A Vision for the New Year (Emily)

With every new year comes a time of reflection. For some this reflection is new and authentic, for most it is a repeated task and habit that signifies another calendar year. Sometimes it is full of regret, sometimes it is full of ambition. Resolutions for a new year have been a long time tradition of many, but more recently there has been a movement towards picking a word to focus on for the year or finding other nontraditional ways of working towards a better self in the new year. Some choose not to do anything, and some try to do too much. There is a balance and a way for everyone to find motivation and hope for a new year, it just may take a little failure to find. 

With reflection also comes a vision. By looking back and analyzing the past year, you may find the things that were enjoyable and make a goal to continue those. You can also identify the things that were difficult, harmful, or unpleasant. When it comes to finding a resolution to address those negative aspects of a previous year, the possibilities are endless. You may have a vision for what you want your year to be, but can’t quite land on a way to get there. It can be overwhelming to try and find just one thing to commit to when there are so many ways of improvement on which to focus. For someone like me who tends to overanalyze and sometimes overcommit, the entire month of January can be wasted just trying to land on the perfect resolution. 

This year I am letting and encouraging myself to focus on smaller tasks. Although I would love it if I could go to the gym every morning, or make a home cooked meal every night I just know that those things are not going to happen consistently for the next 365 days. Instead, I am going to try to be willing everyday. Willing to go outside, willing to say yes to God’s plan, willing to say no when it’s not right, willing to meet someone new. This past year was one where old habits were altered by the complete change of pace that we all experienced in our day to day lives. Instead of trying to fix one of the many bad habits I formed in 2020, I am going to focus on being willing. With this word in mind, I hope that my days will be filled with more joy and my mind will have more peace. I hope that I will find myself in new places and relationships and also enjoying the slower pace I grew to love in many ways. I hope that I do not get overwhelmed with the idea of being willing, but am able to adopt it into my everyday thoughts and actions. 

For the Sycamoreans, this new year is different from the last. The break of the holidays was refreshing and enjoyed, but returning back to the lives we have built here in Harrisburg does not come without challenges. Adjusting to young adulthood, as we all are no matter at what stage, can be strange and hard sometimes. The hype of the new year and excitement for a clean slate can be confusing when you jump back into the same routine as the previous few months. Although the coming of a new year signals a time of transition, the Sycamoreans still have quite a few months left in this year of service and time in Harrisburg. I think that this is almost a point of opportunity though. With the concept of a new start in the year of 2021, we have the opportunity to change our work habits, our home routine, or to improve our functionality in some way before the conclusion of our time here. The state of our country and world is still alarming and brings many challenges, but I hope that with the consistency and return to something familiar we are able to continue to grow through these next few months and be willing to accept the change that may come.

Antics in the Snow- Holly

I try to go outside every day, especially now that I’m working from home. So when it snowed, I walked along the river as dusk fell. My housemate Kyle, a native Californian who has rarely seen snow, decided to join me. An intense snowball fight ensued. After we finally called a truce, I noticed how beautiful Harrisburg is on a snowy evening. We are lucky to live along the Susquehanna River, which hasn’t quite frozen over but seemed muted. The bridge was lit up for the Christmas season. The still-falling snowflakes looked lovely against the dark sky. It was freezing, but it was worth it. 

The following evening, the house decided to make a snowman. We actually made two snowmen in the schoolyard behind the Sycamore House. The snowmen do have stick antennas, so perhaps “snow creatures” is a more accurate term. I admit I was a bit sleep-deprived at the time, which is perhaps why I kept throwing out weird ideas (such as adding antennas to our snow creatures). Regardless, I’m very proud of our snow creations. 

Afterward, the snowball war resumed. Sometimes living in an intentional community means mercilessly hurling snowballs at your housemates, and that’s okay.

All Virtual Now- Chloe

My placement this service year is at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School; I teach Social and Emotional Learning. This past week, we transitioned to teaching entirely in a remote setting due to the rising number of Covid cases and growing public health crisis in our region. All students and teachers were working from home and connecting via Zoom calls.

I was anxious to begin teaching virtually, not sure what the dynamics of my all-too-familiar classes would be like anymore. I doubted I would be able to maintain the same rapport with my students and that the relationships I had poured into and nurtured these past months would wither. I feared that the distance would take a toll on all of us very quickly and that the children’s education itself would suffer. There is no denying that virtual learning is tough on students that are used to the structure and support of a classroom day in and day out.

Fortunately, those concerns, for the most part, did not come to fruition. It was a relatively smooth transition and students were very cooperative and gracious as we adjusted to this new reality. There were only a few technical glitches (my volume spontaneously stopped working in the middle of my Kindergarten class and I was talking to silence for a good 15 minutes!). I credit all this to the part-time virtual learning we had already grown familiar with this school year and all my colleague’s tireless efforts in preparing for this transition. Our dean cautioned us that these next few weeks we will experience some “growing pains” as we get accustomed to the new style of teaching, but I feel we are equipped to push through.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sad this week; I miss seeing my students and fellow teachers in person. I look forward to the day when we can be together again. In the meantime, I ask for prayers for the school and our country. I hold out hope that this will only be a temporary way of life.

(The picture I included was taken when St. Stephen’s was still operating in-person, and only half of the class was streaming in virtually. However, the photo still illustrates what my workplace looks like now- that is, staring at a screen and seeing into the living room and bedrooms of my students!)

A Return to Kyle’s Portfolio

Time for more art! As one can tell, my passion is in portraits:

Kaylee Sharp, a friend of mine from New York. Attention was paid especially to the texture of her scarf and how it would help inform an otherwise very flat set of shapes. I am still rather fond of this one.

This is a live drawing I managed to catch of a friend years ago in community college while she was on her phone. I rarely get chances to do live drawings, mostly because I am not very fast at drawing yet and it is difficult for me to ask someone to sit down for a few hours and not move much.

A portrait of Captain Richard Winters as depicted by Damian Lewis in HBO’s Band of Brothers. This was and still is one of my favorite war serials ever and I found the story of Easy Company captivating enough that I bought Stephen Ambrose’s book on which the show was based on. And of course, drew a study of both a tactically brilliant and ethical Army officer. Learning perspective was important for this one.

One of my first ever paintings, which I did in a high school art class using watercolor. I felt that an exploding volcano was quite striking, yet very different than the usual sunsets and flowers other students did. (I was very much a contrarian at the time – I refused to take Spanish language classes in high school because I considered it too “common,” which is the exact opposite reason why you’d want to learn a language). In retrospect, I did the best on the explosion itself and the clouds in the background, but not quite as well on the lava flow in front, which lacks depth and ambient light on the chunky obsidian floating along.

And to top this all off, this is my latest project completed here at the St. Stephen’s chapter house! (I was graciously given a little room and a tarp to use there). This oil painting on canvas depicts a “Desert Ranger” from post-apocalyptic fiction. Namely: the Wasteland and Fallout series which themselves draw a lot of influence from westerns, post-apocalyptic literature (like A Canticle for Leibowitz), and 1950s Atomic Age culture. This particular painting started as a study but a friend of mine offered to pay for it, so I will be taking it with me to California and dropping it off for him sometime during Christmas week. The writing on the helmet says “Chiropractor,” which is an inside joke between us and something he wanted depicted somewhere.

Thanksgiving at the Sycamore House- Kelsey

A group of people sitting around a table with food on it

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This past week, the Sycamore House had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving before we all went out different ways for the holidays. The idea for the dinner was quite a spur of the moment and we realized that one cannot cook a full thanksgiving meal in 3 hours without a lot of help. To be efficient as possible, everyone took a job and got to cooking. To mine, and everyone’s surprise, none of the food burned or started a fire, and was perfectly cooked in the three hours. Our dinner was full of happy conversation and laughing over how crazy the past year have been. 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to share some things that I am thankful for:

  1. The opportunity to graduate from college in a time when everything felt unsure.
  2. Finding the Sycamore House and being accepted into a nurturing space spiritually, vocationally, and relationally.
  3. Having the opportunity to live with four young adults who share similar experiences and have become close friends. 
  4. To live in a house that faces the Susquehanna river, and being in awe of God’s creation every time I look out the window. 
  5. Working for the PA Council of Churches and having the ability to help others with my work. 
  6. Through the PA Council of Churches, meeting and working with organizations that are doing important work.

This year has been full of curveballs, and at times, I could not see the bright side to the situation, but through God, all things are possible. I am so thankful that we have a God who is steadfast and through every uncertain moment, he has been there. As we come to the end of the year, I know that the next year may not be easier, but I am hopeful and looking forward to what God has in store for us all.

Holly’s First Week

I was accepted to the Sycamore House Service Corps around mid-October, and I moved into the Bigler House last week. I remember going through the motions of filling out the application, then filling out the paperwork, and then preparing to move. Then I got caught up in the process of moving in, getting to know my housemates, and also figuring out how to vote during this crazy election season. Today I began my service placement at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. It hit me that the process of becoming a Service Corps member is over. I did it. I’m here. 

Today I helped a little kid make a paper airplane while serving in St. Stephen’s Episcopal School afterschool program. Last week, I enjoyed a Lord of Rings marathon with some housemates. I walked along the Susquehanna River. I explored Capitol Park and found a new favorite coffee shop. I skateboarded on City Island. I wandered through Harrisburg in an attempt to learn my way around. Each of these moments has reminded me that I made it here and that I made the right decision in joining this program. 

A Trip to the Farm

This past Friday, we were to engage in an act of service. We took this time to volunteer at Kirsten’s farm in Dillsburg. It was a crisp fall day when we arrived on the farm. We were greeted by goats grazing in the grass and turkeys noisily gobbling from their pens. The gardens were bursting with fresh vegetables and rows and rows of corn served as a perimeter around the property. Kirsten welcomed us and expressed her gratitude that we came. Immediately, we went to work. 

We tore down old, outdated plastic that had been draped over the greenhouse and then strung up some new, clean sheets. It was certainly a highly coordinated team effort and we were proud of our work once it was completed. I (Chloe) learned how to secure the plastic by tacking a metal rod to the greenhouse walls.

We also dug holes to plant elderberry trees. The trees were only in the beginning growing stages, so they resembled sticks poking out of the ground more than anything else. Kirsten offered for us to adopt an elderberry tree and we would be welcome to come back to witness its development over time.

Kirsten graciously donated some produce to us, a portion of her Community Supported Agriculture stock. We learned that Kirsten and her family are very active and invested in their community and have formed many connections with families in the area.

We ended our time on the farm by feeding and petting the goats. We found them to be fond, affectionate creatures who liked to nuzzle up against you.

Our day was topped off by a trip to Baker’s. With Kelsey having grown up in the area and I having attended Messiah, Baker’s was a staple. The cozy diner was fortunately still serving brunch, so we were able to treat ourselves to omelets, pancakes, and hash browns. It was a delicious meal and wonderful way to conclude our Friday group activity.

Finding Peace in the Outdoors

When moving to Pennsylvania, I was excited for the opportunity to live in the city of Harrisburg but knew I was going to miss the lakeside house that I called home in Michigan. Spending time outdoors became significantly more important to me throughout this past season of life as opportunities to see friends and go out places became very limited. Going for walks became one of my biggest sources of energy and entertainment during the initial phase of quarantine. During the summer months, I was blessed by the opportunity the outdoors offered me. Whether it was a run on a dirt road, a paddle board ride with my dog, or a sunset tour on the boat, there was always something to do and see. I became spoiled by the beauty of the water, the feelings of serenity it gave me and the beauty it provided every day. As I prepared for my move from Michigan to Pennsylvania, I cherished and savored every last swim or evening I spent by the lake knowing I would miss it more than I realized. 

Although I have lived in many cities before and love the activity and life that they have, I had become accustomed to the trees as my only neighbors. When I arrived in Harrisburg in August and began moving my things into the Sycamore House, I was surprised by the beauty of the Susquehanna River and the views that our new home has to offer. As I began to get acclimated with the city, I found myself taking walks to City Island, on the Green Belt, and just down by the river. It was a wonderful way to see new parts of Harrisburg and the people that call it home.

Fast forward a couple months and I have found myself in quarantine for the past few weeks due to exposure to COVID-19 and the precautions of my work. Although I have been kept from going places and seeing people, I have found it safe and comfortable to get outside as much as possible, while still keeping my distance. In the morning, the afternoon, or evening the riverwalk is always somewhere I find rest and energy. On days when it seems easier to just stay inside and watch another show or waste another hour, I will force myself to get outside and just walk. I know that it will be good for me mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

Even from inside, the beauty of the river and the colors of the sun tend to shine through the windows and brighten up the space. While working or studying, being able to look at the view of the river from the many windows of this house is so rewarding. It has not been the easiest transition to move to a new city while so much of everyday life still does not feel normal. But the beauty of the river and the small bits of nature that surround the Sycamore House have been a pleasant and surprising gift to have here in the city. I truly believe in the benefit of living near water and spending time outdoors, and I am thankful to have the riverwalk and views of the Susquehanna to enjoy everyday. 

A Sample of Kyle’s Portfolio

One of my favorite hobbies is art, and thankfully, there is no shortage of space to practice it in the Sycamore House. I have been drawing and painting infrequently for a few years now, and I figure I would share some of my past work here, with a short explanation of the process and subject.

One of my earliest drawings, a graphite depiction of a Russian woman when I first began to study the discipline and dip my toes into portraiture and drawing. At this point, I did not have as many grades of graphite and the highest was 6B, so the contrast suffered a bit for lack of dark darks. The lack of blending tools also hurt the work a bit. However, I think I depicted the texture of the sweater and the vinyl of the purse handle quite well.

This is a portrait of a classmate from community college, Liza Pevzner. I caught a candid expression on her face and thought it would be a good way to work on expressions. A deep, wide smile which creases the cheeks, pulls the nostrils up, and wrinkles underneath the eyes. With better tools like darker graphite (9B) and cheap blending tortillons, I was able to polish this portrait better.

This is a drawing of a video game character named “Venom Snake,” a pseudonym for a mercenary captain in the Metal Gear Solid series directed by Hideo Kojima. I bought an electric eraser and used it for the first time as well as graphite powder. I did a basic outline with 5H graphite as usual, filled in some with 3B, then applied graphite powder around the outline to create an extremely dark background, which proved to be an excellent and perhaps striking contrast when I used the electric eraser to pull white highlights from areas like the beard and nose.

A more ‘run of the mill’ portrait which I no longer possess because I gave it to the subject herself. This portrait is of a classmate of mine in community college named Jacquelyn Wrobel. I was told that I captured her expression and demeanor quite well, by herself and the others who knew her.

One of a series of seven portraits of members of the same family. Veronica Fealy, the sister of a classmate I knew in community college (noticing a theme?). I managed to do much more serious detail work here, in texturing the jacket, braids, and wisps of hair as well as the expression and light playing on her skin, especially near the mouth.

Lastly, should greyscale portraits become stale to the reader, here is my most recent painting. This is oil on canvas, finished in 2019 on commission for Emily Hyburg, director of The Belfry Lutheran-Episcopal house in Davis, CA. The subject is Saint Tabitha, and as one can read, is meant for The Belfry’s pantry program. I drew influence from Eastern Orthodox/Catholic artwork and iconography with relatively stark palettes and direct expression from Tabitha herself, though put my own spin on it with (non-liturgically correct) oil paint and an original facial structure and color scheme.

I hope this has been an enjoyable viewing experience. This is only a partial sampling of my portfolio for the sake of brevity. As one can tell, most of the progression in my skill has been in simple technique rather than pioneering subject matter. Originality and imagination is truly only an abstraction of memory and pattern-recombination, such that I will need to have done far, far more work than I currently do (with a meager 30 portraits to my name) in order to start making up faces and people wholesale without reference.

Apple Picking- Kelsey

Being a part of the 2020-2021 Sycamore House Service Corps has been a welcoming peace in the midst of a stressful and chaotic year. As a house full of recent college graduates, it has been so nice to have the opportunity to build relationships and community with people the same age. Since moving-in in August, we have had the chance to settle in and truly make the house a home. 

As a way to get to know each other better and bond, at the beginning of each month, our service day is dedicated to planning a fun activity or outing. This past weekend, in the spirit of the fall season, we decided to go apple picking at Paulas Orchard. It was a beautiful fall day and the perfect time to go apple picking. As we roamed the rows of apples, we talked about all the desserts and treats we could make with our apples, and if we owned an orchard, what would we grow. By the time we finished and weighed everything, we had gathered a grand total of 19 pounds of apples! Afterwards, we shopped at the quaint gift shop and bought various fall sweet treats. The rest of the day consisted of being cozy on the couch while watching Netflix, and cutting and freezing most of the apples. 

Overall, it was a perfect way to end the week and spend time admiring God’s creation. Next week, we hope to return to buy and carve pumpkins for Halloween.