Sunday, August 29, 2010

Snapshots from Baptism Sunday

Pastor Sophie administering the vows:

Gwendolyn checking out the water while she's being baptized (looks like she wanted baptism by immersion, after all):

Gwendolyn adamantly refusing to be walked around the congregation with Pastor Sophie:

The baptisand, much cooler after the service is over:

Gwendolyn and her parents with the celebration cake:

Visiting family--Kirstead, Ginger, Adam, Sophie, Gwendolyn, David, Caleb and Anna, Sara, Emrys, Ricki, Krissy, Hudson and Reese, Geo, Lara, Valerie:

GBaby, Sara, Ginger, Emrys, David, and Ricki:

Thanks to Jim and Sandy for the photos!


Entering the Family

On Sunday, 8 August, Gwendolyn was baptized at Nineveh Presbyterian Church, by our friend and my fellow minister, Sophie Draffin. For so many parents, baptism represents a rite of passage that makes their children's lives socially complete. If asked why they want their children baptized, many respond that it's just the thing to do. At worst, they articulate a popular misconception that baptism is insurance that if the child dies, baptism ensures the child will not be lost in the afterlife.

For me, baptism is the moment of joy when the Church recognizes Yahweh's awesome claim on our lives. The claim is awesome not just because Yahweh has chosen us as children; not just because by Yahweh's claim we become brothers and sisters with fellow Christians everywhere; but also because Yahweh claims us before we can do anything to earn it. As the letter to the Ephesians puts it, "when we are still dead in our sins and trespasses" Yahweh makes us alive with Christ. Yahweh has put my daughter Gwendolyn in her high-chair at the table in the Kingdom of God, right next to Christ, simply because she is a beloved daughter.

The marks of her membership at this table include the rite of water (what we normally refer to as "baptism"), prayer for the Holy Spirit to dwell with Gwendolyn for the rest of her eternal life, and the Church vowing to care for her and bring her up in the faith. This last is the most moving part for me.

I enjoyed having grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends-as-good-as-family surround us for the big weekend. I appreciate the blood relationships that the Lord has given Gwendolyn which will provide support for her throughout her life. I rejoice in that mystical bond of family that even the faithless enjoy. But my heart leaped at a different thought on the day of Gwendolyn's heavenly adoption.

I relished most the moment when an elder from Nineveh Presbyterian Church led the congregation in its baptismal vows. The members of Nineveh Presbyterian Church, bound together by their communal commitment to Jesus Christ, reaffirmed their faith and promised to care for Gwendolyn and equip her for the moment when she, too, will confess with us an adult faith in Jesus. Until then, she is covered by the Spirit's love alive in the Church, in the family bound together by the spiritual blood of Christ. The voices of those seventy people saying "We will" spoke with the passion and power of the divine voice for my daughter.

And the significance of the moment was sealed by a divinely arranged coincidence. Gwendolyn has learned to say "Amen" with us when we pray before meals; when Sophie led the prayer of invocation (assisted by the laying on of hands by the whole congregation), Gwendolyn added her own "Amen" to that of the adults. The Spirit is already working to show this newest Daughter of Sarah where her home is. Hallelujah!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

IKEA Reclaimed

During our time in Pasadena, we lived twenty minutes from an IKEA store. We availed ourselves as often as we could of the bounty therefrom for our 500-square-foot apartment. One of our early IKEA buys was a set of adjustable shelves. The uprights and shelf pieces are the ubiquitous white pine of IKEA: cheap, easily warped, but tough enough. Eight years later, here we are in the Southern Tier of New York, renovating our bedroom. And for this little nook on the right side of the new closet, we needed shelves:

So we got to work reclaiming the IKEA shelves. With two coats of paint, the knotty white pine became a complementary "honeysuckle bloom" color, the perfect accent to our ochre and pine two-toned bedroom walls. This part of the project lined up nicely with Sophie's visit the first week of August; like all of our houseguests, she was put to work:

Here's that process with my infrared lens:

And of course every successful project has a watchful supervisor:

After painting, installation, and touch-up, the new nook has a new look:

And I've freed up another few feet of bookshelves in the living room (which will go to Gwendolyn's toys).

I'll bet we can make these IKEA shelves last for at least another eight years now.
~ emrys

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thursday, August 05, 2010

I Still Hate

email forwards. I received this forward this morning:

"This pertains to every American citizen

"2011's Federal W-2 Tax Forms

"Should you want to verify this, go to, enter "HR 3590" in the search box and look for "CRS Summaries." This is what you'll find.

"Title IX Revenue Provisions-Subtitle A: Revenue Offset
'(Sec. 9002) Requires employers to include in the W-2 form of each employee
the aggregate cost of applicable employer-sponsored group health coverage
that is excludable from the employee's gross income (excluding the value of
contributions to flexible spending arrangements).'

"Starting in 2011-next year-the W-2 tax form sent by your employer will be
increased to show the value of whatever health insurance you are provided.
It doesn't matter if you're retired. Your gross income WILL go up by the amount
of insurance your employer paid for. So you'll be required to pay taxes on a larger
sum of money that you actually received. Take the tax form you just finished for
2009 and see what $15,000.00 or $20,000.00 additional gross income does to
your tax debt. That's what you'll pay next year. For many it puts you into a
much higher bracket. This is how the gove! rnment i s going to buy insurance for
fifteen (15) percent that don't have insurance and it's only part of the tax increases,
but it's not really a 'tax increase' as such, it a redefinition of your taxable income.

"Also, go to Kiplinger's and read about the thirteen (13) tax changes for 2010 that
could affect you.

"Why am I sending you this? The same reason I hope you forward this to every
single person in your address book. People have the right to know the truth because
an election is coming in November. So vote intelligently, based on your values.
But also adjust your tax withholding, or increase your savings, so that you aren't
surprised and put in a jam when your federal income taxes are due on April 15, 2012.

"Also, for those who have independent children, their personal exemption DROPS from
$1,000 per child to only $500.00! That too will make a big difference for some families.


Of course, the forward is unsigned.

I sent the following reply to the one(s) who sent it to me. I realized my reply might get lost in the white noise of cyberspace, and I think this matter is something I'd like more people so see, so here it is.

"Before y'all get out the torches and pitchforks, make sure to read the first paragraph of the referenced Title IX, which includes: 'Deems any amount which exceeds payment of $8,500 for an employee self-only coverage plan and $23,000 for employees with other than self-only coverage (family plans) as an excess benefit.'

I have a sweet health plan (family plan), and my employer pays less than $14,000 per year on my plan. This is $9,000 per year less than this bill's lower limit for 'excess benefits.' My taxes will not go up, even though I have optimal coverage.

The next paragraph about the W-2, quoted in the email below, is logically required if the gov't is going to levy a tax on excess benefits. The bill reads that the W-2 will 'include . . . the aggregate cost . . . of health coverage' (Sec 9002). It's a no-brainer provision to make the whole section work.

The line in the email below [above] reading, 'the W-2 tax form sent by your employer will be
increased' is misleading; W-2s have slots for information that does not necessarily bear on how much we pay in taxes. If your employer is paying less than $23,000 per year (~$1,900 per month) for your health insurance, then the amount you pay taxes on won't go up.

In my estimation, the content of this forwarded email was composed by someone who decided before reading the bill that s/he didn't like it. I am troubled more by the lack of critical reading and thinking displayed here than by the prospect of paying higher taxes on a $23,000-per-year health plan.


I'm all for torches and pitchforks. And if I'm going to stab someone with a pitchfork and burn their houses down with a torch, I want to be sure I'm doing it for the right reason. I'll be held accountable for the folks I elect and the reputations I smear; so I don't want to base my decisions on misleading emails.

Our values may indeed lead us to ask our legislators to reject HR 3590. Let's make sure it's the values that lead, not the idiots.

~ emrys

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Face Lift II

Since the sun is bright this morning, I stepped outside to take the promised photos of the finished vinyl fascia. Here's the south-east corner of the house, with new windows and spanking-bright new trim:

The two upstairs windows on the front of the house:

And here's a closeup of the new trim: dark green fascia with a lighter soffit:

We like the new look. And we give a shout-out to the guys at Madison Vinyl: Thank You!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

In the Beginning

I'm tired of carting tools from the garage in front of the house to the yard and garden in the back of the house. Rarely do I need those tools in the front, but I have no place to store them out back. Plus, someday I'd like to get rid of the garage we have, since it has no solid floor and therefore holds moisture like a sponge. Out of these two circumstances birthed the idea of building a garden shed in the back yard, where lawnmower, weed trimmer, rakes, et cetera could be stored out of the elements and easily accessible.

So during my two weeks of vacation this summer, I hope to erect a shed using the rough-cut lumber harvested from our property last year. As the success of any building depends on its foundation, I decided to go with 6x6 lumber for the foundation posts. Here's the first one, against which the other three will be set:

In the background at right you can see the white plastic bucket on a stake, which marks the location of the second post. One down, three to go! Stay tuned.

~ emrys

Face Lift

We bought our home (well, we asked HSBC to buy it and let us pay them back over about 30 years) knowing that it needed some work. This is how it is with homeownership: from now on, there's always something needing to be done. We're embracing this fact of life.

One thing that needed to be done was to have the fascia boards replaced. Carpenter bees had made their home in many of the fascia planks, riddling the boards with holes. The paint was from the first coat in about 1992, so was pale and peeling. So we called our friends at Madison Vinyl, who always do such a great job, and asked them to give our house a face lift.

Here's the view from our living room as they peeled off the gutters:

Here they are approaching the front. In a future post, you'll see the transformation of that left picture window:

Here's a look at the old, tired fascia at the peak of the second floor:

And a close-up of the boards at the corner of the house. We had them replace any holey boards and cover the whole thing with vinyl fascia and soffit:

I seem to have misplaced the "after" pictures I took--it looks fabulous. We're always happy with Madison Vinyl's work. So I'll get those images in a future post, as well.
~ emrys

Classical Education

After meals sometimes Gwendolyn and I enjoy a little light reading. Recently I was refreshing my exposure to one of the original works on aesthetics:

In case you didn't see it, that's Aristotle's Poetics, the first Western analysis of drama, poetry, and composition. What can I say? My daughter's refined.

Could a toddler really appreciate ancient Greek literature? I will let her face respond to your query:

Of course, every artist knows that no opus is ever perfect. There is no masterpiece that a later student cannot improve by the wisdom of passing generations. Thus even Aristotle is not immune to the constructive criticism of his modern-day readers:

(Although one might take pause because of her age, I have to say that this particular point in Aristotle's analysis may have been a little weak.)

Measure a student not by her ability to read and regurgitate; mark her by her ability to comment and critique!
~ emrys

Monday, August 02, 2010

Choosing Venice

Some time ago we wrote about our choices for colors in our renovated master bedroom. Here's the report on what we chose. As a brief reminder, here's the original color of our bedroom walls:

The four colors schemes I chose came from photos of Oslo, Paris (both pictured above), Prague, and Venice. After much conversation and meditation, Sara chose Venice, a bi-color scheme inspired by this photo taken in that city (it hangs next to the bedroom door):

The ochre tone for three out of four walls came from the stucco walls high up in the photo's background. Here's the contrast between the white of new drywall, the original paint job (left side), and the new ochre (right side):

The accent color is a pine-green tone inspired by the shutters and the boat covers in the photo. We chose the wall behind our bed as the accent wall, partially because the darker color will better offset the lighter hues of our homemade headboard:

As usual, every project brings with lessons with it. We knew most of the rigors of painting, but I got acquainted with the pains of cutting the corner of a room where two different colors meet. No matter how many times I go over it with each color, it's never quite perfect:

So when you visit and take the tour, you're not allowed to peer too closely at the corners.

After only three days of shuffling furniture, moving plastic, and hiking up and down ladders, we have our Venice Bedroom. The colors remind us of that weekend in the Sinking City; the photos on the wall remind us of four stops on our twelve-country tour in 2006. The photos above the bed are from Oslo, Paris, and Prague, from left to right:

Vive la europa!