Bonus Blog: My First Retirement Adventure

After retiring on June 1, 2012, I took my first post-retirement exploration trip from  July 9-15, 2012.  It was a visit to South Dakota, land of many Native American peoples, to meet the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota on their tribal lands.  These three groups of Native Americans are known to white men as The Sioux Nation.  The word “Sioux” is actually an Ojibwa word, or as white men called them the “Chippewa”.  It is a derogatory name meaning “snakes” and was used by the Ojibwa to describe the Lakota, whom they feared, as enemies of the Ojibwa.  It was a fairly traditional act of arrogance by the European settlers to name Native Americans in whatever fashion they chose, often declining to call them by their given names.  Sometimes they would ask a neighboring tribe who those people over the hill were, and then call them by that name from then on, or they would just make up a name.  Indigenous people were often called by names created in this way, and since the white men wrote the history books and administered the dominant government, the names stuck.  For example, the Lenape tribe, an ancient people in the East, was called “Delaware” because they lived along a river that the settlers had decided to name after Lord De La Warr (pronounced Delaware), their English benefactor/leader, and thus the Lenape are known in most history books as the “Delaware” Indians.  The Wyandotte were similarly given the name of “Huron”, by the French.  It is a French word meaning “boar’s head” referring to the bristly upright fashion in which Wyandotte warriors wore their hair.  I have long admired the Native American culture for its refusal to bend or be eliminated by a bullying dominant culture.  This was my opportunity to visit them firsthand, and I thoroughly enjoyed their persevering pride and generous hospitality.

There are nine Sioux reservations in South Dakota. The bands of tribes living on them make up The Sioux Nation, with several bands living on each reservation.  The reservations include the Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, and Brule, which are populated by the Lakota tribes; the Santee, and Sisseton-Wahpeton reservations, which are populated by the Dakota tribes; and the Yankton, the smallest  of the three groups, populated by the Nakota tribes.  When Lewis and Clark made their way to the Nakota tribal lands, they recorded in their journals that “these were the friendliest of all the tribes we encountered”.  I spent 3 days in the Yankton  hotel/casino outside Ft. Randall, where every employee is from the Yankton tribe and I found that the naturally friendly and generous nature described by Lewis and Clark is still part of their culture. They took great pleasure in being of service whether they were waiting tables, doing housecleaning, or managing the poker room or the hotel in general.  The ninth reservation, the Crow Creek, is home to a mix of Dakota and Nakota bands.  It was created as a repository for the tribes who fought in the last Indian War with the U.S. government in 1898 in Minnesota.  There are other Sioux on reservations outside South Dakota, in Wyoming (Teton), and in Canada (Lakota).  I visited the Pine Ridge, Santee, Yankton, and Ponca reservations.  The Ponca have their reservation on the Nebraska side of the Missouri river, which is the state line.  Their main chief, Standing Bear, along with others Ponca leaders, escaped the reservation in Oklahoma and successfully eventually re-established themselves on their Nebraska homeland.  I grew up 40 miles south of the Ponca tribe’s White Eagle reservation outside Ponca City, OK, and grew up thinking that all the Ponca had been moved there, and that was the only place they were.  I got the chance to visit with the grandson of one of Standing Bear’s party and listen to their story and see their tribal museum.  He shared artifacts, pictures and cultural insights.  It was exciting for me.  There are numerous other non-Native American attractions in South Dakota, and I visited a few, but I went there to encounter the Native Americans, and this blog post is framed by that intention.

What follows is a travelogue with photos illustrating  the uniqueness and beauty I found.  Besides the Native American sites, I also took the opportunity to visit the Black Hills, sacred to the tribes, Crazy Horse Mountain sculpture, Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands by accident, the Lewis and Clark Historic Center on Calumet Bluff where they parlayed with the Yankton tribe for passage through Sioux Nation, and the largest active archeological dig in the U.S. located outside Hot Springs, S.D. and called The Mammoth Site.  This description is in chronological order beginning on July 9th with a drive of 473 miles from Shawnee, Kansas to Ogallala Nebraska .

This is the view that was constantly outside the window of “Silver”, my pickup, all during the 473 miles of day one.  It was mostly corn and some wheat, in continuous plantings as far as I could see on both sides of the highway.  About 150 miles of this day’s journey was limited to one lane due to lots of summer road repairs on the interstate.  I saw 8 trains, 4 going east and 4 going west.  Each train had 120-150 coal cars. The eastbound trains were all full, and all the westbound ones were empty.  In the last 100 miles the fences disappeared, but the crops didn’t, until the last 30 miles in which buffalo herds and prairie dog towns replaced the crops on both sides.  The road was higher than the surrounding plains which kept the buffalo and prairie dogs from easily wandering onto the highway.  The prairie dog towns were composed of dozens of large round mounds of dirt, with each mound having one or two prairie dogs standing straight up, side by side, on guard.  I spent the first night of the trip in Ogalalla, Nebraska.

On Tuesday, July 10th, I began the 229 mile drive to Hot Springs, my next destination.  The closer I got, the more I was able to see the beginnings of The Black Hills.

I was looking forward to arriving in Hot Springs partly because they advertised on their website that they had a community band that played each Tuesday evening.  Unfortunately for me, when I arrived in Hot Springs their “Humanities Council” had posted a sign at the band shell announcing that due to the excessive heat they had decided to replace the regular band performance with a poetry reading, which turned out to be two old geezers reading their original compositions to a sparse selection of locals. This was the first of only three disappointing moments that I encountered during the whole 7 days.

Pictures of Hot Springs, which resembled the artistic tourist town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, are laid out below.

I passed up the poetry reading and took the opportunity to dine at Woolly’s (as in Wooly Mammoth), then went to The Mammoth Site, a truly unique archeological dig  where 58 mammoths, 55 Colombian and 3 Wooly, have been found, as well as a Giant Short-faced Bear, and numerous llamas, wolves, and other vertebrates, all of whom had  slipped into an ancient pond that was created when a sinkhole was filled by an artesian hot spring.  The sloping shale sides were thus kept wet and slippery which made the animals unable to find the traction to get out once they entered.  Layer upon layers of the mammoths built up over thousands of years before the spring became blocked and the hole dried up, forming a mud pit, which other mammoths then used to roll in thereby  compacting the site and the mammoths buried in it. The Colombian Mammoths were the larger of the two species found, each weighing 20,000 plus pounds in their prime.  The Wooly Mammoths were the more recent species found at the site and they weighed about 16,000 pounds each.  Compare that to African elephants, currently the largest land mammal, who weigh about 13-14,000 pounds.  When I stand upright, I am as tall as an elephant’s mouth.  When I stood next to the Colombian Mammoth mockup at the site, my head came only up to his knee.  The pictures below show some students doing work at the site because it is an active dig.  Here’s the website if you want to know more: http://www.mammothsite.com/mammoth_info.html 

On day 3, July 11th, I planned to go through The Black Hills to the Crazy Horse Mountain sculpture, then to the Borglum Historic Center (the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore), then back to Mt. Rushmore, and finally on to Wall, S.D. where the Wounded Knee Museum is located.  Don’t ask me why it’s in Wall instead of on the Pine Ridge reservation where Wounded Knee is located, but it is.  And that plan is ALMOST the way Day 3 happened.  Prior to leaving on the trip, a friend suggested she loan me her GPS in case I ran into a blocked road and needed to know how to get around it.  I accepted her gracious offer and after I finished visiting Mt. Rushmore I thought it would be a good time to give the GPS a test run.  I had printed out Google maps and directions for each day, so I already knew that going from Mt. Rushmore to Wall was just a short trip out of the Black Hills, then left through Rapid City and onto I-90 to Wall, for a total of 77 miles.  I entered the Rushmore and Wall addresses into the GPS and set off for Wall.  As we reached the southern edge of Rapid City where my printouts said to turn left, go through town for about 10 blocks and then happily hop on I-90 for the short interstate drive east to Wall, the GPS instead said “turn right”.  I thought, “okay, maybe there is a bypass around Rapid City.  I’ll follow the smarter GPS”, and so I turned right.  It was around twenty miles later before it spoke again, this time saying “turn left on Bear Creek Road in 1.6 miles”.  I thought “Finally!”, but as I turned onto Bear Creek Road, I couldn’t help noticing I had just exchanged a paved highway for a gravel road.  I still gave the confident voice of the GPS the benefit of the doubt thinking “okay, okay…. so this is a straight shot north to I-90, kind of a dumb way to get there, but I’ve already gone this far…”.  It’s next instruction was 7 miles later when it announced “in .5 miles, turn right on Sage Creek Road”.  Now I was a bit concerned because we were no longer going toward north toward I-90 but east.  Sage Creek Road was a 15 mile stretch of corduroy that forced me to slow to 30 mph or risk bouncing Silver into the bar ditch. I was then confronted with an official sign that said, ENTERING BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK.  I knew the Badlands was there, and I had decided back in the planning stages of this trip to bypass it, having no interest in seeing it at all.  It tells you in its name not to go there.  It’s BAD lands for crying out loud!!  Now I’m too far in to retrace my steps, so I resolved to press on carefully.  How much worse could it get, I thought.  There was little suspense involved in waiting on the answer to that question.  The road immediately narrowed to one-and-a-half lanes wide, accompanied by steep slopes of 50 to 60 feet down either side, and I began to imagine  what I’d do if I had mechanical problems, or a flat.  I checked my cell phone only to discover I no longer had cell service.  I was on my own.  So, praying that the universe was in no mood to present me with a growth opportunity just now, I noticed the second and only other sign in the park, it read BEWARE OF BUFFALO.  Beware?… really?  ……not DO NOT FEED THE BUFFALO, or DON’T APPROACH THE NICE BUFFALO, but BEWARE…. Why? Are they pissed off at living in the Badlands? Maybe they are the dysfunctional, unsocial buffalo who have been dragged here as punishment and now hold grudges, giving people a reason to call this the BAD-lands.  By now I had developed a sincere hatred for GPS for putting me in this position, worsened by the fact that I KNEW it would have been the smart move to turn left at Rapid City and avoid this escalating drama. The road now appeared to have narrowed again causing me to realize that if I met someone coming in the opposite direction, one of us would have a heckuva lot of backing up to do.  Eventually I reached the Much Better Lands on the other side of the park, having avoided a breakdown or a buffalo ambush.  I was presented with a paved highway and the GPS voice chose that moment to announce, “turn left, 2 miles to destination”.  Trying unsuccessfully to overlook the fact that he had put an additional 51 nightmare miles on to what should have been  a short cheerful 77 mile jaunt, I said some really ugly things to the voice on the GPS that I now regret, and unplugged it, putting it face first into the far corner of the pickup cab for the remainder of the trip.  On the positive side, I now knew there was at least one technology that I was infinitely smarter than, the Godless Perverted Software bundle, and no, I didn’t take any pictures of the Badlands because the road was too narrow to safely stop, and I wasn’t going to risk taking a picture on the move and ending up sliding down the impending slopes onto the horns of those emotionally disturbed buffalo about whom I had already been officially warned.  This was the second of my three disappointments on the trip.  Now, returning the travelogue to the point where I left Hot Springs and headed into the Black Hills, here is what I saw.  The Black Hills surrounded me and opened up its beautiful mountain scenery before me, reminding me a lot of Estes Park, CO.  There were beautiful pine forests, granite outcroppings, a short tunnel through one mountain, and valleys several miles wide with astonishing vistas.

My first stop on day 3 was the Crazy Horse Mountain sculpture.  The Native Americans who own the site refuse to take any funds from the government that broke every treaty it ever signed with them, which means that in order to finance the project intended to honor the leader who fought for their land and rights up to the day of his murder in captivity, it will take longer than the 15 years the government funded project of Mt. Rushmore took to finish.  The tribes use donations, fees from those visiting the site, and their own incomes, as their sole funding sources.  When completed it will be the largest mountain sculpture in the world.  I have included pictures of the actual work in progress, as well as photos of the model they are working from in order to give you a perspective of how the finished project will appear.

A wise Lakota grandmother at Crazy Horse Mountain helped me pick out a glazed bowl with tribal symbols on it for myself, and two sets of earrings for my granddaughters from among the items being made and sold on site by Native American artists.  She said, “These will make them smile”.  She was right.  They were very pleased.

Below is a picture taken in 1948 of the survivors of the 1876 victory at The Little Big Horn.  It hangs at the Crazy Horse site, among others.

The next place I went was to the Borglum Historic Center in Keystone, S.D., just a few miles past Mt. Rushmore.  I wanted to get as much detail as I could about Mt. Rushmore before I viewed it, so I would be more likely to understand what I was seeing.  I could think of no better way of doing that than learning what I could from the man who sculpted it.  I found out that Gutzon Borglum was 60 when he agreed to take on Mt. Rushmore; that he had mountain sculptures on Stone Mountain in Georgia; that the face of Washington was begun facing further to his right, demolished half way through and begun again in its present location; that the original plan was to include the top portion of each president’s chest but was abandoned when Borglum died in 1941.  His son finished the work, stopping with just the faces.

If you look closely you can make out the beginning of Lincoln’s left hand holding his lapel.  I ate lunch in the Carver’s Café where the famous Hitchcock scene in “North by Northwest” was filmed.  That is my bowl of buffalo stew in the middle picture.  The scenic photo below that was taken along the 17 miles of highway between Crazy Horse Mountain and Mt. Rushmore.

Details of Borglum and his times are at   http://www.rushmoreborglum.com/  .

After having made it through the Badlands via the Godless Perverted Software, I pulled into Wall, S.D. with the intention of going to the famous Wall Drug Store/Café, and visiting the Wounded Knee Museum.  Together they account for the third and final disappointment of the trip.  Wall, it turned out, was a poor Badlands imitation of Mayberry, only without a friendly demeanor, or an Aunt BeeThe money spent to make this town an attractive tourist stop was evidently sent to their marketing department for slick ads and elaborate road signs.  The Wall Café menu ranged from overpriced chicken that appeared to have been prepared sometime during the week prior to my arrival, to hot dogs, hamburgers, and limp lettuce salad with rolls that could be used to repair brick walls if not purchased by the tourists.  The Wall Drug had a premier collection of “Indian” souvenirs, also overpriced and carrying stickers that showed they had been made in China, India, and Pakistan.  Evidently the purchasing department had misunderstood the term “Indian” in ordering and stocking their goods.  After an Atkins shake and two oranges in my room, I made my way to The Wounded Knee Museum, and found a sign on the front door saying it was open from 9am to 5pm daily.  It was after 5pm when I found it, so I went back to my room, watched TV and went to bed.  I got up the next morning, dressed, ate, and was parked in front of the Museum by 8:45am.  At 9am a man whom I had seen the day before shuffling down main street, and whom I took then to be homeless since his clothes were dirty and in tatters, and his hands and face seemed caked with grime, came out of a side door to the museum, dropped a full trash bag into a dumpster on the side of the building, and went back inside.  He still had on the same clothes and the same grime.  At 9:15 I was still waiting for the doors to open, and at 9:30 I gave up and headed for my next stop, the  Ft. Randall Hotel/Casino owned and operated by the Yankton Sioux.

I stopped for lunch in Chamberlain, S.D. and paused long enough to drive through the grounds of the St. Joseph Indian School, with a large well developed campus.  The statue on the right is at the entrance to the school grounds.

I then left I-90 and drove along the north side of the Missouri River to Ft. Randall.

My poker tourney was scheduled for Saturday at noon and this was Thursday.  I wanted to have time to visit the Santee Sioux Tribal Museum, the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center on Calumet Bluff, and the Ponca Tribal Museum, all of which were on the south side of the Missouri river in Nebraska.  After I checked in, I unpacked and took a deep breath and a vacation nap, in that order.  The next morning, after checking my route plans with the very helpful hotel manager, I was off to the Lewis and Clark Center, to be followed by the Santee Museum, and then the Ponca Museum on my way back to home base at Ft. Randall.

The National Park Service ran the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center at Calumet Bluff, and the rangers there were very helpful, making phone calls for me to verify routes and museum times for the next two stops. The dam and the fisherman were down the bluff.

The Santee Museum was close to the river on tribal lands.  I could see the river in the distance as I approached their location.  The museum was a cabin style construction, very well kept and informative.

During the Sioux Uprising of 1862, when the U.S. refused to honor it’s treaty provisions of supplying food and other goods to the Sioux that it had confined to the reservation, 38 warriors were accused of acting as leaders of the rebellion and were ordered executed by President Lincoln.  Congressional Medals of Honor were given to the executioners and eventually taken away posthumously about 100 years later.  Those are the “38 Homeland Security Defenders” that are referred to in the middle picture above.

The Ponca Museum was not on their reservation , but on an agricultural acreage west of the town of Niobrara, NE.  It was the site of the tribe’s powwow grounds and community center.  Moving there saved them the expense of upkeep on a separate museum building, plus it made good use of their community center year round.  In the 1880’s the government, through bureaucratic bungling, decided it wanted to trade lands and shrink the size of Sioux holdings.  It included the land which it had already given to the Ponca as a reservation, without telling the Ponca.  The Sioux declined.  Even though the Sioux rejected the deal, the government ignored their rejection and proceeded with plans to remove the Poncas from the land in question.  The highly agrarian Poncas were told they had to go to Oklahoma and were given the choice of 4 parcels of land from which to choose.  They had good farmland in Nebraska and declined to move.  The government said they must visit the 4 parcels and if they didn’t like any of them, they would renegotiate with them.  A delegation of Ponca chiefs were taken to Oklahoma, and when they found that none of the 4 sites were farmland, they rejected all 4 and returned to Nebraska, determined to stay put.  Within a month the army showed up at the Ponca reservation and told them they all had to move, immediately.  They were marched to Oklahoma not unlike the Trail of Tears the government created in removing the Cherokee from their lands in North Carolina.   A few months later chief Standing Bear and a group of Ponca snuck off the Oklahoma reservation and returned to their reservation in Nebraska.  Before the government could manage another roundup to move them back to Oklahoma, the Ponca went to the media to state their case.  It became a national news story and a group of white citizens of Nebraska were so incensed by the governments actions that they funded a lawsuit on behalf of the Ponca since Indians had no standing in the courts due to the fact that federal law considered them not to be citizens of the U.S. The federal court ruled that they were citizens and had every right to demand that the government uphold the provisions of the treaty it had signed which stated that the Nebraska reservation belonged to the Ponca  “as long as water runs and grass grows”.  The federal court then decided in favor of the Poncas who had escaped, allowing them to stay on their land, but also deciding against any others leaving Oklahoma to join them.

I was able to talk to the grandson of one of those who came back.  The land their museum is now on was planted in corn, a picture of which is included below.  The White Eagle reservation outside Ponca City, Oklahoma, is populated by descendants of those who were denied the right to return to their reservation in Nebraska.

To end this travelogue of a fantastic trip, I will say I finished 5th in the poker tournament, had a great seafood buffet afterwards, a chance to consume Indian tacos made with fry bread, Lakota baked breakfast bread called “Cho Ri” and ended with a cookout luncheon with a good friend and her family in Omaha. I then headed home completing a memorable and very enjoyable first retirement adventure.  My appreciation of South Dakota had greatly increased, and my admiration of Native American culture was even stronger.

Posted in adventure, learning, native american, travel, vacation | 5 Comments

Man and Space

The topics in the May and June issues of this blog were primarily meant to deliver a male perspective of those issues to men.  While they were designed to be things that men could consider, there was the added hope that the women who read them would also have an opportunity to gain insights into manliness by eavesdropping on the male perspective as provided.

This month I am switching the focus of the blog to the female readership, and hopefully providing a male voice on a topic of potential interest to women.  This post carries with it a hope similar to that found in the other two in that the men who read it will find it useful in beginning a discussion that may enhance their lives, and their relationships with the women with whom they share a living space.

Let me begin by proposing that the difference between living in a space administered by a woman and living in a man’s space is clear and predictable.  Let’s raise the blinds a bit this month and take a peek at the aspect of pursuing manliness in a shared space.

Part of the difference between living in each of these two target environments is that when the space is a home, it is the female who stakes her immediate and, for the most part, undisputed claim to be the dominating authority in that space without hesitation or humility.  It is she who decorates, decides the cleaning schedule, chooses the colors, styles, and functions of each room, and each piece of furniture in each room.  She passes singular judgment on when things get replaced, when to rearrange items, what gets rejuvenated and what gets discarded; and nine times out of ten, it is she who is rewarded with the lion’s share of it all if the two parties part company.  Men, on the other hand, get to live in it, use it, and clean it within her rules, bragging about its desirable qualities as often as they wish.  Is this an overstated description of how sharing living space with a female works?  Am I skewing the facts to file a whimpering male complaint?  Maybe, but let’s examine it a bit more closely before conceding that point, and see if there is a perspective that rings true in the pursuit of living in a manly manner.  

In a shared space, men are expected to accept a grant to share the space that a woman has created, or is creating, and to live up to her standards of maintaining it.  For the sake of discussion let’s assume this to be an accurate depiction for a moment, and ask how it got to be this way.  I submit that the consistent female assertion of authority in the making of a home environment has at least two bases.  I have most often encountered these dual claims to feminine assertion in the forms of a cultural bias/expectation and a genetically inherited natural nest-building skill, an assumed and unspoken right of almost every woman in almost every culture, but wait…… aren’t those two bases the same logic men used to use in their long war to block suffrage?  And didn’t we, as a society, decide that a so-called cultural and genetic predisposition to social “rights” was neither truthful nor to our advantage as a society?  The decision was predicated on the epiphany that men alone had no more ability to understand the social issues that needed addressing, than did women.  I believe this was finalized when we passed the 19th amendment, was it not?  If true, then shouldn’t that which is illogical for the goose be equally without merit for the gander?  And if “sharing” living space is not as lopsided as all that, then how is it that women hold veto power over the following items based solely on their personal taste and preference: the choice of large and small appliances; of formal and informal dinnerware; of the daily menu; the window dressings; the bedroom colors; the carpet and wall colors and textures; what accessories will be placed in which rooms, and whether or not they are going to be displayed anywhere in the home, or hauled to the basement/attic without pausing for meaningful debate, and without the possibility of parole from said basement/attic?

 

Further, she decides what style, type, and specific piece of art gets hung on which wall and where on the wall it will reside; what areas of which closet(s) are assigned to whom; what clothes the children will wear, including, for public gatherings, what shirt you will be wearing and which tie you will choose to go with it; what seasonal decorations and their supporting budgets will be; what gifts are necessary to celebrate birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and parties, all of which, by the way, she will plan and execute without consultation with any man; how often and to what extent cleaning will occur; what either of you will be buying the other for Xmas; feel free to stop me if you find a majority of men have the final say in more than one of these areas.  What is it then, if anything, that men clearly have the last word in deciding about in the space in which they will be spending an equal amount of time?  It sounds like there is nothing of substance left to decide.  Take heart men, the landscape of decisions about sharing space is not entirely barren.  Men do have the final word regarding one item, ……………the remote control, …….but if, and only if they plan ahead and hide this tool of male rebellion in a cleverly chosen place, or, if it is found by the mistress of the home, then only if they can pull off a combination of the playful use of muscle and charm to regain control.

This one male dominated consolation prize has been listed as being one of the top 3 reasons why there are currently more homes with at least two T.V.’s in them than ever before.  If you pause to examine that, it stands to reason, …………if one can’t control the remote, then what one needs is one’s own T.V.

If a modicum of truth resides in the above, and you know a woman who has ever wondered why the man she shares space with is so reluctant to take an interest in housekeeping, or if she has complained that it is she who ends up doing the majority of the housework, I just gave up the basic secret of why that situation prevails.  Let me break it down in case it slipped by you.

Men don’t own a home.  They share one with a woman who controls it, makes all the important decisions about it, and fully expects that the “man around the house” will appreciate getting to live in her personal space to such a joyous degree, that he will be a responsible and grateful tenant who takes an active, unsolicited, and unmanaged interest in keeping her home clean and well maintained to her precise standards, standards that are too often uncommunicated until after the male has done the work that was identified by her.  If it were common for a woman’s lifestyle to include living in a space that was under the total control of a man who made all the unilateral decisions that women currently make about a “shared” living space, I submit that women would display behavior just as circumventing as men now do, when it came time to do housecleaning chores.   I believe that the issue at the root of this seemingly universal female annoyance at the unequal sharing of the housework needed to maintain a home, is not so much about the irresponsibility or immaturity of the average male, but instead it’s about being the lifetime tenant of a landlord-in-perpetuity who assumes the man loves being the gardener, the handyman, the waste removal technician, and the assistant everything-else, as much as she loves being the landlord.  Before the process of women’s liberation had progressed as far as it has, homemaking WAS a woman’s inequitable consolation prize and her unquestioned domain to rule.  There were even “home ec” classes in school to underline the existence of this right.  Now that women are relatively free from that cultural and “genetic” presumption that making a living space is their inalienable right, it may be time to liberate the men too, and recognize their status as homemakers by giving them an equal voice in deciding what happens in their shared living space.  Not all men will want this freedom, but then, not all women believed females should vote either.  For those men who would like to express some of their ideas and personality in their homes without experiencing a consequential surprise move to a twin bed sleeping arrangement, it may provide them with the missing incentive to do the unsolicited  housecleaning their female partners have been looking for in vain.  

Men can be sources of value in an equitably shared living space if they own an equal voice.  They can add to the diversity of mood in the environment in which they live.  Perhaps comparing the essence of a traditional man space with that of a traditional woman space will help us see this untapped resource, by taking a quick look at how men and women use their space.  This view may also help us see why it is almost inevitable that they will come into conflict when they live together if no discussion of the issues I outlined above occurs.

Men display a territorial expression of themselves, when they live in a space in which they are free to act without criticism or ridicule.  A man space has more emphasis on the unique and the convenient, and less emphasis on socially acceptable appearance and traditional order.  When free to arrange and decorate their space, men will put more emphasis on living in a practical and comfortable niche that reflects their manliness, whereas women will tend to focus their energy on creating a space that will balance pleasing others with being personally expressive.  They tend to follow a themed presentation, or add and arrange things they believe will increase the resale value, somewhat like the way they behave in presenting themselves through the use of make-up, matching fashion accessories, and the blending of a hairdo into a “complete look”.  Women oriented spaces support more types of people, while men oriented spaces do more to provide comfort and nurture personal freedom.  I suggest there is evidence of this in the fact that one can discern far more clues about a man’s personality from looking at his living space than can ever be gleaned about a woman’s true nature by observing the living space she creates.  He does things in his space that are important to him alone, that contain an element of self-centeredness, thus revealing far more about his personality.  She does things she feels others expect of her, a behavior which society has reinforced a hundredfold during her lifetime, making her personal information more inaccessible.  If you think I am making this statement as a criticism of women, you missed my point.  This isn’t something women decide.  Women are told from the moment they can understand English, that their job is to please, to do it all, do it perfectly, and don’t ever let them see you sweat, while men are told to be invulnerable rugged individualists.  They are told that in return for such manly  behavior they will be appreciated, and a home will be provided for them.  These expectations give us the antique basis for the traditional societal views that a man is expected to “work from sun to sun ”, and “a women’s (house)work is never done .”  If we have made any advances in how we view the roles of men and women in the workplace during the century just past, then perhaps it’s time to have the next discussion about changing the roles of men and women in the homeplace.  Sharing space with another adult who has their own ideas of what is comfortable, pleasing and expressive is such a threshold topic that it calls on all of us who share space to sit down with honesty and tolerance to fully address the issue of living with each other.   For this to happen, the traditional differences in how men and women view the creation of living spaces could stand a good cleaning.  Staying out of each other’s way, I submit, is a poor way to begin a marriage, and if unaddressed until decades have passed and habits ingrained, it may well become a contributing reason to stop sharing space.

Such discussions may even bring to pass that men, who don’t believe it’s a primary function of theirs to take responsibility for keeping a clean home, may begin to feel it’s just as much their space as their partners, and instead of only remembering to clean it if the dust bunnies, bugs, and clutter appear to be present in such numbers that they take on the guise of trespassers who need to be taught a manly lesson, men may develop an aggressive pride in how clean and well-kept their shared space looks.

………………Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Now, for this month’s recipe, which I urge be prepared in tandem, in a shared kitchen. It is named in recognition of those men who choose to pursue manliness in this realm……

Chicken a la King

Ingredients:

2 cups chicken breast, cooked & cut into bite sized pieces;                                       1/4 cup real butter,                                                                                                 5 Tablespoons of flour                                                                                              1 cup low-sodium chicken broth                                                                                  1 cup milk                                                                                                                 1 egg yolk, beaten                                                                                                      1 small jar of pimentos                                                                                              5 medium “white” aka “button” mushrooms  sliced into bite sized chunks.

Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan.                             Blend in flour, stirring to make a roux. When blended, gradually add the broth and milk. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly.                                           Add a portion of the hot mixture to the egg yolk to temper, then return it to saucepan. Stir in pepper to taste, add pimento, mushrooms, and chicken and heat thoroughly. Serve over toast with your favorite greens on the side.

Posted in awareness, learning, living space, male and female perspectives, male habits, recipes men like, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Music in Men

Music has a clear and special function in the pursuit of manliness.  Music, especially in my generation, has an active role in enhancing manly awareness.  It is in touch with men’s lives in a broad manner of diverse ways.  One of its major functions is as a freeing catalyst with the ability to turn loose the emotional power of reaching out and expressing themselves, a skill that most men find needs lots of attention to develop.  Music is powerful in aiding that development because music is the sound of emotion.  Every song is a poem with the added dimension of fitted sound, just as poems are songs without music.  But since men are rarely encouraged to express their inner feelings until they are in a relationship, and it appears as a sudden, undiscussed expectation, we usually find ourselves all too aware of a strong stirring inside, but with no bridge to connect that feeling to the outside.  It is not unlike asking a man to give you his favorite recipe.  It is a foreign concept in both instances, and will give you a chance to see what his face looks like if you ever began speaking to him in Sanskrit.

Music intensifies the emotion of a moment on as many levels as we are willingly open to express, and for men, who have few clues about how to express emotions, outside of pain and anger, it is a frustrating mystery that music helps to solve.  It is little wonder that it has been described as that which “can soothe the savage beast” because savage beasts are not known for their ease of communicating.  If men want to be a conscious participant in experiencing connections with people, or contributing to the amount of joy in the world, we have to take responsibility for learning and honing the skill of expression.  Music, by its poetic lyrics, and by the complexity of its melodic sounds, gives us a way to do that.  Music provides us with a blueprint for expressing our emotions.  It uniquely creates the missing bridge; opening a special door that connects us with others or with an event.  Music is so closely aligned with feeling, and men are so removed from easily expressing feelings, that it is both a tool of blessing and a tempting danger.

If we want to take credit for having feelings, we have to take responsibility for demonstrating that those feelings are ours, and that means learning to say out loud what we silently know is inside us.  While music can be the voice of our emotion in a burst of pride for a remarkable accomplishment; or describe the desolate isolation of a crushing rejection; or frame our vulnerability in a moment of shared tender excitement, such as the feelings that are at the heart of loving and being loved, it must contribute to our learning how to speak with our own voice, describe with our own thoughts, and be vulnerable, if we sincerely wish to pursue manliness.

It can be an agent of personal alchemy that takes us from our cold wanderings to the warm awe of happiness, but only if we choose to use its power to help ourselves to our own manhood.  In the pursuit of manliness, then, we are required to learn how to own the act of being aware of our feelings, and practicing building the bridge from those feelings out into the world through which we move.  Music is a special tool in the construction and maintenance of that bridge, if we are choosing to act in a manly fashion.

Music has always had a central role in my life.  I think it has always had an elevated status in the lives of my whole generation.  Growing up in the 1960’s we gained the link to each others souls by being able to ride the way music expressed our common hopes, our commitments to each other, and to making a better way of living, by bolstering our resolve to change how the world worked.  It was a living puzzle piece of our naivete, and a snug fit into our youthful exuberance.  It was key to our pursuit of a “higher ground” as one 1973 song put it, which made it an essential element in the process of identifying who we were and who we were willing to become as men.

It still has a special mystical and spiritual contribution to make in the pursuit of manliness all these years later.  If examples help us see that, then consider this.  It serves us through the classical contributions of Rachmaninoff’s 18th Variation on a Theme of Paginini, when we feel the melancholy of loss; in Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, when we are moved to struggle with courage; in Ravell’s Bolero, when we acknowledge our humble position in the relentlessness of creation; and a host of other emotions ranging from giddy joy, through humility, to gratitude in Mozart’s many works of genius.  Through music we can dip our manly soul into hope, and examine our spirits through ballads like Tony Bennett’s The Best is Yet to Come, Michael Buble’s Feeling Good, Harry Chapin’s Cats in The Cradle, and hundreds of driving R&B songs from Keb Mo, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, The Pointer Sisters, Gladys Knight, Ray Charles, and on, and on.

I realize there are also songs we sing just to have fun being simultaneously silly and musical; songs like Wooly Bully; The One-eyed, One-horned, Flying Purple People Eater; and An Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, or all of Ray Stevens laughter-generating songs.  But as too many of us forget as we age, having fun and being silly is a legitimate and beneficial way to express ourselves as men.

All I’m really saying today is this.  The music in men is a critical tool, with a never-ending value in the pursuit of manliness.

This month’s recipe is for something that goes well with any form of music,

Grandma Turvey’s Hershey Pie. 

You’ll need: 1 pie shell, 20 large marshmallows, 2/3 cup whole milk, 4 Hershey bars or 5 oz. Hershey chocolate, 1 cup whipped cream, 1 cup of pecans.

1. Melt the marshmallows and chocolate in milk, and let it cool.

2. Gently fold in the whipped cream and pecans.                         

3. Pour it all in the pie shell and refrigerate until cold and firm.

4. When it’s chilled sufficiently, put on your favorite music, turn the lights down, and share it while you snuggle.  No one to snuggle with?  You might consider re-reading this month’s blog and working on the skill of expressing yourself, ……..I’m just sayin’.

Posted in awareness, learning, male habits, male spirit, music, recipes men like, Uncategorized, vulnerability | 7 Comments

Manly Meditating

My sisters came to visit recently, and while they were here we went to a thrift store, one of those places where people gather things that have already been of service to someone else, veteran things if you will.  As I browsed and imagined the people who had been connected to some of those items from another place and time, the universe slipped a small green and cream-colored book into my hand.  I examined the cover and found it pleasing enough to draw me into the book to see if it had anything to say.  I read a few half-pages and thought the topics addressed inside interesting enough to make the little book well worth the $2 price that the store wanted me to exchange for the right to take it home.

I am not always operating at that level of awareness in the presence of a second hand book, and on other days, many other days to be truthful, I wouldn’t have slowed down long enough to inspect its surface, much less take an initiative to peek inside, or listen to hear what it might have to say.  This turned out to be a perfect moment in which to be aware, as I found myself in the presence of a book capable of providing me with a chance to learn.  I find that I am more likely to be in such a heightened state of awareness when I am hanging around with my sisters.  I’m not sure why that is, but it is; and it gives me another reason to appreciate them.  They somehow enhance my sensitivity and feeling of being on the edge of discovering some great and valuable perspective.  A benefit for which I too infrequently thank them, but I’m sure they already know all that…. they are very advanced creatures.

Anyway, the book in my hand was entitled “Touchstones, Daily Meditations for Men” (their italics, not mine).  It had a stylized drawing on the front cover depicting a young male sitting facing a stream that ran along the edge of what appeared to be a hillside of stylized grass; so stylized that it looked like the hill was covered in crab grass.  The young man was leaning back against a very straight stylized tree trunk, reading a small book, about the same size as the book in my hand.  After close consideration of this artwork, I came to the belief that this artistic enticement was the author’s attempt to be of assistance to men who would find this book on a shelf somewhere, as I had, and wonder, with some difficulty, what manly edge could be gained from reading a book of “Meditations for Men” (still their emphasis), and as silly as that may seem to my sisters, or to you, I can unequivocally assure you that the author not only knew what he was doing by putting that visual clue on the cover, but I can further guarantee that the percentage of men that viewed that cover and felt a secret gratitude to the author for that artistic hint, is far larger than you might suspect.

Over the last 25 years, since 1987 when the book was published, the number of adult men aware enough to understand the value of meditating has increased dramatically, and the majority of men picking up this book, beginning in 1987, would have been unsure of just how to go about meditating and still manage to retain their manly stature.  They would most assuredly wonder what masculine edge might be gained by behaving meditatively, because gaining an edge would be a sufficiently manly reason for doing anything as unfamiliar as meditating. 

Men are all about winning, or at least gaining an advantage in a situation that stands a remote chance of becoming competitive; and advantages are something that men are always looking for. Men describe most of what happens in their lives in terms of pressing some competitive advantage and winning.  They often use competitive sports terms to describe their everyday thoughts and behavior; winning a girl’s affection, or getting to “3rd base” with her, winner takes all, scoring big, the solution was a slam dunk, etc.   While 1987 faded further and further away, it became clearer to an increasing number of Western men, that engaging in behaviors such as meditation, or tai chi, or yoga, or some other habitual morning welcoming of the universe, was empowering, and we men are all about empowerment. That feeling of empowerment is why we hold testosterone in such high regard, and produce it in such abundance.

In 1987, when the author placed that picture on his book of manly meditations, the idea would still have been just out of reach of most men’s comfortable level of understanding.  That was the year a teenage male from West Germany flew a private plane through the massive Soviet air defenses and landed it, without a scratch, in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square.  Male teens are famous for producing floods of testosterone that fuel such daring adventures, and most men worldwide applauded him, however privately.  It was also the year the nation felt threatened by president Reagan’s Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork, a judge who was openly hostile to civil rights laws and women’s rights, and who favored the supremacy of the executive branch over the judicial and legislative. Men and women alike, felt saved from his pushy male aggression when the Senate soundly rejected him.  Testosterone can sometimes overflow and scare the whohaw out of all of us.  If that near catastrophe wasn’t scary enough, consider that it was also the year Gary Wright opened the weekday mail at his computer business, and activated the 12th of 16 letter bombs sent across America by the Unabomber.  Testosterone based behavior doesn’t employ a broad range of responses to perceived threats.  Its usual response is most often some form of violence.  In light of these circumstances, 1987 was a challenging year to hope that the private and non-violent act of meditating encouraged by “Meditations for Men” would be perceived as an attractive manly act.  Looking back at that time, it is clear that a process of men’s increasing awareness was growing.  It was matched by a growth in awareness by women, and eventually culminated in a global rise in awareness by whole nations, leading to the eventual breakup of oppressive regimes worldwide, a remarkable feat.  Over that 25 year period of time since 1987, we can see ourselves taking an increasing personal responsibility for our spiritual growth as a species.  This drive is so strong that it sometimes has advanced in spite of the religions that claim such growth as their reason to exist.

I’m not proposing that the little book that made its way into my hands was solely responsible for some great rise in consciousness, but I do suggest that it is an example of a proliferation of tools that have become more visible and more available to all of us.  It is a tool that men have used in pursuit of an enlightened sense of their true manliness.

The events I mentioned as part of 1987 passed into history. The West German teen was sent home safe and famous.  Robert Bork’s name made it into the Oxford English dictionary as in “to Bork someone”, meaning to thwart a political appointment.  Ted Kaczynski’s unending overflow of testosterone caused him to be outed by his brother and his wife, and he was apprehended, charged with 3 counts of murder as a domestic terrorist, and negotiated a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.  Those events all took their seats in history, but the empowering work found in the daily meditations of the little green and cream-colored book, stood up and grew increasingly important, as more men responded in more ways every day, year after year, to grow in spirit.  I was fortunate to be aware enough, standing with my sisters in the thrift shop that day, to notice when the book nudged me.

As an example of the kind of refocusing of men from testosterone reactions to actions based on thoughtful manly meditation, may I finish my thoughts in this blog issue by repeating the words from the page labeled May 4th, where men are asked to consider:

What if the interests of the self were expanded to ….a God’s eye view of the human scene… accepting failure as being as natural an occurrence as success… as little cause for worry and concern as having to play the role of a loser in a summer theater performance.

Yeah, dude, good question.  This kind of invitation to question a conventional macho view men pass from generation to generation, lets me hone my awareness and question my assumptions.  So, I put my engine in gear and meditate:

“what if testosterone had to take on an emergency role instead of a primary role in how men act?  What if winning were less important than being aware of how losing is just a part of the whole process of growth?”

Feel free at this point to make the recipe below and invite friends over who are as sharp as you are, to share the cookies and discuss the issue, for all our sakes.

                                                       Manly Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 C butter, 1/2 cup Splenda white sugar, 1/2 C packed Splenda brown sugar,                 3/4 C of your favorite peanut butter, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda,                1 egg, 1 1/4 C flour ……. BEAT THE FIRST SIX INGREDIENTS UNTIL THEY ARE SMOOTH, ADD THE EGG AND MIX FOR ABOUT 1 MINUTE, SLOWLY AND THOROUGHLY MIX IN THE FLOUR, COVER AND REFRIGERATE FOR 2 HOURS. 

AFTER REFRIGERATION, WET YOUR HANDS AND FORM THE DOUGH INTO SMALL PING PONG SIZED BALLS, CAREFULLY FLATTEN EACH BALL WITH A FORK IN A CRISS-CROSS PATTERN, BAKE IN A PREHEATED OVEN SET AT 375, BAKING SHOULD TAKE 10 MINUTES, DON’T OVERBAKE, COOL FOR 5-7 MINUTES BEFORE REMOVING FROM THE BAKING SHEET.  Mmmmmm

Posted in awareness, male habits, male spirit, recipes men like, spiritual growth | 11 Comments