Happy Independence!

From a simple spark may burst a mighty flame.

We have a fireworks store in our little village just over the border from Illinois, and it’s evident the populous frequents the place. Pop, pop, pop, whir, bang! Twilight erupts with real-life sound effects around here on a holiday weekend.

I captured this rare evening photo of the church sign last night as some neighbor kids lit street sparklers in the background. My “mighty flame” message is both inspiration and a warning, te he.

Here’s hoping we Americans take advantage of the blessings of liberty for the greater good. Happy Fourth of July!

Put a little church in your summer

As much as I appreciate living in a former church, and I do marvel at the wonder of it almost every day, I’m aware that a congregation had to fail to make this space available.

The membership of the old Methodist church that became our home dwindled to the point of not being able to support a pastor, let alone keeping up with maintenance and repairs. As you might recall, no one dared ring the bell toward the end for fear of causing a catastrophy.

The United Church of Christ around the corner.

So when the pastor resigned at the church nearby (the one we belong to, not the one we live in) and we were asked to help find a new one, Tyler and I agreed. We were determined to do what we could to prevent what happened to the Methodists here happen again at the United Church of Christ around the corner. So I helped write the job posting for a new pastor, and Tyler agreed to head the search committee.

After months of interviews (all conducted virtually or very carefully in the midst of a pandemic), Tyler’s team found a keeper. Praise be to God!

The new pastor accepted the call and begins her work on Sunday. The church around the corner will resume worshiping at 9 a.m. every Sunday as it did prior to the world falling to pieces amid COVID-19.

The service Sunday on Independence Day will be resplendent with fellowship, prayer and patriotic hymns. Word on the street is that the organist is pulling out all the stops, an apropos cliché since the phrase refers to an organ’s stop knobs used to regulate the instrument’s sound. God bless America!

As a reader of this blog about transformation and sanctuary and converting an old church into a home, you might find the kind of community and sanctuary you crave after this long, dark nightmare wrought by the novel coronavirus at this little church around the corner. Please consider this an invitation to worship with us. And here’s wishing you a happy Fourth of July in which you contemplate the blessings of freedom and liberty!

We’ve come a long way

Isn’t this sentiment aptly suited for a season that ushers in sunshine and ice cream cones along with the prospect of sharing those things with in close proximity with loved ones as the spectre of COVID-19 shrinks?

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line comes from his best known novel, The Great Gatsby. It’s the longest message I’ve ever put on the church sign, so long in fact that I ran out of Ts.

On this first official day of the season, here’s to wishing you a long, happy, healthy summer. Happy Father’s Day, too, to my dad, who’s celebrating with a soaking rain in his neck of the woods and possibly an ice cream cone. And to my parents who observe their 57th wedding anniversary tomorrow, congratulations! Much to celebrate, much for which to be grateful.

Family reunion breeds conviviality, thank heavens

Residents of our little village must have wondered what in heaven’s name was going on Sunday at Church Sweet Home.

We clanged the gong, a.k.a. rang the church bell, at least four times that day as we toured folks through our restoration project, a church converted into a home.

The tourists? Tyler’s extended family. We hosted the family reunion of the maternal side of his family, which meets every year at rotating locations. This year was his mother’s turn, and we offered to have her host it at our house.

So 48 folks showed up from North Carolina, South Dakota, Nebraska, Illinois and as far away as Hawaii.

It was raucous and beautiful and strange. After a year and half of staying away from people, we mingled unmasked in the house, in the garage and in the yard; dipped spoons into communal potato salad and baked beans; and breathed the same air. How familiar and weird. I loved it.

As I sat in a lawn chair in the yard surveying the crowd, I wondered if the Methodists who used to occupy our church building ever had a picnic here. The scene reminded me of Georges Seurat’s iconic work, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884 (an oil painting in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago). “Bedlam,” “scandal,” and “hilarity” were among the epithets used to describe what is now considered Seurat’s greatest work, according to the Art Institute. We reunion-ers didn’t have a lake or parasols, but we did have a dog and ladies in hats. No bedlam here (though a six-year-old hanging onto the bell pull was lifted off the ground at one point in the bell-ringing, to my great surprise!).

Besides tours for the adults (and some inquisitive childrenI just love second graders), Tyler manned the grill for lunch, and we offered sidewalk chalk and a bubble machine for the kids.

We also provided a photo opportunities. We offered folks the chance to dress up as Jacob Blair IV, Tyler’s great-great-great-grandfather, and I also took a photo of the whole Blair clan from the belfry window. It was fun.

I even chose a quote about family for the church sign.

Sunday’s gathering is exactly the type of event for which the church was originally designeda large group of people meeting for fellowship and in love. I am so grateful we can gather again safely.

West side story

Every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision and change.

~ Richard Branson, entrepreneur

The evolution of the west side of our church conversion project is complete.

Church forefathers have probably stated this very thing over the years. When the building was first built. When it was repainted. When it was sided. Heck (can I say heck on this blog?), even I’ve said it during our renovation of the church into our home.

Here’s how the west side of the church looked when we purchased it in 2017.

Note the fire escape on the side of the building and the old windows (and, oh my gosh, look how rickety the bell tower looked!). You can see the siding that covered up—something—there in the middle between the two stories of windows.

After hauling away the fire escape, replacing all the windows and removing the siding on the second floor in 2020, we revealed beautiful shakes in the peak and in that “frosting” layer between stories. Our talented carpenter, You-Can-Call-Me-Al, replaced the missing shakes, and we painted all the shakes gray. You can see, though, how the edges on the right and left of the middle layer are incomplete. Also, we had a whole lot of dented siding on the first floor (it got dented during a hail storm during reconstruction of the interior of the church).

Finally, this week, Tyler and You-Can-Call-Me-Al addressed the edges and first floor. In three days, the two of them replaced all the dented siding and fixed the sides of the shake frosting layer.

First, Tyler removed the dented siding, revealing an interesting pattern of original wood siding.

How about vertical siding? And diagonal while we’re at it.

I wonder if the original church fathers were trying to add interest to the exterior in lieu of stained glass windows and other traditional church detailing. We also saw that diagonal siding on the bell tower when we stripped it.

The old edging on the shakes bothered me. It looks perfect now.

While You-Can-Call-Me-Al was monkeying around, he climbed up to the bell tower and rethreaded the bell rope, which got off the track somehow and made it so we couldn’t ring the bell. No more! The bell is in working order again (and You-Can-Call-Me-Al is safely on the ground).

Tyler intends to plant a row of bushes along the west side which will complete the look. For now anyway.

I like to walk in the yard and see what Mother Nature is wearing

“Yesterday, I was but a pile of wood chips,” said Mulch, “and today I am grand bedding for your flowers and trees.”

“Yes,” I said, “good job for refuse.”

“You underestimate my worth,” Mulch said. “I encourage water to stick around and discourage weeds from springing up.”

“Maybe,” I conceded, “but I think my husband likes you too much. He told me he was going to go ‘all out’ this year. How much mulch does one man need?”

“Three pickup truck loads, and not a clod more,” Mulch advised.

“Hey, quit picking on Mulch, my dear lady,” said the Front Garden with her two cents. “Mulch makes a nice accent to these blooms. Did you plant these tulip bulbs?”

“Not I,” I said. “We can credit for that Tyler’s uncle, a green thumb if ever there was one. He gave you some much needed attention last fall and determined you could use some fresh bulbs. They are, indeed, pretty finery in your high profile locale.”

“None for me, thank you very Mulch,” the Violets chimed in. “We’re happy blooming where we are planted.”

“As should be we all,” I agreed.

# # #

Today’s headline is modified quote from American novelist Flannery O’Connor. Instead of a yard, she like walking in the woods.

The time comes to finish the basement

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

~Ecclesiastes 3:1
The basement in all its “before” glory (and grime).

Wack to burk.

When we purchased the old Methodist church to turn into our home, the basement was scary.

Most unfinished basements stoke trepidation in those who visit, but this one had the added horrors of ongoing water problems and asbestos floor tiles. The only things it had going for it were that it had the building’s operational toilet, itself a tribute to the unclean, and the potential for a high ceiling. During demolition, we removed the moldy suspended ceiling and the antique tin ceiling above it, leaving us with at least nine feet of clearance in most areas and lots of sunny windows, impressive for a basement.

The basement bathroom was practically spa-like.

During demolition back in early 2018, we also removed the kitchen cabinets and pass-through and created a new doorway to the bathroom, though we still don’t have an actual door. Meanwhile, the furnace room got an impressive makeover. We had big plans back then for the basement.

The basement served as a staging area during renovation upstairs.

As we renovated the main floor and second story, the basement served us well, providing a place to paint, hammer, assemble and store stuff (mainly tools). As the renovation dragged on, our enthusiasm for tackling the basement waned. When we held an open house for the community to show off our work upstairs, the basement was mostly off limits.

But the Summer of 2021 holds promise for ye olde basement of the Methodist church. We have energy! Enthusiasm! Ideas! By gosh and by golly, we’re gonna finish the basement this summer!

The basement as a clean slate.

Here’s how it looks right now. The kitchen–gone. The paneling–gone. The suspended ceiling is long gone. Plumbing and shiny new duct work has been run throughout. (The photo does not show all the Christmas decorations I have stashed down there, which my husband will soon discover and about which he will probably raise his voice. Dagnabit, Monica! Why is all this stuff down here?! You have 10 minutes to get this stuff out of my way and back in the attic. Only he won’t say “dagnabit” or “stuff.”)

We plan to create a mother-in-law’s apartment down there with its own egress plus a few extra bedrooms for our guests. And we have every intention of doing it on the cheap, incorporating our design principle of “recycle, reuse, repurpose whenever possible.” We already have a massive set of second-hand kitchen cabinets and a lot doors, leftover from the reno upstairs. Plus a toilet! Don’t forget the toilet!

That plumbing and shiny ductwork present the biggest challenge. How do we cover it up without sacrificing headroom? I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos and HGTV shows my husband has unearthed in the past 18 months to help us solve this problem. We could just paint everything on the ceiling black (or white), but that approach doesn’t give us any sound-proofing between floors. Like I mentioned, we have ideas, and you’re certain to hear more about this dilemma in future installments.

Speaking of future installments, if you’re not already a subscriber, by all means, subscribe now! Enter your email address in the right-hand column over there (if you’re reading this on your phone, click on those three lines on the upper left corner, then click on “contact” and scroll to the very bottom–fill in your email there).

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew.

~Ecclesiastes 3:6b-7a

# # #

Catch up on what we’ve accomplished so far in our church conversation. Based in part on this blog, Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul is the true story of how my husband I transformed a 126-year-old Methodist church into our dream home. It came out in 2020.

Find it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Greenery for good (and other colors of the rainbow, too)

In honor of Earth Day today, I’m sharing images of beauty taken over the past four years in my yard, specifically the front garden.

I can take no credit for this flower garden. It was originally planted by members of the congregation who used to attend church in what is now our home. It’s now tended by my husband, our hired man and my husband’s uncle when he pays us a visit.

Could those be tulips growing in my yard?
Indeed, yes! Tulips!
Tiptoe … through the tulips … with me.

But tulips aren’t the other perennial growing in this garden.

Daffodils are an optimistic flower. And foolproof.
Tyler planted his “garden art” compass among the phlos before we knew how many beautiful blooms would be thriving there.
Turk’s cap lily are perhaps the most ostentatious flower growing in the garden.

Happy Earth Day. Save the earth, and the earth will save you.

How to spring-clean your bed into a lavish retreat

The master bedroom is my favorite room in the chome.

Many days, the best moment is the one I slip into bed next to my sweetheart.

I’m in bed at least eight hours a night, so I’ve invested in a good experience: the perfect mattress, luxury sheets and pillows designed for my sleeping style (side and back). When I finally crawl into bed, I relish in the comfort.

If you’re spring cleaning, sprucing up your bed should be on your to-do list. Begin by stripping the bed and washing every last linen: mattress pad, sheets, pillowcases, blankets and throws. If you have the sort of mattress that should be flipped and turned, do it now.

If you’re a Southerner, you might iron those sheets before returning them to use. A couple of years ago as I was flipping through an issue of Southern Living, I ran across tips for making the perfect bed and one of them was “Iron the sheets. Whether you send them out to be pressed or do it yourself with plenty of starch, ironed sheets add a polished touch.”

Send them out to be pressed?! When did Southerners start living on another planet? Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Southerners for knowing how to make fried chicken and a mean barbecue, but this is where we practical Midwesterners draw line between us and those slow-talking Southerners with the impeccable hospitality. I might be exaggerating, but Minnesotans don’t write letters to lifestyle magazines asking how to fold fitted sheets. We wad them up and stuff them in the linen closet and call it good. (Phoebe Howard, the southern etiquette master answering the magazine’s plaintive letters at the time, added that she likes Washed Cotton Linen Water. What?! Tide. Tide is good. What is linen water?)

For me, the “polished touch” on the bed is clean sheets, not ironed ones. But you do you. If ironing is your jam, have at it.

Fitted sheet on the bottom, two sheets on top.

When you’re ready to reassemble your nest, one of my secrets for transforming a bed into a sanctuary is two top sheets. This adds a lot more value than a good ironing, in my opinion. A second top sheet is a cheap and easy way to improve your sleeping environment.

A representative for Westin Hotels & Resorts suggested this fix in an issue of O Magazine that I read seven years ago, and at first, I was skeptical. But I swear by it now. Lo and behold, a second sheet adds a bit of luxury, a little comforting weight and greater temperature control (which is paramount if you’re menopausal).

Small things matter as evidenced by daily flossing and freshly ground pepper, also both worth the trouble.

I share one warning, however: take care when climbing into bed, or you might find yourself between top sheets. If your sleeping partner is lying between the correct layers, you won’t get the benefit of skin-to-skin contact (but your partner might get a giggle at your expense).

Earlier this week on laundry day, I drafted my father into helping make my bed, and he said he liked the idea enough to try two top sheets, too (see, you can teach an old dog new tricks). Try it. You might like it, too.

Where did you find that?!

When we renovated the old Methodist church that is now our home, we frequently dove into dumpsters to unearth the discarded gems.

A table on the roadside? Turn around! Let’s look!

A king-sized headboard on the curb? Hey, we have room in the back of the truck for that!

Oddly shaped bench painted with odd colors? It definitely has possibilities, load it up!

The grill sits on the table outside on the patio, the headboard was repainted and will be used in the basement when we renovate that portion of the church at some point, and the bench is still in the garage, awaiting reincarnation.

Trash picking fits our goal to recycle, reuse and repurpose whenever possible, one of the 10 Commandments of design we created in the church.

This gem, we picked from the dirt-floor basement of house we rented while renovating the church (permission granted by the property manager). The mirror’s frame was blond wood, and the lines were simply too modern (or possibly, too reminiscent of 1990) to hang it in the church. Instead, we hauled it to Texas. I painted it the same color as we painted the trim inside our condo, and now it reflects light in our entryway.

My husband still peruses dumpsters as he passes them, and he found another mirror that may or may not be transported north.

It’s a mirror built into a tree stump. I think. At first glance, it looks like frame is made of antlers, but no, that’s solid wood, polished and stained. It’s quite weird. Weird can be undesirable or fantastic. It poses the question of one man’s trash/treasure.

Two of the branches (stumps? points?) are cut and flattened, like they are shelves. But shelves for what? Figurines? Tiny vases?

Though it was found in a dumpster near our Texas condo, the antler vibes lead me to believe it is better suited for Wisconsin. Or possibly a dumpster in either state.

What do you think? Ugly? Or unique? If it’s unique, would you paint it? Replace the mirror with a picture (of what?)? What would you put on the shelves?