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Thoughts on Plattsmouth | Our Prairie Nest
Thoughts on Plattsmouth

Yesterday was 9/11, the anniversary of the attacks on our country that, for a brief time, kind of, sort of, united some people in the U.S. This post will publish after I speak at the Plattsmouth School District Board Meeting about these very same thoughts. However, the public speaking forum is limited to 3 minutes there, so this is my opportunity to elaborate on what I said there.

I’m going to dig into something going on in the town where I live. In the interest of full disclosure, I live outside city limits, so my children did not and do not attend the school district in town. They attend another one nearby and I have nothing but good things to say about the schools, teachers, administrators, and board members. We are so fortunate. But the town in which I work is less fortunate in that regard.

There is a Plattsmouth School Board member by the name of Terri Cunningham-Swanson. I remember the first time I met her in 2020, because she gives off a vibe, and when she ran for office I warned people against voting for her. Unfortunately, she was elected and immediately used her role to challenge and remove books from Plattsmouth School District libraries. Why? Because she deemed them “pornography,” which is incorrect and misleading.

The list of books she removed – or wants “reviewed” and banned – from the schools have themes of racism, drugs, LGBTQ+ sexuality, and gender identity. The only thing “wrong” with them is that she personally doesn’t like the content. People like her (Christian fundamentalists aka fragile white women) can’t handle or comprehend the thought of other people’s children having the freedom to learn about the world through the eyes of another in books.

The thing about this little campaign on her part is that she is taking people who already distrust public schools (often because public schools have been the place where concerns about their children’s behaviors, or how these people parent and/or discipline their children come up), and whipping them up into a hateful frenzy to trust them even less. Rather than trust the people who have gone to college and continue to pursue ongoing education to keep their teaching degrees and skills relevant, these folks act as though they know better than everyone else. Never mind the fact that most of them have no comprehension of education and teaching, or the safety net so many schools provide families and children.

There is an inherent selfishness in demanding that public education and teachers conform to their views. The goal appears to be to dumb down our future voters, keep them from accessing ideas outside the ones these folks find acceptable, and prevent children from developing and growing into their own identities. In one breath, they claim public education has an agenda and, in another, push theirs. Public education does have an agenda, and that is to give children the knowledge they need to function as adults, the thinking skills to make informed decisions, and to teach them civic responsibility.

The thing is, these fundamentalists are welcome to their personal beliefs. Whatever gives them comfort, whatever gets them through the day. They are also welcome to indoctrinate and dictate to their own children, but not everyone else’s.

If a person doesn’t like public schools, they shouldn’t enroll their children in them. There are private schools and homeschooling. I think homeschooling is fantastic! I homeschooled my son until, at the age of 10, he said he would like to attend public school. I chose homeschooling at the time, because schools aren’t structured to accommodate everyone’s individual learning styles and needs.

But when we moved to Nebraska, we found ourselves in an amazing school district that exceeded my expectations and I respected my son’s choice. When you send a child to public or private school after years of homeschooling, you go through a myriad of emotions… mostly self-doubt. Did I do a good job? Does he know what he needs to know? Will he be able to keep up with his peers. Yes, yes, and yes! He graduated from our local high school in 2021 with his peers. My daughter has attended our school district since preschool. She will graduate in 2031 and I couldn’t be happier with our schools.

That said, not everyone can afford the privilege of homeschooling or private school, so they have to place their children in public schools. But the beauty of that is you don’t need someone advocating for “parents’ rights,” the current extremist code words meant to frighten parents, just like “pornography.” You already have rights as a parent or guardian when it comes to your child’s education. For example, I opted my son out of ASVAB testing at the high school, after a talk about considering all of his career options, including the military. I opted my daughter out of the D.A.R.E. program in 5th grade, after a talk about why she didn’t want to participate, and clarification that she understands the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and smoking, as well as reporting things like inappropriate contact/touching of her body. Yeah. We have those conversations, because we’re involved parents, and we allowed our children to make their own decisions, because we respect their ability to think for themselves.

Let me say this again: You. Already. Have. Parents’. Rights. If you want to opt your child out of a certain class or test, request they not participate in a program or be allowed to read a particular book, you can do that. You can reach out to the teacher, librarian, guidance counselor, or administrator, and respectfully request this. Obviously, it’s not the time to get into your beliefs if you give a little explanation. It’s just literally, “Hi, I’d like for my child to not do the thing. Thanks.” If they ask for clarification, give as much as you feel comfortable giving, but avoid using that to cast doubt or blame on the staff or school. Everyone is just trying to do their job of helping prepare your child for the real world… and perhaps those same children will eventually be able to make the real world a better and more equal, inclusive, and fair place.

The big problem with people like Terri – and women often aligned with hate groups such as  “Moms for Liberty” – is that they have made it their mission to take over these schools, to take away student and parent rights, and to disrupt public education. School boards are intended to be bipartisan, but these people come in with partisan agendas that have nothing to do with advancing public education, advocating for our teachers, or supporting our students. They use lies, disinformation, and emotional manipulation to do this, and they call out anyone who doesn’t agree with them or has the labial fortitude to stand up to them.

I am not a therapist, so I cannot presume to diagnose these people. I do think they are filled with fear and I occasionally feel pity for them. But the unhinged rants they post, the ways they conduct themselves in public, and the coded language they use to incite fear is all part of a larger strategy to exploit parents, none of which invites one to try to see them with empathy.

Their actions are also an exploitation of Christianity, as they often invoke God and the Bible, but only so far as it serves their interests. When you call them out for hypocrisy and un-Christlike behavior, they ban you like a book. Their detachment from reality is to the point that you absolutely cannot reason with them so, even if you want to try to meet them with civility, it’s best not to waste your energy, because they are not going to respond with the same courtesy.

Terri Cunningham-Swanson has a public support group where you can see this behavior for yourself. There are plenty of examples of her calling people out and then watching her followers pile on with abusive language, demonizing anyone who disagrees with her. They have done it to an 18-year-old (odd for people who claim to want to protect children; the age of majority in Nebraska is 19) who spoke out against her to the local news. Her justification for this? “He doesn’t live here.”

This young man grew up in and graduated from the same school district as my son. This is an incredibly small county (just over 30,000 people according to a count in 2021). All the towns are inter-connected through activities, sports, and more. Those of us in rural Plattsmouth neighborhoods share a zip code with this woman and her growing cult. A woman who isn’t from Plattsmouth, but then turns around after crapping on people who grew up in this zip code to state she “chose” to live here, and therefore believes she has more right to say what goes than anyone else. Her words have more twists and turns than a labyrinth.

She further went on to do the same to me, except this time she and her followers hurled abusive language and discrimination at me based on my religion. Obviously, because these are Christian fundamentalists, they don’t respect other spiritual paths, let alone care to understand or accept them. To a religious extremist, those of us who are non-Christian are considered fair game to discriminate against, mock, belittle, and name call. This is, again, exploiting Christianity as a whole by making anyone who identifies as a Christian appear to be part of this hate group, when in actuality all Christians don’t share the same views.

How frustrating must it for my Christian friends and acquaintances to have to let people know you’re a safe person, a loving and accepting person, and that these bigots don’t speak for you? 

It is clear that, besides giving their religion a bad name, Terri and her followers don’t respect the Constitution or any other human’s rights. If they knew how to look deeper, they would stop and think about their actions and assumptions. Because many of us have done more for this country than they could ever comprehend, not that they care.

What I am, for those who don’t know me, is an involved parent who has successfully raised a son to adulthood, and is now facing the challenges of raising an adolescent daughter. Yes, I identify as someone on a Pagan spiritual path, specifically practicing as a Hedge Witch. No, I have not indoctrinated my children to think or believe like me. My first husband was Christian, and we raised our son with exposure to Christianity, Paganism, Buddhism, and found a lovely compromise as a family with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Dover, Delaware. I was a founding member of that church and loved every moment of it. With all of that opportunity and varied spiritual experiences placed in front of my son, he is an Atheist. I absolutely approve of and accept this, and have zero judgment about it.

My daughter knows her spiritual decisions are her own to make, too. I don’t believe in hurting anyone, not even a fly if I can help it (just ask my husband or co-workers). But I also don’t believe in making decisions for others, except for the safety of my child as long as she is under the age of 18. Sometimes, we make parental decisions after discussion with our daughter. Sometimes, it’s a “because I said so” parenting moment. We parents set the boundaries in our household, but we also give space to my daughter to set her own boundaries. Respect goes both ways.

I work in a law firm. I have worked in law since 1994, and at this particular firm since 2019. This firm serves not just Plattsmouth, but the greater Omaha metro. In my capacity as our client engagement manager, I am often the first person people speak to or see. It is a position that requires tact, respect, diplomacy, and empathy. Many people in Plattsmouth are familiar with this firm and have had direct contact with me. They know the kind of person I am, that I do care about what they might be going through and want to help them.

Last, but not least, and pertinent to my remarks at the school board meeting last night, I was a military spouse for over 20 years. My first husband, whose military service began in 1984, and I were married in 1993, a month after I graduated from high school. The attacks on 9/11 were a watershed moment. I remember turning to him and saying, “You’re going to leave soon, aren’t you?” He did. My friends’ husbands left. Everyone around Dover Air Force Base had places to be and duties to fulfill in response to the terrorist attacks on our nation. Our lives changed significantly. My friends and I worried and fretted and lived each day with uncertainty until our husbands returned. Ours did return. We were the lucky ones. And then I had my post-deployment baby, my son.

For half of the first six years of my son’s life, his father was gone. I spent the first year parenting alone, and subsequent years on our own for months at a time. But I had wonderful communities around me – military, Pagan, and UU – and was honored to be appointed as a Key Spouse for my husband’s squadron. It gave me the opportunity to be a support and resource for other spouses separated by deployments and remotes.

Eventually, my first husband and I went through an amicable divorce, and then I married my second husband, who was also in the Air Force at the time. We were living in England when my husband’s enlistment ended and we had to decide where we would settle our family. We agreed to move to the town where we now live in Nebraska. My husband spent his early elementary school years in this town and the school our daughter now attends. His father, who passed away in 2004, was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base and my husband’s happy childhood memories are what brought us here.

I certainly had my reservations, but I found everyone here in our small town welcoming. One lovely aspect of this area is how many prior military families also live here. They understand the unique experiences and challenges that I, as a military wife, have had, and I understand theirs.

My husband and I are both bisexual/pansexual, and I had a very successful career as a LGBTQ+ author before I decided it was exhausting. I still write and publish, but not full-time. Besides loving books as both a reader and writer, I am also a genealogist and DNA enthusiast, and I teach classes about genealogy, DNA, and writing as an adjunct instructor at one of the local community colleges. I also love cross-stitching and making jigsaw puzzles, and playing both video games and RPGs. D&D is my favorite as both a player and DM, but I’m always up for Star Wars, Cyberpunk, and other RPG campaigns.

So that’s me, the oh-so-scary Pagan lady living in rural Plattsmouth. I’m just sitting here, cross-stitching something or making a puzzle, reading a book, or trying to figure out if the story about my 3rd great-grandpa dying at his home in Italy during WWII at the age of 104 is true.

All this to say that, of course, what I and others gave and sacrificed as a military spouse or member isn’t something people like Terri Cunningham-Swanson and her followers respect. They say “God Bless America” with a straight face, but what they mean is only an America that conforms to their narrow-minded beliefs. They claim to respect the military, but only cis-het white military members and spouses who fit a stereotype. They fail to recognize that the military is incredibly diverse, as are both our country and our small community.

When you walk into my house, you will see a doormat that says In This House We Believe:

  • Black Lives Matter
  • Love is Love
  • Science is Real
  • Feminism is for Everyone
  • Humans are Not Illegal
  • Kindness is Everything

I think it ought to add that Transgender Lives Matter. Also, if you don’t agree with the above sentiments, all of which my children have grown/are growing up with, I don’t want to be your friend. But I do want to know where any or all of these things hurt you so much and understand the hateful place your heart is in, because I try never to lose hope that everyone can eventually accept everyone else. 

Diversity scares the people who believe in banning books and they will continue to fight for a homogenous society that makes them feel safe, in all their heterosexual, white fragility. This is why I pity them, because I don’t understand their fear. But fear is powerful and often drives people to hurt others. They think it’s “for your own good,” like when they use physical punishment against their own children. They can always find a way to justify hurting people.

Be mindful of that and consider taking this terrible experience with Terri and her followers as a lesson: a lesson that teaches us take a closer, more critical look at our local elections. Hate often dresses itself up with language designed to appeal to you, and you may never recognize it until its too late.

Again, I get that these people are scared. The world is always changing. There is no going back to hiding in a closet, and many of us were never there in the first place. I understand that these people fear what they can’t control. And that’s what they want, to control everyone else. They may claim that’s not the case, but why else would they deprive as many people as possible of access to information, of the freedom to make their own choices?

In the end, people like that are often seen for who and what they really are, anyway.

Being in a Triad | Our Prairie Nest
Being in a Triad

A lot of people think being in a triad (or throuple, as some folks call it) must be hot. Like, super, scorching hot. And it is incredibly hot… but not for the reasons you might think.

First of all, I’m not going to talk about my sex life, so no worries (but, yes, I’m happier than I’ve ever been with it, thanks to polyamory). Second, I don’t want anyone who reads my blog for the genealogical content to be put off by this. But I would like to share a few things because we can always use more polyamory-positive voices.

Many people wonder how polyamorous relationships “work” and I have to say that I never thought I would find myself in one. My attitude toward them used to be, “It’s not my thing, but I think it should be a thing and I’m glad it is, because we’re all different.” So I’ve always been poly-friendly anyway. In fact, I wanted an open marriage the first time around, however my ex believed in imposing an OPP (poly definition: one penis policy), and that doesn’t work for me.

I come from a privileged background, insofar as I’ve never had to be in the closet for any reason, including my religion (Pagan) or my sexual orientation (pansexual). I’ve had romantic attractions to and involvement with people of various genders, and I am also strongly kink-oriented.

Now that we got the what I am out of the way, let’s talk about who I’m with and why I love it so much. Again, what makes a triad wonderful might not be what you expect.

I have two male partners/significant others. If you’ve fallen in love, you know it’s equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. Being in love with more than one person is tricky, unless you dig into and embrace ethical non-monogamy, and commit to relationships that are fair to everyone involved.

What do I love so much about this relationship? It gives me an added sense of security, the knowledge that I have the emotional support of two partners, not just one. There’s something inexplicably freeing about know I have this polycule to support me with all this love. It’s as simple as that.

This, of course, is what makes any romantic relationship wonderful, regardless of whether it’s monogamous or not. I also lean a little bit toward relationship anarchy, because it’s a mindset that I can get behind – almost fitting in to the Heroine’s Journey archetype, where the main character of the story develops a support system that helps her accomplish what needs to get done.

My nesting partner (the person to whom I am married) is NOT more important than my other partner/significant other. This isn’t hierarchical and one partner does not take priority over another. Instead, we take everything as it comes, giving support and love and attention to each other always, but if someone is having a bad day or big challenge, we’re there for them. And since we all face bad days, big challenges, and more, so our “turns” all come.

So if you were anticipating some big, special revelation about why being poly is fantastic, I’m sorry to let you down. What makes this relationship so hot is how loved, supported, and protected I feel by the other people in it.

We also have different things to offer each other in the relationship. Each of my significant others has different qualities that I value. One is more introverted and pensive than the other. One is a more complementary foil for my playfulness. And, yes, one of them is also into genealogy. Lucky me! Yes, sexual compatibility is important, too, and those bases are definitely covered here.

I am also protective of both of my significant others, perhaps because I’m the dominant person in the relationship(s). However, the main thing that makes my triad so hot is knowing that they are both here for me, and each other. There are many relationship paradigms and dynamics,. As long as the dynamic you are in is loving and supportive, as well as fair and ethical to you and the other people involved, then that is what matters. <3

Summer Update | Our Prairie Nest
Summer Update

It’s late summer and I’m melting. I decided I’m not going to continue with 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, because I wasn’t having much fun with it. The writing prompts are handy, but not my cup of tea at the moment.

I’ve also decided to take a step back from being as active on WikiTree, due to some concerns about leadership. Specifically, how leadership treats those of us in the LGBTQIAP community. A few months ago, a member asked about reporting a project leader for making homophobic comments/statements toward them, and then that same member disappeared from the WikITree Discord server. I don’t know exactly what transpired but I know that, regardless of my sexual orientation, I’m not okay with it.

So I guess this is just a little update on where this blog/site is going. I will certainly be sharing more genealogy. In fact, I have something I’m working on right now, but it’s going to take some time to put my thoughts together. Also, the heat does my head in, so that’s not fun.

There are plenty of other things I want to share and talk about, but I’ll get to them. Right now, I need to slow down, recover, and then move forward from there. Honestly, I feel a bit like I’m screaming into the void anyway, but I always hope someone will find something useful here someday. 😀

Spring 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Spring 2021

As much as many of us may look back at 2020 and say, “What a dumpster fire,” it seems 2021 isn’t much of an improvement. Though I’d like to think we’re going to eventually get to an overall better, more positive place by the end of the year. Besides, I think I’ve let go of the idea of “good years” and “bad years” and, really, it is what it is – a little bit of both – and that’s just life.

Personally, I’ve experienced two losses so far this year and that has certainly shaped my attitude about 2021. My only paternal aunt passed away and it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it still fills me with sadness to know she’s gone. The other was our parrot of 10 years, Avery, whose loss is heartbreaking. We didn’t anticipate it and, sadly, that’s often the way it goes with birds.

Spring 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Me and my baby, Avery.

People, of course, are asking or saying – if I’m being honest – dumb and insensitive things. “I didn’t realize he was that old”/”How old was he?” He was 10, thank you very much. “Was he sick?” No and, again, thank you so much for asking. Oh, and sending me pictures or videos of why parrots are so great. Um… pardon me, why? I’m grieving a sudden loss and these things are really twisting the knife. When someone loses someone precious to them, why do people feel the need to ask the how, what, and why? Especially when there is an understandable degree of guilt, since that life was your responsibility? Pet owners often feel guilt, even if they shouldn’t, and these kinds of questions push that idea that somehow it was our fault that our pet died. If that’s what you’re trying to do when people lose a beloved pet, congratulations. You succeeded. If that isn’t your intention, would you please simply say, “I’m so sorry for your loss. Do you want to talk about it?” and leave it at that?

So that’s my mini-rant about that.

Anyway, we never plan on having another bird. Getting one was originally my husband’s idea, because he’s a bird lover. However, he soon realized the amount of work that goes into being a “bird parent” is disproportionate to the amount of energy and attention he was actually willing to put in. I became Avery’s bird mom and loved every moment of it, after never in my life considering having a parrot. We’re all feeling the loss, though, and we know that we don’t want to go through it again. Even our cats have noticed something has changed (namely, Avery not plucking their fur, pecking their paws, and sitting on their backs), and they seem a little gloomy about it.

There are, of course, good things to share. It’s not all sadness. My son went to prom for the third and, likely, last time. He’s a senior and partied his Saturday night away with his class. It was an exciting but sad moment for me. I remember going to the prom with his dad 28 years ago.

Clearly, I’m losing it.

My son took my weeping in stride, thankfully. My husband got a kick out of it and obliged me by taking tons of pictures. Graduation is only 3 weeks from now. I’ll be sure to bring copious amounts of tissues.

My daughter said she doesn’t want 2nd grade to end. I don’t blame her, and I also reminded her that she was the one saying she didn’t want school to start last August. She laughed about that, and we talked about beginnings, endings, and how everything has it’s time and place and cycle.

As far as genealogy, I’m turning my attention to my husband’s family. He descends mostly from recent immigrants from so many different countries, that his ancestry presents a unique challenge to me. The majority of my ancestors have been in New England since the Mayflower and Great Migration. There is a branch from Virginia and North Carolina in the 1600s and 1700s that ultimately sort of folded into my New England ancestors, and then my few recent immigrant ancestors are from England, Ireland, and Italy. All very familiar territory for me. My ex-husband’s ancestors are also mostly Great Migration New Englanders, as well as settlers in New Brunswick and Quebec. I know my way around New England and Canada fairly well, genealogically-speaking.

My husband’s ancestors are from Ireland, Quebec, and there are two or three lines that were in the U.S. by at least the 1700s, that went west from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Other than that, I’m looking at countries I’ve never had to work with: Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, and Switzerland. Working on each line is challenging, because none of them are well-documented, except the ones from Quebec. DNA is a helpful tool here. Many of my husband’s matches still reside in Norway, Finland, and other European countries.

I’m also looking at both of our mtDNA lines. My ex-husband’s mtDNA line was super easy to trace. He’s an A2 and we were able to document him back to the daughter of Chief Madokawando, who’d married Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Castin. Many of my ex-husband’s mtDNA matches with a genetic distance of zero (15 matches) also descend from this couple.

My mtDNA haplogroup is H1aj1 and that’s the one I’m most interested in exploring right now. I have only 2 matches with a zero genetic distance, however. One is my maternal uncle, so clearly we know which ancestor we share – my nana/his mother. However, we have another match, born in Sicily. As this is the Italian side of my family, I’m hoping to pinpoint how the other match is related to us. Recently, I dedicated many nights to working on our match’s maternal family to see if it might give me clues about mine. The most recent maternal ancestor I can name is my 4th great-grandmother, Angela Giusto, probably born in Cogoleto, and definitely died between 1842 (when my 3rd great-grandmother was born) and 1865 (when Angela’s husband, my 4th great-grandfather, Tomaso Pedemonte, remarried in Cogoleto). Since records for Cogoleto during this time frame aren’t available online yet, I need to be patient.

Working on my match’s family was quite interesting, since he had documented 3 maternal generations, and I was able to add 5 more through vital records in the towns of Lascari and Gratteri, in Palermo, Sicily. The interesting thing is my maternal family is from northern Italy, while his entire family is from Sicily, two completely different regions. Will I find our shared maternal ancestor in Sicily? If so, when and why did my family go north? It’s a project I’ll be working on for the foreseeable future. One neat thing of note is that when you click my 23andMe ethnicity results to look at the breakdown for Italy, it does show Sicily as one of the regions. Sooo, who knows?

Finally, I ordered my husband’s full sequence mitochondrial DNA test and that result came last week. He is haplogroup V11. He has fewer matches at a genetic distance of zero than my ex-husband does, but many more than I do, with 8 matches. I think there’s a good chance that at least a couple of them will make a good basis for comparison as far as finding out more about my husband’s maternal lineage. I’m specifically focusing on the Scandinavian matches or those with most distant ancestors with Scandinavian names, since that’s where I’m sure we’ll find a connection.

The most distant maternal ancestor I have for my husband is his 3rd great-grandmother, Maria Ursula Taescher, born about 1853, maybe in Switzerland. She married Emil Anton Ospelt on 6 November 1876 in Liechtenstein, and they emigrated to the United States. They were in Dubuque, Iowa for some time before moving to Washington County, Oregon, where she died on May 9, 1930. I don’t have the names of Emil’s or Maria’s parents, and don’t know if their death certificates will yield that information, so I’m starting there (I placed my request this weekend), and will work my way back.

I might try to work on a more in-depth post about working with mtDNA in the future. For now, though, the rest of spring will probably be a flurry of activity. We have an awards night at the high school for fine arts students, so I’ll be attending that, followed the next night by my son’s last concert in guitar and choir. And then there will be graduation. Meanwhile, my daughter is supposed to start softball this year. We signed up last year, but it was a wash due to Covid. However, my husband, son, and I are all vaccinated, and my daughter is eager to play. We’re all hoping for a kid-safe vaccine soon!

Well, that’s the news from here. I wish it was happier, but I’m grateful for the years I had with my aunt and my Avery.