Category: Travel

A visit and a California trip

A visit and a California trip

February started out with a quick-but-lovely visit from Kirstin’s parents. Kirstin’s Great Uncle Marv passed away in 2019 and the family was looking for a meaningful place to go with some of the furniture and other items Great Aunt Barb wanted to give away in preparation for downsizing. We were very grateful to receive some lovely family heirlooms for our community development work, and also to spend some time hanging out and having lunch with Kirstin’s parents, who graciously offered to move the donated items from Illinois to Michigan.

With Mom and Dad Vander Giessen at the Huss Project Imaginarium.
With Mom and Dad Vander Giessen at the Huss Project Imaginarium.

The rest of early February, we spent getting ready for an epic trip to California. On February 11, we flew into San Francisco, rented a mini-van, borrowed some camping gear from a friend, and set out for five nights of camping along Highway 1. Each day brought a new hiking trail, a new landscape, and countless incredible views. We had never been to the redwoods before, and could feel the magic of such deep history with all five senses. On the ocean, we saw whales, sea otters, and elephant seals, and then took in a different sort of spectacle with a tour of the Hearst Castle bedrooms. We prayed vespers with the monks at New Camaldoli Hermitage, slept overnight in an apple orchard, drank morning coffee on the beach…it was truly a refreshing time of play, rest, and natural wonders.

Hiking up a mountain in less than ideal shape.
Hiking up a mountain in less than ideal shape.

Our southern destination was an annual conference we’ve been wanting to attend for years. Each year has a different theme, and this year’s conference focused on knowing our own family histories as we seek to repair relationship with indigenous communities in our specific regions and beyond. There was a lot of time for self-reflection and sharing, and it was an experience of deep learning that is still very much ongoing for both of us. We are very thankful to be part of an extended community that is asking important questions about injustice in our world, and supporting each other in the work we need to do toward healing.

Point Lobos State Park.
Point Lobos State Park.

After the conference, we took the faster route back up to San Francisco for one full day exploring the sights and neighborhoods on foot, streetcar, and rail. Then, Kirstin dropped Rob off at the airport, picked up a group of folks who had just flown in, and continued on to a work gathering north of San Francisco. The mini-van came in handy again as there was a wonderfully welcome opportunity to continue camping out within hearing of the Pacific Ocean waves. As February comes to a close, we’re back in Michigan, enjoying the last of the year’s snow and settling back in to prepare for spring.

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
Taking a break

Taking a break

Our retreat time over Kirstin’s birthday in September led directly into some much-anticipated vacation time. We rented a cabin near Lake Michigan and spent time catching up on sleep, reading, exploring area breweries and restaurants, and hanging out on the beach. One pleasant surprise of this time was getting to see the migration of monarchs along the coast. Another wonderful surprise was a visit from one of our former high school teachers who’s become a very good friend. While her husband and daughter participated in a nearby bike race, she joined us for a Sunday morning of good coffee, delicious bakery treats, and nourishing conversation.

Kirstin on the beach in Michigan

Our vacation time concluded with a few days in Goshen, Indiana with Rob’s parents, for the Goshen College homecoming weekend. A former professor of Rob’s had nominated him for the Young Servant Leader Award, so Rob gave a talk in chapel and was also recognized at an alumni breakfast.

Rob receiving an award from Goshen College

The month came to a close with even more travel, with Rob visiting friends in New York City while Kirstin participated in a writer’s residency in Maryland. The residency took place at a beautiful retreat center with a group of amazing people who write as a means of personal and societal healing. We also had a bit of time to visit Washington, D.C., including the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt memorials. It was fun to have some adventures after a summer of hard work, but we’re looking forward to settling in at home for a couple of months!

Visiting the MLK Memorial in Washington
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
California and New Orleans

California and New Orleans

This was definitely a month for travel adventures! As much as we enjoy winter, we were fortunate to escape the Michigan ice and snow for a bit. Kirstin went on a work trip to Commonweal in Bolinas, California, which is in a gorgeous spot right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The gathering was part of a three-year project she’s involved in to network retreat centers across the U.S. and Canada. The project has been an incredible opportunity to learn about the work that so many good people are doing at the intersection of contemplative, spiritual practice and social justice. In addition to enjoyable work on this trip, Kirstin was grateful to see SanFrancisco at night by trolley with her friend Jean, who lived there for several years, as tour guide.

Bolinas, California
Bolinas, California

Right on the heels of the California trip, we headed back to the airport for a week of vacation in New Orleans. We’d gotten a taste of New Orleans a few years ago when we went there for a conference and had wanted to return for a deeper dive since then. We love seeing cities on foot, so we did a ton of walking, balancing activities that were educational and fun. We visited several museums, including the incredibly powerful Lower Ninth Ward Living History Museum and the Whitney Plantation. We also ate lots of good food throughout the city and saw some amazing music. It was a good winter rest to prepare for a busy year.

New Orleans, 2019
In New Orleans