Monday, April 18, 2016
In Africa, ten years ago, our trip moved from the soft pink dunes and flat seas of sand in the Sahara to what my guide called, "Black Africa," the plains and jungles of Benin and Togo. It was a frightening transition from open to dense land from laid-back nomad to wary villager. One night in a village in Benin, my travel group was invited to a ceremony where we were told a shaman could help us achieve our dreams.
I don't remember all the details, but I do remember the heat, the sweltering heat, and the humidity, and the crazed drug-induced frenzy of the village shaman. I was brought before him after he made a frightening entrance into a dark hut. He was bugged-eye and spitting everywhere, sweat gushed out of him in multiple rivulets and he half-danced half-walked around the room talking to the unseen spirits in the hut. Finally, he stood in front me and looked down. I was kneeling, sitting back on my legs, in the dirt. Our trip guide told me it was time for a donation so the shaman could work with the Gods to make a dream come true. What would I like? I reached into my grimy sweaty travel pants and pulled out the suggested donation of a US $5.00 bill. Did I want happiness? Long life? Money? Good health? No...... I whispered to my guide, "I would like to write a book." The guide spoke to a man, an assistant, who translated the wish to the imposing shaman standing above me. The money moved from the guide to the assistant, who inspected the bill in the dim light, then nodded to the shaman. Shouting up to the heavens and twirling in the dust, the shaman seemed energized by my wish for a few minutes then suddenly staggered to a stool. He sat down. It was a done deal.
After I came home from Africa, I wrote a children's book about my African adventures. It took me a long time to perfect the style of writing I wanted to use, to select pictures, and to create a layout. I went to a New York writer's conference and took a copy of the manuscript with me. The seminar had specific times when you could talk to agents about your project. There was interest....many questions....suggestions. One suggestion from a National Geographic editor was to rewrite the book with a different lead character...someone familiar--like a crazy old professor who happens to take his niece or nephew or both on a tour of Africa. After so much effort, I was exhausted just thinking about re-writing the book from a different point of view. While I was in limbo over the re-write, I took a job as a community relations manager for Barnes and Noble. Limbo disappeared because my full time work schedule forced me to concentrate on my corporation's welfare and not my writing. A year into the job, my dad had a massive stroke and my mother collapsed into heart failure. I walked out of the book store office and never returned. The next few years were filled with the necessities of tidying up the legal, financial, and emotional consequences of their sudden deaths.
The African manuscript sat on my shelf and I busied myself with other callings. Then, I started doing research in an archives concerning religious ceremonial objects and donor families. I discovered vibrant and memorable stories behind so many of the objects. I started collecting stories in the archives....in a way....I felt like I simultaneously created a puzzle and the pieces. In January, after two years, the puzzle was finished--the photos were set, the text maneuvered in intricate boxes on each page...the book was done.
I should have taken a picture when all the copies arrived. But I didn't. I'm not sure why...it was almost like I was afraid that showing off the piles of books would somehow jinx the reviews or the reception of the book. But the book recipients have been pleased....and I've received a tremendous amount of positive feedback. I'm down to three books now....and realized I best take a picture of the books now before they are all distributed. Tomorrow one book will go to the State Archives...by the end of the week another book will go to another archive out-of-state. I have chosen to keep just one copy for myself.
Since the books arrived, I've been thinking of the shaman. I've been meaning to pull out my diary from Africa and reread the entry. The purchase of a goat was somehow involved in all this too...but my memory of the night has gotten a bit soft. I supposed what's important is the deal has come to fruition--ten years, 5 bucks, a goat, one wayward manuscript, and finally one realized manuscript. I've never regretted asking him for this dream....I'm just surprised how the request was answered.
Monday, October 12, 2015
Serendipity....an occurrence by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
How strange I should find my little bird today. See the bird on the left? The small one? Well, about two years ago I lost him. Well, I didn't exactly lose him. He sits on my deck railing and one day, a squirrel or bird must have knocked him off. I searched for him below and around the deck but never found him. I imagined one day I would find him in the leaves or at the base of a bush....he's made of some type of heavy metal so he can't be carried away or dissolved.
That I would find him today....well that is where the serendipity comes in. Today, I am almost free from a project that took, ironically, two years. It is like we were both found again....the little bird to regain his place next to his friend and my to regain my life back.
Two years ago, I finished my adult bat mitzvah and began planning and implementing an historical research project into the Archives of our Temple. I never thought the project would last two years......never ......but Sunday I gave my lecture and presentation to the congregation and now I have only about a dozen pages left to write of a self-published photo journal book which documents the project.
12 pages left.....I've already written 80 pages and embedded them with beautiful pictures of ceremonial objects around the Temple. For two years, I've researched our Torahs and ceremonial/ritual objects that have a connection to our Torahs. It's the first time anyone has handled history this way in the congregation but I was just hell-bent and determined once I started discovering stories and donors to find a way to document them so the history and the object stay married. A congregation or a family is like a wave....it peaks with a certain number of people and then dips to form a new wave with a new generation of people. The stories and facts I found were just at this generation's peak and if I didn't capture them....they would slip away. It's frightening how easy stories can be lost.
So I asked, emailed, researched and talked to many people over the last two years to record their data and pictures and to put all of this collected history in a book to save them....and maybe me too.
It's quite powerful to feel you are adding to history....you realize you alone are making sure this information, this picture gets moved and remembered in the future. It feels important. It feels like a privilege. I can understand why people get addicted to research. It's not often you feel that something you do will outlast you...and yet my book will go to the State Library and to a Library in Ohio and to our own library and our Archives. Some day someone I won't know will look at it and be happy that I wrote down the stories and captured the information when I did. Making someone happy or thoughtful in the future....I think that's the joy of history.
So with a dozen pages left, and my presentation now finished.....I can leisurely edit and finalized my project over the next month. And just like the little bird, my life, which has centered around this project, comes back to me ...quite unexpectedly ....and I wonder where I will go from here and what new adventures I will tackle for my next life project.
Friday, March 06, 2015
|Lilies on my Kitchen Counter.|
I've been thinking about my blog....it's been months....actually 7 months since I posted something. Blogging is a habit, a way of thinking....and like any habit....each day you abandon it...you create a new direction without it.
For me, the process of writing is linked, not only to my thoughts, but to my heart and emotions. It's ironic, but when I feel level-headed and logical in my life, the act of writing is difficult--the words are sticky and my thoughts are not lyrical.
The loss of this inner music is very noticeable to me. It's not unpleasant to live without the music but 2 plus 2 always equals 4 and the sun rises and sets everyday.
I have a poem posted on my bulletin board by Imants Ziedonis. In it the poet waits each day for the day to catch fire. For him, there must be a triad of events which blend magically: sunlight and spring flowers and dew, autumn fog and bare trees and the sound of a distant radio. These elements combine to create an illuminating moment in your day....a moment where you see possibilities and the spiritual in the world. I understand exactly what he is talking about....for to see such things your psyche must be shifted into a particular gear. You cannot drive backwards in your car without being in R and you cannot see the fire unless you are internally in the right mind set.
And so that's my dilemma. I am currently driving down the road of life ...busy busy busy. I'm volunteering in an archive, I'm working on and in classes for young students, I'm planning a vacation, I'm updating our finances, I'm downsizing, I'm.......I'm.....I'm in a car driving through life in D....nothing wrong with that....but when I look out the window....I see no fires....I'm not misty-eyed about the experience of living.....I'm crossing things off my "to do" list ...I'm getting things done....and I can't figure out if I want to search for embers and create smoke. I'm not even sure if one can conjure up embers....I've always thought that charged elements in your life create the flame phenomenon....but can you make flames when there isn't any wood? Can you purposely make the day...each day.... catch fire? And should you?
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Rat kings are formed when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails and get stuck together with blood, dirt, ice, excrement or simply knotted. The animals grow together forming one large beast.
The earliest report of a rat king comes from 1564. Historically, the rat king was viewed as a bad omen, and probably with good reason. Rats carry a number of diseases, perhaps most notably plague, so it is understandable that people would associate bad luck with a large cluster of rats. Diseases tend to arise more readily when animals are confined close together, so the location of a rat king could be a breeding ground of disease.
Specimens of purported rat kings are rare and kept in some museums. The largest well-known mummified rat king was found in 1828 in a miller’s fireplace at Buchheim, Germany. It consists of 32 rats.
Depending on the source, the number of reported instances varies between 35 and 50 finds.
The occurrence is particularly associated with Germany, where the majority of rat kings have been located. In April 1929, a group of young forest mice was reported joined in Holstein, Germany, and there have been sightings of squirrel kings. Most rat kings show formations of callus at the fractures of their tails, which according to proponents show that the animals survived for an extended period of time with their tails tangled.
Sightings have been sporadic in modern history, with some rat kings being reported alive. The most recent claim comes from an Estonian farmer’s discovery in the Võrumaa region on January 16, 2005.
Monday, August 18, 2014
Thursday, July 24, 2014
My sweet wonderful Dad passed away 5 years ago but he still surprises and delights me. He left me, literally, about 14 boxes of assorted papers and pictures. The assorted papers cover everything from his military service to warranties on a screw drivers. He was always interested in genealogy but Ancestry.com hadn't been invented yet and old time research without the Internet was time consuming. A few of the boxes he made a special effort to hide, squirreled them away in the crawl space of my parents' home so my mom wouldn't throw them away. These boxes had all the old photos in them.
Many of the photos don't have any markings or notations on them. I went through one box of interesting photos but they were all unmarked. But just for the hell of it, I made a quick pass through the box one more time. And then I found it......an old photo which says in my dad's handwriting...."Ma's Ma and her brother Casimer." There's also a Lithuanian hand written note which Google Translator basically translates as: Mama sends greetings.
And so...Ursule...my great grandmother and I ....meet.
I was jumping around like a cat with a bunch of hot fleas when I discovered the notation....doing that happy little dance that means you found something extraordinary. I believe I also gave out the "Genealogy Whoop," that special cry of joy when you find a family link. What luck....how I wish I could hug my dad for that simple little inscription he left me which I can verify in the very faded Lithuanian text.
My great grandmother. I've been staring at her on my home screen for a full day now. She quite a woman....dressed in that rabbit fur coat (my hub reminded me that Ursule means bear but I don't think that's a bear pelt). She's wide....real wide.....with enough bulk to stop a truck. And that babuska! Wow....no small dainty thing for great grandma...that's one sizable scarf.
But she has a good smile....and looks rock steady.....actually she looks very North African Berber to me....my hub says she looks Indian...as in American Indian (who came from Siberian-Mongolian-Euro Asia stock).
She looks strong.....tough....but that smile makes her look generous not mean. I immediately liked her. She looks like someone I'd love to know and talk to.....
Ursule...Ursule.....so nice to meet you.....I am your great grand daughter.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
I wish I could sing....I wish I could draw.....but I guess I'll have to be happy painting furniture.....
When my daughter returned home for a visit last fall, she was hoping to find a new desk chair ...something sturdy, solid hardwood....and snazzy. We didn't find anything...but we passed a garage sale and spied this chair with good lines but an awful color.
Besides the shocking pink color, the chair had a broken stinky cushion that was orange and pink and shades of disgusting plus a broken side rail.
Finally refinished the chair after Hub fixed the leg and cut out a new seat.
I like painting furniture.....but you have to be real patient..... which is very hard for me.
Sand, prime.....let dry....sand, prime....let dry.....sand...paint ...dry...sand ....etc etc......on and on till the finish is hard and perfect.
On top of ordinary patience, I need geographic patience as the humidity in the south right now makes drying times drag on forever. And if it ain't dry....you can't move on to the next step.
It's not a Renoir...but I think it turned out pretty nice.
Sometimes you have to be grateful for small artistic skills.
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Tomorrow morning, I'm mailing my DNA test into a "Family Finder" company. I sent in both my parents' DNA before they died so there's really no need to send a sample from me. All the DNA the company will need to find matches is already sitting in their freezers because I'm the daughter of my parents.
It's illogical for me to think I'm not the daughter of my parents. I've seen my hospital birth certificate. I believe I have a picture of my mom pregnant. She was a a thin woman so it's hard to tell if there's a bump under her blouse or just a draft upwards from a breeze.
My husband tells me I look just like my mother and some people tell me I look just like my father. I am not a blonde living in a family of swarthy people. I am a blonde living among other shades of blondes with various shades of blue eyes. I have a solo picture of myself at birth and pictures of myself as a toddler among my family. My mother's good friend, Marge, who has also passed away, told me several times the story of my first visit to her home as a baby--wrapped up like a "little pea in a pod of blankets."
So despite evidence and documents and stories....there is a small part of me which wonders if I'm adopted....because my mother told me I was adopted.
In the five years since my parents both passed away, I've started some genealogy work on the family and I've rediscovered and contacted some first cousins and cousins. My mother always made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to communicate with them when I got older. I never understood why my mother didn't want me to communicate with them. After I discovered my mother had manipulated her birth certificate and was 5 years older than what she told people (including the DMV), I thought the reason she kept me away from family was because some of these relatives would remember my mother's real age. The age thing might be a part of the puzzle, but I also discovered or validated that my mother had some psychological problems.
I've always wondered....worried...that the strange behavior I saw in my mother was just my perception of her and her actions. But in talking to my first cousin, she described my mother's behavior towards me and my father and I knew for the first time....it wasn't me...it was her.
This was both a liberating and painful concept to discover. It answered so many questions.....it provided a reason for so many things in my life....but it still hurt. In a particular disorder, one I believe my mother had, it's not uncommon for a person to tell outrageous lies to people, especially to someone gullible like a child, and then be shocked that the child didn't understand it was a joke or a tall-tale. In essence, the shame is not placed on the trusted adult who told the story but gets turned back on to the child for being gullible enough to believe it.
That's exactly what happened to me.
When I was little my mother told me several times that I was adopted. She had this elaborate story of how she and my father went to the orphanage and how my mother picked me out whereas my father picked a red-headed boy. My mother, of course, won the selection and I came home. My mother also told me dramatic pregnancy stories...how difficult her labor was....how long...how she suffered. But as a child, I did not understand biology well enough to know that the orphanage story was wrong and the doctor sitting on her belly story was right. Eventually....I figured out I wasn't adopted.
Which never erased the tiny doubt that I was......
So although I agree....it's absolutely illogical......it's not necessary....its batty......I am sending in my DNA tomorrow and in a month I should discover my mother is my mother.
I know of no other way....to erase a very old lie.
Saturday, February 08, 2014
Wednesday, February 05, 2014
Obviously, the Gods of Winter have grown senile.
We're supposed to get a little ice, a little snow maybe once or twice a season down here in the South.
Not this year.....round after round....and they say there may be a snow storm next week???
I have one poor dogwood tree that fell over for the second time in the last month. My son and I will try this afternoon to right it and tie it up again. I have even used salt on our driveway and some on our deck which is as slick as an Olympic ice track. I've had to actually wear coats ...not just fuzzy vests when going outside.
Gods of Winter.....Hellllllooooooo...we live below the Mason-Dixon line ....and this is not what we do here in winter....no matter what that shaggy muskrat vile animal named Phil says we must do for the next 6 weeks!
Thursday, January 23, 2014
So I sign up for Ancestry.com for 6 months...one of those discounted memberships that let's me see the world. It's time to do some genealogy work on my family and my hub wants to participate too.
Now you've all see those ads for Ancestry....find your family....hit the little green leaf and off you go....whooosh down your ancestry lane finding your Renaissance great great great great great grandfather etc etc.
So the first day we get out account.....I sit down and look at my poor straggly tree (which currently looks like it's the prototype for the Charlie Brown Xmas video...you remember the thin little crooked tree?) and I poke around. The leaves I have on my tree which contain hints obviously come from some cousins which used the free trail for two weeks and plucked down some names of immediate family I know already. Yes I know my aunt and I know my uncle died ....not exactly helpful....and certainly not going beyond the last 50 years of family history.
Then my hub tries his hand at his family tree.....presses a COUPLE of leaves...and viola....he has at least 400 years of history on one side and maybe 200 years on the side....complete with photos from relatives who visited Czechoslovakia and took pictures of a house his family and succeeding generations lived in for a 100 years ...etc etc etc.
MUST BE NICE.
So every time he goes on Ancestry, I give him a dirty look....and say something snide like , "Adding another 100 years to your tree? finding another branch that goes back maybe a thousand years????"
As for me.....I believe I now know all of my grandmother's siblings. Hooray. Do I know all of their descendants? No....because each sibling had like 100 kids (or at least 10) and in my family....people loved to keep the same names around.....Joseph, John, Frank.....plus the same middle name too....so this makes research interesting. Am I looking at Joseph John Frank's record the ORIGINAL born in the 1880's or the Joseph John Frank record from the guy born 1910 or his cousin WITH THE SAME NAME born 1920?
Well....on my Lithuanian side, I have at least found cousins doing heroic work during World War II and being accused of book smuggling.....obtaining Lithuanian books about history and culture and smuggling them into Lithuanian after the Russians took over and banned native language books.
Ha....better than my husband's relatives...who obviously were sitting in their huts....documenting their ancestors by candlelight.
Oh this family research is going to take a very very long time........
Monday, January 06, 2014
Well, I've been working hard for a month...and my project has gotten bigger not smaller.
In December, I started going through my dad's slides and pictures. I was down to the last 5 trays of slides when I walked into our office closet and for some reason looked up at the boxes on the shelf. I had a bad feeling. It was like they were looking down at me and going "nah nah nah." I was missing slides but thought they may have gotten mixed up with the boxes in my parents' estate sale or were thrown away.
I asked my tall son to bring the boxes down.....my heart sunk when I saw the label on the top of the box marked "slides." Oh and not just a few slides.... thousands of slides.
Well, at least I knew what happened to them.
I had my son stack them next to the kitchen table. My philosophy--keep them in sight-- because if I put them out-of-sight it would be easy to let them sit and sit and sit. Let's face it ...when they're next to your kitchen table, it's hard to forget they're there.
Right after I found the extra boxes of slides....I said to myself are there more photo albums I'm forgetting about? I only had 6 more photo albums from my dad to go through...surely I found them all. Ahhhh.....there were boxes tucked away from my parents in my son's bedroom closet. So I started poking at the them...and sure enough....I found one cosmetic case, 5 mega envelopes and 8 more photo albums plus all the pictures my mother had put in frames over the years.
So why not make myself more miserable? I sat down....and said, Okay....I've gone through all the loose pictures we've had of the kids...what about OUR photo albums. So I started a hunt.....downstairs...upstairs....in drawers....in bookcases and pulled them all out....all of them. I had a son lug them to the dining room where I had started sorting my pictures. I sat down....took a deep breath....okie dokey...what do we have here.
I put them in chronologically order....and in categories....like college pictures....baby pictures.....traveling pictures.
I stood up and looked down....there was a hundred years of my family.....maternal...paternal....ourselves and our children.
Holy shit...that's a lot of pictures and it doesn't even include prints from the slides.
But in a strange way, it was satisfying. I felt like a squirrel who had found all its nuts. Nothing hidden, all out in the open....all there. 100 plus years of life.
Now I need to super organize....and maybe with all the pieces here in front of me....it's possible to do this. It's hard to be make order out of something if pieces are missing and I believe I have all the pieces.
Well....there are about 5 boxes in the garage I should peek into. I've looked once...but not very hard. It would be worth it to take one more look....maybe tonight.....and be sure....all the puzzle pieces have been put out on the board.
And now I begin again......