Have you entered the storehouses of the snow...Job 38:22

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Unique Things You Don't Know

I almost feel I need to start another blog. Yet, I don't want to abandon the ones I have... I am just not sure where this fits. It sort of fits on Sounds of Hope but that has become my blog of personal history. It isn't about South Dakota, so maybe I shouldn't be writing this blog here.

Nevertheless, this blog has been so much about my struggle with life. Not just life in South Dakota but my life as it is now. I've written some pretty painful stuff since I've blogging. I've sarcastically written about South Dakota and some of its odd ways. I've really never meant any harm. If you had listened closely, very closely, you would have seen the struggle to find meaning and hope in what was a very hard situation for me.

I am just so anxious to put to paper how I feel. Something inside me has shifted. Something has changed. It is hard to put into words or fully describe. There is so much I could say and so few words with which to describe it.

Today I had technology classes with a former graduate of this program, an elementary school principal who has a vision of technology in the hands of hungry learners. He's personable. I've connected with him because I like technology. I've connected because he's easy to connect with.

As I was sharing my thoughts about my impending dissertation, the one whose topic I have now changed a half a dozen times, we chatted about my life. I feel this need to be self-effacing about my age. He told me I was inspirational. I've heard that before and wasn't quite sure about it. This time though, it sounded more sincere and believable.

Then I mentioned about the 8 kids - incredulously he asked if I had birthed them all. I said yes. Then in the flow of this odd short conversation I mentioned that once upon a time I was a single mother with three children who had been abandoned by her husband and had just gotten a GED diploma. He looked at me and said,

 "Joyce YOU can do anything you want!" 

I knew what he meant. He meant that if I had accomplished those things, I COULD do anything I wanted. That is ringing in my ears tonight. I believe him. I can.

Tonight we had a very strange experience for a doctoral program. I knew this was a Christian campus. This is my second degree here. I'm home. I had no idea how spiritual this journey would be. I am finding it more profound, more life changing and faith building than the seminary, or the MA program on this same campus.

We built an altar - we raised our Ebenezer as a group led a group discussion on the meaning of life. It was like church, actually, it was better than most services I've attended. On Sunday, we were given a Bible from the founder of this program. We had communion together. Tonight we were led in worship by the group ahead of us. One of them shared he didn't know Jesus when he started the program. Both he and his wife are now baptized. Wow! Get your doctoral degree and find the Lord.

But something else happened tonight. Our professor asked us to share something about ourselves that was unique. One of the young men has made a movie - a real movie, not just some youtube video. Another young man runs marathons. A woman was in the Navy and was an iron woman. Wow! What a group! Another man shared a tender story about never finding his voice until he was in twelfth grade. I thought how many people never find their voice. He was blessed to have found it. He has a soft, gentle, southern sound that as you know is music to my ears.

Then this other man stood up and shared that he'd shook hands with a president. He said he's shook hands with Ronald Reagan. Everyone was really impressed. I should have been too. The professor mentioned seeing Roslyn Carter and Carol Channing. There was a short discussion about how our lives sometimes interface with the famous. I take nothing away from these experiences. Nor is my intention to brag. But what hit me was the enormity of the experiences I have had. I had never thought about it that way.

When I was a child, twice I saw Lyndon Johnson  in person. I shook his hand. He was right there in my neighborhood. Another time, at the same location in front of OLPH Catholic church I saw Bobby Kennedy. I saw Hubert Humphrey in person.

Later I would sit in the audience of the old Mike Douglas show. I remember Arthur Treacher - yes, there really is an Arthur Treacher. I was on Romper Room with Miss Jane when I was little as well as Bozo the Clown - no I'm not old enough for Howdy Dowdy though.

As a child I went to the New York World's Fair and the Montreal World's Fair. I saw great works of art at the museum's in NYC. I would literally play at the Metropolitan. I saw the Mona Lisa there when it came on tour.

LBJ wasn't the only president I've shaken hands with, I shook hands with Carter. Later, as a leader in the field of aging, I saw Clinton many times. Shook his hand. I was a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging and sat in the room with Hillary and the Cabinet. Hugh Downs was there, as was the feminist Bella Abzug. I had a personal conversation with Bella. I've been to a reception for the King and Queen of Norway. I've had a personal conversation with the now deceased Benazir Bhutto. I even saw Pat Boone in the airport at Sioux Falls. He had a nice chat with my husband as they went through security. Pat got pulled aside, he evidently has a plate or something in one of his legs. For one of my children's birthday's, she got tickets to Regis and Kelly - we went. Harrison Ford was his guest that day.

I've testified before the Connecticut legislature and been there for the bill signing chatting with the Governor. I had a personal  conversation with Chris Dodd outside the building where I was director during the Tiananmen Square crisis. He was called out by his aides for updates, I had the key to let him back in the building. We chatted about the crisis.

I am sure I am forgetting something that might amaze you. I thought tonight - what a life I have had! What opportunities that I have had - had I told them all of this they would have thought I was a braggart or liar - but they are all true. And I'm not bragging. I am thanking God for all the amazing experiences I've had.
I'm really looking forward to more. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We're Back

I saw porta-pots. A friend reported that she saw them on a trip to Western South Dakota. Maybe someone read my blog!? I don't know why they have porta-pots now, but I am so glad.

However, the hospitality issue is still a problem. We had a wonderful amazing trip to Arizona this past weekend. The customer service and friendliness was noticeably wonderful. I already sent an email to the hotel where we stayed - it was a low-budget hotel too... so it wasn't that we paid big bucks for that hospitality.

We ate at Denny's twice. Both times the servers were polite, attentive, friendly - everything you want. I should send an email to Denny's about it too. I am like that. I may complain but I also try to compliment with the same zeal.

Arizona is not only a beautiful place but the people are great. We saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. It left me awestruck. I can't wait to go back and see it again. Check out our video here.

We visited the mission in Tucson again. There is something about that mission. It seems to replenish our souls. We prayed at the mission. We even lit a candle. It was a Maria Guadalupe one that we bought in honor of our granddaughter. We even paid our respects to St. Francis' image. Saw a beautiful little ceremony for a young girl. You can see a video of it here. We came home different people in many ways. I know I am more hopeful about the future.

Sadly we left Arizona on Monday. Service on Southwest Airlines was good as usual. We arrive very late in Omaha and decided to spend the night. Mistakenly we thought we'd save a few dollars and stayed at Motel 6. NEVER again. I realized that the extra $20 I would have had to spend to stay at a LaQuinta or other low-budget hotel would have been more than worth it. A quick breakfast at McDonald's in Omaha and off we went to back to South Dakota.

As soon as we got into South Dakota I did notice a porta-pot at a construction site. I was happy. Then we stopped at another McDonald's. This one was in South Dakota. I ordered a coffee. This time there was no smile. There was no "can I help you?" It was just a glare and a "here you go" when we got the coffee.

My husband and I just looked at each other, shrugged and said, "guess we're back in South Dakota." Today I had a less than enjoyable experience at Wal-Mart. No customer service there either... At McDonald's this morning I discovered that nearly every place else in the country will give you a large drink for a dollar. Here you get a small cup for a dollar.

Oh well, it's home for now. The day is beautiful. Some of the people I've met here are truly very nice people. They redeem the place for me. Next week I'll leave again and won't return for weeks. I'll drink all the sweet tea I want that is made right and only costs $1.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Where's the Hospitality?

I can't resist. I love to spar. I love to debate. I don't mean anything by it necessarily, it is just what I like to do. I can be like the proverbial dog with a bone.

I am pondering the comment challenging by assertion that the state of South Dakota doesn't put porta-pots on the highway for its workers. If you haven't read it, you should. Read my response.

This blog is about my journey in South Dakota. If you read carefully you'll see I am really working hard at coming to terms with this new life. It is my way of processing how I feel. It's not intended to be personal.

I moved here from the south. The south, particularly Tennessee is associated with hillbillies and rednecks. Gretchen Wilson made Red-Neck Woman a hit a few years ago. I suppose that didn't help the image of the south. But one thing about southerners is they are pretty willing to laugh at themselves and expose the ironies of their view of life.

Before I lived in the south, I lived in staid New England. It was supposed to be a place that was cold and proper. It was supposed to be a place of indifference. That wasn't true either. It was a warm inviting place that values each individual and the community. I've never seen such pride in your hometown as I saw in New England.

But of course, they have their weird ways and they can laugh at it. Like the southerners they don't mind poking fun at themselves and they laugh at the ironies of their view of life. Every place has its beauty and strengths, including South Dakota. Likewise everywhere has its weirdness.

Okay, by now you see where I'm going. I came to South Dakota with a bad attitude. Not because of the state but because of other things going on in my life. So admittedly, I made it harder on myself to live here.

Nevertheless, I've tried. I've tried to adjust. I actually have adjusted some. I used to hate it here. Now I've moved up to I can tolerate it as long as I can go to Sioux Falls frequently. As long as I can have a lunch with someone at least once a week who is friendly it's not so bad. Summer weather will come for a week or two I suppose - if not, at least it's not minus 30 and snow. You have to be thankful for small blessings in your life.

One thing I don't want to lose here is my sense of humor. I like looking at the ironies of life. I am an observer. I notice things about my environment. I grew up in New York City. I had to learn to observe everything around me. I could easily get lost. I could get hurt. Observation is as natural to me as breathing. So I observe odd things like no porta-pots. And yes, I think its weird. I think it's terrible too. I think it's terrible that the needs of individuals are neglected in order to save a penny or two.

Garrison Keillor has made a fortune pointing out the humor and ironies of life in the upper mid-west. I like Keillor. He's right. People here have weird ways just like every other part of the country. There is humor in Lutefisk, being Lutheran and Lake Wobegon.

Recently someone made an observation to me that I had not noticed. Have you looked closely at the sign that greets you when you enter the state of South Dakota?

Look carefully. Do you see the word welcome in this sign? Now here is a trivia question for you. What is the name of the only other state that doesn't have welcome on its sign?

Adding WELCOME and an attitude of welcome to the State of South Dakota would be another plank in my campaign if I ran for office in South Dakota -- porta-pots and hospitality might not get me elected here though.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What No Porta-Pots?

We just got back from the Hills. I love to go to Rapid City. I've said before that I could live in Sioux Falls. Well I could also live in Rapid. It's different. But it's alive. It has commerce. It has natural beauty. I'm a big fan of Rapid City and the Black Hills.

Someone used to tease me because of my dislike of South Dakota. She would say to me that I should get a job as a spokesperson for South Dakota tourism. Actually she's right. I should get a job for tourism. I think everyone should come to South Dakota at least once in their life.

Come see the Badlands, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore! 

I remember the first time I saw Mount Rushmore. I was so excited. I had flashbacks to being in the 3rd grade looking at my social studies textbook picture of Mount Rushmore. It had a picture of an old station wagon in front of the carvings. I thought I want to see that. Then I'd think, I'll never see that because we don't have a car. We live in Brooklyn. I'll never see that in person.

Whenever we leave South Dakota, there will be a part of me that is very grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Mount Rushmore and Western South Dakota not once, but many times now.

Yesterday we ate once again at Wall Drug. It is getting to be part of our ritual from trips to Rapid. It's not that the food is spectacular. We just like it. I had a buffalo burger yesterday that was overpriced but so yummy. We've been to Wall Drug a lot to eat this past winter. In the winter the place is quiet. In summer it comes alive with tourists. There is so much energy in Wall.

We noticed the license plates of the cars we past and those parked in front of Wall Drug. There was a line of people for food yesterday. One man in front of us hesitantly asked to try one of their donuts. I abstained from their donuts yesterday. I am sure he wasn't disappointed. They are amazing!

There is a lot of construction on I-90. It seems this is the year for bridge repair. All of a sudden I noticed it. In Connecticut they always have a police officer or two for any construction work on the roads. The police love the overtime for these activities. Tennessee doesn't always station police but they work a lot at night to not inconvenience travelers and tourists. Connecticut has that same consideration. Iowa, which we frequently drive through, doesn't.

South Dakota, like so many other things they do here, is different. There were no police around. They were working in the day time. Traffic is usually minimal in South Dakota so construction on the interstate is not an issue. However, then I noticed it. I thought... what????

I looked and looked and realized there were no porta-pots on their construction site. I thought now that's just too much. Here are these workers, working all day, outside, and if nature calls, I guess they are just out of luck.

In Tennessee they use local and state prisoners to do trash pick-up on the highways. Guess what? They get a porta-pot. Yep, on the back of the pick-up or on a trailer following the van that transports the prisoners to do this community service, there is a porta-pot. South Dakota doesn't even give it's workers the same luxury.

After my realization my husband and I had a lengthy discussion about penny pinching and toileting. I said, what do they do walk a half a mile to find a bush or tree - trees are sparse here. That takes more of the tax-payers time than putting a porta-pot for them to use. Then with my usual sarcasm, I said, what? do they have to wear a diaper? We laughed. Then we got serious. My husband brought up women working on construction sites. Women don't do as well behind a tree.

South Dakota is a great place to visit. They have plenty of rest areas for you on I-90. Clean ones too! They'll rent you a CD to listen to in the car for $20 with $15 refunded when you return it. You'll learn all about the state. You should come here.

But if you live and work here, forget about services and bring your own toilet paper.

People are voting in South Dakota today in the primary. 
If I were running for office I'd make sure that the construction workers got Porta-Pots.