Thursday, September 7, 2017

Care to Camp?

A few days ago Lael Ewy did a KMUW story about the word care.  At first I thought, "How boring," but he managed to make it interesting at the end by saying that the words caregiver and caretaker mean the same thing.  Seeming opposites, give and take have flexible meanings when paired with care.

The word care is so ubiquitous, it's easy to think of common uses of the word.  Picture the guitarist tuning his instrument, stalling for time, telling the audience, "We tune because you care."  Consider our English students in Egypt, who translated the Arabic phrase, kheli belak as the literal "Take care!" instead of the more accurate translation, "Watch out!"  But I love how their incorrect translation inadvertently breathed a bit of tenderness into the warning.  What if watch out did just mean take care?

We went "truck camping" Labor Day weekend, and as we pulled up in two vehicles laden with sleeping bags, wooden boards and saw horses (to build a table,) coolers (one for drinks and one for food,) lawn chairs, tents (one for us, one for Simon,) pillows, and one lonely toiletry bag that may or may not get opened, I wondered why we do it.  Why do we go to the work to camp?  And the answer is because we care.

We care about spending time with friends.

We care about orchids,


and wild petunias.

We care about what year microwaves were first sold, how tall Denali is, and how many miles light travels in a year (questions we had to come to a consensus on in the game Over/Under.)

We care about spending time in the Kansas sunshine, walking in the prairie, and sitting in the shade trying three kinds of local cider.

After lunch on Monday, we packed up quickly this time.  The kids helped.  Simon got his whole tent packed up, including rolling up and stuffing his therma-rest in the stuff sack!  John Mark played some tunes on the guitar.  It didn't seem like unpacking took as long as it usually does either.  And Mo and James were kind enough to leave us with a few more ciders to enjoy.  I had quit asking the why question of camping, and was just enjoying the fact of it.  To borrow from the musician's phrase, "We camp because we care."

Monday, July 10, 2017

There and Back Again

Today was a good day.  It should have felt flat, literally, now that we're back at 1500 feet elevation, home from our first backpacking trip in 18 years.  The Kansas heat settled in on us gradually as we descended from Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp, to Divide, to Woodland Park, to Colorado Springs, to Eastern Colorado, and finally to our home turf.  While Nate and I and our two sons went backpacking,

my daughter spent the week at RMMC hiking, polar bear swimming in the freezing creek, and making new friends.

We summited two mountains: Sentinel, which almost did me in at 1250 feet,

and Pike's Peak, with a friendlier trail, even if it was a 14er.

Some of the sights on the trip were sublime:  snow pack,

big horned sheep,


twisted trees,

and fresh-fried donuts on top of Pike's Peak.

But there was also something special about spending time at home today.  Putting another load of laundry into the machines, picking potatoes and beets from our garden and pickling and canning the beets,

going to the library, paying off the over-due fines and stocking up on books for our next trip,

and putting all the gear back into the camping closet.

We could leave anytime for our next adventure in Ohio (my family) and Georgia (the beach) but we're choosing to spend a few more days at home just re-acclimating.  It's good to be home again.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Eastern Brew Tour

Our eastern brew tour started off at 100 miles an hour, literally, before we slowed to a restful 80 mph heading south on I-135 towards El Dorado.  We thought we could nose our way to the Walnut River Brewing Company, but we needed Mary's phone to get us there, as it was several blocks off of Main Street.  We walked in to a very small tap room, filled to the brim with people, including a striking older lady with great cleavage showing.  It was standing room only for a little while, until a big group cleared out, and then we grabbed a table.  Nate got a beer flight, and I liked Professor Plum the best, so he ordered me a whole glass, and I actually drank the whole thing, which is rare for me.  Nate liked the Coffee Porter which is made with real cold brew coffee and the pale ale.  Moriah and Mary liked the Teter Rock Koelsch.  Tim just liked drinking (small amounts of) whatever had the highest alcohol content.

A knowledgeable young man took us on a tour of the brew works.  We got to see the fermentation room, the canning room, and my favorite, the attic where they stored the grain and ground it into mash.  It smelled really good up there.  It reminded me of being in the grain bin of our barn growing up.  Nate told the tour guide about his idea to legislate a Kansas state beer similar to Kentucky bourbon, that has to have specific amounts of Kansas wheat and other Kansas agricultural product to certify it as a bonafide Kansas beer.  This would be approved at the Kansas statehouse and be a drawing point for (almost nonexistant) Kansas tourism.  Our tour guide listened politely, but Tim, our state representative, just laughed.

Our tour guide compared their operation to Radius Brewing Company in Emporia.  Radius is a small brewery that's focused on their kitchen and serving great meals.  Walnut River has a tiny kitchen that only serves snacks, but they've focused on making great beer and canning and distributing that beer.  Already their two most popular beers, High Beam IPA and Irish Red Warbeard, are widely distributed at liquor stores across the state.  They also canned some seasonal beers and hope to add more to their distribution repertoire.  We ended our tour in the lab room with Moriah, our chemist, explaining the biological process of metabolic breakdown in alcohol, which I only partially understood.  Then we whizzed off to Highway 77, First Street, and Highway 177 for a scenic drive through the Flint Hills to Emporia.

By the time we got to Radius Brewing Company, we were hungry and lucky to find a table, as the place was hopping.  Our waiter's name was Hank, and he was masterful at organizing a tiny piece of paper with all our beer flight and food requests.  I ordered two fru-fru drinks, a Gose'N'Berry beer and First Base, a cider, and let Nate pick the other four.  I didn't pay much attention to what he was drinking, but he liked them, noting that the beer at Walnut River was better.  I really liked the Gose'N'Berry beer, and didn't care as much for the cider.  Too sweet and too much cinnamon.  It tasted like Apple Pie.  Mary and I traded her Gose'N'Berry for my cider, and we were both happy.
My Alligator Truffle Margherita Pizza was delicious, and everyone else was happy with their food too.  We were pleasantly surprised at the reasonable prices and walked out of the restaurant in search of a downtown winery where Mary could buy a growler of First Base, the cider she liked.

With no directions or even the name of the place, we came around the corner and there it was: Twin River Winery.  We looked at the doors.  Could it be open at 8:05 on a Saturday night?  We tried the  doors.  It was!  We walked in, and were treated to excellent hospitality.  We ordered wine flights all around and got to try a variety of their wines, mostly sweet and more sweet.  They explained that the reason for that is not that Kansans like their wine sweet (though I suspect they do) but because Kansas grapes are four-season grapes, and thus sweeter than Californian grapes which grow in a different climate.  We went downstairs and got another production tour, and marveled at the fact that in addition to having beer brewed in downtown Emporia, there is a fully operational winery right on main street, just four doors down from the still-operating Brown's Shoe Store.

After we had made our purchases, we walked the rest of the way around the block back to Radius and bumped into Tim's old friend from law school, who just happened to be visiting from Pennsylvania.  While the two of them caught up a bit, a Walnut River Brewing truck pulled up, and two young guys hopped out.  At first we thought that one of them was our tour guide, but they had both just spent the day at an event in Topeka and they were hungry, stopping at Radius for supper on their way home.  It felt like a small world to have Tim's friend from law school, two guys from the brewery that we just visited, and a friendly lady that walked out of the restaurant all briefly join in conversation about how great the weather was, how great the beer was, and how great Kansas was to be the home state of all this congeniality.  I mean were we not standing in the very streets of the town William Allen White called home?

On the way home we hit 100 mph again a few times, but only to pass trucks on highway 50.  Nathan dozed in the front seat.  Tim regaled us with tales from the Kansas Statehouse, and Moriah, Mary and I swapped stories of the joys and sorrows of visiting family on vacation.  We made loose plans to do our next brew tour - micro breweries in Wichita this time - in August or September.  Moriah and James will organize.  Then there's still a western brew tour to go - McPherson, Hutchinson, and Cheney.  Kansas is having a micro beer renaissance. Cheers!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mennonite Disaster Service

We spent the day today serving with Mennonite Disaster Service after the wild fires destroyed several homes north of Hutchinson. 

We had plenty of help and sometimes we had to be inventive to find the next thing to do: carrying brush, shoveling debris, sweeping dirt and ashes, and carrying trash to make piles for the skid steer to collect.  I was impressed with our kids' efforts.  They never gave up and got discouraged either by the amount of work or the lack of work.

Lunch was a celebrative event: hamburgers in a stylish horse barn.  Our leader thanked us for our good turnout, our good work, and said that the homeowners were overwhelmed.  That's okay for them to be overwhelmed, he concluded.

The place where we worked had the trailer house spared, while several sheds and vehicles burned.  We knocked down a tree that was badly burned, and immediately three chainsaws started up and ten minutes later, the tree was no more than a neat pile.

When I called to ask if we could help with our kids, the coordinator said sure.  Then I called again to ask if we could come a little later because of Saturday morning paper routes.  He said, "We'll make it work.  That's what it's all about.  Letting the next generation get involved in serving."  Throughout the day, the MDS leaders were very complimentary of our kids.  One even called later to thank us and tell us how much he enjoyed watching our family work together.

After we loaded up the last pile of ash and rubble, we got in our van and got ready to leave.  The young skid steer driver was still romping around the yard, smoothing out the ruts he'd made throughout the day.  The owners of the trailer were on the porch waving and blowing us kisses.  We drove out of the sand hills in high spirits, thankful to be able to end our spring break helping out.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

On Melancholy

I read a Jane Kenyon poem this morning, Having It Out With Melancholy, in which she describes the cloud that lies over her, lifting for a moment as she rushes with color down the river of life, and then comes back again, that "unholy ghost"  always back again, then disappears at four in the morning as the wood thrush sings its song. 

I sit in my quiet cocoon of a morning, my sick child sleeping on the couch beside me, cat on top of child.  The sunlight pierces through the green of the leaf of his birth plant so vividly that I wonder at what thick plexiglass of unfeeling must block me from the sheer joy of it.

Jane Kenyon is so full of life in each and every poem.  First a city street, then a childhood memory, a farmhouse scene.  Then her ode to melancholy.  I consider her brave.  To live under the cloud, but still lift her pen against its weighted breath.  To describe the medications, the advice of friends, the feeling of inevitability, as if this feeling has always been hers since birth. 

Too often, I feel that my tired watch, weary of existing, is unspeakable, ungrateful, unfathomable in light of the blessings of each new day.  When will I turn and catch the light?  When will that light do more than glimmer, but become a hammock where I can lie back, feeling the warmth on my eyelids?

I notice my child, stirring, groaning, then waking to the reality of late morning, feeling better, ready to stretch his arms.  Something is changing.  As he rises, the cat jumps to the floor and settles in the patch of sunshine on the carpet.   

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Myth of Reverse Racism

When I heard about the recent attack in Chicago on a white man by four black people spewing racial insults toward white people, I knew that there would be white people claiming reverse racism.  But can such a thing exist?  Can black people be racist towards whites?  Racism is defined as a system in which some people automatically get privileges just based on socially constructed differences like skin color whether the benefiters recognize their privilege or not.  By definition, black people can be prejudiced or hateful, but they cannot be racist, because they do not benefit from such a system. 

Living in Newton, Kansas it is hard for me to wrap my head around racism.  Of course I'd rather believe that it doesn't exist here, but when I open my eyes, I can see the white privileges that surround me that I take in every day as naturally as breathing.  Three examples help to tell this story.

Recently I was pulled over near my house because my son in the front seat was not buckled up in his seat belt, and while the officer was checking my identity in his patrol car, my son got out of the car and started walking home.  I let him go, but the thought did not escape me that if my son had been black, I would never have left him open that car door.  I would have been afraid for his life.  But my son had no fear.  He sauntered away right in front of the police car and never looked back.  A black male would have known to watch his back.

Another similar story happened when my mom was trying to find her vacation house on a trip several hours from home.  Lost, she was relieved to see a cop and pulled over to ask him for directions, not paying attention to the fact that he was in the middle of an arrest.  He couldn't believe her audacity and politely asked her to get back in her vehicle and drive on.  But, the white privilege here is that she was not afraid of what could have happened to her.  She was sure that the cop knew she was well intentioned, and she was sorry to inconvenience him.  She got back in her car and drove on.  Again, a person of color would not have felt comfortable stopping an officer like that.

Finally, we were just contacted by our German host student asking if we could pick him up from the airport in Kansas City after his Christmas break.  We thought it was too far to drive and were checking to see if someone else could do it.  But in the meantime, my husband had the idea that our host student could make a sign that read, "German foreign exchange student: needs ride to Wichita." and easily hitch a ride with some stranger from the airport.  We eventually found a ride for our host student, but the fact that we thought of the poster idea is a sign of white privilege.  With his reddish gold hair, pale skin, and smattering of freckles, our host student would have looked harmless and comfortable to most KCI travelers.  What if our host student had been from Kenya or Egypt?  The thought to make a poster to hitch a ride would have never even occurred to us.

When we hear about ugly, racialized violence like what happened in Chicago, we need to remember that our country still has a long way to go to correct the systemic injustice that fuels anger and hate.   There are literally millions of examples of white privilege happening every day that don't garner media attention.  We need to resist the urge to get distracted by the splashy news stories of individuals lashing out in anger and violence and work instead for systemic change at all levels of society.   While we wait for reconciliation to come, some of us will continue to live with privileges that others could never dream of.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Holiday Expectations and Chex Mix

It's Christmastime.  Blissful time.  I was driving to the Y to work out, when I got an email from my uncle with a video of the Wissmann family singing their favorite Christmas song.  In the email they had a description of their home:  "It's that time of year again where the house is decorated in lights.  The kitchen is full of smells of good things baking, and the house is full of people greeting each other with hugs and laughter."  That's my paraphrase, but I think I'm very close.

I thought, "Gag."  Our house, if anything is a little bit cold right now, as we keep the thermostat at 68 degrees to save on energy costs.  We have three cozy throw blankets that rotate around from chair to couch, and we all love those - especially KC, the cat.  Our lights?  We have Christmas lights and greenery across the mantel.  We have our "Christmas Stump" decorated in lights.  (Nate's 2016 version of a Christmas tree.)  

We have a few strings of lights outside on the Ash tree.  We have Advent candles that burn every night at supper time.  And loads of other candles that our little pyromaniacs take turns lighting and re-lighting.  So I guess we're lit up all right.

But what about the laughter and hugs?  I don't particularly find this to be a harmonious time of year.   We have these tall, skinny carolers sitting out that my daughter likes to play with by making them sing.  It's adorable until it's annoying, and my son lets us know that pretty quickly.  And there's nothing adorable about all the yelling and fighting that ensues.  Do the Wissmans have college students that are coming home and giving hugs?  Because my three don't come in the door after school with hugs for me.   I try to hug them when I can, but I wouldn't say that Christmas gives me more opportunity.

And then there's the kitchen with good baking smells.  I didn't grow up with that phenomenon.  Ours was a practical kitchen.  But I have one memory of Christmas baking that stays with me.  Once when I was home from college, I visited my Aunt Rosemary and then cut through the backyard to say hi to my Aunt Donna and cousin Joel, a high-schooler at the time.  They were busy sitting around in their warm (strange for an old farmhouse) kitchen waiting to stir the Chex mix that was baking.  As I walked over, I could see them in the kitchen through the large windows of the patio doors, all lit up, all cozy, very Wissmannesque.  I went over and said hi.  We sampled the Chex mix and talked about our favorite pieces (the nuts, the cheese crackers, the pretzels, Cheerios- yes or no?)  It was good to see them again, and I feel like they positively glowed with holiday spirit.  I walked out of that kitchen feeling warmed.

And so now that I have a family of my own, do I make Chex mix?  Have I tried to recreate that warmth for my own family?  Strangely, no.  I have seen the Chex cereal on sale at Dillon's and thought, "Why spend the extra time and money on something we don't need?  Let others go to the bother."  When Nathan hinted twice that he was craving Chex mix and I still didn't make it - didn't make any Christmas goodies, I asked myself, "Why the Scrooge-like attitude towards holiday baking?"  And I think the answer is high expectations.  I have high expectations of holiday warmth, and I don't want to be disappointed, so I hedge my bets by doing nothing. 

Upon realizing this ironic twist, that my high expectations of Christmas were actually paralyzing my holiday efforts, I made an attempt to right some wrongs and headed to the store to buy travel supplies for our upcoming trip to Ohio, including the ingredients for Chex mix. 

I thought about waiting till the kids got home to start creating the magic, but then realized that there may not be magic, but the effort is still not in vain if I can create a desirable snack for Nathan as he drives the bulk of our 15 hour journey to Ohio.  And if there's a good smell or good spirit lingering in the house when my kids get home from school today?  Bring it on. 

I used a recipe from my friend, Jacqui Hershberger.  It's much lighter than traditional Chex mix, and doesn't taste much different.  The secret ingredient is the lemon juice.  I didn't have celery salt and substituted popcorn salt.  Regular salt would probably work fine too.

Jacqui's Chex Mix

4 T vegetable oil
8 T worcestershire sauce
5 T lemon juice
3 t. celery salt
3 t. garlic salt
3 t. onion salt

Mix together and pour over

24 c. dry mix

Stir well.  Bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes.  Stir every 15 minutes.

p.s.  Skip the Cheerios!