Category: Three Rivers

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
Slowing down, catching up

Slowing down, catching up

September began for us with HarmonyFest, an annual festival celebrating our community’s diversity that happens right in downtown Three Rivers where we live. That’s also the weekend we celebrate the anniversary of the fair trade store we helped start, and we did so this year with a drum circle in the store. HarmonyFest takes place the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, which is also a weekend that Kirstin’s family often comes to Three Rivers to spend time at the family cottage, so it was fun to hang out at the lake on Labor Day with the fam.

Drum circle at World Fare

After the holiday, September has been a month of catching up on things after the busy summer, like food preservation and back yard maintenance (it was starting to look a bit like a jungle!). September is also Kirstin’s birthday month, and we celebrated this year with some down time at GilChrist Retreat Center, where Kirstin works. It was nice to spend some intentional time in reflection in the beauty of nature after a very busy summer.

Our backyard
Making salsa from our tomatoes
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
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
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.

Transitioning to the new year

Transitioning to the new year

As usual, we ended one year and started the next with friends at our apartment. We got married on New Year’s Eve, 2000 because it sounded like a nice time to bring friends and family together and Kirstin was between semesters for her final year of college. For many years since then, we’ve hosted a gathering at our place, which sort of doubles as a New Year’s Eve party and anniversary celebration. It’s also a fun opportunity to gather with friends after spending much of the holidays with our families. New Year’s Day usually finds us sharing waffles and resolutions around the dining room table, and this year was no exception. We shared (again) our hopes of starting a family, along with other personal goals. 

Shortly after the new year began, we began work to refresh World Fare, the fair trade store on Main Street below our apartment. Along with our board of directors and volunteers, we’d been anticipating a two-week closure in January (our slowest month) to upgrade our point-of-sale system, retrain volunteers, and make some aesthetic improvements to the store. It took a lot of cooperation, hard work, and detail organization, but we got it done and the store feels much brighter and more functional now!

Painting World Fare
Painting World Fare
Compassion and joy

Compassion and joy

One of the themes of the past couple of weeks has been WATER. We had about 16” of snow here in Three Rivers, followed by a big melt and lots of rain, leading to record flooding in our community. With downtown built on high ground, our home is safe, but our hearts hurt for our neighbors whose homes and businesses have been damaged.

Though several major roads are still closed, life has gone on mostly as usual in other ways. Rob went to a couple of meet-and-greets yesterday—one to welcome our new public library director, and one to discuss issues with our state representative, who periodically holds “office hours” at the local coffee shop. Issues we’re paying attention to right now are fair elections and safety in public places after the school shooting in Florida—another reason to grieve with our neighbors and reflect on our role in building the kind of world we want our child, and all children, to grow up in.

There’s a line in one of our favorite poems by Wendell Berry that we tend to think of in times like these: “Be joyful, though you’ve considered all the facts.” Rob and I feel that it’s very important to practice compassion—which we think of as suffering with those who suffer—and we hope to raise a compassionate child, one who reaches out to the lonely kid on the playground. And we know that in order to sustain compassion, we all need to play and spend time doing what gives us joy. So here are some of the things that have given us great joy in the past couple of weeks:

  • Seeing the Black Panther movie in the theatre…twice!
  • Tasting and voting at A Chocolate Affair, the annual chocolate bake off at the fair trade store we help run. Our friends Jean and Deborah took the lead on this event this year as I try to cut back my volunteer commitments and they did a great job!
  • Driving up to Grand Rapids for dinner with friends and a concert with Birds of Chicago and Valerie June.
  • A mid-winter warm-up that allowed me to walk the grounds at work and do some more planning for landscaping and trails around the large ponds that we installed last year.
  • A gathering that our friend Becca organized for local farmers to share ideas for the coming growing season.
  • Joining our neighbors at the bookstore across the street from our house to hear a talk about George Washington Carver.

In all of these activities and more, we continue to think about the ways our child will experience and learn from our community. It gives us great joy to think about raising our kiddo in a rich environment with diverse experiences of art and nature, with friends of various ages and colors and backgrounds. While we nurture our hopes for the future, we work to build that world in the present, for our family and for all of our neighbors.

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!