70 For 70

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My mom turns 70 today.  In honor of this milestone, and of her, I thought I’d throw out 70 facts about her.  So off we go….

1. She has the best smile of anyone I know.  Period, the end.  She smiles with her eyes, and is always sincere.

2. She played a mean trombone when she was younger.  I actually have a record of her playing with her high school band.  She rocked.

3. She lived next to and was friends with a prostitute when she was younger, though she was naïve and didn’t really know it at the time.

4. Her love of music led her to her love of my dad, which led to me and my brother.  He was playing in a band at what I think was a bar.  Their eyes met across the room….  (actually he might have known someone she knew, or something like that, and they were introduced?  I should really ask her this question.)

5. She is kind.

6. She can solve most problems to do with fixing things.  She’s very handy to have around because of this.

7. She isn’t above being silly, which I love about her.

8. She loves deeply.

9. She manages to handle tough situations with more light and grace than anyone I’ve ever met.

10. She’s one of the two best people I know, the other being my honey.

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11. She went back to school when my brother and I were in grade school and got her degree in education.

12. I learned to play guitar because she took guitar in college.

13. She’s super artistic and can draw really well.

14. She really pays attention.

15. She was a Cub Scout leader.

16. Every time she made a pie when we were kids she made squirrel tails out of the extra dough.  (squirrel tails are made of pie dough sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and then rolled up, cut into little rounds, and baked… you should try them.  Tasty!)

17. She used to read to us while we ate breakfast, before school.  This gave me a huge love of books and words.

18. She’s a mean Scrabble player and we played a lot of Scrabble growing up.

19. She loves to laugh.

20. She’s an amazing gardener.  She can grow anything, and has probably tried to.

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21. She can carve a pumpkin better than anyone else I know.

22. She’s always there to help, genuinely.

23. She’s someone you can always count on.

24. She has big feet for a small woman, size 10.

25. She’s the second born child of seven siblings.

26. She worked at the Salem hospital for a few years.

27. She’s in much better shape than I am.

28. She used to be a Jazzersize fiend.

29. She makes me proud to be her daughter every day.

30. She’s a breast cancer survivor.

31. She can drive a tractor.

32. She took Latin in high school.

33. She’s lived in the same house since 1979.

34. She’s generous.

35. We’ve had many a dance party in various kitchens.

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36. She’s incredibly smart.

37. She’s very emotional, which is where I get it I think.  I’m glad of this.

38. She’s the one, and probably doesn’t know this, who got me interested in photography.  She loves taking photos, the art of it, and has all my life.

39. She once slept in a hammock by a river in the jungles of Guatemala.

40. She has eaten some gross and disgusting things (this goes along with the category of will try almost anything) like crickets and fish eyes.  Gross.

41. She loves road trips and travel in general.

42. She can fit into tiny spaces and is the person you want when you need to have a small area painted.  Somehow she fits in there and gets the job done.

43. She loves to sing.

44. She used to make our clothes when Kev and I were younger.

45. She used to knit and I still have a crazy sweater she once made for me (at my request I think) that’s made up of all the left over yarn she had.  It’s multi-colored and awesome.

46. My friends, throughout my life, have loved her and consistently told me how lucky I am to have her as a mom.  They’ve been right.

47. She calls our dogs her grand dogs and they love her tremendously.

48. She was a row boss when Kev and I picked strawberries as kids.  She was tough.

49. She once substitute taught for one of my grade school classes, I believe it was 5th grade.  She was hard on me.  I deserved it.

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50. She’s a mama bear when someone threatens one of her cubs.  You don’t want to mess with her when she’s defending someone she loves.

51. She’s vegan and has been for a few years now.  Even still, she calls herself a weekend carnivore as she sometimes eats meat on special occasions.

52. She’s open to and interested in other people’s ideas and thoughts.

53. She’s a staunch supporter of her gay daughter and her gay daughter’s partner.  It breaks her heart when discrimination of any kind is mentioned to or seen by her.

54. She used to fly fish the Metolious River with me, and my brother.  I loved that time with her.

55. She used to be a little overweight, but decided to lose it and has kept it off.  It’s inspiring and she looks awesome.

56. She always swam with us when we were kids.  I have great memories of being in pools with her at little motels all over the place when we’d go on family vacations.

57. She used to water ski, and we have the super 8 video to prove it.

58. She has an adventurous spirit and loves to do new things, try new things, and push herself.

59. She’s brave.

60. She once traveled across the country in a train.

61. She has the best laugh.

62. She has a big love of family.

63. She’s interested in how things work and is curious by nature.

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64. She’s played miniature golf on a cruise ship and eaten pineapple on Antigua.

65. She’s always the first to volunteer help when someone needs it.

66. She did a  4 day 40 mile hike along the Rogue River.

67. She grew up on a farm where my grandparents, for a time, practiced the ‘have more’ plan.  Basically self-sufficient farming, etc.

68. She’s had to shoot many a skunk and possum in her life.  She doesn’t like it, but does it because it needs to be done.

69. She knows what’s important in life, and has always made that clear, and thankfully, passed it down to me.

70. She is loved so much by so many people it’s pretty amazing.  I doubt she knows how much people think of her, or how much she means to so many.  She’s humble like that.

I love you Mom.  More than I could ever express.  I am so lucky to have you in my life, and I’m thankful for it every day.  Happy birthday!

Seven

Weston And Hedgie

Weston And Hedgie (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

Our boy turns seven today.  Seven years of love and snuggles and play and joy and laughter and smiles and exasperation and sweetness and tail wagging and pawing and cuddle-time and barks and bullies and deep soulful looks.  Happy birthday little man, we love you so.

Weston at Saturday Market

Weston and Hedgehog

Weston and Hedgehog (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

Sir Weston

Sir Weston (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

Weston

Weston (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

Weston in the creeper

Weston in the creeper (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

Weston

Weston (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

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Weston

Weston

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What Makes a Marriage

I’m married.  At least K and I feel we’re married.  We’ve already had two marriage “ceremonies”.  One on a beach in Maui, just the two of us, words spoken, rings exchanged, sand ceremony, poetry read, and lots of love.  We consider that one our real marriage ceremony.  It might not, technically, have been legal, but it was sincere, honest, and full of love.  It had everything, everything we needed and wanted anyway.  It was beautiful, and perfect.  The second, not actually a ceremony, was when I walked into the courthouse, paid the filing fee, and left with a domestic partnership certificate for the two of us.  We had to certify that we’d lived together for a certain length of time, by then we’d been together for a few years.

Now, nearly 11 years later, we’re living in Illinois, not Oregon, and in June, when the Illinois marriage law takes effect, we can, once again, get married.  We find this funny by the way.  Not funny that we’ve had to wait for marriage or hope for marriage or long for equality, but funny that this will be our third time.  We joke that maybe this time it will stick.  One can only hope.

All of this has me thinking.  What makes a marriage?

In June we will take our domestic partnership certificate in to the courthouse here in Illinois and exchange it for a marriage license.  They will back date our marriage license to the date we got our domestic partnership, which is great.  It means we will be considered legally married from that date, which was like, oh, six or seven years ago.  I can’t remember.  It wasn’t THE marriage so we honestly don’t even know the date we did it.  I’m sure it says on the certificate.  And, suddenly, miraculously, we will be, after all these years, legally married.

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The thing is, we are already married.  When we made those vows to each other on that beach in Maui, we meant them.  We didn’t need someone else to sanction it, or tell us it was OK.  We just needed to hear from each other that we loved and were loved in return.

So what’s the big deal about legal.  Well, it is a big deal.  Not so much to us, or to our friends and family who I think all consider us already married as well.  It’s a big deal because we will be protected under the law.  The taxes we pay will, finally, be used to our benefit, and we won’t be paying for other people to enjoy freedoms and benefits that to this point we weren’t allowed.  We will be the same.

The same.  That’s the thing, really.  We are the same as everyone else.  I know I’ve said this before.  We laugh, we love, we have friends and go to family functions with both sides of our families.  We work and do the dishes and go out to dinner and clean our bathrooms and mow our lawn.  We vacation, collecting heart rocks on every trip, take our dogs to the groomer, and go to the movies.  We babysit our grandchildren and buy organic food and go on bike rides.  We live.  We live and yet we’ve always felt just a little bit separate.  We’ve been made to feel separate. We’ve been told we are less than.  We aren’t.  But this is why gay groups have sprung up and gay people have banded together and held each others hands and been out and proud to be out.  We’ve had to. We’ve had to in order to feel what community feels like, since the larger community has shunned and pushed us away for so long.

And now… now we will be the same.  Still ridiculed and feared in same places, by some people, but the same legally.  We will, finally, be included, be part of the larger crowd.  We will be, honestly, the same.  Which is all we’ve ever wanted.  To continue to live normal lives and instead of being gay Tam, I’ll be Tam.  I’ll be Tam and K will be K and we will be married.  Married just like my Mom was married and my grandparents were married and K’s parents are married.

We will be married.  A piece of paper does not make a marriage, but it sure makes a marriage a legal, tangible, and a real thing in the eyes of the law.  It makes it real in the eyes of the community at large, even those who would still try to deny us.  What has, and will always be, real and true to us, will be real and true to our larger community.

Wow.

When the Cats Away

 

It’s quiet in here.

My honey is away for a few days on a business trip.  I was just sitting here working on my various blogs, yes I have more than one, and realized the only sound I’m hearing right now is the rattling of the pipe as the washing machine fills up with water.  Even the dogs are quiet, they’re sleeping.

Westminster

Westminster (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

I’m a person who enjoys quiet time, needs it in fact.  As K and I joke, I could sit quietly by myself in a room for hours with no outside stimuli, just looking at the walls, and think.  I’d be happy doing that.  I’ve done it.  It probably sounds strange.  It rejuvenates me.

Conversely my honey can’t take too much quiet time.  She can’t take sitting and not doing something for very long.  She’s a doer, a bundle of energy needing to have something to pour itself into often enough so that she doesn’t spontaneously combust.  It’s her way, and I love her for it.

We are very different in this regard.

I just realized I’ve been sitting here for a little bit of time.  Not as long as I originally thought, when this first occurred to me, as I realized I did get up to do the dishes, then to feed the dogs, then later to clean the bathrooms, then later still to do some laundry, but a long time none the less.  It’s not like I’m sitting here doing nothing, though really I guess I’m sitting here doing nothing.  Unless working on the blogs, checking Twitter and Facebook, and reading the news online counts as something.  I think it’s more fluff than substance.  No matter really, I’ve been sitting here, aforementioned activities excluded, all morning.  No radio on and there’s no TV on this floor.  Silent.

There’s a lot of light in this room, especially now that the snow has finally melted off the solar tubes.  The sky is bright blue and the temps are, amazingly enough, above freezing today.  This makes two days in a row.  I’m shocked.  It’s lovely out.

The dogs are laying on either side of me, both zonked out.  They are relaxed, and so cute.  I love them.

Our normal daily lives are a bit noisy.  Laundry going, dishwasher going, my honey on one work call after another, phone ringing, us talking to each other, radio on.  Usually the dogs are barking at squirrels or people walking by, but strangely, not today.  Maybe they know what’s going on.

I’m listening to the sounds of the world.  The faint chime on our front porch as the wind moves it just enough to clang, not more than once or twice all morning.  The unseen, but heard, sounds of the occasional car rushing by the house.  I can see the branches on trees moving, but can’t hear the wind.  Then there’s the far off sound of a fan, somewhere in the house.  The little girly just barked, muffled, in her sleep, followed by a heavy breath.  My fingers are making sounds on the keyboard as I type.  A helicopter just flew over.  I think I just heard the faint sounds of a woodpecker.  That’s all.  The rest, silence.

When K is away for work I always think to myself, maybe I’ll go see a movie, go out to dinner, meet up with some friends.  I never do.  I probably would if it was going to be longer than just a couple of days, but it isn’t.  And as much as I love my honey, and don’t like when she’s away, I do love my alone time.  So much so I don’t answer the phone, unless it’s her.  I can think of all this take out I’d love to go get, or have delivered, but I don’t want to see anyone, talk to anyone, so I make due with what we have here at the house.  I’m enjoying this too much to have it interrupted.  I could go two days and not talk to anyone other than the pups, myself, and as I said, my honey when she calls.  That’s it.

I’m recharging.  It soothes my soul.

I know people who like it when their spouse has to travel because they get to do things they wouldn’t normally do.  Maybe go out with friends, get a bit wild.  Nothing terrible, just cutting loose a little.  Not me.  When my cat’s away, this is how I play.  I sit, looking out the window, listening to the lovely sounds of silence.

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A Meditation on Love

Love.

I looked up the definition for love at Dictionary.com and there were 27 kinds of love listed.  At Merriam-Webster  there were 13.  And, over at the Urban Dictionary, there were 142 submissions for the word love.  Poets have tried to harness the feeling in stanzas, film makers have tried to capture it on-screen, and musicians have tried to condense this complicated emotion into under three minutes for decades.  Even scientists have studied the physical reactions our bodies make when we are in love.  It is mysterious, strange, frustrating, beautiful, and all together nearly impossible to describe.  And yet, we keep trying.

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There’s nothing like love.  It can lift and crush us all at the same time.  The feeling leads to wonder and obsession, giddy excitement and incredible loss.  It’s at once unknowable and all-consuming.  It is an enigma.  A puzzle we are all constantly trying to solve, in one way or another.

My first feelings of love were for my mom, my brother, my  family at large.  I remember feeling warm, wrapped in the whole of these beautiful people.  Knowing I was a part of them, and they me.  I was constantly being held up by their concern and encouragement and leveled by their disappointment or criticism.  I was dependent and depended upon.  All of those things still hold true, none of them capture the depth of the feeling.

I have a deep and abiding love for so many amazing friends.  I’ve had that all my life.  I’ve been lucky to pick, and have been picked by, a generous, fantastic, lovely, lot of people.  A group of people, throughout my life, who have given me so much in the way of support and kindness and laughter and companionship.  We’ve shared stories and triumphs and heart breaks.  We’ve hugged each other and cried together and laughed so hard no sounds came out.  As I sit here thinking about all of them, I am overwhelmed to the point of tears.  Face after beautiful face popping into my head, a wonderful tapestry of smiling eyes.  And still I can’t describe the depth of this feeling in me.

I’ve had a few romantic loves.  Crushes and relationships that were never meant to be, but felt like they were at the time.  Secret loves and awkward feelings of love I hid from some and exposed to others.  I stumbled and bumbled my way through most of my early life, meaning before I was well into my thirties, not really knowing what I was actually feeling, or wanting to feel, but feeling it so deeply and overwhelmingly that ultimately only confusion resulted.  I had passion and commitment in spades, but didn’t really know what to do with it.  But I loved, and yes, I was loved in return.

And then… then I fell madly and deeply in love.  I’ve attempted to describe this feeling, this feeling of fitting together.  The best way I’ve found is to say that there was nearly an audible clicking into place when I met K.  It’s as if all the cogs settled just so, accompanied by a perfect little whoosh of sound.  I believe, to this day, that I actually heard it.  Love.  True, impossibly real, and mine.  And still, I can’t really describe it, not even to her.  I’ve tried.  I’ve said the words, written poems, sung songs, and looked at her with so much feeling coursing through me I’m sure she feels it.  When she looks back I feel it from her.  It is obsessive and sweet and ruthless and honest and miraculous.  And still I feel as though I can’t quite get my words around it.

It’s such a small word.  The ultimate four letter word.  I feel it so deeply, for so many, including those furry little faces walking around our house.  And yet, even with all of this, the words seem hollow and the attempt middling.  I guess when all the scholars and scientists and poets and musicians have trouble condensing it into any kind of real explanation I shouldn’t expect that I could, in any way, do it in one small blog post.

I guess I will just say this, no further explanation needed… I love, and I am loved in return.  It just is.  And, in the end, that’s all we really need to know.

7:24 AM

7:24 AM

I wake up, suddenly.  I feel like someone is staring at me.  I turn over slowly and there he is, a small furry little fella with big brown eyes sitting over me looking down.  His eyes say everything he can’t speak.  I’m half awake and tell him no.  Gently at first… no buddy, lay down, lay down now.  He doesn’t take no for an answer and leans down and gives me a kiss on the cheek.  Again I say, no buddy, lay down.  He’s relentless.  I try to go a bit more firm with him, NO, Weston, lay down.  He ignores me.  We’re having a battle of wills.

I tell him I didn’t get to sleep until really late last night and in fact have only slept for about four or five hours.  He doesn’t seem to care.  I change tactics.  I ask if he needs to go outside.  Maybe that’s it.  I get up, he follows, and I think, OK, this is it.  I open the doggie door and he sticks his head out, then pulls it back in.  He sticks it out one more time, looks around, and again pulls it back in.  I don’t have time for these shenanigans.  I open the door, telling him it’s OK and that a little rain/freezing rain won’t hurt him and that I’ll stand right there in the door, in t-shirt and shorts, waiting for him.  It’s freezing cold outside and I’m cold waiting in the doorway.  He ventures out tentatively, makes it to the bottom of the steps, and immediately turns around and comes back in.  I shake my head and pad back toward the bedroom.  I need more sleep.

Of course, he follows me.  I get back in bed and look down.  He’s sitting on the floor next to the bed looking up at me, those big eyes doing their magic trick on me again.  Practically programmed I scoot back, making room for him.  I open up the covers and he jumps up effortlessly, laying down up against me with his head on my arm.  He demands to be petted for a while, continually nudging me with his nose until I get just the right spot on his tummy.  It’s nearly 8:00 AM now.  I still want to go back to sleep.

We stay in that place for what seems like a long while, me petting his tummy, him enjoying what we have come to call his morning cuddle time.  This is not the first time this scenario has happened.  He’s trained me well.

Finally, finally, I hear him snore.  This little sign tells me I can stop petting him and try to go to sleep.  I do.

9:15 AM

We both wake up.  Him still up against me, head on my arm.  I just spent over an hour spooning our boy.  I vow, as I get up, and he gets up reluctantly, that this won’t happen again.  It’s a vow I’ve made many times.  His soul filled eyes melt my heart, even when I’m irritated by him.  I remind myself he’s just a dog, but I love him so.

4:50 PM

He jumps up on the sofa next to me, stares at me with those eyes, and paws my hand.

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What Kind of Eyes Do You See With?

Eisenhower QuoteI happened to be looking at quotes this morning, which is something I occasionally do, and found this little gem.

I’ve never been a huge Eisenhower fan, and to be honest, I don’t really know too much about him.  He was a two term president, a conservative who also happened to be against McCarthy, for civil rights and inclusion, and ultimately pretty good a foreign policy.  He adhered to a policy of moderation and cooperation as a means of governance.  Yeah, you got me, I just looked him up and that last bit is a direct quote from Wikipedia.  I just read a bit about him and turns out he was an interesting guy that somehow gets overlooked when we mention presidents.  Probably because he came after Truman, and World War II, and before Kennedy, who garnered a lot of attention.

What strikes me about this quote is how relevant it is today.  We find ourselves in an era of bitter rivalry, and one might even say hatred, toward our fellows.  Our political system is a prime example of this.  Hate, fear, finger-pointing, and a general culture of unkindness seems to prevail.  Individuals, and I see this all the time on Facebook, love to post hurtful, finger-pointing comments full of ridicule and scorn.  Nowhere in that is a thought toward commonality, togetherness, kindness, or even an idea toward actually working a solution to our many problems.  It’s all about how the other guy is an oaf or an idiot or simple-minded.  Sadly, it’s the same behavior I saw so many times while I was working with at risk kids.  People who post these inflammatory things are bullies.  They wouldn’t call themselves that, no.  They would say they are passionate about their topic of choice and are attempting to push change.  They are wrong, just as people who try to bully have always been wrong.  One does not get their way by pushing, cajoling, shoving, and name-calling.  Name-calling… I’m appalled.  Adults, people I know, do this.  It’s like we’re back on the playground again.  Ridiculous.  Arrogant.  Shameful.

If you are a passionate person about, well, anything, the way forward is to promote an idea, not knock someone else down for an opinion that differs from yours.  Find what you feel are solutions and put those forward.  Create ideas or support causes you feel are worthy and promote those.  Stand up and state what you believe in, without saying that someone who believes differently is an idiot.  They aren’t, they just don’t agree with you.  And their not agreeing with you is OK too.  Differing ideas bring different looks at a problem.  We have a lot of problems, we need a lot of looks.  If you must comment on the “other side”, do so by posting actual, honest and real, events or circumstances that happened that you don’t agree with.  Then, comment on those with integrity, and an eye, again, toward solution.

I’m so tired, can you tell, of the trend toward mass posting these ridiculous saying and quotes about how liberals are this or that or tea party members are this or that.  Blanket statements that do nothing to enrich the world.  Mean quips and vicious comments about “those people”.  You know what?  I’m those people, and my mom is those people, my family is those people, and my friends are those people, on both sides.  Before you post something of that nature, think of people you know, picture their faces, and decide if you would say whatever it is you are about to post right to their face.  If you would, well then I guess you aren’t really a friend of mine because true friends of mine aren’t mean.  Friends of mine are kind.  I will, to borrow a phrase, accept no substitutes.  Everyone, and I mean nearly everyone, is entitled to a measure of respect. You choose who you are.  You can rise, be kind, elevate.  Or you can degrade, denigrate, and wallow in the muck.

As Eisenhower, whose quote started this whole little stand on the soap box, said…  “we must avoid becoming a community of dreadful hate and fear” and as the character Lindsey Brigman says in the movie The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and…  he sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”  I love that quote.  It’s stuck with me.  We see what we want, we create our world based on what we see and what we do.  We have to be better, for the world and for each other.  If we show a general disrespect for people we don’t even know, we disrespect ourselves, our children, our neighborhoods, our larger communities.  We have to look with better eyes than that.

Jumping In

Some of you may have noticed a decreased number of posts in the last couple of weeks.  Or, to be clear, basically no posts in the last couple of weeks.  I finally remedied that today, with a 10 Word Review, but otherwise… nada, zip, zilch, zero.  I love Z words.  I have a great explanation and I’ll make it short, I was otherwise occupied.

It’s been cold in East Central Illinois.  Really cold.  We’ve had our share of snow this year, not to mention the whole polar vortex thing, which basically trapped us in our own home for three days.  We love our house, but being forced to stay home, not fun.  Neither of us like being told what to do, even by Mother Nature.  To remedy this situation we’d planned, to be honest it was long before our version of the Day After Tomorrow happened, a family vacation to the much more balmy Florida Keys.  Can we get a hallelujah?  I thick we can.

So ladies and gentlemen, without further ado…

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… this is where I’ve been, and what I was doing while I wasn’t posting on the blog.  Everyone needs a vacation now and then and this was what mine looked like.

Sometimes you just have to let go, and jump in.

Best Finds of 2013

I’ve been reading a lot of best of lists in the last several days, everything from albums of 2013 to recipes involving bacon.  Everyone seems to be making a year end list.  I thought, why not jump on the bandwagon.  So here we go.  This isn’t a top ten or even a list with any sort of theme.  These are just things (songs, movie houses, art, tv shows, food, etc.) I discovered in 2013 that will stay with me long into 2014 and beyond.

Let’s get to it….

The Lone Bellow came into my life via iTunes and a free download.  I instantly became obsessed with them.  Great lyrics, excellent harmonies, and catchy tunes that stay in your head for days.

The Cinnamon Crunch Bagel from Panera.  This thing is addicting.  I’m so glad we discovered them, and so sad at the same time.  It’s all kinds of deliciousness in a small round baked good.  Toasted with butter… so damn tasty.

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Kickapoo State Park, Illinois.  We’ve lived in Illinois now for nearly two and a half years.  Surprisingly there are many things we’ve come to appreciate and even truly like about living here.  One thing we haven’t is that there isn’t as much water as we were used to living in Oregon.  We’ve done our best to travel to nearby towns with river walks (there aren’t that many) and to find state parks and such that have a decent amount of water, in whatever form we can find it.  One such place, to our delight, is Kickapoo.  First, you have to love the name, c’mon, it’s kind of awesome.  But more importantly, it has water.  All sorts of little lakes and a stream, running through it.  There are canoe rentals in the summer, and loads of trails.  We went in the fall, when the colors of the foliage were stunningly beautiful.  We will definitely be going back.

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The Golden Harbor Restaurant.  With a huge menu, free tea by the pot, and a cool old school vibe, this place rocks. Plus, the food is great.  How can you go wrong with spicy green beans, salt and pepper mushrooms, and plates full of sweet and spicy chicken.  The menu on the wall is enormous and all in Chinese.  You can pick up an english language menu from the little table by the front door if you like.  Write down the numbers of the things you’d like to order, take it up to the counter, and moments later your tasty hot food starts coming out as it’s ready.  We love this place.

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Season tickets for the University of Illinois women’s volleyball and basketball.  What a great deal.  We’d been to games before, but this all inclusive $35 dollar ticket package gets you into all the home games for both sports.  We’ve had hours of enjoyment at these games.  The atmosphere, the competition, supporting the local university, and eating an occasional stadium dog… all worth it.  Can’t beat it for good sporty entertainment.

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Cris Cab.  I can’t even remember how I stumbled on this young gent.  All I know for sure is that his music is catchy and I’m semi-addicted to it.

Dominic Thomas was born.  I don’t know if you can call him a discovery, but as he grows, and has one discovery after another of his own, we have discovered a little more about him, and ourselves.  I think that’s part of the beauty of little people.  As they grow and change and develop we see the world through them, and it is an amazingly wondrous place.

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The fun of riding steam trains.  Taking a five mile ride on a steam train isn’t exactly something I would choose to do on my own.  Maybe an over night or a several night journey, one with sleeper cars and a nice dining car, but not a shorty ride on a steam train that goes one way forward and then backs up on the return trip.  But, somehow, with the help of the excitement of a three year old, short trip steam trains kinda rock.  We went a couple of different times and I’m sure we’ll be going again this year.  Our mini engineer in training loves it and, consequently, so do we.

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The Blacklist.  James Spader is just plain awesome.  He’s an amazing actor.  In lessor hands this role, and the tv show connected to it, might not be as riveting and interesting as it is.  But with James Spader at the center, a decent supporting cast, and top notch writing, Blacklist keeps you hooked.

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Portland, Maine.  We took a little road trip for our 10th anniversary to Portland by way of NY, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, etc.  We loved New England.  It’s beautiful, it’s people are great, and it’s beautiful.  Portland, the destination for this trip, didn’t disappoint.  We met in Portland, Oregon.  It’s our city, as we like to call it.  We love it there.  I had, however, always wanted to go to the other Portland.  To check it out.  To see what it had to offer.  My honey felt the same.  Seemed fitting that on our 10th we would take a trip to that other Portland to see what we could see.  It was great.  Good restaurants, excellent scenery, really nice people, and funky in it’s own way, we enjoyed it very much.

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Roadtrippers.  I love this website.  We travel quite a bit.  Most especially, in recent years at least, we’ve gone on some major road trips here in the U.S.  This site allows you to plan your route and then see what sorts of places might be along it.  From practical to strange Roadtrippers has them all.   They also have an app, which rocks.  I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

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Cafe ZoJo.  It’s a local coffee shop that’s fairly new.  I’m not sure if we actually found this in 2013 or the year before, but never the less, I’m including it here.  The staff are friendly, with quick helpful smiles, the atmosphere is eclectic and comfortable, the food is tasty, and the coffee is sublime.  ZoJo is our go to for take away coffee.  I’ve never had better drip coffee in my life.  That’s saying a lot.

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Sleepy Creek Vineyards.  We actually discovered this place by way of a thing called the Fork in the Road Tour.  A few local farms, their goods, a nice drive with good friends, and we ended up, last stop on the tour, at Sleepy Creek.  We were given a tour of the vineyard,  an explanation of the bottling process, and then a tasting.  The wine was good, but the people were great, and the atmosphere was awesome.  Later, like a month or so, they hosted the Salk Fork River Art Festival.  Again, great setting, great wine, great people.  We were hooked.  They do several events a month including things like film festivals, live music, art festivals, weenie roasts, and of course wine tastings.  It’s worth the drive east.

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Cinnebarre in Salem, Oregon.  We live in Illinois now, but we still spend a significant amount of time in Oregon.  It’s where I’m from, and where my honey lived for over 30 years.  It’s home.  My mom lives in Salem, in the same house we lived in when I was in high school.  Salem is the capitol city, and has always been considered, amongst people who live in Portland anyway, a lessor town.  But in the last several years Salem has grown up a little, and funked out a bit as well.  To prove this point they now have a movie place downtown called Cinebarre.  It’s a chain, though there are only about seven or eight locations around the country.  The fact that one of those is in Salem is very cool.  Cinebarre is a movie theater and it’s a restaurant.  You get table service during the movie, which seems like it could distract you, but it doesn’t really.  Walk in, look at the menu before the movie starts, fill out your card, prop it up, and the wait staff comes to take your order via your card and then brings you the food while the movie is going.  You can keep ordering if you want to, they also have beer and wine.  It’s a kick and a unique movie experience.  I like it.

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Honda PCX 150 Scooter.  We used to own motorcycles.  Big motorcycles.  Hogs.  We had all the gear, went on rides, and thought we were slightly above all those scooter riders out there.  That’s the way it goes.  If you ride motorcycles you think scooter riders, or scooterists as I like to call them, are slightly beneath you.  Not really in an arrogant way, it’s just that as a motorcycle rider you’re cool.  As a scooterist you’re nerdy.  Until, of course, we gave up the motorcycles and bought a Honda scooter in 2013.  It’s beyond awesome.  It hauls buns, can carry both of us, is fun as hell to ride, and seems easier.  Maybe the easier part is just because you don’t have to shift, I don’t know.  But it’s zippy, and it makes a fantastic second car.  I so love to ride it.  Who would’ve thunk, those few short years ago, we would prefer a scooter, but we do.  I guess if that makes us nerds we proudly own it.  I’m a scooterist.  Damn straight I am.

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Questionable Questions

I don’t know what made me think of this, but I was just remembering the last big interview I had.  The year, 1999.  I was working for a county in Southern Oregon as a juvenile probation officer.  I’d been in that job for a couple of years, loved the work, but was looking at moving north, back up toward Portland and the family and friends I had near and around there.  I’d been thinking about it for a while, but there hadn’t been any job openings anywhere near Portland for some time.

One day I was using the copier at work and posted right above it was a job announcement for an opening in a small county next to the county Portland is in.  That would be Columbia for those of you who know it, and for those who don’t.  I saw the announcement and knew I had to apply.  They were small, which I liked, and on the Columbia River.  I applied, ended up number one on their list, and got an interview.  Yay!  Or maybe I should have said yay?

I’m not good at interviewing.  In fact, I sort of suck at it.  It’s not that I don’t think I know what I’m doing, or am confident in my abilities.  I am.  It’s just that I don’t much like talking about myself.  At least not in that way.  List your best strength, your greatest weakness, etc.  Yuck.  But it’s a necessary evil, so we do it.  I did it, sort of.

I made the drive up, four hours North of where I was, stopping at my mom’s place to say hi.  I should have known I was going to struggle that day as I ended up getting a speeding ticket just after I left Mom’s.  My head was already at the interview and not on the road.  I deserved the ticket, but getting it threw me off my game even more.

I found the town, the courthouse, and the department pretty much without incident.  Thank goodness.  I was dressed up in my best suit jacket, code for my only suit jacket, with some nice pants and shoes.  Anyone who knows me knows I don’t dress up, normally, so just finding something to wear was a feat.  I walked in, gave them my name, and was instructed to sit in the waiting area.  The courthouse was historic, which I thought was cool.  The doors into the department were two big swinging doors, wooden with windows in them.  The decor in the department was old, the pictures hanging on the walls dating back 20 years, at least.  The desks the secretaries were sitting at were ancient, the kind with drawers that stick, and the counter had probably been there for decades.  I liked it all immediately.  Which made it worse since I felt the atmosphere suited me.  Liking it there meant wanting it more.  My nerves grew.

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A gentleman came out and introduced himself as the Director of the department and escorted me back to his office.  He was nicely dressed.  There were four people in there, besides me.  Four.  All of them nicely dressed.  Great.  They all looked polished and there were so so many of them.  Pretty shy, I struggle with knowing what to say, and having to say it to more than one person is a definite challenge for me.  Unless of course it’s a group of 300 and I know what I’m talking about.  Go figure.

So I went in, sat down, and everyone was introduced to me — director, two senior probation officers, and the office manager.  Uhg.  They were all nice, had great smiles, were very welcoming.  I could have thrown up.  I attempted to make small talk.  My talk was very small.  I have no idea what I said, and am grateful for the forgetting.  I’m sure it wasn’t riveting in any way, and probably involved the weather.

Questions.  There are always questions when one interviews for a job.  Silly practice, but there it is.  I was asked questions, most of which were pretty easy actually as they were related directly to the job.  I can talk about what I do all day, or how I think it should be done.  My answers were much too short, but I had them.  Then the dreaded questions started — what do you see as your biggest strength, what is your biggest weakness, where do you think you could improve, yada yada yada.  They weren’t exactly those, but they were similar.  I froze.  I seem to remember mumbling something and then the director, who was a nice guy and probably saw the deer in the headlights look that had come over me, lead me through it.  He started asking more direct questions to prod my answers, thank goodness.  Without him I feel as though I would’ve been a complete and utter jackass.

Afterwards I knew I had semi-blown the interview.  I liked them, felt they liked me, but I knew my answers left something to be desired, having to have my words basically pulled from my mouth by a symbolic team of horses in the form of the Director.  My shyness, and horror at talking about myself, got the best of me that day.  When I left, after having been given the tour of the very cool courtroom I would work in if I got the job (It was old style, all wood and windows, the judge’s bench a giant wooden desk, and there was a place in the banister between the gallery and the counsel tables that a shotgun had been stored in the old days.  The secret hole was still there.  Cool.), I questioned whether they would hire me at all.  I really wanted the job, very much, which made it worse.

I made the long drive home, questioning questions and my answers the entire way.  Four hours of going over what I’d been asked and how I had answered, or better yet not answered adequately, some of them.  Nothing to distract me from those thoughts for four hours.  Four.  It was a long drive.

A couple of days passed and no word.  I knew they were interviewing a few people so the decision was going to take a few days, but that didn’t really help.  As a day passed and then another I was sure I’d fumbled my way right out of that job.  No move up North for me.  I was going to be staying in Southern Oregon, which is lovely, but didn’t suit my liberal sensibilities much.  If you’ve read my about page you know how I got the tokenhippygirl moniker and why.  They were lovely people to work with, I was just a square peg in a round hole there.  But I started resign myself to staying, knew I’d just have to wait for another opportunity and try again.

Then it happened.  I got the call.  The Director phoned up and offered the job to me.  Shocking, but true.  I seemed to have won their confidence despite my terrible interview.  They saw through it to who I was and who I could be for them in the position.  Amazing.

I started in June 1999.  I stayed until June 2010, when I had to leave because I got sick.  A long time to be in a job, for me at least.  I loved it there, loved those people.  I still love them and am still friends with them today, even though many miles separate us.  It was a magical place.  The best working environment I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of.  The combination of the people and doing work that mattered a great deal were unbeatable.  We were a family.  An incredible family.

Just goes to show that sometimes questionable questions can lead to a wondrous place.  They did for me.  I stumbled and fell into that job, but ended up succeeding there in ways I never, as I sat in that waiting room in my only suit jacket, thought possible.

I Offer This…

It is the holiday season now.  I’m filled with both a sickness about the greed all around and a warmth and love and gratitude for the gifts in life I’ve been given.  These two do not live exclusive of each inside me.  They live and breathe together, making my thoughts this time of year slightly muddled.  Waffling back and forth between these two I cry at the injustices and cruelties perpetuated every day in the name of power and that never ending black hole of “more”, and then I smile and feel overwhelmed with joy by the goodness and beauty in my life.  I sing inside with possibility and hopefulness about the human condition and the kindness of strangers.  I curse the cruel and power hungry, and ache for those who are cold and hungry this time of year.

I’m of two minds.

Then I say to myself… zip it.  Zip.  Shh.

I am currently filled with an overwhelming feeling of love.  Love for family I have close and those who are far away from me but who live in my heart every minute of every day.  Love for friends near and far who lift my heart with laughter and connectedness and a joy I am so lucky to recognize is there.

I sit here watching the kids and my honey build the new configuration of Sebastian’s train track.  It’s quite an undertaking.  They are somehow managing to stay calm and I am somehow managing to keep my opinion out of it. Three opinions are enough.  They are getting it done with laughter and cooperation.  I keep writing.

Christmas snuck up on us this year.  Thanksgiving later than usual lessened the time in between.  Consequently we were unprepared and haven’t realized even half the things we dreamed we’d get done.  No worries.  The things aren’t important.  Not really.  Yes, I’m referring to the buying of gifts.

I love giving gifts.  Always have.  I don’t much enjoy getting them.  OK, honestly, I do enjoy getting them, but am always, with the exception of getting gifts from my honey, uncomfortable with having others watch me open gifts and then knowing how to respond to said items in an appropriate way.  I think I’m slightly off in this regard.  I don’t often know how to be when I get a gift.  My default is always to smile and say thanks.  I think it works.  I’m still always slightly uncomfortable.

And that’s just about enough of the gift talk….  almost.  I always appreciate getting gifts and recognize the fact that the people or persons who’ve given them to me do so with affection.  I recognize this.  I appreciate it.  I’d just much rather be the giver of gifts than the receiver.  Tomorrow, however, on Christmas Day, I will get gifts.  And, truthfully, I will love them, whatever they are.  I’m an oxymoron.

A word on holiday cheer… I’m drinking a bit of wine right now.  Very cheerful.

I think it’s tough to feel so lucky about what I have in life without thinking about how there are so many people out in the world who don’t have the family and friend support I have, who maybe don’t have enough food or warmth or love in their lives.  And once again I’m back to the ache I feel for those who may be less fortunate than I.  Sadly, there are many of those as I am mightily fortunate.

I am of two minds.

The wine cures this conundrum and adds to it.

Preparations are nearly done for the big reveal tomorrow when two small boys, one three year old in particular, will rush down to see what Santa has brought to the house, how many cookies he might have eaten of those that were left for him, and how many nibbles on carrots Santa’s reindeer might’ve taken.  It will be a fun and glorious thing.  Love in a short and glee filled package.  There’s no waffling about that.  He and his brother are light and love and wishes fulfilled.  I am blessed beyond measure.

Merry Christmas to all… and to all a good night.

Thankful Everyday – The Thirtieth

Here we are, the final day of thanks for the month of November.  I think every day, in my normal life, I say a mental and emotional thank you for something… the way my honey laughs, the excited way the pups greet me every time I walk in a room, the smiles of my grandsons, the beauty of the sky or the day or the soul of a friend.  I appreciate things.  Even so, this has been a lovely exercise in purposed thankfulness.  Being cognizant of what I have in my life.  I have a lot.

30.  I am thankful for love.  Love of all kinds.  Love from friends, family, my pups, the grandsons, the kids, my Mom, my siblings, and most of all my honey.  I am blessed to have so much love in my life.  More love and more joy from that love than I could ever dream possible.  I feel it like a wave sometimes, immense and overwhelming in a totally good way, and other times it’s presence is like a vast and endless calm sea supporting the weight of this tiny ship.  Most importantly, I feel it.  Always.  I’m lucky, fortunate, grateful, thankful, honored, blessed, graced, and humbled by the magnitude of it.  I am loved, and I love.  It’s beautiful.

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Thankful Everyday – The Twenty-Seventh

27.  I’m thankful for sunsets.  I was just working on my photos over at Flickr and came across several lovely sunset photos.  Nothing creates a sense of awe and peace and wonder quite like a good sunset.  Nature made, they are wonderful things to behold.

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Thankful Everyday – The Twenty-Fourth

24.  I am thankful for lined jeans.  It’s cold cold cold outside.  Temps well below freezing and wind chill bringing it even further down.  Lined jeans, down coats, and warm hats make all the difference.  I was walking the dogs tonight in the cold and the wind was blowing hard.  It was cold out and I was toasty warm.  Thanks to lined jeans.

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Thankful Everyday – The Twenty-First

21.  I am thankful for the birds in our backyard.  I’ve never really been a bird person.  I like looking at them, am amazed by them, but haven’t ever really been into them.  Until now.  My honey loves birds.  She loves animals of all kinds actually, but she really digs on the birds in our backyard.  So much so we’ve got this whole feeding system going on back there that’s pretty spectacular.  It actually involved putting in posts (with cement to anchor), stove pipe (to stop the squirrels from climbing), and then hooks on top for the feeders.  We stained them and put copper post tops on.  They look pretty fantastic.  We have two of these posts now which means there are eight feeders.  This doesn’t count the outside clothes dryer pole that used to be a drying apparatus and was cut off to now be a post with a tray feeder on top (we didn’t need to dry clothes outside anyway… we have a stand alone rack for that if we want one) or the other colored rod iron poles we have around the yard or the two bird baths.  Yes, we are a veritable bird sanctuary.  All because my honey loves birds.  We have bird books now and binoculars for looking out to see them up close.  It’s sort of awesome.  I was never into them before, but now… I just went and filled up a pitcher with hot water to take out and pour over the bird bath water (which this time of year pretty much freezes every night) so they have some water to drink.  I’m in it.  And I’m thankful for that.

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Thankful Everyday – The Eighteenth

18.  I’m thankful for our basement.  I admit it, I’m freaked out about tornadoes.  The thought of one scares me.  I’m from Oregon, land of earthquakes and volcanos, not tornadoes.  I’m just not used to living in a place where tornadoes can and do happen.  So when we moved to east central Illinois we agreed we would get a house with a basement.  It’s a peace of mind thing.  When a tornado warning happens we head down, with the dogs of course, to the media room to watch what’s happening on the television and to peruse the ongoing situation on our iPad and laptop.  We both feel better knowing we have that place to go.  Again, it’s a peace of mind thing and I’m so thankful for it.

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Thankful Everyday – The Seventeenth

17.  I’m thankful for laughter.  The way my honey laughs with her whole body, how my brother slaps his knee when it’s a real good one, the grandsons giddy sounds, my friends smiling eyes when they laugh, strangers passing by who are cracking up, my family’s sounds of laughter at a family function, and my laugh when I’m crying because something is just so wonderful.  Laughter is the music of the soul.  It’s joy out loud.  I’m greedy for it, in myself and in others.  Nothing beats a good laugh.

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Thankful Everyday – The Sixteenth

16.  I’m thankful for our furnace and air conditioning.  It’s cold in Illinois in the winter.  Cold.  It’s also hot in the summer.  Humid and hot.  We live in a place of extremes and I’m so very grateful for the warmth and coziness of the heat on those cold winter mornings (like today) and for the cool refreshing air conditioning on those hottest of hot summer days.  They both make our lives so much nicer, so much easier.  And it’s not lost on me that other people in other places don’t have either, which makes me appreciate both all the more.  I’m so thankful for the heat every time the temps get down to 17 and the windchill brings that down even further.  So grateful for the coolness of the air every time humidity is 88 percent and it’s already 100 outside.  For these things I’m thankful, everyday.

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Even If I Tried – Even If I Wanted To

I just really listened to the lyrics of this song and it made me cry. Crying is not unusual for me, I’m emotional. It’s just that this basic message is one I want to shout from the rooftops — we are all people, all living our lives. So be kind, don’t judge, and love your fellow human for being just that, your fellow human. The end.

To Be Human

So much of how we see ourselves is based on how our peers, our friends, our family, and our community sees us.  Yes, if you are a person with good self-esteem you can be in the world as a more confident, relaxed, grounded individual.  But even the most secure person struggles, at times, with how they think other people see them.  We are constantly being influenced by what our friends, family, and society think of us.  Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not.  We carry those opinions, thoughts, comments, with us throughout the course of our lives.  Little voices of disapproval or questions about our actions, our look, and our direction pop up occasionally as annoying ghosts in our minds.  It happens to me.

I’m a pretty relaxed confident person in that I don’t care much what others think of me.  OK, more accurately, I may care a bit, but I don’t let that influence the decisions I make and the way I am in my every day life.  Most of the time.  Keyword — most. It’s strange how those little voices come up at the strangest of times.  How those negative experiences, comments, criticisms, stay with us over time, no matter how hard we try to exorcise them from our heads and our lives.

When I was a kid I spent a significant amount of time with my paternal grandmother.  She loved me so much, treated me so well.  She was not a nice person.  As I grew I realized she didn’t treat my brother as well as she treated me.  She called him names, excluded him from activities, made comments about him.  When I realized this I slowly stopped spending time with her.  I loved her, but she wasn’t good to him and I loved him.  It was my little way of standing up to her, and my not wanting to be around that sort of behavior and negativity.  Even as a kid I felt that stuff profoundly.  Negative emotion, action, etc.  I can’t stomach it.  No matter how many toys you buy me.  My aunt, who was this same grandmother’s daughter and my dad’s sister, didn’t get along that great with her own mother because of this playing favorites type of mentality. Yet, she was her.  Maybe it was to make up for how my grandmother was, but my aunt, who treated my brother like a little prince, was not nice.  She was not nice to me.  She called me names, excluded me from activities, and made comments about me.  Once, when my brother and I were at her house we were eating a meal.  She looked at me and said, “you eat like such a pig”.  Bam.  There it was.  That moment changed me a little bit forever.

For years, and even still once in a while, that little line pops into my head.  Because of that line when I was a teen and a young adult I never liked eating in front of people.  I was so self-conscious, always afraid people would see the pig in me.  The pig that she’d noticed and pointed out.  The pig that in reality didn’t exist, but existed after her comment so much in my head and my heart.

Ouch.

I grew, and grew out of those feelings.  My self-esteem took a long time (for not just this reason of course) to grow and blossom, but it did.  I realized it was her problem and that I had never been a pig, but it informed so much of how I was in the world for so long.  Perceptions.  Judgements.  Those ideas other people have of us and those we have of ourselves can be cruel and are often wrong.  I saw myself as a pig because she’d seen me that way.

We tell ourselves internal stories.  Stories about ourselves, about our world, about the people we see all around us — friends, family, strangers.  We do this all the time.  It’s how we explain things, people, interactions, relationships, to ourselves.  These stories, told as a constant monologue in our heads, are our way of explaining our world to ourselves.  This is what that means, this is what that looks like, this is how this or that person must be, and on and on.  They are really just our stories, even if they are about other people, because they are based solely on our own thoughts and experiences.  Our experience of ourselves, our histories, the path we’ve been on.  Our experiences inform our stories.  Always.

We can never, and I repeat, NEVER, know another person’s story.  Not really.  We think we do, we assume things and place expectations on every other person we know, see, and meet, based on what’s happened in our own lives, based on what we’ve been told, and based on what we’ve been through ourselves.  But these stories and assumptions and ideas about people are false truths.  We get arrogant and judgmental and place unfair expectations on others based on what we think we know of them, what we think we see, or what we think we would do in their place.  Instead of really knowing what we’re talking about we often fill in the blank with our own ideas of a person or a situation.  These ideas coming from, again, what our own thoughts and experiences have told us must be true.  We, as humans, do this all the time.  I do it all the time.  I try not to.  I fail.

To look at another person and automatically assume you know what they should do, how they are as a person, or how they should act, is arrogant.  To hear about another person, another group, and assume things about them without having any real interaction with them is wrong and it’s sad.  It’s harmful to them, to ourselves, and harmful to the world.  It automatically separates us from each other instead of connecting us.  Any time judgement seeps into a thought, a conversation, an opinion, we’ve lost a bit of ourselves.  We’ve lost a bit of humanity.

This is not a particularly flattering story to tell on myself, but here I go none the less.  Years ago I worked at a prison for kids.  This particular one was called a youth correctional facility, but it was a prison.  I’d just turned 23, and a few months earlier had graduated from college with a degree in psychology.  I fancied myself as liberal, open, and non-judgmental.  Part of the orientation were these little tours of the different units at the facility.  One of those units, a place called the Secure Intensive Treatment Program, was on the tour.  This particular unit, which I would end up working at three years later, after a lot more experience, was where the kids who’d committed murder and attempted murder were housed.  Basically it was what would be called maximum security in an adult prison.  I walked in there with expectation, pre-conceived notions, and prejudices I wasn’t even aware I had.  When I walked in I thought I didn’t have any prejudice, any judgement of others.  By the time I walked out I knew I was sadly and shockingly wrong about myself.

Ouch.

Part of the tour of this particular unit, other than a staff member telling me about what they did there, was a tour of the unit by a kid who lived there.  I heard this from the staff and immediately started looking around at the kids in the unit.  There were all sorts of kids there, pretty much all races and ethnic backgrounds represented.  In my mind I zeroed in on this one particular kid.  I’m not sure why.  He was big, and gruff looking, and African-American.  I was instantly afraid of him.  There were other kids there that pretty much fit his same description, but I kept saying in my head, please don’t let my tour guide be that kid.  Any other kid, but not him.  Fate has a sense of humor.  The staff couldn’t read my mind, but sure enough, he ended up being the kid the staff picked out to show me around.  I introduced myself, he introduced himself, and off we went to the various parts of the program.  He was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and explained the ins and outs of the place with wonderful perspective and detail.  I liked him instantly.

My experience, which was non-existent with criminals, very limited with African-Americans, on the fringe with people who were gruff looking, and nil with teen felons, filled in a story about this kid.  Before I even started talking to him I thought, I assumed, I knew who he was and because of those perceptions and assumptions I was afraid of him.  I was sure he would be dismissive and sarcastic and intimidating.  Sure of it.  I knew he would be scary to talk to and deal with.  I couldn’t have been more wrong and I learned a big lesson that day.  A lesson about myself and about how we see our fellow humans without even knowing them.  How we judge without having any real experience, the experience which then lets us know someone and understand them.  Let’s us see them honestly, and in a real way.

These are the traps, the stories, and the falsehoods we find ourselves in.  We go there all the time.   Intentionally or unintentionally.  I know I do.  I don’t mean to.  I try to be my better self, but I know I don’t always succeed.

The homeless are many in Portland, where I used to live.  When I was a kid visiting Portland for various activities at various times they were called bums (which speaks a lot to our judgmental nature as people).  Later on, when I was an adult living in Portland there’d be the every so often news story about the homeless problem.  I used to avoid them at all costs, try not to look them in the eye, and generally sort of pretend they didn’t exist.  I assumed I understood them, knew things about them, without knowing them at all.  Harsh, but true.  I’m not proud of it, but there it is.  On the other hand I was always sensitive to kids who lived on the street.  I worked with teens and had (still have) a soft spot for them.  I don’t know why but I’ve always loved that at risk youth population.  They are tough and vulnerable and resilient and sensitive.  Many are just downright amazing.  I had experience with homeless teens so when I saw a homeless kid on the street I often gave them some change, said hello, acknowledged them in some way.  I looked them in the eye and I saw them.  Adults living on the street — that was different for me.  I had no experience with them, other than what the media portrayed and what I’d heard other people say, so I’d avoid eye contact and walk quickly past to avoid any sort of interaction that might happen.  I didn’t really see them at all.  Where’s the humanity in that?

Ouch.

Things changed, my perceptions were altered, when on my second date with K we met a homeless woman.  We were sitting outside at a café having coffee.  The date had been going on for a while.  We were having great conversation, enjoying each other.  I saw this homeless woman half a block away, heading our direction.  She hadn’t noticed me yet so I did what I always did, I avoided her gaze, I looked away.  But as fate would have it, she approached us anyway and asked for money for coffee.  I didn’t know what to say, hemming and hawing, looking around, being generally uncomfortable.  But K — she rocked it out.  She looked at the woman, in the eyes, and said that she wouldn’t give her money but she’d buy her a coffee.  The woman said she didn’t like the coffee from the place we were sitting in front of and wanted the money so she could buy it elsewhere.  K offered to walk down the street with her to buy her coffee at another place.  The woman still refused and again asked for money.  K then offered up her own cup of coffee to the woman, who again refused and then walked away.  The point of this is I learned a great lesson that day, one of many from the woman who is now my wife.  Compassion, interaction, and most importantly — acknowledgement.  K saw that woman.  She interacted with her.  She didn’t avoid or dismiss or shun.  She engaged and talked in a meaningful and genuine way.  I loved her all the more for that.  And I learned something from her.  Now, when I see a homeless person, I see them.  I look them in the eye, I say hello.  I now, because of real experience, see the homeless as people.  People whose stories I don’t really know.  People whose experiences, the experiences that led to their homelessness in the first place, I have no way of knowing and definitely no right to judge.

I was perusing the internet the other day and came across a video of a homeless veteran who had agreed to do a little exercise with a crew of people from a ministry who have made it their mission to work with, help, and try to enrich the lives of homeless veterans.  They did a time-lapse video of the exercise.  In it they cut and colored his hair, trimmed his beard, and put a new set of clothes on him.  He couldn’t see himself until after the transformation has happened.  Finally, when they were done they brought out a huge mirror and showed him to himself.  He was stunned, mouthing the word wow before he got up and hugged a member of the team.

Seeing this video started me thinking, which led to this blog post.  This guy, who in the beginning looked exactly like what you’d expect a homeless person to look like, looked like a CEO of a company when they were done with him.  A haircut and a change of clothes is all that really happened, but it changed the perception of him.  Ours and his own.

We carry what others think of us, say about us, and the judgements they make of us around inside of ourselves.  Those thoughts and judgements always end up incorporating themselves into our lives, into the framework that makes up who we think we are.  It happens to each of us and when it does it makes us uncomfortable, chiseling away at our foundations, even though we try to keep those judgements at bay.  Yet, we turn around and do it to others.  We see people, groups, other humans and we think we know them, without knowing them.  We make up stories about them without hearing their stories.  We judge, without knowing anything about their real experiences.

Ouch.

We should know better.  We obviously don’t know better.  We should strive to do better.

Maybe if we think the best of the people around us, they will think the best of themselves.  Maybe if we work hard at being interested and connected with people they will be interested and connected.  Maybe if we treat each other with kindness and compassion instead of judgement and accusation they will be more kind and compassionate.  Maybe, just maybe, if we treat people as human beings, they will be more human.  And maybe just the act of being more connected, and compassionate, and kind, and human gives us each a bit more humanity.  Maybe if we listen more and judge less the stories we tell ourselves will contain more fact than fiction.

Maybe…