Category: *cino

Welcoming a new year

Welcoming a new year

A new year! After a nice break for the holidays, we kicked things off with our usual Friday night potluck at our *culture is not optional community house. The community house is where our interns, AmeriCorps members, volunteers, and visitors stay, and it’s also a space for building relationships and learning for our organization as a whole. 2019 was a pretty rocky year, with an unexpected move for our community house on top of some other major projects, so it was nice to celebrate with friends in a spirit of greater stability for the year to come. The historic three-story Victorian house we lovingly refer to as “the haunted mansion” has proven a wonderful asset for showing hospitality.

Potluck at the *cino community house
Potluck at the *culture is not optional community house!

In mid-January, Rob spent some time in Detroit for the Michigan Farmers Market Manager training, but came back in time to enjoy the opening reception for the annual juried art show at the Carnegie Center for the Arts, just half a block from our house. The Carnegie Center is a beautifully restored historic space—one of the original libraries Andrew Carnegie built around the country. Many of our friends had work in the show, including John, Gail, and Jonathon, who work with Kirstin at GilChrist Retreat Center.

Carnegie Center juried show in downtown Three Rivers.

We try to take things a bit more slowly in the winter, but one important annual celebration we participate in is a march, potluck dinner, and service in celebration of the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Though it turned bitterly cold just in time for the march, we had a great turnout. The service featured live music from a number of groups, including the Brandenburg Concert choral group that Kirstin sings in, and some incredible, truth-to-power poetry from local poet friends. We look forward to this service every year as an expression of solidarity and diversity in our community, and Rob has taken on more a role in helping plan and organize along with a number of other community volunteers.

Holidays with friends and family

Holidays with friends and family

We started out the month with a trip to Grand Rapids that we’d been planning for a while, to attend a concert with the band Over the Rhine and celebrate our friend Ken’s last show as the director of the Student Activities office at Calvin University. We worked with Ken for five years in the SAO and, like many others, were deeply impacted by his intelligent faith and his passion for popular culture and social justice. It was a joy to be able to spend time friends from around the country and even the UK who came in for the celebration.

Finally finishing the new bathroom at the Imaginarium!

Work projects this month included finishing the second bathroom in the new Imaginarium at the Huss Project, which is one more step toward getting our official occupancy permit to be able to host events and programs there. We also hosted our annual Christmas potluck at our house, with a wacky gift exchange and, even though we still debate whether it’s actually a Christmas movie, a viewing of the beloved action film, Die Hard.

A Very *cino Christmas

In mid-December, we received some unexpected news that Rob’s aunt (his mom’s younger sister) had passed away. She was in a lot of pain so there was some relief, but it was still very difficult for her daughters, who are about our age, to find themselves without a mother or father anymore. Their whole family had been a huge help when we started World Fare in 2003. It was good to be together as a family, sharing memories, food, and the rituals of grief.

Shortly after the funeral, we made the trip back to northwest Indiana again for family Christmas celebrations. Because things were a bit spread out this year, we had time to visit with friends (former high school teachers of ours) and also to get into downtown Chicago with Rob’s parents. We wandered around the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza for a while, and then headed over to the Chicago Architecture Center to view exhibits about the history of Chicago and skyscrapers around the world. Buildings and urban design are some of Rob’s great passions and it was fun to be able to share those passions with his parents in a new way.

Visiting the Chicago Architecture Center with Rob’s parents

We returned home on Christmas Day and after a few days of relaxing at home, we closed out the year with our annual New Year’s Eve party at our apartment, which doubles as an anniversary party. It’s hard to believe we’ve been married for 19 years! We don’t know what 2020 has in store for us, but we do hope that our path to parenthood becomes clear in the coming year. It’s been a long wait and we’re anxious to share our lives with a kiddo.

Sharing and learning from stories

Sharing and learning from stories

The month began with Rob at another conference—the Earlham Writers’ Colloquium in Richmond, Indiana. He spoke on a panel about the importance of imagination in rural communities, which is a topic right in line with our work at the Huss Project. While he was away, Kirstin attended the Halloween party across the street at the Riviera Theatre, dressed as none other than young environmental champion Greta Thunberg! 

Kirstin as Greta
Kirstin as Greta Thunberg

We also enjoyed a day trip to Kirstin’s parents’ house in northwest Indiana to have a “grandma dinner” (pot roast, mashed potatoes, carrots, salad…) in celebration of their kitchen renovation, which was motivated by making the space in their home more useful for our expanding family to gather. While there, Kirstin enjoyed looking through an old family photo album that included pictures a trip to Florida her grandparents made before Kirstin’s dad was born. Who knew Grandma Marge was so stylish!

*cino community on retreat at GilChrist

In the midst of getting ready for the Christmas shopping season in World Fare, our intentional community enjoyed some retreat time together at GilChrist, where Kirstin works. We spent a couple of days deepening our relationships with each other, sharing food, reading poetry, and talking about things we’d like to work on as a community. The week after the retreat, we hosted another storytelling night at the Imaginarium—this one on the theme of “earth.” It’s always nice to hear so many different perspectives on the theme of the night and grow in understanding of one another.

Storytelling at the Huss Project Imaginarium
Community celebrations

Community celebrations

Our summer busy season continued into August, with further Imaginarium work in preparation for the wedding of our friends Alek and Deborah, which was be the first major event there besides Future Fest. These two dreamed up a beautiful wedding and had perfect weather. At Deborah’s request, we performed a sweet little song during the ceremony with Rob and I on vocals, Rob on guitar, and our friend Elisabeth on violin. It was fun to reconnect with many friends at the ceremony and reception, several of whom came to Three Rivers, like Deborah did, through our summer internship program.

2019 *cino community

August is often a month of saying goodbye and this year was no exception. We transitioned this year from a less formal program to an AmeriCorps summer associates program and were grateful to work with Sugan, Anna, and Jacob for ten weeks. Our good friend Emily also came to join us for the summer between semesters of grad school and she helped out immensely with special events, including a thank you dinner and house blessing for all those who helped with the community house renovation in the spring. Even though it’s always hard to say goodbye, we’re so very thankful for all of the friends who have brought a fresh perspective to our work in Three Rivers and thrown in their energy alongside ours to lift up the gifts of our community!

Thank you dinner for 208 volunteers
Unveiling the Imaginarium

Unveiling the Imaginarium

Well, it was a race to the finish line and we gave it all we had! The new community space, called the Imaginarium, came together about 95% of the way before our big annual community festival at the Huss Project at the end of July. While we wish we’d gotten everything finished, it was certainly enough for visitors to Future Fest to catch the vision for this vibrant new space.

Imaginarium under construction

Launching the Imaginarium was just part of Future Festival. Along with dozens of volunteers, we hosted a rummage sale, farmers market, bake sale, live music, an art show, and a Community Carnival with hands-on activities and free school supplies for kids and families. This was actually the tenth annual Future Festival, chaired by our good friend Julie. A lot of friends, both local and out-of-town, come together to make the Fest happen every year and it’s always an amazing celebration of creativity and friendship…and then we crash!

Rob taking a break with his parents at Future Festival
A view from the second floor
Family, renovations, farming

Family, renovations, farming

Between late May and early June, we enjoyed several opportunities to visit with Kirstin’s sister Alyssa’s family while they were visiting from Idaho. Alyssa and her husband Dave have two kiddos, and this was our first opportunity to meet the youngest who was born in March. They’re growing up so fast! We also grabbed a couple of days away to visit Chicago in celebration of Rob’s birthday, taking in a Cubs game and lots of good food.

Visiting Chicago

In between out-of-town adventures, we’ve been hard at work on another renovation project. This was actually the one that we PLANNED on doing this year before the community house project came along. Basically, we’re taking two rooms in the historic elementary school our organization owns and turning them into a new community space for all sorts of programming. Rob has a gift for designing spaces, and he had the idea to cut a hole in the floor between two levels and install floor-to-ceiling bookshelves made out of old barn wood. In addition, the old barns we had taken down at our friends’ property will be furnishing most of the wood for a new pavilion as an outdoor extension of the community space. Among other things, the pavilion will provide a space for our summer lunch program that provides a mid-day meal for any school-aged kid in our neighborhood. We’re also working hard to get everything rolling for the season at the farm. Thankfully, we have a lot of help from volunteers and contractors!

Pavilion at the Huss Project
Planting futures

Planting futures

As the weather warms up, it’s been delightful to get outside and start working on the farm. At the beginning of the month, we got a crew together to plant several varieties of potatoes, which is always a big job and definitely wakes up the muscles after the long winter rest. Our tomato and pepper seedlings have been struggling in the basement this year for some reason, so we’re trying to figure out how to work with our local farmer network to make sure we have plenty of summer vegetables to share.

Planting potatoes at the Huss Project Farm

This has been a big month of transition for our community development organization. For many years, we’ve been hosting potluck dinners on Friday nights at our community house, and we had our very last potluck there before our big move on May 18. Prepping the new house involved some heavy-duty teamwork to move an old player piano out of the foyer and over to the home of a local piano tuner, among other tasks. But we managed to get settled in in time for orientation for our new AmeriCorps program. We’re excited to be taking this step as an organization because it will spread out the labor among a larger group of people and help us develop our vision and capacity for the next phase of our work.

AmeriCorps orientation
Moving a player piano
Concerning resurrection

Concerning resurrection

April has been a big month for working on the new community house as we anticipate moving day in May. Thankfully, a whole crew of people from our church have volunteered to pitch in, including skilled trades people. The house was converted to a bed and breakfast at some point, so most of the bedrooms have a bathroom attached, but only one bathroom was in working order. We actually ended up demolishing that bathroom to combine it with another one and create a wheelchair-accessible bathroom on the main floor. Besides that one, we got three other bathrooms up and running as well. Removing old wallpaper and putting a fresh coat of paint on most of the main floor has made a huge difference. This house is going to make a wonderful space for overnight hospitality and group gatherings.

Painting at 208, the *cino community house

We also celebrated Easter this month, which is an important holiday for us. Nearly every year, we attend the Easter vigil at St. Gregory’s Abbey, which is a Benedictine monastery just west of Three Rivers. The service starts at 11pm with readings of Bible stories leading up to the life of Jesus. At midnight, the bells ring, the lights come up, and we celebrate the first communion of Easter together, followed by a delightfully subdued party (remember, this is hosted by monks who are usually in bed by 8:30pm every night!). Then we head home around 2:00 a.m. to catch some sleep before driving to northwest Indiana to spend time with both sides of our family.

New beginnings

New beginnings

Well, we got some unexpected news: the community house we’ve been using for ten years for our volunteers, interns, and partners in community development work is no longer going to be available to us. This word sent us scrambling to figure out another place for our current residents to live, as well as those planning to come in for the summer. After exploring several possibilities, including one house full of trash with no heat and a caving-in ceiling, our organization ended up purchasing what we lovingly refer to as “the haunted mansion.” It’s going to take a ton of work to get it ready for people to live there, but it’s a gem of a house with a long history that deserves some TLC. There are a few squirrels in the attic who will need to be evicted…

*cino community house
Beginning bathroom renovations

In the meantime, we’re also beginning to get ready for the next growing season at the Huss Project Farm by starting seeds in the basement of World Fare. It’s fun to get our hands in soil and spend time with green, growing things while the cold and snow continue outside.

Potlucks, parties, and parenting

Potlucks, parties, and parenting

Photo from the art tent at Huss Future Festival 2017.

Hello there, and welcome to the next installment of “What Goes On in the Everyday Life of the VG-R’s.” (By the way, VG-R is the shortened version of our ridiculously long, hyphenated last name. We’re still trying to figure out what we’ll do when the baby comes along!)

Since last week, things have been pretty standard and low-key, which is good. In 2018, we’re working to cut back on some of our many volunteer commitments so that we have more space in our lives for rest and fun—and, of course, a kiddo!

Last Friday night, we had our weekly potluck dinner at our organization’s community house. We’re going on ten years now with this tradition, and it’s like a weekly family dinner. It’s been a great way to stay connected with people in the midst of our busy lives, and it’s also been a good space to welcome new people. There’s always a variety of delicious foods, often creative dishes made with locally-grown ingredients, and good conversation. We start our time together by introducing ourselves and what we brought, then we read something as a meal blessing (usually a poem), and whoever happens to be standing closest to the plates goes first! Throughout the year, our potluck group ranges from a handful of people to 20+, and from newborn babies to grandparents. I love seeing how the little kids get so much love in this group, and look forward to the day when everyone is angling for a turn holding our child.

Another weekly event in the past few days was our *culture is not optional “staff” meeting. I put “staff” in quotes, because we don’t really get paid, but we’re all committed to work together for the flourishing of our local community. This past Monday, we gathered for the first time since December after a break for the holidays and for the month of January. Julie, Deborah, Rob, and I have been the core group for several years, and this past Monday, we were joined by John Mark and Angela, who are currently living in the community house. Our big topic of discussion was this summer’s Huss Future Festival, which will take place on July 21. It’s a massive, all-day party, with food, games, live music, art, a farmer’s market, and much more. We partner with a local organization that gives out backpacks full of school supplies to local kids, and a bunch of other organizations that provide hands-on activities and games. Last year, we had almost 1,000 people come out! Future Fest is a ton of hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding and we look forward to coming up with some creative new ideas for this year’s event.

Huss Future Fest takes place at the Huss Project, which is the hub of our *culture is not optional work in Three Rivers. Rob and I spent a chunk of this past Saturday in the neighborhood, going door-to-door to talk with our neighbors about their voting experiences. Since last January, we’ve been meeting weekly with a local group of citizens that’s working on trying to increase voter turnout in our small city. It was great to meet some new neighbors on Saturday and to hear from some passionately committed voters, as well as a couple of people who never registered, but are open to doing so when we visit next time!

It’s fun to imagine what these activities—staff meetings, festival organizing, door-to-door canvassing—will look like with a baby in our lives. We picture ourselves bringing a kid right along with us for these kinds of local adventures, where many “aunts” and “uncles” will share in teaching and caring for them. And yet, we also realize we need to listen to our child and be attentive to what they need at the moment, which may be quiet time at home with a book instead of knocking on another door.

One last thing I’ll share for now: yesterday at work, as an opening reflection, someone shared a video of Maya Angelou talking about her mother. Since we made the decision to become parents, I’ve naturally found myself listening differently to people’s stories, looking for the type of parent I hope to be. I was especially touched by the way Angelou’s mother cooked for her kin as an expression of her love, as well as her unconditional welcome and encouragement for her daughter that made such a profound difference in young Maya’s life. Here it is if you’d like to check it out:

Until next time!