Monday, December 21, 2009

Project Merry Christmas Part 1: The Best Way to Spread Chrtistmas Cheer...

The rest of December was marked by the preparation for and the execution of Project Merry Christmas. PMC is organized by the ministerial association and hands out food vouchers and toys to those who need it. The school age kids are covered by the local schools while we end up covering the rest including the home schooled kids and those people that fall through the cracks. The Farm pools the various donations, sorts them according to age groups, and then sets them up at the Lions Club so that people can "shop" for what they want. There was a lot to be done before all this went down.

We had an "off week" scheduled between Wright State and PMC but as my subtly placed quotes indicate, we were pretty busy. We spent a lot of the time at the clothing pantry (what else is new?) to try and get some of that ridiculous pile under control. It was a pretty bitterly cold on one of the days we worked there but we soldiered through it...naturally to find out later that there is in fact heat in the building. Typical. On one of the other days that we worked at the clothing pantry, I got the opportunity to work construction. It was good because it gave me an opportunity to work with the guys one last time before Christmas break. It was a lot of fun even though it was pretty cold and snowing throughout the day.

Speaking of cold, we had an interesting experience regarding the Farm's heating system. Our staff house is normally heated via heat pump. It essentially takes the heat from the air outside and pumps it into the house. It works fantastically as long as there is heat in the air to pump inside. However, once there are a few cold days in a row and all the residual heat is eliminated from the surrounding air, it turns into a dastardly air conditioning unit. When we did finally get a cold front that settled in, we did actually take the proper steps to head off the problem and we turned off the pump. Apparently, something happened with the pump because when I woke up the next morning it was 47 FREAKING DEGREES IN OUR HOUSE. I could literally feel myself getting sick. We scrambled to correct the situation. And by correct the situation, I mean we piled a myriad of heavy objects on the various vents throughout our house. We went to Church extra early Sunday morning just so that we could warm up. Eventually we talked to Dave, the Emperor of People's Self Help Housing, and were able to shut off the dreaded pump. If there was a story that typefied our time as Farm Managers, this would definitely be in the nomination envelope.

We should have known there would be a problem when this guy installed the heat pump

The off week was also when the Farm was officially turned into a Christmas Factory. We began what turned into a never ending cookie making whirlwind as we prepared gifts for those we delivered food boxes to, the people we worked with, and (most hilariously) Bossman. That last one came about as a result of pure boredom and a flash of creativity. We went back to the childhood tradition of leaving your shoes out on the evening of St. Nicholas and decided to make a middle-of-the-night expedition to Bossman's to drop off our present. It was complete with our incognito, black US Census Hats. As with most things involving us, we made quite a scene to the point that we were stopped by one of his neighbors that happened to work for the sheriff's office. Guess it looked a little shady to have people sneaking around at midnight and dropping off random boxes on people's doorsteps. Oops.

We also had the first of our many, many Christmas carolings. On Wednesday night the local churches got together and held The Ecumenical Church Walk. It started at the courthouse in town and then went to three local churches where we heard presentations on the history of each building. We did our part by caroling for the procession as they entered each building. It was made more challenging (though possibly more enjoyable for those witnessing our caroling) by the gale-like winds, which at times drowned out our voices. It was capped off with a cookies and treats reception that was downright delicious.

Thursday night we went to a concert benefitting the food pantry. It was a great night of music and entertainment. We even got introduced on stage as Glenmary Farm Managers, which was exciting. We helped out with collecting donations, which we found out later totaled a couple thousand dollars! After that, Friday was spent resting up and getting ready for the impending Project Week.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wright State University: What a Gyps

From November 30-December 5 we had a group of 14 come down from Wright State Campus Ministry in Dayton, OH. It was a real mix of students ranging from freshmen to grad students and they were accompanied by a priest, which was something new. After the break for Thanksgiving, it could have been really difficult to readjust to life on the Farm. To be fair, it was a little weird being back here the first few days before the group came. But this group had such a focus on service that it was actually really easy to get back into the swing of things.

With it being a Pantry handout week, we had a lot of work to do. There was the obligatory packing of the food boxes and all the work that needed to be done at the pantry. George received a new shipment of clothes so the pile which we had worked so hard to reduce was again piled to the ceiling. Ah well... another task for future groups eh? We had plenty of work just trying to get the place ready for the handout day on that Friday. The kids did a great job with all the work. They were totally ready and willing to take on the new challenges that were thrown at them.

I had the opportunity to go back to Licking Valley Senior Center for the first time since I came down in March as a volunteer. Jamie, Colleen and I have gone there to help pack the commodities but I haven't been there for the regularly scheduled program since becoming a Farm Manager. It was great to just be able to hang out with all the people there. We did some word searches, played some bingo and had some delicious Turkey. We entertained the people there for about 30 minutes with some Christmas carols. Surprisingly, Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer was a crowd pleaser (by request, of course).

We also had plenty of fun with the group. The Thurmans were a blast, as usual. They have such a visible bond and a sense of fun that it's so hard not to enjoy yourself there. This time they were giving Jeff crap for gaining a whopping 11 pounds after Thanksgiving. He steadfastly maintained that his new belly was a badge of honor since it took so much effort to get to that point. I don't immediately hate every country song that comes on the radio now, and I think that's primarily due to the Thurmans. The atmosphere there is just so perfect for enjoying music that it doesn't matter what they sing, I always appreciate it. There have been a few instances where I go looking for songs after I've heard them at the Thurmans' and I find that the original is terrible. Case in point is That Summer. I love it every time the Thurmans play it but I was repulsed by the Garth Brooks version when I finally heard it... weird. They've also turned me onto some songs I end up loving in their original form. Toes by the Zac Brown Band is one of those ones. If you would have told me 4 months ago that this would be a song I surfed the airwaves for, I would have called you crazy. But I guess the Farm has brought me out of my comfort zone. It's a good feeling. It's part of the growth process I guess and shows that the Farm has affected me at least in this small way.

There was plenty of fun had during the week outside of the normal program. There was a night we spent around the fire singing Taylor Swift’s entire song catalog and playing Make a Song, where much hilarity ensued. They also taught us the infinitely fun game of Scum and we had a marathon, two tier session on the last night. It was a hectic evening with a lot of fun and a multitude of hilarious chief Scum pictures (RAKE IT, SCUM!). Naturally, it was capped off with a few games of ninja.

Congrats on your brother getting into ND. Umm.... call me?

There were a few things that were made evident to me this week. The first was the sense of community found here. It's something I have noticed throughout my weeks here but sometimes it's more prominent than others. This was one of those weeks when I really noticed it. At Licking Valley I could sense it talking to everyone and watching all the seniors interact with one another and swap stories about their grandchildren. There was a genuine interest for the welfare of others that existed in that place. Going to Mosby for service on Wednesday showed the community that forms around Christ here. The Buckners make up the majority of Mosby's congregation and it's like a mini family reunion everytime they go to service. But it's always remarkable to me how they make such an effort to welcome us when we go. They really do make us feel like part of the family. The Construction guys over at People's were also an example of the community to be found here. It's been a while since I've worked with John and Rog's crew and I could sense they were sincere when they said they had missed working with me. They were excited to see me again and the feeling was mutual. In the short 3 months that I've been here, they've really welcomed me and made me feel like a part of the crew. Everywhere I go in Lewis County, I see examples of the strong community that exists here. It's a wonderful feeling. But it's also taught me some things.

The strength of the community here derives from 2 main sources: family and faith. At Notre Dame, it was a similar situation. The University does such an excellent job at fostering community and its cited so often that community is really a buzzword when discussing Notre Dame. The love that students have for the school is no accident and comes from the same sources as the community here: family and faith. There, it was so easy to tap into both sources. The dorm life, football games, and classrooms established the Notre Dame family while having chapels in every dorm and the many faith based programs and places around campus made up the faith portion. It was the perfect storm for a patently lazy person such as myself. All I literally had to do was wander downstairs every week to go to mass. But I found that a funny thing happened when I went home. Now that it wasn't so easy, I would miss Church. Being here has reminded me that you can find a strong community in places other than Notre Dame. It may take effort, but the effort that you exert brings back rewards far exceeding it.

The second thing I noticed this week was the power of doing small things. While at Licking Valley one woman commented on how I seemed to memorize everyone's name after meeting them. It was such a small gesture on my part but it really made an impact on this woman. When we were at Mosby, Rick came around (like he always does) to shake everyone's hand before the service. Again, it's a small gesture but it does so much. It sets the tone for the service and creates such a welcoming atmosphere. Those dual lessons of community and doing the small things are ones I hope to bring back with me long after my year here is up.

The kids really got a lot out of the week. Different groups latch onto different aspects of the Farm and this one definitely found its identity in the spirituality component of the Farm. They took the opportunity for quiet reflection to really get in touch (or back in touch) with God. It was a good reminder to me of the value of sitting quietly and reflecting. Fred closed out the week with a really excellent homily. It was based on the gospel about the two houses- one built on rock and the other built on sand. Fred referenced the fact that the chapel had to be rebuilt multiple times but that it was possible because the chapel had a strong foundation a la the house built on rock. The foundation, Fred explained, that the chapel is built on is Jesus. He made the point that the Farm is what Christianity is all about. It's about loving those you meet and living simply not because it's hip but because Jesus set the example for the rest of us. I thought it was a homily that captured the essence of the Farm really well. It was also good to celebrate mass in the chapel, since we haven't had the opportunity to do so since I've been here. It was a great reminder of what we do here and a nice ending to the week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dub Dub's Ziploc Omlette Awesomeness

So this post is actually a long time coming. I haven't had the necessary hardware to post the pictures that accompany it so it's been a little bit of a wait. But here it is in all it's glory.

So if you're like me, you love omlettes. If you're also like me, you are continually foiled by the process of making said omlette. (If you're even more like me, you're starting to think this intro sounds like a bad infomercial). Most of mine turn into goopy pseudo scrambled eggs. It's not a pretty sight. Anyway, a while back Wild Woman told me a recipe for what she called the ziploc omlette. She claimed it made the perfectly shaped omlette. Naturally, given my previous omlette making fiascos, I was intrigued. So I decided to make one for myself and document it for all of you out there.

Step 1: Component Assembly and Bagging

Basically all you need are 2 eggs (3 eggs are also perfectly fine) and whatever ingredients you want. I enjoy cheese, bacon, tomato, more cheese, onion, even more cheese, and bell pepper in my omlette. All you do is scramble the eggs and pour them into a ziploc baggie, along with any components you want. I've found that the quart size freezer bags make the perfect size. Make sure your take the air out of the bag so you end up with the image above. HINT: While you're assembling your omlette's ingredients, bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil. This will be crucial in...

Step 2: Boiling Your Bag
This is actually as simple as it sounds. Once you have your bag assembled, stick it in the pot of boiling water. Just let it sit in the boiling water for about 13 minutes. You can turn the bag over a few times if you'd like. But really that's it. After it's been cooked, you just open the bag and slide it right out onto a plate. Boosh.

Step 3: Enjoy Your Freaking Omlette
I have to admit I was a little skeptical of the whole thing but as you can see, it really does turn out the perfectly shaped omlette with a lot less mess. And once I bit into it I immediately said, "This is delicious!". You can dress it however you'd like (that's salsa on top of mine there).

Now, if you paid attention, you probably noticed it took 13 minutes to cook and you rightly asked why anyone would want to wait that long for their omlette. Fair point. Don't use it if you're in a rush. However, because of the ziploc bag, you can just make your bag the night before and stick it in the fridge. Then you can just put the bag in the water while you take a shower and you'll have a beautifully prepared omlette upon your drying off. In conclusion, Ziploc + Omlette = CRAZY DELICIOUS.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bishop Hendricken: Garrrr!

From November 14-20 we had a group of all guys from Bishop Hendriken High School in Warwick, Rhode Island. We had heard from a former Farm Manager that this group was pretty wacky but since different groups from the same school can be different we were interested to see how it went. Turns out our information was reliable and these kids were decidedly wacky. It was a super fun week that had a bunch of laughs.

The week started off with a night hike up to Armstrong cemetery to do some stargazing. It was a great night site because it was so close that it afforded us a lot of flexibility. Thinking back on it, it epitomized what the Farm is about. It's not often that we take the time to just sit back and look at stars. First off, most of us live in areas where the lights from the city make it almost impossible to see the stars. Second, we lead such busy lives that they rarely afford us the opportunity to sit back and actually look at the stars. So this simple activity was a great way to introduce the kids to the simplicity of the Farm. The kids showed their goofiness right away by spending much of the time figuring out a way to make a Hannah Montana constellation.

Something that really struck me about this group was the sincerity they brought to service. It's one thing to say you're going to serve, it's another to really go out of your way to make that effort to really serve everyone you can. These guys did that surprisingly well. They were always looking for jobs to do and were never satisfied when they finished whatever task they were initially given. This was evident right on the first work day. I was with two groups that day in Tollesboro at both the food and clothing pantry. The clothing group spent the day sorting clothes, as usual, while the food side put out much of the food for box making and also made some of the Thanksgiving boxes. Toward the end of the day, I ran over to the clothing side to tell them to start tidying up after which I raced back to the food side. I was shocked when shortly after I left them, the boys showed up on the food side, looking to help in any way they could. They could have just finished their job at the clothing pantry and could have easily (and justifiably) rested up until the others were finished. But they weren't satisfied just finishing their own job. They wanted to serve in any way they could and went the extra mile.

This week was also a week for finishing tasks. On that first day, the actually kids finished sorting the entire back pile of bags. It was really a culmination of a lot of hard work from previous groups. It felt really great to see that completed because it was a pet project of the Farm Managers. We never thought we would see the day when that huge pile was ever fully sorted. In addition, I got to work on the last day at the Thomas Colvin construction site at Fuller Branch. It was interesting to work on the last day at a site. It's not often that we get to see the tail end of a job. It was nice knowing that the very next day a family was going to move into the home we were working on.

There was a feeling of familiarity running through the week. For Jamie and Colleen, hearing the New England accents and slang was like having a little bit of home brought to them. It was similar to when the Notre Dame kids came in a few weeks ago and I felt so good hearing and talking about familiar sights. The two of them were so enthused by hanging out with people that knew the same places they did and I can see why. For me, the familiarity was rooted in a reason other than geography. Bishop Hendriken is an all boys school. While I never attended an all boys school, I did live in an all boys dorm for the last 4 years. Watching and listening to all the ridiculousness of the week really reminded me of living in Alumni Hall. There was such a sense of community and fun that permeated the week that reminded me of the camaraderie of living with
all guys. There's a sense of goofiness and energy when you get a bunch of guys together in one place. These guys definitely showed that very well. There were plenty of games of knockout and frisbee. We played G-H-O-S-T on almost all car rides and it was rare that anyone ever escape getting crap for something they did. Nicknames abounded and the sayings of the day were always interesting. It was also the first time I've ever seen pirate duels on the Farm. I came out of the staffhouse one day to find that the boys had grabbed any and all available sticks and had staged a pirate duel on the picnic tables. This was of course on Steve the Pirate Tuesday (There was a guy named Steve in the group). It was really nice being able to experience that sort of community again.

The group also brought a really cool element to reflection. The group always did their own reflection after we ended each night. On the last night, the chaperones included the Farm Managers in their reflection. They used a prayer structure known as an Emmaus Walk. It's based around the disciples meeting and, at first, not recognizing Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It was a really great way to look back on the progression of the week for the kids. They were able to see how they were changed by the week in a way that focused on their personal discovery of Jesus. It was a surprisingly in depth reflection for a group of high schoolers but they were more than up to the task. Their answers showed that they had really put a concerted effort into thinking about how Jesus had been present that week. It was an excellent end to a great week.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

St. Martha's: Wait... Are You Calling Me Fat?

So this past weekend we welcomed a group from St. Matha's youth group in Cuyahoga Falls, OH to the Farm. It was unorthodox in terms of scheduling because it was only for the weekend but it didn't mean it was any less busy. I knew it was going to be a fun weekend when I noticed one of the kids wearing a pair of Hoban shorts. When I asked him if he went to the same Archbishop Hoban we were familiar with, it turned out there were a handful of them on the trip. It was good to see Hoban kids back on the Farm. It was also great to welcome some new places to the Farm as well.

Planning for the group was actually a pain. Since they were here only for the weekend, we couldn't bring them to any of our old standby sites like construction or Comprehend. So we were scrambling a bit to try and find things for the group to do. This was coumpounded by the fact that Jamie joined her family this weekend in Maine for the second largest Lobstering tournament on the East Coast. So while she was captaining her trawler (as I'm told Lobster boats are properly called), Colleen and I were left with the group. It was also frustrating because we wanted the kids to get a well rounded expereience at the Farm, which was difficult to do since they only had one day. The Farm has some wonderful qualities about it but it often takes a little time for them to really sink in. Like anything new, the first day is more about the kids adjusting to the simplicity, God's Time, not having cell phones etc. Once they get past that, they can appreciate what the charisms of this place do for them. Colleen put it best when she said that it really had to be a conscious effort on our part to drive home these points instread of letting the Farm work its magic.

Despite all these obstacles set in our way, the kids really had a fantastic weekend of sevice. I spent Saturday at the Clothing Pantry. It was a mess after the pantry handout week so we had a lot of work cut out for us. But the kids were really willing to do the work and did it with great enthusiasm. I think the entire time we were there was spent singing. It started with Party in the USA (let's be honest, there isn't a better place to start), moved from there to Disney songs and then gradually gave way to a Grease medley. The kids kept making comments indicating they thought I would get annoyed with all their goofyness. But it was such a great reminder of what I and my fellow Farm Managers are trying to do here.

Every community of Farm managers runs things differently. It depends on philosophies and personalities of the Farm Managers. There's really no right or wrong way to do things here. For Colleen, Jamie, and I there's a definite philosophy of service with a smile. We joke that we make a scene everywhere we go here in Lewis County. Everyone seems to be secretly laughing at us as we bumble around. We regularly crack up at somewhat inappropriate times (say during Fr. Larry's sermons) and generally have a great time. We just want to show the kids that service doesn't have to be chorelike and can be done while having fun. Service and fun are certainly not mutually exclusive when it comes to us. It's why we're always joking around, it's why the background to the computer here is usually something ridiculous like Werewolf Bar Mitzvah or lolcats, and it's why we have a quote wall. We embrace the fact that we're young and inexperienced but I think we have our hearts in the right place, which makes all the difference. Seeing Maggie, Taylor and Kiki sing the entire time at the pantry really reminded me of what I'm doing here in Lewis County.

As chance would have it, George came over to the clothing pantry and mentioned that he needed some help in the food pantry. So off we went to the food side. We stacked boxes in anticipation for the next time we would pack them and then had a blast making ziploc bags of sausage patties. I was really gald we got to do that because it showed the kids the food pantry when they would not have gone there otherwise.

That night, seeing as it was Halloween (alas, not Fortiesween) Colleen and I decided to take the kids to a local haunted hotel right in downtown Vanceburg. We had seen the signs for it and Colleen saw the jail guys setting it up earlier in the week but we didn't know anything else. I was hoping it wouldn't be hokey and cheesy. I know that it must have been difficult to give up their Halloween to do service, so I wanted the kids to have a good time. Luckily the hotel proved to be a big hit. It was a really elaborate operation with multiple rooms and a lot of different things. They had a kitchen of horrors, a meeting with the Devil and the obligatory chainsaw man that jumped out at you at the end. And it was legitimately scary. I was laughing the whole time at the kids who were screaming their heads off. We went in two groups, with me in the front and Colleen in the second. When Colleen came out with the second group she ran over to me and showed me her hands, which were covered in nervous sweat. So score one for Vanceburg.

So it was a good weekend overall with a lot of hilarity. Now we have an off week so I'm going to try and rest up and store some energy for the groups to come...

Friday, October 30, 2009

I Survived Slate Hollow and All You Get Is This Crappy Blogpost

So it was an eventful off week at the Farm. I will eventually get to my recap of what was a wonderful weekend at ND for the BC game in a bit but for the sake of being timely, I'll let you know the adventures of us Farm Managers during this off week.

It started when Jamie and I went to go get First Aid Trained in Lexington. After learning how to shout "ARE YOU OK?" to various prone victims and devouring some delcious Waffle House we headed back to the Farm. Now, we had driven for 4 hours that day without incident so of course when we get to Lower Kinney Road we immediately get into an accident. Actually accident is a pretty strong word. Really all that happened was that we hit sideview mirrors with an oncoming truck. It was no big deal and no one was hurt but it was certainly a nuisance. Now Bert (Big Red Truck) is ghettofied with an elastic band holding the mirror in place.

Our week of adventures was far from over, though. We went to deliver some food to a local woman in town on Wednesday. The trip there was uneventful but the trip back was less boring. I was at the wheel of the Snitch on Lower Kinney and spotted a dead racoon with a vulture perched on top in the middle of the road. I drifted to the right to avoid the vulture who insisted on standing his ground on his roadkill. My manuever brought the right set of wheels briefly off the road, which was alright since it was level. I brought us back on the road and had enough time to get out an apology for the brief rough patch. But as the words "I'm sorry guys" were escaping me I could feel the van begin to fishtail. With it loaded with kids, I'm sure the van is a lot more stable but since it was just the 3 of us Farm Managers, there was nothing to oppose the back sliding out. The fact that it had rained recently certainly didn't help. We whipped around pretty quickly and it was a miracle that we didn't roll or anything. We ended up with our front wheels on the pavement and the back end in the grass. Everyone was fine and we anticlimactically pushed the Snitch out. However, when we looked at the marks, we realized that six inches to a foot earlier than where we skidded off the road was a short drop down to the Kinneconick creek... yikes.

The good news is, that was the last of our car accident related adventures... bad news is it wasn't the last of our adventures. At the Wednesday night service at Mosby, Rick mentioned that a local woman's husband in jail mentioned she needed some firewood. We told him we would be happy to deliver some to her. We called him the next day to get the address and he told us that she lived in a trailer at the top of a hill in Slate Hollow. Slate Hollow is one of the worst sections of Vanceburg, which didn't phase us much. We took Bert with some wood thrown in the back of the truck. Now, Rick never told us an exact address, only the whole trailer at the top of the hill part and the possibility of another house being nearby. We turned onto Slate Hollow and then made a right onto Slate Church Road... and proceeded to make our way up a freaking mountainside. We came to a split in the road that had one path going up and to the right while the other was more level and went left. Both looked rutted out so we decided to turn around. Only problem was, turning around wasn't really an option with Bert and these small mountain roads. Jamie managed to make a nicely excecuted 45632482 point turn without sending us tumbling over the side of the mountain and we made our way part of the way back down.

On the way we stopped to ask where this woman lived from a local (in retrospect probably something we should have done in the first place). She was very nice and informed us that Diane lived back up where we were before. So we drove all the way back down and came right back up and took the fork to the left. As we were driving we came across a few tresspassing signs, the most disturbing of which read "Tresspassers will be shot, survivors will be prosecuted". Now, seeing this sign in the middle of suburbia in front of a white pickett fence in the daytime is one thing. Coming across this sign while driving up the rutted out mountain road at dusk in Slate Hollow is completely different. And more than slightly off putting. The woman we had asked directions from had assured us that it was fine to proceed so we did... cautiously. We came to a place where the path began to steepen (if that was possible) and seeing as how we could view the trailer we were looking for, we decided it would be smart not to push our luck with Bert and we stopped. We each grabbed a handful of firewood and descended the grass hill to this woman's trailer with more than a little trepidation. If this woman was going for a yard that deterred tresspassers, she was more than successful. It seemed like the place was crawling with dogs, all barking and most with heavy metal chains. It didn't help that by this time it was fairly dark. We caught sight of a man coming out of the house toward us in the dimming light. He was wearing all camoflage gear with something in his hand.

We were unaware Jason Vorhees lived in Slate Hollow

At this point we were downright frightened and we hailed him with as many "farwood"s and "y'all"s as we could spit out, praying we didn't get shot. Somehow I got out "Rick Buckner sent us to get some firewood for Diane". "Who's Rick?" the man said. If before, we were scared, now we were pissing our pants. I thought poor Colleen was going to legitimately cry. Here we were, at the top of Slate Hollow at dark, apparently at the wrong place facing a man dressed head to toe in camo who didn't know the person we had been sent by. There was a legitimate feeling that we weren't coming back down from the mountain. When we explained that Rick was a pastor at a local church the man seemed to soften a bit. He led us down into the yard and we followed tentatively, not knowing if we could be relieved yet. The irony of all ironies was that when we went down into the yard we saw that the woman had a sizable pile of wood next to her house.

Where the hell were you on that one, Alanis?

The man interrupted our zombie-like wood stacking by asking if we wanted to come meet Diane. Honestly, going inside that house was the last thing I wanted to do. All I wanted was to throw the rest of the wood into the pile and get the Hell outta Dodge before anything worse happened. Of course I didn't say this but accepted the invitation. Naturally there was a giant Huskie chained to the porch when we went inside. Oddly enough, when we stepped inside, the tension seemed to melt. The woman couldn't have been nicer (she was skeptical at first but seemed glad when we told her there was no charge for the service) and we were introduced to her two friends (one of whom was camo man). They were her neighbors who came to check on her because they knew she was alone. One of them was truly fascinated by us and the Farm. He kept repeating "That is really cool of y'all" and seemed genuinely astounded that a place like the Farm existed and would do something like this. We then grabbed the rest of the wood from the back of the truck and put it in the pile in silence, all of us still kind of shocked by what had just transpired. As we walked back up the hill toward the truck, I broke the silence by saying "Well... that turned from terrifying to heart warming in about 2 seconds". Jamie and Colleen numbly agreed with me. Of course, as luck would have it, another truck tried to make its way up the mountain as we were going to leave. We had to execute another 45657389 point turn, this time with the other driver waiting to slide past. Colleen claims that the driver was the infamous Goat Man of Slate Hollow (Scroll to Vanceburg) which I think is ridiculous seeing as how that story is clearly a hoax. But who knows? After that experience I wouldn't be surprised.

The experience was certainly a bonding one and was yet another reminder of how you should never judge things by appearances. And although I wanted to seriously injure Rick for sending us on this crazy adventure for apparently no reason, I'm glad it happened. If nothing else it showed this woman, who has a husband and son in jail and who cannot leave her house, that there were people out there who know and care about her. Even if we didn't serve her through the physical means of the firewood delivery, we certainly performed ministry of presence that day.

Notre Dame: Party in the U.S.A.

I said in the previous post that we had two groups back to back. The second of the two groups was my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. They were on Fall Break from beautiful South Bend from October 18-23. There were 17 of them but what I noticed from the beginning was how young they seemed. The majority of them were sophomores, something I guess I didn’t notice when I came down in the spring.

Having a group from ND was both exciting and a little nerve wracking. I was very excited to talk to Domers about everything from football to the dining halls. At the same time there was a little nervousness on my part with them coming here. As a Farm Manager I always feel a little anxious having groups come here because I have this hope that they will love this place as I do. There was a heightened sense of this feeling because the group was from Notre Dame. Notre Dame is a place that became a home for me for 4 years but it was much more than the fact that I went to college there. There is a Spirit at Notre Dame that you buy into as a student and alum. The University stands for something larger in the world; it’s a force for change and for good. It prides itself on having students who truly care for humanity and fight for causes they find worthy. There is a faith and inherent trust we have in the University to continue to select and nurture students in this way. It’s why we proudly wear ND gear to the point that people ask us if we have anything else in our wardrobe. It’s why we approach total strangers because they have a Notre Dame class ring. And it’s why we continually make the trek back to beautiful South Bend, IN to cheer on our beloved football team.
My Home for 4 Years: Love Thee, Notre Dame

While all this is true I still had apprehenions going into this week. Would this group get the Farm? Would they truly want to do service or was this just a resume builder? If not, what would that say about the University? Where does that leave me. Seems like I got caught forgetting the concept of God’s Time and looking ahead huh? I shouldn’t have worried and really just trusted the fact that these were Notre Dame students and they would be here for the right reasons. They absolutely 100% understood what the Farm was about. I was really impressed with their reflections on the first night. Because of the tight Notre Dame community, there is often a tendency to get trapped in the Notre Dame bubble. And being from Notre Dame, students are used to tackling problems in an academic setting so there’s a tendency to approach service projects like this as abstract problems to be solved. But the very first night, Ethan mentioned how on the drive down he began to realize this was an area very much like his own home and likely filled with people not significantly different from himself in many aspects. It’s a conclusion I came to, but only after about a week here. To hear that kind of insight come from them immediately assured me that Notre Dame continues to produce special individuals.

Another thing that impressed me how well they all connected with the people here. Most groups do well connecting with the people at ministry of presence sites like the Nursing Home and Comprehend. But it’s often harder to make that sort of connection at some of the direct service sites. It’s sort of like a left brain/ right brain thing. It’s hard to engage direct service and ministry of presence both at the same time. Oftentimes at construction sites this is due to the fact that we’re often given jobs that get us out of the way of the guys while they do their own thing. But when I was with the group on Tuesday, a lot of them spent most of the day up on the roof with Rog, John Lewis and Bo. It seemed like the kids really took it upon themselves to try and form a connection with the workers. When they were presented with the opportunity to do so, they actually took full advantage of it. At lunch the workers were joking around with the students and the students were joking right back. Rog kept telling Allsion (a psych major) that she should schedule an appointment when she gets out of school to see Case and Perry. He then added that she could probably make a living just seeing those two since she’d never figure out exactly what was wrong with them. Indicative of the fact that the kids really connected with the workers was that fact that this was the most I had ever seen/ heard Case talk with a group there.

At a second site, the kids interacted with Mr. Ivey, the future occupant. He lives in a house that is still on the property and does not have running water. When he heard the group was from Notre Dame he said he had something for them. He went into his house and came out with a Notre Dame windbreaker. He said his niece gave it to him but that he figured they would like it more than he would. It was another example of the astounding generosity of the people of Appalachia. He didn’t have running water in his house yet he was so willing to just give away a perfectly good jacket just because he thought they would appreciate it. And it was made possible because of the efforts the kids made to connect with the people they served.

The group accomplished a lot during the week. They roofed that entire house and also spent time putting up the roof at another site. They were excellent at the Nursing Home and Comprehend and danced up a storm at the Thurman’s. We happened to catch Bivens during a revival week so the churchgoers were extra fired up for service on Wednesday. During reflection that night Matt said something that was profound. He said he was struggling during the service during prayer because the sound of everyone saying their prayers out loud made it difficult to get any sort of coherent thought formed. He was getting so frustrated until the only prayer he could muster was something along the lines of “Lord, I don’t know what these people are saying but I do know that they clearly Love you and understand you. Please bless them and answer their prayers”. It was an extremely understanding and Farm-like sentiment that I was impressed at hearing from a person who had been here for 3 days.

The kids also packed all the food boxes for the next pantry day. It was a bit of a hard day for me because as we were packing the boxes I noticed that we were really running low on food. There were more than a few instances of scrambling to find alternatives to items that George had asked to be put into the boxes because we completely ran out. The pantry relies both on government commodities and corporate donations. The third Friday of the month is reserved for commodities while the first is supported by corporate donations. Because the commodities have to be inventoried, they cannot be used during the first Friday. The number of families that the pantry serves has jumped from about 180 in June to about 240. Unfortunately, as this is happening, the economic slowdown has hit the pantry and corporate donations are drying up. George often buys some food in bulk but since monetary donations are also hard to come by, it’s now getting difficult to buy enough to supply everyone. It’s come to then point where George has become really nervous about the upcoming holiday season. That’s when I knew it was really bad because George, along with his big heart, has seemingly limitless optimism. But as dire as the situation seems, as is often the case, it has brought out some excellent examples of Christian Love. We told the Notre Dame students about our concerns on Thursday at dinner. As typical Notre Dame students, they immediately began to brainstorm ideas to try and help George out. They talked about having second collections at mass and making a presentation during their Appalachia seminar. Their generous spirit and sincerity in their attempts to help was so impressive and really made me proud to be an alum. They weren’t the only ones to step up for the Pantry. I emailed Micah from Hoban and got an almost instantaneous response indicating they would divert a portion of their canned food drive to us as well as donate the proceeds from a dress down day to the Pantry. It’s so great to see how the volunteers who come here are affected by this place enough to want to give back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mt. St. Mary's: Awwww Naaahhhh

So it's been a while since I've written a post. To be fair, I haven't had much time since we had two groups in a row after which I attended the ND- BC game but more on all that later. For now I'll recap the Mt. St. Mary's week.

The Mount kids were here from October 11-October 16. I wrote in my last entry that the three of us were a little worried about how much authority we could project with a group of people that were essentially our own age. It wasn't even an issue because the Mount kids were so receptive to the Farm's message and so determined to perform sevice that they bought into the idea of putting yourself second and had no problems taking orders from us wacky Farm Managers.

With their sense of determination, the Mount kids really accomplished a lot. The first day at Construction we spent the whole day hauling cinderblocks around through what I assume was once dirt but was now decidedly mud. What struck me was that the individual task itself was pretty menial, to the point that John Lewis greeted us that morning by asking us if we had brought strong backs and weak minds, but by the end of the day we had completed the entire foundation to a house. Unreal. It was cool to see that stage of construction, since we're often working on a house once the walls have gone up. In a sequence of events very appropriate for the Farm, the group the next day was at the same worksite and literally built on our foundation. The group also made some real progress at the clothing pantry. While the overflowing donations are certainly a good thing, the mountain of bags in the back corner is a tad frustrating and makes it a logistical nightmare on handout day. So the fact that this group was able to give us a breather and organize the boxes behind the benches was a HUGE help.

Speaking of handout day, I was able to attend my first one on the Friday of that week. I was fortunate enough to have some time before the madness started to talk with the people there. Once again, I was struck by their sincerity and concern. There was a cold front that came in that week (it frosted that morning) but I was dumb and forgot my sweatshirt. I couldn't tell you the number of times people asked me if I was cold. These were people who would soon get tickets to go to the clothing pantry so they could try and get clothes. Some of them didn't have heat in their houses yet here they were, worrying about whether I was cold. It was a perfect example of Christian Love and community to me. I think it's an offshoot of two aspects of the region that become really apparent when you're here: Religion and Family. Church is such a large part of life here. They truly coming together and worshipping on Wednesdays and Sundays. They are true scholars of the Bible and take its message seriously. While this promotes some views that I don't exactly agree with, they also take to heart the call to love their neighbors. This makes for an incredibly tight knit community, one that sincerely cares for all its members. The people also highly value Family. Several generations of the same families often live in the same hollow, oftentimes on the same road. I was talking to Wayne Thurman, the patriarch of the Thurman family the other night. He told me how someone had offered his son, Brian, something like $100,000 for a strip of his land. 100k is not a sum to sneeze at especially in this area and Brian had enough land that he could stand to lose some of it but he merely said (and I'm paraphrasing a little here) "I'm sorry, the land isn't mine to sell, it's for my son."

From a Farm Manager perspective, this week was challenging. It seemed like every day something else was going wrong. We blew a fuse trying to make pancakes and ran ridiculously behind schedule on a day our boss came to the Farm (Though this did lead to my favorite quote for the day: "Yo Pancakes... Imma let you finish... but Bagels are the best Breakfast of ALL TIME! OF ALL TIME!!!"), the weather kept changing our schedule, we got lost on the way to construction, and one of the vans (Affectionately called Bougey due to its plush interior and mood lighting) got a flat tire on the way back from church on Wednesday night. But Jamie, Colleen and I kept rolling with the punches. Our mantra was dualy "Welcome to the Farm" and "We'll get it done somehow". And you know what? We got through it. It was a reminder that God never gives you more than you can handle. Flat Tire? Turns out one of the kids in the car knew how to change a tire like a champ. Blown fuse and running late? Turns out our Boss can't be on the Farm anyway. We must have done something right because at the end of the week Jimmy and Allison, the two student leaders both asked for applications to be Farm Managers! I think they wold both be really excellent Managers and hope they consider it.

Farm Analogy Time: Swift= Pancakes, Beyonce = Bagels and Kanye = Fuse?

I also saw a lot of growth from the Mount kids during the week. Maybe it was because they were more adept at expressing their sentiments during their reflections, but I got a sense that at the beginning of the week they came in with little bit of a savior complex. This certainly isn't a bad thing and actually pretty understandable when you think about the context of a service project like theirs. It's hard to really understand the area unless you've been here and easy to reduce it to an abstract concept when approaching it from the realm of academia. Doing so makes one view the region through a problem/ solution lens on a large scale rather than realizing the individual stories present here. But the sentiment also comes from a sincere desire to do good in the communituy and I think as long as that remains intact, you can't help but become affected by the people. I know it happened to me when I came here in March. But like me, they saw by the end of the week that the people here are far from helpless and in reality give as much to us as we do to them. Once they realized that the service here is a two way street the Mount kids were able to channel that spirit of fighting for social justice and really accomplish a lot as well as get a lot out of the experience.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Beat SC Week

Speaking of energy and enthusiasm, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this week is Beat SC week with the Southern Cal Game coming up on October 17. To Start off the week, given ND's recent spat of close games, I thought I would post a reminder of the storied history of ND Football as well as my two favorite close games from my time there:

Go Irish, Beat SC

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Off Week: Heart Attacks, The Battle for Ohio, Thrill Shopping, and Pumpkin Pie

So we just had an off week but for an off week it's been pretty busy...
It started Saturday when Colleen and I went to Boss-Man Joe's place to catch the ND game vs. Washington. Joe and Laura were kind enough to have drinks and food for us though it was nothing like the usual fare of burgers and brawts out on South Quad. Ah well... I took in yet another Irish thriller, almost dying about 4 times in the process. Honestly, I will have to be taken to the hospital if the season continue like this. I dialed it down considering I was at my boss' place and everything but despite this I'm pretty sure they thought I was nuts. Joe was legitimately concerned for my well being and Colleen compared my performance to John Lewis' preaching (This is the same man who leaps around, bangs his fist and proclaims I! LOVE! JESUS!). I can't say I disagree. I still don't know where we stand with this Irish team. I only know: 1) Jimmy Clausen is a MAN and 2) Charlie will have to have heart surgery again following the season. While we're here I'd like to say that the lack of buzz for Jimmy's Heisman candidacy is embarassing. Dude is the #1 rated passer in the country, has developed into a real leader, and has led last minute game winning drives in consecutive games (Plus the late scores in the UM and MSU games). Unreal. There's no one I would trust more in the last 2 minutes of a football game right now. Who? Tim Jesus Tebow? He probably couldn't figure out which endzone was his at this point. Hey Yooo!!! Concussion Jokes. Clearly Jim has to play out the rest of the season but he should be getting a little bit more respect. It's not his fault our defense is atrocious.

Jamie's boyfriend, Corey, then came to visit until Monday. We drove to Maysville on Sunday in hopes of catching the Patriots- Ravens game. On the way we stoppped by Pumpkin Fest at R Farm (I swear I'm not making this up). But when we found that they charged $3 fro admission we decided to move on. We found this pretty chill Irish pub in the historic district. They had some delicious pizza that we dug into while watching the bar slowly fill with middle aged bikers. Unfortunately they did not have the Pats game but we ended up staying for the Cleveland- Cinci game. Colleen became somewhat of a impromptu Browns fan when she heard the pathetic stats attached to the team like how they only had one offensive touchdown all season and they hadn't scored 2 TDs in one game since November of last year. Apparently their ineptitude struck a pity chord with her. Fittingly the Browns choked the game away in OT. Such is the life of a Browns fan, I guess.

Having been foiled by Pumpkin Fest in our quest to procure the elusive orange vegetables (?), we stopped by the famer's market on Tuesday to pick up a few of them. After that it was off to Licking Valley to pack commodity boxes for the seniors. We then stopped by the Lewis County library where I finally picked up Lou Holtz's autobirography. After that it was off too Food World for some Farm Manager grub. I brougth $50 worth of petty cash and let me tell you it was a thrilling experience ringing up everything waiting to see if we came in under our budget. The register lady knew how to draw out the drama, ringing up the coupons last. The machine even seemed to rachet up the tension, initially not recognizing the very last coupon we had. There was a moment of uncertainty... and then... SUCCESS! We were at $49.55 and high fived everyone from each other to the bagger. It's the little victories, I guess. Who knew shoppping could be so thrilling? I told Jamie that I kind of want to go shoppping just for kicks now. Later that night Colleen used one of the pumpkins to make some delcious Pumpkin pie from scratch. The results of which can be found here.

Wednesday and Thursday were Portsmouth Days as we had to take Mao to the vet to get spayed. Mao was fine until about halfway through the drive when she decided to relieve herself in her carrier. It's all fun and games until the cat takes a crap in the back of the van... Oh well, we got some laughs out of it. After mass on Thursday we went to Dub Dub's to catch the end of Survivor: Somoa. She was in rare form, always a treat. The rest of the week was uneventful. We spent yesterday in Portsmouth, shopping at Aldi's and Kroger followed by gorging ourselves on Gatti's Pizza (cue the Colleen Bug Eyes). We got some sweet games of Canasta in as well, one of them won by yours truly. Now we're just resting up until the group from Mt. St. Mary's comes in a few hours

It should be an interesting two weeks with two groups in a row. I know we will be wiped once it's over but hopefully we can bring energy and enthusiasm for both groups. They are also our first college groups, which could be a challenge. All I've really got going for me in terms of authority is my Farm Manager Title and a rather pathetic beard considering I've been growing it for a month. The fact that these kids may be less than a year younger than us could pose problems, but I'm sure we'll find a way.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hoban's Masterpiece

So the Hoban kids decided to show their appreciation for the three Farm Managers with special parting gifts. Part of my gift was this spectacular Rap that I felt deserved its own blog post. I've heard rumor that Dom got video of the performance so if you're reading this, Dom, I need that. Without further ado...

Alex, he's my very best... Palex
Straight out of Portland
Brian, we gotta focus, quit playin' around
We need to do this
Alex, he's been here for two weeks,
never had a chicken beak
Speaking of a joke, Michaelangelo
Your skillz on the court are ill fo' sho'
More like HMO!!
At People's Self Help
John called you Alex Rodriguez
Great at makin' dinner
That's what she said!
You'd sacrifice anything just to give
You even invited Ben
back to your crib
Man, what's your problem?
Let's break this down...
Wild Woman
Chocolate Puddin'
Mad Skillz
Green Jacket
Big Thrillz
When's the next time we'll see ya?
Road Trip!!
Summer 2010
You'll be seein us then!
Ana's bum hip
was no work deterrence
Seein the boys in short shorts
was an act of endurance
Serving Lewis County
While driving and cracking jokes
It's great visiting Grandmas...
Air Quotes!
Alright Brittany, end this
Went to Wild Woman's
and got some cow licks
Today's Dino Fact is...
We Love you Alex!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Archbishop Hoban: That's What She Said

The last week saw Archbishop Hoban HS from Akron come down to the Farm. It was a milestone week for Jamie, Colleen, and I as it was the first group that we ran on our own. Joe had been there nearly everyday for McNic so while this wasn't our first group, it was our first solo flight so to speak. I'm really surprised how easily each of us has fallen into our roles here and how we work so well together. We've had a few comments regarding this so it seems like we're doing something right. That being said, this was the first big test we had as Farm Managers together.

I'd have to say that we passed with flying colors. Most of this was due to the fact that the Hoban kids were fantatstic. They were absolutely hilarious and most of the time we spent with them was doubled up in laughter. It was a great reminder of the joy that comes with service. Just because you're doing serious work that needs to be done and are helping people doesn't mean that you have to act like you work like at a funeral parlour. It was the perfect accompaniment to the recent Gospels referencing children. The child-like exuberance the Hoban group exhibited at all times was a good reminder of why Jesus held up children as an example of how to get into Heaven.
The joking began from the beginning. As we were doing introductions we asked the kids to say their name, describe their family and give something unique about them. When it came to this kid, Blake, he gave his name and family and began searching for something unique. As he struggled to find something interesting another person yelled out, "YOU'RE A JEW!", which was actually accurate and thus utterly hilarious. Blake, of course, took it in stride. I was impressed by the fact that he chose to embark on this trip and the poise he showed at all times. The rest of the kids, for all their kiddings, also impressed me with their ablity to recognize his participation in service as a uniting factor rather than focus on the divisive element of his religious identity. It was the embodiment of the Ecumenical mission of the Farm and laudable feat considering these were just high school kids. That more people could learn to make the same judgement...

Because Colleen, Jamie, and I made an effort to vary the activities for both the groups and ourselves, we unknowingly paired ourselves up with the same small group for multiple days of the week. I was fortunate to spend most of the week with Da Bear Beems (to be prounounced whilst strumming one's lips). Don't ask me what the heck the name meant. Brittany, Emily, Anna, Ben, Brian and Micah spent days with me at Construction, the clothing Pantry and Dub Dub's. Each member brought something different to the group and they all worked really well together.
Ben and Brian became known as the Wonder Twins and were probably the most outrageous people on the trip. In fact, I think I've uncovered footage from Ben's Nursery School Recital (Yes, he's actually a ginger). It's not a huge surprise that Dub Dub threatened to "shake the poop out of him". The first day on the Construction site those two decided to spend their break attempting to break apart large rocks armed with only hammers. They were goofy as hell. Speaking of construction, John Lewis decided to call me Alex Rodriguez, much to the kids' delight. Anyway, those two also must have been mainlining Red Bull or snorting pixie sticks because their energy was boundless. Anna was actually handicapped by a growth plate injury in her foot but you wouldn't know it by the way she worked. She was climbing ladders, caulking, and swinging hammers with the best of 'em. Brittany was a tiny girl, weighing less than the dogs, (For which the kids had an unnatural love. Many a "BEAGLE!!" could be heard reverberating across the Farm during their week) but she wasn't afraid to lift pantry boxes that were twice her size or dive into a pile of pantry clothes that started giving her sneezing attacks. I knew I could always count on Emily to do any task I asked of her. She was certainly quieter than the rest but she had this amazing ability to just cut right to the heart of an issue/ situation with a poignant question or comment.
In my short time here, I've realized that the chaperones can make or break a week. With us Farm Managers being so young, there is the possibility that chaperones could experience difficulty in following our lead. After all, these people planned the trip and all the logistics that led up to the week. Asking them to give up their control is hard enough, much less to give it up to three recent college grads. It's always a delicate balance predicated on the chaperones understanding and buying into the charisms of the Farm and on us Farm Managers understanding where the chaperones are coming from. Micah is an Art teacher at Hoban, was one of three chaperones, and was assigned to Da Bear Beams. Not only did he understand how the Farm worked but he really relished embracing its charisms. There are some people that really have to work to "get" the Farm. Jamie, herself, has said that she has struggled to understand how the Farm works at times. Micah is just one of those people that is made for the Farm. He reminded me a little of my uncle. It might have been the whole art thing (My uncle runs a book review in MN) but I think it was his gentle spirit. There was an earnestness that Micah brought to the week that made it so easy for him to immerse himself inb the experience. He connected so well with the kids and was joking right along with them but at the same time he was so present. A prefect example was on the ride back from Dub Dub's when he asked whether we serve her or whether she's the one serving us. It's a thought I've had myself regarding the people of Lewis County. He and I connected on many levels during the week. He was a big fan of The Lonely Island Crew and Mitch Hedberg and introduced me to some hilarious youtube clips. We also had conversations about family, college, and music that were all really enlightening. At no point did I feel like he regarded me as some naive college grad, which I'm sure I revealed on more than one occasion. It was really a peer-peer relationship that made the week so much easier. During one reflection he said something to the effect of, "Alex, what can I say? Just a good buddy". Took the words right out of my mouth. He told us he would like to come visit at some point and I hope he does.

The kids got a lot of work done during the week. It was a Pantry week again so they helped with the handouts and helped clean up the clothing side. They helped to put up siding and landscape the Fuller Branch construction site. And while there was plenty of joking, there were poignant moments as well. I was impressed by Dom's leadership skills both when we were mowing Herma's lawn and when we had to make a Grilled Cheese Fest for lunch one day. Toeing the thin line between a leader and know-it-all came so easily for him.
Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup = Crazy Delicious
The same group had a great day at the nursing home on Friday. Taylor, Dom and I were sitting in the dining room getting ready to sing. I went to go look for Nick and Emily and found them in Welby's room. I asked Welby if he was going to come hear us sing. He's a little hard of hearing so I had to repeat it. When he heard he said "Oh I don't know, I'm just enjoying these two" motioning to Emily and Nick. He had a million watt smile going and so I said Nick and Emily could just stay with him. When I told Dom and Taylor that we would be singing sans Emily and Nick I could tell they were concerned but they powered through it. After singing in the dining room we met up with Nick and Emily and sang in the sitting area. Welby came out of his room to request an encore and so we sang another song. After this Welby told us all to circle around and he prayed for all of us. He asked God to bless us in all facets of life and thanked the Lord for sending us to him. It was a powerful example of how important Ministry of Presence is to the people we serve. Sure, we're not building a house for someone or giving them food, but how can you argue that Nick and Emily didn't impact Welby in a significant way?

By that part of the week, I shouldn't have been surprised at how those Hoban kids connected with people. They had this amazing ability to joke around and keep the laughter going but when the time called for it they were prayerful and sensitive of others. It's a gift that I hope they can continue to share with others. Ultimately it was sad to see them leave Saturday but the week had been a great one. I hope I can bring some of their incredible energy and sense of enjoyment to future groups at the Farm.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sewing Week: Bits and Pieces

So this week, three women from Women in Service to Appalachia came to the Farm for their sewing week. They were looking to make 200+ pillowcases, wheelchair caddies and other assorted items for the Nursing Home.

Jamie, Colleen and I didn't really know what to expect. Boss-Man Joe told us to treat it like an off week so we were pretty much thinking that we would all go our separate ways this week and if they needed anything they could just tell us at the staffhouse. Well, as these things often go, the week completely surprised us. The ladies were all awesome and hilarious. Despite the large age gap it was so much fun to talk to them. I really began looking forward to our conversations over dinner every night.

Current Picture of the Farm Staffhouse...Jamie and Colleen are really getting out of control

Mary Ann had so many experiences with service. She served in Alaska in the early days of Jesuit Volunteer Corps and had actually been considering becoming a Glenmary sister at one point and time. Dorothy was hilarious in that she was always trying to get out of sewing. Meanwhile she has such a passion for... well, for lack of a better term... people having a passion. She was concerned that a lot of people coming out of college end up getting jobs in the business sector and end up hating it. She felt that more and more young people were getting plugged into a system dictated by money and were losing the human connection. While her view isn't entirely accurate and the business sector isn't devoid of all love etc, I think seeing us go about our job really gave her a sense that the younger generation does actually care about helping people. Cindy was the ringleader and a very impressive individual. Her passion for what she does and the effort she puts into WSA was really admirable.

I think this week, more than last, really taught me about the rhythym of the Farm. Last week, I was so concerned about all the kids and the sites and everything was so new that it was hard to really appreciate everything. But this week has been so laid back that I've really had the time to appreciate the connections we've made during their time here. But, as the Farm goes, as soon as those connections are formed the people leave. It's like constantly making friends and then having them constantly leave. I realize that it is a such a short time and that some people might not understand the connections that are forged here on the Farm. But there's something about this place and its simplicity that allows meaningful relationsips to form in such a short amount of time. Without the distractions of a lot of technology, people actually make an effort to talk to each other. The reading Dorothy had this morning really summed it up well and also serves as the byline for my entry (Bits and Pieces). "People. People important to you. People unimportant to you....cross your life; touch it with love and carelessness and move on... You will find that you are made up of bits and pieces of all who have ever touched you along the path of your life. And you are more because of it, and you would be less if they had not touched you."

So thank you. Thank you to those who have come to the Farm already and thank you to those who have not yet passed this way but will in the future. You have done and will do great service for the people of Lewis County but you will also do a service to me and those who live here at the Farm. Even though you aren't here for long, you presence is felt and appreciated.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

McNicholas High School: The Week I Became a Ninja

This past week a group came down to the Farm from McNicholas High School in Cincinnati. I was excited to have more people down here (not that Colleen and Jamie aren't great but it's great to see new faces) but also a little nervous since it was my first group. I shouldn't have worried so much, this group was fantastic. All the kids were so willing to help the people of Lewis County and really threw themselves wholeheartedly into service. There was a really good mix of people including a part time dragon slayer. Jeff and Sarah, the chaperones, had been here many times before and they really understood the charisms of the Farm and what it stands for. As a new Farm Manager it was nice to have them there.

The group worked hard over the week. It was Pantry Week here so a few of the small groups were at Lend a Helping Hand Pantry in Tollesboro. On Monday they packed 240 food boxes for the families that come through the pantry. I was super impressed by their hard work and lack of complaining even though the Pantry was about 16748249 degrees. I didn't realize what a feat it was since I don't have the perspective of having done this a lot but Jamie went all bug eyed when she heard we had packed all the boxes. I was also excited to finally meet George and Sue, who run the Pantry. George was happy to hear I was the new Farm Manager since, as he put it, "Them girls can't boss us around on more". The groups also helped to clean up the clothing store, which looked like a disaster area when we arrived.

Groups also did construction work with People's Self Help in town. They helped put up the walls of a house and then cut up some firewood for the Farm. There was also the requisite visit to Wildwoman with some Hillbilly Kisses given out. The kids were traumatized by an attempted cow mating accompanied by hilariously innappropriate side comments by Dub-Dub.

There was also a group that helped to mow the Mansfields' lawn downtown. Rick and Sherri were in danger of being fined by the city for their lawn and they wouldn't have been able to afford it so the help by the kids was much needed. I thought it was interesting how a Ministry of Service site sort of morphed into a Ministry of Presence. After running to the Clothing Pantry to put together a box for them, we came back and talked to Sherri. She has diabetes and has limited mobility and I think it was nice for her to have visitors to talk to. She spoke of her fear of going blind and . It broke my heart to see this woman who literally has nothing (we had to bring them toilet paper so they didn't have to continue using newspaper) apologize for not having soda for us to drink and insist that we take back a basket of chestnuts. It's true compassion and generosity to offer something to someone when you don't have anything for yourself.

I was really impressed by the variety of the reflections offered by the groups each night. They were really creative and used multiple locations on the Farm. Star gazing, journals, and the Creek were all featured prominently. The Glow Worms even obliged, giving us some impromptu lighting (see left). They brought a lot too the table including a benediction from John Norman, the McNic faculty member who first brought students to the Farm some 20 years ago. I love music so oftentimes the music selection makes the reflection for me. They used some songs that I thought were really fortuitous in addition to being enjoyable. My favorites were I Must Belong Somewhere by Bright Eyes and Soul by Dan Bern. Looks like Jaime, Colleen, and I will have to step our game up in the future. Thanks to Jeff for giving us those 2 CDs of reflection songs at the end.

There was also time for some fun on the Farm. We had some delicious meals cooked by the students. The Monkey Bread was a big hit, as always, and the O' Henry bars didn't last long either.

Mmm...Monkey Bread. What part is the brain?

Grill Master Sam and I grilled out on Friday and there were burgers and dogs for everyone. The kids also took advantage of the creek. They even attempted the rope swing, though with the creek level so high it was really just a glorified plunge straight into the water. Mud Alley ended up being closed on Friday and some of students were a little disappointed. Luckily, they were able to cut quite a rug at Beechy Creek Dance Hall. Connor's dancing kept everyone entertained and props and snaps are due to Luke for filling in as a drummer with John and Trina. Much to the delight and endless amusement of the Farm Managers, the ladies of the Sewing Week trip even joined in the ridiculousness.

The McNic kids can also be proud that they left a lasting legacy on the Farm (at least while we're Farm Managers) beyond their service. They taught us the completely amazing game of Ninja. Everyone circles up and assumes a ninja pose with their hands in knife-like form. The point is to strike another person's hands, at which point they're out. Each person gets a turn in which they can reposition themselves or strike. It's a simple concept that combines the awesome elements of ninjas...and slapping people. This will definitely become a Glenmary Farm staple.

I'm hoping to teach Mao how to do this so we can hold staffhouse ninja parties