Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sung Ja Shin - The Layered Stories of This Place: Challenging My Ways of Knowing and Being

Sung Ja Shin is a Program Officer with the Minnesota Education Strategy with eight years of experience at the Humanities Center. She currently facilitates the design and implementation of the Center’s foundational knowledge workshop, Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives and co-leads the Educators’ Institute. Sung Ja is an active member of the Korean Adoptee community, bringing her experiences as a woman of color to important dialogues shifting paradigms in the public arena.

I love the way the air feels in my lungs when it shifts from its muggy warmth to evening crispness; in that single breath, my entire being is reunited with the land surrounding my grandparents’ home. In times of transition in my life, this place was my constant—reuniting with loved ones from across the country during one sacred week every summer. The cold, spring-fed lake surrounded by birch trees and well-worn dirt paths welcomed our small bodies from morning to dark. This was my place.

In the past few years, I’ve been challenged to think about how stories are layered in place. I didn’t realize that I had learned to think of the layers in a pile—the one on top clearly superior and covering over the rest. I had never really allowed myself to consider the other beings that inhabited my place, or the stories of how I, a transnational adoptee, arrived here.

I am learning from indigenous friends: “Know who you are, where you are, and who you are with,” and “Know how you are connected or disconnected to this place.” These words, from Mona Smith of Allies: media/art and Emily Johnson of Catalyst Dance, have washed over me hundreds of times. Every time I hear them, I’m challenged—challenged by everything I was taught, challenged to continue acknowledging what I do not know. These words call me into a place of humility, fighting against a culture disconnects humanity through “othering” and its checkbox mentality, demanding a mastery over knowledge that renders stories like mine invisible. 

The Minnesota Humanities Center works with amazing partners who are teaching us how this concept of “place” can surface the stories and lived experiences of the people who consider this place we now call Minnesota “home.”

By using the concept of place to bring absented stories into public, we can productively address:
  1. Stories of origin and arrival: How did I(we) get here?
  2. Stories of inclusion: What makes this place home?
  3. Stories of character: What makes my local community distinctive?
  4. Stories that connect the past with the present: What is the history of this place?
(Martin Case, Allies: Research and Writing)

The 2016 Summer Educators’ Institute: Transforming Education Through Absent Narratives will focus on these concepts. Participants will start with the stories of the people who have the longest relationship to this place, learning from Dakota scholars and the bdote area—where “two waters come together”—in the Twin Cities. Through rich humanities content, participants will deepen their knowledge base and practice around ways of knowing and being, interrupt the dominant narrative, and identify strategies to retell and reimagine our stories. Participants will leave with a plan to use place-based strategies to incorporate absent narratives in their classrooms.

These days, I think a lot about place. And now, I think not only of my grandparents’ home, but also of the many people and beings who have lived and continue to live in that place. I think about how I ended up here, and how the acknowledgement and telling of these stories makes me whole, and allows me to add my story to the layers of stories that make up this special place.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dave Pederson - The Many Ways of ‘Knowing’ Water

Dave Pederson lives on the Middle Fork of the Crow River above the New London mill pond in beautiful Kandiyohi County. He serves as the Executive Director at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and has enjoyed designing and facilitating adventure learning programs for nearly 40 years. Dave has loved being on water and in water for as long as he can remember.

Last night the river gently invited me out of my house, slowed me down, and quieted my thoughts as it often does. Slipping a canoe into flat calm water at the end of the day, watching the last reflections as the sun sets, is a great way to calm a busy mind. The circular motion of my paddle, a familiar meditation, helps me to reflect upon the day and important events of the past.      

On this particular evening my thoughts turned to co-instructors and companions on wilderness trips in decades past. I remember Skip, my co-guide on a canoe trip in the White Otter Wilderness Area of Canada, floating contentedly at the end of day, seemingly oblivious to what I thought was really cold water. Skip had quietly offered tobacco in a ritual at the beginning of the trip and would periodically share his thoughts as an Ojibwe man, father, Vet, and prankster. His dry, impish humor could double me over with laughter but in this moment, Skip’s sincerity was obvious. With just his head sticking out of the water, he spoke: “Dave, you know that when you are in the water, you are connected to all the water in the world. The water in this lake flows into a stream to the river to the ocean. We are connected to water in the sky and in the ground. Water connects all things.”  

It was obvious that Skip was not delivering a lecture on hydrology; he also was not asking a question. With the conviction of a door-knocking missionary he was sharing his direct experience of feeling “connected” on a deep level and a particular way of “knowing” in that moment, and that moment was important enough for me that I clearly recall it some 35 years later.

There are many ways of “knowing” water. We all have water stories to tell. This summer Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and our 18 project partners are excited to work with the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Smithsonian Institution to employ music, art, history, storytelling, science, and direct experience to help raise our collective awareness, appreciation, celebration of, and concern for water. You are all invited to join us at Prairie Woods for an opening celebration of the Water/Ways exhibit in Minnesota on Saturday, June 25th at 10:00 am. And do plan to come back on July 2nd for a free concert at 10:30 am by the family-friendly, bluegrass and roots duo, the Okee Dokee Brothers.

Water! To know it is to love it. Share your story.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nick Swaggert - Veteran Volunteers: Finding Purpose in Civilian Life

Nick Swaggert is a Veteran of the Marine Corps who served since 1999 as an infantryman and was deployed twice to Iraq. Nick is a Veteran Hiring Consultant whose work has helped both Veterans and companies by bridging a gap between Veterans seeking employment and companies who want to hire Veterans. Nick is a Pat Tillman Military Scholar and currently serves as a company commander in the Marine Corps Reserve. He is also a 2015 Veterans’ Voices Awardee.

Each week I speak with five to ten recently-transitioned Veterans looking for their first post-military job. You’ve likely heard many of the themes: they don’t know where their skills transfer, they hate the interview process, and/or even more so, the networking process. The more frustrated they are, the more likely I’ll be speaking to them again in 9-12 months. These frustrated Veterans will generally find a job but they usually find it less than fulfilling. Many of them will even attempt to return to active military service. This isn’t surprising considering that while serving in the military, the mission is clear and, by definition, you are serving your country. It’s hard to beat that!

While in service to your country, the idea that you’d do something outside of your profession to better the community seems a little redundant. Most Veterans don’t immediately realize the value of volunteering and giving back when they first transition out. One of my friends had spent a year working at a Fortune 500 company in town. He asked me to lunch and told me that he didn’t think he could continue working in that role, that there was no purpose. With a wife and two small children, he was unsure of how to find purpose and support his family. He wanted to quit… I suggested that he look at one of the amazing non-profits in Minnesota and get involved somewhere that could help him find his missing purpose, like the Minnesota Humanities Center or Team Rubicon, which is Veteran-led and dedicated to disaster relief.

My friend ended up volunteering at the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. His philosophy was one of “pay it forward” by assisting those at the highest risk who were experiencing homelessness, transition issues, substance abuse issues, or one of the many challenges faced by people living in the modern world. By volunteering and finding a new sense of purpose, he was able to get over the challenge that many Veterans feel--the loss of a clear mission. This volunteer activity enabled him to gain civilian work experience and further his career while maintaining his identity as someone in service to others. If you are experiencing similar challenges, seeking out a community-based service organization where you can volunteer your time, money, or energy will help you find and fill the missing purpose in your life, all while enabling you to keep giving back to the greater community.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Water/Ways in New London-Spicer: Twelve great things to do

Original blog post by Pam McCurdy, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, April 25, 2016. [Read the original blog post]

The New London, Spicer and Willmar area - just two hours from the Twin Cities - offers a fantastic weekend getaway. Here are some of the things you can see and do.

What to see and do

#MNWaterWaysSmithsonian Museum on Main Street will be at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center from June 25 - August 7, 2016. There will be many hands on exhibits such as We Are Water and How’s the Water and other activities including a Kandiyohi County Historical Bus Tour on June 29 and the Okee Dokee Brothers Concert on July 2. For a full schedule checkout:

Glacial Lakes State Trail: Great biking! This paved trail starts from the Civic Center at the northeast edge of Willmar and winds 22 miles past Green Lake in Spicer and on to New London, Hawick and the Kandiyohi/Stearns county line. 

More biking: Little-used County Road 148, a pleasantly rolling, five-mile stretch through cattail marshes and fields, has a wide bike lane and connects Sibley State Park with the little resort town of New London.

Sibley State ParkOne of the top parks in Minnesota it includes five lakes, sandy beaches, picnic areas, an interpretive center where naturalists lead daily walks, fishing, swimming , hiking, portaging between two of the lakes and boating. Enjoy over 2,500 acres!

Glacial Ridge Scenic Byway: This officially designated Minnesota State Scenic Byway is a 220 mile route through lakes, woods and farmlands.

Glacial Ridge Winery: The winery is located at the home of Jimmy Appleseed Orchard, which has over 800 apple trees boasting 12 different varieties. Try the Minnesota made wines in a special testing room or enjoy one of the beautiful patios...

Little Crow Ski Team shows: The Little Crow Water Ski Team puts on shows Friday evenings in New London's Neer Park, June through Labor Day, except when they're on the road for tournaments. They also perform at festivals. Admission is $5.

2016’s Willmar/New London/Spicer Studio Hop (June 17 and 18) will give you the opportunity to visit local studios and meet the artists! The artists always display an eclectic mix of artwork — paintings in several media, jewelry, sculpture, pottery, mixed media works & photography. This is your chance to meet the artists who created these works during the 12th Annual Studio Hop.

Kandiyohi County Historical Museum: Check out the Great Northern Steam locomotive engine #2523, Kandiyohi City depot, museum, county history, American Indian artifacts, horse-drawn fire engine, research center and District #18 country school. The Victorian Sperry House, built in 1893, provides tours upon request. Group tours available. Suggested donation to get in is $2. 

The Barn Theatre: Check out Mary Poppins at the local theatre in Willmar for a night of family fun.
 Foot Lake 4: 4-mile walk/run around Foot Lake in Willmar on June 25.

Green Lake Road Race: 12-mile run around Green Lake in Spicer on July 3.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Kristin White - Taking Time to Smell the Flowers: A Japanese Tradition and Life Lesson

Kristin White is Associate Legal Counsel for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). As an honored North Star Lawyer, she practices environmental, construction, and contract law. Ms. White obtained her Certificate in Global Arbitration from Queen Mary University in London, a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law, and a B.A. from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Prior to joining the MnDOT team, she worked for the City of Minneapolis and served as a Fulbright Fellow for the U.S. Department of State in Osaka, Japan. She is on the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Humanities Center. When not discussing the law, Kristin is an indoor cycling instructor, competitive runner, and loves to toil away in her flower garden at her Longfellow neighborhood home in Minneapolis.

As the twilight slowly drifted into starlight the air was pungent with the saccharine sweet perfume of flowers. Against the backdrop of a deep ocean sky, the faint pink cherry blossom branches reached for the heavens, maternally sheltering the small groups of friends bowing their heads over portable kerosene stoves heating the evening’s feast. Underneath the long tree branches, fingers shielding the warm bodies from the cold air, a mixture of sounds permeated the soft breeze: small chatter as friends hugged after long days at work; mothers gently cooing their babies; the soft click clack of chopsticks against porcelain bowls; and the warm bubbling of broth boiling over the stoves.

Sakura Matsuri translates in Japanese to flower celebration or festival. And for the two weeks every spring that these whispering cherry blossoms flourish in Japan, time seems to stand still. From Tokyo’s 33 million metropolitan residents to the gentle rolling rural hillsides of Hokkaido, a nation quite literally stops to smell the flowers.

While living as a Fulbright Fellow near Kyoto, this image greeted me in my first encounter with this sacred ritual. The idea that life is transient is embodied in this culture through mono no aware, translating as an awareness of things and the impermanence of life. That is why millions of friends, families, and lovers join to lay blankets under the muted glow of the cherry blossoms as they briefly bloom. Even their food echoes the intense awareness of life, as many families cook shyabu shyabu, a rich broth filled with cooked vegetables. The name of this meal echoes the onomatopoeia of the sound of the swishing of the vegetables as they gently swim through the soup.

As our thoughts turn away from spring and towards summer, let us all take a moment to stop and smell the pungent flowers and the blossoming life around us as our Japanese brethren do. They remind us that life moves quickly and only when we take the time to examine ourselves and our lives through nature, the humanities, arts, and those around us are we truly human.