Thursday, September 21, 2017

Say His Name...

I haven’t posted anything here for a long time. It’s not that nothing is happening to write about, it’s that so much is happening that I don’t always have time to write about any of it!

I’m taking a break from other things to write this post because I want to share something that I think is important. It’s a long read, so bear with me. And it isn’t about little kids, or written for them. It’s for you.

Learning is an interesting subject. Sometimes, it’s possible to “know” something, in a way, for a very long time, yet not REALLY know it, at all, until something brings it to your attention in a way you can't ignore. This is especially true of unpleasant things, since there can be a strong impulse to ignore them or discount them, or otherwise not have to consider them.

I recently started researching my family’s history.
My daughter and I did DNA tests, because we wanted some of the medical information, and I didn’t expect to get so caught up in the genealogy part.

It’s fascinating!

I’ve connected with several extended relatives, which is delightful.
And I’ve learned a LOT about my family.

We have quite a variety of stories.

To start with, I can trace my relationship to George Washington- and to the Queen of England. I find that funny.

I’ve known for a long time that the actual person that the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was based on is one of my extended relatives.

But there’s more.

There’s a story of one family where most of them were captured by Indians. Some were killed, some held captive and released later.

There’s a man who was a highly respected furniture maker, who made furnishings for royalty, some of which is now in museums around the world.

There’s a story about one family where one of the sons went off to fight on the side of the Union in the Civil War, and the rest of his family was run out of town on a rail.

There’s one son who was found guilty of stealing his father’s money.

More than one story of parents dying young and children being sent to live with other relatives.

There are, that I know of so far, at least two murder victims.

At least two men who were at Valley Forge (incuding one who was a surgeon and cousin of George Washington).

There is a wide variety of professions, too. Lawyers, doctors, cabinetmakers, oil field workers, farmers, soldiers, and more that I haven't even gotten to.

There are SO many interesting things about all of this.

For one, it has made me much more interested in history, in general. Where was my family, what were they doing, and what role did they play in various historical events? All I knew of my family before was that both of my parents came from farm families, and my paternal grandfather was also a carpenter. Now, I can trace my family back to the Vikings. No joke.  It is AMAZING to learn about some specific historical people and know that I carry some of the same genetic material. How cool is that?

It isn’t always easy to figure these things out, though.
One line of my family has several errors in the publicly, commonly accepted, genealogical line.
I found one error fairly early on, and did the research to correct it. The first clue was finding that according to the accepted version, my great grandfather was born when his father was 57 and his mother had already been dead for nine years. I suspected right away that it must be an error.
The other one, that I’m currently researching, involves a family where five of the kids were born before their "mother” was ten years old. That, and some generations where the same names are repeated, making things very confusing. I think I have it figured out, but don’t have all the documented proof yet.

Which brings me to the next part.

FINDING the documented proof. It’s a whole world I never knew existed.

For starters, there are multiple geneaology websites, and they are GREAT…. except they are not always accurate. People can post whatever they believe to be true, without any actual evidence. At least one website asks that people cite their sources, but it’s not required.

Beyond that, there are several places to go for information, and one of the most useful is to look things up in the US Census (assuming you are looking in the US, during years in which the census records are available). These are somewhat more accurate, but not foolproof. For a long time, they were compiled by someone going door to door and writing down what they thought they heard, with no particular attention paid to spelling or accuracy. You have to look at various potential spellings, and be willing to assume the birth years may be off. Sometimes, they may list a person’s relationship to the head of the household incorrectly, too, because they didn’t understand what the person was trying to explain to them, or just didn’t want to bother. Handwriting was not always easy to decipher. Some of the older documents are faded and difficult to read.  The 1890 census records were largely destroyed by fire, so are no longer available, and getting past that gap can be very challenging. Even so, looking for things in the Census is a good place to start.

In addition to the census, there are many other historical documents that are available to be searched, thanks to the LDS church’s focus on genealogy. There’s a website where you can put in your ancestor’s name, and it will give you results of that name in MANY types of documents. Births, deaths, marriages, etc. These are GREAT to find, and very helpful, and are often the only way to prove some of the connections of women, who changed their name when they married.

In my attempts to untangle the knot in one of my lines, I started searching that website for any help I could find.
And I found some interesting things.

First, let’s look in the 1850 census.

In it, you can see the name of the head of the household, their wife if they have one, and the names and ages of their children. You’ll see their profession, and often, where they were born. These pieces of information can be very helpful in matching up families over the years.

Now let’s look at the next census, in 1860.

This time, I included the information across the tops of the columns, so you can see the variety of questions asked.

"The name of every person whose usual place of abode on the first of June 1860, was in this family.”
Description: Age, sex, and color (white, black, or mulatto)
Profession, Occupation, or Trade of each person, male and female, over 15 years of age.
Value of Estate Owned (value of real estate, value of personal estate)
Place of Birth, Naming the State, Territory, or Country
Married within the year
Atttended school within the year
Persons over 20 years of age who cannot read and write
Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict.

That’s a lot of information.
And again, it is very useful- and fascinating.

As the years go by, the census questions change slightly, and eventually, they started being done through the mail, rather than by a person going door to door.
Some later versions list not only where the person was born, but where their parents were born, which is a gift to genealogists, for sure.

In other sections of the website, I was able to find marriage certificates for some ancestors, birth and christening records for some, and even Wills for some of them.

It is AMAZING how much historical information not only has been kept, but is relatively easily accessible.

But then something odd happened.

I was searching for an ancestor, and instead of getting results showing census listings or birth or death listings, I got a list that looked like this:

I was confused.
First, why are there so many identical listings?

And second, it says “United States Census” and then “(Slave Schedule).”  But what IS that?
And why is this person who might be an extended family member listed there?

Being a curious person, I clicked on one of the links.
And when I looked at the image of the original document, this is what I saw:

Look at the list.


Really, really look at it.

Sit with it for a while.

I showed you the census listing of an extended member of my family.
The list of questions and wealth of information it provides.
And it was great.

Here is the "census listing" of someone else's family.

But I don’t know whose.
And neither do they.

We get this information:

Owner’s name
Description: age, sex, color.  (no qualifiers on the color this time)
Are they a fugitive?
Have they been freed?(no checks in that column that I can see).
Are they deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic.

There are lists of THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE who are listed ONLY by age and gender.


I mean, they probably actually DO, but no one bothered to record them. Ages and sex. That’s all.


And for a minute, let’s go back to the 1860 census, so you can see what it actually says it is a census of.

The United States Census WASN’T a listing of ALL people in the United States.
Only the Free people.
You know, the ones who matter.
The ones with names.

So the next time you hear the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and you have any questions about what that means, or if you want to insist "all lives matter,” I want you to come back (or go to the website yourself) and look at the PHYSICAL EVIDENCE of American History, and look at those lists side by side, and you tell me, according to that evidence, in this country, at that time, WHOSE LIVES MATTERED?

Is it any wonder that the descendants of the people who were listed like they were cattle still feel like they have some “catching up” to do? It’s not that long ago. During the lifetimes of my great great grandparents. People I can name. Just one generation older than ones I knew as a child.

I knew all this.
I really did.

But it hit me in a very visceral way to go right from all that fascinating information about my family, to… ages and sex. No names. No names. NO NAMES.

Is it any wonder that one of the cries in the fight against racism and unequal treatment is “Say his name! Say her name!”

This national wound is very, very deep, and very, very personal, and I don’t know a way to “fix” it.

But the least you can do is LOOK AT IT.
Let it sink in.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Where We Learn

Nothing particularly profound today.

Some images of some of our favorite nearby places, those we go to frequently.
Places where we relax and enjoy time together.
A celebration of the beauty in the world.

This is where my kids have grown up.

From our backyard:
One of the people who owned our house and land before us was a food scientist. He was gifted several grapevines, of some wine grapes (I don't recall the variety). Although we don't use them to make wine, they are still beautiful.
One of our maple trees starting to wake up. Soon, it will have tiny leaves. Interestingly, the early leaves are the same colors that the leaves will turn in the fall, but it's harder to see. They soon become green, and all that color goes away for a few months.

This corner of our property is where two creeks meet and become one. Right now, they are very sedate, but when the water is high, this area is quite different.

This is from about the middle of our section of the creek, going through where a tree fell across the creek a few years ago. This section changes every year, as things are moved by the force of the water.
Looking down the creek, towards the edge of our property. There is no "maintenance" done here, of any kind, so it is what it is, and we never know what the Spring will bring each year, as things shift and change. The deepest part of the creek while it runs across our property is maybe two feet deep. Most is very shallow, at least most of the time. When it floods, this will all be under water.

This is where our creek goes:

About a mile downstream from us, give or take, there is a "lake" at the top of a state park. It isn't really a lake anymore. It was, when I was a kid, but now, it has been overgrown by vegetation and is more of a marsh. At the bottom of the lake is a dam, and below that, is this waterfall. The bridge across the top is part of a trail that goes around the lake.
This is in a part of the park that many people don't know about, and most don't go to, and even those who do, don't always realize this waterfall is there. I don't believe it has a name, or if it does, I don't know what it is.

A short way down from that waterfall, the creek crosses a road. Literally. It flows over the road, and cars drive through it to get to the upper part of the park. This is not an uncommon thing in the state parks around here. I don't know why they do it that way. It means, for one thing, that they must close those roads during the winter, as the road becomes impassable at times. When I was a kid, I always thought it was exciting to drive through the creek. I think kids still often feel that way.

Just on the downstream side of the road, is this small waterfall. Again, it's one most people never see, because it isn't where they are focusing when they are in the area. It is a little less "natural" than some, because it is surrounded by concrete reinforcing the place where cars drive through. You can't see that so well in the picture, but I'm standing on some of it. If you look at the top left of the photo, you can see the back of the stop sign on the road.

As the creek reaches the bottom part of this section of the park, there is a lovely shallow area. It is also an area that changes relatively frequently, most recently by some flooding a couple of years ago. Part of the bank was flooded out, and it is much easier to see this particular spot now. Behind me is the parking lot. There is a trail on the other side, but it is not right by the creek at this point.

Below this, there is a waterfall that I like to call the "hidden falls." It is tucked away in a bend that is not easy to see. Years ago, there used to be a second swimming area just below it, I believe, judging by both the remnants of a small dam similar to the one at the lower park's swimming area (as well as other area parks that allow swimming) and a chain across an abandoned path, with signs that say "no swimming." I don't know why they changed things. It's too bad, in a way. This small section is very attractive, and it is no longer allowed for people to walk down to the creek here.

From here, the water goes under a bridge, to the start of the gorge part of the park. Although it is very close to my house, it wasn't until a few years ago that we actually hiked the gorge, and what a lovely place! It rapidly became one of our favorite places. The trail is closed over the winter because it becomes ice-covered and treacherous, but while it is open, we go here often.

At the bottom of the gorge is the main waterfall of the park, the one for which the park is named. For years, it was the only part I ever visited, but we have since learned better!

When we are finished with this gorge, there is ANOTHER gorge on our way home. It's not in a state park, but is in a nature preserve, a short walk from a small parking area by the side of the road.

There are more waterfalls down the gorge from here, including one that is quite tall, but this section is the part we love most.

There you have a walk through part of our world. I'm sure I'll post more pictures, from all four seasons. With all the more popular waterfalls around here, these gorges have far fewer visitors than one might think. We are often there alone, except for the company of birds and beasts. Breathing the spray from the falls is guaranteed to improve my mood and make me feel better, no matter what else is going on.

I often post photos on facebook, and now have a photography page to post them on. You can find it here, if you are interested:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Passion, or Addiction?

I'm starting a new thing.
Or continuing an old thing.
Hard to say.

I've been taking photographs since I was around 7 years old.
I was fortunate in that my elementary school from 2nd-6th grade had a darkroom, and students had free access to it.
I remember spending many hours in there, probably soaking and breathing in nasty chemicals, but I digress.

I didn't do a lot of photography from the ages of around 13-18, but when I was 19, I was given a decent SLR camera, and with that, became interested again.
The problem was that film, and developing and printing the film, were fairly expensive, at least for a young couple trying to live on one minimum wage income.
So I'd splurge when I could, and then have times when I simply couldn't afford to take many pictures.

In order to get good at it, you have to take a lot of pictures.

The invention of the digital camera, especially the digital SLR camera, was the greatest gift ever to photographers.
Now, "film" does not exist, and there is no developing cost at all. Printing still costs- but you don't even have to do that, to see the pictures.
Best of all, there is no time delay. You can see your images immediately, and be able to change settings, change position, or whatever you want, right then. What an amazing learning opportunity!

Since getting a digital SLR camera a few years ago, I have taken a lot of pictures.
And, in so doing, I have gotten better.

Recently, several people have suggested to me that I should look into selling photos.
I resisted, for a variety of reasons. One being that I can't afford to print and frame anything, and one being that adding money, or trying to please a customer, into the mix of ANYTHING runs the risk of changing it.

I found a way to offer photos for sale where I don't have to DO any of the printing, framing, packaging, or shipping. That's kind of cool. It makes it possible for me to do.

So I did.
I joined a commercial site that provides this service.

I also made a facebook page for my photography. Before this week, I had posted photos on my personal page, but not had a dedicated photography page.

The first thing that happened is that a lot of people liked my new page!

The next thing is that I'm in the middle of a steep learning curve, trying to figure out how to manage all this.
It is causing me to devote a fair chunk of time to it, and that time has to be squeaked out of my already busy life.
I've been taking pictures, processing them, sorting through old ones, talking to people about ideas for marketing, reaching out to people I know, and otherwise getting used to the idea of actually presenting myself in public as an artist.

This is a pattern for me.

I become interested in something, and dive in, head first.
It's not an obsession, exactly.

Maybe it is.  :-)

It isn't just me who does this.
It's a typical pattern for MANY people, when they start something new.

That rush of a steep learning curve is exciting, and interesting, and compelling, and can be where a lot of learning happens. Along with it comes a mental state that is extremely receptive to new information.

I think a lot of new unschooling parents get confused by this.

Sometimes, they think ALL learning happens this way, with a sudden, deep interest in something, and with a person wanting all available information and related activities. They are disappointed when their child doesn't seem to "find his passion." I have seen people express this concern, about not having found their passion,  about a FIVE YEAR OLD. I have also seen parents feel like they have to treat every interest this way, and run themselves ragged procuring all available related resources, only to have the child "lose interest."

Sometimes, it's the opposite extreme. They see someone who is fascinated by something, who DOES want to eat, sleep and breathe it, who may stop doing things they were previously interested in, and they are afraid it is some sort of addiction.

Which concern a parent has depends largely on their personal opinion of whatever-it-is.
If they approve of it (or think others would), it is typically perceived as a passion.
If they disapprove (or think others would), it is often seen as an addiction.

I think it would help a lot of people to be able to step back, and just see it as what it is: an interest, and learning about it. No more, no less. Great fun, but not the only model.

And now…
I'll go back to sorting some photos.
This also explains why I haven't posted for the past few days. :-)

If I could have any superpower, it might be not to need sleep. So much to do, so little time!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Plan B, or, Try, Try Again

We drove down to Philly for a couple of days this past week, for my daughter's doctor appointment.

The entire trip had more of those moments than usual. The ones where things don't go as planned, and there is a choice to be made: roll with it, or use energy in getting upset.

First, we got started later than expected.
No big deal, since we didn't really have to be anywhere at any particular time. But still. An omen, perhaps.

We planned to stop at this little out-of-the-way gas station in the middle of nowhere (South Montrose PA, to be specific) because every time we have been by there, they have had great food. This is especially interesting, it being a gas station in the middle of nowhere, and all. The last time we went there, they had chicken gravy, mashed potatoes, and biscuits, and although I've been on a low carb diet for nearly three years now, I decided to "splurge" and have the gravy and potatoes. So I didn't pack food, like I usually do.

They didn't have gravy and potatoes on that day. No lunch for me.

Then, due to being later than planned, we hit traffic. LOTS of traffic. 

And then… our exit was closed for construction. The detour took us WAY out of our way. The GPS kept trying to get us to go back on the main highway and try to get to that (closed) exit again, so it was not much help. Fortunately, we've been in the area several times now, and sort of know our way around.

We had originally planned to stop by our hotel, settle for a few minutes, then go across the road to a national wildlife refuge, but by the time we got there, we were way too tired. We decided to watch a movie instead... only it turned out, there weren't any on.

We arrived at the hotel, opened the trunk of the car to get our bags, and discovered that there was some unidentified oily substance now soaked into some of the bags, apparently having been in the carpet of the trunk of the rental car. NO idea what it was.

We checked in at the front desk, and went to our room, to hurriedly unpack our bags, hoping that whatever-it-was hadn't soaked into anything inside the bags. It hadn't.

Then we realized that the room we had been given had only one bed, not two, like what I had reserved. Back to the desk for me. Sheets and a blanket for the pull-out couch. I was not happy about this- pull-out couch mattresses are typically not very comfortable, and it would have been nice if they had told me WHEN I RESERVED THE ROOM that there was not one available. Or even when we checked in, to be sure we wanted to check in AT ALL. But no. Surprise!

The next morning, we drove into the city for the appointment. On our last trip, we had discovered that there is a parking garage that connects directly to the building where the clinic is, AND that they have a parking validation machine to make it cheap to park there. Before then, we had driven into the city earlier in the day, to get "early bird" parking prices, and parked quite some distance away. We were psyched that we had it all figured out this time… until we saw the "garage full" sign.

After the appointment, we stopped at the 7-11 so my daughter could get a slushy. Except the machine didn't work.

We headed out of town, but the GPS wanted us to turn onto a road that was an overpass above us (?!?) and we ended up driving around in practically a figure 8 to get back to where we needed to be.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a horticultural center, to see the cherry blossoms.
Which we promptly discovered that I am very allergic to!

I'm exhausted all over again, just writing this! :-)

Overall, it was a great trip. The appointment went well, we found Spring and the flowers were lovely, the days were warm and pleasant, we met nice people, and were able to go to our favorite neighborhood-that-isn't-our-neighborhood grocery store.

It would have been so easy to get caught up in that string of not-quite-as-planned situations.
Especially with my daughter, who, when she was young, had a very difficult time with transitions, when things that didn't go as she expected them to go.

I think we've learned.

What we've learned is this:
If you don't have a Plan B, you don't have a plan.
If things don't go one way, they'll go another.
It is not worth the energy to get upset over things you have no control over.
Things will work out okay, somehow, as long as we keep trying.

I saw this red tailed hawk just in time to catch him taking off.

This is why we went there! Trees are not blooming yet where we live.

This is the one I am allergic to! The bee apparently loves it, though.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cooperation: On The Road

There's something that I really love to witness.
It's a small thing.
A thing most people probably don't pay much attention to.

It has to do with driving.

I love finding places where the traffic pattern requires people to cooperate, especially in ways that involve "unwritten rules."

One such place locally involves a one-lane bridge, where the custom is that three cars go across, and then the next one waits, so the cars from the other side can go.

Another local one- my favorite- is a hairpin turn, on a hill. It requires the downhill car to stop about 20 feet back from the stop sign, so a car making the turn to go uphill can cross into the opposite lane safely. It also requires cars from all three directions (downhill, uphill turn, uphill straight) to coordinate taking turns so that it works smoothly.

What I like about these situations is that the "rules" are not stated anywhere. They have developed over years of travel.

So how do new people learn them?
There aren't signs.
I've never seen anyone tell anyone. No one rolls down a window and yells, or anything.
I have seen a few cranky looks at the fourth car on the bridge, maybe, but at the hairpin turn, people smile and wave.

And yet... people learn.
They watch other people do it.
They take their turn.
They do what makes sense.

And there are rarely accidents at either location. I can't think of any for the past several years, at least.

I think it works because... it's what works. People don't try to manage it other ways, because those don't work nearly as well.

The city has tried, a couple of times, to force a change of traffic pattern for the hairpin turn. They occasionally voice "serious concern" for that intersection. For a period of time, they put up a sign prohibiting the uphill turn. People HATED that, and eventually, they took the sign down.

They are talking about prohibiting it again, and even prohibiting the downhill turn, but forcing everyone to go half a mile down the road to a roundabout.  I REALLY hope they don't, not only because it is terribly inconvenient, but also, people aren't nearly as polite in the roundabout (often people get confused, since we don't have many around here, and they aren't sure who has the right of way).

Mostly, though, I hope they don't change it because I LOVE the way it works now. It is a lovely nearly-daily opportunity to see people cooperating and helping each other. Why eliminate that?!?

Today, while traveling, I got to see another example of driving cooperation. Several times, there were situations where there was an on-ramp, and both the cars on the ramp and the ones already on the road matched speeds so the merge went like a zipper. Beautiful!

Am I the only one who see these things?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Appearances Can be Deceiving

On my way home just now, I had an interesting experience.

I was coming home from picking up a rental car.
I have to drive several hundred miles tomorrow to take my daughter to a medical appointment, and my car, as much as I love it, simply isn't reliable enough to count on for something like this.

On my way home, I had to stop and buy ink for my printer, so I can print out the forms to pay my taxes. Meaning I had to do it today, since there is a deadline beyond my control.

When I got out of my car, a woman from across the parking lot came rushing over to me, with some story about how she hoped I could help her, she needed to get home (to a town about 20 miles away) and she was stuck there, in that parking lot, short $11.

I KNOW she saw me get out of that nice, new car, and assumed I had money.
However, today, of all days, when I'm facing a tax bill that has me pretty near broke, with bills to pay, right when I was having to spend some of what little money I have on something other than food, was NOT the time to ask me for money!

It's not my car. That car does not represent my life.
She should have looked a bit closer, at my muddy, holey boots, and the ragged flannel shirt I was wearing.

As things often do, it got me thinking.

I wonder how often I make the mistake of making an assumption about someone, based on their appearance? I'm sure it happens, no matter how hard I try not to let it.

I also wonder about the world in general, where, so often, people VALUE appearances more than substance, or at least , so it seems.
The appearance of some sort of diploma or certificate is often valued far more than the knowledge it is SUPPOSED to represent.
Quiet, "well behaved" children are valued by many, without wanting to look at what is underneath that compliance. Is it maturity… or fear?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Not Knowing

I love information.
Living in the "information age" suits me just fine.

I grew up loving to read encyclopedias, and for years, had a fairly extensive collection of dictionaries.
I love trivia games and quizzes.
I enjoy thinking about things and figuring them out.
Add the internet to that, and what a motherlode!

Lately, I have begun to explore the joys of NOT knowing.

I came to this from two different directions at the same time.

One is that constantly having a brain in overdrive was making it very difficult for me to learn physical, rather than intellectual, things.
Too much "thinking about" and not enough "doing."

The other is that I ran up against some things that are not possible to know, and it was causing me fairly significant stress.

Interestingly, as often happens, right when I was in the middle of all that, a gift was given to me, in the form of a friend who "just happened" to mention the value of "not knowing."

This friend told us a story of an experience he had at a monastery in India, where he spent some time several years ago.
He did not give all the details, but I had to wonder if he came to this experience- or it came to him- for much the same reason his story was being shared with me at the time that it was: an attachment to prioritizing "knowing" over "experiencing."

He said that one of the monks there would play a game with him.
He would ask my friend to close his eyes, and hold out his hands. The monk would place some unknown item in his hands, and ask him to share what he felt. Not to "guess what it is," but to treasure the feeling of it, WITHOUT knowing what it was.

I find this exercise both valuable- and charming.
It sounds like a game an adult would play with a child, but typically, in that situation, the goal would be to guess what the item was, and that wasn't what they were doing, at all.

Try it.
Resist the urge to know what it is.
Resist that as the defining value of the thing.
Accept, and enjoy, the feeling of not knowing. How often does that happen in your life, a situation where you really, literally, do not know something?
How does that usually make you feel?

I find that this simple exercise, a method of bringing my focus into the moment, of feeling rather than thinking, of experiencing rather than firing up the "brain machine," that million-mile-a-minute thing that sometimes keeps me awake at night, to be both pleasant in and of itself, and useful, in helping me to approach more things in my life as simply what they are, rather than my over-analysis of what I think they might be.

There are some things that are not knowable.
Most of them, maybe.
And that's okay.

I still love learning, finding out, thinking about, figuring out, answering questions, gathering bits of obscure knowledge, and otherwise playing with knowing.

I love not knowing, too.