The Cross House

No. No. No, no, NO!

The other day, I posted this image.


Then Stewart wrote in, wondering how I was able to contain myself in NOT painting the wall to the right.

Well, the impulse to do exactly that did almost overtake me.

Then I summoned my mantra: No. No. No, no, NO!

With all restoration projects, it is easy to get sidetracked.

Recently, I had my lunch in the wreck of the servant’s hall. When I was finished, I looked around the tiny room and thought: Wouldn’t it be great to finish this room? It’s so small. It wouldn’t take much time!

Then I summoned my mantra: No. No. No, no, NO!

Finishing the servant’s hall would take, I dunno, about four months. But that would be four months I was not painting the exterior, which is my priority focus.

On several occasions I have stood in the main pantry. And I get all excited in thinking: Wow! This room would be a knock-out all restored! And it’s so small! It wouldn’t take much time!

Then I summoned my mantra: No. No. No, no, NO!

Restoring the main pantry would also take about four months. Four months not painting the exterior.

Numerous times I have stood in the round room on the top floor and itch itch itch to get started on it. My God, this will be FABULOUS restored! Just do it! Just do it!

Then I summoned my mantra: No. No. No, no, NO!

After installing the newly restored sashes in the south parlor window, I looked (not for the first time) at the adjacent unrestored siding and trim and porch floor and porch ceiling and seriously thought: Oooooooh, I wanna do this soooooo bad.

Then I summoned my mantra: No. No. No, no, NO!

I think one of THE most important “tools” when restoring an old house is focus. I was not good at this when younger but as the decades have passed this is a skill I have honed. Without focus, I would have not finished the main facade. I doubt I would have even started the north facade. And the parlor would be unfinished.

The library IS still unfinished because I cannot focus on it. And I have no idea why. So, it sits, almost done, for two years now.


I started on the round bedroom this past winter then abruptly stopped. I plan to resume the work this winter.

The stairhall niche IS one of the rare projects where my excitement got the better of me. For a while. Then focus kicked back in and I hauled my butt back out to painting the exterior. The niche sits abandoned, its beauty obscured by plastic sheeting taped to its walls.


Without focus, I am uncertain if the main facade would have progressed much from this.


Focus however enabled this.


And this.


And this.



14 Responses to No. No. No, no, NO!

  1. It’s funny, it seems that so many of us that feel compelled to restore, be it old houses, old cars or anything else have some degree of ADD. As always Ross, your place is looking great, I envy your focus.

  2. So many sweet little distractions, so little warm painting time. You will be so glad you didn’t allow yourself to be distracted. And of all the incredible projects you have completed painting the exterior to me has produced the most stunning transformation. The Cross House no longer looks derlict on those facades. It looks loved and intricate and amazing (having said that the stained-glass windows are pretty special too). But so many people driving past and walking past get to really appreciate the job you are doing on the exterior. And it helps preserve the fabric of Cross House. No no no! Does that help?

  3. In my mind, I’ve changed the name of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to Inability to Focus on Unimportant Things (IFUT). Being one of the ways that the human brain processes things, it is only a disorder for those who don’t get good grades in school. The IFUT mind has the ability to hyper-focus on things that it finds engaging and often creatively produces great things.

    I have a theory that there are many people with IFUT minds that do engage with and hyper-focus on their schooling from a young age. Instead of becoming frustrated with learning. I think they often become those with a different three letter label, PhD.

    The rest of us have to develop coping mechanisms. I think that your mantra is a great one. Maybe I can engage with it, otherwise I am destined to have partially completed projects sitting around everywhere when I die. Of course, I might just embrace that future and have a lot of fun learning a little bit about many, many things as I have thoroughly enjoyed doing in the past. I find those projects which I do complete to be amazing. I think that my real need is to have sufficient funds to be able to hire people to complete the less interesting parts of my projects.

    Maybe I will go back to writing one of those novels that I have started……or begin another……or…… No. No. No, no, NO!

    Thanks Ross.

    • Stewart. I love your new name! It fits many people with ADD, such as myself. Have you seen the research that shows that highly intelligent people have worse memories than average? We (not bragging, just fact) forget the unimportant stuff to focus on what it is important to remember. So we don’t remember appointments without writing them down, but we can remember this idea versus that idea and analyze them. I do use my hyper-focus abilities to read books, like you suggest. At the University of Chicago I was encouraged by my calculus professor to go in to Mathematics since I was so good at it. But it was TOO easy, so it was easier to focus on learning about why people do the things they do (behavioral sciences, anthropology, sociology).

      On the other hand, there are people with ADD who really cannot attend to anything. When I first took in my sister’s granddaughters, the younger one was five. I thought she might be “mentally retarded” (showing my age here)- developmentally delayed. She tried so hard to learn that first year. And she simply could not. We wanted to wait to see if it improved with a stable and secure environment, so we did not immediately put her on medication. She struggled and still could not learn a thing. The first day we gave her a stimulant medication, it was like her brain turned on! She could learn! She is now one of the best students in her class, whereas before she struggled with learning her own middle name! She does have some language processing difficulties, which contributed to her not being able to talk until she was five. She will always struggle with mishearing words, and spelling since she mishears words. But with the written word, she does wonderfully (and is pronouncing words so much better!). Anyway, I guess I wanted to respond to your comments since it came across somewhat dismissive of the real struggles some people have with ADD. Knowing you from your comments, I am certain that you did not intend to sound like that. What are some of your other coping mechanisms? (I agree with wanting folks to help with the less interesting aspects of projects.)

      • Hi Miriam,

        I am glad that my Response struck a chord with you.

        Since I haven’t been able to focus on starting my own blog yet, I will take advantage of Ross again to respond to you. I found out that, as my psychiatrist told me, there is a lobe in my brain which needs a stimulant for me to be able to routinely do boring tasks. It is called adult ADD. Without a stimulant, I zone out on things that don’t interest me. I did not learn this until I was fifty, ten years ago. The last ten years have been the most productive of my life. In that time I have learned that I don’t have a disorder, just a different way of processing things.

        My intention was not to be dismissive. My point is that young people like your grandniece are labeled, and told they have a disorder. I want to make it clear that I do not think of it as a disorder, but as a gift. Once medicated in today’s society, children and adults can finally focus on the things that are required by our society to achieve and not just survive.

        The struggles of which you speak are huge. The fact that those closest to someone with IFUT call them things like lazy and many other things that are much worse from the earliest age as an incentive???? to get their act together, creates unbelievable lifelong scars. The fact is that without a stimulant, there are those of us who literally can not get out of bed at the “proper” time, much less do anything productive. We can go through life always bearing negative labels that we, because it is the people who love us who say them, believe are true. If a parent tells a child that he or she is lazy, that child carries the idea that it is true throughout her or his life. The parent often does too.

        I recently heard a woman of my generation say that she regrets how hard she was on her son and described his behavior when he was growing up. She described his classic ADD behavior. When I suggested that he is ADD, her response was, “no, he’s successful, he’s just lazy.” In spite of the fact that he still shows the typical IFUT behavior, she considers his financial success as proof that he does not have a “disorder”.

        Just think how it would be if school systems took the time to determine how the brains of different children learn. Instead of having a disorder, the child has a different learning style and can learn with others who process things in the same way.

        It is my belief that there are many different learning styles out there and that the understanding of them would lead to great strides in our society, which now often throws such people away.

        • Stewart, first, feel free to continue our discussion via email if you would like. [email protected]

          I was diagnosed, accurately, with Bipolar Disorder Type 2 (mild highs, lots of severe depression) when I was 19. As I have gotten older (60, too) I have come to realize that I have every single symptom of ADHD, too, but it was masked by my significant depression (even with medication). I am sure that there are many people in my world who consider me lazy. For the last ten years, I have also had chronic pain from severe arthritis in every joint in my body. Recently I had an epidural of steroids into my neck, for the degenerative disc disease that is starting to impact my spinal cord. Waking up pain-free for the first time in ten years, with my depression under control at the moment, I am working from sunup to sundown. But I still have piles of paperwork clutter, stacks of books on the top of all my bookshelves, and other areas of mess, since I would rather garden, renovate furniture and lamps, read my fiction books, and work on my house. I also suspect that I am on the autism spectrum a bit. So I definitely have a brain that works differently than other people’s brains. Our schools are rather useless for many people. Our society is also terribly judgemental about anyone who is different. Yet they often have the most to offer the world.

          I am currently homeschooling my oldest adopted daughter. She is 13, just finished 7th grade, but scores college level in all areas, even though she has ADHD too. We started just last year- she was so bored with school and getting depressed because of it. The school system was not able to make any accommodation for her, just like they would not for me fifty years ago, or my sons twenty-five years ago. It is a blast to teach her- she is like a sponge. And although she likes to have a schedule, if things become routine she gets bored. Luckily, in our district, she can be dual enrolled, so she takes band, choir, jazz band, and mock trial at school, and participates in cross country and track. A year from this fall, she will also be eligible for college level classes at the community college, in a program for the smart high school kids from the area. (I would hesitate to put her in a class with college age boys.) It is frustrating that the school cannot meet her needs, though. I know she is not the only smart kid there!

          Anyway, there is a lot of room for improvement the way schools, and society, views people who are different. I am curious (always) about how you have lived your life pre-diagnosis and post.

  4. I can only imagine the temptations to lose focus in your house, but the exterior of the house protects the interior. When I bought my house, it was hard to focus on the exterior, so I thought of it as the skin of the house. With gaping wounds, it would not survive, no matter how pretty it looked inside. During bad weather and during winter, you can focus on the insides. You are doing a fantastic job on the house, my girls and I eagerly read each update!

  5. I don’t know if it’s ADD, but I strugle with getting chores done. It goes like this. I need to make the bed. Better get these clothes on the bed and floor into the hamper. Hmm, hamper is full, better do some laundry first. Well, if I’ll doing laundry, may as well get the kids’ laundry too. Ugh, kids’ rooms are messy. Can’t tell what is dirty from clean. Better tidy the room. Oh, these dishes belong downstairs. Oh, the dishwasher hasn’t been emptied. Well if I’m doing dishes I may as well search the house for dishes. May as well feed the fish while I’m going upstairs. I should clean the tank today. The supplies are in the bathroom. Someone left a mess in the bathroom. Do I clean the bathroom, the fish tank, the kids’s rooms, do the dishes, do the laundry, or make my bed? I’m very inefficient this way.

    • My psychiatrist suggested that I read a book and let me diagnose myself. The book that he suggested I read to see if I thought I was ADD is Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood, Mar 2, 1995, by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey. While reading it I recognized every symptom as something that I experience to a greater or lesser degree. Although I a doctor, my experience has been that medication does not get me to do more or less. It makes me capable of deciding what to do and then able to follow through. The distraction continues, but the malaise that keeps me from doing what I want to do is gone.
      -You might want to read it and if you recognize yourself, consult a doctor who is knowledgeable in the field of adult ADD.

  6. I appreciate you sharing this, as the temptation to start many new projects before finishing the last is common with old-house enthusiasts. I know I suffer from it, which is compounded by ADD tendencies. While I sometimes discipline myself to stick to the original task, I do often wander to others. Sometimes this is necessary, due to outside factors, though (moving to indoor work when weather prevents outdoor work, when waiting for materials, etc). I often find my results better when I stop to ruminate on an idea when I’m not quite sure, or when I need to do more learning or research. Of course, sometimes these may just be excuses for my behavior.

    Ultimately, I reason that as long as I’m steadily busy and productive, and not loosing too much efficiency from switch-tracking, it’s not as essential what the current focus is on. After all, we restore old houses because it’s fun, and if some indulgence in changing projects keeps it fun, then that’s all part of the experience. Within reason, of course. It looks like you have the discipline to keep a good balance of that 🙂

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