The New Year Update– Spring Edition

In some ways January 1st seems so long ago. But, here in west central Minnesota I can just look out the window and it seems like only yesterday. We’re still knee deep in snow with the promise of a really exciting blizzard in the upcoming day or so. Right now, it’s in the upper 30’s so the snow is melting and rain is coming down. The streets are running with rivers and many Morris residents are busy moving everything in their basements to higher ground and making sure their sump pumps work. I, meanwhile, am being thankful at being a renter without a basement.

So, where things from that list of lofty goals I made back in January. Well, here’s the update.

  1. Writing at least 50 blog posts– I think I better get to work on this one, but I’m not horribly far off. This is number 6 with just 41 more weeks in the year.
  2. Reading/ listening to 50 books — I’m a little behind on this one too, actually about the same amount as I am with writing my blog. I am six books in right now and working on number seven. I must highly recommend “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. What an incredibly inspiring person. I’d also say read “Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying Yes to Living.” It’s a beautiful tale of life in its final moments. “The Education of Will” was quite good too.
  3. Getting back on track with my healthy eating habits– I’m doing ok here now. I did have a really rough time for a few weeks when the majority of my diet was pizza and burgers. I don’t know how much I got depressed because of what I was eating or how much I was eating so poorly because I was depressed. But, I am doing a lot better now and feeling better too.
  4. Running a 10k or 1/2 marathon (I haven’t decided yet, but I know more than 5k and probably not a full)– I’m not starting running until I don’t have to plow through snow drifts to do it.
  5. learn to play guitar– I found someone who teaches guitar, that’s a start. Right?
  6. finish at least 3 or 4 knitting projects– I’ve got 1 done. I actually switched to crochet, but I’m going to count it.
  7. Get Buddy started with his therapy dog training– We started with dog training. Then it got snowed out so many times that I decided to start again in the next class series. He is learning tricks pretty well. Now, if I could just get him to learn not to chew on his human.
  8. Cutting my screen time significantly, especially facebook time– Not perfect, but doing well here. It helps to have my book reading goal. I can’t read and do Facebook at the same time. Spring will help too. I have a commitment to not looking at social media when I am out walking and I love to get out when the weather is nice.

So, that’s where it’s at. While I’m not quite where I aimed to be at this time, I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve been able to do and am glad that I set goals this year. What about you? Who else set New Year’s goals and where are you at?

Every week I have my students write down two goals for themselves. One is a project goal to remind themselves about what they want to accomplish on the effort that they are working on with their community partner for the semester. The other, and this is maybe the more radical one for college students, is a self care goal. Most of my students are pretty generic in their self care goals. They want to sleep, to eat vegetables, or to study. But, that’s o.k. It’s makes no difference to me if they have some simple goals or even if those goals stay the same all semester. I just want them to write that self care goal every week for 15 weeks. I want them to leave the program thinking that it’s important to take care of themselves as well as to have a direction in the work they choose.

That’s why I put together my New Year’s goals this year and why I am coming back to them now in March to check in and see how I am doing, because I am important enough to take care of. We all are. I hope that you’re finding a good way to care for yourself today.

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Sweet Holidays

About one and a half years ago I changed my diet. I didn’t go on a diet. In my experience, diets are almost always temporary fixes that don’t lead to long term solutions. I opted instead to change the foods I eat for a lifetime in order to live longer and better with hopes that it would help decrease my seizures and help with the bouts of depression that I’d been facing.

I worked with an old friend who now is a medical professional to test my food allergies. We found nine. Not surprisingly, most were things that I was eating daily, things like potatoes and cane sugar. I was craving these items just like any other addict would crave the substances that harm them. So, my list of harmful substances in hand I cleaned out my kitchen and began again.

It was tough at first, but I began to quickly see the benefits and they kept me going. Over time I lost 50lbs, found greater energy, began to be able to sleep through the night again, felt mentally clearer, and stopped needing to run to the bathroom every two hours. The change of eating habits definitely has helped my life a great deal. It’s hard to say whether it’s cut my seizures or not, but I’m down to about one a year which is much better than bouts of them every few months where I was a few years ago.

Over the holidays I decided to try an experiment to see how my body has healed in the last one and a half years. I decided that while I was visiting family for the week between Christmas and New Year’s that I wouldn’t stick with my healthy food choices. I wouldn’t go overboard, but I would allow myself things like sugary Christmas cookies and cheesy potatoes if I wanted them.

It is amazing to me the impact that food has on our bodies. There were many meals this past week that told me immediately that they weren’t right for me. I wondered how I handled the food roller coaster for the first forty-five years of my life. I’d find myself eating some food that I’d once loved; processed macaroni and cheese, buttered noodles from Noodles and Company, rice crispy bars, all these heavily processed, sugar laden, super carb foods that were one minute tasty on the tongue and the next causing me to say “ugghhh, I should not have done that.” Food should not elicit that kind of response.

Over the week I found that most of my allergens I can live with or without and not care too much, but there is that one demon. Yes, you probably guessed it, sugar. I am only allergic to cane sugar, but just eliminating that from my diet significantly cut my overall sugar use. When I reintroduced it this past week, I suddenly found myself reaching for more and more Christmas cookies even though I knew that within the hour I’d want a nap. Every day I slept for about an hour in the afternoon. Every night I got up at least once. I could see and feel the changes in my complexion and just my body overall even in just nine short days. And, the cravings were amazing. It is a strange thing to find myself thinking about the next cookie or piece of chocolate or whatever.

I am glad that I did the experiment and glad to be home and going back to my normal way of eating. I’ll probably be juice fasting for a few days to rid myself of toxins. Then, I hope I can keep passing all the sugary processed stuff everywhere and get back to being healthy. Wishing you all the best of health in the new year.

The New Year

It’s probably been more than 30 years now since my father and I made that trip to Canada. I remember sitting in passenger seat asking Dad about the old days. I wanted to know about his life, about where he’d come from and how he’d become the man he was. He told me stories of my grandfather who I’d never had the good fortune to meet. Grandpa died in 1935 following an appendicitis attack. My father was seven years old and emulated grandpa who was a well respected dairy farmer in the area.

It was in that conversation so many years ago that I asked my dad about what he wanted to do with his life. He told me about wanting to be a dairy farmer like his father had been. He told me about how life had gotten in the way of following his dream. He made choices, choices that were difficult but that he felt were right. He set his dream aside for marriage and children. He chose a full time job off the farm to keep his growing family fed and clothed. He put his family first and though he did crop farming he never got cows.

When I looked into his eyes and saw the sadness of a dream never realized I made a decision that defined my life. I decided in that moment that I would never look back on my life to see I hadn’t fully lived.

That decision has led me to living in eight different towns in three different states, leading community organizing efforts and fighting multinational corporations, traveling on three continents, hiking hundreds of miles, and now working at a university.

It’s been good so far, but recently watching my now aged father and a much younger family member who’s been dealing with major health issues, I’ve been thinking. My life has become rather routine and there is much to do, to see, to learn. It seems a year to write down some of those things that I’d like to have happen as a reminder to myself and a public commitment. So, here it goes. Presuming that I succeed with my efforts, there will undoubtedly be updates throughout the year. I hope you’ll read on and share the experience with me. I wish you the best in the new year! Here’s what I’ll be doing to grow.

  1. Writing at least 50 blog posts (here’s the 1st one!)
  2. Reading/ listening to 50 books ( I’m starting with “The Education of Will” by Patricia McConnell and “38 Nooses” by Scott W. Berg)
  3. Getting back on track with my healthy eating habits
  4. Running a 10k or 1/2 marathon (I haven’t decided yet, but I know more than 5k and probably not a full)
  5. learn to play guitar
  6. finish at least 3 or 4 knitting projects
  7. Get Buddy started with his therapy dog training
  8. Cutting my screen time significantly, especially facebook time

Those are my big goals for the year. My hope is that these will bring me more happiness along with some new skills, improved physical health, knowledge, and some cool projects. I hope you’ll find positive growth in the new year as well. Take good care!

Hardening

Is it becoming hardened to the world?  Is that what’s happened? Is it ok?  Is it a good thing?  Does it need to be addressed?

I went to see the movie “The Hate You Give” a couple weeks ago.  A woman I knew was there with a friend of hers and their teenage kids.  The adults were talking about how one of the kids had absolutely devoured the book and questioning how they’d respond to the movie.  The kids loved the movie. They also seemed to have the power to take it in as both normal and fiction.  I found myself questioning whether I could have done that in the same nonchalant way when I was their age.  I suspect not.  I’m guessing I would have been troubled.  Though I do kind of wonder about their power.  After all, I was busy being troubled by many things as a teenager that I had no words for, but they looked at ease. 

Then I look at myself.  My work hosted a discussion last night on the prevention of sexual violence and sex trafficking.  We had a good room full of people and excellent facilitators.  They shared some powerful research about what’s happening in Minnesota.  I found myself looking about the room at all the students and other community members and wondering “how many here have been affected?” but not really feeling. 

This isn’t new.  I’ve been doing community organizing in one form or another for nearly 30 years now.  There was a time when discussions like that of last night would have sent me off in anger to organize, to take part in a rally, to do something.  Now, sometimes I just sit and reflect and don’t feel the anger or the sadness or maybe I do, it’s just deeper where I don’t see it. 

I still do work.  It looks different.  I spend a lot of time with college students asking them how they’ve been sustaining themselves.  I measure the invitations to get involved in local efforts and choose the ones that I believe will build community while addressing issues of concern. 

You know it does frighten me that I or those teenagers can look at any form of violence and see it as part of the place and time in which we live and not be at least a bit angry, heartbroken, and fearful.  We deserve better.  

Hardening is a form of protecting self, but isn’t softening that as well? How can we be both soft and pliable and strong to face the painful realities? That’s the ongoing question.   I keep working for an answer.


Food for Thought From the Garden

Roughly 45lbs of food, that’s what came out of the garden that I share with my friend David yesterday.  I will admit there was apple tree involved and apples are heavy.  Still, it’s an impressive haul from just an average small town back yard.  I haven’t been consistent about weighing the food that I harvest, but this makes me wonder.  How much have I gotten from the garden this year and how much is there?  Is it 200lbs, 500, a 1,000?

In any case, it the experience is worth its weight in gold.  The dog and I walk the few blocks over to David’s house where I unleash Bella to let her lay in the shade while I weed and discover the bounty.  Depending on the amount to harvest and the number of mosquitoes we may be there a few minutes or a few hours.  If David is home we enjoy some visiting while we’re there.

Yesterday I found a butternut squash where I thought I’d accidentally killed off the vine.  It was great find.  Earlier this summer I was awed by lettuce that kept producing tasty leaves even in the hottest days of July.  I can’t say that I ever find this kind of joy and wonder in the aisles of the supermarkets looking at the harvests trucked in from 500 miles away.

I spent most of my day yesterday in my kitchen watching movies on my computer while making spaghetti sauce for winter, freezing carrots, drying apples, baking granola, and making a bit of cucumber salad.  I still have quite a bit of that 45 lbs of produce to preserve so I’ll be back at it tonight. But, it brings me such simple joy.

I spend the time engulfed the sweet and savory smells of my creations eyeing the wonders that I had the good fortune to harvest, being awed just that they’re real.  I get to bathe in the memories other times and other kitchens with friends and family, so much laughter and so much love.

I think a lot about convenience.  I think about how we were sold the idea of processed foods in the 1950’s.  We were told they were convenient, time savers.  Yes, I spent a wonderful day yesterday enjoying the food I grew and harvested.  I got to spend time with my dog and cats, just being at home and being creative.  I don’t know a better use of that time.  I am glad I didn’t give it away to something else less valuable.  I am confident too, that there will be times this winter that I will be glad of my pre-prepared sauces and soups and other wonders that I can heat in just a few minutes for supper that were made in my kitchen and not a science lab with food not food-like substances.

An All White Town

I grew up in rural Wisconsin in the 1970’s and 80’s in an all white town, except that it wasn’t, all white that is.

I don’t know exactly when I realized that little bit of information. I just know that even today I hear about rural communities being “all white” and I wonder.  I know that was the story of the area that I grew up.  That’s how we, at least we who identified as white, spoke.  “Those people” whoever “those people” were lived somewhere else, maybe in Chicago or Milwaukee or up north on the reservations, but certainly not in our area.

While I was busy living in that White Town fantasy world, some of my friends were living the reality of being bi-racial, Latino, or Asian in a community that didn’t, and probably still doesn’t really recognize them for who they are.  Instead, it asks that they pretend to be White or better yet, just be invisible or don’t be.

Well, these days I hang my hat in west central Minnesota.  I’m still in a small town and I work with small towns around the state.  Our rural communities are changing.  The White population is slowly shrinking and the population of people of Color is growing.  It’s going to continue that way into the foreseeable future.  It wasn’t ok for us to expect people of Color to pretend to be White or to try to be invisible or to just not be thirty years ago.  It’s absolutely unacceptable today.

Do we want rural communities to survive?  If we do, then we need to take a look at ourselves and ask some questions.

  • Am I seeing everyone who lives here for who they are or am I asking them to reflect me?
  • What am I doing to honor the experience and gifts that People of Color bring to the table?
  • How am I perpetuating racist systems and how am I tearing them down in my every day?
  • Who do I welcome and how?
  • What do I want my community to look like in twenty years? What will it take to get there?

I am sure there are many more questions to consider, but these give us a starting point.  The key thing is that the fantasy White Town has always been a nightmare for some and is becoming a nightmare for all.  If we want the nightmare to end, we need to look racism in the eye and tell it no more.

Who Am I?

My friend Walt used to tell a story.  He’d tell people of an Anishanaabe elder who spoke of the fire at the beginning of the world, “No” he’d say ,”before the beginning.”  All the people sat together around that fire with the creator.  One by one we went off to populate the world.  The Anishanaabe were the last to leave.  They liked it there by that fire, telling stories, swapping jokes, and just having a good time with the creator.  Finally, the creator had to chase them away.  That time by the fire has left a memory, a connection that others have forgotten.

The elder in Walt’s story was approached by people from all over world; African, Asian, Latino, Caucasian all asking for their stories.  The elder always responded the same.  “I don’t your story.  I can only tell my own. But, if it’s true that we all come from around the same fire, our stories must be similar.”

I think about that often.  It’s told me who I am.

I grew up a Catholic, white, farm girl in southeastern Wisconsin.  I always wanted to see the homeland of my ancestors.  A little over a month ago that dream came true.  Some of my family and I went on a tour of Luxembourg.  That’s where my understanding of who I am got a reworking.

It turns out that it’s likely my ancestors were Jewish.  Quite a thing to find out during a week of touring WWII museums and cemeteries!

I am left now to wonder who they were.  Jews were first recorded in Luxembourg in the 13th century.  They were largely wiped out and returned several times over the upcoming centuries.  By the time my family left in the mid-1800’s there were several hundred in the country.

What happened?  What made this group so persecuted so consistently throughout the centuries? What pushed my family to deciding to leave behind their identity and claim something new when others didn’t?  What does that identity mean for me?

These are all questions that have just begun to float in my mind.  I don’t know yet what to do with them or where to seek answers.  It is probably enough for now to simply name the questions.

It is my walk back to that fire to find out who I am.  That is where we find ourselves, in the journey back to the fire, in that time to sit and visit and come to know each other, ourselves, the created, and the creator.