School Year Planning

I must admit the increasing amounts of email about the upcoming school year is taking its toll on me. I feel myself having bigger knots of worry.

My worried knots and I sat outside this morning. We sat on the patio and waited to see what new and better thoughts might come our way, giving us an alternative to small and fearful thinking. And then it happened. I finally noticed something profound, which of course was there all along.

I tilted my head up and really paid attention. Gosh, the sky is blue, I realized. As I gazed at the sky I noticed it’s a specific kind of blue. A clear, strong blue. I love it. How the trees look so elegant with that blue screen background. “Is that your Zoom background, trees?” I want to ask, half wondering if I could download it.

“No, silly,” I think they respond, their tall tip tops waving so gently in a breeze I didn’t realize was there. “This blue background is real. It’s really the sky. Look up. See how vast and clear and calm it is? That’s what your school year planning can be like. Don’t worry about storms not yet arrived. Just imagine a clear blue sky kind of plan—a way of being.”

I feel the breeze gently on my face now. The same breeze helping those tree limbs wave at me. “Wow! Can I do that? Can I be calm in my planning? In my visioning?” The trees nod a gentle, encouraging, “yes.”

My spirit feels better now. Less tangled. The trees are right. It will be a good school year. Maybe the best ever, I dare to think. Who knows? All the vast blue sky delights—they’re waiting for us, along with countless trees who nod with encouragement, urging us on: to plan and be our best selves. For the first time this morning I feel my face smile. I’m so grateful to my Auntie-Uncle teacher trees.

Photo: Some of Michelle’s wise Auntie-Uncle teacher trees on Kalapuya Ilihi.
Credit: Michelle M. Jacob

Do you want to nurture your own writing? Join The Auntie Way Writing Retreat at 3pm Pacific today. Register here.

Knitting and Writing

I’m thinking about Auntie today. How she’d spend hour after hour after hour knitting. Click, click, click, her needles would go. Every once in a while she would pause and measure her stitches, checking her pattern if she were making something new and elaborate. She took her knitting everywhere and she enjoyed company while she worked. She never minded visiting, telling (and listening to) stories, commenting on TV shows. We may have seen every episode of CHiPs. How did Ponch get his teeth so white, we wondered?

I remember sitting on the floor and being allowed to go through Auntie’s knitting bag. How I’d look at the pattern of whatever sweater Auntie was currently making. I marveled at how she could see a photo and a bunch of numbers and envision the garment beautifully enveloping one of our loved ones. And then she made it happen. She created the vision and made it real through her hours of dedication. As my brothers or I unwrapped and then wore our sweaters for the first time I’d always think back to the piles of skeins of yarn that once sat in Auntie’s bag. And then: Poof! Auntie Magic turned that pile of yarn into something beautiful and warm.

I am no great knitter. But I do love to write. And I love being in community with and supporting like-minded writers: those who dare to envision a project with an important message and then, through hours of dedication, make it happen. The creative process delights me: Poof! Auntie Magic. It always makes me smile and warms my heart to see writers reaching out and making their dreams come true. I created The Auntie Way Writing Retreats to build community and support for writers reaching for their dreams.

If you have time and interest, please join us at the next The Auntie Way Writing Retreat, a free 60-minute writing retreat on Sunday, August 23 at 3-4pm Pacific time (6-7pm Eastern). Seats are still available and you can register here.

It is my goal that every writer should be fortunate to experience Auntie Magic.

Image credit: “Becoming Art Underwater Garden” by Anne Camilla Vaalund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Fresh Prunes

The fresh prunes in my garden are just starting to ripen. I love these little fruits. They’re small and easy to eat. Sweet but not too juicy, so I don’t need to worry about sugary liquid dripping down my arm or on my shirt. I love how the pit is easy to remove, no struggling with a knife or bruising the fruit flesh trying to remove it. I love the deep, deep purple of the ripe fruit’s skin and the nice color contrast with the green leaves of the tree. A pretty fruit. A fruit of comfort, with comfy memories.

When I was growing up, the only people I knew who had a prune tree were my uncle and auntie, who lived outside of Seattle. We’d go and visit them and Uncle would always insist on cooking a huge meal for us, no matter the length of our stay, even if we were just stopping by to say hello. In the summer we’d be told to “go check the prune tree.” A large grocery bag or cardboard box would be thrust at us–encouraging us to take as many as we’d like. That was Uncle and Auntie’s way: generous and kind. I remember as a child how I delighted in reaching up and plucking the ripe prune fruit from the tree, that deep purple and the white shadowy surface that could be washed or wiped away before eating.

“I love these fruits,” I remember telling Uncle, who’d come out in his velour what we’d now call a track suit, his steps strong and steady despite his great age. “Ha, ha, ha,” Uncle’s throaty, happy laugh sang out, as he delighted in my joyful harvest.

Fresh prunes. Such a simple and humble fruit. But sweet and easy to enjoy. I pause and look up to the top of my prune tree and the blue, blue sky above. “Ha, ha, ha,” I think I hear Uncle’s joyous laugh from the spirit world. His laugh is just like him: simple, humble, sweet.

Harvest time is always a sacred time. And today, with Uncle’s spirit watching over, it is especially so.

Image credit: “Les Quetsches” by ulterior epicure is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Students Are Precious

The call came last night. The sound of a recorded voice that let me know a lengthy message would be played as I held the landline phone receiver to my ear, standing next to the phone on my mom’s busy desk in her typically busier kitchen.

We’d been eating dinner, salmon Mom had lovingly cooked for us, when Ring! Ring! the landline phone ringer indicated someone wanted to communicate. I popped up to get it–my parents were settled into their wooden chairs at the table and stiff hips, backs, and knees can make it harder for them to bounce up and answer the phone before the ringing stops. “I’ll get it, if that’s ok?” I asked, as that is our way. Consent matters. No one disagreed. I swooped over and got the phone before the answering machine kicked on.

It was a lengthy recorded message from the school district. All of my nephews in the k-12 system attend elementary, middle, and high school at our school district on the Reservation, the same place I did. This message was about what would happen to them. This message was so parents, families, and employees could plan.

The recording told me the first day of school is September 8th. And that all students would be learning remotely from home, a decision made in consultation with the County Health Department.

There. I exhaled, glad for the information and grateful to leaders who made and communicated a decision.

The decision to have remote education, while creating a lot of uncertainty and change, at the heart of it I respect the decision, which honors perhaps the most important teaching: students are precious. Students and their families’ well-being–their health–are what matter most. Wearing masks, washing our hands, maintaining social distancing, and working and learning remotely–these are all ways we can collectively care for ourselves and each other. In doing so we honor the health of precious loved ones: ours, and more than ours.

Even though Back-to-School will look and be different for so many of us this year, I hope there is one lesson we can all hold onto in the busyness, uncertainty, and confusion: Students Are Precious.

Auntie Teachings and Gratitude

Over the past three weeks, I’ve had the honor of witnessing brilliant people stepping in to their dreams. They are dreaming of projects that challenge the status quo and transform society in beautiful and important ways. Dreams of books that rewrite history to assert Indigenous voice and experience. Dreams that honor children and youth, and their precious presence and wisdom. Dreams that reclaim the sacredness of Black motherhood. Dreams of economies built on Tribal values.

We just concluded the first ever 3-Week The Auntie Way Writing Retreat. How powerful to sit with folx and witness these dreams unfolding and gaining momentum.

All of our dreams are impossible until we say them out loud and believe in them and find the partners and collectives who will support our dreaming and urge us on. These are my precious Auntie teachings I wrote about in The Auntie Way.

I want to share words of gratitude for all who have supported my dream to launch the work of Anahuy Mentoring, first through the publication of The Auntie Way and now through the services built upon the teachings in The Auntie Way, including our writing retreats. You’ve each been a partner in my dream. I thank you.

Find me on Twitter @AnahuyMentoring and let me know what Auntie teachings and dreams you are sharing with the world.

I’m excited about a world filled with Auntie Magic.

Sister-Auntie Wíwnu (Huckleberry)

I Love Wíwnu (Huckleberry). This is the title of the first story in my forthcoming book, Huckleberries and Coyotes. For many Indigenous peoples, including Yakamas, Wíwnu is a sacred food and being. She is a gift from Creator and she has helped nurture and sustain our peoples and cultures Since Time Immemorial, as our Elders say. We are close to Wíwnu, like a Sister. She cares for us, like an Auntie. For all of these reasons, and many more, I love Wíwnu.

Wíwnu’s special time, when her berries become a deep dark purple, is mid-to-late-summer. Because I love and respect Wíwnu as a Sister-Auntie figure, I tend to associate the fun and kind traits of my Aunties with her. My Aunties show me the importance of caring for and supporting one another. And they love sales.

To honor Wíwnu, I’ve decided to have a BOGO (buy one, get one) sale for my upcoming 1/2 day writing retreat on Friday, August 7 at 9am-1pm Pacific time. Buy one registration and you get a free registration to give to a friend, colleague, or student! You both will make awesome progress on your writing projects. If you don’t have anyone to gift it to, you can let me know and I’ll find a student who would be happy to receive your gift.

To be a part of the Wíwnu special BOGO offer, simply register before August 6 and Michelle will contact you by email to ask who should receive your free gift registration.

I hope you have a wonderful day. Take a moment and give thanks for the Sister-Auntie figures in your life. Treasure the caring and supportive people you know. When we do this, we best emulate special beings like Wíwnu.

Indigenous Time Management II

Most of my readers live in the Northern hemisphere, and we are in the midst of a glorious summer. However you feel about summertime and the warm summer weather (hot for some places!) we are currently experiencing, we can all gain important insights if we more deeply connect with the places we live and work. And all the many beings who surround us, whether insects, birds, plants, trees, rocks, animals, air, water, soil–they all have precious teachings to share with us if we are willing to be students in Mother Nature’s vast and generous classroom. When we pay attention to these teachings we not only become a better member of our community, we also become more deeply connected to our own precious spirit.

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on stories about lessons we learn from our more than human relations. In fact, it continues to be an exciting time at Anahuy Mentoring–we just finished edits and book layout for Huckleberries and Coyotes! To celebrate I’m hosting a free 40-minute Zoom class tomorrow (July 30) at 10:00-10:40am Pacific time. In the Indigenous Time Management II class, we’ll think together about place and the wonderful lessons we can learn about time and time management in Mother Nature’s classroom. Please join if you are interested. You do not need to have participated in my first Indigenous Time Management class I hosted earlier this summer. Everyone is welcome, although seats are limited. You can sign up on my Anahuy Mentoring webpage via the Eventbrite box on the homepage.

If you can, please take a moment and go or look outside.

I hope you have a wonderful rest of the day.

Voting results for Huckleberries and Coyotes book cover

Voting results are in! Thanks to all who helped choose the cover for my next book, Huckleberries and Coyotes: Lessons from Our More than Human Relations. The book will be published in August 2020!

Voting results: “Option 2” (shown above) won with 60% of the vote and this will be the front cover of the book. Because so many people also loved “Option 1” we’ll incorporate that artwork into the back cover. Both options feature the beautiful artwork of Yakama artist Crystal Buck.

Thanks again for voting!

The Auntie Way “Super Auntie” Writing Contest

Today is National Aunt and Uncle Day! To celebrate, I’m happy to announce The Auntie Way “Super Auntie” Writing Contest! I have received a lot of wonderful feedback about my book, The Auntie Way, and how people enjoy reading and sharing my Auntie stories. The Auntie Way “Super Auntie” Writing Contest is my way of encouraging everyone to write their own fun Auntie story! We all have an Auntie figure (whether related or chose) who inspires us with kindness, fierceness, and/or creativity. Why not start writing a story that you can enter in the contest?

The prompt is simple: in 500 words or less, write about how one of your Aunties is super.

The contest is open to anyone in the U.S. and I honor that there are powerful storytellers of all ages, so there is a youth category (under 18 years of age) and an adult category (18+ years of age). A diverse panel of Super Auntie judges will read the stories and select 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners for both youth and adult categories. Prizes for each category are:

  • 1st place: $50 Amazon gift certificate, winning story published on The Auntie Way blog, and be featured in an interview on the Anahuy Mentoring website.
  • 2nd place: $25 Amazon gift certificate, winning story published on The Auntie Way blog, and be featured in an interview on the Anahuy Mentoring website.
  • 3rd place: $10 Amazon gift certificate, winning story published on The Auntie Way blog, and be featured in an interview on the Anahuy Mentoring website.

I’m announcing the contest today, on National Aunt and Uncle Day. The deadline for submitting your completed entry form is Monday, October 12, 2020 at 9:00am Pacific time. Full contest information and rules are on the Anahuy Mentoring website: Winners will be contacted on or around November 26, 2020.

Maybe you’ll decide to enter the contest, or encourage someone else to enter, or perhaps you’ll simply enjoy knowing there will be many more people writing fun Auntie stories as a result of the contest. In doing so, we are surely bringing more kindness, fierceness, and creativity into the world. And that is worth celebrating. I hope you’ll join me in looking forward to reading the winning stories here on The Auntie Way blog, and honoring six new award-winning authors as a result of this writing contest!

Super Auntie Leilani

This morning I reached out to a few friends and colleagues to ask how they would describe Super Auntie Dr. Leilani Sabzalian and her work. Here are a few descriptions they shared:

Truthful. Is inclusive of colleagues. Empathetic. Bold. Inspirational and resilient. Brilliant. Elegant, clear guidance. Visionary. Unflinching. Generous. Compassionate. Transformative. Demanding. Healing and powerful.

These are just a few of the words we use to describe one of our favorite people, Super Auntie Dr. Leilani Sabzalian. Dr. Sabzalian’s book, Indigenous Children’s Survivance in Public Schools, recently won the American Educational Research Association Outstanding Book Award for education research! We are celebrating Alutiiq scholar Dr. Sabzalian and her book. Both are amazing.

In her book, and in her work and relationships, Dr. Sabzalian has a fierce way of critiquing settler colonialism and in doing so centers the beauty and power of Indigenous communities. For example, on pp.3-4 of her book she states, “My hope is that by documenting the racial and colonial dynamics Native students and families navigate, as well as the nuanced intelligence, courage, artfulness, and survivance they employ as they navigate those dynamics, educators will critically examine what it means to teach in colonial contexts and teach toward Indigenous self-determination.”

Dr. Sabzalian and her book are gifts to us all. We cherish you. We celebrate you. Thank you for being a Super Auntie.