Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's Hard to Explain

In January I began co-teaching a ballroom dance class with a friend of mine.  Every week I send out video links and reminders regarding the next class.  Shortly after I sent out my latest missive, I received this email response -

I'm sorry, but the kids and I are heading to Rome on Thursday, so we won't be able to attend on Thursday.

My initial response was - oh well, we'll miss them but see them next week.  Then I got to thinking about how friends and family back in the States might perceive this and realized it is an odd world over here.  We country hop like it is nobody's business.  Trains can get us easily and quickly to England, France, Germany and the Netherlands.  Allen has "away" meets for track in England, Germany and the Netherlands.  There are discount airlines that make Rome or Dublin  day trip or weekend destinations.  

In the time it takes us to drive from DC to Michigan we could be in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and/or Switzerland.  If we don't feel like driving so far then we simply visit the Netherlands, Luxembourg or closer parts of Germany or France.  Having lunch in France is not unreasonable.

All of the above is not to brag - I hope you don't perceive it to be.  It is to say that geographically, we can get to many interesting destinations without alot of fuss and expense.  Thus when I hear of people going to Rome, I really do think nothing of it.  Belgium may not be a fantastic travel destination but truly it is a great travel from destination.  One that we have been fortunate to enjoy.  

European travel is great.  There are many places to see and enjoy.  I understand it is a big deal.  Trans-atlantic plane fare isn't cheap.  Once you take the Atlantic Ocean out of the way though, traveling European countries becomes quite economical and something many Americans enjoy while their here.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

French Class

This week I began my fourth semester of French class here on SHAPE.  Every semester brings a new mix of classmates and this one was no exception.

In the upper level French classes there are fewer and fewer Americans and this class is no exception.  Of the 12 of us, there are only two Americans.  There are three Italians, a Lithuanian, a Romanian, a woman from Portugal, a Canadian,  a man from Spain a woman from Ecuador and one more European that is not immediately coming to mind.  Not only are these individuals quite advanced in French many of them also speak English well.

I enjoy the international flavor of our class and the opportunities we have to explore not only the French language but cultural differences as well.  In past classes we have discussed (in French) health insurance, curfews for teenagers, and shopping on Sundays.  This is great for stretching our vocabulary as well as learning about other cultures.

This week we began our lessons on the subjunctive tense.  This is the last verb tense that French students learn, probably because it is the most difficult.  Any verb that is irregular is really irregular in the subjunctive.  Any and all exceptions become even more exceptional in the subjunctive.  In addition, there are very few other languages with the subjunctive tense, thus it is difficult to understand how it translates back into one's native language.

This is my third time learning the subjunctive (college, last year and now).  I have the verb conjugations down and have a basic understanding of when it is used.  This week however, it finally clicked for me that the subjunctive tense is used when one is expressing a subjective (versus objective) thought.  I wish that, I would like that, It should happen that, etc....

Probably the most common usage is with the phrase - It is necessary to/ It must.... When I put these phrases together with the idea that what comes after is put in the subjunctive (subjective) tense, it made me smile - the verb tense that follows reminds us that what we think is required/obligatory/necessary is our opinion not fact.  A great reality check and something that might change the flavor/feel of our debates and disagreements.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Alaskan Camping Gear is Useful in Belgium

Almost four years ago I took an Outward Bound trip in Alaska.  I spent over a week sea kayaking and camping in cold, rainy, beautiful Alaska.

As part of my preparations for the trip, I was given an extensive shopping list for clothing and other items.  I bought several pairs of wool socks, long underwear, fleece pants and shirts, rain boots, jacket, rain pants and a rain jacket.  While no one item (other than the North Face jacket) was particularly expensive, all together they came to a healthy sum.

I knew I would get good use out of them while in Alaska (and I did) I didn't think I'd get much use out of those items afterwards.  And then I moved to Belgium...

If I haven't mentioned it before, it rains here.  Alot.  The rain jacket very useful.  The rain pants get pulled out fairly frequently and the rain boots certainly keep my feet dry when walking the dog.

This week the long underwear is coming in handy. We are in the midst of a cold snap and it is predicted to last another week or so.  Our house and many SHAPE buildings are not exactly the most energy efficient when it comes to holding in heat.  It helps to have those extra layers to keep me warm.

Now I don't feel so bad about buying all that specialized clothing.  I have gotten far more use out of it than just those 10 days in Alaska.   Both in Alaska and here I would have to say - huge Helly Hansen fan!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Vegan Month

One of Kyra's goals for this year was to eat a vegan diet for a month.  She has since decided to do it for three months over the course of this year.
Today is the last day of her vegan month (a friend comes to visit tomorrow, thus four full weeks have been deemed sufficient).
In our family Kyra has been the only one to be completely vegan, though the rest of us have mostly kept to a vegan diet.  Allen and Kyle have had meat on occasion.  I have had the occasional cheese and meat, though I would have to say that the meat I have consumed over the past four weeks is roughly equivalent to what I would have eaten in about 5 days.  So not much meat at all.
The biggest challenge for me was not the diet itself, but the meal planning.  I'm already limited by Allen's allergies and then meat was taken away as well.  I had to completely ignore many of our family's staple recipes.  I spent more time flipping though my cookbooks (yes I have more than one vegan cookbook) and more time preparing our evening meal.
As you might expect we ate more healthy food, though by American pre-processed/fast food standards our diet is already quite healthy.  We ate more beans and more vegetables.  I felt a bit anemic about three weeks in and did buy some ground beef and eat a bit of it over the course of four days.
We are no strangers to tofu and I do know a bit about cooking with it, but I had never done an all day marinade for it before.  Now I have.  The verdict was - eh.  Not great, not horrible.  Kyra pronounced that it would probably taste much better with chicken.
My favorite recipe would have to be curried sweet potato soup - I'll definitely be making that again.  Just wish I had found that recipe earlier in the month so I could have repeated it several times.  Golden spaghetti pie was also a family favorite - spaghetti baked with chopped olives, capers, raisins and bread crumbs.  Simple, fast, tasty and vegan.
There were a few changes I noted with our switch to veganism.  Even though I bought significantly more fresh produce and more organic products, grocery bills were lower without the meat.  I really miss my immersion blender!  I needed it at least four times a week.  Transferring everything to and from the blender was a pain!  My food processor would have been nice as well.  Both appliances are in storage in the states as the voltage change is especially not good for appliances with motors.  I don't know how I would have done it without Post Punk Kitchen (cookbooks and blog).  Love her recipes and love her food.  To mark the end of vegan month, I will be making her chocoate raspberry vegan brownies - and there isn't a single thing about those brownies that says deprivation.
We start veganism again in March (months have been strategically chosen so as not to limit her diet around favorite food holidays - Halloween, Thanksgiving- or family gatherings - family reunion in July - or vacation travel).  Just as I am ready to have some more meal planning flexibility, I suppose I'll also be ready to return to being and almost vegan again a month from now.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

French - I have to brag a bit

Since arriving here in Belgium, I have been taking French lessons twice a week in classes that last 90 minutes each.  When I arrived I took an assessment that placed me at an intermediate plus level.  I had retained some of my high school and college French.
As I moved through the first semester of classes gradually what I had learned year ago started to return.  When the new semester came and there weren't enough students at the intermediate plus level to offer that class so I was bumped up to the advanced class.  This was more challenging but even still I was able to keep up with the grammar and just needed to work on expanding my vocabulary.
This year there weren't enough students for the advanced class which means that I was placed into the highest class the center is offering which I would call intermediate plus plus or low advanced.  I've come to the conclusion that it matters little what level of grammar instruction I am receiving, what matters is that on a weekly basis I am speaking and practicing my French.
Most of the time when I am speaking French, I do so with ease.  I can carry on basic conversations and even specialized ones (like about Allen's medical care).  I don't translate my thoughts from English to French.  If I am speaking French, my thoughts are in French (until I hit a word I don't know).
One of the things I am enjoying about learning French at this level is that I have begun to learn expressions and idioms.  It is fun to throw them into a conversation and watch the reaction I get.
My two favorite expressions - fall in (amongst) the apples is a way of saying to faint.  And if you have other things you need or want to do - you would say I have other cats to whip.
The biggest compliment I get when I am speaking French is when I am asked where I am from.  Of course, I do not speak French like a native speaker, but my accent and ability to speak doesn't immediately identify me as American.  So I am not overly butchering a language I have come to love speaking and will miss speaking when we return to the US.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Schoolhouse Rock

If you are my age you remember that watching cartoons was a Saturday morning activity.  In between the shows we'd be exposed to short educational animated songs called Schoolhouse Rock.  These songs were about grammar, multiplication tables, history and science.

Now these songs are a show - Schoolhouse Rock Live! and this winter/spring I'm directing Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr.  I've got nine kids and we'll be putting on the show in April.  Between now and then we'll be learning songs, lines and choreography.

I've been busy these last few days choreographing the songs.  So far I have most of a Noun is a Person, Place or Thing and a third of Elbow Room.  Still to go I've got to figure out Interplanet Janet, Adjectives, Circulation, Melting Pot, Three is a Magic Number, Preamble, Interjections and two others I've completely forgotten.

The songs and ideas spin around my head throughout the day.  Right now it is kind of fun but I imagine before long I won't much care what the function of a conjunction is.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

This Week it Begins

Bit by bit the new year has begun.  First the kids went back to school.  The next week my French classes began again.  This week theater camp and dance classes begin and then the following week rehearsals for the play begin.

I feel a bit like one of those circus acts with the plates spinning on high sticks.  The first plates for me are things like laundry, grocery shopping, dinner, driving the kids around and exercising.  Last week I added the language class plate (not a huge commitment other than the three hours of class a week - if there is homework it doesn't take much time.)  This week I'm adding alot of plates and quite a bit of time commitment.  Theater camp meets Monday, Wednesday and Thursday for two hours.  I'll be teaching three dance classes (all on Tuesday) for three and a half hours.

With these come not only the instruction time but also the preparation time.  I'm choreographing dances and directing the show (Schoolhouse Rock Jr. Live!) and co-teaching the dance classes which means figuring out what is to be taught and once again choreographing recital pieces.  It is fun and I definitely enjoy it.  I just find that the initial act of getting all these plates spinning takes a bit of energy.

If I can get them all up and spinning, I think I can maintain.  We'll see....

Friday, January 13, 2012

Vegan for a Month

Around the end of December Kyra decided that she wanted to follow a vegan diet for a significant period of time.  This has now been defined as the month of January to be repeated periodically through the year.

If you are not familiar with the term vegan - it not only means no meat but no animal products like dairy and eggs.  I have often referred to the diet we regular follow because of Allen's food allergies as vegan plus meat.

So if you know our family diet restrictions due to Allen's allergies and Kyle's sensitivities it looks like this:

  • no milk, cream, sour cream, etc
  • no cheese
  • no butter and most margarine
  • no eggs
  • nothing with any of the above in them
  • no nuts
  • no beef
  • no peas
  • white flour based bread/pasta in moderation
And Kyra's vegan month has now knocked chicken, turkey, fish and pork off the list of available food as well.

Honestly, I don't mind the food - fruits, vegetables, grains.  It's healthy.  I have good cookbooks and because of Allen's allergies we are most of the way to veganism anyways.  The biggest annoyance to me is menu planning.  I'm not used to cooking exclusively vegan multiple days a week.  I've had to do some extra time with my cookbooks and extra time cooking recipes I don't know by heart.  By the end of January I should be in the routine and then Kyra will want meat again.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I'm Back - maybe

Yes it has been a while.  I’ll give this a try and see if I can maintain regular posting until we head back to the US.  So to make up for lost time here’s what has been going on since I last posted (briefly) –

  • Allen had surgery for an infected abscess in October.  Since then he has had daily bandage changes and yes they are still on-going.
  • I began teaching dance classes and was the assistant director for an after-school drama camp production of Sleeping Beauty.
  • Kyra played the fairy Merriweather in Sleeping Beauty.
  • Kyle and Kyra had a mini vacation to Paris at the beginning of November (Allen had to stay home for bandage changes and I stayed with him. 
  • Making arrangements for Allen’s school work and in home tutoring (due to extended school absence) was quite time consuming.
  • My French speaking is now improving exponentially and most of the time I am thinking in French rather than translating English thoughts to French.
  • I was understudy for Martha Jefferson and Abigail Adams in a production of 1776.  I played Martha once.  Lots of fun but lots of work.
  • Allen went skiing with youth group over Christmas break.  Poor Allen had to ski in the Austrian Alps.
  • Kyle, Kyra and I went to the South of France and enjoyed sunshine and the sights of Nice, Cannes, Grasse, Eze and Mougin. 
  • I have learned to cope with the short days and grey skies.  It helps that this year I had other things to focus on.  I was healthier and it rained less. 
  • I’m way behind on scrapbooking.
  • I learned I won the Army’s Festival of Arts award for second place actress in a musical for my role as Laurey in Oklahoma!

This isn’t everything, but a gist.  What’s going on now? 

Kyra is eating a vegan diet for the month of January, which means I am meal planning and cooking without meat or animal products.

I just auditioned for Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Next week I begin teaching three dance classes (I have a partner instructor – Leslee who is fabulous) and will take on more directing responsibilities for theater camp's production of Schoolhouse Rock Live.