Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Connor Library

Your library is your paradise.
-Desiderius Erasmus

Welcome to the Connor Library at Freeman House. Kick your shoes off and come on in!

What is it about a personal library that appeals to us so? For me, the fascination with library rooms can be credited to two childhood masterpieces: the book The Velvet Room and the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. Ever since reading/seeing those stories I wanted to be either Robin or Belle. It is, I suppose, the dream of many small, bookish girls - to be taken in and loved by someone with a cozy library alive with far-off lives and places.

So this will be my library. This dark, substantially anchored, European salon, cigar-and-newspaper, book-lined room is on its way toward complete restoration as I keep a close eye on its past. The room has an interesting history. Originally a bedroom, this room is now called the "Connor Library" in honor of the family who owned the home at the turn of the century. And while I've been unable to confirm tales and hunches, I believe the Connor family may have built the original portion of this home in 1892. (Regardless, I personally know of two people who were born in this room around the time the Titanic sank. Their stories, as told to me by children and grandchildren, are hauntingly incredible.)

To give you a bit of placement, the library is to your right once you're standing in the entry hall of Freeman House. The space is square, has three doors and four enormous windows, and faces east. Beautiful morning light. It all sits about 5 feet off the ground, so peering out of the thick, wavy-glassed windows you glimpse hydrangeas and various tangles of green things below.

The room is painted rather darkly, isn't it? I wanted it that way. I wanted us to think of a Jane Austen film or an English castle's library when we entered: big, dark wood... dusty volumes... old maps... heavy furniture... lined drapes. No fairies or girly flowers in here. No sir. This is a cozy, safe, cuddle-in-and-stay-the-afternoon world strewn with puffy chairs and ottomans and blankets and rugs.

(And books. Don't forget the books. The shelves and the rolling ladder have yet to be (re)installed, so they're piled and standing around everywhere.)

The room has nooks and wide baseboards and creaky doors. The enormous fireplace is anchored directly across from you as you enter the room. Although it takes a bit of imagination, I can already see it sparking and crackling with dancing flames and a heavily-laid table before it. Perhaps it's a winter night and we're having roast tenderloin and mashed potatoes and chocolate tart. After dinner, you can climb the ladder and pull down a book or pick up a paper as I sit at the piano and play Beethoven. When the fire dies and the old room grows quiet and dark, we'll trudge off to quilted beds, heavy as we are with home-cooked food and a treasury of words and sounds.

One day soon. Right now, it's a jumble of a hundred details to complete. But it's come so far. Here's an idea of what it looked like the day I began to clean it out:

And here it is cleaned out and almost ready to paint. Gosh, it took forever to paint this room and an eternity to restore that original mantle. To give you an idea of scale, that fireplace surround is nearly as tall as I am. (The scaffolding is 6 feet tall.) And allow me to come clean right now: many, many bad words were said during the stripping, scraping, sanding, and staining of that darn mantle. If I could dig up and re-die the people who painted it 247 times - with lead-based paint - I would.

Moving on. Here's a before glance at the left wall of the library. (Don't tell, but there's a tiny hidden room behind the little door's closet.) And the open doorway leads to the study/television room. I'm eager to get going on that space.

But for now it's all about the library. The dark, cozy room in which childhood dreams are realized and remembered.

This could be your adopted library space too, you know. I would be honored. So would the generations of folks who began and lived out their lives within these walls....

Welcome to the Connor Library at Freeman House.

The Irvin Room

Welcome to the first renovated bedroom in Freeman House. Welcome to the Irvin Room.

Located on the far north east corner of the home, the Irvin Room is comprised of two spaces - a sitting space and a larger, sleeping room. Shown here is the sleeping room - a cozy, rectangular room with tall ceilings and two tall windows. Inside the room lives an old iron bed, an antique chair and ottoman, two nightstands, and an armoire. It used to house a fireplace, but sometime after 1920 the decision was made to board it up. All that remains of the chimney is about four feet of crumbling brick outside the east wall.

The Irvin Room is a bright, golden space that seems to glow in the morning sun. I suppose that's why I chose to put so many creams and khakis and antique golds/bronzes in this room; it seems to lend itself toward cozy, understated luxury. All of the muted colors are anchored by wood and iron - heavy, solid, able materials. Even the floors are wooden. Pine, to be exact. The trim is too, of course, and is original to the home. It's nailed up with square nails. In the baseboard just behind the door is a half-oval shaped hole. It looks just like the mouse holes on a Tom & Jerry cartoon. (Don't worry. Jerry isn't using it. I made sure of that.)

I adore the Irvin Room. It's named after the family who bought the home in 1911. Reverend Richard Irvin was the town's Methodist minister. His wife, Ella, was known by some as a demanding, hateful woman. Perhaps the Reverend knew her that way, too, because inside the wall between this bedroom and the next we found numerous letters and cards addressed to Reverend Richard. All of them were from women. One lady in particular, who always signed her correspondence "The Girl Who Feeds Chickens", wrote often. A birthday note she wrote him in 1914 is now on display in the house.

The Irvins lived here until the 1920s, and were responsible for moving this house to its current location. Old legend has it that Ella Irvin decided she'd rather have a brick home on the hill instead of this wooden one, so she had men lower the home onto logs and roll it to where it stands today. And she got her house on the hill.

Soon after the Irvins' brick house was completed, Miss Freeman took up residence in this house and, in exchange for room and board, ran it as a three-apartment complex for the Irvins. This bedroom was converted into a kitchen - complete with a pantry - and remained a kitchen until I purchased the home in 2005. Here's a glimpse of what it looked like after we removed the old table, oven, and pantry, but before we ripped out the linoleum and cabinets:

And here she is just after a good scrub, some sheet rock, and hours and hours of sanding and painting:

She's not finished yet, the Irvin Room. She likely won't be for several months. But the transformation is almost as touching as the room's history. And it's hard not to wonder, as I close my eyes at night, who used to sit at the kitchen table - feet away from where I sleep - and eat their early breakfast or make their midnight snack.

It's a charming place. You'll have to come by and stay someday. You'll have to catch the golden sun bathing this room. You'll have to open the windows and smell the roses and hydrangeas. You'll have to read the birthday note found in the wall. And you'll have to wonder why in the world Ella Irvin would give up a place like this.

At least I do.

Welcome to the Irvin Room.

The Back Hall Bath

All a woman needs is a good bath.
- Hedy Lamarr

Welcome to the best... and only... bath completed thus far in Freeman House. Welcome to the Back Hall Bath!

For those of you contemplating the renovation of an old house, know this: bathroom arrangements during renovation are... tricky. Heck. They're downright scary. During the two months this bathroom was gutted and restored, I brushed my teeth with a bottle of water at the screen door. I used the facilities at a nearby McDonald's. And I showered outdoors. In November. Gosh, I was stupid. But I learned an important This Old House lesson: always, always start with the bath. Always.

This small, rectangular room was terrifying when I bought Freeman House. There were layers of curled, cracked linoleum covering rotten hardwood floors. There was a stained, grimy sink. There was a window over the tub and an extra doorway, both of which were destined to be framed in and sheetrocked. There was an ancient, cracked toilet. And there was a clawfoot tub. It was the only thing worth saving in this disgusting room.

The substructure of the bath had to be torn out and replaced. The floors are now 4 1/2 inches thick, not counting the ceramic tile I laid myself. (Hardest project to date, by the way.) The room got a layer of new sheetrock and paint. A new pedestal sink and toilet were installed, as was a glass-fronted cabinet. (I have commitment issues with standard cabinetry, I discovered.) As for the old iron clawfoot tub, my Dad and I sanded, glazed and reinstalled it with new plumbing and a shower surround, which makes it easier to love while scrubbing armpits and things.

This small room cost almost $6,000 to renovate, even doing some of the work myself. Almost makes me want to put a few outhouses in the back for the rest of y'all. But I guess everyone deserves a hot, candlelit bubble bath in a clawfoot tub every now and then....

That is, after all, one of my favorite things about living in an old, crooked house.

Welcome to the Back Hall Bath at Freeman House. Hope you can stop by for a soak soon.

Friday, January 20, 2006



(That's my new word. But you have to emphasize it correctly -- like they do on Grey's Anatomy.)


This new Bin Laden tape is seriously disturbing. I know, I usually don't write about current affairs or anything of significance. But old habits die hard, and my years as a news reporter have a strange way of dictating the way I write and the way I think.

The minute I heard of this new terrorist recording, I turned to the one gal I trust on such matters: Laura Mansfield. A few years ago, I wrote and booked for the nationally-syndicated radio show America at Night. Laura was my favorite guest. She's smart, current, and has incredible insight into radical Islam. She translates Arabic. She's authored books on the subject. She maintains a website (www.lauramansfield.com) on all of it, which I read regularly.

Suffice to say that I nearly crawled out of my skin when I read Laura's logic on Bin Laden's latest recording of verbal diarrhea. He's warning that future attacks here at home are inevitable, and then offers up some stupid truce, as if we'll suddenly meet him halfway and bring the keg. As Laura says, Bin Laden's '"truce offer" is especially disconcerting; under Islamic law, Bin Laden is required to warn his victim and give them an opportunity to come to terms before the attack can be legitimately launched. It is likely that this is what Bin Laden is doing with the truce offer.'


Maybe it's just me. But I sat here today thinking maybe I should hit the ATM, charge my cell phone, and gas up my car - just in case. I mean, as our forefathers weathered the Cold War, they were taught to get under their desks and cover their heads. Do those rules still apply? Should I teach my cat to respond to a particular terror command and get under the bed? I considered this all the way to Target today. (I'm always one to recognize an excuse to spend money, and an impending terrorist attack definitely qualifies. No way am I going to get caught in an attack with a shortage of band-aids or chocolate or Advil.)

Seriously. How do you prepare for a terrorist attack?

I remember September 11th like last weekend. I remember walking into Starbucks, dazed, and ordering a latte. I remember the young employee of mid-eastern descent lobbing my cup onto the counter and smirking. I remember considering taking the lid off, throwing my grande latte into his smirking face, and yelling that Americans won't live this way.... won't stand for the constant threat of assault on our safety and way of life.

But I guess this is our way of life now.

Seriously. Seriously....

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Captain of Team Crazy

It's just like they say on Gilmore Girls: if there was a 'you're crazy' team, I'd be its captain.

My job is making me crazy.

I guess it's only Tuesday, but already I have visions of Friday night and strawberry margaritas dancing in my head. The margaritas have little skinny legs, and they're in a row, line dancing.

I told you my job is making me crazy.

Don't even laugh. You know exactly what I mean. First there are the scattered-brained co-workers. Or even better... the no-brained co-workers. Those are great.

Then, there's the actual work. It gives you headaches. In my job, I read floods of legal documents (and today, a 39 page probate) to determine who may legally lay claim to minerals underlying certain tracks of land... being the NorthEast Quarter of the SouthWest Quarter of the South Half of Township 972 South, Range 374 West of the Sixth Principal Meridian, which I, Crazy Person, do hereby give, grant, convey, transfer, assign, relinquish, and devise to Child Crazy Person....

Oh, sorry. It's been a long day. And that was a looong probate.

A (wise) friend of mine once philosophized the following:
A single girl can have one of three things, but never any of these at the same time:

A great job
A great house or apartment
A great guy

If you think about it long enough, it's true. Seriously. Last year I kinda had the great guy. (If you forget how the 'great' guy wasn't so great.) So I guess this is the year for the 'great' job.


I guess what I'm rambling about is this: work is a beating. Until payday, which comes twice, or - horror of horrors - only once a month, work is beating and the pay off is too infrequent. I don't care what you do, how great or terrible your co-workers are, or what you're reading (or not reading) all day long. It all pretty much beats you down, right?

But don't listen to my uplifting, Tony Robbins message of the day. I'm grateful for my job. But like I said, today my job is driving me crazy.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Visionary Vixens

Truly. The capacity of human creativity is boundless.

I'm homesick today. And when I get homesick, I begin endless moments of envisioning my ancient, rambling house all fixed up and ready to host guests and cooking classes.

If only it were today.

On days like this, I like to think of women who, despite their fears and hesitations, stepped out and blazed new trails. Made brand new lives for themselves. Thought I'd introduce (or reintroduce) you to:

Jennifer Velarde. The girl loved making purses. Loved it. And she was good at it. Her friends encouraged her to get out there and do something with it, and after awhile, she did. Her new company, 1154 Lill, allows you to design your own handbag, and within 3 weeks, her company delivers a custom-made purse to your door. Wow. Jennifer now has three stores, and says she wishes she had acted on her good idea sooner. Check her out: www.1154lill.com.

Mary Jane Butters. (That's her name. Really.) I plan to visit the woman's homestead sometime this year. Mary Jane came into a huge farm in the midwest, and now runs it as an organic farm and B&B. Only the B&B consists of antique-filled tents with feather beds. No joke. Check her out: http://www.maryjanesfarm.org/bb/.

Debra Cohen. Like me, Debra moved into a house that needed some work. Unlike me, she did something very intelligent when she didn't know who to call for help. She started what she's trademarked the 'Homeowner Referral Network'. Need a plumber? She can hook you up with a good one. She's not going broke doing it, either. Her company is reported to have pulled in around $250,000 last year. Check her out: http://www.homereferralbiz.com/letter.html.

I know this is probably boring, but I think it's encouraging to see people who finally had enough with their boring-as-crap, beating-of-a-life jobs and did something about it. It gives me hope. (And kinda makes me feel like a loser, too. But mostly it gives me hope.)

Here's to hoping that both you and I find success in a job we're passionate about!

Monday, January 9, 2006

Eating in a Raincoat

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. -Albert Einstein

Did anyone catch ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition last night? Ty Pennington and the Sears crew built a home about 15 minutes from where I'm staying in Wichita, Kansas. It was the talk today... everybody speculating about the family with five girls who got the new home.

"How in the world will they pay the taxes on that thing?" one guy asked.

"Yeah, I'm sure they didn't think about that when they walked in their faaaancy new house," the guy next to him agreed.


As if the first thing you think when someone custom-builds you a brand new house - for free- is, "Crap. Now my property value is as high as Courtney Love. Tear it down."


So I'm standing in the courthouse... trying to work... when another lady joins in. "I just don't know why nothing great ever happens to me," she whines. And I mean - whines. I think I even see tiny little men in suits playing tiny little violins on her shoulder.

But admittedly, she made me think: do some people really have all the luck? Do blondes really have more fun? Does life pick on some of us more than others? How are some people so content and others so.... well .... miserable??

It's all I thought about while driving to lunch at the Smokehouse Restaurant. Where the special of the day wasn't the promised Pot Roast, but was instead the terrible Tuna Casserole. (Last minute substitution.)

Terrible tuna, I think. I'll go have a salad at McDonald's.

Whatever. I sat down in Smokehouse anyway. It's freaking cold up here in Kansas, and the thought of getting out again - when I'd worn my green raincoat instead of my big, dumpy, Eskimo-figure-friendly black overcoat - changed my mind.

So I sat. And I ordered. And I sat. (Food at the Smokehouse takes awhile. They must have a problem with their smokehouse.)

And then I hear it... singing. But not just any singing. Singing that sounds like a harmonious blend of Josh Groban and Michael Buble. And it's coming from behind me. It's singing that song that George and Mary Bailey sing after their pool dance in It's a Wonderful Life...

Buffalo Gals, won't you come out tonight,
Come out tonight, come out tonight.
Buffalo Gals, won't you come out tonight
And dance in the light of the moon.

I turned and looked. It was this gentleman wearing a derby hat and an apron over his clothes. He sat in a wooden chair in the carpeted restaurant entry and sang from It's a Wonderful Life for nearly 20 minutes.

He sounded like an angel.

My substituted promised Pot Roast food came, and of course I managed to gracefully snort my Diet Coke and spit half of it out while choking/coughing to death. Classy, you dork, I think as I dread looking down at my shirt. And then I remember. I wore my green raincoat today.

Then it hit me. Of course, some people don't really have all the luck. Blondes don't really have more fun. Life doesn't pick on some of us more than others. And people really are content and others are so.... well .... miserable... because they chose to be. Because it's all in how we look at things.

I mean, gosh, I was saved by a green raincoat today. While eating a terrific meal I never otherwise would have tried if the promised Pot Roast had been there. While being serenaded by a derby-wearing angel who knew every lyric in, believe it or not, the movie appropriately entitled It's a Wonderful Life.

It's the little things, you know? The days you sit to eat in your raincoat and end up standing rapt in awe....

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Scrap Crap

Scrapbooking is among the many, many endeavors I have resolved to take up this year. And not purely as a hobby, mind you. As a necessity. I can't tell you how many pictures and scrap crap I have filling boxes, envelopes, and old, chipped sinks in my house!

Something must be done to organize the scrap crap and the chipped sinks cluttering my house.

With that in mind, I went to a fine scrapbooking store in Wichita today. "With the new LM line, you can scrapbook anything that's ever happened in your whole life," beamed the Lynette-ish desperate housewife who helped me. So, I browsed, bought and bolted with evidence to support my newly-resolved quest. It was exhilarating, and I could just see it now:

Friend: Do you remember the location of the hostel you stayed in while visiting New York that one time?
Me: Why yes! Looking back at my 1999 New York Scrapbook, it's at 103rd and Amsterdam.

Mom: Why are you still single?
Me: Hmmmm.... According to my new scrapbook entitled Manthrax: The Biological Dangers I've Loved and Lost, it's because all my ex's were apparently long term losers. Like him. And ooohhh... especially him.

Awh yes, this could be great!

Except for one problem. As I was thinking of my life laid out on scrapbook pages, something began to bother me. How could I scrapbook everything that's ever happened in my life? I mean, how do I visually document my initials carved into the observation deck railing on the Empire State Building? That stage on the Colorado State Fair grounds? That adobe-looking building in Mexico? That wooden bridge in west Texas?

For that matter, how do I scrapbook the first time my heart was broken? The memories of the day I was saved? The sheer panic I felt the first time I turned on a microphone? The feelings I had on the stand in court after a judge had me subpoenaed for (illegally) taping courtroom proceedings?

Seems to me like we come standard equipped with the best scrapbook of all - a mind that captures and holds sights, sounds, feelings, memories, and facts. My feeble attempts at organizing life's scrap crap will be just that.

Scottish poet Alexander Smith said: "Memory is a man's real possession. In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor."

I like that.

I also wonder if Mr. Smith ever had a scrapbook.....

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Discourse on the Travel Channel

I had one of those nights that takes forever to fall asleep. Blame it on the Travel Channel and poetry. (And don't bother calling me and telling me I'm weird. I think that's even stamped on my birth certificate.)

I've always liked poetry. For example, I first tried my hand at it when I was around nine. I even remember it:

Spring is here,
The flowers are in bloom.
The sun is high.
Not the moon.
The flowers in their beds
Are as tall as a spoon.
Thank you, God,
For Spring so soon.
Again, don't even say it. I couldn't have been prouder.
Nowdays, though, my favorite poems come from Emily Dickinson. Probably my very favorite starts off:
"This world is not conclusion.
A species stands beyond -
Invisible as music
Yet positive, as sound."
So okay. Back to last night. It all started after dark. The fun ones always do. I retired to my hotel room, donned new flannel pj's, and grabbed the remote. (In other words, a typical night for me.)

Soon enough, I stumbled upon the Travel Channel was immediately transfixed. Wonder of wonders! They were in rural England at some old inn! (See my last posting.)

Wait... not just some old inn. They were at the 13th century Ram Inn, and "they" consisted of a tour guide, 3 paranormal "investigators", and a TV crew. They were there because the ancient place is rumored to have been haunted for centuries.

The group started in the main room, where one "investigator" immediately related that the inn was frequented by 4... things: 2 men, a woman, and an incubus. He hastens to add that the things are likely demonic and could try to physically harm them if they proceed.

I was mesmerized.

They pitter along, and soon enough they enter the room of the woman... thing. As the same "investigator" starts inquiring as to the history of the room, he is literally possessed by the spirit of the woman. (Or so it seemed. Really.) He suddenly looked like a hunched over, crochety old evil thing and kept whispering, "Go to thee baarrrn."

Holy crap. It literally looked like an English reenactment of the Gospels just before Jesus or the disciples drives out the freaky demons.

I was horrified.

I guess they were too, but not so horrified that the idiots didn't go to the barn. And before you conjure up some rickety, wooden barn, let me add that the "barn" was attached to the stone house, much in the same way that our garages are. So I'll call it a barnage.

So there they are in the stone barnage. It was dark and cluttered. (I have to admit, part of my night was spent wondering what English people clutter their barnages with. Chipped tea cups? Dull herbacious border trimmers? First edition Agatha Christie mysteries?? It will be the first thing I ask the English when I visit.)

Sooo.... the crew is in the barnage and nothing happens for quite awhile. Then, as they begin to relax and joke around, one crew member taunts that he sees something move in the stall next to him.

I kid you not - the minute the words touched his lips he was thrown into the stall wall. The impact sent one of his shoes flying. The guy is sprawled on the floor for a second, then was pulled - although you couldn't see who was doing the pulling! - into the stall, where it sounded like he was being attacked by me right after the Dallas Cowboys lost their last stinkin' game.

When the other crew members half-carried Mr. Investigtor out he was sobbing and shaking uncontrollably.

I was terrified.

After commerical break, the show revealed that Spencer, the "investigator" was fine, albeit, a little shaken up. The tour of Ram Inn ended with the tour guide looking into the camera and adding a chilling- "Sleep tight."

Yeah right.

I turned off the TV and lay in the darkness of the hotel room. No sooner had I closed my eyes when that Emily Dickinson poem coursed through my mind: "This world is not conclusion. / A species stands beyond - / Invisible as music/ Yet positive, as sound."

I wasn't scared. Really. I know Who holds dominion over all freaky things.

Yet still, I stayed awake, wondering....

What do you think about the "species" that stands beyond??

Monday, January 2, 2006

Hello, 2006!

Awwhh.... the New Year! Time to reevaluate, set new priorities, and then bask in the glow of newly achieved accomplishments.

Uh huh. Yeah.

Well, okay, hang on... let's see. The new year evaluating I can do. Witness:

Age: 26
Marital status: Single. Still.
Occupation: Oil and Gas Broker
Weight: Astronomical. Let's just say I have a vintage rack and extra back. (Translation: big, saggy boobs and a huge arse.)
Residence: Freeman House (Permanent); Wichita, Kansas (Temporary)
Hobbies: Omg... they're so pathetic I can't bear to see them in print.
Ambition: To run off to rural England, marry an English lord, and spend my days decorating our centuries-old castle and growing boxwood hedges. Oh, and eating crumpets.


Truth is, 2005 was a train wreck. I watched my job, an impending marriage, and my sanity slip through my hands. I can honestly say the year was spent mourning what I'd lost and dreading the future I was left with.

But not 2006. Oh no. I'm rebounding. Matter of fact, I booked my trip to London yesterday, on New Year's Day. And I started the Atkins diet. Say 'buh-bye' to my vintage rack and extra back. And, I've determined to find a cool hobby. Although I must say that all the knitting yarn I got for Christmas was pretty cool.

As for my ambition, I'm planning to visit several castles outside Glouchestershire, England. I hear they're inhabited by some single English Lords.

Happy 2006, friends!