Rural Living

This March, I was back home for the entirety of Spring Break for the first time in a few years. Although my parents live inside our city village limits in a house I’ve never called home, I still feel like I’m home when I pull into town. The other night, the lights in the grain elevator were on for some reason, and it looked faintly like a sliver of skyline in a city. Grain elevators are the skyscrapers of small towns like ours.

One day, as I walked to the post office with my 2 1/2-year-old nephew, I kept telling him to come to the side of the street in case a car came along. No car came, and he stayed in the middle of the street, carefree.

Every time I go home, I will get into conversations with my parents about the latest news around town, and someone’s name will come up, and I’ll ask for a reminder of who they are and who belongs to them (and probably where they lived and/or live as well as the names of their grandchildren.)

My Aunt hosted a Mary Kay party out at her house about six miles southeast of town. Several ladies her age came, and everybody bought something (which really surprised me because Mary Kay is not cheap and these ladies are not all that interested in the produce), but what I enjoyed the most about this particular party was the time afterwards, as the ladies sat around the table with their coffee and snacks, enjoying conversation about times gone by. How pleasant are their lives out here in the country.

 

 

Advertisements

Book Review: Wide Open by Larry Bjornson

book cover

What drew me to this book the most was the story behind the author’s family. Bjornson’s bio mentions that his great grandparents emigrated from Iceland after volcanic ash destroyed their farm. That would be an amazing story to write someday! Bjornson’s book, however, covers a geography and history a little closer to home–Abilene, Kansas.

Before reading this book, I knew little about Abilene’s history other than the fact that it was a cowtown. (Somehow, in all my twelve years of field trips back home, my class missed the trips to Abilene, so I’m going to have to visit on my own sometime.) After reading the novel, I now know many interesting facts about late 19th century Abilene: Bill Hickok was the sheriff for a brief time, Hickok killed his own deputy accidentally, and there were big conflicts among the three main groups of people in the Abilene area: the cowboys, the townspeople, and the settlers.

The book centers around Will Merritt, a fifteen year old boy who is coming of age at a unique crossroads for the town of Abilene. Tensions are always high during cattle season, when Texas cowboys bring up cattle to put on the rails at Abilene. But this season, because of an interesting business decision made by Will’s father (one of the most prominent businessmen in the town), Will faces more challenges and tests of loyalty than he ever dreamed he would face. Add to this a little bit of a love story, scenes with Wild Bill Hickok conveniently saving Will from his troubles, and many interesting elements that show the challenges of pioneer life, and you have a book many will love.

I recommend this book to any teacher, particularly middle school teachers who like to read aloud to their classes. The chapters are anecdotal, almost always ending with a cliffhanger. The themes are very applicable to middle schoolers, and the history told is fascinating. I would also recommend this book to all Kansans and anyone who has an interest in frontier history.

http://www.wideopennovel.com/

My favorite element of the book was the way in which Bjornson brought a family’s story to life. I imagined my own great-grandfather, Jestarus Noble Timothy Fuller, riding in a covered wagon out to north central KS from Iowa to begin farming on his 160 acres and timber claim. He arrived a good twenty years later than Will’s family, but I am sure many of the troubles he faced were similar. Another reason I enjoyed this book was that I would like to write one similar to it myself. 1850s-1890s American life, particularly in Kansas, has always fascinated me.

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

If you’ve never read Kingsolver’s writing, you are missing out on brilliance. The only other book I’ve read by her is Animal Dreams, but The Poisonwood Bible is waiting on my shelf. Those two are fictional (and full of symbols and epic family story lines), but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a non-fiction work about Kingsolver’s journey, along with her biology professor spouse and two daughters, to live off the land for a year–to be a locavore. They vowed to only purchase foods grown within a 120-mile radius and from people they knew; in turn, they ended up growing most of their own food.

The thought of no Coca-Cola for a year is not appealing to me, and if my little sister had to go without a bag a Lay’s for a year, she might die. However, the way Kingsolver describes this journey, with its emphasis on getting satisfaction out of manual labor on your own soil, reaping surprise after surprise from your garden, and taking care to plant and grow completely natural plants and animals really spoke to this farm girl’s heart. It also deepened my commitment to learning how to cook with less processed foods, more diverse vegetables and in a way that is friendly to the earth. (One example: the carbon footprint of bananas is ridiculous. Why let the great fruits that are local and in season go to waste while you eat bananas from another continent?) Finding local, farm-fresh meat and dairy is something I hope to accomplish this year. My good friend from too far away, Andi has a farm that sells grass-finished beef, poultry, and pork, among other things, and I truly miss being close enough to support their farm regularly. But, why can’t I find something around here?

As for the style of the writing, I found myself stopping often to sit and digest the metaphorically dripping sentence I’d just read. Sometimes, my reflection ended with a chuckle or a smile. A few parts I had to read aloud to my family, underline for myself, or dogear to copy later for composition class as an example of good essay writing. Kingsolver can make the most simple vegetable sound like an epic hero. Her blend of literary allusion with pop culture references made my mind reel at her talent with the pen. She spoke of food, cooking, home, and family with passion. (That is certainly something that is missing from all the adolescent literature I read!). Here’s just one excerpt for you:

“Some of my neighbors grumble about the trouble of growing potatoes when a giant bag at the store costs less than a Sunday newspaper. And still, every spring, we are all out there fighting with the cold, mucky late-winter soil, trying to get our potatoes on schedule. We’re not doing it for the dimes we’ll save. We know the fifty-pound bag from the store tastes about like a Sunday newspaper, compared with what we can grow. A batch of tender new Carolas or Red Golds freshly dug in early summer is its own vegetable: waxy, nutty, and sweet. Peruvian Blues, Russian Banana fingerlings, Yukon Golds: the waxy ones hold together when boiled and cut up for potato salad; others get fluffy and butter-colored when baked; still others are ideal for over-roasting. A potatophile needs them all.”

Articles from her husband, dealing with each of the abounding political issues Kingsolver’s chapters brought to light encourage the reader to stop for a moment to evaluate how an individual’s food choices can affect the global economy. This format makes the book best read a chapter at a time. So many issues to think about, research further, and discuss with your friends and family! Along with the short essays, Kingsolver’s daughter Camille writes at the end of each chapter from the perspective of a teenager preparing to head to college. She provides recipes and meal planning, based on what is in season in that chapter.

Some would call Kingsolver idealistic. The thought that everyone could live off the land and eat locally is just ludicrous in our fast-paced, global, corporate-driven economy, right? I was a bit skeptical, too. It certainly is a stretch of the mind for people from my area of the state. But, I came away from the book feeling even more strongly that small farms are better than huge farms; local is better than distant; do-it-yourself is better than processed by someone else; and family is something that needs to be nurtured in the best way possible. I think my grandparents and my great-grandparents had the system working quite well. Isn’t that the way America should be? There is a local food movement that is growing, and I hope it will continue to grow. Farmers today would be wise to start planning to cater to those who have the foresight, hindsight, wisdom, and knowledge to see that our food system needs to be changed.

You should read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for any one of these reasons:
1. You grew up on or currently live on a farm.
2. You like to garden.
3. You care about where your food comes from.
4. You appreciate good writing.
5. You care about the sustainability of the earth as we use it today.
6. You think you might like to garden.
7. You appreciate the simple life (but are willing to work hard!).

Traveling Choices

When you travel, how do you decide which sights to see? Which dreams to “cross off the list”? I’m going to visit my bro, sis, and nephew in Philly, and I could visit several places I’ve wanted to see. But, the budget and the time can’t allow for all three. So, do I go to Gettysburg National Park? Or drive up to Maine, hitting three new states along the way (One of my dreams is to visit all 50 states)? Or, do I go up to Niagara Falls, which is the same distance away as Portland, ME?

Decisions, Decisions!

Of Hope Chests, English Class, and Socrates

So, my brother’s getting married in August. Therefore, the rest of the family has to clear out their “Hey Mom, I won’t have room for this at my house, can I leave it here?” stuff so he can transform the house from bachelor pad to a home of matrimonial bliss. (I won’t comment on how daunting a task that is, but, Jon, I’m totally here for you! I love to paint and, as you know, clean your house.)

So, I picked up my random assortment of sleeping bags, boxes of old toys, and a large trunk that contains all the things I stuffed in there when I moved away from home for my first job. That trunk contained one precious item I’d nearly forgotten about. The set of tea towels Grandma Fuller embroidered for me and gave to me on my 10th birthday. I still have the handwritten note that says, “Put these in your hope chest and they will keep.” I promptly washed them and stuck them in my kitchen drawer. Can’t wait for Ironing Day!

Also in the “Hope Chest” was a collection of notebooks I used as Journals from 5th grade to my senior year. As I read through parts of them, I ran along a gamut of emotions. I found myself laughing hysterically at something I’d completely forgotten about. I awwww’ed about a cute little passage I’d written about Emily’s latest developments (We would ask her, “Where’s the baby?” and then she would break into an adorable little smile when we pointed to her 6 month picture and say, “There she is!”). I even cried over passages I’m very glad I recorded, though I’d be mortified if anybody else found them. They’re the kinds of moments you say you’ll never want to forget and when you look back at them, you wish you’d forgotten!

All of this led me to wonder, why do we keep journals? Why keep a record of all the horrible things that happened to us in middle school? Why write down all the details of our friends’ high school lives? Hindsight makes it seem so pointless. Isn’t it better to forget those details and live in our current clouded remembrances of the way things were? Because sometimes they were much worse than we remember!

But then I found a passage about school that justified all the ridiculousness I’d read up to that point. I believe it was my Junior year, and I was complaining about how Mr. Phillips, my English teacher, was “mad” at me for not getting my draft turned in to him on time (as I read it, of course, I felt a bit bad for so self-righteously reprimanding my own students for such offenses). The next thing I wrote was something to the effect of, “He’s so confusing. He wants me to take all his classes next year.”

My 11th grade self did not understand, could not understand, that the more a teacher hounds you about something, the more they believe in you. I look at how far I have come (especially along the lines of being more punctual) and it makes me so full of hope for my own students. It also helps me understand their perspective a little better. When I’m too snippy, sarcastic, or even demanding, they sometimes interpret that in the wrong way, thinking I don’t care or I don’t like them. It is exactly the opposite. I’ve got to remember to tell them that!

So, thanks, old self, for having the perseverance to write down events the way you saw them so long ago. I am grateful for the perspective.

Journaling has always been a very helpful hobby of mine. Here is a list of reasons why it is beneficial:

1. Perspective.

2. Writing Skills I am sure that I would be a poorer writer had I not practiced as much as I have throughout these various journals.

3. Understanding Human Nature. I recorded some of our worst decisions as high schoolers, but as I look at the names mentioned in that journal now, what flashes into my mind are people who have grown into better human beings because of those experiences. I am now able to give more grace to each of us because, throughout life, one learns that sometimes people make poor choices, and, even if they do cause huge waves in others’ lives, usually everybody comes out stronger in the end. It is just so hard to see that while all the trouble is occurring.

4. Regret and Remembering. To contradict #3 just a little, it is good to regret something all over again. It helps you avoid mistakes in the future and take more precaution when making decisions. After all, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” After reading these journals, I’ve decided that reflection and remembering helps mold you into a better version of who you are.

5. Solace. There is just something comforting and peaceful about looking back through slices of life that appear in my old journal entries. It’s fun to think about when life seemed more carefree. It’s fun to remember those amazing minor characters in my life whom I had forgotten. They each taught me a little lesson along the way that molded me into the person I am today. And, it is remarkably reassuring to me to see God’s hand on my life as I’ve journeyed through the many turbulent times of life.

This one’s for you, Madre.

Mom told me I should blog again. I suppose she’s right. After a crazy first nine weeks here at my new school, I’m settling in pretty well. Here’s  list of new things I know:

1. I love coaching volleyball. More than I love teaching. Crazy? Nope. I love it!

2. Middle school girls are hilarious. They made me laugh every day at practice!

3. I’m a competitive person. Twice this year, we were up 24 or 23 to 9, and I turned to Randy, my assistant coach, and said, “We can’t let them score another point. I want to beat them 25-9.” We did. Twice. (But, I didn’t realize I was that ruthless?)

4. Winning a tournament championship is more fun as a coach than it is as a player!

5. Losing a match (yes, we only lost ONE this season!) is worse for a coach than a player.

6. I love adolescents. Not adolescence, mind you. Adolescents. Even when they are difficult. It is so fun to figure out what makes them tick, how to motivate them, how to encourage them, and how to inspire them to become better in everything.

7. God brought me here for a reason. My superintendent (with a little help from God) convinced me to help bring FCA back to the school. We had our first huddle tonight.

8. What other reason am I on earth than to share the message of Christ with people? That was the “help from God” my superintendent had. After he asked me if I would lead it, I very quickly said, “No.” But, he and his wife told me to pray about it, and it just hit me one night. I need to do this. Ever since then, people have come out of the woodwork, so to speak, to help me! This is God’s plan. I’m so thankful to be used by Him!

9. No matter where I go, I will love the people there. I have missed my old friends and students more than I thought I would! This past weekend was a blast, catching up with some of them at Dave’s! :) I laughed until my abs hurt and I was almost crying. Thanks, Willards!!

10. In year five of teaching, things are easier. I don’t stay at the school nearly as long anymore! Life is good!

11. When professors tell you the project you spent so many day’s worth of hours on was “splendid,” tears can ensue. One more paper down. Four to go. :)

12. I AM BLESSED.