Friday, July 24, 2009

On the Road

Image courtesy of
I am leaving tomorrow for The City, where I will spend the night with my high school friend, Kelly, whom I haven't seen for at least 25 years.

I searched for Kelly for years until I finally found her about a year ago on Facebook. Now, we talk on the phone regularly and keep up with each other's lives.

Kelly was by far the coolest chick in middle school AND high school. And now, once again, I have the benefit of her wonderful outlook, enthusiasm and sense of adventure.

I am so excited to see her tomorrow!

I tried to plan for every contingency as I get ready to leave town, but I am the parent of a teen, the ultimate variable. I hope it will be possible to have peace of mind while I am away.

The plane leaves very, very early on Monday morning, and I will travel around the clock and around the planet, by many modes of transportation -- plane, train and automobile -- until finally reaching my destination Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pleasure and Business

OK, all these years I never noticed the mustard sauce in my fridge said "Swedish Style" (Photo courtesy
I had dinner with my favorite professor, also my thesis adviser, last night at Larrupin Cafe in Trinidad.

It was my first time to try that place, although I've been eating their famous Larrupin Sauce on my bagels and anything else I can think of for years. It's a delicious mustard dill sauce. I had no idea it was Swedish.

I noticed everything barbecued or smoked on the menu was "mesquite grilled," an indicator of a Texas connection. Besides "larrupin" means delicious in old-fashioned Southern vernacular.

When our little appetizer board came out, that's when I became aware of the Swedish connection as well. Besides the ubiquitous sauce in its natural habitat, there was a little smoked salmon and cucumber, little rounds of dark rye bread, soft cheese, and pieces of apple.
Photo courtesy of Laurie H. at
And also a little chicken liver pate, a Texas thing, I think, although I am starting to become confused about which things in my own family history are Southern things and which are Swedish things. Our family dips everything in everything else, celebrates Christmas on Christmas eve, sleeps at night with pillows in our arms; I am no longer aware of where our idiosyncrasies come from. At any rate, chicken liver pate is something I am already familiar with.

So like me, Larrupin Cafe has a healthy mix of elements of Sweden and the American South. Sure enough, when I asked our waiter about this, he said the original owners were a Swedish man and a Texas woman.

So besides having a good dinner and great fun catching up on the details of my friend's life, I also got a reminder that many deadlines are coming over the next few months. My schedule is going to be hectic as soon as I return from Sweden (all the more reason to enjoy myself like crazy while I'm there).

My adviser warned me not to take on too much. Over the years I have learned to trust her judgment absolutely (there are very few people I can say that about).

She told me that teaching English 100, taking one graduate level class, writing a thesis, working at the newspaper and raising a teenager are plenty; do not also teach a class through the international program, no matter how much I like it, no matter that I was going to teach grammar, no matter that the students wish it. She is right, of course.

So anyway, now I have a bit of a roadmap of my next five months.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Work Ends, Vacation Begins

With my fellow teachers
I made it through the final week of teaching two classes in the International program.

I made it through an eight-week session, flying by the seat of my pants many times. And many times, I blessed Professor Stacey for teaching me improv in teaching. I can't count how many times I needed those skills he taught me.

And I appreciate Professor Doty, who made me understand my own language analytically enough to teach it to others. Native, instinctual knowledge of the language would not have been adequate.

Idiosyncratic though English is, its oddities all follow rules and have histories that put them into a sensible perspective. Luckily, I can remember the rules and explain them.

Altogether, this was a wonderful experience, although there were a few moments near the end when I had the distasteful task of having to insist on decorous behavior in the classroom. I find it excruciating to have to tell other adults what to do.

Grading and evaluating at the end was also a difficult task. It took me far longer than I expected. Now that I've done it, however, I know more about how I will handle the next class in order to make this process easier. For example, I will make notes after each class.

Life has been so very hectic, like a mad rush from one responsibility to the next. In the future, if I can possibly afford it, I think I won't work summer sessions. I feel like my summer vacation is just beginning, but in truth, Fall classes start next month.

Now it's time to plan out my Fall class, take care of my to-do list, tie up loose ends, and ready for my journey, which begins in nine days.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nesting vs. Wanderlust

'Round and round and round she goes; where she stops, nobody knows.
I had a delicious dinner with friends last night at their adorable beach-cottage hideaway.
It was charming and idyllic-- blossoming garden, pretty cats perched everywhere, amazing dinner, pink cocktails in fancy glasses, a tiny cake, laughter, camaraderie, and, as I made my way through the darkness to my car afterward, the scent and sound of the Pacific Ocean.
For the briefest moment, I wished to settle down in a similar situation. For the briefest moment, I recalled that I was once a nester who loved the ocean.

My heart did a little tumble, but I got it back under control, cranked up the music and drove away.

What was in that little house was once my dream.

Now I don't know what I want exactly, and I can't quite tell who I am -- other than a woman in transition: divorced, children mostly grown, education mostly complete.

By the time the dust settles, the next chapter of my life will have made itself clear. All I know is this: I will be a teacher and a grandmother. The question is where?

If I were in a happy, comfy relationship, I would love to live in a little house by the ocean like that.

But by myself, all I want to do is travel. Work a little, then travel. Repeat.

It is quite the dichotomy, between globetrotter and homebody. No wonder I talk to myself in the car all the time.
P.S. I am really learning Swedish from tapes, but I'm sure it looks pretty comical to passing motorists.

P.P.S. Thanks, Kelly P., for the better title.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Swedish consonants are not so much the problem as are vowels, stress and tone.

Swedish pronunciation is confounding me.

I had my weekly lesson with Pastor Dean, a retired Lutheran minister in his 90s who gives me lessons at the church in Eureka. We have met twice now, and it's been tremendously helpful.

I really enjoy it, and kind of wish it happened more than once a week.

I am now envying my students with their intensive 5-hours-a-day, 4-days-a-week courses in English Listening, Speaking, Writing, Reading and Grammar. How I would love such a program in Swedish!

When I see Pastor Dean, I bring with me these two ancient children's readers that I picked up at a used book store in Eureka last summer. From those, I read to him, and he corrects my pronunciation.

Things I read or mistakes I make are segues into impromptu grammar lessons, on which I take many notes. I've learned a lot. When I say something right, he says encouragingly,"Beautiful!" Of course, he is Swedish-American and speaks with an American accent.

A friend in Sweden whom I occasionally try to speak to is not so impressed. He corrects me, but I don't hear the difference. I get shy and less willing to try.

This has made me more aware of when I correct my students' pronunciation. I correct them when they can't be understood. I want them to be understood, but I leave their beautiful accents alone. Maybe in Swedish, an American accent is not beautiful.
Those pesky vowels.

Summer Pleasures

#1: Summer Festivals
The Summer Arts Fair was absolutely splendid! My friend and I brought a gorgeous picnic with us and filled our coffee cups with good wine. Running into old friends at every turn was so fun. That huge smile never left my face all day.

#2: Teaching Summer School
I can't believe it is almost the end of the session for the classes I am teaching.

It has been the most wonderful experience, almost idyllic. I have to keep telling myself this is a particularly great group of students, that it won't always be so exhilarating to teach every class, savor it.

I have learned a lot about teaching and felt blessed by having so many interesting new people in my life.

#3: Planning a Summer Getaway

Plans are underway for the Sweden trip. I've been working overtime to try to save up some money, taking every substituting gig, every odd job that comes my way. I'm subbing tomorrow, as a matter of fact. And I'll be distributing newspapers next week. If you need your dog walked or something, just let me know.

Little by little, it's coming together. My passport arrived. I found the perfect suitcase last week, the perfect carry-on today.

I bought earplugs today, too, because my big plan is to sleep through the trip, if possible, fall asleep in America, wake up in Scandinavia.

#4: Recovering from a Summer Cold

I am now on the mend after a bug of some sort struck. It had been dogging my heels for a week, making me tired, but I kept pushing myself anyway -- accepting extra work, helping in the church garden, driving all the way to SoHum for a friend's birthday bash.

Finally, on the 4th of July, it got me at last. I could not even get up and watch fireworks; I could not attend barbecues! I missed work. But I am better now.

#5: Planting vegetables

I've been working in the church garden still, whenever I get a chance. Last week, I planted a row of purple cabbage.

#6: Farmer's Markets
My new favorite food in the universe is Golden Beets, roasted in the oven with rosemary.

#7: Beachcombing

On one of these beautiful days we've been having, I went to Trinidad with some old friends. The beach was in fine form, the sky brilliant blue and the ocean following suit. We ate fish and chips. It was a perfect day.
Windblown but very happy.
#8: Summer Parties

At my friend's recent birthday party, it was like a reunion of old friends, dancing, cupcakes, great music, good conversation. One of my clever friends knew brought green tea with mint leaves in it, so while everyone else was drinking mojitos, we could stay sober even with drinks in our hands.

#9: Sunbathing
Oh the pleasure of this coastal weather, where you can sunbathe as long as you want without ever breaking a sweat!
#10: Summer Superstitions

Well, I was not lucky enough to spend Midsummer's Day in Sweden this year, but I did find out about an interesting tradition. A girl gathers seven different kinds of flowers and puts them under her pillow. That night she will dream of her true love.

#11 My hammock
Absolute favorite place to be.

#12 Flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds
Everywhere I look. So beautiful!! I love summer.