Frozen in place

ice

I took this picture last week during a short walk between weather systems. It warmed up, it cooled down, it snowed, it rained, it froze; we covered a lot of bases in the cosmic game of climate change in one week.

But when the rain froze on the bushes alongside the driveway, I thought it was kind of pretty. Not fun to walk in–I later heard two hair-raising stories from relatives who fell on their slick driveways–so it was pretty and also pretty hazardous.

The next day, we woke up to this.

fallen tree

Turns out frozen water is not only grave in the right conditions but weighty, too. These huge branches from a tree fell on the neighbor’s driveway overnight. That clump of trees on the left borders the church property.

After consulting with the village fathers, we determined the branches came from a tree belonging to us. We got a little assistance shoving the detritus out of the way so our neighbors could proceed to work. We are now mourning the chainsaw that chewed its last piece of scenery last summer. It gave Tyler the best thirty years of its life, but when it quit, the small engine repair determined it could not be resurrected.

Perhaps we have to replace it after all.

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Keys to the kingdom

Among the meaningful and useful gifts I received for Christmas (or possibly my birthday—they’re two days apart so sometimes I forget) was this hanging key holder made for me by my dad. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece with a backstory, and I just love it.

The piano keys come from the piano once played by my grandmother, my mother’s mom. The upright grand piano, a magnificent musical instrument, was the centerpiece of the living room in my grandparent’s house in northwestern North Dakota. On days like today, when the wind is whipping subzero air across the Plains, you can imagine how folks back in the era before television might gather around the piano for indoor entertainment.

When my grandmother died, my mother got the piano. Dad built a trailer out of junk on my grandfather’s farm in order to transport the unbelievably heavy instrument from North Dakota to southern Minnesota, where we lived at the time. (The sound board of an upright grand hangs the piano strings vertically instead of horizontally like a grand piano does so the upright grand piano takes up a lot less space, but it’s still very heavy.) The piano survived the trip, and then another trip when my parents moved to Central Minnesota.

I, my sister and my little brother all learned to play piano on that instrument of my grandmother’s. Even now, I can imagine how the strips of ivory covering the white keys felt beneath my fingertips when I played Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre or piano arrangements of Beatles tunes.

We grew up and moved out, and Mom and Dad no longer needed nor wanted a piano. I was married to a musician at the time, so I took it. My ex and I moved it twice, and when we parted ways, I kept the piano. Being a little, shall we say, unmoored at the time, I asked my sister to keep it for me at her house, which she obliged for a decade. My nephews played it a bit, but it stood mostly as a testiment to my grandmother and an enormous artifact of the childhoods of my sister and me.

Eventually, my sister decided she could no longer store it for me. Tyler and I were living in a camper at the time, so we couldn’t take it. During one of its moves, the sound board cracked so piano tuners could no longer find a true A, or whatever note the tune to. Browsing Craig’s List, it was apparent pianos like Grandma’s couldn’t be given away.

So we demolished it.

We kept the good parts and threw the rest away (kind of like we would later do with the church).

We retrieved some of the parts at some point last year, but my sister squirreled away some of the piano keys, which she turned over to Dad who made them into a beautiful and functional display. I was thrilled when I opened it at Christmas.

Tyler mounted it on the wall by the back door in the church. I smile inside every time I hang my keys there (and every time I know where to find my keys on the way out the door). It’s a great gift, and it found the perfect place in Church Sweet Home.

By the way, my keys? My keychain, the one I carry around everywhere I go, is the one that came with the church. It’s a cheap plastic one that says “Loaves and Fishes,” the name of the food pantry that was housed in the church before we purchased it. All the keys that came with it are obsolete because we changed the locks. But the fob has history. It belongs to the church. Just like the piano keys have history. And now they belong to the church, too.

Merchant Wednesday: Accent with Braided Rugs and More

The first rug we purchased for the Hall of History was too good; it fit so perfectly, it covered every inch of the original wood character we’d so carefully revealed and  protected with polyurethane. So we put that rug in the master bedroom and renewed the search online. This time, I found the winner, instead of Tyler who normally has more online shopping perseverance.

I found our inordinately long rug runner on Accent with Braided Rugs and More, where they offer more than 250 colors and styles of rugs and also entertain custom color requests. They even sell two-sided rugs; just flip is over for a change of scene or season.

And they’re made in the United States! Our rug (one sided) arrived about three weeks after it was ordered, so I suspect it was braided just for me.

braided rug
An historically accurate modern braided rug.

Braided Rugs offers classic ovals, round rugs, half circles, heart-shaped rugs, dog-bone-shaped rugs, mice-shaped rugs and runners up to 13 feet long. That’s what we got: a 2-by-13-foot runner. It’s exactly what we needed to protect the walking space yet show off the rustic nature of our historic building. We were very happy with the look and the price.

You can shop for your perfect braided rug at Accent with Braided Rugs and More.

While we’re touring the Hall of History, where we have yet to hang all the historic photos of the old Methodist church we’ve collected over the past year, let’s look at the threshold, a small construction project for which I am grateful.

threshhold before
Ugly threshold BEFORE.

The threshold is essentially the four-inch wide piece of wood hiding the ugly place where the Hall of History meets the great room (formerly the church sanctuary). This line marks the spot where the original 1891 church sanctuary meets the two-story Sunday School and office space built three years later in 1894. The back wall of our kitchen hides most of this connective tissue, but this doorway and the one from the mudroom into the great room had wide gaps before Tyler covered them up. The gap between the mudroom and the great room was nearly an inch wide!

threshhold after
The threshold AFTER.

A threshold is a simple thing, but its quiet work is mighty:

  • It covers the ugly floor stain drips.
  • It’s the smooth and flat surface in the doorway, preventing me from tripping when I’m half awake and headed for coffee.
  • It required extra attention from my handy husband who figured out how to construct the piece so it would smoothly bridge the gap. I have no clue how to perform such carpentry magic.
  • It coordinated with the wide pine in the Hall of History and looks nice against the acorn-stained pine in the great room. It’s perfect!

Next project for the Hall of History is framing and hanging all the historical images we have collected. That is turning out to be a big project, but we are moving in the right direction.

Candle lighting in a church

candle lighting
Let there be light.
As the snow falls outside in a way that’s somewhere between lazy and impressive, I’m getting cozy. “Hygge,” the Danish word for the type coziness that engenders contentment and well-being, is part of the design scheme around here, and according to the hygge experts, candles are a crucial element of hygge.

Of course, when you live in a converted church, you might not use matches to light your candles, particularly if you became the owner of a candlelighter when you took ownership of the church.

Those who regularly attend worship services see acolytes using these instruments every Sunday.

We found the functional end of the church candlelighter during demolition a year ago. It lacked the traditional wooden handle. Tyler and I imagined what might have happened: A cherubic young acolyte with an attention deficit tripped and fell wildly, breaking off the handle to the candlelighter. Let’s hope it was some incident as slapstick as that; no injuries reported.

candle lighter

Tyler repaired our candlelighter with a fence spire we picked up for a song at some antique shop. We didn’t know what we would do with such a strange item, but we knew we would find some use. And, ta da, a use materialized. Tyler attached the spire as a handle.

But he wasn’t finished yet. The wax candle taper inside was about an inch long. We needed a replacement. As you can imagine, such an item isn’t widely available next to the jar candles at Yankee candle outlets. Tyler put his impressive online shopping skills to work and found what we needed: Wax Lighting Tapers, sold 120 pieces at a time.

wax lighting tapers

So, we are equipped to light candles into the next century. So be it. I remember being a nervous acolyte as a teenage confirmand at church many years ago, but the experience equipped me to use our candlelighter with confidence. It’s much more fun and easier to use than matches. No burnt fingers! And the extinguisher is better than blowing wax everywhere, too.

Here’s to a cozy night, tucked in for a snowstorm.

Why the bell rings? It rings for you (but also mostly for me)

The glut of holidays at the end of December had us ringing our church bell with regularity. Now that is it operational again, we welcome opportunities to use it.

We try to be respectful. It’s a bell in a former church, after all.

So far, no one has complained. At least to our faces.

We’ve been ringing to the bell once or twice or letting our guests do so whenever we have a tour of the church, which occurs with some regularity, maybe once a week. People are curious, and in some cases, our various contractors have enjoyed showing off their work here. So when we walk through the second floor, I will invariably yank on the bell pull to show off the unique feature of our home.

But for winter solstice–the shortest day of the year marking the beginning of winter–we ran the bell twelve times at sunset: 4:23 p.m. on December 21.

 

My birthday was December 23, so I rang it six times at noon (one for each decade and partial decade of my lifetime). We discussed ringing it once for every year, but that certainly would have ticked off the neighbors! (My father, who helps at funeral services with his local funeral home, also objected to ringing it once for every year because that’s what some churches do at funerals; since I’m not dead yet, we didn’t want to commemorate that).

Of course, we felt compelled to ring our bell on Christmas Eve (6 p.m.) and Christmas Day (9 a.m.), so we did then, too.

Our belfry was quiet for a few days until New Year’s Eve. If ever there were an appropriate time to ring our bell at midnight, this was it! I sort of rang a church bell one other time on New Year’s Eve. My priest threw a “Y2K be damned!” party on December 31, 1999, and he let me and my then-husband ring the bell at midnight. Only the bells on the cathedral were electronic and operated by pushing buttons (still, that was exciting if only because January 1, 2000 arrived without any fanfare beyond midnight bells).

Tyler and I planned a small get-together that disintegrated when one of our guests came down with the flu, so it was just Tyler and me celebrating the new year in the church. Then, as is his wont, he turned in early. So ringing the bell was up to me. My father joked with me earlier in the day that he wasn’t going to visit me in jail if I got arrested for disturbing the peace.

I stayed awake with reruns of “Friends.” At 11:55 p.m., I crept upstairs. It was a warm night (for December), and I opened the belfry window so I could hear the bell better.

Instead of ringing the bell a certain number of times, I decided to ring it for a certain amount of time–one minute.

About halfway through the minute, I could popping sounds I hadn’t heard on the other days we rang the bell. I thought for a moment I had broken it! But then I realized I was hearing fireworks through the open window. (See! I wasn’t the only awake in our little town. Whew!)

When I was done, I looked through the belfry window at the now quiet scene below. No police cruisers had assembled.

Someone down the street yelled “Happy New Year! And thanks Methodist Church bell ringer!” I was stunned–and thrilled–that I had an audience. So I yelled “You’re welcome!” And they yelled “That was awesome!”

It was awesome, in the original meaning of the word: filled with awe. Not everyone gets to ring a real church bell at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I literally rang in the new year! I closed the window, turned off all the lights and sneaked into bed beside my husband, who was now wide awake. “Happy new year!” we wished each other.

I have no plans to ring the bell for any upcoming holidays (Tyler’s birthday isn’t until August). If you hear it ring, it’s because we have guests, and I’m showing off.

Merchant Wednesday: House numbers (plus a look at the entryway)

Among the projects we raced to finish in time to show off to our guests at the holidays was the entryway to the church. We were, of course, able to move in months ago without having to finish the space (only the ceiling was done), but since it was the first impression (or second, if you took in the exterior of the church first), we wanted it to be finished.

Which meant a flurry of activity took place in late November and early December. You-Can-Call-Me Al, who had tiled our shower and kitchen back splash, tiled the ground-level entry floor. Then he built new wooden treads for the steps leading up into the sanctuary and stained them. St. Johnny spent hours sanding the sanctuary level landing; it was a bear, covered in decades of paint and mastic and gunk. We decided to keep it rustic, leaving some of the paint intact, and we stained over it. Finally, we had the walls, trim and interior doors painted, hung the new chandelier and had our wrought iron team install the railing.

The transformation of the space is significant.

But let’s begin with a look at how the front doors looked when we bought the church a year ago. I’ve shared this shot before, but it’s a good taste of all the “befores” of the church (and who doesn’t appreciate a good transformation story, especially at this time of year?).

front door
The front door was functional, but it had been stripped of a lot of its charm when the congregation replaced the original French doors with industrial red ones. The red ones were certainly more sound than the French doors, which had been stored and were so rotted when we found them, we left them on the curb because we didn’t think we could restore them. Also, the tiny lights on either side of the door may have provided illumination, but they fell short in the distinctive category.

Here’s how our Church Sweet Home presents its entryway now.

entryway exterior after
Those magnificent castle doors are a lot more interesting, and the light fixtures flanking them say a lot more than simply, “Let there by light.” Tyler rubbed a coat of tung oil into the doors in December to deepen their beauty and rub out all the nicks and scratches they had endured during construction and move-in.

Which brings me to the secondary purpose of today’s post: To call out the artisans who created our beautiful house numbers. Zach and Sheena’s work at TheWoodsCollective was featured in an issue of HGTV Magazine, and when I saw it, I wanted it for our church.

house numbers after

This is exactly the type of custom feature perfect for an Etsy vendor because everyone appreciates choosing their own wood finish and number style, and every house requires different numbers.

You can shop their offerings on Etsy at TheWoodsCollective.

OK, back to our entryway tour. Here’s how our entryway behind the door looks now.

open door
Welcome! Come on in!

See that door bell button there on the right? When you push it, it rings like a church bell inside the church. It’s awesome!

Let’s take a look at some before and after photos.

entryway stairs before
When we purchased the church, the ceiling was flat across the top with tiles, the walls of the entryway were paneled, and the steps were carpeted. The railing was distinctive, but made of wood, which didn’t match the rest of the new railings we eventually installed inside.
entryway stairs after
Here’s how the steps up into the sanctuary look now.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the entryway now is that newel post. Tyler found it on Craig’s List and sent me two hours south to retrieve it. It’s solid wood, salvaged from a mansion in Chicago, and very heavy. The guy who sold it to us had multiple storage units filled with various pieces of mansions and churches–doors, altars, stained glass windows, hutches, and more. When I got the post back here, Tyler cut a few inches from the bottom to make it fit, and it was not easy task to cut a 10-and-a-half-inch column of wood.

newell post cross cut
Ah, I remember well the sawdust era of construction.

The guys at the spiral stairs manufacturer, who built all our railings, painted the newel post to match our steel, and then built the railing to fit it.

The stairs down to the basement are not so grand as the “up” steps, at least for now. Tyler painted them a nice blue-gray. At least the carpet is gone.

When we bought the church, I appreciated the message inside the front doors …

entryway exit before
Go now in peace

… but I like our new light fixture now.

entryway exit after
The black steel light fixture coordinates with our railing, and the ceiling beams are the same as we have inside the sanctuary.

And, though I don’t have a good before of this angle, here’s a look at our Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall. Tyler found this ornate mirror at an estate sale about a week after we decided to buy the church. Now, when you enter or leave the house, you can gaze as your reflection and ask, “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

entryway mirror after
These interior doors are original to the church (or at least when we purchased it). We put in the glass panels and repainted the wood, and they look good as new.

I had intended to put a half-circle marble shelf beneath the mirror, but it turns out there’s no way to secure it, so we are looking for a little table to go there.

There you go, our renovated entryway to Church Sweet Home. Now you can go in peace.