinctive shape that reminds me of a hand. A thick trunk that splits low into several heavy branches, leaving a little nook in the middle.

Also, Darwin proposed to me under a pecan tree, so they've always been "our" tree.

We had a beautiful one behind the first house we rented. The best thing about that house was the plants - that tree and the most gorgeous deep fuchsia Mobile azaleas by the front porch.

Now, we have this one. Technically, I think it belongs to our neighbors. The property line extends several feet beyond our fence, but we're not exactly sure where.

Either way, the last branch fell onto our property, so Darwin ended up being the one to hack it up and haul it off. (Our friend D helped and took home some for firewood)

This one fell parallel to our property line, so I'm not sure what will happen to it.

There's some weird white stuff on the place where the branch met the trunk, and it was on the first branch, too. I wonder if it's some kind of mold or a tree disease or something.

Anyway, I'll be very sad if the old girl dies. We'll have to plant a new one in her honor, or a whole grove.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Masochism 101

Apparently having one old house in which we have completed not a single project is not enough for us. Lately, we've been fantasizing about - and worse than that, actually contemplating - buying and fixing up a house down the block from us.

This house, the poor dear, hasn't been lived in for oh, say 6 million years. At least humans have not lived there. In fact, the bugs and vermin have probably long since abandoned it, too.

Now it's home to some files, some junk and some vines growing in through the windows.

I admit it's hard to see what's appealing about it from this picture:

But I took that photo winter before last. Since then, the lot has been cleaned off, and you can actually get onto the front porch without hiring a native guide weilding a large machete.

Lo and behold, the house is actually cute ... and for sale. It has some Victorian elements and some Craftsman (we think it's a few years younger than our house). Cute fishscale shingles under the eaves, majolica-tiled fireplaces, a darling, miniscule side porch. It's on a corner where everyone who enters Eutaw drives by it, and we'd love to dress it up in some Victorian colors.

The most appealing thing about it is actually the fact that it has been empty of human life for so long. Virtually nothing has been updated in the house.

We saw inside it for the first time last weekend. Light bulbs on cloth cords hang from the ceilings, and the original plumbing fixtures are still in the slanty-floored, added-on bathrooms. All the plaster walls and beadboard ceilings are still there, though in severely diminished condition. The floors have all been painted but appear to be solid and attractive. It's got three bedrooms, two baths, a reasonably spacious kitchen and pantry, and a living room with a lovely bay window.

Of course, it's not all sunshine and flowers. You can see light between the bricks of the chimneys; one stray rock and they'd topple. One of the fireplaces has crumbled almost completely. The house would have to be replumbed, rewired, have the foundation repaired, and probably the precious plaster scrapped. The lot would need to be sloped. The kitchen has a sink and almost nothing else. One of the exterior walls has a hole in it. Several window panes are missing, and the windows would probably all need repair.

Basically, it's pretty overwhelming. It's all doable, nothing disastrous, and there are plenty of housebloggers out there tackling similar houses and worse. We are brave enough to tackle it. We even have enough funds to tackle it.

But what about the most elusive factor of all - time? I barely have time to sleep anymore, and we're still not getting anything done on our own house. I wish someone would invent a way to pack 36 hours into a day. Wait, make that 48.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Lotsa Loot

Actually, not so "lotsa." I bought a little less stuff and spent significantly less money at this year's Antique Alley sale. Still, I am thoroughly pleased with my purchases and today I'm feeling as light as a fat-free biscuit since I didn't spend a jillion dollars.

My first and favorite purchase was a medicine cabinet for the bathroom. No, not just "a" medicine cabinet - THE medicine cabinet. It's the absolute perfect medicine cabinet for our bathroom, and I love it dearly, so much that (watch out Darwin) I may one day run away with it to Cancun.

It has adorable shabby chic chippy off-white paint. Underneath the paint, the cabinet is mahogany! So I may strip it one day, but for now I like the chippy lead-o-rama paint. (Have I mentioned I'm already planning an early death due to lead poisoning?)

It has two doors with beveled mirrors on the outside and racks on the inside, plus shelves in the cabinet, and it has a keyhole but of course no key. This thing is HEAVY!

Also, the antique store lady pointed out a paper label on the back that says (I think) R.J. Horner, which was supposed to impress me and make me feel guilty about getting a bargain on the cabinet. I'm not impressed and don't feel guilty. Names on antiques mean nothing to me because I don't know what I'm doing. I just say, "ooh pretty" and I must have it.

Which does nothing to explain my purchase of this:

It's a turn-of-the-century Hitchcock chair, which I'm told should also impress me. I paused and touched the chair on my way into an antique shop, and the proprietor immediately began regaling me with all the wonders of the chair and saying the word Hitchcock and lot, and telling me its never too soon to start building a collection of "good" antiques.

My translation: buying this chair is the equivalent of buying a designer purse, just so people will know you can afford to pay for it.

Somehow in all this, I became convinced (with the help of my trusted antique dealer friend down the street) that the $85 for the chair was a bargain. So I bought it, maybe because I hadn't found much else of interest at the sale and I wanted to buy some more stuff, darnit!

Maybe it is a bargain. I don't know. But I do like the chair, and it does look nice in our house. I just had to endure the not-another-chair looks from Darwin when I brought it home. Hey, at least it wasn't another bed, right?

So then we went back on Saturday morning in hopes of scoring some baked goods from the Mennonite ladies. They weren't there (or were sold out already), so we bought yummy cookies from a church group instead.

On our way back to the truck, I noticed a chair (yes another chair) that I hadn't paid much attention to on Thursday. It looked like a very low-to-the-ground rocker.

We strolled over and discovered that it was an 1890s folding camp rocker with a carpet seat. The seller told us the Victorians liked to go all out with silverware, china, etc., when they camp (could be true, I don't know), and they'd take these cute little rockers to relax in.

Well, one of my favorite things to collect is antique stuff that can still be used the way it was intended (like the 1920s toaster I got last year, which Darwin now uses).

Darwin liked the chair, too, but wasn't sure. Meanwhile, I spotted a 1940s handpainted cookie jar and fell in love. With the black, yellow, green and pink on this jar, it couldn't match our kitchen any better if it was covered with clutter.

That decided it. Like an idiot, I offered $100 for the chair ($58) and jar ($45) without doing the math properly first. The seller accepted, saving me a whopping $3. I'm an idiot. Oh well.

Anyway, I'm feeling no buyer's remorse about any of my purchases, with the possible exception of two pots of zinnias, which are presently dying on my front porch. If they can be rescued, I'll post a pic once they are planted in the front pots.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Guerilla Antiquing

If my mom had a super power, it would be bargain sniffing. She jokes that she grew up in the Depression (she's actually a baby boomer) because she's a bit of a cheapskate and hates to throw anything away.

Though it perturbed me in high school when she bought me a generic brand of the must-have Gap denim shirt with pearlized snap buttons, I now appreciate the bargain-hunting skills she taught me.

Said skills are what led me to my brilliant master plan to get bargain antiques.

This weekend is the infamous Hwy. 11 Antique Alley Trade Days in Eutaw, held on the courthouse square. If you recall, I got quite a haul there last year. (If you don't recall, check out my loot here).

I don't often feel lucky when I get sick, but last year it worked in my favor. I was out of work sick that Thursday, the first day of the four-day Antique Alley event. When I felt better in the afternoon, I descended upon the square with checkbook in hand and beat all the poor Saturday saps to the best bargains.

So this year I'm planning another coup. I've taken off work tomorrow and Friday with the express purpose of scooping up antiques and spending all my hard-earned eBay-selling money (what change is leftover after all the shoes I've bought this spring).

My second in command/medic will be my long-lost friend Kristen L., who may be returning to our fair city soon for a new job in nursing.

I hope to post soon with news of my victory. Fingers crossed, people!

P.S. I accept donations to the cause in the form of ad-clicking! ;-)


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Honey Do

The time of honeysuckle has past, and I'm pretty broken up about it. It seems so early in the year for the honeysuckle to already be packing it in.

Maybe it will come back for another round later in the year. Maybe the cool weather we've been having lately has sent it back into hiding.

Anyway, while it was here, I loved the honeysuckle so much. Most people consider it a weed. I consider it lovely. Sure, it's invasive and will probably take over the world one day. But what's so bad about that?

What's so terrible about an old fence dripping with green green vines and yellow flowers? What's so terrible about the way honeysuckle starts smelling all delicious right at sunset? (Okay, I can think of one terrible thing about that ... the delicious smell lures me out of the house right at peak mosquito time. I think the honeysuckle and mosquitos are in league together.)

Anyway, I still love the smell of honeysuckle and refuse to let Darwin trim back the voluminous vines on both left and right fences. When it's not honeysuckle season, I wear out my sniffer seeking realistic honeysuckle-scented bath products. I have yet to find one. The closest isn't honeysuckle at all but Milk & Honey, which I have (and adore) in both hand soap and shampoo.

I fell in love with the smell of honeysuckle in middle school. We lived on 108 acres, much of which had beautiful, wide paths through woods and fields and around ponds. Being in the middle of a sentimental, Victorian-novel-style pre-teen phase, I liked to stroll along these paths and compose bad rhyming poetry about nature.

The one I considered the best was an ode to honeysuckle. If I can find it tonight, I'll post it and embarrass myself thoroughly.

I couldn't find the poem, but I do remember it contained a line comparing honeysuckle to strings of Christmas lights. Gag.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

House Movers Anonymous

I'm back from a few days at the glorious beach. Oh wait, not so glorious when I had to waste one entire day staying close to the bathroom for PukeFest 2006, which led to watching Passions because the TV remote was broken. Here's a tip from me to you: Never watch Passions. Ever.

On my first day back, Darwin came in from work super excited about something. He told me to grab my camera and dragged me out of the house, into the truck and down the street (okay, that last part was less drag and more drive).

Here it is:

A house is being moved from Wilson Ave. It's a cute little one-story Victorian with a nice purple color scheme. I've always admired it. I wonder who owns it, if ownership has changed hands, if it was up for sale why wasn't I notified, are they planning to re-use those bricks and if not can I have them, and where is it going?

From the piles of bricks lying around, looks like they demolished the foundation (probably brick piers). The house is propped up underneath with (among other, more sturdy things) what looks to be wooden pallets.

Whoever is moving this house, I should track them down and direct them to The Devil Queen for mucho good advice on house-moving and the subsequent renovation. Also, I should direct myself to a local insane asylum because I SO want to buy and renovate this with this yard. I guess there are some benefits to having a yard that converts to a swimming hole whenever it rains.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

When Evolution Skips a Beat

Ah, the joys of commuting. This morning an idiot from my own county (and usually I cut fellow Greene County-ites some slack) became displeased with the 79 miles per hour I was driving in the fast lane on the interstate. Worried that he would become "stuck" behind me, he zipped around me, then back into my lane through the closing gap between me and a truck in the slow lane. Then what did he do? After endangering the lives of himself (it was a man, though a giant pink sticker on the back window said "Alabama Mom!"), his passengers, me and the driver of the truck? He slowed down to 75 miles per hour in front of me! AAAAAAAAAAGHHHHH!

It's amazing to me how often this happens on my commute. People are so stupid.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Spiral-bound Blog

Dedicated as I am to the history of our house, I’m just as – if not more – dedicated to my own. I go through spells of obsessive genealogy research, only to get bogged down in all the names and dates and disappointed with the lack of photographic or anecdotal evidence.

It’s fascinating to learn that my great-great-great-grandfather (my one Irish relative) worked as a bridge builder in Mobile, Ala., but does that really tell me anything about myself?

More telling are the recent artifacts of my life. I’m an admitted packrat, but there is method to my madness. When I look back at all the flotsam of my formative years – the freckled Midge doll, the signatures in my middle school yearbooks (“I was the first to sign your crack!” – Chanda Wilson), the notes written in purple ink and folded into squares, the criss-cross-strapped blue prom dress, the worn suede Vans with “I love ?” written on the toe in pencil – it reminds me of the person or people I used to be.

Much as I would sometimes like to forget that I once had pit stains at the Homecoming dance, it is important to keep lessons like these hanging around. Double up the deodorant before dancing, girlfriend. See there, what if I forgot that?

And the remains of the corsage I didn’t wear to a different Homecoming dance (what’s with Homecoming anyway?) remind me that I was mean once to a boy who didn’t deserve it.

But the best sources of all are my journals. Yes, I was a blogger back when it required a pencil and paper.

I wrote pretty consistently in my journals (I went through several) from 7th through 12th grades. This was not considered a cool activity at the time, so I kept it quiet. Different from now, huh?

The journals are mostly full of idiotic stuff like rankings of which boy I liked best that day. (Feel free to join me in a sigh of relief that I am no longer 14.)

Also featured prominently are elaborate weight-loss plans and play-by-plays of my interactions with various boys, including my – usually faulty – analysis. It’s so easy to read it all now and see how dumb I was.

My journal writing slowed to a trickle after high school. My favorite way to write was in pencil, by lamplight, in a spiral-bound notebook, just before I went to sleep. Sharing a 12x12 dorm room, that got harder to do. Besides, I was out actually living my life instead of just daydreaming about one.

Then I met Darwin the summer after freshman year of college. He inspired a few frenzied journal entries, but then? What did I have to write about now that I had what I’d always wanted?

So a whole chunk of my life is missing. When Darwin and I can’t remember something about the early months and years of our relationship, there’s no reference to check. That makes me a little sad because now, almost 6 years later, some things about that time are hazy and others are gone entirely.

But now there is this blog. It’s the new record of my history, our history and our house’s. Even just 18 months into this, some of our early mistakes already make me cringe. But that’s okay. How else are we going to learn?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

Last week was not my best ever. It started off bad on Monday when I had to take our cat Alistair to the vet. We discovered by accident that he had seriously gross & painful-looking tooth/gum problems that needed to be remedied before they escalated to something worse.

Alistair hates people in general, but he especially hates the vet. He growled and hissed, which is all par for the course whenever he meets a stranger. They had to sedate him to scrape his teeth and do his yearly checkup, so I had to leave him there overnight. This upset me because I kept thinking what if the people I loved dropped me off in a strange place without telling me why, and I didn't know if they'd ever come back? I cried, and my stomach was in knots that whole day and night and next day. He's my baby, ok?

Because he is not the friendliest cat (did I mention that?) they had to both gas him and inject him with sedative. Then the gums were worse than they thought, so they had to laser them to stop the bleeding. While he was out, they did his yearly checkup, which involved giving him every shot in the known world.

Needless to say, when I picked him up from the vet, he was not in the best mood. The last time he was sedated (when he got neutered), he was all wild-eyed when I picked him up, but his face calmed down when he heard my voice. This time he showed no sign that he recognized me or my voice. Or maybe he did and he was pissed I left him at that wretched place.

All I know is I was one worried kittymom. I kept thinking, "What if his personality somehow got wiped out? What if he never remembers me?" Pretty silly, I know, but I just wanted to cuddle my baby and he wouldn't let me and it sucked.

Once we got home he calmed down a lot, though his kittybrother Henry was still terrified of him. Alistair spent most of the night sitting straight up, staring glassy-eyed at nothing, and wobbling slightly. Meanwhile, I cried some more. Maybe it was hormonal.

Fortunately, next morning Alistair was back to normal, purring and rolling around wanting to be petted. My baby is ok! I went and bought a kitty toothbrush and toothpaste, and however ridiculous it sounds I will be brushing his teeth from now on, because I never want to put him (or myself) through something like this again.

But my best week ever wasn't over yet. Just when I started feeling somewhat normal again, I got sick on Friday. I won't go into the details, but it wasn't the sweet little cough-cough/fever kind. Fortunately, I woke up pretty much better on Saturday and then we headed up to our friends' house. The four of us had tickets to the NASCAR race in Talladega on Sunday.

I am not a NASCAR fan, which probably surprises no one who reads this blog. I've never understood the appeal of watching cars drive around in a circle 200-some-odd times. Darwin, on the other hand, is a fan of pretty much anything that involves loud engines, so he likes it. He wanted to go, so I was taking one for the team.

But by race time, I had somehow become revved up for the event myself. There's just something irresistible about being in a huge crowd of people, all excited about the same thing. It gets your adrenaline pumping - maybe because there's always that slight chance the crowd will go insane and begin trampling folks.

Besides, the people-watching alone was worth the ticket price. I've never seen so many overbaked, age-resistant women in my life. Of course, I've never been to California.

Yet our racing adventure was not to be. The day was surprisingly windy, cloudy and cold for the last day of April. The rain held off until the moment the race started. We dashed in under the bleachers and stood huddled together next to a chain link fence, watching the dryer trucks drive slooooowly by on the track and trying to keep our plastic ponchos from billowing in the wind. This went on for two hours before the race was finally called. Postponed until the next day. You know, when we had to work.

Did I mention the tickets are non-refundable? Thank goodness for people-watching. We had more fun in that vein while waiting in traffic on the way out. A lady in tight shorts and an even tighter tank top began dancing beside her van, undulating her belly wildly and twirling her faux-blonde, waist-length ponytail around her head like a lasso. Some dudes walked by with Mardi Gras beads, and I don't have to tell you what happened next. MY EYES! OH MY EYES!

Still, seeing a trying-not-to-be-old lady pop her boobs out of her tank top wasn't enough to kill the disappointment. Darwin was devastated, our friends were devastated - heck, I'm devastated.

The race is going on right now, and we're not there. I heard from a sports reporter friend that probably 100,000 people came back today. The sun is shining, so there's probably lots more boobie-flashing and beer-funneling going on. Too bad we're not there to see it.

I have high hopes for this week. I'm starting ballroom dancing lessons on Tuesday, I'll be attending a wedding on Saturday night (the good kind that serves alcohol), and on Sunday I'm leaving for our annual work beach retreat. This one's got to be better than last, right?

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