A friend who visited recently suggested I might use “storm” as the inspiration for my next church sign message, and I obliged with this. Whether we’re experiencing thunderstorms or not, we’re all experiencing the storm of COVID-19. Many terrible things have come about because of the pandemic, there’s no doubt, but some rainbows have made a showing, too.
Just today, I heard a story on NPR about a guy who build a treehouse with his three kids with all the extra time on the family’s hands. Instead of a packed sports schedule, they have a treehouse now! And the experience of making it.
I’m trying to find the silver lining in this strange world, and maybe you can, too.
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Today’s headline is a not-so-veiled reference to a huge country music concert event that occurs every July—but not this one—just a few miles northwest of our old church.
Our basement remains one of the outstanding projects here at our chome. Early on, we demolished the church kitchen and one wall in the bathroom, but now the basement expanse is simply storing Christmas decorations and lamps. Lots of random lamps.
The toilet in the basement bathroom is the only original bit of plumbing that came with the church. With a missing wall, it’s not a great space, despite the functioning flusher.
We’ve hesitated to get to work down there for three reasons. One, we’re still recovering from the renovation of the rest of the church. Lots of homes have unfinished basements, right? What’s the hurry? Two, finishing a basement costs money, and we’re spending money elsewhere (can you say “boat,” Tyler?). And three, and most notable, we’re watching for leaks. A wet basement is not a basement into which you want to put a lot of drywall.
When we purchased the church, the basement flooding was so frequent, standing water on the west side had damaged the floor tiling. I can only imagine the panic that gripped organizers of the food shelf that operated out of the basement when it rained hard on distribution days. We once observed an inch of water in this area. We solved the problem with a functional gutter before we even closed on the sale of the church.
Then we saw how groundwater leaked through the 18-inch thick foundation walls, especially on the south side. Tyler solved this problem by painting all the walls with basement waterproofing paint.
Heavy rains during construction that first spring caused water to pour in through the window wells on the north side. This, we addressed by building a garage and eliminating some of the window wells.
Still, when it rained a lot, we’d get water on the east side of the basement. We had gutters installed all around the church, and Tyler put St. Johnny to work installing a French drain system on the east side of the church. Proper dirt grading was implemented. This helped a lot.
In fact, we thought we had the basement water problem licked. For more than a year, the basement stayed dry, even when rain poured down.
But a couple of weeks ago, Tyler noticed a couple of gallons of water on the floor in the furnace room on the east side of the church. He traced the problem to the gutter on the east side. It’s twenty feet off the ground, but Tyler guessed it was clogged with pine needles since it hangs beneath the boughs of our beautiful and enormous pine trees.
Since he wasn’t interested in cleaning out a gutter twenty feet off the ground on the regular (or ever), he determined we needed gutter guards of some sort. Why all gutters don’t come with guards, I can only guess, but they don’t. Research led him to Leaf Filter.
I’ll spare you the sales presentation, which was exhaustive, let me assure you. The salesman delayed our supper by an hour the evening he visited. But he was effective. We invested in Leaf Filter gutter guards for all the gutters on the church structure and garage.
The Leaf Filter guys worked their magic earlier this week. When they cleaned out the gutter on the east side, they found four inches of pine needles and silt up there. Yuck! No wonder water was spills over the edges, into the ground and seeping into our basement. The Leaf Filter system comes with a lifetime guarantee against gutter clogs (lifetime of the building, people!), so we’ll see if system works to keep our basement dry.
This morning, we woke up to a pouring rain and a dry basement, so fingers crossed. Not that a dry basement will hasten the finishing, but at least a wet basement will no longer be an excuse for procrastination.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
~ Declaration of Independence
July 4, 1776
I almost ran out of A’s and Ns for this Fourth of July message on my church sign, but the period after the S in President Truman’s name was probably not necessary. His middle name was simply S, which his parents chose to pay homage to honor and please his grandfathers, named Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.
Truman might be better known for declaring where the buck stops, but this wordier message is a good one, too.
Passersby can choose to apply whatever subtext they want. “Be brave and go back to work” or “Do the job at hand of wearing a mask in public” or both. I hate how everything nowadays has political implications, forces us to choose sides and cultivates suspicion of one’s motives. Can’t we all just get along?
I love America. I love our messy system of government, I love peaceful public protest, and I love Mount Rushmore, too. It’s an majestic work of art, even if you don’t think much of the men whose faces are depicted there or you believe it’s built on stolen land. We’re still forming a more perfect Union, folks, not to mention establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility. The work of we the people will never be done.
Tonight, Tyler and I are going to ring our church bell at sunset and watch the full moon rise over the treetops, and I’m going to celebrate the freedoms wrought, however imperfect, by the men who signed the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago. I hope you find blessings of liberty, too, however you observe today. Happy Independence Day!
As I’m sure you’re aware (because your calendar is bare and those obscure holidays in tiny type are more easily read these days), we observed the Summer Solstice on Saturday. Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year when we have the most daylight.
I celebrated with a colorfully flamboyant dress and a crown of fresh daisies. Oh, and a new message on the church sign.
I found this verse on the internet, so I can’t claim it as my own, but it rose to the surface when I googled “quote about breath as soul.” A yogi recently suggested our souls may actually be our breaths. Yogis are quite obsessed with breath. It got me thinking about a body without breath (as in, one lying in a coffin). Funeral goers often remark that the dead no longer looks like themselves. Well, the soul is gone, the faithful think. But the breath is gone, too.
If my soul is my breath, I value my breath more. This boring function of breathing that occurs 20,000 times a day suddenly becomes more sacred, doesn’t it? And if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our breath is important. We get home, toss away the face mask and take a deep breath. A deep, soulful breath.
Feel the sun on your soul, friends. Each day now in the Northern Hemisphere, we will lose precious minutes of sunlight, so relish in the sunshine.
Earlier this week, I complained (a little) about a few minor irritants of living in a church. Today, we turn that frown upside down as I regal you with the glorious parts of living in a church.
Turning a church into a residence isn’t for everyone, but it suits me fine. Our home is a sacred space from steeple to church basement, and I find it a pleasant oasis of peace. Here are three reasons why.
No. 1: The church sign is a platform for speaking truth (or telling jokes).
Not very many residences have a way to make announcements to the public, but my house does. I still love my church sign for writing encouraging or cryptic messages of my choosing for passers-by. Last year, my son-in-law goaded me into posting a funny, fake Bible verse on the sign. Well, it’s my sign. I can write whatever I want! So I did! Well, I try to keep it clean in respect for the elementary school children who spend recess on the playground across the street, but the sign is a fun, creative outlet for me.
No. 2: Music of all sorts sounds great in here.
Our great room, once the church sanctuary, was designed for sound. I can only imagine the choirs and parishioners singing along to a piano or organ. Or a soloist, standing in the front, mezmerizing the crowd. The acoustics are amazing. Tyler’s sound system makes the most of it. The Rolling Stones sound like they’re singing live, but instrumental music? Even better. The whole symphony makes a full-throated appearance when we play Handel. Someday, I think it would grand to have a band play on our balcony.
No. 3: The bell! Of course, the bell!
You knew the church bell would be on this list, didn’t you? I love ringing our bell for visitors or special days or just on Sundays. Lately, I’ve taken to ringing the bell for a minute at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Because I can. And a bell brings a smile to people’s faces. No other home in town can boast of such a unique talent. As far as I know, the bell was erected when the church was built in 1891, making it an historic element of this village. When I go for a walk, I admire my bell as I reapproach the church. It’s tall and distinctive, and I love it.
All the favorable press coverage we’ve received recently (thank you, CBS 58) got me thinking about the pluses and minuses of living in a church. Reading people’s comments on social media will do that to you.
I’ll address the pluses in a future post so I shall begin with the irritating things about living in a former worship space.
You might think these negatives would include the cemetery or the high heating costs, but the old Methodist church we acquired did not have a cemetery onsite, and we took great pains to insulate well so we don’t have extraordinary heating costs. Buy wisely and renovate with care are the pieces of advice there.
But … there are a few irritating things about living in a church.
No. 1: We feel guilty when we swear and play rock music in our house.
This is a sacred space, after all. To be honest, all homes should be considered a sacred space, but ours very obviously is one. There’s not cross on our steeple anymore, but taking the Lord’s name in vain seems especially wrong here. And have you listened to the lyrics of rock music? Profane is probably a clinical way to describe them. I once believed listening to “Hotel California” would send me straight to hell. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. Now it’s a regular on our playlist.
Just because it makes us feel guilty doesn’t mean we don’t still do it.
No. 2: Delivery services still don’t quite understand our address is a residence now.
Frequently, my shipping address comes up as “not valid” on various shopping websites. Amazon has figured it out, and our UPS guy is such a regular he now knows when we’re off camping or otherwise carousing, but I still can’t get Ulta to deliver “hazardous materials” (aka wrinkle cream) to our address. The electric company still classifies us a a commercial building (which means they can cut off our electricity in the middle of winter if we don’t pay our bill, unlike residential skallywags). We’ve been officially rezoned, but the delivery world doesn’t quite agree yet.
No. 3: There’s no tiptoeing around here, Missy!
Our floors and stairways are 129 years old now. They’re beautifully refinished, but their age means they creak and groan when you walk on them. If you think you’re going to sneak around here, forget it. The other morning I tried to leave Tyler sleeping in bed. No dice. He knew I was getting up as soon as my feet hit the floor (and he might have used some of the aforementioned swear words to express his displeasure!). Don’t get me wrong, I Love our original floors with a capital L. They’re like no other floors in the world, unique in their own little squeaks and cackles. But a hundred thousands parishioners have walked on them before, and they make noise. This can be a drawback when you’re trying to be under the radar.
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Coming soon: Three glorious things about living in a church.
“And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days,” opined poet James Russell Lowell. Perfect days, I think, for a little outdoor project.
I painted a couple of beat-up chairs on just such a day last year. We found the chairs in our former rental house, and the property manager told us when we moved in, “They’re yours now!” One chair had been sitting outside through many rain storms from the looks of it. The seat had a crack in it. The other was stashed in the basement, covered in cobwebs. But whenever I encounter solid wood furniture that has seen better days, I see a potential paint project.
I sanded these beauties and swished on a couple of coats of Fusion paint. First the back spindles were painted in Sterling gray and then the rest of the chairs was painted in Raw Silk. I find the subtle contrast of two similar colors preferable to more dramatic color choices, but you do you.
I draped a quilt top on one of the chairs. The unfinished quilt top was gifted to me from a former parishioner who believed it belonged in the church. It is quite old, I’m guessing from the early 20th century, and each of the white blocks features the name of a woman (and a few men) who belonged to the Methodist congregation at the time. I agree with my benefactor: the memento belongs here.
As I have mentioned many times here, I am repeatedly impressed with the way a couple coats of paint can improve a hunk of wood. The hardest part is the waiting between coats, and even that’s not so difficult when you can enjoy June’s gentle breezes.
Ye olde church sign offers a play on the Serenity Prayer, and if the world could use more of anything in these imperfect times, it’s serenity.
An acquaintance mentioned to my husband how much she loves the messages I put on our sign. Music to my ears! Between the sign and the belfry, there’s no mistaking our house was once a church, but I’m OK with that. It was once a church, so of course it looks like one. I accept what is on that front. But it’s nice to hear when someone finds inspiration in my work as evidenced by the sign.
If I struggle, I struggle with letting go of what was. Especially is what was offered familiarity and comfortableness and sometimes even joy. And now it’s gone. What was was easier. Now is harder.
I want to have faith in what will be. “I believe! Help my unbelief!” Having faith is a mantra I can get behind. Faith in what will be is hope in the future, and I want to be hopeful.
That little pink flower from the church sign that made its way into the frame of my picture—that’s faith. A tiny bit of evidence that color and beauty and life exist inside the box.
The story Pauleen Le at CBS 58 worked up about Church Sweet Home casts a flattering light on our renovation project in a way my amateur photography on this blog or the black-and-white shots in my memoir never could.
To see Le’s Sunday Morning show story, click here. It’s worth five-and-a-half minutes of your time just to hear the church bell and creak of the door into the sanctuary. If you’re a regular reader who hasn’t had the opportunity to visit this little Methodist Mecca/Phoenix from the ashes in person, this video will satisfy your curiosity. The drone shots gave us a look even we have never seen of our house!
At one point in the video, I say “And we did it!” In a story about us and our house, that’s absolutely correct, but I feel compelled to credit here the workers and skilled craftsmen who helped us: St. Johnny, You-Can-Call-Me-Al, Reroofer, the Michelangelo drywallers, Glimfeather the plumber, Low Talker the painter, the spiral stairway proprietress, the electrician, the Lighting Savant, the expert at the glass store, our friend at Home Depot who rented us a floor sander twenty times, the guys who poured the driveway, the man who operated the crane that dropped the rafters for the Garage Mahal, several relatives who helped us in various ways, and many others. We did it, but we didn’t do it by ourselves.
Check it out, and let Pauleen Le know if you like her story. Thanks to her and her team, too.
It’s felt a little like living on a movie set this week.
Pauleen Le of CBS 58 in Milwaukee stopped by this week to interview Tyler and me about converting the church into a home and about my book about the process. Kyle, the cameraman, brought along lights and cameras, and we provided the action, which mostly involved chatting on the couch but we also showed them around the chome and pointed out all our favorite parts. We had a lot of fun.
Another afternoon, Dan stopped by and took some photos of the exterior of the church with a drone.
If you’re a neighbor and you wondered why we were ringing the bell like we just bought it, that’s why. We were showing off. For all the times I’ve written about our church bell with all kinds of flowery description on this blog, viewers may get to hear it for a change.
The story is scheduled to air during the 7 o’clock telecast of the CBS 58 Sunday Morning show (5/31) and again during the 9 o’clock rebroadcast on WMLW-TV. Tune in and see our star turn!