A Look At History

I spent my day yesterday at Saint Cloud State University with several hundred middle and high school students and a hearty crew of adults.

I was one of those hearty adults, a History Day judge. It’s a good way to spend a day.

Minnesota is a part of a larger organization, called National History Day, that’s been around since 1974. More than 600,000 kids each year take part in this event competing locally, regionally, and for some, at state and national events. They’ve worked for weeks or even months to prepare for the contests creating websites and displays, writing papers, and developing presentations and skits. Each year the kids get a theme. This year was about tragedy and triumph. They take the theme and individually or as groups use it to explore a topic in history of their choice.

It’s neat to see how it makes history come alive for these kids when they get to choose what they want to study and they get to lead the research and figure out for themselves how they’re going to learn. It’s a little disarming to find how events in my own lifetime are now finding their way to History Day. Walking through the exhibit hall was actually a chance to see quite a few events I could remember– the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Jacob Wetterling story, and the OJ Simpson case, along with many that were really interesting and outside the realm of most classrooms. These kids are exploring things like the Radium Girls, the Stonewall Riot, escapes from Alcatraz. Their eyes are opening.

I got to judge junior group websites this year. These are middle school aged teams of two or three kids who are designing Weebly sites on a specific topic. It was pretty cool. The “penicillin girls,” as my fellow coach and I called them, brought us bacteria and mold they’d collected to complement their website work. The “hockey boys” had gotten an interview with on of the US players from the 1980 Olympic Hockey team. This is a really cool way to touch history.

How great it is when we let our kids lead the way and simply act as the supportive guides that we are meant to be. We are born with a natural inclination to explore, discover, and learn. It’s why we reach out for toys, crawl, and eventually run. It’s our nature to learn. We do it with many of the same tools we did when we were babies. We reach. We test. We try different methods. That’s what these kids were doing by nature with the help of teachers, parents, and others who just gently nudged when needed.

I love it when kids get to do things like that whether it’s History Day, playing outside and learning about science by licking slugs (yes, at least some types of slugs will make your tongue go numb. Try it.) or getting on stage with the play they’ve been working on or the new piece of music they’re playing because they want to make music or act.

Do what you can to support a kid learning through experience. You won’t regret it. In fact, you may learn quite a bit through the experience too. I know that I do!

Advertisements

Home

I grew up within just a few miles of where my mother, her parents, her grandparents, and I think even her great-grandparents had lived. I lived surrounded by siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. It was to the point that there was an older man who sat just a few pews ahead of us in church that we called Uncle John. I thought it was just a nickname. I think I was a teenager when I discovered that he really was my great-uncle and I had a whole other crew of cousins that I thought were just neighbors and friends.

My teachers had taught my older brothers and sisters as well as many of my cousins. The lunch lady was my aunt’s mom. I didn’t often know all the connections, but there were always people who knew me, who knew “who I belonged to.”

I left that place nearly 30 years ago. I’ve visited many times since then. It’s a good place to go back to. I’ve been thinking about it lately, realizing how I haven’t had a home since then. I’ve lived in at 10 different towns and more than 20 different houses and met a lot of great people, learned good things, had wonderful experiences, and yet not found a home.

How do we get home? I suppose I could go back to Dacada where I grew up, but would I be home or is that place gone? So much has changed since 1990. I’m not who I was, none of us are. Yet, I need to find a place that is home. Is it right where I am right now? What makes any place where we happen to be become home or not be home?

What would it be to be happy or content, connected to the place where I am? What would it feel like to feel that I am a part of the community and truly belong?

Do other people face this too? Has it become an unrealistic expectation to feel a sense of home? Did I have a special gift that I didn’t realize in the situation in which I grew up?

It seems that today’s blog is simply a series of questions, but it is important for me to write and put my thoughts out into the world. I welcome the insights of others.

peace,

amy

This Year’s Journey, One Month In

We’re already 27 days into the new year. It’s sometimes amazing how quickly time flies. The holidays are gone. The students are back. And now, everyone is hiding away from the frigid temperatures as we dip into the negative double digits. It seemed like a good day to check in on where I am with my New Year’s resolutions.

Here we are with blog post number 4. That seems a reasonable pace toward my fifty for the year. I don’t know that I’ve written much of anything to inspire myself or others, but I’ve written. Maybe the words of inspiration will come.

Thanks to wonders of audio books, I am on track with my book reading too. This exercise is a reminder of how I have come to multitask. Write and listen to a book. Knit and listen to a book. Do housework or office work or drive or whatever else and listen to a book. I question how well I take in all that I listen too. I have found though that it easier to listen to an audio book than a movie. The good books for the month? “The Education of Will” by Patricia McConnell. I’ve loved Dr. McConnell for a number of years. She’s a wonderful dog trainer. The book is an powerful look at who she is as a person and how her relationship with her dog, Will helped her move through some deep pains. It made a lot of sense. “Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying Yes to Living,” another excellent book. It’s a beautiful story of the end of an elderly woman’s life, how it brought her family together and changed their lives and many others.

Getting back to my healthy eating? Well, it’s a lot better without being surrounded by Christmas cookies.

Running? Nope. But, I have been doing more yoga lately and getting out walking quite a bit.

Guitar? Sometimes I think about picking it up. That counts, right?

I am more than half way on finishing a baby blanket for my first knitting project of the year.

Buddy is doing well with his good canine citizen training which is his first step toward being a therapy dog. It remains questionable whether he will pass the test, but each week gets a little easier. We started the class a few weeks late and his first session was a near total disaster. It was impossible for him to focus with other dogs in the room. The second week he did better, except when practicing stay and come. Then he decided he’d rather go check out the gymnastics equipment on the other end of the gym. And, there was the moment during puppy playtime. Young Buddy is a teenage boy and he was rather smitten with another dog who was several inches taller than him. Suddenly, I had a mess on the floor to clean up! Yep, young Buddy ejaculated across the gym floor. He also pooped in the hallway, but at least we were alone then and I had plenty of poop bags. Last week’s session’s only moment of excitement was coming in to the building. Poor Buddy somehow got his front paw stuck under the heavy entry door for the building. I have never heard a puppy scream like that! Thankfully, there was no significant damage, as confirmed by a classmate who is a vet.

As for cutting my screen time, I think maybe a little, but not all that significantly. Still it seems good. I am happy with the start of the year. Let’s see where it goes.

Small Dogs

I don’t like small dogs. Let’s just start it that way. I mean I’m not one of those actively anti-small dog people who really wants to boot them down the street, but I don’t like small dogs or at least that’s what I thought.

I am a fan of big dogs. My last dog was a bit over 50lbs, not huge but a big dog and she was perfect to me.

So, when I went to get a puppy a few months ago I looked at the big puppies. I scanned the shelter websites ignoring anybody who was clearly going to run the risk of growing up to be a yappy little ankle biter. Then, I made the big trip to the Lakes Area Humane Society and met Buddy. He was a big little guy so he fit the bill, right? Well, there was the question of the paws. There is a commonly held belief that a dog’s size can be determined by the size of their paws. Buddy has small paws.

Hmm… what to do? Well, there really was no question. How could I say no to the happy little guy scampering all over my lap, clearly just loving life? I chose not to pay too much attention to the paws and instead listen to the shelter staff person who told me that they believed he probably had lab and husky in his mix. He wouldn’t be huge, but he’d be a big dog.

We met up with my friend Bob later that day. He noted the paws and commented that Buddy may not get very big. I remained in denial with my commitment to his lab and husky traits.

Looking at various puppy weight calculators, most estimate that Buddy will someday weigh about 60lbs. He’s five months now and just under 30lbs and stands at about knee height to me. A trainer friend told me just the other day that at five months, he’s likely to only grow another two or three inches. While I have seen some tools that suggest he could grow as much as four inches, I am beginning to strongly suspect that my already sturdy little dude may someday strongly resemble a barrel. I think I may be the caretaker of a short, round canine for life.

Right now his tail is big for him and his head is already a bit small for his body. I’m pretty sure that no matter how much he grows, he’s going to be a unique looking fellow. I appreciate that. One of the great roles that dogs play in life is that they teach us about love and acceptance. He’s already doing that, it seems I am falling in love with someone that I wouldn’t have expected in this four legged goofball wonder. Stay tuned to find out who he may grow up to be.

The New Housemate

It’s been three months now since Bella took her last walk on August 26th, 2018.  Then on September 15th, I took the leap and brought a new friend into our little household and the world changed again.

Bringing Buddy home was the best way I could find for me to heal. It’s been an adventure that’s for sure.  What else could it be going from an 11 year old relaxed  best friend dog who had the power to take people with dog phobias and gain their trust and who could see the spirits in the room that none of the rest knew were there to a ten week old bundle of chaotic energy?

I still miss Bella, I suppose I always will. She carried me through some tough times along with many good ones and traveled with me for quite a few miles living in two states and at least six different homes over our years together.  I suspect the cats miss her too sometimes, especially when young Buddy is attempting to use them as living chew toys.

Buddy is a special little guy too though and is finding his way into my heart and many others.  He’s some sort of lab mix, born on the White Earth Indian Reservation who came to me via the Humane Society of the Lakes.

The morning I went to the Humane Society I’d actually gotten approval to adopt Buddy’s sister, but while people can submit applications and get approved they can’t reserve dogs.  I promised myself that if a family with kids was there to see the puppy I’d planned on I would let them have it without questions.  So, when I arrived to find a family with kids I looked to the other puppies.  Buddy jumped right in my lap and started to chew on me and I fell in love with the little 10lb clown.  We’re still working on the chewing though.

It’s been an exciting few months.  Buddy is a high energy dog and growing fast. He’s already put on 15lbs in our just over 2 months together.  Without enough running everything becomes a chew toy including the cats and his favorite human.  Tickle takes being a chew toy quite well and just bats him around a bit.  Tonks, not so much.  She’ll only come out from under the couch for trips to the food dish, the litter box, or when she’s feeling really brave.  The good thing is that Buddy’s been encouraging me to get in plenty of time hiking and playing out at the local natural area.

Up until very recently I thought I might have to buy stock in the pet stain remover company. Accidents were coming multiple times a day.  He had favorite spots on the living room carpet! We’re down to about one accident a week now.  I have hope.

He’s a smart little guy, other than taking a while with potty training and chewing.  I was happy to see him holding a ‘stay’ as I stepped several feet away today.  He’s also doing well with sit, come, shake, spin, and lay down.  Roll over is tough.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it means the human gets a puppy nip from a puppy who really wants a treat.  We keep trying.

In a few weeks, we’ll be embarking on the next step of our journey together. Buddy and I are going to puppy school.  It’s the first step of the journey for Buddy to become a therapy dog.  Bella provided therapy by nature. I’d thought of having her certified, but wasn’t aware of the option until she was old and it was past her time.  I suspect that Buddy will give a lot of good just by his spirit, but hopefully, he’ll have the certification to take him places too to help elders or kids or maybe folks facing illness.  We don’t know yet.  There are many questions to be answered.

I hope you’ll join us along this trip together.

The Gift of Mustriepen

I was reminded today of a most wonderful and valuable gift I received as a child.  I’ll call it mustriepen.  It was, and remains, the most awful stuff known to the human digestive system. My Uncle Tom is the only person I am aware of on the planet that can make any that is reasonably enjoyable.  For those not familiar with the food, mustriepen is a form of sausage ring made of pork remnants, cabbage, onion, breadcrumbs, blood, and spices.  It came with my people from Luxembourg.

So why call it a wonderful and valuable gift?  I work at university where we have a large population of Native students.  Today in talking with one of those students I got to listen to a story that isn’t uncommon.  The student told me about not getting to spend much time with relatives on the reservation growing up because the reservation was someplace not to be because poverty and addictions.  Staying away kept them safe from such things.  There’s value and truth to that.  But, it also did something else.  That student referred to themselves as white.  It’s only now as a young adult that they are starting to look at who they are in their Indigenous heritage.   We have many students who are blond haired, blued eyed Native Americans.  When they grow up in their cultures and you ask who they are they will proudly say  “I’m from Red Lake” or Leech Lake or wherever.  Many will know how to introduce themselves in their ancestral language, maybe they even speak more.  They know something of who they are.  Now a reservation is simply a place, but it is one place where culture and history stands.  It’s not the only one.  There are many ways to grow up knowing who you are.

The thing is those blond haired, blued eyed Native kids who feel some connection to who they are speak with a sense of strength and grounding that the other kids don’t have.  There are other Native kids like this one who want to know the way home and it’s a hard way to find.

I’m not Native but I grew up with mustriepen and a sense of identity that is unusual for white people today.  My people had lived in Wisconsin since the mid to late 1800’s, but still identified as Luxembourgers.  My dad and some of his generation could still speak the language.  My grandma grew up speaking it.  In the process of becoming white identity is lost.

I am thankful for that gift of mustriepen and I, once again, find myself asking– how do I support and guide these young people who want to know who they are?

The Last Few Blocks

The cats are gathering around my bed now.  They can feel the change as much as I.  It’s just us now– Tickle, Tonks, and myself.  The world has changed again.

It was a day like any other- gardening, a few things around the house, a nap, some volunteer work.  Then tonight I took Bella for a walk.  We were almost a block from the house when she collapsed and began to seize.  I recognized it immediately.  It was just like her predecessor, my last dog, Sam. It looked to be a stroke.

I began to carry her home.  A man and his wife stopped at the end the alley.  He came and asked if he might help.  I handed her over and he carried her the rest of the way to my garage and laid her in the tatermobile.  She still had the energy to move herself from the passenger seat to the driver seat.  I put her back on the passenger side and took the driver seat.

I wasn’t able to immediately reach the vet and didn’t know when or we were going, so I took her to lay down on my bed.  Shortly after we heard from the vet, so back to the van.  I carried her large, limp body.

We made it to the vet’s office a few minutes before he arrived.  I was able to just sit with her, to clean the mess a bit with the bags I had with me for the walk when her body let go of that last bit of bile, and to look into her eyes, and tell her that I love as I watched the life leave them.

I was in tears when the vet arrived.  I let him know that he just missed her.  He took out his stethoscope and confirmed that I was right, then got a cart for her body while I said goodbye.

It doesn’t seem real yet.  I just needed to write this, to hold what happened before it becomes real.  I wonder about the morning.  Every morning I wake and the first think I do is tell her good morning and ask her if she’s ready to go outside.  I let her out the door for a few moments while I put food in her dish and the cats’.  Once I have poured the food I hear her bark at the door and open it to let her bust her way past for breakfast.  I shower and have breakfast and we go for our walk.

Tomorrow, we won’t do that.  It hurts.