Hey friends! Hope you all had a good weekend! I spent my weekend in the beautiful Wisconsin Dells and I have some tips for your next vacation. Yes, the Dells is considered the tourist trap of Wisconsin, but if you have a little intel you can avoid the gimmicks and put towards the good stuff. Mount Olympus is evil, mom & pop motels are still my favorite and yes we have to talk about cheese, along with my favorite WI Dell restaurants. So pull up a comfy chair, pour yourself a beverage and listen in.
Hey friend! I realized that I haven’t properly introduced myself yet…. that was so impolite of me! Hi I’m AmandaJean, but you can call me AJ. I hail from the land of 10,000 lakes, have a weird obsession with dinosaurs, sour gummy candy, and PYREX. I’ve been through a lot of shit and sharing my stories the good and the bad ones helps me heal. So get out of the heat, pull up a chair, poor a beverage and listen in to the story of me.
When someone you love dies, living through their milestones is hard. Today would have been Charlie’s fiftieth birthday. Because of a drunk driver there will be no party and a cake glowing with fifty candles. Instead there will be silence cut with a slice of cake with one candle as I whisper “happy birthday Charlie” into the night.
Charlie will be forever forty. Forty was a hard birthday for him. Not because of the number, but because it was his first birthday without his twin brother Conner. He didn’t want a fuss or a party. He said “it wouldn’t be the same without Connor at my side.” So we planed a sailing trip in the Apostle Islands.
That trip was so simple yet glorious. It was just he and I, plus the seagulls. There are always pesky seagulls. We ate cold sandwiches and pasta salad until our stomachs hurt. Kayaked over to the islands to lay on the beach while we found shapes in the clouds. At night we laid on the fly bridge watching the night sky talking about what if’s and what could be’s. Charlie would point out the constellations to me as he told the Mohican story of how they came to be. We watched the sunrise while we ate cereal and played checkers. Charlie loved the sunrise he’d say to me “it’s Creator telling us that he still has faith in us by giving us a new day.”
His birthday rolled in without much fanfare. We placed a tiny wooden boat with a candle into the mighty lake to honor his brother. A life that was gone to soon. That evening I surprised him with a lemon cupcake that I had tucked away in the fridge. He pretended to blow out his non-existent candle as he made his wish with a smile. Charlie then squeezed my hand as we looked up at the beautifully painted sunset sky, “AJ, look what Creator has done for us tonight.” The sky was this perfect blend of cotton Candy pink, orange, and purple, it was beautiful.
If only I had known that would be the last birthday I’d spend with him. I would have soaked those moments in, cheated at checkers, and memorized our conversations under the stars. That’s the funny thing about fate, she lulls us into a calm to help us forget that this day could be our last. So instead of living in and soaking up the moments we plan for tomorrow, then the next day and the day after that.
That’s the hardest lesson to learn in life, cherish every moment because you never know when it will be the last.
My heart sank when the news broke that a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children had been found in at a former Indian Residential School in Canada. I cried tears for the 215 children whose lives were cut short. Tears for their families and their communities. No on deserves to be thrown into an unmarked grave, especially a child. This isn’t just a Canadian problem, we have blood on our soil too.
The United States didn’t do much better, they believed in the philosophy of “kill the Indian, save the child.” We had more Indian residential schools on US soil than Canada. Hundreds of thousands of children were taken from their parents and sent to residential school. Some of those children went in and never came out. All sites in the US need to be explored for unmarked graves.
The 215 children hits to close to home for me. My Grandfather Clifford could have been one of those children. He was slated for a Indian Residential school. However because of the 1919 flu pandemic he and his siblings were sent south to the Minnesota State Public School for Abandoned and Neglected Children. He was taken from his mother when he was just two years old. His brother Richard was 5 years old and baby “Glenwood” was just 11 months old. Grace had no choice, if she tried to hide her children from the agents they would have beat her and arrested her for hiding them.
11 month old “Glenwood” was adopted out upon arrival. When all three children entered the school they were categorized as “Indian, brown hair, brown skin, brown eyes, good teeth.” Clifford was contracted out as indentured servant at just 4 years old. His exit form listed him as “white, brown hair, brown skin, brown eyes, good teeth.” With a stroke of a pen his race was magically changed and he fell off the tribal rolls. Clifford was a victim of paper Genocide.
Paper Genocide was used as a tool to shrink the tribes and drive them to assimilate into society. It was used to shrink the population on the reservations and fractured family lineage. Today we have full blooded Natives who are not on their tribe’s rolls because somewhere along the line an Agent marked the race box as “white.” With a stroke of a pen family lines were wiped out and forever changed. Paper Genocide did its job.
Yet Paper Genocide cannot kill the need to find your family. It may have made it harder, but with a little determination it can and will be done. When Clifford was in his 60s he found his mom. She was old by then, but she was over joyed because she knew this day would come. That she would be reunited with her son. Richard and baby “Glenwood” are still lost to the sands of time. She died never seeing their faces again. She didn’t even get to meet my father, yet he gave me her original name, Geneva as my middle name to honor her. When she married Cox she changed her name to Genevieve in an attempt to shed her past and to conform to the white ways of life.
My heart needed to find Grace, she was lost. I poured through record after record with no luck. She was lost to the sands of time. That is until I met some at a conference in college. His grandfather was Genevieve’s brother and he had been digging to find out what happened to her first set of children. When I told him “I am Clifford’s granddaughter,” he pulled me into a hug. I was his family and he would become mine. He was looking for her grave too.
Sadly I outlived David, cancer got him. I didn’t give up on finding her. Turns out I had canoed right by her dozens of times. And drove by her more times than I can count on my way to Bayfield/Ashland. I can’t go back in time to give my Dad the chance to meet her. I can however give him the chance to tend to her grave for the rest of his days. She was lost, but now she’s found.
She and her children were victims of Paper Genocide, relocation and assimilation. Richard and “Glenwood” may be gone from this world, but I as their great niece will do everything I can to bring them home and honor their lives for the rest of my days. They deserve that.
These stories need to be told. What’s happening in Canada with the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools happened in this country too. We need to take a stand, we must never forget about the schools, orphanages, and paper genocide. Generational trauma is alive in Indian Country and in order to heal it we need to bring all of our children home. No one should ever be lost to the sands of time.
They say every person we date changes us. For some it’s for the better and for others it can be for worse. If you are in the latter do not beat yourself up over it, sometimes good people fall into bad relationships. What matters is what you do with the lessons that you learned. Did you do a repeat or did you take time to find yourself or did you find someone who healed the heart he didn’t break.
This summer we are going to walk through some of my more memorable relationships that were the stepping stones that led me to Jay. Some were good, some were bad, and some were mundane. I promise there will be laughs, I was a 28 year old dating toddler after all.
Navigating the world of dating after a divorce is hard. You dabble, you muddle, and yes you even flounder. Yet somehow you get back up and try again and again and again.
Navigating the world of dating after the death of a fiancé is hard too. You have to learn that is ok to love the man you lost and make room for what’s next. It’s ok to not just settle, you deserve a man who understands that someone had to die in order for him to have a seat at your table. That death, that feeling of unfinishedness will always be apart of you and there is nothing wrong with that.
So come along with me. Pour yourself a beverage, sit out on the patio, watch the sunset and reminisce with me.
At one time I never marked the Alaskan/Native American box on forms. I felt no one would believe me, I didn’t want to be seen as a fraud. 25% didn’t feel Indian enough. I’d hang my head when someone asked me if I was Native, I’d respond with a quiet yes.
I lived this way until I went to college. Gary took one look at me and said “you are enough. blood quantum was created by the government as a means to shrink the tribes. Doesn’t matter if you are whole, half, a quarter or even 10%, it’s what’s in your heart and how you live in the world that matters.”
Gary taught me about my culture, my history, and my religion. He gave me back something that was taken so very long ago, he gave me my heritage back. Through Gary’s mentoring I thrived. He saw my potential before I ever did.
Gary took me under his wing and would help me with my projects and proof reading my essays to ensure I stuck the landing. Gary’s lessons extended beyond the classroom and into the reservations around us. He would bring myself and a group of student to different conferences throughout the semesters to further enrich our learning of what issues are currently being faced in Indian Country.
I remember at one particular conference which was held in a casino he knocked on our door late at night, “there is a live band. Do you want to go see it.” So there we were in the middle of a casino watching live music with our professor who quickly learned that dancing is not my strong suit. We cannot all have gifted feet. The easiest possible dance one can dance at a Pow Wow is the round dance. Gary taught the dance to me that night on the dance floor so I wouldn’t have to awkwardly sit in the stands alone at Pow Wows.
To this day I can still picture the look on Gary’s face when we all sat down to dinner and I quietly asked him “psst Gary some dude asked me if I want to “snag” later. What does that mean.” My secret question was no longer quiet as he gave it away to our table mates when he roared with laughter. “oh kid that means he wants to take you back to his room!” The look on my face must have said everything he need to know as he squeeze my shoulder with a smile. I felt half mortified and half “damn I must be pretty fine to be asked that question by a random stranger.” Gary never let me live that one down, it became our inside joke that went way beyond my college years.
Gary was in his element on LCO. He’d bring groups of students to his reservation to teach us about culture, legends (but only when snow was on the ground), history, and religion. In the woods on LCO I learned about the little men that lived in this random bolder. He brought us to the pipestone quarry and explained how it was harvested for pipe making. Windegos, his story of windegos still makes me shudder and not look a deer on the side of the road in the eyes to this day. He explained the hardships, relocation, and assimilation in such away that it angered your soul and you felt this fire within in you to right the wrongs of the past. He knew the laws like the back of his hand, this man rarely taught from a book. And I’ll forever link the Daws act to a checker board.
He believed in my dream of going to law school and coming back to practice tribal law. I still remember the day I told him “I’m not going to law school.” He was so mad, I think he was more mad than my own dad. He told me “just make a difference, ok.” I kept my word, a difference I did make.
I’d give anything to be sitting in his office again just talking about life and treaties. Or just sitting on his deck listening to his stories. Gary’s mentoring didn’t stop on the day my degree was handed to me, it continued and grew into a friendship that can never be replaced. I will miss his advice, stories, and the way he picked on me for not knowing what snagging was. He was one in a million and he changed this world one student at a time.
Rest in POWER my friend❤️
It’s a great time to be alive in Minnesota! It’s the moment we’ve all be waiting for……. the temperature is rising and those lakes are looking mighty fine, summer has just arrived!
Summer is what makes living in Minnesota worth it. In the spring the harsh gray skies turn to a beautiful summer shade of blue. Those cold nights melt into warm summer air drawing everyone outside. Our summers don’t last long so we try to soak in every last drop before the crisp air of fall hits our faces.
You might be asking yourself “AJ what the heck is hot girl summer!?” Well I’m here to tell you hot girl summer means “just being you having fun in the sun. It’s turning up with friends, dancing awkwardly in your swimsuit (maybe that’s just me), driving the boat, learning to paddle board, and not giving a fuck about what other people are saying.”
Need some ideas for the best fun filled hot girl summer ever? You came to the right place, pull up a seat my friend!
When the temps start to rise I like to take my plate outside. Minnesota/Wisconsin is littered with outdoor dining venues that have options for everyone. Some of my favorites are:
- Vino In the Valley – Maiden Rock WI
- Vino Over the Valley – Arcadia WI
- Together Farms – Mondovi WI
- The Stone Barn – Nelson WI
- Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm – Waseca MN
- Red Barn Farm – Northfield MN
There is nothing like sitting out in the country at sunset with good food, good friends, and good wine. Let that country air soak into your soul and breathe in as you enjoy the view.
Lake life is the life for me. I will be spending as much time as I can down at our cabin this summer. 1. Because I got responsibilities, lifting a cabin is no easy feat. And 2. Lake Life! I am going to be purchasing a paddle board and will be learning how to stand up right on the water. I’m pretty sure I am going to fail five hundred million times but that is part of the fun. Once I’m done failing for the day you will find my ass in my chair soaking in that glorious sunshine!
THERE IS ALWAYS BOOZEMy dad often says “you will never go dry in Wisconsin.”
He’s right, Wisconsin has some amazing wineries that you can tour and if that’s not your scene, the best part about Wisconsin is one cannot throw a rock without hitting a dive bar. Just make sure you stock up on spotted cow before you leave the state. Minnesota also has a plethora of wineries, breweries, distilleries, and my personal favorite cideries that you can visit, tour, taste and shop until your hearts content. Just make sure you do bubble gum bubble gum in my shoe prior to heading out to determine which lucky soul gets to be the sober cab. Drink wisely my friends.
Do you have that one friend who cannot stand to be dirty? Ya know the one who never has a hair out of place…. drag her ass camping, she will have a blast. Either that she will sit in the tent and sulk over her freshly chipped nail polish. Camp sites are cheap and it’s an easy getaway with friends. There is nothing like sitting out in the woods drinking hard cider while roasting marshmallows and listening to scary podcasts or projecting a movie on your tent. Just remember to bring your bug spray and to pickup your trash. Don’t be the asshole who leaves a messy campsite behind.
HANG OUT WITH FRIENDS
Summer is the perfect time for outdoor brunch, it’s even more fun if drag queens are involved. Brunch to early for your style then get together for a dinner under the stars. Call up your pals and head to the river. Rent some tubes (don’t forget the beer tube) and spend a lazy summer afternoon floating down the river. You could always try tubbing, but that just sounds like work to me. Stroll an art fair together. Head to the county fair, take a spin on the scrambler, share some cheese curds, and play the gold fish game. You could always head to the state fair too, but not with me, I don’t like the state fair.
PORT A BACKYARDA
Can’t afford to travel? Trying to save money? Our maybe groups aren’t your thing. Create a back yard oasis. Get yourself a fire table, a nice patio rug and some comfy chairs. Roast marshmallows while projecting a movie on the side of your house. Drink wine, make the drinks extra strong cause when you pour it yourself you don’t have to pay extra. Watch the sunset with your family. Invite a small group over for charcuterie and a game of pickup sticks. It’s your oasis so have fun, relax, and enjoy silently judging the people who walk by. Extra points if you spot a Fanny pack.
Whatever you do this summer I hope you soak in every drop and laugh so hard you have six pack abs by fall. Eat all the food, drink all the drinks, and create memories with the ones you love.
If you’ve been around a while you know Maybe Swearing Helps started out as a duo. Well with all good duos, sometimes they split and go there separate ways. And that is perfectly ok.
Because you still have me AJ aka your Minnesota BFF. I realize that life isn’t always unicorns and rainbows. No one can be happy 100% all of the time, if they are they’re either on something or lying to themselves. I am not perfect, you are not perfect, and together we can be perfectly imperfect. Life is messy. Life is hard. Life is down right shitty at times and if you are like me your rise as the whole damn fire.
No topic is off limits. We will discuss the good, the pee your pants funny, and darn right ugly moments of life. Each person we meet gives us a piece of ourselves that we didn’t know existed until we met them. You may not realize it in the moment. But one day their strength and drive could be the guide you need in the darkest moments of your life. All it takes is one hand to reach through and remind you that you’ve got this.
I have been through a lot of shitty things like; a terrible marriage, infertility, pregnancy loss, death of a fiancé, broken friendships, stroke, pulmonary embolism, heart disease, and so much more. When I share my stories it allows me to heal. I look back in awe and say “wow I survived that shit.” It’s my hope that you find comfort in knowing that you are not alone. That sometimes shitty things happen to good people. And that the darkness doesn’t last forever because the light always seeps in.
Shitty things happen to good people. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, the shit comes along with the good. It’s a cycle. Our lives ebb and flow, it’s up to us to find the beauty in the disaster. it’s up to us to find the lesson in the struggles. And once we make it out, we can be the hand that pulls someone through it. Darkness is terrified of the light. And light will always slay the darkest of the dark.
Over the years I have let my struggles consume me and lull me into this belief that happiness wasn’t worth it. No matter what I did or how hard I tried to be happy, shitty things kept on creeping in. It got to the point where I’d wakeup bargaining with God to let me know where and when the sky was going to fall. If I couldn’t avoid the shit at least I could be prepared for it. As one event happened I’d whisper to myself “two more to go.” I’m a believer that things come in 3s. 3 bad things followed by 3 good things. Except for me the good seemed to sit in the sidelines as I cling to my raft dodging waves. Waves that were beyond my control, yet in my mind I could control everything and anything. Turns out I am human and have no control over this thing we called life.
In 2010 I was deep in the thick of it. My soul couldn’t take anymore bad days. Almost dying, losing a baby, getting a divorce and alienating my best friend was all I could handle. Yet the shit, it just kept on coming wave after wave. Until one day while sitting on a bench at lake Calhoun watching the sunrise with my dog I looked up and said “why not me?” Why not me? I chose right then and there to flip my perspective. Instead of wallowing in self pity and singing the songs of woe is me, I chose to take a stand and said WHY NOT ME.
For in my heart I knew God although I was still angry with him would not give me anything more than I could handle. For he knew my limits and he knew the lessons that I needed to learn. Even if I didn’t understand it in the moment one day I would look back and say “ah that’s why I had to go through that.” Trust me there are many things where I am still scratching my head and saying “WTF where is the lesson in this or that?” God he’s a funny one, he reveals the lessons on his timing and not man’s timing.
As time passed I grew comfortable with God’s timing and realized that I too could take the darkest of the dark. For a brief moment once I flipped my perspective life started to fall in place. I thought “wow I rode those storms like a boss and this calm sea is now my reward.” That is until fate pulled the strings and blew across the calm sea. At 29 I found myself reading the eulogy at my fiancé’s funeral. My heart ached with grief and for awhile I took shelter in the land of what if. That land is not for the living and with time I found my way out. Out into the land of living where time didn’t stop, it moved on like it always did. As my heart healed I followed through with Charlie’s main ask, I reconnected with Sherri and with time that relationships healed and I had someone at my side. At my side to walk through the shit with me. No matter what life threw at me, I knew Sherri would be there waiting to help me through it.
As the storms once again passed and turned into calm seas I realized something. I realized that the life I am living is someone else’s prayer. That no matter how bad things got someone else is praying for what I have. Praying for a job, for friendship, for love, for survival, money, trials, triumphs and so many other things. Someone else would gladly step into my shoes and take on this life that I get to live. Yet this life, the life I’ve built may not always be perfect, but it’s mine and mine alone. The storms that come allow me to learn more about myself and they allow me to appreciate the calm of the sea.
Making friends when we are little was so easy. All you had to do was go play in your yard or ride your bike to the park to meet someone new. Heck recess was also a good place to form friendships, friendships that would get you through the beast that is high school.
I consider myself lucky, I grew up in small town Minnesota and had a core group of friends from my neighborhood. We had Tiny, Looney, I was Boobie (yeah don’t ask), and we had Smalls who was really just plain tall for her age. The four of us ruled the streets on our fancy dancer banana seat bikes and the adventures were always endless. With a dollar in our pocket we rode down to the John Speedy mart to get 10 cent candy and a soda, from there it was down to the levy where we’d lay on the grass and dare each other to put as many warheads in our mouths until we cried. I was usually the last one to cry, I think my record was 12 warhead sour candies. We lived in this bubble until divorce rocked our world and Looney moved away with her mom. Then it was just the three of us until Smalls moved. Over the years Tiny and I drifted apart and lost touch. Ahh to have those days back, those truely were the good ole days.
Yet when I go home I drive by their former houses expecting to see them at their bedroom windows. My parents are the only ones that remained on South Park Street. Everything is different now, the perfectly manicured lawns of the crotchety neighbors are now weed gardens, the park sits empty most days, John Speedy Mart is long gone and sadly it’s not safe to let your kid ride their bike alone. Those days I truly miss. Now that I am an adult I realize that my childhood was much much different from my peers. They always say “shit AJ that sounds like that movie “Now & Then.” Yeah that movie describes my childhood perfectly.
As I grew up and merged into the middle/high school I realized I wasn’t a cool kid. I wasn’t a jock, or an artsy kid, or even a nerd. I was just there and making friends was hard, yet somehow I did it. I found my little crew of outsiders and we loved each other for who we were and nothing more. High school was a shit show, enter the neighborhood bully who grew into my high school bully….. yeah that was fun, not. Then there was Mandy, oh Mandy, a girl who was jealous of me and accused me of a crime… yeah that’s a story for another day. Those two ladies hardened me and I closed up, I didn’t want to befriend people that could potentially hurt me. So I stuck to taking care of my flowers and raising fish in the aquaculture lab for my FFA projects.
Graduating high school meant two things; freedom and a new start. College is where I blossomed and came into my own. The friends I made at UW-Superior are my friends for life. Joy, can never get rid of me. Neither can Mitch or Birdie or John or Amy and so many others. College restored my faith in people and when I set out in the workforce I made friends left and right.
Work is a good place to make friends. You are stuck with them day in and day out. They see you at your best and they might also see you crying alone in your car on your lunch break, yeah I’ve had that day too. Happy Hour is made for judgment, no not the mean kind of judgment, the “hmm I like this person outside of work” kind of judgment. Happy Hour breaks down barriers and let’s the colors come out, just be careful and don’t say to many bad things about that your boss, a snitch might be afoot.
Some of my best friends have been met in the workplace. Sherri and I met at a pharmaceutical benefit management company. I was the annoying girl planning her wedding and showing her my napkin choices. Yet I grew on her like a fungus and she cannot shake me. LOL, she is mine and I am hers. The moral of that is, if you leave the company stay in touch with your work friends, just don’t leave them in their cube to cry alone. That’s just plain rude, new job doesn’t mean dump the old friends and make new ones. 🤷♀️ Text each other, send funny memes, go to brunch (drag brunches are the best), take a trip, heck go for a walk and checkout the hotties on the trail. And remember it takes two to make a friendship, if someone isn’t making a deposit in the friendship account call their ass out on it and if it doesn’t change hit the road. You do not have time for one sided friendships in adulthood.
I have friends from all areas of my work life. Jilliann and I met at Jenny Craig, she’s been my longest post college friend (sorry Sherri). I have gaggles of friends from my law firm days, we mostly just like each other’s posts and comment on the food porn photos, but hey it counts! Liking someone’s Facebook/social media posts counts as staying in contact. I have a slew of friends from my days at my old bank, Like Jake, I wouldn’t trade that kid in for anything. He gets me. Jake understands that silent Judgment is an art form and that there is no such thing as to many gummy bears and wine. Choose your work friends wisely and that wise choice will become your friend for life.
Work from home? Do you relate to a hermit crab? Afraid of people? Or just don’t like meeting weirdos in the wild. Well then I guess you will have to settle for a four legged friend……. I kid, I kid! But no really a four legged friend is probably a sure bet for you. If you are feeling a little social you could take said four legged friend to the dog park or on a walk through your neighborhood. And yes it is acceptable to stroll your cat in his stroller to the bar patio for cocktails. Have allergies!? Four legged not tour type, well then I guess you are just going to have to join a virtual book club, cooking club, wine club, craft club (ya know Covid) or volunteer at your local food bank and/or wherever you chose to volunteer your time. If the for mentioned are not your forte, you could always go to church……. Yup I AJ said that. I go to church and have met some amazing ladies at Bible study and in my life groups. I couldn’t have gotten through this last round of IVF without their love and friendship.
If church, volunteering, clubs, work, and four legged pals are not your thing…….. you could always just belly up to the bar. Look lonely and maybe someone will come by and invite you to join their trivia team. If that doesn’t work you could always stand on a street corner holding a sign that says “lonely! Adulting is hard, I need a friend.”