Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cowboys and Indians

Heading to the Black Hills via the Sandhills of Nebraska always seems to connect me to the pioneers who trekked west to bust the sod and build the towns.  The last quarter of the 19th century is one of my favorite time periods.  So much of who I am seems to be tied to the hardworking, adventurous-but-not-always-sure, make-your-own-way people who are a part of my family's history.  Thinking about those settlers somehow seems to anchor my heart in ways I don't quite understand.

I also can't help but travel those roads without thinking about the original inhabitants of those lands.  It's hard to forget them, especially if you happen to pass through a reservation, as thoughts connected to their loss of land and culture turn over and over, as you are very aware of the poverty, alcoholism, drug use, hopelessness, and unemployment that grips many who live there.

In the last few years, I've read some great books on the Plains Indians so I thought I'd share three of those reads.  They are thought provoking and insightful.  They paint Native Americans as multi faceted, real people.  They don't point to easy solutions or even point fingers in blame.  Here's my top three:

For a collection of thoughts and stories on modern issues connected to the South Dakota/Nebraska border, The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder connects the events of the past to those in recent history.  The author uses the 1972 murder of a man from the Pine Ridge Reservation as a jumping off point for exploring how the Lakota Sioux came to be on the Pine Ridge and the interplay between the Sioux and their non Native neighbors.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a modern classic, a book that represented a paradigm shift, where people began to understand that perspective colors history, where people began to see that the traditional, white viewpoint of history may be incomplete.  I read this either right after my senior year of high school or sometime during my college years and it was definitely had that impact on me.  The book provides much insight into the historical relationship between Native Americans and the American government.  It covers the last half of the nineteenth century and is a narrative of that time period, told by the chiefs, warriors, and women of the tribes, their viewpoints uninterrupted by the more traditional historical perspectives.

I am a Man:  Chief Standing Bear's Search for Justice is a book that I think should be required reading for every Nebraska high school student.  I was unaware of Standing Bear until I was in my 30's which is sad given the legal and social ramifications of Standing Bear's story.  Standing Bear was a Nebraska Ponca chief who sued the United States government when the government attempted to confine him to a reservation in Oklahoma.  His case was tried in Omaha and resulted in a landmark decision much like the Dread Scott case.  In this instance, the decision marked the first time where Native Americans were legally marked as people who had the same unalienable rights as Caucasians.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Great South Dakota Vacation

We just spent four days in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  I was skeptical about Kai's ability to tolerate the long trip in the car since he is usually content for about an hour in his car seat.  True to form, he would sleep for about an hour and then spend the next hour or so alternating between being happy, shrieking, screaming, or crying.  The big kids did swimmingly.  All of the kids were impressed by the mountains and Conleigh has declared she is moving there when she is older because it is just so beautiful.

We tried to break it up by going to my mom's.  We also tried to have something to stop at every few hours.  From my mom's, we were hoping to stop at Smith Fall's in Valentine but it was too rainy for that.  Next stop was Wall Drug.  Cheesy?  Yes.  Touristy?  Yes.  But free and that matters a lot.  (Well, free if you don't count that we had to buy snacks while we were there as well as a few trinkets since Zeke found shark teeth fossils in one of the stores.)
Wall Drug photo props

Wall Drug's jackalope
We stayed at the High Country Guest Ranch in Hill City, in a real log cabin.  The two oldest kids said that was the best part of the trip.  We just finished reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods so they thought it was great that we were staying in a cabin like Laura's.  Our cabin even had an upstairs loft like Laura's.  The upstairs had two bedrooms so the kids slept upstairs while the grown ups slept downstairs.  It also had a kitchen, a front and back porch, a grill, and a fire pit.  The kids wound down most nights by playing football or soccer in the yard on the front.  Behind the cabin was a stream bed that was normally dry but since the Black Hills have received so much rain, the stream bed was full and over its banks.  The horses from the ranch also had access to the pasture behind the cabin so between the water and the horses, the kids loved being outside.

Crazy kids

Great view

Another perk of the ranch was that it adjoins the Mickelson Trail.  The Mickelson Trail is perfect for families with young kids.  It's flat and paved with hard packed gravel.  It's easy to follow but still right in the thick of the views.  The kids got to see the slabs of rock up close and watch for animals.  We saw four chipmunks, one dead field mouse, two rabbits, and four worms.  (Zeke was counting worms.)  We also saw a lot of deer tracks.
A hiking we will go

On Tuesday, we headed to Mount Rushmore which was what Zeke liked most about the trip.  He was eagerly awaiting this part so much so that on the way to South Dakota, every time he would see a billboard with the faces, he would yell, "There's Mount Rushmore!"  The other big kids would then sit straight up, look out the window, and strain their eyes to see.  Let's just say there were lots of false alarms.  We ended up having to do our Tuesday a bit backwards and do Mount Rushmore last despite the storms that were threatening in the afternoon.  Zeke's shoes were too small and wouldn't stay on his feet for long walks so we had to drive to Custer to find shoes at Shopko.  So Hill City to Custer to Custer State Park, where the buffalo were a bit scarce.  Then Iron Mountain Road which would have given me a headache if I had been driving given it's curves, switchbacks, one lane tunnels, and one lane bridges.  Finally we hit Mount Rushmore and as soon as we got there, it started to rain so we didn't do too much walking there.

Quintessential Mount Rushmore picture
D thought we need to pose in the parking garage on our way home since we were drenched, just for comparison's sake. 

Wednesday was also supposed to be a wet day so we opted to try to do an indoor activity.   We headed for Rapid City and Reptile Gardens.  Kai was quite excited to see the giant turtles and the koi in their pond.

Kenson was the only one who wanted to touch the baby alligator.  He waited at the end of a line of like thirty people and then touched it for approximately one second before hurrying off.

After lunch, we went to Story Book Island which is a free park in Rapid City.  As its name suggests, the theme is children's books.  All of the equipment and decor features characters from children's books.  We saw Captain Hook's boat, Pooh Corner's treehouse, The Cat and the Hat, Noah's Ark, The Billy Goats Gruff and their bridge, and Jack and the Beanstalk to name a few things.
I love that they have this sign at the entrance.  I think I need to print it off and put it on my fridge.

Raggedy Andy and Annie

Cinderella's carrage-Cinderella is actually behind Kenson.  Just moments before, he had his arm around her.  Then when he saw I was going to take his picture, he quickly moved away and started karate chopping the shoe on Prince Charming's pillow.

Engine, Engine # 9

We headed back home on Thursday, via the Badlands.  We thought we could spend maybe an hour there hiking but we did the driving loop instead and got out occasionally at the viewpoints.  I had not been there before and really thought it is kind of an underrated attraction.

So there we go...that's it...the end!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Henrietta's Baltimore

It's interesting how something becomes such a part of us as a nation that with one word we all know exactly what we are talking about.  Baltimore is such a thing.  Prior to the incident involving the police and Freddie Gray, if you had said the word "Baltimore", those playing a game of word association might have said "Orioles" or "John Hopkins" or simply "Maryland."  But now?  Now, when people say Baltimore, everyone is instantly drawn into a complicated story, where the story on the surface is about one man and the police, but where the story that simmers underneath is about so much more.

I cannot justify the behavior of the rioters in Baltimore.  And I also won't pretend to really understand the uncorked anger.  My personality doesn't tend that way.  I lean towards being a ruler follower, towards trusting the police, towards grace rather than anger, towards conflict resolution rather than conflict.

But I also know that for many who live in Baltimore, their roots run deep into the soil of the city.  For many, those roots are tangled up with a lot of complex feelings connected to the past.  I finished the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, about a month prior to the events in Baltimore.  It's the true story of how one woman's cancer cells became the first human cells to live outside of a human body and how those cells paved the way for so many medical discoveries, including mapping DNA.  It talks about medical ethics, since her cells still continue to be used for medical research, despite Henrietta not giving any consent for her cells to even be taken.  It questions what should happen in terms of monetary compensation for situations like Henrietta's where her cells have been sold thousands, maybe millions of times over to medical researchers, without any money being paid to her family.

It's also the story of one woman's life in Baltimore.  One poor, black woman, the daughter of former slaves, and her family, in the 30's, 40's, and 50's.  Henrietta came to John Hopkins as a last resort.  She had not sought medical care earlier because she was poor and black.  She did not understand much of what was going to happen during her treatment because she was uneducated and did not ask questions.  She ended up dying without proper pain management.  Henrietta and her family seemed to be examples of generational poverty, and at the time the author was writing her book, her family was still living in deep poverty. Her sons and daughters misunderstood much of what happened to their mother and their lack of education made it hard for them to even understand what a cell was and how it could be kept alive.  Her young daughter, who had epilepsy and hearing loss, was institutionalized at the Hospital for the Negro Insane in Maryland.  Her daughter died there at the age of 15.  It is highly likely that she was subjected to terrible living conditions in addition to involuntary medical research.

For the Lacks family, distrust for medical staff comes a bit naturally.  Henrietta was treated for cancer and died.  (Albeit that all evidence shows that the hospital treated her cancer much as they would have anyone else's.)  Her cells were collected without her permission, Henrietta seems to live on in ways her family cannot understand, and others are benefiting from this unauthorized use.  Another family member has been institutionalized and has died.  There seems to be not much that is able to penetrate the cycle of poverty and lack of an education.

Could it be that Henrietta's story is all too familiar to many who live in Baltimore?  Distrust for those who are supposed to protect you (police and medical staff) is just too easy to come by.  I do not know if the officers were wrong in arresting Freddie Gray.  I do not know if they used excessive force as they took him into custody nor do I know if they were callous in how detained him once he was in custody.  I do not know if Freddie Gray caused his injuries or if he was a dangerous criminal who would have hurt the police officers if given the chance.  I know none of those things.  I do know that reading Henrietta's story prior to the Baltimore events was a good reminder to read between the lines, to examine the perspectives that others are bringing to the table.  Most of us have never lived in Henrietta's Baltimore.

Rioting, looting, making blanket assumptions about the police: those things are always wrong.  There are no redo's for events in the past; there is no fixing Henrietta's Baltimore.  There is though the ability to consider how the past colors the present for many, creating multiple perceptions of how current events play out.  There also exists the ability to refuse to let that past hold us captive, to instead let grace abound instead of assumptions and to use that as an olive branch towards reconciliation.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Don't Eat the Shaving Cream

Shaving cream is a great way to occupy kids.
Yes, it's a bit messy but it's really a pretty clean mess since it's not sticky and it wipes up pretty easily.
And yep, he has shaving cream hanging off of this ear...
Kai was not too sure about the whole deal.
I did finally convince him that it was okay to put his fingers in it.
He was not impressed.
Eh, could you please get it off?
Then he licked it off (not gobs of it, mind you, just a very little bit).
Then he gagged.
And spit up.
And we were done.
The end.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Waiting on Mother's Day

Mother's Day will be here soon.  It seems like the arrival of that holiday always leaves me remembering.  My soul turns inward a bit and I remember the number of Mother's Days where my heart had been entangled with the face and shadowy presence of little ones who were not flesh of my flesh nor were they home sweet home.  I do lean towards the dramatic rather than the stoic but may I share with you how hard those Mother's Days were?  For hearts already weary of waiting, a day designed to celebrate the unique relationships between mothers and sons and daughters is a sharp painful breath in, a pregnant pause that causes you to suck in your cheeks and wince.  It's watching others enjoy Mother's Day dinners while you seem a bit far off because your heart really is a bit far off.  It's the standard honoring all mothers done at church, where you are not sure if you should take the flower or stand up, all of which reminds you that for all practical reasons, you are not yet a mom.   It's a bit like being the mom of a curfew breaking teen, the porch light on all aglow because not everyone is home in bed where they ought to be, but doing it for nights and days and months and years on end, knowing that Mother's Day feels a lot more about a piece that is missing than about the fullness of family.

For those who are waiting, those feelings are not just Mother's Day moments.  It's birthdays and Christmases.  It's the celebratory moments of life where you are keenly aware of the gaps, of the absence.  It's not just about the wait of adoption.  It's the wait of infertility.  The wait of infant loss.  The wait of a birth mom who is not parenting her child.  The wait of a parent of a child gone too soon, lost in an accident, lost to an illness.  The wait of a parent for the prodigal who wants nothing to do with you.

Could you be a friend who takes note of such moments and offers up encouragement in the waiting moments endured by another?  Words need not be fancy; a simple, "Thinking of you today" covers much.

And for those who are waiting, I read once that hope is the hardest work of waiting.  Isn't that the truth?  Hope often seems ethereal, a lot of light and mist, where foggy mornings reveal the dawn of something new, complete with glints of rainbows and brilliant breaks of sunrise in the sky.  Hope though is not quite so bright and airy.  It is work, a minute by minute commitment to have faith and believe.  Sometimes, it seems like we're not even sure of what it is we are hoping for but yet we still keep at it, hoping that things will change, that dreams come true, that even if we can't change the circumstances, that our own heart will heal.  I believe your hope is not foolishness.  It's a deep seeded desire placed there by God, a longing for life on this earth to be as He designed it to be, full and complete.  You are not wrong for wanting.  You are not wrong for loving.  You are not wrong for hoping.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Purge: Clothing Capsules

I am not a fashion queen.  While I don't want to look frumpy and I don't mind shopping, I am not someone who reads fashion magazine or scours the Internet in search of clothing ideas and trends.  In the grand scheme of things, what I wear rates pretty low on my list of concerns.  So I really never thought I'd find myself writing any post on a fashion.  Then, within the span of a couple of weeks, I read a few things that challenged me to think a bit about my own clothing choices and the state of my closet.  The first thing I read said something along the lines of you shouldn't have items in your closet that you wouldn't purchase, for full price, at a store, if you were to go shopping tomorrow.  The second was a blog post shared by several Facebook friends titled, "Why I Got Rid of My Wardrobe."  The writer of the wardrobe posts talks about how she decided to gut her closet because of a friend who always seemed to dress well.  When she asked this friend about her fashion tricks, her friend revealed a very sparse closet, filled with clothes she loves, that she feels look good on her, and that work well together.  The idea is that by being deliberate in what is inside of one's closet, that one can actually own less clothing items while feeling better what one actually ends up wearing.  In her case, she pares down her closet to around 30-40 items.  Another key idea is that when you own less, it's actually easier to get ready because you are not overwhelmed by choices, that it's much easier to figure out what to wear together.

After reading that, I was inspired.  (Or at least as inspired about clothing as I am going to get.)  There was a lot of stuff in my closet that I didn't really even like and things that I rarely wore.  I would guess that 50-75% of my closet was made up of thrift store finds which while awesome and frugal, often meant that I would settle on a piece of clothing just because it was in my size and cheap instead of wearing it because I liked how it looked on me or wearing it because it fit well with what was already in my wardrobe.  Of course, I'd like to blame some of my closet woes on Kai.  I know it's almost two years post baby but I think lots of us hold onto clothing items because we are a bit delusional regarding how we want them to fit and how they really fit or because we are certain that we will be able to make them fit better in a few months.  To be honest, I lived in yoga pants when I was pregnant and while I don't wear yoga pants every day now, I would guess I wear them 3-4 times a week.  Perhaps it's time to move out of the yoga pants.  Or at least save them for moments where I might be exercising.

The purge was on.  My goal wasn't to buy a whole new wardrobe, just to be intentional with what I already had and to keep the super star pieces.  Once I did that, then I thought I could swing buying a few new pieces to round things out.  I basically emptied my closet and started putting back in the things I knew I liked.  I had maybe 4-5 things that I was confident that I really liked.  Then I started evaluating the rest.   Did I even like it?  Was it holey?  (Gosh, that should not have to be a criteria but I had like 4 things in my closet that had holes.)  Did it fit right?  I tried things on as I sorted and paid attention to the way that the things looked on their own and how they looked with other pieces like cardigans or button down shirts.  I made piles then for "yep, keep it", "no way, it's terrible", and "maybe, need to think about it." For those in the maybe pile, I gave myself a couple of days to think about it and to try it on again before deciding.  In the end,  I also made a pile of stuff that I liked but would like better if it fit differently, that didn't seem to coordinate well with what I was keeping, or that I was just too on the fence about to make a decision about.  That pile of stuff I put away with the intention of revisiting it at the end of the summer, to use as a way to "shop my stash".  I am embarrassed to admit how much I got rid of.  (Maybe I shouldn't be embarrassed since I'm hoping I will make a bit of money by consigning those things but it was a bit nuts to know how much stuff I had that I didn't even want to keep.Or how much I owned that was basically the same thing.  I had four black cardigans.  Four.  I also found two shirts that I had forgotten I had that got crammed into the back corner of the closet.  Sheesh!)  I would guess I easily got rid of over 40 pieces of clothing, maybe even more.  I didn't count but it was two huge stacks.

This is my new condensed version of my wardrobe.   I now have about 40-45 pieces of clothing not counting layering tanks, athletic wear, professional jackets (which I basically never wear but they are too expensive to get rid of), and sweatshirts.  The sweatshirts and blazers are all on the right side in this picture so my actual blouse/dress/skirt section is what's on the left.  I ended up keeping 4 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 pair of dress slacks, about 10 sweaters or cardigans and between 15-20 blouses.  Most of what I kept is blue, green, black, grey, or brown.  I really like cardigans so I kind of based my choices around cardigans that I already had.  The blog post that really spurred me on (and the blogs she references in her post) all did seasonal clothing capsules with the 30-40 pieces per season but I didn't do that.  I did separate out the heavy sweaters and most of my pants and put those up on the shelf above my hanging stuff since I won't wear those in summer but pretty much everything else is something I could wear during the summer and it seems silly to pack it away somewhere. (I also have a section of work clothes for painting and other dirty jobs that are on that shelf.)   When added together with the jeans, capris and shorts that I kept, I have 50-55 pieces of clothing for all seasons.  For some of you, that might seem like there is still a lot of clothing left in my closet.  But it is all of my clothing for every season, in a four season state.   I'm also guessing most of us are unaware of how many pieces of clothing we really own.

I haven't completely sorted out my pants and shorts yet so I may have a few more items I'm not keeping but after consigning the two pairs of capris that had to be pulled up under my bra to even fit (come on, you all know you have pants like that that you think "why on earth am I wearing these?), I now have 5 pairs of shorts, 3 pairs of capris or crop pants, and 3 pairs of jeans.  

I bought this top...

And this one...

And this one...except in blue and grey with a lime green stripe.

And this one too!
I also bought a pair of beige linen capris (to replace the awful up-to-my boobs pair), a white button down shirt, a grey cardigan, and a white cardigan.  I think I spent about $100 total and I bought the last three items with fall and winter in mind.  At some point, I'm going to tackle my jewelry.  My shoes could probably use a good sorting too.  (In fact, the blogs I read on creating clothing capsules often include shoes in their set number of pieces and limit themselves to like 3 pairs of shoes.)  I really like shoes so I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to that.

Hopefully if you see me in person, I will not being wearing yoga pants.  And hopefully, I'll look more put together and polished.  And if I don't, just keep your mouth shut and go on.