Total Kindness and Respect

I have some serious catching up to do! Thank goodness the amazing Blog Challenge bloggers have been keeping the #30PostsHathSept page alive and well (80 posts so far!).

Last week I was juggling a couple of freelance deadlines with stubborn migraines that had been becoming more frequent and intractable over several months. Finally, I made a trip to my doctor’s office and wish now I hadn’t waited so long to do so (let’s just say that, if I could, I would make the date when triptans were discovered an international holiday). Then, this past weekend, my husband and I visited our son and daughter-in-law in Boston for our son’s birthday—all of which is my explanation for not blogging for a week during my own blogging challenge.

The good news is that I am still on track to reach 20 posts by the end of the month. Even better news is that I’m just fine with the accomplishment of 20 posts rather than 30. Not allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good is something I’ve become better at. There are some benefits—many, in fact—of getting older.

Photo credit at end of post
Photo credit at end of post

Inspiration for life change and personal growth often sneaks up on us in expected ways. I want to leave you with an article from Southwest: The Magazine that I read on the plane. In “Comedy of Errors: Five lessons on teamwork and failure from the halls of Saturday Night Live,” writer and actress Katie Rich discusses life lessons she has learned from being part of comedy teams at Second City and SNL. In the following paragraph, substitute in your mind the phrase “live with” for “work with” (apologies in advance to all Karens out there!):

“You cannot change the people you work with. You can only change the way you react to the people you work with. Karen (there is always a Karen) is always going to eat a little too loudly at her desk. So instead of asking Karen to change, you learn to put on your headphones when you see the Granny Smith coming out.”

She then shares advice she received from comedy colleague Mike O’Brien:

“Instead of being annoyed by that person, by their habits or their behaviors, try getting a kick out of them. Just try to get a kick out of people.”

That reminds me of an invaluable suggestion I heard a long time ago about how to handle challenging days when children are very young: Pretend this were happening on a sit-com—what would be funny about it? Hang on to that part.

Rich continues (again, thought substitutions suggested in brackets):

“[S]ometimes people make it difficult. Here’s a scary thought: Is it you? It might be you. Is it Karen? Maybe’s it’s Karen. (But remember you can’t change Karen, so let’s get a kick out of Karen.) The only tactic that I have seen work with a difficult teammate [friend/relative/loved one] is total kindness and respect. Treat others like they are geniuses, like they are important, and guess what—they will feel that way. And they’ll remember you made them feel that way. And the team [everyone] will get better.” Read full article

The surprising thing is that when we go to bed knowing we made even one person’s day better by extending total kindness and respect—not just to the people who make it easy, but to the people who make it hard, especially to the people who make it hard—we feel better, stronger, more loved and respected than if we had stewed and felt sorry for ourselves.

Or, as one of my favorite authors, George Saunders, puts it, we can “err in the direction of kindness“:

“[T]o the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.” ~ George Saunders

Photo by Jennifer made available under a Creative Commons license.

This Scarcity of Fats: The jar of cooking fat beside the stove

Save Waste FatsWhen I was young, my mother and my grandmothers always kept a tin can or jar of cooking fat on or beside the oven. Every time they cooked meat, they strained the leftover fat into the jar, to be used again for another meal, often to make gravy for mashed potatoes.

The memory popped into my mind yesterday when transcribing my great aunt Hattie’s diary entry for September 14, 1945 (full diary entry at the end of the post).

[Will] went to Whiting Store last eve to get mail and Sadie gave him 1 doz. eggs because we gave lard in this scarcity of fats. ~ September 14, 1945

It turns out that my mother’s can beside the stove had a specific origin. Generations of women who lived through and grew up during World War II learned to save and re-use cooking fats from bacon and other meats because oil and butter were strictly rationed and in short supply. Households were also encouraged by the government to donate or sell their waste fats to their local butcher, to be used to make explosives for the war effort.

Save Waste Fats for Explosives

And this is why Hattie and Will sent their lard to the Whiting Store, and why they received one dozen eggs—and “Tomatoes (Fresh)”—in return. Read her full diary entry below.

Sept 14, 1945

Don’t forget to read all of the posts in the #30PostsHathSept Blogging Challenge!


The Hot, Dry, Dusty Summer of 1936

The summer of 1936 was one of heat, drought, dust, and desperation. July of that year continues to be (for now) the warmest July on record for the United States. The 1936 heat wave merits its own Wikipedia entry and has the dubious distinction of being on many “worst heat waves of all time” lists. As many as 5000 people died. Crops failed. Livelihoods were ruined.

Summer of 1936
Click on image for PDF

Statistics and lists tell one part of the story, but what was daily life really like when temperatures rose to triple digits before the age of air conditioning or widespread electricity?

We can glean some clues from letters and diaries of the time. Hattie Whitcher, a homesteader who lived with her husband, Will, near Hidden Timber, South Dakota, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, kept a daily diary for over 37 years, and this is how she tells the story of the summer of 1936.

Badlands Wedding

The heat wave began in June. When Hattie writes on June 18th, “Bright, hot, dusty, South wind until towards eve clouds from the north but no rain…” she could have had no idea how often she would write similar words in the coming weeks.

June 18, 1936
June 18, 1936
June 24, 1936
June 24, 1936
June 25, 1936
June 25, 1936
June 27, 1936
June 27, 1936
June 28, 1936
June 28, 1936

June ended with a welcomed rain and hail storm, but relief didn’t last long.

July 2, 1936
July 2, 1936

Then, on July 5th, the temperature soared—to as high as 120° F in Gann Valley, South Dakota (currently the nation’s smallest county seat), tied with Usta’s 120° reading in 2006 for the highest recorded temperature ever in the state.

Staying home on this sweltering day was not an option for the Whitchers. Hattie’s extended family was very large, even for the time period. She was the oldest of ten children, and her brother Jake would eventually have 18 children of his own. His oldest child, Lawrence, was to be married the next day north of Kyle, South Dakota, so Hattie and Will would spend July 5th traveling with Jake, his wife, Cora, and two of their youngest children—Raymond, age 3, and George, 13 months—to the wedding. (Read Lawrence’s obituary from the Rapid City Journal—scroll down to a little more than half way down the page).

Kyle, on the Pine Ridge Reservation and at the edge of the Badlands, is over 100 miles from Hidden Timber and eleven miles from the official North American continental pole of inaccessibility, or the most remote area geographically from any coastline. The group of travelers left after breakfast and most probably made the journey in the Whitchers’ Chevrolet Sedan, which they had bought used a couple of years earlier from a neighbor.

The car balked in the hot sun. They ran low on water. Will (as did so many others that summer) got sick from the heat. But upon their arrival at sundown, they were served cool spring water (“was wonderful”) and cold milk. They slept outside under some trees, and the “moon shone all night.” The transcript below is slightly abridged and paragraphs and minor changes added for ease of reading. Read the originals here and here.

1936 July 5th Sunday: Another bright, hot day, a few clouds west of Martin and a sprinkle of rain on us but otherwise was too hot to travel for our car balked on us at Vetal in Bennett Co. and nearly every time we stopped Jake and Will had to fuss with it and prime it. Will got a bottle that had acid in it and had some gas put in it and it burnt his shirt-sleeve and one glove. This happened at Vetal.

We had dinner at Martin, went to Brennan (Wounded Knee) Store, got water, stopped at observation tower wind-mill at Porcupine Buttes, got gas down the Creek, got water at a spring towards Rocky-Ford, stopped at Rocky Ford. Saw George and Florence Clifford also George Clifford of the Rocky Ford Store, [could not] fix car here, so went on to a store at White River Bridge, got a lunch there, went on through the Sandhills after leaving Charles Cliffords, where we got water to drink and put in the car.

The car balked on us after leaving Charles Cliffords and Will was sick from too much heat but he and Jake got the car up a sand-hill and Cora and I. Raymond and she carried George up the hill and we were short on water, but got to John Cliffords just at Sun-down, they ate outside and gave us some supper, they have a cool spring so the water was wonderful and they had cold milk for us to drink. Lawrence Whiting was there for he went from St. Francis with Bill Smith Friday p.m. to get ready to marry Martha Clifford, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Clifford, where we are.

The following photo from 1936 of a U.S. Resettlement Administration work camp in the Badlands gives an indication of the landscape not far from Kyle during the Depression years.

Resettlement Administration Workcamp
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8b27708. Creator Arthur Rothstein

Hattie continues:

July 6th: The temperature is 110 and 114 and yesterday got to 116. Bright, hot a South wind blew the dust out off the White River Bed towards John Clifford’s, for there is no water in it up there.

Everybody slept out-side, for the beds were there and moon shone all night, it was hot until towards morning. Will and I slept on a cot north of the house near some trees and Jake & Cora and children slept in [a] bed near [the] house. Some slept in wagon and Hay-rack and another bed outside and George, Florence, Laverne, Collins and Tommy slept on the ground.

Most of the folks went to early Mass and we all went to 10 o’clock Mass for Lawrence & Martha [were] married then. A big dinner.

Hattie and Will left for their return journey at 4 p.m. on July 6th and arrived home at 11:30 p.m. that night.

An interesting side note is that on Sunday Hattie writes of seeing “a Balloon moving N.E. [of] Rosebud when we saw it and landed at Presho, Lyman Co., So. Dak.” This would have been the 24th annual national balloon race, originating in Denver. According to a newspaper account at the time the winning balloon, Goodyear X, landed “at Presho, S.D., approximately 385 miles from Denver. [The pilot] was the only one of the five balloonists who took-off here Friday night to find good fortune in variable winds which kept the others from drifting out of the state” (Lawrence Journal-World, July 6, 1936, “Trotter Is the Apparent Winner in Balloon Race”).

Still the Wind Blows

On July 31st, Will helped Hattie rinse the clothes and put them on the line “in all the wind and down they came when post broke so Will had to get more water to rinse them over and we got them dry.” Washing clothes before modern appliances was time-consuming under the best conditions—each washing required hauling in water then boiling it inside an often already overheated kitchen—but in the 1930s, the constant dust meant that clothes never stayed cleaned for long.

Hattie ushers in August with the words “Still the wind blows.”

August 1, 1936
August 1, 1936

The Dust Bowl had already stripped much of the Plains states bare. This historic photo taken in Dallas, South Dakota, is from May of 1936.

Dust Bowl - Dallas, South Dakota 1936.jpg
“Dust Bowl – Dallas, South Dakota 1936″” by Sloan (?) – United States Department of Agriculture; Image Number: 00di0971. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The combination of wind, drought, and lightning made fire a constant danger that summer. On August 10th, for example, when a dust storm caused Hattie to “get clothes in in a hurry,” two fires broke out, the second in a nearby pasture. “[T]he men went and about 75 other cars so after it burnt a half mile wide and 1 1/2 miles long they got it out but I [stayed] at home and worried.” Click on the image below to read the full entry.

August 10, 1936
August 10, 1936

Speeding to Idaho

The Whitchers were lucky. Their farm didn’t burn down. They were able to stay on their land through the 1930s. But not all of their neighbors could say the same. While John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath and the subsequent film starring Henry Fonda have informed generations about the rural westward migration from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, many people do not know that “drought refugees” also left the Dakotas in search of a new start. Hattie wrote of one neighboring family as “speeding on their way to Idaho.”

The Depression-era Great Plains migrants were documented by photojournalists such as Arthur Rothstein through the  Farm Security Administration.

Drought refugees from South Dakota. [traveling through] Montana. Creator: Rothstein, Arthur. Library of Congress
Drought refugees from South Dakota. [traveling through] Montana. July 1936. Creator: Arthur Rothstein. Library of Congress. LC-DIG-fsa-8b28057
The following photo bears the caption, “Vernon Evans (with his family) of Lemmon, South Dakota, near Missoula, Montana on Highway 10. Leaving grasshopper-ridden and drought-stricken area for a new start in Oregon or Washington. Expects to arrive at Yakima in time for hop picking. Live in tent. Makes about two hundred miles a day in Model T Ford.”

Vernon Evans (with his family) of Lemmon, South Dakota, near Missoula, Montana on Highway 10. Leaving grasshopper-ridden and drought-stricken area for a new start in Oregon or Washington. Expects to arrive at Yakima in time for hop picking. Live in tent. Makes about two hundred miles a day in Model T Ford
July 1936. Creator: Arthur Rothstein. Library of Congress. LC-DIG-fsa-8b28038

Birthday Taps

In the end, what do we learn from diaries like Hattie’s? Of course, there are the almost unimaginable daily struggles of getting food on the table in heat and dust, keeping farm equipment running and livestock healthy, and staying one step ahead of illness and injury.

Just as important, though, we see the diligence and optimism required to hang on to a sense of normalcy in extraordinary circumstances. While Hattie is honest about the difficulties, at the same time she continually seeks out pockets of goodness and gratitude, whether an unexpected cool morning after a rainstorm or a glass of chilled milk at the end of a day-long desert trek or the pleasure of conversation with family and friends, something she always treasured. She never loses her sense of adventure.

On July 21st, Will turned 45. It was, of course, another hot day, “so dry,” and a regular work day for Will, who “finished the dishes” before they drove to a neighbor’s place to see about getting fireguards plowed, went to a nearby town to get the spark plugs in their car cleaned, stopped at the Rosebud Hospital only to find that the doctor was not there (Hattie was supposed to be checked in that day for a goiter operation), and attended a Council Meeting before coming home.

The next day, Hattie writes, “Yesterday was Will’s Birthday and I gave him some taps after he went to bed and he was too tired so only scolded me.”

July 22, 1936
July 22, 1936

Ten years older than her husband, Harriet celebrated her birthday three days later, on July 24th: “Another bright hot day, wind from S.W.” She worked at home doing the washing and getting the meals. She writes of Will’s putting up hay stacks, “2 big-stacks and 1 small one,” caring for the cattle, and taking a bull that had got out back to pasture. Some neighbors visited in the evening.

“This is my Birthday,” she concludes her entry, “and I felt pretty-good.”

July 24, 1936
July 24, 1936

Hip-Hop Friday

And now for something completely different.

Photo credit at end of post

Since I have begun freelancing and working from home full-time, I find that music is a good way to vary and set my pace throughout the day, to manage my mood and energy, and to keep the house from feeling too empty. Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of hip-hop, surprising even myself with how much I am enjoying it. I hardly listen to anything else at the moment.

In many ways, my newfound hip-hop education makes sense. Fifty-one-year-old former South Dakota farm girls may not be rappers’ target demographic, but I am also a writer and reader, a word lover, an English teacher and literature major. I am constantly pulled to stories about people, how we are different from each other, how we are the same, and how we can better understand the mystery that is being alive.

Hip-hop, perhaps more than any other music genre, celebrates and taps into the power of language and story.

Below are three examples of what I’ll be listening to today. If you have never paid much attention to hip-hop—especially if, as was the case with me until a couple of years ago, your knowledge of hip-hop has been largely based on one or two artists or stereotypes—I urge you to take some time to watch the videos.

The first is brand new: hotter-than-hot Kendrick Lamar’s mash-up performance from Wednesday night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The second is Eminem’s video of “Beautiful” (recommended especially for anyone familiar with depression, either in yourself or someone you love). The final video is Kanye West’s 2008 Grammy performance of “Hey Mama,” which he performed as a tribute after the death of his mother (recommended: also listen to the full version of the song here).

And don’t forget to check out the varied and engaging blog posts that are part of the #30PostsHathSept Back to Blogging Challenge. More are added every day!

Kendrick Lamar photo credit: Kim Metso, Kendrick Lamar at Way Out West 2013 in Gothenburg, Sweden, CC BY-SA 3.0

Gwyn Ridenhour: None of the Noise Matters

“None of the noise matters. What matters is this child.” ~ Gwyn Ridenhour, TEDxBismarck

It has been sixteen years since we began homeschooling and six years since we finished (when our son went to college), but every once in awhile I still am asked what, exactly, homeschooling was like.

It’s a question that is both easy and impossible to answer.

The easy answer is that homeschooling was a lot like those years before a child reaches school age in terms of integrated and day-long and year-long learning, curiosity, and interest-based focus (think of how toddlers and preschoolers learn about life and their world simply by being in it and asking questions)–but with the depth and breadth suited to our son’s age. It seemed the only sensible choice at the time, although we had no idea then that we would continue through high school, and it was the best decision our family ever made.

The impossibility is that homeschooling is different for every family and often even for every child within a family. It also can change quite dramatically throughout a child’s homeschooling journey. There really was no typical day for us, no template or model that can be passed on to someone else. In many ways, that’s the point: It was now up to us to figure out what our son needed and what worked best for him, not just in terms of curriculum but also in terms of his personality and passions and evolving goals.

AsGwyn TEDx Gwyn Ridenhour (children’s librarian, education advocate, writer, and friend) explains in her recent TEDxBismarck talk, homeschooling or hybrid education asks us to address our fears as parents and give ourselves permission to do what works—without being unduly influenced by the latest trends or biggest headlines or even well-meaning advice from friends and family:

I see conflicting headlines in the media all the time telling us how we should live our lives. There’s this one: “10 Really Important Things You Should Do in Order Not to Feel Like You’re a Total Loser When Your’e 85.” These include things like writing a novel, climbing a mountain, traveling the world.

Ah, but then there’s this one: “10 Things Your’e Doing to Make Yourself Feel Terribly Important that Are Actually Making You a Terrible Parent.” And these include things like writing a novel, climbing a mountain, and traveling the the world.

And there’s a lot about helicopter parenting, and how we’re taking too much pride in our kids’ accomplishment. And there are articles about how terrible public schools are, and how they’re ruining our kids. And articles about how terrible homeschoolers are, and how they’re ruining their kids.

There’s so much shaming to be had, and it’s easy to pick and choose the messages that make us feel the worst about ourselves. [emphasis added] ~ Gwyn Ridenhour

Watch and listen to the rest of Gwyn’s talk, “Shaping a Creative Education,” below, and visit her blog STEAM-Powered Classroom.

“None of the noise matters. What matters is this child.”Tweet This