Family, Fidelia Hall, Life, Titusville, PA

The Summer of 2017

Summer 2017 has been full of ups and downs. The ups always outweigh the downs but it seems like this summer there have been quite a bit more downs than usual. While my journey of getting off of Prozac has probably contributed a bit to the greater frequency of downs, I’m not here to blame it all on that. I knew that with a radical change in my life there was bound to be things I needed to process and understand. I also recognize that it is ok to have these downs and to allow them to exist in my life as part of the entire picture.

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I went to relax and this chair broke as I was sitting in it. I think it is a good metaphor for how life is going these days. Photo by Haley Hoenke because she is good at capturing the best moments.

I have been heard saying “holy shit, we are getting older and our boys are really growing up and becoming independent individuals” multiple times this summer. If I’m having one of my down days, I hibernate away from the world and eventually after I snap out of it. Then when I see Finn and Aero I get a bit down because I’ve missed a very special moment in time with them as I hid my head. The moments that we have in front of us are all that we have and if we miss out on them they’re gone forever. I feel like I’ve missed out on way too many moments with Finn, Aero, and Haley this summer. If I’m already in a down mood this just helps exaggerate that mood. I have to find a way to achieve a balance.

Finn and Aero are growing up into wonderful, unique human beings. Finn has a bit of inventor and engineer in him. We are doing all that we can to encourage and foster his curiosity. This summer he was in a number of camps that did just that and he actually asked us after they were done if he could continue doing them! That’s different than last year, when we could tell that he was itching to get to the end of camp season. Aero still wasn’t into going to summer camps and only ended up being part of the YWCA sports camp (which he really enjoyed). I have to remind myself that Aero is still just 5 years old and that he’s still really excited to have some special extra time with his Mom and Dad. He really enjoyed those moments with us this summer. Here’s some LEGO animations Finn made this summer. Enjoy.

We did a lot of gardening once again but nowhere near as much as we did in 2016. I think that has to do with the fact that Haley’s sister got married in May and that took up a lot of our focus. Nonetheless the gardens of Fidelia Hall were beautiful and bountiful and a lot of the stuff that was established this year will thrive for years to come (bamboo, blueberries, kiwi, and more!). We also finally got to reap in the rewards of our Fall 2016 garlic planting and boy oh boy do we have more than enough garlic to last us for the year.

And work on Fidelia Hall continued. The start of the summer led to a flurry of activity, mostly the beginnings of installing a heating system, an entrance, and painting the tin ceiling. After that flurry of activity things just kind of stopped. I don’t know exactly why. Lack of extra money coming was a factor, as was the reality that some people charge way too much when it comes to helping out with things like repair and renovation. I’m not built for physical labor, so after a lot of it I kind of shut down. It also didn’t help that our paint sprayer decided to stop cooperating with us. Anywho there is still work that needs to be done and eventually we will get there.

 

 

Family, Fidelia Hall, Life, Titusville, PA

Let It Grow

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The idea of home being the most important thing has always been a big focus of my life. My life has always been focused around my family and where we live. A lot of who I am came from my upbringing in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA and a lot of who I am now as an adult comes from the home that I’ve built together with Haley over the past 12 years.

For the last two years we’ve made Fidelia Hall in Titusville, PA our home. At almost an acre with a house and an old church on the property, we’ve got a lot of space to grow and learn about the world around us right in the middle of our little town of 5,500 residents. One of the things we’ve been learning about are gardens and what most people call weeds. We want to understand why these things grow around us and how we can make a garden that incorporates things that we love to look at AND things that are helpful to the environment. We’re getting there. In our two years at Fidelia Hall we’ve planted things that we love (sunflowers, black-eyed susan, mint, chamomile, borage, and much more) and let a lot of what comes naturally grow without interruption. Things such as purslane and dandelions may not be desired by most people in the world, but they’re welcome in our gardens at home.

Our days in the spring and summer are spent preparing and maintaining the gardens as well as sitting back and enjoying them. Sitting in a hammock or chair and doing nothing but looking at how the bees are enjoying the borage become one of my favorite activities. When your home all around you thrives and grows your life becomes just a little bit more magical.

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This morning as we watered the gardens our children Finn and Aero ran around and begged us to spray them with the hose (which we did). The birds all around us chirped, our dog Sonic ran around like a crazy person, and the bees enjoyed the borage. As we watered the gardens, Haley and I talked about what was growing and made plans for years to come. I collected some of those “weeds” to feed to our chickens and rabbits. Those “weeds” were their food for the day, and boy oh boy did they ever enjoy it.

When we have a connection to the world around us, our lives can be significantly better. Everyone deserves a home where they can explore the amazing world we live in. When it comes to life, I say let it grow: let the “weeds” and other plants around you grow and from their growth you will have your own personal growth.

Family, Fidelia Hall, Life, Titusville, PA

A Series of Surprises

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In May of 1967 Derek Taylor spoke of the fate of Smile in his press release. Smile “has been SCRAPPED. Not destroyed, but scrapped”. Could this mean that there was still some merit seen in the songs, but they would be ‘converted’ into other songs? This was effectively the fate of the Smile songs. They were reshaped, in constant chase of improvement. Brian himself stated, “1967 should bring a series of surprises for everyone from the Beach Boys.” (from EarCandy Mag: http://earcandy_mag.tripod.com/rrcase-2.htm)


Life is a long series of surprises and my life is no different. One of the biggest surprises to me was that so much of what I grew up learning from the people in my life was either not true at all or was twisted to fit their specific idea about life. I chose a photo of dandelions for this post because I think it visually sums up what I’m thinking here. Here in America we’re told that a nice lawn is full of green grass, well kept and groomed, and free of what we’ve dubbed “weeds”. Dandelions have been unfortunately placed in the weed category. Because of this there’s been an almost all out genocide on dandelions. Despite their wealth of benefits for humans and bees, they’ve become undesirable.

I grew up in one of those neighborhoods where lawns had to be perfect. Ours was cut, edged, and manicured weekly. If a neighbor did something with their lawn you better believe we had 24-48 hours to respond. About once a month some guy (it was always a guy) brought his truck around and sprayed the yard down with what looked like pellets you’d put on your ice cream. I was always told that this helped the lawn look how it did and that the lawn was better for looking that way.

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Cut to the last two years of my life where the ideas of the home, gardens, and Fidelia Hall have become very important to my happiness. As I settled into this chapter of my life I learned a lot of things: your yard doesn’t have to be green and well manicured, what we call “weeds” are actually really good for the Earth and by attempting to wipe them out we’re destroying the world, and that those “pellets you’d put on your ice cream” that my parents were spraying their lawn with were horrible poison. Life is a series of surprises.

Now the point of this post isn’t to go all Captain Planet and talk about the importance of being kind to the Earth. Of course I think you should but if you’re already doing it I’m not going to change your mind and part of me thinks we’re fucked anyways. The point is to recognize that life is a series of surprises. The Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys album SMiLE and the quote which starts this post have been on my mind recently when I think about my life right now. Has everything turned out as they were originally planned? No. But nothing really ever turns out as we think they are going to turn out. SMiLE was going to be THE album of its time, but it didn’t become that. Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles took that honor. What came out instead of SMiLE was a series of songs and albums that were “reshaped, in constant chase of improvement.” My life recently had a SMiLE moment. Instead of it being a defeat or the start of some kind of long spiraling descent into depression, I’ve decided to see that this moment was another part in the series of surprises that makes up life and that and that what I’m doing is reshaped things around me, always tuned into the constant chase of improvement which follows my life.

That change? Via https://fideliahall.com

Fidelia Hall is first and foremost the homestead of the Hoenke family. It is our hope that through our passion for family, community, creativity, sustainability, flowers, bees, art, fun, and food, that our contributions to the world will chip a tiny crack in the massive wall of negativity, fear, and greed that drives our culture.

We are not a business. We are not a non-profit. We are not a church. We are not a social club. We have explored every avenue and consulted every consultant and nothing fits. So we’ve decided to just be us.

I don’t expect you to “get it” nor do I care. The only thing I’ve gotta get is a hold of my life and my happiness. And I’m always doing that.


The Dandelion Celebration: A Guide to Unexpected Cuisine is a great book to borrow from your local library by the way

Family, Fidelia Hall, Life, Titusville, PA

Goodbye Muted World: Seven Years Ago

About seven years ago I was told the truth about how someone close to me had made their money in the world. Before that, I was under the impression that it was through years of hard work and dedication to their craft. It made sense to me for such a long time. Since I was a child I was told that hard work and dedication would pay off. I believed this because that's what you do as a child: you tend to believe what the adults in your life tell you.

Once I learned the truth about how someone close to me earned their way ahead in life, everything changed. I had long wondered why my hard work and dedication to my job hadn't paid off yet. I was still struggling to get groceries. I couldn't afford to buy a proper home for my growing family. I was at the point where things should have been changing, but everything remained the same. My outlook on modern life changed. Gone was the hope that all of this work in libraries would "pay off". Now listen, I always knew I wasn't gonna get rich being a librarian. I never really wanted to get rich. I just wanted to be able to exist. But after this it donned on me that the ability to exist wasn't gonna happen.

In the world we've created, there's always this extra step that people gotta take to make it. You've gotta give up part of your soul, lose your innocence, align yourself with someone who has money, or dabble in things that get you ahead. I decided I wasn't gonna do any of that and here I am now.

I wouldn't change a thing about the life I surround myself with. As a family we're top notch. We've got a connection, we've got a unique life, and we've got love. None of that is worth losing just to get ahead in the world.

At the same time, I'm recognizing in a post anti depressant world that there are hurdles and bumps along the way. Tonight was a big one that can't get out of my head. After visiting a friend this evening we walked home and I had to explain to Finn (age 8) why we couldn't stop along the way to have a drink in a local restaurant. "We don't have any money right now" is something that's really hard to say to your kid. To Finn, it's not just a quick 20 minute stop at a restaurant to have a soda. For him it's an experience and a moment in his childhood. And I couldn't give that to him. I was, and still am at this moment, almost completely devastated over the fact that I couldn't have a $2 soda with my family.

After talking a bit more Finn said, "I wish we were so rich we could get a mansion and not live in this old house". I explained to him that it wasn't that simple, but I couldn't elaborate much more because I was completely spent mentally. I spent the rest of the night partially mute because anything I said came out grumpy and frustrated, further fueling my present state of sadness.

Learning how that someone close to me had made their money in the world did two things for me:

  1. It showed me the path I did not want to take because I did not want to lose all that was good and pure in the world.
  2. It showed me how fake the world that we've constructed around us really is. If you wanna be a part of this world, you've gotta lie and cheat the system.

I know I chose the right path, but goddamnit sometimes I just wish I could get that soda with my family.

Family, Fidelia Hall, Life, Titusville, PA

Fidelia Hall (Winter/Spring 2017 Update)

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Photo by Nadine Byers

When we decided to buy a 144 year old church building and a house that’s most likely also over 100 years old, we knew that we would be looking at nonstop home repairs, upgrades, and more. We knew that once we completed a project that it would be onto the next one, and that each project would help us “discover” what the next project would be. All of that has been true up to this point. Fixing the back roof led to us discovering just how much water damage had occurred to a certain area of the community room. Fixing the boiler led us to discover just how many of our radiators were damaged beyond repair. These things happen. Even though it’s not usually the best news to hear that you’re gonna have to find more money and time to fix something else, we’ve decided to take another approach: everything we discover we fix, and every little fix gets us one step closer to our goals. It is a slow process for sure, but we feel that a positive outlook on things makes the process go a whole lot smoother.

And now….onto the updates:

PART ONE: Downstairs at Fidelia Hall 

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This winter we made a big choice: that our family would be moving into the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall. Why? As with so many parts of our story, it starts with water. We found that there is most likely some kind of a leak behind a few of the walls in our house. Small water leaks are never great, as they are hard to pinpoint and then there’s always the possibility of mold (especially in a house that’s over 100 years old). With all of this in mind, we evaluated where we were at and what we wanted to do and….we’re moving into the downstairs of the old church building.

But there was (and still is) work to be done, and some of that is in the photos above. What you’re seeing is the downstairs space, now free of carpet and a drop ceiling! Underneath the carpet and drop ceiling were two great unpolished gems: a hardwood floor and the original tin ceiling. Both the floor and the tin ceiling are in need of some love, but we’re getting there. Over the last few months, we (Haley and I) have been using an air compressor to blast away any of the chipped and flaking paint on the ceiling. We’ve got one room left and after that we’re onto painting the tin ceiling. That should happen soon! All of the carpet has been pulled up and soon we will head to the local True Value to rent a floor sander and get that hardwood floor back to looking beautiful.

There’s a lot more to do with the downstairs and I’ll just post that here: my parents have been extremely kind and helpful to us with this project and a month ago they purchased a new furnace for the downstairs space. This week we will begin installing that furnace, and after painting the ceiling we will move onto the duct work that will heat the downstairs. A few other projects involve building a downstairs bathroom, fixing up the electrical wires and switches, and then moving onto fixing the kitchen ceiling. Like I said above, everything we discover we fix, and every little fix gets us one step closer to our goals. We will get there.

Once we move into the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall, we will then move onto the next project: gutting the house. Why gut the house? A lot of what exists in the house today was something that was built on top of something that was built on top of something, and so on. You have to remember the history of the space: it was always the home of the pastor of the church and their family. With that in mind, we like to think that all of the repairs done to the house were part of a deal we call the “parishioner’s special”, where the pastor asked members of the church to volunteer their time to help fix up the pastor’s house. A lot of the repairs we’ve seen in the house are totally DIY work, and while these are fine over the years they haven’t held up so well. We want to fix that. With that said, if we dig deep in the house during this process and find that the damage to the bones of the place have been compromised, we may end up tearing down the house. I don’t think it’ll come to this, but who knows. On the plus side, we’ll have more space for gardens and chickens and all of the things we love.

PART TWO: All the other little things

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While the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall has been our major focus at the moment, we’re also thinking about everything else. In February, my father, my brother, and I got to visit an old convent in Pittsburgh, PA that was in the process of being torn down. From that convent, we got 10 radiators, 3 fire safe doors, 2 fire safe door frames, a water heater, and a few other odds and ends. It was a day full of a lot of work, but we got what we needed at a really cheap price (only $125!) and we are sure that all of this great recycled stuff will eventually find its way into Fidelia Hall. The radiators will be installed in the upstairs space we’re calling The Great Hall and with a few tweaks they’ll be heating that space up next winter. Finding this stuff second hand was quite an amazing moment for us: while all of this stuff isn’t brand new, it works and it gets us one step closer to our goals.

We hope to complete these repairs by the winter of 2017-2018. Moving into this new space and having heat in the upstairs of Fidelia Hall will allow us to focus on cutting down our utilities (electric/heat for two buildings can get expensive).

PART 3: Spring and Summer and Gardens and Chickens

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We love spring and summer and we know you do too. At Fidelia Hall, we really love building gardens, feeding all of the birds around the property, and building flower gardens for the bees and butterflies who live all around us. This year, Haley has come up with some great ideas for the gardens. Expect to see us dabbling in growing some kiwi, apples, and other fruits as well as our standard vegetables. Last year’s straw bale gardens were a success, but this year Haley is interested in hugelkultur for the gardens. What’s hugelkultur? It’s basically the process of taking rotting wood, twigs, branches, and other things and using that to build your gardens. It basically will look like this (image from http://permaculturenews.org/2012/01/04/hugelkultur-composting-whole-trees-with-ease)

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And for now, that’s all we got. Thank you to everyone for keeping up with our family, Fidelia Hall, and more. We’re getting there!

 

Abigail Foster's Photosynthesis Machine, Family, Fidelia Hall, Libraries, Life, Music

WEEK OF MUSIC: “Either Way I’m Fine”

It makes me so very happy to be able to put this new album out into the world.

All of the albums that I have shared this week were written and recorded between 2004 and 2009. Once Haley and I started growing our family I just kind of stopped. It wasn’t one of those big planned out things…it just happened that way. I still played a lot of acoustic guitar around the house and there was always music happening, but it just wasn’t anything that got recorded and released. I had about 8 years to sit with this music and after all those years it got me thinking….maybe I should try to record another album?

I’ve refocused myself around the name ABIGAIL FOSTER’S PHOTOSYNTHESIS MACHINE. Who is Abigail Foster? What’s a Photosynthesis Machine? I don’t know, but I like how it all sounds together!  With all of this nicely put together and a name in place, I gathered what I had, put it all back together as ABIGAIL FOSTER’S PHOTOSYNTHESIS MACHINE, and this week I’ve released all of that music back out into the world.

And today is the last day for that music, but with this final day comes something neato: a completely new album titled EITHER WAY I’M FINE.

This album is the sound of settling into life. It is the sound of a human being and his family. It is the sound of Fidelia Hall. It is a glimpse into the years between 2009-2016 and everything in between. It encompasses a lot of chapters and ideas: Gemini. Happiness. Depression. Extremes. Feelings. Muted. Thoughts. Actions. Wind chimes. Chickens. Family. Rabbits. Boys. Old churches. Moving. Growth. Leadership. Failing. Love. Being. Community. Understanding. Chaos. Mother. Father. Brother. Work. Building. Patience. Conspiracies. EITHER WAY I’M FINE.

You have a few options with how you can listen to and download these albums:

  1. You can purchase the albums at the Abigail Foster’s Photosynthesis Machine website. The albums are $7 each and any money made from the purchase of these albums goes into one of two things: Arbacarba Records, which will invest the money in making these albums available on streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, etc) or Fidelia Hall, which will help with the repairs and restoration of this 144 year old community center. Once purchased, you can download the albums in a variety of formats (MP3, FLAC, and more) or stream them via the free Bandcamp app (iTunes, Android)
  2. You can stream the albums for free at the Abigail Foster’s Photosynthesis Machine website.
  3. If you are a library (public, academic, special) and you wish to add any of the Abigail Foster’s Photosynthesis Machine albums to your digital collection, you may do so by contacting me at justinthelibrarian at gmail dot com and I will gladly share these albums with you as MP3 or WAV formats. Once you have these files, your library will be able to provide your library card patrons with these albums for free by adding them to your library digital music collection at no cost to you.

I hope you enjoy this album!

 

 

Abigail Foster's Photosynthesis Machine, Family, Fidelia Hall, Libraries, Life, Music

WEEK OF MUSIC: “Monsters”

Playing music with my friends for the “Everyone C’mon Get Happy” album release party really inspired me. What came out of my final year in the studio (before having children with Haley) was an album titled Monsters. For me, that album brought it all back full circle…once again I was working on music alone in my room. I got a drum machine and I was listening to almost exclusively Prince, so I wanted to try my hand again at putting together an album by myself. It was fun to write songs around drum loops and to experiment with keyboards instead of just playing a lot of guitar.

After I finished up this album, I continued to write music but nothing ever really got recorded or finished….that is until 2016 hit and from that year came a new album which will be released TOMORROW! Stay tuned!

You have a few options with how you can listen to and download these albums:

  1. You can purchase the albums at the Abigail Foster’s Photosynthesis Machine website. The albums are $7 each and any money made from the purchase of these albums goes into one of two things: Arbacarba Records, which will invest the money in making these albums available on streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, etc) or Fidelia Hall, which will help with the repairs and restoration of this 144 year old community center. Once purchased, you can download the albums in a variety of formats (MP3, FLAC, and more) or stream them via the free Bandcamp app (iTunes, Android)
  2. You can stream the albums for free at the Abigail Foster’s Photosynthesis Machine website.
  3. If you are a library (public, academic, special) and you wish to add any of the Abigail Foster’s Photosynthesis Machine albums to your digital collection, you may do so by contacting me at justinthelibrarian at gmail dot com and I will gladly share these albums with you as MP3 or WAV formats. Once you have these files, your library will be able to provide your library card patrons with these albums for free by adding them to your library digital music collection at no cost to you.

I hope you enjoy this album!