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Sorry I’ve been gone for a while. It’s been a little busy around here with not a lot of time for anything, including blogging, but it’s all good. I’ll catch you up a bit.

First off, I am now teaching for a district, which is a very cool thing. It all happened rather fast and just in the nick of time, as my former job was letting people go left and right with no warning and for no good reason at all. It’s a loooooong story and there are a lot of details, which I will spare you. Anyhoo, I decided to leave before my own head hit the chopping block and I received a wonderful job offer. I love the school where I am. A friend of mine had taught there for years before retiring and always spoke highly of his coworkers and the children, so I felt confident in taking the position. After a month, I am not disappointed. Everyone has been incredibly lovely and the kids are coming along. I think this could turn out to be good fit, once I get all of the new logistics down.

As if beginning a new job and a whole new teaching program wasn’t enough, a few weeks ago, I decided that I could handle everything and go out for a new show, which seems to be going swimmingly so far. I get to play a lovely drunk and couldn’t be more excited, so if you’re in the Metro Detroit area, please come and see Promises, Promises at the Players Guild of Dearborn in November and December.

While all of this was going on, we sent Oldest Child back to college, got Middle Child installed for freshman year at his college, and settled Youngest Child into his new room. (which, incidentally, was his original room when he was born, so not entirely new.) Youngest Child is now entitled to his own room, even when his brothers come home from college to visit. He is also heavily involved in marching band and cross country, so he stays very busy.

I’m choosing to not write about anything political or anything awful that’s happening in the world today, not because things don’t need to be said, but because I’m weary. My heart is sick, my brain is overloaded. I’m confused by how people think, I don’t understand a lot of things, and I know that if I say what I want to right now, there are people who will basically try to put me “in my place”, tell me to stick to writing other things rather than to comment on the travesties of our government and the world. I can’t answer them right now, I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the right frame of mind to deal with such demeaning ridiculousness at the present, so I will abstain from that right now. For future reference, though, I will write what I want to; it’s my blog. Read something else if you don’t like what I have to say.

All in all, everything is fine, just slightly insane at the moment. (Did I mention that I’m married to a saint?) In a few weeks, I’ll return to writing on a more regular schedule. In the meantime, I’m off to study lines, write some lesson plans, and squeeze in some dates with my Marty.

Until then, be kind to each other.

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” ~Henry James

 

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So, it was bound to happen, and it finally did.

Summer is a prime time for Marty and me to spend hours and days scouring ancestry.com in order to add to our family trees. We don’t indulge much during the school year, as it just gets to be too busy, with the exception of a few breaks. We’ve found loads of really cool stuff (a grandmother tried, and acquitted, for being a witch twice!), some properly documented, some that needs further research with documentation, and some things that are just ridiculous. I wish this tidbit I’d found was ridiculous, but it’s not.

I have slaveholders in the family.

Now, for years, I (foolishly) felt really good about not finding any direct ancestors who had owned slaves. While I did have ancestors that fought for the Confederacy, they were not slaveholders, at least not in any records I’ve found. When I’ve found new ones from the early years of the United States, I would always cringe a little when a census record would come up, hoping that there wouldn’t be a number listed in the “Slaves” column.

Friday night, I was researching a line that hadn’t seen much action before. There had been some muddling of it at some point and I determined to straighten it out. That being done, I suddenly got a leaf on one of my documented ancestors. For those who are not familiar with Ancestry, a leaf indicates a possible new piece of information about a certain ancestor. This particular leaf said that there was a will for this a grandfather I stumbled across, one of my 9th great-grandfathers who came to settle in Maryland sometime in the 1650s, the grandfather of this person I already had in my tree.

In his will, dated 1734, he gave “unto my dearly beloved wife Leaticia Dodson one Negro Man named Henry to remain hers during her life and then to return to my Dearly & well beloved son John Dodson to remain his life & then to my son Walter Dodson. I likewise give unto my dearly beloved Wife Leaticia Dodson the bed and furniture as I and my Wife lies on and also I give Two Thousand Pounds of good Tobacco to buy her a Woman Servant with and one Horse to her liking to remain hers forever.”

Also, “I give and bequeath unto my Dearly and well beloved Son Walter Dodson one Negro Man named Peter to remain his & his heirs lawfully begotton of his body forever.”

I felt slightly sick, and really sad. I found what information I could on Ancestry and then went to online Maryland colonial records to find out more information. Sure enough, he and his family popped up right away. There are family group sheets on the lot of them that corresponded exactly with what I had found elsewhere. To top it all off, there’s a court record of him reporting another slave, not his, for having an illegitimate mulatto child! As if she had needed any more grief in her life; God only knows what happened to her because of it. I can’t find the outcome of the accusation.

There was nothing for it then. While it doesn’t seem that he had a huge plantation, an ancestor of mine did own human beings in Charles County, Maryland. I’m not okay with this, I haven’t reconciled it in my head just yet.

Logically, I know that it was always a possibility, but I had a false sense of surety that no one in my family had ever owned slaves. When I found this new information out, it really took the wind out of my sails. I didn’t want to believe that anyone I was related to could ever do such a thing, but there it was in black and white. While he did pass at least one slave onto his oldest son, I haven’t found any evidence so far that his daughter, my next direct ancestor, owned any as an adult, so perhaps the chain, literally and figuratively, was broken with her generation.

All of this has made me think a lot more about the slaves mentioned: Henry and Peter, and the woman that his wife was to buy with tobacco. Who were they? What happened to them? This was 1734, the Civil War was more than one hundred years away so the chances that they were willingly freed are basically zero. Did they escape? Were they sold elsewhere? How were they treated? Did they have families? There is literally no other information to go on at this point, unless there are records from his farm. I can add that to my list of family research trips. I hope they were able to find peace, but I know it’s not likely.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post. There’s no good way to end it. Like I said before, I’m still kind of dealing with this whole thing; it feels really personal even though I had nothing to do with it. I feel guilty, responsible for my family’s actions, helpless to do anything about it, and, of course, powerless to change it.

It makes me sad.

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A question for you tonight… but first, I apologize for not blogging in a while. I just closed a show (tonight!) and life has been a little crazy with baseball, track, and band for Middle and Youngest Child, so there hasn’t been much time to write.

Anyway, Marty and I are watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two again (shush, just… shush) and I’ve thought about this before, I just haven’t asked it of my readers. SPOILER ALERT: When Harry is voluntarily going to Voldemort to die, in order to fulfill the prophecy, he whispers to the golden snitch, “I am ready to die.” The snitch opens to reveal the Resurrection Stone, which, if you have followed the story, can bring the dead back to life.

My question to you tonight, which I’ve already asked Marty, was: If you had the Resurrection Stone and for a few minutes, could bring back one person who you were connected to, who would it be? Why?

Now, it needs to be someone that you have connected to in life. I don’t know if those are JK Rowling’s rules in the story, but I’m making this up as I go along and I’m making it a rule. Everyone has heard the question of “If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?”, but that could be a million people, at least in my book. How do you choose just one historical figure or ancestor or family member? I would probably have a nervous breakdown due to indecision.

Choosing a person who has passed on and who you are connected with in some way, either by blood or emotionally, narrows it down a bit. Who would you bring back, only for a few minutes?

I would bring back my father, of course. He died almost seven months to the day before I was born, so I never met him. I have so many questions, more than would fit in a few minutes, obviously, but I would ask as much as I could in the time that I had. Marty would want one of his grandfathers back, so he could ask if he was on the right track with the genealogy. My questions to my father might be a little more, ah, pressing, but to each his own.

I want to hear from you. Who that you are connected to and has passed on, would you like to see or talk to for just a few minutes more? What would you want to know or do? I can see from the blog stats that I have readers all over the world and I would love to read what you have to say, no matter where you are from or if I know you in real life or not. Fire away!

In return, if you are a regular reader, I promise I’ll write something that doesn’t involve audience participation very soon.

A presto.

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I just got back from a wonderful few days in South Carolina. It was a solo trip for me, leaving the family at home in order to spend some quality girl time with my cousin and her kids in a condo by the sea. It was my first trip to South Carolina. I’ve visited all of the states around it, but somehow had missed this little, but awesome, state. Here are some observations I made this week.

  • In April, the trees are green in South Carolina. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but to those of us who live northward and have been craving something besides bare branches for the last five months, it was a welcome sight to see actual leaves.
  • It’s warm. That being said, warm is relative. The day I arrived, it was 82°. The next two days were in the mid 70s, and while the day I left was a chilly 55°, it was still better than what my family was dealing with in Michigan: cold, grey, and rainy. (Or in the case of Oldest Son at college, snow flakes.)
  • The ocean is, and always will be, awesome. If you can stand next to the ocean and not feel in awe of its power, there’s something wrong with you. Even on a tourist beach, with very few April tourists, the pounding of the waves and the sheer endlessness of it can make one feel very small. I adore the ocean. When my cousin dropped me at the airport and I went through security, the lady giving me the pat-down laughed because my jean cuffs were still damp from my goodbye visit to the water. (Just for the record, it wasn’t a creepy pat-down and the lady was very nice, which was good because it was my first airport pat-down.) For the first time, I went for a run on the beach and I’m pretty sure it was the most satisfying run of my life. The sound of the surf, the sunset, and even the whipping wind made it perfect.IMG_20170406_194334160.jpg
  • Jellyfish have death wishes. I’ve been to a lot of beaches in my life, but this was the first time that I have seen jellyfish committing mass suicide. Seriously, there were dozens of dead jellyfish lined up along the beach, in different places, since any part of the tide cycle is apparently a good time to wash up on the shore. Before this trip, I had no idea that this was a problem. Perhaps they need a support group, but then again, they don’t have brains, so what good would it do? I’m glad that I’m not a jellyfish.
  • There are a lot of things in South Carolina that can kill you. Enough said.IMG_20170406_124728604.jpg
  • Hearing a three-year-old say, “I yuv you”, with her tiny little voice will melt your heart, unless you don’t have one. No, that has nothing to so with the state of South Carolina, but that happened this week and I’m still floating about it.
  • Thunderstorms right next to the ocean are freaking awesome. I mean, the lightning alone was just incredible Wednesday night. Quite the light show. Highly recommended.
  • Myrtle Beach is deliciously touristy and I’m really glad that we were there during a non-peak time. If you ever have the chance to go, you absolutely have to stop by The Gay Dolphin Cove store. Just trust me on this.
  • Calabash-style shrimp is a thing. We did not know this beforehand, but I finally looked it up when I got home after seeing it on every other restaurant sign. I’m going to leave you wondering and to look it up for yourself.
  • Hushpuppies are actually good. I thought I hated them all these yeas because I had them at Long John Silvers and they were awful. Real hushpuppies, as I found out this past week, are little deep fried bits of heaven, which is why I can never eat them again.

Of course, there were a lot of other very cool things about South Carolina, such as Spanish moss, piers, and tons of mini golf, but I wanted to give you just a few of the highlights. Would I go again? In a minute. There’s a lot more I want to see, such as more of the Gullah culture, Charleston, and old plantations so South Carolina has now been added to the travel list that is on the refrigerator, joining other illustrious locales like the UK, Virginia, France, and Boston. I’m very thankful to my cousin for the invite and happy to satisfy my wanderlust a little.

Don’t just sit there, go somewhere new.

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Middle Child leaves for Europe this week. It’s the same kind of trip that Oldest Child took two years ago, a few days in France, a few days in Spain, but Middle Child will be going to different cities than his brother did. The same teacher is heading up the group and it’s a good, responsible, group of kids, so I’m not worried about logistics or crazy behavior. Of course, I am very jealous because I am a ridiculous Europhile, but I am genuinely glad that he’s getting this opportunity, the same as his brother did.

I had my first out-of-the-country experience when I was sixteen. Of course, I’d been to Canada several times before that, but as it is for any Detroiter, going to Canada was so not a big deal. No, I had the opportunity to go to Australia and Hawaii with the Michigan Lions All-State Band and it was a fabulous time. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go on about it too much, but that trip was a pivotal time in my life. It was on that trip that he realization sunk in that the U.S. was not the only place in the world, that there were other realities for other people, and that the places where they lived were just as important to them as mine was to me. Granted, Australia isn’t shockingly different from the U.S., and Hawaii, while culturally different, is a state, but it was just enough to give me a hunger to see what else is out there, not just in my own backyard. This isn’t discounting anything that is here in the U.S., there are some pretty amazing places in my own country, but I think for people to have a balanced view of the world, they should see more of it with an open mind, not with the expectation that everyone should be like us.

That is what I hope Middle Child takes away from his experience. His first trip overseas will be different than mine, however, because it will be to two countries where English isn’t the first language, and he’s in for a real eye-opener. Even if you take the time beforehand to study the language, using the words around native speakers for the first time is a scary thing. Of course, in the big cities, many people do speak English because there are so many tourists, but I found out that even a little effort to try the native language is appreciated by most people. Middle Child hasn’t done a lot of studying, so he may be in for some surprises.

I said that I wasn’t worried, and I’m not, but there is that part of me that is nervous about letting my baby go for an extended period of time over the ocean without me. It has nothing to do with the threat of terrorism, that’s a risk that we take anywhere we are today, unfortunately, but more of the I’ve-taught-you-everything-I-can-now-you’re-on-your-own kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a smart kid and he’s going to be just fine, but I think every mother would feel the same, at the least the first time. When Oldest Child went back to Europe this last summer for work study, I wasn’t concerned at all because he did so well when he went to France and Spain.

All in all, it’s another sign that my kids are growing up. They are moving on to make their own wonderful memories, and that’s a very, very, good thing. Middle Child leaves in just a few days and it’s taking a lot for me not to jump on that plane with him. Maybe sometime in the future, one of them will let me tag along.

 

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As many of you may recall, I posted a (lengthy) post about a year ago on why I was leaving teaching, and one not too long ago about how I have used this past year to rest my mind and to figure things out.

Long story short: I’m teaching again. I wasn’t exactly looking for this opportunity, it fell into my lap with a message from a friend. When I read the description, I was intrigued and one thing led to another. I will hastily add, however, that I am not teaching in a traditional classroom. My students come from some pretty bad situations. They have a lot of issues and are not living with their parents for one reason or another, so they live at our facility until they can go home or into foster care. Sometimes they’re with us for weeks, sometimes for years and the people who work with them, my new coworkers, are some of the toughest, most caring individuals I have ever met in the short time I’ve been there.

I’m not looking at my new situation with rose-colored glasses, I know that there are going to be some grueling days ahead, but where I am, I can teach for the child, not for the parents or for a test. My job is to nurture and to teach these boys what they need, not push them to impress the state or to please an overbearing parent. My job is to help them trust, to provide boundaries, and a soft place to fall when they need it in addition to their academic lessons. Don’t other teachers do these same things? Absolutely, of course they do! There are teachers I know who have the biggest hearts for their kids, going above and beyond what’s required of them, but they also have those other pressures to deal with that I found unbearable.

There are tradeoffs where I am, though, too. We deal with daily behaviors that are cause for suspension at other schools, but somehow, I’m finding those a little easier on my psyche than the dread of sending home report cards or math tests.

Did I make the right choice? I think so. I’ve given up on thinking that my path through life is supposed to be a straight line. I’m starting to believe that I am put where I’m needed, where I can do some good for whatever length of time, and I hope that’s the case here. My goal is to make a positive difference in these boys’ lives, to be a safe person for them.

In the meantime, send some good thoughts and prayers to land on the boys and the workers who love and care for them, would you? They can always use a little more.

 

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I am fortunate in my job to be able to distribute food in our food pantry to people who need it. I have four or five regulars who are there once or twice a month and the occasional stranger who comes by unexpectedly. We don’t have established hours for the pantry, except the office hours that I keep, so while a couple of our regulars are, well, regular, many times it’s an impromptu visit. All but one of my regulars has a home but just can’t afford to buy enough food that they need for the month, or for the two weeks. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know these folks, to worry when they don’t show up for a while and, most importantly, I’ve learned so much from them. It’s easy to judge people who are in need from a TV screen and the comfort of a secure home, but putting faces to that need really makes one think about not only how blessed many of us are, but helps us to understand that those face could be any one of us at any time. Some of them need help because of past choices, some because of circumstances, but they all have a story to tell. I’m going to introduce you to a few of them here for the simple fact that everyone we meet wants to be understood, wants to be heard, not judged.

T (I’m only going to identify them by their first initials) is a kind, middle-aged man who stops by at the very end or the very beginning of the month. He has someone who helps him pay for an apartment, but sometimes the money doesn’t stretch for the entire month and he needs help with groceries. He very clearly has some issues, there are days when he’s clearer in his thoughts than others, but he is unfailingly polite and makes it a point to ask about my month, my holiday, whatever is in season. He keeps up on current events and tries to engage in conversation about them on occasion. He sometimes asks for magazines to read, so I save my old issues of Guideposts and Reader’s Digest for him to take when he asks. He doesn’t always pay attention to his hygiene, but he’s always very pleasant to talk to and I enjoy his visits.

D has kids. She’s young, Muslim, and usually calls before she comes by to make sure that I’m here or to see if there are new groceries. Her children sometimes come with her and they are all adorable and well-behaved. She makes sure that she sticks to coming only every two weeks and normally stretches it out longer. She looks for halal things that she can feed her family and likes it when we have had a Kroger card donated so that she can buy perishables or over-the-counter medicines that we don’t carry. As a mother, I can’t imagine what she must be going through, but it is so clear that her kids are her whole world. I don’t know her exact circumstances, but I can tell that it bothers her to have to come and ask for help.

K scares me a little, honestly. He’s gotten belligerent with me before and he is banned from many of the churches and businesses in the area because of his actions. I only let him return to our church if he promised to behave himself and made it clear that it was his one and only chance. Since then, he’s been on his best behavior, but I stay on my guard when he’s here and only let him in when I have someone else in the building with me. He’s been arrested several times, I saw it happen on my way home once, so it is sometimes months in between his visits. I’ve seen him sitting outside of restaurants on Michigan Avenue at times, but he never acknowledges me outside of the church. Whether it’s because he truly doesn’t recognize me (he has some substance issues, as well) or he just doesn’t want to associate with me, I don’t know, but I’ve chalked it up to just letting him be. As long as he keeps following the rules, as long as I feel safe, I’ll continue to let him get food because he is truly homeless and is hungry. He’s as thin as a rail and I can’t turn him away.

L is probably my favorite. She is disabled, having been hit by a woman in a beige minivan in 2015. August 2015, to be exact. She broke her femur and now has a leg full of metal rods and pins, requiring her to use a wheelchair. I’ve heard the story many times, almost every time she comes. She likes to stay awhile and talk, telling me the same things again and again. She tells me every single time, “I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs like those people in the apartment next door.” Normally, she rides the bus from that small apartment in the next city over, the apartment that has holes in the walls where the mice come in. She puts bricks in front of the holes to help keep them out but it doesn’t always work. She’s also convinced that someone comes into her apartment and moves things when she isn’t there; her complaints are starting to get on the landlord’s nerves. I’ve driven her home a couple of times when she can’t get back to the bus and I’ve seen the outside of her apartment. It’s a little frightening, the area is bleak. She won’t allow me in because she’s afraid that her neighbors will harass me, even fussing when I insist on at least carrying her groceries to her front step. She will tell, on occasion, of her time in jail or about how she woke up one day (February 2015) and God told her that she didn’t need to do drugs anymore. She is there like clockwork every month, usually around the 20th, but when it’s cold, she has to wait until she gets a ride because walking to the bus stop is too difficult to manage with her wheelchair in bad weather.

She has issues, lots of issues, but there’s something about her that makes me feel that God is with her. She has a mystical quality that transfixes me, even during her rambling speeches. There are times when I am standing in the pantry holding a food bag for twenty minutes or more, just listening, as she gets out all that she needs to say before I even put in one box of cereal. In the midst of hearing about her relatives and the children that she doesn’t see (I’m not quite sure how many she has, but there’s at least one son), there are sometimes profound statements that find their way out and make me wonder. I look forward to seeing her every month and worry when she doesn’t show.

These folks remind me every day of not only how blessed I am, but that humanity comes in all forms; we’re not all the same. Some humans are more difficult to love or understand than others, all of us are at times. But if we at least try, if we take that minute to listen, then we learn; not only about that person, but about ourselves and the world as a whole. We learn humility. I’m not always good at that, but the people who I’ve told you about today have opened up new places in my heart that make me want to listen more. I’m working on it.

 

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