Declaration of July Fourth

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

~ Declaration of Independence
July 4, 1776

Fourth of July Church Sign 2020

I almost ran out of A’s and Ns for this Fourth of July message on my church sign, but the period after the S in President Truman’s name was probably not necessary. His middle name was simply S, which his parents chose to pay homage to honor and please his grandfathers, named Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.

Truman might be better known for declaring where the buck stops, but this wordier message is a good one, too.

Passersby can choose to apply whatever subtext they want. “Be brave and go back to work” or “Do the job at hand of wearing a mask in public” or both. I hate how everything nowadays has political implications, forces us to choose sides and cultivates suspicion of one’s motives. Can’t we all just get along?

I love America. I love our messy system of government, I love peaceful public protest, and I love Mount Rushmore, too. It’s an majestic work of art, even if you don’t think much of the men whose faces are depicted there or you believe it’s built on stolen land. We’re still forming a more perfect Union, folks, not to mention establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility. The work of we the people will never be done.

Tonight, Tyler and I are going to ring our church bell at sunset and watch the full moon rise over the treetops, and I’m going to celebrate the freedoms wrought, however imperfect, by the men who signed the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago. I hope you find blessings of liberty, too, however you observe today. Happy Independence Day!

Take a deep breath in

As I’m sure you’re aware (because your calendar is bare and those obscure holidays in tiny type are more easily read these days), we observed the Summer Solstice on Saturday. Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year when we have the most daylight.

I celebrated with a colorfully flamboyant dress and a crown of fresh daisies. Oh, and a new message on the church sign.

summer solstice church sign
You can get away with more when you live in a church. People already think you’re a little crazy.

I found this verse on the internet, so I can’t claim it as my own, but it rose to the surface when I googled “quote about breath as soul.” A yogi recently suggested our souls may actually be our breaths. Yogis are quite obsessed with breath. It got me thinking about a body without breath (as in, one lying in a coffin). Funeral goers often remark that the dead no longer looks like themselves. Well, the soul is gone, the faithful think. But the breath is gone, too.

If my soul is my breath, I value my breath more. This boring function of breathing that occurs 20,000 times a day suddenly becomes more sacred, doesn’t it? And if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our breath is important. We get home, toss away the face mask and take a deep breath. A deep, soulful breath.

Feel the sun on your soul, friends. Each day now in the Northern Hemisphere, we will lose precious minutes of sunlight, so relish in the sunshine.

3 glorious things about living in a church

Earlier this week, I complained (a little) about a few minor irritants of living in a church. Today, we turn that frown upside down as I regal you with the glorious parts of living in a church.

Turning a church into a residence isn’t for everyone, but it suits me fine. Our home is a sacred space from steeple to church basement, and I find it a pleasant oasis of peace. Here are three reasons why.

goad sign
Not a road sign, a goad sign.

No. 1: The church sign is a platform for speaking truth (or telling jokes).

Not very many residences have a way to make announcements to the public, but my house does. I still love my church sign for writing encouraging or cryptic messages of my choosing for passers-by. Last year, my son-in-law goaded me into posting a funny, fake Bible verse on the sign. Well, it’s my sign. I can write whatever I want! So I did! Well, I try to keep it clean in respect for the elementary school children who spend recess on the playground across the street, but the sign is a fun, creative outlet for me.

No. 2: Music of all sorts sounds great in here.

Our great room, once the church sanctuary, was designed for sound. I can only imagine the choirs and parishioners singing along to a piano or organ. Or a soloist, standing in the front, mezmerizing the crowd. The acoustics are amazing. Tyler’s sound system makes the most of it. The Rolling Stones sound like they’re singing live, but instrumental music? Even better. The whole symphony makes a full-throated appearance when we play Handel. Someday, I think it would grand to have a band play on our balcony.

No. 3: The bell! Of course, the bell!

You knew the church bell would be on this list, didn’t you? I love ringing our bell for visitors or special days or just on Sundays. Lately, I’ve taken to ringing the bell for a minute at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Because I can. And a bell brings a smile to people’s faces. No other home in town can boast of such a unique talent. As far as I know, the bell was erected when the church was built in 1891, making it an historic element of this village. When I go for a walk, I admire my bell as I reapproach the church. It’s tall and distinctive, and I love it.

3 irritating things about living in a church

All the favorable press coverage we’ve received recently (thank you, CBS 58) got me thinking about the pluses and minuses of living in a church. Reading people’s comments on social media will do that to you.

I’ll address the pluses in a future post so I shall begin with the irritating things about living in a former worship space.

You might think these negatives would include the cemetery or the high heating costs, but the old Methodist church we acquired did not have a cemetery onsite, and we took great pains to insulate well so we don’t have extraordinary heating costs. Buy wisely and renovate with care are the pieces of advice there.

But … there are a few irritating things about living in a church.

No. 1: We feel guilty when we swear and play rock music in our house.

This is a sacred space, after all. To be honest, all homes should be considered a sacred space, but ours very obviously is one. There’s not cross on our steeple anymore, but taking the Lord’s name in vain seems especially wrong here. And have you listened to the lyrics of rock music? Profane is probably a clinical way to describe them. I once believed listening to “Hotel California” would send me straight to hell. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. Now it’s a regular on our playlist.

Just because it makes us feel guilty doesn’t mean we don’t still do it.

No. 2: Delivery services still don’t quite understand our address is a residence now.

Frequently, my shipping address comes up as “not valid” on various shopping websites. Amazon has figured it out, and our UPS guy is such a regular he now knows when we’re off camping or otherwise carousing, but I still can’t get Ulta to deliver “hazardous materials” (aka wrinkle cream) to our address. The electric company still classifies us a a commercial building (which means they can cut off our electricity in the middle of winter if we don’t pay our bill, unlike residential skallywags). We’ve been officially rezoned, but the delivery world doesn’t quite agree yet.

No. 3: There’s no tiptoeing around here, Missy!

Our floors and stairways are 129 years old now. They’re beautifully refinished, but their age means they creak and groan when you walk on them. If you think you’re going to sneak around here, forget it. The other morning I tried to leave Tyler sleeping in bed. No dice. He knew I was getting up as soon as my feet hit the floor (and he might have used some of the aforementioned swear words to express his displeasure!). Don’t get me wrong, I Love our original floors with a capital L. They’re like no other floors in the world, unique in their own little squeaks and cackles. But a hundred thousands parishioners have walked on them before, and they make noise. This can be a drawback when you’re trying to be under the radar.

# # #

Coming soon: Three glorious things about living in a church.

 

Church Sweet Home to be featured on Sunday morning TV

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.

drone
You can see the drone in the upper right corner filming our belfry.

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!

A very present help in trouble

Be still

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.

April showers bring May flowers

Despite a deadly virus. Despite snow and severe weather. Despite a total lack of attention. Look what’s blooming.

flowers ground cover

Little purple petals, covering the ground.

flowers purple

A poof! of blooms.

flowers tulip 2

Oh, those hardy tulips. Every year.

flowers dandelion

And hostas, too. As you can see, nothing keeps a dandelion down.

flowers tulip 1

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.

flowers dining room table

flowers island
I love those lilies.

A couple bathroom vanity bouquets. And my favorite…

flowers balcony

Mom arranged this one in an heirloom art deco vase given to me by my mother-in-law.

I hope these flowers have brightened your day!

Nothing is more beautiful than the loveliness of the wood

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!

side door before
BEFORE

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.

side door wood grain
Here’s a close-up of the wood grain.

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.

side door after
AFTER

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.”

~ George Washington Carver

Church Sweet Home, the book, comes out today

The big day has finally arrived.

My memoir based on this blog comes out today at online booksellers everywhere.

CSH Book Front Cover Only

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:

If the link doesn’t work, try searching for “MonicaLeeWriter” on Facebook to find my author page (go ahead and “like” it while you’re there).

To get your hands on Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul, the paperback is $12.49 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Prefer an ebook? You’re in luck. The ebook is $4.49 and available at Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Kobo.

If you feel so inclined, please review the book at the outlet where you purchased it. Self-published authors love reviews.

 

What home means in a pandemic

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.”

peace banner
On a background of falling snowflakes. How could it be more peaceful?

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.

CSH Book Front Cover Only# # #

My memoir based on this blog Church Sweet Home: A Renovation to Warm the Soul comes out tomorrow. The paperback is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Find the ebook at Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Kobo.