How Do We Respond To All The Violence?

Some of my students and I were meeting today for our regular learning circle. It turned out not to be the circle I’d expected. I’d gone in with a list of questions and updates to make sure that everyone’s community projects were on task and ready to be done in just a few weeks.

Instead, we got into other conversations. One of the topics of conversation was the recent mass shootings. We discussed how violence has become the norm, the students spoke to how their response to the growing number of shootings in our country is to do their best to ignore it. They expressed how this is the only way that they feel they have to handle the immense fear, grief, and anger. They spoke of becoming hardened to feeling.

I suggested to them that this hardening seems to me much like that of depression or burnout and that maybe our society is burned out and that’s not okay. They agreed that this may be the case. Not surprisingly, they had no clear answers on what to do. But, I think the conversation was good and healthy and maybe part of what needs to be done. They talked with each other. We came together as community and acknowledged our fear face to face. That coming together and just talking is part of the healing I am sure of that. Community is essential. That’s not social media discussion or meetings to act or anything else other than just coming together as people and just letting the conversation flow.

I had another interesting conversation later in the day. A friend offered to me that part of the problem we may be facing today is inter-generational trauma. My friend spoke specifically to the trauma carried by white people from generation to generation from our role that we’ve played in so much destruction and enslavement of many kinds. Something there made sense to me, not just for the dominant group, but for all of us.

What is it that we do with our history? I’d always heard of the concept of multi-generational trauma associated with Native cultures. There is much to suggest that it is very much a reality. What if it is true of all of us? What if we carry the experiences and energies of past generations? What if we are deepening and speeding up the process with the intensity of the growth of violence in our lives?

Many Native peoples have found their way in life through a revitalization of cultural history, by learning their languages, practicing their spirituality, returning to traditional foods, and simply listening to their stories.

While I believe firmly in pressuring the government to take appropriate actions to address the growing violence and I think it’s important to partake in non-violent protest to make our voices heard, I think there is something more, something for the long term.

I think there is a knowledge in the work being done in Native communities to address inter-generational trauma that is part of addressing the growing issue of violence in our communities. We need to ask ourselves each day, “How can I treat myself and all my relations with respect and caring?”

This begins, I believe, with taking pause, breathing deep, and treating ourselves gently, feeding ourselves in healthy ways physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This gives us the energy to reach out.

We reach out to feed our relations whether those be fellow people or the earth and its other inhabitants. We take time to breathe together and get to know each other, to heal each other’s wounds.

That’s where we begin and that’s where we ultimately find the long term answers, in caring for ourselves and each other, in building our spiritual and emotional connections, in becoming a community.

It seems so simplistic and yet so challenging and so lost over so many generations. Yet, it is what we need. So, today, care for yourself, treat yourself with respect, and reach out with the same caring and respect for all those around.

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Day 19 of the Fruit and Vegetable Challenge

Yesterday was the first day that I missed writing this blog since the challenge began. It was a long, hot day and I was wiped out by the end. My co-worker, Mary Jo and I took a small crew of undergrads on a trip to the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus to visit the organic and Native medicine gardens and then on to Dream of Wild Health. This meant spending a full day out in 90+ degree heat and high humidity. We were lucky to miss the storms though and to get the positive impacts of cool breezes coming with the thunder storms.

The garden tours were all excellent. It was beautiful to see the energies that the farmers carry with them. Courtney, our first guide, took us through the organic gardens at the UM. Her smile was fantastic and she spoke with such joy of her love of growing unusual foods. We got to try quite a few berries, lemon drop tomatoes, several different edible flowers, all delicious!

We hadn’t expected a tour at the Medicine Garden, but Frances was there so he spoke for a bit, sharing the history of the place and encouraging us all to let go of our consumerism and instead grasp on to living for future generations. He spoke to a treaty that wasn’t ratified. His comments left me with questions. I’ll have to do some digging to figure out what treaty he was referring to. There is no doubt that many of the Native signers of the treaties didn’t have a full understanding of what they were signing and signed only under duress, but given that congress ratified the treaties, I wasn’t aware of any that weren’t ratified that the US wanted.

We spent a bit more time at the Medicine Garden than we’d expected. So, had to grab a quick bite to eat. I had to kind of wonder as we went through the line at Subway. We’re all supporters of organic farming. We all garden. We’d just listened to Frances speak to anti-consumerism and living our values. Then we went to get some of the lowest quality fast food available to humankind. I will say that I skipped it. I went for the sausage and cheese with crackers and some grapes and currants that we had in the van instead.

The afternoon was at Dream of Wild Health where we learned how to pollinate corn and squash for seed saving. It was really quite interesting to watch. I found myself remembering back in the days when my brother Tom was in high school and he spent summers de-tasseling corn. It was a much larger scale of controlling pollination, but much the same. It is striking to really think about how plants like corn are pollinated and how, even when we try to eat clean, we are so easily impacted by GMOs and chemically treated plants.

Dream of Wild Health is really an amazing place. Their work is to restore health and well-being in Native communities. They do this through restoring traditional foods and medicines, educating, and building community. It struck me, as I am sure it has many others, how appropriate it is that they have staff named Faith and Hope. Those two concepts are at the core of their work and simply radiate from everyone and everything in the place.

After a warm, but educational day we headed home. We stopped along the way for dinner at a little place called the Lakeside Cafe. It was a reminder to me of how my diet has changed. They had a nice buffet for their Friday fish fry. I opted for it, but was amazed at the level of carbohydrates and the lack of fresh, well fresh anything. So, a simple house salad with that value-free iceberg lettuce, some pickled beets, and bean salad, along with a bit of canned pears. The main meal though was breaded cod, macaroni and cheese, pasta salad, and a dinner roll. I tried the rice, but that was just not a good thing. I think that’s about the same amount of simple carbs as I normally eat in almost a week.

I’m not quite sure on my calorie count for the day, but I think it stayed under 2,000 and that’s good for a day like that. Plus, we did get a lot of walking in, not fast walking, but still we were moving about.

Now, the question is today. I had hoped for a trip to another county fair, but right now it’s raining. Maybe later if it clears up.

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.

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.