Country thunder

Nothing grows sign

A friend who visited recently suggested I might use “storm” as the inspiration for my next church sign message, and I obliged with this. Whether we’re experiencing thunderstorms or not, we’re all experiencing the storm of COVID-19. Many terrible things have come about because of the pandemic, there’s no doubt, but some rainbows have made a showing, too.

Just today, I heard a story on NPR about a guy who build a treehouse with his three kids with all the extra time on the family’s hands. Instead of a packed sports schedule, they have a treehouse now! And the experience of making it.

I’m trying to find the silver lining in this strange world, and maybe you can, too.

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Today’s headline is a not-so-veiled reference to a huge country music concert event that occurs every July—but not this one—just a few miles northwest of our old church.

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.

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!

The playroom

We made good use of the bonus space under the eaves on the second story of Church Sweet Home.

On one side, I store office supplies and Christmas decorations.

lucy's door with knob
The entry door to the playhouse.

On the other side of the roof, Tyler created a little playhouse for our grandchildren. It’s about four feet wide, seven feet long and five feet tall and accessible from the guest bedroom.

Little Doors Closed
This is the window to the playhouse with the doors closed.

A window on the balcony side was the finishing touch on the playhouse. For the window frame, Tyler found a doored mirror at Ginger Blossom, one of our favorite local furniture stores. He removed the mirror, and in its place, the frame looks like a little wooden treasure box.

Little Doors Open
This is the window with the doors open.

Look how thick that wall is! That’s one of the original exterior walls of the old Methodist Church. It’s dark inside there because the little room still requires proper lighting and some nice comfy carpeting. But what’s inside there right now has a story, too.

IMG_3898
The current residents: Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann, though even at 40 years old, they hardly look ragged.

This couple was given to me by a dear woman, a new friend I knew not long enough. A talented sewing congregant at our church made Raggedy Anns & Andys for the annual bazaar, back when our church still had a women’s group and bazaars. (They were made from what must have been a widely circulated pattern because my own mother made me a vary similar pair– twice! Oh, how many times Raggedy Ann listened to my troubles!) My friend bought this particular pair for her son, when he son was still a little boy who might appreciate such things.

A couple weeks before our open house last fall, this friend called me up and invited me over because she “had something to give me.” I was honored to be granted an audience, let alone a gift, because my friend had long been battling a terminal illness and she was nearing the end. (When I first met her when I moved to town, I didn’t even realize she was ill, she carried herself with such optimism and grace.)

I paid her a visit, and she gave me these handmade treasures because she thought “they came from your church, so they belong there now.” I accepted them with gratitude and made a home for Raggedy Ann and Andy in the playhouse, to display during our open house. (By the way, Andy there is seated on another gift from another generous benefactor. That little chair, repainted to match my design scheme, was once a Sunday School chair at our church.)

Very sad for me (and anyone else who knew her), my friend died the day of our open house.

These dolls make me think of my friend Deanna, and whenever I think of her, I think of her fondly. She was wise and generous and very kind to think of me and support our home improvement project so enthusiastically.

“Life is a song. Sing it.
“Life is a game. Play it.
“Life is a challenge. Meet it.
“Life is a dream. Realize it.
“Life is a sacrifice. Offer it.
“Life is love. Enjoy it.”

                      ~ Sai Baba

 

Keys to the kingdom

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.

Generosity is the spirit of Christmas

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.

table cloth

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.

table cloth close

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.

table cloth closer up

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.

Thank you, Tammy!

A peaceful moment before the chaos to count blessings

Our story so far: The closing date on the old Methodist church we intend to convert into our home is delayed again.

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Chapter 8

Every Thanksgiving, I make Tyler verbalize all the things he’s thankful for in the past year. I hate to think of the holiday as only an opportunity stuff oneself, watch football and read the ads for Black Friday. Usually, on our way to a feast of turkey and pecan pie, we count down the Top 10 people and experiences for which we’re grateful.

This year, Thanksgiving fell smack in the middle of our two-week hiatus from getting our hands on the keys to our new old church. So we had to be thankful for finding the church, if not grateful for getting started on the project. We had no choice but to travel to enjoy a feast. Our little rental house was so small, it didn’t have room for a table, and I don’t think anyone would have enjoyed standing around the kitchen island to dine. So we drove to Tyler’s mother’s house and counted our blessings along the way: Very happy to have sold our house in the suburbs. Grateful for becoming grandparents. Thankful we had the opportunity to travel around a bit before settling down again. Excited to begin work on our little 126-year-old church.

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Tomorrow: Chapter 8 continues with a description of a Black Friday score. Read it here.