Sunday, October 28, 2012

"The BOSS"

All this time, I've known that my daughter blamed me for the divorce. She's been conflicted because she loves me & sees that I'm the one taking care of her but she also finds herself angry at no longer having her parents together. This, of course, is compounded by her father choosing to not be very involved of late, bringing up her abandonment issues from her time in foster care.

The thing that I was never able to understand was the fact that she kept telling me that I could be married to Dad again, if I wanted to. I thought that this was maybe just a misunderstanding of the situation, which I tried to dispel by explaining to her that Dad & I had tried to get back together, but it had not worked.

So, tonight, while I'm fixing her hair before bed, I was surprised when she asked me if I was going to get married to her Dad again. "No, honey. Your dad & I aren't getting back together."

"Well why not? Your the boss of Dad. He told me so. If you tell him to marry you he has to!"

Ummm...what? Now, I remember that he used to tell the kids that I was the boss. He spent most of our marriage working away from home. So, I did basically all of the parenting. As a result, I set the rules & he just sort of followed along when he was there, since he'd be leaving again in a matter of days. Poor thing, all this time, she's blamed me because she thinks that I should just tell him what he was doing wrong and he'd HAVE to fix it. After all, I'm "the boss".

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The unanswered questions are the hardest to deal with...

Since finding out about the recent events in my daughter's family, my mind has been racing. I contacted Indian Child Welfare, as the state is required to contact them is lil sis was taken into care. If they weren't contacted, they are also more likely to get more information when they call around asking, than I. So far, no one knows anything. But, she has to be somewhere. It's possible, though, that a family member kept her while Grandma was in jail and the authorities were never told about her. There are just so many possibilities. I hate to think of all the things that she may have gone through in the past 4 years. I just hope that she is safe.

All of the memories and feelings that I felt as a foster parent have come flooding back. I hadn't forgotten then, but they had lost their edge, their immediacy. Now, though, I remember the anxiety so well. The feeling of helplessness is real once again. The times of watching my tiny little girl scared & struggling to deal with all that she had been through in her short life play out in my mind. Then I think of her little sister, who was left to her own devices in the chaos.

Some background, for those unfamiliar with our story: My daughter (Beautiful) was born into a family with a multi-generational legacy in the child welfare system. Her personal foster care journey began at 2 months old. There times that she was fostered along with her mother (who was also a minor), times she was fostered alone, and even a (short) failed reunification with her mother. However, there were never any real improvements, so they began looking towards permenency for her.

Beautiful was 20 months old when we were chosen to be her adoptive family and she moved in with us soon after. A petition to terminate the parental rights of her mother (Rahil) had already been filed. Beautiful's mother hadn't seen her in months, nor had she been seen in person by anyone in CPS, so no one yet knew that she was pregnant. I can't remember when that news was discovered, but it was not too long before the birth.

We were asked to take placement of the baby, as they planned to remove her upon her release from the hospital. However, CPS had also told Rahil about their little plan. So, she went into Texas to have the baby. When OK DHS was alerted about the birth, they sent our caseworker to the hospital, since we lived in a county that bordered the state line. This decision led to a spiral of chaos.

I never got straight answers about what all the caseworker told Rahil. However, by the time she was released from the hospital, she knew where we lived and had moved about 20 miles away from us. This was an issue, since we had been chosen as Beautiful's family because we lived a couple hours away from her biological family. There were security concerns, as the family have a long record of violence and instability. We were given orders to never tell any of the family what area of the state we lived in or to give them our last names, so that they couldn't find her. We were threatened that, if we revealed any identifying information to them, even accidentally, Beautiful would be moved to a new home for her safety. Now, her own caseworker had handed over all this information.

His supervisor, of course, said I had no right to complain because "he didn't give them the directions to your house". We lived in a rural community, where my name is rather unusual. So, all that was needed to find out where we lived was to ask any given person in town. Later, I would be told by Rahil that they not only knew where we lived, but they kept up with the town's rumor mill & watched the local newspapers to get information on our family.

In any event, moving to our county allowed Rahil to transfer her CPS case to our county court, giving her a new judge. So, not only did that county decline to pick up the baby (despite another child in care & testing positive for drug exposure at birth), they restarted Beautiful's case. Eventually, though, we were given guardianship of her & were later able to adopt her.

One thing that didn't change, though, is that the baby was still left in the care of her biological family. At some point, Rahil was told that she could not keep the baby. So, she asked if Grandma could take care of her. She was told no, as Grandma has convictions for child endangerment and had been declared by 3 different counties to be unfit to care for Beautiful. So, they did what they always do...they moved. This time, though, they landed in a county that was willing to give Grandma another chance. So, Grandma got to keep the baby & she immediately cut off all contact with Beautiful.

We haven't heard from her since. For a few years, we got reassurances that she was being monitored, so things weren't getting too far out of hand, as far as they could tell. However, once CPS stopped their services with the family...or lost track of them...or whatever happened, we had no way to know anything. Now that Grandma has been arrested once again for domestic abuse, we are left with a huge question mark about the safety of the baby. She's 4 now, and I shutter to think about the things that she may have had to deal with.

Since this came to light, several people have wondered if I will try to get custody. That is simply not an option at this point. I closed my license when I chose to go to law school. At this moment, I couldn't pass the financial portion of a homestudy if I tried. However, I'm almost finished with school & things should improve soon after. So, if permanency became an option at a later point, I would definitely entertain the idea. However, at this point, I am focusing on just trying to find out if she's ok and, hopefully, setting up some sibling visits.

There are many bittersweet moments in this journey. Lately I've been reminded of all the losses & gains that go along with this crazy thing we call adoption. My heart is full of love for my daughter & gratitude for all that she has brought to my life...and heavy with worry for her sister.

Friday, October 26, 2012

196 days until graduation!

This morning I enrolled in my very last semester of law school. It's surreal. There's still a lot work to be done between now & then, but it's good to see that there's a light at the end of this very long tunnel.

I'm starting to feel optimistic again. I can do this. I will make life better for my family. Things will turn out alright.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Matter of Public Record...

Lately, my daughter has been asking a lot about her little sister. They are 2 years, 9 days apart in age. Unfortunately, they haven't seen each other since the baby was a couple months old. Shortly thereafter, the baby went to live with Grandma. Grandma had been coming to visit my daughter but, once she had the baby to take care of, she quickly lost interest and never showed up for any visits or tried to contact her in any way.

Over time, we've talked about her sister and the limited information that I have about her. Lately, though, my daughter has been particularly interested in the possibility of actually having visits with her. I truly didn't think this was within the realm of possibility. However, out of curiosity, I did something that I haven't done in a long time: I searched public records for Grandma. I almost wish I hadn't...

Sometimes I'm glad that public records are so easy to access, but sometimes they just cause more anxiety...

Apparently, last month, Grandma was arrested for domestic violence. She spent several days in jail before bonding out. I had always worried about the baby (I still call her "the baby", even though she is almost 5 now), but I had hope because I was being reassured by cps that Grandma was doing well & staying sober. Now, though, it's pretty clear that she's not doing so well. I have no way to know if the baby is ok, or if she was involved in the incident. The not knowing is terrible.

I hope & pray she is safe.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Today, I got an awesome delivery...2 blueberry plants.

These beautiful plants, which were made possible by a generous gift from one of my readers, are now safely planted in the yard. So, that means we now have blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. All the plants are old enough that they should produce next year, so we should be able to pick fresh fruit right in our yard. Aside from being healthy and convenient, this will also help lessen our grocery bills, since we go through at least a package of each type of berry every week.

To update on some of the DIY household stuff I've been trying out.

Laundry Soap:

I had previously used this homemade laundry soap and had remarkable success with it. It uses 5 gallons water, 1 bar Ivory soap, 1/2 cup borax & 1 cup washing soda. This time, though, I washed out the detergent jug that I just emptied & decided to wing it from there. I used 1 bar Ivory soap, 1/2 cup borax & 1 cup baking soda (I wasn't able to find washing soda that day). Then, I fill the rest of the jug up with the hot water (about 3 quarts).

It works just fine, I simply remember that it is more concentrated than the original recipe so, instead of measuring out a cap-full, I make certain to use about 1/5...which usually gets closer to 1/4. This is laundry, not rocket no harm done. I have made this type of soap using washing soda and baking soda and, quite honestly, don't see a marked difference.

Now, the big question that I keep getting asked: did it work?

Well, I washed a load of laundry that would typically require soaking & washing twice with my store-bought detergent. Instead, I soaked overnight with the DIY laundry soap & washed through when I got up the next morning. Everything came clean, no need to re-wash. An important note, though: I used vinegar in the rinse cycle. My washing machine doesn't have a dispenser, so I put it in a Downy ball. The vinegar makes sure that all the soap rinses out of the fabric and naturally softens the clothes.

Dishwasher detergent:

 This one is beyond simple. It's equal parts borax & baking soda. Use vinegar in the rinse aid well. I've been using it all week and have had no problems. Everything comes out clean and sparkling.

Shaving Lotion

This one was a little difficult. It calls for 1 cup shampoo, 1 cup conditioner & 5 tablespoons each baby oil & lotion. I had to half the recipe due to the size of the available container.

Because I didn't want to go out & buy any ingredients, I decided to use products that I had lying around the house. Here's where the complication arose. The shampoo & conditioner that I had are olive oil products. They are liquid, instead of creamy. So, my batch turned out more as a shaving oil. Next time I make this, I will reduce the amount of baby oil (or eliminate it completely) to help account for this and make it thicker.

Shoe Hangers

I don't remember if I've mentioned it before, but I've also made shoe hangers from wire hangers. It took a few minutes to make them, but it got easier the more I did. At first, I wasn't sure that there was a point. However, I have a low bar in my closet that had some room, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Once I started hanging up my shoes (everything from sandals to casual flats), I realized how much space they took up. Now, my closet is far more organized and I can actually walk into it now, since it's not crowded with rows of shoes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Maybe things aren't going as well as I had thought.

I don't know what happened, really. The kids have been doing wonderfully. They love their schools this year and had seemed to be more settled. They've been really excited about me graduating and we've been discussing the possibilities that the future may hold.

Then, 20 minutes ago, I was awakened by the doorbell. I had fallen asleep with the baby, as I am perpetually exhausted and, while I slept, my 9 year old had packed some things and ran away from home. Apparently he was distraught about missing our old life, and thought he could hike back down there to see his grandparents. It's not that he doesn't want to be with us, he tells me, but he misses them and he wants to see his dad.

Fortunately, a woman from down the street (also a mother) saw him and brought him home. So, he is home safe.

I am at a loss as to how to deal with this. I completely understand how not knowing how to deal with overwhelming emotions can make a kid want to run. After all, I did it myself. However, I firmly believe in dealing with the root of an issue. Unfortunately, the root of this issue seems to lie in his father's lack of involvement in his life. Last night, the kids got a phone call from him for the first time in weeks which, I'm guessing, is what starting this emotional volcano bubbling.

Desperately. That's how much I'd like to take their pain away. I know the divorce shattered their world. It shook mine to the foundation so I can only imagine how that must feel to a child.

Lost. That's how I feel. I don't know what to do here. The kids & I have been surviving this but, every time I think we're moving over into thriving, something knocks us back down.

I don't know what to do...

Household Update

 I received a package in the mail today, containing blackberry bushes (2 blueberry plants are on order, but haven't arrived). Oh what joy! This purchase was made possible by the generosity of one of my readers and I am eternally grateful. I will plant them where a hedge used to be in the yard. They will stay after we move, so that future renters will be able to enjoy the fruits. It makes me happy to pay it forward, even in little ways.

The chore list and chore jar are helping a lot. I am having to spend significantly less of my time on housekeeping and the kids are getting much better at cleaning up after themselves. The chore can still gets used about 3 or 4 days out of the week. Like I said before, though, I won't complain because it means that the guilty part does one of my chores, which makes up for the time that I had to spend picking up after them.
The financial worries are a little lessened at the moment. Some amazing people in my life have contributed what they can to keep us afloat and it has helped so much. I have been selling items, mostly in online auctions. It's not going to make me rich, of course, but it's become a part-time job that's allowing me to pay a few bills and the fees for the upcoming exam to get a limited legal license, which is required for my next internship. YAY! Things are still tight, but not as dire as they were.

On the child support front, there are mixed blessings.  I knew that the Big's father had been working again and wasn't paying any of his support obligation, as was the case with the last half dozen jobs. Last week though, I lost my temper with him about it. I was told that I just don't understand how hard it is to try to get by on a small amount of money. I would like to say that I handled myself with class and let it pass me by but, that would be a lie. Truthfully, I yelled at him and told him that, not only do I understand what it is to get by on nothing, I have to figure out how to stretch that to meet the needs of children. "I don't have the luxury of only caring for myself!" is the phrase that I actually used. Perhaps someday I will be able to conduct myself in a more dignified manner and not let him get to me, but that wasn't the day.

Child Support Enforcement had asked me to hold off on my own enforcement efforts because they had some attempts planned. That was in June and not a word from them since. So, I called them back. In June they sent out letters to most recent employers to verify employment status. At the end of July, they got the confirmation that he was not with any of those jobs at that time. No surprise, of course, since he works construction, most of his jobs are short term. Apparently, at that point, they didn't want to revoke his license in case he found a job. That part I understand. What I do NOT understand is the fact that, since that time, no one has reviewed the file to see the jobs that he has had since then OR to make any enforcement efforts whatsoever. They didn't even send one of their little letters. After my phone call, though, they decided to move forward. If I understood her correctly, they were sending out a notice to him and, if he didn't make a payment within 10 days, they would make further efforts.

Well, he made a partial payment. Which is good, since the money is badly needed. I worry, though, that this will be like last time they sent him a letter. At that time, he made a small payment to get them off his back and didn't pay anything else until now. Hopefully, though, he will continue to pay voluntarily since this partial payment will stall their enforcement efforts. According to what the Child Support Enforcement worker told me, they won't do anything unless there had been 90 days without payment. So, he may have bought himself some time. I will be writing up some subpoenas, over the next few days, though, and will ask the court to reset the hearing for my own enforcement efforts. It is clear that I can't count on the state to assist me, so I will advocate for myself.

On a more happy note, the whole family is getting excited about graduation. Only 202 days! There is a light at the end of this very long tunnel...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Native Students

Today I attend The American Indian/Alaskan Native College Student Success Symposium.

The initial presentation was a study that was conducted regarding the typical challenges that are faced by many Native students, and what can be done to help ensure success.

The statistics presenting were astonishing. On average, out of 100 Native students in this country, only 50 will graduate from high school. Roughly 19 of those will enroll in a 2 year college and another 19 will enroll in a 4 year university. Only 7 will earn a Bachelor's degree. Only .3 (yes, three-tenths) will earn a Master's & .3 will earn a doctorate level degree.

Wow. How tragic.

There are so many problems that need to be addressed in Indian Country and access to education needs to be towards the top of the list.

When they surveyed students, one of the common themes that kept showing up was financial difficulties. The generational poverty that many Natives have to contend with often leave students with no financial support system. Financial aid helps pay for tuition and fees. However, it is often not enough to cover living expenses and transportation. The study found students that were having to hitchhike for miles to get to campus or working multiple jobs to make ends meets, while juggling classes. Childcare and expenses were a recurrent issue, and one that I understand from experience. There are many meetings and activities that I simply cannot attend because I cannot take all of my children with me & I simply cannot afford to pay for any additional childcare. One student was quoted as saying something to the effect of it being difficult to focus on college algebra when she's sitting there trying to figure out how she's going to be able to have enough diapers to get the baby through the week.

I don't have answers to how to fix these problems, but I understand all to well how real they are. At this moment, I'm choosing to draw strength from looking at those numbers and knowing that I will be the .3, no matter what it takes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Daycare closed?!?

This morning, while I was getting kids ready for school, I got a text saying that the daycare lady was sick. If this had been a day where I was working on my online work, it wouldn't have been a big deal. However, Tuesdays I not only have class, but it's a class where I only have 1 (yes, one) allowable absence. While pondering what to do, I did what most people tend to do these days...I posted about it on FaceBook.

"Day-care canceled today due to illness. I get to decide whether to take the day off & use my only absence or try taking lil guy to class with hopes the professor will be understanding..."

Within a few minutes, a fellow law student (who is also a mother) answered, offering to hang out with my lil man so that I didn't have to miss class. She was truly a lifesaver & he seemed to have a great time with her. So, the baby has a new friend & I made it to class.

Overall, not a bad result...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fire Pit

Since I have had several questions and comments about my fire pit, I thought I'd post a couple of extra details that weren't mentioned previously.

Because it's essentially a hole in the ground that it lined with rocks, drainage can be an issue. I didn't want to deal with the problem of it filling up when it rains and having to wait for it to dry out, so I built in drainage.

The pit is located at the top of a natural slope, so I simply dug a drainage ditch & placed my homemade pipe inside. I had fashioned it out of steel cans (in this case, formula cans) with their bottoms cut out. I simply lined them up & duct taped them together. Yes, I know how cliche that is, but it worked well to make sure that none of the cans moved while I built the walls of the pit or covered the pipe.

As you can see, I placed rocks at the opening of the drainage pipe to prevent erosion and covered it with soil & transplanted grass. Clearly part of it is still visible. However, I plan to wait until the grass has the chance to get a firm root before I disturb it further. At that time, I plan to cover more of the can so that it is almost entirely camouflaged.                 Overall, this was a relatively easy project that took only a couple hours, but I am happy with the results. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Oh Happy Day

Today, like most days, hasn't been as productive as I would have liked. However, I am so happy because my strawberry plants came in the mail today. It rained all morning, so the ground was easy to break up & we put them all in the ground. We chose a location that has enough sun, but used to be a flower bed, so that we weren't disturbing the lawn. Hopefully, by doing that, the owner will leave the plants here after we move and the next renters will get to enjoy them.

The kids are so excited about growing some of our own food again. They were incredibly eager to get out and help be make our little strawberry patch. I think that, in some ways, it reminds us all of when our life was more settled & makes this place feel like a home instead of just a stop on the ride.

Next on the list is procuring some blueberry & blackberry bushes.

Another project that I managed to accomplish, was making my daughter a skirt. We started with a shirt that had gotten too short & I found a pair of jeans with the knees ripped out. It was relatively easy construction. I actually wanted to make it a bit fancier. I had planned a lettuce edge at the hem, to make it flippier, but my sewing machine needs to be worked on so it couldn't manage a zig-zag stitch.

So, in the end, we decided to just do a basic design. The jeans are a size larger than she normally wears, but have an adjustable waist that draws up small enough to fit her. So, I decided to make the skirt hit below her knees in order to accommodate growth without getting too short. She should be able to wear it for a very long time. Honestly, the fabric will probably wear out before she outgrows the thing. Even though it didn't turn out quite like I had envisioned, she loves it and that's what matters.

I apologize for the terrible photo, but she didn't want to be still. :-)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Saving money, helping others & being kind to the planet

I thought I'd give a status report on our efforts to organize, save money, upcycle & be more eco-friendly.

We haven't been able to cut money very much further, since I was already operating on a shoestring budget. However, I made a happy find with Inbox Dollars. For the last week I've been accumulating earnings. I haven't yet gotten a check from them, but I've read great reviews about them online. Granted, it won't make me a millionaire, but every little bit helps. Plus, I like that they have both manufacturer & local coupons available, and you earn $.10 for each coupon you cash in. At my weekly trip to the store, I saved  $6.50 and earned back $1.

Previously, I hadn't used coupons an awful lot. Mostly, this is because the coupon generally only brings the price down to about what the store brand normally costs. So, I would always buy the store brand and not hassle with the coupons. However,  I recently realized that, if I take the extra two minutes to print & use the coupons, I can get the products that participate in programs like Box Tops for Education. This makes me feel good, of course, because it helps my kids' schools.

In an effort to reduce costs and eliminate chemicals from our home, we use common household items for multiple purposes. Here are a few examples that I use on a regular basis:

  • Baking soda
    • You can use it with equal parts borax for the dishwasher detergent. Alternatively, I've used baking soda a couple drops of dishwashing detergent (don't use too much, though, because of the over-sudding problem).
    • Baking Soda is great as a laundry booster or as part of a homemade detergent
  • Vinegar
    • use as a rinse agent in the dishwasher
    • makes a great fabric softener! Chemical softener's are full of harmful chemicals & reduce the life of your clothes. Vinegar, on the other hand, softens naturally by rinsing all the soap & grime cleanly from the fabric.
    • Mix 1 part vinegar & 4 parts water to make a household cleaner.
  • Rubbing alcohol 
    • as a insecticide. It kills on contact & cleans up easier, without putting harmful compounds into the air.
    • gets ink stains out of fabric
    • great in cleaning glass without streaks. I add a little bit of it with the vinegar cleaner & the evaporative effect helps reduce streaking
I've also been working on re-purposing items, in order to reduce waste. I make our dog food, so any meat scraps we have usually end up in his chow. What to do with other household scraps, not to mention lawn clippings, etc...compost them, of course!

We re-purposed an inexpensive storage tote into a compost bin, that is kept in the back yard. It is amazing how quickly things breakdown if done properly. Take a look at this poster for ideas on what can be composted.

Of course, the ultimate purpose of our composting efforts is for the garden that we are planning for next year. When deciding where to put it, I realized that a surprising amount of produce can be grown in just our little backyard. I already have strawberry plants being shipped to me (found, of all places, on eBay from an organic gardener who is thinning her patch) and am looking forward to getting other things started. In the meantime, the grass that I'm removing from the garden spots are successfully being used to fill in spots in the lawn.
Instead of trying to buy a charcoal grill, we dug our own firepit. We chose to go with a dug-out variety, rather than building a fancy above ground variety, because we rent. It is far easier to refill the hole, than to tear down a structure. Besides, this method allowed us to use rocks and cement blocks that were already available on the property, without having to buy and new supplies.  The rack that you see is salvaged from an old stove & the grill lid is from an old charcoal grill. Aside from the usual hot dogs & hamburgers, the kids & I also tried our hand at grilling salmon. It turned out amazing!

Other re-purposing projects that we've been doing has been varied. Plastic soda bottles are being turned into plant waterers. Steel formula cans have become canisters for various items in the kitchen. You can get fancy in labeling (or do the chalkboard paint thing, so you can change it), but so far I've just been writing on them with a Sharpie & keeping them behind a closed cabinet door. Steel cans that used to hold canned soups & vegetables have been used as a border for our planting beds. They separate the beds from the lawn, but are also strategically placed in the drip-line of the roof, to prevent erosion. I haven't yet decided whether to decorate them or camouflage them.

I've also re-made a few miscellaneous objects that I had lying around, in order to decorate our house. An inverted wine glass, with a silk rose from an old arrangement, has become a charming candle holder for my mantle piece. Another, long-stemmed wine glass was turned into a candle holder, with a twist. I added coffee beans and a tea light. Use either a vanilla scented candle or, for a chemical free approach, a drop or two of vanilla extract and it makes the whole room smell divine!

Our re-purposing efforts have effectively reduced what we send out as trash and recycling by about half. Our major output right now is aluminum can. The tabs go to charity, but we send quite a few cans to the recycling center every week. I am currently looking for a viable way to reuse them.

If you have a suggestions on what to do with my over-abundance of aluminum cans...or other ways to save money, help others, or being kind to the planet, please let me know! I'm always open to ideas.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pet world

How many pets does one house need?

Yesterday, my 9 year old son brought home not one, but two, new friends. Apparently, their science classes observe small creatures for the first several weeks of school and, when they are done with their unit, the students can take them home, given they write an essay about how they will care for the creature (and the parent signs the permission form, of course).

Last year he brought home a green anole. This year we welcome 2 female fiddler crabs.

That brings the total pet count in this house to:

1 beagle

2 crabs

1 lizard

4 children ;)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Speechless moments

This evening, my daughter asked how long she was in foster care, which opened a discussion that resulted in a basic overview of her foster care timeline. When I was explaining her failed reunion with her mother, I said something like "she wasn't being able to take care of you like you needed to be taken care of..." and she cut me off with a matter-of-fact

"like Daddy's not taking care of us now?"

Wow. Ouch.

Eric Kasum: Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery

This is an excellent article on the subject of Columbus Day. Perhaps one of the best that I've seen so far. Posting, since so many of my friends have found it informative.
Once again, it's time to celebrate Columbus Day. Yet, the stunning truth is: If Christopher Columbus were alive today, he would be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Columbus' reign of terror, as documented by noted historians, was so bloody, his legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.

Question: Why do we honor a man who, if he were alive today, would almost certainly be sitting on Death Row awaiting execution?

If you'd like to know the true story about Christopher Columbus, please read on. But I warn you, it's not for the faint of heart.

Here's the basics. On the second Monday in October each year, we celebrate Columbus Day (this year, it's on October 11th). We teach our school kids a cute little song that goes: "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." It's an American tradition, as American as pizza pie. Or is it? Surprisingly, the true story of Christopher Columbus has very little in common with the myth we all learned in school.

Columbus Day, as we know it in the United States, was invented by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization. Back in the 1930s, they were looking for a Catholic hero as a role-model their kids could look up to. In 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt signed Columbus Day into law as a federal holiday to honor this courageous explorer. Or so we thought.

There are several problems with this. First of all, Columbus wasn't the first European to discover America. As we all know, the Viking, Leif Ericson probably founded a Norse village on Newfoundland some 500 years earlier. So, hat's off to Leif. But if you think about it, the whole concept of discovering America is, well, arrogant. After all, the Native Americans discovered North America about 14,000 years before Columbus was even born! Surprisingly, DNA evidence now suggests that courageous Polynesian adventurers sailed dugout canoes across the Pacific and settled in South America long before the Vikings.

Second, Columbus wasn't a hero. When he set foot on that sandy beach in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, Columbus discovered that the islands were inhabited by friendly, peaceful people called the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks. Writing in his diary, Columbus said they were a handsome, smart and kind people. He noted that the gentle Arawaks were remarkable for their hospitality. "They offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no," he said. The Arawaks had no weapons; their society had neither criminals, prisons nor prisoners. They were so kind-hearted that Columbus noted in his diary that on the day the Santa Maria was shipwrecked, the Arawaks labored for hours to save his crew and cargo. The native people were so honest that not one thing was missing.

Columbus was so impressed with the hard work of these gentle islanders, that he immediately seized their land for Spain and enslaved them to work in his brutal gold mines. Within only two years, 125,000 (half of the population) of the original natives on the island were dead.

If I were a Native American, I would mark October 12, 1492, as a black day on my calendar.

Shockingly, Columbus supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery. Young girls of the ages 9 to 10 were the most desired by his men. In 1500, Columbus casually wrote about it in his log. He said: "A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand."

He forced these peaceful natives work in his gold mines until they died of exhaustion. If an "Indian" worker did not deliver his full quota of gold dust by Columbus' deadline, soldiers would cut off the man's hands and tie them around his neck to send a message. Slavery was so intolerable for these sweet, gentle island people that at one point, 100 of them committed mass suicide. Catholic law forbade the enslavement of Christians, but Columbus solved this problem. He simply refused to baptize the native people of Hispaniola.

On his second trip to the New World, Columbus brought cannons and attack dogs. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, Columbus had them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down, and the dogs would tear off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive. If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, Arawak babies were killed for dog food.

Columbus' acts of cruelty were so unspeakable and so legendary - even in his own day - that Governor Francisco De Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his two brothers, slapped them into chains, and shipped them off to Spain to answer for their crimes against the Arawaks. But the King and Queen of Spain, their treasury filling up with gold, pardoned Columbus and let him go free.

One of Columbus' men, Bartolome De Las Casas, was so mortified by Columbus' brutal atrocities against the native peoples, that he quit working for Columbus and became a Catholic priest. He described how the Spaniards under Columbus' command cut off the legs of children who ran from them, to test the sharpness of their blades. According to De Las Casas, the men made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. He says that Columbus' men poured people full of boiling soap. In a single day, De Las Casas was an eye witness as the Spanish soldiers dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 native people. "Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel," De Las Casas wrote. "My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write."

De Las Casas spent the rest of his life trying to protect the helpless native people. But after a while, there were no more natives to protect. Experts generally agree that before 1492, the population on the island of Hispaniola probably numbered above 3 million. Within 20 years of Spanish arrival, it was reduced to only 60,000. Within 50 years, not a single original native inhabitant could be found.

In 1516, Spanish historian Peter Martyr wrote: "... a ship without compass, chart, or guide, but only following the trail of dead Indians who had been thrown from the ships could find its way from the Bahamas to Hispaniola."

Christopher Columbus derived most of his income from slavery, De Las Casas noted. In fact, Columbus was the first slave trader in the Americas. As the native slaves died off, they were replaced with black slaves. Columbus' son became the first African slave trader in 1505.

Are you surprised you never learned about any of this in school? I am too. Why do we have this extraordinary gap in our American ethos? Columbus himself kept detailed diaries, as did some of his men including De Las Casas and Michele de Cuneo. (If you don't believe me, just Google the words Columbus, sex slave, and gold mine.)
Columbus' reign of terror is one of the darkest chapters in our history. The REAL question is: Why do we celebrate a holiday in honor of this man? (Take three deep breaths. If you're like me, your stomach is heaving at this point. I'm sorry. Sometimes the truth hurts. That said, I'd like to turn in a more positive direction.)

Call me crazy, but I think holidays ought to honor people who are worthy of our admiration, true heroes who are positive role models for our children. If we're looking for heroes we can truly admire, I'd like to offer a few candidates. Foremost among them are school kids.

Let me tell you about some school kids who are changing the world. I think they are worthy of a holiday. My friend Nan Peterson is the director of the Blake School, a K-12 school in Minnesota. She recently visited Kenya. Nan says there are 33 million people in Kenya... and 11 million of them are orphans! Can you imagine that? She went to Kibera, the slum outside Nairobi, and a boy walked up to her and handed her a baby. He said: My father died. My mother died... and I'm not feeling so good myself. Here, take my sister. If I die, they will throw her into the street to die.

There are so many orphans in Kenya, the baby girls are throwaways!

Nan visited an orphanage for girls. The girls were starving to death. They had one old cow that only gave one cup of milk a day. So each girl only got ONE TEASPOON of milk a day!

After this heartbreaking experience, Nan went home to her school in Minnesota and asked the kids... what can we do? The kids got the idea to make homemade paper and sell it to buy a cow. So they made a bunch of paper, and sold the paper, and when they were done they had enough money to buy... FOUR COWS! And enough food to feed all of the cows for ONE FULL YEAR! These are kids... from 6 years old to 18... saving the lives of kids halfway around the world. And I thought: If a 6-year-old could do that... what could I do?

At Casady School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, seemingly "average" school kids raised $20,000 to dig clean water wells for children in Ethiopia. These kids are heroes. Why don't we celebrate "Kids Who Are Changing the Planet" Day?

Let me ask you a question: Would we celebrate Columbus Day if the story of Christopher Columbus were told from the point-of-view of his victims? No way!
The truth about Columbus is going to be a hard pill for some folks to swallow. Please, don't think I'm picking on Catholics. All the Catholics I know are wonderful people. I don't want to take away their holiday or their hero. But if we're looking for a Catholic our kids can admire, the Catholic church has many, many amazing people we could name a holiday after. How about Mother Teresa day? Or St. Francis of Assisi day? Or Betty Williams day (another Catholic Nobel Peace Prize winner). These men and women are truly heroes of peace, not just for Catholics, but for all of us.

Let's come clean. Let's tell the truth about Christopher Columbus. Let's boycott this outrageous holiday because it honors a mass murderer. If we skip the cute song about "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue," I don't think our first graders will miss it much, do you? True, Columbus' brutal treatment of peaceful Native Americans was so horrific... maybe we should hide the truth about Columbus until our kids reach at least High School age. Let's teach it to them about the same time we tell them about the Nazi death camps.

While we're at it, let's rewrite our history books. From now on, instead of glorifying the exploits of mass murderers like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte, let's teach our kids about true heroes, men and women of courage and kindness who devoted their lives to the good of others. There's a long list, starting with Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy.

These people were not adventurers who "discovered" an island in the Caribbean. They were noble souls who discovered what is best in the human spirit.

Why don't we create a holiday to replace Columbus Day?

Let's call it Heroes of Peace Day.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Indigenous People's Day!

Normally, I would write out a well thought out, articulate essay about a whole host of things that are wrong with Columbus day. This year, though, I'm tired and behind schedule in my school work, so I will give the simplest explanation possible:

I don't celebrate genocide.

You can quote me on that, btw.

"Every Native American is a survivor, an anomaly, a surprise on earth. We were all slated for extinction before the march of progress. But surprise, we are progress." ~Louise Erdrich, from First Person, First Peoples

Even though I don't have the mental or emotional energy to devote to my normal railings against this absurd holiday, I would like to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my children's schools do not observe the holiday. Still, I'm a bit discouraged that some of their classes do still teach the same old fictions, like Columbus believing the world was flat. In any event, progress is progress, so I'm trying to stay optimistic. However, I will take the opportunity to say that I'm very disappointed in President Obama's Columbus Day Proclamation.

I also thought I'd take this opportunity to pass along some links. Click through them & share them. Education is so important! Any links that you guys come across, please pass them along in the comments so I can add them to my file.

Transform Columbus Day:"The Transform Columbus Day Alliance actively rejects the celebration of Christopher Columbus and his legacy of domination, oppression, and colonialism. We also reject historical misconceptions regarding Columbus and his "discovery" of the Americas."

Native Appropriations: Celebrating Indigenous Peoples, Not Columbus
"Native Appropriations is a forum for discussing the use of Indigenous cultures, traditions, languages, and images in popular culture, advertising, and everyday life."

Reconsider Columbus Day: and excellent video! I share this one every year & encourage you to do the same.

My friend made a blog post with excellent videos. Be sure to check them out!

Smiling Indians: Just for fun, a nice representation of Natives. I love the 1491s & this video. Also, I happen to know the little girl at 2:07. Her father is a friend of mine. You can also find them on Twitter & FaceBook.

And for some sarcasm about today, check out these e-cards and this FB conversation from today:
"As always, I will celebrate Columbus Day by barging into the neighbors house, giving them small pox, relegating them to a small portion of the attic to live, inviting all my buddies over and proclaiming I discovered the place."
"don't forget to raid other neighbors & kidnap them to make them do all the work in your new kingdom..." (this was my comment, btw)
"Later, you can blame those lazy attic people for all of your own problems and tell them they're not trying hard enough to like the attic! Yay!"

And, of course, George Carlin & Louis C.K. had some things to say...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fall fun

Today was the first day that really felt like Fall weather. So, I decided to take the evening off from my packed schedule to spend some fun family time with the kids. The big kids & I had s'more & hot chocolate while we decorated pumpkins and the baby ate his weight in graham crackers.

I've never been one to decorate for particular holidays. It's just not part of what I do. We never did it growing up, so it's just not something that I've ever had as part of my life. However, thanks to the influence of school, my daughter learned about pumpkin carving. She has asked me the last couple years to do it but I just don't even know where to start. So, instead we drew on them with Sharpies. They may not be perfect, but we had fun! Check out our family portrait!

Oh, yeah...when planning for tonight, I discovered the coolest thing. Did you know they make flat marshmallows? They make s'more making so much simpler and less messy. Naturally, they won't work for over a campfire, but for indoor s'more making, they are definitely going to become a staple in my kitchen.

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Opportunity knocks for every man, but you have to give a woman a ring." ~Mae West

Today I sold my wedding ring.

This may not seem like a big deal to anyone that has never done it or who was angry when they divorced, but it is to me. We each had wedding rings and anniversary rings, which were bought for us to exchange at a vow renewal on our 10th anniversary. That ceremony never happened. Instead, we separated that summer.

I had been saving these rings for our children. Their father's ring was stolen last year, but I had my rings put up for them still.

Since they were young, they had asked about my wedding ring, probably because I wore it everyday and didn't like to go places without it. I would tell them how it stood for our love and our promise to take care of each other for the rest of our lives.

I remember what it felt like when we picked out those rings. We were so young and happy. Because we planned to wear these rings for the rest of our lives, we chose carefully. I must have looked at thousands of ring designs before I decided what I wanted and actually went out shopping. We chose all three rings at the same time and made a payment plan. Yes, it was important enough to us that we were willing to pay it out, even though our combined income that year was only $13,000.

As the years passed, there were a few lean times. One summer, early on, there had been a hiring freeze in the construction industry so he had been laid off for some time. So, I couldn't afford to fix the washing machine when it broke and I had to sell the dryer to pay the water bill. Undeterred, I fashioned a clothes press (to squeeze water from them) out of a plastic baby gate and spent the summer washing laundry in a Rubbermaid tote, on a makeshift washstand, with my toddlers running around the clothes line.

I actually didn't mind it, I was doing what I had to do to take care of my family. When he was able, he went back to work and things got much better.

I guess that's the issue that I have. Even though I haven't worn my rings for over two years now, they remind me of those things. The promises...the working together toward a common goal...all the things that we were supposed to have together. Everything that I am accomplishing right now used to be our dreams and goals. Somewhere along the way, though, that changed. I don't think he meant for it to. I think that he thought he wanted it because it all sounded so good, but the reality is hard and he just wasn't able to handle it.

So now, selling my ring reminds me that all that is over. In the beginning we promised to never end up here. Now my kids have, not only a divorced home, but only one parent with any kind of meaningful involvement. I guess I sort of connected those rings with the good things and I had hoped they could symbolize that type of promise and commitment when I passed them on to my children. At the same time, they could be a reminder to them of how precious that is and how it must be protected.

It's not that I haven't moved on, because I have. I am happy with my little family and I know that, after everything that happened, there's no way that my ex-husband and I could be together now, even if we tried. At the same time, though, I know that my older kids will always be missing something. And that is definitely not what I planned for them when I brought them into my world.

Even moving on, though, things can never be what they were. I will never again be a teenage bride, so full of energy & youthful hopes and dreams. No, now I am jaded and face the very real possibility that I may never be able to fully give my complete heart and soul to another, no matter how deserving they may be.

I guess turning loose of those precious stones is sort of like acknowledging that I have reached rock bottom. They were the only thing that I had left with any monetary value and they were the only thing that I had left that symbolized the type of true love & commitment that once existed in my life. In some irrational way, it felt like keeping them could show my children that we didn't arbitrarily bring them into our family without a plan. We had big dreams for our family and, even though ours didn't go as planned, it is worth it to dream still.

But, dreams don't pay the rent. Just as that summer spent scrubbing clothes on a rub board, I have to do what I have to do to take care of my family. So, I sold my beautiful rings. It hurts a little to know that I got less that 1/4 of what they are really worth, even at melt price, but the rent is paid. My babies have a place to live for another month. Plan B was, and still is, if we get evicted, my children go live with my parents and I live in my van so that I can continue school. I refuse to quit. I may be at rock bottom, but I know there is a light above me and I just have to keep going. No matter how hard it gets. I am doing this for my kids and I. WILL. MAKE. IT.