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.




On Speeding and Waving–Old Habits Die Hard?

It is amazing to me that when I go home, to a place I’ve not lived for 12 years, how quickly I return to my old ways.

For example, within seconds of turning onto a familiar dirt, sand or rock road, I find myself going 65 mph. Don’t tell mom, but this was sometimes considered slow in high school, depending, of course, on the time of day, the newness of the surfacing of the road, the recent weather conditions, and the number of minutes by which I was running late.  This is certainly an old habit I wish would just die permanently. It is extraordinarily unsafe to drive at such speeds on such roads. I didn’t realize that until my last few years of high school, when I heard about a few horrible one-car accidents, had my own little run-ins with the sand piles at the edge of the roads, and saw a roll over demonstration at school. Oh well, at least I wear my seat belt now (because I didn’t before!).

One thing that I don’t seem to get back into as easily, however, is waving at people from my vehicle as I meet them on the road. For me to snap back into this old habit on drives home, it takes a few waves from others, which generally don’t start until I’m about five miles east of Clay and then continue with varying degrees of frequency as I move into more urban (if you can call it that) or rural areas. Waving is particularly important in the stretch of land south of Miltonvale to north of Bennington as I drive through Wells (talk about a metropolis!) on the old “Wells road” (I’m sure that road has been given an official name, but I really don’t care–it’s the Wells road). It is my favorite stretch of highway paved road. It winds and curves through rolling hills of pasture land, that is relatively treeless and absolutely gorgeous in the spring and summer. (Driving down that road brought me to tears during my freshman year of college when I was returning after being away from home for the longest period of time yet.) The population is very sparse through that area, and when you travel that road, you really do feel a need to wave at the fellow travelers headed your way.

It seems that once we who live in these small, out of the way places tend to get lonely when on the road all alone, meeting someone on the road means meeting a companion of sorts. At least a way to feel part of a community (even if it’s just a community of travelers).

So, on my trips home–as I am listening to country stations on the radio again–a few people will wave at me, I’ll begin to regret not having waved at them as well, and then I will stick my right hand at the top of the steering wheel, waiting with anticipation to meet the next person.

I’m a little sad that this old habit of mine has died so easily.

Book Review: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

Keep Life Simple

I’d been wanting to read this little gem for quite some time. I finally bought it at a Christian bookstore before Christmas Break, thinking I’d have plenty of time to devote to it. And, I did have the time, which was a good thing because this book is very dense. Voskamp’s writing style in this, her first novel, is difficult to define–entrancingly poetic, jarringly unconventional, and even a bit pretentious? It was not always an easy read for me because I would have to reread the sentence to figure out which grammar rule she didn’t follow, such as putting an -ly on an adverb or using a noun as a verb (English teacher problems).  This style usually enhanced the writing more than diminishing it. Take this description of a soap bubble as an example: “In the light, the sheerness of bubble shimmers. Bands of garnet, cobalt, flowing luminous.” This unconventional…

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Book Review: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

I’d been wanting to read this little gem for quite some time. I finally bought it at a Christian bookstore before Christmas Break, thinking I’d have plenty of time to devote to it. And, I did have the time, which was a good thing because this book is very dense. Voskamp’s writing style in this, her first novel, is difficult to define–entrancingly poetic, jarringly unconventional, and even a bit pretentious? It was not always an easy read for me because I would have to reread the sentence to figure out which grammar rule she didn’t follow, such as putting an -ly on an adverb or using a noun as a verb (English teacher problems).  This style usually enhanced the writing more than diminishing it. Take this description of a soap bubble as an example: “In the light, the sheerness of bubble shimmers. Bands of garnet, cobalt, flowing luminous.” This unconventional style actually adds to the image. The bubble is the definition of luminous. Luminous is flowing. I enjoyed mulling over sentences and thoughts like that, which is probably exactly what she wanted to accomplish in this book.

The premise of the book is basically a challenge one of her friends gave her: write down 1,000 gifts. As Ann starts to write down these bits of life for which she is grateful, she finds herself living with joy. She explains that she has discovered the meaning of thanksgiving (eucharisteo) and how we as Christians can change our lives by giving thanks in all things. After the thanks comes joy, peace, grace, and blessing. But not until there is thanks! It’s amazing how that works.

Voskamp tells her story of learning to give thanks in a semi-chronological, but more anecdotal way. She tells about the various trials and troubles she has endured in the past (which are thawing and melting away through giving thanks). She shares about the concurrent doubts and crises she faces, including a farm accident involving one of her sons, as she practices eucharisteo, (these crises softly pry her fingers off her life circumstances to truly let go and rely on God). She casts a vision for the rest of her family and friends through this newfound desire to find thanks in all things. I thoroughly enjoyed her descriptions of farm life (she lives on a pig farm in Canada), motherhood (she has six children), and observations of nature.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book (there are many!):

“It’s ridiculous how much joy a moment can hold.”

“It’s this sleuthing for glory that slows a life gloriously.”

“Is it only when our lives are emptied that we’re surprised by how truly full our lives were?”

“Trust is the bridge from yesterday from tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out the planks of trust. I can walk the planks–from known to the unknown–and know: He holds.”

“Worry is the facade of taking action when prayer really is.”

“Feel thanks and it’s absolutely impossible to feel angry. We can only experience one emotion at a time. And we get to choose–which emotion do we want to feel?”

Nearing Thirty: The Single Life

I wrote this piece a few months ago (before I turned thirty). I am now thirty. And alive. . . and I finally have found the guts to post it. This is real talk, people!

As my thirtieth birthday looms, I am happy to report a minimal amount of panicking. Two years ago, the realization that I could very well still be single at the age of thirty made my stomach flip a bit. I think that during the past two years I have learned (finally) to treasure this time I have to myself. There are many benefits to being single, and maybe someday I’ll write about them. However, I sometimes feel that I’m often misunderstood, and I’ve been mulling over writing this post for a long time.

For whatever reason, I feel guilty when I talk about being tired or being too busy or being stressed because, invariably, I am saying it to a person who is in the throes of raising multiple toddlers, or a person who spent thirty years raising multiple children, or a person who is raising children while working full time. People probably look at my life from the outside and wonder how I could have reasons to complain, and I understand their assumptions. Yet, I insist that properly gauging the situation is impossible if you have never been there. I’ve been there, without a significant other. For eleven years. Eight of which have been by myself in my own living space. Living a single life is tough.

You are in charge of every detail of your life and must figure out every problem by yourself. Bills, car care, household budget, cooking, grocery shopping, dishes, laundry, ironing, insurance policies, lawn care, investments, retirements, savings accounts, health issues, doctor’s visits, flat tires, locking yourself out of your apartment (we don’t need to discuss how many times this has happened), and even little things like moving large pieces of furniture around in your living room.

If you are brave enough to go out stag, you endure awkward meals by yourself at restaurants, lonely moments at weddings, and sometimes even ominous moments in parking lots after dark.

You also endure well-meaning, but often saddening or sobering comments.

  • I can appreciate that you think I’m a “pretty, young thing” (whatever a “thing” is), but did you have to remind me (in front of all these other married people) that I am, indeed, unmarried?
  • I know you didn’t mean to make me feel like a failure when your mouth dropped open when I replied that I do not have a boyfriend, but, alas, the truth remains: nobody has chosen me yet.
  • I’m sure you do have a nice nephew, son, step-son, or step-cousin, but please don’t try to set me up with him when you literally just met me. Two people’s single status does not automatically call for a blind date. Rather, get to know me, ask me what I’m looking for, and please, set me up! I have so appreciated people’s hearts when they have set me up with someone. I feel loved and cared for in a very deep way. It’s the ones who treat it so lightly, as if it’s so easy, and should just happen right away, that annoy me.

You sometimes go for weeks without any physical touch. I remember very vividly a hug I received one morning at church about eight years ago. I had been living alone for probably four months, learning to teach and spending every waking moment at the school. That hug welcomed me into a community of people while simultaneously erasing a lot of anxiety, tension, and feelings of loneliness that I didn’t even realize were there. I will never forget how that made me feel. Until that moment, I had forgotten how meaningful and necessary physical touch can be. Sometimes even now, holding a baby or shaking a hand can have a profoundly positive effect on my day. I hope I will not take for granted the special moments that are in my future: rocking my kids, hugging my husband, nursing my children. And I am so thankful for my pastor’s wife, Brenda, who gives me hugs every Sunday and says, “Welcome Home” when I haven’t been at church for a few weeks. A body of believers has great potential to reach out to single people. If only they would recognize that we need a little love!

You sometimes feel that you are missing an opportune time in your life, knowing you have a lot of energy and effort to give, but not having a spouse or children to give it to. You wonder if you will be able to handle becoming a first-time mother at 35 or not getting married until you are unable to have children. In social settings, you often find yourself wistfully watching the young families around you. Sometimes you smile at their children. You try to smile at their parents. Sometimes, you are ignored or apologized to for being “bothered.”  ***Families with noisy children: I promise you I am not bothered. I’m sorry some people have shown you such disrespect. At the risk of taking a rabbit trail, I have noticed that some places in our society today seem unwelcoming to children and families. I’m sure families sometimes feel like it’s a single person’s world. Indeed, it is sometimes. However, in my experience (rural, small town Kansas, Christian community, private Christian college alumnus), it is not a single person’s world.***

You get volunteered for things because people assume you have the time to do them. I must say here that I am not involved in any activities I didn’t want to get involved with. I haven’t felt judged in this way myself, but I’ve noticed comments (even from myself!) about how so-and-so has time to do this or that because he or she is single. More commonly, though, it’s that he or she doesn’t have time to do this or that because he or she has a family. I understand this assumption about singles and their “time” the most.

You are nobody else’s most important person. This has to be the most difficult feeling singles struggle with. This applies most to singles who do not have children. It is sometimes very tough to come home to a dark, empty house (especially for a people person like me). It is a bit scary to think that if something horrible happened to you (like you died in your sleep or you were abducted), that it just might take awhile for someone to notice. When you are sick, you have to call someone to ask for help, which is a very difficult thing for to do.

For each of the struggles I pointed out above, I am sure I can come up with a positive. Maybe I’ll write about that later. But, I appreciate people’s understanding. Also, I must say that I have had numerous role models in my life who were single later into their lives than I am so far. They have even more reflections to give, and may have traveled a much more difficult road. All this to say, hug the single person in your life. Welcome them into your home and make them a part of your life. Many will not be interested, and some of them, like me, might truly not have the time to spend with you. But, your gestures of hospitality and caring and kindness will mean the world to them.

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.

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!).