Discovering the More in Less

Four decades ago, Doris Janzen Longacre’s More with Less Cookbook (1976) and Living More with Less (1980) served as a transformational rallying cry for Mennonites to rethink the way we use the world’s resources by doing more with less.  As we reflected on the theme of transformation related to the coronavirus pandemic, we found ourselves returning to the notions of doing more with less and discovering the more in less.

COVID-19 has, indeed, forced many of us to make do with less – less shopping, less going out to eat, less social interaction, less hanging out with friends, less frequent visits to coffee shops or movie theaters, fewer haircuts!  The list of what has “lessened” goes on and on.  While these restrictions have been felt around the world, for the past 5 months, we have experienced “the less” even more acutely as Germany has used various stages of lockdown as a major weapon in its battle against the pandemic. 

I (Beth) arrived in Germany in early October.  Three weeks into my stay – right after two weeks in quarantine and a one-week mini-vacation at the North Sea – Germany went into “lockdown light.” Stores were closed in the hope that shutting them at that moment would allow them to reopen for Christmas shopping by the end of November.  Social distancing restrictions at restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs were ramped up, and contact information was collected to facilitate contact tracing.  The world of entertainment (sports, movies, theatres, concerts, etc.) went from less to none.  We began to make do with less.  When November didn’t bring a significant drop in new COVID cases, the government decided to move into “hard lockdown,” pushing a giant PAUSE button on almost all public life. No Christmas shopping, movies, concerts, dining out with friends, and no Christmas markets (a hard one for Beth!). Only grocery stores and drug stores stayed open. Schools and daycares were closed, and more people were moved into home offices for their work. Travel was tightly restricted, and social contacts were limited to small gatherings of no more than two households. We had to make do with even less.

As this government-mandated living-with-less reinforced for us Janzen Longacre’s message from over 40 years ago, we also began discovering that the more in less can, indeed, be transformational.  Less traveling actually helped us discover hidden gems in our immediate neighborhood. On our daily walks we “found” three independent bakeries we didn’t know about (with yummy pastries and breads), three churches new to us, a monastery’s secret garden, much interesting lawn “art,” and simply a renewed joy in walking.  Less contact with friends and family in real space and time encouraged us to come up with creative ways to use virtual means to stay connected.  Our Zoom game nights with one group of friends have become a fun and meaningful new staple in our social lives. We also rediscovered analog modes of connection—writing postcards, Christmas cards, and real birthday cards to friends is tactile fun for both sender and receiver. Less shopping and generally acquiring less stuff has been quite freeing—our newly uncluttered closets, cupboards, shelves, and living spaces seem to think so, too.  Less mindless consumerism has also led to less waste and smaller waists. And since eating at home most of all means cooking at home, this brings us full circle back to our battered copy of the More With Less Cookbook, which figuratively and literally has helped us transform the less into more in these strange Corona times.


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My Garden Legacy

I must have been six or seven when I first remember eating fresh peas straight off the vine in my grandmother’s garden.  Wow. I will never forget that pop of sweetness on my tongue! And no carrot ever tasted fresher, or more flavorful than those I pulled straight out of that black Manitoba soil, with no seasoning except a bit of residual dirt. I learned to love garden vegetables early. My grandmother had a huge garden. While I don’t know the actual dimensions, suffice it to say, one could easily get lost in there– or safely sneak fresh goodies without fear of getting caught! I loved that paradise.  It was magical. Grandma grew absolutely everything in that garden. I wish I could talk to her now, and hear what she would have to tell me about it.  When I was growing up in Kansas, my parents usually planted a vegetable garden, and my mom always loved her red geraniums and bright orange begonias just like her mother did. But other things held my attention back then. Now in my adult life, I have always enjoyed a garden. Every year I marvel at the miracle of a seed. The Great Force of life that pushes goodness out of dirt, scraps, waste, and refuse. Such a beautiful metaphor for grace, love and forgiveness, such a perfect symbol for the renewal of spirit and blooming of the soul—true transformation.

I like to think that part of my grandmother lives on in me. My mother and several family members living locally are lucky to have a start from Grandma’s fuchsia peonies that once thrived in my grandmother’s magical garden.  Though I cannot bring plants across the Canada/US Border, I cherish some of those family peonies from my mother’s home in South Bend before they moved. And though my vegetable garden, of course, does not even begin to compare to Grandmother’s, who grew hers to feed her large family of 13 children, I believe my flower garden may not be far off. This season I hope to stretch my flower growing capacity once again as I try my hand at starting seeds indoors.  Many of the seeds are flowers that she grew, like cosmos, zinnias, snapdragons, sweet peas, four-o’clocks, marigolds and petunias.  I am reminded of Grandmother every spring when I get out and start digging in that great, green earth. The days are getting longer now, and I’m starting to feel the gardening bug. It’s time to start getting my peas and carrots and potatoes in the ground. I am ever so grateful to my Grandmothers–both of them. They inspired me to love the earth, to treat it well and realize it will give back three thousand-fold both in beauty and in bounty. I have so much gratitude to them for their amazing, determined efforts to feed their families well–and for that little garden bug planted in my soul.


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Top Ten Transformations of 2020

  1. The most popular sections at the grocery became the spice shelves and baking goods aisle.
  2. Turned out our neighborhood did have a lot of people who lived in it. Who would have known!
  3. More of us understood the differences between “wants” and “needs”.
  4. The reason for common courtesies such as covering your mouth and nose when sneezing became obvious.
  5. “Hobby” became more inclusive, such as reorganizing storage shelves for the third time in four months.
  6. Wearing clothes for longer than a few hours in a day was regarded as a major hassle.
  7. Uneven gray won “Hair Color of the Year” award.
  8. “Family time” had a whole new meaning.
  9. Learning about statistics, graphs, data trends and charts was taken off my list of life goals.
  10. Personal space was renamed to the much more contemporary term, “social distancing”.

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The Rope that Ties Peace and Pain Together

This is a condensed version of the speech that Olivia Krall gave at the C. Henry Smith Oratorical Contest in February 2021 at Goshen College.  Olivia’s speech begins at 13:24. 


Trauma is passed on through generations. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as intergenerational or transgenerational trauma. Children of parents who have faced extreme situations may be more likely to struggle with their mental health. One explanation of this is that parents or family members who are struggling may pass down their negative coping mechanisms. The actions of our families, the stories we grow up listening to, and the communities that we live in shape us. As a result, the consequences of trauma, are felt for long afterward.

I first became aware of this idea two years ago during a lecture on a boat in the middle of the Dnieper River in Ukraine. It has since changed how I think about my own history. One day before that lecture, my grandparents, my mother, and I, along with roughly 30 other passengers, boarded a bus and headed into the Ukrainian countryside to see the villages of our ancestors. What was intended as an eight-hour bus trip slid into hour fourteen. By then I was hungry, exhausted, irritable, and tired of peeing in fields. All I wanted to do was head back to the boat. So, when we pulled up to an abandoned train station, I could only be described as exasperated. The sun had set, and the only lights remaining were the headlights on the bus.

As I caught up to the group, I saw that they had gathered in the middle of the tracks. Here, the leaders of the group informed us that this was the train station Mennonites had used to flee persecution, and that would later carry them to execution. They recounted that as each train of Mennonites left, those that remained sang the hymn “Take Thou My Hand, O Father.” When the last of the Mennonites boarded the train, and there was no one left to sing, the Ukrainians — who had never gotten along with the Mennonites — sang it to them. Together as a group, we stood in the dim light of bus headlights and sang that hymn together. I could not see the faces of those singing around me, and I barely knew the German lyrics, but nevertheless, that moment bound me to those people.  I had heard brief mentions of this chapter in my family’s history but, it had always seemed so far removed from my life that I didn’t pay attention. Suddenly though, I was intimately connected to it. In the course of a week, I had seen the same buildings, the same sky that my ancestors had, I had sung the same hymns, and eaten the same foods. What was far away became close.

On the trip, a group of psychologists told us that trauma is passed on genetically. It is felt and dealt with through generations. I have come to believe that if this is true, then resilience can also be passed on. Resilience comes from knowledge. It comes from hearing and telling our stories. The pathway forward to peace, within ourselves, and our communities, comes from reconciling with the trauma of our pasts.


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Reservoir Winter

I was awakened from my morning sleep by the red shouldered hawk

Shrieking and piercing my dream, ending the reverie with harsh abruptness.  

 

Compelled, I peeked out of the window to see the source, now gone, 

My eye drawn to the frozen lake below, half looking for her through the treetops. 

The chickadee, the downy and their various competitors skirted around the branches.

Geese and mallards lounged on and around a break in the ice.

 

Perhaps a coyote would be stalking her way to them over the water now hardened by days of frozen air.

The fox family who lives nearby might be foraging in the ravine, rust against white snow. 

Could the eagle be out for a morning glide? 

 

A day with possibility begins with thanks to the Maker for this display of nature,

And thanks to the hawk, for the call to observe.    

 

The reservoir in winter 2020

        


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Editor’s Note

Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.


Romans 12:2 (CEB)

Pondering a theme for this most unusual year, the MennoExpressions team observed that the pandemic continues to transform our lives in myriad ways. However, in exploring our topic, it is clear that even in more ordinary times, if those exist, the changes and progressions in life and nature around us continue a never-ending metamorphosis.    

Amazingly, flour, yeast and water can be blended and heated to create bread—a fragrant and delicious miracle.  Tiny tadpoles wiggle and grow as they sprout legs and finally jump from their pond as frogs. Fuzzy chicks peck their way out of an egg.  And a piece of lumber cut from a tree, can be transformed into a beautiful and useful new door, when the artist is skilled and diligent! 

As spring gains traction over winter, bulbs, bushes and trees awaken and bring color and fragrance to our yards and gardens. In Japan, celebrations accompany the bursts of cherry blossoms and include a special time of Hanami, or “flower viewing.” Friends and family gather outside to feast and drink under the trees, as they marvel at the transformation of barren branches into scented pink clouds in a floral sky.

This spring issue features photos and stories highlighting our FMC high school seniors, who are to be celebrated for perseverance as they complete their unique year! College and post graduate students will be awarded degrees, and receive congratulations on their years of diligent study! The pandemic transformations in education have been consequential for teachers and students, so we have included views into the experiences of children, as well as university professors.

Magnolia tree in bloom

Our writers share remembrances and images of family gardens, deep ancestral ties, and changes to life and cooking.  Looking back at winter thoughts of an icy reservoir accentuates the vernal changes as snowy days melt away. The promise of rebirth in the world around us is a metaphor for the joy and hope found in the resurrection of Jesus after the dark days and hard ground of Lent. To God be the Glory.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever!

Psalm 118: 1

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From Standing in Line to Going Online

It is a bit after 7 am Monday and our granddaughter just arrived to “go to school”, from my home-office. She logs on; and there is the teacher. She thinks nothing of her phone, stylus pen, computer, or the technology needed for her to “go to school”– she is here to study.

Watching such huge transformation, my thoughts go back 20+ years when I was Indiana University’s guru for distance education charged to “develop pedagogical models and delivery methods for distance education.”

I traveled IU’s eight campuses presenting the advantages of technology-mediated education. Some faculty were willing; many had questions (read: objections). One faculty member (close to retirement) confessed, privately, he never learned to use overhead projectors, and didn’t want to learn this new stuff.

Their questions ranged from the extra work, no classroom, no eye contact, labs, glitches, etc.

A dedicated committee representing all eight campuses, co-chaired by two devoted deans, and IU President Myles Brand committing $1M toward distance education, launched the project. We issued a 36-page strategic plan, CHARTING A COURSE TOWARD AN INDIANA VIRTUAL UNIVERSITY.

Our main message: key ingredients of effective learning are a master, an engaged student, and time-on-task. Technology-mediated education provides both reach and richness.

So, what is different today compared to 20 years ago? A lot!

  • Today there is no need to convince anyone that teaching with technology is necessary – the global epidemic has done that for us.
  • The speed of technology adoption in teaching is unprecedented.
  • There is no distance education central office – everybody does it.
  • There is no strategic plan.
  • Teaching with technology is now in the mainstream of teaching and learning.
  • Faculty live with hybrid, synchronous, asynchronous, HyFlex, learning management systems, online discussions, online laboratory sessions, etc.
  • The reach is limitless.

I heard Greta playing her French horn. When asked, she says students play their instrument and no student hears the others unless we un-mute; the teacher is able to listen to all.  When asked about chemistry labs, she said the teacher tapes the experiments, we watch and write a report.

I asked Greta what she liked about on-line classes. “I like computers because I grew up with them.”

What did she not like? “No friends – but we get together on weekends”.

Distance education is in her DNA.

Technology-mediated education has transformed education forever. Students can balance duties with studies: family, work, pace of study, and relaxation. The reliability and ubiquitousness, the lower costs compared to brick-and-mortar learning, all have increased technology-mediated learning about five-fold since COVID-19 hit.

Students should keep these hints in mind:  

  • Connect with other students as much as possible either online or, if possible, face-to-face.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Start early, stay positive, ask for help, and don’t fall behind.
  • Stick to studies even if the doorbell rings; stay away from the refrigerator.
  • Observe online etiquette.
  • Remember, it is natural to feel anxious.

For faculty:

  • Interact with, and support students even more than in face-to-face settings.
  • When possible, keep sessions short and live.
  • Study current events such as coronavirus.
  • Without close and frequent supervision, students will fall behind.
  • Have tests monitored by a supervisor, parent, or make tests optional.   

We all live with transformations. Whether it is the change in seasons, the metamorphosis of a cocoon into a butterfly, or the transformation from in-person to on-line classes; all are transformations. In fact, life could not exist without transformations. Life is transformations, and transformations bring life. The opposite is a rock which does not change – and it does not live.

Acknowledgement: Written at the suggestion of E. Eric Boschmann, University of Denver.


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New Ways to Learn

Kids! Time to log on for Morning Meeting! Get to your stations!

Bare feet hit the floor running as breakfast is forgotten on the dining room table. The kids finger-comb their hair, still in their pajama bottoms. I hear the click-clack of frantically typed usernames and passwords. Lyra’s teacher begins roll call as Cody’s teacher blasts “Happy” and encourages the kids to dance. A couple of the 1st graders are asleep on their screens. One is hiding under her bed with stuffed animals–sneaking some Cheerios. I can hear Lyra’s teacher trying to remain patient as a student has internet problems, while yet another has to be reminded to “un-mute” for the hundredth time. I open my laptop and begin to answer work emails while the final, staticky chords of “Happy” are playing in the background. Cody’s teacher begins a lesson on the consonant blend “th”, and he is already trying to sneak a copy of Dogman under his Chromebook to read. So starts another day in virtual learning paradise…

When I look back on the almost seven months that our children participated in e-learning, it all feels like a bit of a blur. I would like to say that I was that Pinterest Mom who established a clear, calm routine to the days–with organic strawberries cutely arranged and fanned out after a leisurely morning walk/ “brain break.” But that would be a lie. I did take a stab at the scheduling thing and made a cute, colorful visual schedule that we sometimes used. I dug through closets and found some old sensory toys, and made the kids run up and down the hallway when they started to have what I refer to as “Zombie Eyes” from staring at their screens too long. On our better days, we took bike rides after lunch and enjoyed one another’s company between scheduled Zooms. On our worst days, we would all end up in tears and click our way to the “Stop Sign icons,” whether the work had been completed “correctly” or not.

Detailing the experience of e-learning for almost a year could literally constitute an entire novel, but I’m not going to do that here. I would, however, like to share some of the big take-a-ways for our family. After having lived through this experience with my children, here’s what I know for sure:

  • Teachers had to completely reinvent their profession this year–whether they were internet savvy or not. It wasn’t always pretty, but they leaned into the discomfort because they love their students and failing them was not an option. 
  • Children are resilient. If they are fed, loved, have a safe place to call home, and a semi-stable internet connection–they are going to be okay. They are equipped to not only survive this pandemic, but come out of it stronger, more creative human beings. 
  • Surviving this pandemic and wading through the e-learning experience with my children has made us closer. I gained a front row seat to their classes, peers, and teachers in a way that I will probably never experience again.
  • I have emerged from this experience with an even deeper appreciation for our public schools. While so many federal and state officials were throwing their hands in the air, wailing about the circumstances, our schools got busy feeding and supporting families.
  • Screens are great, but nothing can replace a real hug or in-person conversation.

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