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The five of us (and many who attend our church) are waiting with bated breath to find out whether the house Megan and Chris want to buy and rent to the VS unit is going to be ours or not.

The house, which is located on the same cross-street we live on now (but at the Lake Mendota end) is gorgeous. I just walked by it yesterday. Three stories, possibly a basement, gable windows, a warm red color with yellow trim. It would undoubtedly be spacious enough for a whole unit of VSers.

An offer has already been made on the house, but there’s just enough room for the bidder to back out that we’re still crossing our fingers. Thanks for your perseverance, Megan and Chris!

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Madison MVS in pictures

The boys enjoy Annie's no-bake cookies.

I haven’t yet put any of my photos on the blog, so I figured it was past time to get my November and December ones out to you, faithful reader.

In November, in addition to the appearance of the Virgin Mary (see below), Annie impressed us with some delicious baking. One example of such dessertery was her no-bake chocolate cookies, which we relished (see above). I particularly like the way Ryan, Ben, and Andrew are so absorbed in the deliciousness that they’re oblivious to the camera.

The elusive Annie peers through the porthole to her baking station

Here’s a really good shot of the kitchen, through the window in the wall. I love this kitchen; my room opens right out into it for quick and easy access to all the food I can possibly devour the second I wake up. The only shortcoming of our kitchen is that it’s short on shelf space. We’ve come up with some creative solutions, like using our gimpy dishwasher as a drying rack and putting food on a bookshelf. Our coffee mug collection hangs from handy hooks, and we’ve got our spice racks magnetized so they stick to the fridge (usually). The lovely orange canisters are usually full of rotting tomatillos and not-rotting granola bars.

Andrew plays Chubby Bunny with... I think Giant Cheetos

Next we have the month of December. A long month at 31 days, but most of us were gone home for part of it. Early in December, the VSers had a game gathering at our house, to which many delightful people came. One of the games we played (well, Andrew played) was Chubby Bunny. Andrew wrangled us some Giant Cheetos from the CAC food pantry, and we were itchin’ to consume them as quickly as possible (see above). We’ve been playing a lot of Dutch Blitz, but at this gathering we tried our luck at a fascinating game that Jeremiah brought over – it was educational, with the aim of fueling the energy needs of a growing nation. Guess the Giant Cheetos weren’t enough.

Jake, Ryan, and Max

Speaking of energy consumption… l

Ryan looks on as Ben assesses the window wrap situation

ater in December we finally decided that it was time to insulate our windows. We got out the plastic, the double-stick tape, and the hair dryer and moved the furniture… it was well worth the effort. We also decided to go green by participating in MG&E’s Green Power Tomorrow program, which adds a small surcharge to our energy bills (only a cent per kilowatt-hour) to offset our carbon emissions. We’re not exactly buying renewable power, and we’re still on coal, but it’s a small step in the right direction.
On the weather front, we’ve uh, had some snow lately. Read on for photos.

Our snow-covered Marquette Neighborhood home

We had so much snow that Wednesday that the buses stopped running, all the schools cancelled, and all the MVSers except Ben had the day off! We spent our snow day playing games inside, building things outside, and eating a picnic lunch of tomato soup and grilled cheese. Yes, you can have a picnic in the dead of winter… if you have a super awesome fort like we did.

Snow Day Phase 10 with Andrew, Ryan, and Annie

The Menno Simons Snow Fort

Snow-Babushka stands sentinel

Gussied-Up Snow Woman also stands sentinel

Giant snowman outside the Weary Traveler (we later found out that Max made it)

Jolly Bob's, one of two Jamaican restaurants in a two-block radius

Snowy bicycles and morning glory climbing ropes outside Mother Fool's, Willy Street's favorite hipster coffee shop

So there you have it. Winter in Madison isn’t half as bad as I was afraid it would be. Especially when there are two frozen lakes to walk, snowshoe, ski, or run across (which I did today, by the way, and it was awesome).

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Special Appearance

The Virgin appeared to me in a water spill

You are looking at a photo I took on November 22nd, 2009, of a water spill on the dining room table in the MVS house.

I like to think of it as God’s way of saying, “I like it that Madison has an MVS unit.”

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Do what I do

A brief description of my job placement has been part of my profile on this blog for some time, but here it is as a post in case you have not seen it yet.  My volunteer position is at an organization called Options in Community Living which supports people with developmental disabilities who are living in the community.  My specific task is to help with community building which means helping those with disabilities to interact with the greater Madison community.  I spend time trying to find volunteers who will take someone the organization supports out for coffee, to church, or any number of other things.  This is both a very rewarding and tough position.  If I help someone to form a relationship that will last for years and be a fulfilling part of someone’s life then I have greatly succeeded.  However, it is difficult and often downright annoying trying to find people who are willing to fill this role.  People in general are busy which makes it tough to take time our of their weekly schedule to spend an hour or two with someone.  I have made an effort to spend as much time as I can each week with people that I help to support.  This is in part due to my dislike for time spent sitting in an office, but also because I find this time spent with people to be much more rewarding and far less frustrating then time spent perusing though volunteer and timeshare websites.  Not to take away from the importance of facilitating the formation of life long friends ships:)  It is just tough when there aren’t many responses.   Overall my job placement has many challenges and many rewards at the same time, and can provide a growing experience for anyone who finds them self up to the challenge, or someone who wants to learn more about the social work industry.

Madison as a city is pretty cool.  Being the state capital and also having the main University of Wisconsin campus leads to plenty of fun things to do.  The city doesn’t feel big as it is easy to bike to almost any part of the city within a short amount of time which is nice.  However, the wintertime definitely puts a damper on getting out and doing things due to the cold.  I have found the motivation to continue to bike to work and occasionally the YMCA, but I usually don’t feel like biking around for the fun of it anymore.

Have a great week!


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Menno & the Simonses go Sledding

It was a cold, blustery day. We bundled up, hopped in the van, and drove over to Evjue Park, home of hapless sledders walking straight up the middle of a slicked-down hill. Up, up, up we went (far far away from the middle of the hill), and when we got to the top we found Jake, Erica, and Sara waiting for us with sleds. So many sleds!

There was Roundy, the purple plastic disc, which spun incessantly so you couldn’t tell which half of the hill was up and which was down.

There was the Torpedo, a black sled equipped with brakes but little to no steering. As I careened down the hill on the Torpedo, I had to belt out warnings to clumps of people who had toppled off their sleds (“Look out! I can’t steer!) while laughing hysterically.

Then there was Wipeout Willy, the grey sled I fell off no fewer than four times on the same run.

And my personal favorite, the Rainbow. “It’s fast,” said Ryan, and he wasn’t kidding. I watched him pelt away down the hill, flip at the bottom, and roll about ten feet off into the soft snow. And what about Erica and Sara’s ill-fated tandem run? They  must have hit a bump. Erica said, “We were going faster and faster, and I saw Max, and then I looked up and Sara was in the sky!”

Max was there with his giant kite. Reportedly he’d been letting it pull him across the ice on his ice skates. This time he was attempting to let it pull him down the hill. The wind was strong – it probably could’ve given him some serious velocity – but the hill acted as a windbreak, and as soon as he was over the crest it deflated. A valiant attempt nonetheless.

And of course there was the giant sled train of everyone: a pile-up at the bottom resulted in some pretty gnarly ice burn on Erica’s face and a few bruised ribs, but I think all involved would agree it was worth it. (Yes? No?)

Some Photos from the Fun!
Ben and Andrew on top of the...hill
Ben and Andrew on top of the…hill

The MVSers prepare for a final descent
The MVSers prepare for a final descent

Annie, Jake, and Erica take a rest
Annie, Jake, and Erica take a rest

The MMC group poses before heading home
The MMC group poses before heading home

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to appear in Pathways, Winter/Spring 2010

The folks at the Partnership for the National Trails System decided I should introduce myself in their newsletter, so I obliged with the piece that follows.

– Laura

I first fell in love with trails in high school, when I was running on them most mornings all summer and several afternoons a week during the school year. I was on the cross country team, you see, and training on trails honed our hill-climbing fitness and made us surefooted on rough terrain.

My teammates and I ran in Eagle Creek Park, a natural haven of nearly 4,000 acres in my native Indianapolis. It’s a big park – I got lost pretty regularly at first (that made for some long runs). Now, nine years later, I know every trail in that park – the rooty staircase on the Reservoir Run, the jack-in-the-pulpits surrounding a bench on the Volksmarch trail in the springtime, the maples whose trunks and leaves become pillars, arches, and stained glass on my favorite side trail. Whenever I run those trails, I feel like I’m seeing an old friend.

So why would I go all the way to Madison, Wisconsin, and leave Eagle Creek behind? To blaze some new trails, I suppose. I graduated last spring from a small school in northern Indiana called Goshen College, with an English major and a developing (and relatively mismatched) interest in sustainability. So I decided to commit to a year of service to try and link the language with the land.

The program through which I’m volunteering for the Partnership is called Mennonite Voluntary Service, and it’s a program of the Mennonite church, the small Protestant denomination I grew up in. MVS offers its volunteers a chance to work in a professional position of their choosing, in any of 22 locations all around the United States, unpaid but with basic living expenses provided. Madison appealed to me, having earned a reputation as a green city, and I soon came upon the Partnership for the National Trails System, headquartered in Madison, in my search for environment-related placement options.

I was intrigued: here was an organization that existed to improve and unite, not just one park or trail, but an entire (and extensive!) system of national trails. I’d hit paydirt – figuratively speaking, of course. Gary and Julia agreed to take me on as a part-time volunteer, and I started work at 222 South Hamilton in October. Since then, I’ve assisted with various mailings, a congressional directory, survey analyses, action alerts, and occasional copy editing. I’ve even made it out to Wisconsin’s own National Scenic Trail – as of December, I’ve been working half-time with the Ice Age Trail Alliance, a perfect pairing that lets me see how the Partnership interacts with one of its trail partners.

From one trail lover to another – thank you for all the work you do to preserve, protect, and maintain the beautiful places that stir us and keep us surefooted.

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Look what I found!

For us Wisconsin transplants, things can get a little hairy around Oconomowoc and Mazomanie. I found this site while searching the internet at work for info on a Wisconsin politician. If nothing else, maybe it’ll help us remember how to pronounce the mayor’s name…

More to the point, I learned that Ryan is getting a little publicity at WYOU. The modest fellow didn’t post this link to the WYOU blog, but I will!

Happy New Year to all, especially those considering joining MVS in the fall. I for one am excited to see what – and who – the new year will bring.

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The MVSers go undercover

This evening the MVSers headed to Chez Target to do some holiday shopping for each other. But on our tight budget, how were we to do it?

Annie facilitated a name exchange that miraculously, on the first try, supplied each of us with a Secret Santa who was not ourselves. Don’t ask me who mine is, because it’s top secret and I won’t tell you. Tonight over dinner we took turns sharing our wish list with each other, and then off we went to spend ten dollars or less on a gift for another MVSer.

Imagine five twentysomethings skulking around in the store, peering around corners and hiding packages in their jackets. If you have seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s, picture Holly Golightly and her friend Fred stealing from the dime store. They pick something up, look around to see who’s watching, put it back, again and again, lulling the watchful eyes into trusting them… and then out they walk, wearing their stolen merchandise. Here we were, trying to make sure the others didn’t see our selections, sometimes picking up a false gift to trick the others, looking around warily as we stand in the checkout lines. I couldn’t resist humming the Pink Panther theme to myself as I slunk suspiciously around the store.

I’m not sure whether Andrew, Ryan, and Ben ended up leaving with any merchandise; they sure weren’t showing us. But I got a good haul for my ten bucks, and my secret santa is likely in for a surprise – I hope it will be a pleasant one for him or her!

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Laura Starts New Job

That’s right! At the time of this writing, I am officially fully employed! Thank you to everyone who gave me advice, recommendations, ideas, and support as I searched for volunteer opportunities.

I’ve been working at Environment Wisconsin, my first half-time placement since the beginning of October, so just over two months now. My title is Office Support, and I work for three of the members of Environment Wisconsin: RENEW Wisconsin, the Sierra Club (John Muir Chapter) and the Partnership for the National Trails System. More on these later.

Today was my first day at the second of two half-time placements: the Ice Age Trail Alliance. As one of the twenty-eight National Scenic and Historic Trails, the Ice Age Trail Alliance dovetails nicely with my work at the Partnership for the National Trails System. In fact, as I catalogued articles in the Ice Age Trail’s quarterly newsletter, Mammoth Tales, I noticed many names I already knew, including Gary Werner, my boss at the Partnership. Ahh, it feels like home already.

Looks like I’ll be working partly on the article catalog and partly on organizing the IAT’s archives (something I know how to do pretty well already thanks to my work with the Sierra Club.)

So there you have it: a fully-employed professional volunteer. Good thing it only took four months!


The Best Game of Uno Ever

All I can say is Ryan is hilarious when you stick him with a Draw 4 Wild Card, and Andrew can’t stand on his own two feet when he’s laughing. Not that he was the only one cracking up. By the time we were through with the Best Game of Uno Ever, we had washboard abs and tears in our eyes. It’s a bummer that Ben missed the whole thing, but it was good for the rest of us, because it gave us an excellent opportunity to pull a prank on him (which Annie and I have been itching to do for weeks).

We decided to “modify” Benjamin’s room in ten different ways, then wait for him to figure them all out.

Some were easy, like finding his computer screen cobwebbed with minty dental floss. Mmmm. Some were hard, like how we switched his two identical gigantic rubbermaid containers so that the bottom one was on the top.

I had to tell him where his computer mouse was, because it was in his bed (which Andrew short-sheeted) and he needed to use it. Ben, did you ever figure out the rest of ’em?

Anyway, back to the Best Game of Uno Ever.

We decided for our second round (Ryan had just joined us at this point) that we would change the rules a bit to make things more interesting. So instead of the normal rules, which tell you (with good reason, as we found out) that you do not get to lay a card after receiving a Draw 2 or Draw 4, instead of those rules, we decided to say what the heck, go ahead and play after you’ve drawn your four cards or two cards or whatever. We figured it would be easier to get rid of cards that way.

We were dead wrong.

After I amassed a hand whose contents were approximately half the entire Uno deck, and after Andrew had reshuffled the discard pile approximately eleven times (since we kept running out of cards), Ryan had to leave to pick up a bookshelf from the Gannaways (thanks, Trent, for the use of your truck, by the way). We took a break. Ryan came back, and we continued to play.

Thanks to the break, things were back in perspective, and we realized that this game was going to be a perpetual one unless we changed the rules back. That’s right. If you let the victim of a Draw 2 or Draw 4 put down one of his or her cards, you will be playing Uno for all eternity.

In our case, it was only a few hours. We realized our grave error. We were lucky.

In the nick of time, we retracted the rule modification, only to realize we had become so completely addicted to the game that when one of us won (was it Andrew?) we wanted nothing more than to continue playing.

So it became a three-player game. Annie won the second round (although Ryan and I did our best to gang up on her with reverse and skip cards).

And then there were two. Ryan and I faced off for another agonizing bout, while Annie and Andrew cheered us on. Ryan was being downright sassy, so I called Uno on him just as he lay his LAST card down – then I played the final card in my hand. I had won a hairbreadth’s victory.

I think it was a little dirty, though, so I’m willing to share the title. And the laughter.

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