Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top Ten of 2008

My son once said, "I don't spend a lot of time looking back." Mostly, I agree with him, but there are certain occasions when retrospect is called for, none more so than the end of a year. As I look back on 2008, here are the ten most significant things about that year, in no particular order.

1. Dylan asked Sarah to marry him--and she said yes! Although I just said "in no particular order", my son's engagement has to be the most memorable event of 2008. Sarah is a lovely girl and I welcome her into our family with open arms. Where my son is rowdy, a consummate story-teller, a little loud, and has the attention span of a gnat (sound like anyone you know?) Sarah is quiet and calm and level-headed. They complement each other's strengths and weaknesses beautifully. Young to be married, I know they will grow old together.

2. My mom went to the ER. I know in my head that my mom is 81, but when she gets carded for the Senior Citizen Discount, helps me tear shingles off my house, and still works part-time it's sometimes hard to remember it. That breathless phone call from her saying she needed to go to the ER hit hard. I deal with other people's emergencies every day; when it's my mom with A-fib, though, it's a little different. Thankfully, it was just a temporary hitch in her heart's normal rhythm and she's back to her usual 60-something lifestyle.

3. I got attic insulation. I shivered through two winters in this house before deciding to get some decent attic insulation. Now I'm kicking myself for not doing it sooner. The furnace runs a shorter amount of time when it's on and stays off longer between cycles now that more of the heat stays in the house. Even with the increase in the price of natural gas, I'm guessing the insulation will pay for itself in just two or three years.

4. My son bought his own house. Everyone says it's a buyer's market, and that certainly proved true for my son. Dylan got a nice little starter home with a huge fenced-in back yard the Doberman can romp in for about the same price as a BMW sedan. Because Dylan's neighborhood was the beneficiary of a block grant, his roof, HVAC, plumbing, windows, and siding are all just five years old.

5. I tore the cedar shingle siding off my house! If we were singing "The 12 Days of Christmas", the shingle project would be the five golden rings. You know, the one you pause on while rushing through the rest of the list. The shingle removal will most likely be the most labor-intensive house project I ever undertake. (I fervently hope so, anyway.) This summer I disposed of 65 bags of project trash, braved my fear of heights, killed millions of ants and silverfish, poked a hole in my lip, drank innumerable bottles of Gatorade, and met lots of wonderful people in my neighborhood, all while restoring my house to the way it's supposed to look. Yee-haw!

6. I lost one of my childhood friends. In July, a childhood friend of mine died of a heart attack at 41. She was overweight, had diabetes, and smoked. As my friend Libby said, "If any of that applies to you, take heed, and that's all I have to say about that." As heartbreaking as it was to lose Jo, her death not only brought all of us together for an hour or so at her funeral, it keeps us together still. We call each other more often, send real emails along with all the forwards, and actually get together instead of just saying we will.

7. I discovered Facebook. Partly as a result of seeing old friends at Jo's funeral and hearing them say, "Find me on Facebook," I joined. If you haven't already joined, it's free and simple and has a Friend Finder that borders on mind-reading. I've reconnected with old friends from high school and college, made new friends, and gotten to know people better through Facebook. It's a fun and easy way to stay in touch with folks you care about. (I should warn you that it can be addictive.)

8. My son got out of the Army. Dylan joined the Army National Guard at 17. How he got out of it three years later is a long story, and some parts of it are too personal to post here. It's his story to tell. Suffice it to say that I am immensely relieved and feel as if a burden has been lifted from me. I was proud of my son when he was a soldier; I am equally proud of him for coming through this difficult decision mostly unscathed.

9. I became a house history detective. After a fascinating conversation with my neighbor David about the history of his house, including that the Confederate States Army had a cannon battery in his front yard, I was inspired to discover the history of my own house. What I've uncovered so far is really interesting and a bit juicy and has virtually nothing to do with my house itself. But what I uncovered after that about the family who built my house and were its longest owners is truly a treasure. Stay tuned.

10. The blog gave back. My blog's been mostly a selfish endeavor, I admit. It's a way to indulge my creative side, keep up my writing skills, and use my brain on those long nights at work. I started this blog in July of 2007 tentatively and not knowing just what to expect. This year the blog gave back to me far more than I put into it. I met folks I never would have met any other way, got advice and encouragement, added other blogs to my regularly-read list, learned new things, cooked new foods, and truly felt a part of a virtual community. Here's hoping 2009 is even better!

Happy New Year!

"Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. To-day, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient short comings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion. "
Mark Twain,
in a column which appeared in the
Virginia City Territorial Enterprise January 1, 1863.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No Escape From DIY

Sometimes you just can't escape home repairs. Not even on Christmas Eve. I ran away from my own disaster of a house--pots and pans all over the kitchen, scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon in the dining room, two ornaments in the middle of the living room floor, shards of wallpaper hanging off the dining room walls, a container of paint stripper in the entryway--and went to my mom's house for the family Christmas celebration. Mom and Dad built their ranch-style house themselves in the mid-1950s and Mom lives there alone now that Dad's passed away. Her house is always nice and clean, it has plenty of closets, and she's never tearing up anything. (Sometime I'll show you pictures of her kitchen cabinets, which she and her cabinetmaker cousin designed themselves--they're amazingly clever.) Mom's house is like a spa compared to mine.

So after stuffing ourselves fat as ticks on Christmas dinner and opening up our presents, we were all sitting around talking when my brother asked, "Do you smell that? That weird kinda burning smell?" Uh-oh. We walked around the house trying to find the source, then both suddenly had the same thought at the same time, and ran down the steps to the basement. Weird smell located. The furnace motor sounded like a freight train. "Blower motor's burning up," I told my brother. He walked through the dim room and flicked the switch to turn off the motor. Then he realized he was standing in water. "Hunh?!" he said. We turned on the lights and saw a giant puddle of water about seven feet long and four feet wide all around the furnace and the water heater. It was only a quarter of an inch deep or so, but still, that's a lot of water. We checked the water heater and found no problem with it. We took the panel off the furnace and found an inch of water in there. That explained the blower motor working overtime. But where the heck was the water coming from? After a few more minutes of exploration laced with some un-Christmas-like language, we found it: the sewer drain line was clogged and the overflow was backing up into the basement. That's when the un-Christmas-like language really started....

My brother snaked out the sewer line and opened it back up (with a giant sucking sound that was really gross), I pulled the damp hammock filter out of the furnace and cut a new one, and my son used a shop vac to suck up all the yucky water from the floor and from inside the furnace. My mom paced back and forth in the finished part of the basement and fretted while my son's fiancee told her everything would be okay. (And she was right--after we got everything dried out and cleaned up and turned the furnace back on, it worked fine.) Meanwhile, my sister-in-law kept their kids upstairs and out of the way, and even managed to wash up all the dishes (yay!!) while the rest of us grown-ups were otherwise occupied.

Back upstairs over coffee and pie my mom said, "This is certainly not how I wanted us to spend our Christmas Eve."

And Sarah, my future daughter-in-law, had the best line of the day: "Well, you said you wanted us all to get together and do things more often..."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Yes, it's that time of year again--time for my annual Light-O-Rama obsession! I swear, y'all, if I ever win the lottery I'm getting a ginormous Light-O-Rama setup at my house. Year-round.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Your Questions Answered

I think my house's deed history is really interesting, and I'm glad to see that y'all do, too. Most of the comments to my Part III post asked questions, so I'll try to answer them the best I can.

When did Mary Withers pass away? This is a question I've been wondering about, too, and the short answer so far is, I don't know. I'm never satisfied with just the short answer, so read on for everything else I've uncovered. Missouri didn't require mandatory reporting of births and deaths until 1910. Although earlier records exist for some counties, the Missouri State Archives has none for Lafayette County. I'm unable to find a death certificate for Mary Withers, so she probably died sometime after 1888 (when she sold the second parcel of land to the Kellys) and prior to 1910. (By the way, did you know you can search for Missouri birth and death certificates from 1910 to 1957 at
and see digitized copies of the documents?) A woman named Marty Helm Brunetti compiled an index to tombstone inscriptions for every known cemetery in Lafayette County by mapping out each cemetery into a grid and then walking the rows of stones with her husband and their two dogs, writing down each inscription as they went along. (The scope of that project just astounds me.) I've used her reference books for years to locate tombstones for my own family and to answer genealogical questions the local library receives from time to time. In all those years I've never known Ms. Brunetti to make an error. If there is a stub of a tombstone or a depression in the ground she will note it. Her index to Machpelah Cemetery in Lexington gives the inscription on Marquis Withers's tombstone (18 March 1815/Garrett Co., Ky./13 August 1885/IOOF) but has no listing for his wife. There is an entry in Machpelah's records for a Mary J. Withers (our Mary had a middle initial of A) who died of grippe at age 85 and was buried 7 February 1910. That woman's birthdate would have been 1825, so it's possible she could have been Marquis Withers's wife (though ten years younger than he) and the cemetery misread or misheard her middle initial. I cannot locate a death certificate for that Mary Withers. The most likely answer, as I see it, is that Mary A. Withers is indeed buried next to her husband but her tombstone was long gone by the early 1980s when Ms. Brunetti cataloged Machpelah.

What's the name of the B&B in the Witherses' former summer kitchen? I have no idea. There's no sign outside it advertising it and I don't really know those neighbors all that well. Those neighbors also own Il Bel Carrello, a fabulous little shop here in Lexington, and you might be able to call the store or email them (click on Contact Us on their website) and find out more about the bed and breakfast. It's not listed on Lexington's crappy website, either. I googled "Lexington Missouri bed and breakfast" and found B&Bs in the area, but not Lexington proper. There are two B&Bs on my block alone, one right across the street from my house, and at least three more within walking distance of my house. It frustrates me no end that Lexington bills itself as a tourist destination and then does so little for prospective visitors. (That's not directed at my neighbors, but at the pathetic Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau here. They're an embarrassment, but that's a story--or several stories--for another time.)

How much did the Kellys pay for the land they bought from Mary Withers? James C. and Maria L. Kelly bought two parcels of land from Mary Withers. The first, 23 August 1887, was the west 50 feet of Lot 7 (my property now) for which they paid $500. The second, for the rest of Lot 7 and all of Lot 8, was purchased 28 March 1888 for the price of $600. The terms of both sales were that the total purchase price would be paid in full within one year at the rate of 8% per annum. Five hundred dollars seemed to be the going rate for a lot of land inside Lexington city limits at that time, I've noticed while paging through the records in the Courthouse.

Are you going to have a champagne christening of the house or the new blog title? This is my favorite question, asked tongue-in-cheek by Why S. I'm not--why waste a perfectly good bottle of champagne by cracking it all to pieces against the house?--but I am enjoying a glass of very tasty white wine, made just a few miles from here by the good folks at Baltimore Bend Vineyard. Here's what the label says: "Sweet Beginnings aptly names two special events in our lives. First, our venture into the wine business...We dove in and began turning an apple warehouse into a wine processing and tasting facility. Our second sweet beginning was an addition to our clan, Andrew. He arrived on a snowy January day to brighten our lives." Now I ask you, how could you pass up a bottle of wine with such a sweet label? (For you wine aficionados, Sweet Beginnings is a sweet wine made from Catawba grapes. It's fruity but not cloying and the aftertaste hints of apple.) But I am having another christening of sorts in the spring: when I finally finish painting the house, Carl (my wonderful neighbor who owns The Parsonage Bed & Breakfast) has promised to throw a little party for me. He says we're inviting all the people who have helped and having wine, cheese and fruit. That's something to look forward to on this cold, gloomy day when the sky is raining down pellets of ice, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Benefits of Country Living

I was late for jury duty this morning. I went home first to feed the animals and change out of my uniform and then I couldn't find a parking space anywhere but behind the pub, so I was late. Just ten minutes late, but that was enough for the bailiff (who knows me) to notice I was missing and to radio my son (who was dispatching at the Sheriff's Dept.) and ask him to call me. Faster than I can tell it, I rounded the corner in the hallway, heard the Court Clerk say, "There's your girl, Lonnie," reached to answer my ringing phone, and crashed into the bailiff, who said, "That'll be Dylan. I told him you weren't here." So I couldn't resist having a little fun at my son's expense.

Me: [in a fake sleepy voice] Hello?
Dylan: Mom, where are you? Lonnie just called and said you're late for jury duty.
Me: I'm not goin'.
Dylan: What?! You can't just not show up!
Me: They can kiss my butt. I'm tired. Like they're gonna issue a warrant for ME.
Dylan: Mom, seriously, you better get over there--
Me: Just kiddin'! I'm standin' here lookin' at Lonnie right now, baby.
Dylan: [laughing] You think you're funny but you're not.

I was excused from jury duty four hours later. The defendant was stopped by the Highway Patrol while traveling down Interstate 70 this spring and had--I mean, allegedly had twenty pounds of marijuana in his vehicle. Something tells me he wasn't gonna smoke that up all by himself. I used to work at the Sheriff's Department here, my son works there now, the Assistant Prosecutor is a good friend of mine, and I am acquainted with one of the troopers who arrested the defendant. Living in a rural county (total population at 2006 census: 33,146) does have its advantages.

Back to the Courthouse

I'll be going back to the Courthouse bright and early this morning. Just as soon as it opens its doors in three and a half hours, there I'll be. Even though I've stayed up all night at work, even though I'll be cranky from driving home on snow-packed roads, there I'll be. Right at 8:30 a.m. sharp.

For jury duty.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Deed History Part III: The Last of the Rathells

I guess if the Withers/Rathell story proves anything, it's that family problems are nothing new. Still, it makes me a little sad. If those events happened in 1987 rather than 1887, Marquis and Mary Withers might've lived out the rest of their lives in an assisted living facility. As it turns out, Marquis Withers wasn't long for the world. He passed away August 13, 1885, just eight months after the Rathells moved back to St. Louis.

In December of 1885 Mary Withers brought an action against the Rathells that nowadays we would call a Petition for Quiet Title. It's a bit of deed housekeeping to clarify that Mary Withers was the sole owner of the property and that the Rathells had no claim to it. Because the Witherses had intended for Oleatha Rathell to inherit the property upon their deaths and then pass it to her children upon Oleatha's death, the Rathell children are named as parties in the suit. There were four of them: Mary, Maude, Samuel Jr. and Margaret. Eight people of three generations living under one roof...

The lawsuit explains why Marquis and Mary Withers wanted the Rathells to take care of them. Mr. Withers's "low state of health" mentioned in the deed was "owing to a then recent attack of paralysis". (I think this was probably a stroke.) It also mentions that the Witherses had no children of their own and therefore had no one to take care of them but "Oleatha P. Rathell, a half niece of Mary Withers". The Rathells took up residence in the Withers home on October 25, 1884, a home described as "a large and commodious and valuable two story brick dwelling house, with valuable out houses [outbuildings], stables, iron and stone fencing, evergreens and other ornamental trees, fruit trees, garden and other improvements of great value, to wit, of the value of $25,000..." To paraphrase Charlotte's Web, "Some house!"

There are three brick houses on my block, all two-story, all pre-Civil War in age. Which one was the Withers house? I knew the Witherses owned Lots 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8 of Block 18, so off to the library I went. There I found an 1877 plat map of Lexington. (I wish y'all could see this thing--it's beautiful. Hand-drawn and hand-colored maps of the town, with details like steamboats on the river and carriages along the streets. Because it's so old, the library doesn't allow it to be photographed or I'd share pictures.) I found Block 18 and learned that Lots 1, 2, 3 & 4 are on the north half of the block and are numbered from east to west, with Lot 1 being the east-most lot. An alley running east to west bisects the block. Lots 5, 6, 7 & 8 are of course the south half of the block and are numbered from west to east, with Lot 8 being the east-most lot. That means that my property (the west 50 feet of Lot 7) was the back yard of the Withers house. And this house is the Withers house:

It's still some house, isn't it? The stone and iron fencing described in the 1885 lawsuit is still there, as is the original summer kitchen, which the current owners are using as a very cozy bed & breakfast. The National Register inventory says, "Built in 1854, this structure stands as one of the finest examples of Italianate architecture still remaining..."

Mrs. Withers sold the two lots behind this house to James C. Kelly on August 23, 1887. The Kelly family would become the most permanent occupants of my house, living here until well into the 20th century. I have found a treasure trove of information about them, nearly all of it thanks to the diligent research of a modern-day relative of theirs who compiled a family history in 1996. I'll share the Kellys' story with you next time. I am proud to say that I live in the Kelly house, and so, in honor of the Kelly family, I have changed the name of this blog to The Kelly House.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Very Kitty Christmas

Before all this deed history research craziness started, I decided it was time to put up the Christmas tree. Remember that disaster? I pushed the sofa over against the wall and found a big swath of horrid carpet I'd neglected to rip up the first time. It's gone now. So is that bag of carpet pieces in the corner.

So I put up the Christmas tree. Wow. Worse than I remembered. Last year Marie (the mean cat) claimed the tree as her exclusive territory and wouldn't let anyone near it. She slept in its branches like a panther so as to protect it from anyone who might want to decorate it or put presents under it. Awww...look at little Louie watching for Santa Claus!

This year I was determined to have a nice-looking tree. With ornaments. And maybe even presents underneath. So determined that I seriously considered stapling chicken wire across the alcove opening in front of the tree. Then I realized I didn't really want my Christmas tree making people think of the band in "Roadhouse", so I came up with a different plan. Bribery. Behold the Cat Safari Jungle Gym. Behold the rare photo of all three of the cats playing nicely together. All three of them are there. Really. That gray-and-white blob the two other cats are examining is Christopher.
And while they played together so nicely, I decorated the tree with real ornaments. Real plastic ornaments. A whole box of 82 of 'em for just twenty bucks at Target. It says SHATTERPROOF right on the front of the box. We'll see.


I have been tagged by my friend Sandy at Curly's Corner to do a post listing five addictions I have. The rules of the tag are as follows: Name five things you are addicted to. Write a post. Next invite five other bloggers to participate in the tag. Then notify each of the bloggers you picked that they have been tagged.

So here goes:

1. Facebook. A friend from high school told me about it a couple of months ago, and I've been hooked ever since. I've reconnected with some long-lost high school friends and we have so much fun on Facebook catching up with each others' lives.

2. Chocolate. In any form--candy, cookies, hot cocoa, chocolate chip pancakes--I have to eat chocolate every day. It's a very bad day if I don't get to have some chocolate at least once during the day.

3. CNN. I am a news junkie and I have to watch CNN every day. If I'm not watching it, I'm checking their website for news updates. One of my friends tried to explain away my CNN-mania by saying, "Oh, you just watch it cause there's nothing else on in the middle of the night." Nope. I watched it for hours when I worked day shift, too.

4. Chai tea latte. Love that stuff. My mom gave me a Tassimo coffeemaker as an early Christmas present and I ordered a box of chai tea latte to try. I am hooked. At the moment I'm rationing myself because I have only three servings left and the other boxes I ordered haven't arrived yet. (I can't find it in any store.)

5. Research. As you might've noticed from my deed history posts, I really get into research. I love looking things up to learn more about them, and one thing invariably leads to another and another. Before you know it, I've spent hours at the library or online and am usually far afield of what I was originally researching.

And there you have it. As always, I don't tag people because I don't know who likes to play along and who doesn't, so if you're reading this and want to share your addictions, too, please do!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Deed History, Part II: The Withers Family

Oh, those quick little cat paws! If you happened to be looking at my blog earlier this morning, all you saw was the title and no post. Baby Cat decided to publish a teaser. While I appreciate Louie's helpful cat-titude, this part of the deed history is the most interesting stuff I've uncovered so far and I really would like to share it with you. Skedaddle, Louie!

In Part I of the deed history, I went backwards--most recent sale to the one before that, and the one before that, and so on--but for this bit of history, because it's fairly detailed, I'll stick to chronological order.

On October 13, 1884 a deed was recorded by Marquis W. Withers and Mary A. Withers, husband and wife, granting "for and in consideration of the love and affection and the sum of One Dollar" Lots 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8 of Block 18 to Oletha P. Rathell, the niece of Mary Withers. A generous gift, yes, but it came with a condition:
"that Oleatha P. Rathell and her husband Samuel T. Rathell shall and will
remove from St. Louis to the City of Lexington, Missouri and reside with and
take care of said Marquis W. Withers and Mary A. said residence and
on said property, and will furnish them and the survivor of them with
comfortable rooms, board, lodging, and all necessary and proper comforts,
conveniences and attentions, forbearance and kindness, for and during the joint
lives of said Marquis W. and Mary A. Withers and the life of the survivor of
That's a heckuva condition--uproot your family, move clear across the state, take care of your aunt and uncle for the rest of their lives, and when the last of the two of them dies you get the property--but I suppose not all that uncommon. And the deed came with a bit of a warning: "In case said Oleatha P. Rathell [or] Samuel T. Rathell...shall neglect, decline or refuse to act upon and perform, in good faith, the conditions aforesaid, then...the deed is to become...null and void." You might guess what happened next. I had a bad feeling about it because the deed granting it is in Book 61 page 154 and the next transaction is in the same book, page 295. Uh-oh.

That next entry is a Revocation of Deed. It's dated January 9, 1885, not quite three months later. It begins sadly, "Marquis W. Withers...being in a low state of bodily health and apprehensive that he would either soon die, or continue a helpless invalid, needing much nursing and attention and that in case of his death that his wife, Mary A. Withers, would need protection, care, attention and assistance in and about her home..." The Revocation goes on to detail what property was granted to Mrs. Rathell, and under what conditions, and then states, "Whereas after near three months' trial it has become manifest that said Oleatha P. Rathell and her said husband, Samuel T. Rathell, cannot comply with and perform the conditions of said deed...and both parties to such deed...hav[e] become dissatisfied, discontented and so far alienated as to render it disagreeable and impossible for them to reside together..." Things must have been quite disagreeable indeed, because Mr. and Mrs. Withers paid $550 to the Rathells "as full compensation...for their inconvenience, trouble and expense in removing from St. Louis to Lexington, Missouri and for losses and loss of time in business of said Samuel T. Rathell..." Can you imagine the anger, resentment and sadness that must have existed in that house?

That house is not my house, as I soon discovered. And we haven't heard the last of the Rathells. I'll save that for a later telling, though.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Deed History, Part I

You never know what you're going to find when you start looking through history. Isn't that half the fun of it? Two weeks ago, when I started this research, my first hour of it got me back to 1982. Thursday's research got me considerably further, but I don't want to spoil the ending by telling you how far back.

First, let me explain just what it is I'm doing and why. This past summer my neighbor David was keeping me company while I filled thousands of nail holes by telling me about the history of his house and the land it sits on, a history that goes back to 1821. He knew all sorts of things about who had lived there and I interrupted him once to ask, fascinated, "How did you learn all this?" He told me he started by obtaining the deed history from the Recorder of Deeds office in the County Courthouse.

Note that I'm using the word "property" rather than "house": the deed history will tell you each time the land you own was involved in a transaction of some sort (sale, transfer of property, used as security for a loan, etc.) but won't necessarily tell you anything about your house. You can make inferences or educated guesses sometimes--for instance, if one deed shows a fairly modest sum of money and the next deed shows a substantially larger sum, it's a good bet a house or some other structure was built on that land in the meantime--but generally, unless the house itself was part of some unusual transaction, it won't be mentioned at all. What the deed history gives you is names. You can then use those names as a jumping-off point for all sorts of other research about your house. Uncover recent history: Call up the people who owned the place ten years ago and ask them what color the house was then, ask the folks who owned the house in the 1970s what the front porch looked like before it was closed in, or in my case find out who ruined the looks of a Folk Victorian by encasing it in cedar shingles. Do some historical research: use old phonebooks, census records, old newspapers or local histories to dig up information about the house's prior occupants.

So that brings us to what I uncovered in Thursday's research. The house changed hands six times between 1982 and 1971. That backs up my belief, based on the cheap "improvements" done to the house, that it had several owners who thought of the house as temporary lodging and didn't give it the care it deserved. The 1971 sale is Charline Wyper, better known as The Shingler, moving on after committing that egregious crime against the house. Then there's a gap back to 1933, which needs some more research to close.

That 1933 record, amazingly, has some connection to me. It's the Last Will & Testament of a woman named Martha Robison, who willed the property to her niece. She also directed that her gravesite receive "perpetual care" in the form of flowers being placed there on Memorial Day by the executor of her estate and his successors. The executor of her estate was a local lawyer, William Aull, whose son, William Aull III, followed his father into the law business. My mother worked for William Aull III for years and I remember, as a child, going to Machpelah Cemetery to place flowers on Mrs. Robison's grave. (On a personal note, William Aull III was also a very close family friend who my son Dylan called "Grandpa Bill" after Mr. Aull told him wryly that he thought it was "terrible, just terrible" that he had only one grandfather. Grandpa Bill and Dylan celebrated Halloween together every year in high style with elaborate costumes until Grandpa Bill's death a few years ago.) I have no idea if Mrs. Robison's grave still receives flowers.

Then there's another gap I need to close between 1933 and 1888. To me, that's a sizable gap, but the Recorder of Deeds was unfazed. "Oh, honey," she said, "That's nothing compared to some of them. You'll be able to find that." At first I thought, "Meh....I'll just leave it alone." But after what I found next, I'm eager to get back to the Courthouse.

In 1888 James C. Kelly and Maria L. Kelly, husband and wife, bought the property from a woman by the name of Mary A. Withers, the widow of Marquis W. Withers. (The Withers family has the part of the history that's a bit sad, and I'll tell you all about that next time.) Prior to this 1888 sale, the property had always been sold in a chunk of three lots, the legal description of which is "Lots 5, 6, and 7 of Block 18 in the First Addition to the Town, now City, of Lexington." My legal description, however, is "The west 50 feet [italics mine] of Lot 7, Block 18 in the First Addition..." That west 50 feet is exactly what Mrs. Withers sold to the Kellys. In a separate sale, she also sold them the east 25 feet of Lot 7 and the west 25 feet of Lot 8.

Eureka! My beloved neighbor Floyd is almost certainly right! He's always held that our two properties were once part of a bigger property, that our two houses were built about the same time by the same person, and that they are a few years younger than the National Register's estimate. (The National Register of Historic Places did a survey of Lexington in the mid 1980s and guessed our houses as being built about 1885.) Looking at our block, this partition of the lots is obvious--the two houses to the west of mine and the one house to the east of Floyd's are all two-story houses with much wider lots. Our houses are both single-story and, as I've mentioned before, very similar in construction. (Unfortunately, I can't get a good picture of our two houses together because the huge pine tree in Floyd's front yard hides most of his house.) Our houses are not exactly alike; sisters rather than twins, as we like to say.

What this means is that the Kellys or someone who owned the property shortly thereafter must be the people who built my house. Very exciting! The next chance I have to go to the Courthouse is Tuesday afternoon, and it can't get here quick enough for me. I'll let you know what I find.

Courthouse Crush

If it's possible to love a building (and I know you folks reading this believe it is) then I have a declaration to make: I love the Lafayette County Courthouse. Isn't it beautiful? The courthouse was built in 1847 at a cost of $14,382.46 and is the oldest courthouse in continuous use west of the Mississippi. I don't think you can see it in this photo, but the column to the far left was hit by a cannonball during the Civil War Battle of Lexington in September of 1861. (For any Trans-Mississippi Civil War buffs who might be reading, there was also a second, less famous, battle here in 1864 during Gen. Sterling Price's final charge through the state.) The damage was never repaired, and supposedly the cannonball still remains embedded in the pillar. I'm not so sure about that, but if you visit the courthouse today you'll see something that indeed looks to be a cannonball stuck in there. What appears to be a separate building to the left of the courthouse is a wing of the courthouse now, although originally it was separate and housed the Sheriff's Department. And yes, that is a smaller version of the Statue of Liberty in the right of the photo. Between 1949 and 1952 the Boy Scouts bought and installed about 200 of these statues in 39 states all over America. About a hundred or so still remain. Just behind Little Lady Liberty you can see a brick building. That was constructed in 1906 as Lexington's City Hall and is now (after an amazing restoration) in use as an annex to the courthouse. Renamed Lafayette Hall, it gets a post of its own soon. The courthouse itself is on the National Register of Historic Places and it, as well as the rest of the downtown area, comprise the Commercial Community Historic District, one of four National Register Historic Districts in Lexington. (The others are the Highland Avenue Historic District, the Old Neighborhoods Historic District, and Wentworth Military Academy.) Not bad for a town of only 3.7 square miles in total area, huh?

So what has me singing the praises of my little town's historic courthouse? Just that I spent about three hours today in the Recorder of Deeds office there doing some research on the history of my property and realized that every deed, Sheriff's sale, Probate transaction, judgment, and foreclosure involving the land my house sits on (except for the first five years of those records) was recorded in the very same building I was standing in today, possibly even in the same room. That's astonishing and marvelous and definitely worth sharing. Tomorrow I'll share the results of my research, and some of it is very interesting and even a little sad.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Calvin Beale, from the USDA website,

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Electric Avenue

Well, darn. The electrician hasn't made it over here yet. Turns out the electrical business, like a lot of other things in this economy, has taken a bit of a downturn. So the electrician has a full-time job now at the Army ammunition plant and does electrical work on his days off. He'll get around to me next week.

Understand that I have virtually no understanding of electricity. Pretty much my entire knowledge of electricity is this: I flip a switch or push a button and stuff comes on, it costs a lot of money if I leave it on, and electricity can hurt or kill me. Based on the last six words of the previous sentence, I don't mess with electricity. Various people have tried to explain to me how electricity works. And then stuff happens. Like the ball of blue flame that raced along the ceiling in my friend Bryce's machinery shed and disappeared into the phone during a thunderstorm. Or two firefighters getting zapped when they leaned against the copper-edged kitchen countertops at a house fire. Or the flaming squirrel that streaked across the sky and landed, still smoldering, in the parking lot. That stuff just leaves me whomper-jawed, to use a favorite expression of the late great Molly Ivins. So I don't mess with electricity.

In keeping with that, I'm not using the ceiling fixtures in the living room, the dining room or the kitchen, or the outlets in the dining room. That's all the stuff on the troublesome circuit. Well...maybe just two outlets in the dining room for my modem and wireless router. But that's a necessity. I have no idea if this is actually helpful or not. Whomper-jawed, remember?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bah. Humbug.

The house is conspiring against me. My own lack of planning has caught up with me again. I am in a decidedly Scrooge-y mood now. I decided to start decorating my house for Christmas this morning. This is the tale of what happened instead.

I always put the Christmas tree in the front window, which means I have to rearrange the living room furniture. So...shove the sofa sideways from the middle of the room up next to the long library table against the wall, move the recliner and the end table along the other wall, turn the area rug at a right angle so it's parallel to the sofa. Remember that when I tore out the hideous living room carpet, I didn't move the sofa to do it, leaving a sofa-sized rectangle of ugly carpet across the middle of the room. Look for the Bulldog carpet knife to assist in tearing out the carpet. Discover it's nowhere to be found. Decide to start the decorating in the entryway. Put the Obama/Biden sign in the back porch closet, pick up all the cat toys, and push that dry sink into my bedroom two rooms away. That's better. Take the Fenton lamp off the little Eastlake table in the living room, roll the table into the entryway, leave enough room for the front door to open, put the lamp back on the table. Not bad. Now to get the Christmas decorations out of the basement. That involves opening up the trap door in the back porch/laundry room floor and making sure three cats and a blind dog are all accounted for so no one falls down the stairwell or gets left behind in the basement. Better get some breakfast first. Eat a Pop-Tart, drink some cocoa, take note that it's getting along towards naptime before work tonight. Flip on the kitchen ceiling fixture to read the local paper and---nothing happens. Decide to check email and change the lightbulb later. Go to the laptop in the bedroom and discover that the internet's not working. Scurry into the dining room to unplug the modem and router for 30 seconds (the never-fail solution) and note that the modem and the router aren't on. Flip on one of the buffet lamps and---nothing happens. Get a sinking feeling. Walk into the living room and flip the light switch. Nothing. Darn breaker's tripped. The breaker box is--where else?--in the basement with the Christmas decorations. Herd three cats and the dog into the kitchen, shut the door, hope it doesn't lock, push the laundry table against the back door, roll up the area rug covering the trap door, turn on the basement light, yank open the trap door, hook it against the wall, and scramble down the uneven basement steps. Open up the breaker box, flip the tripped breaker all the way to off, then back on. Run up the steps, open the kitchen door, push four protesting animals aside with my foot, shut the kitchen door again, and turn on the kitchen light. Nothing. Run back downstairs, note breaker's tripped again, remember that most house fires are electrical in nature, worry, and repeat process three more times before restoring power to half the house. Resolve to call an electrician on Monday morning while wondering if he'll accept a post-dated check or believes in bartering. Run back down basement steps, locate Christmas tree and three other boxes of decorations, and carry smaller boxes up the steps. Pause to remove a splinter from right foot. Return to basement and note that the Christmas tree appears to be moving inside its carton. Cautiously poke open one flap of the box to find Big Cat inside nestled among the branches. Drag 7-foot Christmas tree and 20-pound behemoth cat up the steps. Wrestle an unhappy giant cat into the bathroom, shut the door, unhook the basement trap door, and watch it slam down into its frame. Release Big Cat, open the kitchen door, unroll the area rug to cover the trap door again, push the laundry table back into place while trying to keep its legs from folding underneath it, and accidentally step on Baby Cat. Make it up to him by zipping him up inside my sweatshirt while pushing the stack of Christmas boxes into the middle of the living room floor. Atop the swath of ugly carpet. Where they remain. And where they are likely to remain until Wednesday morning.

Write this post, send the whining out into cyberspace, and decide that a nap is well-earned. Bah. Humbug.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Attic Insulation Day!

So Wednesday was the eagerly-anticipated Attic Insulation Day. Just before 9 a.m. the boys from Alma Building Supply backed up their pickup and trailer to the fence in my back yard and started tearing open bales of insulation. The attic access is in my bedroom closet ceiling, so no sleep for me after having worked all night Tuesday night. I'd been told that the access hole was "very small indeed" (a direct quote from the house inspector's report) so I warned Jeff ahead of time. After Big Cat climbed up Jeff's ladder I had a chance to look for myself. Not so bad. So when Jeff came back from outside, I said, "That hole's not nearly as small as I was led to believe." He laughed. "'s not that hole that's the problem. Climb up there and look at the one above it." So I did. Yikes! The hole in the closet ceiling is gigantic compared to the tiny hole carved out of the plaster bedroom ceiling. After Jeff got up there, he called me on my cell phone and asked me to hand a hammer up to him. A hammer? Turns out he snagged his arm on a nail poking out of the lath on the scuttle hole. Hope he's had a recent tetanus shot.

I'll spare you an account of watching fluffs of pink insulation blow through a tube for three hours. It was thrilling to me, but I think it might lose something in the retelling. The important thing is this: my house will be warm this winter. Heck, it's already warmer. There's no longer a ten-degree difference in temperature between the kitchen and the living room. Happy Attic Insulation Day!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
I am most thankful for my family, my good friends....and attic insulation!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Swirling Excitement

I had a short to-do list for the daytime hours today: get an estimate on the cost of the attic insulation, put the new slipcover on the sofa, start on the deed history of my property, check out the preview of tomorrow's auction, and visit Bloody Bill's grave.

I'll start with the last first. Briefly, "Bloody Bill" is William T. Anderson, a Civil War guerrilla fighter who took part in Quantrill's infamous raid on Lawrence, Kansas and led a massacre in Centralia, Missouri. He carried a string of scalps from his Unionist victims on his horse's bridle and terrorized eastern Kansas and west-central Missouri during the Civil War until he was killed in Richmond, Mo. in 1864. William Quantrill is the more well-known; Bill Anderson is the more ruthless of the two. Anderson's probable burial site (Union soldiers destroyed the pile of rocks that designated the actual site shortly after his burial) is in the far corner of the Richmond Pioneer Cemetery, as far away as possible from the decent folks whose graves are also there. Looking down at the small headstone placed there by the Richmond Historical Association, I felt my hair stand on end. Bill Anderson both horrifies and fascinates me.

So I shook off the creepy feeling I got walking across Bill Anderson's grave and went to the Lafayette County Courthouse to look up the deed history of my property. (Climbing the steps to the second floor, I remembered that Archie Clements, an associate of Anderson's, was killed in Lexington in 1866 by Missouri State militiamen shooting from the Courthouse windows. I just can't get away from those bushwhackers!) David, my neighbor a couple houses down, had explained to me how to trace deeds backwards to find out the previous owners of my land. In this way, he traced his own property back to 1821, as far back as Lafayette County records go. He warned me that it's time-consuming but interesting work. After half an hour or so--all the time I could spare today--I got all the way back to...1982. Yep, nineteen-82. Only eighty or so more years to go! Here's the recent history: I bought the house from the Cameron sisters, who inherited it from their mother's estate and re-titled the house in their names only. Previously the property was titled in Esther's name as widow of Lloyd Cameron, and before that the property was listed in the names of both Esther and Lloyd, who bought it from a local couple who are realtors, who bought it from a woman named Mary Louise Ely, whose mother deeded the house to her after the death of Mary Louise's father, a man with the interesting name of Quirk Bernard. I expect the previous deed is listed in the names of Winifred and Quirk Bernard as husband and wife, and that deed will tell me who the Bernards bought the house from. I knew about the Bernards already, because the National Register of Historic Places inventoried the historic properties in Lexington back in the mid-1980s and listed the houses by the owner's name at that time. So, no new information today. Well, that's not completely true--my mom did tell me that she knew Quirk Bernard, who everyone called Bernie, because he owned a local Ford dealership and was "crooked as a dog's hind leg". From Cadillac Woman I know that Charlene Wyper lived here in the 1970s, and from the beloved Mrs. Kenney (she of the 1947 photo of the house) I know my house was two apartments around the World War II era. It's the pieces in between--and earlier--that I don't have yet.

With all of that excitement swirling about, can you stand any more?! Well, hold on tight. The new slipcover fits the sofa like a glove. With no help at all from the cats, who I shut up meowing in the dining room during the slipcovering process, I managed to stretch the thing over the sofa and pull and tug it into something that actually looks decent. (Milah, you were right--I did have to keep stuffing fabric into the cracks!) Now I have to find some throw pillows.

And the rest is pretty anti-climatic. There was absolutely nothing at the auction preview that I wanted enough to leave a bid on, Jeff has the estimate for my insulation but wasn't in the office when I called him and can't remember what it is, and I still have Bob's RoboGrips in my possession. Just another whirlwind day in the life of me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Tag! I'm it. I was tagged by my friend Sandy, and I really like this one.

This is how the tag works: Share seven random or weird book facts about yourself. Then tag seven other people. Notify the seven others that they have been tagged.

My seven random or weird book facts:

1. My mom had to make me go outside to play when I was a little kid. I always had my nose stuck in a book. Now I'm all grown up, but I'd still rather stay in the house with a good book and a big cup of hot tea than do almost anything else.

2. When the going gets tough, the not-tough (me) go read Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

3. One of my favorite books is Willa Cather's "O, Pioneers!" and I've read it several times.

4. The Edgar Allan Poe story "The Tell-Tale Heart" so terrifies me that I've never read it all the way through, not even when it was assigned reading in college.

5. When I dispatched at the police department I worked 12-hour shifts all by myself with not much to do, so I read at least two books a week.

6. I collect books about the Lewis & Clark Expedition and 19th-century American history.

7. The book I'm reading now is "Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerrilla" and I might go visit Bill's grave today.

Now about that tagging seven other people...I don't know who might like to play along and who would rather not, so I'm not going to tag. If you liked this and you want to blog your own weird and random book facts, then consider yourself tagged. Happy reading!


As I admitted the other night, most of the time I don't know what I'm doing. I tend to just sort of leap into things and then figure them out as I go along. Sometimes the things I leap into are gigantic--like taking the shingles off the house--and sometimes they're small. Like putting a slipcover on my sofa. Guess which one I found more difficult? Yep, the slipcover.

I love my sofa. It's the perfect size for my living room, it's really comfortable, and I like its camel back and curved arms. It's the upholstery I'm just not too crazy about. Hence the slipcover. I found the perfect one at Target: a two-piece stretchy slipcover in a tan fabric that reminds me of wide-wale corduroy, but softer. My sofa is 74 inches long. The loveseat-sized slipcover is for furniture up to 73 inches long. The sofa-sized slipcover is for furniture 75 to 90-something inches long. Hmmmm. Well, I don't want the slipcover to be baggy. And the fabric is stretchy, right? So I bought the loveseat-sized slipcover.

I took it out of its plastic case and threw it over the sofa under the careful supervision of the three cats. And did I read the directions? Of course not! It's a stinkin' slipcover--how difficult can it be? Un-stretched, the slipcover is about two-thirds as long as as the sofa and has elastic all the way around the bottom edge, like a fitted sheet. So I tugged, and pulled, and yanked for about 15 minutes until I realized that there was no way the stickers reading ARM COVER were correctly placed. I tore them off, stuck them together, and gave them to Baby Cat to play with. I tugged and pulled and yanked some more until the entire sofa was encased. Well. Um. The sofa looked like a fat kid wearing a t-shirt a couple sizes too small. Thinking it might look better after the seat cushions were placed on it inside their separate, zippered slipcover I spread that out on the sofa and attempted to stuff the seat cushions inside. At about this time the cats realized a piece of furniture was present in the house that had not yet been coated with cat hair, so they began running up and down and all over it. Marie squeezed herself under the front edge of the sofa and popped out the other side, Louie (formerly Lucky; I re-named him) hopped along the back of it like a little rabbit, and Christopher hung off the arm by his hind legs. I had the seat cushions propped upright along the back of the sofa partly inside the envelope-like slipcover, jamming them down inside it while zipping it up. Louie jumped on top of Chris and began gnawing on Christopher's back leg, Christopher leaped from the arm to the back of the sofa, Marie puffed herself up and hissed at poor Chris, and Christopher swung one of his ginormous paws at Louie. With a muffled mee-rawr! baby Louie fell down inside the seat slipcover just as I zipped it up.

And that's how I found out that while the stretchy slipcover will mold itself perfectly around a little kitten trapped inside it, it will not fit on my sofa. In the morning, after I vacuum off all the cat hair and make my best effort to fold the thing back up inside its plastic case, I'll exchange the loveseat-sized slipcover for the sofa-sized one. Stay tuned for Round Two.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Retail Therapy

I hate shopping. Wait, let me correct that. I hate shopping in a mall. A mall is everything I detest: it's huge, impersonal, loud, and full of stupid people. Yes, I said stupid people. As in, "God bless the stupid people, for they are job security." Shopping in a mall makes me feel like my cat.

No, not that cat. (Photo taken by Mel, when he lived with her.)
This cat:

Fortunately, when my mom asked me to go shopping on Saturday we spent less time at the mall and more time trolling through the antique stores and gift shops in Lexington, the small town we call home. We had several good finds. The first "find", though, wasn't so good....

We were eating lunch together at, um, an un-named local establishment (not the pub) when I saw something small, gray, and very still on the white octagonal tile floor under a chair about five feet away. "Mom," I whispered, "Is that a dead mouse over there?" She turned to look, but couldn't make a positive ID from her angle. So, me being me, after I finished eating I walked over there and crouched down to get a good look. Yep. Curled on its side with a terrible snarl on its face, a little mouse. What we in emergency services call DRT--Dead Right There. I pulled the owner aside and quietly told her what I'd found. She shrieked, "Oh my GOSH!!" and swept it up in a dustpan. We did not get a free lunch. We might not go back.

Things improved a whole lot after that. My mom tried a free sample of coffee at Enigma Rarities, a local shop that specializes in historic documents and artifacts and liked it so much she'll buy a pound of beans after she finishes the ones she has now. (My mom is very picky about her coffee and always grinds it fresh.)

At Lexington Antique Company I found a unique doorstop for my dining room/kitchen swinging door. It's an iron rabbit, quite heavy, with a handle about three feet long. The top of the handle looks like a hand grasping a ring, similar to an old hitching post, but smaller. That solves the problem of how to hold open the swinging door, which needs to stay open to prevent Little (blind) Dog from running into it. Since I've removed three layers of carpet there's a sizeable gap between floor and door and a conventional wedge doorstop isn't large enough. I drooled over the M Frye Wille jewelry at Lexington Antique Company, too, especially the Monet Collection, but it's a little out of my price range. (You can see some of it at the above link.) Besides, I'd just get paint or caulk or something all over it.

Sometimes it was enough just to browse. We carefully picked our way through the beautiful, jam-packed Il Bel Carrello and left before we noticed they sold spa products, which my mom had been looking for as a present for a friend of hers. We'll go back sometime this week. My mom and I ooh-ed and ahh-ed at all the gorgeous stuff inside the Velvet Pumpkin but didn't find anything, as my mom put it, "that we can't live without", although that pair of deer carved out of walnut was pretty tempting.

At my favorite bookstore, River Reader, I found a book about Bloody Bill Anderson that I'd been looking for. (Anderson was a Civil War guerrilla fighter with Southern sympathies who terrorized Central Missouri. Horrifying and fascinating.) Finding that book five minutes after I walked into the store didn't keep me from spending another half hour in there looking through the bookshelves and wandering downstairs to check out Bruce Burstert's Antiques. (You can read more about my neighbor Bruce here, although that article has the date of his house wrong--it's 1838, not 1938, and is the oldest frame house in Lexington.)

At my friend Sue's store, Missouri River Antique Co., (the guy who did her website went out of business, leaving her with a bunch of dead links) I found a terrific three-drawer antique file cabinet which I'm seriously considering putting on layaway. She'd already sold the Asian-themed black folding screen inlaid with mother-of-pearl cranes before I got there--and I promised her it was the first thing I'd buy if I ever won the lottery! Guess that's really not enough to put a forever hold on the item....

But I'm saving the best for last. I'd admired a Godey's Lady's Book print from 1859 at Sue's store, picked it up, put it down, stood in front of it pondering some more, before finally deciding it was a little too pricey. When I got home that afternoon, my mom handed me a package wrapped in plain brown paper. The Godey's print! She bought it for me when I was in another part of the store and had Sue hide it among her other purchases. Hooray for early Christmas presents!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Perhaps Potential Progress

Sick the first three days of this week; dragged out and cranky on Thursday and Friday. This has not been a week of progress. Potential for future progress perhaps, but very little actual progress.

Actual progress: I took the bedroom curtains down, clipped rings onto them, and re-hung them to make them easier to open and close. I cleaned up my laundry room/back porch and bought an area rug to cover the ugly trap door to the basement. I managed to unclog the drain in the bathroom sink. I raked a small pathway for Little Dog through the gobs of leaves in the back yard. That is all.

Potential for future progress: I called Jeff, the friend of a friend who's going to put in my attic insulation for me and learned that Alma Building Supply has run out of insulation. Apparently everyone in Lafayette County decided to insulate their attics at the same time. Jeff says they'll be getting some back in stock in a week or so and is planning to come over Thanksgiving week to blow it in. (He's a school bus driver and it's easier for him to do this when he doesn't have to hurry to make his afternoon bus route.)

In other news, Lucky (aka Baby Cat) is back at my house after living with my son and his Doberman for just two days. The Doberman wasn't the problem; Lucky being nocturnal was. Poor cat's lived with night-shifters--first Mel and then me--all of his short life and doesn't understand that some folks would rather sleep at 3 a.m. than have their ears nibbled on by a kitten.

And this is for Christine, who mentioned she has black tar residue on her floor. I ordered the adhesive remover from an almost-local lumberyard last week, but I won't get it until this Thursday at least, so I don't know the brand name of it yet. The lady at the lumberyard read me a description that claims this stuff will remove glue residue, carpet adhesive and even mastic. Wow. That's some serious stuff. Have you tried Goo Gone Xtreme Remover? Not the Goo Gone in the little bottle; this is in a red-and-black metal can about the size of a small charcoal lighter fluid can. (For all I know, it is charcoal lighter fluid.) Goo Gone Xtreme will take tar footprints off white carpet so that your best friend can get her security deposit back from the landlord, this I know from personal experience. And if, just for instance, your son's Doberman should bite your Pomeranian in the head, causing the dog to run panicked through the house stringing blood all over the wood floor, area rug, sofa, and painted wall....well, it'll take blood out of all that too, even if you don't get home from the vet for three hours. Just a little real-life testimonial for ya, there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Old Homes Tour Revisited

Ever since 1950-something, my little hometown has had an Old Homes Tour. Local people open up their private homes for a weekend and let strangers and friends tromp through and admire (or not) the architecture, their restoration, and their taste in decorating. Brave folks, these. The Tour was about a month ago, but I'm just now getting around to blogging about it now that my restoration interests have moved from exterior to interior with the change in weather. Which reminds me: My gigantic, insane exterior renovation is--unless unseasonably warm weather dictates otherwise--put on hold until spring. I did manage to tuck in my house nice and tight for the winter. Every nail hole is filled, every crack repaired, every broken clapboard mended, every bit of loose paint scraped off, every gap caulked. Well....except for the front porch and part of the side porch. But they're under a roof.

I had great fun on the Old Homes Tour. I am by nature a nosy person, and I like to see what the inside of someone else's house is like. Doesn't everyone? Isn't that part of the appeal of, after all? The informal tours, led mostly by the homeowners or their friends, were a smash hit. More interesting, more personal, more real, than the scripted tours of the past. (Sometimes a little too real--you can't get more authentically off-the-cuff than A ad-libbing about the washability of modern fabrics after one of her cats vomited on a chair in front of a parlor full of tourists. Hee hee.) The thing I liked second-best about the tour homes was the personal history on display: the groupings of family photos, an antique doily framed under glass, the furniture passed down from one generation to the next, a grandmother's hand-stitched quilt on a bed...These are people's homes, not museums, and it was satisfying to see historic homes really lived in, as they were intended to be. Even though I walk through museum homes every chance I get, there's something a little sad, for me anyway, in knowing that no longer does that old house shelter a family.

But the best part by far was being able to use the Old Homes Tour as resource and inspiration for my own house. Malinda Hall is a light-filled and colorfully-decorated house built shortly after the Civil War and as I walked through it admiring the paint colors and wallpaper and furnishings, I realized they don't all match perfectly and they're certainly not all from the same time period. That freed me from the thinking that my mismatched furniture and eclectic tastes couldn't be pulled together into a pretty home. As soon as I got back to my own house, I threw away the "Better Homes & Gardens" magazines that were giving me house inferiority. (A bit of trivia: if you'd like to see the exterior of Malinda Hall for yourself, rent the movie "Ride With The Devil". Malinda's the brick house that's set ablaze in that movie.) From the Old Edwards House (a misnomer, but that's a different story) I learned what I didn't like--old houses with contemporary furnishings and no personality. No photos and virtually no artwork on the walls, no knick-knacks about, every surface sleek and shiny as if it was just manufactured. That the house is soon to become a bed-and-breakfast didn't surprise me. But it was at the Tilly House that I struck the inspiration motherlode. One of its two parlors is the "men's parlor", with more masculine colors and furniture, a display of military memorabilia, books stacked on a table, and reproduction maps on the wall. That gave me the idea to turn my second parlor (the less fancy one, which used to be my bedroom) into a men's parlor. Stuffed away in boxes I have photos of four generations of men in my family who have served in the military. (I even have my Great-Uncle Walter's World War I draft card and the ribbons and sergeant stripes from my dad's World War II uniform.) Those things ought to be displayed. The Tillys' kitchen, while modern, has some architectural details that help it fit in with the rest of the house. I can adapt some of their ideas in my own awkward 1950s kitchen. The polka-dotted countertops will still be departing, however. As I stood in the Tillys' wide entry hall waiting on the shuttle bus, I remarked on how beautiful their wood floors are and lamented the state of my own. Mrs. T laughed and said, "You should've seen them when we bought the house--shag carpeting two layers thick, and the bottom layer of either carpet or linoleum glued to the floor!" Glued, did you say? The wood covered with black adhesive that's been troweled on? Just like mine! Mrs. T said they'd used a product called adhesive remover that "took the stuff right off". I ordered some from the lumberyard across the river today.

Paint colors, furnishings, room ideas....I have all kinds of inspiration! Now, if only I had all kinds of money. Sigh. I'm remembering the snail and his trip to the ark.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Eight Below

I saw this on a friend's blog and thought it would be fun to do on my own blog.

8 Favorite TV shows:
This one was hard for me because I don't watch much television except when I'm working. Note the conspicuous lack of HGTV and DIY programming. Surprisingly, I don't like most of it.

1. Crusoe (eye candy and the coolest treehouse ever)
2. AC360
3. Rescue Me (which returns in February, supposedly)
4. Cities of the Underworld
5. Two And A Half Men
6. Nancy Grace
7. My Name Is Earl
8. Big Love (if it ever comes back)

8 Favorite Places to Eat:
My favorite category, because I love love love to eat!

1. My kitchen with my son, preferably with big plates of Fettucine Alfredo.
2. Aunt Babe's house in Delavan, Illinois. My great-aunt is almost 91 and the matriarch of our big family. At least 15 people around her table, and you just know someone brought broccoli-rice casserole.
3. Chick-Fil-A. First tried it in South Carolina this summer and have loved it ever since. Try their breakfast sometime. Yum.
4. Riley's Irish Pub, my hometown pub. Best Reubens I've ever eaten, and the coldest beer in the county.
5. My church (Trinity United Church of Christ) when we have potluck dinners. Had one today that I was forced to miss because of work. Darn. Lots of good cooks in my congregation!
6. Maid-Rite. What's not to love about loose meat sandwiches?
7. Hawg Shed BBQ. Bad name, great barbecue. A local place.
8. Somerset Cottage. A new tearoom in Lexington. Very girly, with mismatched teacups and china plates and little tables. Wonderful sandwiches and soup.

8 Things That Happened Yesterday:
1. Big Cat and Little Cat decided suddenly to tolerate Baby Cat.
2. My son talked me into letting Baby Cat come live with him.
3. A patient died at the end of my shift, which was very sad.
4. My best friend Sharon called me, which very much cheered me up.
5. Laura in Mississippi and I watched the clock together. Night shift is very long sometimes.
6. I told my mom I wanted a Tassimo coffeemaker for Christmas and she said I could have hers, which she's used once.
7. Inky Guy called me to confirm that yes, it was him who fell through the floor in an apartment house fire on Friday. (With only minor injuries.)
8. I realized I consider chicken fried rice and egg drop soup to be comfort food. (I have a cold.)

8 Things I Love About Fall:

1. The smell of burning leaves.
2. Drinking hot chocolate every night. Real hot chocolate, made with milk, cocoa, sugar & vanilla.
3. The leaves changing color. (Until they end up in my yard.)
4. Turtleneck sweaters.
5. It's not winter. Yet.
6. Chilly weather is an excuse to make Rachael Ray's corn-and-crab chowder.
7. Getting to wear the little suede jacket Jill gave me.
8. Fleece jammies.

8 Things On My Wish List:

1. An end to war. Everywhere, but especially in the Middle East.
2. A remodeled bathroom with a big claw-foot tub that has jacuzzi jets.
3. HVAC in the back part of my house.
4. For my son to be healthy and happy and have a wonderful marriage.
5. For my mom's heart to heal itself so she doesn't have to have surgery.
6. A litterbox that never needs to be emptied.
7. A remodeled kitchen with new cabinets so I never have to look at polka-dot countertops again.
8. A marriage proposal from Sen. Patrick Kennedy. (That would certainly take care of the house-related wishes, I think.)

8 Things I'm Looking Forward To:

1. My son's wedding. In May now, not June!
2. Having attic insulation installed in the next couple of weeks.
3. Finishing some of my inside-the-house projects this winter.
4. Baseball season again. With baseball season weather.
5. Seeing my friend Robben, a high school friend who's visiting from London.
6. Sleeping in my warm bed for hours and hours when I get home today.
7. Getting a haircut next week.
8. An Obama presidency.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Watcher

This is not my usual light-hearted post. You should know that before you read any further, just in case you're not in the mood for any TruTV-type stuff. This is not like the cute Flower Man story that NV told us a couple days ago. This is a different kind of admirer altogether....

Ever since the night of the last presidential debate--whenever that was, seems like mid-October or so--I have been visited by an Army Lt. Col. I met at the pub that night. Forget the studly soldier image that comes to your mind when you hear "Army Lt. Col". This guy is short, chunky, balding, beady-eyed and definitely strange. He evidently works at the local military school, but no one seems to know much else about him. The night I met him, he insisted that we'd met a year or so earlier and recalled the circumstances. I politely told him I didn't remember him at all and he might have me confused with someone else. He so pressed the issue that the pub's cook said at last, somewhat sharply, "Dude, she doesn't remember you." Usually I walk home from the pub; that night I did not. The guy had me weirded out just a bit, and I got a ride home from my friend Randy, who took a circuitous route to my house, just in case.

We need not have gone to that trouble, because the next day when I was outside working on my house, the LTC showed up in my yard. I brushed him off rather rudely. The next day he came back. Same reception from me. And the day after that, and then a couple days later, and then two or three days in a row. And every single time, I was rude to him. I am not usually a rude person, but... This guy does not live in my neighborhood and I have never once invited him to my house. He's not a preservationist, not a local person, not a friend of a friend. He has no reason to be in my yard. It makes me uncomfortable. I don't like it.

Well,'re saying to yourself, maybe he just likes you and is trying to work up the courage to ask you out. Maybe so. And those girls thought Ted Bundy was just a cute guy with his arm in a sling, too. You can't be too careful. When he's not actually in my yard, he's driving past my house, either in front of it or through the alley behind it. Weird. Creepy. I know the law. The street in front of my house is a public right-of-way. So is the alley. Like it or not, he has the legal right to be there. But once I've asked him to leave when he's actually on my property and he does not immediately depart, he's trespassing. Three weeks of his sudden and intrusive visits is enough.

So tonight, almost a week after his last visit... I pulled into my carport from having had supper with my mom and saw an SUV parked at an angle beside my neighbor Martha's garage. At first, I thought it was hers until my headlights hit it and showed it to be blue and not silver. The LTC. I started to back out of the carport and he backed down the alley and cut his wheels behind me, blocking me in. That put him on my property. I jumped out of my car just as he got out of his and I shouted as loudly as I possibly could, "Are you f---ing STALKING ME?!!" (Nice language, I know, but I am at my limit.) He stammered, "Well, no, I, uh, was gonna ask you--" I yelled, "GO AWAY! NOW!!" and ran through my back yard and into the house, where I locked the door behind me. He did go away. The police did not find him lurking anywhere in the neighborhood. I wanted them to see if he was at the school, which is only two blocks away, but they declined, saying they had no reason to bother him there.

So I called my son, the soon-to-be-cop. My son has a gift for separating the wheat from the chaff. After listening to my extended rant about the guy, this is what Dylan had to say, "At best, he's just a weird little guy with no social skills who can't take no for an answer. At worst, he's a creepy stalker dude looking for his next victim. Either way, don't put up with it. Next time he comes on your property, call 911 immediately and then call me. Walk into the front yard where everyone can see you and be as loud as possible. Stay in your yard so it's trespassing if the idiot's still there when the cops arrive. It might be a good idea to buy some Mace. Do not put up with this s--t again." Succinct and excellent advice. My son will make a good cop.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Great Mouse Detective

Ever since I moved into this house, I've wanted to know more about its history. The title company couldn't locate the abstract for this property, so I don't have the benefit of the history that would contain. I wonder...who built this house? When? How many people have called this house their home?

And lately, as some of you know, I've been asking for a bit of considerably more recent history. Who the heck put those darn shingles all over the house?!? I still don't know the answers to my other questions (although my neighbor David says he'll help me try to unearth them this winter) but I now know from whence the shingles came.

Monday afternoon I was brushing on the last few strokes of primer when I heard someone calling my name from the alley. I walked back there, paintbrush in hand, to find an older woman with an enormous hairdo dyed the color of poison sumac sitting in a white Cadillac. (Think Flo from the old "Mel's Diner" series, only with red hair.)

"Hi, honey," Cadillac Woman said. "I've been wantin to meet you and tell you that I really admire what you're doin to this house. I knew the last two families who lived here and I remember when those shingles went on. I'm glad they're gone."

So of course I asked her who the guilty party was, and she said, "It was Charlene Wyper who did it, honey, back in the '70s. She was a single mom and worked as a nurse over at the hospital. They about killed her working her all these crazy shifts and so many days in a row, and she just didn't have time to take care of a house. She told me if she put those shingles on she'd never have to worry about the outside of the house again." She went on to tell me that Charlene and her daughter lived here a few years before moving to northwest Missouri, where Charlene passed away some years later. Charlene sold the house to Esther and Lloyd Cameron sometime around 1980, and I bought it from the Camerons' daughters after their parents passed away.

So that explains it. My friend John was right when he speculated that whoever put the shingles on did so because they wanted a low-maintenance exterior. It also explains the word WYPER written in black marker on the inside of the storm windows. Because I'm a single mom who works "crazy shifts" too, I can empathize a little bit with Charlene. Cadillac Woman seemed to think that Charlene did it reluctantly, after some neighbors were pretty outspoken against the idea. (The Historic Preservation Commission, which would never have allowed the shingles, didn't exist at the time.) Well, apparently none of those neighbors offered to help Charlene with the maintenance of her house, leaving her (in her mind) with no choice but to shingle the house. Maybe Charlene realized later that it was a bad decision. It had to have cost her a pretty penny to have those shingles installed: whoever did it took the time to notch the shingles around all the original trim left on the house, put quarter round on the windows and under the eaves, used aluminum flashing on all the corners, and certainly hammered in an abundance of nails to attach everything. I can't imagine that it would have been any more expensive to hire someone to paint the house. Would it? Not that it matters now. A single mom in the 1970s put the shingles on; a single mom in the 21st century took them off. I like that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

That Darn Cat!

Lucky, meet my blog-friends. Blog-friends, meet Lucky. Lucky was found sitting on the yellow line of a very busy street by a police officer friend of mine while she was out on patrol. She took him first to the police station, where Animal Control told her they had too many cats and Lucky's lifespan would be about that of salad greens in the fridge, and then to her house, where her husband said four dogs took up too much space in the bed already. First too many cats; then too many dogs. So this morning, Lucky came to live with us. You can't tell from the photo, but he's just a little kitten. No match for the sometimes-deranged Marie and the gigantic-pawed Christopher, so I'm watching them very closely as they trade hisses and growls. Little Dog is the only furry occupant of the house with a welcoming heart. He wags his tail hopefully whenever he hears Lucky meow, but Lucky can't quite overcome his dog-hating instincts just yet. The next few days should be interesting.

The Arc of History

"It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many
to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve
to put their hands on the arc of history
and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day."
President-elect Barack Obama

Out of that wonderful, moving and historic speech that President-elect Obama made last night, that's the line that stays with me. The arc of history.

Political consultant Paul Begala felt that history, too, when he wrote in an AC360 blog, "People have kept faith with the American Dream and Constitution even when they were left out of it. This is a wonderful and powerful night for everybody who believes in the Constitution and the American Dream."

Film-maker and political activist Michael Moore was moved to write, "In a nation that was founded on genocide and then built on the backs of slaves, it was an unexpected moment, shocking in its simplicity: Barack Obama, a good man, a black man, said he would bring change to Washington, and the majority of the country liked that idea. The racists were present throughout the campaign and in the voting booth. But they are no longer the majority, and we will see their flame of hate fizzle out in our lifetime."

What an arc of history it's been. And just imagine what we have still to see in our lifetimes, in our children's lifetimes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

5 More Friends

Yeah, what they said. :)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Fog

I didn't go to Preservation Day. I wish now that I had, especially after reading the comments on my last post. It was almost unanimous for Preservation Day. Sigh. Thanks, everyone, for saying that I deserved a day off. I didn't take a day off, but I did let myself sleep late.

I got up around 9:30 a.m. and let Little Dog out into the back yard, where he disappeared into a haze of fog almost as soon as he jumped off the stoop. The fog was so thick I couldn't see my neighbor's house across the alley. I retrieved my political signs from their Halloween hiding place in the shed and stuck them in the front yard again. Not a soul anywhere. Not a sound anywhere. So when I started scraping paint the SCRITCH-SCRITCH-SCRITCH must have reverberated through the neighborhood. Out of the fog behind me appeared my neighbor George, nearly scaring me out of my wits. "I was wondering what the heck that noise was!" he said. So I filled nail holes and cracks instead until around noon, when I resumed the scraping. And the hammering, because there were several loose clapboards on this part of the house. I'm working on the back part of the east wall which you can see, not very well, in this photo from back in August. So much needed to be repaired that it took me all day just to fill all the nail holes and cracks, caulk the gaps around the window and where the porch joins the house, and reposition loose clapboards and hammer them in just right. (I just realized that I should have taken before-and-after photos. Darnit!) Besides that, I also cut back an old rosebush so I could get to the wall, and tore off about 20 feet of painted-over telephone wire that ran up the side of the house and along the porch spandrel. But here's the good news: I have maybe two hours worth of paint-scraping and priming left to do tomorrow and then my house will be all tucked in for winter!!

Friday, October 31, 2008

East of Eden

Good weather means good progress. I'd decided earlier this week that, as much as I want to see more of the house with yellow paint on it, the smartest thing to do is to finish prepping the whole house first. That way, when winter catches us, it won't catch the house unprotected. All those nail holes, cracks in the clapboards, and gaps around the windows and between sections of the house let in not only cold air, but also moisture. Best to get those all sealed up before the freezing rain, sleet and snow start.
Wednesday and Thursday were spent on the west side of the house. Because it has no porches cut out of it like the front and the east side do, and because of the dining room's big bay, it seems like the longest wall of the house. I scraped and caulked, repaired cracks in the clapboards, filled nail holes and primed. I also pried more bits of paper towels out of the clapboards than I care to tell you about. Apparently a previous owner used them as wood filler, or maybe insulation. Mid-afternoon on Thursday, the west side was finally done.
More of the same on the east side, but at a higher altitude.
Please take note of the primer way up there at the peak of the roof. This photo was taken about two hours before I stopped for the day, but I had to take it early while there was still light. You might notice there's a lot more primer over here. For some reason, this side of the house weathered the worst. Parts of the siding are now held together by wood filler, nails and prayer. By quitting time, this part of the house was completely prepped, too. And you'll notice the front porch (the yucky brown thing at the left of the photo) still has shingles. That's because a local contractor who has a reputation as a reasonably-priced miracle worker overheard me saying that my heart's desire is to tear off the existing porch and rebuild it to look like the original porch. We discussed my doing the destruction (which, as you know, is my favorite thing) and his doing the construction and concluded that it just might possibly be do-able come spring. More on that later, I promise.
And lest you think that all this prepping is not a dirty job, I herewith offer this photo as evidence that today I was, in fact, filthy. (Sorry about that flash reflected behind me.) Check out my hands! My big E.T. hands are covered in caulk and primer and dirt. Nice hair, too. And I think that's a smear of primer on my cheek. Not sure how that happened, but it might've been when I was trying to brush off one of the hundreds of ladybugs that were crawling on me today.
And now I have a big decision to make about Saturday.....Go to Preservation Day (this really cool, once-a-year event of restoration workshops in the morning, lunch at a local tearoom, and tours of commercial and residential restoration projects in the afternoon) or....finish prepping the house on Saturday and start painting? My vacation request for Sunday was approved, so I have all of that day to work, too. (Minus church time, when I get to sit in the balcony with my childhood best friend Sharon and see another of our childhood best friends and her family become official members of our church.) What would you do? Preservation Day or Progress Day?