Category Archives: This Old House

A new desk for a new semester

Ever since I moved into the old white house 8 years ago – has it really been that long? – I’ve had a desk crisis. My cousins, who had lived her before me, left their old corner desk behind – and being low on funds, I was more than happy to keep it.

Let me tell you though – that thing was awful. I grew to hate that desk more than any other piece of furniture that I owned. (Sorry guys – but if you had actually liked it, you would have taken it with you.)

Years down the road, Stephen’s parents found us this fantastic craftsman style desk that a member of their church was throwing away. Cool woodwork, warm color, made from real wood – the only drawback was that the top was really too small to work on.

After going back to school this year and feeling like I needed a really good work space – I called up Poppaw and said it was about time for another episode of Hugh to the Rescue – the desk edition.

Poppaw and I decided that the easiest way to enlarge the desk would be to put a new top on it. My mom suggested adding black metal trim around the sides to hide the fact that the new top was not the original one. The end result – perfection.

To complete the ensemble, I added in my first library desk chair from my student worker days at Wingate. A wood storage box that I found on the farm as a little girl and hid in my grandparents barn – rediscovered still in its hiding place 17 years later. And an homage to the old white house – with photographs of every owner throughout its family history.

So, as I wrap up this post of procrastination – I must say that the new desk is perfect and will continue to be a perfect place to read, write, and craft.

Now it’s time to get cozy reviewing chapters 1 – 3 of The Education Dissertation…what joy is mine.

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Living in the White House

Living in a white house is like wearing a white shirt to a cookout….its going to get dirty, something dripped on it, and eventually things are going to start looking dull.

The White House has been quite dull for quite a while, its last paint job being well over 10 years ago. After countless storms, winter slush, and a particularly nasty hail storm – that really did a number on our cars – it was in desperate need of a touch up.

Pre-PaintingSo this summer, we scrapped and painted the old white house, and let me tell ya – it’s looking good these days.

My Poppaw is a firm believer that everything – and I literally do mean everything – can be done with the aid of a tractor. So instead of using a good old trusty ladder….we used a front end loader.

Just beam me up Stephen!

I, however, found a much more suitable use for the tractor. It’s surprisingly comfortable and cozy….as long as you don’t mind getting red dirt all over your clothes.

In reality, I only spent about half an hour making myself at home in my new favorite nap spot. While Stephen and Poppaw were busy painting the back side of the house, I worked on scrapping the front bannisters.

Let me go ahead and say….any paint scraping by hand ends up being a lot of work with very little benefit to show for your efforts. Plus, you end up with a load of paint chips stuck in your hair and on your face.

So why waste all that time scraping away? Why not just use a common heat and chemical paint remover? Well, there are two really good reasons.

One – we didn’t want to light our house up like a bonfire on a chilly October night. After much research, we discovered that quite a few common chemical paint removers are highly flammable, and solid wood homes of a certain age – like ours – tend to catch on fire.

Two – our chickens do not, sadly, lay golden eggs. The non-flammable water based paint removers are a bit pricey, and were way outside of the budget. We loved our house enough to spruce it up and make sure that we didn’t burn it down in the process, but not enough to go broke on.

The old white house looks a world better these days – almost like a new. There are still some needed repairs to the front porch, but its nice knowing that our major summer project is out of the way and that we are no longer embarrassing the neighbors.

Don’t forget to remember

As spring moves on to summer our chores seem to be piling up, up, up. And over the course of the last few weeks we have experienced much change in the white house.

For starters, the white house is now white again. After two weeks of painting the old place looks somewhat new…sort of. The baby chickens have graduated up to the big coop. We have been on “nesting box duty.” We’ve adopted a new hive of bees, and said goodbye to a familiar face around the  barnyard.

Penfold, my little American Game, has decided to go broody, and she is going to sit on her nest come hell or high water.

The box is empty. Penfold doesn’t care – she’s sitting there anyway. I stick my hand in with treats trying to tempt her out of the box. Penfold doesn’t care – she’s sitting there anyway. Andy comes in to oust her off the nest and join the others foraging (Penfold’s favorite activity). Still, Penfold doesn’t care – she is sitting there anyway.

Penfold attempting to reclaim the eggs we took from her nest.

So, several times a day Stephen or I tromp across the soggy pasture to take her out of the box and shoo her away to do something, anything else. It’s taken a few weeks, and there have been occasional set backs, but we think Pen is over this spell of motherhood, which is really better for all of us.

The little chickens are slowly integrating into the big flock, and things are going much better than the last time. Zillah has proven herself to be an adventurous and brave soul – venturing forth to eat with the big chickens, taking a shot at finding her place on the hen house roost, and taking up for her much more timid sisters.

Zillah & Quigley

 Danger

Quigley and Danger are doing pretty good through this whole process, though they are much more cautious. Flannery, our head hen, has been quite kind to the little girls….offering them a safe place to perch next to her on her self made throne. Most of the others ignore the little girls, unless food is involved. The current flock shake down is that Charlie hates Zillah, and Penfold despises Quigley….and somehow Danger has managed to fly under the radar.

One troublesome thing that has arisen over the last week has been Mini’s behavior. We’ve been surprised at the amount of aggression that he’s shown towards the little girls, and it has had both Stephen and I concerned. Over the last few months we have observed that Mini’s behavior has often left the hens stressed out and grumpy. We’ve questioned our decisions with our flock management, and have been seriously considering what the best options for the overall flock dynamic might be.

Last night as the chickens went to bed Mini kept repeatedly pecking Zillah in the head. Tonight, Stephen witnessed the same thing and in our minds a firm decision was made. With a heavy heart, we’ve said goodbye.

Mini is gone.

Stephen wrote this to me tonight. I want to share it, because it reflects the reality and pain that comes along with being a chicken keeper.

It was horrible. Mini deserved a much better death than he got. It took me a long time, it was awful. If we ever have to kill another chicken, then we are taking it to the processing plant. I can’t stand to see them suffer like that and know it is my fault. I hope this fixes many of the problems with the flock, so that Mini didn’t die for nothing.

It may be weird to apply Mill’s ethics of the greater good to flock life, but it is part of the cruelty we face as their keepers. We are part of that flock whether we think so or not, and we are responsible for their lives and well being.

I still love Mini, and maybe his end deserved its own entry; but I felt that his story was so entwined with the changes and upheavals of the flock that it should be told together. He was Penfold’s closest friend, he was Zillah’s biggest fear, he was Andy’s nemesis. He was a good chicken, but a mean rooster.

My morning on the farm…..

I love days where I get to spend a little extra time on the farm, before the other responsibilities of my day start knocking on my door. This morning was particularly nice, as the horrid wind had stopped, the sun had come out, and Mini was in one of his rare good moods. Since it was so nice….I decided to share.

Decked out in my farm gear, which translates to Stephen’s sweat pants and coat, old shoes, and armed with two buckets.
Out to the chicken pasture I go to let out the tribe, gather any eggs, fill up the feeder and waterer.
The chickens run to their favorite morning spot by the barn to dust bath. I’ve actually caught Mini in a rare moment of relaxation – the boy never cuts loose.
While the chickens enjoy the sun, I climb up into the barn loft to get some fresh hay for the nesting boxes.
Taking a short cut through the horse corral, I manage to step in a big pile of poop.
Which reminds me that I can’t leave out the chicken’s buddies, Cody and Jill.
So far we’ve had a two egg morning…..thanks to Josephine and Pearla
Chickens are as happy as ever…..piled up and enjoying the morning.

This is what mornings on the farm are like – chickens, eggs, poop, hay, dirt. All the nice things that, despite being dusty and outside, make you feel real clean.

~ Natalie

Farmhouse Haunting II

I should have knocked on wood.  Lo and behold, a few days after I wrote a post about ghosts, I had my first ghostly encounter. Of course, it was at night, which seems to be a prerequisite for paranormal experiences—at least according to horror movies and ghost hunting TV shows. What time of night it was exactly, I’m not sure, but I woke up to the sound of laughing.

The laughing wasn’t the ghostly part, but it was strange. Natalie occasionally talks in her sleep, and she was apparently laughing in her sleep then. But instead of her normal laugh, it was a child-like giggle. I asked her if was she was having a funny dream, and she responded, obviously still asleep, with the following: “I’m counting without numbers.”

“Okay, that was kind of funny,” I thought, and knowing she was so averse to mathematics, it seemed reasonable to believe she was dreaming about bypassing numbers. I should have gone back to sleep.

Instead, I rolled over and opened my eyes, and what I saw was an old woman standing beside the bed in front of Natalie. The woman just stood there. I couldn’t see anything except her outline and silhouette, in a smoky-gray color. There was no detail to her face or texture to her clothing, but her outline resembled that of a woman in a traditional dress with an apron tied around her waist, with her hair pinned up in a bun (like Granny, for lack of better example, from The Beverly Hillbillies). A few seconds later, the figure just dissipated.

For the two of three seconds I saw or imagined the figure, I didn’t feel scared or threatened, and the woman didn’t look real enough for me to wonder if an intruder was indeed in the house. It was just strange and surreal. Eventually, I closed my eyes and refused to open them again. The next morning, I asked Natalie if she had any dreams. To my surprise, she said she had a funny dream, but couldn’t remember what it was about.

Why a ghost would appear next to Natalie while she was dreaming a funny dream, I don’t know. Maybe the ghost has a sense of humor. This could explain why she appeared a few days after I wrote about never experiencing ghosts in the house. Or, maybe I had been thinking too much about ghosts and imagined the whole episode. Whether or not it was a figment of my imagination, the woman’s figure had a striking resemblance to  Natalie’s great-great grandmother Ponola. Thankfully, Ponola seems like a very pleasant lady in the pictures of I’ve seen of her.

Of course, we’ll keep you posted if we have any other paranormal activity.

Ponola seems happy enough

Farmhouse Haunting

Occasionally, after people learn that Natalie and I live in an old farmhouse, the topic of conversation turns to ghosts. Apparently, ghosts and farmhouses are closely linked in people’s minds. To date, Natalie and I have never experienced any supernatural behavior in the house, except for that of Chip Coffey (if you’ve never watched Chip Coffey, check out some episodes of Paranormal State or Physic Kids—you’ll laugh.)

Occasionally, the house does smell like Natalie’s great-grandmother, Vicie, or tobacco smoke, yet no one’s smoked in the house for decades. Although the house  creaks and cracks at night, I no longer attribute these noises to dead folks. Still, the noises can be a bit spooky. For me, it didn’t help knowing that Natalie’s great-grandfather was “laid out” in our bedroom. Back then, since they didn’t have funeral homes for visitations, a body was laid out in the home till the funeral. We’ve had quite a few family members laid out in our house…..uncle Abner, however, was resigned to the front porch, that is a funny story for another post.

Great-great-great grandpa Joe Camp standing beside the coffin of his brother Abner

Perhaps the saddest death that occurred in our house was that of Claude, the twelve-year-old son of Natalie’s great-great grandparents, Lawson and Ponola. He died at night of an unknown ailment that caused “flying rheumatism,” or severe pain that “flies” from joint to joint. The very next day, his grieving mother gave birth in the house to another son, Burl. I can’t imagine the emotions that family must have experienced in such a short time.

An addition from Natalie:

Though many people cringe at the number of people that have been laid out here, and that at least one person has died in the house – it really doesn’t bother me. My Poppaw and his father were just two of the many babies born in this house, my mom spent time here as a child, I used to play in the back yard when I was little. This house has LIVED, it’s seen life through multiple generations, joyous times, sad times, hard times. This house’s story is so complete, yet so circular and never ending, and I take comfort in the fact that it’s been here all this time observing, watching us change – we’re all so different, yet still so much the same.

Old House vs. Storm

Recently, I’ve been watching Storm Chasers, the show where lunatics try to intercept tornadoes and live to speak about it. After a tornado dissipates, the storm chasers often ride through the aftermath and survey damage. Depending on the strength of the tornado, damage ranges from a few downed limbs to completely flattened towns.

Of course, if our old farmhouse were, Lord forbid, in the path of a tornado, it wouldn’t stand a chance. During thunderstorms, Natalie says it’s both a comfort and concern to know our house is 118 years old. It’s weathered worse storms than this, she’ll say, but then again it was a bit younger when it did.

The house is your typical old farmhouse, built by a cotton farmer, Natalie’s great-great grandfather, out of old hand-hewn timber. In the inner layers of the plaster, we can still see animal hair, the predominate binding agent used in plaster in the 1800s. Apparently, the animal hair was effective, as our house still stands over 100 years later. Still, sometimes in the midst of a severe  thunderstorm, the fact that our house is held together by hand-hewn timbers and animal hair is a little disconcerting. Hopefully, a big, bad tornado, will never huff and puff and blow our house built of sticks in.

The backsides of our walls still have animal hair in the plaster

Interestingly, the original boards and timbers have stood the test of time better than the brick chimneys. About 10 years ago, Natalie’s Poppaw cut down the two main chimneys down and closed them up. Unfortunately, the mortar was crumbling and the chimneys were unstable.

The chimneys and fireplaces are now out of commission

If ever caught in the path of a bad storm, we only have the lone closet for protection from windows. It’s amazing to think that this one closet, about the size of a phone booth, once accommodated a family of nine. In the past, what clothes folks had were apparently kept in wardrobes and trunks. In any event, when a strong thunderstorm rolls through, Natalie goes into emergency mode, and we crouch down in the closet with couch cushions over us.

So far, so good. Although the house sometimes sounds like it’s getting ready to blast off in thunderstorms, we’re all, house included, still firmly on the ground.