Reflections on Independence Day


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When I was a child, we lived on a farm where it rains around 40 inches annually.  On the Fourth of July, Dad always shot off a few Roman candles, and we had small firecrackers and sparklers, nothing fancy, just fun.  Even then I knew about the Declaration of Independence, revered its message.  Still do.

Now I live where it is hot and dry.  The neighbor’s fireworks display rivaled those found in cities–beautiful but dangerous in brown grass country.  I wonder if they give any thought to the history, to why anyone celebrates this day.

For the first time in the decades of my life, I did not celebrate Independence Day.  Why?

Born decades ago, I originally went to college in Virginia where I experienced the shock of real segregation; I had not grown up where it was like that. I was horrified, lasted only one semester, then transferred.  Later I attended a college which shut down in protest over the Viet Nam War, I supported The Civil Rights Movement, I helped create one of the first intercollegiate groups to advocate for abused women, and with an ethnically diverse group I taught diversity classes for teachers.

Now in 2020, I feel that even with all that hard, determined work, progress has been too limited.  It is as if I have been transported back to 40 years ago.  People need to learn from the history most do not even know:

-Cotton Mather, the leading intellectual and Puritan minister in the colonial era, actually helped butcher King Phillip (Metacomet) like an animal.  What did he do to deserve this?  He tried to save his Native people.  Cotton Mather later writes about tearing Metacomet’s jaw from his skull.

-In 1676, when poor whites joined enslaved Africans to rebel for a better life and decent living conditions, fighting for justice against the wealthy planters, those rich planters realized they had to get poor whites to hate Blacks.  They took land owned by Blacks and gave it to poor white people and then paid them to hunt down and abuse, even kill, people of African descent.

-Later, the same Cotton Mather mentioned above, learned from his slave that in Africa, Africans had been taking pus from a smallpox infected person and inoculating others with it to prevent smallpox from spreading.  He refused to believe any African  could be so smart even though he inoculated himself and his family after learning this.  Later, he wrote this about his African slave who had told him the story that may have saved his life: “…brokenly and blunderingly and like Idiots they tell the Story.”

-Of course, we all know that the intellectual giant, Thomas Jefferson, held the deed to the woman who would later bear him numerous children while he proclaimed those famous words that all people are created equal.

The history of racial and ethnic hatred goes back to the inception of this country.  It continues to poison progress and hope.  It never seems to end.  I am tired of it.  Enough is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Covid19–4


The cases and deaths rise; yet I see positives in all this mess. People are posting photos of food they are cooking at home for the first time in years, families sitting down and eating together.  Neighbors are keeping their distance but talking to each other.  People call friends to check on them.  Others are using the Internet to communicate with friends they rarely see or cannot see now, in some cases people they are too busy to connect with on a regular basis.  Some work on the stack of books they never had time to read before.  Several of my musician friends are posting concerts online.

Many of us who teach may be learning new skills like using all aspects of Google Classroom, searching the Internet for innovative ideas to use in our online classrooms. I used to play the piano daily, even competed in high school.  Then I quit.  My current goal is to relearn a piece, Fuer Elise, that only ten years ago I could play from memory effortlessly.  The music I am using is the same I used in high school, decades ago.  It is discolored, edges torn.

I do know how to sew but rarely do. This weekend I will get out the sewing machine my parents gave me more than four decades ago and make a mask.  I printed out a page of directions yesterday.  To be safe, I work from home, rarely leave my property except to go to the mailbox at the end of a long drive.  Luckily, I live in the country, have horses, and a lot of space.  It is easy for me to get out and exercise. Added to that I joined an online Zumba class with an invitation from someone I met years ago, a horn player in a mariachi band in San Antonio–I love mariachi.

Going to and from work took 1.5 hours each day so now I have all that extra time.  In the last three weeks I have read two books and started a third, caught up with magazine reading, and started FaceTime with my college roommate and her husband in California and also my daughter and grandson who live nearby but I cannot visit now. I have gardened, mowed, hiked, and photographed spring flowers and sunsets.

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Yes, living in the country with space makes this easier I rather imagine, but I feel confident if people really search, they can find new and interesting adventures inside themselves and around them.

Be safe, take care, dream.

 

Covid19–1


Will many record their experiences during this difficult time?  I have no idea.  However, a thought came to me yesterday that I should–not sure why, just that this is something I should do.  Interesting because I am not really into “shoulds.”

Because Martina, the exchange student who lived with me this time last year, lives n Milano, I have realized the seriousness of this for weeks.  She and her family have been quarantined for so long that I have lost track of just how long.  A couple of days ago her mother had to go to the grocery.  It took her four hours to get through the line.  She has a grandfather over 90; they worry about him; he is scared.

Yet, here in the Panhandle of Texas, many fail to realize just how awful this can get.  Until yesterday, when they had no choice due to the statewide mandate, they went out to eat, exercised at the gym, congregated in mass at bars, you name it. Now schools are closed until April 3 when the situation will be re-evaluated.

In the last ten days the only places I have gone are the grocery, the doctor’s office–for an awful allergy attack.  Luckily, I live out in the country, have horses.  They have to be fed twice a day, their runs cleaned.  Today it is 70, the patio doors are open; I might even take a little hike later.  Just me and Athena, my black, standard poodle.

Luckily, it has been spring break so I have had plenty of time to think about what to do with myself as I keep myself quarantined–I am not even going to my daughter and grandson’s house–I really miss seeing them.  What do I do:  have read two books, almost finished crocheting a poncho, worked one warm day in the garden, graded all the papers I brought home and posted them, cared for the horses, cooked, communicated with friends worldwide–Covid19 is everywhere, watched some TV, mostly news and documentaries.  One thing I will do every day is act as if I am actually going somewhere, put on my makeup, get dressed, have a plan for the day.

This morning I went to the grocery.  What did I do when I returned home?  I left the bag outside to air–will disinfect it shortly, I took off my clothes in the laundry room and put them to wash.  Then I took a hot shower.  Why all this you ask?  The virus can stay in your clothes for 24 hours.  There were more people in the store in the morning than I expected.  Are they healthy, virus free?  No idea.  In the county where I live, there have been two cases already.  I do not want to risk it.  Although I am healthy, I am in one of the higher risk categories due to my age.  I do not mind dying, but who wants to die from this?  I don’t.

It is a nice spring day outside, the wild flowers are starting to bloom, and I need to relearn how to use Google Classroom because that is how I will be teaching English and Spanish until who knows exactly when.  I have used it before over a year ago.  I need to refresh myself.

Here are a few pictures of the wild flowers around my house.  After this, review Google Classroom and maybe play the piano for a bit.

Take care of yourselves.  Be safe. Be wise.

 

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The World in One Room


 

Four jaguar heads stare at me,

Mexican, Costa Rican.

A third guards the mantel,

partially hidden in tropical plants,

attack ready, tail raised, jaws open,

teeth bared.

 

My feet rest on a coffee table

carved in Kashmir.  I look at the photo

of the young man whose family made it.

He took me home to meet his mom,

to the floating market.

Once peace reigned there.

Now I wonder if he is safe, alive.

 

The Hoop Dancer raises his arms,

the Acoma pot exudes ancient

black on white beauty, painted

by the tips of yucca stems.

The Thai Spirit House begs

to appease evil spirits.

I should put food and flowers there;

I never do.

 

Corn plant of life–for Navaho, Hopi,

me, painted, growing up my wall,

blue and red birds flitting through

the stalks, singing ancient songs.

Corn Maiden rug hanging on the wall;

an Isleta Pueblo girl won a contest

with its design.  Four Corn Maiden

Kachinas watch the room.

Corn everywhere–Sacred Corn.

 

Three Ethiopian crosses, St. George

and the Dragon, Frida Kahlo doll,

Argentinian Madonna, Tohono O’odham

baskets, a painted cow skull, Nigerian carved

wooden elephants, including a Chieftains chair,

the stained glass transom window from the house

where my dad lived from birth to ten.

 

In a room filled with windows, there

is little room for paintings, yet–

purple bison glide across the prairie,

an Iraqi woman flies through an azure

sky filled with dark blue birds,

a 15th century mystic, Kabir, tells

a tale in poetry, Navaho spirits,

pumas walking toward me–

my obsession.

 

Rugs scattered–Kerman,

an unknown Persian city, Afghani,

Egyptian, Indian, Zapotec, scraps of old

Turkish rugs sewn together.

 

In one cabinet, Grandmother’s china,

Mom’s Czech crystal–a wedding present

decades ago, Grandson’s painted art,

the silverware Dad gave Mom on their

first wedding anniversary,  Mom’s

everyday dishes–flowers blooming.

I use them every day.

 

These objects–a testament to who I am:

World wanderer, seeker, citizen.

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Summer Reading


IMG_3957Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times.  Why did I join?  To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.

I rarely read fantasy or science fiction.  This summer has become an exception.  The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016.  The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all.  The spine says Fantasy.  I think they are more science fiction.  Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all.  This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly,  how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.

It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break.  Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana.  It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations.  His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.

In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts.  Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.

Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white.  They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it.  I kept thinking, wow.  I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.  Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse.  Not in this one.  If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult.  Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy.  When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA.  Really?  I cannot tell the difference.

Next on my list?  I annually act as a judge in a literary contest.  Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail.  Guess I need to get busy.

 

A Season of Gratitude


It started Thursday with the Winter Solstice and the full moon:  the love, the presents, my astonishment.  You cannot go wrong with moonlight hanging over a canyon.  It never disappoints.

Then on Friday, astonishment.  Teachers never expect what I received.  I expect excellence and hope most learn something new, learn that books they will like exist, that they can do more than they ever dreamed.  We do not expect presents.

By ten on Friday, my classroom was covered with gifts and food.  Here is a list of some of the presents I received from my students:

frankincense and myrrh soap

a book about wine–yes, it seems they know me

a 4 by 4 black block that says Love, Smile, Enjoy, Laugh, Sing, Live

two gifts cards from a brother and sister for renting movies along with popcorn

a Picasso scarf

a thermal cup full of almonds–I received lots of almonds

all sorts of homemade candies, cookies, and other goodies

To top it all off, a mother walked into my room and handed me a bottle of red wine with this written on it:  “Our child might be the reason you drink so enjoy this bottle on us, Merry Christmas.”  I am still chuckling about this one.

My daughter and grandson are on a cruise and will get to see several ancient Mayan temples, my son is on his way here and will arrive around noon or early afternoon, I attended a beautiful Christmas Eve service last night, then came home and continued reading a fascinating book until late, and shortly I will make pumpkin bread using Mom’s old recipe.

The moon still shines, hanging in the Western horizon.  I feel grateful.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Juliana

 

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Note:  The Christmas tree my parents gave me decades ago with a skirt, simple fabric brought from Africa many years ago.

 

The Christmas Tree


In childhood, no fake tree for us.

Just after Thanksgiving, the family search transpired.

Mom and Dad preferred Douglas fir, six feet tall.

Dutifully, we kept the tree holder filled with water,

never used real candles.  We put on lights, big ones,

blue, green, red, an inch long, then carefully hung on delicate,

colorful, round balls.  The most difficult task: the icicles,

long, silver, reflective.  They had to go on just so.

Years later, children gone, Mom and Dad bought an

artificial tree, fake Douglas fir, incredibly real in appearance.

 

When they left Missouri for Arizona every winter after harvest,

they abandoned Christmas trees, gave me the fake Douglas fir.

I still have it.  How long?  Decades, several at least.  State of the art

when they bought it, it requires work, assembly, strings of lights.

Every year, I tell myself it is time to get one of those new trees with lights

already installed, so much easier to take up and down.  I never buy one.

I cannot bear to part with Mom and Dad’s tree.  One year, annoyed with

putting on lights, I decorated it lightless.  I missed the lights.  Now every year,

decades later, I assemble it, take the time to string the lights.  Some of the lower

branches no longer stay, but I work around that, hang the colorful, delicate

Christmas ornaments I love, collected over years and years, wrap the base in

the red and white cloth given to me from Africa. On cold evenings, like this one,

I turn off the other lights, drink tea like my mother did, and remember my

childhood.

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A Litany of Thanks


I heard this poem by Max Coots recited on Sunday and saved it to share today.

 

Let us give thanks:

 

For generous friends…with hearts…and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us we’ve had them;

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn, and the others, plain as potatoes and as good for you;

For funny friends, who are a silly as Brussel spouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you throughout the winter;

For old friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;

And, finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life hereafter.

For all these we give thanks.

 

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Missouri Roadtrip-the Home Place


6CC097FA-6B1F-4C37-8170-6026A42B8C30This is he house where I grew up north of Fillmore, Missouri.  My dad lived here in this house from 10 year old to 90. He died in the month after his 90th birthday.  The house stands on the land my great grandfather established after he arrived from Switzerland in the mid 1800s.

3A97C88F-30A5-4A32-99E3-5E4D8E1172F5This is the only building left at the site of my grandparents original house and barns.  It is an old carriage house.  In this photo my daughter and grandson are taking a look.  One of the original stained glass transome windows from the house hangs in my own house. My grandparents were Lilliebelle Werth and Pleasant Lightle.

 

D44A6726-4FF1-4FB0-9F89-47F7E7C98391When I was a child, this was once a chicken house but mostly the farrowing house for our registered Hampshire hogs.  Later I learned that when first built during Prohibition, Dad held dances here which the sheriff checked to make sure there was no alcohol.

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This is corn and soybean country. The view reaches across the land from the back of the home place.  We met the young couple who own the house now. They keep everything spic and span just like my parents did.  I am grateful.

 

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Antioch Christian Church where we attended church when I was a child.  My mom’s fruit pies were famous here.