Thursday, October 14, 2010

Going forward while looking back

As a historian, one of the things I do everyday is look back. I research the past, discover threads people have left behind and help preserve and tell their stories. Discovering and knowing people used various artifacts that have been given to my local museum is a favorite part of my job. As I grow older I find myself reluctant to work too hard to keep moving forward.

This post came about because I found a blogger living in Idaho named Patrice Lewis. Her blog, called Rural-revolution
is one of my favorite. She has fun tips, great pictures and a wonderful attitude. She wrote a post that discusses snathes and the death of knowledge.

As I read Mrs. Lewis' post, I came to realize that because of today's technology, many of the stories of the past, that could have been lost, will be preserved. Digital remnants may become obsolete, but people like me who learned what a snath was, will be inspired to remember, perhaps even try to learn how to use make, use and train others to sythe grain.

Stories I write down for my grandchildren are the ones I learned the most from. Snathes and sythes will have to be included in a future tale.

I was born two score and ten years ago this coming January. I grew up playing outside, even when it snowed. We didn't have a television until the men walked on the moon. I was eight and I still remember my father carrying in that television with a wooden case and a black & white screen. We three children sat at his feet, while he explained rocket ships and I dreamed of flying and bouncing on the moon.

That next month in February of 1969, one of the worst blizzards ever hit north eastern South Dakota. We woke up on morning, and our corner lot was covered in drifts up to the second story. My father had to climb out of the second story window to shovel us out. The snow was packed so tightly that he didn't sink much, and my mother let my little brother and I get dressed to fly down the drifts on our sled. My little brother got stuck, daddy had to dig him out and that was the end of that. I didn't realize it until I checked, but we had 109.2 inches of snow that year.

Today, because of those astronauts and their need to communicate with earth, I am able to watch movies, news, documentaries, listen to music and update this blog on my little netbook computer and even my phone. I now talk to my father on Facebook and via text messages. Even historians love Google.

Today, especially in the fall, winter and spring, I check the weather on my smartphone before venturing out. I live on the Minnesota prairie now, but as in the Dakota's, the weather is quick to change. Winter is soon approaching and the ten day forecast dictates I should wear my wool civil war dress and flannel bloomers while serving dinner at our museum's log cabin dinner.

There is no central heat, electricity or running water, in the cabin so I will be experiencing life as it was back in 1864 when our county was first settled. I will have my smartphone in my reticule and have promised my daughter in California I would upload pictures on my Facebook page.

Looking forward while going back or looking back while going forward? Some days the lines are rather blurry.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Not worth the Stress

The other night as I was riding 60 miles home in a tow truck, the driver, a young man about 26 or so, said that he was amazed I wasn't stressed out. After some reflection, I too was amazed. After more reflection, I realized that I have never been stressed out about things like that. Figuring out what to do with limited resources is what we do in Real Rural America and I learned it at a young age.

I had been asked to judge art, photography and handicrafts at a county fair. Just as I was about a mile out of town, my car started making a loud knocking noise. I hadn't used my car to drive more than a mile or two every four months or so in over two years, but had no idea it was in as bad of shape as it apparently was.

The oil was fine and the temperature gauge never moved slightly above cold. As I had no oil pressure gauge and only a service engine idiot light, I knew I was in a predicament. My car knocked, stalled because of lost compression and finally limped its way to the fairgrounds, where I found a parking place. I knew I couldn't drive it back home.

I was early so after I checked in with the Home & Garden lady to let her know I had arrived. She welcomed me but was busy and pointed me to the food stand to get something to eat. While I was in line, I noticed a young sheriff off to the side. When I got my food it occurred to me that he would know if this little town of 1700 people had a tow truck company. Luckily for me they did and after he asked me whether or not I had Triple A, I told him no, the sheriff got me a number from his dispatcher.

After I called to ask the towing company how much they would charge me to get my car home, I knew I was okay. They charged $3 a mile but the owner was going to give me a special deal because I wasn't using Triple A. It was almost all of my emergency cash stash at home, but because we both lived in a small town and I was judging at their fair, we had a mutual sense of trust.

When I got back to the Home and Garden building I was asked how my trip was and I told her about my car. She was nice enough to offer me a place to stay overnight if I needed to. She said that she lived ten miles outside of town, but I knew I had a place to stay if I had to.

Just that morning I had been reading a blog and once of the comments was about how a Triple A membership is a good thing and can save you money on a tow. Their premium membership would have covered the 60 miles but sitting in the truck with the driver was enlightening. I had Triple A when I lived in Southern California but it isn't widely used in rural America. Apparently, Triple A refuses to reimburse tow truck drivers for their total costs and their customers have to pay the difference.

We had a long ride together (60 miles) to drop my car off at home and a nice chat about life in our respective small towns. He regretted the loss of their school and manufacturing jobs but he had ideas he was wanting to pursue so he and his young family could stay in rural America.

He helped me get the car parked and at 11:06 at night he started on his way back home. He is one of the reasons I am extremely hopeful about life in Rural America. We will survive whatever life throws at us and not stress out about it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Small Town Communications

One of my favorite things about living in a small town is the communication system. Many times I don't even have to use my cell phone or email to talk to someone I need information from. I do it on the street.

I walk everywhere I can and have noticed that many of my neighbors are doing the same, especially this summer. Even though it is a pretty hot day outside for the upper midwest (over 85), there were a lot of people walking to the grocery store, the hardware store, the Family Dollar store, or the "we sell anything you need except bananas" local drug store.

I saw one of my friends who happens to be the student activities director for our college. I told him how glad I was to see all the students coming back and how much I enjoyed the change in atmosphere.

He brought up that one of his new hats this semester is supervising food services. We got onto local foods and he mentioned the name of the person on campus who is in charge of the local foods iniatitive. The sieve that is my brain promptly forgot it because I wanted to mention the local foods bus tour tomorrow. I didn't know it but we have an edible bean plant right here in town.

As we were talking, a complete stranger to both of us walked up and overheard our conversation. My friend had to leave but the wonderful thing was that this strange woman, with jet-black, dyed hair, tatoos and piercings said that in their little town of 287 nine miles up the road, there was another edible bean plant. Who knew?? I certainly didn't.

I thanked the woman for letting me know and immediately walked across the street to our local food co-op. I told her about the edible bean plant on the bus tour and about the other one in the little town to our north. Imagine my surprise that she knew about the one on our tour and was related to some of the people who were growing the beans. She also said she would check into the other one to see what they had.

Sometimes the gossip can get nasty and feel intrusive but when we are all looking out for each other, I love our small town communication system.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Our little town will make it if more people shop locally!

Today at the Farmer's market, I was relieved. For quite some time, I have been worried about the long-term survival of our small town. We are a little town of about 5,000 people. That census figure counts the 1500+ college students that just started showing up for the fall semester over the past couple of weeks.

I live uptown on main street and there is a very different atmosphere in our little town when the students leave. The locals come out more often but I know the chamber of commerce and local development agency are worried about the drop off in sales for our local merchants. The loss of sales tax revenue has impacted the state, county and local governments and they are cutting across the board.

Today when I got to the Farmer's market a little earlier than my normal time, I was happily shopping when a crowd of Chinese foreign exchange students showed up. There were at least 20 of them and the first thing I noticed was how closely together they all stood. They crowded together in front of the organic vegetable and meat stand and the owner quickly approached me.

He asked me if I wanted some of his produce as he knew they would clean him out. I had already gone over my $10 budget and was ready to go so I told him I was looking for some meat. My normal meat farmer wasn't there so I didn't pick up any pork or beef. I couldn't afford this farmer's wonderful looking grass fed beef, but am thinking I may splurge next time. I know I could cut it up into smaller portions. I seem to recall that my meat portions should only be the size of a deck of playing cards.

This is the first year that the Farmer's market is in this location and I am hopeful it will remain there. They are also open now until 6pm and that is helpful for people like me who are still working.

For many years the Farmer's market was only open from 11-2 and I could never get there. If I did, I usually showed up on the wrong day. More and more people are talking about this and as they also work, they are able to get there now.

Some of the Items I purchased today were:

3 small yellow summer squash .75
4 pounds of red potatoes 2.00
1 red onion .50
2 pounds of green beans 3.00
4 pounds of roma tomatoes 2.50
12 ears of sweet corn 3.50
1 pound of cherry tomatoes 1.50

With the college students returning and the college promoting locally grown foods, the Farmer's market will do well this year. I will have fresh produce, save some money and stock up for the winter.

I do have to buy another box of peaches to freeze, but so far I have dehydrated or frozen:
20 pounds of blueberries
15 pounds of peaches
4 pounds of green beans
1 pound of peas
8 green bell peppers
4 red bell peppers
12 jalapenos
8 pounds of carrots

My pantry is getting fuller and fuller and I am prepared for whatever the winter brings. If my hours are cut, and changes are 50/50 they may be, I will be okay. I do know that my little town has a lot of people like me who are also putting things up for the winter. Canning jars are in short supply and the local grocery store can't keep gallon jugs of vinegar on the shelf. The farmers market was doing a brisk business when I left and it was early yet. I know we will make it through.

Eat Where You Live: How to Find and Enjoy Fantastic Local and Sustainable Food No Matter Where You Live

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Right Direction

Today when I was volunteering at my local food co-op, I was reading one of my favorite daily blogs, Get Rich Slowly. J.D. Roth is a great guy and has inspired me to get more frugal and increase my income. He is reviving one of his older blogs about animals and donating the money to a charity.

After reading his post, Building A Money Making Blog: Preparation, as is my habit, I took some notes and read the comments. On of the commentators turned me onto Lee Wind's blog, The Zen of Blogging, which contributed to more notes and I finally got it. Consistency and focus are key in staying on course and moving in the right direction in life, why not in a blog.

I will be two score and ten on my next birthday and I still love pens and paper. Tactile and audible pencil lead scratching helps me plan and so I sharpened one up and made a few notes to finalize my plan. As part of my plan I needed to come up with a few reasons why I wanted to blog and ways my blog would pay me.

1. Making a few extra dollars from my writing would be nice. I intentionally work a part-time job at a place I love to give me a lot of free time. I live on a very limited income but would like to visit my grandchildren more often. I have received royalties from a series of genealogical books I have co-authored, but more money and visits to the grandchildren would be a good thing.

2. I love reading, learning new things and sharing what I have learned. I had way too many books before I downsized but I have been a lifelong learner. Sharing lists of resources, books, blogs, primary documents and files is something I will definately do in each post.

3. Making the blog a priority and fitting my passions has to be a part of the plan. I will post each week and on living in a rural area. It is a very general topic I am passionate about there is a lot to write about. There are a lot of subtopics, Supporting Local Foods, Entrepreneurship, and Preparing for Emergencies are three I know for sure I will cover.

4. Other rural dwellers also need a place to share their stories. There are a lot of other people like me who have made the conscious decision to either stay, return or investigate a quieter lifestyle. I would like them to come here and feel at home.

Now that I narrowed down the general topics and made a decision to commit to doing this, I just have to figure out how to get the traffic here. In an email I subscribe to, Yaro Starak of Entrepreneurs Journey and a regular contributor to recommends at least five "Pillar Articles" so that search engines send more visitors to find you. With my three main topics, I think three pillars will create a very strong blog. I just have to get writing and decide on two more. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Missing Paper

Following the mainstream media, CNN, Foxnews, MSNBC doesn't really do it for me. I am concerned that I am not hearing the whole story, and spend a lot of time trying to verify soundbytes. Just today I realized I was also missing the comic relief and sense of permanence the printed papers gave me.

There are so many issues around the globe that I never heard of or cared about twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, preinternet, I got my news from printed sources and non-cable TV. I now get my news in digital formats and it takes up a lot more time. There is also something about the smell of ink, the black fingers I used to get and the rustle of the pages as they turned that I truly miss.

I used start with the comics first, then business news, then the front section and variety. Back then I read the printed versions of Orange County Register and the Wall Street Journal. This usually took me about 45 minutes to an hour (yes I skimmed first), and then I would clip the articles I wanted to read again or share with others.

With links and virtual storage, in order to share today's Garfield comic strip, I have to email a link or embed it into my html code. Once I send off that link, I never know whether or not the link will stay current for longer than a day.

In my day job, I am a genealogist for a small regional museum and historical society. I find myself struggling to balance researchers perception that the bulk of our archive is digitized. Like 100% of all archives in America, most of our collection is undigitized, unindexed and unavailable via the internet. The time or resources to digitize everything are just not available. Even though genealogy books, such as Genealogy for Dummies lets genealogists know that they can't find everything online, there are quite a few who are unable or unwilling to do the physical work to see the archives and see actual documents.

I am the most technically savvy of the group and so I was appointed web guru by our executive director. I do the website and help with technical aspects of digitizing documents. One thing I haven't figured out yet is what we are going to do with maintaining an archive of our digital collection.

As we are a museum, I believe we will always have physical documents but the costs for caring for those documents are rising. More and more people want access to our collection without visiting our physical location and we need to figure out how to charge for it. With everyone thinking the internet is "free", that has to be figured out before we can give up paper.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Prairie Chick's Recent Technological Experience

Today, I was able to hear my grandchildren's voices, but couldn't see their faces. It was fun to try though and we will get it figured out. The evolution of technology since I worked on my first PC back in 1981 constantly amazes me.

Back in 1981 when I turned on the IBM 8080 (which cost my boss over $2000) it took forever to load. It had 64K of RAM, 5.25" floppies and a 10MB hard drive.

On Monday morning I would unlock the front door and go immediately to my office. Once at my desk (which did not have a keyboard slide), I turned on the computer and left.

I opened the mail that had come in the mail slot on Saturday, sorted it and made coffee. When that was done, I went back to my office and the computer was booted up.

Today in 2010 I wonder how many people remember typing DOS commands at the command prompt. I have done it since the Icon menus came out, first on Apples then on PCs but only when I had to repair system crashes on PCs.

It was such fun typing in those DOS commands. I remember cursing at the dang computer when it wouldn't load the program I told it to. The first acronym I learned was GIGO (garbage in garbage out. Typing in profanity just to see the Program Not Found or Unrecognized Command response was a great stress releaser.

Just the other day I thought I had to do it again. I am the least technologically challenged employee at the museum I work at. Anytime the computers have issues, I am called on to fix them.

I tried everything I could to get the computer's common folder accessible by the other computers. This last time, Windows System Restore and reinstalling the Network Connection in the Control Panel saved me. I don't know where it went, but I think it had something to do with Microsoft Updates.

Backing up the shared files on the common computer to a few DVDs is going to be my top priority on Monday.

Back to my video adventure today. As I live on a very fixed income and tether to the internet through my cell phone, I don't pay for broadband or dial up at my house. My daughter was using her wireless connection and so we had a bit of a technology challenge today.

We could both get audio, but no video. My daughter's solution was to create a video of my grandchildren and email it to me. Until we can make Yahoo Messenger or Skype work for us, that is what we will have to do.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Picking up Pennies

Find a penny, pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck. This is one of those life lessons I learned when I was small, and have passed it onto my grandchildren. I know that even though they are 1900 miles away, they still look for pennies. My grandson is always finding little treasures and putting them in his pockets.

During my daily and weekly visits to various blogs and news sites, I am constantly finding little treasures. One of my favorite sites,Get Rich Slowly had a guest post for a woman, only a couple years older than myself who went back to school, and wrote an article for MSN Money that reminded me of my own personal struggles entitled Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year. The fun thing was that after I found this little treasure, I found yet another.

Her daughter, Abigail has a site, I-Pick-Up-Pennies where I was able to enter a drawing to win a free pair of Cushe shoes. I don't know if I will win, but it was fun to enter.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Taking it Back

Living where I live is an interesting experience. What is most interesting is the number of people who are beginning to take their town back.

For decades, the community I live in has had it's bureaucracy grow. Unions have taken over and increased school budgets, forced closings and consolidations.

The other day, a gentleman came into my office and started talking about all the things he is doing to take back his life. He is no longer allowing the local, regional, state or federal bureaucrats a say in what he teaches his children.

He is founding a private school that teaches children the basics and returns them to an era when they felt free to question the status quo. This gentleman isn't happy with his current status quo. Listening to others in our small community, tells me he is not alone.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Can you ever know too much?

For the past year, I have been using my internet saavy phone to get my news each morning. I have always been a voracious reader and news junkie, but lately I have been getting the feeling that I may know too much and separating the truth from the fiction has become much more difficult in the past two years.

Combining my love of biography, non-fiction historical accounts and my inate scepticism drives me to learn and speak the truth.

Crisis after crisis keeps happening in our nation today. I am not a conspiracy theorist and don't see the big hand of government behind it.

I do see that we have let the people in power have too much. Our founding fathers and mothers would be appalled at what we have done with their gift. We have squandered it and left nothing but debts to our children and grandchildren.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Romanticism and Small Towns

One of the things I have found most interesting about living in a small town, is how my perceptions have changed as I have grown older. I feel I have grown more romantic about my view of small towns and not less.

There were times after I moved back to the region that reality really hit hard. I struggled to pay my bills (a must in a small town), feed my daughter and run a business.

I applied for jobs I was overqualified for and lost them to underqualified relatives of those doing the hiring. I lived on rice and beans and couldn't afford medical or dental care.

Looking back, it is amazing to me that the desire to leave and go back to big city life was never there.

At first I wondered if it was because I was digging in my heels and refusing to fail. I am known for my tenacity and many times, like a dog with a bone, I have to be hit on the snout to let go. I have even been known to bite back if I am made to give up what I want.

That wasn't it and when the opportunity came up to apply for a professional position that would help coordinate the future of our region I applied. My cover letter, after a third read contained a mixture of romantic childhood views of the region, realistic expectations and a passion for the future. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Even if my life continues on as it has, qnd I don't get the job, I know that my view of the region will remain romantic and be shaded by my childhood memories. The clean air, safe streets and limited interference from others will always be needed in my life.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Whats in a Name?

One of the most interesting phenomena in rural life is the importance placed on surnames. Some would say that if you don't have the last name of one of the most powerful people in town, or you are not related in some way, you won't get very far. Not being raised in the small midwestern town I now call home, I am constantly asked where I am from when someone hears my last name. Those in the know, know that I am not from around here and that is important to them in finding out who I am.

When I lived in Southern California, my last name was not important. Whether or not I could do the job was important. Whether or not I had the education and training was important. Who my father, mother and grandparents or neighbors were was not important.

I would argue that wherever you live, whether in a large metropolitan area, or rural midwestern village, there are several other factors that more greatly limit, increase or ease your access to personal power and autonomy; interpersonal relationships, territory (land and assets) and money (disposable income).

In a small town, resources and options are limited and so interpersonal relationships become critical. Sought after relationships are those that revolve around who has the most territory and money. If you are luck enough to have a relative with both, you are in the in-crowd. I find it interesting that forty years after they have moved here, some residents of my small town are still asked if they were born here.

Before my daughter left for the big city, she told me that she didn't think she could ever get anywhere here because she had the wrong last name. I understood her position but told her to remember that, if she went to the cemetery she would see some very large tombstones with last names that were no longer to be found in our local phonebook. They had territory and money, but their interpersonal relationships were not strong enough to sustain their future and their surnames are rarely mentioned except by genealogists and local historians.