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White History

“One of the teachers of religion who was standing there listening to the discussion realized that Jesus had answered well. So he asked, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ Jesus replied, ‘The one that says, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only God. And you must love Him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. The second is: You must love others as much as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

I have hemmed and hawed enough. And, by doing so, I am part of the problem here in America.

I’ve often answered the discrimination against the impoverished, how our society automatically assumes that someone who is poor brought it on themselves, that they are lazy and do not want to work. However, I seldom answer our society’s systemic racism…even though I have been aware of it since I was a very young girl.

An aunt of mine recently did the swab test with Ancestry and, through some further research, discovered that the ancestor we were always taught had sailed into Canada out of France, actually was Spanish and sailed out of the Azores. We have some Spanish and Portuguese blood running through our veins, along with the French, but the French came later as those Spanish and/or Portuguese ancestors married French-Canadians. They also married into the Mohawk tribe along the way. Once they get to New England, we find some Narragansett as well. However, that French blood, along with some Polish, Russian, Scots-Irish, English, and German won out in the gene pool: I am as close to fish-belly white as it is possible to be.

I tell this because, as someone of fair skin and eyes and hair, I am not subject to the level of discrimination that my black and brown brothers and sisters deal with on a regular basis. I don’t have anyone redlining me when I apply for a loan/mortgage. I don’t have store clerks watching me too closely when I shop. I don’t have outraged people assuming when I apply for and/or receive government assistance that I’m here illegally. I typically don’t have a lot of generalizations lobbed at me either. Sure, I am a woman. Traditionally, I do not earn the same wage as my male counterparts, even when doing the same job with the same qualifications. I may hear the occasional old-timer saying how I should find a “nice” man to take care of me. However, despite some parallels that tend to smart at times, I don’t presume to know what life is like here in America for my black and brown brothers and sisters. To say that I do would be the biggest slap in the face that anyone could offer.

But I can witness to something that has been bandied about a lot here in the media since the murder of George Floyd last week: the history of America as told in our schools through the eyes of white historians.

I have an old history book on the shelf. It’s not a Board of Education approved copy. I doubt it was ever used in a classroom here in the U.S., but it is a good reference source. I wanted something that I could refer to about various points in our written history that typically don’t get taught in our schools…or even as a point of common knowledge.

Why is this important?

Because our history books typically prop up “heroes” such as Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, for example, without telling the full story. How did they get to be “heroes”? What did they do? And, as with any story, debate, etc. there is always another side. Still using Custer as an example, what was it like for the Native Americans who were, at best, displaced by him? Do our Native American brothers and sisters view him as a “hero”? And have we ever asked our Native American brothers and sisters why?

The history book I have is The Oxford History of the American People. It was written by an Englishman named Samuel Eliot Morison in 1965. It is older than I am. However, as we have a long history of purely “white” history, I’m thinking it still has some relevancy in showing how our history lessons are often slanted in one perpetual direction.

According to Mr. Morison, Custer “liked and respected” the Native American people (Morison 751-752) yet his book says nothing about the Washita Massacre, for example. It says nothing about how Custer’s 7th U.S. Calvary attacked Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyenne camp on the morning of November 27, 1868 in what is now Oklahoma. And it wasn’t all “braves” that were massacred. It was women and children and the elderly. Does that sound like someone who “liked” and “respected” our Native American brothers and sisters? I didn’t learn about this through any history class. Ironically, it was through an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, which got me curious enough to do some independent research into this little-known episode in our history.

It was a Danielle Steel novel, Silent Honor, that brought attention to the Japanese Internment camps here in America during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that led to the FBI first rounding up 1291 Japanese community and religious leaders, “arresting them without evidence” and freezing their assets (Wikipedia). Later, some 117,000 people were relocated to facilities in Montana, New Mexico and North Dakota. Japanese Americans–and most of them were American citizens–were detained in overcrowded barracks without proper plumbing or cooking facilities, and there were armed guards making sure they did not leave without permission. And, yes, I know Wikipedia isn’t the most reliable source of information but it is a good jumping off point for learning more.

Ironically, the American frontier image of ranchers, cowboys, etc. lassoing cattle comes directly from Spanish landowners in Mexico who taught local Indians how to herd cattle and ride horses (Livingston 1). They called them vaqueros, after the Spanish word for “cow”. A good portion of our Southwestern states were part of the spoils of armed conflict with Mexico. While I found a mention of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which promised Spanish and/or Californio landowners in this newly acquired territory (present-day Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and some parts of Colorado and Wyoming) the same “full enjoyment and protection of their property as if they were citizens of the U.S.” (Wikipedia), it does not teach about how most of these former citizens of Mexico lost their land claims in lawsuits before U.S. state and federal courts. In short, we swindled most of the ranchers of their lands.

While I do remember reading about such legendary black leaders as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks in my high school history classes, this particular book does not mention them at all. And most history books tend to gloss over the very real struggles that black leaders have had to make for each new freedom gained. For how many decades did black Americans have to use a separate bathroom, water fountain and/or library, etc. than white Americans? Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that bus in Alabama, how many black Americans, no matter how tired, sick or aged, gave up their seats rather than face certain consequences? And how often do we hear how “they” are different than us somehow, as if we don’t all bleed the same, throughout our conscious dialogue each day?

Again, it would be a slap in the face for me to say that I understand or can comprehend. I cannot. However, I cannot be silent anymore either to the disparities that I have seen between one group of Americans versus another group of Americans. There is only one race. And that is the human race.

If we’re going to teach our students about American history, shouldn’t it reflect the wide tapestry of humanity that is America in the first place? Shouldn’t that history impartially teach us how it was for each and every culture that has, and does, grace these shores?

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Livingston, Phil. “The History of the Vaquero.” American Cowboy.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Oxford History of the American People. Oxford University Press, 1965.

Steel, Danielle. Silent Honor. Dell Publishing, Inc., 2007.

“Washita: Part I.” Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The Sullivan Company, CBS Entertainment Production, 29 April 1995.

Wikipedia. Internment of Japanese Americans, n/d.

Wikipedia. Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, n.d.

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Wednesday’s Weed Walk: Elderberry

“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed to which it shall be for meat.” (Genesis 1:29)

In the midst of this pandemic, I have heard more times than I can count: “Have you been taking your elderberry?” My mother swears by Elderberry (Sambucus nigra).

Elderberry, which is often shortened to Elder, has a wonderful history in treating all manner of colds and flus, sinusitis and even night sweats (Tierra 78-79). Mom and I both take elderberry as a means of staving off colds and flus as the berries are high in vitamin C. I confess, it is definitely one of the more pleasing herbs to take. The berries can be used in teas, jams, juices, syrups, wines…and, of course, the occasional shot of Black Sambucca. It is delicious no matter what form it takes. The berries can even be given to your dog. Renowned herbalist, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, recommends mixing either crushed elderberries, or an infusion (tea) of elderberries, into your dog’s food if they become anemic (150-151).

The flowers may be used in salves for the treatment of “burns, rashes, minor skin ailments and to diminish wrinkles” (Tierra 133). (And, of course, having just found this last benefit of elder, I’m itching to add some to some facial cream…)

The FDA has not evaluated these statements. This blog post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.

Now, all of that being said, a word of caution: please make sure it is black elderberry (Sambucus nigra, or Sambucus canadensis) that you are using. There is a red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) and it is highly toxic so take care to get your elderberry from a reputable source if you cannot grow it yourself. Also, consuming the unripe fruit, or an “excessive use of the leaves, root or bark can cause nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, tachycardia and convulsions” (Tierra 78-79).

However, there are no known issues with the ripened fruit. Mom and I use it daily and we really do avoid a lot of the illnesses that come and go each cold and flu season.

Some interesting folklore: elder is often called the “Tree of Music” as the hollowed branches are used to make flute pipes and whistles. They can even be used as pea shooters! Bound together, they make great mason bee hotels, too.

Of course, elder was also said to house witches and spirits. In ancient times, people would kneel before the elder tree and recite: “Lady Ellhorn (one of its folk names), give me of thy wood, and I will give thee of mine, when I become a tree” before making that first cut. This was said to give any residents time to escape. The cut branches were hung over doors and windows to protect against evil spirits, robbers and snakes; the berries, carried on one’s person, were said to protect from negativity (I might recommend the dried berries for this last…). Grown in the garden, it will protect against the ravages of sorcery and shields the home from lightning (Cunningham 108-109). It will also bring prosperity into the home.

With all of these wonderful attributes, if you have room to grow it, I would highly recommend it. It is said to be fairly easy to grow. In fact, it has a reputation for being quite prolific. It’s worth a try.

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

Cunningham, Scott. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn Publications, a Division of Llewellyn
Worldwide, Ltd.

De Bairacli Levy, Juliette. The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat. Faber and Faber Limited, 1955.

Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Crossing Press, 2003.

Tierra. Michael. The Way of Herbs. Pocket Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, 1980.

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Instead of Gatorade, Try Haymakers’ Punch

“For I will give you abundant water for your thirst and for your parched fields. And I will pour out my Spirit and my blessings on your children.” (Isaiah 44:3)

There are many things I miss about working in living history. I miss “my” herb garden. I miss spinning wool into yarn on the Great, or Walking, Wheel. I miss filling the bobbins on the loom tool (another type of spinning wheel). I miss weaving. I miss braiding straw for making hats. I miss cooking and baking on the hearth. And I miss the clothing.

Except when it was 90+ degrees outside and I had to get a fire going both on the hearth and in the bake oven (that little beehive-shaped cavity next to the kitchen fireplace).

Housewives in the 19th century did bake…even in summer. Southern ladies had summer kitchens; those were rarer in New England. However, New England housewives were sensible enough to rise early and get their baking done before that afternoon sun rolled directly overhead. In 2018, in a living history museum, where you have to demonstrate during normal business hours, you simply endured.

Or not.

I remember one afternoon that I felt extremely tired, and even a little dizzy, after baking all day. During the long walk back to my car after the work day was done, I was hailed by a fellow co-worker. I turned to greet her and almost fell over. She looked at me funny. I think I mumbled something about heat exhaustion but that was all. Exhausted, I drove the 30+ miles home and figured a good night’s sleep would have me feeling better in the morning.

The next morning the alarm went off. I sat up in bed, intent on turning it off, and the whole room spun. I nearly passed out again. Instead, I sat there, chilling, thinking it was the longest minute in history before the alarm stopped on its own. Finally, I got up but I felt weak and shaky, and I had to cling tightly to the banister as I made my way downstairs. It took me 45 minutes to feed the barnyard; normally, it was a 25 minute job. I decided to call in; there was no way I could interpret for visitors this day.

I also decided I needed to go to the hospital.

Now, one would think I would’ve had the sense to call a friend, to wake Mom, etc. to take me to the hospital. There’s a reason why dehydration is equated with inebriation: both make you stupid.

After calling work, I got in the car and backed out of the driveway. At the end of the driveway, I turned my head to look both ways for traffic and the whole road spun out…much like my room had done when I first awakened. As soon as it was clear, I drove myself to the hospital (yes, folks, we’re out there…).

The folks in the lobby must’ve seen me zigzagging like a drunk across the parking lot. They had a wheelchair waiting for me.

I must add here, for the benefit of future heat exhausted patients, that emergency room workers should NOT run with their patients down to the ER. As I was hurled along those stark green and white fluorescently-lit halls, it was all I could do not to “hurl” in another sense.

Long story short, two hours’ later, the doc told me that I had flushed most of the electrolytes out of my body the day before. You see, I thought I was okay, all but immune to dehydration, because I had been sipping water all day. Apparently, when it’s 90+ degrees and you’ve got a couple of infernos going behind you…and you’re wearing three layers of clothing…you need to replace those electrolytes, not just slake the thirst.

The doc recommended either Pedialyte or Gatorade; I prefer something a little healthier…and less expensive.
Fortunately, folks in earlier centuries made something called Haymakers’ Punch, or Switchel. I got to try some while visiting another living history museum in New Hampshire over a dozen years’ ago and they gave me the recipe. It’s an acquired taste for some. Others, like myself, think it’s delicious. Here it goes:

1 cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cups of honey (preferably locally grown)
4 teaspoons of molasses
¼ teaspoon of ginger (there’s that ginger again…)

Place all of the above ingredients in a cup of warm water, stirring constantly until dissolved. Pour the mixture into a 1 gallon container (preferably glass or ceramic; I don’t recommend plastic for any recipe). Fill the rest of the container with water. Keep in the refrigerator.

A word to the wise: Switchel is meant to be sipped, not gulped, or drank straight down.

Though it does not have all the fancy labeling, coloring, and artificial flavorings of either Pedialyte or Gatorade, Switchel will keep you hydrated during those hot summer days when you need a little more than just plain water to keep your cool. And it’s definitely an inexpensive alternative.

May God bless you & keep you!

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Stay tuned…

…our regularly scheduled program will be back as soon as I’ve finished my final exam this week! =)

Stay safe, stay healthy…May God bless you & keep you!

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It’s Definitely NOT Like the Movies

“A man that strays from home is like a bird that wanders from its nest.” (Proverbs 27:8)

In my last post, I mentioned how seasonal allergies had left me feeling blehck! Well, over the last couple of days, seasonal allergies morphed into a little something more than just feeling blehck!. Tuesday evening post-nasal drip, headache and plugged ears added fever and chills to the mix. No, I don’t have coronovirus (don’t get me started on that one!). However, I do have some kind of virus. I went to bed early Tuesday evening, around 9 p.m., and slept through until 8 a.m with only one bathroom break around 2 a.m. I got up, took care of the farm, sank exhaustedly into the easy chair in the living room afterwards, and dozed some more. Needless to say, when I went back to bed Wednesday evening, I became the insomniac. And I did exactly what sleep experts say you shouldn’t do:

I picked up my cellphone and web surfed (blue light is supposed to trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime and actually wakes you up, making it harder to fall asleep).

I was good. I stayed away from Facebook, one of my Lenten vows. Instead, I opted to do some genealogical searching. In times’ past, I’ve typed in the names of grandparents and great-grandparents and found some pretty cool stuff. Like, I always knew my maternal grandfather was one of 18 children (yes, 18…) but I never knew all of their names. I once found a census record that listed the names of all my great-aunts and uncles. I found a great-aunt Doris (now one of three great-aunt Dorises) who died in infancy. I knew my maternal grandfather had a sister named Viola (I also knew her; she died when I was in my early-20’s), but there had also been a Violet who died when she was just a little girl. In fact, later scrolling had led to a confusion of these two great-aunties, though two very separate dates of birth existed. Another time, I googled my paternal grandfather’s father’s name and found this really cool article on The Outlet Co. in Providence, Rhode Island that talked about Mortimer Burbank’s history with their radio station…and the elephants he arranged for a parade through the streets of Providence. My great-grandfather eventually became owner of The Outlet Co., which in turn, passed to my grandfather. Before his passing, my Poppop (my nickname for my grandfather) liquidated everything to put into a trust for my Aunt Marjorie, who was a lot like Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie, Rainman. It served her well until her passing several years’ ago.

I’m not sure what made me google my father’s name Wednesday evening but I did.

His obituary came up. He died a year ago, March 6, 2019.

Now, before everyone starts scratching their head in confusion, I have not seen my father since my paternal grandmother’s passing in 1976. He pretty much severed all contact with his family after her passing, except for a brief visit to his sister, my Aunt Nancy, down in Mississippi that ended with that tie also severed shortly thereafter.

Anyway, Wednesday evening, after more searching to ascertain that this obituary really was my father’s, and not another man by the same name, I called his one surviving sister, my Aunt Sandy, to tell her the news. Like so many other times, I wished we lived closer. I wanted to reach out and give her a big hug. Words can be awkward things at times like these. We expressed regret that every attempt at reconciliation had been rebuffed over the years. And acknowledged that what were the chances of finding out about his passing in such a way. Then we moved on to other topics (my new job as librarian; my cousin’s successful kidney transplant–praise the Lord!) before circling back to the original intent of the call.

Again, I really wanted to hug my aunt.

I’ve been grappling with telling this story ever since.

My father was a late child for my grandparents. He was the youngest of 5 children and the only boy. He was also 10 years’ younger than the youngest of the girls–my Aunt Sandy–and, by everyone’s admission, terribly spoiled. My grandfather, sadly, was already an alcoholic by the time he was born and didn’t have a lot of time for my father. My grandmother overcompensated by often giving my father what he wanted. And, of course, he had 4 older sisters doting on him.

He was also an extraordinary guitarist.

I don’t consider my own playing ability “extraordinary” but I get my love of music from him. One of the few childhood memories I have of my father was creeping into his room to listen and watch him play. A few times he put the guitar in my hand and tried to teach me. The first time, I was still too small and my arms wouldn’t even go all the way around the guitar. Later, tender, young fingers protested the necessary pressure needed on the strings to make a clear, ringing sound (Ouch!). Such quality father-daughter moments were few and far between however.

My parents were wed in August of 1966; I was born in November of the same year. My mother had been in an accident as a young girl. She had been riding in the back of a pick-up truck when it collided with another vehicle. She flew. The doctors said she’d never have children (she should’ve sued). Doubtless, she told my father this, and so, he was unprepared when he found out that she was carrying me. From Mom, from both paternal and maternal aunts and uncles, he turned abusive, obviously resenting this forced responsibility (in those days, folks didn’t have a couple of kids and then get married…). In his defense, he may have felt “trapped”. But it does not excuse the many horror stories I have heard throughout the years of my mother being knocked down flights of stairs, having her stomach burned with a Zippo lighter, etc. all with the intent of forcing a miscarriage.

Before I go further, if my Aunt Sandy, or any other family member is reading this, I don’t write these things to hurt, or embarrass, anyone. And I apologize here and now, with a full heart, for any pain that reading this causes. It’s just that the hurt from someone does not stop with the grave and I need to acknowledge it to let it finally go. And, I promise, there are also some good memories and anecdotes as well. Nobody is all good or all bad; we each have a little of both in us.

I don’t remember my father living in the same house with me at all. He and my mother legally separated 4 months’ after I was born, though their divorce would not be final until 1974. There were a few attempts at reconciliation but they never took. I saw my father in passing on the weekends I spent at my paternal grandparents’ house, which were loving, magical times because of the love I received from them, my Aunt Marjorie, and from my other aunts, uncles, cousins who came visiting. “In passing” because, though he lived with his parents again after he and my mother separated, and though I ran shrieking “Daddy!” joyfully every time he came in the door, I usually received a non-committal acknowledgement of my greeting. If I was lucky, a pat on the head as he quickly ran upstairs to his room and shut the door.

Obviously, by one of the earlier paragraphs, the door didn’t always stay closed. He never chased me out when I came to listen to him play and he even talked to me sometimes…albeit in the same monosyllables as his greetings. He did put together a dollhouse for me once.

By far, my fondest memory comes from a weekend afternoon when I was about 6 years’ old. My father, grandmother and I squeezed into his little MG convertible sports’car and traveled to a farm up in Rehoboth, Massachusetts where my father boarded a couple of horses. Bourbon was magnificent. To the perception of a tiny, 6 year-old girl, I would wager he was a Percheron. But, again, I was a lot smaller than him. He may have just been a large, white horse of some other breed. But, to my young eyes, he appeared much larger than my Uncle Ernie’s Palomino, Sundance, so I’m going with the draft horse. My father picked me up so I could pat his nose, which was beyond my reach (Sundance’s was not). Travis was smaller, dappled gray in color, and incredibly fast. My grandmother stayed in the MG because she was deathly afraid of horses. My father knew this but it didn’t stop him from riding Travis right up alongside the MG, Nanny (my nickname for my grandmother) shrieking my father’s name in terror as the horse drew closer and closer. I remember laughing because I knew he was teasing her (and now, looking back, acknowledge the maneuver as rather cruel; she was terrified). Then my father did an incredible thing. He reached down a hand for me and pulled me up in front of him. He held on as we galloped all over the barnyard for quite a length of time. Nanny said afterwards I looked ready to burst my buttons with joy.

Sadly, that’s all I’ve got for truly happy memories of my father.

My mother remarried in 1974. We moved to Missouri, then Oklahoma, and came back to Rhode Island less than 6 months’ later in early-1975. It was just in time for me to see my Poppop one last time in the nursing home where he was being cared for when his alcoholism finally took its toll. He smiled for me. Nanny said it was the first smile she’d seen from him since he’d been admitted. Unlike my father, I have loads of happy memories of my Poppop. And then, a year later, Nanny was gone, too.

My family moved to Missouri again in 1978 some months after my brother, Shaun, was born. I found a new family in my stepfather’s parents, brothers, sisters, etc. but I still missed my Nanny and Poppop, my aunts, uncles, cousins, etc, with whom I had lost contact after my grandmother’s passing. When we returned to Rhode Island in 1985, I looked up my Aunt Marjorie, knowing that she had become a ward of the state through The Trudeau Center in Warwick. Through her, I was able to get mailing addresses for Aunt Sandy and Aunt Nancy (the 4th aunt, Janet, had died before I was born).

My father, however, continued to elude all of us. None of his sisters had heard from him since that unfortunate visit to Mississippi some years’ earlier. Eventually, I would meet friends of his, people he had worked with, etc. who would tell me about what a wonderful sense of humor he had–great guy–and I would find out where he worked. Ironically, it was at a manufacturing facility on Jefferson Boulevard that an inexperienced teenager had applied to some years’ earlier and gotten the position…only to have to turn it down as my friend, who applied with me, was also my transportation and she did not get the position (they were hiring for several). I sent a letter. No reply. I saw him once when I was dating my first husband. We were driving down Route 1, just passing through Apponaug and into East Greenwich, when I saw him getting into a car. My boyfriend turned around as quickly as late-afternoon traffic would allow but, by the time we reached the house where we’d seen him, he was gone. I found out later that he lived on the second floor–almost across the street from The Trudeau Center, though he never attempted to see my Aunt Marjorie. I sent more letters and cards. Still no reply…until, in the late-90’s, my Aunt Nancy passed away. I sent a letter through the manufacturing company, hoping he still worked there, and told them who I was, that my father’s sister had passed and I didn’t know how else to tell him. He responded. Not to me, of course, but my Uncle Lou in Mississippi received a sympathy card.

My father moved. I don’t remember how I found the new address but I sent another letter, inviting him for coffee at the Dunkin Donuts across the street from his apartment house, my treat. Though he didn’t reply, I went to Dunkin Donuts anyway and waited for over an hour. A car pulled into the apartment complex across the street. A man got out. This was years later. The hair was longer, grayer, and there was a definite paunch but I wasn’t entirely sure…until he took a step in the direction of Dunkin, searched the windows, zeroed in on me and then turned away and went into the house. I waited a bit longer, still not 100% sure it was he…except the shaking hands that fumbled with the keys as I attempted to drive home afterwards. I wonder now if I should’ve walked across the street and knocked.

Some more years’ later, I actually paid a search company to find him. The apartment complex where he had lived had been torn down and I didn’t know where he had gone. The company provided an address. My Aunt Sandy and Uncle George (her husband) came up to visit. Along with my Aunt Marjorie, we all drove to the mobile home park and found his unit on the organization’s map on the wall in the office. We drove to his unit and knocked on the door. Nobody answered, but the house was dark, and there wasn’t any car in front of it, so we assumed he was still at work; it was in the afternoon. However, the ashtray on the porch was full of butts…and the little matchstick figures he used to make…and, through the window, we saw a couple of guitars in stands. We left a note with all of our contact information. And, nearly every year since, I have sent a Christmas card, sometimes a birthday card, too. Always the same, inviting him to call, to visit, giving my address and telephone number. I think I even left an email address once, though I was never sure if he used email. I randomly searched his name on social media, too. I never found him there.

This past Christmas, however, I didn’t send any card. It came as almost an afterthought after I had already filled out the cards I would send to other family and friends. I was out of cards in the box that I had bought but considered buying a more personal one the next time I went to Walmart. And, unusual for me, I rejected it with an angry little voice saying he never answers anyway.

Little did I know he wasn’t there anymore to answer…even if he had been so inclined. I guess some part of my heart knew…even without the obituary found three months’ later.

I’ve grappled with writing this but I’m still not sure how I feel right now. All these years I’ve held onto that afternoon with Travis and Bourbon, and wondered if my stepfather hadn’t been right: that it only happened because my grandmother had poked and prodded him into it when I wasn’t there to see it. Had riding Travis up to her side of the car been a challenge? Or have I read too many novels? Could he have been capable of such? And how do I justify such thinking…especially now when I can acknowledge that I never really knew my father.

And I never will.

It’s hard to truly mourn the loss of someone that you’ve never really had in your life, never really known. It’s like that movie star, or rock star, that you’ve always admired from afar. And, like the movies, I’ve always held this little spark of hope that one day my father would knock on my door–or at least call–and say, let’s not waste anymore time; I want to know you, see you. Like on the Hallmark Channel. And now that hope is gone.

And, yet, I can’t even mourn that. It was false hope. If his sisters, with whom he had had relationships with, who doted on him throughout his childhood and cared for him, no longer existed in his world for him, how could the daughter he hadn’t wanted in the first place rank any higher?

It’s his loss. It truly is. Like all people, I have my faults. I’ve been spoiled at times, too. I can be selfish, the veritable loner. I tend to be a control freak at times. I’m impatient. I procrastinate…horribly! I’m also willing to lend a helping hand if you need it, an ear to listen and keep your secrets without ever sharing. I have a hope chest filled with family pictures (even two of my father from my maternal grandfather of when he and my mother were dating) and keepsakes that I would risk life and limb to rescue if there was ever a fire or flood…because they all matter. I’m smart and talented and I share my father’s love for horses and guitars. And I acknowledge this unwitting gift to me from him…that, and the grandparents who gave a lonely little girl a safe place to spend her weekends, and the aunts, uncles and cousins, who have been such an important part of this 53+ years of life. We could’ve had fun jamming together in impromptu music regales. We could’ve gone horseback riding…or simply chatted on the front porch, or over a table in Dunkin Donuts together. As someone who wanted a house full of children and didn’t get even one, I struggle to understand how someone can refuse such a blessing as family. Period. But, again, it’s his loss.

Despite everything I’ve just said, I am not bitter or angry at my father. The only emotion I can pinpoint right now is a sadness, a sadness for what could’ve been. I know he lived with a woman in common law marriage. Did she know about me? Is she the jealous sort who didn’t want him to have contact with his family? Some of the cards sent were returned “addressee unknown”. Others never came back. Did he throw them away? If he saved them, why? Did he always intend to respond at some later date that never arrived? Or is there a chance he never got them at this last address? Even the note we tacked to the door…despite verifying it at the main office of the park that it was his? He died without any other family there by his side. I can’t imagine anyone wanting that. Seems like most people I know want their loved ones near when they pass. Did he die suddenly? Or had there been a long illness involved that maybe, for genetic reasons at least, I should know about? I’ve considered contacting his widow; I’m not sure if it’s the right course of action. If she doesn’t know about me, how much hurt might I do to her memories of my father? And yet, if she does know about me, maybe she thinks we’re all a bunch of insensitive clods who didn’t give a damn about him. It is something I will be weighing carefully over the next few days.

I wish my father well, as I always have. I pray that his spirit is finally at peace. I pray that he’s happy; I pray that he was happy in life all these years…even if he couldn’t share that happiness with his sisters and their families, or with me. I pray, if there was an illness, that he didn’t suffer over-long with it. He had been suicidal in the past; it runs in the family. I pray he was not driven to such despair and that his passing was a natural one. In short, I would like to say “I love you” to him…even though I never heard those three words from him…and I forgive him for whatever it was in him that could never reach out to me, to my aunts, to family in general. I pray he’s finally the rock star he always dreamed of being…and that Bourbon and Travis were waiting over that Rainbow Bridge for him to ride another day.

May God bless you & keep you!

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I Don’t Care…

“Don’t plot against your neighbor; he is trusting you. Don’t get into needless fights. Don’t envy violent men. Don’t copy their ways. For such men are abomination to the Lord, but He gives His friendship to the godly.” (Proverbs 3:29-32)

I don’t care what color your skin is. As an artist, while monochromes and sepia may have their uses, a steady diet of such a restricted palette gets pretty monotonous. I much prefer the diverse plan of the Master Artist, that for me is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who created all colors and hues that the world might be a more beautiful place to live.

I don’t care where you originally came from. We’ve been saying there’s not enough room for centuries; and yet, there’s always just one more place at the dinner table and a pillow to rest one’s head. We’ve been worrying for centuries about job scarcity, too. There’s some legitimacy to that. But it’s not because of who you are or that you came here in the first place. Automation, technology, and cheaper labor in other lands–perhaps even your own–are robbing us of our livelihoods. I’d rather bid you welcome, learn about your life in the Old Country, and why this land became the dream for you as it has for every generation before…unless you’re 100% Cheyenne or Cherokee, that is.

I don’t care who you love. The fact that you love someone at all tells me you have a heart…and I rejoice with you in having found that special someone who can know all about you and love you, too. Your gender/identity does not matter to me. I consider you a kind and courageous soul for being true to yourself…and for having the guts to reach out for love in the first place. Many people wander this world lonely and alone, broken by past trauma, or too afraid of rejection, to reach out for the greatest gifts we humans have to give to each other: our love, our compassion, companionship, and a sense of belonging.

I don’t care what your socioeconomic status is. A bigger house means more time and effort to clean…and more junk to fill it; a fancier car means a higher insurance premium each month. I rejoice with you if you can afford such luxuries today…and if you’re content in the having of them. Empty cupboards and drafty floors push many to despair. They do not mean that someone has been lazy and shiftless…or even that they’ve made a bad choice somewhere along the way. Sometimes we’re just victims of circumstance…such as an accident, or a company outsourcing one’s position. Until we’ve walked that proverbial mile in someone else’s shoes, judge not, lest ye be judged. The size of your wallet does not reflect the size of your heart. How you treat your fellow man, and even the other creatures who share this earth with us, tells me volumes about how truly wealthy, or impoverished, you are.

I don’t care if you call the Source of life Jesus, God, Allah, Goddess, or Buddha, etc., or if you don’t believe in such an existence at all. Regardless of your beliefs, we are all part of the same community of life on this third rock from the sun. Arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong only divides us, sets us to hating each other…when all of our holy texts tell us to love one another. Instead, I’d rather sit down and have the sort of conversation that brings about a new understanding and peace, a conversation where we both learn and respect each other’s beliefs…and the culture that founded them.

I don’t care who you vote for. As long as you vote with integrity, allowing the love you have in your heart for your fellow man and good reason to guide you, then your vote counts…even if your choice doesn’t win. It should not matter what someone looks like, who they love, how much–or how little–they earn, where they come from, their gender, or their beliefs. All are worthy of consideration and care. The only aisle between us is the one we have drawn in our minds…and in our hearts. When we reject even a single one of our brothers and sisters, we all lose. When we all work together, we all win…BIG!

May God bless you & keep you!

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I Have Been a Coward

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? When evil men come to destroy me, they will stumble and fall! Yes, though a mighty army marches against me, my heart shall know no fear! I am confident that God will save me.” (Psalms 27:1-3)

Back in 2017, especially towards the end of the year, my blog posts had gotten deeper. I no longer was exploring homesteading endeavors only but some of the real issues that I have faced over the years. Sometimes I questioned myself, wondering what these issues, such as alcoholism and abuse, had to do with homesteading. But I continued onward, seeking to find both a voice and a niche in the blogging world. What I eventually came to was that every homestead is different and reflects the individuality of the person/people living and/or working it. And, while this is a homestead–albeit a struggling one these days as I seek to find work to sustain us off the property–it is also a home. And the people that live here are human…with all of the human failings of every individual.

This homestead is the brain child of a 50-something-year-old woman whose father has never wanted any part of her life…and a step-father who wanted too much to do with her, if you take my meaning. It’s the brain child of a child who watched in terror as this same stepfather popped open that first can of many beers until he was raving drunk, breaking everything he could lay hands on, kicking holes in the walls and beloved pets across the floor, screaming like a banshee and generally terrorizing us all. I also saw the opposite side of alcoholism with a grandfather, the same paternal grandfather who instilled my love of writing, who came home inebriated, mildly sat down on the sofa, pulled me onto his knee and spent the rest of the evening reading fairy tales to me…or teaching this 3 year-old granddaughter the finer points of chess. At 8 years’ old, I visited a very yellow-skinned Poppop in the nursing home for the last time. And then was told by, again, the stepfather and my Mom not to cry about his passing because it might upset my maternal grandfather, with whom we were staying, and cause him to have another stroke.

However, before I continue to paint my stepfather in the darkest terms, there’s even a flip side to this raging form of alcoholism. He was endlessly patient when helping me with homework. He praised my writing to the hilt and, before he died, told me in all confidence that I would be a great writer someday and have that bestseller. I sincerely hope he is right. But, even if he isn’t, despite the abuse I endured from this man, it means a lot to me to have such confidence behind me…even as a part of me fears a feeling of failure if I never do write that bestseller.

Such is the mark of abuse: confidence is always subjective at best.

Some of my posts, and one in particular, focused heavily on the effects of alcoholism in a family. It shapes dynamics, creates an atmosphere of fear and distrust even among loved ones, and fosters a lack of communication. There were consequences to speaking your mind.

And I felt them after such posts.

One aunt, in particular, refuses to speak to me after one such post, denying such dynamics exist in our family because, on my mother’s side of the family, the last generation of active alcoholics was my great-grandparents. My post talked about learned behavior that, sadly, can be passed from one generation to the next. That’s why Al-Anon refers to alcoholism as a “family disease” because, in essence, it’s catching…even if you don’t drink.

Then there was the blog post, which has long since been taken down, where I lamented the cruel treatment of an animal where I was working. I came close to being fired, was put on probation, and threatened with litigation. Sure, I should’ve gone through the proper channels and brought the treatment to the attention of my supervisor first. I was so horrified, I didn’t think about it until after I’d calmed down…and after the damage had already been done, so to speak. I don’t negate what I witnessed–and continued to witness–but I stopped writing about it. And floundered some mornings about what to write about at all. After being written up for this infraction, I got reprimanded again for another post that, in all honesty, I never even considered might be offensive. In that post, I lamented being unable to serve at church on Sunday mornings because of the work schedule conflict. It wasn’t meant as a shot against the employer in question but they took it that way.

These hands have been, sadly, quiet over the last year-and-a-half or so. Fear of retribution has made me second guess every word typed. Yes, I know, as a writer, I have a responsibility to be cognizant of people’s feelings. I also know that I am going to piss some people off even without intending to. I know that I cannot please everyone and, maybe, depending on the subject of my post, someone will get angry enough to seek compensation for what they view as a damaging image created by those words. However, while I have no desire to cause pain to anyone, I also know that by remaining silent, sometimes I cause more pain.

To myself.

And, yes, to others, too.

None of the above subjects have anything to do with homesteading directly. Nor do the political or religious issues that sometimes crop up and demand my attention. However, they do have something to do with this homestead. Every homestead is unique. Not just in what that homestead produces, such as fruits and vegetables, herbs, fiber products, honey, etc but in the human force behind it.

What hurdles have those humans had to jump over to get to where they are right now? What hurdles have become road blocks to their success? What issues influence why they are homesteading in the first place? And what issues influence the direction they take?

I started homesteading because I wanted to rescue abused and neglected creatures. I wanted to help those without a voice, as well as remember those beloved pets of my youth whom I was too young and powerless to protect. Later, as I learned more about herbs, a love started by my mother when she cured a tenacious strain of conjunctivitis (pink-eye) with a decoction of spearmint leaves, I wanted to grow my own herbs organically and experience the healing power I’d heard so much of regarding gardening. Then, as commercial food products continue to get recalled and we learn about the harmful chemicals used in growing food on a commercial scale, I wanted to heal myself and my loved ones by growing as much of our food myself as possible. This led to an awareness of how much our planet is hurting due to the toxins in our air, water, soil and bodies. Many of those toxins come from plastic clothing, the synthetic fibers like nylon and microfibers and Spandex, etc that release tiny particles into our waterways every time we throw them in the washer. My brief career in living history was an enduring experience because of the gift of learning how to raise and then process natural fibers–without harm to the animals in question.

No, I can’t save the world. But I can mitigate the harm to our planet by reducing my own abuse of resources…and educating others on ways that they can reduce that carbon footprint as well. And I may not be able to save every animal who hurts or suffers under human abuse, neglect and/or exploitation, but I can mitigate some of that suffering one creature at a time…and, when resources allow, help empower others in the field of animal welfare.

Have I fallen short of the mark in my endeavors? Of course. I am human…with all of the human failings of our species. I can be lazy and undisciplined. I procrastinate. I can be short-sighted. I can also be loving and kind and laser-focused at times. I’m creative and a bit of a Pollyanna–this last can be both a failing and a success, depending upon one’s perspective. I’m also tackling another hurdle right now in trying to save this homestead from certain foreclosure if I don’t find a position, or a means of supplementing the current one, that helps me get caught up on all the back payments due.

I’ve cringed every time I’ve blogged about my financial situation. Shame, which is part of that pride cycle, has filled me even though I know my current situation stems from an unexpected fall and the subsequent injury I sustained in that fall. In many ways, it’s been a blessing. It’s made me stop and realize that, over the years, I have judged others less fortunate harshly. I’ve shared a common belief that somehow this person may have brought their troubles on themselves.

When I ought to know better.

In short, I’ve been a coward about humbling myself to my readers. I’ve allowed a few wrist slaps to influence the direction and reason for this blog. And, while those wrist slappings may curb some overzealous crusades, if I allow them to silence me entirely, I don’t deserve to be a writer at all. While a writer has a responsibility to all of the things I mentioned above, a writer also has a responsibility to share the truth, to be genuine, to lift people up and shed the Light of that truth on as much of the anger and prejudice and sufferings in this world as he or she can.

May God bless you & keep you!

19th century, Abuse, Alcoholism, Appreciation, Christianity, Faith, Fashion, Frugality, gardening, Ghosts, God/Jesus, Gratitude, Hauntings, Healing, Herbs, History, Homesteading, Nostalgia, Reading, Self-esteem, Self-improvement, Understanding, Writing, Yoga & Fitness

Finding My Stride Again

“I will bless the Lord who counsels me; He gives me wisdom in the night. He tells me what to do. I am always thinking of the Lord; and because He is so near, I never need to stumble or to fall. Heart, body, and soul are filled with joy.” (Psalms 16:7-9)

Back in November of 2017, shortly after I had first started working in living history, I witnessed something that bothered me greatly at my new job and I made the mistake of blogging about it–first. The proper channels would have been to report what I saw to management first and, then, if I didn’t get the results I hoped for, take it higher within the organization. Blogging about it probably should have been the last course of action, if at all in this instance.

I suppose I don’t need to tell everyone reading this that I got myself into some serious hot water over it. Of course, a co-worker saw the post and brought it my manager’s attention. I saw it coming almost the moment I hit “Publish” but, the activist in me, squashed the Nervous Nellie voice inside, insisting that what I saw was wrong and needed to be brought to “light”.

Wrong assumption.

I had one manager get in my face and tell me I didn’t see what I said I saw, threaten my job, and then with litigation if I ever posted anything like that again. The only reason I hadn’t lost my job right then and there was I had never been issued an employee handbook when I first started so, legally, they couldn’t let me go. I spent the next several weeks going back through all of my blogs and changing every place where my employer’s name might’ve been to “living history” or simply “my employer”, etc. I also removed the offending post…and then another that they found objectionable, and on another subject entirely, that I hadn’t even considered might be offensive in any way.

Yes, it was the responsible thing to do after such a misjudgment. And it had far more serious implications than anything threatened in that fateful meeting.

First, my credibility regarding what I saw came into question. Such a misjudgment meant that I also might not be a reliable person to ask. I saw more of the same actions/behavior over the next year or so but, even with another co-worker backing me up, my complaints and concerns fell on deaf ears.

Second, I went from being in complete awe that I had had the good fortune of snagging this job to, in many ways, hating it. Oh, sure, I loved the skills they taught, I loved learning more about the history of the time period, and especially, the day-to-day lives of people in America prior to the Civil War. As I am in the northeastern part of the country, I learned a lot about abolition and the anti-slavery movement. I loved the fashions I felt privileged to wear. And, when they still allowed/scheduled me to work in it, I loved working in “my” herb garden.

After that fateful meeting, however, I felt more and more the outsider in certain corners.

And found friends and allies in unexpected places.

Lastly, thoroughly chastened, I stopped blogging almost completely. I went from publishing a post nearly every week day to weeks without a single one. I found myself alternately depressed and angry. Stress and anxiety took over. Joy showed up only on rare occasions. Burnout quickly followed. More, I felt–and still feel–guilty for failing those without a voice by my hasty actions on their behalf.

In short, I lost my stride. And now I’m struggling to get it back.

Prior to this event, and its aftermath, I had regular posts, such as Wednesday’s Weed Walk where each week I talked about a different herb, its uses, and even some of its history. I had regular posts regarding frugal living (I am the eternal tightwad and proud of it!). Throughout my first October of regular blogging, I shared stories of my haunted homestead. And even some more personal stuff about growing up in an abusive, alcoholic home. The latter may not have had much to do with homesteading, the original theme of this blog, but it certainly had a hand in shaping this would-be homesteader. I would truly love to get back to this…in some capacity.

Of course, I am also facing a new challenge: time management.

My weekdays now consist of an early rising to meet with my instructor by 7:30 a.m. to spend an hour on the road behind the wheel of a school bus. Before I leave home, I have goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, cats and Smoky the Cockatiel to feed, water, etc., and yoga. Then I head several towns’ over to the Town Hall to work with the tax assessor’s office. I have more of the same animal care when I get home, class work to complete for college, and a novel that I am already promoting, though it may be several months before it is completed.

I’m not sure I can squeeze a daily post in again, especially with a second blog on my author’s page (lisaburbank.wordpress.com) to keep up with also, but I am certainly going to be more intentional with my blog. I’m going to commit to 2 posts per week. And I’m asking, you, my readers, what would you like to see more of? I’ll do my best to deliver. In the meantime, I would like to thank everyone who has stuck by me, read, followed, and liked my posts, and who have shared the rather sporadic posts of the last year or so. Here’s to hoping I can catch my stride again soon!

May God bless you & keep you!

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Gratitude for Community

“Is there any such thing as Christians cheering each other up? Do you love me enough to want to help me? Does it mean anything to you that we are brothers in the Lord, sharing the same Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic at all? Then make me truly happy by loving each other and agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, working together with one heart and mind and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2)

I’m feeling so grateful today. My church community is helping out with my situation and words cannot describe how grateful I am. There’s been an onslaught of emotions: hope, joy, relief…and, yes, even a little shame and embarrassment. The last vestiges of an attempt to hang onto pride…or maybe the adversary’s feeble attempts to keep pride’s hold on me.

But Jesus will always be stronger. God’s got this. So, take that, adversary!

There’s something to be said for community. Maybe that is the lesson He wants me to learn (above and beyond the pride thing…).

I’ve always dreamed of living like a hermit in the woods, the whole “Walden” thing. My dream home is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature, and living like it’s still the 19th century. Maybe there’s something to it. Solitude and simplicity are needed for a healthy life balance, but without fellowship with others, what’s the point? And even Henry David Thoreau wrote about visitors to his little cabin in the woods. We need both. If I can hang on to this place, or if He wants me to sock this money away for a potential move, either way, I want my homestead to be a welcoming place: for family gatherings; for friends sitting around a campfire at night; for prayer meetings; for knitting, sewing, quilting circles; for clients to have their treatments; for hosting classes about herbs, 19th century skills, and no-dig gardening…and even a refuge for those caught in the eye of their own personal storms.

I’ve blogged before about how I crave solitude like flowers crave the sun and rain. And it’s true. I’m the classic introvert. Too many people, too often, and I start to feel a little sick at heart. I retreat inward. Not because I’m anti-social, but because that’s how it is for an introvert. For an introvert, too much social time quickly becomes overwhelming. We enjoy time with our loved ones, and even strangers, but the introvert greatly needs that balance between solitude and socialization to keep recharging.

However, over the last decade, I’ve taken solitude to a whole new level. Some of it has been the 2 years of unemployment, followed by 8 years of severe underemployment. When socializing equals an event that requires an entrance fee, I’ve often had to reconsider. Some of it though–most of it–has been the depression that often comes with that same unemployment/underemployment. Due to a lack of steady and adequate funds, the house, the grounds, even myself, have started looking neglected. There’s also a lot of emotional baggage attached from the last “romantic” relationship I was in, that was anything but romantic, that has had me drawing the curtains tight and shutting out the world.

And, boy, does the adversary feed on that!

In many ways, though I’m not living in the middle of nowhere, I’ve allowed myself to become almost as isolated as if I was living in the middle of nowhere. And isolation is defeating. The neglect becomes indifference becomes more depression becomes more neglect becomes more indifference…until the effort to dig yourself out of this vicious cycle becomes so overwhelming, you don’t know where to turn, where to start. That’s where the hopelessness sets in.

And loneliness.

Despair.

Even bitterness.

Thank God, literally, for the fellowship He’s blessed me with! It started with certain friends and co-workers reaching out with a helping hand over the last several months. This time, it was a church member who saw my Go Fund Me campaign and brought it to the attention of our priest. And, truly, though the financial help is a blessing and appreciated, the true blessing is knowing how many people out there care enough to help. I’m overwhelmed…but in a good way.

I’ve been sitting back here, feeling sorry for myself, indulging the adversary with my “cares” and “woes” and getting nowhere in life. Today I’m feeling hope for the first time in a very long time. Yes, there’s still a risk of losing the homestead. I still missed the deadline for the second installment on the modification trial period and I don’t know where that leaves me. However, I’m that much closer to meeting the back payments owed. Or to engaging an attorney who can help me get back on track again. It’s help to tide us over until I’m working again…or to help us start over on a new homestead. I’m leaving it in His hands to decide, praying for His guidance regarding the best course of action.

Our God truly is an awesome God. Thank you! To everyone who has been moved to help, to share, to pass along the information. I don’t feel quite so alone anymore. And that’s the greatest blessing of all.

I hope everyone reading this is as blessed with community as I am.

May God bless you & keep you!

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Down and Out

“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27)

I want to believe those words. I want to believe His grace is sufficient for this particular trial. I want to believe that He has something special planned at the end of it all.

But, today, I’m down and out for the count.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll find the way to bounce back up again. I hope so. Right now the fear and anguish in my soul is almost more than I can bear. Proof that there’s still fight left in me that I can feel such emotions, such protest, but, if I’m meant to go through this, if there’s something He means for me to learn that I didn’t learn the first time around, there’s a part of me even fighting that.

So much for laying it at the cross. But what other choice do I have? All of my efforts have gotten me nowhere. But where do I go from here? What does He want me to do? To go?

Losing the house, the land, I can bear. It’s potentially having to re-home the animals if I cannot find a farm where I might board them until I get on my feet again…and, of course, for a fee that I can manage in my current situation. My heart is breaking at the thought. And, at the moment, I’m not feeling God’s love. I’m feeling His anger. I’m feeling the punitive “father” that reflects the neglect of my biological father and the abuse of my stepfather. “Father” for me has always implied mistrust. Is He trying to heal this once and for all? Or is this going to cement it once and for all in my heart that the word “father” is equivalent to a dirty swear word?

No, I don’t hate men, and certainly not fathers. There are good ones in the world. I’ve just never known that love…at least not without personal cost. And you’re never too old to need that love–His love.

Right now, I really need a healthy dose of it. And as many prayers as I can get.

May God bless you & keep you!

https://www.gofundme.com/f/9fymzf-medical-leave&rcid=r01-156707024092-4fb3fb58787b443d&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w