Too Darn Hot

I have been given the day off from my job at Old World Wisconsin.  When the heat index is over 100 degrees, we expect few visitors to the outdoor living history museum.  With my time, I imagine accomplishing all kinds of things, but in truth, I am simply sitting in front of a fan in the living room, drinking cold water.  I am surrounded by books.  “Savor” by Thich Nhat Hahn is right at hand, bringing mindfulness into my view, but what I am mindful of is the sun beating down on the roof next door, angling through the windows despite the mini-blinds, heating the air so that any breeze coming in feels like the blow-dryer set on High.  I imagine all the sweet corn that I want to be eating next month shriveling up in the fields.  The loss of that treat – roasted in the husk, dripping in fresh butter and seasoned with salt and pepper – is probably not as devastating as the loss of an entire crop to a farmer.  Dust Bowl conditions may be just around the corner at this rate.  We are all connected to the changes and conditions on this planet.  How can we be mindful and act compassionately as a community?  How can we become “solid, peaceful, whole, and well” and improve the well-being of the world through collective compassion?  And can we cause a sea change on the planet before our brains are so baked that we can’t think at all?  I retreat into distraction and immediately think of this song…

Drops of sweat tap dance down my trunk…

Conscientiousness melts into individual survival…

When will the healing rain fall?

Family Milestone

I have been absent from the blogosphere for a few days in order to be present at a family event.  My oldest, Susan, and her First Mate, Andy, invited a small contingent of family and friends to support them in a Handfasting ceremony.  We gathered in a woodland setting to witness their vows and verbalize our advice and wishes in a ritual with varied symbolism.  The result is, finally, that they are engaged.  They will now begin to plan the final steps toward Marriage, which for my daughter has been a big, scary journey into never-ending adulthood that has made her skittish for years.  This social event has her two sisters and at least one future sister-in-law completely ecstatic, and sent them into a frenzy of beautifying and picture-taking that reminded me of their school days on the cheerleading and pom-pom squads…

Girls will be girls

My son was much more restrained and tired from his night shift job and travel, but he surprised me by looking more like his dad than ever before. 

For Susan, the event put her in the spotlight in a way that made her very nervous and vulnerable, but to her credit, she was aware of the neurotic nature of that anxiety and owned it with humor.  Which only made her more adorable to Andy.

During the ceremony itself, I really wanted to pay attention to the real time emotion and meaning of the moment.  While others snapped pictures, I put my camera down and watched the expressions of my daughter intently as her beloved read his vows and she read hers.  Together they fashioned a three-stranded cord and allowed themselves to be bound together.  I was in tears watching and hearing and feeling and believing right along with them. 

Afterwards, of course, we had feasting and drinking and gifting at a Chinese restaurant.

If we all look like we are glowing and flushed, I can assure you it’s not because of quantity of drink so much as the fact that it was almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and it was, after all, an outdoor event. 

The heat wave continues, and the wave of good feelings does, too.  My daughter is grown and growing; she is building a very strong, very loving, very supportive relationship with a person she has admired since she was 11 years old.  And it is very good.  I suppose I can now take a sabbath rest for a day…I’ve been given tomorrow off from work because of the hot weather.

Pointing Your Canoe

Who do you want to be?  How do you want to live?  What do you want to do with your life?  Where do you want to point your canoe? 

Doesn’t matter where your canoe came from…Steve found this one at a garage sale

Strap it down and get ready to roll…

Set a course for your adventure and enjoy the ride!

Things I Learned on Mother’s Knee (or some other joint)

Steve’s mom had knee replacement surgery yesterday.  He called his sister after work to see how the procedure went (all well), and then asked, “So, did you get the old knee?”  She laughed, of course, but I was thinking it would be a great addition to our museum cupboard in the dining room.  Then Steve asked if it was legal to keep human bones.  Huh?  Hmmm.   I’ve discovered that there are no federal laws prohibiting the ownership or sale of human bones.  Prior to 1987, most bones were imported from India, and until 2008, China also exported human bones.  No more.  There are some state laws restricting the import and export of human remains across state lines, and Native American material is very much protected under the Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.   So we have a right to bear arms and bare bones.

She had her hip replaced a few years ago.   I wonder what they did with that?

The Museum

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My father was born on July 10, 1933.  He died in 2010.  He had a group of work colleagues who were also born in July, and they used to call themselves the SRA Cancer Society.  My father did have prostate cancer at one time, but surgery eliminated it completely.  He died of Alzheimer’s.  He was never one to celebrate his birthday in any obvious way, but he did enjoy fine dining.  Fortunately for him, he had the wherewithal to enjoy the very finest.  I benefited from the “trickle down effect” of that boon, meaning that I have dined well on his generosity myself.  On the occasion of his 70th birthday, we stayed at The Benbow Inn near Garberville, CA.  Located on a river in the redwoods, this beautiful resort was established in 1926.  My father counted it as one of his favorite places.  The first time I went there was on the way north to Oregon for my sister’s wedding.  My 9-month old daughter Susan was with me.  Ordinarily, children are not allowed in the dining room after 8pm, but the management made an exception for my father, who promised that the baby would be beautifully behaved…and she was.  Later that evening, I realized she had a bit of a fever and digestive distress, but that only mellowed her out.  The next time I visited the Inn was my father’s 70th birthday.  I had begun to notice signs of memory loss and confusion during that trip, but he was completely in his comfort zone at the restaurant. My mother and brother look a bit skeptical in this photo:

I remember the delight he showed in settling in at the bar and sampling from their extensive selection of Scotch before dinner.  I compare it to my absolute thrill at finding a decanter of sherry in my room.  So nice of them!  The next day, we had them pack us a picnic to eat while out hiking.  It was elegant and tasty, but a far cry from the granola bars and such that my father usually took on his woodland walks.  

I think I set the camera on a tree stump and used the self-timer on this one…

My father would be participating in the heavenly banquet of eternity right now, and I can imagine him enjoying himself immensely in that setting.  I’m off to get myself a little supper, probably just some hummus and a glass of Shiraz, but I eat and drink to his honor in gratitude this evening.  I love you, Dad.  To Life!!

Broadcast News

I was interviewed by a local news station on the 4th of July and asked about what it’s like to wear 19th century clothing in 106 degree heat.  The interview lasted about 10 minutes, and I talked about the resilience of the pioneers and how they adapted to their environment and lived in harmony with it instead of attempting to control it at all costs…or something like that.  In my mind, I was reaching for a thoughtful perspective.  However, the editors chose about 10 seconds of me talking about evaporation, hydration and not lacing up my corset so tight that I can’t breathe.  I can’t figure out how to link to the MOV file that I have in order to show you.  Watching myself on camera is humbling.  Why are my nostrils so large?

Peering through the open-backed pews at St. Peter’s

Pinball Wizard

My weekend working at Old World Wisconsin is over for this week.  We’ve survived the brutal heat, although the beeswax candles in St. Peter’s did not…one suffered from heat exhaustion to the point that it fell out of its holder and now lays tangled in the brackets of the sanctuary lamp chandelier.  Another of its mates is listing at about a 90 degree angle.  We’ve had no significant rainfall since June 16.   Crowds have been sparse, way off the season norms.  How do I stay sane while the sweat drips down my corset?  I meditate and sew.  I was taught to make pinballs during my training week.  These are dodecahedrons (12-sided spheres) of 5-sided bits of fabric, sometimes called “Bucky balls” (named after Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic domes).  They hold pins and needs like a pincushion, but can also be used for playing hackey sack or juggling, or hung with a ribbon on a Christmas tree (not that anyone in the 19th century used them for that!).   I find it fun to pick out the bits of fabric and mix and match the colors…and it’s a whole lot simpler than quilting.  I can sew 12-20 stitches per inch by hand.  I’ve made about 10 of these so far; a few have not been stuffed yet because finding the scrap wool and fabric to put inside requires a “supplies requisition form”.  I have begun to hand hem linen towels as well, and when I’m at the Hafford House on Tues. and Wed., I crochet rag rugs.  So here are some photos of my handiwork, and a shot of my favorite visitor today: a butterfly who landed on the 173 year old wood and spread his magnificent wings for me. 

Hope you had a great weekend; maybe unlike you,  I look forward to Mondays because it’s my day off!

Interesting Inconsistency vs. Efficiency

People are inconsistent.  We must be; we’re alive, living, responding, changing.  Funny thing is, in the West we’re often taught that this is a bad thing.  It isn’t efficient.  It isn’t dependable.  It goes against all kinds of Protestant ethics of order and purpose and such.  But in Eastern cultures, it’s often celebrated.  “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.”  When the Buddha becomes a monolith, a never-changing dogma, it is no longer a life-giving source. I look to historical information and try to understand why people did what they did for a living now; I’m a historic interpreter.  I keep fighting this penchant for landing on the “right answer”, the one that describes order and purpose and makes sense.  I’m learning more that the joy of interpreting history is found in saying “we don’t know why”.  We’re quirky; isn’t that marvelous?  We change, we evolve, we digress, we’re capricious.  In many cultures, gods were like that, too.  It was acceptable, maybe expected.  But in Western theology, that became a bad characteristic for a god, and immutability became important.  We want something dependable, something stable, so much that we’re willing to construct it and enshrine it.  Why?  Because it allows us to stop trying to be responsible in the world?  The effort of responding is perhaps a constant drain, and we are lazy by nature?  I think of cultures that are resilient, flexible, responsive to the environment, and I think that consistency is maybe not that important or beneficial after all.  

  “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, 1830

What made me think about this?  I was looking into Wisconsin history, and the history of the Upper Peninsula, and came across the story of Henry Schoolcraft.  His first wife was half Ojibwa and helped him in his scholarship of Native American cultures.  His second wife wrote a popular anti-Tom novel in response to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous book and disapproved of mixed-race unions, thereby alienating her stepchildren completely.  Why would the same man be married to both of these women?  “I don’t know why.”

Bookshelf at the Raspberry School, Old World Wisconsin

I recognize in myself a tendency to try to put my partner in a box, to figure out the consistent rules that will help me predict his behavior.  There aren’t any, really.  But he is hardly a sociopath.  He simply wants to be allowed to communicate his thoughts and feelings as they arise, to be understood in the moment, known intimately for the authentic and complicated man he is.  He is more than willing to talk and reason and explain honestly and even to make promises and act on them in order to gain my trust.  Perhaps it is simply my natural laziness that wants to put labels on him and save myself the trouble of paying attention.  Truly caring about a person requires great effort.  It is hardly efficient.  It necessitates all kinds of little adjustments.   And that is a valuable process, a craftsmanship of sorts.  Which reminds me of this clip my brother-in-law sent me which he titled: Precision East German manufacturing in the workers paradiseI’m not sure if he was trying to be cynical.  I think it illustrates a very authentic part of human process. 

Happy Interdependence!

We survived the festivities at Old World Wisconsin in 104 degree heat!  I wore a very special costume that had only been worn once before.  It was silk and “tropical weight” wool with beautiful accents of military buttons and lapels and florets. 

I was interviewed by Fox 6 News about my experience wearing 19th century clothing in the heat.  I relayed information about what I was wearing and how it felt and then said that I thought people in the 19th century lived more closely in harmony with their environment instead of trying to manipulate or change it.   Therefore, they get used to variations in temperature and become more resilient….or something like that.  Then I went into the church and played a few hymns on the pump organ while the assembly sang.  Then another interpreter took over and I sang descants along to some more hymns.  When that concluded, we closed the building and got ready for the parade.  I was part of the Temperance Society and marched singing a song to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic urging the whiskey shops to close!  Steve carried the banner of the Democratic candidate who lost to Rutherford B. Hayes.  There were stirring speeches, but we omitted the reading of the Declaration of Independence in order to keep the program short.  It was, after all, about 95 degrees in the shade.  After that program, I got to go take my lunch in the air-conditioned break room and sample the potluck goodies (including root beer floats!) that the staff had contributed.  The afternoon visitors were few and far between, so I spent the time doing some sewing and mopping my head and neck with a handkerchief dipped in cold pump water. 

After work, I dropped my costume off and changed into 21st century clothes.  Now I’m home sipping a cold Wisconsin beer and lying nearly naked in front of a fan.  It’s 90 degrees in the house, but that’s still cooler than it is outside!  No matter how independent we think we are, we are still part of the environment, still interconnected to life, still dwellers in a habitat, trying to survive.  That teaches me to respect the planet and everything on it and to strive to become happily interdependent in the world.

Going With the Flow

Change and the movement of life – flow and motion – energy passing through places and phases.  Here I sit in an old house with the shades drawn and the ceiling fans going fast, aware that the heat index is at a level that prompted my employer to call most of the staff and direct them to stay at home.  It’s hot and humid…but only for now.  This is what my street looked like in February:

I have been reading through some letters and journal entries that I wrote in the year 2007, the year before my husband died, when my teenaged girls were in serious distress and the entire family was in deep pain.  Here’s a list of feelings I wrote about:

depression, disappointment, hurt, shame, guilt, disgust, loneliness, despair, anger/frustration, regret/sorrow, fatigue, pain, inadequacy, fear, fragility, helplessness

Here’s a list of feelings that I decorated with a jagged black boundary and labeled “Off Limits, Not Allowed”:

Beauty, Happiness, Joy, Love, Health, Excitement, Passion, Rest, Pleasure, Peace

I wrote: “What do you do with feelings?  They’re supposed to have ‘a beginning, a middle, and an end’, but when you’ve had the same feelings swirling around you for a half a year, a year, several years — they aren’t just feelings anymore.  They become a way of life.  I feel like Job — afflicted with boils.  These hives on my legs itch like crazy, and I have no clue why I have them.  I just keep hoping they’ll just go away.”

When you attempt to stop the flow of energy and movement and turn your present feelings or thoughts into a way of life, it may seem like you’re taking control and choosing something you wantIt may turn out to be something that mires you in suffering, however.  That’s something of which to be aware.  You could apply that to the physical environment: attempting to regulate the temperature and keep it at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit as a chosen way of life may cause you to suffer inordinately whenever the temperature is much lower or higher than that.  Aversion and attachment causes suffering.  Letting go of them allows the dance of life to swirl you into new places.  If you find joy in the movement and change of life, you will not be disappointed.  If you insist on sitting in the same pile of ashes for years, you will inevitably feel itchy and uncomfortable.  You can hope that changes miraculously, or you can get up and move.  As Jesus said to the man sitting at the Sheep’s Gate Pool complaining and making excuses, “Wilt thou be made whole?” (John 5:6)  Do you want to enter the flow of life?  It’s your choice…

Here endeth my sermon to myself.