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 β€˜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.

Madison, WI: Scott and Karly

When we first announced the tour…Karly was one of the first to respond. She extended a welcome for us to come and stay at her father’s house/farm which is about 15 minutes outside of Madison. Karly also works for the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, and was SO helpful in our planning process…she even sent us a package of information about Madison and local magazines before we left Des Moines.

After we left the co-op, we headed straight out to the farm. We met Karly, and her husband Scott…as well as her dad, Mark. She also had guests that had just arrived from Denmark that day! Christina was a foreign exchange student when Karly and her were in high school…so she was coming back to visit and brought her brother along (his first visit to the U.S.).

We parked and gave the tour…then headed inside, where Scott and Karly made a delicious meal on the grill, and a yummy bean salad/wrap for Bella and I. We talked and laughed…learning more about Denmark and also about Karly and Scott.

Bella had a great time playing with the little kitty that had arrived to the farm just a few days earlier. She also climbed a tree with Matt and chatted with Scott about her imaginary friends. :)

We all hit the beds early…and said goodbye in the morning. It was great to get some “country time”…away from the busyness of the city.

Photo album here.

Madison, WI: Willy Street Co-op

We pulled into Madison right on time…coming into town and passing between the two lakes to head towards downtown and Willy (Williamson) Street. Madison advertises itself as “Lake. City. Lake.”…and it was as beautiful as the brochures! When we pulled into the Willy Street Co-op, they had a spot all marked out for us, so we quickly pulled in and set up.

Willy Street is a diverse and eclectic walking area…very similar to Uptown in Minneapolis. We enjoyed talking with all kinds of people…many that were already very well versed in using veggie oil as fuel. We found many already running straight veggie or biodiesel.

We met Dorothy, a beautiful and intelligent older woman from Prague, Czech Repuplic. Her husband, Erazim KohΓ‘k, is a Czech philosopher, writer, and expert in ecology. We chatted for quite awhile and she gave Bella some Czech money to add to her ever growing collection of “goodies from the tour”. :) She invited us to park at one of their homes in New Hampshire when we pass through.

We met Sarana and her strikingly beautiful children. Sarana and I have very similar interests and had a great time passionately discussing homebirth, dreadlocks, babywearing, following your dreams, and more. Her husband owns an eco-paint company in Madison and she has a fledgling non-profit aimed at helping inner city children through the arts and nature exploration. Her daughters and Bella played on the bed with all of the toys for a long time…it’s nice to have other children around for playmates.

We met Libby, a blog reader that I have conversed with many times online. It was wonderful to meet her and talk about “baby stuff”. She is due with her first in December. She works on the campus of the University of Wisconsin and was a great help before we arrived. She kept us company for a good part of the afternoon…hanging out until her husband came by to check out the RV too.

The co-op itself was fabulous. They had a huge deli and salad bar…and I had the biggest, most yummy veggie/hummus pita I’ve ever had…for $2.99! Crazy. We also enjoyed their freshly juiced organic apple/raspberry juice. We stocked up on a few groceries while we were there, and enjoyed talking with many of the employees of the co-op as they came out to the RV on their breaks.

So far, Madison has definitely lived up to it’s reputation as a thriving, diverse, and progressive community. As I left the co-op, I looked at their bulletin board and saw organizations such as Community Car and Arboretum Co-Housing Community. There is a lot going on here…bike trails, lakes, activism, crazy fans in Badger red. Good times in Mad City.

Photo album here.