Thank you for finding That Old House amidst the chaos of the Internet. We are delighted that you are here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Is Everyone Else Prepared?

Ho Ho HO! It's looking a lot like Christmas here at That Old House, at least on the outside, where Mother Nature has kindly done that fluffy white decorating. Inside the house, not so much.

The boxes holding Christmases Past are all down from the attic or up from the cellar, and still littering the front hall. Some are empty; most are not.

The Fraser Fir from the local nursery is about 70% decorated, while
the artificial tree in the parlor stands naked save for lights and, by now, a little dust.

My daughters have decorated a table top tree in the study with their personal ornaments; it is charming and best of all, it is finished.

Howard has put some white lights on the three little Arborvitaes near our side door, and in the big Forsythia up past the grape arbor, but I have not yet strung white pine ro
ping on the staircase or on the porch railing.

I know, I know! Christmas is mere days away! I haven't baked my Julekake, nor any cookies. And... my dogs need baths.

And speaking of dogs, our Dion is in the dog house. Figuratively.

While we were eating dinner, our cheeky boy had -- not for the first time -- clambered up from a sunroom loveseat onto the kitchen counter, and was caught rummaging through the empty pots on the stove top.

Busted. Caught red-pawed.

We have now put a board up between the kitchen and the sunroom, along that stretch of countertop. It's not gorgeous, but for now it will keep Goat Boy off my counters!

Does he look guilty, or even vaguely repentant? No, no he does not.

Good Luck to anyone who is still madly dashing through the snow or around the house, getting ready for The Big Day. I am fast approaching that point where I say to myself, Enough! What's done is done, and the rest can go back to the attic and I'll use it next year.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2008

People Who Live in Glass Houses . . .

. . . always know when it is raining.

Howard and I looked at this old house several times before signing a contract to buy it. It was always in clear weather. The day we took possession of it, it was raining. Pouring. Noah-style, cats-and-dogs weather.

We went right from our lawyer's office to our new house. Dashed from the car, down the old stone steps, splashed through the puddles on the patio, and fumbled with the keys to open the French doors into the conservatory.

Ah, inside at last, where it was dry and ... and ... and
... noisy! Incredibly noisy. There we stood, in the house we had bought just an hour before, shouting in order to be heard.

You know that glass ceiling that feminists talk about? We live under it. And boy, when the rain starts falling, every drop is audible. A drizzle sounds like a downpour, and a downpour sounds like an overzealous firing squad.

But we love our conservatory. So do our guests. At Alida's college graduation party,
which was planned for outdoors, it (of course!) poured rain. 80 guests retreated into the house, with a surprising number of them opting for the sunroom, despite their having to shout at one another to be heard.

It's raining today. Everywhere.
Raining and raining and raining here in Rockaway Boro, and all over the Eastern Seaboard, from New England to the Deep South. Start building the arks, people!

(Above, a picture of the conservatory on moving day, which also was a day of relentless downpour. Note the cardboard, placed near the doors in a vain attempt to absorb the wet and mud. Notice also the Cavaliers banished to a pen to keep them from dashing out the open door.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Star is Born, or was born... whatever.

Down the road from us is another old house, older than ours -- 1790s. Recently the owners held an antiques sale on their front lawn, so we stopped in and introduced ourselves as the new people in the "old yellow house down the street."

"Oh, the Tuttle house!" Yes, the Tuttle house. "I've been in that house," which seems to be what everybody in Rockaway says, leading me to wonder just WHAT the elderly lady who lived here a decade ago did in her spare time.

As people who own old houses do, we chatted about -- old houses. We learned a little more about ours. . . .

"Did you know that Sherwin Williams filmed a TV commercial in that house?" said our newly found neighbor.

Really? Who knew?

Seems that Sherwin Williams was scouting for an old house, a "classic American house," and it came down to ours, and the 1790s house down the street, whose owner says she didn't want the tumult and upset of filming in the month before Christmas. This was about 15 years ago, by most neighbors' reckoning.

But the owner of Our Old House welcomed the company, and Sherwin Williams spent about a month here, painting and filming, and now I wish I could remember having seen a paint commercial involving a "classic old American house." But I can't.

I have the excuse of having had small children at the time, and falling asleep on the sofa before prime time every night. I was more likely to see a Crayola commercial than a Sherwin Williams one.

So our house has had its 15 minutes of fame. Or maybe a whole 20 minutes, as it's also mentioned in a book about Tours of Historic Morris County.

I think we are lucky this house allows us to live here, as we are not famous at all.

Do you think Sherwin Williams keeps copies of its old TV spots?

A gathering of family and strangers: A typical Thanksgiving!

It's two weeks to the day since we celebrated our first Thanksgiving in our new old house. We thought we'd be down about five in our usual head count, but it seems that Nature and Thanksgiving both abhor a vacuum.

We welcomed 3 complete strangers, California natives (poor things!) with no East Coast family. Niece Alice invited one of the Californians, niece Becky invited two others. We were delighted to have them.

So all in all we were a modest group of 27.
Howard and I, married 30 years, have hosted Thanksgiving all but 4 years. It is the perfect ecumenical holiday; everyone celebrates, so there's no chance of offending anyone's beliefs, or non-beliefs. Everyone believes in eating. And everyone believes, or should believe, in gratitude.

It was odd, planning for Thanksgiving in a different house, after 20 feasts on Riveredge Road. In that old house, I knew where everything was and where everyone would sit, and our kitchen was so narrow that there was only room for Howard and me in it -- no spectators allowed. We realized this year, with the kitchen so open to the conservatory, that people could HEAR us. Yikes.

I discovered the day before the feast that I was missing the long banquet tablecloths, half of the old silver flatware I use at the holidays, and various bowls, pots, etc. Time to improvise.

Plus ... our dining room is a good size, but not large enough to seat 27, especially now that "the cousins" are actual complete and full sized humans. It's no longer possible to jam 10 little bottoms cheek-to-cheek at the far end of the table, as we used to do at the long living room set-up on Riveredge Road.

(Picture of dining room, before setting up the long rental tables. So serene before the chaos!)

We put a "cousins" table in the conservatory, a kids' table, with "kids" ranging from 18 to past 30.

The 13 "grownups" got rented tables, diagonally placed, in the dining room. The dining room table was moved into the parlor as a drinks table, and the parlor chairs and sofa were moved back against the walls to make room for more chairs for chit-chat. With a fire going, it made for a lovely, cozy nook for my Dad and my brothers to sit and have a really good jaw.

My daughters, bless them, retrieved all of the Thanksgiving china from the bottom of a breakfront, and made sure all the wineglasses were spotless. Or nearly so.

It was a good dinner. The food was what Thanksgiving food should be: traditional, not poisonous, cooked in a timely manner, and EATEN.

And we all were grateful.
Dion, above, and Connie, below --- enjoying the special
cookies our niece Becky brought for them.

I am thankful for so many things this year, too many to list. But my joy in a family gathering is shadowed by my mother's absence. I want her there to encourage me and tell me I did a good job, to call me the next day for our "party post-mortem" conversation. But she can't be a part of our family gatherings now, and she will never see this old house we love so much. Mom is a prisoner of Alzheimer's Disease, and lives in a facility only 10 minutes away... so close as the crow flies, but light years away from reality.

But to have my husband, my daughters, so much of our family, and those three complete strangers, to sit at our tables and break bread (and wishbones) with us -- now that is a blessing indeed.

Next Thanksgiving -- the draperies in the dining room will be actually SEWN and not just fabric panels hung by clips, and I will by then have found that missing silver flatware. Probably.

On to Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year!

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Ghosts of Halloween

It's Halloween, and it just got dark.

I have lit all the lights in the first floor rooms. The house, inside and out, looks lit and welcoming and all ready to welcome witches and goblins and Indiana Joneses for Trick or Treat.

Tally so far is ... 2: the neighbor kids from the house behind us, whose grandparents used to live in this house. No one else has ventured either up from the street in front or down from the cul-de-sac and driveway behind to beg for candy.

This makes me sad. In our former house, in a close-built neighborhood, with quiet level streets and no moving vehicles except those of other parents, the streets were alive between 4 and 9:30 with kids. It looked like a Peanuts special when you looked from our porch, with little costumed beggars swarming over grass and piles of crunchy leaves and the remains of spent annuals.

I loved it. I loved Halloween. I loved bringing cupcakes and juice to the school, watching the parade in the parking lot, hosting a Halloween party for my Girl Scouts.

I loved making costumes for my two daughters, usually in a mad last minute rush. I loved decorating the house with spider webs and flying bats and a scarecrow on the lawn swing, pumpkins and hay and Indian corn ... even a big goofy-looking plastic skull with giant googly eyes and a motion sensor that triggered "I SEE you" in a lugubrious tone when people approached the front door.

Now I've got a couple of tasteful pumpkins, a few copper colored mums, and a bittersweet wreath -- pretty, but restrained. Now I have two bowls of candy -- one at each door -- and no little takers. Now I've got a great old house, perfect for Halloween parties, and my girls are elsewhere -- one of them 3000 miles away.

I miss a real Halloween! I wish someone would knock at the door, some little extortionist, threatening me with dastardly deeds if I don't pony up the Twix and Kit-Kats.

Oh well. Howard will be home soon, and I did buy two bags of his favorite candy -- 3 Musketeers Bars.

I will make him beg.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Welcome to That Old House

If you live in our part of New Jersey, you probably know our house. It's the old house next to the high school, raised up off the road by an old stone wall, its clapboard siding painted yellow, with a big columned front porch and dark green shutters, and a newer glassed-in conservatory on the side.... and by now you are saying, "Oh! You live in that old house!"
Yes, yes we do. And have since May of 2008.

Howard and I are empty-nesters -- both daughters away at college and grad school -- and because we wanted a larger nest to host guests when our chickens do come home to roost, and also because I wanted a change from the house we'd raised our girls in, we decided to move.

In the fall of 2007 I saw an old farmhouse in an online realty listing... and decided to take a look.

When I did, I was a goner.

It was MY house. It was the house I wished I lived in when I was a little girl. It had its drawbacks -- but hey, nothing is perfect!

That was the end of October. We bought the house in March, although our other house was still on the market with no buyers in sight. But miracles do happen, even in slumping real estate markets -- we got two offers on our own house, and accepted a solid full price contract. (Thank you, St. Joseph.)

We hired plumbers, electricians, painters, an air conditioning installer (God bless central air!), handymen, an iron fabricator, and a contractor to shore up a few saggy floors and spongy joists.

The original section of this house is built without any nails. The timbers are hand-cut, and fit together like a giant puzzle, an enormous hand wrought Erector set of timbers. It's beautiful to see, and clearly visible in the attic and cellar.

We also hired a landscaper, my husband having finally abandoned the fiction of his enjoying yard work. However, the pro and I don't see eye to eye about the importance of a perfect green lawn. Our 3/4 acre was mostly wet muddy ruts back in March, and now, on this first day of October, I look out my windows and I see green. I am happy. Landscape guy is not.

"It's all crab grass," says he.

"So?" says I. "It's green!"

He thinks I'm nuts. He may be right, but I'm happy. . . .

We are holding off on more big projects until the spring. They will include exterior painting, maybe roofing, replacing missing shutters, and some fencing so our dogs can run around and sniff out squirrels and chipmunks without the annoyance of always being on lead.

The house is still very much a work in progress, but then ... so are we all.