Saturday, November 26, 2016

"Get a Life!"


I was on the ground floor of our state Capitol, and it was about mid-way through our daily SingAlong over the noon hour.  I am not there every day, but someone has been  there every single weekday for well over five years now, making a stand "until Wisconsin gets better!"  We always welcome visitors, and encourage folks to join the singing, come into the center to take pictures of the beautiful high ceiling, or just pass through as they take a shortcut through the building.  It is, after all, the "people's house" and we are proud and happy to share the space each day.   More about my participation here

The man approached me, as most of them do, without really making eye contact, and I smiled as I usually do, to make him feel welcome.  Without looking up, he spit out those words we have heard all too often: "Get a life!" --- and from that moment on I totally lost my concentration and had trouble remembering the lyrics for the songs I have been singing since spring of 2011, songs I sing in the shower, songs that go through my head day and night, awake or asleep.  The words weren't coming.  I was way too preoccupied.

Oh, if you only knew!  Stop for a minute and let me tell you about my life. It is full beyond belief and I feel blessed in ways I never could have imagined.

I could tell you about my family - wonderful husband of over 50 years, grown children and foster children, who provide us with awesome grandchildren, ranging from toddlers to those in their 20's, starting out in exciting careers and living now on their own.  Soon a whole new generation of "immediate family" will be a significant part of our lives.  There is, of course, also an extended family of siblings, in-laws, cousins and others. Some we see on a regular basis, and others only occasionally, but all are special to us and provide a deep richness to our lives.

I could tell you about my friends - some I have known for over 60 years, some I know only through my many contacts on social media.  We have moved several times in our married life and always do what we can to maintain connections with the friends we have made in each location.  Our holiday mailing list has always been a long one and we love to hear from those we don't see on a regular basis.

I belong to a book club, we participate in a Senior Learning program, we travel for both fun and education,  we travel to visit family and friends, and we travel to watch our grandchildren participate in all their various activities.  Are you a sports fan?  We have watched grandsons play football at both Northwestern and Ohio State.  Should I tell you about our never-ending loyalty to the Wisconsin Badgers?  We love our life in downtown Madison within walking distance of the campus we love, the Kohl Center, Camp Randall stadium and of course Capitol Square.  Farmers Market, State Street, sporting events, culture, restaurants, educational opportunities and a newly renovated library - we have it all!

Do you have just a little more time?  I absolutely love telling people what I am doing in my retirement. Yes, I have become more aware politically (now there is an understatement!) but it's not just that.  I am a retired special educator with an intense interest in the field of autism and have established my own business as an independent contractor, now helping mostly adults who are unable to speak to find their voice through typing.  There are so many of these amazing people, and they all have a lot to say.  I won't bore you with the details, but I have written more extensively about this on my blog.  You might want to check out this posting in particular:  "Why I Do What I Do."

Sorry for being so defensive about this.  I understand that you might have made a quick judgment about the group you saw singing that day.  I can guarantee you that every single one of the participants has an interesting story to tell.  Next time, plan to stay a little while and get to know us.  Maybe even sing along.

As we say in one of my favorite songs, "We are a gentle, loving people, and we are singing for our lives."
All are welcome.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Guest Blog on Thanksgiving Day

This one is too good not to share.  Very personal reflections on a life lived well, and lots of lessons learned.  From my dear husband Paul, who makes it all possible - and worthwhile.

I’m not sure if it is Thanksgiving, or the election, or turning 80 years old, but I’m feeling like writing my feelings. (This is not at all normal for someone with 100% German genetics).
I feel good!  I feel blessed!

I feel the need to affirm the beauty and rewards of how DIVERSITY has enriched my life.  I was born and raised in a “lily white” community (Manitowoc County) that demanded residents to register any black persons who wished to stay overnight and whose childhood chants ridiculed the Irish.   I cannot remember that race was ever a topic with my parents or relatives.  I did know that Catholics were the only ones who would get to heaven (WRONG), that homosexuals were bad (WRONG), and that Case tractors and Chrysler products were better than the others! (That may have been wrong too?)   Valders  (Vikings) High School alerted me to the diversity of Norwegians.

Then came the University of Wisconsin and Madison.   The first night, a street person tried to get a dime from me.  No way!  (Could he tell I was from the farm?)   Daily, I was at the dinner table with black people and my botany lab partner dressed differently and had a red spot in the middle of her forehead!  Some of my acquaintances disliked the Jewish kids from the East Coast.   During spring break of my junior year, I spent a week in New Orleans.  I sat in a “BLACKS ONLY’ seat on the bus (because there was more room and I didn’t know it made that much difference . . . . found out  DIFFERENT!) and watched a fight break out when a black woman tried to take her son into a “WHITES ONLY” bathroom at a bus stop,   My teammate on the dairy cattle judging team was from Argentina.  His dad offered me a job when I graduated, buying dairy cattle for South America.  (That was stretching too far for me).
In 1959 I did my military duty and I trained and bunked with some black fellow officers.
Then I became a teacher in “lily white” Greenfield on the south side of Milwaukee.  One of my teacher friends talked me into joining Father Groppe and marching with the civil rights protesters into the Polish south side to promote integration.  That was a good step --- Thanks Jim Hondel.  

So that is some background.

In 1965 I married a CITY girl!  I guess I was ready for a little stretch.  Actually, she was the one that needed to be open to my farm boy ways --- and she was!  She said “yes” in spite of the fact that I told her I voted for Barry Goldwater, and she was pregnant for the next few years, so she was too busy to object.  Then she mothered our four children and slowly educated me to the need to be more open and less rigid. Who says people can’t change???

In 1973 we bought a large old farm house with 40 acres in Plymouth, and we also agreed to have more children --- just not our own.  We became the “Brandl Bunch.”   Twenty years as a licensed foster home and 11 foster  children later,  plus 2 exchange teachers (one from Mexico and one from Japan) a foreign exchange student from Switzerland,  and a variety of short term live-in guests  taught me a lot about diversity and its value to all.  

The experiences were themselves very diverse.  I remember the high school girl I brought home one night because she was afraid to go home after school (her father had found out she was pregnant and held a loaded gun to her head the night before).  Social Services wanted to hide her until she was safe.   Others children stayed for years.  I believe 13 years was the longest.  Certainly the outcomes of our parenting efforts were also very different.   I felt rewarded by the positive outcomes and saddened when some children were sent back home to unprepared parents.   I learned from each experience and I am still learning, especially from those who struggle with anxiety and depression and disability.

So how do I feel now?    I feel no hatred, or anxiety.  I feel lucky and thankful and….REWARDED!
I want to do what I can to affirm the beauty and rewards of a diverse society and express how it has enriched me.  With four wonderful children of our own and these 10 grandchildren, plus the foster children and these grandchildren, I have been blessed.  I now have grandchildren whose parents are Swiss, Russian, Tunisian, Indian, and African!   I love those who are married, single, divorced, transgender, Democrat and Republican.   When I think about my foreign friends, like Anita, Markus and Svenja, I do feel embarrassed by this last election.

I am going to try to be kinder, more caring, respectful, generous, thoughtful, and understanding than ever before in the time I have left!  LOVE is the answer!