Monica Lee is the author of four memoirs/autobiographical fiction books: her latest is Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul. Also available: Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of "Like" in 1982, How to Look Hot & Feel Amazing in Your 40s: The 21-Day Age-Defying Diet, Exercise & Everything Makeover Plan and The Percussionist's Wife.
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!
It’s Memorial Day. You have the freedom to observe it with solemnity or celebrate it with joy (and barbecue sauce). However you spend it, please do it in accordance with the health guidelines of your locality and treat the essential workers you encounter with respect.
By the way, if you live in the vicinity, open your ears at 9 a.m. I am ringing the church bell this morning in observance of the holiday.
Mr. Go Big or Go Home borrowed a dump truck and hauled eleven loads of mulch today to tuck our trees and bushes into bed.
And then Tyler picked up a load of mushroom compost for the vegetable garden (an even dozen dump truck loads of material).
Tyler reported that Home Depot was packed late this afternoon. The check-out line in the nursery department was forty gardeners deep (he transported his purchases inside for self-checkout). Watching the activity around here, one might be forgiven for mistaking this for labor day weekend instead of Memorial Day weekend (I worked up a sweat documenting it).
A friend gave me this word art, and I knew immediately I wanted to display inside the belfry room of our chome.
The belfry room remains halfway between unrestored and finished. I actually ran out of primer when painting the walls, which is evident in the picture.
I appreciate the symbolism of this message, displayed in my unfinished space in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. All of life right now is in the space between before and after. God is here, too, if only we can stand still long enough to know it.
Despite a deadly virus. Despite snow and severe weather. Despite a total lack of attention. Look what’s blooming.
Little purple petals, covering the ground.
A poof! of blooms.
Oh, those hardy tulips. Every year.
And hostas, too. As you can see, nothing keeps a dandelion down.
And here’s my favorite. A lone tulip, blooming in the front garden. A former member of the church planted this tulip who knows how many years ago. Tulips are such a beautiful reminder that what we do now matters later.
A big thank you to my photographer, St. Johnny, who obliged to finding evidence of flowers in my yard for me.
As lovely as they are, I have a few more flowers in my archive to share with you. These fresh flowers were given to us by the spiral stair proprietress for our open house last fall, a generous gift of congratulations. My mother, bless her heart, arranged them for me. Enjoy the bouquets.
A couple bathroom vanity bouquets. And my favorite…
Mom arranged this one in an heirloom art deco vase given to me by my mother-in-law.
Here is a great spring spruce-up project, and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear it involves paint, my favorite transformer.
I claim no credit for this before-and-after. Tyler’s idea, Tyler’s execution. Bravo, Tyler!
This is how our side door looked when we purchased the church. Once inside, you could enter the main floor or go down the steps to the basement. The food pantry had been operating in the basement, so this was the most commonly used entrance to the church then. When we acquired the church, the food pantry had moved across town, and nature was reclaiming the scenery as evidenced in this picture.
During reconstruction, we eliminated the entry to the main floor, but the door remained to provide access to the basement. The door was in good shape and functional, having been installed sometime in the ’70s or ’80s, I’m guessing, but it looked a little too commercial for our tastes, especially since it was on the same side of the house as the magnificent castle doors that replaced the ugly red ones at the main entrance.
So Tyler repainted the side door. With wood grain!
Using a wood grain tool he acquired in his favorite method (that is, the internet) and two colors of paint (lighter and darker), he made the door look like it’s made of wood instead of fiberglass.
Tyler’s tips: Remove the door (don’t paint in place), remove the door hardware, paint outdoors, and don’t do it in full-sunshine when it’s 90 degrees (that last tip, he learned by sweaty experience when he completed this project last summer). We already had one of the paint colors, so for less than $30, we got a new door.
So much better. I hate that exterior light above the door. The electricity was unhooked (uncoupled? eliminated?) during construction, so the light doesn’t work. It’ll get rewired when we finish the basement at some point, and I’ll find a new fixture then.
So there you go, an effective afternoon project that updates a visible part of your house.
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Today’s headline is a partial quote from George Washington Carver, early 20th century scientist. Allow me to respectfully share the full quote:
“Nothing is more beautiful than the loveliness of the woods before sunrise. At no other time have I so sharp an understanding of what God means to do with me as in these hours of dawn.”
When in a pandemic, do everything at a social distance.
So it is with book launches.
Second only to an in-person reading inside our chome is a Facebook Live video of me reading passages from the memoir based on this blog, Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul.
If you’re interested in me or the memoir or the guy who made it all most of it happen, check out this impromptu event we hosted on Tuesday evening to celebrate the launch of the book:
The event was “public,” so I might be mistaken, but I don’t think you even have to be on Facebook to watch it. It’s about 15 minutes long.
I’m an indie author, which means I don’t have a publicist. I appreciate any love you have to share. If you’re a fan and a maven, that is “a trusted expert, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others,” I would love for you to share the video or any of the following with your friends and family:
And if you read the book and like it, please review it wherever you bought it and/or on Goodreads.
And not to worry, I’ll keep you apprised of goings on at Church Sweet Home right here. In fact, I’m headed out (wish me luck and good health!) to collect some info this very afternoon to share with you later. Have a great weekend!
My memoir based on this blog comes out today at online booksellers everywhere.
The book version of this blog has a new prologue, a proper ending and none of the navigation challenges of reading individual blog posts. If you’re already a fan, it’s a lovely keepsake and an easy way to let a friend in on the story. It’s the perfect choice in the middle of a pandemic when you need to be reminded of how wonderful home can be. Here’s the official blurb:
After buying an old Methodist church to renovate into their home, a plucky fifty-something couple who gets excited by reclaimed wood and deals on Craigslist goes to work, undaunted by risks to their marital relationship, creaky bodies and bank account.
The 126-year-old structure has been stripped of pews, the altar, even the kitchen sink. The wiring is a Frankenstein mix of early 20th century knobs and tubes, copper wire and modern Romex. And the seller discloses the 40-foot bell tower is “rooted,” which the intrepid homebuyers Tyler and Monica take to mean as “rotted.” Friends wonder if there are bats in their belfry, literally and metaphorically, as the pair spends months juggling contractors of varying dependability, wandering around a thousand home improvement stores and sanding miles of wood floors, laboring to prove the doubters wrong.
Based on the real-time memoir Monica blogged by night, Church Sweet Home chronicles the amusing, exhausting and ultimately satisfying fixer-upper follies of turning a derelict community treasure into a dream home.
At some point, I may have a book signing at the chome, but I’m not ready to promise such an event in light of unseen viruses. Instead, I’m throwing a virtual party: Join me (and Tyler, too) for a Facebook Live book reading at my author page. (Early on in the life of this blog, I promised it would be little like a long episode of Fixer Upper, and I expect this Facebook Live appearance will be a little like those sideline conferences between Chip and Joanna.) Also, in honor of the Tequila Budget (and sure, Cinco de Mayo, too), we’ll toast with a shot of tequila. Here are the details:
When I created this blog almost two and half years ago, “Church Sweet Home” came to me immediately as a clever name that encapsulated our goals for the old church we’d purchased to turn into our home. We hoped to turn a church into our home, sweet home.
The tagline required a bit more rumination: a blog about transformation and sanctuary.
The transformation was obvious. I told the story of how we turned a 126-year-old religious structure into a cozy home. I chose the word “sanctuary” for its double meaning: the sanctuary of a church, where congregants worship, is considered sacred. And sanctuary means “a place of refuge or safety.”
Sanctuary seems all the more appropriate in a world riddled with COVID-19 where home truly is a place of safety.
“Home” always evokes warm, fuzzy feelings, wherever home might be. No wonder, home, sweet home is a saying. We’re always looking for home, making a home, just being ourselves at home, reminiscing about home or trying to go back home. Home represented love, comfort and security long before lethal viruses floated through bandana face masks sending us to the hospital to die horrible, lonely deaths.
But especially in a world where simply going out for groceries feels like you’re taking your life into your hands, home is a potent balm for fear. Home is the only place in the world where you can relax. And breathe. Literally, it’s safe to fill our lungs with the air at home. It might not even be safe to breathe out there.
The mission statement we used when reconstructing the old church stated, “We strive to create a comfortable sanctuary in the modern world, built solidly and maintained orderly.” That is, we wanted to make “a comfortable place of refuge.”
The colors and textures I used to decorate the interior expressively fulfilled this purpose. I avoided reds, oranges and yellows because warm colors bring to mind excitement and caution. Very few pieces of furniture in the church could be described as “modern,” because sleek and angular are anything but comfortable. Instead, you can find a lot of creams and grays in our home, and we have furry carpets, cozy throws and soft pillows everywhere.
But more than the physical, I also try to practice peace at home (whether I’m in a former church or not). My husband will tell you I fail to do this often (I never raise my voice!), but peace is always the goal in any case. Home should be an oasis, a shelter in the storm; it has to be in order to be a “sanctuary.”
During demolition, we unearthed a little quilted banner tucked in amongst the Christmas decorations. It said simply, “Peace” with an appliqued bell. It had a bell! I loved it then because it highlighted a unique feature of our structure, the belfry (and it was made by a former parishioner, so it was special). But it also reinforced the theme I wanted to convey with the church: it should be a place of peace.
During the past several weeks of self- and government-imposed isolation, I have found a lot of peace. But I’m an introvert who has worked at home for years and enjoys creating worlds in front of my computer. I can only imagine how chaotic it is at home for families who are crawling the walls, trying to work and learn together in a claustrophobic space. Or how insecure home feels when the cupboards are bare. Or how lonely home is when all you’ve got is yourself, a bunch of frozen dinners for one and a Netflix queue. For some, a home, even a warm and fuzzy one, has become a prison, even if it is a refuge from infection.
I’m praying for those folks. I’m praying home can be all the warm and fuzzy things the word represents, a sacred place of refuge.