Friday, September 30, 2011

Strange Fragrance

In order to complete the new shed roof over the east side of the house, I had to buy a stack of 4x8 OSB (oriented strand board, for those of you who have my curiosity) to produce the roof surface. As I unloaded the truck with my materials on it, I smelled a familiar scent. I thought perhaps it was a passing thing, one of those strange moments the brain conjures of its own accord. So I gave it not a second thought. I walked back from the garage to the truck tailgate to retrieve the next piece of OSB and smelled it again.

Peanut butter.

I leaned in closer to the stack of new chipboard sheets. Yes: the scent became stronger. OSB smells like peanut butter.

Now, when the shingles have been placed and all that remains of the OSB is a few remnants stacked under the carport, I still catch a whiff of peanut butter walking around the garage. Every time I smell it I am taken aback, perhaps because fragrances carry more emotive impact for me than visual or auditory stimuli. Or perhaps it's the out-of-place-ness that snags me, like a picture of your mother hanging in a raspberry bush.

I bought some caulk with which to seal the chinks along my new construction, and chose brown to match the general tone of our house. When I drew the first six inches of bead, it happened for the second time this project: I detected a fragrance out of place. I leaned in to the fresh caulk, and there it was, unmistakable.


Brown caulk that smells like chocolate. Clever marketing strategy? Perk purchased by Nestle to open up their market to construction workers? Mask for even more pungent volatile chemicals? I'm not sure I'll ever know. I do know it wasn't a fluke, because the second tube smelled the same way.

Our Mazda, at 187,000 miles and totaled by the insurance company, is in the sunset of its life. We are maintaining it as long as the engine is good and peripheral costs don't get too high. But it has some quirks which soon will make it qualify for jalopy status. One of those oddities is the fact that the windshield leaks over the steering wheel every time it rains.

Our mechanic said that a proper fix meant taking the windscreen off, patching the body, and resealing the windshield. "Couldn't you just caulk it?" I asked. "No," they said, "That will only result in greater erosion of the roof." I respect these guys: they want to get the job done right.

But our Mazda is not worth all that labor. And I have caulk. So I drew a bead (dark brown, unassuming against the gold-and-black exterior palette of the car) along the windshield. I've driven it in three days of rain since then, and not a drop in the cabin. Plus, I get a whiff of chocolate every time I get in and out of the car.

I asked the guys at the local construction supply store if they knew the brown caulk smelled like a Hershey bar. They just stared at me. "Oh, well," I said. Then, maybe trying to distract from my unique olfactory experience, I told them that I was testing the caulk to see if it had auto body applications.

One looked at the other and asked, "Didn't you do that to your car?"

"Yep," he said.

"Did it work?" I asked.


Ah, the sweet smell of success.

~ emrys

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Processing a Flood

** I (Sara) drafted the following blog on September 15th as I worked on coordinating a rural relief site for our community members affected by the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee in the Southern Tier of New York State on September 7th and 8th.**

I have heard and seen so much in the last three days as I helped to coordinated hot meals, non-perishable foods and cleaning supplies for many of our neighbors who have been flooded I hear stories that remind me that this is not a crisis event that will meet a neat and happy resolution at the end of the week.  

I hear stories from volunteers who are taking hot meals out into the community who stumbled up a family sitting in their kitchen in tears, not knowing what to do next, and afraid to leave their home for fear of looters.

I hear stories of houses that have been yellow tagged and have to have a particular inspection before the power can be turned back on, but the inspections are not expected to be done in our area for two weeks.

I hear stories of families who had already received their fuel oil or wood pellets for the winter, some still owe on payment plans, but have lost all their heating fuel in the flood.

I hear stories of families who had their freezer stocked with their garden produce, their butchered livestock, their winter's groceries, who have lost it all.

Amidst all these stories, I see amazing things happening around me.

I've opened my mailbox to find boxes of supplies, thanks to blogger friends spreading the word of our area's needs. 

I’ve seen our volunteer fire fighters, and some trucks and crews from other communities spend days pumping out the basements of homes and our church.

I’ve watched as local folks brought in boxes and boxes of produce from their garden that would have been sold at farmer’s markets, but they’re not going to have markets to go to for the coming weeks. 

I’ve watched as food has piled through our doors so that we can meet the immediate needs of hot meals for those who have spent their days throwing ruined items from their homes out into their yards.

I’ve watched teenagers spend hours loading up those piles into trucks to haul into the town dumping site.

I’ve watched car-loads of clothing arrive to be shared among those who need something clean and dry to wear.

I’ve had folks walk up and hand me cash donations from anonymous donors for use wherever it is needed.

I’ve watched a community rally around our own who are devastated, again. 

This is not a one week relief effort.  As we are heading into fall and winter, our church had already begun collecting items of gently used children’s clothing, gently used toys and non perishable food items for distribution near Christmas as part of our church's  Christ’s Bounty program.  Last year, we had 125 families in our area request food baskets and we were able to meet that need.  This year, we expect the need to be greater. 

In the fall and winter, our schools request donations of boots and jackets to help children who arrive at school without adequate seasonal clothing. Again, this year, we expect these needs to be even greater. 

While today folks in our area need cleaning supplies, a hot meal, and a listening ear, as winter comes and the temperatures drop, the needs will become even greater.  We hope to be able to minister to them today in a way that will help to alleviate their worries of tomorrow.

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”  Matthew 6:25

After the flood waters receded we were able to provide two weeks of hot dinners - over 1,000 meals served, countless quantities of cleaning supplies, toiletries, clothing and other household items have been shared among our neighbors.  

The work continues, as less frenzied, less urgent pace.  The needs of today include more cleaning supplies, sanitation of wells that have been contaminated by flood waters and the subsequent testing to see if the water is potable.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Down on the Farm

Gwendolyn and I went to the graduation party of a friend of ours from the Church. She finished her associate's degree in agriculture and business; she's going to continue the family tradition of tilling and reaping from the soil. So the graduation party took place in the barn, around which were lots of cool pieces of machinery just perfect for crawling around and over. Here is Gwendolyn with James, Emma, and Lina on the corn head of the combine:

That's probably the most expensive piece of equipment she's yet sat on. A few more years and she'll be asking if she can drive it!

~ emrys

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I am sad.

I wish that I could euphemize the feeling by saying I'm "just a little blue," like when we sugar-coat anger by calling it "frustration." But I cannot.

I finally said it out loud today. Even while praising the Lord for all the blessings I have seen this past week, I feel sad.

I have seen so much suffering and so much loss in the last ten days. I have watched and listened to too much pain. It has resonated in my heart and dyed the fibers of my soul. I am sad.

Exhaustion makes it impossible to hide; its intensity makes it impossible to ignore anymore. So I shall dwell in it until it is time for something else.

~ emrys

Friday, September 09, 2011

An Unruly River

In June of 2006, the Susquehanna River rampaged past its banks.  It was called a "100 year flood" as the last one that was that bad was in 1914.

It is 2011 and Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee have both come to visit this week, bringing with them lots of rain.  The Susquehanna has again defied its banks.  Our house is high and dry.  The village where the church is, is not.

More on our local flooding can be found at Prayers are greatly appreciated.  If you're interested in helping in any way, please email me at thrivingmama (at)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Studying the Past

Several history teachers have reiterated the maxim (formulated in several different ways), "Those who fail to study the past are doomed to repeat it." The implication (or explication) made is that we should study history so we don't repeat it.

One of my friends and colleagues, a student of history by education and hobby, says, "Those who fail to study the past are doomed to repeat it; those who study the past are doomed to repeat it." He is not convinced that study of history exempts one from getting caught in the cycles of human failure, social evil, and structural collapse.

I am not sure which maxim to take to heart; but I do know that I enjoy studying history.

I took John Thompson's course on Early Church History in the autumn of 2004, for which I had to purchase Cyril C. Richardson's book Early Christian Fathers. Though not an exhaustive compendium of Christian writings for the period, the book includes some of the writings from between AD 100 and 200 which, aside from scripture, have had the most influence on the culture of the Church. I picked it up again to read during this summer's study leave.

I find that scripture's status within the Church causes me to read it differently than other texts. Usually this bears good fruit: I read the scriptures more closely, more frequently, and with the expectation that they will speak to my life. Sometimes, however, because they are the "word of God," as we say, they become dehumanized and disjointed from life with which I can relate. When I read texts chronologically close to the scriptures, however, I give myself permission to chew on the human a little more intensely. I accept that these could have been written by someone I know--or even by me!--if I had but been born in the proper century. And thus I relate more closely, and find some fascinating gems.

"The more things change, the more they stay the same" (le plus ca change, le plus c'est le meme chose). In some ways, reading the early Christian writers reminds me of our own day. They insist that Christians must accept the paradox of the Incarnation: to slide Jesus into the categories of entirely divine or entirely human is to do violence to the good news. We still have a hard time holding on to this paradox. They struggle with whether Christians are living an ethic befitting the gospel. They try to explain the Christian faith in ways that intersect with contemporary philosophy and culture. We're still doing all these things.

On the other hand, how strange it is to read Irenaeus, writing to the congregations who visit and pray for him, exhorting them not to try to deliver him from martyrdom (by force or prayer)! He considers himself to be less than perfect as a disciple of Jesus until he's been killed for his faith. How foreign this is to the Christianity in my culture! The growing emphasis on Church tradition as a guide for the faith seen in so many of these authors points to the culture of what is now known as the Roman Catholic faith. The Reformers of the sixteenth century railed against the authority of Church tradition--their invective helped to define the Protestant faith. Yet in the context of the early Church there was good reason to lift up tradition as a light for believers.

Through all the writings, there is agreement, as there is today in all Christian Churches, that Jesus Christ is Lord and head of the Church. In this all the early authors agree, as do all the New Testament authors. As my life and ministry become deeper and murkier with knowledge, experience, and the conundrums of the human condition, I am comforted that the Bedrock of faith is consistent throughout the aeons: we follow Jesus Christ, God With Us. In that we are united and in that confession lies our salvation.

The important thing has not changed in eighteen hundred years.

~ emrys

So Much Information

I've heard it said that getting a PhD amounts to learning more and more about less and less until one knows everything about nothing. I've had several--may I say dozens?--of professors whose positions required them to get PhDs. I've gone back to see a few of the PhD theses they wrote, to discover that the thesis has been printed maybe three times and covers a topic so specific or obscure that no general publisher would touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Maybe this is the destiny of PhD theses. I suspect they serve a different function than the thrill of reading.

Recently I thumbed my way through a thesis entitled The Role of Zechariah 1-8 in the Development of Apocalyptic, by Steven R. Swanson (1982). I had a hold of the only copy of the two-inch thick tome in existence outside the University of Edinburgh. There was something earthy about reading the text, typed on one-sided archival paper by an IBM Selectric, complete with handwritten corrections. It brought me back to a time when writing was dirtier, and riskier, because the writer faced the page directly rather than enjoying the clean service of a purifying computer screen with its infinite second chances.

The thesis was exhaustive. I became drenched in a deluge of scholarly names and competing theories. My mind followed down rabbit trails as long as a two-line dependent clause into dead-end counterexamples. Conclusions stood, instead of on the bedrock of convicted certainty, on the loamy soil of differing authorities.

This is the purpose of PhD theses: to display how much information one has acquired, and how it all fits in. Nothing can be left out, if it's been published in peer-review. A book for the casual student might be titled, Grasping for the Thread, or A Foot in Both Worlds, or some other metaphor to evoke the excitement of a prophet (or prophetic school?) navigating the re-establishment of post-exilic cultic faith. (Oh my gosh, there I am doing it!) But this one isn't: the title is too honest, too gritty for common consumption.

But The Role of Zechariah 1-8 in the Development of Apocalyptic does not intend to suck the reader into the great drama of prophetic history. It seeks to display to a host of academically savvy examiners that the author has done his homework. This end--since Mr. Swanson is now a Doctor--it achieves. To the less academically savvy reader like myself, sometimes the forest gets lost for the trees.

Now I've read more about Zechariah chapters one through eight than I'll ever have time or will to use. But I know that the work's been done, the concepts have been thought out, and I have a Doctor to call if I ever get stuck on the interpretation of one of these chapters.

~ emrys

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Maka Funzowd!

A few days ago Gwendolyn and I were on our way out to pick veggies from the garden. Geared up in pink hoodie and bright red ladybug boots, she opened the back door and led me onto the porch. Then she went through the screen door with the gait of a woman who knows what she's about. She had crossed the stone patio when I came through the screen door and eased it shut behind me.

At the far edge of the patio Gwendolyn turned and said, "No, Djadjee! Maka funzowd!"

I try not to pass over toddler-speak that I don't understand. I usually ask Gwendolyn to repeat something I don't get until we can make a connection. Sometimes she becomes visibly irritated at how long it takes me to comprehend.

"Djadjee" is "Daddy." I had no idea what "Maka funzowd" meant. "What was that?" I said.

"Maka funzowd!"

Still uncomprehending, I would have asked again, but she didn't give me time. With determined steps she walked back past me, mounted the top step to the screen door, and swung it wide open. She watched as it opened to its farthest reach, then swung back with a bang against the frame.

Then she looked at me with a broad smile. "Maka funzowd!" And with that, she tramped past me toward the garden.

Translation: "Let the door go, Daddy! It makes a fun sound!"

I laughed out loud and followed my daughter to the tomatoes.

~ emrys

Monday, September 05, 2011

Hurricane Motivation

The outward movement of our east wall (see previous post) produced an unusual trim on our house: the first floor wall comes out about six inches farther than the second floor wall. Thus we have a ledge at the top of the first floor wall. We found out the first time we got a heavy rain--and to a greater extent when Tropical Storm Irene made her way through our woods--that in spite of our contractor's best efforts, water gets in through the ledge. We had water dripping from the inside of our door frame and window. It made our hearts sink: our next dream was to get new flooring in the kitchen. But there's no point in new flooring if it's just going to get wet.

When we started dreaming about moving the wall, we also dreamed about a shed roof that would keep weather off the front door and window, and give visitors a place to stand when arriving on rainy days. With the discovery of water entering the wall, we took the money that would go to the flooring and pushed up the schedule on roof construction to . . . right now.

Last Monday I dug the hole for the corner post, and borrowed a truck (thanks, Bobby!) to pick up the building supplies. Here's the roof, all stacked up in our garage:
On Tuesday, Conner and I sank the first post and got the other two cut:

 On Wednesday I got the header up on the posts and kerfed the siding for the plate. The bear of the job was getting the flashing under the tar paper, so that in the future any water that got in through our old board and batten on the second floor wouldn't slip through to the first floor. It was a blessing and a curse to discover that the guy who built our house didn't put up any plywood on the outside of the exterior studs. The blessing was that it made it easier (though not easy) to get the flashing in; the curse is that we've got one fewer layer of protection and insulation than most houses have.
 On Thursday, Brandon came over and helped me to get the plate up:
 On Friday, Conner and Brandon helped me to secure the plate with lag screws:
 I'm into public service--like putting teenagers to work so they don't have as much energy to get into trouble elsewhere.
 When they weren't arguing about the existence of faeries or whether The Hulk could survive a nuclear winter, these two did a respectable amount of labor--for freshmen.
 While we were at it, we got the rafter stencil cut and the first two rafters in place:
That evening I had a little extra time, so I got the first half of the rafters done; the haze in this photo is from the humidity and coming rain building up in the air:
 On Saturday, I finished the rafters:
On Sunday afternoon I got the first half of the sheathing on:
As of this evening (Monday), I finished the sheathing but for a few nails. The light drizzle in which I had been working turned to real rain, so I had to knock off for the day. At least now there's a physical watershed away from that exterior ledge, so I don't feel under so much pressure to work fast.

I think I'll need a holiday from major house construction after this project's done.

~ emrys

Eastward Expansion

 Three years ago we noted that the concrete slab on which our house sits extends out to form the floor of our front porch. The second floor overhangs it, giving the front door and windows some shelter from the elements, but we decided to try to keep the house warmer in the winter by inserting panels between the porch columns. The result was a set of makeshift walls that could be set up in the winter:
 and then taken down in the summer:
 About a year ago, we began to dream of having enough room for a proper dining table in our kitchen. The current configuration of walls would not allow that. We figured, however, if we pushed the front wall on the first floor out over the porch so that the whole slab was inside, we'd hit two birds with one stone. First, we'd get more kitchen space (the kitchen is the front room on the first floor of the house). Second, we'd have the whole slab covered by heated space, so lose less heat through the floor in the winter. When we got an estimate for the construction to do so, the number came in significantly lower than we'd thought. So in July, Colwell Brothers construction (Windsor, NY) came in and gave us 120 new square feet inside and this look outside:
 They pushed out our retaining wall, making room for garbage and recycling bins as well as keeping groundwater away from the house walls:
 Inside, we got more kitchen floor space and a bigger window in the front (ahem, this is before the window was inserted). We found out, however, that the porch actually was a separate slab. Oh, well.
 Opposite the kitchen, where the south end of the porch used to be, we got a mud room and a "pantry," or, more to the truth, a new storage space for all of Sara's candle stuff:
 Now instead of running into the front door as soon as you hit the bottom of the stairs, you have room to breathe, put on your coat, sit down for a snack, or meditate on the complexities of life--not necessarily in that order:
 When LeWayne Colwell was arranging the estimate with me, he asked if I'd be doing the joint work myself. I thought for only a half second before remembering that I despise spackling and sanding. I told him that I'd gladly pay them to have it done. (The work is actually so specialized now that general contractors rarely do it themselves; it's cheaper and faster for them to hire out to someone who does it forty-plus hours per week.)
 Thanks, Colwell Brothers, for a great new space! You do good work. The proof is that my daughter had fun helping to paint the walls of the mud room:
 To match the old part of the kitchen, we got more of the cream and red paint. I'll be taking the old window and door trim and making a chair rail soon. (And really, there is a window there now--made by Madison Vinyl in Bainbridge, who made every other window in our house.)
A few days after the construction was complete, we got a good dose of rain. The dirt patch outside the retaining wall slid pretty well down in front of our door, so I gathered up all the stones I had removed before they did the construction and built a little retaining wall of my own, punctuated with hens-and-chicks harvested from the south side of the house:
Note in the above photo that the electric meter is not hooked up. We found out that until the utility guys hook up the meter again (you can't do it yourself), you get free electricity! Run that dehumidifier with the windows open--Boo-yah!

~ emrys