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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Farewell to Leo

We start a day with sadness of heart

Knowing that today we will part

With a beast that will live on in legend

Leopold came into our lives in bad shape

With ticks and fleas, scratching him as he rested

We quickly vanquished the pests, uncontested!

He knew two other great pets, Copper and Rev

Copper was great, but with beautiful baby Brenna could be testy

And Rev was super smart and Knoxie’s bestie

Leo was special and in 12 years

Taught us all lessons, calmed our fears

Was always content and never ever bit

Leo is part of a line of our families great pets

From Ginger, Snowy, Lady, Rascal and Fritz

They are the ones, quirky and kind

That live on in the memory of the family line.

We lay to rest a legend of the family,

he welcomed two children into the fold

loved and protected them in ways untold

While we say goodbye, today to part

We remember him as a work of art

In the end the ones we remember

Are the ones who were there in December

When the times are cold and heartache aplenty

They sit by your side and show us each kindness

They feel our happiness and our sadness

and they celebrate with us even unnoticed through our own madness

Have we appreciated them enough, certainly not

We gained much more from them than the love they got

They cared for us from beginning to end

He was loved by all…some who have gone before

But none of us could possibly love him more

His story lives on in our family lore.

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How teachers make a difference.

via On Influential Teachers and the Ever-Influential Richard Cory

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What we leave behind.

I am often reminded of the wake of our lives and how our actions impact others. I have this bad habit of replaying whole conversations, or sometimes days in my head after the fact to think about how that conversation sounds from a third person’s viewpoint. I replay it in my head as I sit in judgment on all that has been said by others and myself, work through what was going on and the undercurrents I might have missed. This allows me to consider others and make corrections for my sometimes caustic behavior. Often my family is the topic of this replay as I am always more concerned about what I say and do with them. How are my actions today impacting my kids? It’s very hard to see the long-term, but most certainly my actions do impact them.

I am reminded of a poem that I once heard my grandma recite to my father. It addresses sons, but in my mind it applies just as much to my daughter…a-little-fellow-follows-me-wooden

The other side of the world I now see as my father slips from the best years of life into twilight. As he gets closer to the end of his time on earth I see his actions in my own more and more. He isn’t perfect, but neither am I. That is the realization that is too long in coming, but may be part of middle age. We become like our fathers, but I continue to work to keep the good and overcome my irritation and frustration with that little chap and my little princess and focus on the good. We still discipline the same, but they are kids…and they are watching and learning how to be adults by my actions everyday. My actions will not only make him the young man he will be, but may lead him one day to realize that I’m not perfect, but neither is he…maybe its those imperfections that make us family. Loving each other unconditionally through the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Time flies when you focus on all the wrong things.

Sometimes it’s easier to see the negative than the positive. Exhaustion ensues when you bite off more than you can chew. The other option is not being as busy, but likely taking it just as hard as if you were truly underwater. 

Sometimes I think God forgets his promise to never give us more than we can handle. As I write this I notice I haven’t posted in 218 days, I have being away from family in my mind, a paper to proof on my lap and about 75 statistics problems to finish in my bag. This is coupled with a tough job that has beaten many folks in my shoes, bad news on the front page and my wife being just as swamped. I seem to focus on these things. I want a weekend at home without work. But this is a non-stop cycle. You work all year to get the class in August and full on travel starts in September. There is no rest. I focus on these things.

What I sometimes fail to focus on are the lessons that this job teaches. I work really hard to leave work at work now. I’m always thinking, but after working. Non-stop for the day, weekends and nights there has to be some relief. I try to focus totally on my family in the evening. I don’t want to travel so I work hard to be out and back as quickly as possible. Even now I’m drifting off as I write.

Family has to come first. If a job requires more than you can give, give your best, but remember that you are the only parent to your kids. You are the only partner for your spouse. You are the only son or daughter to your parents. 

I welcomed some students to campus yesterday and I talked to them about the three pillars. Duty, Honor and Achievement. What strikes me today is that we strive to do the best we can for our jobs, our organizations, others…but we can often lose sight of the forest for the trees. Our first duty is to God, but family is second to no one else. It’s our duty to be a good parent, good son or daughter and overall a good person. We have to focus on honor, doing everything the right way and not being too proud to say ‘I’m sorry’. You see we can’t achieve long term success without our family being taken care of. Constant work causes constant worry and beats down each of us.

I don’t know the answer, but if you’re in a position that doesn’t mesh with your life, make a change. Don’t repeat the same shortcomings over and over. Focus on what IS TRULY important and let the little stuff take care of itself!

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Camo Kitty

I pulled out of the drive in a rush to get somewhere. Who knows where…I am a father of two with a new job completing a Doctoral program…we’re always doing something. Wake up, school bus, work, home, swim team or scouts. Constant motion until the kids go to bed and my wife and I try to stay awake for class work or grading. Monday through Friday, then whatever the weekend holds. I rarely stop to smell the roses, but others are watching…

I sometimes wonder who sees our zaniness as we come in long enough to change and grab a bite then we’re gone again. When we do have a weekend at home and we spend time outside…we’re not quiet people.

A few weeks ago I pulled out of the drive and something wasn’t right. There were eyes in the mailbox! At first I knew that Big Brother had finally caught up with me! Then on closer inspection I saw Sadie, our black cat peering back at me. Her calm demeanor punctuated by her ability to blend in flawlessly with a mailbox was impressive. Her mom sat patiently under the mailbox with similar poise. The calm reminded me that sometimes we must slow down and watch the show. When we’re in the heat of battle, we rarely take a moment to laugh at our kids and ourselves. Sadie saw the whole picture…and all I could hear was Crosby Sills and Nash singing:

Our house is a very, very fine house

With two cats in the yard

Life used to be so hard

Now everything is easy

‘Cause of you 

  

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While You Were Sleeping

The branches of the crab apple tree away gently in the breeze as I sit with my sleeping grandmother. She rests silently and I think back to my children and the peace after the storm of sitting with them while they sleep. All the battles, joys and disappointments left behind in a moment of peaceful slumber. 

Life is too hectic, too busy and the opportunities to sit and listen to the sounds of nature come less and less. But in a day away from the routine I think back to all the days my grandmother held me in silence while I slept. Saw the smiles or grimaces of passing dreams and was there with me in that moment. The time melting away as wax down a candle. 

Did she hold me a little longer because in her dreams she saw what life could have been for her son Roddy? Did she retreat to her memories after her mother passed when she was 7. When she lost a son and her husband to cancer, did she find comfort in her dreams? Life’s trials are almost over and she rests quietly I the chair beside me.

These days are drawing to a close, the flame from her candle flickers as the wick is running short. Soon she will move to the land eternal. 

In this moment I see the beauty in old age and take a time to pay a long forgotten debt.

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The State of our Union.

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.

Abraham Lincoln

Our nation struggles to find itself from time to time. During the 1800s we decided that we would no longer legitimize holding others in bondage. In the 1900s we decided that women and people of all races should have the same rights as men. In this generation, we are deciding that the state has no right to know the inner workings of your bedroom.

The real issue through all of these freedoms has been a strong economy to drive the changes forward and provide a strong foundation to build upon. Today, the fundamentals of our economy are no longer sound. We spend more than we bring in and as anyone with basic budgeting skills can tell you that can’t last forever. In 2009,for the first time in American history, more than half of American households paid zero income tax. While the reasons are debatable, that 51% of American households paid no income tax in 2009 is a fact (Marr & Che-Ching, 2012). The question becomes are we all willing to give up services or pay more taxes to make the budget balance. This includes those who paid no taxes and those who received an earned income credit even though they paid no taxes as well as those multi-billionaires who pay some of the lowest overall rates. One more thing, there are 235 companies that use overseas tax havens to avoid paying their share of doing  business in the US. According to the Huffington Post, “…there are 235 other companies that told the SEC that they’re holding profits overseas but didn’t disclose their hypothetical U.S. tax rate, according to the CTJ report. In total, these non-disclosing companies hold almost $1.3 trillion in non-repatriated profits abroad, CTJ found. Are we willing to stop buying these products?

Additionally, we must make drastic spending cuts in all areas of government. No ones pet projects aside, we must cut ALL AREAS OF GOVERNMENT.

In the end, I feel like Lincoln’s quote is completely accurate, but it must be coupled with a quote from Lewis Mumford:

The liberal’s lack of a sense of history carries a special disability: it makes him identify all his values with the present. Should the present be a shabby one, he quickly comes to the conclusion that the country which exhibits the practical vices and mischiefs he deplores is unworthy of his allegiance.  But a country is more than the people and institutions tht exist in a single generation. The America we must save today, for example, is not just the America of shifty politicians and go-getting advertisers and slimy industrialists who would like to “make a deal” with  the fascists. nor is it the America of Hearst, Ford and Father Coughlin. No self-respecting person would lift a finger to save that.

But our America is the America of Adams and Jefferson, the America of Joseph Henry and Audubon and William James, the America of Whitman and Melville and Olmsted and Richardson, the America that may therefore still be realized in time to come by reason of all the ideas and forces and impulses that have come down to us from the past and are pushing into the future. Our country cannot be identified with “capitalism,” because many of the most precious parts of our heritage long antedated capitalism and will long survive it.

Lewis Mumford, 1940

America is worth saving. Are we all willing to do what it takes to make America work again?

Berman, J. (n.d.). 18 Of America’s Biggest Companies Using Tax Havens To Skirt $92 Billion In U.S. Taxes: CTJ. Retrieved April 19, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/apple-tax-havens_n_3378935.html

Marr, C., & Chye-Ching, H. (2012, September 17). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved April 19, 2015, from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3505

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