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.

 

 

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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, Libraries, Life, Titusville, PA

Food Stamps, the Feeling of Failure, Student Loans, and Life as a Library

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Last week, Haley and I applied for food stamps. Our family, which has been going on strong for 11 years and now includes 2 awesome kids, Haley’s mom, our dog Sonic, 3 chickens, and 2 rabbits, have hit a period in our journey where we couldn’t do it without help anymore.

I know that there’s a reason I pay taxes. They are there to help….my family and I, others in need, and more. This is one of those situations where we needed help. I understand this very well. I am all for taxes that help out others in my community. We are all in this together and together we can do amazing things. At the same time there’s a stigma that comes from applying for and using food stamps: that somehow you’ve failed, you’re lazy, or you’re just downright an average human being. I try to have a healthy mind and outlook on everything, but I’ve gotta admit that I’ve fallen into this pit recently. I’m a 36 year old human being, I’ve got a wonderful job which I’m pretty good at, an amazing and happy family, and I’ve done some other things that I’m also really proud of. But here I am at this point where I feel like a failure just because I need some help. It shouldn’t be this way.

We’ve used the support of food stamps before. When Haley and I first got married, we were finishing up college. We both had part time jobs in addition to our full time school workload. The food stamps helped out a lot. Back then, the feeling of being a complete failure because you’re on food stamps wasn’t as big as it is now. Having a family and needing food stamps feels like you’ve hit the bottom. I think about this feeling that I’m having and then I think about all of the others out there who are on food stamps, especially those with families just like mine. What happens when you have all of those people out there in the same situation? You have millions of people out there feeling that they’ve lost all hope, that they’re somehow pathetic, and that they’ve failed. You have millions of people who feel like shit just for wanting to make sure their family doesn’t go hungry. When you have that many people feeling bad in the country, those bad vibes add up. It can’t be proved, but I really think the general malaise surrounding things in our country is somehow related to feelings like this.

On our end, I know that student loan debt is crippling. We’re both on programs that give us flexibility with our payments (income based repayment). While these do help, it’s still tough to have around $100K of debt total hanging over your head just because you went to college, got an education, and pursued a career in something you felt could make a difference in the world. I also understand the argument “well, you went into college knowing full well what would happen.” I’ve heard this many times before. I can see it from two sides: of course I knew (something) about how I’d be in debt once I left college. When I went, they told us about it. Did they tell us the specifics? Sort of kind of maybe not. I started college in 1998 and at that time it was just “oh yeah, you’ll have some debt but it’ll be OK because you’ll be a college graduate.” Most of us became the first great generation of student loan debt holders. And we’re still here! * Can America Afford This Approach to Solving Student Loan Debt? (it’s behind a paywall, but it is a great read) by Haley Sweetland Edwards is a great read that sums up the collective “wow, so much student loan debt”weight of a generation.

The amount of money we spend on student loan debt per month could help us in a lot of ways (FYI: it is around $337/month). First up: it could help with the grocery bills, thus giving us enough money to not go down the food stamp route. Second: it could help with the startup of Fidelia Hall. Have you ever tried starting up a business or a non-profit? Maybe I’m really stupid, but it’s really difficult and confusing…and it costs a lot. Just this week, our Fictitious Name Registration cost us $70 to file an application, $41 to advertise the application in our local newspaper, and $75 to advertise the application in a legal journey. That’s $186, and we’d still have $151 to spend this month on something else (groceries! Fidelia Hall repairs and infrastructure!) What am I trying to get towards? The debt we’re saddling people with for school, health care, and more are crippling us. They’re crippling us mentally. They make us not want to get out of bed. They make us want to sit around and do nothing when what we really want to do is something, because I believe that all human beings (no matter which political side they are on) just want to get things done for their communities. They’re also crippling our ability to move forward and do better things for our communities. You can’t start up a business/non-profit when you don’t have time or money.**

I better wrap this up. We just hit 1,000 words.

I’m not asking for a raise. I’m not asking for donations. I’m not even asking for an “oh man I feel you.” I just wanted to get this out there so that if you’re in a situation similar to this that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We’re here. We’re successful. We’re pretty happy. We’re in debt and we’re also on food stamps.

*On a side note, I remember credit card companies and banks lining up at the dining halls doing everything they can (“here! have a free beach ball for taking our credit card!”) to get students signed up for their first horrible credit card. They succeeded with me and so many other of my friends.

**Go ahead and leave a comment telling me to suck it up and “pull myself up by the bootstraps just like an American would. I’ve been trying to do this for years. This is just what my Dad said and continues to say. But there’s more to it than “sucking it up” or “taking it like a man” or “pulling up your bootstraps”. There has to be some give and take.

 

Family, Fidelia Hall, Libraries, Life, Titusville, PA

Six Months in a Leaky Boat

Aotearoa, rugged individual
Glisten like a pearl, at the bottom of the world
The tyranny of distance, didn’t stop the cavalier
So why should it stop me? I’ll conquer and stay free

Ah c’mon all you lads, let’s forget and forgive
There’s a world to explore, tales to tell back on shore
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Six months in a leaky boat

Like the wonderful Split Enz song above, I feel as if I have just spent six months in a leaky boat. However as I write this I believe that the lines “Ah c’mon all you lads, let’s forget and forgive There’s a world to explore, tales to tell back on shore” sum up where I am now. I am here to tell you a brief tale of what I learned after I had spent six months in a leaky boat.

The climate here in the United States right now is one of fear, paranoia, and anger. Everyone seems to be fed up or fixated with something and social media has all given us a chance to share those thoughts. We are all broadcasting our inner selves and right now our inner selves are kind of dark. Losing two of our most beloved (Bowie and Prince) hasn’t helped make the sun shine more, and political seasons are always bitterly divided these days. February is just kind of blech. I went blank. I got dark. It was not pleasant and I felt an achin’ in my heart.

I think the sun coming out and the gardens full of green and the birds singing and the chickens and rabbits have helped me leave my leaky boat. There is a beauty in being outside, surrounded by brightness and people that you love. It makes the larger world that we all live in ceast to exist. The Trumps and the Clintons and the Kardashians don’t exist when I’m outside enjoying the piece of land that we call Fidelia Hall. All that exists is that moment and that moment is beautiful. Those people and those things that tug at our souls and allow darkness to enter us are not really there. They are not real when we exist in our moment.

I would not trade my recent six months in a leaky boat for anything because after all, it is the tough stuff that help you enjoy the great stuff. Growth, growth, growth. That’s the reason why I’m writing here. This is a living and breathing document and an example of how a human being can change.

 

Life, Misc., Things

WAKE UP THINK POSITIVE LOVE

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Wow, I am having a lot of strong feelings about things lately.

Be it in libraries, government, politics, or our day to day lives, there is a great number of things changing all around us. The way we think, the way we speak, and the way we act are radically different today than they were just a few years ago. I know it can be argued that we change a little bit every single day, but wow, these past few years have been full of radical change.

I see people posting memes on social media networks that talk about how different they perceive the world to be today than it was when they were young. I see folks arguing that a snow day back “when they were kids” was “when we had 17 foot of snow we’d just have a delay” and how “kids have it so easy these days, they cancel school when they have 1 inch of snow.” I see folks posting a lot about politics and how this person or that person said this or did that and how everything is going to be horrible. The world feels as if it is building up to some kind of explosion.

Our 24/7/365 news cycle coupled with social media that gives everyone their own platform to broadcast from has all made us hyper aware of everything going on at the world. It makes slightest blip in the radar newsworthy. We have to fill the time up with something to talk about. We have to be involved in something. It gives us a reason to exist these days!

Man, I don’t know where I am going with all of this, but I do know that I have a lot of stuff floating around in this brain and in this heart of mine.

WAKE UP and realize that the world is indeed different and that no matter what it’s all gonna be OK. THINK POSITIVE from the moment you wake up till the moment you go to bed and everything that may trouble you will seem small. LOVE each other and be respectful.

I wanna understand this world and what’s in it. I wanna make sure that we’re all together in this thing. I wanna stop wondering and thinking that all of this worry and confusion about the changing world is generational. It isn’t! It’s people! Some folks have the power to keep up with the world and some folks don’t wanna face the change. You’ve gotta face the changes head on and realize that no matter what you ain’t gonna make the world undo all of the changes!

Wow my brain is on overdrive these days.

Books, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management, Titusville, PA

Bhujangasana (for libraries)

I should do more yoga. It makes me happy. My brain feels less full, my body feels great, and it gives me time away from the hectic pace of day to day life so that I can be inside of myself for a moment or two. Bhujangasana (aka the cobra pose) is one of those yoga poses that I think about a lot. I love how this pose makes me feel. It enables me to breathe a lot easier and I feel as if a lot of the baggage in my head and in my heart are able to be let go.

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Bhujangasana in library form, February 2016

Before I accepted my current job at the Benson Memorial Library, my family and I made a trip to check things out one Saturday in April. It was a long trip from Chattanooga TN but it was worth it. It helped me know that those feelings of “yes, I want to take this step in my journey” were actually real.  Upon my arrival, I knew that if I was to accept the position of Executive Director my first task would be to embark upon the task of collection maintenance aka weeding. I don’t like to call it weeding cause that just sounds weird.

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June 2015

The first thing that I noticed when I dove into the collection maintenance project at Benson Memorial Library was just how big and wonderful the collection was. This was a library that had a long and beautiful history. I studied that history, learned about the town, and did my best to wrap my mind around how I could preserve everything that had come before me while at the same time thinking about how to make the library a place that existed long into the future. I thought about this for weeks before actually starting up the physical process. I looked really closely at circulation statistics over the past five years. In those numbers I saw stories and understood how this collection had come to be. It sounds weird, but I had to sort of become best friends with the collection and the circulation numbers. I had to absorb them and in a way they had to possess me and tell me where to go. They did, and shortly after that I began collection maintenance on our nonfiction collection.

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The process was long, tiring, and sometimes extremely difficult. It is often said that the hardest and most rewarding part of working in a public library is working with the public itself. This is very true. I love it but sometimes I feel the need to crawl into a hole and hide away. Collection maintenance in public is a tough thing. There will be questions and comments when the shelves look empty or someone’s favorite section has moved slightly to the left or right. I kept reminding myself to breathe and take this one step at a time. Some days it was easier to breathe than other days. The best advice I can give you is to keep your eyes on the prize. You’ll get there.

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Katoomba NSW Australia

In November 2015 I took a trip to New Zealand and Australia and saw that they too were practicing collection maintenance and giving their collections a chance to breathe. Seeing this in action at another library gave me inspiration and the determination to finish what I had started. As a guest at the Katoomba Library I was able to experience the benefits of having a collection that breathes firsthand. I found myself touching the shelves, thumbing through the collection, and being generally interested in what this library had to offer on its shelves. This was the goal at the Benson Memorial Library; to have a collection where a community member could get lost in the stacks, thumbing their way through a collection that could possibly change their life.

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Expansion of ideas. New stuff. 

I also saw our collection maintenance project as a chance to bring new materials and ideas into the community. Growth and discovery of new things is a healthy part of human life. The public library is there to help the community grow. I am excited to fill our shelves up with new materials and ideas that help Titusville PA grow as a community. The new materials also give us the chance to start up a natural cycle in the collection maintenance project: we analyse our collection, we remove materials that are no longer circulating, and we add new materials that the community will use in the present day. The library becomes extremely relevant to the community in the moment, thus ensuring a healthy future for the organization.

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-fin- (sort of)

In order to thrive long into the future, some aspects of the past have to change. Change is one of the hardest things that we as human beings experience. I think about change constantly and I still have trouble dealing with it. This is OK.

What are my parting words to you? Trust in the idea, trust in the process, trust the library staff, and trust in the future. There are no hidden agendas, no secret messages, and no hard feelings. Work is work and the best work is done with a positive mind, a good heart, and with the community in mind first and foremost. This is why I do the things I do in the public library and I hope you too can read this and adopt that approach.

Open up your heart and breathe. 

Libraries, Life, Misc., Social Media, Things

I CARE/I DON’T CARE

I hold my hand over my heart when a big change happens at my library. I want to protect myself from the inevitable onslaught of “why would you do such a thing?” I take things to heart because my motives and ideas come from a very pure place. I assure you that I’m not evil, nor this is some kind of coup d’ etat. My motives and ideas come from a very pure place: the reason for change is because the change helps the library (and the community) move forward and remain relevant in our heads and in our hearts.

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In the middle of a giant project which brings about great change, I may lash out and say that “I HATE EVERYTHING” and that “I DON’T BELIEVE IN THE PUBLIC LIBRARY”. I say I don’t care but I do care. I’m a human being. My emotions fluctuate wildly from day to day. As I write this post I am up and feeling well! By 2pm, however, my mood may change to something bleak. And then 5pm may hit and it may go back the other way. We are all human beings (I think!) and we all fluctuate. One of our new jobs in this world full of social media and 24 hour news cycles should be to not point out every single one of each others missteps or snafus. We all make mistakes. We shouldn’t crucify _______ (insert person of the moment) for something that they may have said back in 1985. We should go to the person in the moment and talk to them and accept them for who they are at this moment. We have our moments. Those moments pass. We should focus on the present and bring joy into that moment.

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Mr. Bowie we really miss you.

The thing that I’m learning to do is to cope with everything in the moment and do it much better than I have in the past. This is easier said than done but if I am mindful throughout the process I’ll get better at it. Growing older helps me with this process. As I age, my body and my mind slow down a bit and this helps prevent overreaction. It allows the present moment to fully exist in time.