Saturday, March 29, 2008

Changing Points of View

Some good friends are moving back to the U.S. after just over five years spent in southern Germany. It's a difficult transition, as I know, having done it myself. I now have multiple friends who've done the same. There's probably a reason for that, though it's hard to pin down.

You move overseas knowing that things will be different. Of course they will - that's why we do it! Going to a place where buildings and landscapes look different, the weather's different, people eat exotic foods, do unfamiliar things, speak a language that you hope to learn. It's not for everyone, that kind of wholesale change. But for those who choose to, it's a thrill.

Then you get there, and settle down to start *living* there, and you find it's not quite what you expected. Well of course it isn't! Where's the fun in already knowing exactly how your life is going to change? I remember my first year living in England...there was so *much* that was different! It got tiring at first. I mean, even the bloody sizes of paper stationery were different - and they had different names! The telephone rings differently, the postman doesn't pick up mail from your house, the milk tastes vaguely unfamiliar, clothes, shoes and socks are all sized differently, your US format DVDs don't work in British machines, you can't find the foods you really miss in the grocery store and even the vegetables have different names. You go to lunch, order something and when it arrives it's nothing like you thought it would be. As for driving - let's not go there. It just got to be too much sometimes.

But you want to live there and enjoy it, so you learn to cope. You make friends, you learn new names for things, find unfamiliar fun things to do, figure out what size clothes you wear, find new foods to enjoy, learn something of the language...and before you know it, you've begun to feel almost like a native. People no longer turn around to stare when you talk in a restaurant, the postman recognizes your name on your mail from the U.S., even though no one writes the address correctly, and you don't consciously think about calling almost-8.5x11-size paper "A4" anymore. AND, you passed your driving test with flying colours.

*Then* go back to the U.S. for a visit.

Blimey! It's so noisy! The houses are huge, but the cars are IMMENSE! Even the people are bigger, and their clothing is so different, so...colorful. The grocery store prices are waaay higher than you remember them. You go to a restaurant and not only are the portions gigantic, but it tastes funny. And why are people turning around to stare? Then your family starts telling you how cute your accent is. And you're thinking...*what* accent?! And gosh darn it, this milk tastes strange.

Welcome home.

You get used to it again pretty quickly though. After 10 tense minutes behind the wheel, you remember how to drive on the right. The air smells like home, your family is thrilled to see you, you get to eat a few foods you never got over missing in the UK, and your cute accent goes away, mostly. Still, you have this creeping feeling that you don't fit in anymore. Your accent has faded, but your new vocabulary is more persistent. Your view of American culture and society has broadened, become more dispassionate, your experiences have changed some of your opinions, and you find it easier to see other points of view. Suddenly the ex-pats in your circle of acquaintances, whose behavior and attitudes seemed eccentric before, make sense!

But best of all, when you go back to the UK, you find you slip into your European skin with hardly a thought. Your friends tease you again about your Yank accent, but not for long. Sure, you love your family, and the home you left behind, and your passport may say you're a U.S. citizen, but you know you're becoming a Transatlantic, a citizen of the world. At first it seems like you don't fit in anywhere, but eventually you figure out that you've actually learned how to fit in anywhere.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Little King is Gone

Well, our noisy little king, the rooster, is gone. He must've crowed at least every 4-5 minutes for the entire 24 hours we had him, even through the night. We figure it was because he was in one enclosure, and he could see the hens in the other enclosure. Still, sooner or later the neighbors would have said something, so Ken did away with him the next afternoon.

We had him for dinner on Tuesday. It was probably the first time I've had a home-raised free-range chicken. Sure, you can buy organic/free-range ones at the store, but they're not like this. He was very lean, for one thing. The dark meat was very dark, like a wild bird. And all the meat was stuck to the bones more firmly. It's easy to dry out a bird like that, so we kept it covered nearly the whole time in the oven.

Anyway, it tasted good, if a bit chewy. And since I don't often get to make soup stock from a bird that's entirely free of any additives at all, we boiled up the bones for soup on Sunday.

We're thinking of raising some birds of our own this year, but haven't decided when to get them. Maybe in May.

We have a SCD demo this Saturday at the Canyon County Celtic Festival. Hubby's band, The Bru, is playing as well. This is the first year it's been done, so it remains to be seen how well things will go, and how many people will show up. But we'll do our best, and hope we might get a few people interested in coming to dance class. We'll have a bunch of people over for dinner on Saturday afternoon, since the organizer wants The Bru to come for their sound check at about 3pm. Rather than have everyone drive back and forth twice, they'll just hang out at our place in between.

Hope you all had a nice Easter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

King for a Day

We have a rooster. He's a Barred Plymouth Rock, less than a year old. One of hubby's fiddle students raised a bunch of chicks recently, and some of them turned out to be male. Once they got older she had quite a time with more than one rooster on the place. So yesterday she brought one over for us. He's pretty noisy. Crowed all night. Good thing we're outside city limits. He's rather magnificent looking, but he's for the roasting pan in the not-to-distant future. We're keeping him in the duck pen for now, or he'd be chasing our poor old hens all over the place. Then again, those are some pretty crafty old gals - they might not put up with some youngster trying to boss them around. Anyway, he's in Coventry for now. Just hope the fox doesn't get him before we do!

I went to Aikido last night, me and 8 guys. It's supposed to be the Basics class. That doesn't mean "easy", it's more like basic principles, which can be quite difficult when you think about it. Anyway, two other guys were back in that class after a long break, and they were even sweatier than me at the end. We worked on connection, along with a lot of other things. Then after class, Sensei took me through all the techniques required for 3rd kyu, my next test. I did better than I expected on the empty hand stuff, but the weapons and suwariwaza were nearly non-existent in my memory. So I followed Sensei through everything, and then we talked about how I did. Considering I had pretty light attendance this past year, and I'm only partially ready for the test, we've agreed to have it in August. That's fine with me. I can work on memorizing the weapons and getting my kneewalking to look a bit more coordinated. Sensie felt I've been doing Aikido long enough that I know more than I think I do, but I have to practice it more, get it into my body. Right now it's mostly in my brain and I can't call it up without effort.

So with a concrete goal in mind maybe I'll get into the dojo more often. I do really enjoy it when I go, it's just sometimes the 40 minute drive seems too much effort.

I've put a proposal before our new Thistles & Ghillies board to have a dance writing contest, with the aim of creating a book of dances written by our members that we could sell as part of our fundraising efforts. I haven't had much feedback on it yet, so I don't know what they all think, but I think it could be really fun.

Lots of rain this week, with snow in the mountains. Temps are staying relatively low, which is good. We don't want to lose all that great snowpack before summer! I love winter, but Spring is pretty wonderful too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New leaves

We in Thistles & Ghillies had our Annual General Meeting last night. We talked about the past year and coming year, heard a report from the Treasurer, and elected new officers. The other teacher and I trade the Teacher Liaison position back and forth each year. It was her all last year and she didn't even realize it. Now it's me again. Not that it makes much difference. Even when it was her I still came to the Board meetings because hubby was President. Now he's not, and I *still* have to go. Oh well. It's a good excuse to see my friends.

Last Monday night I taught a new dance that I wrote. Thank goodness we had 16 people in class because it's a four-couple dance. There are some difficult figures in it, with tricky transitions between them. So I taught two of the figures separately before getting into the dance proper. That helped, but the transitions still gave folks trouble. And of course this is a dance that has never been danced, or taught, before. So it's not like I already knew where the trouble spots would be. A few of my more experienced dancers made some good suggestions and we tweaked a few things accordingly. Now I just have to hope I get at least 16 people next time, so I can review it with them. I got a lot of good feedback, it's a cool dance. We just need to work on it more so people start to really enjoy it.

I went out and swept all the oak leaves off my shade garden border a few evenings ago. I had almost forgotten all the plants I'd put in last year. Over the winter all you could see was oaks leaves covering everything. So it was fun to find new shoots coming up. My hellebore made it through the winter, thank goodness. I think that was partly due to the thick blanket of leaves insulating it from all the snow. Looks like the two new heucheras made it, and the campanulas, but I'm not so sure about the achillia and the hosta. They aren't poking their heads up above ground yet anyway. The next big chore is to get all those leaves raked out of the way into a pile somewhere else. So they don't just blow back over the plants again.

The picture is my first daffodil to open this year. I'm always thrilled to see the bulbs appear. Bulbs are like hidden treasure, buried jewels. You almost forget they're there, and then they pop up and surprise you just when you're most impatient for spring to start. I can actually see yellow in the daffodil buds, and two of the crown fritillaries are above ground. I got those for hubby because they look like alien life forms. Looks like one might have died though. I'll have to dig around for it.

Lots to do now that things are perking up after a long cold winter, in the garden and life in general.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Spring is coming!

Yikes! The weeds have turned our field green and they're overrunning my veg garden. I keep hoping for a nice rain to soften up the soil so I can get out and pull weeds. We'll probably end up roto-tilling again, which really isn't the best way to get rid of weeds, but there's just too much ground out there for me. Half an acre, even though not all of it is being actively cultivated. Four different areas if I count the back shade garden. I'd really like to get that one worked into shape, since it's our view out the glass doors in the bedroom.

Anyway, things are coming up already, and I have a lot of work to do out there. At least the daffodil bed is clear. It has sort of an accidental mulch of pine needles from the tree above. Maybe I should take the hint and use more mulch elsewhere! My strawberries are already green, and I need to clear the asparagus bed so the asparagus shoots that are soon to appear have a chance! The new 'cottage garden' area is completely overgrown again. But the sedum, oriental poppy, and other things are all sprouting. I'm excited to see my new irises flower this year. I got some very cool colors and I really want them to do well. One kind is a clear yellow with a light blue beard. That's the one I'm most anxious to see. Maybe tomorrow afternoon I can get out there and work. I hope it rains a bit between now and then.

Tonight we have a dance performance for a Bosnian group. Evidently they've invited a bunch of different dance groups, including Irish and Basque, so it should be interesting to see. And we get dinner! I just hope our demo goes well. We haven't had as much rehearsal as I'd like.

Hubby played fiddle for the local Folklore Society monthly dance Friday (yesterday) night. Another friend of ours was kind enough to come along to play guitar. It isn't a paid gig. All the musicians do it for fun. They asked him on Wednesday as a last minute stand-in for their regular fiddler, who cut a finger on her left hand and couldn't play. Hubby requested he get to chose the tunes. As the lead instrument it's important for him to be able to play well, rather than stumble along on their usual tune sets. It's easier for the back-up instruments to deal with new stuff, and not as obvious if some of them aren't quite perfect.

I hadn't been to this particular dance before, so I went along. Word is these folks do nearly the same dances every month. But I got the feeling that many of the people I danced with didn't know the dances. The caller did a mix of circle, contra and square dances. Some of the square dances had interesting figures, but they went on faaaaar too long. The last one lasted for over 15 minutes! Not only did it seem long to us dancers, but the musicians got very aggravated and tired, playing so long, and fingers were raw.

So we had another late night. And we'll have one tonight as well, I think. Hopefully it'll be more fun.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Portland, OR, workshop and ball

We had a great time in Portland last weekend. I drove up there with three dancers from my class. Three more came up separately. So Boise made a good showing, seven in all. We even had some of the Portland dancers asking us to let them know when we had a big event, so they could try to make it out.

The teachers for the workshop were Bruce Herbold and Ruth Jappy. The musicians were the McCassons, a fiddler and piano. They were all wonderful.

The Level 2 (Intermediate and up) class had Ruth Jappy first. She worked us on technique and taught two really fun dances from the newer RSCDS books. I was pleased I already had the instructions at home for them. Both dances will be working their way into our class repertoire. Deceptively simple figures put together in challenging ways. And Ruth made some interesting points about listening and starting ON the beat, rather than early. It took my brain a few days for things to percolate down. That happens at weekend seminars. You absorb so much info, sometimes it takes a while to process through it all.

Bruce taught some cool dances - five of them! Once again, these were dances that seem simple enough when you read through, but dancing them was unexpectedly challenging. They were all from a book published by the San Francisco Branch, so of course we bought one.

The Ball in the evening was great fun, and the music was irresistible. I didn't quite dance every dance, so I got to take a lot of pictures of the others as they danced. I've put most of them on my site.

After the Ball was the after-party, up in the hills south of town. As usual the food was delicious, even after midnight! We stayed until nearly 2am. I drove back, and somehow missed the turn-off that would take us back to east Portland. So we went too far north on I-5, had to go back south, then couldn't find a way to turn around again until we'd nearly gone back to the freeway exit for the party. We finally managed to get onto I-84 going east, then missed the exit for our hotel. So it was after 3am before we got to bed. At least we didn't have to get up early.

We took our time driving home on Sunday through the Columbia Gorge, stopping at Multnomah Falls to walk up and feel the spray on our faces. We also stopped in La Grande, for dinner at Foley Station. That was a favorite place for hubby and I when I was sent TDY to Richland, WA, for a month while he and I were courting. An island of really excellent food in an area without many good restaurants or people to eat at them. Foleys must have to survive on tourists passing through and word of mouth. I certainly tell folks about it whenever I can.

So we got home around 11pm on Sunday after a loooong weekend full of fun. I'm finally feeling as if I've caught up on my sleep just today.