Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations

Our story so far: We moved into the old Methodist church we had turned into a home and welcomed a few guests.

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Despite the minor inconveniences, visitors still came. A far-flung friend I made back in my corporate days paid us a visit, and she likened the church to a mecca (Mecca, for those interested in the origin of words, is the city where Muhammad was born; many Muslims believe it’s important to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at some point in their lives). My stories about the renovation stoked her curiosity, and she felt she had to see the church in person.

After the tour and my many comments about how much work this required and how we figured out that problem, she marveled, “How did you avoid killing each other?”

This was one of my concerns early on. Home construction projects have been known to end marital commitments.

“I guess I’m more flexible than some wives, and Tyler has better taste than some husbands,” I said.

As more than one of our contractors will attest, we raised our voices with each other more than once as we worked on various aspects of remodeling. Usually, one of us was just tired and cranky (sometimes both of us). But rarely did we disagree vehemently on the goals we wanted to achieve. Tyler was, among other things, an excellent salesman who could get me to see things his way, and I had figured out how to appeal to Tyler’s better instincts when the situation required. If he won the argument, well, then the results were probably better anyway.

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Today’s headline is a quote from Oliver Goldsmith, not to be confused with The Six Million Dollar Man‘s boss Oscar Goldman, you children of the ’70s. Goldsmith was an 18th century Irish novelist and poet.

Tomorrow: This friend gets inspired. Read about it here.

Home, the spot of earth supremely blest

Our story so far: We earned our habitational permit and moved our bed into the old Methodist church we had converted into our home.

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We rewarded ourselves by showering in our new shower. At the same time. Our first shower in the church! We were giddy. I told my mother this later, and she said, “I don’t want to know that.” And I said, “We just got clean!”

We just got clean, I swear. Assembling Sleep Number beds is hard work. And we had somewhere to be: Lowe’s. To return upstairs shower door No. 2 (three times, the charm).

While we were out, we celebrated with sushi at a Japanese/Chinese fusion restaurant (sort of like we were now living in a church/residence fusion home). The establishment had apparently invested in the “happy fortunes” cookies because Tyler’s fortune said, “Your present plans are going to succeed,” and mine said, “The current year will bring you much happiness.”

True story.

When we got home, Tyler fired up the television in the bedroom because that was the only one in the structure at the time (everyone has priorities), and we snuggled under the covers. I wasn’t so interested in whatever was on TV. I stared up at the tray ceiling, romantically lit in a soft blue (the rope lighting touted “16 million colors!”). I took in the careful workmanship, how the straight the corners, how well painted the tin. I marveled at the quiet of the church; outdoor noise was muted and, when we weren’t tiptoeing around creaking the floors, so was the interior. Our chome was so peaceful when no one was wielding hammers and drills.

It felt like home.

I fell asleep easily and dreamed sweet dreams.

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Today’s headline is a quote widely attributed to Robert Montgomery: “Home, the spot of earth supremely blest, a dearer, sweeter spot than all the rest.”

Tomorrow: Waking up in the church. Read about it here.

An open door is the universal welcome

Our story so far: Our to-do list at the old Methodist church we were turning into a home was long with tasks related to installing trim and painting it. Chapter 35 continues …

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front doors flung open
If you look closely, you can see the enormous fan at the top of the steps inside the front doors.

Being that it was summer, and hot, humid days were many, and sawdust or paint fumes were always in the air, Tyler began most days by flinging open the double castle doors and leaving them open all day. An enormous industrial fan Tyler found on sale in the scratch-and-dent aisle of one of the big box stores we frequented was running constantly, spewing our dust into the street or cooling the men working inside.

The open doors had an ancillary benefit: They welcomed visitors. We had so many, in fact, our castle doors could have been revolving doors. I wouldn’t have guessed sawdust could have such an upside.

Our ongoing work at the church continued to bring interested former church members, neighbors and other curious observers to our door, and we rarely let anyone get away without a grand tour. It was so much more fun showing people around to see the work we had actually performed instead of simply waving our arms around, pointing to where we planned custom vanities, a spiral staircase, leaded glass windows and a grand balcony.

plant gift
A gift of plants for our yard.
hostas around flagpole
The hostas found a home around the flagpole and the relief stone left behind at the church.

Some visitors came bearing gifts. A woman who lived nearby—not a neighbor, exactly, and not a former church member, just a village resident who had heard what we were up to—dropped by to offer us some of the abundant perennials in her yard. Tyler was thrilled. She gave him directions to her home, and he excitedly told me about her offer later in the day. But we were concentrating on sanding floors at the time so we didn’t make it to her house right away. A couple of weeks later, she dropped by with a trunkload of divided hostas and something called 4’Clock Flowers she had harvested herself; all we had to do was plant them (which St. Johnny dutifully did on our backyard garden by the flagpole that was producing cucumbers and tomatoes like mad). I imagined my mother, an active member of her local garden club, might do something similar for a foreign sojourner, and I found the woman’s gift to be such a generous gesture of welcome. And hers wasn’t the only one. Other friends, old and new, offered intangible cheerleading about the house and tangible additions to it. Far-flung friends talked about making trips just to see us (and the house, let’s be honest). It was just the encouragement we needed after so many months of hard work.

four oclock flowers
Here is the 4-Clock Flowers plant gifted to us (and behind that, an overgrown patch of basil of my own making).
Our patio table, abundant with tools and tomatoes.

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Tomorrow: The sanctuary windows get a facelift. Read about it here.

Everything is really about lighting

Our story so far: Our carpenter trimmed out our master bedroom tray ceiling with crown molding and tin salvaged from the old Methodist church’s basement ceiling. 

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crown moulding rope lighting
Supernight, indeed. Someone hopes so.

To tuck into the crown molding of the tray ceiling, Tyler invested in some high-tech rope lighting that changed colors and could be controlled from one’s cell phone—because he’s a romantic like that.

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Today’s headline is a quote from Robert Denning, a 20th century American interior designer.

Tomorrow: How the bathroom cabinets came to be. Read about it here.

Sometimes, the more you get to know a person, the more attractive they become

Our story so far: To make way for a garage, my husband Tyler jackhammered away part of the back stairway on the 126-year-old Methodist church we were turning into our home.

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After the surgery on the stairway, it was time to dig footings for the garage. I soon learned my husband had a skill of which I wasn’t aware.

In the case of our garage, footings meant a hundred feet of frost walls four feet deep. A concrete pad wasn’t enough since our garage would be attached to a structure with an existing basement. To dig these deep trenches, Tyler rented a mini excavator and hired a guy (a friend of a friend) who could manipulate the excavator with precision. The trenches—three sides of the garage—were completed in a day.

garage trench
Now that’s a trench.

My role that day was errand girl. I went to Subway to get lunch for the workers. But I worked harder the next day when I used pruning snips, an implement similar to a manual hedge trimmer, to clip a hundred years of pine roots obstructing the trenches. The excavator had cut through a lot of roots, but it wouldn’t do to have any obstructions when we were ready to pour concrete. So I squatted in the mud to cut roots two feet below the surface of the yard, and then I moved rebar out of the borrowed flatbed trailer to the yard. As I’ve mentioned, rebar is heavy, at least for old ladies, so I opted to move carry two pieces at a time and walk more rather than try to try to lift ten pieces at a time.

That was my contribution to the garage.

garage rebar
Tyler, excavating. (That’s my neat pile of rebar there in the foreground.)

Meanwhile, as long as we had possession of it, Tyler was using the excavator to dig up bushes. Running an excavator is like playing a video game; the controls affect both the excavator itself and the operation of the scoop, depending on how you turn them. He maybe couldn’t have dug a precise trench but with a bit of practice to activate his muscle memory, he was digging up arborvitae roots like a pro in no time. Tyler first learned to operate a back hoe when he was trying to save money by digging his own septic system for his old tobacco farm decades ago. Necessity is the mother of invention (or something like that).

Tyler and I had been married nearly ten years, but I was learning new things about him all the time during this church renovation. I didn’t know he knew how to run an excavator until I saw him, sweaty and concentrating, behind the controls. Such a skill just doesn’t come up in everyday conversation. Fortunately for our budget, my Renaissance Man was saving us money in every phase of this undertaking.

Tomorrow: More heavy stuff—concrete. Read about it here.

Sometimes you have to fight through darkness to get to the light

Our story so far: In the mechanicals phase of renovating the old Methodist church into a home, we employed the services of an electrician. But he required direction in order to do his work.

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From an interior decorating standpoint, Tyler and I could agree on many things. I approved of his choice of the shape he chose for the balcony, and he approved of my ideas for a tile rug in front of the kitchen sink. We chose our great room sectional, the kitchen cabinets and the bathroom layout together, so we were simpatico.

The one thing we could not agree on was lighting.

It wasn’t even light fixtures we argued about—it was the very existence of lighting!

Tyler liked subdued, indirect lighting in all circumstances.

I liked direct, high-wattage lighting in most circumstances.

I attributed this to our eye color. He had blue eyes, and mine were brown. I thought his eyes let in more light than mine. But our preferences also might have been related to our leisure habits. He liked to nap. I liked to read. These activities required different kinds of lighting.

In any case, we needed to find ways around this profoundly different lighting philosophy. In many cases, we chose dimmable lights. In other cases, I simply lost the battle.

The sanctuary lighting, for example. I would have installed recessed can lights throughout. Instead, I got none.

As easy as it was to choose an electrician, our differing lighting styles made it hard to give him direction. This resulted in our first real fight about the church. I couldn’t believe I had to describe exactly how many and where the can lights in the kitchen would be. And Tyler couldn’t believe I didn’t realize this.

I hated the pressure of these decisions. I had to think about how we would be using each room, what appliances we’d use, how I was going to situate the furniture (and the lamps) and whether the ceiling light would hug the ceiling or be a pendant.

mudroom Electrical
Here’s one of the maps I created to guide our electrical choices.

After negotiating with Tyler, I ended up creating electrical maps of every room. I was the only one who consulted them, but at least I could direct the electrician (who wrote notes in Sharpie pen on the wall studs).


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Tomorrow: First impressions matter. Read about it here.