Ann Arbor, MI: The MDC Potluck

Six years ago, I discovered a little gem on the internet called Mothering. It was the beginning of my entire journey towards all things natural, granola, hippy, and the sort. :) So when fellow Mothering Dot Commune mama, Jenn, invited us to her house for a potluck…we just HAD to go!

We arrived at Jenn and Lon’s beautiful home in Ypsilanti and met three other MDC families who live in the area. When Jenn was introducing me to one mama in particular…Claire…I looked at her and thought “wow…she looks really familiar!” After she told me her screen name, I knew exactly who she was because I had read MANY of her posts on Mothering years ago and have never laughed so hard in my life. She’s a funny lady and we had a fun time talking.

Jenn is equally amazing…having birthed twin boys naturally (and carrying them over 40 weeks), each weighing in at nearly 9 lbs a PIECE!! Wow. She broke all kinds of records at that hospital! :) She also has a daughter who is Bella’s age…they had a really fun time playing together. Her home is welcoming, bright and cheery…and so “kid-centered”. There were A LOT of kids there. The adults were definitely out-numbered.

The potluck offerings were out of this world…I just couldn’t get enough of a certain butternut squash, cream cheese, burrito concoction. I’m still dreaming of it. We gave tours of the RV…the mamas hung out inside with the kiddos playing “doctor” on the bed, while the daddies learned more about veggie oil.

It was a really fun night of fellowship and connections…once again, the internet proved to be an amazing tool for bringing together like-minded people!

Photo album here.

Ann Arbor, MI: The People’s Food Coop

We had been warned by many people about the parking in Ann Arbor…it’s non-existent. Everyone walks, bikes, or rides the bus…which is GREAT! However, it makes it very hard to park a 32 foot RV on a busy day in the middle of the Farmer’s Market rush. Luckily…Kevin at People’s Food Coop knew what he was doing, and he masterfully had enough spots blocked off with employee cars and we stealthily replaced them with the RV and then plugged meters. Whew! It was definitely one of the more harrowing parking episodes on the tour so far :)

The People’s Food Coop is a busy place…especially over the lunch hour. Along with a fancy little fair trade coffee bar, they also have a hot bar and salad bar…delicious eats abound! Homemade soups, rice and beans, sloppy joe tempeh, steamed kale….the list could go on and on. It was great.

We had the RV open for tours…and talked with an interesting mixture of people who were on their way back to work, out with kids, or just in town as tourists. We even met another greaser with a Golden Fuel Systems setup…awwwww just like family :)

Photo album here.

Ann Arbor, MI: Jeff and Kristin

Ann Arbor almost got postponed due to some engine quirkiness in Grand Rapids…but at the last minute, we got the blue beast roaring back down the road towards the home of Jeff and Kristin. We pulled in and parked in their perfectly smooth and flat driveway…it’s like it was made for our RV :) After all was settled, we decided to head downtown to get pizza…but first, we made a quick stop at Camping World. What could be more fun than Camping World?! It’s crazy the things you can get excited about when you live in an RV. The little rubber flowers that go in between your bowls in the cupboard so they don’t jingle when you drive nearly sent me into a tizzy.

After stocking up on some necessities, we arrived at Silvio’s Organic Pizza near the University of Michigan campus. Now this was some pizza! It was totally fresh and delicious…everything was made right there in the store. We had fun walking around and seeing the sights…including an alley completely full of graffiti art, the first ever Borders bookstore, and lots of college students busily bustling about. Upon arriving back at their house, we stayed up way too late chatting playing with Ellie, the dog. Both Jeff and Kristin are photographers as well…so we had fun sharing our passion for Flickr and our lens obsessions.

Kristin stayed home in the morning from work…and made us some delicious scones and Vietnamese coffee. Speaking of Vietnam…Jeff and Kristin are in the final stages of adopting a baby girl from there. They are going to make awesome parents and we cannot WAIT to hear about her arrival! Kristin has set up the cutest nursery for her…it was even featured on Apartment Therapy. I could have just stayed in there all day looking at her sweet slings, softer than soft cloth diapers, and that amazing slipcover on the IKEA chair. I just still can’t get over it.

We had several things happen in Ann Arbor that can only be described as “God sightings”…where we saw God’s hand at work in the very details of our daily lives. The first was Bella’s bike.

Kristin and I had been randomly talking about bikes and how Bella didn’t have one, but wanted one…etc. I had told her that we were having trouble finding a good used one that was her size. The next day, she told us about one that she had found on Craigslist in Ann Arbor…it was the perfect size, hardly used, and only $20. We couldn’t believe it! Matt went the next morning and picked it up…and we surprised Bella with it. She was (and still is) sooooo excited and rode it every minute she could while we were there.

The other cool thing was that I had given Kristin a little mini quilt pattern/set that I had purchased but never got around to making…and I thought it would be perfect for their daughter. It turns out that Kristin had wanted that EXACT same set, but had decided not to get it at the last minute. How crazy!? We were both so encouraged to watch God use us to bless each other!

On the last night we were there, we went back down to the University of Michigan campus and walked around. We talked with some interesting folks and had pizza with about 50 sorority girls. It’s so fun to be “on campus”…I love the energy.

Other things we did with Jeff and Kristin:
*They introduced us to the phenomenon that is….The Office. We don’t really ever watch TV, so we hadn’t seen it. That is some funny stuff.
*We had a picnic in the park…and Bella got to play with other kids with bikes. Wooooo Bella!
*Met several of their friends…and their kids. Good times.
*Kristin and I went thrifting…and found big bargains. We also went out for coffee….yum.

Overall…we had a great time and it was so hard to leave!! As I went back through the photos I took…I had such sadness because we had so much fun and we miss them already. It’s amazing how connected you can become and how much fun you can have in a short time…with people you just met.

On a cool & foggy Michigan morning, we pulled away from their home and headed East…but we will never forget their warm hospitality and their contagious smiles. We’ll be back someday!

Photo album here.
Kristin’s photo album of our visit here.

Grand Rapids, MI: The Cebulski Family

We “met” Joe and Laura Cebulski online a few months ago…after they decided to convert their truck to veggie oil and remodel a camper, they contacted us for ideas. They had big plans to pull a 5th wheel to California and live in it for a year while Joe trained for the Olympic trials (in the decathlon). Well, their plans quickly became reality…they sold everything (including their house), said goodbye to friends in Arkansas and began their adventure. They just “happened” to be in Grand Rapids at the same time we were this week! What a blessing…we thought we wouldn’t be able to see them until California. Joe and Laura both grew up in GR and came back to remodel the RV and spend time with family before heading west. They also have a beautiful and charming daughter, Rowan, who is 2.5 years old.

On Sunday, after Mars Hill…we headed over to Laura’s family’s home for a delicious lunch. Her sister, Jen is a vegan and made me some delicious tempeh! Yum. We chatted with her parents on the deck and ate…while Rowan and Bella chased the dogs and ran around the yard. After that, we headed to a park for their “kick-off/goodbye party” and met many of their friends and family. We played for hours and hours in the park….such fun on a lovely day.

The next afternoon, we had planned on going to the zoo with them…but got rained out and headed to the Four Friends Coffeehouse in downtown Grand Rapids. We talked of many things…Matt and Joe about veggie oil and Laura and I about RV life, kids, and photography. After that we walked around a bit more and took in some sites. Grand Rapids just opened a “green” art museum! Very fun. We also went to the Fish Ladder park where we watched salmon and HUGE carp swimming around and jumping “up stream”…the girls loved it!

It’s always so hard to leave the new friends we have been making on our trip…but it was especially hard to leave them because we have so much in common. We are SO EXCITED to reunite with them next spring in California!

See photos of their open house and remodeled RV here (it’s sooooo cool!).

See photos that Joe and Laura took of our time in Grand Rapids here.

See my photo album of our time here.

See the Cebulski blog here.

Grand Rapids, MI: Mars Hill Church

Why are we in Grand Rapids, MI? One reason: Mars Hill Church. We have long been fascinated by the teachings of Rob Bell and have listened to sermons on podcast off and on for a couple of years. His sermon series called “God is Green” is a “must listen” for anyone interested in the connection between spirituality and environmentalism. We read his first book, Velvet Elvis…and it really loved the fresh perspective on Christianity. His second book, Sex God teaches about the “…endless connections between sexuality and spirituality”. He always seems to be offering something new and fresh in terms of Christianity and spirituality in general. He also teaches in short film format…check the films out at NOOMA.

We arrived in Grand Rapids around supper time on Saturday night and parked our big blue RV in the parking lot of Mars Hill (don’t worry, we got it “approved”) :) On Sunday, we woke up and excitedly got ready for church (which was conveniently located in our front yard…I love driving my house around!). We took Bella to her Sunday School class and the check-in process was very streamlined, quick, and easy. Matt and I strolled into the sanctuary, which is actually an old mall. Mars Hill renovated the mall to house their ever-growing congregation (10,000+). And yet, it didn’t feel like a big church. All around us, people were greeting each other, hugging, talking to friends, etc. In a church of this size, it’s critical to get involved in small groups, which they do a great job of promoting. They have MANY different ways for people to engage themselves…from house churches to outreach ministries, there is something for everyone.

We took a seat in the 3rd row and had fun people watching before the service started. Pretty soon, a woman and her friend came and sat down next to me. They were at least 70 years old…which startled me. I guess for some reason I always envisioned Mars Hill to be full of 20-something trendy people. It was a nice surprise to see that they are attracting people at all stages of life, with varied religious backgrounds. As we were sitting there, the people behind us said…”hey! don’t you have that big blue RV outside?”. We laughed and said yes, it was us! Matt had his Live Lightly T-shirt on…and I just thought it was really funny that they made the connection (out of that many people!).

The sanctuary is set up “in the round”, with the stage in the center. As the service began, the musicians faced inward to sing/play instead of out. It was interesting. They started out with some somber and slow hymns about God’s mercy and forgiveness….working into louder, more rambunctious songs including an amazing version of David Crowder’s Glory of It All. Wow. That song rocked my world. Holy electric guitar batman. And if you have ever sang in a circle…or facing other people…you know how full and rich the sound is. Seriously…we were rockin for Jesus.

We were unsure if Rob was even teaching that day…so when I saw him walk onto the stage and sit down on his chair that spins 360 degrees, I nudged Matt and whispered…”it’s HIM!”. Ok, yes….I was star struck! :) He taught about gnats and camels. You MUST go listen. It was a powerful message about how we, as Christians, get so inwardly focused on our own personal “walk with God”, that we neglect the “more important” things like mercy, justice, and faithfulness. It was very much focused on how the church needs to be more involved in social activism…even referencing a passage directly related to fair trade! He masterfully walked us through scripture…exploring Jesus’ teaching with such passion that you just couldn’t help but get excited. He brought the words of Jesus to life…and really brought the point home about how Jesus’ teachings are clearly relevant in today’s age.

As the service was ending…Rob reminded everyone about the Joy Boxes in the back and the online Joy Box…where they could give their offering. How cool is it that you can give your tithe online? You can even set up recurring gifts. Great for geeks like me. The sanctuary cleared out…and I turned around and snapped a photo with my camera phone. I wanted to remember that moment…and I had left my big camera in the RV (I didn’t want a replay of the Ani concert) :)

We walked out to find Bella…and passed their welcome center. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a “God is Green” sticker. Weeeeee! I knew I had to have one. I was about to run back out and grab some money from the RV, but they were free. I was a happy girl. So I took my sticker, found Bella, and left Mars Hill Church. It’s a place we would love to come back to someday. But until then, we’ll just be happy with our podcasts!

As church let out, we had the opportunity to talk with many people about the veggie oil system and were pleasantly surprised at the number of people who had been already thinking of converting! It took a good 30 minutes for the traffic jam to die down…and we were right at one of the main exits of the parking lot, so people were able to get a good look at our “billboard” as they were leaving. One gal who came to say hello said that her husband almost caused a car accident when she read the side of the RV to him. He slammed on the brakes when he heard her say “veggie oil” because he had been researching it for awhile. :) We had a great Sunday morning. Rock on Mars Hill.