The Why of the Buy

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans — John Lennon

The powerful truth of this well-known quote has made itself evident to me many times. While I furiously make plans, life often saunters in from nowhere and bashes me in the head with its own agenda.

I really hate this.

Life did it again in 2014. 

A few years previously my ever-expanding business (restoring vintage lighting) forced the issue of finding a suitable structure to house the business. I mean, how much longer could I tolerate hanging old lights en masse above my bed? No, a place which could properly house the business became critical.

So began The Great Real Estate Search. This being the modern age, Zillow became a daily companion.

My focus was specific. I was not too concerned with WHERE I relocated but was adamant about WHAT I would relocate to.

The what was: A mint 1950s Mid-Century Modern ranch, in untouched original condition. I also wanted a brick exterior. I swore that I would never again own a wood house. Just too much endless maintenance and I was (sigh) simply too old for all that.

In short, I was way too busy/too old to consider a house needing a lot of work. No no no no no way. No. NO!

My thought was that I would find the perfect Mid-Century jewel, do some minor updates and painting, and move in.

However, all that I looked at did not quite fit my requirements. This grew frustrating. I did not want a dining ell (as was popular in the 1950s) but a dining room. While having an attached bath to the master bedroom was a luxury in the 1950s, it did not, apparently, concern Lucy & Ricky that it was a tiny bath. In 2014 however, this did concern me. A one-car attached garage? Please. I am a two-car minimum kind of guy (what guy isn’t?). And so on.

Another huge issue became evident. I found no home large enough to house my personal life and business. Because of the very long/late hours I work it seemed vital to have my home/business located in the same structure. At 11:30PM, a very short commute from desk to bed is highly attractive.

But, no matter my plans — cue drum roll — a house which could not have been more diametrically opposed to my ideal sorta kinda somewhat fell into my lap in the spring of 2013. Over a period of several weeks I spent hours touring the house and talking with the owner.

Unexpectedly, mature reasoning — Hey! Where the hell did that come from? — managed to corral my desire and I walked away.

I suspect that the house was amused by my showy maturity and knew that it only but needed to bide its time.

In December, I found myself irresistibly yanked back by the gravitational enticements of the house.

Damn life. Damn house.

The house was IN NO WAY sensible. It was IN NO WAY a quick refresh and then a move in.

The house was:

  1. Huge. When I say huge you need to imagine a HUGE house. Then double this imagining. Then perhaps triple it. Yea, that’s it, about that size!
  2. Built in 1894. Geez. Was I mad?
  3. The exterior was — you guessed it — not prudent brick but (I am embarrassed to publicly admit this) all wood. Three stories of wood which requires repainting several times a decade. Three friggin’ stories!!!!! Of wood! God help me.
  4. And, most disturbing and altogether terrifying, the house needed a ton of work. However, a-ton-of-work can in no way truly convey the reality of just how much work was required. The projected expense and time required to even make the house livable (much less fully restored) was, yes, terrifying. Terrifying on a profound, shocking, alarming, lock-me-away level.

Of course I purchased it. Can you believe it? 

Work started on March 1, 2014. Because I intend to die in 2049, at the age of ninety-two, the house just might, might, be fully restored before my departure date.

Oh, on March 2, 2014, I started playing the lottery weekly.


Qualifying Reasoning Alert #1:

There were several factors which offset the enormity of this titanic-scaled insanity. Really!

Most significantly, the house was the only property I looked at which could absorb both my personal and professional lives. Its huge scale was actually a positive rather than a deterrent.

Without a doubt however was THE factor: I was in love. A full-blown, crazy, insensible, lusty, driven-beyond-reason, ecstatic kind of love.

Well, how could carefully laid plans prevail against this?

So, yes, I purchased the madness. To date, I have not regretted this for an instant (caveat: I reserve the right to change this statement without notice). Indeed, I feel a level of — the only accurate word is glee — which I have not experienced for a long time.


Qualifying Reasoning Alert #2:

One thought pushed me over the edge of uncertainty.

Just before I signed a contract I wondered: When was the last time I did something crazy? I had not expected the thought; it just popped into my head.

When I was younger I did a lot a crazy things (no, I will not let you read my diary). In retrospect, many of these actions almost wrecked my life, but some, some, proved deeply nourishing. And, you know, even some of the disasters make me, today, smile when I think: I did what? I admit to a certain pride at the impressive, glittering foolishness of some of my actions.

In 2014 I was fifty-seven. As I have grown ever older I have also grown ever more cautious. This dynamic is not unique to me, but…should I, could I, would I be willing to, for perhaps one last time, joyfully jump off a cliff and toward…?

The last crazy thing I did was in 1996. Had eighteen years really now since passed? The thought stunned me. Eighteen years! Was I now frozen in a kind of old-age conservatism?

At fifty-seven was there enough boldness left in me to fuel THE craziest thing I had ever done?

The question stopped me cold.

The answer catapulted me off that cliff.

I have no sense. And, obviously, I am immune to a rational sensibility.

Funny though, since jumping — arms outstretched, a radiant smile blazing across my face — I feel many years younger.

Incaution may be a magic elixir.


  1. Jill Burton on August 30, 2014 at 3:26 am

    I love this! I love your reasoning, I love your written voice and I love that you are doing so well! Congrats on big things Ross!

    • Ross on December 3, 2016 at 9:20 pm

      Jill! Thanks so much!

  2. Ross on August 31, 2014 at 1:48 pm


    What a delight to hear from you! And thanks for the kind words. Next time you are going to be in Emporia let me know. I will give you the grand tour!

  3. Sabrina on October 1, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    Ross, I’ve been looking forward to this blog since you began posting on Old House Dreams.

    • Ross on October 1, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      Thanks Sabrina! I was so busy at the Cross House that it took some effort to get the blog up and running!

  4. JDH Rosewater on October 28, 2014 at 4:58 am

    Hey Ross. Can’t wait to catch up on these posts. It’s late and I just had time to skip through and check out the (few 😉 pix. Such a great house; and who knew you were such a handsome guy! Jeff

  5. Kenton Rhoades on October 31, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Great stories you tell and what a great old house! My sister and I enjoyed visiting with you when you came out to greet us as we stared at this house, wondering at the love and dedication that must propel someone to undertake such a worthy, but daunting project.

    When your house is finished I’m sure it will rank as one of the finer examples of Emporia’s worthy attractions along with the Granada theater and the old public high school now being converted to new uses.
    Kenton Rhoades, Boston MA

  6. Denali Dragonfly "Grace" on January 4, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Hello Ross! I love your candor, your commitment to restoration with integrity, all while exploring your inner architecture and sharing it with us. Thank you for all you do and all you are! Emporia is a better place because of you. G:-)

    • Ross on January 4, 2015 at 1:10 am

      Dear Grace, what lovely, kind words! Thank you!

  7. Carla on June 19, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    Ross, I finally had a chance to look at your blog — love it! You have a great eye for beautiful objects, and great energy. I was excited at first, because I thought you were in Emporia VA, but alas, Kansas is a world away…I will have to wait to oogle this beautiful structure some time in the future, in the meantime, I look forward to reading more.

  8. Kathleen Rufa on August 23, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    I love reading about old houses and yours is certainly a masterpiece!

  9. J.Hyde on December 4, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    I have a little strange story about your house. I thought it was a bit of a creepy coincidence, maybe you will also find it amusing.

    I was starting research for a kids/tween book (ghost/horror genre) and of course wanted a beautiful and creepy Victorian house to use in my story that reminded me of the ones that frightened and left me awestruck as a child. The first thing I did was enter a google image search and hundreds, if not thousands of pictures appeared. I already had an idea of the style and architecture of the house I wanted to use in my minds eye. (Had to have a turret of course – I love the idea of circular rooms and all that light and glass.) I spent hours viewing houses for a few days and came across a picture of the Cross house (this was before you purchased it). I knew immediately this was the house I wanted to use in my story. (As it also needed to be in disrepair, a fixer-upper.)

    I then found the website the previous owner couple had started and it had quite a few pictures. There to my complete surprise, a picture of a mantle was posted and sitting in the center was a ceramic sculpture of Jesus on the Cross with a Roman soldier at his feet. I have the original sculpture of this statue, made after the stone pour for Kemple Molds back in the late 80’s, as my dear friend of 25+ years made that sculpture when he was young for mass production. He had it for years, covered in dust in his studio and while helping him clean out his studio, he decided since he was downsizing this was to go. He asked if I wanted it. I took it home and it has sat in a bookcase for over 10 years in my house. I really hadn’t even thought much about it, until I saw it on the mantle of your future home. I knew immediately that your house was perfect for my story. It struck me as a bit of a creepy coincidence – of all those pictures online, the one house that I decided was perfect from one tiny exterior picture was the same house with this sculpture sitting in it.

    There is one other thing that is quite a strange coincidence. I wanted a dungeon for the story, and as I looked thru the Cross House website, I came across pictures of the original house blue-prints. LO and behold, there is a room listed on those plans as you well know, called: ‘The Dungeon’. I hope you find these odd and strange coincidences as amusing as my friends and I did. (Unfortunately, life, as always threw me a lot of curve balls last year and so I hope to finish my book in 2016.)

    I wish you much luck on being able to get your wonderful Victorian home project completed so that you can enjoy it in it’s full glory for many, many years to come. Many thanks to you and the previous owner for sharing all the photos and history of this house with the rest of us. It’s been a treasure trove for my research.

    • Krystal on January 21, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Is there a picture somewhere of the Dungeon? What is the room now – or is it still a Dungeon. Great attraction for October’s.

      • Ross on January 21, 2017 at 5:48 pm

        There is no dungeon! There never has been!

        The previous owner may have called a room that, and maybe even marked that on a plan.

        • Krystal on January 21, 2017 at 6:38 pm

          so you say now….. mwahahaaha

          • Ross on January 21, 2017 at 7:10 pm

            I never stated otherwise!

  10. Kami on February 5, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    Hello Ross,

    Found my way over from CIRCA and I not only love this post BUT can relate to it well. I am currently a new owner of a 1756 “had to have so help me by the love of all that is crazy because of all the work” stone house. I look very forward to reading your exploits!

  11. Mike Fairleigh on February 21, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Hi Ross,

    I’m an alumnus of Phi Sigma Epsilon, a graduate of ESU, a woodworker, a boater, a big fan of Emporia, and very interested in historic preservation of all kinds. It’s exciting to see that someone such as yourself is now the caretaker of this fine home. I wish you the best with it!

  12. Edward W. Jackson on April 28, 2016 at 11:52 pm

    Very impressive. I have four acres, and two huge old house trailers, and they are enough for me to take care of by myself. But, a house like that..dreams are made of that! I also need a lot of space to store things, and old cars, and RV’s. I live in a valley I call my “Little Hell Hole!” I have been here ten years already and just cutting the grass is enough work for me. What you are doing there is just amazing though. Yours, EWJ

  13. Mary Gase on August 11, 2016 at 10:55 am

    I am so excited for you. Please continue to keep us updated. Pictures are GREAT

  14. californianinkansas on October 18, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Mr. Ross,
    I love reading your blog. You have a terrific writing “voice.” Thank you for taking the time to share this with us.

    • Ross on December 3, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      And thank you, Amber!

  15. ELizabeth (Kitty) Roberts on December 3, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    What a glorious tour I took tonight. I found myself walking the halls of this beautiful home in all its original glory. I climbed the servants stairs, I played with the dumb waiter, I made a call from the phone room, and my imagination had no boundaries. As a small child I lived in a home in Savannah, Georgia that had those great pocket doors and they were always to heavy for me to close. How fantastic to follow this renovation through your eyes.

    • Ross on December 3, 2016 at 9:16 pm

      I love your imagination! Thank you!

  16. PJ. on March 4, 2017 at 10:48 am

    Just now finding your blog; what a treat! Like you, at the same age of 57 when common sense normally trumps imagination, I closed my eyes, held my breath, and purchased an 1850 vernacular farmhouse in the country. She’s not needing quite as much work as your old girl but she’s definitely a project and a true labor of love.

    A toast to your insanity, sir; and kudos for being an inspiration to all of us who treasure historic architecture. I look forward to following your journey.

  17. B. Davis on March 4, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    mmmm country farm house…mmmm

  18. Sandra Lee on March 22, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    As I just found your blog yesterday I love your voice and this amazing and daunting path you have chosen. It is wonderful to see all the progress over the past 2 1/2 years. This is so much fun reading about all your exploits and continued discoveries! Thanks for sharing Ross!

  19. Becca on May 28, 2017 at 12:01 am

    After our tour today, I feel like I’ve watched the movie, and now I absolutely must read the book! You are just as delightful in your writing as you are in person, Ross. I am still floating from being there and seeing your heart and soul so vividly in it. It’s truly inspiring. Thank you for sharing this journey with the masses.

  20. Misha on November 20, 2017 at 10:57 am

    I really enjoy when people give reasonings to what they do something and their step by step process so somebody can do the same thing! this is what I saw here good job! Good blog!!

  21. Wendy Hoechstetter on December 6, 2017 at 10:17 pm

    I’m loving reading about your marvelous house and your restoration journey! Found my way over from a Circa YouTube video, although I have no idea how I found *that*, but this is so much fun, getting to live vicariously through a really wonderful remodel!

    I almost bought a far more decrepit Victorian last year here in Pittsburgh, PA, but would have had to either flip it or rent it, because there was no way I could have afforded to actually keep and live in it, and knew there was no way I could make it work economically, but man, I still have dreams about that place. One of these days…

    So, I am dying to know, how does a Big City Designer find his way to a place like Emporia, Kansas, and to restoring lighting and so on instead of designing the multi-gazillion dollar projects you are clearly accustomed to? (fairly-fledgling San Francisco designer transplanted to Pittsburgh wants to know 🙂 )

  22. Tracy on January 12, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    It’s so inspiring to hear a success story. I am constantly finding houses on Old House Dreams that I love & wonder if I’d really be able to restore. I even took a little road trip thru Iowa in September to check some out. Being a single woman having no carpentry & handyman skills whatsoever outside of the basics, it always seems perhaps too daunting, but I do know that I am not afraid of hard work & I am always willing to learn new skills. I have an old friend who, years ago, taught herself to do electricity & ended up rewirimg her whole house; I’ve always taken great inspiration in that.

    I also love that you use quotes. I, myself, am a big fan of them, and much of my art work is often built around a favorite or appropriate one.

    “In the depth of Winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. “ -Camus

  23. Carl W Henry on May 25, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    Sir, after listening to the interview you gave for Circa about the big house I felt emboldened to purchase a 3 story 1866 brick Victorian. What a thrill it is! Thank you for sharing your passion and best of luck on your current adventure.

  24. Sandra Lee on May 26, 2018 at 9:13 am

    I receive blogposts of any new blogger (clicked all w first post:-) …..

    Just read thru these posts from 4+ years ago & loved rereading the initial blog post as well as the initial bloggers who continue to follow—PJ, Emporia— Denali dragonfly “Grace”, CalifornianinKansas/Amber, Bette Davis aka B Davis, Becca & perhaps others who regularly blog…..

    Having the opportunity to visit Cross House on a couple of occasions was mesmerizing. Pictures don’t do justice to the majesty of Cross House —combined with outside & in restoration.

    Every step with each post and play by play or rather —-work & toil step by step— has been an adventure— combined with your wit and creative writing. I’m not certain when I will have the opportunity to return — with family & work commitments.

    I cherish the grand experience! Because with each piece of work & area completed — I can envision the reality of how it looks in person!

    What a joyride on a magic carpet you have taken us on Ross!!!!

    PS To Tracy from January 2018– the quote from Camus is sublime!

  25. Mary Jane Mock on August 11, 2018 at 9:48 am

    I by chance came across a interview of yours about this house. I grew up in Emporia, a third generation, I moved away after graduating high school.

    Growing up I loved this house, never been inside, never knew, or never paid attention that it was called the Cross House. Never knew It had a carriage house next door. It was my fairy castle. I worked as a teenager at the A&W that used to be where the car wash now sits. I remember being able to just look at it and imagine it’s history. I loved the beauty of its lines. My young imagination was that one day I would live in it. Oh to be young again.

    Over the years I would come back to visit, it was a must to drive by, just to make certain it was still there. Each time it broke my heart to see the sad condition the house was in. I think being a frat house was the worse thing that could have happened to it.

    I haven’t been back home in the past four years. I passed on a chance to come back for my 50th class reunion due to other commitments, no future plans to do so. I’m beginning to regret that decision.
    But finding your blog and seeing the “inside” for the first time is such a blessing to me and my little girls imagination. I am so going to enjoy keeping up on your progress. Gives me a chance to stay connected to the things that were important to me growing up.

  26. SANDY BURKE on September 18, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    Ross, just found your blog thanks to the address you posted on OHD. I am loving it…!! Looking forward to going back in time for photos, etc.

    • Ross on September 18, 2019 at 7:49 pm

      Nice to meet you, Sandy!

  27. Susan M. Schnittger on September 25, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    Watching all this has been quite delightful ! thanks ! your last comment, “insanity helps” AMEN ! ha ha ha, they told me i had rocks in my head when i set my sights on an abandoned house that needed help. Falling in love with it is so very important. That’s why I have enjoyed your video and blogs. You keep it real, and explain it well. Best of luck with your efforts and with maintaining your accomplishments.

    • Ross on September 25, 2019 at 8:38 pm

      Very nice to meet you, Susan!

  28. Ginger on March 27, 2021 at 9:03 am

    I actually got the feelz reading this. My husband and I got tricked by life and instead of enjoying an empty nest in a 3000 sq’ house that didn’t need a blood sacrifice to live in we bought a 5261 sq’ poop show full on reno project. Your description of how you felt buying your place is creepily familiar and made me laugh and tear up and laugh again. It looks so stupid on paper. It’s not logical. It’s totally nuts. It’s the best thing we (my husband may or may not agree) have ever done. 100%. It’s exhausting and invigorating in equal measure and you’ll have to pry my cold dead body from this place before I quit bringing her back to glory.

    Thank you for sharing your adventure. Keep it coming!

    • Ross on March 27, 2021 at 11:43 am

      You are obviously a kindred spirit, Ginger!

      And crazy, too! Come, sit by me!


  29. Matthew Eull on June 6, 2022 at 6:57 pm

    I love this post Ross, such a great guide for life!!

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