After the Civil War

Every year since I was a child, I visited the Civil War Muster in Jackson at Cascades Park. It was always one of the highlights of my summer. Always, my favorite part was seeing the women in the period dresses, particularly with their wide, bell shaped hoop skirts. I loved watching them float around the park and I enjoyed getting a real life glimpse into the past. 

This year Ella Sharp Museum put on a two-day Civil War event much like the Civil War Muster, but in my opinion much better. Reasons being that it was a much smaller and intimate event and also because there were many hands on experiences to be had. But perhaps my largest reason is because, after all these years of looking in as an outsider, I actually got no be on the other side of the event. I got to be a part of bringing the Civil War back to life. 

In my recent post I wrote about interpreting a Civil War nurse. In addition to doing public presentations about nursing I got to stick around the rest of the night and socialize  with the  re-enactors.That evening a candle light tour of the grounds was scheduled. It would be a tour through several stops with re-enactments of different Civil War life happenings would be going on. As the tour grew near, it became clear no public would be showing up. However, that didn't stop the re-enactors for performing their show for themselves and of course me. I was still dressed in historical clothing and was standing with the ladies, unaware of just how deep re-enactors take things. I was in the middle of being a spectator and part of the show at the same time.
We stood outside of the log cabin while hearing the charges against a soldier and witnessing his subsequent execution by firing squad. One of the ladies even married the man before his execution so that she could collect his pension. I watched one soldier stand in the doorway of the log cabin and in that moment you couldn't have done much to convince me I was standing in 2016. It truly felt like I was standing 155 years in the past. Usually one to be a feminist, I enjoyed this brief glimpse into a time when men's and women's roles were much more clearly defined. Though I was treated differently, I quite enjoyed being treated like a true lady. One man even escorted me into the military camp.

Our next stop was to the Sharp House for parlor games. People were mostly breaking character at this point because the tour wasn't truly happening. But I entered the front door to women sitting on the furniture in the parlor and I felt like I was a guest into the home of Dwight and Mary Merriman and maybe their little daughter Ella was in the next room.  I sat down on the sofa (which I never have gotten to do!) and enjoyed the illusion as long as it could last.
The re-enactors stayed around for a few drinks in the granary saloon complete with live period music. I was lucky enough to be a part of this as well, both because I invited myself and I still had a friend there. I stayed until well after dark, which meant that during a late night walk up farm lane I got showered by the light of a full moon while listening only to my boots click on the pavement. I walked up the the farm house to help pick it up a bit and lock up. Being in Ella's home was not only spooky but calming at the same time. The bright moonlight shone through lace curtains and there was nothing silent about walking through this house alone at night.

I've been learning a lot about the Civil War these past weeks. Learning more than just dates, names of battles, and the order of events. I've been learning about the people who lived it. We can be very quick to judge people from the past for what we see as barbaric ways, poor decisions, and inconvenient ways of life. But what not enough of us realize is that they were coming from a different place, knew different things, had different experiences, and didn't know what we do now. People may look at us in 150 years and things we were crazy for executing criminals or not being able to develop a cure for cancer. Sometimes we may call them stupid. They weren't stupid, only ignorant to what we know now. In many ways we run the risk of being ignorant too. Those ignorant among us are the ones that don't allow history to become a lesson. Living history isn't meant to keep us there, but honor it, preserve it, and let us learn from it.


PS-I finally got to try on that hoop skirt!

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As a Civil War Nurse


As part of my job working in historical interpretation at Ella Sharp Museum, I got to take part in a 2-day Civil War event. I got to play the role of a Civil War nurse and I couldn't have thought of a better post for me. Having recently watched the PBS original show Mercy Street, I was excited to be able to live like one of my Civil War sisters, just like the women in the show. This was a time when I got to truly, time travel.

As I dressed for the first morning of the event, I found myself already taking on a different persona. I had a few extra minutes before I had to leave so I found myself just sitting quietly waiting to go. The way I sat was just like a true lady would. Maybe I felt constricted by the clothes or maybe I was really becoming my character.

Over the past several weeks I researched Civil War nursing and the Civil War in general. I re-watched Mercy Street and read a couple of books on the subject. With my knowledge ready to go I had a table full of medicines and instruments to show. I presented nine times to different aged school groups. I really enjoyed sharing my passion with them, answering their questions, and helping them to understand how far medicine has come since the Civil War. The following day I presented to mostly adults. I could see the women in the audience who were either nurses or nursing students were very interested in what I had to day. 

I decided to try my hand at write a letter from the perspective of a nurse in the Civil War. From my research this is how I would have expected the experience to be.




Dearest Mother,                                                   September 20, 1862
It's been now just three weeks since I have arrived here in Alexandria to work at Mansion House Hospital at the orders of Miss Dix. The conditions in which I live are worse than I could have imagined, but I fear all my complaining has fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps writing this letter to you can help me gain some of the sympathy I desire. 

Firstly, is there any news of Father? I am saddened by his desire to fight, even in his old age, and think about the discomforts he must be feeling daily because of his bad knees. I hope he will not have to endure the fighting too much longer, as well as the rest of us. 

Until I came here, I didn't realize my skills in nursing were nothing but those of a novice. Having cared for brother James through tuberculosis, merely prepared me for placing cold compresses on someone's forehead and making someone comfortable. Nothing could have prepared me for the horrific sights, smells, and sounds I've experienced these last three weeks. The boys have been coming in with holes in their bodies, blood mixed with dirt dried on old bandages, and minds that are completely broken or gone all together.   

I have been carrying around a bed roll to find a soft place to lie after each grueling day. I've had a proper bed only one night, but the others I just sleep usually on the floor of my ward. My diet is suffering tremendously, and I find myself struggling to find food for my sick patients, let alone feed myself. Miss Dix requires us to wear plain gowns, I have just two of my own. I hear of some women who wear men's work shirts over their skirts because of the filth they must work in.

My role consists mainly of cleaning boys as they arrive, ensuring proper wound dressing, and tending to emotional needs when I can. Many boys are unable to write letters to their family, so when they find out I am an educated woman they as me to pen, sometimes what is their dying wishes home. 

Most days I am too busy to contemplate what this cruel war even is. I know I am only experiencing a tiny portion of it and the greater picture of preserving the Union is at hand, but watching these young boys suffer doesn't seem to be God's plan. 

Despite all the discomforts I have mentioned, I feel truly in my place here. To be of use to the Union and to the boys fills me with pride and joy. 

Your daughter, 
Alexandra 




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Thirty

I never realized 30 would feel so good. Lots of people look at me and ask me "are you a student?" Though I know I should be flattered at their underlying complement (I look so young), I can't help but feel like that 8-year-old who has to constantly correct you, I'm 8 and a half!

Not that anyone's trying to insult me, but in my rich and vast 30 years I've powered through, made the best, and enjoyed every second of the life I was given and have built. I have to say I'm pretty damn proud of myself for not only achieving my dreams, but created new ones along the way, thrived in life's surprises, and growing every minute of everyday. So when someone thinks I only look 20, I feel slightly upset that the experiences of my last decade seemingly don't exist. But I know they're there, you know they're there, and I wouldn't trade a second of my tiny insignificant life. :)
2016 has been an interesting year for me. As many of you may know, I lost my job as Executive Director of Fitness Council of Jackson at the end of January. Seeing as the organization shut down for good, I was able to collect unemployment benefits. This meant that I could still cover at least some of my expenses even if I wasn't employed right away. I was thrilled to be able to take at least a couple weeks just for me. To be with myself and listen, to exactly what it is I wanted. A friend of mine told me "we have period's of living and we have periods of just being." I couldn't have agreed more, and he affirmed my desire to just be. 

My couple of weeks turned into about six-eight of no work. However, I still took this time to put myself first by reading, studying, mediating, and spending all too much time streaming Netflix. The way I feel now I realized I needed that break more than I thought I did and taking it solidified many of the lessons I was trying to teach myself in the months previous.

After finally reaching a point of increasing low self-esteem, I decided to give up the full time job search and embrace the fortunate situation that I had at hand. I had several months of unemployment benefits coming my way, if I need them, and I had the time to do exactly the things that made me happy. Everything came together for me as I starting work at the Ella Sharp Museum, working with CCC Catering, and freelancing for Jackson Magazine. I love the variety of work that I get to do, plus there's no stress involved! I get to leave work at work!

I've been told that you can get to a certain age and things just click for you. I don't know if it has to do with turning 30 for me, or the many other things that have recently been happening to me, but for me now is that time. Spending the last several months focusing on listening to myself has brought me closer than I ever have been. I know now that all my self worth comes from within, and I need to respect myself and my own desires, and  it leaves me never questioning the way I am. I'm growing and changing everyday, but the last few years have been gold for me.

Years ago my family used to make birthday videos for each other, in a sort of This is Your Life fashion. Skits and things from funny stories in their past. As family members were getting videos for 30th or 40th birthdays, at the tender age of 13, I wished like hell I could get one. My logic was, that when turned 30 all my aunts and uncles would be so old and crusty, getting around in wheel chairs, that they wouldn't be able to do that for me. Just as I demanded I got my wish and my uncle Vince, made me a sweet homage to my short 13 years. The love he poured into it is evident in his final speech to the camera at the end. I had that birthday video along with other family ones put on DVDs to show at my birthday party. Crowded around the t.v. I was happy to have helped my family relive the past and see old members who have left the Earth. However, the crazy thing is, here I am 30 now, and though they are a little old and maybe a little crusty (Just kidding), my family aren't all in wheel chairs after all. To a 13-year-old mind time seems to be so vast and long. But, now to a 30-year-old mind looking back it seems to have been little more than a beautiful blip in a life well lived. 

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Visiting the Past

Since beginning to work at Ella Sharp Museum for Living History, I've felt different about myself. I'm very happy that after a couple month hiatus I'm back to working a somewhat regular schedule. I feel happy to be contributing and to have good things to do with my time. I'm happy to be back teaching, where youngsters are engaged in what I have to say. 

But, it also has to do with the nature of the place that I work. Surrounded by history I feel a bit like a different person. Maybe a chance to escape myself and the binds of my own time. Science tell me that time only moves forward, and though we can't exactly go to the past, we can still imagine due to the work of those preserving it for us. 

The museum is doing an American Civil War two-day event in May, of which I will take part. This has led me to become obsessed with sponging up as much knowledge of the real live events that I can. I'm spending my free time viewing Hollywood blockbusters, watching documentaries, and reading history books on the subject. Again, when we feel trapped in the time in which we live, history can give us a much craved gateway to events we unfortunately or rather fortunately missed.

Also on my tour of the past I have been binge watching the Wonder Years for the past several weeks. As many others might be empathetic to, I get tears in my eyes about every third episode. Watching Kevin Arnold grow up, it about the most American thing a person could do. I'm sure we see a lot of our own family in the Arnold's, as was exactly the point. Kevin's constant life narration has gotten me to feel like I am narrating my own. No, I don't walk around thinking and then she picked up the pencil. But though I've always been a very self-reflective person, hearing Kevin do it makes me do it more and more. Daniel Stern, who voices adult Kevin, has a unique position to be able to relive his childhood from the future. Most of us don't get the opportunity to do that. We all try though, nostalgia is a wonderful feeling and many of us feel ourselves getting caught up in it. While we shouldn't get wrapped up in the past, so that we don't experience the present, it's always there for us. Kevin's eternal youth, preserved in an ABC warehouse let's us all relive our wonder years. With the right frame of mind and a childish heart, the wonder years are every year.

My own wonder years

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The Six Year Frustration

This post gets kinda person, but I'm so happy with this story's ending, I just have to tell it. 

Six years ago this month I injured my leg in Morocco while serving in the Peace Corps. I was participating in an exercise class with all women, near my apartment. It was a great way to be active and integrate at the same time. The instructor's methods were a little "90s" to me, but who was I to go against the grain. In this environment I just followed the leader while we lunged to the beat of Candyman by Aqua. Seeing women in this new light, being fit, and the pounding beats of early 90s technopop really make me want to come back for more. 

During one class we did some partner stretches. Being a dancer in my young life, there are certain ways of stretching that I was told are bad for you. No bouncing up and down to go deeper and be careful not to push too far past the comfort zone. The stretch I was doing with my partner was one that both our legs were spread out wide and we took turns pulling each other forward to get a deep inner thigh stretch.  Partner straddle stretch if you want to Google it. With partner stretches it is important that you can communicate with the other person since they are not in your body and you need to tell them when they are pulling to far. I didn't have good communication with my partner due to the language and cultural barrier. I couldn't express myself that I knew this stretch was unsafe. 

Suddenly my partner and I heard and audible pop and looked at each other in horror. Fire went up and down the back of my left leg. Oddly enough, I was the one of the youngest and fittest women in the room and I am the one that got hurt. My home was only about a 60 second walk, but I remember limping there. For the next 18 months in Morocco my hamstring/glute area never felt the same. I tried to continue to do yoga, but it hurt and I think I likely continued to do more damage. Long amounts of walking made it worse. 

After 18 months the issue was not gone, just to a point tat some sort of strength was beginning to rebuilt. In Morocco I had a ultrasound, a few visits of physical therapy, and a couple of massages from a friend, but again with a language barrier I was never able to get the care it likely needed. 

During different points in time the injury has manifested itself in different ways around the left side of my body. I know the injury site is deep within the insertion point of my left leg, but if felt adverse effects in my hip flexor, low back, and psoas muscles. I've spent dozens of hours online, trying to self diagnose, and I've had everything from piriformus syndrome, to sciatica, to a nerve injury or connective tissue injury. I've spent likely close to $2,000 in out of pocket costs on different doctors and therapy techniques, but still no one can give me answers to that scary pop six years ago. 

For the past six years, the most annoying part is the lack of full flexibility in that leg and the fact that most types of activity flare it up. Running, biking, yoga, all things I love would put me into pain that I just dealt with. Never was it debilitating, just annoying and sore and I just wanted to feel good. I knew I was having a huge issue with my left glute muscles because since the injury happened when I sit or lay down there was a tightness in my left butt cheek that make it feel like I was laying on bunched up sheets. It meant that I would constantly fidget in my seat or bed to have relief from the annoyance.

With each attempt at answers from a medical professional I'd come up with money wasted and no better off than I had before. For years a system of personal stretching techniques I used at least kept the injury somewhat maintained. 

A couple of weeks ago, while in physical therapy for the Graston Technique, (I do recommend) I decided to just Google "Why is my glute so tight". Like with many searches before, I found a forum where a man described a similar issue as mine and echoed my technique of not working the glute too hard as to make it even tighter. A person offered them the explanation that, sometimes if  muscle is too weak it can lock up and become unable to loosen up. He recommended some exercises to activate the glute and strengthen it, thus loosening it up. In my continued research of strengthening and stretching the glute I came across the proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching technique or PNF stretching (can be done without a partner). It is something I had utilized before, but only a couple of times. In just three days of following this advice I felt as if my issue had been eradicated by at least 50%. 50%!!! What would it be like in a couple of weeks? I am now about three weeks from that and I can say that my issue is about 90% gone. I can still feel that injury site and a bit of tightness in my glute, but it is completely manageable. I can feel the area getting stronger by the day. I can now bike, jog, and do yoga without paying for it! All this cost me no money and no time spend in a waiting room. I tell this story because for me, it's so exciting to be able to be active without pain afterwards. I don't even care about answers anymore, I'm just glad I can easily maintain this issue.

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