February 2014 Archives

The Real Happiest Place on Earth


Gallup poll results came out this week ranking the Happiest States in America. And despite the endless days of subzero weather and blizzards Minnesota ranked among the top Happiest States in America.

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Big Stone County, the bump on the western edge of the MN, is kinda in the middle of the cluster of Happiest States in America- in green. Why do you think that is? Wide open spaces, 4-H, bowling leagues, highest per capita farmers, a "could be worse!" culture? Maybe it's our pleasant winters.

One small thing that makes me happy living in Clinton, MN is that my grocery bags are colored by the elementary kids- most of who I know. With messages about reduce, reuse and recycle. And the kids (Kindergarten through 6th grade) put a lot of effort into these bags, which turn out both beautiful and artsy!

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I just love the children's art put into useful everyday items and then spread throughout the community-- again and again. And these bags can be and are used over again because they are too special to toss and you feel like you need to handle this child's art with care. I'm bringing all these bags back to the store for the next lucky customers. And frankly, that's something you might not be able to do in a large city. The grocery store might not take bags from some random person wanting them to be restacked at the checkout line and reused.

There was one bag I liked in particular--a watercolor with fall leaves and a message "Don't Litter. It Makes the world bitter." Imagine my delight when I found out that it was painted by one of my own sons. And it's no coincidence that I got that bag--Bonnie and Holly at the grocery store tucked that one away to make sure that my groceries would end up in it.

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Let me tell you a little story about a Kindergartener whose name was on the bottom of one of the grocery bags. I make it a point to meet the bus every afternoon when it pulls up to the end of my ½ mile long driveway. One afternoon the bus pulled up and off jumped my two little boys and one of their friends, for a planned Friday sleepover. And then off of the bus comes the sweetest, cutest little 5 year old girl. I looked at the bus driver quizzically and he said she was to get off at our house.

Now, it was a completely blameless situation. The little boy was her brother and they had gotten on and off the bus at our house before. So when the bus driver saw the note giving the brother permission to get off at our farm, it made sense when the little girl, we'll call her Izzi, said she was to stick with her brother. And Izzi herself was quite convincing to the bus driver that she was to go to our farm with her brother.

But what an unexpected treat for me! My own Alma and I got to walk down the driveway with little Izzi - "1, 2, 3! SWINGing" Izzi up into the sunny sky. And once at home it was "Raise High the Roof Beams! Break out the Candy Land and Dust off the Barbies!" Can you imagine such luck and fun on a Friday afternoon out on the wide open prairie? Now Izzi's home is the absolute other side of the 40+ mile wide school district, so we had a nice block of time to play before someone came to pick her up.

So I invite you to try living in a world where the little things, the bag you get your groceries in, can bring such simple pleasure and invoke such sweet memories. A place where a child's hand crafted artful bag can make its way into your home and your life--occasionally accompanied by the child themselves (both on purpose and on 'accident'). To experience the delight of reading the names of each precious child on the bottom of your bag can bring smiles and a cry of delight.

And remember these messages from the children of Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley Elementary
• Recycle or your ecosystem will fall apart (reduce, reuse, recycle. Save me for Christmas)
• Recycle- Batman does
• When you toss out paper, you're killing trees. DO NOT toss out paper.... RECYCLE
• Go Green, Recycle, Recycle, Recycle

Maybe the Happiest Place on Earth isn't a place, or if it is a place, it might be a place that is small enough to care about. But wherever it is, it is about noticing and appreciating the small things.

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Rising from the Praire- Abbey of the Hills


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Stained glass window in the small chapel

Last weekend the kids and I went to the open house at the former Blue Cloud Abbey, now Abbey of the Hills, near Marvin South Dakota. This place is a gem upon the prairie. It somehow captures so much about this place and its prairie beauty and foreshadows some of the past century of this place.

Abbey of the Hills rises up out of the Prairie Coteau. You can see the Prairie Coteau rising up out of the prairie from where we live, on a crisp clear day. The first time I drove west from our farm, with my mom and kids to buy vegetable from the Hutterite Colony, my mom said "what's that rising up out of the prairie." "Must be a bank of clouds," I said, because I hadn't heard of any hills or mountains on the other side of Big Stone County, MN. But I was wrong. The Prairie Coteau is hauntingly lovely "Alps of prairie" as described by the early 1800's explorer Joseph Nicollet.

It is in these hills that a group of Benedictine monks built their Blue Cloud Abbey in 1950. This place is just 40-some miles from our farm. A refuge.

I'm not Catholic and so won't claim to know the heart and spirit that went into these monks, whose stained glass window says "Pray, Read, Work", finding and building this place. There's a good story (click here) about how they found this piece of land on their way from one place to the next.

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And they built this place both simple and glorious. An Abbey in the Prairie Coteau- a place of subtle and astounding beauty in which to seek G-d under blue skies. They built it, really, at the peak of its population and maybe hopefulness. Or before we even knew we needed to be hopeful. Because family farming was still thriving all around them out on the prairie and there were still young men and women inspired to live lives of "Pray, Read, and Work."

But things have changed since 1950, haven't they? The independent farms that dotted every section of land have been consolidated and the homesteads are coming down. The number of young people going into full time religious life has plummeted. And both of those demographics meet out here on the prairie.


And so it was exciting news that after more than a year and a half of looking for people to buy the Abbey, that a group of 6 local families decided to buy it. It was bitter sweet news to learn that our inspiring grape growing and biodynamic farming neighbors were among the visionaries stepping up for this great adventure. They have relocated there are applying their skills and innovation to this place.

Here's the kayak that Dan built as a fundraiser for the Abbey. Now imagine that kind of craftsmanship and heart going into a place.


What's remarkable to me is that Abbey of the Hills is being remastered, in part, on a hope for this place that is a palpable hope for so many rural and family farm advocates--that we can find a way to thrive out in the country. What is that way? Well, for one thing, that is by having a healthy and local food system that nourishes our bodies, souls, and communities. Because when we lost those family farms, we lost the small town creameries, butcher shops, as well as the kids who attended schools, and the Masons who built sturdy and lovely brick buildings on Main Street. So those folks at Abbey of the Hills are looking at their sustainable farming operations, their greenhouse, their wood shop, art lofts. They are baking bread in their commercial kitchen and selling it in local grocery stores. They are hoping for a rural renaissance that includes a people landscape with good food and satisfied souls.

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I found this butterfly on one corner of a wall of stained glass. It spoke to me of that transformation that I hope for our rural places and prayers for the success of Abbey of the Hills. The chapel was completely full of well-wishers for last Sunday's prayers and hymn.

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On the way out, I had to wait for my kids. They'd met up with their friends and were having a great time catching up and exploring. I was standing in the concrete hall, the working part of the Abbey, between the greenhouse and the mechanic shop. I lingered there wondering where the heck my kids were. And then I looked up at the ceiling with the exposed pipes. And what did I see?

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Even this 'industrial' corridor of the Abbey was touched by the spirit, where some Brother had discreetly put Leonardo da Vinci's Creation of Adam and the hand of G-d reaching towards humanity in between the electrical conduit.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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