ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



A good day for sledding

With all of the winter happening around us, the women picked an ideal time (after snow, before cold) to do a little sledding with friends.

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Should have blogged in 2013… Part 3

(This is part of a series of things that I should have recorded in 2013 – things which were highlights of the year, but which didn’t get recorded when they were fresh in my mind. Now you mostly just get pictures.)

April 2-3 – Laurelville staff retreat to Pittsburgh

In early April, many of the Laurelville staff went into Pittsburgh for a retreat…

Downtown Pittsburgh from the North Shore
Downtown Pittsburgh from the North Shore

We began the day by visiting longtime friends – the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation – who have been coming to Laurelville for 50 years.

Pittsburgh Kids Foundation…and then continued down the street to visit Heinz Field.

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Such a fine group of people!

Laurelville staff at Heinz Field
Laurelville staff at Heinz Field

My colleague (and co-conspirator) and I found a spot at the field where we felt a bit at home…

Guest Services at its finest
Guest Services at its finest!

After lunch, we checked into our rooms at the Omni William Penn. Oh, look! They have a Starbucks! In the lobby!

Starbucks in the lobby
Starbucks in the lobby

We had supper at Buca di Beppo, and enjoyed time together at the hotel in the evening. The next day, the staff split up to visit a variety of places around Pittsburgh. The Ordinary Family visited the Phipps Conservatory.

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While there, I discovered the source of the previous day’s mocha…


Where has the summer gone?

My last blog update was on June 21st – the first day of summer. And now we’re in August, and it feels like summer is over. One wonders how July slipped away (Answer: Summer camps mean long work hours and little time for much else.) and why it feels like Summer is over (Answer: The summer camp staff have left and the weather is oddly cool. More on that below.).

Nevertheless, I have collected some pictures and other tidbits since that last post, so here’s a look back.

Weather: late June

In the Laurel Highlands, June was washed away by rains. This was the waterfall on Jacob’s Creek on June 26th:

Jacob's Creek waterfall, June 26thIt hasn’t been that high since Sandy rolled through here last fall. Then the late-June wetness gave way to early July oppressiveness…

Weather: early July

Many of you in the eastern United States may remember the beastly weather about a month ago. This was the source of our discomfort:

Jetstream - July 3, 2013This jet stream map (from the California Regional Weather Server at San Francisco State University) shows a big ‘U’ shape in the center of the country. Winds swept down from Canada over the western states, made a U-turn through Texas, and then brought heat and humidity north from the Gulf of Mexico. From the perspective of those of us in western Pennsylvania, this pattern stayed in place for roughly ten days from June 28 until July 8. Ugh.

Weather: late July

But what a difference a month can make. Who would have thought that we could make it through the last week of July and first week of August without getting into the 80s? This was the forecast on July 24th:

Weather forecast, July 24thNow I’m looking ahead, and we still don’t have any 80s in the picture through August 10th. For someone who doesn’t really like summer all that much, this is great!


Of course, we always love the forest creatures around here. We’ll start with moths…

The cecropia, imperial, and sphinx moths caught my attention because they were big. And the rosy maple moth looks as if it were colored to indicate that it’s radioactive.

We’ve had two photo-ops with dragonflies. Middle Daughter snapped this awesome close-up of a green darner (I think) on her finger.

Green darnerAnd I captured this twelve-spotted skimmer in our backyard.

Twelve-spotted skimmerAnd then we’ve got a random assortment of other animals: Middle Daughter’s hissing cockroach molted; some baby phoebes showed up; a prionus beetle was looking for some wood to chew on; a crayfish wandered away from its stream; and our cat wanted to go back to school.


And what would this update be without throwing in some plants? Middle Daughter has been raising sunflowers for the Westmoreland County Fair.

The rhododendron bloomed…

Rhododendron blossomAnd the promise of green and red berries turn into the yumminess of blackberry pie. (Thanks, Ordinary Spouse!)

July fun

Not everything was work in July. We had a reunion with our small group from Illinois…

Small group…and another one with my father’s siblings and their families. The family reunion was followed by the traditional “It’s all downhill from here!” bike excursion on the Great Allegheny Passage. My father and his brothers start at Deal (essentially at the continental divide, so it really is all downhill) and ride to Cumberland. This is the second time I’ve tagged along.

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(The slideshow includes pictures of the Deal (“It’s all downhill from here!”) access point; the riders; me at the Mason-Dixon Line; my flat tire; Mile 0; and lunch at the Crabby Pig.)

Random pictures for grandparents

Since grandparents love pictures of their grandchildren, these are thrown in for fun.

(Middle Daughter spent a week at Grandma and Grandpa’s house; underwater pictures of Oldest Daughter and Middle Daughter with MD’s camera; Youngest Daughter came home with quite the prize from the library.)

And so the sun sets on another summer at Laurelville. It’s time for a rest.

Sunset past the Dining Hall


Last night, I got to watch a T-ball game for the first time…

A few days ago, my friend, Hilary, was expressing some parental frustration* that her son’s three-inning T-ball game could go for 1 hr 45 min. I think that you parents know what I mean by ‘parental frustration’. It’s that feeling of “this is crazy, but I love it because of the children, and I’ll love it even more in a few years when I can look back at it and laugh”.** And my response (which can only be explained by noting that I’m a parent without my children right now) was to ask whether I could come see a game, ’cause I thought it would be fun. She assured me that I was welcome, but wasn’t sure if I was being sarcastic or not.

* My interpretation of her Facebook post.

** Children’s holiday music concerts also inspire this feeling.

So last night, I went right to the T-ball game after work. I knew that I was in for a treat from the moment I arrived. Here are the highlights that I can remember…

  • When I arrived, one team was practicing its fielding. Immediately it was evident why you might expect a three inning game to last for a while.
  • Clearly, some of these players are trying to imitate the professionals. There was one boy who had a long, elaborate, and convoluted windup every time that he threw the ball. And then the ball went six feet.
  • T-ball rules are a bit different. I found this out in the top of the first inning when the second batter came up with a runner on first. He grounded directly to the second base area. I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like someone tagged second before throwing to first. And yet the runners stayed on their respective bases. So here are the main rules that I can remember:
    • Every player bats.
    • Every batter gets a single, except the last one.
    • The last batter gets a home run and clears the bases.
    • Nobody gets out.
    • Lots of runs are scored, but none of them are counted.
    • Everybody wins or nobody wins, depending on how you look at it.
    • Oh… and there are no balks. 🙂
  • There is an incentive for players to arrive close to the start time: they bat in the order they arrive. So the last one to arrive gets to hit the home runs.
  • The pitcher does quite a bit of fielding, since the hits often don’t go very far.
  • But when the hits get past the pitcher, you can have a whole crowd of T-ball players swarm the baseball. It’s like they have baseball radar on…
  • Except for the ones playing with the dirt. I looked out once while a batter was taking his swing, and counted four different boys (including the runner on second) playing with handfuls of dirt from the field.
  • The parents are coaches, of course. There were nearly as many coaches on the field as there were players.
  • Some of the coaches may or may not have been eating their supper while coaching.
  • The coaches help both teams.
  • I was a bit annoyed by one coach who was a bit more “instructive” with his kid than he was with other kids. (Parents – if you are acting as an adviser to a group of children and your child happens to be a part of the group, please don’t treat your child differently. Save the parenting for home.)
  • When the game is over, the players are treated to a sugar high.

So – I had a great time, and I’m pretty sure that this game didn’t last as long as the last. Thanks, Hilary and Jason for the fun (and the supper)!

Adventures in moving

As I hinted in the last post, my family has essentially moved to Pennsylvania. Originally, the timing of the move was necessitated by the scheduled closing date for our house, combined with the requirements of my job at Argonne. When the house closing fell through, it made the early move date unnecessary, so we were frustrated. Nevertheless, we have spent the last four days moving, and only the essentials remain in our house in Illinois (so that I can stay there through the end of the month).

The last four days have been a blessing in some ways. A whole bunch of friends and family helped with the packing on Saturday:

  • My dad spent the entire week with us, doing odd jobs and entertaining his grand-daughters.
  • Ordinary Spouse’s mom, brother, and sister-in-law prepared food for all our workers. They also helped us pack the moving van and clean the house.
  • Her brother (packer extraordinaire) coordinated the loading of the moving van. Nothing shifted on the trip to Pennsylvania.
  • Tons of church and neighborhood friends helped with packing (or played with the girls while the packing was happening).

The packing was complete by early afternoon. Once the house was clean, we left for OS’s parents’ place in Goshen, Indiana (in order to break the trip into more manageable bits).

Driving a 26-foot moving van was a new experience for me. Shortly after we got on the road on Saturday, I was dismayed to see the oil pressure gauge fall to zero. (“Oh, please let us not have to unpack this van and repack a new one!”) I dutifully called the UHaul help number and was relieved (and amused) when they said, “If you really had zero oil pressure, you’d know it. Keep going.”

Sunday was the big day of driving. I was happy to have Oldest Daughter as my co-pilot for the day, and I think that she was excited to be sitting up high in the truck. We left Goshen early, about an hour before Ordinary Spouse and my father, and managed to stay ahead of them the whole day. At one of the rest areas in Ohio, I realized that we had been running the air conditioning on the truck, rather than the vent. That did wonders for our already poor gas mileage. I think we averaged about 8 mpg on the first tank of gas, but managed closer to 10 mpg on the second tank.

Once at Laurelville, we unloaded a little stuff from the back of the van, but left most of it for Monday. We were glad to have a room in Laurelville’s Solarhouse, so that we didn’t need to dig out bedding for the night.

On Monday, all went well. A bunch of my future co-workers joined forces to get the van emptied out. But our piano presented a difficulty. Going in one door would require carrying the piano up a rocky path for a distance – not realistic. Going in the other door meant going up a flight of steps that was only wide enough for one person. Also not realistic. So what to do?

Gene, the director of facilities and grounds, decided to take the railing off of our deck and to get out the big toys…

A wrench in the plans

Our transition to Pennsylvania seemed to be going so smoothly. Packing was well underway. Job and church obligations were being wrapped up in Illinois. I was counting the days until the move, the house closing, and the last day of work.

And then about two weeks ago, the house sale fell apart.

The house appraised for far less than the agreed-on price. The buyer’s financing would no longer work, but there seemed to be possibilities for saving the deal. But those didn’t work out. But there were other options, and the deal was back on. And then in one stunning and brilliant display of confusion, the buyers’ agent said that the buyers wanted the house and were pursuing alternative financing at nearly the same time that their attorney said that the deal was “null and void”.

Ever since, I’ve think I’ve been going through the stages of grief. The anger bothered me the most…

  • Anger at the appraiser for doing a bad job (which we shall not be discussed here);
  • Anger at FHA appraisals for not having an easy way to challenge them;
  • Anger at the people who could challenge them for being unwilling to do so;
  • Anger at the buyers’ agent and attorney for confusing messages and apparent lack of concern;
  • Anger at our agent and attorney for their inability to help save the deal;
  • Anger that my family had planned our move date to accommodate the deal and that we’d now be needlessly apart for two and a half weeks;
  • Anger at myself for being so angry.

That last one was the most significant. Life goes on. My family is healthy. We have food and shelter. We have love. We don’t lack anything.

And yet, it took me days to feel anything except the anger. (And fear. I guess there was fear, as well.)

I really didn’t like that side of me. It felt ugly. And I hated to admit my weakness. During that struggle, I was reminded of the classic spiritual discipline of asking oneself, “Where have I seen God today?” I confessed to one of my friends, “Sometimes we only observe God in God’s absence.”

In the midst of all of that, we traveled to Laurelville for the spring gathering of its association members. It was a trip that we would have made, even if we weren’t moving there. Jane Hoober Peifer was the featured speaker for the weekend. I was too distracted to remember much of what she said, but at some point she spoke about anxiety and gratitude. Sometimes when fear is too great, we have to take small steps. We remind ourselves that God has given us what we need for this minute… or maybe this hour or day. And when we have learned that, we can begin to think about the week or month. Eventually, we can rest fully in God’s care. I’m trying to do that now. So let me conclude by with some gratefulness…

  • At the darkest point in all of this, one friend (the one to whom I confessed God’s apparent absence) didn’t try to rationalize things or to cheer me up. She simply heard me and gave me a hug.
  • This past weekend, my family packed our things (with lots of help from friends) and moved everything to Laurelville. Being there helped me put things into perspective.
  • In the last couple of days, our house has gone back on the market. Already we have a showing for today and another for tomorrow.
  • One of the children from church made me a bracelet as a going-away present. She gave it to me last Saturday as we loaded the moving van. Last night, I returned to Illinois from Laurelville in order to finish my work at Argonne. In a moment of depression as I moved about the house that used to be my home, I encountered the bracelet. Like a hug without words, it reminds me of the love of my community.

Small glimmers of hope that help me to move forward.

Bracelet of love

I’m surrounded by love.

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