Decorating the Front Doors of Historic Homes

If you’ve ever bought wreaths or swags from big box stores to decorate your front entrance, please let me  suggest that the next time you make this type of purchase, go to a local floral shop or designer instead.  Have them design something unique that fits your style, and is sized just right for your door.

Several years ago I asked a local floral artist to design two wreaths for the double front doors at one of my two historic homes.  Earlier this year she gave us a large, similarly designed swag, which I put on the single front door of our other historic home.

I personally love the look of pheasants or pheasant feathers in fall arrangements.   I think they lend a classic look, and are a wonderful reminder of the beauty of being outdoors in the fall.

Because they are designed to my taste and style, and also to fit the size and shape of the doors, I have loved hanging them up every year and will continue to do so for years to come.  They are well made, and worth the small ‘extra’ amount I paid vs. buying something from a big box store that over time would fall apart (pun intended) or go out of style and need to be replaced.

fall pheasant wreaths

Twin pheasant wreaths on twin Victorian doors.

historic home pheasant swag

Single pheasant swag for my Antebellum home’s front door.

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Generational Christmas Tree

I know there are others out there like me who, as they unpack the boxes of Christmas decorations, take as much of a trip down memory lane as they do to the North Pole or a manger in Bethlehem.

As much as I love to look at ‘decorator’ trees, with their perfect color coordination and their precise balance of lights to sparkle, or ‘theme’ trees that pay tribute to a favorite sports team, hobby, or artist, my tree will never be one of those trees.

My tree is a hodge-podge of ornaments that have been passed down through our parents, grand parents, or great grand parents, given to us as gifts, bought by us as souvenirs of vacations we’ve taken, made for us by our son’s once little hands, or, as is the case for the Star Wars ornaments, bought by us for our son.  I hate to admit it but, we have more ornaments than tree this year, so I gave a promise to the ones still in their boxes that next year I’ll get a bigger tree.

I hope that future generations will treasure these ornaments and decorations as much as I have, and that long after my husband and I are gone, they will be placed on a Christmas tree and a parent will tell a child, ‘this belonged to your (fill in the great) grandmother / grandfather”

May the blessings of the season be with be with you and your family.

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The Ghia

When I started dating my husband, one of the things that made me fall in love with him was his 1974 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Convertible.  It wasn’t because I coveted something he owned, but because of the story that went with the car.

He can tell it much better than me, but the short version is that he’d purchased it new in 1974, and over the course of the next ten years, it carried him though good times and bad times, and after he’d put 160,000 miles on it, and the floor pans were rusted through and the soft top was patched with duck tape, he made the car a promise that since it had taken care of him, he’d take care of it, and he parked it for a ground up restoration.

He didn’t plan on the restoration taking 20 years, but again, trying to stick to the short version of the story, life happens, and he’s worked on it as much as he could and money would allow.

In the years that we’ve been together, I have pushed this car, pulled this car, rolled this car, towed this car, inventoried parts for this car, and sat next to this car holding flashlights and listening to my husband curse as he tried to install or uninstall this thing or that thing.

2014-06-07 16.16.23This summer his dedication finally paid off, and for the first time in 20 years, the Karmann Ghia rolled out of the garage under its own power.  We owe much gratitude to our dear friend Dale Abbott, who is hands down the best auto mechanic we’ve ever known.  He also was taken by my husband’s story of his Ghia, and has helped my husband by providing both shelter for the car (we don’t have a garage) and mechanical skills to help get it up and running.

If you’ve ever loved a car, or attempted an automotive restoration, you’ll appreciate the dedication  to the project, and a never give up attitude.  There are still a few things that need done before it is truly ‘road ready’, but a major milestone has been achieved, and our goal now is to finish in time to drive it to a couple classic car shows in 2015.

2014-06-07 16.16.37By the way…  the ‘For Sale’ sign was a joke – the mechanic’s version of  a ‘kick me’ sign taped to someone’s back.  In these pictures my husband hadn’t yet noticed it tacked to his beautiful baby Ghia.  He had a good laugh when he finally saw the sign, then immediately removed it from the car.

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Kitchen Renovation – Part III – How easy it is to forget

Hello – I didn’t intend on a Kitchen Part III that was not the final, beautiful shots of the room finished and a gourmet meal being prepared for enthusiastic guests, but my husband found some digital photos of the kitchen as it was prior to renovation; when we lived and worked and played and cooked and at in that kitchen.  Plus, he found a couple of photos just at the beginning of renovation that tell more of the story of why we’ve done what we’ve done.

I looked at the ‘before’ pictures, and almost started to cry, for a couple different reasons. They brought back a flood of memories.  I saw my son’s little mud boots and chalk sticks and car toy from when he was but three or four,  and my heart warmed with loving memories.  Then I looked at all the jars on top of the refrigerator, and fake brick paneling, and couldn’t believe I’d totally forgotten about them.  Where the heck are those jars, and why do I have so many???

Then I saw the stove piled with stuff.  Kitchen utensils, a basket of fresh peaches,  a jar of dog biscuits, a sprayer of cat urine odor remover.  And, in the background, is a crock full of baseball bats, never hung blinds, and a broom and dust pan.  I was defiantly in the middle of doing lots of things – the cat was old, the dog was young, my son wanted to play outside, the local orchards had spring’s first harvest of peaches.  It is a slice of everyday life preserved in zeros & ones.  And I’m not sure what I am tearing up over – the memory of a life lived, or how long I lived with a badly decorated kitchen that had stuff piled everywhere.

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Kitchen Renovation – The Rebuilding

Hello again – ready for the big reveal?  We aren’t done yet with the kitchen, but these photos will show how we began to rebuild, and where we are as of today.

I’m still learning how to blog, and today I found the ‘create gallery’ option under ‘add media’, so I thought i’d give it a try.  I’m going to keep this post short ‘n sweet, and let the photos do the talking.  If you have questions, drop me a line in the comments.

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Kitchen Restoration – The Tearout

Anyone who has ever attempted to live in, love, and repair an old house, or has seen movies such as The Money Pit, will appreciate this post, and other ones to come about old house restoration / preservation.

This year has been the year of the kitchen renovation at our 1840’s Federal style brick home.  When we started the project in March, we thought it would take a month-or-two. Ha!  15 years into working on this house and we’re still optimists!  Now, 9 months later, we’re just rounding the bend on the ‘few more things’ that need to be done.  My husband and I have agreed that finishing this project will be the best Christmas gift we could give to each other.

I’m going to put up a lot of pictures, because this story is best told visually.  I wish I had a really great picture or two of what the kitchen looked like for all the years we lived and cooked in the house, but alas, what I have is not digital, and my photo boxes are buried somewhere in the house.


Yes, that is my stove/oven.  It is a 1929 New Process that my husband rescued from his grandmother’s house back in the 1970’s, put in storage, and was thankful when he had an old house to put it in, and a young wife naive enough to agree to use it to cook.  Kidding aside, it’s always worked great, and I look forward to using it again when the kitchen is back together.

But what you should really be looking at in the picture are the plaster walls that had been covered with vinyl flooring behind the sink and Cinnamon MDF wood paneling everywhere else.  The squiggly lines on the wall are the glue marks from the paneling.  Also, look down at the floor to see the vinyl self-stick squares stuck down to sheet linoleum, stuck down to hardwood floor.


A plaster ceiling covered a Cyprus wood ceiling that had been painted. This is the third wood ceiling we’ve uncovered.  There are two reasons these wood ceilings were covered:  (1) fashions changed and wood ceilings went out of style around the turn of the century and (2) with good reason because soot and debris easily filters down from the space above the ceiling, then in between the boards, and down into the room.   How do I know this second for a fact?  Wood ceiling #1.  After uncovering it we spent years vacuuming up coal dust and debris from our carpet and bed (yeah!) until we got into the attic above, completely cleaned it out, then laid down plastic and insulation.


Something we noticed when we bought the house was that the window and door frames were recessed into the walls.  Why would this be?  Because, and I hope I don’t crush anyone’s rose colored glasses, not everyone in the ‘olden days’ had a good work ethic.

In this picture what you see are the layers of brick wall, original plaster, wall paper, wood lathe strips, and ‘new’ plaster (which is on the floor at this point).  What it means is that the original plaster got into bad shape, and instead of repairing this plaster (which BTW helps hold the mortar and bricks together) they took the easy way out and simply nailed in new lath strips and covered them with a new coat of plaster. The trouble with this method of ‘fixing’ the walls is that the old plaster is still turning to sand behind the new plaster.  Cover the new plaster with non-breathable MDF panels and/or vinyl flooring, and you’ve got a moisture trap speeding the decay.


Beauty shot of the wall paper under the ‘false’ plaster wall. We do our best to document these types of discoveries with photographs, and save pieces when possible.

Kitchen_6 Kitchen_5

Above and below pictures of one of the two windows in this kitchen.  There was no ‘original’ plaster left under the false wall in this section of the room. The mortar had turned to sand, and the bricks under the window were just dry stacked on top of eachother.

I should also mention that this window is on the back wall of the house, and it is the only wall to have ever been stuccoed on the outside, which was another clue when we bought the house that a problem had been ‘covered over’ instead of fixed right.  The external stucco was the only thing holding this wall together.  We felt very lucky that the wall had not collapsed.

But, on the bright side, in the top photo, just above the curtain rod, you can see a hand hewn beam.  Hand hewn beam!!!!  Its days of service as part of the wall’s structure are over, but we reused it elsewhere and you’ll see it again.


My husband contemplating the near disaster we’d avoided by being the type of restorationists/preservationists with enough curiosity to go deeper than simply redecorating the surfaces that showed.  In this picture note the door, especially above the door.  Looks fine, right?


So, this picture shows you two things:  (1) We took down the Cyprus wood ceiling.  With the sad state of the brick below the ceiling line, we had to see what it was like above.  I’d always told my husband my vision for this kitchen included a vaulted ceiling, something to which he’d never agreed until we started the tear out, and saw how bad everything was.  So, hey – the silver lining to needing to repair all the brick was I got my wish with the vaulted ceiling! Wait till you see how sweet it looks!

Do you remember how above the door looked fine a picture up?  Here it is again, with the slumping brick and header exposed.

kitchen_11Take away the slumping brick and what do you have?  Daylight!  The board was put there to keep birds and bats out until we could get the wood header and brick back in place.


Just a good long shot of one of the temporary support beams put in place to hold up the joists.  Here you can also see the roof rafters  – the 12″ wide boards would be original to the structure, and above them are the pressed wood sheeting the roofing shingles are attached to.  An interesting side note is that my husband and his helper figured out is that this ‘room’ was a entirely separate building at some point in time.

We’d discovered earlier that the basement under this kitchen had a cooking fireplace, and so determined it must have been the summer kitchen, but can only guess what the room above was used for.  Our best guess?  Slave quarters. According to the abstract we received with the house, just before the start of the civil war, the owner, Beverly Lee, went bankrupt, loosing the house, farm land, a carriage and team of horses, and nine slaves to settle his debts.  His name is carved into a closet door under the house’s main staircase.


Last picture for this post.  This shows the brick above the ceiling line.  This is the only internal wall, so while it did need some tuck-pointing, and was very dirty and covered in wasp nests, it was the best wall in the room.

Next post will show the rebuilding.

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Yin and Yang: Technology Overload & Recharging Through Solitude


“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”   [The Minotaur]

― Albert CamusThe Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

In our social media class, taught by Leli Samii and Bridget Franciscovich, we were given an assignment to write a comparison between two mainstream movies, one which reflected solitude, and one which reflected technology overload.  Then we were challenged to sit alone – no technology friends, family or reading material – for 30 minutes, then write about the experience.

Technology Overload

The Internship

In the movie The Internship, two non-tech savvy Gen-X guys are teamed with several Millennials in an attempt to complete for jobs at Google.  At first, the very tech-savvy millennials see them as relics from another era who only serve as lead anchors to the team’s success.  Then, when the two old guys take the young turks out for a decidedly unplugged-from-technology night of partying at a strip club, followed by watching the sun rise over the Golden Gate Bridge, the team bonds, and they are inspired to create an app that wins a challenge at Google and puts their team on top of the competition.


Any Superman movie (or TV show, or comic, or graphic novel, etc.).  The guy literally has an ice palace called ‘The Fortress of Solitude’ where he goes to escape from his enormous responsibilities of saving humanity from certain destruction, over and over again.

Experiencing Overload & Solitude

For me, a Gen-Xer old enough to remember a time prior to constant connectedness though technology, solitude for 30 minutes (or more) is a normal part of my day, so the idea of being challenged to sit alone without technology was no challenge at all.  Technology has certainly become a large part of my life, as it has for most people.  It is fundamental to work and school, and for communicating with family, friends, and strangers.

I understand how easy it is to get swept up in technology, especially social media.  I ran a paid Facebook campaign to promote an event. To have my phone vibrating or dinging every time I had a new notification about a like, a comment, or a share, was thoroughly exhilarating.  I felt like a digital Sally Field at the Oscars, “you like me right now, you really like me”!  My campaign ended, but for a couple days after, I still felt ghost vibrations and heard ghost dings, and checked my phone just in case.  It was easy enough to let go, and now I’m back to leaving my phone in the bottom of my purse.

Except for activating the auto-reply on my work e-mail, and changing my work mobile phone voice mail message as a courtesy to customers and colleagues when I am away, I don’t feel the need to explain to anyone my lack of engagement during periods of disengagement.

I don’t think solitude must involve sitting still, or chanting, unless that happens to be the opportunity that presents itself.  For me, opportunities for solitude appear everywhere:  my commute to or from work where I’ll turn off the radio and just enjoy the quiet inside the car; gardening and/or mowing the lawn; painting or wallpapering in the house; weekday lunches where I’ll go through a drive-through then park by a small lake, mindlessly eat, and watch geese; walks with the dog; polishing silver – really there are a myriad of ways to get lost in solitude.   Sometimes, if I’m lucky, and it is an activity I am doing, solitude turns into flow.

Okay –The Internship movie is a bit schmaltzy, and we could debate as to if Superman is the poster boy for solitude (unlike Batman, who should rename his cave ‘The Cave of Solitude’), but the paradox between low tech inspiring high tech, and retreating away from the world in order to save it, are worth examining.

The Camus quote at the beginning of this post states it succinctly.  Being in the world, and being apart from the world, are yin and yang to each other.  I think it is okay to get deep into technology overload, as long as there is also opportunity to withdraw and recharge though solitude.

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