Native American Heritage Month (2)

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When we travel to places with Native American distinction and I plan to buy something to remember my visit, I look to see if the object is Native made. There are so many knock-offs and items appropriated out there that I feel that if I’m going to buy Native crafts, symbols, and jewelry, it should be genuinely made by Native peoples and the income should benefit them.

The picture below highlights my three most recent crafts:

(c)2021

The photo on the left is a dream catcher. I have had one in my bedroom for decades. I had received a small one but it has been mislaid. I chose this one while we were in Montreal. I didn’t realize it at first but it is a necklace. I have hung it over the lamp on my bedstand to keep away bad spirits and dreams.

The top right is a simple lapel pin that I purchased at the St. Kateri Shrine in Fonda, New York. It is the flag of the Iroquois Confederation. These flags can be seen flying in many places across New York State and lower Canada.

The bottom right picture is a pair of earrings I discovered in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I was drawn several times to the three colors – the silver, the bronze, and the turquoise. While this design could easily be Native American jewelry or ancient Egyptian, and I was so happy to find that they were indeed Native made. As my birthstone is turquoise, I am often drawn to the stone and color.

We Give Thanks

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The Thanksgiving holiday is full of disharmony as we come to grips with our historic (and recent) treatment of the Native American peoples who were here before we arrived from Europe.

A few personal thoughts:

Growing up Jewish, this was always my favorite holiday. We didn’t need to explain our religious holidays and we weren’t excluded from the mainstream Christian holidays. This was an American holiday, one that everyone could participate in, both as a harvest holiday and as a day of gratitude. It brought our family together as well as allowing us to be a part of the greater family of our community.

This year comemorates the 400th anniversary of that traditional first Thanksgiving hosted by the Pilgrims who survived that first harsh winter. The basics of that first holiday, a gathering in gratitude brought two different communities together to share what each had. The helped each other and maintained a friendship against great odds. In modern days, we have much to be thankful for. I won’t list mine, but take a moment to reflect on your own blessings.

At mass this morning, we continued a tradition at my parish that I have always loved. Instead of a collection, we bring a bag of non-perishable food to the altar (for our food pantry and Christmas baskets), and at the end of mass, each family is given a small loaf of bread that has been blessed to share at our dinner table. We are called to pray and to break bread.

Give us this day, our daily bread…

(I apologize for the blurry picture) (c)2021

Last year while visiting Niagara Falls, New York, we learned of a nearby monument in Lewiston that commemorates the Tuscarora Indians coming to the rescue of American citizens during the War of 1812. The British invaded from Canada to the north and were mobilizing an attack on the village with their Indian allies. The Tuscarora, being outnumbered gave the appearance of greater numbers and were able to give the Lewiston families time to escape the inevitable horrors of death and watching their loved ones brutally murdered.

This monument is breathtaking in its emotion. The sculpted faces of both the mother and child fleeing and the Tuscarora helping them is so vivid, it tells the story in deeper and more profound ways than reading about it could ever do. I stood in awe of it for several minutes, even though it was pouring rain for much of the time.

Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021
A closer look, Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021

Enjoy the day with family and friends or alone, in peaceful quiet or boisterous noise, with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce or whatever your family traditions call for.

Native American Heritage Month

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I want to acknowledge that my family and I live on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee. I grew up knowing them as the Iroquois, which is the French name. Haudenosaunee means People of the Longhouse and they have a rich history in New York State. The map below shows the other tribes traditional to New York. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is the oldest, participatory Democracy and our US Constitution is said to be modeled on theirs.

Credit: Aaron Carapella (c)2021

Some links to check out about Native American Heritage Month:

Beyond Each November from First Nations

Native American Heritage Month Information and Activities


I’ve mentioned my affinity for our local saint, Saint Kateri Tekawitha (pronounced “gaderi dega-gwita”). She is the first Native American saint to be canonized. Her official elevation was in 2012 and her most recent miracle was in 2006. St. Kateri was Algonquin on her mother’s side and Mohawk on her father’s.

Since I was going to visit her shrine in Quebec, I wanted to have her chaplet to pray with while I was there. I wasn’t able to acquire it until after so I drew one and used that for my prayer. Here is a photo of both of them:

Chaplet of St. Kateri Tekawitha.
(c)2021

The Feast Day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

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St. Kateri Tekakwitha was the first Native American woman to be canonized. This was in 2012, the same year I joined the church with my ongoing attendance. It would be another two years before I came into full communion and participation.

There were many reasons that I was attracted to St. Kateri as I considered her among others while I discerned a confirmation name (ultimately choosing St. Elen of Caernarfon as many of you know).

I have always felt a connection to the Native American people and interested in their culture and spiritual practices. As kids our parents took us to the pow-wow out on Long Island with the Shinnecock Indians. It’s hard to live anywhere in New York State and not find nearby towns with Native names.

A gift from my friend in South Dakota. It is a dream catcher and it has helped me at times when I’ve had trouble sleeping. It is Native made near the sacred Black Hills.
(c)2021

Kateri was from nearby; just west of the Capital District. She was born in the village of Ossernenon, now known as Auriesville. The village is mapped out at the Martyrs Shrine. After a small pox epidemic killed her family and left her scarred, the remaining Mohawk burned the village and moved (as was done when a disease ran rampant through their homes).

They moved further west and to the other side of the river to what is now Fonda, above where the current Kateri Shrine is located in the village called Caughnawaga. The footprint of the village can be seen and can be reached either by car or by walking the trails to the village and the spring.

Continue reading

Black History Month – Henry Johnson

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Mural on a building of WWI hero Henry Johnson and other WWI service members, on Henry Johnson Blvd. in Albany, NY.
(c)2021

Henry Johnson was born in Virginia, but lived in Albany, the capital of New York, since his teens. He worked as a redcap (porter) at the Albany Union Station. He was also a sergeant in an all African American unit (the 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly the 15th Infantry Regiment of the National Guard during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with star and the Gold Palm from the French govenment for his heroism in fighting off a 20 person raiding party of Germans.

He was the first American to receive these awards, and yet there was no recognition from his own country.

Finally in 1996, he was awarded the long overdue Purple Heart and in 2003, the Distinguished Service Cross. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Honor, accepted by Command Sergeant Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard.

He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

In Albany’s Washington Park stands a monument to Henry Johnson, just over half a mile from the street that bears his name.

Henry Johnson Monument, Washington Park, Albany, NY, erected in 1991.
(c)2021
Detailed photo of the bust of Henry Johnson.
(c)2021

WMHT presents Henry Johnson: A Tale of Courage

Author Max Brooks on Henry Johnson, the Unlikely War Hero

Inspire. February.

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With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.

Eleanor Roosevelt

What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.

Ralph Marston
Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, Buffalo, NY
(c)2021
Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, Buffalo, NY
(c)2021

Despite the new year’s beginning in January much like the old year had ended, we got through it. We inaugurated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our President and Vice President, and they hit the ground running.

Using Executive Orders to reverse some of the most heinous Trump Admin policies, reorganizing the Covid relief response so that it works for the American people, the Press Secretary giving daily briefings, answering all questions without lies and hedging, avoiding talking points and giving out real information has been a wonderful change of pace.

See the previous post for many of the Biden Admin Twitter follows to keep up on their news!

I’m optimistic as we head into the shortest month.

Lent is early this year, at least it seems that way, and so I’m already thinking about those forty days in the desert. You don’t have to be Catholic to think about the things that Lent brings out in many of us. Choose a random day, and begin your own forty days.

Change a habit.

Start a hobby.

Write a journal.

Take a breath.

Be inspired.

Travel in the Time of COVID

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Traveling during the covid epidemic offers several differing perspectives and our family seems to have lived through all of them. Should we go? Should we stay home? Stay local? Visit another state? For the better part of last year, we planned our August vacation to Canada. It became apparent that would not be an option. The Canadian border closed in the spring and remains closed.

We couldn’t help but notice that the rest of the country was not exactly cooperating in “flattening the curve”. It didn’t take long to make the decision to remain in New York State. We live here and we felt safe with the covid policies that the state has put into place.

Now that Thanksgiving is upon us, and Christmas not far off, if you are traveling, I hope you will benefit from our experience.

If you’ve decided to stay home, these will hopefully help you the next time you venture out.

Vacationing on COVID-time is *different*.

First, have a plan, have a second plan, and be flexible in all things. We decided on a location we’d only visited for a couple hours last year – Niagara Falls, located in western New York. We would spend one week; it would be an adventure. Customarily, we would change hotels mid-week. We did not. This was a direct result of covid.

We did many things outside: Niagara Falls State Park and the Falls, Broderick Park at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo. Though I prefer indoor dining, we ate outside at restaurants, coffee shops, and ice cream shops. We also visited three monuments that we may not have seen if I wasn’t looking for outdoor things to do.

Masks. You need more than one mask. Ideally, you should have one cloth mask for each day or at least two: one to wear, one to wash (and hang to dry).

Hand Sanitizer. Though you’ll find more hand sanitizer than you can ever imagine everywhere, a travel bottle of hand sanitizer is a must.

Hotels. I was very happy with our hotel. The prices did not seem to be any higher than a regular end of summer week. However, several amenities were not available or drastically changed. The pool and fitness center were closed, but vending machines and ice machines were available. I think they suspended the airport shuttle. We were required to wear masks in the public areas, hallways, elevators, and walking through the lobby. There were hand sanitizer stands next to every elevator on all the floors to use prior to pressing the elevator buttons.

The included free breakfast was a menu to choose items from, and then bring to your room, microwave, and eat there. It usually included a muffin, a fruit, water, milk, or juice, breakfast sandwich, yogurt, and other related items. There was no housekeeping unless you requested it. We did not. We chose to ask for necessary items at the front desk. These included new towels, shampoo, cups, toilet paper. They were extraordinarily nice and very accommodating. Considering the circumstances, I thought they did an excellent job.

Attractions. Many places were closed. Those that were open had restrictions. Masks required, hand sanitizer stations, 25%-50% capacity, 6ft. distancing between groups. Some displays – where placing your face close was necessary in order to see the item – were temporarily out of order. At interactive displays, we were provided with a sanitized mini stylus to use instead of our fingers. We returned them for cleaning when we were finished with the tour.

Due to reduced capacity requirements, several locations issued timed tickets. This combined with lower capacities meant that every day about mid-afternoon tours were sold out for the day, so this required going early, getting your ticket for later in the day and then coming back. Some places preferred that you buy tickets online and show the attendant the ticket on your phone.
Many places used directional arrows on the floor directing so people weren’t intersecting with each other. Many places would not accept cash. The Niagara Falls (NF) State Park as well as the NF Visitor Center only accepted credit/debit cards.

Contact Tracing. Many hotels, attractions, and restaurants asked for our name and phone number for contact tracing.

Restaurants. We felt comfortable at each location we ate at. One place, the Hard Rock Cafe, took our temperature. Due to lower capacity, we were required to wait…outside. If we got up to use the restroom, masks needed to be worn. Some restaurants had no menus and a QR code on the table allowed for viewing the online menu on our phones.

Shopping. Only some places offered samples, like chocolate or ice cream. Fitting rooms were closed as were some public bathrooms. A few places did not take cash.

One of the good things that I noticed was that as crowded as it was, it wasn’t that crowded. There was room to stand and move around on the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which is typically wall-to-wall people.

Because the Underground Railroad Heritage Center limited two at a time in the small gift shop, I was able to have a somewhat lengthy and very educational conversation with the attendant while I waited my turn.

People were both wary and friendly at once. There may have been a glare when you got too close to someone but it turned into a smile and a laugh as we both said “oops, sorry.” It was a delicate dance.

I didn’t know how much we needed to be out of our house. Overall, even with the changes and the restrictions, we still had a great vacation, and it was nice being out and about and almost-kind-of “normal”. Niagara Falls is one of those places that never gets old; we’re thinking about returning next year, although a trip across the border would also be welcomed.

Inspire. October.

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New Experiences from Summer. (c)2020

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Try new things and discover yourself every single day.”

– Bhavya Choudhary

“TSN”

(Try Something New) – My Husband

For the past two years, my husband has been offering this mantra: TSN, which stands for Try something new. He tries to try something new at least once a month.

I do like to try things, but I try them hesitantly.

I am inherently extraordinarily polite. If I am at someone else’s house and they offer me something that I’ve never had before or am even lukewarm on, I will take it, eat it, and thank them for it.

When we go out to dinner, I prefer tried and true food for the most part, but when I’m on vacation, I will beeline for the local specialty as well as trying new things.

Examples of this are poutine in Canada, tea in the UK, a proper British breakfast in Wales and England, Welsh cakes in Wales, chicken wings in Buffalo, cheesecake in NYC, pretzels and chocolate in Pennsylvania, lobster in Maine, crab cakes in Maryland, beignets and gumbo in New Orleans. Anywhere you go will have a specialty food to try.

On our recent visit to Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Plattsburgh, New York, we tried many things that were new to us, but were common to the North Country and Western New York.

In the above photo, you will see:

  • Pizza Logs (from Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY)
  • The Mighty Taco, chicken quesadilla
  • Chicken Caprese Mac & Cheese (from Our House Bistro, Plattsburgh, NY)
  • Amazing orange peeler for 69¢ (at Vidler’s 5 & 10 in Aurora, NY). I’d never seen this before and it worked like a dream. If I had known how well it worked, I would have bought a dozen and given them out for Christmas!
  • Sponge Candy (from Platter’s Chocolate in Niagara Falls, NY)

This pandemic has given us many things that are new, not all of them exciting and wonderful, but we’ve hopefully taken them in stride, and will try to move forward embracing the new, the different, the exciting, and even the challenging.