The Sound of Confidence

I have finally figured out why I can’t fall in love with Captain von Trapp as he is depicted in the movie version of The Sound of Music. To wit, I never wanted to be Maria (also as portrayed in the movie)! Even though she got most of the best songs, the only one I ever really took to heart was this one.

Did anyone know that it is really hard to find a full-length video of this song with Julie Andrews singing it?

Anyway, Maria was the epitome of what every good girl (sarcasm font, please) could be and what every… decent man wanted, right? Well, I wasn’t buying it then, and I remain uninterested now. A captain with seven children… Actually, I am quite fond of children, especially other people’s children, but I have no desire to become their mother. I’m certainly not going to marry a rich man so I can stop getting paid for the job I’m already doing, even if the kids are cute and can sing and operate puppets.

As for dressing in brown burlap and old curtains, you can forget it!

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Now, which shoes shall I wear?

Even Miss Scarlett got busted for trying that wardrobe trick! What hope did a soon-to-be-former nun have?

I saw these in the window, and I just have to have them!

And as for evening wear, what kind of employer tells the governess to bring the children to a formal gathering in his own home, but doesn’t at least provide a dress with the appropriate hemline (if only to hide the inappropriate shoes) ?

And in the center ring, ladies and gentlemen…

Or can he be forgiven for not thinking of such things because he had more important things on his mind? As men do.

I will not tolerate evil. I must find someone who will take care of me and my children… as we all flee to a better place.

The Baroness had her own status- and money- and knew how to use both to her own advantage,  unlike Maria who had to flit and float about trying to figure out if she was good enough for the Captain who was, after all, willing to settle for little ole her. Elsa, Baronness von Schraeder knew what she wanted out of life. She wanted the Captain.

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Oh! How I adore listening to other people’s children sing!

A new governess would also be needed- at least until all the children were old enough to send to boarding school. The Captain was never going to be home anyway. I’m guessing that the Baroness and Liesl would have gotten along just fine after a few initial fireworks. Either that, or Miss 16-Going-On-30 would have been the one in the convent.

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That girl has got to go- after the kids though.

Perhaps if Maria had really gotten to wear the outfit- complete with coordinating Barbie luggage- from the various products that accompanied the movie, she would have had more confidence.

Then again, those pink pumps would have put an end to her Alpine romps.

The Captain’s procrastination and… etc. caused his whole family to make sacrifices from which even Rogers and Hammerstein could not compose a decent recovery. Meanwhile, we are supposed to dislike the Baroness?

For crying out loud! There were seven children! Why would they have wanted to play with a grown-up anyway? Except maybe Liesl. I still think she and the Baroness could have been the toast of Austrian society and probably taken out quite a few Nazis as well.

Let us not forget who makes the grandest gesture in this movie. Yep, it’s Elsa, Baroness von Schraeder. She puts her own desires aside, as one does, so that her Captain, his children, and his soon-to-be-wife-ex-nun/governess can all hike off into an uncertain yet decidedly mountainous future. If one must break an engagement, one must look good while doing so- especially if saving face for both parties in the soon-to-be-over relationship.

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Grab a clue, Cap’n.

 Like another of my favorite movie heroines, Auntie Mame, the Baroness knew how to live, live, live- and let live. She had the confidence and generosity of spirit to step aside- quietly, without singing- and live to fight another day. She knew exactly how to solve a problem like Maria, and that such a problem wasn’t worth wrinkles in her brow or her couture.

Stomping Out Fires

A few days ago, one of my friends pointed out that I am the only person she knows who can truthfully and literally reply, “oh, just putting out fires,” when asked what I’ve been up to. Somewhere in this blog, I know I’ve mentioned that when I’m busy (by my own choice or someone else’s) I tend to make less noise. In this particular case, yes, I’ve been busy putting out fires, but I signed up for it. I even got a free outfit that I got to wear for nearly 36 hours straight last weekend.

The one with the flag is mine. Not sure how I lucked out on that one!

The one with the flag is mine. Not sure how I  lucked out on that one!

The spring ritual of pasture and field burning was unknown to me before moving to Kansas in the early 1990s. Since then it has become as much a part of my inner calendar as the spring floods down South. Both of these events are natural ones that have been adopted by people to accomplish the same goals but, ideally, under more controlled circumstances.

However… big breath before the comma…, sometimes things go wrong. Even the most carefully planned, controlled burn can run afoul of so many things such as a dry winter or a puff of breeze at the “wrong” time.

My previous home was within 30 feet of being burned to the ground. Osage County Fire District #4 (OCFD #4), and 1-3, 5, and 6 also, I believe, worked all day to preserve that little half-moon of land where my house sat. The fire still managed to jump that road and continue burning. All of this happened while I was at work 35 miles away. A neighbor- half a mile away- saw the fire and reported it. That evening, I turned down my low-maintenance road as usual, happy to be home. I can still remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach and the drying of my mouth as my mind accepted what the rest of me already knew. I also remember knowing that that I could never repay what had been done for me, nor would I ever be asked to do so.

It did enter my mind to volunteer, but the usual excuses held me back.

Fast forward to 2012. I was at work and received a text with a picture.

Not your average front-porch picture. Thank goodness!

Not your average front-porch picture. Thank goodness!

The furnace had overheated and caused a small fire with a lot of smoke. A hot spot re-ignited and caused a larger fire. This story also ended well- thanks to OCFD #4. Again.

By then the idea had taken hold, and it only took me three years to make a move, but it feels right now. It’s right for be because this particular endeavor is outside my comfort zone. It is right because I will be following, listening, learning, and giving. My nearly constant barrage of questions hasn’t irritated anyone too much. Nor will it! OCFD #4 is a splendid example of the power of shared knowledge.

There are only 1000 people (give or take a few) within the greater metropolitan area of my small Kansas town. I live outside of town. According to more than one semi-reliable internet source, 71% of this country’s firefighters are volunteers who are getting less young, less active, and are not being replaced by a new generation of volunteers.

OCFD #4 is one such organization. We are one of seven districts in our county, and we have mutual aid agreements with one of our neighboring counties. That means that we respond to some of their calls, and they do the same for us. Our roster contains 33 names, many of whom serve alongside a family member. Some of our cadets serve with their parents!

One of the many jokes around the station has to do with the timing of my decision. I am told that my weekends will be extra-busy for at least the next month, and that I can also count on being summoned multiple times in a given day. I can honestly say that I did think of that. What I did not think of was how quickly I would be asked to put my limited introduction to use.  When the first fire was out and we were back at the station, people wanted to know what I thought. All I could come up with was,”Well, I didn’t get yelled at or fall off of the truck.”

I’m pretty sure that everyone understood my need process the experience and let thoughts develop. Those of you who know my frequency know that sooner or later, I will broadcast. I may even warn you so you can turn the volume up or down! In the meantime, I hope that whenever you see scenes like these…

Another view from the front porch.

Another view from the front porch.

#2

A few minutes later. All is well.

… as I was saying… whenever you see scenes like these, I hope that you and yours are all safely at home on your front porch!

There is one last anecdote that I am determined to put in this post, but that I can’t seem to blend in smoothly, so here it is:

After my introduction to fighting grass fires, all the grass trucks met at a local fuel station to refill in order to be ready for the next run(s). I was so thirsty that I couldn’t even spit- something I will do, but would prefer not to. There are worse things, right? Anyway, being without my purse or wallet, I was scrounging water and making mental notes to put a bottle of water in my pants pocket at the end of every run (that box is now checked!). By the way, I did have my chapstick, as did many of the other firefighters.

The people who worked in the store part of the fuel station gave a free drink to one of the other firefighters. I was hanging on the edge of a group conversation that revolved around teasing one of the store’s staff about not following through on joining OCFD #4. I even joined in a bit, using myself and my… lengthy consideration process as justification. Suddenly, but belatedly, I realized that the object of our teasing was hurt and irritated by our comments.

Better late than never is not always enough, but in this case, I believe it was. I apologized to the person on the receiving end of our jokes and asked about the free drink. If I understood correctly, somebody will pay for the drink! If I misunderstood, let the record show that yours truly will spring for the drink. Moving on… this person did what felt right! We began chatting about the different ways in which people do what they can with whatever they have. This person did a good thing and is convinced of that now. More importantly- that good thing was done without hesitation and even in the midst of being teased.

What feels right? Trust your instincts!

For an interesting discussion of the decline of American civic participation, check out Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam or the web site http://bowlingalone.com/

Real People and Real Horses: The Adventure Never Ends

I suppose I could say that life itself is an adventure, but that might force me to distinguish between adventure and misadventure, so I’ll just stick to one excerpt from my life. This particular adventure has already gotten so big that I barely have had time to process it all internally, let alone write about it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The first thing that you probably want to know is: What adventure? For starters, I stayed within the boundaries of the continental United States this time. There are also horses involved. Need I say more? Well, actually… everything you need to know about the background for this adventure is in my post dated 26 April 2014. The bare minimum is that I went to Woodruff, SC in order to ride and train with Mihran Dülgeroğlu (www.mihranequestrian.com), fevkalade bir antrenör. I would say trainer extraordinaire, but Mihran is Turkish.

An important  freebie is: Yes,  you can travel with a dressage saddle as carry-on luggage. On a big plane anyway. I made all sorts of airport friends because, let’s face it, a saddle is a peculiar looking piece of luggage. One child even found a way to sit in between the flaps and hide from her mother. I flew Southwest because they had the best fares and they only use the bigger jets. That said, the flight crew and some passengers do get huffy if they have to wait for you to cram that saddle into the bins on the smaller jets. The secret: take the saddle out of the carrying bag. It also helps if your ribs aren’t bruised (see below for details).

It fits! It fits!

It fits! It fits!

Now, back to the main plot. I showed up at the Greenville airport with one duffel full of riding clothes, a smaller one filled with the stuff people who don’t ride wear, a saddle, and a backpack- proving once again that I may sometimes over pack, but I always carry my own gear. Furthermore, if you laugh at me, I won’t lend you any of my stuff when you need it- which you will because you didn’t want to pack it in the first place.

Mihran trains mostly Hunters and Jumpers, but he comes from a classical dressage background. All of his horses are well versed in the basics of flexing, bending, and responding to light aids from the rider. Some of our best conversations about dressage took place in the jump arena! Three of the horses that I rode (I had forgotten what fun Thoroughbreds can be!) were quite capable and willing to give honest efforts to move more efficiently and “correctly.” Mihran was equally capable and willing to make sure that my requests were equally honest and efficient (translation: MORE LEG! MORE BEND!)

On Monday morning we headed to the barn. But first, we had to have a meeting.

Not all meetings are evil.

Not all meetings are evil.

This meeting included neither paperwork nor PowerPoint. Just good planning and conversation- and oh yes, coffee!

It’s Wednesday Friday I’m back home now just now getting around to writing. That should give you an idea of how busy (or tired) I have been. Every day I rode three horses and lunged one or two more if necessary. Then I watched Mihran ride and give lessons. On Monday, I rode a few horses while Mihran offered comments and instructions. It was like a day-long lesson! Apparently neither he nor the horses were too offended because he allowed me to tack up and ride again on Tuesday.

All three Tuesday horses were Thoroughbreds who knew how to stretch and work off of light aids. Bending was not something they did very well. During one circle Mihran asked me if I was riding a horse or a motorcycle. It was up to me to decide how to improve what I had to work with. I’ll be the first to admit (or maybe the second since hesitation is one of my weaknesses) that I should have been quicker to diagnose some of the issues. On the other hand, I am now aware of that both in and out of the saddle. No more complacency.

We’re still on Tuesday, right? I started each horse with the idea that I would not begin work until I could clearly articulate what I wanted to address and how I would do it. Sometimes that comes naturally. Sometimes I have to change the plan completely (horses also have plans). On a horse that didn’t belong to me,  it was an intimidating process.

Horse #1, a 7 year old TB, required lots of transitions. Upward. Downward. Within gaits as well. Everywhere in the arena. He knew the hunter routine very well. When he cantered after two walk steps and went “uphill” I knew we had made a real breakthrough. Then the challenge was to either keep him together or trot again before he (or I) lost it.

Horse #2, another 7 year old TB, was a very long-backed fellow who presented another set of issues. He was a bit more advanced in his training than #1, so I decided to ask for more.  He was more willing and able to stretch, and boy did he! I felt like I was sitting on a ball. He gave me a look-at-me big boy trot that was super elastic. So what did I do? I shortened the reins a bit and asked for some leg yield. It wasn’t perfect, but what did you expect? There was some correctness, and his back stayed “up.” Never one to let things alone, I asked for a canter. We turned down the quarter line, and I pushed him over with my inside leg. He went! We did a stretchy circle (sort-of), and I got off. End of lesson. Good boy!

Horse #3. Hmmm… a 16 year old TB with a lot of “go.” He carried himself very well, but in a flat frame with no engagement of his back. He was also experienced enough to know how to avoid any meaningful contact with me and the reins. He got his longer reins, but he also got- you guessed it- more leg! More leg! More leg! He produced a relatively free and swinging trot. I could tell that it was work for him, so we took frequent walk breaks, also on a long contact.

By Wednesday, I was over my first-day jitters and settling into the way Mihran wants his horses ridden when things got out of control. Literally. Mihran has a young Oldenburg who is simultaneously flashy, brilliant, and sensitive. The sensitivity part is what got me.

Unexpected departures can be painful.

Unexpected departures can be painful.

I learned (again) the necessity of correcting quickly and effectively (and repeating if necessary- and no that is not an oxymoron) as opposed to one static correction that leaves the horse no options and me on my face in the arena. After emptying the sand from my boots, gloves, and mouth, I did get back on. I also rode one more horse and lunged another. Then I went back to the house to think about what I had learned and try to clean myself up.

I learned Wednesday’s lessons so well that I could not ride on Thursday. The ribs that I bruised are still quite sore even as I type. The colors on my knee and the rest of the left side of my body have faded to icky, pale pastels now. My ego will definitely survive the downsizing. In fact, one of Mihran’s students, a charming young lady dealing with some fear issues, was able to take the fact that I had made a spectacular dismount as evidence that “it really does happen to everybody” and start to get over her own hesitancy to fully engage with her own horse!

By Friday, I was back in the saddle despite Mihran’s better judgment. I was not there long though because I could not post the trot without wanting to scream; however, I couldn’t have screamed because I couldn’t draw enough breath. So, I did some ground work with a few horses and then got ready for the weekend. My horse friends will know what that means. For my friends who do not ride, that does not mean that I tried to decide what to wear and where to go. I was already where I wanted to be- the barn! Mihran and I would soon be joined by a group of teenage girls who preferred to spend their weekends messing about with horses.

The barn aisle was full of giggling, laughing, and a few squeals as well as discussions of the latest tack with bling that they simply had to have for their horses. Two of them were even thrilled that I had been schooling their horses according to the principles of classical dressage and that I had seen some really “cool” possibilities in those beloved steeds. The others were a bit bored with dressage for the reasons that most people are bored with it, but there’s still hope.

On Saturday two of them asked me if I would give them dressage lessons. Yes, that happened. They each rode like the promising hunters that they are, but they also showed the adaptability that comes from being open-minded, athletic, and willing to take instruction. Their questions were intelligent and showed that they were thinking about the process- especially the similarities and differences of hunt seat and dressage seat. They watched each other, and they watched me. We talked. A lot. They still think that dressage is a bit slow compared to jumping  (duh!), but they also gained a new understanding of what dressage riders are really doing in the saddle. And yes, they started to see how dressage would help them and their horses in the hunter ring! Win!

What a soft seat she has!

What a soft seat she has!

By now many of you are probably wondering why I went to study and ride at a (mostly) Hunter/Jumper facility, especially since the only jumping I have ever done has been in a dressage saddle! Back in the day, Gris Gris and I used to hop over whatever we could find out on the trails. But I digress. In my previous entry I mentioned how I found Mihran Equestrian and some of the conversations that I had with Mihran Dülgeroğlu, the owner and head trainer.

Assigned Reading

Assigned Reading

It has been a long time since I had a good discussion about any of the books that have been written about dressage, especially those by the artists of the discipline. Mihran and I both love Charles de Kunffy, especially his emphasis on sensitivity and condemnation of the modern emphasis on competition that imposes artificial, ego-driven deadlines on us and our horses. There is no art in this sort of competition-centered training. “Many outstanding competitors are well skilled sportsmen [and women, I might add]. Fewer are artists, and so it should be” (Training Strategies for Dressage Riders, p. 6). Thinking, feeling, doing, and creating. It’s harder than it sounds, especially if people are watching.

Yeah, it's a nice, soft seat, but it isn't very balanced.

Yeah, it’s a nice, soft seat, but it isn’t very balanced.

Most of us are not artists. Our horses are not Grand Prix horses. We work and train as hard and as often as we can in order to sustain the hope of creating something worthy of being viewed by a critical public who may or may not be as educated in the art of dressage as they are in the USDF Rule book. (Did you see it? My ego just peeked around the page to see if anyone was watching.)

Here is a video of me riding one of my favorite horses in Mihran’s barn, a seven year old Thoroughbred named Denali. In my defense, I was riding with bruised ribs and a knee the size of a large tack sponge. I will also say that the best work came later in the ride, but my camera person was getting bored. Denali needs no defense.  He has had no dressage schooling, but was willing to give it a try. A horse who understands you is more likely to trust you.

Denali

There it was again! You probably saw it this time. My ego just took over the previous paragraph! How many of us have created something beautiful in the arena and then tried to tell someone about it? (For the record, only Mihran saw me fall, but I’m pretty sure everyone heard me yelling.)I showed this video clip to a friend and trainer who said,”It looks like you’re doing a nice job with a horse who doesn’t know anything about dressage.” She pretty much nailed it. Now you have the footage to stack up with the way I remember it!

Trying to describe those sweaty, yet sublime moments of absolute harmony is often misinterpreted by some as bragging. Trying to describe those moments to a fellow sensitive rider, regardless of their ‘show level’, is the next best thing to actually having that moment. It is like a private, exclusive exhibition where the horse is the star and you helped (and were helped!).

During my week in Woodruff I was quite literally (and painfully) jolted out of a sense of complacency that had taken over my riding. I am not suggesting that we all eat sand in order to risk expanding our comfort zones, nor do we all need such a huge slice of humble pie. I even recall saying that it had been three years since I had departed unexpectedly from my saddle. This after my beloved trainer here in Kansas suffered a worse fall than mine. Complacency is not a word that I would ever attach to her though.

I spent seven days watching an excellent trainer work hard to deal with… well, the life and occasional drama of a trainer/manager/owner. Mihran was in the process of hiring barn help during my stay. Nonetheless, he refused to let me even sweep the barn aisle (I will eventually get around to that article or book about Hospitality- Southern, Turkish, and maybe even Afghan. There! I’ve said it, so I have to do it!). Several of you, my friends and readers, are already familiar with this life, but I had never seen it up close and personal, so to speak. I’m not sure that my talents would even be best used in such an endeavor.

I think it’s a good thing to be easily amused, and can find entertainment- even adventure- in all sorts of places. It’s what I do. I also like to ask questions. Most people can teach us something, as can most horses. Now I am ready to get back to the adventure of training my two very real horses.

My gratitude goes to everyone (that includes people and horses!) who has provided me with encouragement, correction, answers, more questions, help, challenges, and- most important- the love of incorporating art and creativity into the training of our horses and ourselves.

 

 

The Turkish Connection… in South Carolina: Nothing Could be Finer!

While I was surfing the web instead of writing my latest blog post I stumbled into what has turned out to be a very amazing rabbit hole. After a few twists and turns, I found myself in contact with Mihran Dülğeroğlu, a trainer now based in Greenville, S.C. by way of Istanbul, Turkey (www.mihranequestrian.com). One thing led to another, and now I am preparing to head to the region, if not the exact state, of my birth to ride, study, and drink lots of coffee with Mihran and his crew.

What initially struck a harmonious chord with me was a phrase that I found on anther blog: “Honoring where we are with our horses.”  I realized that this point was exactly what was missing in my quest to keep improving as a person and a rider as well as my attempts to describe this quest. So, I did what all writers do when they see a good idea. I stole it (providing a reference, of course!).  While I was talking, texting, and e mailing Mihran, I was telling a few friends about my upcoming adventure. Here is where I point the finger at Margene Swarts and Kathy O’Brien who encouraged me/egged me on to not only blog about my experience, but to share it with the Kansas City Dressage Society (KCDS).

I hope to make the “whys” of my decision to go on this adventure clearer as I write to you during my trip, but for now I encourage you to visit Mihran’s web site and begin thinking about what you read there. I also suggest that you (re) read anything by Charles de Kunffy and Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg plus any other dressage texts that you hold dear.

For this introduction I would like to address another lesson that I seem to keep confronting but not quite learning: that is, to ask! As we become less young, many of us outgrow that ability to simply and honestly ask for something that we want. And yes, this applies to our communication with people as well as horses. Let’s assume that we are happily engaged in a positive discussion with a human or an equine. We want something, but something keeps us from asking (or asking in a way that is understandable). The worst thing that can happen to us is a negative or confusing response, right? And whose fault is that? As long as everybody is being honest and open, then there is no harm done. We move on or repeat the request as the situation dictates, but we must ask!

In this case, my expectations were exceeded beyond what I even dared to ask. Instead of a long weekend with me as a working student (Mihran was having none of that!), I will be in Greenville from May 4 to May 12. With the exception of the evening of my arrival, all of my days will contain time in the saddle (both dressage and jumping) on different horses, as well as study, and lots of discussion! If possible, I will even travel with Mihran to one of his clinics. I hope that I will be able to refine my communications skills enough to be able to share my experiences with you in a meaningful and occasionally humorous way.

 

Right! About the helmet, or lack thereof. I wanted a picture in which my face was actually visible. This is what I got instead. Başka flipping his hair and kicking at a fly.

Right! About the helmet, or lack thereof. I wanted a picture in which my face was actually visible. This is what I got instead. Başka flipping his hair and kicking at a fly.

Meg Hawthorne has been a member of KCDS for over 15 years. She lives in Overbrook, Kansas where she strives to ride her horses Başka, Sophia, Gris Gris, and sometimes Pilot according to the principles of dressage as a form of art.

Sometimes we work with fat crayons. Other times, rarely, we produce something suitable for public display.

 

Looking for the Next Big Thing: Willing to Learn!

I have often heard that one should not post anything in public about one’s (un)employment status. I can think of worse things to post! Those of you who listen in regularly by means other than this blog will already know that I am one of those Americans who has almost stopped looking for the next big thing, i.e. a job. I have turned every stone twice and am now digging holes under those stones.

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This job hunt has been like no other in my life. Fortunately, I haven’t had to go through this soul-crushing process many times in my life. During the past year I have met some interesting and talented folks as well as… some others. I have contacted hundreds (literally) of companies and individuals. I can hear you wondering why I am not gainfully or otherwise employed by now. Well, here is one of the things I have learned: if I believed even half of the reasons that are implied (none are ever given, of course), then I would think myself completely worthless. Instead I cling to the belief that I just didn’t do a good job of “selling myself” to the potential employer.

Someone who does the things that I do can simultaneously have too much and not enough experience. One can also be too young or too old, all the while knowing all the right or wrong people.  Picking up new skills and meeting new people are things that I generally enjoy. As a bonus, I clean up pretty well! Otherwise, I have found that no matter how specific the job notice, the very factors that we do not ask or tell about are the ones that usually get one hired. In fact, they have worked for me in the past. They have also worked against me.

I will also need my cowboy boots.

I will also need my cowboy boots.

I have also learned that it can be quite difficult to get past the HR departments of many places, but that HR departments will call me and begin to interview me before even telling me the name of their company. I recently overhauled my cv so that now I have both a resume and a cv. I posted both on two well-known sites that I have avoided in the past because they typically do not have the kinds of jobs that interest me. I clearly hit the search word bonus because now my cell phone rings way too much, and these callers do not leave messages. They call, and call, and call- no matter how many times I block their numbers.  Never mind the fact that I clearly indicated that email is my preferred means of contact. These companies hire people to do searches and then call the people whose resumes match the search. For some reason, my name is a big hit in the benefits management and HR departments of the world right now. Why? I have no idea. When I ask these people what made them call me, they all say that they don’t have my resume in front of them! One poor person admitted flat out that she had no idea- her boss just gave her a list and told her to call everyone on it. They promise to send me information, but so far, none have.

Try calling an HR department and asking then where to send your resume. Nope. No way. Not happening. They don’t do that. There are some exceptions to this statement, but just posting a random resume with those exceptions has not been very productive either.

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I have also had a few offers. Sadly, they all fell through due to lack of funding, political unrest, or pay so low that I can’t afford to take the job because it would be a waste of my time. For example, I can’t afford to take an adjunct teaching job that pays $1500 for one semester (16 weeks, 3 classroom hours/week, 3 hours (minimum) office hours, grading/prep/etc- you do the math!).  Ironically, most of the jobs that fail to materialize due to the first two factors would actually provide some relief to the very problems. All three of these circumstances can arise in combinations too. No matter how many times I reinvent myself there is little that I can do to change those factors. Round and round we go.

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Happy face? Well, like I said, I do clean up well. I’m normally pretty “upbeat” to the great irritation of my “cooler” friends. I’m also pretty thick-skinned and, well… direct. Yeah, direct. The most painful lesson of this stretch of being between gigs has been that I should not even be between gigs as evidenced by the strained, embarrassed expressions on some faces when I decline an invitation or don’t make an expected donation because I can’t afford it. It’s worth noting here that directness notwithstanding, I don’t just drop that buzz killer straight into the conversation. Someone usually asks “why?” and then  insists, ignoring my polite but vague refusal. Nothing brings out the lightweights like someone they know having a rough spell. The lightweights flee the crime scene in order to avoid the taint of failure.

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Paradoxically, the light weights are also the first ones to judge me for being… you know… unemployed. I don’t have a writing career, but I do enjoy writing. Somehow I have let the current situation- unemployment! say it with me!- make me feel like I can’t afford (in any sense of the word) to do anything I like because I should be spending all of my waking hours trying to find a job.  One of the lessons that I have learned during the last year is false. Can you guess which one?

A Streetcar Named Güzelyalı: The Sequel

When I wrote Part I of this series, I did not have a sequel in mind. Indeed I hoped by writing that post I would somehow get over my intense dislike of public transportation (in any country). Little did I know that the C11G bus would become a metaphor for my time in Çanakkale, Turkey. I will bet your çay money and mine that I spent at least one hour every day waiting for a bus. A Turkish tourist visa is for 90 days max. You do the math.

The View from My Bus Stop

The View from My Bus Stop

Yes, that yellow building is the Kipa. Think small-town Wal Mart (not Target), Turkish style. I sat in “my” bus stop with all sorts of people, many of whom were quite friendly; some of whom were… less than warm. Occasionally, I would look to the left to see if C11G was at the stop light about 200 yards away.

And on your LEFT, ladies and gentlemen, there is no bus.

And on your LEFT, ladies and gentlemen, there is no bus.

So, I would look back across at the Kipa, then look to the right where I really wanted to go.

Look Homeward!

Look Homeward!

It is perhaps fitting that on my last day of classes, the city rolled out (haha) a new addition to the C11G fleet: a brand new, wider, Mercedes model with air conditioning, TV, and yes, an air freshener.

As I climbed aboard, nobody caught my eye and nodded. The driver was more secluded/protected behind a waist-high wall. If he had decided to yell at us we wouldn’t have heard him over the music videos. The younger passengers were enjoying the facing seats as were families and friends who were all heading somewhere. I chose one of the single seats on the right side. There was plenty of room for the old ladies to place their numerous grocery bags on the floor. When we careened around the tight corners on the one-lane “road” no one shouted as a result of being thrown onto another passenger. All in all, it was a peaceful, comfortable ride back to Dardanos.

My walk from the bus stop. I took the left fork to get to my room with a view.

My walk from the bus stop. I took the left fork to get to my room with a view.

During the walk from the bus stop to my room, it hit me- not the bus; the idea that things were getting better. At least on the surface. The people on that new bus were the same people I saw on most afternoons if I was lucky enough to catch the express bus. On that afternoon we all knew that we wouldn’t get that new bus every day, so it was best not to expect too much. The sun was shining, and there were signs of spring everywhere.

Whatever I say about having my professional and personal activities regulated by a bus schedule, I enjoyed every single walk home from the bus stop. There was always someone and something to see, and even on the nasty days (nothing compared to those in Kansas, for example) the weather always gave me a break.

My students informed me that they hated the buses. I should mention here that there are no buses after midnight. I can see how parents might like this one. For some reason, adults were not supposed to complain about the bus. It was… well, it was the bus in the room that no one would acknowledge. My students did not have cars. Most adults I knew did. Those who didn’t asked friends to take them places or took the bus to the Kipa and got picked up by friends. I did this many times because gas is terribly expensive in Turkey, and most people did not want to drive the 15 miles out to Dardanos.

Basically, in the little corner of Turkey that I explored, getting there (or anywhere) is no fun at all, but then I was among a minority of folks who expected the trip to actually be fun. I was among an even smaller minority of folks who actually complained about it. There is so much to do once you get wherever you’re going that it really is better to just hang on and enjoy the ride.

Yes, really.

Yes, really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Streetcar Named Güzelyalı

Going to a new place in which you know no one and only enough of the language to realize that you really can’t communicate beyond the basics may not be your idea of a fun time, but sometimes we have to take our fun where we find it. Like on buses in Turkey.

There’s still something in me that rebels at the loss of independence that comes with having to come and go according to a bus schedule, but such limited freedom of mobility can also provide an excellent reason to not do some things. Of course I have used public transportation before, but I would prefer to walk if I have the choice. I this particular case, I do not have the choice since my accommodations are within walking distance of nothing except the bus stop.

So, off I went. People said, “Don’t worry about it!” So, I didn’t. Actually, that’s not true. I am a fretter. I worry about things over which I have absolutely no control. Like the bus schedule. Too many ‘what ifs’ for my liking.

The Kindness of Strangers

Since my arrival in Çanakkale, Turkey, daily life has been a constant test of my ability to live by the venerable motto Semper Gumby. After getting settled in my new digs, I was taken, pretty passively, to get a bus pass and charge it with Turkish liras. Most news stands can charge your card for you. When I asked if there were other places to recharge my card… you guessed it. No worry!

My Bus Pass

My Bus Pass

A rough translation of the text at the bottom is: ” ‘Turkish Youth’ Your first duty is to preserve and defend Turkish independence and the Turkish Republic forever.” With such an exhortation always in my pocket, how can I not venture forth somewhere every day?

Whenever I want to get somewhere (which is every day)- mostly to and from town or campus- I walk up to the bus stop, smile, and state the name of the place I want to go. Actually I intone the name of my destination as a question. Then the fun starts! People hear me utter a few words of Turkish with a decent accent and proceed to tell me about everything from the bus I need to the dog lying under the bench (He is a nice dog. He does not like the rain.). Somewhere in there I get the number of the bus that make my wishes become reality. Occasionally I get sent to the other side of the street, sunny or otherwise.

A trip to the grocery store for a few basics: çay (tea), milk, and some fruit, is a 35 minute trip, each way. There’s a bus every hour, so if there’s a line in the store, or you have a longer list, or the bus is full… what ifs. There is no such thing as a quick run to the store here if you don’t have a car, and many people only have one or none at all.

KIPA- the Local Super Target

KIPA- the Local Super Target

Riding home on the bus after shopping is… well, it’s a pain. Don’t plan on buying a lot of anything because even if you can carry it (I use my back pack), you are expected to keep it all in your lap or under your feet on the bus. Seems only fair.

I learned something else on the bus last week. It was raining, and the bus was packed with hot (buses and buildings are always HOT), wet people all trying to get home for the weekend. One last man managed to squeeze himself through the front door, but when he swiped his card, the reader said something to him that I can only guess meant, “Today is not your day.” He stood there a moment and stared at his card in disbelief. Several of us held out our cards to him for him to use. It just seemed like the thing to do- it’s only a 1.5 L ride (about 85¢). My friends in Ankara said that it’s pretty much the custom everywhere to share your card and let the person pay you since the buses don’t take money. I never saw that happen in Europe. I have been lucky enough to not have to use buses in the US.

Turkish bus drivers like to drive fast. Very fast. Curves are not a good reason to slow down. Remember my comments about keeping your things in your lap or under your feet? On the ride home today, the driver was quite irritated because someone’s water bottle had rolled down the aisle and was going from side to side as he careened around the curves along the coastal road. By the way, as is the case in many countries, pedestrians decidedly do not have the right of way in Turkey! You cross streets at your own risk- sometimes even when you use the crossing lights.

Motor bikes and scooters are very popular here, except to go up the hill to campus, but that’s another discussion. For now, let’s just see where I end up, so to speak. My Turkish classes begin tomorrow, so soon, hopefully, wherever I go on the bus, it will be of my own choosing. This will just be one of those entries with no real point, but that is mildly interesting. To get to the camel wrestling this weekend we will not take the bus. Several of us will rent a car. (If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will!)

 

 

 

 

 

Something Old, Something New- Some Things Never Change.

Perhaps I got my love of travel and things foreign from my Grandmother. Whatever its origin, I definitely have it. One year for Christmas, she even gave me a globe! OK, I was a bit bratty about it because it wasn’t whatever stupid toy I thought I couldn’t live without, but it was one of my favorite “things.” I used to just sit on my bed holding it and looking at the Encyclopedia (yes, we had those in actual hard cover), planning my world tour.

On one of her trips my Grandmother (Grandmother was also her name as far we were concerned) went to Greece. She loved it and talked about it more than most of the other places she visited, except maybe Switzerland. Those conversations introduced me to all sorts of wonderful things, among them and for purposes of this post, baklava. So hold that thought.

It was also from my Grandmother that I heard the word “vegetarian.” I though the term referred to someone who liked vegetables. My mother informs me that my Grandmother’s cook shared that understanding. Family reading this will know immediately of whom I speak. Maybe I will post her caramel cake recipe!! Anyway, the exclusive properties of this new category had to be explained to me, but I was not impressed; nor did I participate in the ensuing kitchen debate over things like the inclusion eggs or seafood. I liked vegetables and still do (even though we no longer cook them with bacon or fat meat… at least not very often!), but my quite fertile imagination just couldn’t imagine limiting myself like that. For the record, many a good Southern meal, even the modern ones without the cooking fat, consist of vegetables only!

Well guess who was coming to dinner? Actually it was lunch, but I couldn’t resist the reference. I also had to call my mother to get the genealogically accurate answer to that question. My great, great, great aunt, her daughter, and her granddaughter, that’s who. They had acquired this dietary affliction through a German relative (as if that explains it). I can still hear my Grandmother as she declared, more than asked, “What in the world do vegetarians eat for lunch?” In late 1960s Mississippi, globalization had not yet to hit the Jitney Jungle, so many of the options which my Grandmother had probably enjoyed abroad were unavailable, even if heard of.

I had to call my mother to find out what Grandmother eventually served since I was not present at the “meal” preferring instead the world of kindergarten. My mother couldn’t remember exactly, but here’s what she did recall:

A “nasty” spinach salad (there was neither bacon nor egg)

Boiled corn (no butter, but at least there was salt)

Potatoes or rice (she didn’t remember which)

Some sort of green vegetable (because your Grandmother would not serve a meal without one)

No bread

I’m sure there was iced tea, so I didn’t ask. I’m also equally certain that the meal was flawlessly prepared and probably tasty as well, my dear mother’s comments notwithstanding. Less youth and experience have taught me that down South, any guests for any meal cause a kind of consternation that can only be described as masochistic.

The same thing applies to Southerners who live in places like, say… the Mid West. You definitely get more credit for “the thought” outside the South. Which brings up to the past Labor Day weekend’s events! And baklava.

While I was in Afghanistan, I became friends with several guys from Turkey. We quickly discovered that our differences, while significant, in no way prevented us from finding lots of common ground, especially where the combination of friends and food was concerned. I still correspond often with them and miss them terribly.

A few months ago I received a cryptic message from one of my friends in Turkey informing me that one of his friends would be coming here to study. He asked permission to give my contact information. No problem; however, no further information was forthcoming, not even in subsequent e mails. He is very security conscious.

When “the friend of my friend” arrived, he contacted me and said that he would like to come visit. Again, no problem. Well, it took several weeks of short and also cryptic e mails to get to the Sunday before Labor Day when I got a message that said they (not he) would be at my house tomorrow around noon. Good Heavens!

The answer to the question that some of you may have formed is, “Yes, they eat halal.” Travel with me back in time to my Grandmother’s kitchen… Now is a good time to get up and do whatever it is you are thinking about doing as you comment about how long this post is.

Aaaand we’re back- but in my kitchen reading labels and using the iPhone to google to make sure whatever we had was ok. Nix on the fried grits with crawfish cream sauce, although the fried grits would have been fine.

Fried grits smothered in crawfish cream sauce. Hungry?

Then I saw all the brie that remained from another party. YES! One of my all time favorite appetizers was about to become a sandwich! Known in my family simply as “brie treats,” they consist of slices of French bread, a paste made from nuts (I like pecans) and olive oil, slices of Granny Smith apple, and brie (sans mold). In that order. On a cookie sheet in a 400∘ oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese, and you’re done! Put them together ahead of time then just pop them in the oven as guests start to arrive or right before the meal depending on how you’re serving them. I don’t have any pictures, but these look really nice with lots of different food items.

The green salad we had was nothing spectacular, but of course, it was above average! We had the best tomatoes that one can expect in this part of the world at this time of year. They were average until I drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled basil all over them, then slapped a thick slice of fresh mozzarella on top. The same conditions applied to the fruit salad except I used sugar, mint, and lemon juice instead of olive oil. And the tea? Lightly and perfectly sweetened. Our delighted and delightful guests thought it was so good it had to be Turkish tea!

I billed this lunch a typical of what Southerners would prepare for friends who dropped by for lunch. Sadly, that tradition has all but disappeared even down South. When this kind of lunch includes international guests as such occasions often do (or did), there must be some sort of culinary nod to the guests’ homeland. As it happened, there was one small container of baklava left in the refrigerator from the aforementioned party. With great trepidation I pulled it out, hoping that there wouldn’t be enough so I would not put myself through the angst of serving baklava to people whose people claim not only expertise in this pastry, but to have actually invented it! No such luck.

What do you have with baklava? You guessed it. Turkish coffee!

My Turkish coffee pot (cezve/ibrik) and one of the cups my friend sent to me via our now mutual friend.

Along with the baklava we had some slices of pears from our tree over which we drizzled some of the extra baklava syrup (There’s always extra. Always save it.). This thrilled and astounded our new friends especially since we had devoted a portion of the never- flagging dinner conversation to baklava. For those of you who are just now wandering into this blog, the recipe and pictures can be found in my post about parties and secrets. Just as I am apparently incapable of serving a simple meal (without at least trying to make it hard), I am also incapable of writing about one topic at a time. It’s just not that simple!

Penultimate note: I just wasn’t able to get any pictures of the actual meal. Apologies!

Final note: If you still want more evidence of my talent/tendency for guilding the lily, wait until you see what evolves around a white chocolate and ginger cheesecake that gets coated with a shell of white chocolate. Because I can.