ordinary… mostly

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



A crazy weather day

At 8 o’clock when I began work this morning, the sky was overcast. As I stood at the office talking to two of my colleagues, we began getting hit by drops of rain, and after a minute or two the drops became sufficiently annoying to chase us inside. It didn’t occur to me then that those drops would be the beginning of something dramatic.

Over the next two hours, this storm system moved through the area…

Radar loop - Aug 23, 2013

(The yellow dot is Laurelville. The radar loop pauses at 8 a.m.)

And we received about 3″ of rain…

Total precipitation - Aug 23, 2013And even by 9:30 a.m. or so, I didn’t realize that anything special was going on. But that’s when one of my colleagues saw that the water level of Jacob’s Creek had risen… quickly.

Waterfall - Aug 23, 2013For comparison, this is more than 9 to 12″ higher than the level of the creek during Hurricane Sandy. It’s high! Those of you familiar with this area will realize that there isn’t supposed to be water running in the foreground. That’s the overlook where people usually stand to watch the creek. And there isn’t supposed to be water running in the background, either. The creek jumped its boundaries upstream, was running over the neighbor’s land, and was coming down the bank again, just below the waterfall.

Here are some more photos from the morning…

Looking upstream(Upstream, the water comes over the wall onto the patio of Metzler Cabin.)

Metzler patio

(At Metzler Cabin, the water rushes over the patio.)


(Jacob’s Creek flows in front of the Office. It isn’t supposed to do that.)

Water at the playground

(The creek runs through the playground. It’s not supposed to do that, either.)

To conclude my little report, here are three videos from the day. In the first one, watch for the tree washing over the waterfall.

Sandy, Day 2

(Being the continuing story of the hurricane/frankenstorm/post-tropical cyclone of late October 2012. I also invite you to read accounts by Middle Daughter and Oldest Daughter.)

I thought about sleeping in the Laurelville office last night. I figured if anything exciting developed as a result of Hurricane Sandy, I would be close by. Certainly, everyone seems to gravitate to the waterfall behind the office any time we have interesting weather. But in the end, it was too dark to really see anything well, and I decided to sleep in the comfort of my own bed.

But I was awake before sunrise so that I could get out in the earliest morning light!

Here was the sight from our bedroom balcony this morning…

Bedroom viewYou can see that Sandy left us some snow. We’ve continued to get a rain/snow mix throughout the day, but there hasn’t been any snow accumulation.

As soon as I was dressed, I set out for the main part of camp. Just beyond the basement door, our little unnamed creek (dry during the summer) was pressing in on our foundation…

The view from our basement door
The view from our basement door

And once on the road to camp, it was clear Jacob’s Creek was running high…

Jacob's Creek
Jacob’s Creek as seen from Laurelville Lane near the Albert property.

For the first time I can remember, I heard low booming sounds as large rocks tumbled down the creek and smashed against one another.

When I arrived at the office, I found out just how powerful the creek could be. It had eroded away the bank below the waterfall, eventually creating a three-foot-wide sinkhole right in one of the most frequently visited spots on the campus. Thankfully, no one has been hurt, and the area is now taped off.

Sinkhole and waterfall
Don’t get too close! The ground may be soft!

Other Laurelville staff had gathered on the terrace and were fighting a mixture of caution and curiosity. Should we stay away (not knowing how soft the remaining ground might be) or should we investigate (drawn by the irresistible desire to see what was at the bottom)? It turns out that the sight of water sloshing in the bottom of the hole was scary enough to make most of us back off.

The wall (above, on the right) by Metzler cabin was the only thing holding back the creek. Otherwise, the office (and downstream parts of the camp) would have received some flooding.

What is it about water that fascinates us? I spent a long time watching…

Throughout the last two days, we’ve been closely measuring the creek height on the gauge on the far bank. Here’s what we’ve observed (with apologies for the 12-hour gap overnight).

Sandy-influenced creek height
Jacob’s Creek water levels at Laurelville, October 29-30

The water was nearly two feet higher this morning than it was at the same time yesterday morning – a dramatic rise resulting from over four inches of rain total, including two overnight. But with the rain tapering off, the level started to come back down just as quickly. (As I write, the total precipitation from the storm stands at 4.3″.)

Before setting out to tour the rest of the camp, I created a panorama of the scene at “Waterfall Terrace”. (Click for a larger image.)

Waterfall Terrace at 9:30 am
Waterfall Terrace overlooking Jacob’s Creek at Laurelville (10/30/2012 at 9:30 am)

As I strolled around camp this morning, all the Sandy-derived excitement seemed to have been water-related. (Interestingly, we never did get the predicted winds.) This was the view where Jacob’s Creek goes under the bridge near the end of Laurelville Lane:

Jacob's Creek under Mennonite Camp Road
The view of Jacob’s Creek from the bridge on Mennonite Camp Road, October 30, 2012.

Everywhere else, you might just guess that it was a cold, wet fall day…

The day’s final excursion was a hike to Pine Run. The Ordinary Family bundled up and slogged up the trail to one of Jacob’s Creek’s tributaries. Generally, one can jump from rock to rock to get to the other side (and then hike to the farthest reaches of Laurelville’s property, where Pittsburgh is visible on a clear day). Today, crossing Pine Run was out of the question…

Pine Run
Pine Run

In many places, the water had left its usual course and was just flowing down the mountainside wherever it pleased.

Pick a path! Any path!
Pick a path! Any path!

It’s time to bring this massive report to a close. I see that as of 5 pm, the low pressure center of what was once Sandy is sitting right over us. Nevertheless, the rain and snow have really died down. We might get another three-quarters of an inch of precipitation, which would bring our storm total to about five inches. However, it will be spread out over the rest of the week and shouldn’t cause any additional water problems. Wind speeds are now predicted to remain low – around 10 mph.

And so, it appears that the Sandy saga is drawing to a close. Just in time to welcome 400 junior-high students to Laurelville this weekend for mud games!

The crazy weather day

(Another special treat – Oldest Daughter’s thoughts on Superstorm Sandy, recorded in her journal during school today.)


They say it’s going to snow!


Now it says it’s going to rain!


They say now that it’s going to snow on Tuesday night!

WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT? Good question. On October 30, 2012, the day before Halloween, I woke up and went down the stairs. “Look at this picture,” were my dad’s first words to me. I looked at the picture. It was a picture of our picnic table sprinkled with snow! I looked out; sure enough. The picnic table was sprinkled with snow slush!


As the morning brightened, rain drizzles became more visible. But my dad called from the office and said the waterfall was DUMPING HARD!

So we got in our warm winter jackets and headed outside. When I stepped out, I suddenly became aware of the loud rush of the creek. We hurried over to our little creek* and found it was the most full we had ever seen it!

* Ed. note: We have a little, unnamed creek that runs right outside our back porch. It eventually feeds into Jacob’s Creek – the big creek running past camp. Jacob’s Creek is probably the one Middle Daughter heard, but she investigated the small one first.

Seeing BIG splashes, we hurried over to Jacob’s Creek.There were two enormous logs stuck in the middle of the creek! The creek itself, though, was at least one foot deeper than it usually was; maybe even two feet deeper!

We walked down to the office, but not by the lookout by the waterfall, because there was a huge hole made by water! We went to John’s office** (he wasn’t working) and saw the waterfall DUMPING! Words can’t describe how big it was! Even Brenda**, who has worked here for 16 years, had not ever seen it this full!

** John is Laurelville’s executive director; Brenda is the director of group reservations and guest services.

Then my sisters went to build a snowman out of the patches of snow slush. My mom and I watched them build while we huddled under our umbrellas, hiding from the cold, whipping wind. Their ‘slushman’ (or at least that’s what I call it!) turned out to be more of a snowpecker, so that’s what we called it. After ten minutes or so, we got cold, so we went home.

After lunch, it started SNOWING! Unfortunately, lots of it falls, but none of it sticks. And ever since this afternoon, it’s been falling – even at 3:52 pm on October 30, the time I wrote this period → .

Sandy is upon us

Superstorm Sandy has arrived. We don’t have nearly the concerns that others farther east in Pennsylvania have. For us, it’s just exciting to slog around in our rain gear to witness the effects of all the rain.

Things seemed to start out slow. At midday, the rain was well underway, but the wind seemed non-existent:

But things seemed to be developing as the afternoon progressed:

And by this evening, Jacob’s Creek might qualify for a small river:

According to the weather station at nearby Mammoth Park, we’ve received 2.9″ of rain as of 10 pm. The pressure has fallen steadily throughout the day from 29.8 to 29.2 inches Hg. Interestingly, the wind hasn’t really strengthened from what I observed mid-afternoon. At this point, we have sustained winds of 5-10 mph, with gusts to about 15 mph. Presumably, some stronger winds are still to come.

And finally, one late-breaking development before I call it a night…

Snow on our picnic table, October 29th at 10:30 pm

This week in and out of the forest… 2 October 2012

Nearly a month ago, I described how the tulip poplars had started dropping their leaves. Then something interesting happened…

It started raining.

And the tulip poplars decided to keep their leaves for a while longer.

In the meantime, the beeches took the lead in color changing…

American beechThis beech is prominent on the Laurelville grounds.

These are its leaves. They’re hard to rake. (I have firsthand experience.)

In addition to the beeches, some other trees are taking on their fall foliage…

(sugar maple, white oak, shagbark hickory, sassafras, red oak, sycamore)

On the whole, however, it is clearly “beech season”…

Laurelville foliage, 2 Oct 2012(The yellows are all beeches. The little bit of orange at the right is from that sugar maple.)

This concludes the report from “in the forest”.

And now, from “out of the forest”…


Yes, it’s true. It seems our house has been overrun by stinkbugs. And they do this weird flight thing under our ceiling fan: when it’s turning, they will fly laps around it. Last night, Middle Daughter counted as a bug went around seventeen times nonstop (in the same direction as the fan).

And they’re not just in our house. They seem to be in every building. On Sunday in church, Ordinary Spouse said, “What’s that smell?” Well, according to Wikipedia, a stinkbug has a…

…tendency to eject a foul-smelling glandular substance secreted from pores in the thorax when disturbed; in some species the liquid contains cyanide compounds with a rancid almond scent.

Now you know.

And here is one more important tidbit from the Wikipedia article:

In some areas of Western Pennsylvania, particularly Oakland (Pittsburgh), stink bugs are referred to as “Freds”.

And so, as we continue to make ourselves at home here in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania, we will hereafter be on a first name basis with stinkbugs.

Intense weather today

Pittsburgh radar loop - Sat, Sept 8, 2012
Radar imagery from

(If the radar image isn’t animated, try opening the image in a new tab.)

Laurelville had some really interesting weather today. The overnight “low” temperature was about 75 °F. It turns out that was our high for the day. Shortly before seven, an intense, fast-moving storm went through. Unfortunately, it brought down a tree onto some vehicles in the process.

The fallen tree
The top half of a large beech.

(This is when a host has to be at his best!)

Just before lunch, a second intense system went through. The winds weren’t quite as powerful, but the rain came down hard.

I think we basically experienced a double derecho. On the radar, you can see two intense lines move through western Pennsylvania. With each one, there was a dramatic drop in temperature, and we totaled about 1″ of rain.

Weather data
Weather data from the nearby Mammoth Park weather station

By late afternoon, Jacob’s Creek was really thundering along…

Jacob's Creek Falls
Jacob’s Creek Falls

Last night, we had the windows open and fans running, but not tonight. The temperature is down to 57 °F as I type, and it’s falling to the mid-40s.

It’s been a long day. Good night!

Oh, there you are!

On Tuesday, I was complaining that someone kidnapped spring. I’m glad to report that spring has been found and has been returned safely.

Overnight, we’ve had 3+ inches of rain…

(We're the thicker cross in the middle.)

And more is on the way…

(This is the current radar map.)

Here’s the forecast for today and tomorrow…

(Looking wet.)

And we already have a lake in the backyard…

Lake Ordinary
Lake Ordinary

Over the river and through the woods…

Well, here we are at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  We traveled early this morning, instead of trying to fight Thanksgiving Eve traffic last night.  And just what does a three hour trip from the Chicago ‘burbs to north-central Indiana look like?  Here’s my view from the driver’s seat…

“Who wants to see my proboscis?”  (Oldest Daughter, just out of the driveway)

“I’m sure glad we’re travelling this morning instead of last night.”  (Me to Ordinary Spouse, as we made two effortless left turns  where I’d normally encounter great volumes of traffic during my morning commute)

Six minutes into the trip, we get on the “fast road” (the general nickname for limited access road, which in this case is I-55).  This is the signal for the girls to request a DVD.  In goes Fraggle Rock.

About fifteen minutes later, we’re onto I-355 and crossing the “blue light bridge” over the Des Plaines River.  McMansions overlook the valley on the south side.  I spout opinions… “If I had half a million dollars to buy a house, I’d get something with more character than these boxes.”

Shortly thereafter, I remember my blog… “If I could live blog this trip, I would.” Instead, I ask ordinary spouse if she has paper and pencil.  She anticipates my next request and writes, “My ordinary assistant will hand write the whole thing.”  I comment that “ordinary assistant” will probably get replaced by “smart-alecky assistant” when the notes make it into print.

“Could you give me blana?”  (Youngest Daughter woke up five minutes before we left and didn’t have breakfast.  Now she wants a banana.)

All along, I’m sipping coffee.  I’ve got a great thermos.  Too great.  The coffee is scalding hot nearly all the way.

Ordinary Spouse is cleaning out her purse.  She finds a diaper.

From I-355 to I-80.  The opening bars of U2’s “Zoo Station” (from the album, “Achtung Baby”) are playing as we’re exiting from one to the other.  Makes for a nice transition.

We see a white flag with a red border and a blue star.  Ordinary Spouse speculates that it’s a Czech flag.  Turns out that it’s a flag displayed by the family of a member of the armed services serving in a dangerous location.  We learned something new.

Shortly after getting on I-80, an alert Ordinary Spouse kept me from rear-ending another car.  The road was nearly empty and there was no one in my lane, so I reached for my coffee.  At the same moment, a car in the left lane braked and pulled into my lane.  Then they proceeded to the right lane and accelerated again.  Not sure what that was about.

We cruise through the IPASS lane when I-294 merges with I-80.  It occurs to us that we have no idea how much toll we’re actually paying.

The billboards along the interstate near the Illinois-Indiana border are really classy.  (“Gamble 30 minutes and get a free buffet” or “All of the liquor; none of the clothes”.)  Ordinary Spouse comments on the first one. “Sounds like  a gamble to me.”

We’ve removed Fraggle Rock, which didn’t seem to be a big hit.  It’s been replaced by the Laurie Birkner Band. “This is like a rock star for kids,” says Middle Daughter.

Rain, rain, rain.

Onto the Indiana Turnpike (I-80/I-90).  We immediately stop at a rest area.  Coffee’s coming through.

We debate the spelling of “niece”.  I comment on the weird spelling of “weird”.

We see a flock sheep walking in formation.  Then we see a sheep dog calmly standing and calling to them.  No running involved.  Impressive.

We reached the end of “Achtung Baby”.  I spout more opinions: what makes an album more than the sum of the parts, and why “Achtung Baby” is one of those albums.

We pass the pond with the big musical instruments.  Time to exit the Turnpike.  On to the bypass around South Bend.  Ordinary Spouse phones her parents and tries to make them believe we still have two hours to go.  Actually, we only have about 45 minutes – we’ll be just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Michael Card’s “Starkindler”  is now playing.

Ordinary Spouse and I discuss Richard Rohr and right brain/left brain duality.

Off of the bypass and on to US-33 toward Goshen.

In Goshen, we spot a couple running from their house to their car, carrying a turkey.  They didn’t cover the bird.  It’s raining.

And then, 150 miles and two and a half hours later, we’ve made it.

Thanks to God for every blessing in our lives.  May the thanks we give today continue throughout the year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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