Good times

Remember this?

TNT box

We found this sturdy wooden box when we were excavating under the extremely dusty eaves on the second floor of this 127-year-old Methodist church. Demolition yielded a lot of interesting artifacts we let go of (read: sold, donated or trashed), but Tyler took a liking to this old box that once held dynamite.

Back when our little church was coming together, the village was also home to the junction for two major rail lines. I imagine dynamite was used to dislodge bedrock in some locations to keep level the train tracks under construction. The bedrock where our village is located is probably made of shale or possibly dolomite, which in any case cannot be shoveled. It must be blasted.

Tyler cleaned up the box, sanded it and applied a couple coats of polyurethane. Then I added a few issues from my vast collection of magazines, and ta, da! A magazine rack for the great room in the church we now call home.

magazine rack

It looks dy-n-o-mite, don’t you think?

# # #

Alert readers may realize today’s headline is a not-so-veiled reference to the 1970s television sitcom “Good Times,” which starred Jimmie Walker whose character was known for the catchphrase “Dy-no-mite!” There’s a look into how my mind works, folks: History, geology, arcane TV references and home decor all come together in one place.


Merchant Wednesday: Everything under the sun personalized

As we have reinvested in home furnishings and decorations to style our Church Sweet Home, we’ve run across a number of amazing artists and vendors. Sometimes the vendor is a big-box-type store but more often it’s an online retailer or a local vendor. On some Wednesdays here on Church Sweet Home, I will share our latest find and reveal who provided it to help other interested home designers.

# # #

It’s the gift-giving season—Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations, communions, weddings—and today I’m sharing a meaningful house warming gift we received that might inspire you.


We invited a couple we’ve been friends with forever to check out our sound system, and they showed up with this beautiful personalized serving paddle. The husband of the couple played guitar at our wedding, and the wife is a fan of this Church Sweet Home blog, so they knew us well enough to customize the perfect gift for our new abode. I just love how it says “Food Family Fellowship,” a spot-on description for what we’re trying to accomplish when we entertain.

paddle in entrywayThe label on the back reveals it’s from, and that’s where I learned it’s a serving paddle (“Family Kitchen Personalized Whitewashed Walnut Serving Paddle” if you’re doing a search). We’re using it as decor; it’s hanging in a place of honor in our entryway.

This website has only about a million items that can be personalized for just about any gift recipient (and they claim to offer a turnaround time of only 24 to 48 hours). Wall hangings, robes, pillows, garden stones, rosaries, coffee mugs, aprons—you name it, they probably have one on which they can put a name or message.

Of course, we’ve treasured the historical photos and pictures some people have shared with us, and we never turn down a bottle of wine or whiskey, but this gift will last as long as we live in this church. Thank you so much, E & P!

Click here to check out


No matter how long it takes, winter always comes to an end (repeat as necessary)

Sometimes, when I’ve got my act together, I plan the topics for my blog posts a month in advance. A month ago, I planned “bush buds” for subject matter today, thinking spring would have sprung by now.

Well, here are the tiny leaves on the flowering bushes that line our driveway. These distinctive bushes have been a feature of the church property for a very long time.

bush buds
You can see the belfry in the background on the upper left.

Those water droplets look spring enough, but they don’t reveal what’s really happening today in our neck of the woods.

snow on April 27
Our flagpole stands tall, despite the oppressive clouds.

It’s snowing. And the flakes are sticking! It was bad enough when it snowed two weeks ago. We’re practically into May now. This winter doesn’t seem to want to let go. And I know I’m not the only one sick of it. Enough already! Give spring its turn!

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” 

~ Ecclesiastes 3:1

Free to a good home

You can’t beat free when it comes to live entertainment, friends.

Tyler and I were the free entertainment in our village last week, and it was a smashing success.

village sign
A limited amount of space on the village sign meant no first names and certainly not my pen name.

Our talk was advertised on the local village sign, which only the week before thanked the now-closed Mexican restaurant in town for their many years of good food. We felt like celebrities!

Tyler and I had a great time presenting “Church Sweet Home” at the behest of the local Library Friends. Fifty people showed up to hear some of the history we uncovered in the 127-year-old structure, some of the stories of the renovation, some before-and-after photos of the interior and some of our plans for the future of the building. I thought that was pretty good given the size of our new hometown. In the past, I gave a talk about organizing photos at local libraries all over northern Illinois, and most of the time, 10 or 20 people interested in getting control of their photo collections showed up. Fifty, usually only in a suburb close in to Chicago, was considered awesome!

My husband and I struggled a bit to condense our 16-month project that consumed nearly every waking second into a 45-minute presentation with 68 slides, but we figured it out and people said nice things afterwards, so we patted each other on the back and toasted ourselves with a shot of tequila when we got home. Tequila!

We also announced the open house for former church members, neighbors and contractors that we’re planning when we finish the details and smooth out the rough edges of our project. Mark your calendars for the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 15. You can see for yourself the quality of our work for just the price of one nonperishable food item per person. You might not know that the local Loaves & Fishes food pantry was founded right here in the basement of our church, and we’re honoring that community endeavor. We’ll collect food donations to give the food pantry, now located elsewhere in town.

If you were at our talk, thanks for your interest and your warm applause. We appreciate it!

Combustion, ‘bustion, what’s your function?

In the 127 years the Church Sweet Home structure has existed, it’s been heated with wood, coal, fuel oil and now natural gas.

We unearthed evidence of these various heating methods during demolition including coal dust in the furnace room and repaired holes in the floor of the sanctuary that had once conveyed vents.

furnace room before
Here’s how the furnace room looked when we bought the church.

When we bought the church, two nearly new gas-forced-air furnaces nestled in the basement furnace room. It was impossible to walk around inside the room because enormous ducts hung from the ceiling. The ducts had to be big in order to heat a church sanctuary for services in the hour after someone turned on the furnaces; we kept the furnaces but we would eventually have all the ducts rearranged to accommodate our living needs. And oh, it was not clean. Surely the 12-by-15-foot room had been carefully swept when the building was being used as a church, but when we got to it, the building had been mostly empty for 16 months. The spiders had a heyday in there.

One warm December day, early in the demolition process, Tyler donned his Tyvek suit, a respirator and safety goggles, and he power-washed the entire basement, including that furnace room which once in its history had a coal chute.

That helped a lot. After the ductwork was replaced, Tyler moved a few shelving units in there and used the room for storage of various tools and out-of-service household items. This, and the furnaces—the highest function for a furnace room.

But my go-big-or-go-home husband wasn’t satisfied with that. Have I mentioned he’s a first-born Virgo, a bit of a perfectionist?

A couple of weeks ago, he moved everything out of the furnace room and power-washed it again (because just sweeping wasn’t enough). The furnace room was the last area of the basement that required a coat of Drylok masonry waterproofing paint. We think we’ve finally licked the basement water problem, and the paint was the last piece of the puzzle, insuring no seepage through the walls. Better to begin with clean walls, right? And once clean, how about smooth? Tyler applied hydraulic cement in all the cracks.

After he painted two coats of Drylok on the walls, he applied a coat of 1-part epoxy paint to the floor. This man knows how to cut in a paint line.

furnace room after
Here’s the furnace room now, soon to be refilled with miscellaneous items that require storage.

Wowsers! As with all things, it’s a wonder what a difference a little paint can make. The furnace room now looks like new construction, which it most definitely isn’t. I almost feel like decorating around the furnaces and turning it into a bedroom. Which I most definitely won’t. But it’s that nice.

Here’s to elbow grease and paint.

# # #

Today’s headline is a derivation of a Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock video: Conjunction Junction. “Conjuction Junction, what’s your function? Hookin’ up words and phrases and clauses.”

For before-and-after addicts only

Nothing satisfies one’s desire to close the circle like a few good before-and-after photos. Let’s be honest: It’s why HGTV is even a thing and the only reason Biggest Loser was worth following for 12 episodes a season.

If you followed this blog from the beginning, you’ve enjoyed a lot of before-and-after photos. But if you tried to describe the experience to someone with less fortitude (or interest), it was hard to get to the good stuff. With that in mind, I’ve created a new page on the blog with just the “good stuff”: A page with only before-and-after photos of our project.

If that’s your thing (or you’re trying to show someone what that crazy 50something couple in Wisconsin accomplished), check out the Before & Afters page. You can click here or just go to the Home Page and look for “Before & Afters” tab.

Have a great weekend!

Balcony doors fit for a castle

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that we reused, rejuvenated and recycled the things left behind in the church that deserved another life: The sanctuary windows, a number of light fixtures, the tin ceiling in the basement, the rest room sign from the bathroom and all the original wood floors built back in the 1890s are a few of the items that continue to be useful here at Church Sweet Home.

Add to the list an old picnic table that itself was made of reclaimed wood.

More than a year ago, we began dismantling the old back entryway to the basement, and we found a bunch of old pew pieces, a chunk we think may have been part of an altar and a huge hunk of painted wood planks we identified as an old picnic table by the fixtures designed for legs and a “HI” carved into the face.

A common greeting. Or possible the initials of Henry Icabod. 

I imagined generations of families in their Sunday best passing big bowls of mashed potatoes and platters of sliced ham from one person to another along this enormous tabletop. Even in its battered condition, some parishioners thought the piece was meaningful or functional enough to store away with other wooden treasures in the back entryway.

We thought so, too.

We squirreled this hunk of wood away as we did with hundreds of other pieces of wood we salvaged from the old Methodist church during demolition. We knew we could do something interesting with it at some point.

balcony doors before
To give you an idea of how big hunk of wood was, you can see it in the back there in our rental unit. No, not the doors in the front. No, not that brown thing in the middle that looks like some sort of altar piece. I’m talking about the greenish piece with knot holes in the back, clearly wider and longer than the doors. This is the best before shot I have, I’m sorry.

At some point, Tyler determined that hunk of wood would make a great set of doors for our balcony landing, necessary to provide a bit of privacy to our guests staying in the bedroom on the second floor. He put You-Can-Call-Me-Al, our enterprising master carpenter, on the project. Tyler directed You-Can-Call-Me-Al to build the door entirely from that hunk of wood and scrap lumber found in the church.

Meanwhile, Tyler got to shopping, and he found the a set of hinges to secure the door to the walls. Where? From Europe on eBay, of course. Here’s how the auction was written:

Salvaged Heavy Old Strap Hinges & Cups for Large Gate Garage

We live in a very small ancient hamlet with a church that is 12th century, and we spent seven years (or more) from 2001-2008 renovating the house but we have recently downsized to a much smaller cottage next door. The house was built in 1878, and though we can’t be sure, we think the hinges came from the old Coach House that housed the Coachman/Carriage and Stable for the horses. We were unable to reuse them at the time and kept many salvaged items to refurbish our next house which was built in 1450 and where we will eventually retire to in our old age! We are still going through sheds and outhouses sorting and disposing of items we know we won’t use — largely because they are not old enough!

Imagine that! Pieces of metal from 1878 weren’t old enough for this seller! Their trash was our treasure. One-hundred-and-forty years old was perfect for our project.

door hinges
Cost: About $70 including shipping.

You-Can-Call-Me-Al constructed the doors, Tyler applied multiple coats of polyurethane, and mounted decorative metal pieces and handles from Restoration Hardware, and together they hung the doors on either side of the balcony landing doorway.

balcony doors closed
Here’s how the doors look closed, when guests are visiting and sleeping in the bedroom behind.
balcony doors after
And here’s how they look most of the time when we leave the doors open. If you squint, you can see the “HI” on the right edge of the left door. 

Our rebuilt doors made of salvage wood add an interesting rustic flair to our otherwise formal balcony, which is exactly the feel for which we were going. Another great example of giving new life to old junk. Yay!