I think it all comes back to the Summer of 2015. At that point I had experience what felt like a lifetime of library work in just 9 years. I worked the desk, I shelved materials, I put one some great programs, I met some great people, I spoke at conferences, I got to travel around the world, I worked at the big libraries and the small libraries and everything in between, I wrote some articles, I joined some library clubs, I dabbled in the professional organizations, I shared things on this website and Twitter, and there was a whole batch of other things too. My family and I settled in Titusville, PA and decided to carry out the next bit of our lives living at Fidelia Hall. Once you buy a 144 year old church you can never really go back.
My career as a librarian felt packed to the brim at that point and I didn’t know what else I wanted to do in this profession. If librarianship were anything like being a rock band, this is the point where the band would announce that “we’re not breaking up, we’re just going on a hiatus.” But librarianship is nothing like that, and thanks to capitalism I guess I’m in this for the long haul. So on my 35th birthday, I became a library director. Over the last two years that’s where I’ve been and even though I find myself in a professional stalemate of sorts I have to say that I’ve enjoyed this job. I get to walk to work every day and work with some great people who are great at their jobs, there is little to no drama in the workplace, and what we’re doing for this small community actually makes a difference. You can see that difference in the people that use the library. I can’t associate it with any particular statistic or program….instead it’s just a feeling. I feel it in my gut. This work means something.
That’s where I am now. I do this for 40 hours a week and then I put it behind me. I go home and most of the time piddle my day away hanging out with my family at Fidelia Hall, tending to my chickens, or mowing the lawn. Of course, I wouldn’t mind traveling to another country to hang out with librarians some time in the future, but I’m not gonna bust my ass trying to do so anymore. I’m just going to exist, see what happens, and stay right where I am. I’m out, but I’m in.
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!
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:
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)
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.
Life at the Hoenke home aka Fidelia Hall is very good. Spring is very much in the air, the birds are out and chirping, the plants are growing, and everything just feels pretty darn great.
Most of what Fidelia Hall is now and what it is becoming is due to my excellent partner Haley. Since the weather became favorable this spring, Haley has spent every day outside on the property working on a number of things: planting herbs, teas, and vegetables, moving plants around, putting up fences, planting trees in our fruit orchard, getting our rabbit and chicken area ready, and much more. The idea is to create a property that is magical to us, our friends and family, and our guests. Plants, gardens, and animals help add to a vibe that makes people feel welcome. When people feel welcome, they tend to come back. That’s the goal.
Here’s a list of some of the things that are happening around Fidelia Hall these days:
Preparing straw bales gardens that’ll provide our family with vegetables throughout the year.
Setting up a bird feeder area so we can watch birds from the kitchen in the morning.
Digging up and landscaping a tea garden that will provide us with tea leaves so that we can make our own teas.
Managing our animal area, which is home to our three chickens and two rabbits.
Putting up a fence around the eastern side of the property and then eventually finishing the fence so that it helps better define our home/work areas.
Maintaining our fruit orchard, which is home to apple and cherry trees as well as blueberry bushes and more.
Stripping away old, flaky paint from the tin ceilings we recently discovered in the Fidelia Hall building and repainting it.
Refinishing the old wooden floor in the Gallery in our basement.
Tearing down and rebuilding the roof above the handicap ramp entrance in the back of the building (it suffered some bad water damage before we owned the building).
Restoring heat the The Great Hall (aka the chapel) section of the Fidelia Hall building.
Loaning out The Great Hall to a local band so that they can practice for their Summer 2016 performances.
Everyone is shooting each other. Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders. Other politicians. Nuclear bombs. War. ISIS. Terrorism. Global Warming. Every Tweet or Facebook post or Text is taken way too far out of context and feelings are hurt. Tabloids. Everyone is yelling at each other on Facebook. You are right and I am wrong. I am wrong and you are right. I shared this post about ______________ (insert thing that I feel strongly about) on ____________(insert social media) and now I have done something. What the fuck why are we still horribly racist and sexist to each other? The income gap grows bigger and bigger. Student debt smothers many of us. Some people blame Obama. Others go back to George W. Bush. Some go as far back at Ronald Reagan. Everyone is blaming everyone else.
Everything just kind of totally sucks right now in the world and I worry that everything is going to explode.
I had a giant fence around my house in Chattanooga TN. It was really awesome. I felt very happy with that fence around all that I love. I can’t wait until the spring of 2016. I will once again begin building a giant fence around my house in Titusville PA. I have part of it up right now and when I see it I just feel so good about things. I like to have the property which I own with my wife nicely fenced in and properly plotted out. When you have a fence you know your limits. You can use the fence to build both physical and mental barriers. You know your garden can’t go past the fence. Your chickens or border terrier or whatever you have stay inside the fence. The fence makes you feel good.
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.