What makes a talisman?

When I was living in Israel, I had an artist friend who gave us a couple of lovely etchings. I liked them enough to frame them. I took down the pictures that had been there only to discover that the wall badly needed painting. We used gas heaters in those old houses because they were built many years before central heating. Most people back then used space heaters, usually gas. But they produced dirt and every few years, you had to repaint. So, we painted. After which the sofa needed reupholstering (our parrot had eaten pieces of it and the cats had clawed the rest).

By the time we got through with one thing and another, those free etchings were $3,000 free etchings. You have to be careful. Home repairs can quickly spiral out of control.

Today, it’s the bathroom. It’s our “main” bathroom — which is to say, the only room that has a bath, a toilet, and sink in one room. The other water closet is a toilet in tiny room in the corner of our “master” (but it’s a very small “master”) bedroom. Garry calls it “Marilyn’s bathroom” which means he has 100% occupation of the other room. He lets me keep a comb and brush on the sink and a towel on the rack. Otherwise, it’s his room.

He says it’s not true but I defy anyone to find anything in the “main” bathroom that is mine other than my comb, brush, and a big towel. I have long since given up any hope of co-ownership.

Meanwhile, I don’t have anything I would call a talisman. I think I might have had a Mogen David (pro: MOH-gan Da-VEED)  (to all you non-Jews, that’s what Jews call a “Jewish star”), but I was a teenager and it is long gone.

Currently, life is all about a bathroom vanity. We got a nice sink. Which we needed. Unfortunately, I measured the old sink incorrectly, so the new sink doesn’t fit the old vanity. It’s not much of a vanity, but at least it’s made of wood, not particle board.

I like the sink, though it’s two inches narrower than the vanity currently supporting it. Since the bathroom is very narrow, a narrower vanity might improve it. Thinking “how expensive could a simple little vanity be?”, I hopped online to look at the stuff Home Depot is showing.

I almost fainted. Shock. Horror. Are they serious?

Good grief! Hundreds of dollars and not for anything fancy. Just an 18 inch deep by 30 inch wide vanity made from plywood with wood doors. Probably not including a drawer (that would cost extra).

That’s a lot of money. I still have to fix the window and the front wall of the house and I owe the plow guy money.

At that price, is the vanity a talisman? Would installing it improve our luck? I was thinking it would just be a place to put the sink that looked better than the box it is currently sitting in. The cheapest vanity available $140 and that’s particle board. Painted white. Anything made of wood is upwards of $300 and most are a lot more than that. Many are more than $1000.

That’s when remembered the two free etchings. And how expensive they turned out to be. I can see this evolving into a full bath restoration. Not that we couldn’t use a new bathroom, but we need a lot of things.

Anyone have a money talisman? Wear it around your neck and money just falls your way.

Yeah, right.


My father hated change. My mother loved to redecorate. What could possibly go wrong?

There were lots of fights about decorating in my house growing up. Constantly. My mother won, but it could get surprisingly unpleasant before then – not to mention very loud. My father would shout that all decorating was too expensive and totally unnecessary, no matter how long it had been since the room had been fixed up. He was morally opposed to changing anything. Ever. Not a faded chair, a broken lamp, peeling wallpaper.


The NYC dining room set up for a party

My mother tried to mollify him in many ways. She tried to involve my father in the decision-making process. She tried to give him control over the decorating choices so as to make the change less jarring for him. Nothing worked.

Eventually my mother instituted the blitzkrieg form of decorating, which I call passive-aggressive decorating. Here’s how it worked.

We spent every summer in our house in Connecticut so the New York apartment was vacant for three months., which also meant that the Connecticut house was vacant for nine months.

My mother used her time well. She carefully made all her plans for redecorating a room in New York without telling my father. She chose the furniture, the wall color or paper, fabric for the upholstered pieces. She picked out every lamp, piece of art and chatchkah. Then, when my father was safely in Connecticut for the summer, she’d have the workmen swoop in. They would completely redo the room, top to bottom. One year, the walls in the study went from beige grasscloth to a bold fabric with a deep red background and large, bright-colored flowers.

Fabric that ended up on one wall, a sofa and two comfy chairs

My father would leave one room in June and come back to a completely different room in September. He would scream and yell about how he hated change. He would excoriate my mother about her ridiculous obsession with redecorating. He would get all of this out of his system in one big explosion – and then it was over. After that, he would become gradually used to the ‘new’ room. Then, ten or so years later, when it got changed again, he would rant and rave about the loss of the old ‘new’ room.

The process was reversed when it came to the house in Connecticut. When Dad said goodbye to the New England house in September, my mother had until June to do a complete make-over on one of the rooms in the house. The same scene would occur there when Dad discovered the bi-annual treachery.

After which, all would be calm. Until the next time.

The New York apartment had 11 rooms and the Connecticut house had 10. So this went on every year, twice a year, for thirty years! It’s a pretty dramatic way to get a new sofa or bedroom set. But Mom was persistent. She did what she had to do. Both homes were beautiful, warm, and inviting.

Even Dad thought so. After he stopped yelling.


The sun is shining and today is door shopping day!

It was pouring last night, but they promised a sunny day today and for once, they delivered. It’s bright and beautiful out there and in a few minutes, my son and I are hitting the road, hopefully to order a door for the house. I haven’t entirely worked out how I’ll pay for it, but since I absolutely need it, there’s no choice but to get a door.

Choices are:

Wood — No way! I don’t care how fancy it is or how much it costs. Wood rots fast in this climate and it would need replacing in just a couple of years.

Fiberglass — If affordable, they are strong, look for all practical purposes like wood and do not rot.  (Note: Not affordable! Not even close!)

Steel — Steel are now designed to look just like any other door, though they do not imitate wood to the degree that Fiberglass will. You can paint it, but you can’t stain it. Cheaper than Fiberglass. Much cheaper than wood. Very sturdy, but might rust or dent. Still, it’s significantly cheaper than Fiberglass and will probably be our best bet. The styles look just like any other door with sidelights. I am NOT sure how you put a doggy door in a steel door. That’s a bit worrisome.

This is it! Bought it. Delivery in a couple of weeks!

I like simple doors. A lot of them come with really fancy glass, but this is not a fancy house and all that etched glass and other designs would look (I think) out-of-place.

Now, I have to figure out what color I want. Would green clash? Some kind of blue with white trim?


Reviving Bricks — You just inherited a dilapidated, crumbling-down grand mansion in the countryside. Assuming money is no issue, what do you do with it?

Author’s Note: It’s obvious to me that most of the responders to this prompt have never tried to renovate and/or restore an old house in the real world. I have. And I would never, ever, under any circumstances want to do it again. No matter how much money I have, I’d rather build something brand new. Old houses are seductive and hide their lethal intent. An old house can kill you. I know.

It helps to start off independently wealthy because odds are you will be poor when you are done.

Start by hiring a dependable contractor. Since the term “dependable contractor” is an oxymoron, you should also get a copy of the movie “The Money Pit.” It may help you survive the days ahead.

Old House in Hadley

Make sure the electrical system and plumbing are completely replaced. Old houses always need infrastructure upgrades — plumbing and wiring are always bad. Also, install new heating and cooling systems. Put in central air while the place is under construction.

You’ll need a new roof, gutters, leaders. Don’t forget to have the chimneys repointed. Make sure the dampers work, too. Some, if not all, of the windows will need to be replaced. Since money is no object, replace them all with double-hung thermals.

Restore interior moldings and woodwork. Many old homes have beautifully carved woodwork that’s been painted. When restored, it’s magnificent and often made of rare wood such as elm and chestnut. Rip out linoleum to discover the oak floors beneath. Refinish the hardwood.

Replace falling down porches and porticoes. Install new doors and lintels. Get an engineer to check the drainage. Do what you need to do to prevent flooding, especially if you live on a downhill slope. Your insurance won’t cover water damage from rising waters unless you live in a designated flood plain. I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the law, so put in a sump, a pump, drains. Whatever you need to keep your feet dry.

Pave the driveway and walks. Widen them if you live in an area where snowfall is heavy. Make sure your garage is big enough for the cars you own and will own in the future. And while you are at it, buy a garden tractor. You will need it.

If you have a well, replace the pump. Get a full inspection to make sure your water system is healthy. Ditto if you have a septic system. Water and septic are non-negotiable issues. And expensive.

Make sure you obtain all licences and inspections required by local law. You want to live in your house after spending all this time and money, right?

As for the exterior, it depends on the house. Some houses need siding, others paint, masonry repair … and many need a combination of all of these. If you bought an old Victorian — and you are not yet bankrupt — there are specialists who can restore the gingerbread moldings to their original glory.


Gardens will no doubt need to be replanted and cleared out, patios rebuilt, gazebos restored. I would also want ramps and chair lifts installed. Make your bathrooms senior-friendly. Everyone gets old, even you.

Finally, the kitchen. Have some fun. Get a restaurant-quality range and double oven, a full upright freezer, refrigerator, dishwasher. Install as much cabinetry as a clever kitchen designer can arrange. Remember: No matter how much counter space you include, you will have no more than 14 inches of unoccupied space when you are done adding all the stuff that lives in the kitchen.

Make storage a priority everywhere. Build bookcases, closets and other storage areas everywhere. You cannot have too many closets. Nature abhors a vacuum, so they will all be full immediately.

Ah the splendors of an old house. It will eat you alive, leave you a gibbering wreck on the floor … but you will love that house. With a bit of luck, it will have some friendly ghosts who will love you in return.