I’m going to the proverbial mail bag to answer some questions about me, my house, and my homestead!
About the Episode:
Today, I’m answering a dozen postcards worth of questions about my house, my homestead, and whether I plan to milk my cows. I know you want to know!
This episode is brought to you by Ana Luisa. Go to shop.analuisa.com/vernacular to buy one, get one 40% off!
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- Which homesteading skill I am still struggling to learn
- Whether the house gets the final say on how he’s decorated (and how I know he’s a he!)
- Why chasing trendy design isn’t a bad thing if it’s what makes your heart and home sing!
And so much more!
Follow me on Instagram @FarmhouseVernacular!
EPISODE 16: Halloween Episode: Spooky Old House Things!A Field Guide to American Houses (Revised): The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virginia Savage McAlester
Hello, and welcome to the Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that could go on in our turn-of-the-century folk Victorian farmhouse. I’m your host, Paige. Today we are going to do just a random bunch of questions and answers. Quite frankly, these are always fun because people ask things that I don’t really think about and maybe don’t warrant an entire podcast episode, but things that I still want to talk about or answer regardless.
Let’s jump right into it. First question. How do you handle a random bit of cat fur marring otherwise pristine surfaces? I have a confession for you. I am not tidy at all. My cats go all over the house. They barf on things. They leave cat hair on things. They tear things up, and that’s just part of having cats. Unless it’s actually in my food, I don’t worry about cat hair.
Now, if people are coming over for dinner and they’re going to sit on the nice chairs, I might vacuum them beforehand, but probably not. We very much live in our house and we go in and out all day long and so having a little bit of cat here, a little bit of dirt here and there, it just doesn’t really bother me. Next question. Are your cows pets or do you plan on milking them at some point?
Now, I had fully intended to milk these cows. When I got them, both of them were supposed to be pregnant, both the brown one and the black one. The brown one I think lost her calf at some point. There was a day, a couple of months after we got her, where she just looked really skinny to me overnight and she didn’t want treats for a couple of days. She seemed fine. She didn’t have any injuries or anything.
I walked the fields. I didn’t find any remains of anything, but I think she lost the calf, which is unfortunate because she’s the nice one. By the time that the other cow had her calf, the black one with horns, it was November and that’s cold and she is not the friendliest or most social of cows. I just said, “You know what? November, I’m just going to let you do your thing. You can just hang out with your little baby cow over there.”
She did have a heifer, which is a female cow that has never had a calf. So we now have three female cows, and yes, I want to milk them at some point, but it just didn’t happen this year unfortunately. I have a very bad habit of taking on too many large projects at once and we just had all these other things going on so I was like, “Okay. We can be calm. They’re just nice big grass puppies right now. They’re very sweet.
In the future I will figure out how to milk them.” Next question. Do you see yourself moving towards homesteading? What are your dream animals to have? The difficulty with homesteading I think is that it’s such a popular topic right now.
There are so many people who want to do it and who are moving toward it, so I do see myself personally moving toward homesteading just because you get chickens and then you get cows and then you get pigs and then you have a giant garden and then it just sort of snowballs and cascades down from there. But I don’t know that I will be sharing much about the homesteading process along the way, because I’m not really in a position to teach anybody how to do any of it.
I’m here learning it out, learning it on my own on our own first and trying things out and failing and having abysmal garden results. I mean, I can teach you how to can. We have a course on that. It’s a very good course and there’s a $5 off coupon in the show notes. Other than that, I do want to move toward homesteading, but I think it’ll be sort of a fringe thing. Not necessarily something that I want to teach anybody about.
As far as dream animals, I want some fun ones. I want donkeys and alpacas and sheep. I’ve wanted a horse since I was a little girl and I just never really worked out. At some point I’m like, “I know that they’re difficult and I know they have all these expenses that go along with them, but I would just really like a horse.” Even if it’s just an old pasture pal that needs a nice place to graze and retire. I just really want to a horse.
The next question. Did you grow up in a farmhouse? Yes. I grew up in a 1924 adorable little saltbox sort of styled farmhouse, and it was under renovation all the time, so I became very used to that kind of lifestyle. My parents were great, great renovators. They tackled all sorts of stuff. They cut a hole in the wall the day after Christmas, they put their own dormer in. They did all sorts of stuff.
Even though I never really was involved in much of it, because a lot of it stopped by the time I left for college, I was aware of being around that kind of chaos and I got used to it. Do you ever think this might be your past life home and that’s why you resonate with the house so much? It’s not Halloween. We’re not going to get too spooky woo-woo. But this house called to me in a way that no building ever has.
You can hear a little bit more about this back in the Halloween episode because I do talk about this house being peaceful and calm in a way that no place on this earth ever has in my life. When I saw this house and I saw the pictures the first time, this excitement, but also total calm, completely washed over me because I was like, “That’s it. That’s the house. There’s no more looking. I know we’re going to get it. I know we’re going to get approved for the loan. I know it’s going to be fine because that’s our house.”
Then as we were walking through it, people asked me if I could see what the finished house looked as we were walking through it, and not exactly. I mean it was terrible. It was bad, badly renovated, badly styled, just everything about it was bad. I didn’t exactly see the finished house, but I feel like walking through it the first time I felt like the house was shining blindingly bright under all of the wallboards and all of the carpet.
I felt like I could see the glow of what he actually was underneath all of this crap. I was responding to how it would feel to stand in that glow, which is a completely ridiculous metaphor. But that’s the only way I can describe it. I knew that he could be amazing. I knew that he could be stunning and dramatic beyond words. I didn’t have the colors for each room laid out.
I wasn’t exactly sure how it would look, but I knew that this house and I together would do things and become beautiful. Maybe it’s a past life. I don’t really know. I just know that I had a soul connection to this house. Somebody asked, is this our forever home? Yeah, pretty much. I like change. I like new things. I like to be learning things. I like to be using my mind a lot, but this house and the property that it’s on, I don’t see any reason to move.
It’s a beautiful property. It’s a wonderful amount of land. We put so much work into this house and I just walk through it and I love every single thing that we’ve done to it, so I don’t see us moving pretty much ever. The other question, is there a reason that your house is a he or is it just vibes? A little bit of this I think comes from my mother because everything was a he with her growing up.
If there was a plate that was very nice looking at an antique fair, we would say, “Well, do we need him? Does he need to come home with us?” Everything was a he, and so I think that’s where it started, but I think about calling this house a she, and it creates this visceral nope in my stomach of like, “That is completely wrong. I am not a she, I am a he.” So I guess it is just vibes. The house told me he was a he and when we got here, he wasn’t really sad exactly.
Because I’ve been in houses that are sad. He was just sort of enduring or he was just here. He was like, “Yep, this is what I look like. I know, it’s ridiculous.” But as we have done different rooms and as we have brought him back to the fancy that he likes, he’s just getting more and more puffed up. He’s just this proud peacock now, as we work through each of these rooms.
Then one day we’re going to finish the exterior and then everything’s going to be beautiful and it’s going to be like, “See, I knew we bought this house for a reason.” Speaking of which, somebody asked, “Do you have a color picked for the exterior of the house or is he already the color he wants to be?” Originally, he was white with green trim, which was very popular, but it’s not my favorite. He asked me to be kind of a dark medium denim blue with white trim.
That’s what he’s going to be whenever we get around to the exterior and it’s going to be gorgeous. I can’t wait. Next question. Good place to help figure out home styles for architecture. I have the best resource for you. The most wonderful thing. If it’s not in your library, it absolutely should be. It is called Field Guide to American Houses. This is the old house Bible.
This will tell you everything that you possibly need to know about all of the different styles of houses, what they look like, what their variations are. It is fantastic. This is the best book. This is the most helpful book that I’ve ever come across in terms of figuring out what the heck your house style is, and we’ll make sure that there’s a link in the description or in the podcast show notes so that you can find your own copy of it.
Because if you love old houses at all, and you want to know what the exterior means in terms of their style, you absolutely need this book. When do we plan on tackling the exterior of the house? Order of operations in renovations is a big, big problem. This house sometime I think in probably about the 1970s or 1980s, all of the original windows were removed. The original windows were roughly 32 inches wide by about six feet tall.
The windows that they put back were wider and shorter than that. That means that all of the siding around those original windows has been cut out, has been torn away, has been messed with, has been screwed up in some way. As we are doing this renovation, we did end up going with vinyl windows. I probably would do a different choice if I had to do that again, but that’s what we have. The windows that we have are pretty close to the original size.
They’re about 32 by about six feet tall. Putting those back means that there is now a gap in all of the siding all the way around the house between the window and where siding was cut back. To redo the siding and to do the exterior of the house, we basically have to pull every single piece of siding down and put different siding up that fits the original window proportions.
Because of that, we decided to not even go near the exterior to not even think about it until all of the interior of the house was done. Because once the interior of the house is done, the windows will be back to more or less their original size and proportions. That means we can put the siding back in the original way that it was around those windows. If we tried to do the exterior now, we would run into the same problem.
We would end up with siding that was too short to go around those wider windows that they replaced the original windows with. As of right now, we have just a little bit left of one room and then two more interior rooms to do. Then after those are done, all of the windows will be replaced.
All of the interior will be done and we can turn our attention to rebuilding the three porches and doing the roof and doing the exterior. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute, but first we’ll be right back.
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We kind of had to do things in this specific order, just because of how the house was renovated. I would guess that every house is going to give a different indication of what order it needs to be done in. If we had our original windows, we could do the exterior first. I do have to tell a small story real quick though.
At some point, I got an email about being on a TV show for our house and it didn’t end up working out, which I’m not really upset about, but they wanted to know if we could do the exterior of the house and one or two rooms inside to make it look like we did the entire house in a really short amount of time and it would be a great before and after reveal video episode.
I explained, “No. No, we can’t do that, because we need to do all the windows first because of the way that things are, this is just how it is.” The person I was in contact with never got back to me. I got ghosted after that, but it was okay. It just cracked me up. It’s like, no, old houses don’t play by the rules if you’re trying to do them by yourself and if you’re trying to do them historically.
What is a new skill that you would to learn? Ugh, the biggest one is gardening. I don’t have the patience for it. Everybody who loves gardening always tells me how it’s so relaxing and, “Oh, my garden is my happy place and you just need to do this, this and this then you will love it.”
I’m like, “You don’t understand. I don’t like it. I don’t want to think about bugs on my tomato plants. I don’t want to think about having to go out there and take them off with cellophane tape and watering things. I hate the whole thing.” But as I move toward homesteading and being a little bit more self-sufficient, gardening’s kind of an important part of that. I really, really like the food preservation aspect of things.
I love canning. I love it. It’s my favorite activity. I find it so relaxing. I love seeing all the canned food on my shelf. I love cooking from it. I love the food preservation part of it, so I have to get better at gardening. We will. We’ll get there eventually. Every year has been a little bit less of a failure so I figure if we just keep on that trajectory for a couple of more years, we’ll be fine.
The biggest skill that I would like to deal with now is gardening for sure. Then somebody asked, “Were you always this farm and canning-savvy, or did you grow into it?” I grew up on a lot of land, but we never really had farm animals. The farm at one point was a dairy farm and specifically they produced cream, but when I lived there, there were no farm animals beyond cats and dogs.
As far as canning, I knew what it was and I helped my mom with apples sometimes, but I learn things very quickly. That’s just part of my personality. It’s like, if I want to learn something new, I can go away for three days and come back being 95% of the way toward knowing how to do it totally on my own. That’s just how I’ve been my whole life.I pick things up very, very quickly.
If I see someone do it once, or I understand the theory about how it’s supposed to be done, then I can just extrapolate it from there. Then suddenly it’s like, woo, we’re putting up a thousand jars of canned food in a year. I have an interest in it and then I just jump in and I figure it out. Usually the way that I operate is I don’t try to know everything before getting started. I know enough to make sure I’m not going to harm anything.
Like when I got chickens, I knew enough to keep them alive for like a month or two. Then while I was in the process of keeping them alive for that first stage, I learned about everything after that. This doesn’t work for everybody. This is just how I’ve learned that my brain works and how it’s happy. It’s definitely not something I grew up with. Definitely something I learned as I got older, but my family is very DIY-savvy.
We’re pretty self-sufficient. We figure things out on our own. I just happen to go in the direction of homesteading and canning and food preservation instead of what everybody else did. Who has the final decision, you or your house? Very good question. I think of myself as a curator of the house and the house is busy being the house and so my job is to just bring him options until he tells me, “Yes, I like that one.”
I guess it technically is him who has the final say, because if it doesn’t fit with him, then he won’t like it and then I’ll be upset and I’ll pick something else. I very much feel like I’m collaborating with my house whenever we pick a new color or we design a room or anything like that. What is your guilty pleasure aside from reading steamy books?
I haven’t been reading too much recently because I was reading a lot of dark romance and I got myself sad and I’m in book hangover from a book called Haunting Adeline, which this is not a happy book. I would recommend it if you’re okay with dark and heavy romance, but it was such a good book that I haven’t read anything that good in like three months and I just … I don’t know. I want something that good.
Other than that, TikTok, man. I need that app off my phone. Telling you. Managing anxiety that may arise from having an old house. Now, I am not a super anxious person. There are things that I get anxious about, but in general, I’m pretty calm so I’m going to answer this from that perspective. I’m imagining that the anxiety that comes from having an old house tends to come from how many things can go wrong at once that require money, and old houses do take a lot of money.
They take a lot of time. They’re 120/30/40/50 years old and that comes a lot of problems. I guess in my mind, if the house is still standing, if nothing’s on fire, if nothing’s leaking, if nobody’s broken into it, most everything else is okay. Make sure you have some money set aside in case your furnace goes out or in case your water heater goes out.
But with old houses, I really just try to compartmentalize as best I can. For example, we have two rooms upstairs right now that literally have no heat because they’re not renovated and all of the heat that goes into them just pours out the horribly insulated walls. I guess they’re a disaster by normal standards, but I just don’t think about it. That’s not a problem that’s going to be tackled anytime soon.
They just sit up there and are left alone and they’re fine. I think for the anxiety is figure out what is making you nervous about the old house and then figure out a couple of different contingency plans for if those things happen. Now, if everything makes you nervous, I can’t help you. I’m not going to try to therapize anything or go down that route. Every house requires maintenance, old houses just require a little bit more.
Figure out what exactly it is that you’re worried about with it and then set up some plans about what you do if those things happen. If you have a whole bunch of things, maybe just do the top five and go from there. Living in an old house is just becoming accustomed to a certain amount of chaos and disorder. Something is always breaking or not working properly. Like right now, our furnace is currently deciding to work half the time.
Then the other half is just, “I don’t really feel like that right now.” We’ll get to it eventually. It’ll be fine. Next question. Are you a traveler? I’m torn between simple travel living and setting up a hobby farm. The thing about traveling that I have learned is that merely being in a place with no mental stimulation, I can’t describe how little it does for me.
Like hiking up a mountain and standing at the top of it just to look at the view, I’m good after like five seconds. To be honest, I’m good looking at a picture of it. I require a lot more mental stimulation. I need to be learning something. I need to be investigating something. I need to be problem-solving something. I’ve learned that if I’m traveling and it’s only a scenic trip, I get bored real fast.
I’d much rather be at home learning about gardening or milking cows or trying to figure out what’s wrong with my furnace. In general, I’m not really a traveler. I like to be home. I get very drained in crowds of people.
I just know that I have to behave a certain way and I have to have this mask on to make sure that I don’t make anybody mad with something that I say or be unintentionally offensive, or it’s just a lot of mental work to be around people and to travel a lot. So no, not really. Maybe I’ll get better about it as I get older, but I like to be at home. Do you have any plans for wallpaper? I did.
I thought I was going to wallpaper the whole upstairs. Then I fell in love with wallpaper that’s $270 a roll, which is slightly outside my budget. All of those lovely William Morris wallpaper dreams just sort of went out the window. Now we’re going with bold colors instead, because paint is cheaper than wallpaper.
Do you own a TV or are books your favorite entertainment? I go through binges where sometimes I watch things on TV. Sometimes I read books. I’m in a reading slump right now for the last couple of months. Before that I read like 20, 30, 40 books a month.
My issue with TV these days is that you almost can’t find anything that doesn’t have some sort of political undertone in one direction or another and I watch things to escape from reality, not to be reminded of it. We do have a TV. It’s in the study. I think we turn it on like two or three times a year tops. Usually that’s to watch a YouTube channel that both Brandon and I happen to really like.
What home style do you dislike? This is a very weird specific thing, but there’s 1920s kind of colonial interiors and something about those houses it makes me uncomfortable. I’m like, “Did I die in one of those in a past life?” I have no idea, but I definitely just don’t like them. I couldn’t live in them. It’s nothing about the house. The house itself is beautiful.
I just get bad vibes off of almost every single one that I’ve ever seen so I won’t be living in one of those. Worries about lead paint in an old house. Lead paint is something that the internet loses its collective mind over every time it’s mentioned in old houses and understandably, because you don’t want heavy metal poisoning or anything like that. But I grew up in an old house with a lot of lead all over the place and it just doesn’t really worry me anymore.
Firstly, we’re taking out so much of this house that there’s not much that has lead paint on it that’s left. But lead is mostly an issue if it is powdered and gets into your system. If you have lead-painted doors or windows and every time you open them, it scrapes and powders a little bit of the wood or of the lead, that’s a problem. But our entire kitchen, underneath all the paint is lead paint.
There are five layers of pain and primer on top of it. It’s fine just sitting there. It’s not going to hurt anybody. Obviously do your own research. Do what makes you feel comfortable, but personally lead is just something that I’ve never really worried about. Like I said, I grew up with it. We got tested regularly. Our levels were never high and so it just never became an issue.
Okay. Let’s finish up. This is a good one here. Last question. How do you keep from being sucked into the latest trends? I almost feel like this could be an entire podcast episode by itself, but I’ve been talking for a while and my mouth is getting dry so we’ll just do the condensed version. Trends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with trends if you think they’re pretty.
If it’s valuable to you to be trendy, then by all means be trendy. The difficulty with trends is when they’re so intensely locked into a specific time period that as soon as the style shifts, it becomes apparent that you’re outdated. And if you don’t like looking outdated, then that might be an issue for you. I don’t like spending money. I like what I like. I like a very specific aesthetic and I like to stick to that.
To not be sucked into trends is more about finding what really actually speaks to your soul and lights you up and makes you happy to be in your house. If that happens to be a trendy style right now, then it doesn’t matter if it goes out of style because it’s still going to make you happy. For me personally, I like this densely packed fantasy look. I like gold frames. I like ornate rugs. I like deep jewel-toned walls.
Maximalism is very much a thing that’s happening right now. People are adding more and more with this grandmillennial style of tchotchkes everywhere and sort of more is more and floral prints. I guess some of my stuff could be construed like that. I could be called a maximalist. I could be called grandmillennial, but I like it for what it is regardless of what the style is, regardless of what the trend is.
Not getting sucked into the latest trends I think is about stepping away from Pinterest, stepping away from Instagram, making sure that when you put something in your house, you’re doing it because it really calls to you and it really feeds your soul and makes you happy as opposed to just because you saw it in an influencer’s post or something like that.
Also understand that sometimes being trendy is part of learning what you like. I tried to do the mid-century modern thing in my college apartment and I kept putting florals and paisleys everywhere. I was like, “Well, this is kind of mid-century, isn’t it?” It’s like, “Well, no, not really. You kind of failed at that one.”
Understand that finding a design that you like and decorating your house in a way that you like is a process and it takes a long time to get to the point where you can confidently say, “Yep, this is what I like. I don’t really care what the trends say.” If you end up liking a trend, it’s okay. It’s not a big deal. If you like it, you like it and that’s just it.
There was a big dump of questions. I hope you enjoyed those. I hope, I don’t know, maybe you learned something or laughed a little bit, or at least were entertained for a couple of minutes while we hung out. Thank you so much for joining me, as always. I will see you next time. Bye.