Trees are as close to immortality as the rest of us ever come

We suffered a loss here at the Church Sweet Home estate, and it hit me harder than I expected.

We cut down three mostly dead Chinese elm trees on our property line last month. Well, to be specific, we had them cut down by the pros. Removing 65-foot-tall trees is not for amateurs unless you’re interested in starring in stupid idiot videos involving chainsaws and house disasters.

fallen tree
Our tree, iced.

We knew they were mostly dead. During an ice storm earlier this year, one of the trees split nearly in half. The branches clogged up the driveway next door, and that’s when we understood we needed to take drastic action. Before some fallen branches clipped a car. Or a person.

So, Tyler called a tree guy, and he diagnosed the trees as kaput. I suspect he was a little like a surgeon who fixes every malady with a scalpel, but we didn’t have any holistic remedies at the ready. So chainsaw it was.

The project required two days, four trucks (some with buckets) and at least six guys. Strange weather befell us, and the men worked through sunshine, clouds, rain and snow. They started at the top of the trees, which towered far above the top of our belfry, and worked their way to the ground.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Yes. It sounds like a chainsaw and feels like an earthquake. The church literally shuddered when the trunks were felled. I shuddered, too.

The tree guys knew what they were doing. Our trees were removed without incident.

tree getting cut up
Where mulch comes from.

Except to the trees. Which were essentially massacred. The trunks were cut into pieces and hauled away to be used for pallets, we were told. The branches were turned into chips, mulch for someone’s yard maybe.

Chinese elm is a rapid-growing species native to eastern Asia. It is highly resistant to Dutch elm disease (which killed off three-quarters of all American elms in North America). It wasn’t disease that killed off our trees. It was just age. And ice, I guess, which is problematic for the older set who is a little unsteady on their feet, too.

tree stump
Eventually we’ll dig out these stumps, too.

When the tree guys finished their work, I inspected the remaining stumps in a way I had never looked at the trees in the first place. I didn’t appreciate them when they were around. I was sort of sad. I counted 70 rings in the stumps, so they were planted about the same time the church underwent a major renovation to build a new entryway and move the altar from the east side of the sanctuary to the north side. The ’40s must have been a good decade for the Methodists here. Renovations like that take money, which in the church world, required enthusiastic members.

Our yard, even without the spindly leafless branches, looks weirdly naked without our dying Chinese elms. Of course, it doesn’t help that the gray of early spring casts a pall on the entire landscape.

I suppose the trees lived a good life and died a good death. But I miss them.

trees cut before
Here is how our trees looked while the men were working on them (I don’t have a good picture of them with leaves from this angle).
trees cut after
And here’s how our side yard looks now.

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Today’s headline is a quote from American author Karen Joy Fowler. She is best known as the author of the best-selling novel The Jane Austen Book Club that was made into a movie. 

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Big time music system

I learned a few things about my husband of ten years as we renovated our 127-year-old church into a home. I knew he had a lot of tools, but I didn’t know he was so skilled at using them—hammers, sanders, saws, paint sprayers. I didn’t know he knew how to run an excavator. I didn’t know his good taste extended to interior design.

And I didn’t know he was an audiophile.

He kept this fact mostly secret throughout construction. Maybe it wasn’t purposeful. Maybe the language he spoke just went in one ear and out the other (did you see what I was doing there with that idiom?). I didn’t know the difference between a tweeter and a woofer let alone between a Klipsch and a Miller & Kreisel.

Before we even built the cabinetry for the back wall of the great room, we had enormous speakers lining the floor. He struck a deal with a friend on some of them (of course he did), and he collected a few more from a relative’s collection. Then, some weeks later, he found online a woofer, or maybe it was a subwoofer, with all the bells and whistles. He already owned the receiver. Or at least I think we did. At a certain point, I quit asking questions about what had been squirreled away and what was being newly acquired. But he wanted me to mention his receiver has “4K ultra HD network AV surround” with 1,200 watts of something-or-other 11.2. I literally have no idea what that means. But an audiophile does.

That’s one of the reasons we “needed” so much cabinetry in the great room. It was necessary to accommodate our hobbies. One of my hobbies is, or at least was, scrapbooking, and I have at least 20 finished 12-by-12 scrapbooks that need to be stored somewhere. And one of Tyler’s hobbies is listening to music. To do that right, at least in his mind, he needed a lot of speakers.

hidden speakers
See all those pink outlines? Those are speakers. Just the ones in the front of the room.

In the end, Tyler connected 25 speakers (including subwoofers, woofers, midrange, tweeters, horn tweeters and piezo tweeters) to his system using 700 feet of speaker wire. Speaker wire was like nails for a while there. Seemed like we were always buying another box of it.

Then, as he connected various components, there would be the inevitable tuning. He would play a few lines of some song at top volume over and over again, adjusting the EQ, tone controls, balance and fade on the big screen. Because, of course, the whole system has airplay, ethernet, wifi and bluetooth connection capability. Now, all he has to do is pull out his phone and he has access to just about any piece of music on Amazon Prime, Spotify and iTunes.

Thanks to digital music, there is not a single record, 8-track tape, cassette or CD in any one of those cupboards. When you have a system like ours, you appreciate when someone “remasters” the digital version of a golden oldie.

Oh, do I appreciate it.

For all the lack of attention I paid to Tyler’s machinations regarding his stereo system, listening to music in our chome now is like no experience short of a live concert in a concert hall.

It’s grand. A rock tune is one thing, but classical music, which Tyler plays nearly every Sunday morning, practically brings me to tears. It’s amazing.

We’ve watched the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” in our living room, not once but twice, it was so good. Queen, in concert. Freddie Mercury was singing right to me.

We’ve also landed on a great parlor game. The other night, we entertained my mother-in-law and her brother (Tyler’s uncle). For an hour, Tyler the DJ had us making song requests, which he programmed into the mix. We enjoyed hits from Mötley Crüe, Blondie, Dave Brubeck, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and Neil Diamond, to name a few. Everything genre from 1950 to 2019,  Abba to Zhou. If I didn’t like someone’s choice, I knew my selection would be coming right up. What a show.

One of my requests was Peter Gabriel’s Big Time. I think there couldn’t be a better tune for our venue.

And I will pray to a big god
As I kneel in the big church.

Big time
I’m on my way—I’m making it.
Big time. Big time.
I’ve got to make it show, yeah.
Big time. Big time.
So much larger than life.

~ from Big Time, lyrics by Peter Gabriel

Merchant Wednesday: Beams that’ll make you beam

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.

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One of the distinctive features of our great room is our ceiling beams. There is the fireplace, and the spiral stairway, and that fab reused kitchen, too, but today we’re talking beams.

Faux wood beams.

The very first minute I stood in the old church sanctuary when we were checking it out with our real estate agent, I knew I wanted to put wood beams on that big beautiful ceiling. And Tyler figured out how to do it without hoisting two-ton hunks of timber up there.

Tyler found rigid polyurethane foam beams online—lighter and more durable than actual wood beams and more affordable, they were advertised as being “virtually indistinguishable from real wood.” The array of options was dazzling.

L beam or U beam?

Rough sawn or hand hewn (or any of eight other textures)?

How wide? How high? How long? Do you need endcaps?

What color? We knew we wanted “brown” but we could choose from among eleven shades of brown. We finally settled on antique cherry.

They arrived some weeks later by semi-truck, not your typical delivery but packed perfectly to protect our precious cargo.

beams shipped
Here are our faux wood beams, waiting in the great room for installation.

Remarkable. They really were virtually indistinguishable from real wood beams. And they were as light as cappuccino foam, which made them easier to install.

This was just the distinction we wanted for the cathedral ceiling of our great room.

Tyler found our beams at the Architectural Depot, “the do-it-yourself superstore.” Given their “superstore” tagline, they sell a lot more than faux wood beams. If you’re in the market for ceiling medallions, moulding, PVC millwork, shutters, columns, corbels & brackets, ventilation, doors and windows, siding and components, weathervanes or yard items, they offer things, too.

beams close up
Here’s a close-up view from the balcony of our hand-hewn faux wood.
beams overall
Antique cherry is just the right contrast against our white ceiling.

We also used the faux wood beams in a smaller area: The entryway. We used them to add interest to an otherwise standard peaked ceiling.

518 Booth Entryway Before
When we bought the church, the entryway ceiling was flat, covered with undistinctive ceiling tiles.
beams-in-entryway.jpg
Here’s how the ceiling looked after we installed the beams (but before the light fixture). They coordinate perfectly with our castle doors.
beams chillin
This picture of us chilling in our great room was taken by our Nest security system. This bottom-up shot really shows how grand the ceiling looks.

You can check out all that the Architectural Depot has to offer by clicking here. The website is user-friendly and you’ll find all kinds of great tips when you place an order. Also, we were able to order short sample pieces of beam before investing a couple thousand in the final product. I highly recommend doing that if you have a big project (or even a small one).

100% guaranteed

When you’re on a home improvement kick, absolutely everywhere you go offers the potential for inspiration.

Early on, Tyler and I bided our time waiting to close our deal on the church by visiting home improvement shows, home improvement stores, furniture stores, parades of homes, every show on HGTV, friends’ houses … you get the picture. We kept that up throughout construction.

Eventually, we got to the decorating phase, and I spent a lot of time at Pier 1. And as luck would have it, the nearby Pier 1 was next door to a Bath & Body Works store. So easy to stop in for hand soap (and body lotion and lip gloss …). I also spied this display in the back of the store behind the cash register. Where other people saw a brightly lit 100% guarantee, I saw 100% bright idea.

back wall inspiration
Welcome to Bath & Body Works.

The owner told me that in other franchise stores, that space filled by the sign was a big television screen with animated advertising; she just didn’t have the flat screen. I loved the lighting effect and the window pane design, and I thought, “That idea could work on the back wall of the great room.”

Click! I took a picture.

That retail display inspired the custom cabinetry on the right side of our fireplace in the church.

back wall right side
You’re going to have to use your imagination for this side.

Well, we’re not quite done, but I’ve been stringing you along on the back wall of the church for a week now. My “advertising” is still in the works. The flower, mirror and adorable picture of my granddaughter are placeholders for a grouping of a dozen canvas-wrapped vacation and family photos I’m going to display there. Also, we have rope lighting hidden in there, but these photos were taken during the day. You’re just going to have to trust me. It’s going to be epic.

back wall with pantry
This angle shows the pantry (left) and the entire back wall of the great room.

Overall, we don’t have perfect symmetry on the left and right sides of the fireplace, but we wiped that out as soon as we installed the spiral staircase. We have coordination. Matchy-matchy is so yesterday’s Sears showroom anyway.

Let’s remind ourselves where we began. Oh, dear.

sanctuary before
Here’s what the back wall of the church looked like when we purchased the building.
back wall straight on
And here’s how it looks today.

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax

Before I move along to the east side of the fireplace, let’s make a quick stop in front of the fireplace.

(Feel like you’re joining the conversation mid-stream? I’m sharing how the back wall of my great room in the converted 127-year-old church turned out. Check out this post to read about the pantry and this post to read about the left side of the fireplace.)

I wanted to create a little conversation area in front of the fireplace, but Tyler and I struggled to find the right chairs. They needed to be comfortable and low profile in order to clear the spiral stair on the left side of the hearth. Oh, and the right color—not too gray and not too splashy.

fireplace chair one
This photo makes the chair look beige, but it’s more caramelly than that.

We ended up choosing custom back-tufted caramel-colored leather chairs. And they swivel! Which is perfect for a guest who might want to warm up by the fire and then turn to enjoy the conversation.

We ordered them before Thanksgiving, and they weren’t delivered until February. It pained me to entertain at Christmas without them, but when they finally arrived, they were perfect.

The nailhead detail coordinates with the dark navy storage ottomans we found at another furniture store. Beside stashing our granddaughter’s random toys and books inside between her visits, the ottomans perform as footrests and drink rests, as needed.

fireplace chairs
You can see a peek of the right side of the fireplace cabinetry.

The whole setting is arranged on the faux bear rug Tyler found online (no bears were killed in the making of this rug—read about it here).

(I’ll share another picture of the right side of the fireplace later this week.)

To a great mind, nothing is little

From the beginning, Tyler imagined bookshelves on either side of our floor-to-ceiling fireplace in our Church Sweet Home. I imagined he was thinking of something along the lines of a study in a Sherlock Holmes novel.

The shelves we ended up with are more open and airy than an English detective’s. As with the room in general, they are not symetrical on each side of the fireplace.

great room after floor refinishing
Here’s a reminder of how the back wall of the great room looked after we finished the floor.
Today, I’m showing off the shelves on the left side. This spot is obscured to some extent by our spiral stairway.

shelves from right
Shelving, looking from the fireplace.
The cabinets along the bottom hide all sorts of stereo equipment. There’s a front-throwing subwoofer (an audiophile understands this terminology) in a screen-covered cabinet on the bottom left there, and a huge standing speaker inside that screen-covered cabinet flanking the fireplace.

shelves from left
Shelves from pantry side.
I’ve decorated the shelves in Joanna Gaines style, including some Methodist hymnals (bottom left), the wooden bowl created by my dad (middle right) and a couple of functional miniature cannons that have been in Tyler’s family for some years.

Finishing the back wall is no longer a mystery! I’ll share the right side of the fireplace later this week.

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Today’s headline is a quote put into Sherlock Holmes’ mouth by Sir Author Conan Doyle in A Study in Scarlet.