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

Frozen in place


I took this picture last week during a short walk between weather systems. It warmed up, it cooled down, it snowed, it rained, it froze; we covered a lot of bases in the cosmic game of climate change in one week.

But when the rain froze on the bushes alongside the driveway, I thought it was kind of pretty. Not fun to walk in–I later heard two hair-raising stories from relatives who fell on their slick driveways–so it was pretty and also pretty hazardous.

The next day, we woke up to this.

fallen tree

Turns out frozen water is not only grave in the right conditions but weighty, too. These huge branches from a tree fell on the neighbor’s driveway overnight. That clump of trees on the left borders the church property.

After consulting with the village fathers, we determined the branches came from a tree belonging to us. We got a little assistance shoving the detritus out of the way so our neighbors could proceed to work. We are now mourning the chainsaw that chewed its last piece of scenery last summer. It gave Tyler the best thirty years of its life, but when it quit, the small engine repair determined it could not be resurrected.

Perhaps we have to replace it after all.

Candle lighting in a church

candle lighting
Let there be light.
As the snow falls outside in a way that’s somewhere between lazy and impressive, I’m getting cozy. “Hygge,” the Danish word for the type coziness that engenders contentment and well-being, is part of the design scheme around here, and according to the hygge experts, candles are a crucial element of hygge.

Of course, when you live in a converted church, you might not use matches to light your candles, particularly if you became the owner of a candlelighter when you took ownership of the church.

Those who regularly attend worship services see acolytes using these instruments every Sunday.

We found the functional end of the church candlelighter during demolition a year ago. It lacked the traditional wooden handle. Tyler and I imagined what might have happened: A cherubic young acolyte with an attention deficit tripped and fell wildly, breaking off the handle to the candlelighter. Let’s hope it was some incident as slapstick as that; no injuries reported.

candle lighter

Tyler repaired our candlelighter with a fence spire we picked up for a song at some antique shop. We didn’t know what we would do with such a strange item, but we knew we would find some use. And, ta da, a use materialized. Tyler attached the spire as a handle.

But he wasn’t finished yet. The wax candle taper inside was about an inch long. We needed a replacement. As you can imagine, such an item isn’t widely available next to the jar candles at Yankee candle outlets. Tyler put his impressive online shopping skills to work and found what we needed: Wax Lighting Tapers, sold 120 pieces at a time.

wax lighting tapers

So, we are equipped to light candles into the next century. So be it. I remember being a nervous acolyte as a teenage confirmand at church many years ago, but the experience equipped me to use our candlelighter with confidence. It’s much more fun and easier to use than matches. No burnt fingers! And the extinguisher is better than blowing wax everywhere, too.

Here’s to a cozy night, tucked in for a snowstorm.

An unnecessary freezing of water

church sign unreadable
Got snow? Read this. I dare ya.

We’ve been binge-watching “Narcos,” the web television series chronicling the rise of the cocaine trade in the late ’80s in Colombia. With all its gnarly fashion and even gnarlier drug kingpins, principally drug lord Pablo Escobar, it’s a gritty drama that requires your rapt attention, primarily because of all the subtitles for the Spanish but also because you never know who’s going to get shot next.

If you’re a “Narcos” fan, too, then you understand the sort of snow “big blow” might be describing.

But when you live in Wisconsin in the wintertime, it means something altogether different.

smiling Ty
Smiling beneath his balaclava.

As I was taking pictures of the season’s first big snowfall this morning, Tyler said “Hold on for a shot of the big blow.”

He actually yelled it. Over the purr of his new snowblower.

He proceeded to turn up the horsepower and push his monster machine into a drift on the driveway.

Voilà. Big blow.

big blow
When you build a big driveway, you have a big job clearing the snow.

Like my mother, who grew up on the plains of North Dakota, I am not a fan of snow. But as she pointed out to me on the phone this morning, it can be pretty and some people go entire lifetimes without getting to see it sparkle or line a tree’s branches.

So for my readers living near the equator (or at least a lot nearer than me), here you go.

front door snow
The blue cast on the photos is the effect of the dawn light. Here in the arctic zone, the sun is still working on climbing over the horizon at 7 o’clock in the morning.

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Today’s headline is a quote from American comedian Carl Reiner: “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”


When it rains, look for rainbows

Our story so far: Wrong wiring here, a wrong faucet there … as we finished details on the old Methodist church we were turning into a home, we had to correct mistakes that had been made earlier in the renovation.

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When it rained, it poured, as the old figure of speech goes. It applied literally, too. Another monsoon befell us, this time while we were trying to enjoy some free time over Labor Day weekend. It washed out our boating plans and our basement.

The basement was still flooding on the regular. It appeared that Tyler’s inventive drainage techniques, executed via a lot of back-breaking digging by his hired man St. Johnny, had resolved the leaks on the south and north sides of the church. But he hadn’t finished working on the east side, where huge piles of dirt we’d salvaged from the school’s parking lot still stood as monuments to Tyler’s distractions inside the church. Rain barrels and rock were invested in, and St. Johnny dug man-sized holes to accommodate them.

We crossed our fingers until the next rainfall, and then it happened. Rain poured out of the sky. Tyler peeked out the window, and the gutter on the east side of the house looked like an active fire hose, shooting water eight feet out into the yard. He braved the heavy rain to secure the elbow at the bottom of the gutter. Ugh, he’d forgotten to secure that section with a screw. He reconnected the pieces of gutter so all the water from roof was now shooting into his drainage system, not the yard. But some of the early deluge, alas, made it into the basement.

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Tomorrow: Good afternoon, good evening and good night! Chapter 39 about everything wrong with the church wraps up. Read about it here.

The first pass at sanding is not only an event, it is a magical event

Our story so far: Having accomplished basic prep on the hardwood floors of the sanctuary of the old Methodist church, it was time to try sanding it.

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heart attack snow
Looks like cotton, feels like it weighs a ton.

It was still winter that first day Tyler tried sanding the floors. The morning dawned with five inches of heart attack snow on the ground and an early morning wake-up call.

The day before, Tyler called Home Depot to inquire about renting a floor sander. He was told they were rented on a first-come, first-served basis; he couldn’t reserve one. But he asked the guy at the rental desk if he might give him a call that night to confirm a floor sander was available when the store closed, which would indicate if one might be available in the morning. The guy agreed to give Tyler a call, but Tyler didn’t actually expect him to do it, given our experience at that point with flaky contractors and our inexperience with the folks employed at the local Home Depot. But indeed, at 8:15 p.m., the guy called and confirmed not one but two floor sanders would be available the next morning.

So Tyler woke up, made coffee, drove to Home Depot to pick up the floor sander, grabbed breakfast at Starbucks and was back at our rental house by seven o’clock, where I was groggily brushing my teeth and making coffee.

“Mission accomplished?” I asked.

“Yup! Today’s the day we take the top layer of grunge off the floor.”

He was excited. I was just waking up.

But I got dressed while he snowblowed the sidewalk in front of our rental house. We’d sold our enormous high-powered snowblower a year before when we embarked for a life on the road, never dreaming we’d be living in the snowy Midwest again so soon.

But lucky us: Among the strange and varied items the congregation left behind at the church was a little snowblower. It didn’t work, but Tool-Time Tyler was never deterred but such details. He fiddled with some element or another of the small engine, filled it with gas, and voila, we were the proud owners of a snowblower again.

The winter so far had called more often for a shovel than a blower, but that morning’s snow was deep and heavy. So when we were ready to head to the church, we loaded the little snowblower alongside the big floor sander in the back of the truck, and the first task was clearing the sidewalks over there.

Remember the church so many months ago? Notice the former doors on the front and the dumpster outside.
well shoveled sidewalk
There’s a sidewalk under all that snow!

Blowing snow, as it happens, is a lot like sanding floors. Move slowly, walk in a straight line, generate a lot of snowdrifts (or sawdust drifts). I didn’t appreciate the act of shoveling all that much, but I liked looking back over a well-shoveled sidewalk and feeling satisfied.

With a lot of foot traffic from a parade of contractors ahead of us, we weren’t interested in finishing the hardwood floors just yet, but Tyler took the opportunity presented by the wide-open spaces to sand off the top layer of glue and mastic with a drum-type floor sander and 24-grit sandpaper.

Wow, talk about a feeling of satisfaction! Our 126-year old Douglas fir flooring in the main sanctuary was beautiful under all that gunk. Some people might object to the knots and seams, but with a rustic transitional design scheme, it was perfect for us.

first look at hardwood
Here’s how the Douglas fir of the sanctuary floor looked after the first sanding.

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Today’s headline was appropriated from English novelist J.B. Priestly who once wrote, “The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?”

Tomorrow: Oh, the sanding has just begun. You thought a stairway had a lot of steps. Read about them here.


Welcome to hail

Our story so far: Concrete work began on the garage for the old Methodist church we were turning into our dream home.

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I’ll take an order of spring with a side of mud, please.

By now the yard was a muddy mess, and continued rain would intermittently interrupt our progress. Between the heavy machinery and the intermittent spring showers, our lawn looked like a pig pen with apparently random concrete walls sticking out it. Not that we had a lush yard of grass to begin with unless you count the crabgrass.

Among the spring showers dripping on our construction zone was a hail storm for the ages. A squall rolled through about 9 o’clock one evening. It sounded like a guy with a baseball bat was pounding on the flat roof of our rental house. Tyler went outside to determine the damage and brought back a jagged lemon-sized piece of ice, one of many.

The next morning, there were holes as big as my fist in the west-side window screens of the rental and twigs and branches covered the yard.

Tiny dents were in evidence on our vehicles. An assessment of the church property revealed hail damage to the west side of the cargo trailer and, alas, the church.

hail dents
The west side of the church pockmarked with little hail dents.

During the next few weeks, no fewer than a dozen roofing and siding contractors visited us, offering to repair the hail damage and work with our insurance. This didn’t make sense for us given our deductibles, but scores of neighbors enlisted their help. Soon we wouldn’t be the only property in town with hammer-wielding contractors making improvements.

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Tomorrow: The best use of mud. Read about it here.