Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Last Call for Tomatoes

I realized that I have not given the final update on our upside-down tomato experiment this year.

And knowing that so many of you have waited with bated breath to hear the final results, I'm surprised I haven't received any emails demanding a final report.

However, my assumption that hordes of you are on the edge of your ergonomically-designed computer chairs goes unchecked. I know it is just courteous reserve that muzzles you from requesting a wrap-up to this year's tomato season. So, before the anticipation results in some sort of nasty hernia, here it is.

For providing a mass of tomatoes so great that we're left wondering how they will all fit in our freezer, the technique worked quite well. Sure, there were a few structural issues (especially with the 5-gallon buckets--see earlier post), but on the whole it worked. Tomatoes seem to enjoy growing upside-down at least as much as they do growing downside-down, and they bear much fruit. Any tomatoes we lost this year were due more to early frosts and late plantings as to finicky preferences for gravity.

I did not get a summary photo of the plants, hanging with full ripe tomatoes (and green ones in the wings) like a vineyard of love-apples waiting to burst. So this one has to do. Here is the garden, after today's first snow of the year, with tomato-trees bare of their lovely dangling branches.

The buckets I overturned on the spent garden beds, to be turned and mixed with manure next year.

And here is the crown and joy of our efforts: the beginning of homemade tomato soup in the crockpot (to which cream and basil will be added before blending). As you can see, the sweet red of juliette and roma tomatoes did come to our table from the upside-down tomato project. May the Author of All Tomatoes be praised!

For next year, I have some structural and architectural adjustments to make; then we look forward to even greater tomato projects and more marinara, basil bisque, and caprese!


Friday, October 24, 2008

Repeat After Me:

"I am not an electrician."

I am not an electrician.

"Emrys, you are not an electrician."

I am not an electrician.

Yet here I am, under the house, wiring a complex instrument called a "zoning control panel" in order to get our boiler, our thermostats, and our zone control valves to play well together. I may not be an electrician, but I have to fake it sometimes. Especially when having heat in the bedroom of your pregnant wife depends on dealing with something that looks like this:

when it comes in the mail. Does it look daunting to you? Scared the piss out of me.

Of course, the next step is to hook it up to a mess of pipes and valves. Did you know that I am also not a plumber? And did you know that once I disconnect the existing wires from those valves, there is no way  I can put them back in the right order if I screw this up? Do you know how dangerous it is not have have hot showers in my household? At least I got the thing mounted well enough. It ought not to fall off the wall anytime soon. Well, all right, it's not the wall: it's hanging from a floor joist. But that's good enough, right?

Note the coiling wires in the above picture. I think electrical jobs are particularly scary when they involve coiling wires. They're like serpents ready to strike.

Now I want you to know that I didn't go into this thing alone. We've tried calling service guys, but they seem never to be able to totally fix the problem, and they charge fees for coming out. I can not fix the problem myself for free. So I called up the tech support at Alpine Home Air products (the folks that sold us our new boiler and this nifty zone control panel), and David--rapidly becoming one of my favourite people in the midwest--took me through the installation step-by step.

So I spent a few hours in our cellar (a glorified crawlspace) cutting, splicing, fearing electrocution, and alternately spouting "Aha!" and words that I can't print here. At last, here's what I had:

Pretty sweet, eh? Yeah, I know you're jealous, particularly of the transformer attached to the bottom. Nearly fried myself getting that out of its previous location, I did.

Anywhoo, now I've got the zone control panel hooked up, and I'm feeling pretty proud. (And thankful that David has saved me from embarrassing blunders--like buying a new boiler and zone control panel without knowing how to use them.) The domestic hot water--very important to nuptial bliss--is even running steamy. So far so good. Then I hook up the household thermostats, which came with the house. One is an old-school dial and mercury switch that was purchased from the estate of the Flinstones. The other is a mid-80s digital thermostat that became obsolete with jeans and leg-warmers. Thinking that a 2-wire thermostat is a 2-wire thermostat, I hook them up. And nothing happens.

So I call David back (bless his electrical-engineering soul) and fear the answer he does indeed give me. My state-of-the-art zone control panel is so state-of-the-art that it only operates with a certain kind of thermostat.

I love David dearly, but I could have throttled him over the wireless phone connection just then.

$187 later . . .

Note the void where the Flinstone thermostat used to be. (Ahhh, when life was simple.)

Now we've got two thermostats that do precisely what the Flinstones models did, but with a digital display.

And Hallelujah! we have hot water, heat, and more things covered by our homeowners insurance.

I am not an electrician. But I am a homeowner--hear me roar!

Check out our sexy new zoning control panel that will keep us satisified with warm rooms and hot showers:

And kudos to David from Alpine, for his patience and persistence, wherever he is. You rock!


Friday, October 17, 2008

Celebrating 3 Years of Good Health

November 2005 - End of Chemo & Radiation

Thanksgiving 2006 - Celebrating Family

October 2007 - Celebrating crops and being settled in a new home

October 2008 - Celebrating health and a new life... 

...and my first "real" haircut in 3 years.  The pony-tail is on its way to Locks of Love...

Have a great weekend!  Celebrate what you have...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Don't Roar At Me!

Last night Emrys was playing with the dog and growling and roaring at her trying to get her to play.  She didn't want to and didn't give him any sort of response.  Then making the comment that he hoped The Kid was more responsive than the dog, he came over and roared playfully at my tummy.  To which The Kid hauled off and boxed me, or kicked, not sure which.  I've been feeling little light movements and kicks and stuff but Emrys must have scared the dickins out of The Kid because that one I felt and had to rub out!!  

Then this morning I read on one of the little pregnancy tracking tickers the baby's saying: "My ears are much more sensitive this week.  Would you keep it down out there!?!"  Wish I would have known that yesterday!

New rule: No roaring at The Kid until it's out and can kick the roar-er!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Judge Not . . .

. . . lest you be judged. These are the words of Jesus, good advice for a world too full of judgment.

And I've spent four days this past week grading exams.

I had to judge the sufficiency of essays written by people planning on entering the ministry in our denomination. Sometimes they take these exams in their second year of seminary. Sometimes they're long out of seminary, after a long first career, and going into the ministry with tons of experience and wisdom. Sometimes they're smart-aleck wet-behind-the-ears freshman-in-life who don't know a baptismal font from a hole in the ground.

And I don't know which one's which.

I just take the exam, record the number (to make sure I don't grade the same one twice), and read their responses to the questions, hoping and praying all the time that they will: 1) answer the question (you'd be surprised how many don't); 2) have good writing skills and good logical flow (after more than a year in a Master's level program); and 3) be able to apply Reformed theology to practical areas of ministry (the really tough one).

The grade I give could be the thing that allows this candidate finally to be declared ready to enter the ministry. Or it could be the thing that makes their preparation committee say, "Well, perhaps the ministry is not for you," after the candidate has invested years and thousands of dollars into education and preparation. The task is, in a word, humbling.

We have to judge and be judged. How else will we assure that those who preach on Sunday mornings and lead the flock every day of the week have actually thought about how scripture connects with everyday life? How else will we guarantee that theology is not done in a vacuum, but with the edification of Christ's people in mind? Yet I am aware that how I think, what I think, and how I interpret the words of these students cannot be the absolute judge of their careers as ministers.

So I am thankful that I am not alone. In order to take these exams, a group of people who knows each student will have given them permission to do so, and will have ushered them along this process to ordination. And I know that at least one other person grades every exam that I grade. If we disagree--I pass, another fails it, or vice versa--then a third will be brought in to settle the matter. It is subjective, as all evaluations are, but not arbitrary.

As I look critically at these answers and weigh them carefully, I am reminded of grace. As one of my colleagues put it: "We evaluate whether a person is ready to begin the ministry, not be a master of it." Point taken. I, too, am a beginner and not yet a master. So with fear and trembling I embraced my task of judging the written words of others who might someday be my colleagues. I pray that the Lord worked through my grading for the encouragement, the protection, and the edification of the whole Church.


Monday, October 06, 2008

A Morning...

So, Emrys is gone to grade papers for the week.  The dog and I are home and I should be working.  I'm not motivated today to to much.  It started when I woke up and the house was chilly.  The pellet stove and the boiler were both throwing errors.  Grrrr.  

I took on Boiler first.  It had been goofy for a few days - confused about it's jobs and couldn't figure out if it was supposed to be giving us hot water or heat and just gave us heat through the hot water settings.  But it wasn't getting hot enough to actually keep the house warm.  We have a message into a local boiler guy but I figured I'd give it a shot.  I tweaked a couple settings and Boiler finally decided that it could get its act together and give us heat when said thermostats called for heat and hot water then the tank called for hot water.  But it still wasn't heating up very high.  So I checked one more setting.  A great little device designed to save us money on our utility bills -the outdoor thermometer.  This thermometer is tied into Boiler and Boiler decides how hot to make our heating water based on the outdoor temprature reading it gets.  Well, Boiler seemed to be getting some wrong information.  Boiler seemed to think that it was 90 degrees outside when in fact it was a quite chilly 40.  Here was the problem.  So I called our friends at the boiler company, talked to the technician, found out that if the wire to the thermometer is near any electrical load it will throw the reading off.  sure enough - it shares a teeny-tiny hole going to our crawl space with two major electrical lines. So I unhooked the thermometer, added a ToDo to Emrys' list and watched as the temprature climbed.  I'll give up energy efficiency for 4 days in order to have the heat work in my bedroom!

The came Pellet Stove.  Turned it on and got a flashing yellow light.  Having no idea what that meant, I resorted to the internet know-it-all, Google.  I got an online version of the manual and pulled it up, searched yellow and got trouble shooting results.  Heating coil or control box failure. Surprise, surprise.  So I opened up the Stove, pulled out the control box and pulled a Nintendo CPR move".  Those who have classic Nintendo skills in their past know exactly what I mean - blow the dust off the contacts on the cartridge and then blow the dust out of  the game machine and 9 times out of 10, your game works again... well, it works for the control boxes of pellet stoves too - at least it did this time for which I am thankful.  

So, two service calls diverted, I should be working on my candles now but I'm not really motivated!  I'd rather sit in front of the fire with my crochet and a movie.  Decisions, decisions...


Why I do the "Time for Children"

Some pastors just don't do "Time for Children."

The "Time for Children"--otherwise known as the "Children's Sermon" or some similar name--is the portion of a worship service when the pastor calls up kids, usually middle-school age and younger, to the front of the sanctuary. With the kids sitting around her, the pastor then relates some message to them in a more familiar, and perhaps more interactive, fashion than she will do in the "adult" sermon. It's an opportunity for kids to get their own word during the worship service; it's an opportunity for them to raise their hands, talk, and learn during a ceremony that otherwise requires their silence and calm.

The Time for Children requires some flexibility on the part of the pastor. After all, kids younger than 13 have not learned the "adult" discipline of guessing what kind of answer the pastor is looking for. Thus, they'll speak their answer to a question--whatever answer fits into the thought-world of a child who's just glad to be here and not worried about whether she conforms.

They tell the truth about what comes up in their minds when the pastor speaks or asks a question. The filters of propriety and fear that purify and rectify the thoughts of adults (which, I suspect, are actually little different than those of elementary-age kids) have not yet developed. Pastors who choose to do Children's Time get a spoonful (or a firehose) of humanity at its brightest, fullest, and messiest. We who invite kids up to have a conversation in front of the microphone sometimes have to put on goggles and rubber boots.

And I love the Time for Children. Here's why I enjoyed it this week.

I held up a print for the kids to examine. It was a painting by He Chi, a Chinese painter using a two-dimensional iconic style. The image was of the risen Jesus Christ sitting at table with two disciples. A fish and a cup of bright red liquid graced the surface of the table. I asked simple enough questions. And here's what the Spirit did (I have changed names to protect the parents).

"What are these people doing? Susie?" "They're eating dinner."

"What are they eating? Michael?" "Fish."

"What else is on the table? Johnny?"

"A Bloody Mary."

I love Time for Children.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Let the Fun Begin!

With Baby on the way, my Mom and Sis-in-Law wanted to do a shower.  Then they realized that our family is spread all over the country as well as many of our friends.  Since purchasing plane tickets for a baby shower is kind of absurd, they decided to break the rules of geography and are hosting a Web-Baby Shower.  You still get to guess when the baby will be born, boy or girl, weight and lenghth.  There are still games, prizes and chances for conversation and gift opening.  The related links for the baby shower have been added on the right.  Consider this your invitation to join us in welcoming our new little one :). 
~sjt & emrys

P.S.  Our little family gathering to open gifts, measure The Tummy etc will be on Friday, November 28th - day after Thanksgiving.