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.


Merchant Wednesday: Accent with Braided Rugs and More

The first rug we purchased for the Hall of History was too good; it fit so perfectly, it covered every inch of the original wood character we’d so carefully revealed and  protected with polyurethane. So we put that rug in the master bedroom and renewed the search online. This time, I found the winner, instead of Tyler who normally has more online shopping perseverance.

I found our inordinately long rug runner on Accent with Braided Rugs and More, where they offer more than 250 colors and styles of rugs and also entertain custom color requests. They even sell two-sided rugs; just flip is over for a change of scene or season.

And they’re made in the United States! Our rug (one sided) arrived about three weeks after it was ordered, so I suspect it was braided just for me.

braided rug
An historically accurate modern braided rug.

Braided Rugs offers classic ovals, round rugs, half circles, heart-shaped rugs, dog-bone-shaped rugs, mice-shaped rugs and runners up to 13 feet long. That’s what we got: a 2-by-13-foot runner. It’s exactly what we needed to protect the walking space yet show off the rustic nature of our historic building. We were very happy with the look and the price.

You can shop for your perfect braided rug at Accent with Braided Rugs and More.

While we’re touring the Hall of History, where we have yet to hang all the historic photos of the old Methodist church we’ve collected over the past year, let’s look at the threshold, a small construction project for which I am grateful.

threshhold before
Ugly threshold BEFORE.

The threshold is essentially the four-inch wide piece of wood hiding the ugly place where the Hall of History meets the great room (formerly the church sanctuary). This line marks the spot where the original 1891 church sanctuary meets the two-story Sunday School and office space built three years later in 1894. The back wall of our kitchen hides most of this connective tissue, but this doorway and the one from the mudroom into the great room had wide gaps before Tyler covered them up. The gap between the mudroom and the great room was nearly an inch wide!

threshhold after
The threshold AFTER.

A threshold is a simple thing, but its quiet work is mighty:

  • It covers the ugly floor stain drips.
  • It’s the smooth and flat surface in the doorway, preventing me from tripping when I’m half awake and headed for coffee.
  • It required extra attention from my handy husband who figured out how to construct the piece so it would smoothly bridge the gap. I have no clue how to perform such carpentry magic.
  • It coordinated with the wide pine in the Hall of History and looks nice against the acorn-stained pine in the great room. It’s perfect!

Next project for the Hall of History is framing and hanging all the historical images we have collected. That is turning out to be a big project, but we are moving in the right direction.

A sweet day for Church Sweet Home

Guess what today is.

Church Sweet Home turns 127 years old today.

Imagine life 127 years ago!

A Republican from Indiana was president of the United States (yes, that would be Benjamin Harrison, an attorney perhaps best known for the McKinley Tariff and the Sherman Antitrust Act).

Horsepower had real meaning then because horses were a common form of transportation for most people; some also had the privilege of traveling by rail.

News came by word of mouth, Western Union telegrams and newspapers. No radio. No TV. No internet.

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder was 24 and had been married to Almanzo Wilder for six years in 1891.

The Wrigley Company had been founded earlier in the year and was about to launch a new product: Chewing gum.

The U.S. flag had only 44 stars. Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states.

Functional airplanes hadn’t yet been invented, in-home refrigerators were decades away and American women did not yet have the right to vote.

That was the year our church, now residence, was built. After many years of meeting in people’s homes, the Methodists secured a piece of property in September 1891. Here’s what happened next, according to one newspaper account:

On Nov. 29, 1891, the first church was dedicated by Rev. Smith, who planned the building and worked with his son for nine weeks to complete it. On the day of dedications, the following was received: cash $39; two stoves; one pulpit; two chairs and some lamps donated by the J.M. Carey family.

Library 1
This image of the church, taken I’m guessing between 1894 and 1920 (I can’t figure out that number: 19917), hangs in the local library.

For more than a dozen decades, parishioners celebrated Christmas and Easter, baptized babies, married couples, buried the dead, sang, learned, prayed, cried and dined in this little church.

As a reader of this blog, you know the status of this building today: It’s our home, born of the structure left by the Methodist congregation when they vacated in 2016.

Happy birthday, Church Sweet Home. May you still be standing in 127 years.

sepia tone

Here’s to catching happiness this Fourth of July

We interrupt our storytelling to bring you this holiday message.

A version of this quote is attributed to founding father Benjamin Franklin, who said, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”

If we’re splitting hairs, the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly call out citizens’ right to pursue happiness, but the Declaration of Independence that we celebrate today and which was signed by Mr. Franklin as a representative of Pennsylvania, did describe life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as unalienable rights.

I changed “you” to “we” in Franklin’s last line because I think catching happiness is better achieved in community rather than by oneself.

May you find yourself among other happy revelers today. Happy Independence Day!

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Tomorrow: If you think choosing paint was a trick, try trim. Read about it here.

Tale of two buildings

Our story so far: Over the course of six months, we’d made good progress first demolishing then building inside the 126-year-old Methodist church we were intent on turning into our home. When spring arrived, we began work on the garage and yard.

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Chapter 25

When we closed on the church in November, we were consumed with our own little construction project, blithely unaware of one occurring right across the street.

Sure, we could see something was going on over there in the elementary school, but to our uninitiated and self-centered eyes, it was just another remodel or addition or whatever it was, just steer clear of our construction vehicles, we’re doing important work over here.

Of course, school construction projects are enormous community affairs given they are publicly financed and ultimately house a precious commodity: Children. Whatever was going on over there was a big deal to everyone but us.

I learned later from local folks who took an interest in our project and toured the church that the only original part of the school that was left—built in 1908—was razed just a few months before we moved to town (imagine the circus surrounding that! We filled two dumpsters; the school probably filled fifty!). The construction workers we saw coming and going were working on a building to replace the decrepit structure. The people who mentioned it to us were a little bit nostalgic about the demolished building. First the school got torn down, then somebody purchased the old church with plans to do who knows what to it. The wistful ones were kind to us, but a little sad.

The lawn in front of the new school building looked ready to be seeded or sodded.

Just as we chipped away, little by little, on our renovation, the school district made steady progress on theirs. By springtime, we could see workers paving a parking lot, surely a sign they were nearly done. A monument of sorts containing what looked like the old school bell was erected. Ah, another historic bell. This one had probably been used to begin many school days long ago. So the district was paying tribute to what had gone before, just as we were.

school bell
Ring my bell. No ladder required.

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Tomorrow: Tyler makes a score. Of something. Read about it here.

All power corrupts, but we need the electricity

Our story so far: My husband Tyler and I purchased a 126-year-old Methodist church to turn into our home, we demolished the interior over the course of two months, and now we were in the midst of the mechanicals phase of reconstruction.

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Chapter 22

Benjamin Franklin may have proved lightning was electrical by flying a kite in a thunderstorm in 1752, but it wasn’t until 1879 that Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb.

Twelve years later, our Methodist church was built. It surely was not lit with electricity until at least the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the national electrical grid to bring electricity to rural areas.

Perhaps the church was lighted with gas at some point, we couldn’t tell. We found evidence of early 20th century knob-and-tube wiring and cloth-covered wiring behind some of the walls in the church, but none of it was operational, and the remaining wiring was a mix of flexible armored tube copper wire, Romex and a little conduit.

What wiring was operational was flaky. Tyler learned this when he connected uncounted power tools to various outlets. The dependable outlets soon were favored and extension cords employed when electricity was needed in far-flung church locales.

To be safe, Tyler decided to rewire 100 percent of the church, no matter how old or new(ish) were the wires. Our electrician was the first contractor we chose; he’d worked on the church in the past so he already knew what was wrong in a contemporary way and what was antique in a knob-and-tube way. By the time the HVAC guys finally finished and Glimfeather the plumber was nearly done, our walls were framed. So our electrician could go to work.

Of course, in order to get to work, the electrician needed direction. Where to put outlets? Where to switch the lights? What kind of lights? How many?

Welcome to a world of arcane terminology like amps and volts, poles and pucks, cables and circuits, cans and dimmers, GFI and GFCI.

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Tomorrow: Our first real fight about the church. Read about it here.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars

Our story so far: Deliveries of nails and lumber were evidence that we were now building things inside the old Methodist church we were turning into a home instead of tearing things down. 

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Right around that time, the gutter guys showed up to upgrade the rain gutters on the front of the church. Thanks to a few warm days in January, Tyler determined the occasional water in the basement was seeping through a seam on the front wall of the basement. The way the old gutters were arranged allowed a significant portion of roof run-off to drop into one area in front of the church. Tyler suspected he would also have to do some excavation in front of the church at some point to improve underground drainage there, but that project could wait until spring.

In a few hours, we had new gutters. OK, we had to write a check for it, but it was immensely satisfying when someone else did the work, especially when it was twenty feet off the ground.

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Today’s headline is a quote from Oscar Wilde, one of London’s most popular playwrights in the the 1890s, the decade our church was constructed.

Tomorrow: A delivery like Jimmy John’s: Freaky fast. Read about it here.