{Road Trip} “Uppers” for the weekend

My dad and I take a road trip every Memorial Day weekend. He gets to pick the where and I provide the how. Yes I drive and he rides, well more like he sleeps the whole way. This year my dad chose the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As far as I can remember he has always wanted to go and see the Mackinac Bridge aka “The Mighty Mac.” So go we did and let me tell you, The Mighty Mac does not disappoint.

Each trip over the bridge will cost you $4.00 and you can only drive 40 MPH, which is just fine if you ask me. The middle lanes are grates and the outside lanes are pavement. I chose pavement, because well driving on the grate is just weird and I didn’t like it, so the pavement was my jam. We probably made a total of 10 round trips over the bridge for a total of $80.00, it was my dad’s favorite thing and I didn’t mind. Bring cash! It will get you through the toll booths faster than a credit card!

The upper peninsula of Michigan is beautiful and very easy to drive in. Hello! The speed limit is 75 MPH, I was legit for once and not speeding! Go me!!!! Anyways my dad and I made the drive up to the top of the UP which is Sault Saint Marie to see the famous locks. My dad stayed in the car and well I went to the locks solo. The locks are well locks and its pretty fun to watch the ships go through them. There is a raised platform that you can go on to get a birds eye view of the locks. Security is tight around the locks so leave your, booze, knife, and gun in the car. The locks are right on the edge of the city so it was easy to find and there was lots of parking. Across the street from the locks there are restaurants and shops to satisfy the tourist.

My dad and I stayed in the UP. Our hotel was in St. Ignace which just happens to be the gateway to the UP! The town is beautiful and the people were lovely. On Main Street there is the Museum of Ojibway culture and across from that is the Indian Village Souvenir shop. Seeing that my Dad is Ojibway going to the Museum was a no brainer. The Museum is very informative on Ojibway Culture and the staff was very warm. There is a small area where you can by real Indian made goods and not the “made in China” kind. I ended up buying four hand painted spirit puppets. Thunder is currently sitting on my mantel.

The main point of traveling to the UP is to take a hydro jet ferry over to Mackinac Island! Yes that famous island that does not allow cars! Well except for a ambulance, fire truck, and police car…..they are necessary vehicles to have. If you like horses and fudge, then my friend this place is your dream come true. We decided to take the carriage tour which will set you back $29 per person. The carriage tour is informative and a great way to see all of the sights on the island. Such as arch rock, Fort Mackinac, The Cemeteries, and the state park.

The Main Street on the island is straight out of the 1800s. Full of cute little shops selling tourist wares and duh! FUDGE! My dad and I got some fudge and t-shirts then bid the island goodbye.

Mackinaw City is at the “tip of da mitt.” If you ask me the whole town is just a glorified ferry dock with shops. They did however have a Del Sol, so I will give them an extra point for this. Down by the lake you will find “old fort Mackinac and a light house.” Both sites are open for daily tours. My dad chose the fort, because well he likes history and all of that jazz. It was actually pretty cool.

Lighthouses are a plenty in Northern Michigan and if you know me well, the you know I love me a good lighthouse. I went to five total and loved everyone of them.

My dad and I have a tradition when on vacation. Wherever we are we watch the sunset. Michigan sunsets over the Mighty Mac did not disappoint. I could watch them every day for the rest of my life and then some. This trip was amazing. We packed a lot into three days and honestly I could have stayed for the entire summer. If you haven’t been, I urge you to go! It truly is pure Michigan and she does not disappoint.

{Urban Camping} When The Lights Go Out

Urban CampingI try to look for the positive in every situation. On June 21st, the metro area was pelted with strong storms. In its wake the storm left flooded streets, thousands of downed trees, and over 500,000 people were left in the dark. At first Excel energy said our power would be restored by midnight. I didn’t think twice about it. So I dug around in the closet for my power outage supplies and waited.

The wait would be longer than two hours, that time had now been pushed out to midnight Sunday June 23rd. I went to sleep on Friday hoping that my lights would be on in the morning. Hope proved fruitless, on Saturday the muppet and I awoke to the sounds of helicopters and chain saws. Our lights didn’t work. Fearing my own safety I decided it was best to not shower in the dark and headed to my sister’s house, she had power. The uptown that I knew and loved, was dead in the water. Stores, gas stations, and cafes were closed. Heck, the stop lights we folded onto themselves and I dodged fallen trees with the Prius.

Saturday was spent far away from the mess that was my city. Stillwater had sunshine and power. Power had become a very beautiful thing. I listened to Sophia’s laughter as we dined on the patio of Leo’s. In her little world power didn’t matter, she just wants to explore and have fun. Ah, to be that age again. Sophia was cradled safely in my arm as we strolled down main street to Tremblies Candies, this was the day she had candy for the very first time. No amount of destruction or an outage could take the joy of being an aunt away from me.

All to soon it was time for me to head back to uptown to asses the situation. Everyone around me had their power restored, yet my street and a few blocks below me were still dark. I could have stayed at my parents or even my sisters for that matter. Instead I chose to tough it out with the rest of the hippsters. I dubbed it “urban camping,” my fridge had become two coolers, my lights were candles, and I was doing all right with the muppet by my side. Again I went to sleep with the hope that the lights would be on in the morning. I was so hopeful that I left my hallway light switch in the on position.

Sunday morning came without power. This led the muppet and I on a search for ice. Ice was becoming scarce along with batteries and flashlights. Ice was found and sandwich supplies were bought. I placed another call to Xcel, this time the automated message said Wednesday June 26th, I about died when I heard that. I had to call back three more times to make sure it was real. The lack of power was starting to ware and urban camping was beginning to lose its luster. I read 50 shades of gray (I still don’t get what all of the hype is about) and HGTV magazine, boredom was starting to creep in. I was doing my best at keeping the muppet cool, he is not a fan of ice cubes in his water bowl, oh well I tried.

The evening was upon me and I was starting to plot my Monday morning plan. Since I couldn’t see, makeup would be out of the question, if I lit enough candles showering in the dark would be a bit less dangerous, and hey as long as I wear deodorant my coworkers won’t care. Then, just like that the lights came on! Cullen barked his bark and ran in circles at the sound of the AC unit cranking on. Showering by candle light was no longer an option and I was pretty darn happy about that. Our two day urban camping adventure had come to a close and I will never take having electricity for granted again.

Our Lives End Up In Boxes………….

We spend our whole lives trying to step outside of the box. Yet when our life is over we end up in the very thing we’ve been avoiding. Our bodies and our things end up inside that very box.

I spent the better part of my week down at the Ivy packing up and cataloging Charlie’s things. Tears fell when each box was carefully packed, tapped, and loaded onto the truck. This meant my friend was truly gone. To me Charlie’s life is more than a truck full of boxes. If you ask me it was to big to fit inside a box. An that is the kind of life I want to live.

The photos he left behind tell a story, his nick nacks are reminders of the trips he took, and the board games. Well those are a reminder of nights filled with whiskey, deep conversation, and never-ending laughter. Charlie’s condo was always filled with friends needing advice, a place to crash, and those who needed a quiet place to work on a brief. He never turned any of us away. For many of us Charlie was a safe harbor, he always listened first, never judged, and asked if you wanted his advice. Thats what I loved about him, he never forced his opinions on you. He’d tell me: “AJ life has a funny way of working things out. You just have to believe and once you do that, things will fall into place.” Charlie was right. I just wish he was here to see how happy I am and to see that things are finally falling into place.

Charlie always made sure I was ok. After all I was and will always be his brothers Amazing. He did everything in his power to make me smile and get me through the loss of his brother. Charlie stood by my side when I had a Staph infection, held my hand and almost puked when I had an angiogram. He was always there. Whenever I was sick it was a given that he’d be on the next flight. There will never be another man like Charlie nor will I ever have a friend who loved me as much as he did. He was and will always be one hell of man. An I am thankful that for a brief moment I got to call him my friend.

Charlie taught me to live a life outside of the box, to travel light, and love like I was dying. An that is exactly what I am going to do. I want a life that will never be able to fit inside of a box. One so beautiful that it will leave such a legacy in my wake that people will feel compelled to give back to society. To be an example of good will, unwavering determination, and one of survival. I am a statistic, a stroke survivor, and mostly I am one hell of a fighter. Giving up and I can’t are words I seldom say. I am capable of big things and one day I just might change the world. Charlie would want that for me.

{Ojibway} The Seventh Generation

I am a lover of cardigans and wear specs in a contact lens kind of world. On the outside I look white. However I am anything but. I am the daughter of an Irish Ojibway Indian and a German. Greatful to be raised in the traditions of the past and strong enough to make a difference. A difference in the lives of reservation kids. Working hard to abolish mascots and raising awareness of Native American culture and history. This is my path and it is one I walk proudly on.

Walking this road can be hard some days. It is not easy, the stigmas of the past still present in the modern world. Living with the knowledge that my Grandfather was taken from his mother. Why, because someone believed “Kill the Indian, save the child.” He was robbed of his language, his hair cut, and his buck skins traded in for rough cotton clothes. He was told “you are no longer Red Squirrel. You are now Clifford Raymond.” My Grandfather was forced to believe in a bible that he didn’t understand. His way of life was no longer.

My grandfather was lost in the western way of life. He like most Indian’s turned to the bottle. Inside he found comfort and the pain it started to fade with each sip. He managed to marry an Irish woman, fathered 13 children, and tried to run a farm. Farming wasn’t his thing he had more kids than he could care for. Yet, he did the best he could. Thats what any lost Indian does. When they aren’t knee-deep in the bottle they do the best they can to survive.

Indian people are resilient. They can make nothing into something and still believe in a better day. I am part of the seventh generation. Our ancestors predicted that the seventh generation would unite the people and bring change to the land. We are doing that. Change is rising each day. Each day a child on the reservation chooses education over a life of addiction. With each diploma, with each child who comes back and makes a difference. Who leads their reservation into the modern world. I am a part of that change motivating our youth to seek college and to change the world around them. Teaching ACT prep to the students via Skype and in person. Often meeting in the school or casino banquet halls. These kids are our future and words cannot describe how bright it is. Offering kind words and parenting skills to parents during visitation monitoring sessions. Lending an ear to a battered woman and whispering it will be all right into a child’s ear.

They may be broken, worn out, and down on their luck. However these are my people and I will be damned if I turn my back on them. I am who I am because of my ancestors who died in the name of justice. My great uncles started the first Indian run news paper in the 1920’s called the Tomahawk. To this day it is the oldest Native American run paper in the country. My other great-uncle was the first Indian to be appointed to the bench. Serving as a federal judge. He is my inspiration and the reason why I love the law. My great great Grandmother is chief Skywoman the only female war chief of the Ojibway nation. Her blood runs through me and her legacy is the reason I am here. She believed in a better day where her people would be free.

That better day has come and the time is now. I am living proof that times change. I am proud to be a biracial woman and proud of my Ojibway heritage. The Ojibway people ground me, their stories entertain me, and mostly they remind me to fight for what I believe in. To never give up and to walk the red road. A road lined with tears and broken whiskey bottles, one that only Indians can tread upon. That is the road I chose. My Grandfather suffered and endured so that I could achieve the American dream. I owe it to my Grandfather to stand tall and help those around me reach that dream.

School Supplies ~ Encouraging Native Youth to Seek College

When I graduated from UW-Superior I was presented with an Eagle Feather. Being presented with an Eagle Feather is the highest honor a Native American can receive. The father means more to me than the paper my degree is printed on.

It’s that time of year where stores line their shelves with school supplies, back packs, and dorm room decorating supplies. For me, it’s a sign that fall is fast approaching and I need to get my motivating butt in gear. Each fall I get to meet a new group of seniors/juniors and scare them into going to college. I scare them straight, scare them smart, but mostly I use my love to scare them into discovering apart of themselves.

Native Americans are still the most unrepresented racial group in higher education. Sadly the state of the reservation educational systems are far worse and have yet to slowly get better. Is it that we forgot that these are kids too or were we to quick to assimilate them into main stream off reservations schools. The state of reservation schools are slowly getting better as more tribes realize that the investment in education is a good one. More and more native based learning programs are being developed. Language, arts, and culture are taught right along side, math, reading, and science.

Yet with all of this change and the strong movement of the NIEA we are still not seeing the rise of Native students in higher education. This is where people like myself come in. Many of these students are the first in their families to set foot into the hallowed halls of a University. They come from less than nothing and are afraid that if they leave and don’t achieve everyone will see them as a failure.

I often tell my students that the only failure is the failure to not even dream of a college education. If they never dare to dream, they will never leave the boundaries that hold them in. Boundaries are meant to be crossed and once you cross you can always look back at what you once were. Some of the kids just need someone to whisper you can do it into their ear. Others need us to hold their hands through out the whole application process and be waiting quietly in the wings on campus visitation day. Either way we do whatever it takes to get these kids, accepted, moved in, and stand by them until their degree is in hand.

It takes alot of hands to motivate Native kids, long hours, tears, and strength to show them that they are worth it. Once they know they are worth it, their dreams soar, and they become more than they ever thought possible. Tears are what I cry when they call me and say “OMG AmanadaJean I got accepted to college! Thank you Thank you, for believing in me. Because of you I am going to make something of myself and come back and make my reservation a better place.” Those moments are the moments I live for. To see the sparkle in their eye as they hold that dorm room key in their hand. I look forward to their emails detailing of classes, new friends, and ninja antics.

Reservations are changing as their populations become educated. Tribes that once depended on the outside world to help them run their Casinos, hotels, and other businesses are now depending on their own. Slowly the reservation boarders are closing and the outside higher rate is shrinking. They are depending on the new generation of educated youth to take over the businesses and run the reservations. This very shift is giving me hope that once again these sovern nations can operate independently from the outside world.

The outside world will always creep into the reservation. Students are faced with the stereotypes society placed upon them. If people looked beyond the images of HollyWood they would see the changes that have occurred. Yes, alcoholism, crime, and drug use run rapid on the reservations. People see the Casinos pop up and utter “Hell they have money what are they complaining for?” Not all tribes have successful Casinos, some are small and lie just beyond the paved roads where no one ever goes. I tell my students that they are the ones who will bust through the old image and create a new stereotype. They tell me “It’s easy for you AmandaJean, you half white.” True, I say to them. But just like you I’ve had to fight my way to the top. I never let my race stand in the way and I never let anyone put me down. I expect you to do the same, because you have the power to educate the public and to represent Indian people every day of your life. You are the ones who will change the American way of thought and you will bust the glass ceiling that was set.

Each fall we add a few more cracks to that glass ceiling when a student signs up for the ACTs and puts their name on a college application. Holes are punched through it when a student gets their degree. If we keep up at our current rate I hope to smash through it during my life time. I am patiently counting down the days until the first day of school. A day where I get to make my presence known and scare a new group of kids into go to college.

I lobby So You Don’t Have To Worry

I never pictured myself as a lobbyist. To me a lobbyist was some old big money man making deals with congress in a back alley. That alley turns out does and doesn’t exist. Every day large companies pay top dollar for lobbyist to head to DC on their behalf. To lobby for things that will make it easier for their company, products, and procedures to succeed. Sometimes money is thrown into the ring to get people to turn a blind eye.

Blind eyes do not provide answers or keep people safe. They hinder our success and keep us from finding the so-called American Dream. I depended on the labeling of the pharmaceutical product I used. It told me only women over 35 were affected by blood clots and stroke. I did my research, the FDA said it was safe and touted it as the best invention in birth control since the pill.

Yea, that little thing called the pill. It was a big deal back in the 1960s and today a pack is found in almost every medicine cabinet. I was like you blind and unaware of how dangerous hormonal contraceptives actually are. It scares me to my core that girls as young as 11 are being prescribed birth control. None of the current studies out on the market look at or even tested the effects in girls that young. Its like driving in the dark without head lights. Labeling is starting to change. Change for the better.

Women like myself are taking DC by storm and demanding stronger warning labels, black boxes, and so forth on hormonal contraceptives. It still amazes me that some companies are still labeling the side effects for women “only over 35.” Come on now, it’s a thing and things do not know age. That magic age of 35 is crap. Tell it to me, wave 35 in front of me and I will tell you “Jesus, I was 26 you idiot. Your product almost killed me and I was under 35.”

After my pulmonary embolism the product I used changed their commercial and print ads to state “all women are it risk for blood clots/ stroke.” Jeeze thanks, that would have been nice to know before hand. This change was reactive and not proactive. We need to see more proactive measures from drug companies and not reactions based on their products failure.

Failures that happen all to often. The FDA has to many backhanded transactions occurring. What really stinks is this: The FDA knew the ring I used was deadly, yet they felt American women were ready for it. So against the warnings they approved it for US consumption. That approval was based on the $ and not on saving women’s lives. To many women have lost their lives because of the ring. To many woman have suffered blood clots, infections, and had their lives for ever changed by it.

My lung is permanently damaged. I will never run again. Trust me I try to it doesn’t work. An now my heart is wonky and it is most likely a result of the PE I suffered in 2009. Thank you big fat drug company, thank you for damaging my lung. I appreciate it. It truly is the best thing to ever happen to me. It was so much fun injecting myself with Lovenox and subjecting myself to twice weekly INR tests. CT scans are a great excuse to get out of work and wow that Angiogram was a blast. It truly was a blast.

A blast is what happens when I travel the country educating women about the dangers and side effects of hormonal contraceptives. Information is powerful and if they know the warning signs of blood clots it will keep them from enduring my fate. A fate that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Yup, it sucks that this happened to me, but now I am a lobbyist. An I will not rest until all hormonal contraceptives receive a black box warning label. I can’t change what happened to me. But I can prevent this from happening to my future daughter, to your daughter, mother, wife, sister, BFF, girlfriend, cousin, and neighbor. This is preventable. We can save lives through education and awareness.

Ninja. What does it mean?

If you know me in real life or follow me on twitter you know I utter the word “Ninja” a lot and tell folks “wow you have major kung fu.” You’ve probably thought what does she mean by ninjas and all of this kung fu talk. The answers are simple and will leave you harnessing your inner ninja.

A Ninja is someone who puts the needs of others before their own. It is someone who reaches out when no one else will, someone who will stand up for those who cannot, and remains a voice of reason. Ninjas know when to hold em and when to fold em. They also, especially the ninjas who went to college in Wisconsin know how to throw down. Thrown downs happen often and are usually followed by giggle fests.

Mostly your ninja is a tiny person (it’s so true) that lives in side of you. The ninja waits quietly for those moments when you can’t go on. That ninja signals your brain, and says “Go Ninja go.” It takes over and gives you the strength to be, to live, and to conquer this world without question. Sometimes you may yell “To Wanda” when conquering the world and other times you move with stealth speed. Either way your inner ninja uses his/her kung fu to do everything that you feel you cannot do. It never steers you wrong and always always listens to your heart.

Ninjas usually travel in packs. Sometimes they are found alone and are caught doing good deeds. When this happens we shout “Wow that’s some major kung fu you have there.” Kung fu is not a method of destruction, but more as a method of construction. Ninjas use their kung fu fighting powers to bust through their days, love their families, and make our world better. Whether it be through volunteering our time with children, building houses, raising money, or using our ninja smarts to find a cure. We are always Kung Fu Fightin!

So the next time you see a ninja don’t fret, just yell “hey you kung fu fighting ninja you!” If you do this they well erupt with giggles, giggles are contagious, hence the term giggle fest. A ninjas main goal in life is to bring love, laughter, and hope to where ever they may travel.

I hope that you are lucky enough to harness your inner ninja, let her/him take over and let your kung fu fly. Come on now, “everybody was Kung Fu fightin!”

Ninja Road Trip

Wine Tasting with my two lovely Ninja BFFS

Every once in a while you’ve just got to dodge out-of-town. Seeing Miss Joy in Green Bay provided to be the perfect option. It has been about a year since I’ve seen my sister from another reservation. Oh, my have I missed her. Joy always keeps me calm and helps me clear the jumbled mess I call a brain.

I took this trip as a fitting opportunity for Angela my newest ninja BFF to meet my dearest ninja BFF. Lucky for me they got along grand and the weekend was filled with goodness. Joy met us at our hotel and tears began to fall as she threw her arms around me. This woman has provided me with more strength that I could ever imagine. She whispered in my ear “Its gonna be all right Mannie.” Those words melted my soul.

Being in the car can make one hungry, like so hungry you would wrestle an alligator and eat it for dinner hungry. Olive Garden was a wise choice and my watermelon martini hit the right spot. Darn that thing was good, I’d go back just for that cocktail.

Watermelon Martini

After lunch we headed over to Cooks Corner the nations largest (that’s their claim) kitchen store. I only have one reason to go here and no it’s not for the awesome cooking gear. They have amazing fudge, yes fudge more flavours than you could ever try. sherbert was their new flavour and it was amazing. Yum! Yum!
As most of you know I am working as a contract paralegal for one of the large firms in town and I have a little inside joke with a coworker. An the joke just got better at the kitchen store. Two words: Gummy Alligator. I was laughing so hard the clerk must have thought I was nuts or drunk. This was one of the most funniest candies I have ever seen and was the perfect gift for the Sherpa.

So with my fudge, gummy alligator and new kitchen finds we set off for the mall. You must know I took Angela to the mall so she could get a boob job. Its true I did. I got her a bra education session, a proper fitting, and her boobs they are pretty darn perky. Angela is now more confident in herself and her boobs stand at attention. Real friends take their friends to get good bras. It’s true they do.

Captains Walk is also the other reason I decided on Green Bay. I love love this winery and their staff is mighty darn fantastic. Plus they know me by name (yup it’s that bad) and their wines can’t be beat. To be honest out of all of the wineries in America Captains Walk is my hands down favorite. I get sad when I run out of their wine, so sad that I have to place my order online and then get carded by the UPS man. Anyways Joy and I helped Angela pick her wines and made sure she had an awesome time.

Soon it was time for Joy to head into work and we were left without a tour guide. Never fear I have a GPS and got around Green Bay just fine. Dinner at Brett Farves steak house was a bust, Applebees had better fair, booze in a bag is handy and our hotel, well we didn’t get mugged.

Since our night was mugging free and our hazemat suits were tucked away we hit the road. The road to Appleton that is. Yes, a visit with Joy almost always involves two things BBQ and red velvet cake. At Famous Dave’s I explained what was going on, my man troubles, I let the C word fly, and advised that I haven’t felt right in a while. This sent Angela and Joy into a game of twenty questions, both decided a ritual of protection was in order.

Supplies were bought, in the circle I sat, and waited for whatever this was to leave. Leave it did and my bad ninja mojo was gone. Replaced by cold, cold, and more cold. I was totally wearing a fleece on a 90 degree day. The day slipped into night and it was time for Angela and I to head home. The trip was way to short.

The Other Shoe Dropped

I’ve come to know in my 28 years on this planet that life never goes smoothly. Just when things are falling into place and the feelings of normal set in. A curve ball comes crashing through.

One day I am perfectly fine and dandy. The next it can be turbulent and filled with the unknown. I should be use to this by now. As a person living with a Kidney disease you never know what you are going to wake up to and how you will feel. Most days go by without incident or thought, then there are the days like Monday.

Monday, brought the what ifs back. Sitting at Park Nicollet, I knew what was wrong and how it needed to be fixed. The doctor he just looked at me and said its bad. Six hours later I walked out of there with a sore arm and back from the injection sites, an rx for more antibiotics and vicodin. He advised me to rest as much as possible and to push the fluids through.

This is my normal, a normal I’ve come to love and hate. It is what it is, I can’t change the hand I was dealt nor will my disease magically disappear. For me, it has made me humble and reminds me that each day that I wake up healthy is truly a gift.

After the Storm the Sun Always Shines

The sun is finally shinning, its been a while since I felt its rays against my skin. The sun is a subtle reminder that with the spring comes rebirth. That after the long hard winter, the sun always shines.

I am reminded that beyond the storm lies calm. An in the calm lies the sun, if we stand in its light it will warm out hearts and we will truly feel the grace of God.

I have weathered many storms in my life, some so turbulent and strong I never thought I’d see the light. Yet my faith, friends, and family (The three Fs) always got me through. I hope all of you whether each of life’s storms with grace and revel in the sun.