I walked by a public school today (a really great one!) and I saw about 30 kids playing at the playground. They seemed to be in very specific groups: those playing basketball, those playing on the playground equipment, and those around the teacher. They were all nicely fenced in by a giant 12 foot tall fence (I totally understand the need for this by the way) and it hit me: I wouldn’t change our lives as homeschoolers for anything in the world. I’ll eat nothing but ramen every day for the next 10-13 years of my life and be as poor as poor can be to keep this happening. I think about the past week that we had together and what we did and it makes me happy:
Wrote and drew a graphic novel (Finn)
Created his own guitar/keytar (Aero)
Went to swimming lessons (Finn)
Visited the library twice (Finn & Aero)
Worked on our gardens (Finn & Aero)
Went on some side quests in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Finn & Aero)
Did some dress up and role playing (Finn & Aero)
Read some books (Finn & Aero)
Learning happens all the time and I love being able to live a life with Haley, Finn, and Aero where we can explore this together at our own pace. There should be more freedom in our world. There should be less schedules. There should be more curiosity.
Even though we’ve really only been playing THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD (combined playtime for Justin+Haley+Finn=over 125 hours) we have been having a wonderful time with the system. First up, Zelda: the game is amazing, fun, and sparks great curiosity and exploration in all of us at the Hoenke house. Every time one of us plays it we have discussions about what we’re doing and who we’re encountering. We’re telling each other so many stories about what we find in the game and in turn we’re inspiring each other to try new things. Second, the Nintendo Switch system itself is glorious. At times it can feel a bit more delicate than previous Nintendo systems. The amazing thing about is the ability to take it from the TV to wherever you want without any interruption. While Finn and Aero were inside using the TV yesterday afternoon after being outside all morning I spent my time in a hammock outside playing Zelda. It was glorious.
I wrote two articles about the Nintendo Switch for InfoToday recently and you can read those here:
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
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
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
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)
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!
People have asked me why I left Chattanooga TN and the Chattanooga Public Library. WHY JUSTIN? Were you so very unhappy there? Was it not what it seemed? Why would you leave such a rad place to live in the middle of nowhere Western Pennsylvania? I hate to burst your bubble and dampen all the gossip but here are the four reasons why we left Chattanooga TN and the Chattanooga Public Library.
I got a great job offer at a very cool library in Titusville PA and they wanted me to give this whole being Executive Director thing a shot and I was totally ready to give it a shot after learning from some ofthe bestlibrary leaders in my career. (run on sentence yes)
I was born and raised in Western PA and had the chance to live relatively close to all of my family members for the first time since 2005.
Grandparents/Aunts/Uncles/Cousins are great people to have around, especially when you have two awesome kids yourself. Family is one of the most important things in the world.
Haley and I had the chance to buy an awesome house THAT CAME WITH AN OLD CHURCH.
For the sake of this blog post, we are gonna focus on REASON #4…THE CHURCHHOUSE HOUSECHURCH PROJECT.
I’m not gonna bore you with the history of the building and the property, but you can knock yourself out by clicking any of these images below for bigger versions:
Simply stated, there was a church and a parsonage for sale because it was no longer being used for a church and a parsonage and Haley and I, looking for a place to live in our new community said, “HEY! We should probably just go for it and buy this thing.” So we did, and thus began THE CHURCHHOUSE HOUSECHURCH PROJECT.
Let’s knock out some FAQ’S first:
YOU BOUGHT TWO BUILDINGS? WTF?!?!? Yes. When presented with the opportunity to go all out and try something radical, the Hoenke Family goes for it.
YOU MUST BE SUPER RICH TO BUY ALL THAT Nope. We are two adults between the ages of 29-35 with two kids and massive student loan debt. I am a librarian and Haley is a stay at home homeschooling mom teacher artist wife superlady. Plus, the whole property was only $60,000.
ONLY $60,000?!?!?! We may not have all the fancy things like a big city like NYC may have, but we have a great cost of living that makes it totally possible to raise a family, enjoy life, and try something neat-o like buying a house and church. I am happy to trade the fancy things for the easier cost of living.
WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO WITH THAT THING? Time to resume the blog post.
We live in the parsonage. It’s a great house that needs some work but you know what? Everything need some work? The house needs some work, so we do that work and we live with it. In the meantime, we have a roof over our heads, running water, heat, and all is well in the world.
The old church came to us in pretty good condition. There was a bit of a soggy basement, some spotty electricity, and a heating system that may or may not work at 100% Slowly but surely things are getting fixed. The electricity is back (thanks to Penelec with the speedy customer service), we know what’s up with the heater (turn it on, let the heat rise, and wish for the best), and the water is mostly gone thanks to some leftover gutters and duct tape.
The plan? It isn’t easy to describe in one or two words, but think of the space as a community center where weddings, birthday parties, meetings, lectures, music, movies, and more can happen. Imagine a yoga instructor or massage therapist looking for some space to rent for a bit while they get their clientele built up. We have that space and if you are a cool human being who is all about making the world a better place, well we would like to chat with you.
I think that’s what it really boils down to: good people coming together with a positive energy to do great things for their community and surrounding areas. It sounds like a library, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that. Blame it on my career as a librarian and my wife Haley’s mom being a librarian. Having libraries all around you in your life kind of rubs off on you. But it’s a good thing. Libraries are all about helping people with their needs. Want a book? Sure we have that. Need a computer? We have that too? Just want to chat with someone? We are awesome at that.
At the same time, there are some things that nag me about public libraries. We can’t do this. We can’t do that. We’re still not the best at communicating who we are and what we do. The ChurchHouse HouseChurch Project is an attempt to, in my own little world, work around those things that nag me so that I can accomplish (along with my wife) some amazing things for the community. Public Library World, don’t fret…I ain’t going anywhere. These two things (Public Library plus ChurchHouse HouseChurch) go hand in hand. They are both things in a community that are all about giving back and being as awesome as possible in general.
That’s everything. Will this work? I have no idea. In our eyes, the worst thing that can happen is that nothing works out and in the end we move into the church building, live there, and rent out the house. That’s not a bad scenario either. It will look kind of like this.
In the end, I’m pretty sure we all get to live one life. Why not have fun, take some risk, and try something new? ChurchHouse HouseChurch is our attempt at that in a physical form. Here we go.
The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library has been in its current state, a place for ages 0-18 and their caregivers, for 564 days, or 1 year, 6 months, and 16 days as of today. If you’re visiting The 2nd Floor for the first time today or have visited us over the past 564 days, you’ve probably wondered what it’s all about up on the 2nd Floor. This post is my attempt to explain all of that and more to you.
The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library is all about people. It is a place where the community, library employees, out of town guests, and more can connect, share an experience, and learn something. It is a place where lifelong learning and fun meet in the middle, get all messy, and create something awesome.
The 2nd Floor is a constant work in progress. Repeat visitors to the 2nd Floor always remark how “things have changed quite a bit” and that there’s “a lot more” than there was the last time they visited. Their observations are spot on. We may not have the newest furniture, shelves, tools, and more around (it’ll come), but we change everything around enough to keep it fresh and exciting for the community. We use what we have to make this place a great experience for the community. If something works, we keep it around and refine it. If it doesn’t work, we let it go and try something new. To be the best library for our community, we have to move forward and meet their needs.
When you visit the 2nd Floor, you won’t see endless rows of books in the space. Instead, you’ll find a well groomed collection that represents what the community wants. You may see two rows of The Hunger Games on the shelves, but they are there because the community asked for them. You will find our books arranged and presented in a way that best reflects the needs of the community. The picture books are as low to the ground as we can get them at the moment to allow for little hands to find what they want. The graphic novels have their own unique areas. Our non-fiction shelves for middle aged readers are overflowing because that’s what the community wants.
As I said above, the 2nd Floor is all about people. But we have to remember that a library is also made up of the people that work in it as well. The 2nd Floor is home to some of the most amazing colleagues I have ever had the chance to work with. Some have been here 15 years and some have been here 6 months. No matter how long they’ve been there, one thing connects us all: a passion for what we do and a great care for our community. All of our 2nd Floor employees bring different attributes to the table: creativity, reliability, organization, energy, and more. All of these attributes meet in the middle and create something amazing. Simply stated: the 2nd Floor staff are awesome.
3D Printers, iMacs, button makers, video games, and more are just things that live on the 2nd Floor. Yes, they are nice tools to have in the library and it is great that we can give our community access to them. I am fully aware that not every library can have the same tools that we have in our library. But here’s the thing: they are just tools. The 3D printer will stop being the cool and popular thing over the next few years. The computers will need to be replaced. Items will break. These are all ok scenarios. They are all just items. They are all just things. Without the community coming into the library to use the 2nd Floor, they are just empty, unused things. It is what the community does with these tools that makes their place on the 2nd Floor so special.
The tools that your library offers to the community should reflect what the community needs. Does your community not want a 3D printer? That’s ok. You don’t have to get a 3D printer. It can start simple: pens, pencils, and paper. That’s an art and writing station. It can grow to include some hand-me-down or donated items, like a sewing machine. If it needs to, it can grow from there. In the picture above, one of our frequent library users is using an older sewing machine brought in by one of our library employees. They used it together to make a robe just like Hermione wears in Harry Potter. It was a great experience using tools and items that we had all around us.
The 2nd Floor is flexible. It has rules because it needs rules in order to survive and function properly. But the 2nd Floor is open to interpretation. The community will make it what they want it to be at that moment. In the photo above, the 3D printer has become the test subject for a teen’s interest in learning how to do time lapse photography. Flexibility and the desire to take a chance on something new allows your community to thrive and grow.
The 2nd Floor is unique in that it doesn’t push kids, tweens, teens, and their caregivers into age specific corners. It’s about following your interests and sharing a positive interaction with someone…a family member, a friend, or someone you just met. When you open up your library to interests and interactions like these, some great moments can occur. Instead of checking the IDs of everyone that enters the the library, the library employees are free to then interact with the community and develop relationships. They are able to chat and connect. This is where something magical happens and what I consider to be the best part of the modern public library experience: The library as the place where the community connects.
Sure, we have all this great stuff you can borrow. We have loads of programs and experiences for you if you visit our physical locations. We have loads of downloadables that you can enjoy on your device. All of that is great. But what makes the library magical is when people connect: all ages, all genders, all races. They come together to learn and have fun. They put everything aside and enjoy a moment together. From those moments, bonds and connections are made. Some last minutes. Some last a lifetime. Those connections are what helps our communities grow. Healthy communities lead to happiness. Happiness is something global. Happiness is something that spreads everywhere. It all starts with one interaction and it grows.