Sunday, July 3, 2011


The latest in adventure in my beautiful and blessed life has been a week in Seville, Spain.  I am aware that I am one of the lucky people from a first world country who can choose to chase a dream, this one of mine being a flamenco dance course in Andalusia where it all began. 

A little bit anxious about setting off without Kelly to a country where I do not speak the language, I endured the 21 hours of flights and lay-overs.  It was a little challenging to find my way around Barcelona airport, communicate, order food etc.  I checked the screens multiple times.  Although I couldn’t get wi-fi, I was pleased that my debit card worked in the ATM with no problems.  Being able to use an ATM card, having wi-fi in most places, email and skype etc is such a far cry from my first trip to Europe in 1988.  At that time my main form of contacting home was by letters which took two weeks.  Long distance calls were almost prohibitively expensive then.  This trip, I decided not to get a European cell phone for 100 Euros+ because I can call Kelly and Mum etc using skype on my laptop.

Enough of travel logistics.  What about Spain?  Well, Jose Carlos was a little late picking me up from the Seville airport, so it was very nice to meet him and be escorted to my apartment over the dance school.  Seville is hot in summer; most days are in the high 30s Celsius (around 100 Fahrenheit).  It’s fairly humid too.  That’s ok.  It’s like Darwin.  Having lived in the extremes of Darwin, Alice and now Billings, weather is usually irrelevant to me.  Just get the clothes and accommodation you need, adjust your outings and energy, and roll with it.  I love how Mediterranean cultures adapt so intelligently to their environment, compared to Australia in particular.  We’re getting better in Oz, but for so long we tried to pretend we were still in England or Ireland, planting green grass and building brick boxes.  I expected from living in Monaco that the buildings would have roof top terraces for the summer evenings, thick and well insulated walls, efficient use of space, and shutters facing the right way for morning sun and afternoon breezes.  What I have loved experiencing here is siesta.  It’s too hot to be out from 1 – 4 in the afternoon, so they don’t do it.  (As tourists with limited time, we make an exception, and that reminds us how smart the Sevillanos are to stay indoors.)  So then the businesses stay open till about 7:30.  The social life continues till well after midnight.  Hundreds and thousands of people sit out in the lovely, warm evenings, having dinner around 10, drinking and chatting till 1 or 2.  And they don’t work too hard.  When it’s getting towards siesta time, you might be ignored at a cafĂ©.  Everyone is friendly, but they know what pace of life is sustainable.  The other lovely thing is the use of fans.  They work!  Most of the local women carry a fan, usually from the dollar store, to hasten the evaporation of perspiration and cool off.  

Air conditioning with water mist at a tapas bar

On the Alameda, more spray mist provides relief from the heat

Taller Flamenco (Flamenco Workshop) teaches flamenco dance, guitar and Spanish.  It’s a handful of rooms in three floors of a building nestled within the old part of Sevilla.  This city was built by the Romans, then conquered by the Islamic Moors around 700, and then reclaimed by the Christian Spanish about 1200.  The mix of cultures is fundamental the charm and style of Sevilla.   Three very friendly and helpful people run the office, and a host of teachers come in and out.  I am staying in the one apartment above the school, sharing it with a family from Hong Kong whose daughter (I gather) has been a long time student, now a graduate.  A gaggle of fellow students is generally housed with friends of the school.  My new, dear friend Jessica from San Francisco is staying with the wonderful Laura.  Just around the corner, Laura is about seventy and often hosts students from the school.  She mainly stays in, with regular visits from her children and grandchildren (many also called Laura).  Laura rolls her own cigarettes, gathers people, gives advice, and on Friday evenings can be found dressed up, her blue eyes shining, sitting in a terrace cafe on her street enjoying a drink with a grand-daughter.  

City walls construct by the Moors

Inside the Alcazar palace

Exquisite gardens of the Alcazar

The magnificent cathedral includes a bell tower that was originally the minaret of the Moors' mosque

The city, featuring the bull fighting arena

I had a two hour beginners’ flamenco class each morning with Carmen, an excellent teacher.  We worked on a sample, short flamenco dance but didn’t get it finished.  Mainly we learned about the posture, strength, balance, and attitude of flamenco which took a lot of practice and will take much more.  Our little sample flamenco dance is an alegria, one of the few upbeat, happy styles of flamenco.  Many more are beautifully sorrowful and intense.  The beat of alegria and similar flamenco styles uses 12 counts (rather than 4/4).  We learned to count it as 1 2, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 – made more challenging for me because we counted in Spanish.  After warming up, we would practice the variety of hand movements and intricate footwork.  When we’d had all the dance and choreography we could reasonably take in, we could hear explanations about the timing, history, clothing, accessories, and musicians associated with flamenco.  I think I understood about 70% of what Carmen was saying, and occasionally asked for a translation.  It was lovely to have the Spanish wash over me.  My understanding of French certainly helped.  After that we would practice our ‘compas,’ foot stamping and hand clapping in delightful rhythms around the music. 

In the afternoons I studied beginners’ Spanish with Carmela for an hour and a half.  She spoke only in Spanish, and the other students already had some language.  It was the perfect level for me, with my Spanish phrase book, the 10 Pimsleur lessons I did on the Ipod and my familiarity with verbs, vocabulary etc from French.  Now I realize what Enrique Iglesias was telling me all those times he sang ‘Bailamos’ – “Let’s dance.”  Altogether, I have only scratched the surface of Spanish language and flamenco dance, but it has been so rewarding and so much fun.  My only regret is that I cannot continue studying flamenco dance in Billings. 

On Monday evenings, Taller Flamenco holds a ‘meeting’ (drinks) at a favorite bar in the neighborhood, Coral de Esquibel.  Such a simple idea allowed students to make friends with whom we could visit the sites and hang out in the evenings.  We ended up with a kind of ‘Noah’s Ark’: 2 Aussies, 2 Americans. 2 French, 2 Dutch, 2 Filipinos (some of these categories overlapping)… I loved the fact that around our table every evening we would be switching between Spanish, English and French, everyone able to understand plenty.  Before coming, I had reservations about being too old for this kind of class, and I certainly was a good decade or more older that the other students, but I was still very welcome and definitely ok with the dancing.  Yeah, and I found out that at 45 I can still have fun and stay out dancing in a club until 5:00 AM when required.  Meeting Jessica, a fellow American teacher, lover of dance and good food, made this week perfect for me.  I have been profoundly impressed with the set of young people I met this week.  They are so confident, multi-lingual, open to new experiences, good with money and people, fun-loving … It gives me more optimism for the future of our world.  

My beautiful dance partners, Jessica and Louise

Such great food... jamon (cured ham)

chorizo - delicioso

Jamon hanging in a cafe

I got to see some authentic flamenco, in Triana, the gypsy neighborhood across the river from the old city.  It seemed to be a family, with male singers and guitarists, and a woman (mum) dancing.  Such power and beauty in music and dance!  For 3 Euros we got the performance and a free drink.  It seemed more like these people were living their culture and welcoming tourists along for the ride rather than trying to make a profit. 

My last night was sublime.  We met at the Coral and enjoyed the usual conversation.  At the table next to us were some fun loving locals jamming with a guitar.  Two of the guys in our group also had a guitar.  We joined tables and listened to flamenco classics, as well as singing along to Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan and John Mayer.  Being Sunday night, we were eventually asked to have last drinks, and then moved to the Alameda, a pedestrian mall, where we danced and sang some more.  One old guy tried to teach me the Sevillanas, the folk version of flamenco.  One or both of us had drunk too much to allow much success, but it was brilliant fun. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Summer of Mum

Now that I have been back at school for two weeks, I'm looking back at the summer and it seems like such an expanse of time, this luxurious three month vacation.  I went to Florida for an inspiring teaching conference at the start of the vacation.  It was Darwin-hot there.  From the air conditioned coach on the way to conference centre, I looked out over the swamps and wondered about alligators.  Some other time, when Kelly and I go on our "World Tour of 'Merica", we'll check them out.  Sinead gave me a wonderful book, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" set in the Everglades around 1900 and it got me dreaming of Florida - not Disneyland and touristy beaches, but warm wilderness and southern food Florida. 

At the end of the holidays I went to another conference to upgrade my tech skills, so now I'm creating my first website (gotta love google for dummies) and loving google docs.  As a delightful contrast, when I was leaving Skyview High School, the location, three proghorn antelope were lazing on the lawn.  Nice!

Anyhow!  It's been delightful to have Mum living with us.  She's made herself a routine consisting of, amongst other things, aquarobics, walking the dog, unloading the dishwasher and familiarizing herself with the plethora of pharmaceutical advertisements on cable tv :)  We've taken a couple of trips, but it's been pretty laid back, which is how we like it.

Walking Cinnamon in Pioneer Park
We took a day trip up to the Pryor Mountains to see the wild horse herd amongst the awesome beauty of Montana.
Looking for directions
Mum, Cinnamon and I

The wild horse herd was broken into small family groups, with little foals in most groups.  Kelly noticed that the stallions were pretty bruised and beat up, each one having fought for his 'ladies'.

Bighorn Canyon from the Pryors
Kelly and I have both had projects around the house and yard.  I painted a couple of rooms in the house and was pretty happy with the development of my faux painting technique.  Kelly planted a vegetable garden, and I jumped in his slipstream with watering and weeding ... but the abundant rain and our reluctance to spray anything on the garden made it so that the weeds got the better of me.  Once I could confidently find the food, I made a truce with the weeds.  We've had a bumper crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, beans, snow peas, peppers and jalapenos.  The problem with growing a lot of food is that then you have to eat it, can (preserve) it or give it away.  Our oversupply issue has been compounded by Kelly's 'buy in bulk' compulsion because when we went to Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, he couldn't resist buying two big boxes of the cherries in season. There's a Montanan joke with a lot of truth to it that you should never leave your car doors unlocked at this time of the year.  If you do, you'll come back to find zucchini on the back seat.  Seriously, I'm loving this agrarian life in spite of my always dirty fingernails.  We also get corn from Kelly's Mom and Dad.  Although I'm making my share of mistakes, Kelly and I have been canning a range of things: tomatoes, pickled cucumbers, cherry pie filling, jam, bbq sauce, baked beans.

As a result of my infatuation with the "Mamma Mia" movie, I decreed last year that our back yard would turn into a paved courtyard festooned with coloured lanterns, ready for dancing parties and ABBA lip-syncing.  See how that works?  I have a vision.  Kelly gets a plan ... and several weekends of strenuous labour.  Montana's weather condition and quarry supplies differ slightly from those of the Greek Islands, so there have been some compromises.  So far Kelly, his brother, Dad, and friend Kenny have achieved a pergola (to be draped with grape vines next year), two garden boxes made of wood rather than stone (to be filled with herbs, aforementioned grape vines and anything else that catches our fancy) and the removal of all the weed ridden lawn/soil in an area of 800 square feet.  I have undertaken the arduous task of shopping for coloured paper lanterns.  You're welcome.

Stay tuned for completed photos of the Mamma Mia courtyard.

Back to that trip to Flathead Lake and Glacier where we bought an annual supply of cherries ... We really wanted to take Mum to Glacier National Park since she loved Yellowstone so much when she came over during the fall in our first year living here.  Sinead and her boyfriend Jacob were able to come with us, which added to the fun.  Kelly got us a cabin on Flathead Lake for a couple of nights, which is a marvel in itself.  It is home country to the Salish and Kootenai tribes who have the Flathead Reservation.  Also it's famous cherry growing country.  In the afternoons when we were down at the Lake for a swim, we saw Mexican farm workers there having a swim, and the next morning they were all at work selling us cherries.  Grandma on the cash register, mums sorting the cherries, dads and uncles picking and carting.

While staying at the cabin, we drank a special toast to our dear departed friend, Ronny Reinhardt.  On the same weekend in Melbourne, Australia, a gig was happening to launch a final cd of music Ronny worked on in the last year of his life.  Cheers, Ronny.

I love the exponential spelling of the Salish and Kootenai
Mum at McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park.

Sinead and I 

Old Jackson, one of the last remaining glaciers

A big horned sheep confronts a mountain goat

The last hoorah for Mum and I before school was going out to Crow Fair at Crow Agency on the reservation.  It's only an hour away, and we made two trips out there, one for the parade on Friday  and one for the powwow dancing on Saturday.  Crow Fair goes for most of a week and is promoted as the biggest gathering of Northern Plains Indians.  I can believe it.  It's also known at the teepee capital of the world.  

There are hundreds of teepees set up along the river and winding streets/paths of the camp.

In the backgound is the honor guard including all the military and veterans in uniform.  They carry the US flag and their tribal flags as proud warriors. 
I have a lot to learn about the different types of dancers.  Some of them wear fluffy, round hats made of feathers. 

The dancing and gift giving goes for hours.  Dancers are numbered, as winners are judged in each category.  The last dance Mum and I saw was a father - daughter dance.  Old chiefs danced with their grown daughters, young men with their tiny princesses.  It was so beautiful.  Mum confessed on the way home that the whole thing made her a bit teary.  I wasn't surprised at all; it does that to me too. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Hey, check out the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone Avenue.  On Sunday afternoon a big storm hit with hail, thunder, lightning and even a tornado in Billings.  It took the roof off our stadium, the Metra.

We're all ok.  Just thought you might want some visuals. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Back In The Saddle

I’m not sure where to start in recapping the last six months.  Is spite of the house burning and our relocation to a temporary apartment, and in spite of the extra workload coaching the Speech team while taking an online university class, it hasn’t been too bad. 

In August when the weather was still warm and the Yellowstone River was wide and slow, Kelly and I took our dinky little inflatable raft and floated the river one afternoon.  It was a lovely, slow time and Kelly was able to do a spot of fishing. We only took an easy section to start with, but now we have a decent inflatable kayak and an idea that we might camp overnight on one of the islands in the river or one of the campgrounds alongside. 

Kelly on his river.

Mum definitely got her wish for a White Christmas.  She joined the gym for the month she was here, and  braved the elements to walk up to aquarobics three times a week, looking like a little Michelin-man granny with her many layers of clothing.  After her first excursion she told me with great surprise that her fingers froze right through her gloves!  I felt guilty that I hadn’t thought to buy her real winter gloves – she was only sporting decorative Aussie ones.  On Boxing Day (which for Americans is just the day after Christmas), we went out sledding again at Blue Creek.  Happily, Sinead was home for Christmas and we all had a jolly old time.  Hot chocolate tastes so good after rolling around in the snow.

Mum with her real gloves on.  


I really enjoyed coaching the Speech Team this year, with such great fellow coaches.  Aubree treated me to a big chocolate cake, decorated with the Australian flag on my birthday (we were at the State Tournament).  I was serenaded by a school cafeteria full of kids in suits :) The speech and debate students are so talented and lovable.  Next year I am hoping to get more involved with mentoring the American Indian students, similar to the work I did at ASHS and Centralian College.  I greatly enjoyed the college course I took on Social Issues for Native Americans.  On American Indian Heritage Day I went up to the college to meet my professor and watch our students perform at the pow wow.  The sound of the drumming circle stirs the soul. I learned that the girls outfits are decorated with precious elk's teeth made of ivory.  I'm hoping to go to Crow Fair this year which is the real deal for pow wows around Billings.  
Aren't they beautiful?

If you want to hear the drumming circle for yourself and see more of the pow wow, click the link 

I am in the process of the organizing the talent show again this year, which I initiated last year at our Freshman academy.  It was a great success, and fairly simply put together.  The music program in schools here is very strong, but the kids don't have many opportunities to play their own choice of music.    Here is a short selection of highlights from last year's show which I edited as advertising for this year's crew.  Check it out if you are curious about the kids I teach. 

The improvements to the house are such a delight to us.  It's still just a cute little house but we love it more than ever after being away for 6 months.  The kitchen and bathrooms have had quite an upgrade with tiling etc.  We also put in a bay window.  Have a look at the icicles clinging outside it a week ago. 

It seems like spring is in the air now.  Over the last week most of the accumulated snow has melted, creating vast puddles in car parks and soggy alleys.  Kelly says the apple tree is already budding, and my blood is definitely stirring in anticipation of warmer days.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all our beloved friends and family!

The business of rebuilding after the fire has taken a lot of time since August.  I am incredibly busy with the Speech Team, and Kelly is doing great things at the bank.  Mum arrived on November 23rd, just in time for her birthday.  All of the above has kept me from blogging, but I'm hoping to return to normal soon, especially as our house is close to being finished :)  I have a week's break from school for Christmas, so we will start moving furniture and 'stuff' back in.

Here is a quick clip of Mizzi, especially for Zac, Jordi, Mia and Emma. xxx

Mizzi in Snow

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


At midnight on Friday the 7th August, Casey called Kelly while we were at his parents' place having a lovely time with the family; Lori and George were visiting. Our house was on fire. Casey heard the smoke alarm upstairs but thought it was a car alarm somewhere in the neighbourhood. Sinead eventually went up to check it out but only got as far as the stairwell before she realised how bad things were. She told Casey, who went upstairs and tried to turn the light on. He thought the globe was out, but really the whole upstairs was filled with thick, black smoke and extremely hot. He went back down and kicked out the flywire on the basement window. Then he helped Sinead and her cat escape before climbing out to safety and calling 911. We rushed home and waited on the lawn till 3 am when the firemen and the fre marshall finished putting out the smoke. The kids went to Christina's house and we went to visit Kelly's parents. Understandably, this horrible incident brought up a lot of awful memories for Terry whose parents both died in a house fire when the kids were little. Then we tried to find a hotel room but ended up sleeping at Blue Creek. The current estimates are that we will be out of our house for 6 - 8 weeks and it will cost $100,000 to repair our home and replace things. The fire seems to have started near the tv cabinet when all the furninture was stacked in the dining room as I was finishing the hard wood floors. Thank God I put the lids on the highly flamable floor stain properly.

We are still pretty shaken up and daunted by the propsect of putting our home back together. Of course the main thing is that Sinead and Casey are safe. It is also a great comfort that we have good insurance and will not be out of pocket. But the little things that upset me are the time and effort I put into painting the house and handmaking the drapes. Even worse will be if the home movies are ruined, or paintings by dear friends. Apparently anything made of plastic or leather can't be salvaged, and I hate shopping for shoes. Everything is covered in a greasy petro chemical soot that Kelly and I have come to loathe as the smell of danger and destruction.

But we'll be ok. Everyone has been so kind and supportive. We are well insured and we have each other. It will just be inconvenient and tiring, with a few traumatic flashbacks from time to time.

So check your smoke detectors.
With much love

This is where it most likely started, around the tv cabinet