Vintage Crimson

Adventures in Restoring Antebellum Houses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Month: August, 2013

Thank You Notes

Here in the South, we still write thank you notes.  It is a habit drilled into every young southern girl by generations of mothers and grandmothers.  Writing thank you notes is as southern as wearing pearls and heels to football games. 

I created a special ‘thank you note’ for some of the people who have made the renovation of my old house possible.  Without the direction and encouragement of General Contractor Jeffrey Harless and the dedication of his talented crew, I would have given up long ago.  I appreciate their patience with my crazy ideas and, well, my general craziness.  I owe them all so much!  I also owe a (literal as well as figurative) debt to June Holmes and all my new friends at Capstone Bank.  They have been wonderful. 

So, here is my idea.  I made a photo book documenting the renovation of my old house.  

Image do ya’ll think?

The Devil Is in the Details


Clearly, this table has not been used for dining in quite some time.  For the past several months, my dining room has been “command central” for the renovation of my old house. There has been a surprising amount paperwork involved.  It is sweat equity of a different kind.

Today I celebrated a milestone along the paper trail.  I completed the third and final phase of my application for a Historic Preservation Tax Credit. This tax credit is a wonderful program administered by the National Park Service.  If your renovation qualifies, you can receive a Federal tax credit worth 20% of your total qualifying renovation costs.

There are three phases of the application.  Each of them involved lots of photos, explanations, schematic drawings and math!  I am a historian, and you may have guessed that math is not my strong suit.  As I was completing the invoice totals for phase three, I overheard one of my sons cautioning another to avoid the dining room, “because mom is doing math in there.”  Nevertheless, I perservered and mailed the application this morning.  I am a bit nervous, after all a substantial amount of money is at stake, and I do have two sons at university.  Wish me well.

Soon, my dining room will revert to its original purpose.  I will organize all my records and pack them away.  A day will be spent dusting and polishing the furniture.  But the first meal eaten there will be bittersweet.  I will miss the chaos of renovations.

“The Crimson White” – Thanks!



“The Crimson White” is the student-run newspaper of the University of Alabama. It has been published since 1894.  Today’s edition includes a wonderful story about my old house.   You can read the article at:

Thank you to everyone at the paper for their kind words!!


A Student’s Prayer


As the student residents of my old house prepare to resume their studies at the University of Alabama, I would like to offer a prayer on their behalf.  Many things have changed in our world since Thomas Aquinas wrote this prayer in the 13th century, but our desire to learn and understand ourselves and our world has remained constant.

A Students Prayer

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being,

graciously let a ray of your light penetrate

the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born,

an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me keen understanding, a retentive memory, and

the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and

the ability to express myself with thoroughness

and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and

help in the completion

I ask this through Christ our Lord.



10 Lessons I Have Learned From My Old House


Move in day at 815 17th Avenue was a success.  The old house is bursting with life as the student residents prepare for a year of study at the nearby University of Alabama.  I think the house is happy to greet them and re-enter the mainstream of life in Tuscaloosa.

With the bulk of renovations behind me (there is still a lot of troubleshooting ahead, as well as a phase 2 renovation plan and landscaping), I have been reflecting on the lessons I have learned during the process.  Four months went by so fast, but the old house was a good teacher.  Here are ten things I learned:

1. Be Patient.  Patience is virtue that is not often lauded in our hectic lives.  But, working in an old house taught me that some things demand patience.  Much of renovation work is repetitive and tedious.  However, the results are worth it!

2.  Do Your Best Work.  Even if my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. McDonald, isn’t hovering over my shoulder with a gold star to give out, it really does matter that I do my best work.  The house will continue long after I am gone, and I want to leave a legacy of good stewardship for the future.  So, even when i was tired and dirty beyond belief, I always gave my best.

3. Be Humble.  Humility is a virtue learned quickly in old houses.  I quickly discovered that the renovation couldn’t be “all about me” or my ideas.  To be successful, especially on a tight tim line, requires teamwork.  NO egos allowed on the job site!

4.  Pay Attention.  Look closely at the house, and things will reveal themselves to you.  I have learned so much about architecture, construction, history and humanity in these last months.  Stop and really look at the house.  There is so much to learn if you focus.

5.  Book Learning Isn’t Everything.  In the South, people are frequently divided into two groups, those who have “book learning” and those who have “common sense.”  It is the rare person who has both, so each of these groups harbors contempt for the other.  Until I started the old house renovation, I was firmly in the “book learning.” group.  I have a MA in History, but spent my studies in the clean, temperature controlled library rather than wielding a hammer or paint brush.  I hope I have gained some “common sense” during the last few months, as well as dropped a few pounds.

6. Age Gracefully.  As my 50th birthday looms, I have learned from the old house that aging doesn’t make you irrelevant.  Like the house, I might have a few wrinkles and get cracked up by life, but these are the price of experience.

7.  Offer Yourself Joyfully.  Do what you can and give what you can with a smile on your face.  Open your doors even when things are messy.  It is always better to invite life in than to shut it out.

8.  Relax.  It is easy to stress over details that don’t really matter and no one else will ever notice.  It wont be perfect, but that is O.K.

9. Trust Your Gut.  Being a “book learning” person means I have the tendency to run to the library when confronted with hardship or difficulty.  I can research almost any topic right to death.  I have learned that it is frequently better to look at the reality of the situation squarely and go with my instincts.

10. Celebrate.  My old house is 175 years old this year.  That is quite a milestone, and I want to enjoy every day of it!

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