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Monday, March 30, 2009

Ghosts: Is That Old House Haunted?

Now, right off the bat, let me tell you that I don't believe in ghosts.
Remember that, okay? There will be a quiz later. (No, actually not.)

My sister-in-law Doris sort-of, kind-of, pretty-much believes in ghosts, and has been asking me since we bought That Old House if it is haunted. My daughters even considered conjuring up a make-believe ghost, just to spook and tease their Aunt Doris.

Turns out, they didn't have to.

Before we moved here, I spent a lot of time alone in the near-empty house waiting for painters or electricians or plumbers or contractors or deliverymen. I heard a lot of noises.

Door-closing sounds, creaks and, most often,
the noise of a hammer blow in a distant part of the house.

But, I don't believe in ghosts and was not concerned.
Old houses make odd noises. It's part of their repertoire and part of their charm.

And all it was, was noise. Never anything scary.

We moved in, the house filled up with stuff and people, and the noises,
if there still were noises, weren't so noticeable anymore.
Sometimes I'd find the door at the foot of the attic stairs standing open:

and sometimes the attic light was on.

And no one had been to the attic.

But never anything scary.
I don't believe in ghosts.

Months went by, and I got used to the noises (after all, old houses make noises) and even got used to finding the attic door open every once in awhile (hey, these things happen in the best of houses, right?).

But then, in the early winter, I saw a . . . well . . .

I don't exactly know what I saw. Doris might call it a ghost.

But ... I don't believe in ghosts.

Here's what happened. . .

I heard some thumps coming from the kitchen area, around eleven o'clock one night. I stood up, meaning to investigate,
and saw a figure, in silhouette, move across the conservatory, right across this area:

. . .between the table to the right, and the seating area at the end of the room.
The figure, or shadow, or whatever, walked right-to-left,
into the kitchen, out of my range of vision.

I thought, "Oh, that explains it. Howard came back downstairs for something," and I called his name. No answer.
Turns out, Howard was sound asleep upstairs. No one had walked through the conservatory.

But it was okay, because I don't believe in ghosts.

A few weeks later, I sensed some movement in the front hall, while I was in the butler's pantry area.
I looked and -- again -- saw the shadowy silhouette of someone moving.

I looked through the dining room into the hallway:

The whatever-it-was moved from the right, past the front door,
and into the door that leads to the study, at the foot of the stairs on the left:

Yes, into the door. This door is nearly always closed, yet the figure disappeared anyway.

But it's okay, because I don't believe in ghosts.

I tease our Pastor that since he did our House Blessing, the demons are gone from the house.
But there are no demons in this house and never have been;
it is a friendly, warm and sheltering home, and I have never felt afraid here.

The odd noises, the opening attic door?
They are the vagaries of a crooked old house, built without nails and
bearing the evidence of having at one time been a popular hangout for powder post beetles.

But those shadows? They are a little harder to explain away.
I'm not an excitable type, I've got good eyesight,
and I did see them; I was wide awake, and one sighting was in broad daylight.

I don't know what they were. Tricks of the light? Some sort of shadow in my vision? I will never know.

Whatever they were, I truly, still, don't believe in ghosts.

Not the type that float around an old house to spook the current inhabitants, anyway.
Old house are haunted, but by the traces and stored memories of past stewards.

For example, just this morning I went downstairs to the cellar to fetch eggs from the extra fridge,
prior to making a meatloaf for my Mom's 88th birthday luncheon today.

As I was turning off the overhead light, I saw something I'd never before noticed:
scratched into the very old paint near the wall switch was the word:


Can you see it? It's larger, below.
(I have no idea what the red smudge is. Too bright for blood, right? Right?)

Now who the heck scratched that word there, and why?
No ghost, that's for sure; I hope it is some sort of antique family joke!

These pictures of this scratched word weren't on this post earlier today; I sent my husband downstairs to take them when he got home from jury duty!

Have a lovely Tuesday; sleep with the lights on tonight! -- Cass

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Help the Lee Sisters, Ugg and Love, get their Makeovers!

Sometimes orphans get left on your doorstep. In our case, left on our front porch, was a pair of sisters, the Lee girls....


and Love:

Meet Miss Ugg Lee and Miss Love Lee:

(and please avert your eyes from the cracked paint on That Old House. She is very self-conscious about getting old and wrinkled, and is quite desperate to find a good, miracle-working moisturizer . . . .)

So how did the Lee Sisters end up on my front porch?

My brother, Lindy.

(This picture, below, is from our House Blessing Open House two weeks ago ... that's Lindy on the right, his wife Carol in the wing chair, and my sister Peggy looking very surprised, on the left.)

Well, my big brother Lindy and his wife Carol are beginning to sort through things at their house on Long Island, deciding what will make the move to their house in North Carolina.

Most of this stuff is Lindy's. Carol is an innocent bystander. My brother is King of the Pack Rats, a crown he wears with distinguished aplomb, and a cellar you enter at your own risk.

Recently I got a call . . . "Hey Cassy! I've got a couple of chairs, I think they're old ice cream parlor chairs . . . you want them?"

Well, duh.
Of course I want them.
I, after all, am Queen of the Pack Rats!

One of the chairs was recently painted, so she's Miss Love Lee.

The other is au naturel, rusty and -- let's be kind and say, picturesque. She's Miss Ugg Lee.

I'm not sure these two are ice cream parlor chairs. I have a wire ice cream parlor chair in my hall bath (check in Monday for the metamorphosis of that room!) and it's quite different from these two beauties.
I think the Lee sisters may just be ... chairs. But they are cute, in a goofy sort of way.
And they need me.

It is time for makeovers for the Lee Sisters, don't you think?
A case of critical need.
Any ideas?

I keep seeing pink. . . .

Friday, March 27, 2009

Simple Stew on Foodie Friday

Truck on over to Designs by Gollum for her Foodie Friday extravaganza -- it's a grand feast!
Click here to go there! Don't miss it.


I have a humble offering for Foodie Friday -- The World's Simplest Stew.

I found its original years ago in an issue of Cook & Tell, a cooking and foodie newsletter put together by Karyl Bannister at her island home off the coast of Maine. It's a lovely newsletter ... click here to visit.

World's Simplest Stew

I lost the original recipe, but have made it so many times that I am reasonably sure what follows is accurate.
Heck, how far off course can you drift with these ingredients?

You will need the following ingredients; quantities aren't very important:
Beef. . . I buy London Broil on sale for $1.99 a pound, and cut it into stew-beef-sized cubes.
Onions. . . Plain old onions, peeled and cut into big chunks.
Carrots. . . Scrape 'em, and cut 'em up -- small or large, depending on your preference.
Celery. . . Get rid of the strings, and chop up a few stalks. I don't always include celery; it's not vital, and I'm not crazy about it.
Other additions (all optional): Mushrooms, sliced water chestnuts, sweet potatoes (highly recommended!) or white potatoes (add them 1/2 way through the cooking process)

(Yikes. Those are some sad-looking veggies I pulled out of the vegetable crisper. Ick.)

And the secret ingredient: Chili Sauce.

Do not buy this (below)! It's for shrimp, not stew.
(Sadly, I speak from e
xperience. . . .)
Not Cocktail Sauce (like above), as that contains horseradish, just Chili Sauce.
I don't have a bottle in the house, therefore: no picture, sorry!
House brand is OK. Buy at least 2 bottles, and get 3 if you have a lot of stew.

Here's the really easy part: turn on your oven to 375-degrees, put the cubed meat and the raw veggies into a nice heavy stockpot or Dutch oven, and mix them up. Then, dump in the Chili Sauce. (See note below.) Put it all in the pot, and pop it into the hot oven. You are done. Go read a magazine.

(Note: I usually need 2 bottles of chili sauce to give enough liquid. You can add some wine or stock to make it a little moister. The ingredients should not be swimming in liquid, just moist, and you should be able to see the sauce if you push aside some meat & veg and peek down.)

Let it bubble away in the oven until it is done. The meat should be fall-apart tender.
I find that usually takes about 3-1/2 hours, sometimes a little longer. Stir every once in awhile. I begin the process with the stew covered, then uncover it for the last hour or so. You may need to add liquid, but probably not.

No browning the meat beforehand. No fiddling with seasonings; it's all in the chili sauce.
Makes its own gravy! (Okay, who remembers that commercial?)

I guess you could simplify it even more by using pre-cut stew meat, and frozen vegetables; I just haven't tried that yet. It would probably work in a crock pot, too.

You can serve it as-is, especially if you've added white potatoes, but it is also good with broad egg noodles. Even my Girl Scouts liked this stew, way back when I had Girl Scouts.

I apologize for the lack of pictures in this blog post, and also to Karyl Bannister of Cook & Tell in case I have totally butchered her original recipe!

Enjoy Foodie Friday.
Have a lovely weekend. . . Cass

Helloooooo! Anybody home?

I am trying to put together a slideshow tour of That Old House.
It would be much easier if I knew what I was doing! Wish me luck.

Hello? Hello? Anyone upstairs?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Tippling Tablescape, with Hidden Secrets! Or: Where O Where Can That Single Malt Be?

Oh where, Oh where can my single malt be?

Oh where, Oh where can it be?

For a whole big batch of wonderful tablescapes, all of them better than this silly effort, go visit Susan at Between Naps On The Porch.
Click here to go there!

Don't these Tablescape Thursdays zip around awfully fast? I wasn't going to play along this week -- brain freeze -- but I got to thinking last night, as I watched a DVR'd episode of an Agatha Christie mystery, of a fantasy tablescape I could set up, right in our study.

(No, not one of those fantasies, you saucy minx!)

Play along with me. There's the reveal of a hidden secret at the end! I guarantee you will laugh. Or at least grin. Probably.

Here goes. . . .

Howard and I are not the ritual-cocktails-before-dinner types. With us it's more a welcome home, quick kiss, feed the dogs, pop open a Fresca before dinner ritual, but, just for tonight . . . we pretend. . .

I am sitting in our comfy, feet-up study near seven in the evening, flipping through The Economist (this is a fantasy, remember), and waiting for my guy to return from the trenches of Manhattan. I've tossed a cloth over the coffee table. On it, waiting, are a couple of simple sturdy glasses:

an old cobalt blue pottery ice bucket by Pfaltzgraf that I have had for more than 30 years:

a pretty little Italian pottery plate, with a pre-dinner tease of aged cheddar and whole grain crackers:

2 linen napkins, and a small bunch of Peruvian Lilies:

in an anniversary vase my daughter Anne made for us when she was 12:

and ... and ... and ... hey! Hey!

Something's missing!

Where is that wonderful single malt Scotch we bought at the duty free shop at Gatwick airport?
I think DH deserves a little splash of good whisky at the end of a 14-hour day, don't you?

Where oh where can that single malt be?


What is this?

The end of the table is moving!

It's swinging open!

The end of the table swings open to reveal. . . the single malt Scotch, hidden in a secret compartment!

Now the tablescape is complete.


About that unusual coffee table. . . I found it last year on Ebay. I couldn't resist it. (Yes, it was cheap!)

It's got strong Art Deco lines, and I bet it was made during Prohibition in the U.S.
I wonder if it was meant to help clever hostesses hide their liquor?
I'd be more likely to hide M&Ms. (Aged cheddar would get stinky after awhile.)

Each end of the table swings out to reveal hidden compartments for -- what else? -- booze, and also a small ice bucket,
shot glasses, everything the good hostess needs for a clandestine cocktail party. Except the olives.

It's a neat old dear, in good shape for its age, with great curves and a heavy plate glass top -- just right for putting your feet up.

Its style doesn't really "fit" with my other furniture, but I am a believer is using
what you love, and if you love it, it will work.

This piece is on loan to me; I know that someday one of my girls will beg for it, and I will fold. But meanwhile it's got a home in our study. It cracks me up and I love things that make me smile.

I forgot one of the important elements of a cozy pre-dinner drink and chat in the study:
the dogs join us. They are hoping for a bite of cheese.
Poor Dion and Connie -- always hopeful.

(Sorry it is so blurry; they were a bit quivery with excitement as I was holding
their attention with one of those cheese slices. Yes, they got some!)

Have a lovely Thursday! . . . Cass

P.S. I learned something valuable today; I have no decent double old-fashioned glasses. (I think that's the right term.) Can you tell we are not cocktail folks? But this must be remedied. . . .

Monday, March 23, 2009

Patty, Maxine and Laverne, the Ironstone Sisters

Come meet my big ironstone gals!

It is a 3 or More Tuesday, hosted by Tam at The Gypsy's Corner... and you can see more by clicking here!

Big white ironstone pitchers. I love them. The bigger, the better.

I have three, and they have such distinct personalities.
One of the great things about old ironstone is its quirkiness and the marks left by those who made it, and those who used it.

There they are, Patty, Maxine and Laverne. . . my ironstone ladies.
(My mother loved ironstone, and sang lots of Andrews Sisters to us when we were growing up.)

Patty is a big pitcher, round and dimpled and well-used.

My Mom gave her to me many years ago, probably because this piece of old ironstone has a few pretty serious personality flaws....

... like a big chip on her shoulder...

...and, like so many in my family, she's a bit crazed and a little bit cracked:
(Click on the picture to see the crazing and her dimple close-up. Patty won't mind; she's not at all shy.)

We do our best to hide her idiosyncracies. If I keep her turned this way: don't see that big hunk missing from her "shoulder."

Then there is Maxine.

She's a bit plain, long and slim and business-like. She bears a brown "beehive" stamp from "Pratt and Simpson" and a diamond-shaped embossed mark as well. With a little research, I found out she dates from the 1870s - 1880s.

She has a matching bowl, but we left him home in the upstairs hall bath for this photo shoot.
He likes to hog the limelight.

She's no-nonsense, this one. There's a rather fierce eagle head on her handle.
She was made in England, probably for the American market.

Very little crazing, but there's a crack in her handle, and some bits of brown discoloration here and there -- minor. I have a recipe for getting rid of such brown marks, and someday I will actually send Maxine to the spa and give it a try. Maxine and her bowl buddy also belonged to my mother.

On Ebay currently is an identical bowl and pitcher, same mark, but with a rose transfer design and a "Buy It Now" price of ... $225. Who'd a thunk it? I better stop hanging damp facecloths on her to dry, and give her the respect she deserves.

Now Laverne.
She is the glamour girl of the trio. She's pretty sleek:

Made by T & R Boote in England, probably in the 1850s, she is part of their Sydenham design group, which must have been wildly popular, as you can find lots of Sydenham on Ebay. (Including 20th century reproductions.)

But a pitcher of this size doesn't often show up. I've seen them go for as much as $350,
but that was a few years ago; nowadays, more like $250.

My in-laws found her in a small shop in their hometown of Sharon, Massachusetts,
and thought I would like her. Oh, yes... I do.

She often graced the mantel on my river rock fireplace at our old Craftsman bungalow, filled with dried hydrangea. She's a stunner, and her finish -- glossy and shiny -- is like new. A few manufacturing marks, but no "issues," as they say.

She's just so graceful, isn't she?

Patty, Maxine and Laverne have enjoyed their moment in the blogging spotlight. Before they go back to their usual places in That Old House, they want to spend the day on top of my Grandmother's china cabinet, in the dining room.

Tomorrow, Maxine can rejoin her bowl buddy upstairs in the hall bath (a metamorphosis on that room, next week!) and Patty and Laverne can return to the top of the breakfront in the Parlor. For today, they are stars, and can go where they like.

I hope you had fun visiting with my big ironstone pitchers. I'm glad I have these three; I never would be able to afford to buy them!

Hope your Tuesday is as sunny as mine here in New Jersey ... Cass

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Metamorphosis Monday -- A Peek at the Parlor, and I Get A New Book!

It is Metamorphosis Monday, hosted by Susan at Between Naps On The Porch.
here for more stories! Thanks to Susan for hosting.

I have just a minor morph this Monday at That Old House ... curtains in the Parlor.

We begin with a blank slate. . . .

Over the course of 10 months, we add furniture, bits and bobs, and ... not much else!

But, finally, last weekend, just before our House Blessing party, we add curtains.

And as usual, I am not done with them; I sewed them and put them up
in a tearing hurry and so they aren't as carefully "swagged" as they should be.

The folds and swags are not perfectly even, and I am a whackadoodle about these things.
I mean, it won't keep me up at night but -- well, it might.

I also need tiebacks for them, and am not sure if I'm going to use tassels or something else. Right now it's just some very narrow red satin ribbon holding them back. I keep waiting for a BOINNNG!!! as one of the ribbons snaps under the weight of the swag; it's heavy!

I don't need any privacy curtains or shades in this room. No too-near neighbors, and the house is raised up off the street so passersby can't look in. Plus, it's the parlor. Mostly we keep our clothes on in there. Mostly. Well, I can't speak for Howard. . . .

But no need for heavy curtains or cover-ups.

I love this woodwork, and didn't want to hide it or the wavy old glass in the panes, so I chose the type of one-sided tied-back curtain swag that was in style in the 1830s when this parlor was brand new. I am trying for a period, old-fashioned, simple look in this room.

The furniture is of an older style, but I figure we all have old stuff in our houses nowadays, so why wouldn't people in the 1830s also have had stuff from 35 years ago in their houses?

That's it for a metamorphosis today at That Old House.
Someday we will actually find the right furniture placement for the Parlor, and get a rug, and put something up on the walls other than mirrors. . . someday. Not yet.

As for other transformations around here, I got some painting done today in the hall bath, between church and bringing Annie back to her college after her break. But the paint needs a second coat before it's ready for its debut and closeup.

But -- speaking of changes, I got a book on Saturday. Take a look at the title;
I thought it most appropriate for Metamorphosis Monday:

Interior Transformations!

It is by Ann Grafton, and among the many hats she wears is that of creative director for G.P. & J. Baker fabrics,
makers of the toile drapery fabric in our master bedroom (here).
How could I not get her book? She's almost a member of the family. :-)

It's got some lovely rooms, and

lots of advice and instruction on how

to achieve the looks pictured.

I rather like the drapery, below. It is a fringed plaid woolen blanket, folded over and clipped to a curtain rod. Neat!

Sorry for the sub-par quality of the shots of the book.

Have a lovely Monday, enjoy all the Metamorphoses at Susan's blog!
.... Cass