I took this picture last week during a short walk between weather systems. It warmed up, it cooled down, it snowed, it rained, it froze; we covered a lot of bases in the cosmic game of climate change in one week.
But when the rain froze on the bushes alongside the driveway, I thought it was kind of pretty. Not fun to walk in–I later heard two hair-raising stories from relatives who fell on their slick driveways–so it was pretty and also pretty hazardous.
The next day, we woke up to this.
Turns out frozen water is not only grave in the right conditions but weighty, too. These huge branches from a tree fell on the neighbor’s driveway overnight. That clump of trees on the left borders the church property.
After consulting with the village fathers, we determined the branches came from a tree belonging to us. We got a little assistance shoving the detritus out of the way so our neighbors could proceed to work. We are now mourning the chainsaw that chewed its last piece of scenery last summer. It gave Tyler the best thirty years of its life, but when it quit, the small engine repair determined it could not be resurrected.
Among the meaningful and useful gifts I received for Christmas (or possibly my birthday—they’re two days apart so sometimes I forget) was this hanging key holder made for me by my dad. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece with a backstory, and I just love it.
The piano keys come from the piano once played by my grandmother, my mother’s mom. The upright grand piano, a magnificent musical instrument, was the centerpiece of the living room in my grandparent’s house in northwestern North Dakota. On days like today, when the wind is whipping subzero air across the Plains, you can imagine how folks back in the era before television might gather around the piano for indoor entertainment.
When my grandmother died, my mother got the piano. Dad built a trailer out of junk on my grandfather’s farm in order to transport the unbelievably heavy instrument from North Dakota to southern Minnesota, where we lived at the time. (The sound board of an upright grand hangs the piano strings vertically instead of horizontally like a grand piano does so the upright grand piano takes up a lot less space, but it’s still very heavy.) The piano survived the trip, and then another trip when my parents moved to Central Minnesota.
I, my sister and my little brother all learned to play piano on that instrument of my grandmother’s. Even now, I can imagine how the strips of ivory covering the white keys felt beneath my fingertips when I played Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre or piano arrangements of Beatles tunes.
We grew up and moved out, and Mom and Dad no longer needed nor wanted a piano. I was married to a musician at the time, so I took it. My ex and I moved it twice, and when we parted ways, I kept the piano. Being a little, shall we say, unmoored at the time, I asked my sister to keep it for me at her house, which she obliged for a decade. My nephews played it a bit, but it stood mostly as a testiment to my grandmother and an enormous artifact of the childhoods of my sister and me.
Eventually, my sister decided she could no longer store it for me. Tyler and I were living in a camper at the time, so we couldn’t take it. During one of its moves, the sound board cracked so piano tuners could no longer find a true A, or whatever note the tune to. Browsing Craig’s List, it was apparent pianos like Grandma’s couldn’t be given away.
So we demolished it.
We kept the good parts and threw the rest away (kind of like we would later do with the church).
We retrieved some of the parts at some point last year, but my sister squirreled away some of the piano keys, which she turned over to Dad who made them into a beautiful and functional display. I was thrilled when I opened it at Christmas.
Tyler mounted it on the wall by the back door in the church. I smile inside every time I hang my keys there (and every time I know where to find my keys on the way out the door). It’s a great gift, and it found the perfect place in Church Sweet Home.
By the way, my keys? My keychain, the one I carry around everywhere I go, is the one that came with the church. It’s a cheap plastic one that says “Loaves and Fishes,” the name of the food pantry that was housed in the church before we purchased it. All the keys that came with it are obsolete because we changed the locks. But the fob has history. It belongs to the church. Just like the piano keys have history. And now they belong to the church, too.
The glut of holidays at the end of December had us ringing our church bell with regularity. Now that is it operational again, we welcome opportunities to use it.
We try to be respectful. It’s a bell in a former church, after all.
So far, no one has complained. At least to our faces.
We’ve been ringing to the bell once or twice or letting our guests do so whenever we have a tour of the church, which occurs with some regularity, maybe once a week. People are curious, and in some cases, our various contractors have enjoyed showing off their work here. So when we walk through the second floor, I will invariably yank on the bell pull to show off the unique feature of our home.
But for winter solstice–the shortest day of the year marking the beginning of winter–we ran the bell twelve times at sunset: 4:23 p.m. on December 21.
My birthday was December 23, so I rang it six times at noon (one for each decade and partial decade of my lifetime). We discussed ringing it once for every year, but that certainly would have ticked off the neighbors! (My father, who helps at funeral services with his local funeral home, also objected to ringing it once for every year because that’s what some churches do at funerals; since I’m not dead yet, we didn’t want to commemorate that).
Of course, we felt compelled to ring our bell on Christmas Eve (6 p.m.) and Christmas Day (9 a.m.), so we did then, too.
Our belfry was quiet for a few days until New Year’s Eve. If ever there were an appropriate time to ring our bell at midnight, this was it! I sort of rang a church bell one other time on New Year’s Eve. My priest threw a “Y2K be damned!” party on December 31, 1999, and he let me and my then-husband ring the bell at midnight. Only the bells on the cathedral were electronic and operated by pushing buttons (still, that was exciting if only because January 1, 2000 arrived without any fanfare beyond midnight bells).
Tyler and I planned a small get-together that disintegrated when one of our guests came down with the flu, so it was just Tyler and me celebrating the new year in the church. Then, as is his wont, he turned in early. So ringing the bell was up to me. My father joked with me earlier in the day that he wasn’t going to visit me in jail if I got arrested for disturbing the peace.
I stayed awake with reruns of “Friends.” At 11:55 p.m., I crept upstairs. It was a warm night (for December), and I opened the belfry window so I could hear the bell better.
Instead of ringing the bell a certain number of times, I decided to ring it for a certain amount of time–one minute.
About halfway through the minute, I could popping sounds I hadn’t heard on the other days we rang the bell. I thought for a moment I had broken it! But then I realized I was hearing fireworks through the open window. (See! I wasn’t the only awake in our little town. Whew!)
When I was done, I looked through the belfry window at the now quiet scene below. No police cruisers had assembled.
Someone down the street yelled “Happy New Year! And thanks Methodist Church bell ringer!” I was stunned–and thrilled–that I had an audience. So I yelled “You’re welcome!” And they yelled “That was awesome!”
It was awesome, in the original meaning of the word: filled with awe. Not everyone gets to ring a real church bell at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I literally rang in the new year! I closed the window, turned off all the lights and sneaked into bed beside my husband, who was now wide awake. “Happy new year!” we wished each other.
I have no plans to ring the bell for any upcoming holidays (Tyler’s birthday isn’t until August). If you hear it ring, it’s because we have guests, and I’m showing off.
Among the projects we raced to finish in time to show off to our guests at the holidays was the entryway to the church. We were, of course, able to move in months ago without having to finish the space (only the ceiling was done), but since it was the first impression (or second, if you took in the exterior of the church first), we wanted it to be finished.
Which meant a flurry of activity took place in late November and early December. You-Can-Call-Me Al, who had tiled our shower and kitchen back splash, tiled the ground-level entry floor. Then he built new wooden treads for the steps leading up into the sanctuary and stained them. St. Johnny spent hours sanding the sanctuary level landing; it was a bear, covered in decades of paint and mastic and gunk. We decided to keep it rustic, leaving some of the paint intact, and we stained over it. Finally, we had the walls, trim and interior doors painted, hung the new chandelier and had our wrought iron team install the railing.
The transformation of the space is significant.
But let’s begin with a look at how the front doors looked when we bought the church a year ago. I’ve shared this shot before, but it’s a good taste of all the “befores” of the church (and who doesn’t appreciate a good transformation story, especially at this time of year?).
Here’s how our Church Sweet Home presents its entryway now.
Which brings me to the secondary purpose of today’s post: To call out the artisans who created our beautiful house numbers. Zach and Sheena’s work at TheWoodsCollective was featured in an issue of HGTV Magazine, and when I saw it, I wanted it for our church.
This is exactly the type of custom feature perfect for an Etsy vendor because everyone appreciates choosing their own wood finish and number style, and every house requires different numbers.
OK, back to our entryway tour. Here’s how our entryway behind the door looks now.
See that door bell button there on the right? When you push it, it rings like a church bell inside the church. It’s awesome!
Let’s take a look at some before and after photos.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the entryway now is that newel post. Tyler found it on Craig’s List and sent me two hours south to retrieve it. It’s solid wood, salvaged from a mansion in Chicago, and very heavy. The guy who sold it to us had multiple storage units filled with various pieces of mansions and churches–doors, altars, stained glass windows, hutches, and more. When I got the post back here, Tyler cut a few inches from the bottom to make it fit, and it was not easy task to cut a 10-and-a-half-inch column of wood.
The guys at the spiral stairs manufacturer, who built all our railings, painted the newel post to match our steel, and then built the railing to fit it.
The stairs down to the basement are not so grand as the “up” steps, at least for now. Tyler painted them a nice blue-gray. At least the carpet is gone.
When we bought the church, I appreciated the message inside the front doors …
… but I like our new light fixture now.
And, though I don’t have a good before of this angle, here’s a look at our Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall. Tyler found this ornate mirror at an estate sale about a week after we decided to buy the church. Now, when you enter or leave the house, you can gaze as your reflection and ask, “Who’s the fairest of them all?”
I had intended to put a half-circle marble shelf beneath the mirror, but it turns out there’s no way to secure it, so we are looking for a little table to go there.
There you go, our renovated entryway to Church Sweet Home. Now you can go in peace.
Back in the 1980s, the annual Christmas bazaar held here at the old Methodist church was the place to be and be seen. Members of the church spent all year creating handmade goods to sell, and on the designated Saturday, people lined up outside the church down the street waiting for the bazaar to open so they could get their hands on these one-of-a-kind treasures.
One of those treasures has now returned to the old Methodist church, thanks to the generosity of a patron who wanted me to have a house-warming gift.
My benefactor’s mother bought a hand-embroidered felt Christmas tree skirt, only she requested it not be cut for a skirt so she could use it as a tablecloth.
Embroidered families of teddy bears and toys of all sorts decorate the Christmas green background. White fringe adorns the edge. The detail is impressive; the characters are outlined in hand-sewn sequins.
What with all the cutting and sewing and bedazzling, it surely must have taken weeks to complete. The artist did not take the time to embroider her name (though maybe one of my readers might know who completed it).
For being more than thirty years old, it is in impressively good condition, and I am fortunate that my benefactor took such good care of it and it found its way home to me.
It decorates my sofa table this year with other meaningful and historically significant holiday decorations, sitting as it does beneath the treasured Christmas card tree I received many years ago now from a former boss and a small ceramic manger scene my grandmother gave me.