Dear Michelle and A New Book Selection

Dear Michelle,

I read your book, I’m pen pals with Barack and I miss you.  I would love to have you over for dinner.  I feel like I know you, like you are a good friend, a kindred spirit.  I’m so proud of you.

But who I’m I?

Some kind of backwoods stalker?

No.

Well, maybe.

But in a good way.

I loved your book.  What a wonderful story and so transparent, no filters.  Oh sure; I caught the quick reference to a little pot smoking in the car with a boyfriend.  Or sleeping at your boyfriend’s place since you lived in an upstairs apartment in your parents house.  I appreciate the full disclosure.  It makes you even more real and authentic.  Qualities I admire most.   I received your book as a Christmas present from my daughter, she bought two, one for me and one for her boyfriend’s mother.  My mom was reading it at the same time.  My best friend was reading it as the same time.  My other friend, who I promised to give my copy to, couldn’t wait and downloaded it on her kindle.  I may donate my copy to our local library.  I live in a  conservative county located in a red state that is slowly turning purplish;  I believe; or hope.  It will be nice to see you displayed on the “new” bookshelf right when you walk in the door of the library.

Yes,  it’s true.  Not sure if Barack has told you, but we have corresponded by mail.  He can come to dinner too.  I wrote a letter to him as one of my blog posts and decided I might as well print it and mail it to him.  Several months later, my work phone rang, I answered, and it was someone from the office of the President of the United States.

“Hi, is this the Lisa Poe who wrote a letter to President Obama?”

“Um, well, yes….I did write a letter to the President.”

“Great.  The President receives thousand of letters a day and selects ten to read each night.  He hand writes replies to some of them and has written to you; we need  an address to send it to.”

Who writes to the President of the United States and doesn’t include contact information?

Me! Apparently.  I gave my information to the person on the other end of the line.  She emailed me a copy as well.

I was so excited.  I shared the email with my family, my co-workers and even included it in my next blog post.POTUS Response-01

Clearly, I’m the one to drop the ball as I have not written back to him.

And yes,  I miss you.  I miss you so much and Barack.  I so enjoyed the part in the book where you tried to be as gracious and eloquent in your transition with the new first family as George and Laura Bush had been to you.  I’m not sure how you pulled that off.  I’m not sure how you didn’t call in sick that day.  Is someone still looking after the garden?  Or was that turned back into a fertilized green lawn?

I work in a school and was part of the optimistic drive to see the new school foods policies you implemented enforced in an atmosphere full of fear in the changes.  Lunch ladies across the state fighting to give our kids more chicken nuggets and white bread so  they would be full.  Our school  received a Farm to School Grant and hired someone to over see the program.  The lunch ladies were happy that we hired a local graduate from our school.  A neighbor. As they told this new young hire; “We were afraid they’d hire one of Lisa’s flower smelling hippie friends”.  I don’t believe they meant this as a complement.

Thank you for sharing your life with us.  Your thoughts.  Your past.  Even intimate details. I made your book one of my book picks in my blog “Wild About Books”.  Which is a great resource for book lovers in case you find yourself without a book.  If you’re like me, that is one of my biggest fears.

In conclusion, we need to pick a book for this post.  This past year Montana Public Radio participated in the Great Montana Read in search of Montana’s best-loved novel.  Thirty-one books were potentials and the winner is our new book selection.  “Perma Red” by Debra Magpie Earling takes place in the 1940’s on the Flathead Indian Reservation.  The author’s writing makes the reader feel as if they are in a dream or in a spirit world.  Guided by something bigger or a belief in something bigger to get through the suppression; shame; “Wash the Indian out of you”.  Why do we do this to people?IMG_1390

This book will be part of my live book club.  Where people actually get together after having read a great book and share a pot luck meal while discussing how the book affected them.  Friday April 5th at 6:00 at my house.  Dinner theme to be determined.  So far in the book, there is a lot of fry bread and beer, we can start with that.   Please let me know if you will be coming.  If Michelle comes, we might have to rent the clubhouse, no worries.  Oh, and Michelle I’ll have my daughter pick you up at the airport on her way.  Hope you don’t mind being labeled as one of my flower smelling hippie friends.

See you soon.

Lisa

 

A Lazy Winter Saturday and a New Book Selection

It is noon on a Saturday in the middle of January.  I’ve already driven to Anderson Mountain and back to cross country ski in a blizzard with my puppy.  Now it’s time to relax on the couch.  There is a warm fire simmering in the wood stove.  I’m wearing my new socks  and reading my new book. img_1370.jpg Both Christmas presents, socks from my assistant daughter Shelby, and the book from my daughter Hannah.  I’ve got a new batch of kombucha brewing on the stove.  I’m enjoying a hot cup of herbal dandelion blend beverage with nut pods creamer.  My kittens Ruth and Bader are running around the house like wild banshies and my 5 month old lab is outside chewing on some fresh deer bones from a recent butchering and meat grinding session in the garage. Later I plan on making lintel soup for tomorrow to take snowboarding and then rip out the sweater I knitted and write my own pattern for a pussy hat.  After listening to NPR this morning about all of the marches and people trying to repel Roe vs Wade, I have this burning desire to knit a pussy hat out of my wrecked sweater. Yep.  Just your average Saturday afternoon.

When I received my new book at Christmas, I had to quickly finish the other three I was in the middle of.  I read three at a time quite often and sometimes have to laugh at the randomness of the three books I’m reading.  It’s like when you go to the grocery store and buy three seemingly random items like a bottle of wine, a frozen pizza and a box of tampons.

No.

Wait.

That’s not a good example.  Those actually go together.

The books I was reading were;

“Mindfullness for Beginners” (recommend, if you’re into that kind of thing),

“Dark Horse; Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment” (also recommend, if you’re into that kind of thing)

“Pussy; A Reclamation” (don’t really recommend unless you are my friend Christina the Magical Doula).  None of these actually made the cut for Wild About Books.

Which brings us to the new book selection.  A memoir;  by a person I would love join for a glass of wine and talk about books; talk about anything.  A strong woman, certainly not a whiner, but an eloquent, well spoken, articulate,  beautiful human being with a heart of gold and a sense of humor; with a “get shit done” work ethic.  Our book selection is “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.

There is a good chance that my followers are reading or have already read “Becoming”.  and if you haven’t I highly recommend it.  From growing up on the south side of Chicago, to going to Princeton and Harvard, to becoming the First Lady, this is a tale worth reading.

It’s a tale of goodness and kindness and how a positive attitude will carry you far.  It’s what I hope I taught my own children.  To expect the best, jump some hurdles, and keep heading to the best outcome.  And let’s treat every person we meet as if they may some day become first lady or president.

I’m excited when Ivana Trump writes her memoir.  I can’t imagine what her life must be like.  And how did I end up with a blog that has ‘pussy” in it twice? Now, thrice.

For more great book selections and a few good adventures go to Wild About Books

Holiday Reading and/or Last Minute Gifts

I’ve been reading instead of blog writing this fall and I have several books for you to add to your list.  All of these would make great gifts as well.

First, Ken Follett’s book “A Column of Fire”  I almost didn’t read this.  I had my friend Carol’s copy for almost a year. Started it.  Then stopped.  When my friend Deborah told me she was reading it and couldn’t put it down, I tried again.  And I couldn’t put it down.  This is the third in a trilogy.  The first being “Pillars of the Earth”  which you should read too.  I read “Pillars of the Earth” while nursing my daughter.  She is now 28.  That was one of the best books I’ve ever read and I should read it again.  Both “A Column of Fire” and “Pillars of the Earth” are historical fiction.  Each taking place in different centuries.  “A Column of Fire” is in the 16th Century.  It takes place mostly  in Europe.  There are wars, spies, romance, intrigue, and rape. Not like “stranger in the alley rape”, more like in your home rape.  This is a great book.  I love all of the real historical characters and events peppered with fiction in a “Downton Abby” kind of soap opera retelling of the 1500’s.  This book also shows how much history repeats itself and that the human race never seems to learn or come to an agreed upon solution while destroying itself and the world around it with greed and power winning over compassion  and tolerance.

Next up, “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens.  This book was our Thanksgiving family book club book.  This book takes place on the Outer Banks of North Caroline in the 1940’s to 1960’s.  At times you’ll think this book is nothing but a teenaged romance triangle.  But, it is much more than that.  This book does a good job of portraying the “Jim Crow” south, southern poverty, empathy as well as prejudice, and rape.  Not “stranger in the alley rape”, more like rape in your own home. Subtle.  A contest to be won.  I liked the writing and the story of this book.  A survivor book.

Lastly, “My Notorious Life” by Kate Manning is a wonderful book.  Recommended to me by my friend Deborah.  This was a great story based on some true events.  This book takes place in the late 1800’s in New York City.  The protagonist, Axie, becomes an orphan at a young age.  She is taken in by a family of doctors, the women being a midwife.  Axie becomes a maid for the business and ends up being an assistant.  Her midwife mentor, not only delivers babies, but will abort them too.  Axie ends up using this knowledge and her compassion for women to make a successful, though illegal, career.  This is a fascinating book full of female suppression, male domination and rape.  Not “stranger in the alley rape”, more like rape in your own home.

Tis the season to wonder, if Jesus’ mother had not used that lame excuse “Virgin Mary” and instead had actually started the “Me Too” movement,  that women would be on a whole different  level at this stage of the game.

I don’t want you to leave this blog thinking that I’m on a man rampage.  All three of these books have compassionate men who are wonderful, loving, generous, kind and supporting, as the majority of men are.  I just want you to  be aware that the rape culture has been so prevalent in our history that I have read three books in a row  which have this theme thread through them.  And just the fact I feel the need to add this disclaimer paragraph because I don’t want to be mistaken for an angry, biased women says a lot too.  A lot that I can’t put it into words.

It’s time for compassion and tolerance to win.  Merry Everything and Happy Always.  Happy reading.

More great book selections can be found at Wild About Books.

Guest and New Book Selection; sort of

The new book selection is not a book this time.  It’s a magazine.  I subscribe to the monthly magazine “The Sun“.  My first introduction to The Sun was many years ago when my good friend Deborah gave it to me as a Christmas present.  I read each issue cover to cover until the subscription ran out.  After that I would occasionally buy an issue usually when I was traveling to read on the plane.  Now with so much of my time spent reading and writing I have subscribed to the magazine once again.  Every year I think about not re-subscribing as I struggle to find the time to read them each month.  But my husband started reading them too and asked that I continue the subscription.  So I do.

This magazine has no ads.  No ads at all.  It is a non-profit magazine based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is full of many styles of writing.  Every issue has an interview, non-fiction writing, fiction writing, short stories, essays, poems, black and white photography and my favorite section; “Readers Write”.  Each issue has somewhat of a theme that sews it together.  For example, the September issue that I’m reading now has a racism, justice, prejudice theme.  Each issue is thought provoking, educational, and gives the reader an intense feeling of empathy towards all human beings.

The interview for September is with American philosopher, political activist, social critic and author Cornel West who says in his interview; “……because nowadays it is rare to see a right-wing person and a left-wing person who live and respect each other and engage in dialogue.  We live in a society where it’s all about the will to power, the will to dominate, the will to conquer.  The change in the culture has a lot to do with the eclipse of integrity and honesty and decency, and the normalization of corruption, deceit and mendacity.  It’s all about manipulating your political opponents to diminish them and show that they have nothing to say or contribute.  People no longer have dialogue.  It’s all monologue.”

I’ve always wanted to contribute to the Readers Write section.  They list a theme and deadline each issue.  “Equality” is due October 1 and “Beyond Belief” is due November 1.  I never get one written or submitted.  I clearly needed a challenge to get me on task.

So.  I challenged my son and fellow writer to submit to the Readers Write section of The Sun every month and whomever gets published first has to take the other one out to dinner where ever they want to go.  I’m choosing to go back to the all vegan restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan if I win.

Last month I submitted my story for the topic “Weight”  in which I wrote about the weight of my backpack.  This month’s topic is “Guest” and is due September 1.  I’m going to write my submission now for my blog readers, starting in this next paragraph.  I highly recommend “The Sun” magazine.  You can find it online or at “The Good Food Store” in Missoula, Montana. To find more great reading recommendations check out my blog at Wild About Books.

Guest

She was a guest.  Although, we didn’t know it at the time.  She immersed herself into our lives full throttle.  Her sad, yellow lab, puppy dog eyes melted our hearts and  pretty much allowed her to get away with anything.  Next thing we knew, she was not only allowed on the couch, but on the bed as well.

She would wear herself out chasing balls, chewing toys, chasing her tail and then fall asleep in our laps.  Recharging to do it all again.  We took her on small walks that got progressively longer every week.  We took her swimming in the irrigation ditch. Camping. Floating the Bitterroot river in the raft. She spent most of her time exploring the property, free to come and go, in and out of the house through the dog door as she pleased.  She brought in pinecones, sticks, deer bones, elk bones and one skull.  She was high maintenance.   She ate our underwear and socks, chewed our shoes, destroyed the plants on the deck as if we’d planted and cared for them for her exclusive enjoyment. She ate the pillowcases, ripped a hole in her dog bed, took the dish towels off the handles of the refrigerator and stove. If we had neighbors they would have heard the constant “No Ali…….NO Ali……..  ALI NO!”

She greeted us when we came home with so much unconfined puppy excitement, I thought she would explode.  She was in love with us and we were in love with her.  Her small walks turned into trail walks and those were her favorites.  Running the trail, climbing up on rocks.  Stopping ahead and looking back to see if I was coming. So much energy.  So much fun.

I felt bad leaving her when I went to work.  I would go in late.  Take long lunches at home. Leave early.  Sneak in on weekends when she napped to catch up.  Juggling puppy and work left little room for anything else.  But it was worth it.  She was a beautiful puppy and I didn’t want to do anything else.  I turned down day long trips on the Salmon river with friends who told me to bring her.  But I was too worried.  Too worried for my free spirited, high maintenance energetic puppy, to be in a dangerous situation of trucks and trailers and boat ramps.  So we would stay home and torment the cat and laze on the deck. Nap and play and walk and swim.  The life of a puppy.

It was the epitome of irony that I was the one to run over her.  In her driveway.  One hundred feet from her front door.  The place she was safe.  For almost two months she was our guest.  Now she is gone.

 

 

Wedding Week and a New Book Selection

I’ve read a lot of books since the last blog post but none have been Wild About Books worthy.  Last night I started a new book and within the first few paragraphs I knew that this would be the next book recommendation.  I can tell.  In just a few short paragraphs I can feel the rhythm, the flow, the connection between reader and writer.  I embrace the words. I embrace the story. It is right.

This instant connection also describes the relationship between my son Zach and my daughter-in-law Taylor.  I think the excitement and joy of their recent wedding week were not because of the wedding hoopla, but because we all knew from the very first paragraphs of their life together that this was right.  This couple has a rhythm, a flow, a connection that everyone delights in seeing.  This connection has extended itself into the two families.   We embrace each other.  We embrace the stories.  It is right.IMG_5674

The wedding day started with morning yoga.  The ceremony started with guided meditation.  Maybe not your typical wedding, but by far the best wedding I’ve ever attended.

It was a family wedding.  Immediate family.  There were twenty of us including the photographer Dave, who became family almost as soon as he walked in the door.  Five grandparents, five parents, three sisters, two boyfriends of sisters, one aunt, one uncle, one groom, one bride and Dave.

The Aunt was the yoga teacher and officiant and unofficial photographer.  The mother of the groom (that was me) did a reading, which included a wedding joke (appropriate joke for those of you that know me and my tendencies).  The father of the bride did a reading.  The bride and groom wrote and read their own vows.  One kiss and done.

The day was fairy tale perfect.  The wedding was held at a five bedroom house IMG_5810located on the Bitterroot River, isolated from any other houses, with views of the snow capped Bitterroot Mountain Range.  The rainy days of June let up on the wedding day allowing us to set up outside by the river.  The sun beamed on us in the morning as we did yoga in the lawn.  Soon after yoga the hair and makeup women showed up at the front door with bags of supplies to make us “pop” for the photos.  The men went to lunch at the local brewery while the women spent their day taking turns with hair and makeup. A makeup pause for  a champagne toast and gift opening as Louisiana grandma was heard saying while nodding her head “Uh uh….. Mawmaw knows what a man likes….” ,

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Mawmaw knows what a man likes

as the bride held up her new lingerie.  Mawmaw also commented after having her hair and makeup done, “Where’s Pawpaw? He’s not going to believe how beautiful I am.” as she strutted out of the room to find him.  The hair and makeup professionals had no idea that this was the women from both families in the room getting made up.  The atmosphere leaning to being just one close family.  The fairy tale wedding.

The men came back from the brewery; the groom secluded to the downstairs, the bride to the upstairs.  The rest of us shuttling items as needed.  There was no stress, the day was as relaxing as the morning yoga.  The bride, mother of the bride and sisters lounging on the bed in the make up room.  The groom, mother of the groom, and sister played pool downstairs.  The doorbell rang and the cake and cake decorator arrived.  A three tiered cake with the top tier being gluten and dairy free.  The door bell rang again as the caterer and her helper arrived to prepare dinner. The stealth like photographer quietly capturing the day for eternity.  Although it was just family, there was a wedding dress, bridesmaid dresses, a best sister dress, suits, super high heels (flip flops for me in case your were having a hard time picturing this).  You could feel a little anxiousness in the air as the time arrived for the wedding ceremony.  The officiant took charge, reading off the next person on the list to the groom as he escorted us to our seats.  Everyone in their place and the officiant welcomed us all, invited us to close our eyes and whether we knew it our not, guided us through some mindfulness meditation.  She melted the small amount of tension, eased everyone back to a safe and comfortable place.  Fluffing of the dress, presentation of the rings. The wedding ceremony proceeded as planned with the

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Where are my tissues?  Kevin!!!

river rushing by, everyone beaming with pride and joy as boxes of tissues surrounded the mother of the bride.  Tears of pride and joy could not be contained and flowed as steadily and predictably as the river.

Pictures, pictures, pictures.  Photographer Dave’s turn to take charge as he grouped us into appropriate or requested groups.  Once the photos were done we sat down at the outside patio for dinner.  Buffalo steaks, potatoes with garlic scapes, risotto with morel mushrooms and a huckleberry wedding cake.  A very Montana dinner was enjoyed by all; Montanans, Louisianans, North Carolinians.  A few toasts by the siblings and Mawmaw, who actually toasted the officiant for such a beautifully executed and heart felt ceremony.

Dinner was cleared and the dancing ensued with the bride and groom dancing to”QuestionIMG_5891by The Old 97’s,  followed by the bride, father of the bride dancing to “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton and then the groom, mother of the groom dance.  My son Zach and I got up to dance.  At this moment we still had not picked out a song.  I put my hand on his shoulder.  He put his hand on my waist.  Our other hands clasped as we waited for whomever to pick out and start our song.  It started slow, but quickly we realized that this was a county song, a fast country song. “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” by Trace Atkins.  Zach’s always said that one of the best college classes he ever took was social dancing.  We dropped our formal dancing stance as he took both of my hands and the impromptu IMG_5927swing dance began.  We danced as if we had choreographed and practiced our groom, mother of the groom dance; right down to the end when Zach flipped me. The dance floor was wide open after that.  The party began.

Some of my favorite highlights of the week included;

Louisiana grandfather, Pawpaw packing tomatoes and cucumbers in his checked bag. “Not going to eat any of those store bought tomatoes”.

Photographer Dave calling Aunt Meg and Uncle Dean the cutest old couple he’d ever met (50 and 54 respectively).

Moving our living room rocking chair out to the fire pit for Mawmaw to sit in while we

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Mawmaw in the living room furniture

all made s’mores.

North Carolina Grandmother, Gennie Poe asking the father of the bride, Kevin if he could dance and them dancing on the deck to “Harper Valley PTA“, as Mawmaw and Pawpaw moved to the beat of one of their favorites.  Pawpaw telling everyone, “be sure and listen to the words, listen, listen to the words”.

Watching the Duhe’ sisters sing “Watermelon Wine” with MawMaw and Pawpaw.

The words of wisdom from Pawpaw, including “You’ll never get a corporate job if your name is VaGina”.

After the first time meeting; Pawpaw saying to Brett; “..who knew I could come all the way to Montana and meet a coon ass”.  As Father of the Bride, Kevin looks at me and quietly says, “..that’s a complement”.

This blog is for the Georgia Grandparents who were unable to attend.  I hope that my words and Meg’s pictures help to recreate the event for you. I’ve linked all of the songs so that you can click on them and listen.  We missed you.

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Pawpaw and the bride

Wait.  What about the book?  This is a blog that recommends great books.

The book selection is my favorite genre; memoir.  “Educated” by Tara Westover is a book that I just started and feel good about the start.  Take my word for it.  Call it reader’s intuition.  I’m not even going officially start it until I’m done reading a first draft manuscript from an up and coming New York City author, who just got married.

 

For more great book suggestions and other memorable adventures check out Wild About Books. 

 

 

A Mother’s Day Book Recommendation

“Sing Unburied Sing” by Jesmyn Ward is an excellent book.  There are engaging characters that you will love. Meth addict parents who you will hate.  Poverty, racism, survivors.  And ghosts.  Spirits who are stuck in the restless spirit world due to a senseless unresolved death.

The boy in the book sees them.

Converses with them.sing

The grandparents are raising the children in this book.  The mother shows up when she needs a roof over her head or a meal.  The older child calls his mother by her first name.  He knows she leaves them for days to get high.  He takes care of his toddler sister.  Their other grandparents do not acknowledge the children’s existence.   The other grandparents are white.  The father is in prison.  The black grandfather is the hero.  But many times his hands are tied.  His daughter takes his grandchildren.  He tries to talk her out of it.

“My grandfather hugged us even when we weren’t in the same room.”

“Your mother is missing the maternal gene.”

This book is a novel.  I just watched a segment on 60 Minutes about grandparents that raise their grandchildren because the parents are addicted to meth or opioids or heroine or alcohol.  The older children took care of the younger children until the grandparents stepped in.  What about the children that don’t have this life ring thrown out to them?  Where are they?  What are they eating? The segment takes place in the healthiest state in America,  Utah. What is it like in the least healthiest state?  We talk about the opioid epidemic but what about the children? Whose taking care of the children?

As long as I can remember I wanted to be a mom.  At first I wanted 9 kids so that I could have my own baseball team.  Then I wanted 5 kids.  Once the diapers were done, I decided that two kids was perfect  I had the energy for two kids.  I was a devoted, selfless, engaged mom.  I can not imagine having children and them not being the center of your world.  Feed, clothe, teach, read to, clean up after, listen to, throw the football/softball with, laugh, yell, cry.  Hard core mother instinct.   I hope my children feel me hugging them even when they are not in the room.

I highly recommend “Sing Unburied Sing” and motherhood.

Find more great book recommendations at Wild About Books.

 

 

Oregon and Homegoing

Adventure Based Learning took me on another trip to a new place.  A road trip to the Oregon Coast.  A magical place.  A place where you hike through the forest to get to the beach.  A place where you wear multiple layers of clothing, including a stocking hat and warm gloves before you walk to the beach to see the sunset.  A place where a clash of cultures lives harmoniously with a mutual  appreciation for the beauty of the great outdoors.homegoing

Ten high school students, most of whom had not left the state much less seen the ocean, two adults and the little red bus on the road again.  Camping in tents on the layover nights and in yurts on the beach in a state park.  In March.  Ergo, the adventure part. It was not warm, but it also was not raining a lot of the time. Just some of the time.

It’s not easy being a high school student.  We had one grown up mature student who could take care of herself, manage her time and money and be a leader.  The rest; not so much.  It is similar to herding cats or having three-year olds, cats or three-year olds who really care about how they look.

I was walking back from the bathroom to the campsite at the first campground near Hood River when I heard an unusual noise.  Not something I recognized.  Then I saw two of our girls heading to the bathroom.  Our state park campground had flushy toilets and hot (luke warm) showers.  The girls were walking with their roller bags.  I heard the sound of the little wheels rolling on the rough pavement.  A sound I’d never heard while camping.  A sight I’d never seen.  As if I were camping with a group of flight attendants.  This preening and primping was important to them even while camping.

There are many life lessons to be learned when traveling with a group of teenagers.  For me and for them.  We had a diverse group of students.  Many different backgrounds and stories.  Most stories they keep to themselves, afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to be a freak.  Hiding their secrets while trying to fit in.  It’s exhausting.  They slept a lot.

Most interesting observation for me was to watch the dynamics of the group while in a commercial setting such as a mega gas station or town and a natural setting such as an undeveloped beach or hiking trail.

In the commercial setting the students created a hierarchy of the haves and have-nots and the pretending to be a have with not.  The struggle of money burning a hole in their pockets, all of the things on the shelves screaming to be bought, their friend buying a sweet sugary latte at the coffee stand and caving into the same desire.  The desire for the sweet, sugary caffeine or the desire for the stigma of carrying that double layer cardboard cup with plastic sippy cup lid back to the bus.  Wanting to look the look. I warned them half way through the trip to make sure they were budgeting their money.  We provided all of the meals except for the meals on the road.  They still needed money for the ride home.  After my budgeting speech, one of the girls told me she was leaving her money on the bus so she wouldn’t be tempted to spend it.  That’s how powerful commercialism is.

In the natural setting everyone was on the same level.  Sloshing through the wet forest trail.  Slipping in the mud.  Laughing.  Helping.  Playing on the undeveloped beach, trying to get into the cold, cold ocean.  Dancing. Running.  Napping.  Being themselves and not caring how they look.  A meditative break from the stress of being a teenager.  A chance to live in the moment with nothing but nature surrounding you.

Nature binds.  Commercialism divides.  Finding a balance is part of the adventure based learning that can’t be taught in a classroom. IMG_0609

The book selection is “Homegoing”  by Yaa Gyasi.  I finished this book a week ago and it continues to play through my head.  The story covers over 300 years of two African half sisters and their decendents.  One who stays in Africa and one who is captured and sent to the United States on a slave ship.  Each chapter is its own story.  There are so many characters that it is not easy to keep them all straight in your head, in fact, it proved to be impossible for me.  I had to read the book as if it were a collection of short stories.  Short stories whose characters were all related.  I had to believe in my memory to bring back who each character was when they were referenced in a later chapter at a later time.  As the stories and characters weave through generations you find yourself having more compassion for the character who becomes a heroine addict in Harlem.  You understand why the Stanford student is afraid of water.  It is multiple generations of history that have created this person.  It is the unthinkable treatment of man by man over the centuries that creates hatred and violence.  This books takes walking in another man’s shoes to the extreme.  Three hundred years of stories that create a new generation born with an unknown weight that haunts them.

Maybe you look at the homeless guy differently now.  Maybe you have compassion for the meth addict; what is he trying to forget?  What story is he hiding?

Maybe you get irritated with the teenage girl who walks slowly on the trail.  Maybe you feel like she’s lazy while she holds the whole group up.  You probably would have yelled at her to pick it up or light a fire under her ass.  But you know her story.  She was recovering.  Recovering from her secret story that she was hiding behind.  A secret too horrific to talk about with her peers.  A secret no woman, and certainly no seventeen year old girl should have to carry with her.  Bruises still healing.

But I would have yelled at her.  I would have had no compassion. Had I not known her story; I would have yelled.

Let’s stop yelling.  We don’t know the stories that make a person who they are.

Compassion without knowing the story.  That’s the challenge.

I highly recommend the book “Homegoing” and spending time in nature.

More great book recommendations and adventure stories can be found at Wild About Books.