Reflections – May 15, 2022

this sunny Sunday spring morning

it suddenly occurred to me

how grateful I am dear friend

that we can be together as “old ladies”

though more than a thousand miles apart

*

May 11 2022

*

there are moments when the loneliness

is almost more than I can bear

the challenges of dragging a tired body

sometimes back aching or struggling to breathe

I wonder what life is all about anyway

*

there can’t be many women like us

mothers who crossed so many divides

with children of mixed heritage

heading off on our own to live on a commune

only to discover there’s no escaping

the problems of the world

even as the experience opened our spirits

to dimensions others cannot see

*

commune 5-15

*

but we’re survivors, you and I

of the challenges that come with being different

*

not many would want to understand the cost

of the golden moments of deep connection we share

without a need to judge or compete – feeling heard,

understood, and loved for all we’ve become

as we reminisce on the phone with tears and laughter

 

for JK

The Art of Letting Go

May 7, 2022

Up before dawn to get ready for class. I planned on reading the final two student papers before class after I took a shower. But I knew that what I had prepared for the two classes today wouldn’t do. This has been an extraordinarily difficult semester for students. Yet the students kept trying to do their best. I wondered how I could honor their hard work and as I showered, words flowed through me – “the art of letting go.”

Even though we are scheduled to see each other again in the fall, one never knows what surprises life may bring. Each moment together could be our last.

*

May 2 2022

A Courageous Red Poll – May 2, 2022

*

May 2 2022 2

A Curious Squirrel – May 2, 2022

*

The Art of Letting Go

We spend a lifetime learning the art of letting go

when we begin there’s so much we don’t know

about the highs and lows, the good times and bad

perhaps in the end grateful for all the chances we’ve had

to know both joy and sorrow, failure and success

to love and lose, to laugh and cry, to blame and bless

finally learning we have only this moment today

to create memories that will help us keep finding our way

*

I know that words cannot express the gifts that come from students. Even though I have read the articles I’ve assigned many times, the papers students wrote during the past semester pointed out things I had never noticed or considered. Each point of view was unique, each focused on different issues, and each was written in a different voice. The lesson of research, really – to explore and consider as many vantage points as possible when trying to understand an issue.

the art of letting go

*

But the most profound gift was their inspiration. No matter how overburdened their lives were, they showed up and tried – tenacious, resilient, and willing to consider uncomfortable truths. They wanted to learn all they could because they believe it’s possible to help make the world a healthier, kinder, more peaceful place for all. It’s not just wars that have been an enduring presence throughout history, though. There have also been never-ending acts of creativity, kindness, and heroism, many of which are not mentioned in history books, or these days, by mainstream media. We cover that in classes, too.

Each group of students inspires me to keep learning and trying new things. Who could ask for a better job even though it also means learning the art of letting go?

Remember Humility

remember

you are special

I’m not telling you this to boost your ego

too often you discount your own gifts

it’s a way to shirk the responsibility

you agreed to carry this lifetime

by convincing yourself you’re unworthy

remember

you will know when it’s your time to speak or remain silent

find strength in simplicity and moments of beauty and laughter

to help you stay the course in times of loneliness and doubt

remember

when you walk into the crowded room today to testify

before strangers, friends, and foes,

media, spectators, and decision-makers

I will be there to help you find the words

to touch hearts and open minds to wiser possibilities

remember

it’s not your job to make those changes

it’s just your job to help others realize

they have choices and abilities to lead

what they choose is not your burden

though it will weigh on your heart nonetheless

*

remember april 25 2022

Reflections about Writing and Teaching – April 12, 2022

Recently, it’s been difficult for me to post what I write or visit others’ blogs. And I’ve been reflecting about why that might be. I remember how I answered the question “Why do I write?” in a free course I took on WordPress years ago, Blogging 101. “I write because Mickey can’t.

Mickey was confined to a life in a nursing home. A work accident had left him paralyzed and struggling to frame his thoughts in words. One had to slow down and listen carefully to make sense of his new, unfamiliar language. Too few nursing home staff had the time, interest, and/or skill to do so. As a mother with a young daughter to care for, I worked the “graveyard shift.” I had time to learn Mickey’s language and decipher what he needed. Respect. Soft hands. Kindness. Presence. And laughter.

I still write because Mickey can’t. But now I realize I write and teach for the sake of others who can’t speak, either. The earth, the trees, the lakes, and the rivers who give us life but are not honored for doing so. The plants and animals that feed us. The birds, butterflies and bees that give us beauty. What I write is shared for free with anyone who happens to read or listen.

The small salary I make when teaching comes from students who often assume debts they may have to carry for decades, so I try to make what I share worth the cost. With the trend of declining enrollments, it’s uncertain if this signals the end of my teaching career. But writing and teaching have never been about money, power, or fame. Sharing is just celebrating life.

April 12 2022 reflections 1

Building and planting new gardens – June 24, 2013

These days, words and teaching are not enough for me. The things that I feel are important to say may be lost in a cacophony of voices competing for attention. I care about the world my daughter, grandchildren, students, and the generations yet to come will inherit. I find myself on steep learning curves to explore more direct ways to share. I’ve agreed to serve as a delegate for the political party that I find to be less toxic to select a candidate the party should support for the state senate. As a community and state, we’re facing uphill battles on environmental and social justice issues that need to be championed by the most capable, tenacious, ethical servants of the people.

There are no guarantees of success for those who are willing to courageously propose alternatives that reverse the corporate exploitation of people and the environment, but it’s crucial that those who want to wield power, or those who are forced to by default, honestly represent the best interests of people and the environment who not able to speak for themselves. But politics are always a gamble. There’s no way to predict how people will react to wielding power or how effective they will be when dealing with others who have conflicting views.

That means the state of the world is also up to each of us, too. I believe we have responsibility to do what we can to learn and act in ethical, well-informed ways. That belief inspired me to volunteer for several community-based initiatives to help explore what’s happening from many different vantage points. I’ll explain these initiatives in a moment because others might find these various opportunities intriguing as well.

April 12 2022 reflections 2

Changing landscape after the willow was damaged in a winter storm – June 4, 2018

First, though, I feel it’s important to mention that I have been fascinated by the “natural” environment all of my life. As a little girl, I preferred the woods, stream, and pond near my house more than the company of children my own age. It was a place of wonder to explore and a sanctuary away from the noise and busyness of my home and neighborhood. As a teen, I preferred the company of elders and spending time on the Allegheny River that flowed in front of my family’s musty summer cottage. When I attended college, my goal was to study ecology, a subject that wasn’t offered yet. Instead, my world was expanded through the discovery of other cultures and literature I had not read before. Ultimately, I ended up working in jobs that applied ecological frameworks to human society and institutions.

Yet, I just passed the age marker that signals the importance of doing what I love the most while I still can – learning new things about the wonders of life and sharing them with anyone who will listen. When my mother was this age, 75, she was mid-stage in the painstakingly gradual loss of choices due to Alzheimer’s disease. As her legal guardian for fourteen years, I witnessed her heartrending transition from a gifted nurse to someone who could no longer speak a clear sentence, moving her from her lakefront home to congregate elder housing and then to round-the-clock assisted care.

So I decided to do something I love. Keep learning. There are so many things I don’t know. Recent patterns of drought and deluge have compacted the soil in my yard. I tested some soil last year because the blueberry bushes were struggling, and I found that the soil was extremely alkaline despite the surrounding pine trees. Last year’s extended drought meant frequent watering, so I’ll need to test the tap water, too, to see if the ph-balance of the water affected the reading. I plan to continue exploring how to achieve a healthy acid/alkaline balance and improve the overall health of the soil using natural, doable, affordable methods.

April 12 2022 reflections 3

Gardens recovering after some rain – July 29, 2021

I also want to gain knowledge and skills that will help with significant climate transitions that will become more likely given ongoing environmental destruction, over-consumption by wealthier people and nations, and changing weather patterns. I’ve taken a few first steps.

I joined the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, CoCoRaHS for short, and took the obligatory “skywarn” training from the National Weather Service. I have become a “trained weather spotter.” The required “WeatherYourWay” rain gauge for CoCoRaHS volunteers to use for measuring precipitation is finally out of its box, waiting to be set up. Perhaps my grandson can help me put in the recommended 4” X 4” post to mount it once the ground here thaws.

Here’s a little bit more about CoCoRaHS:

“… CoCoRaHS is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow).   By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive Web-site, our aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. We are now in all fifty states.”

I also joined “scistarter,” an organization for volunteers who want to learn more and participate in “citizen science.”  There are many intriguing topics to study. Here’s a link to explore possible projects: https://blog.scistarter.org/featured-projects/2022/03/five-spring-tacular-projects-to-get-you-outside-this-season/

The topic I chose to focus on as a beginning is “iseechange.org.” Following is the brief overview from the website:

GOAL                         Our climate is changing — so are we.

TASK                          Share your experiences and collect data to help our communities.

WHERE                      Global, anywhere on the planet.

DESCRIPTION

What you see in your backyard, neighborhood, and city is important to our understanding of how climate change and weather affect our communities. Your observations and block-by-block insights can help cities, engineers and local organizations advocate for and create solutions to climate challenges.

We welcome and host observations from people in 118 countries around the world and counting. We are also currently working with partners in select cities on specialized investigations.

If you or your community has a question or hypothesis about how climate is changing your area, you can also use your ISeeChange account to collect data and answer those questions.

The only thing certain about the future is that changes will continue. It seems to me that the only way to prepare for change is to learn what we can now and share what we learn with others. I am grateful for the chance to do so and for all I learn from you when I have time to visit your blogs. Sending my best wishes to all.

Note:

Here’s a list of the links embedded above in case you are interested in learning more:

https://www.cocorahs.org/

https://scistarter.org/

https://www.iseechange.org/about

It’s okay to be odd…

A work of dystopian speculative fiction (maybe) …

Truth be told, she had a vivid imagination. Mostly, she was able to control it by focusing on the present moment, detailed analytical tasks, or solving complex puzzles. But grocery shopping day always presented challenges. As an empath, wandering among so many random feelings and thoughts made her feel as though she was somehow entering a viscous “twilight zone” where whatever laws that govern the world were temporarily and totally suspended.

The experience that comes to mind to illustrate what happens involves a rather heavy-set young man. He was standing up from the wheeled conveyance he needed to get around the store, laughing and exclaiming his delight at the many flavors of Spam. He was reading the label on each can, announcing the flavor loudly, and throwing many of them into his companion’s shopping cart.

It took her a moment to hold her self-righteous judgement at bay. Spam reminded her of the canned pork, lard, and starchy commodities distributed by the federal government to her Ojibwe ancestors. It’s not something her ancestors would ever have chosen to eat and doing so left a legacy of serious health issues for generations. As “captive nations,” they had been confined to reservations on the least desirable lands and forbidden to carry on the traditional hunting, gathering, and gardening activities that had helped them survive for millennia.

Corporations have done an effective job marketing this as a convenient, desirable food,” she thought. “Sadly, few people know that.”

Sliced_Spam

Source: By BrokenSphere – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Entering the twilight zone…

And just maybe, there are tiny magnetic nano particles embedded in genetically modified foods and other health products. If people eat enough of them, nano particles are stored in organs throughout their bodies, attracting them by a magnetic pull toward certain foods every time they enter the store.”

Watching other shoppers walk aimlessly in a daze, or rush about impatiently almost hitting other shoppers with their carts only added to her imaginative speculation. Sometimes she was able to resist the pull and focus on one person whom she could help. It was “grounding.” Afterwards, the viscosity of the atmosphere would abate somewhat, allowing her to remember to be present and kind when other opportunities arose.

She may never know the truth about this speculative puzzle. There’s really nothing she can do about it anyway, except to be increasingly more thoughtful about what she’s choosing to eat.

Reflections – March 11, 2022

there are times these days

when I’m certain I hear

the whisper of fluttering wings

reflections march 11 2022 1

or the soft sigh of a dreaming dog

reflections march 11 2022 2

perhaps the spirits of my beloved companions

do visit in moments when I need to remember

what unconditional love feels like

*

they were, after all, my best teachers

and it’s so easy to forget sometimes

when they’re no longer physically here

to soften the sorrow of wars near and far

*

Honoring the gift of their past presence

requires living the lessons they shared

Reflections about Teaching – March 7, 2022

ah, the challenge of teaching

during overwhelming times

please let me be here now

and take time

to listen,

observe,

and reflect

*

we only have

these precious moments together

two hours every other week

it’s not enough

but it’s what we have

I watch and wonder

how I can help you

rekindle curiosity and learn

when you’re too weary and anxious

to be fully present

*

let’s take the first steps together

to unpack a daunting assignment

step by step

take a few minutes to read

the article title and think

what do the authors assume

about the people and issues they studied?

*

those few precious words say a lot

about how researchers frame their work

it’s the first step for analyzing anything

and it’s too easy to move on

without taking time to realize

that this is the most important thing

they will have to say

about the assumptions, values, and worldviews

which (perhaps unconsciously)

guided the purpose and design

for the steps and details that follow

*

can one judge the quality of a work by its title?

the title, along with the abstract and key words,

offer a snapshot of authors’ views

about people and causes of problems

and clues about the trustworthiness

of their work and interpretations

*

do they encourage exploratory solutions

which are respectful and inclusive?

does their work have the potential

to enhance community connections and resilience?

*

Mary Oliver 2

*

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say

‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads”

Mary Oliver

(repeated because images can’t be translated)

 

Looking Back on 2021

On some levels, it is so easy to say “good riddance” to 2021. It was a year of so many losses and catastrophes. Escalating global health crises, social isolation, and environmental disasters profoundly changed our world and lives in unpredictable ways. Despite the costs involved, those of us in relatively privileged circumstances turned to technology as a way to work and connect with others.

For me, it was a time of painful losses. But 2021 also brought many blessings I never could have imagined – reconnection to friends and colleagues from the past and opportunities to make new connections that enabled me to explore the world. I was forced outside of my comfort zone as a technophobe (although not a luddite) by the need to solve technological puzzles in order to communicate and connect. Of course, I have yet to learn how to use the block editor in WordPress, and I wonder if I will ever make the time for that endeavor…

Some of the 2021 losses were almost more than I could bear. My beloved companion, Pinto, passed in July.

look back 2021 1

Pinto – February 17, 2014 – his second winter with me – “the winter of the polar vortex

I realized after his passing that he is irreplaceable.

My little parakeet, Queenie, has had to fill the empty space Pinto’s death left in my life. Of course, I can’t take Queenie on neighborhood walks, so I don’t go out very often these days. My connections to my daughter and grandchildren have also changed. They’ve become remote, the result of our differing choices for dealing with COVID, both made because of our love and concern for the wellbeing of others.

I have shed a lot of tears, but I have also experienced moments of joy and found many reasons for gratitude. I can’t list them all here, but I want all of my blogging friends to know that you have enriched my life in so many ways. There are a few I would like to thank for unexpected gifts of connection.

Early in 2021, I was asked by a dear blogging friend, Robyn, to be part of a Yarning Circle to honor connections to the land where we were standing. The experience widened my horizons and introduced me to new friends and a better understanding of the wisdom and challenges of Indigenous Peoples in Australia. I am deeply grateful to Robyn, David, Sheila, and Annette for sharing their knowledge and stories. Chi miigwetch (Ojibwe “thank you”) for your kind and welcoming presence.

Not too long after Robyn’s kind invitation, I received an email from a friend and colleague from my university days, Mel Morgenbesser. He reached out to me in his role for Alumni Relations and Development for the School of Social Work, UW – Madison. He asked if I could write a brief article about myself for the online newsletter the School published. I told him I would think about it but let him know I was buried in student papers and wasn’t sure I could promise to do anything soon. I sent him a copy of my resume (Curriculum Vitae in “academic speak”) and a link to a few things on my blog to consider. Mel graciously took the initiative to pull the pieces together and drafted an article on his own:

https://socwork.wisc.edu/2021/03/25/carol-hand-mssw-83-phd-03-teacher-advocate-author/

Mel’s kindness touched me deeply. Ultimately, his article led to another gift that I will return to after acknowledging another unexpected reconnection.

In a recent post, I briefly mentioned my experiences on a commune. In part, those memories were triggered by another email in September from a friend I hadn’t heard from for several years, Judy. She asked if I would be willing to review a book a friend of hers had written. Once again, buried in student papers, I told her that although the book sounded interesting, I couldn’t make any promises to take on other responsibilities because I was too busy teaching. She replied, “That’s okay. I was just looking for an excuse to reconnect.” And that was the beginning of our long phone conversations every other week.

looking back 2021 2

Reflections about our friendship and shared experiences deserve a separate post, but again, here I am, faced with too much work at the beginning of another semester. Let me just say that her presence in my life has continued to be a blessing. I look forward to our scheduled time together with eager anticipation on alternate Mondays. We arrived on a rural Massachusetts commune from very different places as young mothers of mixed ancestry toddlers. Together with another mother from Montreal, we started a daycare center for more than 20 children and then, each went on to other things.

Judy and I got jobs in a city 50 miles away from the commune and still laugh about the adventures we shared hitchhiking to and from work. I remember looking up in awe at the clouds in a clear blue sky as we hiked along the interstate on June days while we waited for our next ride. We both had two jobs at the same places for a while, a fancy restaurant, and a greasy spoon less than a mile away.

Yet, things changed. As the commune became ever more successful, we found ourselves in different positions with little time or opportunity to stay in touch even before we both left and ended up in different states. I severed my ties with people from the commune for many years, reconnected briefly, and then said goodbye to past connections and Facebook forever. But the connection with Judy remains deeper, different, and special. Reconnecting is an unexpected gift.

In November, another thoughtful email opened up a new opportunity. Mel’s article included a link to my blog. Chelsea (Schlecht) Rademacher, Senior Writer and Publications Manager for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, read Mel’s article and visited my blog. She asked if I would be willing to write a poem for the November issue of Badger Vibes.

I agreed to try, adding that I didn’t see myself as a poet, but sometimes words flowed through me in a way fit into a poetic format. Chelsea was a joy to work with and I want to express my deep gratitude to her for the opportunity. Here is a link to her lovely work:

https://www.uwalumni.com/news/just-breathe-by-carol-hand/

looking back 2021 3

As I looked back at 2021 to say a final goodbye today, I am grateful for gifts of connections to friends old and new, and for the opportunity I had to work in partnership with dear colleagues and exceptional students who have so many gifts to offer others in the years ahead. Sending my heartfelt thanks to all who made the journey kinder and worthwhile.

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