Remembering Riki

Today, I pay tribute and remembrances on what would have been my daughter Riki’s 41st birthday.  As we near the seven-year anniversary of her passing, I observe that losing a child to death at an early age tends to stay fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.  Riki made such an impact on those around her, and her tight friend group, “The Village” continues to honor her on her birthday.  The Village, also, continues to offer emotional supports to the children left behind by the premature death of their mother, my daughter.

I loved watching Riki connect to people.  She always paid special attention to those who were, perhaps, less fortunate.  At her funeral, during reflection comments, a man stood up to tell about how she made him feel special when he met Riki for the first time.  Many told similar stories. What made her special? She loved to laugh, and she had a quick and clever wit. Riki loved to engage in deep discussions with her friends.  Before “google,” she would call us for answers to questions in these deep discussions.  Mainly, the call would be for us to affirm her points of view.

Riki knew how to make moments special even in the most mundane of tasks. She directed nutrition in school food programs.  Riki loved to prepare and share food with friends.  Her children consider her “the best cook ever!” On Wednesdays, Riki used to prepare a “taco bar” for the Village.  This year’s “Riki Celebration” will feature a taco bar for friends and family paying tribute to her memory.

I took the day from work to pay tribute. My 92 year old mother and her 85 year old husband are visiting. My mother and I took the day to prepare a lovely meal of grilled steak, asparagus, caprese salad, and fresh cucumbers. We offer a toast to my daughter and my mother’s great granddaughter, Riki. We prepared foods loved by Riki.

We could have enjoyed a lovely meal at a local restaurant, but Riki loved to cook and bake, so Mother and I prepared a meal that Riki would have loved: steak, asparagus, caprese salad, and fresh cucumbers. A nice bottle of cabernet sauvignon rounded out the meal, and we had a lovely slice of peanut butter cake for a crowning glory to the “good eats!”

As Indigenous tradition would have it, at least for my tribe/nation, we sing songs and give thanks to Mother Earth and the Creator for what we have and for what we love. We built a roaring fire to which we gave sage and tobacco. We felt Riki’s presence. It was a great honor to be Riki’s mother. She gave all to those who were around her.

To that point, I received a lovely note from one or Riki’s high school friends. Joey thanked me for bringing Riki into the world, and he shared in honor in knowing her. That lovely note came at just the right time to give me a great blessing. Thank you, Joey.

Reflections in the Heat of Day

I find it difficult not to reflect on the pain in the world, at present. How do we center ourselves in the face of such hurt? Well, here I go again touting the benefits of mindful thinking and about my outlook on life. These are some common question that I ask myself. Am I practicing gratitude? Am I practicing stewardship of the land, water, language, and preserving other parts of the natural world? I do realize that when we navigate in environments of poverty, exclusions, marginalizations, and living in the fringes, it becomes a great challenge to have gratitude for much of anything. But, what if we looked inside for what is going well for us? Are we able to stop for a minute and think about for what we can be grateful?

I know. Digging through your mind in the midst of conflict, deep emotions, and sadness may be the worst time to gather positive reflections. I do know that it works, however. My practice, which now is a habit, has been part of my life these past four months. Yes. I am facing some great life challenges, and I can tell you that focusing on gratitude and daily affirmations works! Challenges become navigable.

Bianka’s Hummer

I find that nature offers the best self-care, meditative, and gratitude-giving opportunities. My sweet cousin, Bianka, a war veteran who now spends much of her time bike racing on BMX tracks with her twin brother, also a military veteran, who builds racing bikes, like his father did, now works to perfect her photography skills. That’s her hummingbird picture. It gave me time to stop to appreicate the delicate body, the exquisite little feet, the striations on the neck, and the moment in time when Bianka got this perfect photo of the little bird hovering near the sugar water feeder. When we take that time to appreciate the perfect details of the natural world, we begin to offer gratitude for what some may think of as mundane, but it helps us to be thankful for what we may think of as insignificant details of the world. Also, when we take time to offer thanks for the small things, it helps us to slow down from busy lives and be in a moment with ourselves. Try it.

Bianka Hummer 2

Consider camping as an outdoor activity where you get to interact with the natural world. Camping is one of my favorite pasttimes. It’s a time when I just allow myself to do nothing but breathe in the clean air, listen to the birds and other flying, loping, crawling, or jumping lives of the natural world.

Kelly’s Flock (a few of them)

My dear friend, Kelly, recently, acquired a flock of chickens to raise in his and his lovely wife’s backyard. Kelly told me about raising chickens, “It is therapeutic for me and I have peace when I am around them! I know they are just chickens to most people and is not a big deal, but I almost can’t put into words the joy these animals bring to me! I want many more, and one day, I will have chickens galore will be our theme!” I cannot imagine a flock of chickens being in more gentle hands!

Kelly’s Chickens at His Feet

Kelly went on to say, “I think the older you get the more you see the benefit of working to live and not living to work! We are in a world that is so disconnected from the natural things around us that we forget the incredible inner peace found in nature! We have lost the fact that nature is our kin and we have neglected that relationship.” Those are words that we Indigenous People live by, and those words coming from my dear friend Kelly mean the world to me.

I will end with a few of my daily affirmations that come from those around me who inspire me to improve:

  • I am curious to know something about everything and everything about something
  • I am thankful for…
  • I am courageous
  • I am living a great life
  • I am interested in everyone I meet (from my Dad)
  • I am valuable
  • I have wonderful friends who enrich my life
  • I learn great lessons from my loved ones
  • Today, I will learn something new

There are more, but I leave you with this great picture of a friendly kiss from Heidi, a dog who belongs to a business associate of my son.

Heidi Kisses!

Thank you for reading my blog.

Summer is Here!

My featured image comes from the drawing of my, then 7 years old, grandaugher! She had quite a long affair with unicorns. Now at the age of 14, I see different drawings of many different subjects. Interestingly, I see lots of mushrooms drawn these day. I hope the art work continues.

I love how our menus for the summer months change to meet environmental changes. Many of us may put lighter meals on the table during the hot days. Lately, I marvel at the versatility of chick peas (garbanzos or ceci beans), which makes them a perfect choice for a light meal packed with nutrients and protein. I do not always write down my kitchen creations. Many of them are what I dream up, and some are variations of dishes I’ve either prepared or eaten in other situations. Sometimes those recipes work, and somtimes they do not. I go with the flow, and there have been times, that I’ve thrown a failure out. The good news is that I have more great outcomes than I have failures in the kitchen, so that may be why it is a favored “medium” for this type of art.

Right now, my garden is not producing great things, but I am using garlic and onions from the garden. I allow dandelions to grow in one corner of the garden. The leaves are a great source of nutrients, and they add a satisfying crunch to any salad or sandwich with its slightly bitter flavor. The small leaves are not as bitter as the very large leaves. I like to walk around the yard to see if any purslane has grown around the sidewalks. It’s a great source of vitamins and add a special texture and flavor to salads. I love to forage in my yard and in the cemetery, a great source for wild garlic and wild onions.

Summer Salad

Cook quinoa as posted on the packaging. When quinoa cooks, pour into a bowl to allow it to cool.

If you used canned garbanzos, be sure to drain them well. If you prepare a small bag of the dry beans, know that it will cook up to three cups of the garbanzos. In that case, use one half of the cooked beans. Use the other half for your homemade hummus.

4- green onions diced

1- diced English cucumber

1- diced red pepper

1- small packge frozen sweet corn

1- batch cooked quinoa

1.5 cups well-drained garbanzo beans

4- chopped dandelion leaves (may use Romaine lettuce)

For the dressing, I use a simple vinegarette. One-half (106g) cup sherry vinegar, one-half cup (106g) of olive oil. To this, I add, 2 Tablespoons of molasses or date syrup (which helps in the emulsification process). For seasoning, add one-half teaspoon (2.84g) salt, one-half teaspoon chili powder, and one-quarter teaspoon of cumin. For an extra zing on the dressing, I add a few shakes of garlic and onion powders. Shake or whisk well, and set aside while you complete the salad.

Toss in the vinegarette about 10 minutes before you serve the salad. It serves well when the salad is chilled, too. It’s a great accompaniment to grilled shrimp, and a nice glass of buttery chardonnay.

Actually, I had it with grilled lamb steak and a paloma drink made with tequila, lime juice, salt, and squirt grapefruit soda. Usually, I float a lime wedge, but the picture shows that I used a lemon wedge. It’s delicious and refreshing. Eating on the deck with singing birds and small wildlife flitting about makes it all perfect.

My Work and Why I Create in the Kitchen

My work as a cultural geographer with a goal of moving toward institutional equity for historically excluded identities is a great mission for me, but I realize the institution for whom I work has a goal, which is more performative (“look at what we do”) than authentic and action-oriented. The institution still sees that recruiting more student, faculty, and staff of color is more of a favor to us as opposed to the fact that human diversity stregthens institutions. That can feel like my work in intercultural learning is more for show since more and more programming is implemented toward a pereived deficit rather than building on the strengths of human diversity.

The feedback from the students I mentor is the great part, along with teaching, which I adore, however I am not paid what I’m worth, which brings me to why I create in the kitchen. After a hard day at work fighting politics and the, almost, daily feedback that I’m not enough (I have a great boss, but she has to fight the same kinds of negative pushback from her leaders), I find that an evening in the kitchen makes those negative parts of the day subside. I love to cook from scratch with the freshest ingredients. This is where it can get creative. Also, I love cooking with friends. Pictured here are my friends from India, who know the meaning of joy, happiness, and tasty foods. Now, for some ideas…

First of all, explore ingredients. Just like pairing a wine with a specific dish, spices can make or break the flavor profile of a meal. Learn what spices go best with what ingredients, such as meats, fish, vegetables, or fruits. For example, take a simple meal like spaghetti. You may choose a meat and tomato based marinara to go with your spaghetti noodles. Or you may choose a pesto sauce to pair with what ever pasta you choose. You can add shrimp to the pesto-based sauce. Be brave and experiment, if interersted in “kitchen therapy.” Also, there is no shortage of people willing to share their own secrets with you in a multitude of platforms.

If being in the kitchen does not interest, find that one thing that you can do to relieve stress. Give yourself permission to be you in however you show up. Is it art or cleaning the house (really!)? It could be decorating a room or your house. What ever interests you and you find it a way to relieve stress, take the time to heal yourself. I like to be in the kitchen, because it can be a very practical way to create something fun while I nourish myself and others, as the case may be.

Find those meals to prepare that are interesting and allow you to sit over them in leisure. Pictured above shows my English breakfast with Dalgona coffee. We take about two hours to consume this meal, because we want to take longer to eat it than what it took to prepare. Think of the all-day labor of, say, a Thanksgiving meal or other type holiday when special meals are presented at table. My mother used to say, “What took me all day to prepare, you’ve eaten in 15 minutes!” Many in the U.S. tend not to approach meals in a convivial manner, such as those in Mediterranean climates. Other advantages of consuming a meal slowly means that you know when your stomach is full, and there is no hesitation in pushing away from the table.

Sure, I have other hobbies that relax me. I like my “kitchen therapy” because it engages all the senses: smell, hearing, tasting, touching, and seeing. Yes. Other hobbies engage the senses, but I can’t eat my woodworking or jewelry projects.

Find your way. I will be a treat. Thank you for reading me.

Hopfulness and Positive Self-Talk

My featured image shows a doe and her fawn. When I took this picture, the fawn was about three days old. The doe gave birth in my day lily bed, and she parked her baby next to the house under a ladder. Now, two weeks later, the fawn has taken up residence in my front patio. Apparently, the doe comes at night to feed the baby and graze in the yard, a bit. We stay quite aware of the little guy’s presence and work very hard not to disturb. Also, as the Star Trek “prime directive” states, “Do not interfere in a life to change its course.” Hard as that is, I continue to worry that the doe will not return to nurse the fawn, but they have the instincts for survival and do what they need to do to survive as long as there is no human intervention.

What do you do to advance self-love? Many have been socialized to believe that self-love is selfish and wrong! That is likely a Puritan ideal, which very much permeates the dominant culture in the U.S. (Settler/Colonial culture). I’m not sure if there has ever a spiritual leader who’s asked us to hate ourselves. Of course, there are many political people, who call themselves “leaders,” who tell us quite often to dislike, hate, or exclude others who are considered “different.” I am happy to ignore them in this writing. What I do mean is that when we love ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to hate others, because true self-love helps us to love others even when they are not like us.

My point today is that unconditional self-love helps us to survive many things and may even be a support when tragedy strikes, such as recent school, church, and hospital shootings. Some of my past blog posts consist of other details in self-care, such as the Art of Hygge, cooking/baking, entertaining in your friend-circles, interactions in the natural world, and other activities in which we can engage to keep us from brain wiring and emotions ryfe with trauma.

Trauma does terrible things to emotional and physical health and well-being. All of us have likely experienced some form of trauma in our lives. That may mean that we spend many hours of our lives finding coping mechanisms and acquiring coping skills. We soon realize that coping/navigating skills are a life-long learning and behavioral journies. We do not take “training” and then we finish. Check box! No. Practicing self-love takes a life time. The key word is “practice” with the idea of not attaining “perfection!” I do think self-love is a choice, and I think when we have suffered adverse childhood experiences and forms of adult trauma, we tend to loose site of our abilities to choose a positive outlook. I do know that some have brain chemistry that can “hi-jack” that choice to have a positive outlook. Those instances require that we exercise great understanding and empathy.

Enjoying a moment in the “secret” alley way to corn dogs

Not too long ago, I interviewed a man from Kerala, India. He’s a mathematics teacher at a high school. Mr. K has lived in the U.S. for many years. He and his lovely wife “R” have raised two beautiful daughers. This family has the most positive outlook on life of any people I know! Mr. K takes his family on excursions to visit all of the National Parks in the U.S. They know their geography very well! During the interview, Mr. K said, “You know. The world is so beautiful. The people are beautiful. The landscapes are beautiful. I believe the world is so beautiful.” It was at that moment that I realized that Mr. K lives a life of positive thinking and he will always see the best in people, in nature, and in his relationships, because he chooses to see his life that same way. I see this attitude reflected in his daughers and in his spouse, too. Mr. K models and eminates self-love and the love of others. It sounds like a simple, wonderful, and balanced way to live.

I work on the concept of balance every day. The practice comes in the form of morning affirmations, yoga stretching, and fresh air. I end my day with more affirmations and the hopes of a adequate sleep. Getting adequate sleep and staying positive throughout the day tend to be my greatest challenges. The world is hurting, and I navigate institutional inequities on a daily basis. My hope continues to be that we may strive toward a positive outlook on life, so that we may be a beacon of light in this world and its pain.

Thank you for reading my blog. Next time, I’ll write about food.

Reflecting and Looking Forward

When we think of a year that’s passed, it can be a good time to reflect on the past and to look forward in a new year. We can think about the good things that happened and contemplate any of the negative happenings. Of course, it does not serve us well to focus on our misfortunes, mistakes, losses, and other events that made a negative impact. However, it could serve well to give each of those challenges their due. I want to spend this space for reflecting on the year past and looking forward to year unfolding before us. Every year, I learn something new, and I give myself grace when I come up short. I will share some things I’ve learned and ask you to reflect on your life as well.

Blooming Hibiscus with Eight Blossoms

Reflecting on events of the past takes a Mindfulness approach. In the process, be a neutral observer. Think about what gave such an event a positive or negative impact. Notice how the event or interaction elicited emotions. How was that emotion navigated, or what was the response? The point in this reflection is to remind ourselves to be 1) a neutral observer to each experience, 2) Be patient with yourself: allow each experience to emerge at its own pace, 3) Have a “beginner’s mind” by experiencing the memory as if for the first time, 4) Trust and believe in your intuition and your ability to see things in a new way, 5) Take it as it comes without the need to win or avoid losing. At this points, just be; 6) Accept and see things as they are in the present moment; 7) Let go and detach from your usuall feelings and thoughts. Perhaps this is a way for us to slow down for a moment to recharge our senses.

Enjoying a hot cup of tea on a crispy morning in front of the outdoor fire place

I’ve written about the “art of hygge.” Hygge is that danish word (Hoo-gah) that denotes comfort at the point of being cozy. Think of a hug! We get to decide on the characteristics of that hug. When the danish speak of hygge, they outline all the situations in which one can practice that coziness: our living spaces, our work spaces, and in outdoor spaces. I have designed my “living room” as a hygge corner.

Cozy Corner

Another way of practicing that sense of being hugged, is looking to the outdoors for rest and relaxation. Viewing nature as if for the first time can be exhilirating! Perhaps asking oneself, “Which season do I like best? Why?” I like to notice what birds are active in which season? For example, I’m seeing more juncos during the winter than in the summer. We see snow geese in the winter but not summer! Those are changes that are only noticed when one looks up or notices changes in nature. It such a thing is new to you, try it sometime. As another example, in the photo, one could ask, “Why is the sunset so red?” The answer: Dust and smoke in the atmosphere from fires and wind (in many cases).

A Kansas Sunset

In a busy world where we are measured by how much we do, how much money we earn, and how we stand out as individuals (an individualistic society). I wonder if we would have less illness if we emulated that of a collective society (group oriented) and took the time to sit and talk, build relationships, and take more collective actions when it comes to governance. The concept of hygge supports that very thing, as does the Mediterranean way of conviviality. So what if we took three hours to consume our meals conversing around the table? Our lives would slow down, and we would take more time for ourselves and our loved one. I love the concept of “hygge with others,” which focuses on our relationships. While we have fewer opportunities to gether during this pandemic, and we’ve had to find new and different ways to connect with people, such as with on line platforms. When I think of “hygge” with others, I tend to think of gathering around meals. Sometimes it may be connecting through interest groups. Sometimes we attend a movie group, which meets online after participants watch the movie on their own. That is one way of connecting during a pandemic time. The meet up consists of questions by the facilitator. We found common themes through which we connected. A few years back, in a town where we spend nearly thirty years, we used to attend what we called, “Second Friday Cinema” at our local library. We picked nine movies for each of the months we met from September through May. We watched the movie together enjoying snack that each of us offered on a table. Unfortunately, that has gone away per safety measures. I miss those time, so I will share some photos of former gatherings and ways of enjoying our environments.

Friends at Table
My Home State

Setting a goal of practicing holistic well-being does take some discipline. For example, I made a pledge to myself to keep my house organized and free of clutter. That takes a lot of work! It seems that we get so involved in making a living, being a good employee, and meeting institutional goals that we forget to take care of ourselves. Now, all this sounds like I’m an expert at such things, I do teach about holistic well-being, but that means that I practice such things, and “practice makes perfect” as the saying goes. That’s the best we can do, and our best needs to be enough for us. That does not mean that we’ve reached a pinnacle. It’s just means that we keep trying. I saw a quote on practice the other day. The gist of it was that someone had asked the great cellist, Pablo Casals about his daily practicing at the age of 90 years. “After a stellar career and now at the age of 90, why do you practice the cello for the minimum of six hours per day?” Casals answered, “Because I think I am seeing progress.” Humans are not perfect. We work toward perfects, but perhaps too much, I wonder? I want to be the best for the world not the best in the world!

Thank you for reading.

Reflections on Native Boarding Schools

My featured image shows fall colors at my house.

As one who identifies as Indigenous, the latest findings of Indigenous children’s marked and unmarked graves on the grounds of Native Boarding Schools across Canada and the United States abhors me, which can feed into generational wounds. Lately, I have been invited to offer lectures on the topic. Here I share with you some of my reflections as presented to church groups. Remember, I only speak with my Indigenous relatives. I do not speak for all Indigenous Peoples.

Residential Boarding Schools: We must acknowledge what happened
to the First People of these Lands
at the hands of Colonial Settlers

To all my Relations…

Following in the ways of loving one another, as any faith journey tells us to do, gives us a framework for our way of life. Our works of truth and reconciliation must mirror that. Like baptism, we must face the truths of our past, even when they give us discomfort. When we learn some painful truths, we must reflect on those truths rather than deny, wallow in guilt or point fingers. The painful actions of history belong to all of us… together.  Again, the painful actions of history belong to all of us. I say that as one who is Indigenous to these lands to which I acknowledge: My homeland is the Uncompahgre Valley, Western Colorado, from where colonial settlers displaced my father’s people (Ute). My Mother’s people experienced the same atrocities in their homeland of what is now, New Mexico.  In Kansas, I live and work on the ancestral territory of many Indigenous Nations, including the Kaw, the Osage, and the Pawnee. Kansas is currently home to the Prairie Band Potawatomi, the Kickapoo, the Iowa of Kansas and Nebraska, and the Sac and Fox Nations.  

I am grateful to these Nations. I ask you to Please remember these truths

Bathe in the Beauty of Nature

Today, we take this opportunity, no matter who we are, and no matter from whom we descend, to face the pain of the past, to confess it, and above all, to learn from it and not repeat it. To tell the truth in love, as our Creator teaches, gives us pause to learn love’s excellent way of life and way of being.

What are the ways in which we can behave in actionable ways to follow the path of love rather than hate, rather than ignoring inhumanities, rather than justifying slavery and other exclusions and turning away from the practice of human hierarchies? We must recognize and acknowledge the wounds of Indigenous Peoples promulgated by governments, churches, and other institutions that join in the cause of separation and erasure.  Then we must remove the barriers to access for all historically excluded identities. Only love, honor, and respect can dwell in the Creator’s presence, and we must join our hearts and hands to rebuild our communities of faith. 

Let us move away from mere performance to authentic and measurable actions toward an equitable society where we honor and love one another as the Creator loves us. 

In reflection, what makes me hopeful today are the Indigenous youth who are learning the spiritual teachings and the folkways of our ancestors.  We promote generational healing through prayer and acknowledgement that we only survive in the light and love of our Creator and through the support of one another.  When this society begins to acknowledge the truths that segregation, torture, abuse, and separation of Indigenous children is, by design, meant to erase a people not love them, the healing will begin. 

A Healing Fire

Please note that of the 367 Native boarding schools in the U.S. 73 remain open, and 15 continue to board Indigenous children taken from their parents. Here in Kansas, we must acknowledge the following boarding schools and the atrocities fraught upon Native children: Haskell Indian Training School (now Haskell University), Great Nemaha Indian School, Kaw Manual Labor School, Kickapoo Labor School, Osage Manual Labor School, Potawatomi Labor School, and the Shawnee Mission boarding school. The goals of these schools promised to “take the Indian out of the boy or girl.” Graduation was never a goal, however survival remained a wish for the children.  Again, The children who were able to leave these schools did not graduate!  They survived!

We cannot heal in the places that make us sick. We can only heal, if the society complicit in Indigenous extermination can move away from greed and the concepts of superiority in order to teach a people that they are, indeed, inferior. I am hopeful because I am here today, with each of you, lamenting the wrongs of the past by governments and other institutions who do not follow the teachings of the Creator to “Love one another.”  I ask you,  How is genocide of a people, Love? How are exclusionary laws and policies, Love? How is justifying slavery, love?    

Rev. Linda Nicholls and Rev. Mark Macdonald note that:

“The wrenching legacy of residential schools is felt not only by those who survived. It lingers in the pain of families whose children died while at school. It lingers in the agony of not knowing why they died or where they are buried. It lingers in the inadequate record-keeping that does not tell the cause of death. It lingers in the neglect to even record the names of almost one-third of those who died. For a parent the death of a child is an unimaginable pain.”

I ask you to empathize with the parents. Can you imagine such a thing to happen to you and your family?

Remembering Riki

My featured image illustrates the loveliness of our daughter, Riki. We lost her, nearly six years ago, to a stroke at the young age of 34 years. She would have been 40 on September 27. She had lived with atrial fibrillation for 11 years, and a new doctor took her off her medicine “to see how she’d do!” I had later read that taking someone off this particular heart medicine could lead to stroke. The new cardiologist simply listed Riki as a “non-compliant patient” to avoid any law suit. Left behind were three young children, a husband, and a loving family to ponder, “why?”

Riki was a leader. She exercised her voice to support and advocate for those who did not have a voice. She was a devoted daughter, sister, mother, spouse, and friend. She loved her work as a school nutrition administrator. Riki was full of energy, and she loved innovation in meal preparation and addressing life’s challenges. Some called her, “bossy,” because strong women scare those who do not have the confidence to put themselves “out there!” She worked hard, played hard, and loved hard, and that’s what made Riki unique and beautiful.

If my daughter learned anything from me, it was to gather friends and family to socialize around stories, laughter, music, and food. I learned even more from her about the stewarship of great friends. She hosted her “village” every Wednesday for a “taco bar.” She loved to cook, and she cooked fabulously. Her friends loved all that Riki was. One of Riki’s dear friends, Danika, began a tradition of making Riki neck garlands out of the peppers from the garden. A few years back when “the village” was celebrating Riki’s birthday, I was gifted with the chili necklace. I dehydrated the hot monsters, and I use the pepper flakes, very sparingly, in recipes calling for some heat. About a week ago, Danika did it again! She sent a chili garland! The chilies are bright and lovely, and the flakes proved to be quite potent! Behold, the color! I call the chili flakes, “Danika’s Chili Blend,” or simply, “Danika.”

Chili Necklace

Today, Riki’s boys work for Danika, Riki’s best friend, in the kitchen, at a local pub/restaurant. The 18 year old just started college, and the 17 year old is a senior in high school.

What we know is that she was a beautiful, unique, loving, and thoughtful person. Most of all, Riki loved her children and her spouse, Jonathan. They miss her dearly. We were lucky enough to get a visit from Jonathan and Sam, Riki’s only daughter, this past weekend. The “boys” have jobs, so were not able to make the trip. We honored Riki with meals around the table, as was her practice, and stories of her life.

Riki and Jonathan in 7th Grade

While we tend toward daily thinking about our time on earth with Riki, we rejoice in that we see her so heavily in her children. While I know that our son-in-law will likely find love again, we see her influence in him, too, and we know that he keeps Riki in his heart.

We will celebrate her birthday this evening with one of her favorite dishes: Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and corn. One of the most lovely things is that she and her brother, Stevie, had a very close and loving relationship. He will likely celebrate his sister with a fire and tobacco blessings (from our Indigenous teachings). I look forward to the pictures that he sends when he has a fire. Come to think of it, we will have a fire, too.

Riki and Stevie, my beautiful children

Love to you, Riki.

Convivial Times

As COVID restrictions begin to ease a bit, we appear to be interacting more often and frequently, without masks. I hope we are not being premature in our ease. I read a quick headline today that said that our isolation for the past 20 months may have taken a toll on our cognitive functions. I think we shall see more on that as we continue to examine the far reaching effects of a pandemic in contemporary times.

I must admit that I have ramped up my interactions across the dining table, both at home and with friends. One of the great opportunities of working at a university gives me the privilege of working with students from a variety of backgrounds, countries, geographies, and traditions.

My “featured image” demonstrates the diversity of my interactions that include dining. Enoch, a city planner, and Elfadil, a soil scientist, hail from Africa: Ghana and Sudan, respectively. These two brilliant young men prepared a feast for hubby and me. Each dish featured chicken, and one dish feature the addition of goat.

When Enoch comes to our house for dinner, he often treats us to Jollof Rice. He gets the spice blend from his home country, blended by women who specialize. He shared a nice pint sized jar with me. The best I can do is taste and try to decide what’s in it.

I taste the seasoning mix, and then write down what I think: crushed chicken bouillon, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger, onion flakes, chili flakes, black pepper, nutmeg, and thyme. While I am certain that the “spices” contain other ingredients, this is what I think I know, for now.

Let me tell you about the stews, which our hosts served with rice, which they prepared with cardamom pods floating in the water during the cooking process. First the gentlemen offered a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and a cucumber served without dressing. I forget that a salad does not need any type of dressing to be satisfying. Then the stews…

First of all, I love that they offered hot tea with the meal in small glasses. It made the evening so elegant yet simple. We ate around the coffee table in the small, student apartment, which was a celebration of its own.

Both Enoch and Elfadil shared their recipes:

Enoch’s goat and chicken stew:

Brown goat chunks and chicken thighs in garlic, ginger, hot pepper, onion, tomatoes, black pepper and Jollof rice spices. Blend vegetables. Sauté the vegetables, then blend them. Add water. Simmer for the afternoon preceding dinner time. Serve with fragrant rice.

Elfadil’s chicken stew:

Fry onion, add salt, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, curry, mix all together. Add garlic. Add cut chicken to mix. Put lid on and simmer. “Wait for the magic to happen!” (My quote, not Elfadil’s) After cooked, add tomato sauce and let cook for 5 minutes and add garlic. Replace lid for 5-10 minutes before serving. It simmers into a rich thick stew.

Enoch’s goat and chicken, pictured above, is the redder sauce of the two. Both stews tasted warmly rich with the combination of spices most aromatic to the senses. We ate heartily!

I had a geography student live with us five years ago while she gathered data. We lived in another part of the state at the time, and I worked for the same university in another research position. Anyway, when the student returned to campus, and I had to be there, she cooked for me in her tiny, student apartment. She was from China. ” Kathy Su” prepared a feast of meats: beef, chicken, and lamb. She roasted all the meats separately in her tiny oven. She flavored the meats with ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oils. Each meat added its own flavor profile to the similar ingredients. Kathy chopped the meats and then put them back in the oven to finish cooking to tender morsels with crispy edges. She served a big dish of steamed rice, and we enjoyed the meats, which were “finished” with chopped green onions! I wish I had pictures, but I didn’t think I would be writing about it. Once again, simple ingredients for a sublime dining experience.

Next time, more flavors from the kitchen. Thank you for reading me!

What Matters to Me and Why

I work at a university with a leadership studies college. The school invites varying faculty, staff, and administration to talk about personal priorities and interests. As I always say, the more we know about one another, the more that the lines of separation fade. I love this notion of inviting people to talk about themselves. It becomes the living libraries favored by many communities. Here is one of my stories.

My father used to tell me, “Know something about everything and everything about something, and you will always be able to find common ground with another person.”  I have a penchant for music, literature, geography, history, art, language, biology, architecture, travel, navigation in air travel, and people.  Curiosity was the most important thing to my father.  He taught me to be curious, always!  Actually, I think my varied interests greatly inform my work in intercultural development, or helping humans find common ground with one another. It’s what I live.  It’s what I love. I like to begin my classes, workshops, and presentations with a land acknowledgment:

My homeland is the Uncompahgre Valley in Western Colorado, from where colonial settlers displaced my father’s people (Ute).  

In Kansas, I live and work on the ancestral territory of many Indigenous Nations, including the Kaw, the Osage, and the Pawnee. Kansas is currently home to the Prairie Band Potawatomi, the Kickapoo, the Iowa, and the Sac and Fox Nations. 

  I am grateful to these Nations. 

Please remember these truths.

It can be quite enlightening to research and discover what Indigenous Nation occupied the land on which you live, work, and play. We can think about:

Who granted the land?​

Who held the land previously?​

What was the U.S. Homestead Act of May 1862?​ Who was given land, and who was removed from said land?

So, I begin all my teaching with this acknowledgment. I am honored and obligated to my ancestors to do it.

Next in my processes of teaching, I acknowledge myself and my identities. Here are a few of the things with which I identify:

•Native (Ohkay Owingeh/Diné/ Uncompahgré) •Human Ecologist/Geographer •National Geographic Society Explorer •Social Researcher •Banjo player •Mother, daughter, friend, spouse, aunt, grandmother, motorcycle rider, writer… •King Alfonso X enthusiast, the original pluralist! •Blogger •Craftsperson •Nature enthusiast.

I could also say, I’m a mother, daughter, friend, spouse, aunt, grandmother, motorcycle rider, and writer.

Embedded in each of these identities that I share with you denotes aspects of my of my culture. However, the most challenging part of working to educate students, especially those from a dominant identity (Anglo-European descent) about culture is that they possess a culture. Many of my students tell me, “I don’t really have a culture. I’m just an American.” That just tells me that they have not thought about their identities.

Each of us, if we think about it, has several identifying factors that contributes to our cultural identity. You have the same sets of identities – each with sets of verbiage, practices, and thought processes that are part of your culture.

Certainly, our environments influence our patterns of behavior, our ways of knowing, our ways of living. I grew up in a mountain environment, as pictured here. We learn certain behaviors to thrive in mountain valleys, which can be different than the tallgrass prairie where I live now. In humans’ cultural practices, we learn, adapt, and adopt, often maintaining our foundational family and community systems.

Prairie or mountains: both are beautiful, and we adapt and adopt the cultural aspects of each geography.

Speaking of geography, I grew up in a household where National Geographic magazine was honored as much as the family bible.  My father read them from cover to cover.  My brothers saw them as anatomy lessons.  I vowed to visit all the places imaginable.  My work with National Geographic Society, as an explorer, put me in company with the likes of Maria Mitchell, noted astronomer in the 19th Century, Munazza Alam, 21st century astrophysicist searching for Earth’s twin, Harriet Chalmers Adams, journalists in the French trenches of World War 1, and notably, traveled to Africa to see Haile Selassie’s coronation as emperor of Ethiopia.  Of course, everyone knows the names of Edmund Hillary, Jacques Couteau, and Alexander Graham Bell as NGS explorers, but I encourage you to seek out the females who made great strides in the name of discovery.  Being a NGS explorer is the greatest way I can honor my father’s love of knowledge.

Two of the great products of my NGS funding was developing introductory course in geography for females of color, now in its fifth year, also thanks to our Center for Engagement and Community Development’s incentive grants, I was able to study the women in the African diaspora in rural SW Kansas, which became a chapter in a book recently published.  Here’s a picture of the book. My chapter covers the women of the African Diaspora now settled in Southwest Kansas. It tells of the brave women, displaced from their countries by war, worked in the beef packing plants while raising families and navigating health care, educational, and faith systems.

If you have read previous blog entries of mine, you would know that I greatly esteem George Washington Carver, the great genius in botany, invention, music, art, and philosophy.

Carver had a small homestead in Beeler, Kansas.  As a child, his slave owners near Diamond, Missouri actually saw his genius in plant pathology.  He came to Kansas, finished high school, and applied and was accepted into Highland college until he showed up. Carver was denied a college education in Kansas, because of teh color of his skin.

He found his academic home, first at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.  Only being allowed to study the fine arts, his art teacher took great interest in his botanical illustration.  She connected Carver to her biologist husband who was teaching at what is now Iowa State University.  Carver received is Master’s degree there where his brilliance was duly noted by Henry Ford, who had invited him to work since Carver had created rubber out of golden rod. Thomas Edison tried to recruit him as an inventor since Carver was noted as a great inventor, having patents on wood stains made from peanuts and sweet potatoes.   Alas, he went to work at Tuskegee “Normal” Institute at the invitation of Booker T. Washington, because it was there that he’d “do the most good.” Carver taught chemistry, botany, and other biology at Tuskegee until his death. I found this picture on the internet with Carver’s rules to live by: “Education is the key to unlock the golden doors of freedom.”

Once a year, I pay homage to King Alfonso X, who ruled Castile-Leon (now Spain) in the 13th Century. Here are a few facts about the “Learned King.”

He ruled from1252 – 1284 13th C. Medieval – Father of Castilian language, which we now call Spanish.  During his time, his language was Galician-Portuguese, also called “Romance” 

420 songs, poems, and commissioned 3 dimensional pieces as a way to teach morality to his subjects. 

He had just missed being crowned the Holy Roman Emperor because he was “too learned!” according to the Pope of the Catholic Church at the time. I wrote a blog better examining the King last November. No doubt, I will write another about the king in the coming fall.

I like learning about different species in the animal world. I was a volunteer teacher at a zoo in Southwest Kansas. If you want to learn more about a subject, teach it! I was able to handle lots of cool animals. Here I am with a goshawk.

Finally, exploring my Indigenous roots remains an important part of my identity. I still practice the food, the songs, and the rituals of my grandmothers. The fire featured as my main image illustrates one of those practices of cleansing with smoke. I am born for the Ohkay Owingeh and the Dine and born to the Uncompahgre Ute.  I have DNA ties to the Athabascan, Alaskan Native.  My people, called the San Juan Pueblo by Spanish colonizers of what is now New Mexico. Spaniard plopped right on the Village at the confluence of the Chama and the Rio Grande Rivers.  Our villages straddled the rivers, so there was much struggle to keep our culture, our food ways, and our identities as The People of the Strong Land.  You can see a stature of our great leader, Popay, in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.  Despite the push toward erasure, we are still here!

My family remains the most important, my children, grandchildren, spouse, parents, siblings, and extended family, natural and adopted, as I call my dear friends. Find what makes you happy, and develop curiosity about an array of subjects. For me, I can only think knowledge is the best brain food.

Thank you for reading.

In the Company of Kindred Spirits

Our friends joke about having a, “Covid bubble.” The Covid bubble contains a very small group of people who practice physical distancing, keep very serious sanitizing routines, and have little public exposure. We maintain a Covid bubble with a few friends. Since we still have to eat, often we choose to eat together…at a distance.

A few weeks ago, I had to travel to present a documentary in which I was involved. Humanities Kansas pays chosen speakers to talk about their projects. While I did not make the film, I was, somewhat, involved with its production. Strangers in Town. The film chronicles immigrants in a rural community and their positive impact on communities. Watch it and see what you think.

While I was in the area, we stayed with our good friends Mark and Kathy. The rest of the “Covid Bubble, ” Bob and Adrian, showed up for happy hour. Bob, an avid hunter, brought his smoked duck to the small gathering. Mark, another avid hunter, added elk smoked sausage. Adrian and Kathy added cheeses and crackers, and, voilà! We added gin and tonics to the menu for a lovely meal and great conversation. Here’s Bob with the duck:

He says the best way to smoke a duck:

Brine the duck in 1 cup (200g) brown sugar, 1 cup (273g) salt in 1 gallon (3.785 litres) for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, drain the duck. Pat dry, and place in smoker until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees (68.33 Celsius). Cool and serve. The smoked duck and elk sausage offer nice changes in meats on a charcuterie board.

The next morning, Kathy served a wonderful breakfast of egg, bacon, and cheese on a multi-grain bagel. That delicious meal serves as my featured image for this blog. One of the many things I love about my friends is that we all like to cook/bake, and we all like to eat.

In this time of Covid, we work quite diligently at make our meals special. I know that I write on this subject quite often, but I cannot emphasize this enough. Find those moments where you can derive special pleasures even out of the most mundane things. That concept surely plays a key role in sound mental health during isolating and challenging times.

Weeks later, we took a special trip with Mark and Kathy. We drove to their second home in Western New York where lakes were frozen hard enough to land small aircraft and support hundreds of ice fisher persons. Of course, one cannot be near a lake and not partake in good things that come from water. We like to eat at a little place called, Guppy’s. They specialize in the bounties of lake, ocean, and sea waters. The evening we ate there, I had the mussels steamed in a delicate wine, garlic, and butter sauce. Come to think of it, one could steam an old shoe in white wine, garlic, and butter, and it would likely be yummy. I digress. The mussels in their sauce came with a side of linguine and a glass of chardonnay, naked, not aged in oak barrels, a specialty of a nearby vineyard.

I should mention that the community posted 124 inches of snow had fallen since the beginning of winter. The frozen lake and all its charms were just one of the highlights. We traveled to Lake Erie one of the days. It had large snow cliffs where the waves had lapped up against the shore only to freeze in the process. Mark took this lovely picture of Kathy standing on one of the snow cliffs. It looked surreal at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Later, Kathy and I trekked out onto the lake close to her house. I wore my vintage grizzly bear coat, popular in the 1970s, which protected me from the elements quite well.

We spent Valentines Day with our Kathy and Mark at this auspicious lake cottage, so we decided to prepare a loving meal of lobsters, baked potatoes, drawn butter, and asparagus. We ate like queens and kings and washed it all down with, again, the local chardonnay. I loved it. I like a meal that makes me work hard for the sweet morsels of meat hidden behind an exoskeleton. Crusty bread made its way from Kansas to Western New York, so we had that, too.

Back home again, we arrived just a few days after freezing temperatures had dipped well below zero (-15F). Our neighbors dripped the kitchen faucet for us, so we came home to a cozy house feeling lucky that no pipes had burst. We found the four bird feeders and heated water dish quite empty with only a block of feed, meant for deer, as the only remaining food for our yard visitors. They flocked back to the yard once feeders and waters dishes filled.

Thank you for reading.