Back from the Break- More Thoughts Today

I was visiting my family last weekend and stopped at the Farmers Market in West Bend, a town in Wisconsin not far from where I grew up. It’s changed a lot since my youth. It’s good to see. First of all, there’s a farmers market. Secondly, there were people there who didn’t look like me, not a lot, but some. That was good to see. Our small towns are so much more when they aren’t those white bread places, soft and squishy without much to them.

I stopped at a little gift shop in hopes of finding a new journal for myself. It’s been a while since I’ve written my blog or my daily journal for myself. A nice journal that welcomes me helps. I found one with flowers and a bicycle on the cover, nice shades of blue and green. I haven’t been writing every day, but I am starting to open it and free write again.

It always amazes me what thoughts start to percolate when I write. This morning I was out at Indian Lake with my dog, Buddy. I was sitting with my journal while he explored the field and did a little wading in the water. I found myself thinking about where we’re at today. Here we are in this time of pandemic, drought, racial/social/economic unrest, huge wildfires, and all the rest. I can’t help but wonder if we are coming to the time of the seventh fire. Are we coming to the end of this chapter of life or is this simply just another round of challenges the same as faced by generations before us that only seem larger than life because we’re the generation facing them?

What power do we have, if any, to determine our direction? I have to believe that there is some power, that we can make choices that will mold the society for the time to come. I was thinking today too of the world I grew up in and the stories that I was told. I grew up in a home where the bible was much more than a table decoration. I remember sitting in bible studies that my mom hosted in our living room. I recall when Sr. Patricia used to bring communion to our house when Mom was too sick to go to church. I’ll admit much of my beliefs have evolved and I haven’t attended mass for years, but I still like that Jesus guy that we talked about back then.

No, I’m not going to encourage anyone to follow Jesus. Follow whoever you want or just go your own way. What I’m wondering about, what my writing and thinking is drawing out of me as I think about this time of so many challenges that we’ve been going through is the disparity between that man of love and caring and who the stories said gave all of himself that we might live and the followers who’ve chosen themselves over all the gifts he shared and have refused to care enough to do such simple small things like masks and vaccination or a list of other little things of showing care and love for their fellow beings. I simply don’t understand. It seems to me like what I once knew as sin and now might just call sadness.

Not Done Yet

It was four years ago now that I contacted an old friend from high school and asked her for some help. I was struggling with seizures, depression, fatigue, and just general poor health. I was also at my highest weight of my life, tipping the scales at 217lbs. I was tired of my epilepsy medication which seemed to be causing more damage through side effects than helping and I was just tired. I needed some support. I needed a guide to help me reassess my approach to food. Kelly had studied nursing after high school and become a nurse practitioner working in wholistic medicine. She seemed my best chance. I sent her a note and set up an appointment.

It took a great deal of commitment just to make that appointment. Like many wholistic healthcare providers, the company that Kelly was working with at the time didn’t work with my health insurance and cost was significant for my small income. But, as it is with so many illnesses and addictions, there comes a time when we hit bottom and have no other choices. I had to do something and this was it.

After some allergy testing we removed a few foods from my diet and my life began to change. The foods removed for me were avocado, kidney beans, green pepper, black pepper, potato, pineapple, cane sugar, buckwheat, and olives. None were major allergies. All were irritants to my system.

Over the next six months I would lose nearly 50lbs regain energy and start a new adventure in my life that would both cause me great pain and give me some tools to keep healing. That adventure was leaving my work at Toxic Taters (a small nonprofit fighting pesticide abuse in Minnesota) for the University of Minnesota Morris and the Center for Small Towns.

The Center for Small Towns (CST) was a lonely place for me. I loved my students. They were great. There were some wonderful faculty and staff on campus and in the community who I’ll always count as friends. But, it was clear from the beginning that I didn’t fit in on campus. The prairie wasn’t wasn’t my home and neither was my workplace and it hurt.

Thankfully, Kelly’s guidance had given me a foundation to stand on during my three years in Morris. I didn’t stay 100% true to the dietary advice, but I’d made the big changes that I needed. I could now tell the difference when I ate well or I didn’t.

It’s easy to sink into bad habits and over the past four years between the struggles of having spent three years in a place that I didn’t belong, dealing with broken bones, surgeries, getting laid off in the middle of a pandemic, switching jobs, and moving among other things, I have sometimes resorted to my old frenemy junk food. I’ve gained back about 22 of those 50lbs that I lost. But, I’m not done and I’m getting back on track once again. I am happy to be back in my home state of Wisconsin. I’ve recommitted myself to eating what’s good for me and exercising in ways that I enjoy to build my health.

Right now that means that I’ve just restarted running, not fast or far, but my dog and I are running just a bit to start our morning walk. I’m also spending 15 or 20 minutes a day to workout with my resistance bands and later in the day 20 minutes or so doing yoga. Each day I’m watching what I eat, making sure that it’s mostly fruits and vegetables and that I’m avoiding processed foods and cane sugar. I’m just starting to see my weight go back down. I am confident that I’ll reach my goal weight, probably in the next six months or so. More importantly I will continue to meet my goal of maintaining my health and happiness for the long term.

I am thankful to Kelly for helping me out four years ago and hopeful that my experiences can provide something for others moving forward. It’s an up and down road, but we are all moving forward.

New Life

The pandemic has provided its challenges and gifts. A lot of people seem to be looking at this past year as having been all about struggle and loss. A year that we’ll look back on with horror or at least deep sadness. I’m not so sure, at least not for myself.

Sure, there has been sadness. My Dad died last July. He was 92 years old. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. But, sadness at the passing of someone who is elderly and in the grips of dementia is always mixed. I will miss him, but I am also joyful that he could let go, move on, and no longer be held by the pain and fear that had become his life. Yeah, I got laid off. But, I got laid off from a job in Minnesota at a really unhealthy workplace where rumors, put downs, lying, and just generally disrespectful behaviors were the norm and wound up through a series of events finding myself working for a good friend on an incredible creative project and back home in Wisconsin.

It’s been a year for being open to possibilities. Last January a severe allergic reaction to a new medication for my epilepsy led to my doctor and I pursuing options beyond medications. In July I found myself at Mayo in the epilepsy monitoring unit. I started my visit on the anniversary of my Mom’s passing. I ended it a week later just after my Dad died by making the decision to honor them both by getting a vagus nerve stimulator implanted. I came back a week later and had the little device that is changing my life implanted close to my heart, reminding me of them. Now, it sends a stimulus through my vagus nerve every three minutes and, along with my medication, is controlling my seizures and making life normal again. My energy is back. It’s been months since I’ve woken up in the morning to a headache and sore tongue, and best of all my doctors and the state of Wisconsin agree that it’s safe for me to drive and live with the independence that a car provides when one lives in a small town.

A lot of people have gone on about boredom and loneliness because of the pandemic and I confess that I’ve had some moments of wanting to get out too, but mostly I have to admit I’ve appreciated this time alone. I’ve been reminded of the joy in slowness and the importance of creative space. I took guitar lesson for awhile, long enough to give me some basics to work with and to continue to teach myself. I’ve started to work on becoming an author of children’s books. Now that it’s spring I just started doing a little volunteering at Taliesin. I’ve been reading a lot more, continuing to write here, doing a little drawing too. How could I be bored or seeking something else when I am given the opportunity to find the creative space? The world runs us too fast and I am thankful that we’ve slowed down for the moment. It is sad that it took a pandemic to slow us, but I can only hope that we find some lessons about caring for our creative selves from this experience.

It’s not been all bad. It’s been a year for staying home and eating home cooking, a year for being creative, a year for relaxing and getting to know ourselves, a year for embarking on a new stage of life in so many ways. What lessons have we learned? What will we carry forth? What possibilities have we opened ourselves to? What is this new life that we are embarking on as this pandemic, hopefully, begins to draw to a close?

Ladybugs

My words feel clunky today. I’m sitting here listening to The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection in part because I’m trying to inspire my own writing of children’s literature and am hopeful that listening to some of my own childhood favorites might help and in part because it feels like about all my brain might handle. Sometimes the mind is just simply slow.

I wonder how to inspire the flow of words? There are so many stories to tell. How do they come to light? It seems like it should be easier, not to write a final product but to create an initial draft to simply gather ideas and set them to paper.

Yesterday, I spent the morning at Taliesin. Thursdays are their day for gardening. Yesterday was my first day to join the gardening volunteers. We spent a few hours weeding the rhubarb then headed on to Tan-y-Deri and the Engineer’s Cottage for an hour or so of cleaning the patio and garden around the cottage of weeds. It was just a small group of us, three volunteers and two staff together on a beautiful day enjoying the perfect weather, light conversation, stories of the buildings, the residents, and the artist who’d designed them–Frank Lloyd Wright. There were stories of what brought each of us to volunteer. A fellow doing service hours, a woman enjoying the beginning of her retirement, and me. It seems that there should be so much to write here and maybe there is. I’m sure that there is, but the words seem tired today.

The only piece that seems even a bit alive came near the end of the morning. I was sitting on the steps near the Engineer’s Cottage trying to figure out which plants were weeds to pull and which were meant to be in the overgrown patch I sat beside. It was then that I saw the tiny pinkish red fellow with the black spots. It was a ladybug, an actual ladybug, not one of those evil Asian lady beetles that have invaded my house. I was so struck that I had to call over one of my fellow volunteers to take a look and confirm my analysis. Yes, it was a ladybug. There were a whole crew of them there crawling amidst the leaves. It seems both sad and strange that such a thing would be the highest moment of life in an otherwise lovely and enjoyable morning. Still, they were ladybugs, meant to be there and too often no longer seen. So seldom seen, at least by me, that I was surprised by the shape of their bodies and the pinkish tint to their shells. I stopped pulling weeds there lest I take anything that they need to survive. I can only hope that they find the food and shelter that they need. They gave me hope. They still give me hope.

I don’t know why the words are clunky and tired today or when the stories will come to life, but the ladybugs survive and with work and good fortune so will I.

Trying To Be a Writer

I think I’m a writer. I really do. That’s why I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Well, I obviously write a blog too that’s really not for kids. But, I think I’m a children’s book writer or that at least I could be.

It’s so challenging to figure out how to be a writer of children’s literature. I have this vague understanding that I need to set some goals for myself, but no grounding from which to base those goals. In most of my work I’ve been able to find a clear goal. The group I’ve worked for has wanted to stop strip-mining, cut the use of pesticides, or teach people to organize in their own communities. In this situation I find myself looking at it and saying, “Okay, I know I want to write children’s literature, but what is that? Who’s my audience? What would success be?” It seems so broad and I’m not sure where I land in the giant world that includes everyone from Dr. Seuss to J.K. Rowling.

Yes, I do recognize that it’s a bit much to consider my own work to even be in the same universe as either of them as I’ve never published a book. I must admit that I do find something wishful to dream about in the story of Rowling once struggling to make ends meet and then publishing Harry Potter to become a billionaire.

There must be somewhere to start here, just a few words each day or even each week, an exercise of the mind. It will appear and grow I am sure. For now it remains on paper, but keep your eyes open. Maybe it will show up in cyberspace sometime soon.

We’ll See What Happens With the Book

Okay, I promised myself that I’d get back to writing my blog more consistently again so here I am hoping to return to a consistent pattern of writing. It’s good to be writing and to be thinking about writing, thinking about how it happens that the words wind up on the page and the story is told. My blog is mostly a space to let my brain spill out and simply see what happens to pour out onto the page, but it is also a tool to help me dig a bit deeper for other writing projects.

One of my goals for the this year is to draft a children’s book. I’d love to say “write a children’s book” but that seems to me to suggest that I’ll have sold the idea to a publisher in the next eight months as well and that seems a bit more audacious than I feel is warranted. I do have a couple of ideas in the starting phases. Two first drafts have gone to my writing group and come back with lots of comments, none of which was “this is brilliant!” So, it seems second drafts are the next step.

Still, poking at the corners of my mind are Uncle Walter, Tory McKannikan, and Jackie Soup. They’ve not appeared in the stories that I’ve written so far, but it seems that they warrant a series of their own, a set of adventures. Uncle Walter is loosely based, I think, on two old friends of mine. He’s a mischievous, but wise fun loving fellow. Tory McKannikan was my alter-ego when I was a little girl. She was a super hero who could do all the things I couldn’t. She was always saving the world. Jackie Soup was her best friend and husband. Yes, I married (or at least my alter-ego did) when I was probably about five years old. Jackie was a giant. He was also kindness personified.

Wow, there’s a realization I hadn’t expected. I had a dream last night. I’ve had a lot of dreams lately. It seems to be a healing process brought on by some herbal medicine I was prescribed some months ago. In last night’s dream I found myself stuck on a tall, tall pillar of sand in the middle of a huge pit that was at least a mile deep. I called out for help. The man who came and lifted me off the pillar of sand, cradling me to his shoulder as I cried asked me where I’d been and why I hadn’t called to him in so long. It was strange. I was both adult sized and yet I was tiny. He was small and yet he was a giant tall enough to see over the mile deep pit. I think my childhood imaginary love may have found me in my dream. He still loved me and cared for me, helped me, and made sure I was safe. Dreams are amazing things. I can only hope that my Tory McKannikan is finding her way out to take on new adventures and soar to new heights. We’ll see what happens with the book

Save A Walleye, An Ongoing Lie

It was in 1974 that two brothers went fishing. Mike and Fred Tribble, two Anishanabe men from the La Court Oreille reservation in Wisconsin had called the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to inform them of the fishing trip and then went out on Chief Lake, crossed the imaginary reservation line, cut a hole in the ice, and speared a fish off the reservation.

This small action would lead to more than decade in the courts resulting in the historic Voigt decision which acknowledged the Chippewa’s (name used for Anishanabe in legal records) right to 1) harvest fish, game, and plants off-reservation on public lands (and on private lands if proven necessary to provide a modest living); 2) use both traditional and modern methods in the hunting and gathering; and 3) barter or sell the harvest.

The decision took the hood off a long simmering Klan-like hatred in the Northwoods. The boat landings were filled with protesters like those in the photo above. Still, despite threats to their lives the Anishanabe stood strong and fished. Over four years, a Witness for Nonviolence made of allies from around the state grew to stand a peaceful guard along the landings.

Over time, the protestors drew their Klan hood back over their being and things quieted. Many who weren’t Anishanabe started to believe that the struggle was over, that it had become safe again. That wasn’t the reality. Whether the protests are small and quiet, not magnified by the media or loud and in the light of the cameras, they are there and they are threatening.

Just yesterday I learned of a family who were out spearfishing and attacked by white men. The men threw things and harassed the family with racial slurs and threats and one of the white men pulled down his pants exposing himself to the children who were fishing with their father and other family. This is nothing new. Some fishers can tell stories of being shot at every year. Yet they continue because they are Anishanabe and they must be who they are.

When will we learn? The Anishanabe have hunted, fished, and gathered here since the great spirit guided them to this place. Their harvest is miniscule in comparison to that of those who sports fish and the tribes work hard to care for the environment and replenish the fishing stock. This isn’t an issue about fish. This is Wisconsin’s version of the Klan and it is simply wrong and needs to stop.

Want to really save a walleye? Support Native spear fishers and keep the racist freaks off the water.

Better than Pizza Ranch Day

I didn’t go to Pizza Ranch today. Some days that’s a victory. Today was one of those days. There wasn’t anything wrong with today. It was actually a fine day, beautiful weather, laid back schedule with enough to keep me busy but not more than that. Still, this morning I found myself craving some bad for me food.

A few years ago, with the help of an old high school friend who now practices wholistic medicine, I made some major dietary changes and lost about fifty pounds. It was a strict diet that removed nine foods that appeared to be allergens for me. After a few years my gut had the time to heal and I was able to reincorporate some of the foods successfully. A few I still can’t eat without side effects. Unfortunately, these are the ones that are most addictive for me as it typically true for anyone dealing with addictive behavior. We are drawn to the things that are most harmful to us for that moment of good feeling. For me, from that list of nine allergens, I still can’t eat cane sugar or white potatoes without feeling it in my body. It comes in stomach aches, exhaustion or “sugar coma”, bloating, and just fatigue and feeling negative. It’s something that I know and something that I feel almost immediately after eating too much sugary stuff or too many fries or other potato products. Yet, sometimes the craving gets me.

The other issue that I have often questioned though it’s never been diagnosed as an allergy is dairy. There is a quite a bit of literature out there about how humans aren’t meant to eat dairy and how our body’s aren’t made to process it. I pretty much gave up drinking milk several years ago. I don’t really remember when. That wasn’t a big issue for me. Milk was good when I was growing up and we got it straight out of the bulk tank, the kind of milk that you shake to distribute the cream. That milk was good. I’m quite indifferent to pasteurized milk from the store, so I’ve never missed it. The challenge for me is cheese. Cheddar, mozzarella, pepperjack, string cheese, cheese curds, pamessan, cream cheese, the list goes on. For many years it wasn’t unusual for me to have cheese three or more times a day. In recent years I’ve cut that a bit, but I’m still a cheese junkie. I can admit it.

Reading a great deal about epilepsy in my own search to control my own seizures I keep coming across articles suggesting the possible connection between dairy intolerance and epileptic seizures. After seeing these stories for years, I’m biting the bullet and seeing if cutting my dairy consumption further might control my seizures. So, going the stove today to cook up a chicken breast and some veggies and making myself a couple of chicken wraps instead of going to Pizza Ranch was a victory that I can be proud of. I probably won’t cut out all dairy. I am, for now, not buying any cheese made with cow’s milk for consumption at home. I may have it as a treat when I go out. I will still use butter. I’m giving up yogurt made with cow’s milk too. Ice cream is already something that is best for me to avoid because of the high sugar content.

Each day, each action is valuable. I hope that others out there who read this piece might join me in doing whatever piece is right for you, making that one change in your diet that will make you healthier. We are all on a journey. Five or six years ago I was drinking pop every day and eating fast food at least five or six times a week and not eating all that much better when I cooked at home. Now, I cook almost all my meals at home with fresh organic fruits and vegetables. I use very few processed foods and drink mostly water. I feel so much better, happier, healthier. I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t made those changes? My epilepsy was diagnosed about eight years ago now. It’s coming under control. If I hadn’t changed my diet, would I have been able to keep my seizures down? Would they have kept getting worse? I’ll never know the answer to that, but I am glad to have done what I’ve done and look forward to continuing to get healthier.

Women and the Fear of Aging

I was listening to a podcast by Michelle Obama earlier today. She was discussing women’s health and talked a bit about our fear of aging and our general dislike of our own bodies. It’s a common belief, but I’m not sure I understand anymore. Sure, I have disagreements with my body. I’m not happy that I have seizures. I would like that to change. But, at 49 years old, I have to admit that I look in the mirror and I feel pretty good about what I see.

I don’t see the image that society would call a a model or a superstar. What I see though is a story and that story is far more valuable than any commercial image that we’re sold.

I see my scars. I see where my cat jumped on my face when I was asleep some years ago, missing my eye by only an inch or so. I see where my friend’s dog took took a chunk out of my arm leaving a mark that looks strangely like a smiley face. I see that reminder on my finger of when I was maybe six or seven and I wanted to see if I was strong enough to break a glass with my bare hand, I was. I see the reminder of swimming with friends in college and jumping off the cliff and the memory of when my puppy in his over energetic play landed on my ankle causing it to break, and the lines of surgeries most notably my my VNS implant that keeps me safe from seizures. My scars are like a physical storybook of myself.

I look at my hair. It’s wild. It’s always been wild ever since it started growing when I was two years old. But now, it’s something special. It’s turned almost entirely white. It’s been turning this way for years. I never really got into coloring it. I dyed it at home a couple times, but just for fun. The white means a lot to me. My father’s hair was silver or white since black and white pictures. I don’t know if anyone remembers or knows what color hair grandma had before hers turned white. They both had the most beautiful white hair. I look in the mirror and I see them. How can I not embrace the gray that reminds me of these beautiful people who are now just memories?

I look at my body. There’s extra here and there. My muscles aren’t as toned as they used to be. But, I take good care of myself. I eat healthfully. I walk and do yoga and maybe some other workouts. Still, it’s the body of someone who’s lived some years. Yet, I think of my mom. At my age she’d lost one of her breasts to cancer, was bald, and dealing daily with the impacts of chemotherapy. I cannot feel anything less than extremely grateful for my body and all its flab.

I look at my face. I see that turkey chin that never used to be there when I was twenty and I see all my aunts and uncles and who I am becoming. I am reminded how all of these supposed imperfections tell me who I am and how proud I am to be this person. I have been gifted this life in this family and my body tells me each day who I am.