Monday, December 29, 2008

Thanksgiving and Christmas

As the year comes to an end, I am enjoying a 12 day break from school. I have been very busy as the new assistant debate coach, doing my best to learn the particularities of USA debate format and be helpful to the team. We go to tournaments around the state which eat in to my weekends considerably, hence the lack of activity on the blog. The last trip we made was to Missoula in temperatures of 30 below zero. We were snowed in and unable to travel home on the Saturday evening, but eventually made it home on Sunday afternoon.

I am surprised and impressed at how well I am coping with the cold. Locals say that they have not had these cold temperatures and amounts of snow for ten years. I have new tyres and an engine block heater for my car now, so I am well equipped. Some mornings I have been driving to work in the dark, all rugged up, creeping along the slick, icy streets. With my thick gloves on it is very difficult to actually pinch myself and realise that I am living in North America, a world away from my red Australian desert. On the weekend people were getting bogged on the neighbourhood streets in the soft snow. It is like 4 wheel driving on a beach.

Casey heading out to shovel the front steps and driveway

At the end of November we celebrated Thanksgiving, my favourite American holiday, especially as I met Kelly on Thanksgiving at Dee and Tony’s house seven years ago. We had three days off for that too. I was allocated the green bean casserole to make, and had to laugh at the traditional Americana recipe starting with a can of soup and finishing with something called French fried onions. These are found in a tin and made from fat and salt. I have to admit, they taste alarmingly good. I also made a good ole fashioned cherry pie. I was pretty proud of that and have decided to pursue a career in pie.

Mick and his turkey

Kelly exercising the carver's privilege

Sister Tera, niece Kristen and the amazing spread of food.

We celebrated Christmas the week before as Sinead was home from Missoula. It was low fuss and lovely, with a slap-up mid week feast and presents. We have had a tree up since the first of December because I was so excited to have a real tree for the first time since my childhood in Perth. There were pine trees on sale in car parks all over the place. On the actual day of Christmas, all we had to do was turn up at Mike and Terry’s for dinner, which was a great meal and a great gathering.

Kelly and his kids at Christmas.

On the weekend we made the most of the snow and warmer temperatures (it is now up to 0 degrees!) and headed out to Blue Creek for some sledding. Mick brought the four wheelers and his snow plough to make sure we would be able to get back up the hill. The shed served as a respite from the cold where we could enjoy hot chocolate, coffee and snacks. Blue Creek was so beautiful in spring and summer, but I had not thought about how much fun it could be in winter. Well, it was.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Homecoming and Halloween

The winter wonderland featured in my last blog only lasted for that one weekend, and we all went to work slowly on Monday. By the end of the week the snow had all thawed, turned into grubby slush and drained away. We are now back to regular fall weather, with mild, sunny, pleasant days and the last of the golden leaves falling. Some days, when I am driving to school or the shop, it seems like God is emptying a shaker of golden fairy dust on the streets.

The holiday season has started with Halloween. Next comes Thanksgiving and then Christmas, of course. It makes for a festive atmosphere as the weather cools down and life gradually withdraws inside homes and other heated dwellings. It feels good. Even before Halloween there was Homecoming. Now I know Kellie Mac, Julisa and other devotees of Grease, Degrassi and various North American dramas based in high school will be reading attentively, because we have always heard about Homecoming and the Homecoming king and queen, without ever really knowing what it meant. I have heard a few different explanations, but my current understanding is that Homecoming is a time when many alumni return to their high schools and especially colleges (universities) for festivities and catch ups. There is always a football game and a dance. We had a half day of school followed by a pep rally and activities. I know! It's so 'Grease'. All afternoon I felt like I was going to bump into the Pink Ladies or maybe see Danny and Sandy sail over my head in their chittly chitty bang bang style car!

Real live cheerleaders and 'extreme orange' students. The cheerleaders in white are 'varsity' or the top level, typically the seniors. Some of my freshman students are in black, behind.

Some of the activities or stalls included dunking the dean (in a vat of cold water) and sumo wrestling.

The whole week of homecoming is called Spirit Week (meaning school spirit) and there is a dress up theme for each day. As you can imagine, I was loving it. Monday was decade day so I did the Flashdance 80s thing, along with many of my students. Tuesday was surfer day, Wednesday was cowboy day, Thursday was nerd day and Friday was EXTERME orange and balck day. Why orange and black? They are the school colours of Billings Senior High School, home of the broncs! ... I am becoming quite indoctrinated...

On Nerd Day, the great joke is to ask people in costume why they did not dress up, and then tell those in normal clothes that their costume is fantastic. Blurry photo courtesy of one of my students

Seriously though, the dressing up is enjoyed by most students and the festivities provide a carnival atmoshpere that seems all the more important as the timetable and curriculum are so traditional and fixed. Kelly and I went to the Homecoming football game at the school stadium on Friday night. The school band (about 80 musicians) performed from the stands when there was a touchdown, just the riff from 'We Will Rock You' and then they played a set on the field at half time, after the Homecoming royalty paraded on and the king and queen were announced. (Students all had the opportunity to vote for the king and queen at lunch times during the week.) In addition, the cheerleaders and dance team were out in force. Between all of them and the athletes, it felt like most of the school were celebrating together. Many more students were socialising in the stands, and it seemed like many of them had no more idea what was happening in the game than I did. It is a safe and enjoyable way for teens to spend their Friday night.

A little bit of detail about the fixed curriculum and timetable for my teacher friends and others interested... I teach Freshman English (year 9) and as the new girl, I don't have any Honours Classes. I am fine with that. I teach five lessons a day of the same thing, and see the same kids in the same time slot each day. For example, my sixth period class comes to me from 2 till 3 pm every day for English. Third period (10 - 11am) is my preparation. Truancy laws are enforced and students seem better trained. They get there regularly and on time, but overall they seem less engaged to me. I do feel rather sorry for my students at the moment, as we are finishing off 'The Odyssey' before we head in to 'Romeo and Juliet'. Grammar and vocabulary are tested often too. I have no choice over the texts that are taught. I love the classics but I understand that not all of my fifteen year old students do. It seems like many of the more energetic teachers take second jobs such as teaching on line or selling tickets at the school football games to supplement their incomes rather than put more into their teaching. I can't work out yet whether I am better or worse off than I was teaching in Alice, once you take into consideration lower taxes here and the fact that my employer in paying for my health insurance.

Our neighbourhood was totally involved in Halloween. Some of the bigger, historic houses at the top of the street set themselves up as haunted houses and give out thousands of lollies on Halloween. A number of the drama club members I have got to know work in haunted houses and corn mazes, dressed up in scary outfits to jump out at children. They are all complaining of extreme muscle pain from springing up to terrify children every minute over an eight hour shift.

Kelly carved our pumpkin, and Aiden and Evan, aka Dracula and Batman, (Tera and Dan's boys) came trick or treating.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Living in an Igloo

The snow has continued to fall since Thursday night so today the authorities are telling people not to leave their houses unless they really have to. Don't worry Mum; I am not going to church and brunch has been cancelled because we didn't want Nana out in this weather. It is possible that there will be a snow day tomorrow, which means no school. Although the forecast is for this to stop by 6 am tomorrow morning, there will be so much snow bank that it may be unsafe if the roads haven't been cleared. If I do go to school, I will get a lift with Kelly. Road crews and the power company are out today clearing snow and restoring power to homes where it has been cut off by trees falling on power lines.

We decided to measure the depth of the snow with this 30 cm (12 inch) ruler.

Where did it go?

Once again, it has been Kelly to the rescue, shovelling snow so we can get in and out of our igloo as needed.

It still isn't too cold to walk around outside; it feels squishy and soft as you sink into it, and it is still a thing of beauty!
love, Glennie

Saturday, October 11, 2008

First Snow

Even though the official start of fall is October 1st, this is what we woke up to on Friday the tenth. It's so pretty!

I am on bus duty on Fridays, which involves being in the car park four times during the day to see the two cohorts of kids safely on and off the cliched yellow school buses we all recognise from American tv and movies. Anyway, during my twentieth year of teaching I have now done my first yard duty in the snow! It wasn't actually that cold, only a bit below freezing, so I was fine. I am sure that the snow will be less charming by the end of winter, but I am really enjoying its magical qualtiy for now. It feels quite different to be living in a place with snow, in our own home with jobs to go to, rather than visiting a place with snow.

I am quite happy for Kelly to claim shovelling snow and clearing it off cars as a man job because this is what Ruby (my raspberry Subaru) looked like this morning.

Part of the service is also to start the car and turn on the heated seat for me. What a man :) Speaking of man jobs, I think he was right to harvest all the remaining vegies from the garden on Thursday night when they were forecasting snow. Lots of the tomotoes will ripen inside and others will be made into green tomato salsa, which is reputedly very good. Look at Kelly this morning in the yard, removing tree branches from over the powerlines; they are getting so heavy with snow and we don't want the power to be cut off is this weather.

In the meantime, I am happily snuggled up inside with a huge pile of marking and abuntant cups of tea. This evening I will by enjoying some hot chocolate with a dash of peppermint schnaps. Tomorrow I will try driving (slowly!!!) to church and then out to Lockwood for the traditional McCarthy family brunch. It will be a good first snow drive for me because the ground temperature is still relatively warm, so the roads won't be too slippery.
Loving you all and wishing you were here to share the winter wonderland with me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


That's what they call it here, of course; fall rather than autumn. Whatever you call it, it is undeniably a beautiful time of year. I am reminded of John Keats' "Ode to Autumn"...
"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun"

During Mum's recent month long visit, she delighted in checking on the progress of the turning leaves daily, if not hourly. Her knowledge of each yellowing tree in the neighbourhood was truly impressive. Next year she might come in summer when I will have more time to spend with her, or just maybe she will give in to the urge and come in October when fall is in its fullness. Today the maximum was an agreeable 16 Celcius, and the last couple of weeks have generally been in the twenties. Colleagues at work are remarking on how wonderfully mild the season is, as it is not unheard of to have snow already by this time. Stores and front yards are decorated with displays of pumpkins, autumn leaves and other harvest decorations. Before long it will be Halloween and then Thanksgiving.

Kelly and I have been harvesting the bounty of the garden and giving thanks for every delicious bit of it. Today I did some canning with our abundance of tomatoes, boiling them to get the skins off and bottling them with herbs and garlic for later use. We have also had a bumper crop of zucchini, squash (I am a recent convert to squash), cucumbers that have been eaten fresh and turned into the best pickles in the world, Swiss chard (spinach, basically) chillies and Anaheim peppers. We picked our first pumpkin today, and the broccoli will be ready soon too.

On the work front, things are going well. In other words, I haven't stuffed anything up yet. I am adjusting to the multiple choice testing and using a wiz-bang computer program to publish grades constantly. The kids are getting used to me, my accent and my world view. The Friday before the grand final, I played them a short clip of Aussie Rules highlights and explained the game to them. That is a frightening concept, I realise, Glenda as ambassador of anything sporting, but I actually did a pretty good job. All those weekends spent soaking up the mania by osmosis might have been worthwhile because I now have many young converts to our great game.

As I have joined the Drama Club and volunteered to create a 20 minute multi media piece for the Fall Production in 6 weeks time, I will be very busy. It's nothing I haven't done before, but trying to achieve a credible performance without class time (4 afternoons a week from 3.15 till 5.30) is the scary part. I'll let you know how I get on.

The teachers I work with are great, and after this Drama Production is done, I hope to join in with some of the gun teachers on the committees for school improvement and curriculum development etc. I am also required to do some further study, so that might be a college course in Native American history and issues. Mum and I had a wonderful day trip to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, the location of Custer's last stand during the Indian wars. I am eager to deepen my understanding of local cultural perspectives.

That's just a brief update at least. Loving and missing you all,

Sunday, August 31, 2008

New Pics

Admiring the view at West Rosebud River as it heads down to Emerald Lake

In Vegas with Justin and Sam for a great weekend

During the first week of school there was the "Bronc Bash" where clubs and sporting teams promoted themselves for the new Year 9 students (aka Freshmen). Here are the Varsity Singers on the front lawn of Senior High, promoting their talents.

Billings Senior High School is known as the home of the Broncs. The foam padded bronc mascot will be at all the games. The cheer leaders performed at the orientation day, but I hadn't thought to take my camera. I'm sure there will be lots more opportunities :)

We took Mum for a trip to Missoula to catch up with the beautiful Sinead. This is her on the patio of the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed, right by the Clarkfork River.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Interesting Differences

It’s been a while, dear blog readers, and much has been happening from our base on Yellowstone Avenue. The 4th of July holiday was celebrated with good friends and family. It was wonderful to see Dee, Tony and Bella during their visit. We went to a baseball game at the newly remodeled stadium and watched the Billings Mustangs defeat the Helena Brewers. I have always loved baseball as a spectator sport. I find it easy to follow and well paced. Hotdogs were compulsory and the boys had beer. It was too hot for me to drink alcohol (over 40 degrees) so I had a Pepsi and ice cream as well. Yay for American junk food! I love it in moderation.

Later that evening we went to Erin and Paul’s party (Erin is one of Kelly’s sisters) and enjoyed fireworks in the back yard. There we had the good fortune to meet Kenny LeCompte and his wife Melissa, both Native American artists. It won’t surprise anyone that Kelly quickly stuck up a conversation and invited them around for lunch the next day, whereupon he purchased three beautiful prints for his office. His plan is to have one wall dedicated to Australia (courtesy of our artist friend Richard) and another dedicated to Montana.

As you have gathered, Kelly still has an office and therefore a job with I-Tech. He didn’t get too settled for the first week just in case, but no-one has asked him to clear out his desk :) He comes home weary from the information overload and long days but is very much enjoying the job. He is learning lots about banking and his natural aptitude for all things technological is coming in handy. Thankfully he is also very impressed with his colleagues and boss, all hard working, friendly people. I have yet to meet most of them. I could have met some at a work function last night but I decided to stay home and prepare for my job interview!!! That’s right, an interview for an English teaching position at Senior High School. It went fairly well, although interviews always seem so pretentious and awkward. “Tell us about yourself and why you think you are special.” “What is your pretend answer to how you would cope with this hypothetical situation?” The Principal, Deputy and English Senior who interviewed me all seemed very nice, and I should know one way or the other by then end of the week. I am very grateful to at least have scored an interview and happy enough to return to relief teaching if I don’t get the position.

Kelly and I are now both considerably inconvenienced by the reality of going to work regularly so it is difficult to fit in jobs from our never ending list on the weekend around McCarthy get togethers. We have, however, purchased a ride on mower which is heaps of fun. I learnt how to use it at Blue Creek last weekend. Kelly went one better and got to drive one of his Dad’s tractors with a larger moving attachment. It was high time that we cut some fire breaks and mowed with all this warm weather. When I’m out there at Blue Creek I have all these naïve, greeny fantasies about living in the shed next year with a water tank, generator, solar panel and gas ring stove while we wait for the house to be built. I have such a feeling of well being out there, with the hill side covered in wild sage and choke cherries. I want all of you to come and share it with us.

After making friends with the Interfaith Network, a fairly small group based mainly at the Buddhist meeting house, Kelly has found another group of like minded souls in the Humanists. They meet each week and vary their activities throughout the month. One week it is a book club and they discuss socially aware and philosophical books. Last time it was one of our favourites, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” about the problems of corporate mass produced of food in America and other first world countries. Last Sunday was the Socrates Café where members gather to discuss a philosophical question after voting on suggestions put forward. Our question was “Will America be ready for PTSD and other after effects of the war?” Another suggestion related to Indian Reservations and how we assimilate ethnic / other cultures. The aim is to ask questions and challenge underlying assumptions. As a result of a previous question, “What can be done to combat race crimes in Billings” we went out to dinner recently at a Mexican restaurant for a ‘diversity eat in’ because they had been the victims of racist graffiti. It is a wonderful and inspiring group of forward thinking people.

Speaking of wonderful, we also went to our first Farmers’ Market last Saturday in the middle of town. It was quite a festival, and very popular. The biggest vegetable stalls are operated by the Hutterites, one of the Peace Churches, similar to the Amish. These people live in colonies of up to 150 people. They practice their traditional Christian life style, brought to America from Germany under threat of religious persecution in the 1600s. They work hard at their farming, live simply and dress modestly. Their children are schooled on the community with some help from the education department. Unlike Amish, they will drive vehicles but typically choose practical, old trucks. The men are recognisable by their chin line beards, the women by their head scarves and long skirts. I marvel at such a testament to choice in the super-culture. The ‘Hoots’, as they are affectionately called, are American citizens born here whose first language is Old German. It is another example of diversity which we rarely see outside America, unless it is some ghastly reality TV show with young Amish in a Big Brother style house of temptation. Side note; if you are a member of one of the Peace Churches (Hutterite, Amish, Menonite or Quaker) you cannot be drafted into military service.

It seems to me that other common impressions of American culture hold fairly true. People are more demonstrative about patriotism and Christianity. I don’t even notice the flags flying on front porches any more, except one house on our street that I thought was decorated for the 4th of July, but has not un-decorated since. The teens I work with can list off the presidents in order and tell you how many amendments there are to the Bill of Rights; proof of of the status of Civics education, and the emphasis on factual knowledge. (Even after a concerted television campaign I doubt that many Aussie kids could tell you who our first Prime Minister was.) I’m not saying either system is right or wrong, just noticing the differences.

There is a semi trailer I see driving around with a HUGE slogan on the side, “Jesus Christ is Lord, not a swear word." Again, with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, many more go to church, bible study and youth group than I am used to. They are really nice kids. They can rattle off the names of the New Testament books, and I have to remember not to say ‘damn’ or ‘hell’ because they are bad words here. ‘Dang it!’ is the typical response to disappointing news. Also, I can’t help smiling inside when someone ‘Yes Ma’am’s me. This has happened a couple of times when I had to reprimand someone who knew they were in the wrong and felt contrite. Possibly as a result of Christian values permeating the culture, there are more adopted and fostered kids than I have ever known before. Maybe this is also related to how difficult it is financially to raise children on welfare. It seems that when abstinence education doesn’t achieve its aims, the next step is adoption for many, rather than termination. There are also quite a number of kind Christian families who foster children. I am not sure whether my experience at the Boys and Girls Club of Lockwood is reflected in national statistics.

Not everyone in America is living large. I think this impression exists outside the States, an awareness of the working poor and those who struggle on welfare, but it is often overshadowed by the consumer culture reflected in the media. One on hand it raises issues of social justice, especially for those who work 40 hours a weeks and can barely afford the necessities of life. On the other hand it is just eye opening to see for myself that so many people live the sort of simple lives you would not expect to find in the wealthiest country on earth, and do so fairly happily because it’s ‘normal’ to them. I know one girl who happily reported that her family was moving to a new trailer, one without mice.

Interesting Little Differences …
• Supermarket aisles display signs for food staples including ‘beef jerky’ and ‘popcorn’.
• I have to explain the meaning of more words than I expected to. People did not understand what I meant when I said I was ‘peckish’. Just to rub it in, the US spell checker does not recognise the word either. I understand all of what they are saying, but that’s the power of Hollywood for you.
• A ‘concession’ is a stand where you can buy fast food or t-shirts etc at a game or fair.
• I have been asked more than once if the water really does swirl in the opposite direction down an Australian toilet … I found out (on Google) that water swirls differently in any place depending more on the shape of the bowl and flow of water.
• Language that I associate with Westerns lives on. A difficult person is described as ‘ornery’ and it is impolite to use ‘cuss words’. We tidy up the house when we are expecting ‘company’, usually pronounced ‘comp’ny’. When the comp’ny arrives, it is customary to sit and ‘visit with them’ for a while.

That’s all for now. Keep the emails and calls coming, please. Only 4 weeks till Mum arrives.

PS I got the job :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Come Inside

This blog is a photographic tour of our home so far, and mainly for the benefit of Mum and Cathy who need to be able to visualise where I am in order to feel at ease. Sorry if it is boring for others, but the Sanderson girls need their images.

The lounge room is eventually going to be an enlivening shade of orange, we think.

Our little dining room (but I love it!) Notice the Cait Wait art work, so I can always see the beautiful country of Central Australia, the Western Macs and Mount Sonder.

Our bedroom ...

This bathroom is between our bedroom and the office. I'm impressed at the efficient use of space they had in the 1950s when they built these houses. They could fit everything you needed in a bathroom (just) in less than 3 square metres.

The kitchen is a good size and recently renovated.

This is the other end of the kitchen. You can go out to the garage on the right, or left and down the stairs to the basement.

The basement, complete with wood panelling, but it is the real thing (knotted pine) rather than the fake stuff.

Casey's Pad

Sinead's room, when she is home, also available for visitors much of the time.

Another little bathroom downstairs

There is a second kitchen downstairs which is also the laundry. Very seventies decor, but it's handy to have the extra storage space.

Kelly put up a clothes line for me. I'm taking Aunty Glen's advice and trying to get others enthused about leaving the clothes dryers off, but there's not much success. Some are allergic to the pollens etc and most people find their clothes too scratchy when they are line dried. I think the convenience of throwing clothes into the adjacent machine is also a comfortable habit.

Even though it is in need of some paint and maintenance, the deck is already a lovely place to be. We are using the 'grill' (bbq) often :)

The garden. Kelly turned the horse shoe pit into a vegie garden. You can see the corn and tomatoes here. The lovely long summer days make a great growing season. Yum! The grass is getting some extra help too. Kelly has set up a compost bin and made use of the abundant poo courtesy of the many local horse enthusiasts.