Waveland, IN: The Hassler Family

Even with the full moon, it was dark on those Indiana back roads…and as we approached what the GPS said was the Hassler driveway, we thought we better call them just to make sure.

Me: Hi Rachel! We’re here…but it’s dark, where do we turn?
Rachel: Keep driving. Do you see me? I’m waving the flashlights off to your left in the field.
Me: (looking left, I squint my eyes searching for lights in the darkness) Oh yes! There you are!

And so began our weekend in Indiana.

As we followed them into their farm, our headlights shining deep into the darkness…Chad ran ahead to open the gate and I invited Rachel to jump into the RV for the rest of the ride. When she opened the door, we gave each other a big hug. The kind of hugs given by friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time. Only with this friendship, we had never seen each other before.

Rachel and I have been emailing, writing “real” letters, and sending care packages for about a year now. She had started reading my blog and then we started conversing back and forth…and before you knew it, we were friends. I LOVE getting “real” mail, and so does she. Rachel has a beautiful style of writing and I squealed with joy whenever a letter arrived in the mailbox from Indiana. I love reading her blog as well…her writing is inspiring. When we had some changes in the tour itinerary, I was quick to add a stop to see her and her cute little farm and family.

We awoke to the cries of the rooster each morning. A big white rooster who had quite the attitude. I have a slight obsession with chickens…so having them walk around in the yard with me was just too fun. I couldn’t help but talk to them too. I loved watching them eat and take dust baths and run after each other. I told Matt that I really wanted to rig some sort of mobile chicken coop trailer to pull behind the camper. He didn’t go for it. Then I tried to convince him I could house a little pig in our bathroom. That was a no-go. Oh well. I think I must be a farm girl at heart…even though I’ve never lived on or near one in my life. I’m attracted to the simplicity and the hard-work ethics.

It was so refreshing to have some “down time” and we basked in the open fields and crisp air. The weather was beautiful and the food delicious. Rachel cooked up an oatmeal bake the first morning, a risotto and sweet potato delight that night, and on Saturday morning we enjoyed fresh eggs and pancakes with pure maple syrup. Like heaven. She also let me use her huge clothesline to hang my laundry…it overlooks miles and miles of fields and farms. Quite a different view that the one I had of the mountains back in Bozeman! The clothes smelled soooo good….yum.

Bella had such fun running around the farm doing all sorts of “farm things”. She chased the kitties around endlessly. She wore her pink rubber boots like a girl who had been doing it her whole life. She swung and swung and swung on the tree swing. She helped Chad pick eggs from the hen house. She saw pigs. She saw cows. She hung clothes on the clothesline. Overall, she just had a great time being able to run. It was so great that she could just play outside whenever she wanted. She also loved to play with their little boy, Oliver. Sometimes she would “love” him a little too much, but she’s learning.

Chad and Rachel have a wonderful love for each other and for the Lord. It was so encouraging to see their how their values and their faith are interwoven into how they live their life. We felt like we could have stayed another week…but the road was calling. I know we will be back to Indiana again someday.

Rachel put together the cutest little care package for us as we were leaving…chocolate for Matt, a necklace and a wooden comb for Bella (she was obsessed with the comb while we were there!)…and a VegNews magazine and Rob Bell book for me. As we drove down their driveway, I opened the note she wrote me, and tears rolled down my face as I read her sweet words…

“…perhaps our fluttery little butterfly paths will cross again, but if they don’t I will never forget how lovely it was to meet you one September night when the moon was full.”

Love,
Rachel

I miss you already my friend!

Photo album here.

Grayslake, IL: Prairie Crossing

On our way through the Chicago area, we were able to stop at a wonderful community called Prairie Crossing. Prairie Crossing is the “critically-acclaimed ‘Conservation Community’ that was designed to combine responsible development, the preservation of open land and easy commuting by rail. It is now considered a national example of how to design our communities to support a better way of life. The land that is Prairie Crossing was purchased in 1987 by a group of neighbors who wanted to preserve open space and agricultural land. They formed a company with the goal of developing this beautiful 677 acres responsibly, with a total of only 359 single-family homes and 36 condominiums as opposed to 2,400 homes that were planned by another developer. George and Victoria Ranney, a husband and wife team, have guided the development of Prairie Crossing since its inception.” All of the residences are very green…take a look around their site and you’ll see all of the cool stuff they implements. I especially like the trash chutes that switch to recycling chutes at the touch of a button! Weeeee!

We pulled in late and parked in the parking lot so we could catch some sleep. Little did we know that the Metra train line that goes to downtown Chicago would blaze through there every hour until morning! :) Once we were asleep, it was fine…but the first one that went through blaring it’s horn was quite a surprise! Despite the horn…I loved seeing an alternative to car commuting. What a great way to avoid traffic jams and be car free!

After we woke up, we walked over to Prairie Croissant Cafe and had a cup of fair-trade, shade grown coffee. Scott, one of the owners, showed us many of the ways that they, as a business, are living lighter on the earth. All of their cups are made from corn and are compostable. The cork sleeves for the to-go cups (as well as the cups themselves) are compostable. One of my favorite parts of the cafe was the “garbage” area. They have 3 compartments…one to recycle, one to compost, and one for the LANDFILL. They’re tellin’ it like it is! If we all started calling our garbage pails, “landfill boxes”…we would all probably be a bit more mindful!

While we were having our coffee, Ben Ranney (the son of the original developers) came in an we had great chat about the community and all of the great things they have planned. Ben helped us get set up for the demo as well. Even though this stop was on very short notice, we had a terrific response from the community and from surrounding areas. There was a lot of interest in veggie oil conversion…and also going on the road in general. We had an especially fun visit from an online friend, Carrie Moon, and her kids. We also found out that her husband, Kevin, works at Trinity International University in the security division…which is where we were meeting Matt’s cousin, Heather, that night! So…we had a really easy time getting a parking permit! Thanks Kevin! I love it when God takes care of all the little details.

Overall, it was encouraging to see how a group of concerned citizens CAN make a huge impact. Effective, earth-friendly planning of a development can make such a difference for the environment and for the resident’s quality of life. It’s a very tight-knit community…everyone seems to know everyone else. The homes are very different than your typical suburban McMansion…they have REAL front porches and the garages are tucked behind. They have trails to walk on, an organic farm on site, an environmental charter school, and cute little shops. Currently, they have the coffee shop, a Ten Thousand Villages, a children’s bookstore, and a children’s clothing/toy boutique. There is a yoga studio coming, and other great amenities! We truly enjoyed our time at Prairie Crossing.

Photo album here.

More critical acclaim for Prairie Crossing:
Prairie Crossing has been nationally recognized for its innovations in planning and community design. It has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Daily Herald, Landscape Architecture, and the National Geographic. Its houses and native landscaping have been highlighted in Country Living, Midwest Living, and Better Homes and Garden’s Perennials.

Milwaukee, WI: The Plamann Family

We spent our last night in Milwaukee, with Mark and Chris and their daughters Rachel and Ellie. We felt an immediate connection with them…and felt so at ease while we were there. Chris is a professional photographer…and I have conversed with her many times online and have followed her amazingly creative work. It was great to be able to sit down with her and pick her brain about all different kinds of photo geekiness.

When we first arrived, we headed up the steps to their adorable house…and chatted inside for awhile before heading out to a nearby seminary to take some photos. She did a little photo shoot of us with the RV. After that, we came back and had some delicious pizza from a local pizza place. Yum! They had several friends over as well, so we got to meet a lot of new people! At one point, I think the kids outnumbered the adults! Or maybe it just felt that way… :)

Bella, Rachel, and their friend, Oliver had so much fun playing together later in the evening…watching Curious George while the mommies and daddies sat downstairs and chatted . It was a delightful night, with great conversation. If you are in Milwaukee…be sure to hire Chris for your next photo session…you will be sooooo happy you did!

Photo album here.

Milwaukee, WI: The Arvold Family

We stopped for a quick visit at our extended family’s house in Milwaukee. Kate is the sister of our brother-in-law (Ryan)…and she lives in Milwaukee with her husband, Christian, and their 3 kids. Christian is a teacher at a school right across the street from their house. Bella LOVED playing with their oldest, Aiden, who is nearly the same age.

Photo album here.

Milwaukee, WI: Outpost Natural Foods

From the moment I started talking to Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee, they were nothing been nothing but helpful and welcoming. They took care of advertising for us, hired an acoustic guitar duo to play during our demo, and served up food outside next to the RV. They gave us a food credit and we enjoyed the extremely tasty food from their deli/salad bar.

Outpost is located on a very busy road and it was just a busy shopping day in general. We talked to A LOT of people and enjoyed their enthusiasm for the tour. We had so much fun hanging out with the Outpost crew for the afternoon!

Michelle and Carrie immediately took Bella into their care, which freed Matt and I up to engage with people a bit more. That was a huge blessing! Bella was quite in love them them…Michelle took her around the store and pretty much gave her whatever she wanted :) . I decided that she could come along and be our permanent “Auntie Michelle” on the tour. Carrie was delightful as well…Bella waited patiently for her kids to arrive and they had a wonderful time playing in the RV and dancing to the guitar music.

We met Katie, who is in the master’s program in sustainable development at the International School of Training in Vermont…right now she is an intern at Alterra Coffee in Milwaukee. We chatted at length about sustainable things…and she told me to definitely check out their coffee shops (which I did and they are so GREAT!).

We met Kay and her son, Henry…Kay has read my other blog for quite awhile, so it was really fun to meet her! Henry was such a cutie…we had a great time talking. We just had a great response in general from people who were coming to shop at Outpost…everyone was very interested in learning more about the veggie system and seeing the RV.

Photo album here.

Madison, WI: BioTour

When you are on a journey like ours, you get really excited about other people doing the same type of thing. When we came across the BioTour, we knew that we just had to meet up with them! Our paths crossed in Madison, and we were able to tour their bus and talk with them about their journey thus far. They have converted a school bus…so they “ride” a bit different than us, but it was so fun to compare notes.

We were so encouraged by their spirit and their vision for the future of their tour. Ethan, Alan, and Jenny (Fernando wasn’t yet on the tour) are true adventurers. Each brings their own diverse experiences and talents to the tour. You’ll see what I mean when you read their bio page. When you spend time with people who are out to change the world…you can’t help but be inspired. Keep spreadin’ the love BioTour! Weeeeeeee!

Check them out when they are in your area…and be sure to read their hilarious and insightful blog.

Photo album here.

Madison, WI: Mad City Church and a Picnic

We were excited to be able to spend another day with the Thiede family. We met them at Mad City Church on Sunday morning…arriving just in time to feel the bass pumping during an amazing worship set. The church meets at LaFollette High School in Madison and is “a non-denominational Christian Church desiring to see the city of Madison reached with the extravagant love of Jesus Christ.”

After church, we headed over to a park right along the lake and had a picnic. The kids played, the adults laughed…a good time was had by all. Dan was able to help Matt with some electrical things on the RV…and Alicia and I just enjoyed talking and giggling at the baby. We waved goodbye with such gladness that we had been able to meet this family!

Additional photos here.

Madison, WI: The Farmer’s Market

If you’ve followed my other blog at all, you know that I am slightly obsessed with Farmer’s Markets. I love the local food, the arts, the ENERGY, and excitement of so many people bustling about. Word on the streets is that theMadison’s Farmer’s Market is ranked #2 in the nation after San Francisco…after hearing that, I knew we had to go!

As we drove down the street toward the square, we could see the capitol building looming ahead. We found a parking spot…surprisingly close…and proceeded to walk toward the chaos. The vendors were set up all around the square…and the crowd was moving quite quickly. As we were trying to weasel our way in, I felt like we were merging onto a busy highway! The quality of food was amazing. There is a 3-year waiting list to be a vendor at this market…they have very strict rules about who can be there. You have to be an agriculturally-related producer with products from Wisconsin only. Being that it was Wisconsin, there was an abundance of cheese vendors…and then of course, the expected bright and beautiful seasonal produce. Apples, pumpkins, and squash were in abundance. I didn’t buy a lot (we have a small fridge!)…but I did grab some cheese curds, apples, and some organic cilantro.

After we walked around once, Matt took off to go have our car looked at (tire issues)…and Bella and I stayed to explore a bit more. There were drumming groups, street artists, musicians, and a parade. From the center of the capitol area, we could hear a peace rally going on…with people shouting and voicing their support to end the war. In the grassy area around the square, couples and families were stretched out in the grass. It was “game day” as well…The Badgers and The Hawkeyes, which made for even more revelry. The smells, the sounds, the people, the warm autumn sunshine…the energy was electric. I could have stayed all day!

Bella and I ventured over to the Madison Children’s Museum (something she had been talking about since we arrived!). Admission was free that day because they were having a kid’s peace festival. I had just as much fun as she did taking in the atmosphere….it was very “Waldorf-inspired“, with beautiful colors and textures, and lots of hiding spots for little people.

What a treasure the community of Madison has in it’s downtown area and in the market…it was wonderful.

Photo album here.

Madison, WI: The Brown Family

The focus of our tour is teaching others how to live lighter on the earth…and making it a better place for future generations. These passions are deeply rooted in our spirituality and our love for Jesus Christ. In the past, the word “environmentalist” was seen almost as a swear word in the Christian community. It used to be that if you were calling yourself an environmentalist, you must be extremely liberal and you probably spent some time chained to a redwood tree :) . It’s such a shame how the church has distanced itself from any kind of creation care…completing disregarding scripture that teaches us to protect the beauty around us. With this in mind, another goal of ours is not only to teach EVERYONE how to live lightly…but also to speak to people of all faiths about how their spiritual journey directly relates to their love of the earth.

With that in mind, we were very excited to get in touch with Ed Brown, director of the non-profit organization, Care of Creation. Here is a description of their ministry from their website:

Care of Creation was formed in 2005 to bring together two important themes: Love for God’s People, and love for God’s world. We’re evangelical and we’re environmental, and, yes, we think we can be both. More than that, we think we have to be both… Our goal is to mobilize the Church to respond to environmental challenges with and through the love of God – and that’s what evangelism and evangelicalism is – or should be – all about..

In fact, we believe that in terms of theology, to be truly evangelical – believing that Jesus Christ has come with ‘good news’ for the human race and for all creation – you have to be concerned about the environment. And in terms of reality – what is really going on in the world right now – there is an environmental crisis in many countries that is rapidly approaching a disaster point. In sum, the church can no longer “do missions” without addressing environmental – or creation-care – issues. That’s why we exist…

Ed and Susanna are perfectly suited for this ministry…and after hearing their story, we know that God hand-picked them for this task! Here is their bio from the site:

Ed & Susanna Brown both grew up in the country of Pakistan as children of missionaries. Ed is an ordained minister and received the Master of Divinity degree from Gordon Conwell Seminary. He has served in a variety of roles in a number of different organizations, including pastor of the Protestant International Church in Islamabad, Pakistan, missions administration with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and most recently as Chief Operating Officer for Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies.

Ed has worked within a variety of organizational structures and is a talented writer and public speaker and is the author of Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation. His years with Au Sable have given him a deep passion for Christian environmental stewardship, and he believes that the creation of Care of Creation will allow him to pull together his organizational development skills, his overseas and missions experience, and his concern for the cause of environmental stewardship. Ed directs Care of Creation and travels a great deal leading seminars and preaching on the topic of caring for God’s creation.

Susanna is a former nurse and midwife, and a teacher and Bible study leader. The Browns are living in Madison, Wisconsin, and have four grown children, Melanie, Timothy, Katrina , and Amy.

When we arrived at their house in Madison, it was swarmed with neighborhood children trying to sell them stuff :) It’s cookie fundraiser time at their schools. It was great to see how they’ve embraced their community. Their home is a welcoming haven with open doors. Susanna cooked up a delicious meal of bean and cheese burritos with all the fixins…cornbread with butter and warm apple pie with ice cream for dessert! Oh…so yummy. Susanna has an extensive teacup collection…and we all got to use one for our tea/coffee! We talked about our paths through life and about God’s amazing provision and faithfulness. Their daughter, Katrina, and son, Tim, were also there. Katrina is a student at the U of W studying Chinese, and Tim is awaiting his location assignment for the Peace Corps. Bella was enchanted with their toys and their hospitality as well. Both Tim and Ed sat on the couch and read Bella books, and Susanna gave Bella a delightful book called “Miss Fanny’s Hat”, and some other goodies to take back to the camper.

It was a great evening…full of laughter and like-mindedness. A blessing on the road.

Be sure to check out Ed’s book and Care of Creation!
Photo album here.

Madison, WI: PrairieFire BioFuels

Several people on our journey suggested that we make a stop at PrairieFire BioFuels Cooperative in Madison. We swung by there this week and chatted with Jeff about our tour, Shaklee (he and his wife have been distributors for 13 years!), biofuels, and biodiesel vs. straight veggie oil. As far as I know, PrairieFire is the the only pump in the Midwest that offers B100, which is 100% biodiesel. Elsewhere, you can only find B5 or B20 (5% and 20% biodiesel). There are located on a very busy road in Madison, and they are doing a great job getting the word out there about alternative fuels!

There is always a lot of confusion between biodiesel and straight veggie…but they are really very different. Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification, whereby the glycerin is separated straight vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products — methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin. Straight veggie oil is just what the name implies. Straight…with nothing added or taken away. Just filtered. In a nutshell, biodiesel uses a chemical process to change the viscosity of the fuel and straight veggie uses the excess heat from the engine to change the viscosity and runs it into a heated tank, through heated lines. Or to put it another way, when you run biodiesel…you’re converting the fuel. When you run SVO, you convert the fuel lines/tank.

And of course, as with anything new and “unknown”…there is controversy. There are political and ethical issues when you are raising large crops of food to turn into fuel (i.e. soybeans)…which is what many of the large biodiesel companies are doing. What started off as a grass roots movement…using waste (recycled) oil as fuel, has now been commercialized and could potential harm the environment in the process of making a product that is supposed to benefit it.

We chose to go the route of straight veggie because of the financial cost, there are no chemicals are involved in making it, and it’s clean burning. The overall cost, even including the veggie system, was still much cheaper than filling up on biodiesel for a cross-country tour. Don’t get me wrong, biodiesel is still much, much better than running petroleum gas in your car. But it does still cost a lot of money! Straight, waste veggie oil is free…the only cost you pay is the initial cost of the system and for filters. It also comes down to convenience. When you are driving on SVO, you can’t just pull up to the tank and fill up…and be done in 5 minutes. There is planning involved, and you might get your hands a little dirty (gasp!). Biodiesel can definitely make sense for someone who rarely drives, but still wants to make a difference and “clean up” their footprint.

It’s a long and lengthy discussion…and there is a lot of information on in the internet already about this debate. There is no silver bullet that will fix our transportation issues…there are so many different options out there. In my opinion, anyone who is making an informed decision to live greener is doing good. SVO is the way that we chose because it made the most sense to us. Research for yourselves and make the best decision for YOU.

Rock on, PrairieFire BioFuels…keep spreadin’ the love!

Photo album here.

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