1902 Victorian

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

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Simplify

It's been one thing after another around here lately. Illness, surgery, recovery, eBay drama, business trip, more eBay drama, different illness. And there's more to come - a trip to Atlanta this weekend, getting my mom's costume website up for business before I leave for Italy, and eBay drama part III.

For the past several months, I've been selling stuff on eBay. I sell more each month and make more money each month, but naturally it's been taking more time.

I really enjoy it, and we all know I love money. But it's getting to the point where I can't even relax at home. I have to be doing something on eBay all the time. Taking photos of stuff, measuring stuff, listing stuff, shipping stuff, buying more stuff to sell. And even when I'm not doing that, I'm checking just one more time to see if anything's sold or staring at my inventory spreadsheet and planning what to list next.

My psyche is suffering for it, and so is the house. Our once charmingly cluttered house has crossed over into pigsty territory. No progress has been made on the bathroom in weeks, and I've begun feeling hopeless instead of hopeful.

Recently two unpleasant developments - a fee increase and drama over photos - have thrown a wrench in my previously smooth-running eBay machine. I think this is a sign that I should slow down. I just wish this had happened BEFORE I bought a big bunch of stuff to sell.

Still, I'm happy to simplify my life a bit. To Darwin's great relief, I'll have time to nag him about working on the house again.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Lone Star

I'm in Dallas for my yearly trip to the trucking trade show my company owns and operates. At this point - three days in - my feet are two well-tenderized hunks of meat. Yep, it's a good ol' time here in the Lone Star state.

One lesson I've learned from these trade shows is that there are two different types of country stars. On the one hand, you have country stars who are good natured about this whole "celebrity" thing. They exude appreciativeness as they sign autographs, shake hands and "grip and grin" with fans in front of countless point-and-shoot camera flashes.

These types don't bat an eyelash at the trucking journalist diligently snapping photos from a discreet distance at the side, trying her darndest in the low convention center light to catch them at the exact moment when they finish signing a glossy poster and smile genuinely up at their eager fan. Some of these may even smile at said journalist and give her a wink! These are the ones she likes and lobbies to include in the show daily and the magazine.

If they are the other type of country star, however, she may say "Screw you guys, I'm going home." This other type thinks they are better than the treasure at the bottom of the cereal box. They barely muster a smile for their fans, let alone maintaining the smile long enough for anyone to snap a decent picture of them looking like magnanimous celebrity gods.

This type also has their "people" hovering about watching said journalist like a hawk, counting how many images she takes and commenting in biting tones, "Don't you think you have enough?" They may even have their "people" accuse said journalist of taking these photos for "personal use" because clearly every gossip rag on the planet is paying big bucks for pics of fully clothed and styled-to-the-hilt celebrities signing autographs. Because man, that is such a rare find.

This type? Yeah, I don't like them. And I don't freakin' get them. Why do they get so riled up about one journalist when there are people ALL AROUND snapping their photo constantly? What does it matter to them? It costs them nothing, and it might gain them something - positive exposure in a publication that goes to 130,000 of their biggest fans.

If I ever become wildly famous and have married women lining up to giggle and admire my biceps while I sign my autograph, please remind me to LIGHTEN UP.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Best Porch in Eutaw

This is the first in an occasional series of interior/exterior tours of some of my favorite houses in Eutaw. It may be the last in the series because I haven't secured permission from anyone else, but we old house people love to show off our houses, so I bet many of our friends can be persuaded.

I decided to do this interior touring thing because one of my favorite things about Houseblogs is seeing interior shots of old houses, decorated and lived in the way real people do it. Museums are wonderful and shelter mags are great, but they're so out of reach, y'know?

Besides, I get inspired every time I visit one of our friends' houses. There's always a creative wall color or space-saving device I want to copy - or spin off of in my own direction.

So enough of this rambling. Why am I even explaining to a bunch of house lovers why I love touring old houses? On to our first victim house ...

***

"The Best Porch in Eutaw"

Our neighbor/sort-aunt Judy is well known around town for two things. 1. She likes to talk. 2. She's unstoppably hard-working, especially in her garden.

It makes sense then that Judy's porch is one of the best in Eutaw, maybe the best - and that's saying something, because Eutaw has many lovely porches.

Surrounded by green on a corner lot, it's shaded and cool, and fellow Eutawans often stop for a chat or just slow down to wave.

Though it's right on one of Eutaw's main drags (officially, it's on Main Street), the white picket fence draped with Confederate jasmine shields you just enough and makes you feel like you're in the middle of a secret. (Plus, you have a lovely view of a little white Victorian across the street *wink wink*.)

Judy recently stained the porch floor and furniture dark green. Most of the porch floors in town are slate gray to pastel blue (including ours), so it's refreshing to see something different, especially when it works so well. The green floor, the red geraniums and the massive ferns Judy nursed through the winter make the porch feel nestled down in the garden rather than perched on top of it.



Judy's house is Victorian on the inside but Greek Revival on the outside. It was built in 1904 - would that be Greek Revival Revival? - with massive columns across the front. (I couldn't get photos that really capture the awesome of these columns. Must ask my photographer sister's advice on this.) The whole-house pic is an old one I took in cooler weather and before the roof was painted.



Inside, the house reminds me of a dollhouse, packed to the hilt with Victorian details. You could spend hours in here and not absorb it all.

Judy and Coach do most of their living in a connected bedroom and study and in the cutest yellow kitchen ever. The rest of the house is a showcase for Judy's antiques and Victoriana. Upstairs is a bedroom decorated with wedding dresses and paraphernalia. Another room Judy plans to turn into a little boy's room. These rooms aren't designed so much for use but for admiration; they're each a life-size vignette.



The dining room features an original leaf-motif stencil around the top of the wall and a row of plates propped on the chair rail.



Most of the woodwork has never been painted. The dark wood and the sun-filtering curtains over all the windows make the house feel quiet and cozy.



When you head around to the back of the house, you find more plants and delights for the eye everywhere.



One of my favorite parts is an old framed photo of the house that hangs on the landing of the staircase. From the children's attire and the bareness of the yard, it looks to me to have been taken not long after the house was built. I wish I had a piece of evidence like this on my house. Judy used the picture to recreate a fence like the one in the left corner across the front of her house.



The coolest thing about this picture (at least to me) is that those kids must have a great view across the 149 steps between their home and our freshly minted house with only baby magnolias at best in front, no power lines in the way, no little bungalow in between, no paved roads. How I wish the photographer had turned around and taken a little snap-a-roo. Maybe he did. Maybe there's a photo out there somewhere.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Inspiration in the Lowliest of Places

You may recall I've mentioned our bathroom renovation once or twice (*cough* 14 million times *cough*). I'm still not fully decided on a few things, so I look for inspiration everywhere.

When we paid a visit to our friend/neighbor/sort-of-aunt Judy the other day at her 1904 home - Greek Revival on the outside, Victorian on the inside - I'm sure she didn't expect me to run home for the camera and then spend long minutes hanging out in her upstairs bathroom snapping photos of everything from the toilet to the light fixture.

Good thing Judy is one of the kindest, most understanding people I know. Also good thing she is a tidy person! I can't imagine what horrors would be captured on film if someone burst into my bathroom with a camera.

Judy's whole house is a Victorian showcase, and I'll be posting more about it later. Of all the beautiful rooms, my favorite is the bathroom. It's similar in size and basic layout to ours - probably 8 x 14 compared with our 7 x 12 and with a window in one end and a door at the other, with the main entrance door in one side wall. It has wood floors like ours, though hers are not painted, and beadboard, though hers is the more desirable vertical, shoulder-height kind with a shallow window-ledge type thing capping it.



The sink is a tiny wall-hung with separate faucets (the kind that was in my dorm room in college), totally unobtrusive and purely functional. The clawfoot tub has no shower. The toilet is an old-fashioned model - I'd guess 1930s but haven't researched it yet. The rest of the room is furnished with wood furniture, tables, a chair and a dresser, laden with Victorian decorative items. The lighting is a startling black and white Art Deco pendant that adds a touch of whimsy.

The bathroom has a rustic, sparse, old-fashioned quality that I love. When you walk through the door, you could be stepping back in time. There are no jarring modern items to remind you when you really are.

That's what I want for our bathroom, though it will be more difficult to do with an everyday main bathroom vs. an infrequently used upstairs bathroom like this one. How can you capture that old-time feeling when you're staring at a row of plastic containers and a blow dryer?

Judy's bathroom has awakened my old perspective on our renovation. Couldn't we just do a simple sink and separate furniture as I originally planned?

The more I look at my current-getting ready station in the half bath - the countertop littered with mounds of hair stuff, lotions, makeup, jewelry - I realize even a bit of counterspace around a sink will never work. Sink vanities never have much storage because the sink takes up so much room in them. Within a week, the new countertop will turn into a giant junk heap.

I think I need a separate vanity after all - and I mean the kind you sit at - with lots of little drawers to put away all my beautifying devices. And wouldn't I feel such the Victorian lady sitting at a vanity with all my potions and tonics spread out around me?

I know I keep vascillating, and that must be terribly irritating. Heck, I'm annoying myself. But last night I had a dream I was walking through someone else's bathroom renovation, and asking where they got their marble countertop. Maybe that's a sign. Maybe what I want is a marble wall-hung sink, as discussed previously, with maybe a shelf underneath for towels.

Or maybe porcelain is good enough. Judy is planning to replace the toilet and sink in her bathroom with reproductions and has promised them to me if I want them. What do you think? A 70-year-old toilet sounds good to me!

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

My New Favorite Thing

While stripping an Eastlake bed for the front bedroom this weekend, we called our neighbors D&K to suggest an outing to Miss Melissa's for dinner later. When they heard we were "stripping," they couldn't hang up the phone fast enough and dashed right over to see what they could do to help.

They were desparately disappointed to find we were stripping paint, not clothes (though they did get the pleasure of seeing Darwin in all his shirtless, sweaty-waistband glory).

Since they were already here, they decided to pitch in and help anyway. D applied the "semi-paste" clear stripper to the headboard, and we all commenced scraping. Okay, all but Ken who entertained us with stories since we only had two scrapers and a stick I found on the ground that worked well in the grooves.

The clear stripper (heretofore referred to as "Other Stripper") turned the old, alligatored off-white and teal paint into a thick, gloppy, snotty-looking mess. The paint stayed stubbornly in the many grooves and carvings.

"You need to try Safest Stripper," D&K insisted. "It's safe to use in the house, and it works great. You can wash and scrub off the excess paint." (As far as I know, they were not paid by 3M to say this.)

The silent consensus from Darwin and me: Uh-huh, sure, let's just keep scraping. I figured one stripper would work just as well - or ineptly - as the next. And if it's "safe"? Frankly, that probably means it sucks.

But after we gave up and cleaned the still-revolting bed for the night, after we cleaned ourselves and went to dinner, after we gorged ourselves on delicious white chocolate bread pudding, D&K pressed upon us two leftover partial bottles of Safest Stripper and a blue scrub pad.

Okay, fine. We'll try it. Next morning, I dragged Darwin out of bed bright and early to get to work before the heat got unbearable.

I still wasn't too sure about this Safest Stripper thing. The bottle listed more than a dozen steps to get ideal results. If you know me at all, you must realize I'm not a "dozen steps" kinda girl. I choose food at the grocery store based on how many steps are on the package. If it's more than two or three (boil water, cook macaroni for 10-12 minutes, mix in cheese sauce), it's just not gonna happen.

Also, the bottle said it would take TWO HOURS to soften the paint enough to scrape off. Well, we had a lunch engagement in Tuscaloosa and didn't have that kinda time. Plus, it looked like rain.

And I was dubious about the "scrub and wash" aspects. The makers of Safest Stripper didn't know what they were dealing with here. They didn't know about the evil lead paint from hell, the gooey, sticky, awful mess of it.

But we decided to give it a go anyway. What could we lose at this point? The bottle said "semi-paste," but when we opened it we discovered it was much more pasty than Other Stripper, thick and white rather than thin and clear. Other Stripper had to be applied to a perfectly flat surface or it would run right off the edge. As you scraped it, the pool of Other Stripper fled before your tool and ran in runny-egg rivulets down the sides of the wood.

Also, Safest Stripper had no detectable odor, while Other Stripper had a nose hair-singing, headache-inducing stench.

We decided to try Safest Stripper first on the fluted legs of the headboard, where we'd had the most trouble getting the paint out of the grooves. Meanwhile, because I am not a patient woman, we applied Other Stripper to the top of the headboard and started working on it again.

About 20 minutes in, I got impatient (there it is again) and tested a spot on a flat part of the fluted leg. By golly, it worked like a dream! The softened paint loosened from the wood with a gentle nudge, and the white paste was thick enough to scoop right up and away with my scraper.

In that moment, I felt the first inkling of love for the Safest Stripper.

I managed to wait a little longer before scraping in the dreaded grooves, and when I did, the paint came away just as easily before. Of course, it's not that simple with grooves. If your scraper is flat and the groove is curved, things are just going to be a pain in the butt no matter what.

Still, the Safest Stripper worked WAAAAAAAAAAAAY better than Other Stripper. After we saw how well it was working, we applied it to the still-painty other areas of the headboard and set to work.

I guess it took us about 2 hours of solid work to get the headboard from point A to point B, the same amount of time it took us to get it from point A to point A and a quarter the previous day. Point C still looms in the distance, but I have high hopes.

My affection for Safest Stripper was confirmed. This is now my new favorite thing. Since it has good "vertical cling," I'm planning to try it on the woodwork in the entry hall, too. And I'm hoping it will help us strip the last of the paint off the clawfoot tub.

A disclaimer: We'd already applied Other Stripper to the paint the previous day, so it may have been easier to strip. If that's the case, my love for Safest Stripper may be compromised. Stay tuned.

After Other Stripper, before Safest Stripper:


During (see the paste and in the corner the snot-like residue of Other Stripper?):


After (still not finished but much closer; still have to do the thankfully-much-less-detailed bottom half and some touching up):


Oh goodie, when we're done with the headboard, we get to do the side rails and the footboard. The footboard is painted on both sides! Whooppeeeeeeee!

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Friday, August 11, 2006

I Want a Teleporter Right Now

This morning I paid $45.65 for a tank of gas. In the South, the gas is usually a little cheaper, so a gallon of regular gas goes for the low low price of $2.999.

It's times like these when the commute sure is a heartbreaker. My desperate hope is that someone will hurry up and invent a teleporter. I don't see why this hasn't happened yet. Scientists of the world, get on that please.

In the mean time, I'm driving like an 85-year-old man in a spotless beige Mercury Grand Marquis. Last night on the way home, as I was creeping along the Interstate, the other vehicles swooped around me and sped on toward the horizon. But I just smiled smugly to myself. Burn up that $2.999-a-gallon gas, people. Just burn it up.

But this morning, with the $45.65 receipt in my pocket, I'm feeling less smug.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Deer Darwin

Last week, we had three visitors in the back yard. I saw the first one when I passed by the back door. There she was, approaching the steps. What attracted her? The flowers on the porch? Or was she only making her away around the house toward the fig tree and its branches hanging low with the weight of green fruit?

I think she heard me through the glass door when I gasped and called to Darwin. She turned and skittered back toward the treeline, toward the gap in the broken-down fence that separates our property from the patch of woods on our neighbor's land.

That's when I saw the other two, a boy and a girl. Her children from a previous season, Darwin guessed.

They didn't retreat all the way to the woods. The call of the figs must've been too strong, and the three deer stood in our yard for many minutes. I imagined the mother weighing the danger against the food, her ears twitching for stray sounds, the teenagers letting her listen for them while they bit at deerflies.

Then we noticed the mother was pregnant. Three lives depended on her to make the right decision.

In the end, she turned and led her children back through the gap in the fence. Gave up the figs or whatever she was after in exchange for their safety. Maybe they came back after dark or maybe not.

But while they were in our yard we watched them with a sense of wonder. It was like glimpsing a bit of a magical world, an alternate realm. (Okay, now I know I've been watching too much Charmed.)



It's hard to reconcile these lithe and ethereal creatures with the disembodied head hidden in the front bedroom. Yes, you read that right. We own - and even once displayed - a taxidermy deer head.

Darwin shot the buck four years ago, in the first autumn of our marriage. He'd never killed a deer so big - an 8-point (which for you non-hunters means he had 8 points on his antlers) - and my mother of all people guilted me into letting him spend the $300 to get it mounted. "It's his first big deer; it means so much to him," all said in the same voice she used to tell me to cook him a grilled cheese sandwich.

Of all the bad purchases and money wasted in my life, I regret that $300 most. It's right up there with the tickets for the Talladega race we didn't get to see. (I'm fulfilling all the Alabama stereotypes in this one post.)

At our previous two houses, Darwin hung the thing in the living room. Yes, yes it's true. I, Kristin, looked a dead deer in its glass eye every single day.

How did I tolerate such a thing, you ask? Believe it or not, I am no stranger to dead deer. As a child, I even liked to pet them, to rub the coarse tan and white hairs, to touch the hard black nose.

My grandfather lived and died an outdoorsman and avid hunter, and he taught my father to be the same way. When I was young, hunting was my father and my father was hunting. My early memories of him all involve camouflage.

But with age, my father mellowed. He realized that what he liked about hunting was enjoying the quiet and that magic nature world, watching the deer, not killing them.

I grew up around hunting, so I don't believe it's automatically wrong. Killing multiple deer each year, just for sport? That makes me a little squeamish. But killing one or two and eating the meat, as Darwin's family still does? I am okay with that. I'm not a vegetarian, so how can I argue that it's any different from eating a cow or a chicken? Besides, deer sausage is surprisingly yummy.

As for Darwin, he let his membership to the hunting club lapse a few years ago, but this year he's back in. He's doing it to spend time with his father more than anything. That's why I said nothing when he told me that's how he'll be spending all his spare time come November. In November, the redneck, caveman, me-hunt-big-deer side of Darwin can come out in full force. He'll wake up ridiculously early and come home late smelling bad and wearing camo.

I am such a patient wife. All I want in exchange is the bathroom finished before then.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

I'm Back ... Sort Of

I've been so out of touch, out of work, and out of consciousness the last few weeks that I feel like I've taken a vacation from my life. Today I'm back at work, but I don't feel like me yet. Even the links across the top of my Internet Explorer - my little lifelines to Blogger, Houseblogs, My Yahoo, Peerflix, Hotmail, etc. - seem barely familiar, like remnants of a past life.

Okay, maybe that's a little melodramatic. It just feels strange sitting in my office chair again, doing my job again, and I guess I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop as it has repeatedly done over the past few weeks.

But I think maybe it won't. I'm recovering nicely. About four days ago, I made it over the proverbial hump, and I've noticed significant improvement every day since then. The belly button scar totally skeeves me out, but other than that I'm doing well.

And I've discovered the wonderful Spanx cami (click here for the non-plus version and a whole website full of Spanx wonderfullness), which I've been wearing in lieu of a bra because underwire plus incision equals pain. I freakin' love this thing! Everyone - okay, maybe just the ladies - should go buy one immediately! Immediately, I tell you! I plan to buy another one or 12 because it's so darn comfortable, and I dread the thought of binding myself back into my once-beloved pretty-but-pinchy bras.

Okay, now that I've worked myself into a frenzy of delight over the Spanx cami, I'll leave you with this encouraging note: We actually did a teensy tiny bit of work on the bathroom this weekend. Yes, yes, we did. Hurray!

Darwin went into the attic (aka "place that used to be hotter than the pits of hell but is now comfortably cool thanks to Darwin's repair of the attic fan") and measured to figure out how much wire he'll need to do the bathroom wiring. He made a whole list of electrical stuff he'll need, and he's planning to go buy it one day this week. Yay!

The bathroom will feel so much closer to finished when there are actual electrical outlets in the walls. I'm still hoping to get this thing done before we leave for Italy on September 28. Please cross your fingers, toes and whatever else you can find.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Just Call Me Beltazor

In case anyone's wondering, I'm still alive post-surgery. I'm sitting at home, feeling bored and frustrated because for once I have all the time in the world to work on whatever I please ... only I can't work on it!

It's Day 4 post-op, and I can now get up and down off a chair (or the toilet) with ease, but getting out of bed is a different matter. Darwin went back to work yesterday, so he helped me get out of bed when he left at 4:30 a.m. and deposited me on the couch, where I could more easily maneuver myself up. Anything that requires stomach muscles is still strictly off limits. No picking up my precious kitties, though yesterday I started to be able to bend over just enough to pet the tops of their heads.

I'm running out of pain pills, so I've started rationing them. No sense taking one last night before bed because then it would just be wasted on sleep-time. Today my plan is to space them out from every four hours to every six. Let's see ... I took one at 7 a.m., so I have 2 more hours to go.

I don't know when I'll get to go back to work. My mom made her gall bladder surgery recovery sound like a breeze and a half, so I figured I'd be back by Wednesday. Ha. My mom must be one tough broad. This sucks. And a half.

The doctor's orders are I can't drive until Friday when I go back to see him, and if I'm hopped up on pain pills, driving is probably not such a hot idea. I don't know. I already missed so much work leading up to this surgery that I feel really guilty missing a whole week again. Plus, I'm bored! If I watch one more episode of Charmed, I think I might turn into a demon with a ridiculous name.

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