Posts Tagged ‘Rosemary Thornton’

An Aladdin “Colonial” in Lynchburg!

July 11th, 2018 Sears Homes 9 comments

Years ago, I did a survey of kit homes in Lynchburg but apparently, I missed a couple.

Earlier this week, I was in Lynchburg for other reasons, and on my way to an appointment, I made a wrong turn and stumbled upon two beautiful Aladdin kit homes, literally across the street from each other.

The houses are on Brevard Street, and prior to yesterday’s “excursion,” I’d never been through that neighborhood.

While Sears Kit Homes are more well known, Aladdin was actually a bigger company. Sears started selling kit homes in 1908, but Aladdin began two years prior. Sears was out of it in 1940, but Aladdin remained in the kit-home business until 1981. As a newly married woman, I remember studying the pages of the 1978 Aladdin catalog, dreaming of building my own home with my handy husband.

These kits came by boxcar (usually) in 12,000-piece kits, and the instruction books were more than 70 pages long. Sears promised that a “man of average abilities” could have the house completed within 90 days.

To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.



The Aladdin Colonial, as seen in the 1916 catalog.



Located on Brevard Street, this house has been through a lot of insensitive remodeling, but it's still standing. I don wonder who thought it'd be a good idea to remove the porches.



And just on the other side of the street is this Aladdin Pomona (complete with a 1980s trash can in the front yard). The house is in wonderful condition, but I was heartsick to see that the original windows - with diamond muntins - were tossed out at some point. What a pity.



The Pomona, as seen in the 1919 Aladdin Homes catalog. Those windows are what make the house.



Here's an Aladdin Colonial in Kinston, NC.



Roanoke Rapids, NC is filled with Aladdin Homes, from the simple to the grand. This Colonial retains that distinctive half-round front porch.



Another view of the Aladdin Colonial.


Learn more about Aladdin here.

Learn more about what I’ve survived here.


Multitudinous Blessings

July 5th, 2018 Sears Homes 12 comments

It’s amazing how something as pedestrian as an old-house website can turn out to be such a catalyst for multitudinous blessings.

Through this website (and its accompanying page on Facebook), I have met so many people. With few exceptions, old house people are the finest people around.

Two years ago, after the Bad Thing, I decided to shut down this website - as soon as I had the emotional wherewithal to do so. I put my Sears House ephemera in cardboard boxes and told my friend to give all of it to the local college library. I was done. I never wanted to see another Sears House again. Ever.

Fortunately, my friend didn’t listen to me, and stashed the boxes in a storage unit.

More than a year later, I asked him what became of all my catalogs. I couldn’t find them in my rental house, and I had no memory of telling him to dispose of the collection. He said, “You told me to get rid of them.”

With more than a little trepidation, I asked, “Did you?”

He said, “No, I kept them. They’re in storage.”

In short order, he retrieved them from a nearby storage unit, and my ephemera and I were re-united.

That’s something for which I’m also very grateful.

Rediscovering those almost lost catalogs stirred something in me, and gently pulled me back toward my first love: Old houses.

And through writing blogs on a host of topics (including grief and pain), I was surprised (and delighted) to find that I felt nurtured and buoyed by the kind words of long-time readers. I still re-read those supportive comments again and again and again.

As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

When visitors to this site leave comments, openly sharing their own stories of tragedy and loss, I feel so very comforted. I feel less alone in my tragedy and pain. I feel less alone in the world. It’s as though those people - people struggling under the heavy weight of their own pain and suffering - have opened up the circle around their heart and invited me in. It’s a sacred sharing, and I treasure every insight, every kind word, and every loving thought.

I will always remember how that made me feel, so thank you for that.

And if you’ve been a faithful reader of this blog but have never left a comment, I hope you’ll do so now. And if you’re one of my faithful commenters, I hope you’ll leave a comment today!


Learn how to identify Sears Homes by clicking here.

Read about one of my favorite Sears Homes in Hampton Roads here.




My blog passed a milestone recently with 2.5 million visitors.



Yesterday, I celebrated my 59th birthday with a group of faithful, loving and supportive friends. It truly was one of the loveliest events in my lifetime. Despite having such a wonderful day, I suffered from horrible nightmares last night (July 5th). By 6:00 am this morning, I was dressed and on my bike, pedaling as fast as I could to stave off the anxiety. I'm happy to say that it worked. On the ride home, I saw this image and captured it with my fancy phone. This is less than one mile from my home in a suburban area in Suffolk.


Learn how to identify Sears Homes by clicking here.

Read about one of my favorite Sears Homes in Hampton Roads here.


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Ten Things You Should Never Say to a “Suicide Widow” (or Any Trauma Survivor)

July 1st, 2018 Sears Homes 9 comments

It’s been two years since The Bad Thing.

From my own life experience, I’d like to offer a list of things NOT to say to a suicide widow. As the title indicates, this might also apply to other trauma survivors.

First, some guiding principles.

Too often, “normies” try to fit a horrible trauma into a tidy box that dovetails with their world view. This is the one thing that should never be done, because while it makes the chatty visitor feel better, it will eviscerate the survivor.

When people talk to a survivor, they’re often trying to comfort themselves. Some folks like to reason out - mentally or verbally - why this horror could never happen to them. They want to put a framework around trauma, and thus isolate it in their own minds, and then they can take some solace believing (hoping) that they’re safe.

Secondly - do not attempt to compare your story to someone else’s: No two stories are the same and no two people are the same. There are many reasons for suicide, and it’s estimated that some degree of mental illness is involved in “about 90% of suicides” (according to online sources). Comparisons are always a bad idea, and ever more-so when it comes to complicated grief.

Below are real world examples of things I’ve been told, and in some cases, they caused a significant set-back in the healing process.

1) Only you can decide if you’re going to get over this.

This is probably one of the worst things you can say to someone who’s experienced trauma. I have yet to meet a trauma survivor who wouldn’t endure almost any treatment and/or any process if it would offer a respite from the hell in which they live. Telling me that “only I can decide” is a harsh comment that only inflicts additional suffering. It’s also dismissive of the intense mental anguish and emotional pain that accompanies suicide of a spouse or child.

2) You need to be grateful for what you have.

Advising me to be grateful makes all manner of negative assumptions about my spiritual journey. The emotional pain of suicide can be so crippling that normal thought processes go out the window. When word first came of my husband’s death, I tried to use my phone to make a call. I looked at the telephone and thought, “Why did I buy a device that I don’t know how to use?” I’d lost the ability to make a phone call. It was as though a nuclear bomb had detonated inside of my brain.

3) It’s been six months (or two years). Shouldn’t you be over this by now?

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. I’m never going to be “over” this. I can only hope that Carly Simon was right, and that there is “more room in a broken heart” because mine was shattered into a billion pieces. One day my heart will heal, but I’ll never be over this.

4) Rosemary, we all miss him. This isn’t just about you.

Yes, I’ve heard this from his co-workers and others. And yet these are the same people I saw at Wayne’s funeral, clinging to their own spouse a little tighter when they strolled past the closed casket. You lost your cousin, your boss, your lunch buddy. I lost my person; I lost the person that I handpicked out of seven billion people. I lost my anticipated future. I also lost my home and my social standing and my entire life.

5) If anything happened to my husband, I’d just lay down and die. He’s my whole world.

Following Wayne’s suicide, I suffered crippling chest pain that went on for months. Even now, a minor setback brings back that terrible pain. More than once, I laid down somewhere (often in my car so no one could find me) and waited for my heart to stop. It never did. I don’t know why. Too many times to count, I would pray at night that I would pass quietly in my sleep.

“Laying down and dying” is not an option. Apparently, the human body is very tough.

This comment also presumes that if I DON’T lay down and die, the bond I had with my husband wasn’t that strong. If I could die from a broken heart, I would have died 1001 times. Or more.

6) You don’t understand depression. It’s a pit so deep and so dark that there’s no way to make sense of anything.

There’s so much wrong with this statement. First, about 10% of suicides do not involve mental illness. Don’t presume to know why my husband killed himself because you DON’T know what you’re talking about. Secondly, how is it that I’m expected to buck up, shut up and carry on after my husband does this, and yet he gets a pass for causing this much emotional carnage? Quite a dichotomy.

7)  I know how  you feel. My grandmother died last month and it was such a shock.

Any comment that beings with “I know how you feel” is wrong. This is probably the #1 comment I’ve heard again and again. Suicide is “a death like no other.” It leaves a gashing wound, and to compare it to a disease process or even an accident is so very wrong.

8.) You need to get help.

This comment is frequently left at this website, and perhaps it’s because I have an online presence. Folks don’t ask if I’m getting help - they just say that I need help. It’s almost comical. Were it not for the help of trained professionals, prayer warriors, kind-hearted folks, generous strangers, angels in human form and dear friends, the author known as Rosemary would be no more.

9) Stop worrying about what other people are saying about you.

This is not realistic. Studies show that suicide survivors (as we’re known) have the highest chance of healing and restoration when we’re surrounded by supportive friends and family. I’ve heard multiple stories about suicide widows who are overtly or covertly blamed for their husband’s death (as I have been). It’s common for suicide widows to be shunned (or worse) by family and (former) friends, and/or openly criticized for not saving/rescuing the dead spouse. Some suicide widows have found that they need to leave the community because the criticism and gossip is so severe.

10) Have you seen this article on suicide prevention?

Every time I see/read/hear about suicide prevention, it’s a kidney punch that reminds me: Maybe there was something more I could have done. But Smart Rosemary™ knows this for certain: No one could have stopped Wayne Ringer. No one.

11) Maybe you should write a book about all of this.

It’s only wanna-be writers who say this. Writing requires total immersion. I want to get as far away as possible from this intense emotional pain. I am not going to be writing a book about “My 27 Months In Hell.”

12) You need to stay busy.

Well into my first year, I gave this one a try. I went to every function, party, soiree and gathering that I could find. It worked for about a month, and then I found that I was more miserable than ever. Out in the world, I was expected to wear The Mask and pretend that I was happy and well, and that act was exhausting and depleting. And I heard people grumble and whine about inane topics, and that’s something I now have zero tolerance for. Maybe it’s good widow advice; it’s lousy suicide widow advice.

13) Karma will settle everything in the end. Just  you watch.

For starters, most people don’t really understand this complicated Buddhist concept. Secondly, if Karma does settle scores, then what in the world did I ever do to deserve a punishment so severe as this? The answer: Karma is a human concept, and not a comforting one if you’ve had a severe trauma.

14) You really need to forgive your husband.

No, I really need to forgive myself.

Any phrase that starts with, “you really need to” is doomed to invoke a lot of misery.

15) I have PTSD from when my daughter screamed at me (or some other non-life-threatening event).

There are folks who tell me that they want to help me, when in fact, what they really want, is to have me listen to their story.  Taking Grandma off the ventilator at the hospital should not be compared to learning that your husband died a violent, ugly death at his own hand. I don’t doubt that it was awful telling the kids that Fido has gone to the Rainbow Bridge, but don’t compare it to my anguish. PTSD is not about suffering from anxiety; it’s a mental derangement so severe that it impacts the individual’s ability to function to society. Two weeks ago at Panera I was having lunch with a friend, when someone slammed a heavy exterior door next to my table. It startled me so badly that I jumped up and screamed (at the guy who was already gone), “WHAT THE F*** IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

I immediately left the restaurant.

I’m a gentle soul and a good Christian, but that loud bang triggered something deep in my brain that caused a visceral reaction.

16) You need to see the good side: It could have been worse. What if he’d killed you too?

I hear this one a lot. I can’t even find the words to explain why you should never say this to someone who’s dealing with trauma.

17)  God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.

This is not only cruel and thoughtless but an inherently flawed argument. As Rabbi Harold Kushner responds so perfectly: If that was the case, then I wish I was a weaker person, and then maybe God wouldn’t have placed this burden in my life. (Kushner wrote, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”) Kushner also reminds his readers that if it is God that decides how many weights to place on our spiritual shoulders, then sometimes, he gets the math wrong. Kushner says that he’s seen many people crack under extreme stress and emotional strain, but those stories don’t get wide-spread publication.

18) If you read this book, you’ll find your answers.

Please don’t send me a link to a book or lengthy article. First, I’d much rather have a six-word personal note than a link to anything, be it an article or a book. Secondly, I’m still having trouble concentrating. I tried to read a scholarly article last week, and had to give up. I couldn’t grasp the meaning in the words. I could read the words, but I couldn’t put them together to form a meaning. It was embarrassing but I had to ask a friend to read it and tell me what it said. This is not uncommon in trauma survivors.

19) And please do NOT regale me with a long story about how your spouse almost died last year, but God is good, and the whole church prayed all through the night, and he pulled through, but my oh my, what a scare that was!

And don’t be surprised when I respond by telling you that I am unwell and then dart for the exit. Yes, this happened to me at a social function. The person involved knew my “back story” and yet (apparently) had no idea how much pain this story inflicted. By my calculations, I was praying for my husband when the Bad Thing happened. I’ve made my peace with that, but it took two years.

I do believe in the goodness of God.  I embrace Rabbi Kushner’s view, that God helps us heal after bad things happen, and that’s the place where we can learn about the goodness of God (and His children).

20) Do NOT make harsh inquiries or statements about my poor memory.

As a therapist told me two years ago, trauma can make you forget your middle name. Several times, people have asked me, “Don’t you remember that we talked about this?” It’s pretty humiliating to admit that you don’t remember something, but perfectly normal. Be patient with trauma victims because they’re struggling to keep it all together and the things that are of lesser importance may get lost in the shuffle.

Thank goodness, my memory is coming back (another evidence of healing), but there are still gaps. Before The Bad Thing, I’d built a career on my “amazing memory” and “encyclopedic knowledge” of old houses. Who am I, if I’m not The Sears House Lady? These days, I rely less on that “amazing memory” and more on books and other resources.

21) Do not EVER make a statement that casts blame on the survivor.

Two years after The Bad Thing, my phone dinged with a text from a friend of Wayne’s. “That’s a surprise,” I thought at first. And then I read the text. It said: “Did Wayne kill himself because he thought you were having an affair?” That comment - which came out of the blue - caused a setback so severe that I had to make an emergency appointment with a doctor. It wasn’t true, and I think the sender knew it wasn’t true, but it was still devastating. It put me right back into the mode of, “Could I have stopped this?”

After his death, I came to suspect that Wayne had been reading my private journals, and within those journals, I talked about the fact that a woman friend had not been true to her husband, and that I couldn’t imagine such a thing, as I was so “out-of-my-mind in love with Wayne.” He knew I would never cheat on him. That’s a non-sequitur.

And what if a man kills himself after his partner is untrue? Should she feel blame then? Absolutely not. People divorce. People break up. There are 101 intelligent alternatives that are better than suicide.

There’s this, too: Anyone who survives the suicide of their intimate partner is already hanging onto the edge of an emotional cliff by their fingernails. Don’t walk up to that cliff and start stomping on their hand.

The fact that one of Wayne’s friends sent me this text is a clear example of how suicide is “a death like no other,” and the survivor - the victim - already being crushed under a load of guilt, becomes the subject of scorn and blame.


That’s 21, not 10, but once I started I couldn’t stop. And I could write another dozen.

Now, what is the right thing to do?

Several months ago, I missed a lecture. Just didn’t show up. Problem was, I was the one giving the lecture. I was so filled with self-loathing that I couldn’t function for an entire 24-hour period. I was inconsolable. A kind-hearted friend said, “Your husband killed himself. Stop trying to get back to ‘The Old Rosemary’ and focus on how much progress you’ve made in the last two years.”

That was just what I needed to hear.

Praise is always welcome. Point out the progress; don’t talk about my shortcomings. I rehearse those shortcomings for hours and hours every night as I lay in the dark. Help me remember who I really am. Remind me of my accomplishments. And most of all, tell me that it’s okay to struggle and stumble.

If my mother were alive, if Tom Conran were alive, if those people that loved me unconditionally were still here, they’d tell me, “Rosie, you’re something special. You’re hurting so bad right now, but you’re also resilient. This horror is just a passage. It’s not a place where you’re going to live. It’s temporary. And you’re going to get through this.”

To conclude, The most important thing you can do for someone who’s hurting is this:

Show up. Listen. Don’t offer advice. Just listen.

If you must speak, say something like, “I want you to know that I love you, and I care about you.”

Or it can be reduced to three words: I love you.

If this person is mature (not a kid), and you find yourself offering them advice or suggestions, bite your tongue. You’re there to love. You’re not there to judge. You’re not there to fix. You’re there to show them that they’re not alone in the world.

Do NOT tell a grieving person, “Let me know if you need anything.” Instead, you might say, “I’d like to drop off a meal at your house once a week for a time. Which is better, Tuesday or Thursday night?”

When I moved into a rental house in Churchland, my new neighbor came over to meet me and brought me Rice Krispie treats. Now that was a happy moment!  I was pretty raw then, and told her that I was trying to pull myself together, and that my husband had killed himself. Tears came to her eyes. Her brother had killed himself a couple years prior. She said, “You’re a bit gaunt. Are you eating?”

I told her, “No. I’ve lost 40 pounds.”

She said, “I love to cook and I always make too much. I’ll bring you dinner every other night until you tell me to stop.”

She’s one of those angels walking this earth. I regained the lost weight and my health improved.

In the earliest days, a woman friend took me into her house. She worked late hours and would often come home too tired to stand up, but every night (for three months), she’d enter the guest bedroom (where I slept) and stand at the foot of the bed and pray for me.

Knowing that people I barely knew were praying for me was such a blessing, but when someone took me by the hand and prayed with me, it stirred my soul and I felt like the angels were right there, knitting my heart back together. It was a powerful experience.

Please remember these seven tips:

1) Show up.

2) Sit quietly and let them talk as long as they want to.

3) Tell them that they’re loved.

4) Offer praise and encouragement for any and all progress.

5) Remember, just knowing that someone cares is immensely comforting.

6) Pray FOR the person in pain, but better yet, pray WITH them. These prayers (and the love behind them) saved me.

7) And ask if Tuesday or Thursday night is better for them.

And why did I spend three days writing this? Studies show that suicide widows and those who have lost a very close loved one to suicide are 10-12 times MORE LIKELY to have suicidal ideation (studies vary in this number). If you have a friend who lost a spouse or a child to suicide, you should know that odds are good that they’re already contemplating ending their own life. The first six months are especially risky. Unconditional support and indefatigable love for the survivor will help them navigate those very treacherous rapids. At the very least, stop crucifying the survivors. We’re already drowning under the waves of guilt and grief.


This is the best article I’ve seen on what happens to “The Widow” after a suicide.

If this blog has helped you, please post the link and share it on Facebook.



Teddy, for the most part, has proven to be a good grief counselor. She never says the wrong thing, and she always forgives me, which is pretty amazing. I could learn a lot from Teddy.


The Eight-Cow Wife

Photo is copyright Dave Chance and can not be used or reproduced without written permission.


And Her Name is C-Biscuit…

June 2nd, 2018 Sears Homes 5 comments

In the last few months, I have really struggled to sort out my thoughts and figure out what makes me happy. More than a year ago, I decided that I was going to live on a five-acre horse farm and keep a couple horses.

And then I spent some time with a 50-something-year-old woman who had three horses. I soon realized that this was a part-time job, and it was an expensive part-time job. Reluctantly, I decided to buy a few stuffed horses and call it a day.

More recently, I decided that I would like to have a little Prius C, which is “the baby Prius.” I’ve named her “C-Biscuit.”

She’s tiny, adorable, amazingly comfortable and also practical. Best of all, she sips gas, obtaining 55-65 mpg.

A few times, I have surpassed 70 mpg. C-Biscuit is a hybrid, powered by both an ICE (internal combustion engine) and battery power. The engine has a mere 66 horsepower, and the electric side provides an additional 33 horsies, for a total of 99 horsepower. It does 0-60 in 12 seconds.

It’s efficient. It’s not fast.

The Prius C is known as the “Aqua” in Japan, and has consistently been one of the best selling cars in that country. In the United States, sales have not been as strong. Rumors abound that 2018 will be the last year for the Prius C in America, but with gas prices creeping back up, maybe Toyota will revisit that decision.

Sometimes, it’s hard to really know why something makes us happy. Perhaps it’s enough to find that silly little thing - even a slightly used red hatchback - and just grab onto it and enjoy the smiles per gallon.



C-Biscuit (my Prius C) was purchased used in North Carolina, where they dont require front plates.

C-Biscuit (my Prius C) was purchased used in North Carolina, where they don't require front plates. I thought I heard a little "yelp" when I drilled holes into C-Biscuit's front bumper (for the Virginia license plates).


Its adorable both coming and going.

It's adorable both coming and going. My mother's last car (purchased shortly before her death) was a little red station wagon, very similar to this car. There was something about this car that really touched my heart. Every time I look at this car, I smile. It reminds me of my first car, too. And that's a very happy memory.


A million years ago, in a galaxy far away...

A million years ago, in a galaxy far away...My first car was a 1974 Super Beetle with a 1600cc engine. It was red on the inside and black on the outside, the inverse of C-Biscuit. The Super Beetle ("Ludwig") had a bigger engine than the Prius C. And yes, that's me. I was 17-year-old, 5'9" and weighed 124 pounds and worried constantly about my weight!



This Prius C does 0-60 in 12 seconds.


And it gets super gas mileage!

And it gets super gas mileage!


In fact, I was so besotted with C-Biscuit that I bought a diminiutive version.

In fact, I was so besotted with "C-Biscuit" that I bought a diminutive version for my desk.


And heres a picture of a Sears Modern Home (#124) in Wisconsin, just so I can say that I wrote about Sears Homes today.

And here's a picture of a Sears Modern Home (#124) in Wisconsin, just so I can say that I wrote about Sears Homes today. Either I have stayed up way too late this evening, or there's something seriously wrong with this picture. LOL. I have a feeling I made a booboo of some sort here. Look toward the bottom of the picture. Rut roe.


To read more about Sears Homes, click here.

Interested in Penniman? Click here!


Penniman Par-TAY! It’s DONE!

May 24th, 2018 Sears Homes 6 comments

Updated! Good lecture. Good times.  :D

Ghost Towns.

Virginia History.

Phenomenal Personal Sacrifice.

Women workers.

And a devastating epidemic that wiped out so many workers that the local cemeteries ran out of space.

Penniman has all of these elements and more, and it’s a great story that needs to be told.

On Saturday, May 26, 2018, I’m giving a talk on Penniman at the James City County Library, at 2:00 pm.


If you’re able, please attend and learn more about this forgotten chapter of Virginia’s history!

To learn more about Penniman, click here.

Bricks from the Penniman smokestack were salvaged to build a school for African-American children.


My information on Penniman is always expanding and changing! Last week, I obtained this Penniman fob on Ebay.

The information on Penniman is always expanding and changing! Last week, I obtained this Penniman fob on Ebay. This fob would have been worn by the workers at the DuPont plant, six miles outside of Williamsburg. Who is this young man? How I wish that I knew.



The rear of the fob shows more detail.



Come learn about Penniman!


To learn more about Penniman, click here.


Who Doesn’t Love a Story About Ghost Towns?

May 11th, 2018 Sears Homes 6 comments

On May 26th, I’ll be giving a talk on Penniman (with lots of new pictures).

For a variety of reasons, I’m not sure how much longer I will be living in this area, so if you’d like to hear me give a talk on Penniman, please attend this talk in Williamsburg.

And if you’re shopping for the perfect Father’s Day gift - here it is!

Want to learn more about Penniman? Click here.



Please attend!


And if you’re shopping for the perfect Father’s Day gift - here it is!

Want to learn more about Penniman? Click here.


Pink Bathrooms: Extinction Looms

March 24th, 2018 Sears Homes 11 comments

Remember the very first commandment of old house renovation? Thou shalt not destroy good old work.

That’s it.

More than 35% of the garbage at America’s landfills is construction-related waste. That’s a phenomenal amount of debris. What’s worse is this: The replacement materials promoted at contemporary big box stores (in most cases) has a serviceable life of less than 10 years. So that new light gray bathroom with white accents will probably need replacing, and THOSE construction materials will also end up at the city dump.

We have got to stop destroying “good old work” in older homes in the name of keeping up with the Joneses (and the Kardashians).

You know what makes my blood boil? Ads like this.

NOTE: All the houses shown below are in Portsmouth, Virginia.


Theres a special extra-toasty place in preservation hell for this bank.

There's a special extra-toasty place in preservation hell for this bank. A very special place. A friend sent me this advertisement. It popped up on her Facebook page. Oh, how I loathe this promotion. It feeds into the insanity promoted by HGTV that "old and lovely" is never good enough. And yet odds are that this same bank will spearhead efforts to promote recycling. Not much sense in saving 21 pounds of plastic and yet promoting the destruction of thousands of pounds of "good old work."


Classic good looks.

This light-pink bathroom features classic good looks and will provide decades of service. The tile floor (cartwheel pattern) is already more than 60 years old, and is set in about 6 inches of concrete. With minimal care, this floor will endure another several decades. The same is true for the tile walls.



The pink tile in this Portsmouth home (Virginia) dates to the mid-1950s, and yet - due to good care and maintenance - it is in like-new condition. The materials used in these mid-century bathrooms will last another 50 years. And yet their modern replacements - fiberglass and plastic junk from big-box stores - will not endure.



When I was a kid growing up in Waterview (a 1920s/30s middle-class neighborhood), I don't remember seeing anyone "remodel" their bathrooms, and yet by the 1960s/70s, these kitchens and baths were quite old. The pink bathroom featured here has its original sink and toilet. As with the others, it will endure for many more years.



The same bathroom (shown above) from a different angle. It has a tiled shower and separate tub. It's also beautiful, with the white and pink tile.



Some pink bathrooms are more subdued than others, but these mid-century tile jobs are typically set in several inches of concrete. When experts recommend retreating to a bathroom during a tornado, this is the type of "safe space" they have in mind. The thick-set mortar bed plus copper pipes plus additional wooden framing makes this one sturdy space.


My favorite pink bathroom is a deep rose with blue accents.

My favorite pink bathroom is a deep rose with blue accents. I tried to purchase this house (in Waterview) late last year, but it got tangled up in a bidding war, and the price went from $210,000 to almost $270,000 within hours. It was probably this bathroom that drove up the price.


We have got to stop destroying “good old work.” My current home has a green bathroom. Green is my least favorite color, but I have decided to live with it for a time and see how I feel about in 5 years or so. It may grow on me. I do know this: Society needs to learn that “keeping up with the Joneses” is a path to madness, waste and financial foolishness.


Save the pink bathrooms!


NOTE: All the houses shown above are in Portsmouth, Virginia.


What’s My Happy Color?

March 15th, 2018 Sears Homes 15 comments

Six months ago, a new chapter of my life began when I moved into this house in Suffolk, Virginia. In the 12 months prior to that, I’d often tell people, “I want a house that’s quirky and fun, something that’s solid and well-built, but unique. When people walk into the front door, I want them to think - this LOOKS like something Rosemary would buy!”

And I found it.

As someone who studies old houses, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a floorplan like this. I’m not even sure I can identify what style of house this is.

And on a related note, ever since I replaced the old storm door, I’ve been dreaming about a new color for the exterior shutters. Perhaps brown is the best color to complement the earth-toned bricks, but if you can think of a new color, please let me know.

Thanks in advance for any and all comments.

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One of this homes most appealing features was that it had been beautifully maintained by its first (and only) owners. And yet, the storm door was a little tired and quite drafty. After it was replaced with the new full-view door but that has inspired me to re-think the shutter color.

One of this home's most appealing features was that it had been beautifully maintained by its first (and only) owners. And yet, the storm door was a little tired and a bit drafty. After it was replaced with the new full-view door (right side) , that inspired me to re-think the shutter color.


If anyone has any guesses as to the year of manufacture for this door, Id love to know. The house was built in 1976, but surely the door isnt 40 years old - or is it?

If anyone has any guesses as to the year of manufacture for this door, I'd love to know. The house was built in 1976, but surely the door isn't 40 years old - or is it?


The new storm door was under $200 at Lowes and does a fine job of highlighting that beautiful 1950s-ish looking front door.

The new storm door was under $200 at Lowes and does a fine job of highlighting that beautiful 1950s-ish looking front door. And Teddy the Dog loves it too.


That front door looks more like something youd find on a 1950s ranch, and its one of my favorite features on this 40-year-old custom-built brick ranch.

That front door looks more like something you'd find on a 1950s ranch, and it's one of my favorite features on this 40-year-old custom-built house.


As I mentioned above, Ive never seen a floorplan such as Ive seen in this house.

As I mentioned above, I've never seen a floorplan such as I've seen in this house. On the other side of that full-view storm door is this massive chimney, rising up from the floor to the ceiling. It provides privacy, so that you can't peak in the front door and see the living room.


The living room (and the wood stove insert) is on the other side.

The living room (and fireplace with wood stove insert) is on the other side of that large brick chimney. You can see a bit of the front door behind that fireplace (with the old storm door). The space on the right is the stairwell that leads to the basement garage.


Its a mighty narrow stairwell that leads to the basement/garage, and its built with concrete block walls. I have not been able to figure out why a staircase would need to be built like a bomb shelter.

It's a mighty narrow stairwell that leads to the basement/garage, and it's built with concrete block walls. I have not been able to figure out why a staircase would need to be built like a bomb shelter.


Within that front foyer are two steps which lead to the living space. I spend my life thinking about houses and I cant even come up with a name for this particular style.

Within that front foyer are two steps which lead to the living space. I spend my life thinking about houses and I can't even come up with a name for this particular style. I suppose it's a brick ranch, but this sunken foyer is quite unique!


Back to the question at hand - what color shutters do I want?

Back to the question at hand - what color shutters do I want? Or is brown simply the best choice? The roof is also brown. However, the brown storm door is gone!



Things were a lot more green when I bought the house in early October 2017. I'm looking forward to seeing that pretty green color again!


Thanks in advance for any and all comments.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.


Boardwalk Empire and Sears Kit Homes

March 13th, 2018 Sears Homes 7 comments

The last few weeks, I’ve been watching Boardwalk Empire (HBO), set in 1920s Atlantic City. It’s centered around the real life story of prohibition-era gangster Enoch Johnson, who’s known as Enoch (”Nucky”) Thompson on the show.

From the start, one of my favorite characters has been Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon). Beginning with the second season, there’s a running story line about Van Alden (and his wife Sigrid) purchasing a kit home in 1923.

Of course, that piqued my interest!

Nonetheless, as is often the case with period dramas, there’s so much wrong with the facts behind this particular story line. I tried hard to ignore the many errors but ultimately decided to write a blog instead. :)

The story line suggests it’s a house from Bennett Homes, but the dialogue between Nelson and Sigrid makes it clear that this house came from Sears & Roebuck. It seems that the writers used those company names interchangeably.

Check out the pictures below (and their captions) to get the real story.

Thanks to Rachel for help identifying a few of these images!

Read about a large number of Sears kit homes in Atlantic City.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.



Nelson Van Alden (played by the inimitable Michael Shannon) is shown at his desk studying the pages of a 1922 Bennett Homes Catalog. When I first glimpsed this, I let out a little "oh my goodness" happy noise.



It's actually a Hollywood mock-up and not a real catalog. The front cover was probably pulled from an online source, and the rear cover is (apparently) from a reprint of the Bennett catalog. The storyline says that Nelson and Sigrid are living in Cicero, and yet they're buying a house from Bennett Homes from Towanda, New York? Cicero is just outside of Chicago, Illinois (home of Sears and Roebuck). Further, this cover is altered. Bennett Homes were *not* prefabricated. More on the cover below. NOTE: I'm not savvy enough to figure out how to remove close captions without taking a course at a local community college.


1922 cover

Here's the cover of the 1922 Bennett Homes catalog that Nelson is examining above. It's quite different than the image shown above. And you'll note that the word "pre-fabricated" does not appear anywhere on the cover. Neither do the children or the man (shown in the screen shot with Nelson).


Rear cover

Shown here is the true rear cover for the catalog that Nelson is examining in the first image. You'll note that it is color - not black and white (as seen on "Boardwalk Empire").



This is a shot of the "Sears & Roebuck House" (as it's described in the show). If you look closely at this house, you'll discover that it's a brick house that has been covered in diagonal planks, to replicate the look of a partially finished house. Notice the window frames, and the bracketing under the stoop. They're disappearing under the many layers of siding. Those are the clues that tell me - this house was dressed up with that fresh lumber to create the look they sought. The style of this house doesn't match ANY of the models offered by Sears, Gordon Van Tine, Bennett or any of the kit home companies with which I am familiar. Odds are good it's just a bungalow somewhere from the 1920s.



This gives a better picture of the brackets on the stoop. Notice also that the windows are 2/2 (two lites - or panes - over two panes). Sears didn't offer 2/2 windows - ever. In fact, if I am trying to identify a potential kit house, I look at the windows first, and if they're 2/2, I discount it.


next one

This shows the neighbor's brick bungalow, and notice, there's a billboard at the end of the street.


Perfection in a box

"Perfection from a Box" is a lovely thought. So while the dialogue says that this is a Sears & Roebuck house, the imagery suggests it's a Bennett house. I suspect that the writers were using those terms (Sears - Bennett) interchangeably.


Long view

Here's another view of those solid brick (not brick veneer) bungalows. And notice that the other houses are 6/6 windows, which would have been more typical in 1923. When Bennett (or Sears or Gordon Van Tine or the other companies) did an entire community of kit homes, they did NOT use the same model again and again. Nelson and Sigrid allegedly live in Cicero, Illinois. It would be interesting to know where these brick bungalows are located.



And there's this. I'm not sure what's happening under this kitchen sink, but I do know that copper plumbing was not in wide-spread use until the late 1940s or early 1950s. In 1923, it would have been galvanized supply lines and lead pipes for drains - typically. And those gate valves? Definitely not from the 1920s. Then again, neither is the plywood panel behind Nelson Van Alden.


fff house

A native Norwegian, Sigrid struggles with her English. Another recurring them in this story line is that the house has many deficiencies, which is also not accurate. Sigrid asks Nelson repeatedly if he's contacted "The Sears Roebuck" to get these deficiencies addressed. In fact, customer satisfaction with these 12,000-piece kits was very high.


Lots of dialogue on inferior

Through several episodes, Sigrid complains bitterly about problems with the house. This is a great line where Nelson explains that he has been in contact with Mr. Roebuck. In real life, Alvah Curtis Roebuck was no longer involved with the company in the 1920s, but was in Florida, making many very poor investments in land. He was bankrupted later, and in the 1930s, took a job at Sears & Roebuck cutting ribbons for the opening of new retail stores.



When Bennett or Sears or the other kit home companies built entire neighborhoods, they mixed it up a bit as shown in the catalog page above (1923).



Cicero is within 3 miles of Homan an Arthington Street (the home of Sears & Roebuck in the 1920s).



Nelson is one dapper fellow.


Read about a large number of Sears kit homes in Atlantic City.

Want to learn how to identify kit homes? Click here.


Before Calling the Fire Department, I Cleaned The House…

February 28th, 2018 Sears Homes 16 comments

Early this morning, I detected an acrid smell in my bedroom, and it was the distinctive smell of an electrical fire.

Admittedly, I have a hypersensitive sniffer, and the smell was intense - to me. I walked throughout the house looking for its source. I walked outside, hoping that it was someone else’s problem. It was not.

Next, I went into the basement and that’s when the smell was most intense. There was no source that I could find, yet the light bulbs in the basement had a blue haze around them. Something was burning.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find the source.

Upstairs, I spent 10 minutes doing a whirlwind clean of the house, throwing things in closets and running around picking up. Because I had a feeling that when I called the fire department, exciting things would happen.

After the house was tidy, I dialed the non-emergency police number and told the dispatcher what was happening and asked if they could come out without the sirens. She said, “M’am, I don’t think so. And by the way, please evacuate the home.”

In less than three minutes, two fire engines arrived at my house and I’ve never met a nicer bunch of fellows. They walked through the basement and pulled out a heat camera and saw that one breaker on the box was hot. A fireman then looked at the water heater and he showed me that the wiring around the bottom element had burned up - thoroughly.

So while I’m very grateful for this good outcome, I wonder, do I invoke the home warranty people who drove me to hard liquor last time, or do I just shell out the money myself? Because I sure do need a new water heater!

To read one of my favorite blogs about heroes, click here.


It was an exciting day here at the Peaceful Palace

It was an exciting day here at the Peaceful Palace.


I sure do like having a basement!

I sure do like having a basement!



Here's the culprit. That little bit of nothing generated enough bad smells to fills the house with an odor.


To read one of my favorite blogs about heroes, click here.