Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cultural Identity

What do you consider your cultural or ethnic identity? What traits or practices do you associate with that identity? Are there things you would like to do to enhance that part of who you are?
I chose this blog prompt because it's hard for me. And because it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Do all parents begin to feel that their time is so limited with their children and there are still so many things they want their children to know and learn? Mane is in 7th grade. She's 12. And already I am beginning to feel that my time with her is stretching thin. I have only so many years left. There's so much I want to squeeze into our lives, into her learning. I remember that when we got married, Mango's mother warned me that she wasn't finished with him yet. She wasn't prepared for him to marry so young, and she was still parenting.

One of the things I want Mane to have is a sense of cultural identity, as sense of where she comes from and who she is. I think this is an essential human need - to know our place in the world. I find that many families I know struggle with a lack of cultural identity, in particular those families who have no recent immigrants. We look at the more recent immigrants around us and long for what they have - foods, traditions, clothing, holidays that define who they are as a people. Perhaps, though, our ideas of cultural and ethnic identity simply need some expanding.

Ethnically, I am primarily German and Swedish (with a little Irish, Dutch, Swiss, and Prussian for good measure). Very little of those ethnic cultures have come to me through my family, other than a stubborn German/Irish temperament, and, perhaps, a Swedish love of the dark nights of winter, wool sweaters and candles. I love the Swedish Christmas goats and Dala horses, chocolate from Switzerland, and the music of the Irish.

As a cross-cultural family, we're also part Mexican. Ha! And from this adoption of Mexican heritage, we've developed traditions of authentic Mexican food - Tres Leche cakes for birthdays, mole, caldo, enchiladas... Strangely, we've done very little with the holidays...except read about them. Food was such a daily comfort and such a foundational piece a bringing Vespera into our family that we integrated that first and best.

In terms of holiday celebrations, we actually look a whole lot more Jewish than anything else. Or, perhaps, we've adopted church tradition and Jewish tradition as a way to feed the need for cultural identity. Religious practice can be a huge part of cultural identity for people. At our house, Advent has become the anchoring season...because we light candles nearly every night, read stories, and pray. We have a Jesse tree, an Advent wreath, a stack of picture books, and...often...somewhere in the middle of it all...a chanukiah. We trace the seasons of the year from Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Chanukah, through Passover/Easter, Shavuot/Pentacost, and, of course, a weekly Shabbat.

On a different level, our "family culture" also includes homeschool, whole and organic foods, and natural living choices. It's not the culture of my childhood, but a culture that has developed over the last 16 years, as Mango and I have developed our own "culture," as our separate cultures have blended into each other.

I would love to nurture more of an ethnic and cultural identity for us, and I think I know how to do it. It's about picking up the little traditions and just doing them. Three Kings Days and Cinco De Mayo...Santa Lucia and Saint Mary's Day. It's about reading the stories and visiting the food markets and cooking the food. I have learned that it isn't really about big things but about simple moments.

I want to visit the Swedish Institute more and Mercado Central. I want to find a Dala Horse that I love for mantle. I want to learn a little German, take Mane to German restaurants, and read about German immigrants. I want to attend the Cinco De Mayo parade and make a Three Kings cake. This is who we are. Our stories shape us, whether we know it or not.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Few Things My Mother Taught Me

I've been thinking about this post for a long while. The things my mother taught me are both so simple and so formative. Most important things in life are. It isn't the big, huge once-in-a-lifetime things that make up the stuff of life, but the small every day things.

It's so cliche to say that she taught me to work hard. But she really, really did...from weeding the garden to shoveling snow, my mama did it all. She wasn't afraid to dive into a room that needed to be cleaned at school or a pile of paperwork in the office, either. She taught me to do what needs to be done, no complaining. I'm afraid I've moved away from that lesson as I've gotten older...being now somewhat more inclined to procrastination and whining.

My mother also taught me storage solutions for small houses and how to minimize clutter without throwing all the fun stuff away. She new how to keep games and craft projects and her favorite coffee mug without all the little stuff cluttering up the house. Maybe this is more about knowing what really matters and getting rid of the stuff that doesn't. But, you know, you can keep the favorite mug that you really don't need, if you keep it in the cake pan in the oven (where else would you store your cake pans? and your mugs?). 

My mother taught me to keep my mouth shut when the conflict isn't really going to be beneficial. I don't think this is about avoiding conflict or sweeping things under the rug. She could confront when something needed to be said. But, it was more about extending some grace or having some patience to see how some things might pan out. It was about holding back the biting comment when someone was all sarcastic and give them the opportunity to settle down themselves. Because, you know, most of us know when we're acting bad anyway. We seldom need someone to point it out to us.

My mama taught me to hunt for bargains, to substitute ingredients in recipes, to make do with what I turn old things into new solutions. She taught me how to play rummy and make salsa and cook beans from scratch.

Sometimes I'm surprised by all the ways that I am like her because I've often thought myself so different from her in personality. When I surprise myself with a piece of her appearing in my own living, I am so proud. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ideal Weekend Away

I'm not sure I can even write this post without crying. I want this weekend away SO BADLY...and I'm not too hard to please. It's just that timing is hard to work out...

I'm also betting that those of you who know me can guess what I'm about to write...

Go ahead. Guess.

My very most ideal weekend is camping near Lake Superior. No rain...or possibly only rain at night. Because who doesn't love the patter of rain on the tent at night? Sooooo, maybe one beautiful night when we can leave the rain fly off and look at the stars. And another night with the lullaby of rain.

We'd make pie iron biscuits for breakfast to go with our iced coffee in mason jars.

There would be no mosquitoes.

We'd take long walks in beautiful places. And maybe we'd bring our bikes along and go biking, too.

We'd sit on a pebble beach listening to the waves crash on a windy afternoon (that's the night the rain will come). We'd face the wind with our arms outstretched and let our souls fly free for a while.

We'd read stories and play games and make smores around the campfire at night.

There would be drawing and guitar playing and crocheting.

We'd watch for birds and identify trees and clouds.

We'd talk about life and God and people. And listen to good music in the car. ...and stop at a cute small town coffee shop on the way home, just to make the trip last a little longer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Their Names Matter

From A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle:
“Progo,' Meg asked. 'You memorized the names of all the stars - how many are there?'

How many? Great heavens, earthling. I haven't the faintest idea.'

But you said your last assignment was to memorize the names of all of them.'

I did. All the stars in all the galaxies. And that's a great many.'

But how many?'

What difference does it make? I know their names. I don't know how many there are. It's their names that matter.”
A litany of names.

Micheal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The four I will think of during the Stomp Out Suicide Walk on Saturday:

Robin Williams.

Those that we have lost to cancer...
My mom

Those who are fighting cancer...
Sandra's friend
Kathy's brother in law

And those lost to accidents...
Uncle Sunny


This is not an exhaustive list...just the names that have been close to me this week.

I read today that one thing we can do to fight racism in response to events like the shooting of Michael Brown is to stop telling the "Good Kid Narrative" about how his death is sad because he was such a good kid who was about to start college, who was well-loved and liked by his community. Those things are true. But, "The Good Kid narrative says that this kid didn’t deserve to die because his goodness was the exception to the rule. This is wrong. This kid didn’t deserve to die because he was a human being and black lives matter." (12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson)

...And I thought of the words of Progo. "What difference does it make? I know their names. I don't know how many there are. It's their names that matter."

On Saturday when I walk the SOS walk, I'm sure I'll be overwhelmed by the numbers. By the sheer volume of people who have experiences the tragedy of suicide and/or depression. We human beings are impressed by numbers.

But you know what? The numbers are not the part that matters. It's the names that each of those numbers represent. Whether there are four or one hundred or one thousand. It's all the same. "What difference does it make? ...It's their names that matter."

Friday, August 15, 2014


"Savoring is the capacity to notice and appreciate the little joys, the small pleasures, and the enjoyable moments in our everyday lives.
Walk around your home and savor what you love. It could be a painting someone gave you, a lamp you found at a flea market, or the smell of something cooking in your oven. Then write about it..."
I'm hanging out in my kitchen today making pumpkin pie for a benefit bake sale. I love the smell of pumpkin pie, and this is one of the few gluten free desserts I've perfected. AND, I can do it sugar free, which means that both Mane and Mango are happy!

Pumpkin pies make me think of autumn, too, and autumn has always been my favorite season - full of the color of changing leaves, visiting the apple orchard, hot cider, ginger snaps, pulling out the sweaters and wool socks. There's definitely something about it that reminds me that I'm German - loving the Scandinavian sweaters and quiet, dark evenings with candles.

And then, right here in my kitchen, there's the ceramic sun flower face that Vespera brought me from Mexico. It just makes me smile with all it's cheery smile-y-ness and long eyelashes. I love it that Vespera was thoughtful enough to bring us all gifts from her home country and that she thought of just what might fit where in our house. She knew this little smiling face would fit right where it hangs in the kitchen.

I love, love, LOVE this little country church painting that also hangs on our kitchen wall, under the lights that Mane picked out for our kitchen (with the help of Grandpa-Upstairs):

Mango always tells me of how this reminds him of a church he visited in Russia and what a powerful emotional and spiritual experience that was for him. To share in a spiritual experience with people you cannot even speak with because you do not share a common language is an amazing thing. To recognize in them something that you have in yourself is an experience that changes a person. 

I love my yellow kitchen walls, though I would never in a million years have painted a kitchen (or any room) yellow. It's so warm and cozy. When I'm in here in the morning with my cup of coffee and some candles, my wool socks and the radio, I'm so settled and happy. 

Monday, August 04, 2014

Who was kind to you this week?

I've had so many kindnesses bestowed upon me. So many. It's hard to choose.

My good friend kindly went with the spontaneous suggestion to go see the dandelion fountain...and then delivered my child back home for me so that I could get to work!

Mango cooked and cleaned while I was sick. And watched a marathon of Harry Potter movies with Mane & I over the weekend while we were recovering.

Vespera came to visit. And talked about theology with me!

A coworker put up photos of all our families at the front desk to help us all make it through the crazy, busy weeks of summer.

Another coworker offered to pick up lunch for me while she was out.

So many clients expressed gratitude this week!

The clerk at the store actually had a conversation with me, rather than just a "Hello, How are you? Did you find everything you were looking for? Do you want to sign up for a credit card? Have a nice day!"


This blog prompt brings me back to 1000 Gifts. I think of how much joy small gifts of kindness can be, and how much kindness is like an offering of grace. Kindness is a gift in a world where we are often too busy to take time. Kindness slows the world down a little bit.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Seven songs that speak to me...

In no particular order:

1. Dragonfire, performed by Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian on Sandra Boynton's album dog Train. This is a kid's tune. I don't care. Lyrics (many repetitions omitted):

It burns so hot, 
It burns so bright,
In the dark...Dragonfire.
In the cold...Dragonfire.
In the dark, In the cold
There's a spark that I hold 
Here within me 
My own Dragonfire.
So small I am
So newly made
Within Me a Flame 
To keep me Unafraid
Most Unafraid
Ever Unafraid
I am Small, but Complete
I have Light, I have Heat
I am never alone
I can summon my own

I just love this. I love the idea that children have, within themselves, this flame of life and light, that is meant to imbue them with courage and a sense of wholeness, completeness. I love the sense that we are all born this way, with a burning flame. I think, in theology, I might call this "dragonfire" many things. Perhaps, it's a convergence of things that create a fire within us - the Image of God, the soul that brings us to life and makes us human, the spirit that connects us to both the Unseen and Supernatural and to the earth and the created ones.

This song almost never fails to bring tears to my eyes. I love the simplicity, the harmony, the truth of it. It reminds me to call on those things that I know when I am feeling small, cold and in the dark. When I am feeling afraid and alone. I am not in the world alone. And I can call on a sense of purpose and courage when I choose to fan that fire.

2. Remember Surrender by Sara Groves is my next choice. I referenced this on in a recent previous post: What give me peace when I'm sad/mad?

3. Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls. See a previous post from 2009: Music Monday - Closer to Fine.

In 2009 I said that this song is frequently quoted in our house. Just a couple of weeks ago Mango texted me at the end of his two-week conference in Mankato, "Got my paper and I am free." A reference to Closer to Fine. We come back to it over and over. It's so dense and rich.

I think this has become my mantra more and more over the years:
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
I find myself living more in the unanswered questions of life, in the ambiguity and the not-knowingness. It's not super comfortable here. And I don't often feel "fine." But maybe I'm a bit "closer to fine."

4. I am Bound for the Promised Land by Jars of Clay, which I have also previously written about in 2007: I am bound for the promised land... This song always, always brings me back to our early years with Vespera. And then it's like my whole life since then comes slowly into focus. I see how the things I wrote back then have become foundational to the way I live life now.

5. Prairie Song by Bill Staines. This song goes way, way back for an album Mango made for me when we were in college...on a CASSETTE tape. If you happen to know my email addy, this song is partly where it comes from. Lyrics:
He told her he was free; he was as free as any wind.
“Don’t you count on me, for I may not be by again.”
Then she touched him oh so easy
As if she were but a child;
And she whispered soft as willows do,
And looked at him and smiled
She said, “I have known the wind;
It’s been a friend all of my days.
I have seen it dance, across the prairie when it plays.
And I have known the freedom too, in a wheatfield’s rolling sea,
And they have never left me blue, so play your song for me.”
When the morning came, he took the train to Omaha;
Starry stars and midnight hours riding with him on the car.
Now he’ll say that he is free, that he’s as free as any wind,
But he’s feeling differently; he’ll not be the same again.
For he sees her face in daytime dreams,
And it lingers through the miles;
She still whispers soft as willows do,
And he listens, and he smiles.
I don't know what I can say about it. I have known the wind. And I still love the feeling of the wind in my face. When I think of standing in the wind, I think of cornfields when I was a child, I think of the sea in Scotland, I think of the shore of Lake Mille Lacs and Lake Superior. I think of facing the wind with my arms outstretched and my face to the sky. I think of the wind whipping our tent with the rain pouring down while we're snug in our sleeping bags reading stories.

I think of the freedom that is the wind, but also the constancy. I think of the moods of the wind. I think of how we let each other fly the wind. But we also embrace each the wind.  I think of how the wind gets in every crack and fills up all the empty spaces, how it infiltrates. I think of how it can't be contained, but/and so it's everywhere.

6. Everywhere I Go by Jackson Brown. Mango sent me this song the first time he went to an out-of-town conference in Baltimore.

7. Waving Flag by K'Naan. This is why we live in the city. We live where we do to bear witness. To see and know what really happens here where all the ethnic groups collide and poverty abounds and crime is a constant reality. We live here to bear witness and to find hope.
When I get older I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom, just like a wavin' flag

When I get older, I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom just like a wavin' flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back, oh

Born to a throne, stronger than Rome
A violent prone, poor people zone
But it's my home, all I have known
Where I got grown, streets we would roam

Out of the darkness, I came the farthest
Among the hardest survival
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak
Accept no defeat, surrender, retreat

So we struggling, fighting to eat
And we wondering when we'll be free
So we patiently wait for that fateful day
It's not far away, but for now we say

When I get older I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom just like a wavin' flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back, oh

So many wars, settling scores
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
I heard them say 'love is the way'
'Love is the answer,' that's what they say

But look how they treat us, make us believers
We fight their battles, then they deceive us
Try to control us, they couldn't hold us
'Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers

But we struggling, fighting to eat
And we wondering, when we'll be free
So we patiently wait for that faithful day
It's not far away but for now we say

When I get older I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom just like a wavin' flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back, and then is goes

When I get older I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom just like a wavin' flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back, and then it goes
And then it goes

And everybody will be singing it
And you and I will be singing it
And we all will be singing it

When I get older I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom just like a wavin' flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back, and then it goes

When I get older I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom just like a wavin' flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back, oh

When I get older, when I get older
I will be stronger just like a wavin' flag
Just like a wavin' flag, just like a wavin' flag
Flag, flag, just like a wavin' flag

Honorable Mentions:
Forever Young by Bob Dylan - A beautiful blessing.
Light a Candle by White Heart - For high school graduation, I gave everyone a candle with this song.
Good Rain by Chris and Johnny - My graduate school song.
The House That Mercy Built by Point of Grace - The story of our house.