The week after the 4th of July has been filled with opportunities for me to value freedom and my citizenship in The United States of America. I had the chance to look far past the barbecues and parades into family, history, and the blessings I see all around me.
Have you seen the beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace performed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and famed violinist Jenny Oaks Baker? I wish that I had it playing on repeat in my home all day long. The talent and beauty behind this production along with their true and giving hearts is very humbling. These women are patriots who demonstrate grace and charity through this endeavor. Think about buying Amazing Grace on iTunes. The proceeds from this collaboration go to the Wounded Warrior Project; another way to feel humility and gratitude when helping a soldier in need. Please take a minute to watch the video too.
I had another humbling experience this week that I want to share. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we believe that our families are forever. Mormons devote a great deal of time to genealogical research. The Church has significant resources for ancestral research, and vast archives of historical documents. Here are a few details from a recent press conference on the matter of genealogy and the Freedman Bureau Records.
The Church has asked volunteers to help index the digitized records of the Freedman's Bureau in a collaborative effort with other agencies. The Freedman's Bureau of Records includes work contracts, marriage recording, birth certificates, death recordings, and other legal filings of freed slaves following the end of the Civil War and their emancipation. Prior to the Freedman's Bureau, slaves had virtually no records kept. It is known that for slaves marriage ceremonies where not legally binding and included the words "until death or distance separates us".
I started working on indexing a batch of these files. Reading through the Freedman Bureau has been compared to a "bridge from slavery to freedom". It has opened the door to history for so many. The files that I worked on were employment contracts. As I strained to make out old cursive script in faded ink on digital images I felt that might be helping someone, somewhere, by creating a link to their ancestors. The work was sobering and inspiring all at once. To think that many of the individuals in the files had no last names, but were listed as "George, a Freed Colored Man" or "Mathilda, a Freed Colored Woman", is a lesson that I am going to share with my kids. The endeavor here seemed to be two parts; acknowledging that freedom isn't free and comes with great commitment and sacrifice, and celebrating the joy of connecting families to their ancestors.
One more little detail here, that if we cease to know how to read cursive handwriting we will lose our connection with the past. These archives are only available in digitized images of the original documents. I need to make sure that #Halestorm boys know how to read, write, and understand cursive script. It is a dying art.
I have spent the last month making sure that I am spending my time in more constructive, peaceful, enriching ways, like the indexing I just mentioned for one. Also, I have quit TV for the summer and want to spend a little time as possible staring at my iPhone. I have always listened to audio books and talks from Education Week or LDS General Conference on my phone, but I never really got into Podcasts. Then it happened! I was introduced to Serial Podcast and I was hooked. I started walking so many more miles and cleaning my house non-stop so that I could keep listening. It is no wonder that Serial Podcast won a Peabody Award. It is excellent, riveting, and has spawned about 100 imitators and countless Reddit threads. If you want to keep an eye on the kids in the ocean this summer but still need your mind spinning; Serial Podcast.
This is excellent journalism and it fills my thoughts of all manner of ideas about law and order, right and wrong, truth and half-truth.
I also discovered something else completely fascinating, soothing, but productive in a creative way. Mandala coloring for adults. Yes! This is a real thing. You can download and print unlimited mandalas to color or buy coloring books like I did. I also bought a gorgeous set of artist quality colored pencils to go with my book. It is reported that mandalas have been used to encourage meditation for centuries. It is claimed that they help draw the focus inward and have a calming effect while inspiring creativity. True, true, true. I am the happiest when I am making something beautiful, creating order, and allowed to think quietly. My new coloring book allows for all of that. I can peacefully color before bed instead of getting hyper searching "SALE" on my iPhone. *Also very helpful for occupying kids of all ages during Sunday services if they have hit the point of not-listening restlessness.
It could be that I feel creative and relaxed or it could be the mystic mandala but I started working in my kitchen on things that I haven't made before, or I didn't make in an excellent-show-my-friends way. This weeks endeavor was Indian food, specifically Chicken Tikka Masala. It was incredible and very worth it. I found the photo on Jaime Oliver's Instagram feed and my mouth was instantly watering. I am going to spend more time perfecting my Indian cooking.
While making curry paste I thought about all of the things that one usually goes to the store to buy, but can actually be made at home, like curry paste. I am going to work my way through this list until my homemade condiments and other pantry staples are so delicious my family will never want store ketchup again. Alright, it will never happen that my family begs me for homemade Nutella, but I do think self-reliance is an essential skill and #FeedingMen and creating a wholesome home is important to me. So I have developed this list, wish me luck.