Nuggets of Wisdom on Peace, Love, & Sustainability

Lakota Nation

Rain over the Big Horn Mountains

Rain over the Big Horn Mountains

I travel a lot for my job. I work with my parents leading bicycling vacations for folks all around the United States. (PAC (Pacific Atlantic Cycling) Tour ) This week my family and I left Wisconsin to start a trip on the west coast. We are Seattle bound.

Driving Interstate 90 through Minnesota and South Dakota always makes me feel a little funny. Between the billboards for Wall Drug and Petrified Forests, between barbed wire fences and munching cattle, between exit ramps and entrance ramps and gas stations and rest areas, I can’t stop imagining life on the plains for people and creatures of the past. Not long ago were these rolling hills covered with prairies and the cultures that thrived upon it. I suppose a different culture is still thriving on its fertile grounds, but I am nostalgic for a time when the land was respected and worshiped, recognized as a great giver and given back to with thanks and praise.

I took a class on American Indian Studies when I was a senior in college that turned my worldview on its head. It introduced me to Vine Deloria, Jr., a Lakota scholar and writer, who described a world where people talk to rocks and plants… where animals are relatives… In addition to learning about cultural and literal genocide, disease, massacres, and prejudice, I learned about the hope within native communities in upholding their traditions and refusing to become archives and artifacts on the shelves of history. After 500 years of destruction and devastation, indigenous people in our country are still alive and active, and continue to teach respect, peace, and equality to those of us who are able to listen.

Sunset over Business I-90, north of Chamberlain, South Dakota

Sunset over Business I-90, north of Chamberlain, South Dakota

I slept next to the Missouri river last night, thinking about Louis and Clark in their months spent creeping across the rivers of the western frontier. I covered 700 miles in one day with my minivan and a cooler full of vegetables. Today I zoomed past the exit to the Badlands, sending my prayers to the souls of those who perished in the cold winter of 1890 at Wounded Knee. I saw the exit to Pine Ridge Reservation and recalled my teacher telling us about the extreme poverty faced on the res. I made a resolution to come back here and spend some time on Pine Ridge. The closest I got was with my radio. I discovered a Lakota FM station and listened to a woman talking about the role of women in her community, encouraging values such as hospitality, kindness, busyness (not being lazy), and sacrifice. She spoke in both English and Lakota and gave many hellos to her family and her elders. I cried out of gratitude for this woman sharing her story, language and heritage, for the radio station for broadcasting such beautiful words, for common people defiantly embracing language of love and peace.

I made it to the Black Hills. I know these hills are sacred and the battle over land rights continues to this day. I was blessed to find myself among the pine forests and rocky cliffs. A man at a visitor center recommended I go to Spearfish Canyon to stretch my legs in the wilderness, to soothe my mind after hours of driving. I picked a trail on a map and wandered down a potholed forest road to find the trailhead. Gradually my footsteps led me further and further from the sounds of cars crunching on gravel. In the next moment, the only sound around me was wind, birds, trees, squirrels, Black Hills.

Anpetu Waste - Lakota for Good Day! A sign at a South Dakota rest area.

Anpetu Waste – Lakota for Good Day! A sign at a South Dakota rest area.

A line from the radio program jumped out at me. The woman was talking about humility and letting go of the “I” – “I did this, I did that…” I remembered the night before when a girl at the campground was distracted by a bracelet on my wrist and remarked at its beauty. “I made it.” I cringed at the memory of taking credit for the set of miraculous circumstances which included a whole group of people who organized a retreat I had attended, my teacher who had selected and purchased the beads and explained what a Mala bracelet was, and all of the teachers who came before her who had explained the significance of how to use and make a Mala bracelet. I decided to let go of “my” beautiful Mala creation as an offering to the Black Hills, to its people and to our future.

I heard thunder in the distance and recalled my mom telling me on the phone earlier that big storms were coming later in the afternoon. I waited until I was sure that the thunder was indeed getting louder before deciding to turn back. I looked around for an altar on which to make my offering. A large stone set off of the path facing the oncoming storm and proved to be a perfect place to leave my gift. I set my bracelet on the stone and said my prayers to my grandmother rock, to my ancestors, to all beings in the Black Hills, to all beings everywhere, and to the entire Earth. I offered some water to the rock and to the moss growing upon the rock and took some water for myself. I ran back down the trail as the thunderhead approached and made it back to the road just as the rain started to fall. I came across a car with a man, woman, and a dog and asked them if they were going my way – would they be able to give me a ride to my car, a mile further down the road? “How badly do you need to get there?” the man asked. “Well, it’s only raining…” I responded. The man climbed in his backseat with his dog and the woman drove us back down the hill to my car. The man told me to be careful 3 times as we said goodbye and I thanked them for their generosity.

I am so grateful today to know there are beautiful forests and beautiful people in this world. I am hopeful that with more generosity and love, the world will continue to grow and flourish. Thank you to my mother and father for giving me the greatest gift of all – life, as well as the gifts of kindness, education, and opportunity to travel and learn from so many people and lands I have met in my lifetime. Thank you to my grandparents and all of my elders who teach me patience and joy and remind me that every day is a gift. Thank you to my cousins and friends for offering me brotherly and sisterly love that I would not trade for the world. I also thank myself for allowing the time to reflect on these feelings and experiences and committing to writing them down.

A line from a prayer at my most recent retreat comes back to me often when I am walking, “Oh, that I might be a light unto the world.”


The Day I Realized I Was a Community Organizer

The railroad from Chicago to Sharon, WI on a wintry walk in 2011.

The railroad from Chicago to Sharon, WI on a wintry walk in 2011.

I’ve donned the hat of a community organizer. I have heard the stories from those who are so deep in their volunteer efforts that they hardly have time to breathe. Luckily, I am fortunate to know and remember the benefits of breathing, and make the commitment to take time for myself, to breathe, to stretch, for at least 5 minutes every day, no matter how hectic life seems. After centering and grounding myself, it is easy to resume my work and remember who I am helping through my efforts.

Some of my earliest memories involve playing with my young friends while my parents volunteered at various events, attended meetings and made plans for future projects. My mom was active with a local bulk food buyers club and we would all get together occasionally (my 3-year old memory does not serve me with the frequency of our meetings) to sort out food while I played in the back room with the other kids. My mom was also a troop leader for the Girl Scouts from the time I was a Brownie in 2nd grade until I became a Senior in 7th grade. All of my friends were Girl Scouts, and I loved learning new skills, earning badges, going camping, learning how to cook, go to retreats and camps, and spend time with my friends.

My dad was really involved with my hometown’s main street organization and helped them take responsibility over an annual bicycle ride in my hometown, the Roun’da Manure. Before we moved to Sharon, the Roun’da Manure was organized by the Sharon Historical Society and a number of other village organizations shared the responsibility of rest stops to benefit their causes. It was a community-wide fundraiser and attracted as many as 1,500 riders one year, as well as the attention of Bicycling Magazine which highlighted it as one of America’s Best Centuries in 1993. For whatever reason, the Historical Society’s volunteer base got burnt out and the Historical Society disbanded, turning over the Roun’da Manure to the Sharon Main Street Association.

For the past 10 years or so, Sharon Main Street has struggled without strong leadership and it seems like volunteers are hard to come by. Despite these labor-needs, I have watched the organization successfully continue to host the many events that our town is proud to offer to the community – Model A Day in June, the Roun’da Manure bicycle tour in August, and Victorian Christmas in December. Sharon Main Street has recently changed names to Historic Downtown Sharon, but continues to draw a committed group of community members who love promoting our town, giving people a reason to come to Sharon. It’s an incredibly special place with a strong community, dedicated to improving our quality of life and giving us all something to look forward to. The Sharon Chamber of Commerce hosts a 4th of July parade that draws people from all over the county and stateline. How can a tiny town of 1200 people do that? I really don’t know. I am in awe of the strength and vigor of my community.

Both of my parents raised me with a spirit of volunteerism and encouraged me to participate in the many activities in our town. A wonderfully talented and generous neighbor helped me design and sew my own Victorian Christmas costume on several different occasions, and I happily donated these costumes to our town’s costume library for others to use. For many years my mom and I would spend hours at “the Buggy Barn” in the days leading up to Victorian Christmas, fastening lights and garland onto ancient horse-drawn carriages for the delight of seeing them spin through town three times on Victorian Christmas eve. My mom always said it was kind of sad to spend so much time decorating when we only got to enjoy the parade for 15 minutes, but that is the nature of some fleeting pleasures, I suppose. It was a constant process of giving back to the community and all who decided to bear the weather and come out to our town to see it lit up in its Victorian glamor.

We spend so much time as a community celebrating and highlighting the moments in history when Sharon has been a place of economic prosperity and recognition. We celebrate the 1890’s when Sharon boasted several hotels, a dance hall, and an opera hall. We celebrate the 1930’s when Sharon was home to a hardware store, a general store, and many other businesses. And we bring life back to a town on our annual bicycle ride that draws in anywhere from 300 to 1500 people from the Chicagoland and Milwaukee metro areas to ride their bicycles on quiet, rural roads of our tiny town. I am hopeful that the energy and dedication of our group of volunteers is contagious, that others will enjoy our celebrations as much as we do and that they will realize the joy in uplifting a community’s spirits, even if for only a day.

I have been working on compiling a list of all of the past attendees of previous years’ Roun’da Manure rides and currently have a list of 334 people who have come to our town and enjoyed a day of ice cream and biking. The computer work is somewhat tedious and I am slightly stressed to finish before I leave town for a month, but with every name that I enter I think of how grateful I am for their support of our community. I am thankful for those in my town who believe that being outside and enjoying a bicycle ride is an important activity to organize and provide. I am thankful to my parents and teachers who taught me that volunteering my time and efforts is worthwhile and meaningful. As I grow deeper with the Historic Downtown Sharon organization, I keep thinking of new ways that we can reach out to more people to tell them about our town and our events, and I’m committed to seeing that our projects don’t fall through the cracks.

I don’t know how I came to be a community organizer, but I often remember my choir teacher in high school telling me that I was a leader, even though I don’t have to say much. I have known for a long time that I have to choose and live a life that I believe is worth following, and volunteering my time for causes that I support is one of those fundamental goals. At times it seems overwhelming to choose between causes, be it bicycling, sustainable agriculture, meditation, wellness, community activism, literacy, recycling… but I have to remember that they are all related, and that the work I do in one area of my life helps me gain insight and skills in other areas of my life.

I am so happy to share myself with my community, and that my community continues to share itself with me.

Moving into Silence – Making Space for the Mind

IMG_0991I am leaving this morning to attend a my first silent retreat, Moving Into Silence. Vimala Bhikkhuni, the Buddhist nun who practices at the Blue Lotus Temple I attend in Woodstock, Illinois, is leading the retreat along with a yoga instructor. Together they have led many of retreats and it will last for about one full day, starting Friday evening after dinner and ending with a group meal on Saturday evening. We will meet at the Siena Retreat Center in Racine, Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan. The center is operated by a group of Dominican nuns and this is one of many retreats they host throughout the year. I am excited to visit their center and experience a period of intentional silence.

I am a little uneasy about going into silence, from what I have heard from other retreat attendees. I told a woman at the temple on Wednesday that I was attending Moving Into Silence this weekend and she gave me encouragement. She had attended two retreats in the past, but warned me that sometimes that the conscious effort of refraining from interacting with other people, even though you are in close contact with them, is unnerving and can bring up uncomfortable emotions and thoughts. I read elsewhere that one women attended a silent retreat and had to leave halfway through, unable to cope with what arose in her own mind.

It seems that more likely, attendees find the retreat calming and relaxing, bringing them focus to their practice once they re-enter everyday life. The positive effects of attending retreats must outweigh the negatives, or else people wouldn’t continue to take part in them.

I will try my best to leave my expectations at the door and stay open to whatever experience I will have. Namaste.

Why Do I Walk in the Winter?

My uncle has asked me several times over the last year if I was writing a blog, and if not when I was going to start. Truth be told, RebsNugs the blog has been around for a number of years, but regular, consistent posts are not my strong point. I decided recently that I wanted to share with the world some of my explorations in sustainability, and I am happy to start again with my foray into blogging.

Rebsnugs, the blog, has had many periods of focus since its creation in 2011. I have worn many hats as its writer and moderator, as an artist, musician, poet. Today I am writing with my original intention for “RebsNugs” in mind. I wanted to create somewhere to compile what I considered to be “Nuggets of Wisdom”, anecdotes on life and living that are helpful to me and hopefully to others as well.



Rebecca ready for the cold.Why Do I Walk in the Winter?


Today it is 6 degrees outside in my hometown of Sharon, Wisconsin, and I layered up for my daily walk to the post office. It is about 3/4 of a mile downtown and I had a 30-pound box of books to mail, so I decided to use my favorite lawn cart to roll downtown. It may have seemed overkill to have a small (but heavy!) box in a full-sized lawn cart, but after trying to use a smaller cart yesterday, I opted for the smooth-rolling wheels, long handle, and quiet wooden box of Ol’ Red.

This winter I have used the opportunity to go to the post office to enjoy a daily ritual of getting outside and experiencing what lies outdoors. Some days are brisk, like today, and I bundle up from head to toe when I leave home, sweating and unzipping coats by the time I walk back up the driveway. My mom has always been an advocate for winter walking and regularly walks 5-10 miles a day, year-round. She is an inspiration to me with her love of being outdoors, regardless of the temperature or precipitation, and has taught me that with the right layers and attitude, you can walk anywhere.

photo 2While I rolled down my street, I took notice of the recycling outside of people’s houses ready to be picked up tomorrow morning and made a mental note to stop and collect their cardboard to use in my garden this spring. Newspaper and cardboard, cut or folded into 2′ sections is excellent liner for underneath wood chips or straw when mulching rows between vegetables or trees and around the base of plants. I also keep an eye out for garbage and other litter when I am out walking, and today found an empty Dr. Pepper can that I will add to my collection of aluminum that will soon go to the metal recycling plant.

For whatever reason, I had a different time set in my brain for the hours of the Post Office, and found it to be closed when I arrived. No worries – I was out on a walk for the exercise and fresh air, as well as taking my package to be sent away. I snapped a photo of the hours of the Post Office Lobby and will try again tomorrow.

photo 5On my return trip home, I collected cardboard and newspaper from two households and found some styrofoam that someone was going to throw away as well. Styrofoam can not be recycled at most landfills and takes a long time to decompose (the jury is out on the actual time, ranging from 50 years to “never”). There is a recycling center near my house that collects styrofoam and processes it and after I get a bunch of foam together I’ll make a trip out there.


How can I be Winter-green?

– Don’t be afraid of the weather. Bundle up and enjoy the day, no matter the season.

– Replace a short car trip with a longer walk. You’ll experience your surroundings, maybe meet some neighbors, and get some exercise!

– Keep on the lookout for useful items in the garbage or recycling. Not only will you save garbage from entering the landfill, you will save money by repurposing something useful. Carry a bag or some twine so you can bring home your loot, or better yet, take a cart!


Additional Links:

Cardboard Gardening

How to Recycle Styrofoam

Recycle Center Search


Copper crown

Sit with me a moment and sip the dregs of time
The leaves and coals we gather to brew a piece of mind
Forget the calculations and listen for the chime
A space for meditation, the sacred and sublime

Pinwheel leaves, a record fall
Time for tea, climb the wall
Look abroad for the sun
Coming home, we are one

I do not doubt your chaos, look down upon your whims
Every mode and order we saturate with sin
I sit with reckless whispers and suckle saccharine
My clock is running backwards, I can’t wait to begin

Roll around in grasses brown
Set to flame my paper gown
Shining bright foil grown
Bury deep, copper crown

Are You

Are you winning
Are you alive
Are you busy
Or preoccupied
Are you watching
What do you hear
What do you see
What do you feel
How’s your weather
Internal being
How’s your processor
For your feelings
What’s your question
What’s your answer
When will you find
Your private dancer
Are you winning
Are you lucky
Are you listening
Are you sickly
Are you comfortable
Are you in pain
This time tomorrow
Are you the same?

Til the End

What is really going on?
You thought you knew, but you were wrong
Stop quick to ask what I mean
I can explain all that I see

Forget the day, forgo the night
Forever one eternal fire
Inside, outside, water earth and air
Two eyes, one breath, one heart to share

How did you know, or did you forget
Look now eastbound city lights await
Collect your thoughts for the journey home
At peace again, I release control

Forgive myself, forlorn no more
For you I offer this simple song
Alive, arise, awake again
Collect, connect, crawling creatures, til the end

Masters of mystery

To compose
I detach myself
And wonder how to show you
How to feel
The weight of your world
Or to know the weight
But feel light nonetheless

Your impulsive confusion
I stepped away from the cloud
And asked you to balance
Why in your brain
Do you calculate currency like water
And drink it not for thirst
But to drown yourself

The hurried happiness in those eyes
Fleeting and vacant
Maniacal and hurried
I reside within myself
This skin puppet of bone and blood
And time carries it on
Dancing dancing dancing
Breathing breathing breathing
Walking walking walking
Singing singing singing

I caught him mid step
Fell into footfall and skipped along
He reaches out his hand
And I know he wants me near
We have a long way to travel
This I do not doubt
I know the risks
Keep up or be left behind

And you
King of wasps
Queen of serpents
Goddess of rhythm
Lord of rhyme
We masters of mystery
Clarity for the blind
Two intentions eclipse

No Waste

And so she began
In low and lonely whispers
She drew a portrait of her life
The spark of jumper cables
Overturned the whole vehicle
And burst into flame
But beside the burning car
Others gathered for warmth
And there they formed a band
Of madness, dust, and wanderers
The glinting of the eyes
Hypnotic in the moonlight
Let the whisperers unwind
The clocks and fishing reels of time
And inward we traverse
The lands of earthworm and shrew
We taste the freshest dirt
And floss with spiny porcupines
We rejoice for the gifts
Our friends have left along the way
From ash to ash we walk
There is no time to waste

Don’t Worry

The pinkest clouds of mourning out my window
I could not sleep the tension out of my jaws
And climbed into congested fog, craving slumber and quiet dreams
I tidied the stacks of sentiment and sustenance
And shuffled across wooden floors shivering
Limbs of ice ready to shatter
I stumbled into a deep, dank, dark, and dusty cupboard
The blackest of holes that swallow spirits and stars alike
Into the abyss, where only pure light and sound reside
Our bodies explode and spin into steel wires trembling and taut
Singing pitches beyond recognition to a song no soul should ever hear
In this cupboard I cowered, savoring a dozen chocolate chips
When none remained I was alone with my guilty sweet tooth
A rotten rooster smile perched atop a crumbling chimney
The wood chopper dead, fuel is scarce
I burn dollar bills one at a time and watch the faces light, crumble and fly away
Cold and mourning, wailing excuses and obstacles
My pain is no pain, is your pain my pain?
My struggle is first, world class, warfare of the immune system
I rest not and fear the worst. I fear I have already lost
Myself, my mind, my motive, my mother, my muse
Run down by a speeding car, midday, in a flurry of feathers
And I cried out loud to her and all I have slain
Forgive me and my whims and worries. There is justice.
We grieve tomorrow the wrongs we can not know today
I study history and rewrite the code, relearn language
Scrambled hieroglyphs and symbols encrypted
Entombed, captivated and captured
A phantom lover hunts me down to ask me
Why do you carry on with toxic tears
When there is only tomorrow to change?