Thursday, April 26, 2012

Democracy - Michigan's New Endangered Species


203,238 Michigan residents took a ball point pen in their hands, exerted the power of democracy, and signed petitions circulated by Stand Up for Democracy to put a proposal to overturn the Michigan Emergency Manager law on the November ballot. The ballots were delivered to the State Board of Canvassers, reviewed, and deemed valid.

The petition gatherers were everyday folks who spent hundreds of hours volunteering their time to obtain the required number of signatures to bring this issue before the voters. They worked hard. And other everyday folks took a few minutes out of their busy lives to read these petitions and sign their names, all in good faith that our democratic process was intact.

A last minute appeal to the challenge was made by Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, an opposition group formed by the Sterling Corporation, a Republican political consulting firm (wanna see something scary? visit their website). The group argued the font size on the petitions is too small, in violation of state rules.

Font size. Ridiculous right? Would never happen, right?

The State Board of Canvassers deadlocked along party lines and the proposal failed to get on the ballot. On font size.

Of course.

Jeffrey Timmer, Republican, is on the State Board of Canvassers. Jeffrey Timmer voted against putting this proposal on the November ballet. Jeffrey Timmer also works for the Sterling Corporation.

A clear, unequivocal conflict of interest. He chose to do it anyway and nobody stopped him.

Proponents will fight this all the way to the Supreme Court and let them decide whether the proposal will make the ballot.

Michigan's Supreme Court has four Republican and three Democratic Justices. Which way do you think they will vote?

When will we the people of this most beautiful state in the country stand up and say enough is enough? When will we the people do like the folks in Wisconsin did and take to the streets? The Republicans are destroying democracy in this state. Not hiding behind closed doors and doing it, well OK I am sure they are. They are blatantly throwing it in our faces. Is this the kind of government we want? We the people must take back our rights, our integrity, our quality of life from Michigan's Republican-run government. Do it with your votes in November. Do it by protesting. Do it every way you can. It is our responsibility to each other and future generations to preserve democracy in this country.

I know we Michiganders are tired. Many of us are struggling and broke. Many of our cities are in trouble. Does that mean we throw up our hands, roll over, and play dead? Turn over our democratically elected process to a takeover by one party or the other without even a peep? I say NO! We are Michiganders! We NEVER give up! I call upon our strong unions to take be the leaders they are and rally the folks for change.

We the people want democracy. Stand up and tell them so. Loudly. Then vote the bums out.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Flowers for Life and Death

I once worked in the floral business. I started as a delivery gal then graduated to highest honor possible - floral designer. It was work I loved. Who could complain about being around beautiful smelling flowers and lush, green plants every day at work?

Life in a flower shop was like living with bipolar disorder. There were days when nobody was born or died, or had a birthday or got sick. Those days were the downers. I spent hours cleaning every pebble that the potted plants were sitting on in order to prevent death by boredom. Then there was the manic phase - Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Christmas. Twenty-four hour marathons of poking flowers into wet green foam called Oasis, and getting dozens of bloody holes in my fingers from stripping thorns and boxing roses. Ah, I miss those good old days.

Standing behind the front counter, I was greeted with every emotion known to humans. Folks would stop in to pick out a bouquet for a friend or family member who was celebrating a birthday. They would take their time looking for just the right arrangement or container which reflected the personality of the recipient. That was especially true for the planters sent up to the hospital for the birth of a new baby or a sick loved one. There were little pink and blue ceramic lamb containers and green John Deere tractors. Tea cups and southwestern-style pots. Large handled wicker baskets that looked like a tropical forest once it was planted up. Those people always left with a smile.

My favorite arrangements to design were casket pieces. I loved the way I could let the flowers spread out like they do in nature. I was creating a living blanket, one to comfort both the dead and those left behind, the people that I found the most difficult to face. I am a very sensitive person, as you probably have already figured out. Witnessing the depth of grief in people getting flowers for their lost loved ones just broke my heart, plain and simple. Especially the Elders. Yes, casket pieces were my favorite, my way of helping comfort those families with the beauty and fragrance of flowers.

I had a boss at the last shop I worked in named Tommy. He was the kind of character you met once in a lifetime. Tommy drove the delivery van and his wife ran the business. He had shocking white hair, black rimmed glasses, and was always on the go. Tommy had an illness that required him to take a certain medication. This drug had several side effects, one of which caused him to take frequent and urgent bathroom breaks.

Tommy and I had a ritual. Every April Fool's Day, we played a prank on each other. One year, I got to work early and snatched the child mannequin from the upstairs storage area. I strategically placed her on the toilet, as if doing her business. Now visualize that the bathroom was long and narrow, maybe four feet across. It was a straight shot from the hall to the toilet, and worked well for someone who had to get there quick.

As he did every morning, Tommy brought in a sack of fresh donuts and made a pot of Cadillac coffee.  He knew I loved jelly-filled, sugar coated donuts and had several in the bag. I got my hot cup of coffee, reached in the sack and pulled out the largest one. With great anticipation I bit down and felt the raspberry filling squirt into my mouth. Along with a tablespoon full of dried onions. It was all I could do to keep from losing my cookies.

Ten minutes after drinking his first cup of coffee, Tommy ran to the bathroom 90 miles per hour. I was already cracking up when I heard him yell as he flipped on the light switch and almost sat on the poor little girl! The whole shop was laughing hysterically as we listened to him hollaring at me from behind the closed door.

Tommy passed away a few years ago and I went to the service to pay my respects. There were dozens of beautiful flower arrangements circling the room along with all the stories being told about Tommy. What I remembered most was the last video at the end of the video depicting Tommy's colorful life. He was waving from high in the sky, hang gliding behind a powerboat at the ripe old age of 80. I hope I go out with such joy.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Easy Bake Ovens and Monsanto, or Sugar Sugar


I loved my Easy Bake Oven. Not because of the delicious cakes and cookies I could make in the tiny oven, but because of the batter. OMG. I loved that batter. I never baked one damn thing in that oven. Nada. Never. Nope. I ripped open the package containing the cake or cookie mix, poured the powder in the little red plastic bowl, added water, and stirred. I tried, I really did. "Just one little finger full," my young mind rationalized. In went the finger and out it came dripping with the delicious batter. One taste and I was sunk. I got a spoon and finished it off, lickety split.

My name is Barb B. and I am a sugar addict.

It is not my fault. I blame it on the Easy Bake Oven, red Jello with bananas, Pop Tarts, and Sweet Tarts. I blame it on Grandma Barton, who always took me to Dairy Queen for a parfait, and Grandma Aldrich, who made me cinnamon toast and hot, sweetened Lipton tea before bed. Oh, yes, and my Mother, who made the best cakes in the world - Watergate cake, carrot cake, chocolate cake. Geez, I almost forgot, I must mention Grandma Aldrich's cherry, butterscotch, and banana cream pies. And those glazed donuts Mom would take out of the box then fry in butter for breakfast were to die for!

I remember vividly a candy store that was located on a street directly in the line of travel from my childhood home to the school I walked to every day (miles of course). This little sweet shop was actually on the front porch of a neighbor's home. It was so exciting walking through her door. There were shelves and shelves of wax lips, pixie sticks, candy necklaces, little wax pop bottles, giant colorful suckers, bags of chocolate coins, Slo Pokes, I could go on and on. I would take my allowance, and whatever change I could snatch from my Mom and Dad's dresser, and race to that porch after school.

Tears are streaming down my cheeks right this very minute just thinking about it.

My beloved spent her childhood in South Korea and the Philippines. No candy stores, no Dairy Queen, no Watergate cake. Just fresh fish, rice, kimchi, eggs, and vegetables. She has naturally perfect teeth, a body so fit she looks half her age, beautiful skin, and a sparkle in her eye. She has lived a mostly sugar-free life for a tad over a half century, and it shows.

Sugar is really not good for us. Not at all. Oh it is scrumptiously delicious if you have a sweet tooth like I do, but it is the devil in disguise. Case in point...


I came across a book titled "Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine" by Naturopathic Doctor Ronald Schmid. Included in this book is a description of an anthropological study done by a dentist several decades ago. This dentist traveled to villages around the world looking at how traditional and non-traditional diets affected overall health and dentition. What he found was astounding. Those people who ate traditional diets (like my beloved did) had perfectly formed teeth and almost no incidence of diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease! Those who had sugar and processed foods introduced into their diet developed crooked teeth and disease. He took thousands of photographs of people's mouths to document his observations, and some of these photos are included in this book.

Wow. I thought everyone was born with crooked teeth. I had no idea the role diet plays in it. That kind of makes me mad. Why doesn't everyone know this? Why do we keep pushing sugar on our kids when we could simply give them good food while their little bodies are growing up? Perhaps it is in the best interest of certain corporations to have a society addicted to sugar, much like the tobacco industry, just saying.

Corn syrup is in almost everything we eat. Really. Check out the labels as you go shopping or are preparing your meals. We are a nation of sugar addicts and most of us don't even know it. Don't believe me? Try going three days with no sugar. NO SUGAR. That means you have to read every label and be sure there is not one gram of sugar in it, no fruit either. See how you feel. But please warn your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. Put a sign on your back car window that says "Off Sugar" so that people give you lots of space. You won't be happy.

I have kicked my share of bad habits over the years, like biting my nails, smoking, and a few others I won't mention. But this one, this monster called sugar, is the hardest of all.

And yes, to answer your unspoken question, I started a diet. Is it that obvious?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's Time to Take Arms


On April 28th, women and their supporters (bras, girls, children, and sensible men) will be gathering all across the nation at the Unite Against the War on Women rallies to denounce the recent political attack on women's rights. Our rally will be held here in Lansing, Michigan at the Capitol from 10 until 2 pm, at which I will be singing the powerful song "I am a Woman Here on Planet Earth" by the wonderful Ruth Pelham. Check out the Unitewomen.org website to find a rally near you and then take all your friends and add your voice to the chorus. 

No more clicking "like" on Facebook. It is time to take up arms. Michele Obama arms.


Sisters, if we want to take back our power we have to stop giving it away, plain and simple. The first step is to work on our arms. Hey, it works! Look at all the posters and displays of bravado where women and men are posturing by flexing their biceps. "Wow, oooohhhhh, aaaahhhhhh" people will say admiringly. The flexors of said muscles are given new found respect and admiration. They feel strong and powerful. They pick up broken down garbage trucks from crowded intersections to free up traffic jams. They stop cars so elderly folks pushing shopping carts can cross the street safely.  And they silence the cat callers with one threatening glance.

How do we take up Michelle Obama arms? Tricep pushdowns and hammer curls, that's how. Three sets of as many tricep pushdowns as you can stand followed by 15 reps of hammer curls. Or, if that is too much work for you, do some pushups everyday. I believe if we have strong, beautifully sculpted arms we will be unstoppable.

No more limp wristed handshakes. Grab the offered hand firmly, pull toward you, then bump shoulders. Show you are a force to be reckoned with! No more wimpy chips!

If we don't get out and fight for our rights, we have no business complaining about them being taken away. Are you going to stand by and wait for legislation that makes it a crime to NOT wear a pushup bra? Or for a new law banning women from the work place if they have children at home? Or outlawing divorce unless the man wants it? These things may sound absurd, but so did the recent wave of legislation just a year ago, right? This is a patriarchal power grab sisters, we need to flex our Michelle Obama arms and push back HARD.

Our female ancestors fought hard for our rights to vote, own property, have the right to choose, and so much more. Sisters, we must follow in their footsteps and continue to fight toward equality, which just to type this makes my blood boil! No one should have to fight for equality. It is a birth right.

So women, drop down and give me 20 and take up arms! This is war! If you need motivation, here is a list of MoveOn.org's Top Ten. I'll see you on the 28th!

"Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP's War on Women

1) Republicans not only want to reduce women's access to abortion care, they're actually trying to redefine rape. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven't yet. Shocker.
2) A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to "accuser." But victims of other less gendered crimes, like burglary, would remain "victims."
3) In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real.)
4) Republicans want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids. 
5) In Congress, Republicans have a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.
6) Maryland Republicans ended all county money for a low-income kids' preschool program. Why? No need, they said. Women should really be home with the kids, not out working.
7) And at the federal level, Republicans want to cut that same program, Head Start, by $1 billion. That means over 200,000 kids could lose their spots in preschool.
8) Two-thirds of the elderly poor are women, and Republicans are taking aim at them too. A spending bill would cut funding for employment services, meals, and housing for senior citizens.
9) Congress just voted for a Republican amendment to cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood health centers, one of the most trusted providers of basic health care and family planning in our country.
10) And if that wasn't enough, Republicans are pushing to eliminate all funds for the only federal family planning program. (For humans. But Republican Dan Burton has a bill to provide contraception for wild horses. You can't make this stuff up)."

Friday, April 20, 2012

To Be Taught By a Butterfly


Me out catching butterflies.

Catching butterflies with a net is an art if you don't want to hurt the delicate beings. The easiest way (easy unless it is a fast flying species in which case you must be extremely quick) is to locate a butterfly that is busy nectaring on a flower. You hold the net in your dominate hand and swing gently, not unlike a forehand shot in tennis (remember I said gently). The arch should end on an upstroke, then a quick clockwise circle so as to make the narrow end of the cone-shaped net flip over the rim of the circular frame. This ensures the butterfly cannot fly back out. It is also a move to be done delicately, as the little creature can become trapped between the folds of the net and metal rim, with fatal results.

I spent several summers in the hot Pennsylvania heat at Fort Indiantown Gap chasing and catching a rare insect called the regal fritillary, a beautiful orange and iridescent black butterfly similar in size to a monarch. Regals love to nectar on the bright orange butterflyweed and would become so fixated on drinking that you could pluck them right off a flower with your fingers. This was part of a mark and recapture study used to estimate population sizes. To do that, I catch the insect, write a tiny number on the wing using a Sharpee Ultrafine Point marker, and then let them go.

Me marking a beautiful female regal fritillary. Notice #7 on my shoulder, my tribute.

One day I took a civilian employee of the Army with me to help catch and mark regals. He was in charge of natural resources on the base and was eager to get his feet wet, so to speak. I showed him the proper technique for catching a butterfly, and watched as he practiced on invisible insects landing on flowers. When he looked like he had it down, I sent him off on his own. It wasn't long before he shouted, "There's one!" He ran to the flower where the regal was nectaring, wound up, and swung like he was Martina Navratilova. My heart sunk. I quickly took the net and peered inside. Flapping helplessly on the bottom was a female regal fritillary, her right wing completely broken in half.

He, of course, felt horrible. In his excitement, he had ended the normal life of a butterfly that was one step below being listed as a federal endangered species.

I carefully took the regal out of the net and tenderly placed her in a small cage - if I left her there in the field, she would die a very unpleasant death (at least by my standards). So I made the decision to take her home. On her remaining wing I saw #7, my lucky number. That was the beginning of our three months together.

Caring for Seven was no easy task. She had to be fed sugar water numerous times every day. She could not fly and perch like her former self, but instead made her way around the two foot square screened cage by walking. To teach her to drink, I had to carefully hold the edges of her wings between my fingers, then take a pin and insert it in the center of the coil of her proboscis. I would unwind the long tongue so that it would touch the syrup. Once the tip hit the water, she drank eagerly.

Over time, Seven began to deteriorate. Parts of her wings began to break off. She was living an unnatural life, one much longer than she would have had she been flying free in the fields. But it was during this time that she was the greatest teacher.  No matter how difficult her challenges, Seven would persevere. She would still climb up the side of her cage, with little left but stubs where her beautiful wings once were, and sit in the warm sunshine. By this time, I had to physically hold her body while helping her feed. Many times a day. We shared a bond that is hard to describe.

I went on a trip to North Carolina to attend a spiritual retreat, and Seven rode right along with me. We stopped several times throughout the day, me eating my sandwiches and she eating her syrup. At the retreat, many women spent quiet time with her, watching and listening with their hearts. Each one felt moved by the experience. Butterfly is known to be a teacher of rebirth, Seven taught many things.

The day George Bush senior was elected president, Seven went to the Spirit world. I placed her tiny body on a square of white silk and sat under the full moonlight with her. This little being had been an intimate part of my life for three months and my heart was saddened by her passing. But then I saw her Spirit rise out of her body with full gorgeous wings and fly upward into the moon. The love of Butterfly is beautiful.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Cure for the Common Political Ad


It is April and the presidential campaign is underway, fresh off the heels of a comical yet terrifying Republican primary race. Those wonderful ads are now on the airwaves, funded by the Super Pacs - organizations that can contribute an unlimited amount of money to whichever candidate they choose. These are mostly individual donors, unimaginably rich people. If you are like me, you don't want to hear, see, or smell another political advertisement in your life. One is too many.



How do we rid ourselves of these vermin? Here is my proposal. First off, each presidential candidate is given $10,000 from us taxpayers to run their primary campaign. They can spend no more than that nor can they accept donations from anyone, not even their mothers. Those who make it to the final race get $100,000, not a penny more. What a great way to see how a presidential candidate would manage a tight budget. There would be a level playing field with our lineup more reflective of who we are as a people. No longer would the candidates all be millionaires. How about we go back to the old days, when politicians traveled by train and gave stump speeches to the townsfolk? They spent their money going around talking to the people instead of creating all the negative crap we see on TV nowadays.

Well, we know that ain't gonna happen!

So, here is my second proposal. Boycott political ads. How you might ask? It is easy, really it is. For television, simply record or pause your favorite programs on your Tevo or DVR then fast forward through the commercials. Put in a CD instead of turning on the radio, or better yet, listen to NPR, where there are no political advertisements.

The ads won't pay off if we choose to ignore them and we will feel so much better by removing them from our lives. Let the Super PACs spend their millions on useless ads. We don't have to listen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Penalizing the Poor - A Day in the Life

It is expensive to be poor. I am learning this every month as I try to pay bills with not enough money. There is an economic war going on, there is no doubt in my mind. I have no ammo to fight with. I am being overrun by the enemy and there is nothing I can do about it.

Here is what I am talking about. I am on a fixed income, with an occasional grant coming in now and then. I am also on auto pay for my mortgage, part of a federal program to help folks who are on unemployment. The beauty of the program is my payment is cut in half for a year (the other half is tacked on to my mortgage loan). The catch is they take the payment out of my account on the 5th of the month, no matter what. So if my unemployment check is directly deposited on the 6th, too bad. They will not hold off on collecting the mortgage. I say, "There will be no money in my account until the next day!" They say, "Sorry, there is nothing we can do about it. It is automatic." Automatic. The world is run by computers now?

So they let the auto pay take the non-existent money out. This is a compounded issue. Let's take a look. Maybe I have $100 in my account, to cover the gas and groceries I bought on the 4th. Those purchases haven't gone through yet because I used my debit/credit card. On the 5th they take out the mortgage payment. The credit union pays it and charges me $35 overdraft fee. Then the gas and the food charges come through. The credit union charges me another $70 overdraft. On the 6th my unemployment check is directly deposited, and immediately the amount is reduced by $105 due to NSF charges. Which mean that I cannot pay all the bills that I promised to pay.

So those creditors that I cannot pay now due to having $105 taken out from NSF fees charge me interest and late fees, increasing the debt I have to them, making it even more difficult to pay them back. Oh, but wait, I am now 31 days late on my credit card payment with the credit union, so they freeze my accounts. All of them. I cannot access any money nor deposit any money until I pay the bill. No warning. What if I had been on the road late at night, and needed gas to get home? All of a sudden I cannot access my bank account. What if I needed medicine (thank goodness I don't)? What then? Since when can a bank keep you from accessing your money because you are only one day and one month late on a payment?

Then the dog gets sick, I get a flat tire, and the serpentine belt breaks on my Jeep. Oh the things that can devastate a person who lives life on the edge of economic disaster.

I had a past due bill on my home phone. I contacted ATT and made payment arrangements, telling them I would pay the bill the following Wednesday. "That would be fine," they said. The very next day they cut off my long-distance service. "No your phone line is not down, that is standard practice to cut long distance," I was told when I called to report the problem. "What about my payment agreement?" I asked, getting angrier by the minute. "That is standard practice," the person on the other end of the line responded. I cancelled my home phone service on the spot. I tried to get another home phone provider, but because I am unemployed and am behind on bills, I would have to pay $275 up front as a fee just to have the privilege of having a home phone.

Even the utility companies are involved in this war. Your check comes on the 5th. You have to pay on the 5th or get your utility shutoff. Pay online or over the phone by debit/credit card and get charged an additional $6.75 service fee. Service fee for paying a bill? So you can cough up the $6.75 service fee to pay your bill on the due date or pay $10 late fee (plus the $6.75 service fee) later.

I have always lived my life as honest as I possibly can. I have contacted my creditors and told them, "I have no income right now due to losing unemployment, I have been trying to find a job and have had no success. I want to pay my debt to you, but I truly have no money to do that right now. I will send money as soon as I can." Some work with me. Some ignore my calls and correspondence and send me threatening letters. They all will go through the process of collecting from me. They cannot stop the machine that chews up the poor. Computers, you know. As they say, "You can't squeeze blood from turnip."  Hate to say it, but I don't even have a turnip. They don't want $5 a month. They don't care. You are not a person with a life and a difficult situation. You are an account number and source of money.

Going through the unemployment process is in and of itself a nightmare. Rules change weekly. Even the staff can't keep up, so you are given incorrect or outdated information frequently. I was told incorrect information on reporting wages last year. Now they have been taking over half my unemployment for the past two checks in restitution. I appealed and lost. "Yes, they gave you incorrect information, but they did pay you more than you should have gotten, so by no fault of your own, you must pay restitution," the judge said. I applied for financial hardship, given I had no income. I lost. They said that I made too much money in the past six months. You have to make $900 or less a month to be considered to have financial hardship.The past six months? What do the six past months have to do with today? I paid bills with the last six months of income, today I have no money. Hello?

I share this with you so that you can have a glimpse of what life is like for someone who has been without a job for a long time. Those on the conservative right will say people love to live on government hand outs. They have no clue. It isn't bread and roses. It is depressing. It is defeating. It is humiliating. It is not what I choose.

I have no money to fight this, so the battles go on every day of the week. Negotiating, pleading, arguing. I am tired. I need reinforcements. I need a job.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Reading of the Blog

Diann, Kathee, and me.

Every morning my sister Diann reads my blog to me over the telephone. The blog doesn't take its first breath until the moment Diann gives me her impression. She is either laughing hysterically, wiping a tear, saying "That's nice, Barb. That's a good one", or checking her Facebook page immediately after speaking the last word. It is the latter reaction that I worry about. When I started this blog, I had no idea that it would deepen our connection the way it has. If I don't talk to her everyday, it feels like something is missing from my life.

I love sharing the stories of my youth and my family, especially when my sisters or Aunt Bonnie (who reads from Facebook) remember these times with me. It is a family reunion from afar.

ANOTHER Easter photograph.

Even my youngest sister Kathee, who lives in Texas, is a faithful reader and although we don't talk every day, I feel a connection with her through the blog. I know she is reading every word, remembering our Grandparents, Edwardsburg, and so much more right along with me.

The downside of this is that there are some topics I do not write about, for fear of offending or hurting or downright pissing them off. You ain't never seen a hornet's nest like the one my sisters can whip up! It is an eternal dilemma of the writer...you can say anything about yourself but you had better tread lightly when it comes to those who know you.

And ANOTHER Easter photograph.

A great example of this is a very funny story about my nephew Archie (his name is changed to protect the guilty). I could never tell the world about the time I told him to go pee between some cars when he was very little, and he did just that. Except he peed his pants. I imagine if I told the whole story right here in this blog, he would jump in his Mopar and drive all the way from Indianapolis to wring my neck. Woops, did I just give away his identity? Sorry Archie!

I never dreamed that a simple exercise in daily musings would bring me such joy in connecting with my sisters. I sure love them. The sisters, I mean.

Buffalo Nickels

The laminated birch headboard on my Grandparents bed had two little cubby holes on the ends with an open space in the middle. Grandma must have really loved this type of laminate, because her dressers and living room furniture were made from it.


Whenever I went to visit Grandma and Grandpa, one of the first things I did was to enter their bedroom. On the north wall hung photographs from ceiling to floor. On the west wall, the one where you could look out the window and see the pond in the woods, were photographs to the right of the window and a latch hook rug to the left. Pictures of several generations of our family - the most important thing in the world to my Grandma.

But my favorite thing in Grandma and Grandpa's room lived in Grandma's cubby hole. Hidden behind the gold handled door were two mason jars. Both were filled to the brim with buffalo nickels.

I would take those jars out, dump the nickels on the bed, and hold each one in my hand, marveling at the weight and detail of these old coins. My imagination would wander back to the time when buffalo roamed the prairies and plains by the thousands. As a child I had not yet learned about the slaughter of the buffalo and the Indians. I just knew those were magical coins that held special powers. Just what powers were a mystery to me, but they were magical just the same.

Not long before she died, I asked my Grandma what made her start collecting buffalo nickels. She said, "Oh, I don't know. When I was young I thought they were beautiful and just started collecting them. Before I knew it I had two jars full!" Not only did Grandma think buffalo nickels were beautiful, she loved two dollar bills and stashed those away as well.

In 1999, the U.S. Mint started producing state quarters, each with a unique design. Then, in 2005, they started making beautiful nickels, and one design features the buffalo. It were the nickels that caught my eye.

There is a jar sitting on the counter by my backdoor. In this jar is a collection of beautiful nickels, pretty state quarters, interesting pennies, and some foreign coins I have found along the way. The only thing missing is a curious child.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Life Lost

One of the things that every field biologist has thought of at least once in their professional life is finding a dead body. After all, we are out in every nook and cranny - from the beautiful wilderness to the urban rivers. Of all the biologists I know, I am the only one who actually has.

I remember the day, it was a hot morning in April. I worked for the city of Ann Arbor as a lepidopterist, surveying for butterflies in the many beautiful parks. That particular day I was visiting an undeveloped area on the outskirts of town. I pulled my old Honda Accord off the road into a rough parking area, got out, and opened the trunk. I pulled on my rubber hip waders, put on my field vest, binoculars, hat, fanny pack, and camera, grabbed my butterfly net and shut the trunk. Down the old two track I went, headed toward the first stop of the day, a small open meadow in the middle of a forest.

After searching the small, sunlit clearing, I made my way through a tangle of downed logs and heavy brush and popped out into the marsh. It was always slow going, some days there was a bit of standing water which actually exerted pressure on the bottom muck and made it more solid and easier to walk through. Other days it was pretty soupy and it was all you could do to keep your balance, let alone chase after something with wings.

I followed my usual route through the wetland and was headed in the general direction of my car when I noticed something blue off in the distance. "A five gallon bucket," I thought and kept going. As I got closer, the blue bucket turned into a pile of trash, or at least that is what it looked like through all the shrubs and vegetation. At first I was a bit angry at the person who dumped their garbage into this park. But then I realized that in order to get the trash to that spot someone would have had to get out of their car and walk through the marsh. Not likely.

I was making my way teetering and tottering through the muck and the hummocks when I came upon an odor I will never forget. And at the same time the odor wafted into my nostrils, my eyes fell upon the body of man.

At first, I was terrified. I didn't know if he was drunk or passed out. I thought, "How can I get away in these hip waders with all this gear hanging off me?" I didn't know if he was passed out, sleeping, or what. But then I saw the flies and I knew he was dead. Time seemed to stand still, then slowly start up again in slow motion. I knew from being a former fan of CSI and Law and Order that I should stay away from the body in case it was a crime scene. I pulled my cell phone out and called the police.

Once the police arrived I had to stay within the taped-off crime scene area while they investigated. Hours and hours. When I was finally cleared to go, I left the scene and went to a friend's house.

A few days later I found out the young man, only 28 years old, had committed suicide.

According to his family, he had been despondent and was missing for the two weeks prior to his death. Had I not been there looking for butterflies, there was a good chance his body would not have been found for months or years or maybe ever. No one went out into this marsh. No one except for me and him. I was glad to have found him, for his family's sake. How horrible to never know what happened to a missing loved one.

I had to go back to that very same place the following week and was anxious and uncomfortable. I knew that finding his body had deeply affected me on many levels. I was startled by any human-made object that didn't belong in nature. I was saddened that this person had felt so hopeless he ended his life.

I took a bunch of flowers with me and walked directly out to the spot where he had died. I stood there holding the blossoms and looked around, seeing what he saw in his last minutes, wondering how he felt. In the last moments of consciousness, as the drugs made their way through his body, did he regret it? Did he try to get out of the marsh and go for help? Did he feel relief? Or did he feel nothing at all? I looked down at the spot where his body laid down on the Earth. He was facing an old weeping willow tree. Did he look at the tree? Did the tree hear his final words or cries? Was the willow now weeping for him?

I have known depression. Intimately. I have felt the deep hopelessness and despair that comes with this horrible and debilitating condition. I have wanted to give up, to end the suffering in my heart. He did it. He had been there to show me what suicide looks like to those left behind. It is final. It is the end.

All hope vanishes with the Spirit of the departed.

I placed my bouquet of flowers where he last lay and said a prayer to his Spirit and to the Creator. I prayed for the land, which holds all memory. I prayed for his family who would have years of heartache from this terrible tragedy.

I don't know how to end this blog, except to say that no matter what, there is always hope. Even if we can't see it. Depression is unbearable at times, it can wear you out and take you to the end of your rope. But there is always hope if we want a better life. As someone once said, "Don't drop anchor here." Sadly he did.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Pie

Rhubarb custard, my favorite. Photo by Paloma Rozales.
I am a pie baker. Not the kind of pie baker that buys those frozen crusts from the freezer section of the grocery store, then takes them home and fills them with god knows what. I am a bona fide dyed in the wool make it from scratch pie baker, just like my Grandma Aldrich. The only difference between us was she used butter and I use Crisco in the crust. Other than that, I think Grandma would be proud of the creations that come from my kitchen. One of my favorite recipes is Grandma's homemade butterscotch pie. Divine.

Grandma Aldrich, my mentor.
We are a rare breed nowadays. With places like the Grand Traverse Pie Company (GTPC) popping up across the Michigan landscape, women have traded in their rolling pins for GTPC gift cards. Pie baking is becoming a mystery, something our Grandma's used to do. Women fear a pie crust almost as much as a visit to their gynecologist.

I have learned over the years that there are certain things that give women mystical magical powers. Pie is one of those things. No matter what your request, you can make a pie and your wish will come true. Guaranteed. Why in the world would women want to give that up?

People cannot resist a homemade pie. They stand over it, drooling and marveling at the light flaky crust, the intricate lacing on a lattice top, and inhale the soul-penetrating aroma. They are transported to another time, another place, they are flooded with memories of old home. Their eyes close. Their arms involuntarily take their hands toward the pie, only to be slapped by the cook. "Not yet!" she will say.  Eyes pop open and are fixated on the circular piece of heaven, and eating that pie becomes an obsession. They can think of nothing else. They are hooked. 

Humble Pie:Musings on What Lies Beneath the Crust" by Anne Dimock is a great book about the story of pie in our lives. The following is my adaptation...
"Pie is a window to a person's soul, a lens by which you can see their true nature and know the measure of their worth. You won't be able to take it all in, not in one slice of pie, not in a thousand. Pie is so revealing -- especially rhubarb pie. But to start with, you can choose several traits and look to confirm their presence.
Is the person generous of nature? Look at how they cut the pie. How large are the bites? Not very? Good. 

Do they bear down on their fork with the index finger? They should.

Do they take a bit of crust with each bite or leave it to the last? Oh, the last!

Be mindful of where they begin to eat the slice. While most of us will start at the apex, a particularly curious and lively soul will start elsewhere.

Watch for pauses. Count them. As the number increases, so does their attention to the details of life.

Digging out the filling reveals a propensity to lie.

Nibbling away at the rest of the pie in the pan predicts a person who wants to have things both ways.

And oddly enough, slow, thoughtful chewing has no relation to introspection, but only to how acute their sense of smell is."
Ladies, this is female power personified! The stuff of gypsies, crones, tarot readers, fortune tellers, witches.  All you have to do is make a pie!
Grandma Barton's pie basket

Pie bakers stick together, but they do have their secrets for making the perfect crust and keep the cards close to their chests (bosoms?). Do they use Crisco or butter or lard? Do they use their hands to mix the dough or do they prefer a fork? What type of pie plate do they use most often? Do they bake in their Grandma's apron or stark naked? Vinegar or no vinegar?

It pains me to think of all the wonderful pie crust recipes that have been passed on from generation to generation, only to be lost to the frozen food section. Pie baking is becoming a lost art, something to be showcased at historical reenactments alongside the Civil War battles and the fur traders. Congress should throw money at preserving this important part of our heritage. What is more American than mom and apple pie?


I was so excited the day I discovered my Grandma Barton's pie basket I could of squealed. It looked just like a picnic basket, but was square and had a removable shelf so you could stack two pies. I started collecting them and had about six or seven at one time. But I can't resist gifting a pie basket to another pie baker, especially those who have never seen one before. My stock is down now, but I dream of baking so many pies that each basket is filled to the brim with delicious pear, rhubarb custard, buttermilk, berry, peach, cherry, and butterscotch pies.

So come on gals! Take back one of your mysterious feminine powers and learn how to bake pie before it is too late and all us original bona fide dyed in the wool make it from scratch pie bakers are DEAD! I'll be making the first rhubarb custard pie of the season tomorrow, stop on by.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Haves and Have Nots

The Bear Den, my home.

I bought my very first house in December of 2005, just two months after my beloved Grandmother left us. Some very dear 20 something friends came and spent New Year's with me, pulling up the carpet and painting walls. That night we watched a movie, projected on a stark white bedroom wall. We could barely hear the soundtrack coming from the laptop, but it didn't matter. We were four young people, an over 50 woman, and a beagle all snuggled in a pile of blankets and sleeping bags, doing what a community does. Helping each other.

Tiny Barton the Third, my beagle friend.
My house has central air, another first for me.  The following summer was a scorcher, and I remember turning on the air conditioner so my dog would be comfortable while I was at work during the day. I still smoked at the time, and was sitting on the back steps having a cigarette when I noticed the neighbors outside under a tree, hair and shirts soaked with sweat.

I started feeling uncomfortable. Here I was, a good 20 years younger than the old woman across the street, resting in air conditioning while she was suffering in the heat. I knew that I was better off financially than her family, and could afford the high summer electric bill. They didn't even have an air conditioner. Neither does the mentally impaired man that lives next door to me. He, too, has a much lower income than do I. I started to feel guilty. I went inside and turned it off. To this day I only run it if it is extremely hot. Otherwise, I sleep in the basement, where it is cooler. Somehow I feel it keeps me and them on the same playing field, the same level of humanness.

Some of you reading this may think I am being ridiculous. I have a feeling this way of looking at the world comes from my early Methodist upbringing - that the Christian thing to do is to share what we have with those less fortunate, that there is nothing admirable about having more than you need, especially when others are suffering. Somewhere inside there is a faint, far away voice that says "What would Jesus do?". I can't believe he would sit in the 1% while the rest of his community struggled. I am no longer a Christian, but I have discovered I still hold those beliefs. I cannot in good conscience sit in a cool air conditioned house while my neighbors suffer.

In Lansing we now have many more people standing on the corners of busy intersections, asking for help. They hold signs that say "Have Family, Need Food, God Bless", "Hungry, Please Help", "Will Work for Food", "Need Job, Must Feed Family". I don't like what I have become. I doubt them. I don't trust them. I don't believe them. Then I look into their eyes as I pass them by. I see their desperation, their pain. Feelings that are familiar to me now. They have no where else to go, nothing left to do but ask their fellow human beings for help.  Every once in awhile a car window rolls down and a compassionate soul hands them money. But most don't.


I want to tell them I am sorry I cannot help them, because I am not working either. I want to ask them what happened to them, what went wrong? I see them as children who got lost along the way, or were forced into poverty by the system. I want to take them home, give them a good hot meal, a warm bed, a song. I want to give them something to hope for, a chance. I think about my own life. I have nothing to complain about, I have a fairly new car, a beautiful home full of beautiful sacred things, I have clothes and a bed. I have dear friends and family who give me money and food. I am one step away from where they are. I don't know how to tell them any of that. I drive on.

I was once in a car with a conservative co-worker and we passed a homeless person on the corner.  "Get a job!" he yelled at the man, although fortunately the windows of the car were rolled up. Get a job. I am sure my co-worker never gave thought to what it means to have nothing. Or how one who has nothing is supposed to get a job. Especially today. No home means no stuff. No stuff means no clothes. No food. No money. No computer. No cell phone. It means that the only thing you can do every day is try to find your next meal or a safe place to stay. A job? Give me a break. I know how beaten down I feel having been unemployed for so long, I can't imagine not having my bed to sleep in. There but for the grace of God go I.

I don't think that we as a community really understand that there is a finite amount of money, most of which is in the possession of the wealthy. We non-wealthy folks don't have access to it unless the wealthy give it up. It really is pretty simple. The more wealth they accumulate, the less money that is available for everybody else. They call themselves job creators, but think about it. The major corporations show record profits. How do they get those profits? By reducing benefits, taking away collective bargaining rights and pensions, reducing insurance coverage, lowering wages, and creating jobs that pay minimum wage. Or ship the jobs out of the US. They can't possibly want to create jobs that are good paying with excellent benefits, that would cut into profits. It is all about money, remember. There is only so much, and they ain't sharing.

The definition of the word welfare is the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization. The word welfare breaks down into faring well. Who doesn't want to fare well? Who doesn't want everyone else to fare well, too? When did we allow the conservatives in this country to tarnish the meaning of the word? When did a certain group in our society begin to fill with hatred when the government tried to ensure that all citizens would fare well? Who corrupted the term "welfare state" to mean a country of moochers, when it really means a country that values and ensures good fortune, health, happiness, and prosperity to its citizens?

I will leave my air conditioner off this year, so as to stand on the same ground as my neighbors. And I will continue to offer help to others as well as accept help from others. We all want the same things in life. Health happiness, prosperity, and good fortune. Well fare. This I wish for you.

Leave it to Beaver


June Cleaver was busy in the kitchen cheerfully preparing a supper of meatloaf, canned corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, chocolate cake, and red jello with bananas and marshmallows. She unfolded the freshly pressed red plaid table cloth and lifted it high into the air. Shaking it perfectly, the table cloth landed squarely on the family dinner table. She smoothed out the few renegade wrinkles, then started setting the table with the dishes she got from trading in her 25 books of green stamps.

Someone knocked at the back door.

June took a quick glance at her reflection in the oven glass, touched up her hair here and there, and opened the door.

"Good evening, Mrs. Cleaver", greeted Eddie Haskell.

"Well, hello Eddie!" June replied.

"You look lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver. What a beautiful apron you are wearing, a gift from Mr. Cleaver?" Eddie asked.

"Why, thank you Eddie, no the A&P had a sale one day and since Ward had used my last apron to clean up the old lawn mower I thought I would buy one."

"Well, Mrs. Cleaver, I came buy to pick up Wally and Theodore, are they home?" Eddie asked.

"What are you boys up to Eddie?" inquired June, curiously.


"Oh, well Mrs. Cleaver, we are heading over to the concealed weapons class at the gun shop. You know, Mrs. Cleaver, they changed the law just last week allowing anyone to carry a concealed weapon regardless of age, so we thought we'd go get one! All the fellas are doing it."

"Oh Wally, what a wonderful idea! You never know when someone might try to steal your bike these days. Ward will be so excited to hear this when he gets home. Oh, I think I hear the boys now. WALLY, BEAVER, EDDIE'S HERE!"

Sounding like a herd of buffalo, the boys thundered down the stairs and into the kitchen.

"Hey Eddie," said Wally.

"Hi Eddie!" beamed the Beaver.

"Are you fellas ready to go or what," said Eddie impatiently. Quickly gaining his composure, he once again feigned politeness and put a smile on his face.

"Have a wonderful evening Mrs. Cleaver. And please tell Mr. Cleaver I said hello."

"I will, thank you Eddie. You boys be good and be home by 6:00. Here take something to tide you over until supper," she said, as she pulled out a half dozen chocolate chip cookies from the porcelain cookie jar.

"Bye mom!" shouted the Beaver.

"Goodbye boys," said June. The boys darted out the backdoor, hopped on their bikes, and sped off down down Pine Street toward the gun shop. June shook her head and smiled. Her boys were growing up so fast.

Ward and June explaining "Stand Your Ground" to the Beaver.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Grandma and Patsy


Grandma Barton had a morning routine. She would get up and start the Mr. Coffee Maker (she set it all up the night before), then trundle down the long asphalt driveway to her mailbox to retrieve the newspaper. Next, Grandma would head into the kitchen, pour herself a cup of coffee and stir in one teaspoon each of powdered Irish Cream flavored creamer, powdered regular creamer, and white sugar. A short couple of steps to the cookie pail to pick up two chocolate chip/oatmeal/raisin cookies and then it was over to the recliner for breakfast and the newspaper.

Every Sunday, before she sat down to eat her cookies and drink her coffee, Grandma Barton would load up her phonograph with records. She would select four or five albums of whoever she felt like listening to that particular day, set them on the spindle, move the arm over on top of them, and turn the record player on. She must have had several hundred albums by such greats as the Mills Brothers, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, and Willie Nelson. But her favorite was Patsy Cline.

Grandma loved to dance. Whenever a Patsy Cline song came on the radio and there was a willing dance partner in the house, Grandma would soon be swaying across the kitchen floor, singing along.

She used to ask me, "Why don't you learn to play some Patsy Cline?". I told her it just wasn't my style. This is one of my greatest regrets in life.

I never asked Grandma about it, but it seemed like all her favorite songs were about heartache, and nobody could sing lively heartache songs better than Patsy. I knew Grandma had her heart broken pretty bad when she was a young woman, maybe that was why those songs spoke to her. I have to chuckle as she used to complain that I never played any "happy" songs. Maybe she was hoping that I wouldn't have to go through life with a secret pain inside like she did.

My Grandma died at home, and all of us were there with her. The local funeral home director, who had taken care of many of our family members over the years, came to take her body. They put Grandma on the gurney and as they started to move toward the door, I shouted "Wait!" I went to the CD player and put on Patsy Cline. Our family made a line from the dining room into the kitchen and we watched Grandma leave her home one last time, with Patsy singing "I'll Be Loving You Always". It couldn't have been more fitting.

At Grandma's funeral, I finally sang her a Patsy Cline song. My sisters and I created a medley of a few of her favorite tunes, which included Crazy, Release Me, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, then back into Crazy. Sounds weird, but it works, try it. We led friends and family in celebrating her love of music. Had my sisters not stood up there with me, I don't think I could have gotten through those songs. I still choke up every time I sing Crazy.

I have had many conversations with Grandma since then, letting her know how sorry I am I didn't learn those songs when she was still alive. Sometimes when I go visit her grave, I put on a Patsy Cline CD and let it blast out over the cemetery. I swear I can see Grandma dancing and swaying across the grass, gently singing along.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Poison Ivy, Slippery Elm, and the Dope

I listened attentively as Grandma Aldrich told me a story about my Uncle Marvin when he was a little boy. "He had burned his hand real bad," she said, pointing to her palm. "I took him to a neighbor lady, she had special healing powers. When he came out of her house, there was no trace of a burn." She shook her head, still unable to comprehend this. "His hand was perfect, not a trace of red or anything." Grandma had a puzzled look on her face, still unsure as to how this miracle had happened.

Grandma suffered from arthritis and because I loved her, I was always looking for herbal remedies to ease her suffering. On one weekend visit I brought her a bottle of arnica tincture. "Here Gram, let me rub some of this into your hands, it will make you feel better," I said. She held out her soft, swollen hand and I let a few drops of the arnica coat her painful joints. With great care, I gently rubbed it in. "There, all better?" I asked. "Well, maybe a little," she lied. "I'll leave this with you and you can try it some more, ok?"

"Ok," she replied.

I called her a few months later and asked how the remedy was working. She told me it didn't really help her, but she gave the bottle to a friend of her's who also suffered from the debilitating disease. "She couldn't raise her arms above her head," Gram explained. "So I gave her the bottle and she tried it, and my Lord she could raise her arms for the first time in years. She ordered a whole case!" That made me happy.

My curiosity about herbal medicine began in my mid-twenties. I went to a workshop on medicinal wild plants and was hooked. Grandma's story only furthered my interest in alternative healing practices, and I began my quest to learn everything I could about how plants in the woods can heal us.

Now one thing I have always struggled with is how to test the effectiveness of my herbal remedies. I tend to have the same recurring illnesses and thus not many opportunities to try things myself, and those around me have not been racing to the front of the line to be my guinea pig. What to do?


I was rock climbing one day and noticed a large patch of poison ivy at the base of an old oak tree. I had just been reading about using jewel weed and slippery elm bark to treat the extremely itchy poison ivy rash. But I didn't have poison ivy. Then my light bulb went off. Why not do an experiment like they do in the labs? I went over and picked a few leaves of poison ivy and gently rubbed them on top of my right forearm. "There," I thought. "Now I will get a little poison ivy rash and I can test out my treatments."

I waited one day, two days, three days, but no rash appeared. Not to be dissuaded, I went back to the poison ivy patch and this time I picked a big handful of leaves and rubbed them vigorously on my arm. The very next day I had poison ivy. I mean I had poison ivy. Those familiar blisters started to form, my skin was bright red, and itched like the dickens, to put it politely.  Excited, I created a poultice of slippery elm bark by mixing the powder with a little water to form a paste. I covered my poison ivy rash with the sticky mixture, wrapped my arm in gauze, and went on with my day, confident my herbal remedy would have my rash cleared up lickety split.

That night I didn't sleep so well. My arm itched beyond belief. It hurt. It burned. I was miserable. When I awoke the next morning, my forearm was one solid poison ivy blister, red and swollen. I went to the emergency room. They gave me a shot, some pills, and treated my arm. "How did you get a case of poison ivy this bad?" the doctor asked.

"It's a long story," I replied.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hair


My hair looks the same as it did when I was in junior high school, except it is not dyed blonde but rather streaked with moonbeams. Fine and straight, it flies away from the slightest breeze. My beloved suggested volumizer. It made my hair all poofy.

For that brief period of time between the last episodes of Bonanza and the early episodes of the Smurfs, I dabbled in hair product. I had serious perms. I lightened my hair. I am not sure if I ever used a gel, but I did blow dry it a couple of times. Then I got in touch with my inner hippie and set my hair free.

One year, there was talk going on in the junior high hallways about some great homemade hair conditioners. The first one was mayonnaise, just coat your hair with it, let it sit, and rinse. You would have beautiful, shiny hair in minutes. The second involved whipping up some eggs and then putting them into your hair to soak into the hair shafts. Rinse, comb, and there you have it, Farrah Fawcett hair.

I decided to try method #2. I whipped up 6 eggs and massaged them into my hair. What a frickin mess. I put my egg smeared head under the faucet and began to rinse out the slimy goo. The warm water felt good on my skin. Once I felt the slime was all gone, I turned the water off and dried my wet head with a fresh towel. But alas, what were those rubbery pieces of yellow and white sticking to the towel? Oh no. The eggs had cooked. It was days before I was able to comb the poached chicken embryos out of my hair.

I was an athlete when I was younger, and on one road trip when I played basketball for Lake Michigan College, I got this hair-brained idea (no pun intended) to dye my hair. We were staying in a hotel, so I sneaked out to the nearest store and bought a bottle of Clairol. My teammates and I worked diligently to change my hair color before our coach came around. After the final rinse, I removed the towel and saw the brightest color of orange I had ever seen in my life staring back at me in the hotel mirror. I was aghast! Another stealth trip to the store to buy color remover and I was saved. I bet the clerk cracked up all night remembering the young girl wearing a stocking cap with pieces of bright orange hair sticking out of it. Back in those days, pumpkin colored fur on top of one's head was considered odd.

Me with braided tails of pig. Photo by C. Bach.

Since freeing my hair, I let it grow and flow. It is now long enough for me to have various forms of animal tails, braided pig or a long pony. It no longer has the Breck Girl shine but is instead frosted with moonbeams, well-earned symbols of wisdom. I was born a blonde and I will die a blonde. Go ahead, Secretary of State's Office, put brown on my drivers license. I am a scientist. I have looked at my hair under a microscope. IT IS STILL BLONDE!

I figured out a long time ago to buck fashion trends, because I never want to look at an old picture of me and think "Oh my god how could I have worn glasses like THAT!", or "Who cut my hair like THAT?" If I keep everything the same, I never cringe when looking at a 20 year old picture. Works every time.

So I get my hair trimmed once a year (or twice if my beloved forces me to). I let it air dry, I let it part on its own. My hair is free range and organic. And I love it that way.

The moral of the story is this. Next time you think about getting the latest do or putting product on your head fur, look at one of your old photo albums and ask yourself, is it worth it? Remember, your do today is your mullet of tomorrow.

Old Folks

Great Aunt Lana, who passed in March, 2010.

The experience of living is the greatest teacher of wisdom, and who has more experience than our Elders. They have lived through decades of long-term change in the world. They hold the stories from their parents and grandparents of times gone by. They have learned to adapt, to handle conflict. They know what is important and what isn't. Their wisdom is packaged in familiar phrases such as "This too shall pass." They are to be treasured.

I have the honor of being involved in Anishinaabek culture because of my work in wild rice conservation and my friendships with some wonderful people. Here, Elders are held in the highest esteem. The Anishinaabek (as do all Tribes) know that the Elders are the wisdom keepers and give them an honored place in society. In many of the Tribal communities I have visited, you can easily find a wall of photos in one of the public buildings. Each photo is one of the Tribe's Elders.

Mother and Daughter at rice camp.

At community feasts, people line up by age with the Elders in the front of the line. Those who have trouble standing in line are served by other people. When decisions need to be made in the Tribe, the Elders are consulted and their words are weighted heavily. Their needs are looked after, they are taken care of. With honor.

Being an Elder is not necessarily defined by age, as my friend Roger explained. It is about how wise you are. So someone who is in their 40's may be considered an Elder if they hold great knowledge and wisdom.

My Elders.
To stand near the front of the line at a feast is a strange experience for someone who comes from outside Tribal culture. It is a foreign thing to be honored for being older. It makes me happy and it makes me sad, all at the same time. I think of my Grandmothers and Grandfathers and all the other Elders in my family who have gone by, and how they never were celebrated for their age and wisdom. They never had that opportunity to be placed at the front of the line.

In mainstream culture, we don't even use the word Elder. We call them senior citizens, seniors, old cronies, old farts. We yell at them for driving slow or taking too much time paying for their purchases at the counter. We make fun of the cars they drive, calling their vehicles "an old lady car". We complain they talk too much.

When they get old and need help, we put them in nursing homes and fight over who has to visit. Or we don't visit at all.

We poke fun at how they look, what they wear, how they smell.

Some in our government are trying to reduce or take away their pensions. They want to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. I bet they are thinking, "Wouldn't it be better if those old folks just disappeared so we didn't have to pay for them?"

Our culture has been attacking the natural process of aging at a feverish pace for a few decades, and it gets worse as medical techniques advance. Anything to do with getting old, or rather fighting getting old, is a big money maker. And to make us purchase these anti-aging creams, facelifts, tummy tucks, etc..they have to make us see ourselves and our aging as ugly, unnatural. All you have to do is watch TV for an hour or pick up a magazine and the media will tell you how horrible it is to grow old.

Even the job market is discriminating against the older worker. Who cares if it is illegal.  You are advised to hide your age on resumes and in interviews. They don't want experience and wisdom, which comes with a higher wage (honoring your wisdom). They want cheap labor. Period.

There is a difference in how Elders hold themselves in these two different cultures. Mainstream Elders have never been honored. And they act like it, how could they not? Tribal Elders act like, well, honored Elders. It is an amazing thing to witness.

I think of these things as I stand fifth in line at our wild rice camp feast in the Round House at the Lac Vieux Desert Traditional Pow Wow Grounds.

I miss the Elders in my family, my Grandparents and Great Aunts. I miss their stories and their food and their laughter and their smell. I miss the softness of their skin and the wisdom in their eyes.

I was always told to respect my Elders. But it was a command, not an honoring. We have much to learn from our Tribal neighbors. They are not told to respect their Elders. They just do.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Aren't You Glad You're Not a Baseboard?

There are many parts of a house that are eternally neglected and ignored, things out of sight or hidden. But none more so than baseboards.

We should be ashamed of ourselves. We use baseboards for their beauty, which garners compliments from our visitors and helps us feel better about ourselves. "Yes, they are so lovely!" you might respond, "had them flown all the way in from Italy." You would finish your vintage bottle of wine, your guests would leave, and you wouldn't think of the baseboards again.

We kick them, nick them, and hit them with the vacuum cleaner as we drag it from room to room. We never dust them unless we drop something like a coin or a contact, and our retrieval takes us within inches of the wooden board. We are appalled at the layer of dust and lint and rush to the cleaning closet to get our bottle of Murphy's Oil Soap.  Squirt squirt here, squirt squirt there, a couple of good swipes with an old rag, and the baseboard is clean as a whistle. We invite more guests over to marvel at our beautiful trim, and the baseboards once again verify we are worthy.

Baseboards keep out mice. They hide the unsightly crack between the drywall and the floor, like face powder. They give a sense of security, of foundation. They are always there to greet us when we come home.

They are the target of angry cats and dogs left too long in. They are the bane of existence of house painters. Don't believe it when the paint store tells you taping will save your woodwork. It is a lie. Nothing offends a baseboard more than sloppy paint jobs. Drip of white here, splat of blue there, and they are ruined. Their pristine essence destroyed by a careless flick of a brush.

So on behalf of baseboards everywhere, I ask you to spend some time today with your baseboards. Share your appreciation for all they do for your home. Give them some special polish next time you clean. And for goodness sake, stop running into them with the vacuum cleaner. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Three Sheets to the Wind


Last summer my dryer broke down. Not having any money to fix it, I strung some rope between my apple trees, bought a pack of spring loaded wooden clothes pins, and hung the wet pile of garments out to dry. From the first towel to the last sock, I was in domestic bliss.

Grandma's 10 foot blanket. What was that for?
What is it about hanging clothes that feels GOOD. It touches on some primitive instinct, similar to the first time I used a blow gun. I want to pound my chest, go hunting, scour my dirty clothes with rocks. I want to put on a paisley dress, tie a pink bandanna in my hair and swing around dancing whilst clipping my undies to the line. I want to sing songs I don't know, whistle loudly, have a picnic. It just sends me.

"Look Daddy, there's Mommy!" I shouted to my father, as we circled above our house in a small airplane. Mom was down there hanging clothes on the line. I waved feverishly, but I knew she didn't see me. Still, what a thrill. This was my first clothesline memory.

The next clothesline memory involved not the clothesline, but the pins.  The old wooden clothespins were perfect for making figures for shadowboxes. I vividly remember a Christmas scene with Santa Claus and his elves, all made from cotton balls, red and green construction paper, glitter, and of course, the clothespins. I loved those old things, so simple yet so many uses.

Today was a holiday, the first hang of spring. I tied up the thin white string between my Macintosh and Red Delicious apple trees, got out the bag of clothespins and hung it from a branch. I ran to the basement, took Grandma's freshly laundered mint green sheets out of the washer and proudly carried them to the backyard. I was the first in the neighborhood to hang clothes this year. I carefully folded the sheets over the line so as to keep them from touching the ground. The sunlight hit those sheets and made them glow. As soon as the fitted sheet was up, it billowed like a sail, blowing back and forth in the breeze. The flat sheet cracked in the wind, crisp and proper. It was as though the sheets had been set free after years of captivity, fabric butterflies wildly dancing in the cool spring air.

Clothes hung on the line seem to soak up every beautiful scent in the air, from the flowers to the fresh mowed grass, to the rays of the sun. The scent weaves its way into every thread and never leaves. Tonight I will tuck myself into bed wrapped in a beautiful spring day, with the scent of honey and sunshine and Viburnum lulling me to sleep. Heavenly.

Women have been hanging clothes ever since time began. It is a tradition that is making a come back as folks are becoming more energy conscious. Did you know there are laws in many areas restricting clothes hanging, uppity folks claiming they are unsightly! Holy Moly, Mama Walton would have a hissy fit if she heard that one! Not to fear, there is a group to advocate for clotheslines. Project Laundry List is working hard to ensure everyone has the opportunity to hang their clothes on the line, and they promote air drying and cold washing as ways to save energy. Rest easy, Olivia. All is well.

So next time you do your laundry, wander out in your backyard, tie up a line, grab some pins, and enter domestic bliss. Imbue your clothes, towels, sheets, and undies with liquid sunshine. Its the closest thing to heaven I know.

Genetics, Democracy, and Michigan

I am not sure how to prove this, but I think that Homo sapiens (that would be us) has a fatal gene that is silently paving the way for our total and complete destruction. Now I realize this is a very sensational statement, but I will repeat it at the end of this blog and you tell me I'm wrong here, OK?

All animals have instincts, evolved and developed over time to protect us (yes us, we too are animals) from harm. Think fight or flight. Harm used to be saber-toothed tigers or giant bears or warring next door neighbors. Things we could see. It used to be bad meat - tastes bad, spit it out. Immediate response geared toward protecting our life.

But at some point during the rise of present day civilization, a defective gene started to express itself. Humans began to take unprecedented risks that endangered their lives. The kind of risks are the clue to the existence of this now common gene.

When I was a young woman, I tried peppermint schnapps. I had an immediate reaction and ran to the bathroom. I didn't make it to the bathroom, the reaction was so strong and sudden. I never drank peppermint schnapps again. I had a negative physical reaction to something bad for my body and I took action to ensure it didn't happen again, to protect myself. Even bringing this unpleasant memory up to the surface makes me want to hurl. My body is protecting me even today.

Enter defective gene expression. Everyone knows cigarettes can and do cause cancer, emphysema, asthma, and other serious health issues. Yet we smoke them. Why? The defective gene blocks that critical connection in our brain that links the action we are taking to the consequences. Our body seems to require visceral confirmation of the potential harm of a substance before our brain will engage in stopping the behavior. For instance, if our skin turned green and nasty sores appeared on our skin every time we smoked a cigarette, do you think we would keep smoking? We seem to need immediate consequences for us to protect ourselves from harm. We smoke but don't suffer the health consequences until decades later. We eat junk food all our lives and slowly become obese, have diabetes or heart disease. It is the slow process of it all that kills us. We don't see it coming. We know it, but that doesn't matter. The defective gene keeps us from taking action.

This defective gene is also affecting the health of our communities and nation. How, you might ask? Let me explain.

Yesterday, I received a letter in the mail from the Unemployment Office. There was a new law passed that now requires me to fill out a form verifying that I have applied for at least two jobs every week. I must take this form to the Michigan Works Office or go online and file it every two weeks BEFORE I file for my benefits. Otherwise, I will not get any money. I have no issue with this, other than it is an annoyance for me and one more piece of poverty paper I have to fill out. But what struck me about this was that 1) I never heard about this new law, and 2) I have been directly affected by this new law in a tangible way. A kind of wake up call, if you will. I am responding. I am writing this blog. And I am dutifully filling out the form.

Perhaps this defective gene is the cause for apathy in our society. If it doesn't directly and tangibly affect us, we ignore it. Meanwhile, all kinds of laws are being passed, wars are being fought, corruption is occurring right under our noses. We ignore it. It doesn't directly affect us. But just like with smoking, our collective lungs are filling with black tar and we will soon be gasping for breath.

There is something going on in Michigan that I would bet most citizens have not heard about. It involves the deconstruction of democracy in our fine state by the Republican majority and Governor. The Michigan Democrats have sued the Michigan Republicans for the right to vote. What? The Republicans are ignoring parts of Michigan's Constitution in order to put laws which further their agenda into immediate affect.

When laws are passed in Michigan, they go into affect 90 days after the end of the current legislative session. A clause was put in place as part of the original bill to allow for them to take Immediate Affect should an emergency situation arise (war, natural disaster, etc), but it would require a 2/3 majority of the vote for it to happen. The Republican majority has been using this Immediate Affect clause on 96% of the bills they have been passing. Not only is there no real emergency, there is also no 2/3 majority. Democrats ask for a roll-call vote and the Republicans ignore them. Hence the lawsuit by the Democrats.

How does this make you feel? Do you want to run to the bathroom, are you shrugging your shoulders and saying, "who cares?", are you mad as hell? This is where our defective gene can contribute to the degradation of democracy. If we don't react and respond now, democracy is in trouble.

Thanks to Rachel Maddow for repeatedly calling attention to Michigan on national television. She is incensed at what is happening to democracy here. Watch her segment on the attack on democracy in Michigan. It may shock you.
I think that Homo sapiens (that would be us) has a fatal gene that is silently paving the way for our total and complete destruction. Now I realize this is a very sensational statement, but I am repeating it at the end of this blog. You tell me I'm wrong here, OK?