Monday, July 29, 2013

Home and Place: Masks

I run in different circles.  Which means I wear several masks.  Teacher, climber, mama, runner - to name a few.  Each mask is distinct, yet overlap in ways that give a part of myself to whomever I'm with - I guess we all do that don't we?  Do you?  I think we do.

I know that's why I stay so close to Brad.  I think that's why I stay so close to my family.  They know the roots of my imperfections.  Like when my stoicism spends less time grieving and more of the time fighting.  Or when I wear my strength like an armor to cover up my yearning for togetherness.  I think that's why I can be mental and go all out, be blunt or annoyed, excitable or deeply dull - it's 'cause Brad and my closest family members have seen me at my worst and don't have to look too deep to figure out the masks I wear.

And that's why it's so touching when what is real and human shows up.  Outside of what is usually masked or scented with perfections, it's a special thing.  This past week I spent time with a group of educators in a space and span of time where we all got to visit and revisit parts of ourselves that make us whole: artistic expression, spirituality, mindfulness, and risk.  All made me feel vulnerable and sometimes self-conscious.  And it was demanding.  But you know what, we were all in it together for the benefit of urban youth - and somehow the masks got extinguished and instead of facades, there was kind of like a self-revolution within one room.  What's really significant is that I didn't have to go home to be radical.  I got to feel it and be it with fam, and it was right here in the Heartland.

So yeah, I was at the Hip Hop in the Heartland Institute where I went back home to my soul and hip hop roots and reaffirmed my love for the culture and respect for artistic expression of myself and the kids I adore and teach.  Just think of everything hip hop is, and everything hip hop isn't and you'd be surprised with the masks you can tear down.

Check this out - we got to beatbox with the best, and so did Misa and John-Pio right here with Baba Israel and Yako 440.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Home and Place: Apartment Hopping (Don't Judge)

One thing I love about this multi-authored blog is hearing different perspectives.  Bethany's perspective on home is also about decision-making and commitment.  The process is personal and so are the reasons for renting vs. buying, which is often influenced by outside pressures.  After reading this piece, I went back and listed all the places I've lived and all the cars I've owned, but stopped short of listing all the hairstyles and colors I've had - lets save that for another fun blog theme!  Read on for Bethany's wonderful and real thoughts about home . . .

What makes home for you?  Hmm, that's an interesting question for someone like me, a chronic apartment hopper.  Since 2004, after graduating from college and moving out of the dorms, I have lived in 8 different apartments.  Some might see that as excessive, but for me, it's normal.  I hate the actual work of packing and moving, but I love being some place new.  I know the American dream is a house surrounded by a picket fence in a subdivision, and a tire swing hanging from the giant oak in the front yard for your 2.5 children to play in, but I'm not there yet.

My reality is that I may never get there; see I have what is called a commitment-phobia (I self- diagnosed myself several years ago).  Along with those 8 different apartments, I have had 6 different jobs, 4 different cars, and at least 25 different hairstyles and colors, (blonde - well, it was more than just yellow, was by far the worse, especially sine I was trying to go red).  It's very hard for me to be happy in the same place for too long and I don't know if that will ever change.  I know lots of people who have bought homes and condos, then ask me when I am going to do it and I just shrug and say, "I don't know," cause that's the honest truth.  They also ask if I have thought about buying and when I say no, it's a surprise, but again that's my truth.  Some people chalk it up to me being single and childless, but I don't know if that's what it is.

Owning is just not an idea that is not appealing to me.  I know there are lots of advantages to being a homeowner.  I've heard them and heard the disadvantages, but so far I really haven't been swayed.  My commitment issues are definitely a huge issue to me changing my mind.  I think about big purchases I have made, like my cars.  A car is a big deal, especially when you are financing, but I have always made rush decisions and then had serious regrets afterwards. When I bought my first brand new car I really didn't think about things like depreciation, which was a huge factor for someone like me who is more likely to get a new car than keep repairing an old one.  So when I went  to try and get a new car, me being upside down on my loan, really didn't help. So then I wanted to go the used car route; and although I like my car now, I wish that I had taken more time to look at other vehicles that may have the features that I really want in a car.  It's always after the fact, after the contract is signed, and you're at home processing it all, that all these questions come and I just can't see myself making a commitment like that to a home and a 15 or 30 year mortgage.

In thinking about finding a place to live when I found my last apartment, the one before the one I am currently living in, I went and looked at it before moving in.  I had looked at tons of apartments and I had about 6 weeks until I had to move, and I already lost out on a really nice apartment because I procrastinated on turning in an application and someone else got it.  So when I saw the apartment I liked, I filled out the application and when they called me, I immediately accepted.  In my rush to not miss out, I really hadn't paid attention to all the flaws in that apartment, especially the size; my bedroom set could barely fit in the bedroom.   The day I moved in I sat on the floor amongst the boxes and cried for about 2 hours.  I was so depressed about that place.  I can see myself doing that with a house and it just seems a lot easier to get out of a lease than out of a mortgage.

There's a new commercial for, I think it's the Realtors Association, that shows a couple looking at a house on the computer and deciding to wait before making an offer; the next realtor puts a sold sign on the house in real time as they watch.  That commercial freaks me out!  It's a rat race out there and I am nowhere near prepared to even stand at the finish line.  I am not a good decision maker (it goes hand in hand with the commitment issues) so I can see myself biting off way more than I can chew and it's a terrifying thought.

Obviously, there are all personal and ingrained issues with me; I would never knock anyone for making the leap and I think it's a great choice for anyone considering it, but I don't want to be judged for my decision (especially since I have made it and that s a big deal for me).  As I get even older, maybe it will change.  In 5 years I may look back and think "what in the world was I thinking" (I definitely did that after my foray with blonde hair, still traumatized by that one), or I might spend the rest of my life as a hopper, I don't know yet. 

So what makes home for me?  To me home is more than a place, it's a feeling.  Home is where the things and people you love are - with family, friends, and good memories.  Besides in my apartments where my personal belongings are stored, I have surrogate homes that may belong to others, but they are where I find the comfort and love that really make my life feel full.  I have had many homes in my 28 years (errr, okay maybe it's actually 30), some good, some bad, and some ugly.  I feel fortunate to have had all those places and I wouldn't change that for anything in the world. 

Bethany is a social worker who advocates for the rights of children and families.  She received her undergraduate degree from Lakeland College, and her graduate degree from Edgewood College.  Along with being dedicated to the work she does, she enjoys shopping, reading, and watching true crime shows.  The Naputi-Werntz family loves her for her style, brains, and heart! 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Home and Place: House and Home

Misa's first invitation in kindergarten was from a girl who lived in a house.  Not just any house, but a "house all to herself and her family . . ." That was her exclamation when I picked her up that day.

Mama!  Zoey has that house all to herself and her family!

At first I was like, oh man poor girl.  Poor kids.

It doesn't happen anymore but when the kids were younger and I was a beginner mama, I sometimes went to that place that told me I should own a house for the sake of the kids.  A few times I bought into that "should" and Brad and I actually went house hunting.  No single house really grabbed us though - not as something we would want to call home anyway, so that was a short-lived search.

I once owned a house.  It was a quaint one, made of wood on 4th Avenue in Salt Lake City, UT across from the city cemetery, and just 1200 square feet.  When it was time to sell and move, it was also time to put away the contents and memories so that my feeling in the end, was that it was just a house.

For the last 12 years Brad and I have lived in a condo - a home - in downtown Madison.  I've learned a few things about myself and Brad and have fallen in love with our chosen lifestyle.  Within our small square footage place, we hold fast to the ritual of giving thanks before each meal, saying nighttime prayers, and kissing each other goodbye when we leave.  Paintings, photos, and other art on the walls have special meaning, and the books that line our shelves remind us that reading books, not to mention guide books for climbing and training are the sorts of things that help define our house as a home.  We honor rituals and traditions and the things we do together because like anything, they help guide our values and beliefs.  This condo isn't a traditional house, but it's definitely home for us.

Which leads me to this list of the top four things I love about living here . . .

1.  A potted garden of tomatoes, peppers and herbs gives us a "plot" to tend and nurture.
2.  We have less we have to maintain, giving us more time to play :)
3.  With mental freedom comes less stuff to own.
4.  Perhaps the best and most significant thing about living in and creating a home is the so-good-it's-true family bonding.

Of all the things I find the most appealing, it's reason number four.  When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents moved from a one-story traditional family home to a two-story house with more space including more yard along with a bigger garage.  It promoted family isolation between floors and rooms and kept us all autonomous so that behind closed doors, we didn't have to interact or even cross paths day-to-day.  It wasn't a bad thing - I mean, my siblings and I and my parents are all very close and loving.  But we all pretty much went about our way without really ever having to communicate, or even regularly see each other.

Not so in our condo.  These days, even with the prospect of Emma moving on to start living her own adventures away from us freeing up her room, Misa and John-Pio will most likely continue sharing their room.  Emma's room stores art supplies and holiday decor, and the upright piano and guitars are in there too.  It's a gathering place for creativity and performances.  The kids room is a daily mess of their own stuff, but is definitely the community room.  Every room and closet is well-used and managed but more than that, our little space that holds the five of us means we really can't escape each other.

I mean, as one example, even when I crave the bad stuff, everybody knows.  Cheesh!

We tend to these peppers like it's our community garden . . .

Witnessing plants bearing the good fruit . . .

As they take over the balcony. 

And we even have a lemon tree.  See the lemon? 

Hey!  This was us 6 years ago.  

I doubt that any of the kids' friends exclaim the same thing Misa did years ago when she realized that people actually have houses all to themselves.  That's okay with me - kids find fun whether it's in a house, condo, or an apartment.  The best thing I'd want to hear them exclaim though, is that they were raised in something much more than a physical structure - that they grew up in a home.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What My Mom Said Job Said, and What We Did

The news of the acquittal of murderer Zimmerman, left me despondent.  My mom called me this morning after going to church and one of the first things she said was, "I can only think of Job who said 'my soul is weary of my life.'" Because I do not understand and can't properly reference this quote from the Bible, and since my mom seemed to be both pragmatic and sincere, I could only infer that  she was disgusted with the verdict.  That was pretty much the context of our Sunday conversation, and that was how we left it.  Sad, and true.

One thing that stands out to me was that soon after Zimmerman's defense began, it was the memory of Trayvon Martin that seemed to be on trial, not the man eager to get rid of crime in his neighborhood and certainly not the man who neglected to see Trayvon Martin as his neighbor, too.  And whatever one thinks about the verdict, there is undoubtedly a need for greater public scrutiny and legislative intervention in the right-to-carry policies, not to mention Florida's stand your ground laws - two things that carelessly led to a pointless fatal encounter.

I know a lot of people are wondering about humankind and whether we're going to make it.  And with a family of young kids and as a teacher of adolescents, I have to believe that we are going to make it no matter what - even if it means descending into the dark because of so many troubling aspects of the killing of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman.

As much as I wish it were otherwise, the truth is that this sort of news just feels familiar.  It is, to borrow a phrase from Evelyn Waugh, "merely a blow upon a bruise, just another right uppercut to the soul."  It's the end of the day now and I'm just thinking about what my mom said - It was as if she was reminding me of one lesson she learned from her own life.  That, especially in the midst of darkness, life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived - something she's had me believing in even when I was too immature to believe.  We all need strength to carry on.  

And today we found strength in our happiness outside at Devils Lake together, where the mosquitoes were biting, the deer flies were out, and the poison ivy was everywhere.  In fact, until we got there, we were all pretty lackadaisical about even going up but I'm so glad we pushed through and went because it was a relaxing fun time.  Here's what we did . . .

Used our newest Organic pad and took a nap.

Sketched the landscape and read Harry Potter.

Climbed this fun line on the 45 degree boulder. 

Admired quartzite like we just saw it for the first time :)

Problem-solved how to avoid the poison ivy at the top-out

Pulled on really tiny holds

Wrote a story and read it out loud. 

Spotted poison ivy. 

Eyed more poison ivy. 

Took the "What is NOT poison ivy" test

Tried out different settings on the camera to try to feel pro.  

Found a lone sumac at the edge of the trail.

Ran downhill pad-free. 

Felt satisfied at the end of the day.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Home and Place: Families Climbing Together

Misa was born October 23, 2003, and two weeks later, we bundled her in the baby front-pack and walked up the CCC trail at Devils Lake to properly baptize her in quartzite glory.  It was a chaotic kind of exciting day-adventure, really.  Anne Hughes was working a project with the hopes of sending that day and nursing was still tricky.  But hell, I fit into my pre-pregnancy Blurr jeans (I loved those jeans ...) and Brad was thankfully on a flexible paternity leave schedule, so anything felt possible.  And in retrospect, what seemed like chaos was just all part of a beautiful plan to fall in love again and again with climbing and quartzite in one of the few places I feel I can call home.

One thing is for sure:  It takes a village.  That's cliche, I know.  But it's the truth.  Without Big Mama, Melissa, Coria, Annie Hank, and Maiyer, our climbing life might have been reduced to a home pull-up bar and climbing videos.  Or worse, we might have put it aside thinking, "We'll get back into it after the kids are older . . . "  Which wouldn't have been the end of the world, but by that time - call it an addiction, an attachment - whatever it was, it was woven into my identity for good and both Brad and I wanted this as much individually as we did as a family.

Those early years, especially after we had John-Pio were marked by Anne Hughes' support and enthusiasm to help us make climbing possible as a family.  That third-person couldn't be just anyone - it had to be an expert someone, someone who was unfazed, who could accept twists, turns, and unpredictability.   It had to be someone with shared climbing goals and adventures, but who would not sink when we actually had - in the words of Van Morrison, "Days like This".  And there were plenty of those.  If it were not for the willing - mixed with a modicum of willfulness I admit, any possibility of a climbing trip with our dear friend Mattie Sheafor, would have just been blank pages in a photo album. Seriously.  But Anne was there at the climbing crags for mostly all of it:  from babies turned toddlers turned preschoolers to now school age - what a trip its been!

In the last 9 years or so, we've been blessed with our circle of climbing friends - those few close adult friends who have helped make things happen at the crag or bouldering area - who entertained, spotted, played games, and even changed a few diapers.  Misa, John-Pio, and Emma (who was mostly busy with dance but sometimes came along), have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours at Devils Lake now, and you know what?  To this day, they have never complained or wished out loud that they had friends or other families along with us.  Never.  Somehow they've grown into these crag kids who understand that they don't have to climb;  they just have to know we do.

So I can only imagine how fun it's been for them to now have family friends who like to get outside.  And not just city outside-ness (although that's fun too), but a family who climbs outside.  Let me just interject that I've grown to accept how much I miss Mattie and her family, and Amy Skinner and hers - two families who value similar lifestyles and who happen to be significant parts of our lives.  Along with the resolve of missing and wishing that we lived closer geographically, I was also happily resigned to living the climbing life as we know it.

Until yesterday! We went to the Lake to boulder and hang outside with Lisa, Tom, Jack, and Lily.  It was a great day, even if we had to stalk people in order to snag a parking spot, and even with the mosquitos and biting flies.  We all seemed to get in the bouldering we wanted.  And at the risk of stating the obvious and seeming overly excited, we were with Lisa's family - who happens to be one of my closest friends.  At one point, I wandered away from the families and looked around for potential climbs and found myself back near a familiar spot where years ago, I sat secluded in order to nurse a hungry baby.  I felt some intimacy with the area, with the canopy of trees, stems of grassland and a ground carpeted with seasoned leaves.  And of course there was quartzite, that purple sometimes pink, sometimes dark, sometimes mossy, sometimes angular, round, sharp, slopey, yet beautiful-all-the-time-quartzite rock that I love.  And all at once, my surroundings coupled with my own family and Lisa's, seemed to fuse together as a real part of my history.  And I liked that feeling a lot.  So much that of course I documented it (which reminds me of Jack's off-the-cuff comment:  "What has social media done to you adults . . .").

Drama in the outdoors

Lisa on something really fun.

Shoeing up

So you can tell I'm a novice photographer (I cut off that little crimp Lisa's hand is on . . .)

Hanging out on the cliff

Tom on the project

Lily slaps to the bulge

Making good work on a boulder 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Home and Place: Is it in our Blood?

I've been thinking about home, place, and belonging for as long as I can remember - since 1982, in fact, when I first moved away from San Diego.  That's a helluva long time to be wandering around on a continuum wondering when my mind and body will adapt and accept--or find, home?  I met Amy Sullivan while rock climbing in 1997, and was instantly drawn to her ideas and thoughts about home and place.  The history of our friendship is mostly grounded in the memories I have of our talks and letters about this somewhat elusive theme.  And I find myself referencing our early exchanges whenever I feel disconnected or unsatisfied living in the Midwest, not because I don't like it here, but because at times, I don't feel it in my blood--even when I really want to.  So when Amy's status update came up: "Have you ever been homesick for something, but you aren't sure what?" I felt it was my chance to more publicly focus on the significance of home and place.  I really appreciate Amy's views and I'm struck by her visual and emotional connections, but what I love most are her questions.  They're just the kinds of questions that make me want to write in that journal beside my bed . . .

Home. Place. Belonging.  I have been thinking about these concepts for a long time.  Part history, part narrative, part experience, part visceral, emotional connection.

What is it that makes a place resonate in our hearts?  What draws us to a place?  What is the belonging made up of, and does the place belong to us, or do we belong to it?

Perhaps it was because I was a transplant to the midwest, that I felt "place" so acutely.  I pined for the dense virgin hardwood forests of my home state of Pennsylvania.  Both sides of my family had come from Europe to settle in NY and PA, and the forests, rivers, and rounded peaks of the ancient Appalachians were part of my lived experience and part of my history.  On long car rides through Pennsylvania to visit relatives, my mother would murmur mountain names, as if they were friends from her youth--Blue Mountain, Shenandoah Valley, Tuscarora Mountain.  For me, place was so tied up with family, with memories, and with narrative.

My graduate work in Madison gradually came to focus on the power of a connection to place and how environmental art and literature has used that emotional connection to create change.  So many thoughts percolated as I investigated this process--how did the artists influence political and legislative action?  What assumptions did they rely on about our sense of place and home?  I remember Vera and I frequently sharing our ideas about these subjects with each other.

What I came to understand is that it is part narrative--personal and ancestral and historical--and part familiarity--knowing the details and features and names of a place--that contribute to a feeling of home.  This is what give us a sense of tenderness towards a place, and it's that tender feeling that could make us take action in defense of a place.  Familiarity with place, for me, was often a sensual familiarity--a certain hazy light in the sky that reminded me of the ocean, the smells of a thawing lake, the feel of the air, the rich scent of a forest, the way a thick band of clouds on the horizon could trick me into thinking I was looking at Lake Erie, spread high and wide in front of me.

Of course, it made sense to me that an emotional connection to place could come from familiarity, from the laying down of experiences and memories, the establishment of community and a sense of belonging.  That part makes sense.

But what still puzzles me is this--there is some other, more elusive and unpredictable component.  One that made me choke up when I first saw the umbrella pines of Italy and felt "home" after wandering the globe for months.  Something that welcomed me in that bright golden meadow in the mountains of New Zealand.  The tears that surprised me when I stepped off a plane in New England and inhaled the scent of pines.

What is it that causes a body to respond to a place?  Why do some places, familiar or not, sing to us and call us home?  Do you know what I mean?  Have you ever been rocked in the cradle of a place, so that it felt like a refuge to you?  Have you arrived at a place for the firrst time, only to feel you were coming home?

Can a place be in our blood?

Part of me still thinks so.  When I became pregnant, still living in Madison, I was strangely concerned about giving birth to the first native Midwesterners in either of our families.  Honestly, I had fleeting thoughts of frantic drives back to the northeast once labor started, desperate to at least make it to the Pennsylvania border before the baby came!  What would it be like not to have that geographical connection with my children?  Would they be called by the rolling farmland and oak groves of Wisconsin and not by the northeast?  I felt, then, that they would somehow be disconnected from their heritage, from all of their family who called those places home.

And then we took my kids to the cold Atlantic ocean of Maine, where my husband grew up. And those Midwestern-born kids, on a cold and overcast day, played for hours in an ocean I barely wanted to wade into!  They were so drawn to it that they went in without swimsuits, while we huddled in fleece jackets on the sand.  And I must have breathed a little sigh of relief, that somehow the two of us had passed on something that connected them with our home.

I have now lived longer in Madison than I have lived any other place.  My memories, my community, my experiences, and my familiarity with the place have made it home.  A place where I belong.  The town that thrills my heart when I come home to it after having been away.  But thus far, I still do not "recognize" it elsewhere--in a certain slant of light or scent on the air or view on the horizon.  I'm not sure, yet, whether it has gotten into my blood.  But my eager anticipation of the sandhill cranes, the honeysuckle lining every trail in late spring, and that intense blue of the sky at harvest time suggests that perhaps it has been making its way there all along.

Amy Sullivan grew up in Pennsylvania--camping, canoeing, and skiing in the forests, sailing and rowing on Lake Erie, and visiting the Atlantic every summer.  She moved to Madison for graduate school, where she met her husband rock climbing at Devil's Lake.  Turns out that Madison was a hard town to quit, so she's got a new home base.  She loves to travel, and has been around the world, but a busy job schedule and two young children keep her in town more often than not these days. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rocks and Art

I'd be super happy every day if the theme of my life could be Rocks and Art.  Today was a rock climbing day at the Lake with Katie as my guide up and down the talus.  I've never really "loved" the talus fields, but I love the rock so much that I'd do anything (including topple over face first) to get to see and climb boulders!  Here's what we did today.

West bluff talus field after hanging around on Mixed Emotion which was a fun v4, especially the beginning moves.  After that it was scary!

Fruit area!  I finally got to see this cool boulder.   Overgrown with plants 2-3 feet high, and kind of buggy so it'll be one to do in the fall.

Tricky problem that Katie makes look good.  

What climbing looks like when Katie and Vera settle in :)

An even more perfect combination is being with my favorite people while getting to do some things we all value together.  Misa and John-Pio declared the past few days "Museum Week" so we started it with a visit to the Chazen Art Museum.  The last time I was there was with my students to look at the African beading exhibit, but supervising and teaching are so distracting that it's never restful to look at art so I was thankful we got to go back and that the kids were psyched to go.  They brought their sketch books and we met some friends which made the experience even more interesting for them.  My favorite exhibit was one that featured Buddhas but the best part of the museum since its renovation, is the beautiful lighting that streams into various rooms.

Yesterday we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Since I first learned of the exhibit, "30 Americans," I've been eager to go and now I can't wait to return.  Kids 12 and under are free, and the greatest perk is that educators get in free too.  Here's what we did . . .

Gazed into Lake Michigan - that's two of the Great Lakes in two weeks! 

 Admired the wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum move into position. 

Celebrated sibling time together. 

Sketched a piece from the 30 Americans exhibit, which is described on the Milwaukee Art Museum's website as this:  30 Americans is a dynamic exploration of contemporary American art. Paintings, sculptures, installations, photographs, video, and more made by African American artists since 1970 raise questions of what it means to be a contemporary artist and an African American today. Whether addressing issues of race, gender, sexuality, politics, or history—or seemingly remaining silent about them—these works offer powerful interpretations of cultural identity and artistic legacy.

Moved onto the rest of the museum where I caught John-Pio analyzing this! 

Interacted with the lively animation exhibit that featured some of Disney and Pixar's creations, and the historical references for movies like Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, and Alladin.  That's Emma in action . . . 

Made a vegetable head, who was actually a magical companion, based on the movie Despereaux.  

And drew pictures . . .

The combination of rocks and art is a perfect theme for the week.  When we got back, the kids went swimming while I went to see The Heat with Kate.  Y'all should go see it - hilarious and cathartic with all the m'f bombs and crazy antics and language.