Thursday, July 17, 2014

Find treasure by pursuing summer's Bucket List


“Want to see where I slept when I was your age?”
                
My granddaughter nods so hard that her blonde curls bounce up and down, and we labor up the wooden stairs of the old farmhouse. They’re still steep, 50 years later—Dad didn’t build the house to modern codes. 

“The walls are pretty!” she says, touching the peeling wallpaper—pink apple blossoms on a blue background.  I agree.

“Every morning I looked out this window.”

She looks past the shabby room and her blue eyes pop wide open at the view—quaking aspen laughing at the teasing clouds. 

Because we were poor growing up, my siblings and I are now rich.  Dad and Mom couldn’t hang on to their dry farm ground, but taxes were cheap on the house and a few acres of sage and aspen around it, so they kept it.

It’s a scruffy old farmhouse, and every summer we have to chase out the mice and order the porta-potties, but it’s our dry, dusty, playground; our treasure, our legacy for the next generation. 

Years ago we roamed the hills, pretending to be everything from Mormon pioneers to assassins.  Adolf Hitler and Nikita Khrushchev were our usual targets—World War II, the Cold War and President Kennedy’s death affected our psyches.  (If you played the part of Khrushchev, you took your shoe off and banged it on something!)

This summer’s flashflood in Rexburg, Idaho (20 miles from our farmhouse) reminds me of a flashflood we had when I was about five.  Within an hour, a raging torrent ripped through the bottom of our dry canyon, tearing out our road—I nearly drowned trying to swim in a river that appeared out of nowhere.

Pictures of us show the grubbiest, happiest children who ever walked the earth.

Going back to the farm reminds me of pleasures I haven’t enjoyed for a long time.  Here’s my “2014 Summer Bucket List”—
--Throw rocks into water.
--Throw sticks into water.
--Pile rocks up. 
--Pick peas.
--Eat peas.
--Peel the bark from a green willow stick and marvel at the slick, shiny, pungent interior.
--Peel the bark from a dead stick and feel the smooth interior.
--Pick huckleberries.
--Eat huckleberries.
--Pick flowers.
--Make dolls with flowers—a hollyhock for a skirt, a bluebell for a trunk and head.
--Lie on a blanket on an August night, watching for falling stars.

Once, while visiting the incomparable Beverly Castagneto, I asked where her husband Bill was.  She said, “He’s in the backyard, trimming bushes and pruning trees.  He’s busy all summer long, keeping our yard looking nice.  Nobody works harder than Bill.”

I’m sure that was true, but as we talked, I looked out a window over her shoulder and spotted Bill in the backyard—lying on his back with his arms behind his head, contemplating the clouds.

Whether his eyes were shut or open, Bill also had his Bucket List and his treasure.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Healing: a family affair

Family relationships are messy. Our families are the source of our greatest joys, our best laughs, our most tender moments—and our deepest pain.

Many of us are “the walking wounded,” with deep hurts that started in a family setting.

Unattended, these injuries fester and canker. They never heal on their own. 

A day comes when we have to decide—do we want to free our minds and hearts from guilt and loss, and our bodies from stress-caused hormones that trigger poor health?  Will we ever release loved ones from our desire to get even—not because they do or don’t deserve to be punished, but because we choose love over resentment?

Dag Hammarskjold said, "Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again."

It’s a long path, sometimes requiring help from clergy or psychologists. But these injuries are best healed where they started—in the family.

Writing is a useful tool.  First, we look at feelings and memories, jotting down resentments and grudges. How old are these feelings—do we bring up past events in arguments?  Does a loved one have a pattern of behavior that continues to offend us?  Are we willing to push ourselves to forgive?

Second—this takes courage—we reflect on situations where we may have hurt someone.  We ask, “Have I taken responsibility? Did I apologize? Have I tried to change my recurrent patterns that offend?” 

Family expert Howard Markman says, “You stand in the way of reconciliation if you never take responsibility for your part of the problem.”

Next comes the hard part—reaching out to the family member.  It requires a phone call or personal visit to break the ice and set a good time to talk. 

Then, we listen, listen listen. Noted storyteller Kim Weitkamp says a vital key to forgiveness is to hear the story of the one who wronged us, to understand where that person is coming from.

We then tell our story, and the stage is set to discuss the identified problem and its pain. Hopefully, eventually, these magic words will be spoken: “I’m sorry—I was wrong. Please forgive me.” If one person isn’t ready to say those words, great peace can still come to the one who made the effort to reach out—that is the nature of forgiveness.

The book of Genesis tells the story of ten brothers who carried a burden of remorse for selling their brother into slavery many years before.  When a gruff Egyptian ruler, who held their future in his hands, declared that he was their brother, they were speechless.

Then Joseph “kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them, and after that his brethren talked with him.” Perhaps they spoke of long-ago jealousy over their father’s favoritism; surely, they asked his forgiveness, and Joseph no doubt spoke of his loneliness and his determination to forgive if he ever saw his family again.

Years of distance, estrangement, guilt and anger flowed away with their tears and they were family once again.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Give a little of your time to preserving memories and museums


"Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward," wrote Soren Kierkegaard. 

How will our children understand the stories of those who pioneered and built Canyon County, if those stories are never recorded and shared?

In museums, we experience the past in compelling ways. The Nampa Train Depot Museum and Our Memories Indian Creek Museum in Caldwell are filled with artifacts and histories that help us experience the lives of people who built Canyon County.

And our museums need our help. They need visitors, volunteers and donations.  

We have these wonderful collections of local history right in our backyards, yet often, the visitors who enjoy them are from out-of-town.  So we should check them out—the displays will take us back to an era when life was simpler.  We can “understand life backward” by remembering that clothes were washed on scrub boards and ironed with hot, heavy flat irons—giving us added appreciation for how good the great-grandparents look in old photos! 

No one can enjoy a museum that’s locked, so both museums really need volunteers to keep the museums open for visitors. They have had to cut operating hours drastically.  With more community volunteers, they could handle more group tours and walk-ins.

This is especially true in Caldwell, where numbers of visitors have been dwindling for months. 

Imagine chatting with some of America’s “Greatest Generation” and others who have seen the world change dramatically. We could do this by conducting oral history interviews with local folks. The museums have guidelines, equipment and suggestions for volunteer interviewers to record histories for the museums’ archives.

Another needed service is transcribing oral histories.  “We have the equipment, but we need typists,” says Patty Sweet, a volunteer at Nampa’s Depot Museum. She says they are looking for people of any age to come to the museum and transcribe histories from tapes.

A young volunteer, Eric, says this work requires good listening skills but is fulfilling. Teenagers who need school or senior projects, or Eagle Scout and church-related service projects, might find they enjoy transcribing histories.

Sweet says there’s also a need for “accessioning” artifacts given to the museums. This means that each item becomes part of the museum’s permanent collection and implies that the object will be watched over.  It requires some paperwork—and we all know that paperwork stacks up!

Volunteers are needed to serve in preservation, data entry, library, research, tours, children's lesson planning, educational/ outreach/ speaker programs, greeting, filing, special projects, fundraisers, publicity and more.

The Canyon County Historical Society, which manages these museums, is a volunteer site for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and welcomes RSVP volunteers.

Finally, the museums can use financial donations to maintain the buildings, and for new computers and software to simplify oral history recording and transcription, and the accessioning process.

Fees to visit the museums are: CCHS Members, free; age five and under, free; youth (6-12),  $1; teens (13-18), $2; adults, $3; seniors  (65 +), $2; family (up to four people), $7. Please call 467-7611 or 936-3003 to schedule tours, to volunteer, or to contribute!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Every birthday is a day to remember


In old movies, nervous fathers pace the floors of hospital waiting rooms.  At the new Fredric Birkeland, M.D. Labor and Delivery Center, they watch traffic on Interstate 84, two stories plus a hillside below the birthing rooms.

At first, the drone of cars and trucks annoys the husbands, grandmas, and laboring mothers they support, but then it lulls them to sleep—between contractions.

It’s mesmerizing to watch day turn to night across much of Treasure Valley and to see vehicles become diamonds that flash by at 75 miles per hour.   People in those cars and trucks are rushing to get somewhere—what a different day it is for them than for the people in those rooms, waiting quietly for the birth moment on the birth day of a little stranger to this world.

Eventually, blackout drapes shut out the freeway and the world telescopes down to intense moments of breathing, concentration and hard work—it’s not called labor for nothing.

Then in one moment, the mother is delivered from labor, and her baby is delivered into a world of light, air, waiting hands and loving arms.

Our daughter and son-in-law recently welcomed a son at the Birkeland center, and it took me back to her birth, which took place just off the next exit, thirty-some years earlier, at Nampa’s Kinderklinik.

Clarence and Alice McIntyre were trailblazers. They felt families deserved better than the medical practices prevalent during the 1950s-60s, where mothers were routinely sedated with feet up in stirrups.

His 2011 obituary stated:  “In 1976, Dr. McIntyre expanded the practice into a natural birthing clinic. During the next two years he worked . . . in a practice that was innovative for its time: the birthing rooms were warm and homey, no anesthetic was used, and the babies were delivered into the hands of the fathers.”

Dr. Mac’s patients were expected to prepare by taking LaMaze childbirth classes and attending La Leche League to learn about breastfeeding—because these practices were not routinely practiced back then.

We received solicitous care from Dr. Mac and Nurse Alice, and my husband “caught” our daughter.

The McIntyres made their point. Soon Mercy Medical Center opened birthing rooms.  Dr. Birkeland delivered our next child and Dr. Gerald Carlson allowed Norm to catch our third child, both at Mercy.

Our fourth was delivered in a birthing center across the street from Mercy and our fifth was born in a birthing room at St. Luke’s in Boise.

During these years, midwives also brought home births to Treasure Valley. With birthing rooms in every valley hospital, hopefully modern medicine has fully embraced the joys of family-centered births.

As Dr. Grantly Dick-Read said, "It is not only that we want to bring about an easy labor, without risking injury to the mother or the child; we must go further. We must understand that childbirth is fundamentally a spiritual, as well as a physical, achievement. The birth of a child is the ultimate perfection of human love."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Be smart with your smart phone


During swimming lessons one summer day, a little girl jumped from the pool and ran dripping to her mother, pleading, “Mommy, don’t text with your phone or do anything with your phone!”

She was determined that Mommy would watch her show off a new skill.

It reminded me put my phone in my pocket and watch my grandkids swim.

I soon had it out again, taking their photos.

Often in this column, I’ve posed a problem, then offered neat solutions.  But I don’t have many answers this time.  During the holidays, I felt left out sometimes when everyone around me was looking at a tiny screen, but since I have a smart phone, there were times when I made others feel the same way.

Many of us have said (or felt like saying) to people from three to 93—“Please don’t text, talk, tweet or play that game for just a minute—I need your full attention.”

Smart phones are so multi-faceted that it isn’t surprising that we often use them for calls, texts, social networking, game-playing, music, movies, finding addresses, finding our way to addresses, photography, and so on.  With data plans, everything that the Internet offers is at our fingertips nearly anywhere. 

And there’s the rub.  Experts report a new kind of addiction—people who pull their phones out of their pockets or purses constantly.

I took a Father’s Day photo (on my phone!) of father-in-law, husband, son-in-law and grandson lined up on the couch, staring at screens. I would have preferred to see them talking, wrestling, or doing just about anything else together.

Pediatric experts say parents ought to limit screen time for children, who need lots of whole body movement so their bodies can grow, and conversation so they learn language—because that happens with talking and listening, not with an app or educational game.  When parent or child is occupied with a screen, neither is communicating.

I’ve let grandchildren use technology to buy myself peace and quiet.  Yet I’m discouraged when they spurn my offers to read stories—and screens are as bad as candy for causing infighting in kids!

Recently, I turned into one angry bird, sweeping the screens to the top of the fridge and yelling, “I’m a troll and you’re the three Billy Goats Gruff.  I dare you to walk over my bridge!”  We play-acted four stories, and all felt better.

Robin Sloan, a writer, gave up his phone, saying, “. . . the phone had become a toxic compulsion, [invading] those minutes riding the train or waiting in line that used to be such fertile territory for daydreaming and story making.”

Peter Cohen, a writer at The Loop, got rid of his phone, writing, “I’m more present . . .I no longer blankly pull out my phone and start fiddling with it mid-conversation. If you do that, stop. It’s really rude.” 

Ironically, he says using a smart phone made him “dull and more than a bit stupid.”

I’m not ready to toss my phone, but my 2014 motto is from Mama: “People are more important than things.”  Even magical phones.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A poetic collage of rattlesnakes, plastic pliers and cute kids

Photo Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida 
Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/109660


A Cherokee boy climbed a high mountain, seeking his vision.  As he toiled upward, an old rattlesnake begged, “Please pick me up.  I want to see my last sunset from the top of the mountain.”  Wisely, the boy ignored him, but the snake persisted: “Please!  I’m cold!  I won’t hurt you!”

Finally, the boy picked up the snake. He carried it up the mountain and together, they watched the sunset.

As they started down the mountain, the snake bit the boy and the boy cried out in protest.

The snake said, “You knew I was a rattlesnake when you picked me up!” 

I’ve had the same experience.  Not with snakes and vision quests, but with Christmas gifts. 

Last year, at the last minute, we decided to spend Christmas out of town with one of our children and her family.  I had procrastinated buying gifts because life was crazy and I thought I’d take care of them after Christmas when we’d planned to go.

On Christmas Eve afternoon, when we should have been leaving, I was ransacking the house for gifts.  I found books for some of these grandchildren, but I had nothing for the five-year-old boy.  Nothing but a set of dollar store plastic tools.

I wrapped them and we hit the road. 

The next morning, our little guy opened his gift. 

“That’s lame,” he murmured, going in search of large, tantalizing packages. 

My husband gasped.  “That’s REALLY lame!”

From the floor, orange plastic pliers opened their jaws and said, “You knew we were lame when you wrapped us up!”

Immediately I switched from Christmas mode to New Year’s mode and made two resolutions for 2013:

1.     My husband would shop for the grandchildren’s Christmas gifts.

2.     I would create something memorable for the grandchildren for their birthdays. Something not lame.  But not expensive.

Finally, I had an idea. The online service where we develop digital photos has a “collage” option.  I could create a collage with five to six photos of each child and—here’s the good part—write a poem about the child as part of the collage.

It worked. The kids loved their collages—how can you not love your pictures, and a poem all about YOU?

Want to try it?  Try to start at least a couple of weeks ahead of your final deadline—creativity takes time. First, select no more than six digital photos, and think of them while writing the poem. Focus on your loved one’s special qualities.  Write two or three drafts; do your best, but remember your loved one is not a poetry critic. If writing poetry is daunting, write a sweet message.  

Type the poem in your word processing system. Center it, using a font that reflects the poem’s mood. Use boldface type and the largest type size possible (perhaps + 24 point) while keeping the message on one page.

Print the poem, scan it and save your scan as a .jpg or .jpeg file, so the photo lab will recognize it as a photo. Place this .jpg and your photos on your computer desktop, then go to an online photo lab site and upload them. Place them into an 8 x 10 collage.  The software shows different arrangements until you find the ideal collage.

Order, and voila’!  A gift that isn’t lame. With a frame, it costs about $7. 

And if you see my husband—ask how he’s doing on that resolution!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Television programs solve mysteries of family histories


Genealogy Roadshow, a new series on PBS, successfully uses the Antiques Roadshow formula: move from city to city, using historical sites as backdrops, and line up crowds interested in solving their familial whodunits.  Then, stand back and watch genealogists unravel the conundrums.

The program delves into the family lines of six or seven people in every program, unlike the popular Who Do You Think You Are? which  explores the ancestries of celebrities.  Co-hosts Joshua Taylor, president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and Kenyatta Berry, president of the Association of Professional Genealogists, utilize glitzy computer graphics to show pedigree charts that prove or disprove whether someone is related to, say, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.

In other words, Who Do You Think You Are? shows the sometimes-commonplace ancestors of celebrities, while Genealogy Roadshow shows celebrity ancestors—such as Juan Ponce de Leon and Benjamin Franklin—of common folks.

The professional genealogists solve other questions. In one episode, a woman saw photos of a father she’d never known. In another, a woman learned that her father died because he resisted the Nazis in Poland. DNA testing provided answers to another guest.

The series explores race relations, illegitimacy and potentially uncomfortable situations with tact and honesty. Selected guests often seem relieved to hear and understand the truth, and sometimes onlookers (and viewers) wipe away tears. Those emotional moments make Roadshow similar to Who Do You Think You Are?

Tonight at 8 p.m. the show goes to Austin, Texas, for the last of four programs. Others were set in Nashville, Detroit and San Francisco—all are available through PBS on IOS and may be downloaded on Itunes. Or, check local listings for re-broadcast times.

Guests who try out for Genealogy Roadshow submit questions and available documentation, and professionals then do additional research. Genealogy blogger Dick Eastman corresponded with two featured guests, who said they received excellent books detailing the research after the show.

In each city, local historians provide insights on events such as the San Francisco earthquake and fire, and hosts, guests and historians stay in one place. This is different from Who Do You Think You Are? which spirited famous people all over the globe to tell them genealogical facts in their lands of origin.

 NBC launched Who Do You Think You Are? in 2010, sharing ancestries of 27 famous people before cancelling the show in 2012. TLC picked it up and broadcasts it on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Episodes are available via the Internet TLC site. Recently Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory found ancestors in France who share his passion for the arts, and actress Zooey Deschanel discovered an abolitionist ancestor.  

I enjoy both programs.  They add pizzazz—dramatic music and modern media bells and whistles—to the tedious process of research. In reality, if we watched someone trace a family line ten generations back, we’d fall asleep! 

However, as any family history researcher can tell you, it’s the “Aha! Moments” that keep us at it—and both shows have enough of those to make them fun and entertaining.