1902 Victorian

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

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Graveyard Smash

I was all atwitter about the party because so many people RSVP'ed that they couldn't make it. But it turned out to be well populated and a lot of fun. In fact, I would call it a GRAVEyard smash! It was a MONster mash!

My sister is a photographer, so I let her take the photos. Then what do I find this afternoon but her MySpace page chock full of hideousness. Here's one of the less embarrassing ones:

I was Hermione Granger, and my sister was a "punk vampire." I know, this photo is scary in many ways.

Okay, and here is an embarrassing one, which I'm only posting so that you can see Darwin's hilarious wig called The Rug:

That's Darwin as Ron Weasley. My sister captioned this photo: "Hermione gives the socially awkward Ron a little kiss."

Moving on ...

The day of the party was frenzied but surprisingly lighthearted. Usually when we're under pressure, we start sniping at each other and end up having screaming fights in which I throw a box of macaroni at Darwin.

We woke up early the morning of the party to get started cleaning. I cleaned the bathrooms better than they've ever been cleaned before, while Darwin vacuumed the whole house.

We also did a lot of decluttering, cleaned the kitchen, and frankly I don't even remember what else we did.

Once the house was basically clean, we started on the food. We made chili, which turned out to be a big hit. I swear, it was the best chili I've ever had in my life, and other people liked it, too. I think it was the green pepper the made it so good.

Here's the recipe, which I found at About.com and altered slightly:

Crock-Pot Chili

2 pounds ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1 tsp. black pepper
3 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic salt
Red pepper, to taste

Chop the onion and pepper, while not cutting yourself like I did. In a large skillet, saute chopped onion and bell pepper. Dump in the Crock-Pot with the beans, tomato, seasonings, etc., and stir to combine. Brown the ground beef and drain well. Add beef to Crock-Pot and stir everything up. Cover and cook for 7 to 8 hours on low, or as in our case, wait too late in the day and put it on high for a couple of hours, then reduce to low for 3 or so more hours. It's very scientific. Serve with grated cheese and tortilla chips. Yumyum!

I also made a trail mix with pretzels, Bugles, popcorn, peanuts and a honey/cinnamon/ginger glaze that was pretty yummy.

While I cooked, Darwin washed dishes, broke down a mountain of cardboard boxes to take to the recycling center, and did other things that needed doing. Don't ask me what.

For dessert, I made sugar cookies frosted with purple and orange, and here's where our peaceful day turned sour. First, Darwin forgot the confectioner's sugar at the grocery store and blamed me for it. He went to get some, but then I couldn't get the consistency of the icing right, and it kept running off the edges of the cookies. Also, the little cookie templates I bought didn't work, so I couldn't have the word "EEK!" or a trio of bats on my cookies like I wanted.

Darwin found all this hilarious, which made my head spin around a la Linda Blair.

Fortunately, it's hard to ruffle Darwin's feathers. I eventually calmed down, and it was a race to the finish to get showered and costumed before the guests arrived.

Once they were there, it was smooth sailing. Okay, not quite "smooth." The FM tuner for my iPod recently stopped working, and I forgot to buy a new one for the party. So I had to do things the old-fashioned way - burn CDs.

Then the first CD I burned wouldn't play, so in the mean time I played a Harry Belafonte CD, which is music better suited to a luau than a Halloween party. But so what? I LOVE Harry Belafonte.

We dined, gave tours of the house, played Dirty Minds, and Darwin and I even gave a little demonstration of our meager rhumba skills.

It was fun.

Darwin pointed out as we were preparing for the party that this was our first. I think we did pretty well for our first time.

And now Darwin's 30th birthday is coming up in just two weeks. I originally planned to have his party at the skating rink, but I'm afraid that will scare off too many staid and sane potential guests, so we may have it at home. Why not? The house is cleeeeeeeeeeean!


Thursday, October 26, 2006

We Finally Have a Sink

The sink question has been heavy on my mind this week because we need to decide that before we can figure out where to put the electrical outlets in the bathroom.

If you read this blog, you know it's been a long saga. First I wanted a pedestal sink. Then I wanted a vessel sink. Then my heart was set on an antique marble wall-hung sink supported by cast iron brackets. Debates raged on this site, in my house, and in my head.

Then yesterday I had to drive to Huntsville to attend a press conference for work. It was nice being out of the office for a day - just me, the Interstate and my Sex and the City audiobook.

About halfway between Birmingham and Huntsville I saw a billboard: ARCHITECTURAL ANTIQUES.

Whoa. How perfect is that?

I eagerly turned off at the next exit, in Cullman, a town I've heard of but never been. It's old downtown was cute, busy and full of antique shops. The kind of downtown I love to see, the kind that has appreciation written all over it. (unlike our downtown, which is kind of sad)

Then I found Southern Accents Architectural Antiques. When I opened the door, I swear I heard a choir of angels singing.

It was everything I'd always daydreamed about - a shop and warehouse full of goodies. Mantels, doors, lighting, clawfoot tubs, doorknobs, doorbells, keys, newel posts, metal brackets, wood brackets, windows, iron grates, railings, gates, plinth blocks, drawer pulls. A whole outdoor lot full of beautiful cast iron clawfoot tubs and sinks in every size and shape.

And here it was! A mere 2 hours away!

But I had to get to the press conference, and I knew if I started really looking, I'd get sucked in and lose all track of time and wake up sometime the next morning clutching a pedestal sink and sucking my thumb.

So I left. I car-danced all the way to Huntsville. I giggled to myself. I tried to think of people to call who would actually care that I'd found a really awesome architectural salvage place. I was desperate to get back.

Fortunately, the press conference was pretty interesting in its own right. A plant in Huntsville is expanding, which will create 175 more manufacturing jobs. One of the reasons cited for choosing the location for expansion was the high quality of products put out by these men and woman grouped in a broad semi-circle behind us. When the governor said, "It is because of you," we all turned and gave them a standing ovation. I got a little tear in my eye because they reminded me of Darwin and how much pride he takes in his work (also at a manufacturing plant).

I thought it went well, and I was proud of myself, too, because I managed to discuss compacted graphite iron with some measure of intelligence. I'm in a male-dominated industry, so I love an opportunity to prove myself to be just as savvy as they are.

But then came the best part of the day - back to Southern Accents! Hurray!

The place was hoppin', and I think that's awesome. Give them your business, people! I want them to last forever and ever! The business was founded by Dr. Garlan Gudger Sr. in 1969, and now Garlan Gudger Jr. runs it. Which brings me to another awesome thing about this place - the staff are knowledgeable! According to their flier, Garlan has a degree in Building Science, specializing in innovative construction practices in historic properties. So cool! I asked a question, and they knew the answer! AND they were nice, especially his lovely wife whose name has momentarily left my head. I LOVE these people!

I originally asked about a marble sink, but when they didn't have one, I went out to the garden o' cast iron and fell in love with a curvy bombshell of a 1930s sink. It was gigantic and wonderful, and after a million questions that Garlan answered without batting an eyelash, I decided it would definitely work in our bathroom. Best of all, it didn't even need refinishing, so it only cost $137 after tax. Way cheaper than any of my other plans.

Never has picking up such a heavy weight been such a relief. Maybe that's because I didn't actually pick it up. Garlan and another guy did, and back at home I crushed my fingers between it and the trunk, and then a red-faced Darwin carried it into the house alone.

But it was worth it. I'm so glad I found it and so glad I found that place. I'll be dragging Darwin back there soon. Very soon.

Here's the web site: Southern Accents Architectural Antiques. They do ship, and I highly recommend them.

Here are my photos from the store.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Can We Talk About Something Else Now?

I wish I knew some kind of mind-clearing yoga mantras right about now. But I don't, so instead I will talk about house-clearing. Make that cleaning.

I am rolling Weeks Three through Eight of the home cure all into one because we need to get this house ship-shape for the Halloween party. My intention was to divide the cleaning/de-cluttering into manageable bits over this week, but I've already had a good chunk of time wasted by the Drama That Shall Not Be Named.

Blech, shut up, we're not talking about that.

On top of the down-and-dirty cleaning that needs to be done, we must hang decorations for our bat infestation-themed party - carefully out of reach of the cats, who already ripped down one bat streamer, thankyouverymuch.

(hard to tell if Alistair is attacking the bats or they're attacking him)

Week Three is supposed to be dedicated to the bathrooms. I think. I admit it's been a while since I referenced the handy-dandy Home Cure book. Been too busy with my mafiosa duties.

We have two and a half bathrooms, but since one of them is but an empty shell of a bathroom, that - for a change - saves me some work.

The full bathroom is off the guest bedroom. That's where Darwin gets ready, so other than some actual cleaning, it's a tiny-but-tidy space.

The half bathroom has a looooong countertop, and it's where I get ready. Two strikes against it. It's a pigsty. Utterly and ridiculously cluttered.

The worse news is that bathroom is in the hall between the kitchen and the dining room, making it the prime location for guests' bathroom activities. It has to be fully de-cluttered and de-skeeved by the time of the party. There's nothing grosser than using someone else's grody bathroom. (And yes, I just said grody. To the max.)

Anyone out there who plans to attend, rest assured the bathroom will be neat and fresh-smelling by the time you arrive. Sadly, the hideous countertop will still be in place, as will the plywood floor. I can't work a miracle, though it sure would be a useful talent to have. Along with going back in time to Sunday afternoon and tweaking a thing or two.

Okay, moving on ...

I think this will be a small, low-key party because of the somewhat late notice, and that's okay with me. ShantheMan's wild party last year sure was fun, but I don't know if we're really wild party kinda people. I do better with a small group of dear friends, talking about naughty things or other people who didn't have the sense to attend the party.

Now to finalize the menu. I was pretty disappointed in the Food Network site's selection of Halloween recipes, but there are plenty of places on the web to search. If you have any genius suggestions, I welcome them - just make 'em easy and quick. I gots cleaning to do.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Shit Hath Hitteth the Fan ... eth

This post has been erased because it has turned into a major fiasco. What can you do but try to make it right? *Sigh*

Sad part is, I think that was one of my best posts in a while.

*This is my second time to quote a line from Ten Things I Hate About You in my title. Does this mean I am hopelessly stuck in 1999?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Criminal for Hire

These sinks are so perfect (and perfectly out of reach, pricewise) that I might be persuaded to kill, hogtie or whip someone with a wet noodle to get my greedy little hands on them. So if someone needs a job done, I'm your girl.

Or if you're a long-lost rich relative wishing to buy me a present, anything at all from this site will do.

*In case it's not obvious, I'M JOKING.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Halloween Revelry

We are having a Halloween party, and you are all invited! If you happen to be in the vicinity of Eutaw, Alabama on the evening of Saturday, October 28, please do stop by and enjoy some of the goofy Halloween treats I plan to make. If not, stay tuned for the inevitable photos of said treats.

Our Halloween costumes are still up in the air. My mom ordered me a Hermione Granger costume, and I'm hoping it arrives in time and fits right. If it does, Darwin will be Harry Potter. My sister pointed out that Ron would be more appropriate since he and Hermione are the ones who are romantically involved. We may end up doing that instead. We'll look and see what Mom and Dad have at their store once my costume gets here.

If Hermione and Hogwarts-boy-of-choice don't work out, we may be pirates or flapper and gangster.

You can tell this is heavy on my mind because last night I had an awful dream that I went everywhere in town and couldn't find a costume.

Or the dream might've been brought on by the stress of arguing discussing with Darwin whether we should have a Halloween party or not. Sure, it's short notice, and the house will have to be frantically cleaned. But what else is new?

I feel that we've enjoyed the hospitality of others so often that we owe it to people to have a party of our own. Right? I'll assume you agree with me. Who wouldn't want to have a Halloween party?

Besides, if we don't have one, we'll have no party to attend. Our friends S&B usually throw the big bash, but they're moving this month. So it's up to us to carry the torch! And darnit I want somewhere (other than ballroom dancing lessons that Friday) to wear my costume!


Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I spent my Saturday as a guide for the Greene County Historical Society Tour of House Porn. Okay sure, they call it something a little more prim (because Eutaw is nothing if not prim), but we housebloggers can read between the lines. Interior and exterior home tours with no restrictions on photography? Yes, that my friends, is house porn.

I love looking at old houses for three reasons. 1. I love old houses. 2. I want to get ideas (particularly for kitchens and bathrooms). 3. I am a voyeur. Well, aren't we all? We want to see how other people live: how tidy they are (though tour day is probably not a good time to judge); whether they like antiques, reproductions or Target chic; what their idea of restoration is; whether their TV is prominently displayed or tucked away; whether they have a pampered pet, a dog chained in the yard or none at all; what paint colors they chose; whether they have a bedspread or a comforter; whether they store their clothes in armoires, dressers or an entire room repurposed as a closet.

It's all so telling.

And in a small town - where everyone feels they have a right to know everything about everyone else - a home tour is the perfect way to nose into each other's business.

Each year in October several fine residences from around town are chosen to be "on tour," and there's always a slight shuffle in the mix. Half the town turns out for these tours, especially the older women, who dress to kill in elegant suits.

This year our friends L&M and S&B were both invited - and agreed - to be on the tour.

In the past several months L&M bought and rapidly restored a Victorian cottage catty-corner to us. Our house is its evil antithesis - ours is decorated with cat hair and random eBay finds, while theirs is the most immaculate house I've ever seen, and it's stuffed with glamorous trappings like rich fabrics and lots of gilt.

S&B moved into their antebellum Greek Revival the same time we moved into our house (2 years ago this month). It's a wonderful place for entertaining - lots of wide open spaces and the smells of Bobby's incredible cooking wafting through. S&B's major contributions to the house have been painting the interior walls bold, inviting colors; scraping/painting the dizzying 3-story exterior; and landscaping the yard in a way that showcases the house perfectly.

The trouble with S&B's residence is that it's too big for one person. Yep, our beloved S&B are splitsville. The house had been on the market for a month and sold the day before the Home Tour (a remarkably short sale time for a home in Eutaw).

ShantheMan asked me to hang out and help give tours of the house on Saturday, so I dolled up and headed over bright and early that morning. Some houses go all out with tour guides in each room clutching notecards and elaborating on the origin of each stick of furniture or piece of silver.

Yeah, that's not the kind of tour we did. We gave a little spiel something like this:

"The house was moved here in 1856 from the nearby community of Springfield. It was rolled here on logs" (pause for crowd reaction) "Yep, on logs! And it's only slightly haunted! Tee hee!"

Sometimes we threw in a ghost story or two and/or mentioned the fact that Dr. Willis Meriweather was the original owner and look there at those medicine bottles found in the attic! Then we sent them wandering about the house on their own.

A surprising number of fellow voyeurs asked ShantheMan: Why are you selling? How much did the house sell for? Where are you moving? Why are you moving there?

He answered with more poise than I probably could've mustered and never said, "Noneya business!"

All in all, the day was surprisingly fun. I enjoyed my tour guide role and meeting so many people who like old houses; some had even driven hours to get there.

We also got to meet the new buyers! They seem dedicated to preserving the house, which is wonderful. And the woman was wearing a cute sweater. So that's good.

Still, it was always present in my mind that our friends would be leaving soon. Bobby is moving to Tuscaloosa, and ShantheMan is moving to Moundville while he looks for a small house to restore in Eutaw.

Sigh. Anyway. In our down time, we also stole away to tour two other houses on the tour and one that wasn't, which I'll share pictures of later in the week.

And now, drumroll please, let the house porn commence:

Home Tour - ShantheMan photo set

Home Tour - ShantheMan slideshow

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Paint the Town Red

When I was 16, my parents bought a costume and party store. As a teenager, I hated working at the store - being bossed around by my mom at home was plenty. The only time I enjoyed it was Halloween. For the entire month of October, my parents get to the store at dawn and work past closing time. The week of Halloween, they open up extra registers, and still the lines of customers wind around inside the store. They hire every available extended family member to monitor the dressing rooms and off-duty cops to man the doors in hopes of discouraging shoplifters.

It's a madhouse, but it's like one giant party. Or at least the getting-ready-for-the-party, which is always one of my favorite parts. The staff wears silly hats or wigs or flashing pumpkin pins. My mom wears her collection of Halloween-themed shirts. Everybody dashes around like they're fetching defibrillators and life-saving medicines rather than fog machines and green face paint.

You see everybody you ever knew, and all sorts of people you never thought you'd meet. Goth kids, frat boys, sorority girls, drag queens, secretly gay co-workers, your pregnant high school Spanish teacher wanting to dress up as a breast. They all want advice; they're eager and so are you because you're helping them get ready to have fun.

I haven't worked a Halloween in years, not since I graduated college and got a full-time job. But this year Mom and I hatched a plan to open an online store. We started talking about it last year after Halloween, and it's been in progress since then. At first, we wanted a full costume shop, but then we decided to take it smaller and more focused for now - just women's costumes with a good selection of plus-size costumes.

I designed it and set everything up, but the costumes only started arriving from the manufacturers about a month ago. In a frenzy, I put as many costumes as I could on the site before I left for Italy. My parents are not Internet or computer savvy at all, so I also wrote down a VERY DETAILED step-by-step procedure for dealing with orders, including the words "click the link. It will be blue and underlined." My favorite part was teaching them how to cut and paste.

So now I'm back and still adding things to the site - we need to list more accessories, especially - and fixing design problems. It will be bigger and better next year, but I think it's pretty decent this year. I'm proud of it anyway, flaws and all - even though I can't figure out why the blankety-blank search box won't work.

So if you're a woman - or a man, I don't judge! - and you need a Halloween costume, please check it out.

Candy Apple Costumes


Monday, October 09, 2006

The Cure: Week Two

Yeah, so it's been about a million weeks since Week One of the Eight-Week Home Cure. I actually did Week Two in succession, but I just didn't have time to tell you about it, what with all my frenzied packing and then not-at-all-frenzied vacationing.

Week Two required cleaning the kitchen. Not just our usual sweeping-and-wiping-down-of-surfaces but decluttering. I was supposed to carefully consider each item in the kitchen - including the pantry - and move anything potentially unnecessary to the Outbox.

Our kitchen is, well - yech. If we want to eat at the table, we have to shove aside stacks of mail and catalogs. If we want to cook something, we have to relocate whatever clutter - last week, it was my two new purses from TJMaxx - off the countertops.

The book's first instruction was to clean out the pantry. Get rid of not only all the out-of-date food but also things you didn't really like or thought you'd eat but never have. I figured I wouldn't find much excess in the pantry. We don't cook much, and we've actually got extra room in there.

Lo and behold, I filled up our entire kitchen trash can with stuff. Much of it was outdated - I think we had some of it since our previous house ... and we moved in here two years ago. The rest was mostly junk food. Stuff we thought we'd like but didn't - strawberry-flavored YoGos (the grossest fruit snack ever), peanuts with sea salt and cracked black pepper, white chocolate-covered pretzels that tasted kinda stale, ice cream-flavored Skittles.

It felt incredibly good to purge all that stuff. I didn't even realize it, but every time I opened the pantry and saw that stuff I'd wasted money on, I felt guilty or pressured to eat it. Lord knows I don't need any pressure to eat!

So after the pantry purge, I worked on the rest of the kitchen. The book advocates getting rid of all mismatched or chipped glasses and having just one good, matching set. Yeah, that isn't even something I care about, so I ignored it. But I did use that advice to purge a set of glasses we were given as wedding presents that we never liked. Too small of an opening at the top, so the other side of the glass always knocked into your nose when you drank. They sat on a top shelf of the cabinet gathering dust until I banished them to the Outbox.

I also tackled a box of assorted nice pots and pans we bought for $5 at an auction last year. The box has sat under the window in the kitchen attracting cat hair since we bought it. So I loaded up the dishwasher with the nice stuff, and added the not-so-nice stuff to the Outbox.

Then I addressed my Fiestaware cabinet. It's a collection, not clutter, but the bottom shelf ends up getting piled with other non-collection items, so I cleared those away and found new homes for them. I also finally threw away a cute glass picture frame one of the cats broke a while back. I hung onto it even after it was broken because a dear friend gave it to me. Ditto for a broken stenciled martini glass from another dear friend.

Then onto the worst clutter-gathering spot in the room - the table. I suddenly remembered a letter-sorter box we'd used at our old house and sorted all the mail into it, filing away the older stuff. The table was still slightly cluttered, but it looked wonderful in comparison!

Finally, Darwin's "landing strip" - an orange Fiestaware bowl at the end of the countertop where he stashes his wallet, keys and change. Only it had grown so much bigger than that - months' worth of pay stubs stacked beside it, car part catalogs stacked in front of it, other paperwork wedged behind it. Some filing and discreet trashing took care of that.

So the kitchen was finished! It looked brighter, cleaner, bigger and much more inviting.

But then we went to Italy. In our frenzy to pack, I went back to my habit of tossing things on the table, including a pair of lavendar sandals with bows on top. A week's worth of mail piled up. We got home and were too tired to sort. Postcards, Band-Aids and cold medicine boxes ended up on the counter.

So yeah, it's back to normal. I think the kitchen remedy may have to extend into Week Three.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Love Affair

It's hard to express in words how much we loved Italy. I wish you could see the way I can't stop smiling when I talk about it.

Today I'm craving pizza, but none of the pizza around here will do. I want the kind we had in Venice, a broad slice with thin, floppy crust, chunky tomato sauce, fresh cheese, and either prosciutto or spicy salami. I want gelato - one scoop hazelnut, one scoop coconut. I want spaghetti al pesto and grilled seabass eaten in candlelight and breeze while the waters of the Grand Canal lap at the deck beneath us.

I want to ride in the sun at the front of a vaporetto (water bus), while unspeakably beautiful buildings slide by one after one after one - pink, yellow, cream, red, white. I want to go inside all the buildings we saw only from the outside. I want to crane my neck to see more ceiling frescoes and enormous paintings. I want to turn a corner and gasp, turn another and gasp again, to see so much beauty my eyes hurt.

I want to go up on the rooftop bar at our hotel in Florence and see the Duomo looming large and uplit orange in the dark sky. I want to lean against a wall and read a creased city map; I want to say all the street names out loud just to hear the way they roll off my tongue. I want to get lost in all the neighborhoods in Venice.

Most of all, I want to go back to the quiet squares in Venice, where the web of narrow streets suddenly opens up and the wind swirls down. I want to sit on the steps of a fountain there, while the local children play around us as if we're just another fixture, and I suppose we are.

Oh, dear readers, I wish I could tell you how much we loved it, especially Venice. Florence is lovely, but Venice is the place that stole our hearts. The 12 hours on a plane? Worth it. The money flowing out of our wallets and into the cash registers of Italy? Worth it.

As our plane took off from Marco Polo Airport, we took one last look out the window at the jewel of a city in the glittering water, and it was like saying goodbye to a friend.

Oh, how I miss it. They say it takes two weeks to form a habit, but I'm addicted already to Venice and the unhurried life we lived this week. My car, my clothes, my office, even my beloved house feel like strangers. I don't want to look at this city full of glinting metal and bumper stickers. I want quiet, pastel Venice. When oh when can I go back?

Italy photos as slide show and photo set. I'll be adding more over the next day or two.

P.S. I also want to watch Rear Window, this time in English instead of dubbed Italian.