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Once Upon a Tar Creek

Once Upon A Tar Creek   Mining for VoicesOnce Upon A Tar Creek Mining for Voices by Maryann Hurtt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maryann Hurtt, despite not being from my home county, has portrayed it quite well in this volume of poems. She has captured the spirit of the place.

The book also contains detailed documentation, so there were facts and stories that I learned about my homeplace while reading this book.

It's core subject is the lead and zinc mining that has polluted Tar Creek. But she ranges through the history of the county, particularly the stories of Native American tribes relocated there.

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Conscious Uncoupling

Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even AfterConscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After by Katherine Woodward Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Life has broken you open and it is violently, mercilessly forcing you to evolve, to develop, and to grow."

I saw this book linked in an article last week, ordered it, and then read it in one afternoon and evening. I only wish I'd read it two months ago.

When we first decided to divorce I was intent on making it a good and healing process. I felt alone in that idea. It was so refreshing to realize that there is a body of work trying to help make that more of a common reality.

There is much that I identified with in this book. Much that I found helpful. And some stuff that is really challenging. Now I'll have to go back through and work with the questions and exercises it offers.

If your relationship is having serious difficulties, if your relationship is ending or has recently ended, or if you are still grieving a painful ending, I recommend this.

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"The War." The War?

Last night Sebastian wasn't listening.  I was in a patient mood, so I sat him down to talk about it to see if there was some reason he wasn't listening.  "Are you mad or something?" I asked.

"I'm sad," he answered.

"Sad?  What about?"

"The war."

"The war?"

As I probed further I realized he meant the Second World War.

Why would my five year old child in 2020 be concerned about World War II?  Two stories.

Over the recent holiday weekend we watched the film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe which begins with the London Blitz and the Pevensie children being sent into the English countryside.  Sebastian had this spring also watched a number of times Return to Neverland, the Peter Pan sequel also set during the Blitz. 

So, he asked questions about what was going on in the movies, which prompted me to tell him about the war.  And to personalize it by sharing stories of his great-grandfather who had served.  Knowing me, I'm sure I was a little emotional telling about it.

Then, last Thursday, we were driving home from piano lesson and he saw a billboard on I-80 for the Marines that had the Iwo Jima Monument pictured on it. He asked what the image was, so I told him and he immediately connected with the earlier conversation.  I said that none of our family, that I knew of, had fought at Iwo Jima.  He responded, "But they fought in the war?"  Yes.  "And they fought for freedom?"  Yes (and score parenting points).  

Clearly Sebastian has no sense of the war being seventy years ago.  All he knows is that twice recently it has come up and both times he's felt some familial and personal connection and sensed emotion from his father.  So, for him, this historical event must feel very real.

And the more I reflected on this moment, the more I felt awed by his empathy and intelligence.

At Home: Labyrinths


Daniel Defoe, in A Journal of the Plague Year, which I'm currently reading having intended to read this year even before the pandemic, writes this key paragraph:

Now let any man judge from a case like this if it is possible for the regulations of magistrates, either by shutting up the sick or removing them, to stop an infection which spreads itself from man to man, even while they are perfectly well and insensible of its approach, and may be so for many days.

To that end, I recommend Thomas Pueyo's "The Hammer and the Dance," which does the best job of anything I've recently read about the best current steps and what comes next.  

Even so, there are other voices.  As with any scientific question, there are unknowns.  There's this piece I read on Towleroad entitled "What's the Best Path Forward?"

Part of the value of reading Defoe, or any of the other classic works of plague literature, is that we so often live in the fierce urgency of the now, and historical perspective gives us some sense of what has always been case and the ways our time is not unique.  Also that this too shall pass.

One of my main worries last week was that I saw so much focusing only on one dimension of the problem--the medical questions of the virus (or secondarily the economy) but less about all the other well-being and moral issues implicated.  This week there does seem to be more of that, including more articles about mental health impacts of social isolation, the rise in domestic violence that has already occurred after only one week, and this article in The Atlantic "The Kids Aren’t All Right" about the lasting effects this trauma will have upon a generation of children.  I also had an engaging conversation with a professor of gerontology on Saturday who thought that nursing homes should be providing residents a choice instead of placing them unilaterally in lockdown.  Her reasons were that lack of visits from family and friends are proven to shorten life expectancy, so residents should be offered the choice of whether they want to run the risk of the virus and still be with family and friends.  This is vividly brought to light in my own congregation by a member who was already in hospice and yet now doesn't have those visits, at a time when she would normally be surrounded by people loving her into death.

Defoe has this (among other things) to say about churches in the midst of the 1665 epidemic in London, "Indeed nothing was more strange than to see with what courage the people went to the publick service of God even at that time, when they were afraid to stir out of their own houses upon any other occasion."  He writes about the courage of ministers staying in town and ministering to the citizens.  We are, of course, doing it differently in 2020.  Most of our connections these days are virtual.  This week's staff meeting was inspiring as we now are getting a little more used to everything and are beginning to come up with more innovative and interesting ideas for what to do.  Also this week we will be rolling out more of our programming.  The staff meeting was one of the things that yesterday helped to lift my mood.

Neptune painting

At Dadda's Preschool today was about the planet Neptune, which included painting our papier mache planet.  We also spent a good hour outside with Sebastian riding his bike and walking the church's labyrinth (which I recommend if you can get over there some day on your own).  While walking and biking the labyrinth, Sebastian kept asking, "Is this the right path?"  

I kept answering, "It is.  But it tricks you."

Sebastian biking the labyrinth

I also seemed to have a lot more work to do today.  I didn't come near to completing my to do for church or here at home.

Yesterday's paper in Omaha reported that our citizens are doing a good job of following the guidelines.  Fingers crossed.


At Home: Finding a Rhythm

After my rough patches on Thursday, which I wrote about here, I feel like the last two days we've found more of a rhythm, though I've still had my moments of tiredness, lack of patience, anxiety, and irritability.  

Moon phases

First some Dadda's Preschool updates.  We learned about moon phases with Tatay using Oreos.  We figured out ways to do physical education inside on a cold day by creating obstacle courses to run.  We enjoyed the Zoom meeting that his preschool put together and will be doing every weekday morning so all the kids can see their teachers and each other.  Because the skies were going to be clear, we finally got out the telescope, which Sebastian has become very interested in.  Some new books we ordered arrived and we've enjoyed reading them.  And this morning we started our project of making a model solar system.  We blew up the balloons and cut the newspaper into strips and tomorrow will begin the papier mache.  Here are a few photos:


I'm really proud of the way Sebastian's holding up, though he's had his moments too.  I think he's grown up a lot in one week.  It's been particularly nice to see him helping even more with the daily chores and doing so with enthusiasm.  This morning he got his toolbox out so he could fix some broken things around the house.  His future spouse will hopefully thank me and Michael.

Yesterday I enjoyed some good cooking and baking time, a nice therapy.  

This morning I also finally found some time to catch up on reading various sites I usually follow closely.  Politico had a thorough discussion of ways that the Coronavirus may permanently change society.  I think this speculation may be a little early, but was interesting to read nonetheless.  Many thought that 0n-line education was a permanent fixture now, though one thinker thought the opposite.  An entire generation will be tired of on-line learning and will long will old fashioned human engagement.  I liked that idea.

Another article a couple of weeks old and so maybe already a little dated though still interesting, was a philosophical analysis of costs and benefits in order to evaluate what are the rational responses to the virus.  One interesting consideration discussed there--are the longterm effects to young children worth extending the lives of the elderly by a few months or years or will the current public health decisions inflict a greater longterm harm?  

In the morning I did find myself shedding a little tear at the news of Kenny Rogers's death.  Not that I was a big Kenny fan, but he was such a major star and fixture of popular culture in my early childhood, when I was the age of our son.  

Tomorrow our First Central worship service will be streamed live at this link.

At Home: The Rough Patches

Yesterday, Wednesday, afternoon I hit a wall.  I thought I was doing well, until suddenly I realized I wasn't.  I lost my temper and all my anxiety and tiredness came out.  The precipitating cause was coming back from a walk to discover not only that the dog had gotten muddy, but that one of his turds had gotten trapped in his hair and had coated most of his backside and trying to get it out hurt him and the entire time Sebastian was trying to help and . . . . well, you get the idea. 

So, Dadda needed a little personal time and home preschool was momentarily suspended.

What frustrations have you experienced?

Today at church we finished our worship planning and set up for our livestream for Sunday.  We've started daily video devotionals/prayers/readings.  We have other plans in the works for coming days and weeks.  And I keep up calling some folks every day to see how they are doing and just to talk.

Today, after the worship planning, I was able to run to the grocery store.  Fortunately, ours was well-stocked and the only things on my list I couldn't find were chicken nuggets and garlic.  The store was interesting and fun, as everyone was very polite and giving each other space.  No one seemed to be in a hurry.  I ran into one church member.

But groceries ended up a chore.  It's raining, so hauling all of them up to my front porch in the rain wasn't much fun.  And maybe I've overreacting, but I then set them all in my vestibule and wiped down each and every item before bringing it into the house.  And as I brought loads into the house, I had to rearrange the deep freeze, the fridge, the pantry, to get things to fit.  From beginning to end, the grocery errand took more than three hours of my time.  

Which means that Dadda's preschool schedule for today went out the window.  Sebastian enjoyed watching Animal Mechanicals, however.  And even if his lunch was late in coming, he liked the cheese pizza, apples, and Oreos.

This afternoon I'm tired and sore.  I'd like a massage and a nap.

The one other frustration is information and communication overload.  Anyone else experiencing that?  It's so beautiful how people are reaching out and connecting, but I'm now finding it difficult to keep up with all the texts, messages, posts, calls, etc.  People are also being so kind in sharing ideas resource lists, the latest information.  I can't keep track of how many webinars for churches or Facebook groups for parents at home I've been invited to.  When I sit down to Facebook I have dozens of notifications and can barely keep up.  Wondering if I need to hire a personal assistant just to manage information and communication for me.  

When, exactly, do I get to slow down and read a book or binge a TV show?

And I still need to finish my taxes.  Sigh.

At Home: Dadda's Preschool

Yesterday, Tuesday, March 17, I was up early with lots of energy.  I had researched and planned the day's lessons and activities from all the great ideas friends had shared on Facebook.  I cooked everyone a nice big breakfast.

Sebastian seemed pretty excited about the idea of Dadda being teacher.  I knew his teachers usually started with "What do you know about X?"  And I had watched a video about using concept mapping, so I pulled out our little blackboard and started with "What do you know about space and planets?"  The answers--the Earth has lots of things, the Moon Landing, the Sun is bright, Venus, Mars, and Saturn's rings.  A fruitful beginning.

Concept map of planets

Using the Preschool's daily schedule as a guide, I realized that the sit-down learning times weren't long, so there's not a lot I had to plan in that way for the first day.  We rounded out the first session with a Story Bots video rap about the Planets, which we repeated at the end of the day.

With that intro we headed down to the office, which we plan to do every day for a little change of scenery.  While I got some work done he did a great job of entertaining himself and Nash our puppy.

One of the beautiful things occurring right now are all the people sharing things online--musicians recording music, authors reading books, museum creating virtual tours, folks sharing activity ideas for kids, etc.  I spent a lot of the day posting such resources to my congregation's Facebook group to give people ways to stay engaged.

When we got back home we watched Stories from Space, as an astronaut read one of his favorite books, Ada Twist, Scientist.  After this one of those unplanned moments arose.  He asked a question about moons, so we googled and NASA has such great resources online, we watched one of their videos about moons in the Solar System and Sebastian was really excited to learn there were so many, that Saturn has more than 80, and that Uranus has ones with ice volcanoes.  

Fortunately yesterday was nice and sunny and we played out side for good stretches of time. He's SO good at t-ball batting that we had hoped to get him into spring sports; another thing that will wait.  Today it's raining, so we'll have to do some things on our front porch.


Sebastian was also eager to help prepare lunch; he's always liked cooking.  And later in the day he helped me collect the trash, sort the recycling, and carry it all to the curb--chores he's not assisted with in the past.

In the afternoon and evening there ended up being more TV time than I had originally planned, but there's only so much one can do to entertain and engage one's child, particularly when one still has work to do.  But we kept alternating with little lessons, play, and other activities.  His preschool sent along a special St. Patrick's Day yoga routine, which we did together.  He kept telling me, "Here's how you do it."


Speaking of St. Patrick's Day, we did venture away from planets for a while in the afternoon to read about St. Patrick and to dance to Celtic music.


By late afternoon this Dadda was pretty worn out, especially imagining weeks of this routine.  Fortunately a good friend who now lives in California called and we video chatted for a long time.  Reconnecting with folks also stuck at home is going to be one of the beautiful parts of this.  Sebastian and I plan to connect with a family member or friend every day.

In the evening we were in the backyard and neighbors to the east and south were both outside, so we chatted over the fences.  I can imagine there will also be a lot of this going on.

We weren't successful in getting the Metropolitan Opera's stream of La Boheme to work on our TV, but we did watch it on my phone, curled upon the couch together.  Sebastian watched for 45 minutes, far more than I expected, with lots of questions and me having to explain everything.  He was very upset when we finally stopped, because we were well past his bedtime.

At Home, Post No. 1

So, time to start blogging about life during COVID-19.

Yesterday, Monday, March 16 was the first full weekday when the impacts of closures and staying at home were felt by the overwhelming number of people.  Last week was one of confusion and increasing realization of what was happening and coming.  Luckily last week I had gone to the grocery store on Monday for a normal grocery run but decided to go ahead and stock up.  There was hardly anyone in the store and the shelves were still full.

On Tuesday night last week our Church Council made decisions related to the virus and how our programming might change in the weeks ahead.  We didn't realize that the full plan would be implemented within days.  I feel pretty good about live-stream we did pull off on Sunday, and we intend to get better at it as we go along.

Live Stream Wave

Our Associate Pastor recommended people make signs to hang in their windows as ways to pass the peace to neighbors walking by.  Sebastian liked that idea.  Over time we plan to make more and fill our windows with fun messages.

Window signs

Michael works for the Election Commission, and they were already into pre-primary overtime.  The virus just added to that. He has been working very long overtimes the last week, including one twenty hour day.

Yesterday our church staff spent planning our next steps.  Despite meetings and events being cancelled, we suddenly have more work to do, as we must come up with new ways of doing what we normally do and the pastoral care needs increase.  So much of ones job becomes easy routine with time, but now all those routines are upset.  There will be fun in experimenting and innovating.  I'm excited to see the long-term benefits that could result from all of this.

I decided that one project of this season will be calling all my church members, a few each day, to check on them.  Already yesterday in the few people I called I discovered a host of needs heightened by the crisis.  Most poignant was the congregant on hospice care who now can't have visits from friends and family.  I'm so used to us surrounding people in that moment, how sad to imagine not having that.

Sebastian largely spent yesterday tagging along to my office or watching TV at home.  I told him that was the last day of that, as we would begin a daily routine on Tuesday.  His preschool e-mailed me their normal daily schedule, so I'm going to adapt it for our use.  Suddenly I find myself having more work while also becoming a full-time early childhood educator.  Add on top of that cooking every meal and the extra household chores from being at home.  And with the other parent working overtime.

For his first topic of study Sebastian selected Space and the Planets, interests of his for a while.  Last night I posted on Facebook "Like many of you, I now have a second full-time job as the early childhood educator of my son. Sebastian has decided that our first topic of exploration is space and planets (an interest of his for a while now). Any suggestions on activities and resources is much appreciated."  Within minutes the suggestions started rolling in.  I almost cried.

So during my insomnia I researched those ideas and started working out some lesson plans.  I ordered some supplies from Amazon.  You know it's real when expected delivery times are in three or four days instead of next day delivery!

Beautifully there are many places offering services for free at this time.  Also I saw that various authors and artists are now creating material from home for people to share.  There will be some good things happening in this season.

I'm both looking forward to trying our new routine today and apprehensive about how it will go.  Also worried about how soon I'm going to be drained.

The Teens

Saw so many posts on Facebook this week with people reviewing their personal highlights of the decade, which got me to thinking about ours.


Michael and Scott moved to Omaha, Nebraska, when Scott accepted the call to become Senior Minister of the First Central Congregational Church.  We bought a 1910 house and began remodeling projects.  


In January we rolled one of our cars on the ice.  In April we went to Italy for two weeks for the honeymoon we had delayed since 2009.  Michael was elected to the Justice and Witness Ministries Board of the United Church of Christ.  And Scott's grandfather died.


Michael started working at the Urban League of Nebraska.  The Equality Ordinance was passed by the Omaha City Council.  Our niece Zoe was born.  We kayaked at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  Scott went to Paris with friends.  And in November we were legally married on the Iowa side of the pedestrian bridge spanning the Missouri River.


We were foster parents.  Enjoyed a trip to California that summer.  Michael had his tonsils removed.  Michael's grandmother died.  And he traveled to Costa Rica with friends.


For Scott's fortieth birthday, we visited the Big Island of Hawaii.  Scott attended the Yale Writer's Conference and began to work diligently on completing his book.  That fall he began teaching in the philosophy department at Creighton University.


Sebastian was born!  Marriage equality was achieved!  We traveled to Costa Rica for Sara Salas's wedding (and our babymoon).  Scott's stepfather, living with Alzheimer's, entered a nursing home.


Scott took a sabbatical.  Michael's grandfather died.  Scott and his sister took their mom to Ireland.  Michael's mother was killed in a car accident.


Nash, a West Highland Terrier, joined our family for Sebastian's birthday.  We took a family vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Michael was elected to the national Board of Directors of the United Church of Christ.  Scott's Mom moved in with us after receiving a cancer diagnosis.


Scott's Mom's surgery revealed no cancer, and she moved home.  Michael began working at the Douglas County Election Commission.  Sebastian started preschool and was ring-bearer for his godfather.  Scott's memoir was published.  Scott's stepfather died.  Sebastian had an emergency appendectomy.  Michael celebrated his fortieth birthday.


Scott delivered a TEDx Talk and was elected chair of the Board of Directors of the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ.  Sebastian appeared in his first dance recital, attended theatre and nature camps, competed in a triathlon, and otherwise flourished.  We camped at a picturesque Iowa State Park overlooking the Mississippi River.  And we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.