& U … light up my life

There are two kinds of people in the world: The kind who brag about how much they spent on something and the kind who tell you about the great deal they scored.

If you haven’t figured out by now, what with our frequent trips across country to pick up Craig’s List finds and our limitless willingness to piece together weird parts for a greater whole in our converted church, we’re the second kind. “Look at this amazing deal!”

For me anyway, I think it’s my Minnesota roots via Scandinavia. It’s common to compliment a Minnesota woman on her becoming frock and hear about the size of its discount on the clearance rack.

So, let me just say, “Guess how much this cost?!”


[Waiting expectantly for a low guess. But not too low. I want to wow you.]

Only 5 bucks!

I know, right?

As I mined the clearance racks at the various home stores I frequent looking for interesting tchotchkes with which to style my shelves and tables, I found this lighted rustic I and U. Apparently, little baby Ulysseses and Ingaborgs are rare so mommas decorating their baby rooms passed over these gems. The only other letter on the rack was a D, and who wants a DUI? They had the perfect shabby modern look I’m going for in Church Sweet Home. They were only a dollar each (batteries not included).

To me, they weren’t lonely letters but a statement about me and my hubby: U & I.

U & I!

All I needed was the ampersand.

I love ampersands. They are so much more interesting that the word and.

So I cruised the craft store until I found a galvanized ampersand for only $2.95!

I was so pleased.

When I got home, I assembled my little statement on the shelf at the front of our sanctuary. I flipped the switch and ta, da! Instant glamour and romance.

What a deal!


Let’s root for pom-poms!

The old motto, “Strike while the iron is hot” applies to the iron of creativity, too.

While I was meandering around Pier 1 the other day admiring the springtime displays, I happened upon a table runner on the clearance rack. Its little pom-poms attracted me (so did the price). I thought, “I could use that on my dresser in the master bedroom.” The purchase inspired me to take action.

table runner
Aren’t those pom-poms cute? I liked that the runner had texture but no color because the dresser itself sports a rainbow of colors.

My poor dresser. When we moved in, I stacked a bunch of beat-up boxes and jewelry cases on it and otherwise ignored it. It needed styling desperately.

dresser before
BEFORE: The arrangement on top the dresser looked unfinished. Because it was.

The treatment required a low profile to accommodate the television above. I fiddled around with a few vases and books, invested in a few more artificial blooms, and ta, da! Even Tyler said the dresser looks very pretty now.

dresser after
AFTER: I went for a asymmetrical look.

As I was paying for my purchases, the cashier remarked that a pillow matching the runner was also on clearance. I snapped it up, too, and tucked it among the pillows on my bed.

matching pillow
The pom-pommed pillow is on the left. The other decorative pillows on the bed were a gift from my sister for Christmas.

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?

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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.

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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 PersonalizationMall.com, 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 PersonalizationMall.com.


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.

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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.”