Sunday, December 23, 2007


In 1996 I left a perfectly nice contemporary house with heat, air conditioning, running water, and many other similarly outrageous amenities for a century-old Dutch barn in the heart of the Blue Ridge Divide. The barn had been disassembled, moved to its current location, and converted into a house in the seventies, and despite the fact that a few details had been overlooked--wiring was spliced together with duct tape, shingles were stapled, not nailed, to the roof, and none of the toilets were bolted down, to name a few--the place had an inexplicable charm that hooked me at first sight.

Maybe I thought I had too much time on my hands. After all, writing one or two books a year, serving on the boards of several volunteer organizations, writing and publishing two monthly newsletters, keeping up with my art group, my writing group, and various other colleagues. friends and family, must have left a vacuum in my life on some deep unacknowledged level. Or it might simply have been, as my mother used to say, "Be careful who you date. You can't help who you fall in love with." I fell in love. I never should have gotten out of the car.

I have always believed that your home is a reflection of who you are, but until this experience I never realized that a house could actually change who you are. When you are the keeper of a historic property, even one that has little or no historic value at all and is, for the most part, falling down around your ears, you feel a constant need to rise to the occasion. You don't just dust; you polish. You don't just buy a lamp; you scour antique shops for a hand-blown glass shade that can be retrofitted with electrical components. And a plain table or plant stand in the foyer simply will not do. It must be an antique French fainting couch upholstered in brocade velvet.

Suddenly I, who previously considered a formal meal one that utilized plastic plates instead of paper, was buying cloth napkins, subscribing to Victoria magazine, and making jam. This house changed who I was.

It made me a virtual slave.

When your house hearkens back to the age of gas lamps and bustle skirts, a Christmas wreath on the door and a string of lights across the front just won't do it for the holidays, either. We're talking moss-covered topiaries decorated with ribbons and lace for the guest rooms, live greenery woven into garlands to drape every banister and doorway, themed Christmas trees in every room, and enough twinkling white lights to illuminate a small city. It's not enough, in other words, to replace windows, resurface floors, patch siding, prop up garden walls, pour concrete, strip wallpaper, shore up sagging doorways and restore forgotten gardens-- you have to look gorgeous while doing it. And come to think of it, hasn't that always been the lot of women-- and old houses-- everywhere?

My love-hate relationship with the house was the inspiration for a work of fiction, A Year on Ladybug Farm (Berkley 2009)-- as though I didn't already have enough to do. In the meantime, the real-life story continues to unfold, starting with an update-- almost twelve years later-- on how we now do Christmas in the old barn. Enjoy!


  © 2008 'Ladybird' by

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