O Me! O Life! By Walt Whitman

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The Tenacity of Hope

As I walked down the hallway I heard the pastor say, “Hey, kiddo that was the most amazing pumpkin bread ever!” Tears welled up in my eyes as I walked out of the church and got in the car. They couldn’t have known that earlier in the day she had led her parents through her parent-teacher conferences for the first time as mom and dad struggled to not to interject (with nominal success). Growing up is tough and sixth grade is definitely hard on kids, but WOW, what a transition for parents! We had realized the day before that while we could help her check homework, that our days of helping her get everything together and her teachers at school helping her get everything in had passed. The reality had changed and we had to grow as parents while she grew into a young adult.

As that first fall long ago passed with her heading off to pre-school and I wanted to go every moment to see my baby girl. Once I finally got used to the process of Tadpoles Childcare, then our son was born and again I had to get used to sending our precious bundle off. However, they were well cared for by folks I am still friends with today. Then came kindergarten and again my nerves were a wreck as we dropped her and then him off at kinder. Now we hit sixth grade and all of the sudden like a ton of bricks I realize that while my knowledge can still help her in many areas, I can’t understand all she has to get done. In reality, would I want to? Sixth grade and junior high is really tough. I remember my time in junior high and I constantly felt behind the eight ball and out of sync. You know though, in remembering those days I now wonder if the ‘weirdness’ of junior high isn’t necessary for us to find success later on. We have to learn how to work with multiple teachers, get to class, write down our assignments, do our homework, advocate for ourselves and ultimately to take responsibility for the outcomes. That is all new and happening at junior high. That is where it belongs, helicopter parents beware!

To find future success, we have to let them fly and invariably when they fly they will have some struggles. Today my daughter chose to step up, take control of her studies and be an adult for the first time. I am so very proud of her for her tenacity. Tonight, though the reality of her kindness, which is a life skill that isn’t contained in a book, shone through as she was thanked, loved and praised for her awesome pumpkin bread and the kindness she showed in baking it and sharing with others. For all the lessons for her this week, I am most proud of this one. For the lessons mom and dad learned this week, its okay to let them fall, invariably they are tenacious and they fix their eyes on the hope of a better tomorrow and work hard to make it a reality.

 

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Christmas by Dad.

4:54 on Christmas morning 1984, I’m 8 and I’m up! Santa has been to my house and he left a new train set that smokes, lots of candy and as always an orange at the bottom of the stocking. I check it out, and immediately go wake up my brother and sister who have to be as excited as I am to see the magic that has happened in the living room!! They aren’t interested quite yet, so I run in and tell mom and dad about it…yes, yes…isn’t that wonderful? I go back into the living room and start setting up my train set. Then they all trickle in little by little and the magic is repeated. Never so much as when you are a child at Christmas is magic so alive…so much a part of your life.

Fast forward five years and part of my Christmas was late. It was the day after Christmas and all was done when my dad walked in and handed me a box. It was cold outside and he had a cup of coffee in these  little convenience store coffee cups he always used. I could smell the cold coming from his clothes and I saw the sunlight beaming in the door behind him. He turns to talk to someone else and I open the box. It is all so vivid in my memory as I opened the box with the Panasonic alarm clock with green numbers that I had seen in the Sears catalog and mom and dad had ordered for me. I looked up and he was talking to someone else, but he and mom got a hug and I was off to set up the clock.

Thirty years on and its 4:54 am. I’m still the first one up…not sure if that is a blessing or a curse, but you can accomplish an awful lot before anyone else stirs…the magic is about to happen. Our kids are safe and sound, asleep in their beds and it is my daughter who will be the first one up. She will go and tell the other kids about the magic that has happened in the living room. She will try to get everyone to come and see and slowly we will all trickle in. We will see what Santa brought and open our gifts. It will be magical again.

The spirit of Christmas lives on in each child and we get a glimpse as it flashes through them. The magic of the morning isn’t in the stuff, it isn’t in the snow, it isn’t in the tree or the traditions. The magic of the morning is the great gift that we have received. The grace that comes from receiving the greatest gift we could in a totally unexpected form, the grace that comes from a father willing to sacrifice immeasurably for his children, knowing that they couldn’t understand it and wouldn’t ever truly appreciate the sacrifice.

As I look back in what will be the first Christmas day I have ever spent without my dad on the planet, I think about the other side of the Christmas. The 1980s when we were broke with every other farmer in the country and mom and dad struggled to make Christmas happen. The years where he lost his parents, the days when he struggled, the moments where he was hurt by me and the moments where things he said and did hurt me. I realize now that I didn’t see all of the trials and tribulations that he was going through. The tough days that you try to avoid and the moments where you finally appreciate the beauty of the gifts your father gives. Today I realize that its not an alarm clock, a toy train or any other tangible item. The gift is the day that your dad tells you, “We’re burnin’ daylight”. The gift is the moment where you realize its time to stand up to him for the first time. The gift is the moment where he pushes too far and you have to push back. That tenacity, that fighting spirit, that sheer will is crucial to getting through tough days like today. When I thought he was being a jerk, now I know he was preparing me for today.

I didn’t always appreciate my dad while he was here. I couldn’t understand and wouldn’t ever truly appreciate his sacrifice. But we loved each other. In the tough lessons he never left. In the hard times he kept working. In the desperation of $10,000 in medical bills and a crop that was bountiful, but the price was pitiful…he pushed forward. That is what I take from my fathers legacy. Just keep going.

Dad-You are loved, you are appreciated…and now you are free.

Christmas 2018 is gonna be different, lets do it!

 

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We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed?

Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

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Crossing Borders

Driving across the West Texas Plains is nothing new to me. I have spent much of my adult life driving from New Mexico across the border to cities in West Texas but this return trip to New Mexico felt more like a victory parade than a casual drive. On June 28th fifty students and teachers piled off a sixteen hour bus ride from various parts of the Mexican state of Sonora. I have to admit that I had no idea what to expect. I had been asked to build an exchange program for students from the State University of Sonora and I had done just that, but the students and faculty to take part were simply names on a roster. Little did I know how the month would go.

UES Students

Students and teachers at a State University of Sonora campus.

Driving along the Llano Estacado, following a bus with Mexican plates I feel right at home. This area is where I grew up, right across the border in New Mexico. While I felt right at home, clearly it was new territory for the students from Mexico. They had come to the states, learned some English and more than anything about themselves. Exchange programs like this one are crucial to understanding other cultures and folks that think a bit differently. Admittedly, Americans, Canadians and Mexicans have very similar cultures and it is easy enough to move through the three countries and have a basic understanding of each others faith, language and generally our thought process. Much of our perceived difference is really similarities disguised by a different language or way of living.

2015-07-21 09.38.09     Not to say that we don’t have differences, we do. Much as a Californian has a different way of thinking than someone is from Minnesota where I was born. New Mexico is a unique mix of cultures and I will be the first to admit that I see value in this mixture. I grew up with a diverse culture, two languages and best friends that did not look like me. However, the differences in a businessman from Hermosillo, Sonora vs. a businessman from Tucson are likely less stark than we would believe. Teachers face similar struggles in student learning in Chihuahua as they might in Saskatoon. The beauty of an exchange and meeting other people is that you learn how very similar we are. Once the language barrier is taken out of the picture, similarities abound. They love their children just as much as I love mine, they care about the future of their nation just as I care about mine, they smile, laugh, have fears and hopes…just as I do.

Since this event in 2015, so much has come to pass. The peso has lost much value vs. the dollar, the political climate has shifted and we are left as North Americans to consider our future together. To be clear, it is a future together. We are neighbors and we are old friends, although sometimes cranky neighbors. We handle things differently and much like squabbling children, we have all made2015-07-17 19.19.32 mistakes, said and done things we would like to undo. But our future is to be written together. We are neighbors and we will work together for generations to come how well we succeed together is the question at hand. The future will be written by the students who came to this exchange in New Mexico, the Americans who travel to Mexico for business or vacation and the Canadians who welcome us to their country and are equally visiting ours. This is the future and it is unavoidable, inextricably and unquestioningly together.

The students who came from the State University of Sonora learned teamwork at NMMI, but in their time here they taught us much about ourselves and came to better understand our Independence Day when they learned about American independence and watched our fireworks. They better understood why we are proud to be American. They also explained Mexican independence, which was them throwing out two European powers, Spain and France. We are a tenacious continent full of firebrands…and that might explain some of our squabbles.

2015-07-11 11.00.20 So, as students visited Lincoln and learned about the Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid, they came to appreciate the struggle that our ancestors went through in the West. Additionally, when we visited Fort Stanton they learned of two dark chapters in American history, in the mistreatment of the native population, and the Confederate forces who took this fort and claimed Southern New Mexico in the early years of the Civil War. There are similar dark chapters in Mexico’s history. One of which is still underway in their war on the gangs and cartels that prey on their young for new members and constantly work to undermine the freely elected government in Mexico City and the States. They are not our enemy in the War on Drugs, they should be our ally.

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When you look at these pictures, realize that they are Mexican citizens who are going to college, working hard and building a stronger Mexico. When we make blanket statements, they are not only unfair, but they serve to undermine our relationships with our two neighbors. These folks are building a stronger North America. Lets stop squabbling and take time to understand their strengths and struggles as they understand ours. An economically strong Mexico stems illegal immigration naturally, it builds a bigger table. It’s a table and a meal that we are setting for our children and grandchildren. Let it be a table of peace.

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The Memories in Things

Vintage Nishiki

 

I was cruising along on my circa 1987 Nishiki Manitoba bicycle when I realized my tire was going flat. Now this bike has seen some miles. One Spring my brother and I put together all of our birthday money from grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, our lawn mowing money and anything else we had made and told dad we wanted to get some mountain bikes. Living in rural New Mexico there were not many bike shops and we knew that Cycle Cave in Albuquerque was the coolest of them all. This is long before the big sports stores and the Walmart that now offers virtually everything in my hometown. We set off one Saturday morning and drove the four hours to Albuquerque dreaming of the bikes we would buy. We arrived at the cycling paradise with everything you could imagine in a store that was huge for an 11 year old. We shopped and shopped and finally decided on the Nishiki Manitoba. It had everything you could want…and we could afford it! We bought two of them that matched, but mine was slightly larger as I was a bit taller at the time. We loaded up the pickup, got some dinner and started the drive home. Now, my dad always liked to drive late into the night, who knows why, but when we pulled off the road at the Bosque Del Apache in Fort Sumner, I came to realize it was a lack of funding that kept us from the cozy hotel down the road. We slept for a few hours in the pickup and then started home.

It was first light one Sunday morning when we drove into Portales and dad dropped us off at C&S Oil to fill up our tires and ride across town to get home. We raced, we sped, we crossed the University campus at record speeds and made it home to see Dad had woken up mom and my sister (it was well before 7 AM) and they were smiling as we road up triumphantly on our new bikes. It was glorious. We weren’t sure who we beat, but we were the victors…maybe it was life itself that we had beaten…maybe it was having something new when we were struggling through the Agricultural depression…maybe it was that those bikes represented freedom to ride anywhere in town mom would let us. Freedom, ultimate freedom.

Today I looked at my tire that has been replaced multiple times and now has several holes and needs to be replaced again. The seat is the same one that I rode that day so long ago…and it’s not comfortable…the paint is faded…logically it’s time to move on with a new bike. But as I look at this bike I remember a trip with Dad, a race with my Brother and the moment where we raced like the wind across town to get home before Dad. He beat us that day, but it didn’t matter, we were all smiles in that moment.

That moment will never come again. It lives only in my memory and that of my brother, sister and mom. Eventually no one will remember that moment. The bike reminds me of that day. When I move on to the next realm, get rid of it, it won’t mean anything to you…but to me, it’s a reminder of a moment in time that was beautiful.

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A Time and Place

Santa Fe is a great place to relax and take a break from the world. It’s timeless. Today I showed my kids the oldest church, built in the 1600s with pieces imported to Santa Fe over the Camino Real from Central Mexico, a tremendous feat. The oldest house, featured in an 1879 Harper’s Weekly when12 families shared the tiny space. Then on to the miracle of Loretto Chapel and the force of will that it took Archbishop Lamy to complete the Cathedral Basilica dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi.

What is best about these stops? They are virtually unchanged from the first time I visited them with my parents. The Drury Plaza is a great base for your Santa Fe adventure with a rooftop pool for the kids and a bar for those of age. The sunsets from this vantage point are incredible and you can almost see a caravan moving into the city bearing a bell from the 1300s that had been carried by a ship from Spain, to Veracruz and over the treacherous journey of the Camino Real to its home here. You can ring the bell and it will show beauty despite adversity as it still rings just as beautifully as the day it was cast. It’s a place out of time and in this age of noise a welcome respite.

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