Thursday, June 19, 2014

100 Happy Days Recap

Last Friday was my final 100 Happy Days.  Above is my final picture: Power Poses and Giggles at the final Speech and Debate team party. Life with those kids was priceless. I didn't even know some of these kids before February!

The goal of the project was to find and celebrate a new thing each day. Remember the joyful moments and share them with others. It was not a tally of successes or failures. It was a tally of the small gifts.

I decided to post a few of my favorite pictures from the project here. I think some themes develop about the spaces I find most life giving.

The Project started at the beginning of 2nd Term when I met these crazy kids!

I like my laundry done. And I like blue skies.

Mornings are new to me this year. I find them more than a long suffering torture: I find them beautiful.

Gifts from Students of Bulgarian Dishes

Easter. People I love, good food, Resurrected God.

Birthday! It was awesome to have people to celebrate with me in Sofia, a city I had no idea I would come to love.

Tea is always better for Two.

Letters. One of the great joys of my year! I obviously have Writer Friends.

Newness. Cutting All my hair was liberating.

Unexpected time with a poet I admire.

Quiet evenings, sunsets, Bulgarian wine. I will miss this.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dana's Chocolate Chip Cookies

A significant part of my years was baking cookies. I made them often. They were my "American Treat" for students and at parties and a claim to fame. I even got a superlative as the "Next Betty Crocker" from my Fulbright friends!

Last week, for a Bulgarian lesson, I had to learn the vocabulary to teach someone how to make the cookies in Bulgarian! It was a really fun and hands on way for my thick head to get some new words.

I'm sharing the recipe here for all my Bulgarian Friends who want to learn how it's done! Gotta leave a legacy!

·      352 grams of flour / 2.75 cups
·      1 tea spoon baking soda
·      1 tea spoon of salt
·      250 grams butter. Slightly melted. / 2 sticks
·      100 grams of sugar / .75 cups
·      100 grams of brown sugar /.75 cups
·      2 eggs
·      1 tsp of vanilla (optional)
·      Chocolate bar broken into pieces. / 1-2 cups of chocolate chips

1.     Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
2.     Melt butter. (Add bar of extra dark chocolate and melt with butter if you want chocolate cookies)
3.     In second, large mixing bowl, add the regular sugar and butter. Beat until fluffy.
4.     Add brown sugar. Beat until fluffy. Crystalized Honey works as a substitute (same amount).
5.     Add 1 egg. Beat. Add 2nd egg. Beat.
6.     Slowly pour in dry ingredients while mixing the batter.
Place in oven for ~15 minutes at 170 C and 325 F.

They are done once the edges have started to turn golden brown!

1.     Add a cup of muesli or oats to the batter to make oatmeal cookies!
2.     Add 3 large spoon-fulls of cocoa powder to the dry ingredients. Add 3 large spoon-fulls of nutella to the wet batter (before you add the flour) to make them chocolate-chocolate cookies! [This one is my favorite! Take out of the oven a little sooner so you don’t burn the chocolate!]

на български

·      352g бяло брашно
·      1 tsp сода бикарбонат
·      1 tsp сол
·      250 Масло. размеквам
·      100 бяла захар
·      100 кафиава захар или мед
·      2 e яйца
·      1 tsp ванилиa
·      един шоколад

1.     смесете сухите съставки в купа
2.     Смесете маслото със захарта до гладка.
3.     Смесете кафява захар.
4.     Смесва яйца.
5.     Слагаш брашно в купата.
6.     разпръснати в тава

175C, 15 минъти.

Unspiritual Gnocchi

Robbie and Zack
It looked easy in Pula, Croatia. That might have been the nap. I had slept through the late afternoon heat and woke to the boys in the kitchen in the final stages of gnocchi making. They gracefully rolled the dough into thin snakes, Robbie slicing them off into small round shapes with a fork, dropping them into the bubbling boiling water. They told me how they had made it, how it was way easier than they had expected. It came out of the pot just perfect and delicious. We poured tomato sauce and basil over it and ate small bowls, full to our very fingertips before we had any reason to think we would be. There was enough for the next day that we ate with cold parmesean cheese on the rocky Ilistra coast.
And anyway, I wanted to try a white wine sauce anyway before I got home to America where wine isn’t as cheap as fruit juice.
I should have known. I should have known that the day I chose was an off day, after a strange set of classes and frustrations. I should have known because I had slept that afternoon just to escape the lonely feeling of summer afternoon with nothing to do.
Started early. It should have been done. But the humidity got in the way. I ran out of flour and the dang thing was still sticky through the whole center. How was I supposed to role it out into thin snakes and cut it elegantly into bead like perfection?
I wouldn’t.
World's Ugliest Gnocchi
After getting more flour, I wrestled its sticky self in fork fulls into the pot. It took ages. It still clumped together. Robbie called at this point to say hello. I burst into tears. Nothing goes right. Nothing. Ever. Why does this happen to me? Why can’t I make food? I had been at this for 2.5 hours and I hadn’t even started a sauce to go on top of the gnocchi.
It was The World’s Ugliest Gnocchi. Slimy and lumpy. Troll Booger shaped. Poor Gnocchi. It didn’t deserver this life.
The sauce came out tart and sour. Too much butter. Or too much wine. Or too much of the wrong combination of the two.
I ate it anyway and got sick.
I come from the philosophy that all things are spiritual. And that all the things that are spiritual and in relation to the human have some element of the physical or affect on the physical.
Sometimes this results in over-philosophizing. It has to do with always finding the connection between the two. Sometimes it’s too simple, too easy a narrative. I have a hard time cooking and I want to find some meaning in it.
Even while I was cooking, I wanted to find some deeper meaning, some thing to pull from it. Some reason to justify the misery and frustration I felt. Or some superstitious metaphor for how I've done lots of things wrong in this life.
But sometimes the meaning does not require teasing out. There may be one but it is not necessary to discover it and test it’s nuances. It just is. It does not need knowing to be real.
Sometimes, life just has ugly gnocchi.

Monday, June 09, 2014

In Favor of Reading

A recent NPR Book podcast reported that pleasure reading among teens is at an all record low.

I'm not a teen anymore. Oh well. But pleasure reading has increased in the last few weeks.

I think reading is beautiful.

The tv shows got to be too much. Tv is about numbing it out. There has been a lot that I've wanted to numb and deaden, an easier way through. And it's been a gift, in many ways, a provision. I'm thinking of writing a post on how Dr. Who helped me through the tough times this year (I'm a first time viewer).

But the last few weeks, my brain need a settling, not a numbing. I need to focus, not distract. I was hungry for certain food and I found it in books.

I love my kindle. It's made the year easy in new ways. But recently, I've hungered for the held text, the pages that flip, the wrists that grow tired from holding up the binding. The school library has a surprising collection of books. The shelves are dominated from donated romance novels from the 1940s and 50s, such as a very robust collection of Mary Stewart novels. Yet, there are still several sets of classics. My copy of "Tender is the Night" has underlined words that students used to study vocabulary. I get to hang out with some unseen Bulgarian student who marked each line, looking for new understanding of English and America.

Toting around the hard copy has also opened conversation and instruction

For example, no, "Tender is the Night" is not pornography, as one student asked as I read it on the front steps of school. It is a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald about Americans living rootless lives abroad. It's a narrative to which I feel oddly connected in my own distance from the physical American geography.

Then there is lovely return to science fiction, a Christmas and an early summer treat of ages past. An anthology of essays and short stories for students. A book about a brave woman, Malala, from Pakistan, who believes in education and learning in a way that humbles me who has always been given it without question.

The pages and the paper smell have returned a sense of space and focus to my mind. I'm in love with the written word again and the heaviness of the book in my purse each day.

Try it. There is no "reading for pleasure". There is only reading and it is a pleasure unto itself.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Looking Forward/DTRing with Bulgaria: A Year in Reflection Pt 3

            Today, I sat at the train station. This lovely place is just across the street from my apartment block. I sat on the empty platform in the early summer heat, and compared the city names on the signs. Dobrich used to be Romanian. It got passed back and forth a few times until it was definitely Bulgarian and got the name Dobrich. It was once the place to be. The insides of the grafitty marked, stone buildings remember this time. Dusty chandeliers hang over faded mural painted walls. It was once an elegant city, one with some muscle and pomp to it.
            Now, it’s a place people leave. Or it’s the place they marry at 20 and have babies within the first year. It’s a place people live, but not a place they think of as having potentional.
            I leave Dobrich in a little over a month. And I do not think I am leaving a place without potential.
            If I could prescribe one thing for Dobrich, it would be a 20-30s something gathering. There are too many people my age livingin isolation. People with skills and relational loneliness. When these people find each other, then innovation can start taking place. Movement comes through connections and friendships. I’m not sure what kind of structure would best facilitate these relationships. It is probably something that would be a 10 year vision. It could happen. Turn Dobrich into a young adult “I stayed in Bulgaria” hub. I’d get behind that.

Looking Forward
            So where does this leave me with Bulgaria? What does one year of challenging days and confusing emotions result in? What form will my tumultuous relationship take next?
            There are a few things I can say for certain. There are more things I can say as hope.
            I will tell my grandchildren about Bulgaria.”
            This is what Paige (ETA, Montana Bulgaria) has said to explain it. When you live in a place for a year, and I mean really live in a place, sink your heart into it, then it cannot really leave you. Bulgaria has been different from every other year of my life. Each day was something new. Those kinds of experiences and memories last.
            I will tell my grandchildren about Bulgaria. They will know where it is on a map. They will hear its music and know a basic dance. They will call cheese/egg/pepper for breakfast “mishmash” and aquainted with baklava. Tomato/cucumber/pepper/onion/cheese salads will be familiar.
            But this is not the only affect of Bulgaria on my life. I want to come back here, and soon. My teaching job was not a good fit for staying. And life has some very good reasons for me not to stay right now. But I want to come back. I want to live here again. And here might mean another place in the Balkans.
            A more measurable way of reaching this is through research and writing. I’ve been working on some research opportunities this year in ballroom and the Balkans. Coming back to continue interviews and finding scenes to write about: that’s something that very possibly could happen. I also have my future career sights set on some years at AUBG. 

For now, I'm heading back State Side. I'll be in central PA again, attending Bucknell University for their Masters in English, creative nonfiction. But ties with Bulgaria will continue.

I can't tell what the future will bring. I've learned that this year too. I know what I think it could be or what I want it to be.  We will see what life brings.