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It’s a New Year! Time for New Things!

circle tree

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I know that any goal I set for myself is going to be met first with resistance and a dedication that actualizes itself only in fits and starts before, eventually, becoming habit. It’s the habits, the “being” not the doing that I’m aiming for, and so I make resolutions, yes, but I give myself the whole year to master them, even to revise them, because that list I make in January is always a little too ambitious.

This last year was a doozy. I’d rather not repeat it. Ever.

Have you ever been in a relationship that you just allowed to happen? There was no real reason not to give it a shot, but you knew at the beginning it just wasn’t going to work? It entered your life, and you just said, “What the hell!” and allowed it, and yet you knew…you just knew that it wouldn’t work out, that it wasn’t a good fit for you, could never make you happy. And then…at the end, when you put no work into it, you never committed yourself truly, you just stood by and allowed it to be what it would…and it all fell apart…then you blame yourself for the failure? That was this last year for me. 2016 was a failed relationship that I just allowed to happen. To be honest, I’ve known what was coming for a long time. But even a failure you allow to happen is far messier than one you plan.

I like plans. I like lists and goals and organization. 2017 will not be a repeat of last year, and I mean to make sure of that.

So I’ve made some plans! Call them resolutions if you like:

Goal no. 1) Absinthe Moon will be published. The poor, dear thing just sits on my “desktop” waiting for the final edits, begging to be carried into a second volume, and praying this will be the year I introduce it to readers.

The problem is… I’ve not truly written in a long time. I just haven’t been able to. Personal insecurities and demons, weaknesses entertained, the breakup of my marriage…my father’s battles (yes, that’s plural) with cancer, some personal dramas and disappointments, have all completely paralyzed me from any kind of literary productivity. By the end of 2016 I realized that I either need to regain control of my writing career or give it up entirely. I’m done giving things up, compromising. I am a writer, and good one, and I need to continue on this path. I need to fight for it. So fight for it I will.

I spent seven months away from home last year, in a small town near a place called “Scatter Creek”, caring for my dad while he went through chemo, and after he had 85% of his stomach removed. I’m grateful for the opportunity to care for him, and to spend time with him, but it meant being away from my kids, away from the people I love, and Virginia is home to me now. During that time I did The Artist’s Way for the second time (an experience I will blog about in the near future) but one of the things Julia Cameron says is that we cannot be creatively productive while we are hanging onto fear and anger. I am one part hope at present, and nine parts fear and anger. And so…

Goal no. 2) I will move through fear into self-actualization, healing and happiness. Carl Jung teaches that only by moving through fear do we overcome neuroses and find healing.

Goal no 3) I will forgive and let go.

And by way of doing that…

Goal no 4) I will write something new.

While I was taking care of my father, I absorbed a lot of information, using my free time (since I couldn’t effectively write or edit) to read everything I could, to learn everything I could about relationships and overcoming neuroses (we all have at least one, and thank God we do!), about dealing with emotions and finding peace. I felt like the Universe was simply dumping information into my lap–all I needed and could possibly require–and it all related. It all seemed to be saying to me, that these experiences were for my ultimate benefit and would lead me full circle back to myself. Only I haven’t really had an opportunity to synthesize and absorb and put into use all that I learned, and so I think what I need to do is write about it. I’ll tell my story, the circumstances, the daily failures and personal shortcomings that came together to bring down a twenty year marriage and bring me to my knees as a human being, searching for some kind of meaning in it all and hoping for a chance to start again. I may not publish it. In fact I probably won’t. It won’t be an expose’. It won’t be a work of vindictiveness. The man I married was and is a wonderful man. It just didn’t work. We both ensured, in our naivete, ever seeking to preserve our own emotional safety first, that it wouldn’t and couldn’t be what it should have been. It was an agreement we both silently, tacitly made each other from the early years of the relationship. It was I who broke that agreement. It was I who changed the terms. I made other mistakes, many of them. And I hope…I pray…that my efforts to honestly examine where I went wrong will allow me to let go, to move on, to forgive…myself and others, and to move forward knowing better and determined to give my all to living a full and meaningful life in the future. Maybe I’ll meet someone new. Maybe I already have. Maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life alone. And that’s ok.

Goal no 5) I’m going to travel more. I’m going to do something new and fun every  month. I already have plans for Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and possibly Pennsylvania. I’m going to go see Bastille live. I’m going to visit the apple orchards, once in spring, again in autumn. I’m going to the beach and to the mountains, and…I’d really love to see England and France again. But we’ll see where the year takes me.

Goal no 6) I’m going to finish my house, so I will be free to find a new one. The living room and dining room have recently been finished. I’ll post before and after pictures soon, so stay tuned.

Goal no 7) I’m going to create one beautiful thing a month. I’m going to try, at any rate. If I could have my wish, I’d live off of my writing and supplement it by creating beautiful things and consult others on how to make their own spaces beautiful. I’d be good at that, and I would find it fulfilling. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To live a life that is fulfilling. What would be the point otherwise?

And in the spirit of moving that goal forward…

Goal no 8) I will write every day. And I may (or may not) share it with you.

In the meantime I wish you a joyful and prosperous 2017!

 

And you thought Halloween was over…

But we’re still wrapping up the Coffin Hop!

[Reposted from B.Lloyd's Bustling Along Bookshelves]

Like buses – nothing for ages, then three at once …

To help round off the Coffin Hop with a grand finale, we’ve gotten together with a couple of publishers to hold a (nearly)week long giveaway (Monday to Sunday), with the chance to win 3 titles together: Cass McMain’s Watch (vampirism) and two ghost tales: Summers’ End by V.R. Christensen with a rather sinister  pair of spectacles and B.Lloyd’s charming ghost tale, Ungentle Sleep which is a tongue-in-cheek take on haunted houses, with attics and, well, things going bump in them ….

Owing to WordPress’s layout, the giveaway page is again reduced to a link, however, it will be posted elsewhere and tweeted not infrequently. And there is the tale of the Red Footprints in A Night  at the Theatre meanwhile…

Simply click on the link here below, or top right  (on the main page), and choose how you want to participate (via tweeting, FB-ing, visiting the Coffin Hop!); there will be 5 prizes and around 10 runners-up…

About the Coffin Hop: this is the annual Halloween blog hop with over 60 authors & artists participating, each with something to offer, whether giveaways or contests as well as some fun tales of terror.

The Coffin Hop Bumper Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Carefully, Myra attempted to raise herself once more. Resting upon her knees, she at last dared to look at the macabre pit into which she had half-fallen. But without her glasses, she could make out very little but the gaping hole before her. She began to move herself away from it, but she stopped again. The moon’s beaming reflected and glinted off of something lying there in the broken earth. Were those her spectacles lying there? Dared she retrieve them, or ought she to leave them be?

There was not much to consider in the matter. There was no continuing on, not even a possibility of turning back, without them. She stretched forth her fingers, grasped a hold of them, and rose from the spot as quickly as she could. She replaced them on her face as she ran.

Thank heaven above, she could see again! And she did not stop to rest until she was away from the graveyard and safely on the well-worn and moonlit path of the road. There she rested a moment, only a moment. She knew she must press on, but she did not know which way to go. Which road would take her to safety? Which would make her circle back to Ravenswood complete?

The snapping of a twig startled her. She looked around to find the source of the noise. There was no one there. The night was perfectly still. Still, but for the faint sound of footsteps in the distance. They were coming nearer. She searched in the darkness, her heart beating wildly, but there was nothing there. The steps grew nearer still, until she thought they were just before her. Something brushed against her, like the sleeve of a heavy woolen jacket. And still there was nothing at all to be seen! She removed her spectacles and, squinting into the darkness, thought for a moment that she saw the faint outline of a man. She put her spectacles back on again and saw nothing at all. Even the footsteps had vanished. She stood there a moment longer, unable still to choose a direction. She did not wish to follow the footsteps, but neither did she wish to start upon the path from which they had come. She must make a decision, however.

She took off the spectacles and looked again into the night, but predictably she saw nothing but blurry and hazy darkness. Upon putting them back on and looking once more in the direction the footsteps had gone, a light appeared.

Summers’ End

The Quest to find Paint Colors

Painting.

facade 2It’s been on my mind for a while, and clearly it needs to be done. Finding the right colors requires serious consideration and, at least for me, a great deal of time. This is a commitment, after all. 20-30 years. Perhaps as many thousands of dollars to accomplish the task.

But what colors should my house be?

Our house is described on the tax records as being white with black trim. If you get close enough however you’ll see that it’s actually green. The Days took occupancy ninety-nine years ago, and they really made the house theirs, stripping all the wallpaper and putting up Colonial Revival papers, adding the stained glass window and painting the house in typical Edwardian colors. But is that really what is right for the house?

I did a little research, and I managed to find some samples of wallpaper from the year the house was built—1897. I see lovely mossy greens, some browns, ochres and gold. Great colors! But how to apply them? My house has some interesting detail, too. Besides the bowed gable, the columns on the porch are highly detailed. In order to punch all these details out, I could be looking at anywhere from six to ten colors. My background is Interior Design, and my strength is in choosing colors and materials. I should be able to do this. But the very fact that it’s outside somehow makes me feel a little baffled by it all.

wallpaper sample

While the Old West End preservation guidelines do not presently require that I have my paint colors approved, I still want my house to contribute to the overall integrity of the neighborhood. I want it to fit in well beside my neighbors, while, at the same time, allowing for the inherent individuality of my house. As my house was one of the first built after the Sutherlin estate began to be divided up, I feel it needs, not only to be an acceptable example of the neighborhood’s architecture, but a remarkable one as well. Of the ten houses on my side of the street, I know that P.F. Conway built at least five of them. But he lived in mine! Certainly he thought it was special. Certainly he would have thought it deserved the utmost consideration when it came to painting it. If only I could know what colors he chose for it. If I had the money and the time I could send in a piece of the crumbling paint for a paint analysis and they might be able to tell me what the original color was. I don’t have either at the moment.

We’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to take out a loan on the property to do the necessary work. We paid cash for it as a foreclosure, but some of the money was privately borrowed, so in order to pay it back, we thought we’d borrow just enough to repay those private loans. We’re pretty much do-it-yourselfers anyway. I don’t like the idea of paying someone to do what I can do myself. But painting, that’s a big job. So we’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to do it now, whether to finance it, or just take a few years and do a bit at a time. Well…something happened to push us toward making a decision.

violation

That got the ball rolling. Honestly, I don’t blame them for putting the pressure on. This poor, sorry, run down, magnificent old house deserves better, and I firmly believe in the efforts presently being exerted to “smarten up” the city’s historic treasures. Hopefully our funding will come through and we’ll soon be on our way.

In the meantime, I’ve got to decide on colors! This is where I am presently. I thought you might like to see my ideation process.

[WARNING: THESE COLORS SCANNED BLUER THAN THEY TRULY ARE. THE COLORS ARE GREENS, BEIGES AND BROWNS, NOT BLUE AND PINK AS IT MAY APPEAR ON SOME MONITORS]

house colorscolumnsspindleswindow details

Finding a Sense of Place in a Historical Small Town

Holbrook

As I write this, I’m sitting in my daughter’s bedroom looking out the window and shivering under a blanket. It’s snowing, and our outdated electrical system only allows us to run so many heaters at a time. My daughter’s room, which has the luxury of two circuits, is consequently the warmest. And yet, as I watch the snow fall, I can’t help but feel grateful. This historic neighborhood is beautiful! And I’m in love with my house. Maybe that’s why, while my kitchen is dismantled, only one bathroom works, and I’m not sleeping in my bedroom while the plaster ceiling is being repaired, I can think of all of this as an adventure. And yes, I’m having fun. But this story isn’t about why I chose to live in this derelict house. It’s about why I chose to live in this wonderful, Southern small town.

 

While I don’t have it quite as bad as a military wife, we have moved around a lot. My story begins on the coast of Washington state, where my grandmother’s family had moved from western North Carolina, and where my father had grown up after being adopted at the age of 3. I never felt that I belonged there. I was out of place–an oddity. I felt it polite, you see, to say hello to passersby, who subsequently looked at me as if I were a little strange. I had a habit of waving to people, both strangers and acquaintances, when I saw them on the street. They would turn their heads, half-ashamed to acknowledge such an outlandish gesture. Worst of all, I had an exaggerated love of European and early American history in a state that was too new to appreciate what little history it had managed to record. I snatched at straws of significance in modern events. I was in the sixth grade when the Challenger exploded on take off. I would mark the anniversary every year. “Did you know it was five years ago today?” I once said to a classmate. She looked at me blankly. “So what?” she said to me. “Who cares?”

I don’t mean to paint Washingtonians as heartless. They are hardly that at all. But the people I was surrounded by seemed not to have much interest in things of the past. My personal family history was only granted, in bits and snatches, after years of perseverance and of irritating my elders until they were persuaded to tell me what little they knew, if only to shut me up. And they told it as if they were ashamed, even when they had nothing to be ashamed about. Though, to be honest, they just as often did.

 

We moved from Seattle to Savannah in 2001. My parents, grandparents, and siblings were not pleased by my desire for distance, particularly since the attacks of 9/11 occurred but two months after we had left. I worried for them worrying for me across busy circuits. But it was the history that drew me. A sense of place and self that comes only from the perspective that past stories offer. Even if they weren’t my stories. Savannah was fun in its way, but it wasn’t home. Old South likes its Old South Families, and we were not one of them. They liked to remind us of the fact.

 

In 2004 we moved again. This time to a small college town in South Carolina. I knew from the start it was only temporary, but, ever anxious to surround myself with history, we bought a 1918 Colonial Revival in desperate need of TLC. That’s what they call it there when a house needs complete restoration. I was up for the adventure. The second week we were in the heat (a series of ancient, oil-burning heaters, one the size of a small refrigerator) went out. We camped in the living room with a kerosene heater and the windows cracked so we didn’t suffocate. But we did restore it, and we lived in it and we loved it. Only a lack of protection for these houses and an under-appreciation for their value meant that, four years later, our beautifully restored and updated house is still on the market. Amelia Street was the place to live in Orangeburg at the turn of the century. The street is lined with old houses still, but most of them are run down now, empty and abandoned. On the opposite side of the street from where our house is situated, the phone company has begun tearing them down. The empty spaces sit like gaping holes in a child’s smile. A gated parking lot lies between two of the most impressive houses. No one wants to live there because there is no permanency. There’s no guarantee that Bell South’s need for ample parking and their optimism toward possible future expansions won’t outweigh the city’s need of outdated and under-appreciated architecture. I decided that, when the time came to move again, I would choose a house in a city with a strong preservation ethic.

 

Because, here’s the thing, those old-fashioned Victorians knew then what some of us know now; they were building art, and they were building it to last.

 

In 2010, my husband took a job in Martinsville, VA, but it was Danville’s astounding collection of historic homes that persuaded us to choose the commute. It took us a long time to find a house, nearly three years, but at last we did, and I can say I’m not sorry we waited. There were certainly plenty of houses to choose from, but it took a while for the right one to appear. We are now comfortably situated in the Old West End Historic District, in a rundown house with limited electricity and little in the way of real heat. And we have found our home.

 

Danville welcomed us. My eccentric habit of saying hello to people on the street, of waving to strangers, is not only accepted here, but considered a way of life. It’s just what you do.

As is preserving our past.

 

As Westerners, there is an innate ambiguity about Civil War history. We’re not Yankees, and we’re not Southerners. We’re something in between, which confuses people. Sometimes it confuses me. But I’m not without my Southern connections, after all. My grandmother was here when that episode in history took place.  She was born, ironically, in North Carolina, where generations upon generations of her family were born and raised, and where the streets, nearly all of them, are named after her and her kin. They are my kin, too.

2014 snowstorm

Danville was the last capital of the Confederacy. I’m not sure I realized just how significant this fact was just at first. It seems that, with the inhabiting of this house, I suddenly feel a kinship with the people who lived here before me; the Day family, a photographer by the name of Oliver Cole, P.F. Conway, who is responsible for building most of the Victorian houses on on my street, and, I suspect, many other of Danville’s historic homes. (It’s suggested he may even be responsible for building the magnificent Masonic Temple.) I suddenly relate to these people, I am interested in them. My life in this house is no longer so much about me, but it’s about the community as well. It’s about what happened before I came to live here, and what will happen when I’m gone. History lends perspective. Danville’s history, evidenced by its old houses and historic buildings, is what, in my opinion, and in the opinions of those who come to visit me here, gives the city its charm. It gives it character, and the revitalization of our historic districts, despite the seeming mass exodus of a decade or so ago, is what will allow Danville to maintain an air of significance and permanency, even while we—yes, I said we, for it’s my home too now—look to the future.

 

Poking around in the archives

archives-departementales-de-la-haute-loire.-magasins_imgI don’t know when I’ve had so much fun. And yes, I know that makes me sound like a geek. And I’m OK with that.

There were a few things I knew when I bought my house. Mostly things I’d learned from hearsay. I knew that my house had been owned by a woman named Evelyn Day. She was my neighbor, after all. (We rented a house nearby for a year or so.) I had never met her, but I do remember walking by and waving hello. I do that, it seems. I remember sneaking a peek, while her foyer light was on, into the house through the window in her front door. I wanted to know what it looked like inside. I wanted one of those grand old Sutherlin houses, or perhaps one on Holbrook, so bad it hurt. I had been told, after I bought it, and from a local old house and history expert, that the house had been owned by that family for perhaps a 100 years, but that he did not believe they had built it. He believed, in fact, that they had purchased it in the teens, maybe 1917. He suggested I go down to the archives to find out. Only I couldn’t quite remember just where I needed to go. To the courthouse? To City Hall? And, having just moved in, I had a million other things to do. I put it off.

But then the local Historical Society had that same expert come and speak on just how to do it. It was noted, while I was at the meeting, that I had very little work to do since everyone knew that the Days had always owned the house. With such conflicting information, I was understandably confused. Shortly after that, a very wonderful and generous neighbor brought me some photographs he had. I don’t know how he came by them. Perhaps, like me, he found them at the estate sale. I had picked one photograph up myself, though I don’t know who it was of. He had evidently asked around and had been told that the photographs were of  a mother and daughter, who had both lived in the house, and that they had been the only family to live here.

Day pic 1 Day pic 3 Day pic 2

(Elsie Saunders Day (?) left, Evelyn Day center, a photo I bought at the estate sale right)

With so many conflicting stories, I was curious, and so I headed down to the Circuit Court Clerk’s office, where the archives are kept. Now I was in for a treat, I’m telling you, because not only was I going to look through records, but I was actually going to physically handle THE records. Meaning all the deed books are there for people to look through, complete with indexes and maps. The actual books. Not microfilm. Not photocopies. Not digitized images. No. But the books, however old they may be. I gave myself two hours to search, and within and hour, I’d found everything I needed.

Now whether that first very knowledgeable gentleman told me they had bought it around 1917 or if that was just the date I fixed arbitrarily into my skull, there’s no telling. But I had found a cancelled check when we had excavated the fireplace in the bathroom. The check was dated 1915, so I had begun to wonder. Sure enough, searching back, I found where H. Fenton Day, the man to whom the former owner of the house, Mrs. Evelyn Day, had been married, had inherited the house from his mother, Elsie Saunders Day, her husband Henry F. having died in 1954. The will was dated November 1959. Now with deeds, you search for what you know and you go back. In my case, the last three deeds (the ones indicating the foreclosure, and then the sale to us) were listed on the tax records. Along with it was the will’s document number. And from there the trail ended. Each deed will list the document before it, usually another deed, so they are quite easy to search, but the will lists no other documents. Fortunately the indexes are easy to use, and so I was quickly on the trail again. Cole advert

The true story!

In September of 1915, Elsie Saunders Day bought the house from Oliver W. and Annie Bell Cole for $7,200. Interestingly, the deed stated “this conveyance includes the Mills Range now installed in the kitchen of said dwelling house, and all heating fixtures and appliances.” I’ve tried to search for an image of such a stove, but so far have had no luck. I looked up Mr. Cole in the directory and found an advertisement for his photography studio in the 1906 directory. He did indeed live at 134 Sutherlin.

Cole bought the property in August of 1904 from P.F. Conway and his wife, Maggie B. “a married woman holding separate property.” Mr. Cole sold the house for $5,000. It seemed, however, that Mr. Conway did a great deal of real estate transacting in the area, and so I wanted to be sure that he actually lived in the house and, possibly, built it. The next deed took me to a man named Robert Brydon. In that deed it states that Brydon sold the property in October of 1896 for $1,000 cash “All that certain lot of land situated in the city of Danville…” Then it goes on to give the lot description. No building or improvement is mentioned. I know the house was built in 1897. A plaque near the front door says so. In December of 1897 there is another deed, in which Mr. Conway grants the property, “all that certain lot or parcel of ground together with the improvements thereon and the appertanances thereunto belonging….” to his wife “in consideration of ten dollars paid by said Maggie B. Conway, and of the natural love and affection he bears to said…” So it looks like he bought the property, built the house, and gave it to her. They lived in it, it seems, from the time it was built until Cole bought it. I found them, too, in the directory for the years 1898-1899. And doing a little more digging, found reference to him in two books on local history, Virginia: Rebirth of the Old Dominion and Men of Mark in Virginia.

Powhatan Fitzhugh Conway

PF Conway


Mr. Conway was born 11 Nov 1867 near Danville. He attended public school, but he was not a robust child and so was forced to quit his education early. Upon leaving shool in 1886 at the age of 17, he commenced work as a solicitor and collector for Messrs Bass, Brown & Lee, who, at the time, had the largest coal, wood and manufacturing business in Danville. He worked there for four years, until 1890, when he formed a partnership with F.L. Walker to start their own business dealing in the same. Six years later (1896) they bought Bass, Brown and Lee, consolidating with Anderson & co and incorporating as Danville Lumber & Manufacturing co. It grew to be a large firm, over which Conway served as chief executive and genral manager. They had an “extensive line of millwork, including interior trim, sash, doors, frames, molding, blinds and other materials.” Conway served as vice president of the Masonic Building Corp, which erected the handsome Masonic Temple on the corner of Main and S Union Streets.

On Feb 14, 1893 at Richmond, VA, he married Maggie Bradford Brown of Richmond. She was educated at Danville College for Young Women. She died Apr 2 1925. They had one daughter Margaret (Moore).

Digging around a bit more, I discovered that Mr. Conway bought the two lots east of mine at about the same time, built houses on them and sold them. In 1903 he bought two lots to the west of mine and built houses there. At one point they lived in a house on Main street, in which there was a fire that caused considerable damage. My next research project is to learn which houses he built and how many of them there are. It does make me happy to know he was such a big part of Danville’s development.

So now I know the history of my house, and, as history does, makes me feel like I am a part of something important. And this house will something significant once again. That I’m truly looking forward to.

 

 

 

 

What is that doing there?

bath4It’s the first time I’ve said it in this house, though I’m sure it won’t be the last.

At present we have one fully functioning bathroom, and as it is ensuite to our bedroom, it’s not exactly convenient as the family bath. Neither do we have a shower, though both clawfoot tubs are still here, and my husband is anxious for a shower. So we thought we’d start tackling the plaster to begin with, which is in pretty bad shape as you can see in the photos below. Firstly I needed to make a decision about whether to try to save it (always my preference) or whether to gut the bathroom and start over (which gives us the advantage of addressing some of the plumbing and electrical issues at the same time.)

The first hurdle to this project was a large cabinet that took up the entire wall between the door that goes into the boys room and the wall that separates the toilet area from the rest of the bathroom. I didn’t want to lose the storage space, but in order to really address the plaster issues I had to at least move it. I started by taking off the quarter round molding that went around the bottom of it, and I discovered that the floor ended where the cabinet sat, which told me that the cabinet was there before the floor was laid down. Still, I was determined to move it without destroying it.

But I was mistaken on both counts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAplaster on wallplaster on ceiling

In the pictures above you can see the cabinet, the plaster above where the cabinet was, and the plaster on the ceiling.

We began by trying to pry the cabinet away from the wall, but this only resulted in further damage to the plaster. A thin piece of particle board served as the backing, and after tearing this out, we realized that the plaster was black. Mold? I began to get nervous. Now we knew the cabinet had to come out. So bit by bit we began prying apart this piece and that piece hoping to find the magical nail that was holding this thing to the wall with an iron grip. By the time we realized there was no hope for it but to take it apart entirely, we were left with nothing but one side, a partially separated top and doors hanging haphazardly. I relented and told myself I could rebuild it later. I do have a plan for it, even though I had decided by then that the cabinet would have to be moved elsewhere. It’s great storage space, but what I really saw on this wall by this point was a dressing table and a large mirror.

Wrong again.

fireplace

At last we had the cabinet disassembled and what we found behind the cabinet surprised us greatly. A fireplace! And that cutaway piece where the floor had not been laid, it was a slate hearth, in near perfect shape. But why was there a fireplace in the bathroom? On top of that, there was a fireplace on the opposite side of the wall, and I didn’t think they could be back to back.

Wrong again!

Really, this is not my first old house restoration, but our house in South Carolina had virtually no changes at all made to it and had been owned by one family (before us) since it was built in 1918. This house is somewhat older, having been built in 1897. My understanding is that it was sold in 1917 to the Day family. Who owned it before that I’m not yet sure, but I mean to do some research on that soon.

So were there two chimneys back to back on this wall? It seemed the only way to know for sure was to excavate. And so I began.

bricked inThis picture is really blurry, but you can see the black paint on the plaster. This is consistent with the fireplace in the front upstairs bedroom, which has a large mantel (matching the one in the shed) and has black paint surrounding the ironwork where tile might ordinarily be. You can clearly see through the plaster where the edge of the brick is. It took a great deal of chiseling and persuading, but at last we had the brick free.

bath5

After inspecting the chimneys, their sizes, etc, I decided that there always were two fireplaces on this chimney. It’s just possible, and really, it’s the only thing that makes sense (sort of). But, as with my excavation of the dining room fireplace (where I found an 1870′s Indian head penny) my work here did not go unrewarded.

bath 2

I found a receipt folder from the Kiwanis club at Leeland Hotel (now subsidized housing) embossed with the name Henry F. Day, a laundry recent from Star Laundry Co. on Patton street, and a cancelled check in the amount of $5.45 and dated March 19, 1915. Which I have to say confuses me a great deal. My understanding was that the Days bought the house in 1917. So now I need to go research that and find out who originally owned and built the house, and just when the Days moved in.

bathing-beauty

As for the question of why there would be a fireplace in the bathroom, this is my guess. The toilet (or commode, as we like to call it in the South) was not invented until 1891. From what I’ve read, indoor toilets, even plumbing, was not a household staple until up into the 20′s and even 30′s. It’s apparent that when the Days bought the house they did a great deal of remodeling and redecorating, and so it’s entirely likely that the house was plumbed after the Days bought it. Also, the plumbing is stacked. The bathrooms are above the kitchen, which suggests these amenities were added later.  I think the fireplace was in the bathroom to heat it, and possibly even to heat the water. There were indoor bathrooms certainly by the time the house was built, but the water for them would have to be hauled from the kitchen and/or heated on the spot.

And so, instead of putting in a dressing table, I’m going to restore the fireplace. I’ll likely never use it, but I like the idea of a mantel in there. I’ll give my nod to modernity by adding a shower for my dear husband. He’ll like that. I think we both will.

 

What I’m grateful for this year

ThanksgivingI find myself complaining. I do. And it’s wrong. It’s cold out, and we are struggling to stay warm in my 116 year old house. But the thing is…I have the house, and I love it! It feels like such an honor to have gotten it and to be the ones restoring it. Even if my loan is taking an eternity to go through. But the thing is, despite the drafty windows, and the low water pressure, and the lack of central heat, I really, really, really love this house. And it was sort of a miracle we got it. So yes, I’m grateful.

I’m grateful, too, for my family. I have had the misfortune of witnessing a lot of familial unhappiness in my life. My two best friends are recently divorced, and while I’m glad they are both out of the bad situations they were in, I’m sad, too. The death of a marriage is a very sad thing, all those hopes and plans and dreams ruined. I’m grateful for my marriage, and for the man I married. He lets me live my life, he places no hindrances on me. He believes in me, even though I only really know that because people tell me how proud he is of me (he doesn’t tell me stuff like that). He values me as an individual human being who, companioned by him, is willing to work together to make both of our aspirations in life come true. My dreams are as important to him as his own. And I’m striving to be equally as supportive. I fear I take him for granted too often. I also, because of him, have these amazing children. I cannot describe to you how amazing they are. It’s not because they get great grades (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t), it’s not because they are beautiful (I think they are, but of course I would) and it isn’t because they are extraordinarily talented, it’s because they are really, really enjoyable people to be around. I adore them, and I feel so blessed to know them.

I’m grateful that I am able to stay home with my kids. This move to Virginia has been tough. We left behind a life and a house in South Carolina. We were in good shape for a while, but the rush of relocating, then being left behind for a time in a horrible housing market, financing two households, has really hurt us. And so, for a time last year, I went to work. It was a good experience, and I’m grateful for it, but I’m more grateful than ever that I don’t have to work. Only…there’s a chance I may have to go back. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lazy, I just feel the pain of my kids growing up. My oldest is 16. I have two more years, three perhaps, before she’ll be on her own. And it breaks my heart. True, they don’t need me while they’re at school, but it’s important to me that I send them off, and that I’m here when they get home, that, when there’s a school closure, or a holiday, I can be here to enjoy it with them. I cherish every minute I have with them. I don’t want to lose any of it. It goes by far too quickly.

But let me just say this, while I’m at it: When I am home, I am working. I’m writing and publishing, editing, cover designing, marketing and promoting. This when I’m not working on the house, cutting down trees, repairing windows, doing plaster work, stripping wallpaper, painting, etc. While I was working outside the home, my book sales tanked. Now they’re back up again, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that I have been able to fulfill my dreams of 1) writing a book, 2) publishing it and 3) having people actually read the stuff. It’s really quite amazing when I think of it. And so usually I don’t. But I am grateful. Exceedingly so.

I’m grateful for my parents, for my sister, and for the brother I loved with all my heart—and whom I lost a couple of years ago. I’m grateful for the family to whom I am not blood related who helped to nurture me and guide me to make good and responsible decisions. I’m grateful for the teachers who have taught me, and for the friends who have supported me faithfully through good times and bad.

I’m grateful for the good times.

And yes, I’m grateful for the bad times, too. I’m grateful for what they taught me. I’m grateful for the person I am because of them. And while I really hope I never have to relive them, and while I’m sorry for friends I’ve lost and people I’ve hurt, if I’ve learned something in my trials, then it is all for the better.

I’m also really, really grateful for chocolate.

Just sayin’.

It’s the season for Sixteen Seasons!

It’s here! And just in time for Thanksgiving!

 

Sixteen Seasons4

A collection of short stories from bestselling author V.R. Christensen. The collection features stories loosely based on holiday themes, including two Christmas stories, one for Lent and several ghost stories that may or may not be for Halloween. There are even a few that are related to the novels Of Moths and Butterflies and Cry of the Peacock, as well as Gods and Monsters (scheduled for release in spring of 2014.) Want to know how Abbie Gray and her sister were persuaded to leave their beloved home at Holdaway? Or what happened to Roger Barrett and Claire Montegue? Or perhaps you’re interested to know what happened to the child fathered by the wicked Frederick Emerson. Find out in Sixteen Seasons.

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Just an update

butterfly blog bckThings have been quiet here, and for that I apologize. Looking back on the last year, trying to concentrate on writing short stories (an endeavor that actually lasted two years) I’ve found I don’t have the time or energy to blog. But I think that’s going to have to change. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and if you’ve been here from the beginning, you’ll know that writing Moths kind of made a mess of me. It forced me to go back and examine some things about myself. It wasn’t a comfortable experience. And there was something, too, very foundation shaking in putting my work out there. I’m grateful it’s been so well received. But the process, I’m afraid, was a bit messy. I lost a few dear friends, and for that I’m really sorry, more than I can say. In the process, I’ve also made some great friends, friends who have stood by me and had faith that I would sort myself out. I have, I think. And so with that, I think I’m going to be more vocal about what my message really is. I tend to cloak it and disguise it, and then to belittle myself, as if none of it really mattered. I do this in the hopes of escaping backlash, but I can’t do that anymore. So…in the coming year, I plan to blog more on my philosophies about life. I know that I tend to see the world a little differently, but I also know, because I’ve begun seeing how many of you have become more vocal, that I am not alone.
Sixteen Seasons3
On the house front, not much has been going on. We’ve done some more yard work and we’ve begun planning for painting and exterior repairs. But we’re also waiting for financing, and it’s ONGOING. Our appraisal is now on week six, and I’m losing patience. But more on that soon.

As far as my writing goes, I’m just wrapping up the last edits for Sixteen Seasons. The short story collection features two Christmas stories, several ghost stories (Halloween and otherwise) and, most interestingly of all (I think), several stories that are related to my novels, including my upcoming novel, Gods and Monsters, which is due for publication in the spring. Writing these was much more fun than I thought it would be, but also a lot more work.

And on a final note, I am extremely honored and pleased to have been reviewed by Historical Novels Review, and more than that, to have been reviewed favorably by them. Here is the link to the review if you’d like to read it. I’m pretty pleased.

So, stay tuned, I’ll have more to say soon. A lot more. :)

 

The Tale of the Mad Gorgon Part 8

“Come aboard the Mad Gorgon, together with 18th century pirate Captain Redheart and 1920s detective novelist Julia Warren, on a light-hearted vintage murder mystery tour spanning nine episodes.

Those who follow the episodes and come closest to the truth stand to win some devilish fine prizes, including classic editions of Robert Louis Stevenson’sTreasure Island and Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers.

How to enter:

1) Read the 9 episodes of “The Tale of the Mad Gorgon”. (See the schedule of links on the Grey Cells Press website.)

2) Solve the puzzles along the way.

3) Email your solutions via the contact form.

There will also be opportunities to win a digital copy of Greenwood Tree via Twitter, so follow @CaptainRedheart to keep up. (Information on these opportunities will also be posted via @GreyCellsPress as well, if you prefer tweets without grog and parrots in them!). Also, look for odd scraps and bits and pieces from the Captain’s Logbook at Bagshott Manor.
 

After this episode you will all have one week to come up with your guesses as to whodunnit,howdunnit and how to find the treasure ….
 
Good luck !”

The Tale of the Mad Gorgon Part 8

‘Knocked on the head with a lump of old masonry from the building, has the blood on it, whoever did it tossed it to one side. Must have been in a hurry. Then dragged Mr Nunctious into the folly. I shall put constables on guard duty about the house, and I must insist that nobody leave the house on any pretext without informing me or the constable.’ Inspector Lovell was in no very happy frame of mind; another corpse, this time of the hapless William, and two missing men: neither James Derelict nor Horatio Hubble had been seen since the previous evening, which would mean a search party; his gloom was hardly alleviated by Julia mentioning the chalk marks.

‘Might I make a telephone call?’ she asked.

‘Yes, you might, but no further excursions into the garden – unless accompanied by a constable.’

Captain Thursby was surprised and not a little intrigued to be rung up again on a question of navigation:  ‘Sounds like a latitude measurement; but one would need to know from where they were standing in the first place…what was that? Yes, I suppose I could… no, don’t worry, I’ll bring my own.’

Later in the day, an elderly vehicle came crawling up the drive, to deliver a naval looking man, clasping one sextant in one hand. He was shown up to the gallery under the supervision of a constable to where Julia was waiting for him under Captain Redheart’s portrait. The constable stood by, as they looked at the painting and made notes. Inspector Lovell wasn’t taking any chances.

Julia brought out a mirror from her pocket and held it up to the painting.

‘Yes. Yes, I think I see –‘ she said, quite excited. ‘Are you ready?’

‘All hands on deck – fire away.’

‘S,E,3,5,N,W,1,5,…’ she began.

‘Hold hard there, m’lad – N, W?’

‘Yes, and then 1, 5, … and next …’ Julia squinted at the mirror a while, then her face cleared:

‘a,n,d,s,o,u,n,d,e,r,…’ She looked a little taken aback. ‘That doesn’t make a lot of sense. But perhaps once we’ve done the first part …’

That same afternoon, as the sun was setting, the Folly received more visitors: Julia, the elderly mariner still holding his sextant, and the now inseparable constable.

‘Now, as I was saying, ‘explained the Captain, ‘we would probably need to wait until sunset to take a shot, as we call it; that is, if we go on the premise that the sunset in the painting is a definite reference to the time of day. If we try it now, it will be out by a matter of degrees, which could make a serious difference to your calculations.’

‘The doctor said he had been dead at least since the previous evening, so that could tie in.’

So if we take a shot from the Folly, with the Mad Gorgon behind us…’ the Captain raised the sextant to his eye and squinted at the house.

‘Points to the Gallery.’

‘Oh. Are you sure?’

‘You may look for yourself – keep it steady – there.’

‘Yes, I see what you mean.’ Julia tried not to sound disappointed – or to feel too foolish.

‘He seems to be leading us round in circles.’ She looked at her notes again.‘Oh, but wait – SE35 and NW15 …surely N stands for north?

‘Most certainly – and W for west …and  I would suggest that the numbers stand for paces.’

Under the constable’s now bulging gaze, Julia and the Captain proceeded to step, in quasi-tango-like gait, across the remains of the lawn, nearly taking a tumble near some more uprooted flowerbeds. The constable followed at respectfully protective distance, his walk unconsciously mirroring theirs until one might have been forgiven for imagining an impromptu Lobster’s Quadrille had been in progress.

The procession was brought to a full halt at the door of the Clock Tower. It was locked. ‘Well, of course, I suppose it would be.’ Julia stood back and gazed up at the clock face which had not changed the time in roughly a hundred years. A shadow appeared.

‘And perhaps you would like to explain what you want with the Clock Tower? ‘ enquired Inspector Lovell amiably behind them.

‘I was reminded when looking at the engraving copied from one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks – he wrote in a code of his own, quite simple really, but requiring a mirror to read it.’

Lovell raised an eyebrow.

‘He wrote upside down and back to front. I wondered, what if Redheart had done the same thing?  So I tried reading the lettering with a mirror. The ’s’ is in fact an ‘a’, ‘n’ is ‘u’ and vice-versa, and so on – and the squiggly thing that looks like an f – is in fact an old-fashioned ‘s’. The sentence then plainly reads ‘And so under’. I think Abigail had just tried that out herself, when the murderer caught up with her.’

‘Rather careless of them to leave the mirror behind.’

‘I don’t think they imagined anyone else would make the connection;  we didn’t –she was always looking in the mirror at herself, or to put more make-up on. So it wouldn’t occur to anyone that she had any other purpose.’

‘But that still leaves us with only ‘And so under’ – under what? And this sextant …’

‘That is where Captain Thursby comes in.’ Julia turned to the captain.

‘Yes, now, according to how he is holding the sextant in the painting, he is actually about to take a shot, or measurement – and because there is a sunset as well, that suggests the time of day to take the shot. Now, he also included the Folly in the painting –‘

‘Asextant fillednd using the measurements and compass points Miss Warren so, ah, intelligently extracted from the portrait,’ continued the Captain, ‘I was able to take a shot, and with the Folly directly behind us – that is, the figurehead, we found ourselves at the Clock Tower. ‘

‘‘But the Clock Tower is empty.’

‘And so under, Inspector Lovell,’ explained Julia.’ That was the final instruction left in the painting : ‘And so under’.

Inspector Lovell looked increasingly worried as Julia outlined her theory. ‘I do hope you haven’t shared your thoughts with anyone in the household, ‘ he said once she had finished. ‘That really might not be safe.’

‘I do think though that if any more gruesome demises are to be avoided, we had better make straight for the Clock Tower soon – as soon as possible; I really think there may be something unpleasant about to occur,’ relied Julia earnestly. ‘How many men have you available?’

Inspector Lovell gave her a long, considering look.

 

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