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.

‘Wooden’ you like

Among the treasured objects displayed at the church are works of art created by my father.

He probably wouldn’t call them “art,” but the more he refines his craft, the better he gets.

end table from side
You may remember me sharing this end table fashioned by Dad and now a part of the balcony seating area at the chome.

Dad is a woodworker, and you can bet it’s been his refuge during the pandemic. He’s been very productive. When he was younger, he made bigger pieces of furniture, including shelving for two of my previous houses, an entire master bedroom set for himself, a bathroom vanity for my sister, a warehouse full of kid-sized kitchen tables and chairs, “regular size” tables, end tables, coffee tables and more. Recently, his focus has shifted to smaller, more sophisticated pieces, and some of these lovelies have made it into the church.

Bowls, made with hundreds of pieces of wood and turned until smooth and functional, are some of his works. You might remember this bowl, the first one he gave me.

dads bowl in full

I received another bowl for my birthday, sort of opposite in color. I don’t have a picture of that one, but here’s a similar one he gifted to my sister.

Kays bowl

Dad also made the wooden basket on the left, and the beautiful cutting board, one for each my sister and me, which he directed both of us to put into use, which I did, by using it as a styling item on my counter. But to make him happy, here it is, in “use” as a cheese board.


That cutting board is quite a feat of wood manipulation. Those darker pieces of curved wood are not veneers, they go through the whole piece.

cutting board closeup

Recently, Dad also gifted me with a functional piece I use many days at my desk.

phone amplyfier

It’s a microphone of sorts, amplifying music or radio sound from my smart phone which fits neatly in the slot. It’s quite clever. Those stripes are not paint; they’re a different type of wood integrated into the piece.

And one final piece to share: Dad made this candle holder as a house warming gift for our new down-south condo.

candle holder

The flickering candles are like little beacons of hope. Dad’s works of art spread joy everywhere they go.

Works of wood, courtesy of Dad

“I could paint it!”

That was my refrain the past 18 months as Tyler and I have remodeled the old Methodist church into our home. Trim? Paint it. Cupboards? Painted. Antique finds? Sand it, and cover it with paint. Raw wood, weathered wood, finished wood, painted wood—I always think I can paint it.

But Tyler is not as much a fan of painted wood as I am. Sometimes he likes the warmth of stained wood. My father, a talented woodworker, thinks similarly, and he came through with two beautiful items that show off the wood—no paint.

I’m sharing these two projects today in honor of Dad’s birthday tomorrow. In his retirement, he has created a vast array of beautiful wood pieces, including many pieces of furniture, uncounted tiny kitchen table sets for toddlers, cribbage boards, turning puzzle boards and other cool and unique items. He’s quite creative and rather humble. But I’m calling attention to him and his work because he deserves it, especially on his birthday. (Happy Birthday, Dad!)

end table from side
That a raw edge with some of the bark still attached.

The first piece was an end table Dad made for me for my birthday. You know how some people collect cool postage stamps or whale figurines? My dad appreciates wood. So when a tree fell down in his yard, he didn’t see garbage—he saw raw material.

trunk end table
Look at all those rings of growth! That was an old tree, just like the church.

The top of this end table is a slice of wood from that fallen tree, raw edges an all, and the stand was carefully created by Dad in his woodshop with various tools that make pieces of lumber into beautiful artifacts. The table now stands at attention between two loungers on my balcony, the perfect natural touch among my refined chairs.

dads bowl in full

Speaking of beautiful artifacts, Dad sent me this bowl he made “just because.” Well, it wasn’t only because he was thinking of me randomly. He made his first turned bowl for my mother and the second for my sister as a birthday gift so he didn’t want me to feel left out.

dads bowl

This bowl is made of 200 pieces of walnut and maple, carefully assembled, glued and planed (I think planed is the verb, maybe it’s turned) into this one-of-a-kind piece made just for me. (Thanks, Dad!)

I’ve now set this bowl in a place of honor in the new shelving at the back of our great room. That project is another story. I’ll share pictures of those shelves on another day.

Drawing is not what one sees but what one can make others see

Our story so far: A far-flung friend I made back in my corporate days paid us a visit at the old Methodist church we turned into our home, and she likened the trip to a mecca.

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piece of belfry
This piece of wood almost certainly was installed with the bell, presumably some 126 year ago. It was removed by Reroofer last fall when he repaired the flat roof on the belfry.

This friend who came from far away once worked with me on creative projects that sometimes required sketches to get her point across. When she made her pilgrimage to the church, she agreed to attend a local lecture by an inspiring junking couple who shared ideas on how to turn topless teapots into planters and old yard implements into décor. I hauled an old piece of the belfry—a curved piece of wood that had been part of the wheel to ring it—to the talk to get their advice on how we might repurpose it. One of their suggestions was as a headboard. Privately, I rejected this idea as unnecessary, but my friend took this bit of advice to bed with her; while sleeping in the guest room—right next to the belfry—she apparently dreamed a vision. The next morning, she presented me with a drawing of how we could turn this leftover piece of wood into a showplace headboard for the upstairs guest room. She even had an idea for incorporating a little bell into the headboard in tribute to the big bell in our belfry.

sketch of headboard
Imagine the sweet dreams this headboard might inspire.

Inspired! The headboard we used up there was the one made for a king bed; it would need to be replaced. I filed her idea away for use later, when we had the time to work on such creative projects. It was not the first concept in the church that began as a sketch and flowered into something real and beautiful.

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Today’s headline is a quote from 19th century French artist Edgar Degas.

Tomorrow: Sister pays a visit as Chapter 44 opens. Read about it here.