This was one of the most life changing things I have ever done. When I was a junior in high school, the Oregon Bach Festival started the Youth Choral Academy. It started out small, probably only about 50 or 60 of us, all from Eugene. They got one of the best choral conductors in the country, Anton Armstrong from St. Olaf College, to come and lead us with the help of an amazing Dick Clark from the U of O. I imagine we were not that great the first year, but I can tell you that I left that week of the academy a much better singer and chorus member. We got to work with amazing singers on vocal technique, body singing and so much more. We went to the ‘camp’ during the day, but were free to get into all sorts of shenanigans at night.
The next year, the administrators wised up, and put us in the dorm to keep a better eye on us. We were also much better the next year, coming from all over Oregon. Dr. Armstrong expected much more from us and kicked our butts a little harder. I learned even more. Unfortunately, my college women’s choir was a huge let down after singing with the amazing singers in the OBFYCA, so I quit singing after my first term in the choir. I did go back as a chaperone for the YCA the next summer.
I was a very strict chaperone.
This year was the 15th anniversary of the academy, so they invited all 700 of the alumni back for a weekend of rehearsals, a luncheon and to since a couple songs with the current YCA (now called Stangeland Family YCA) kids. The concert was this past Sunday, and I have to say I had so much fun. Only about 35 alums showed up, but there were 4 of us from the original year. I took Alma to the luncheon and it was pretty fun to imagine her singing in the choir in 15 or 16 years. Oh, how lucky she would be to have an experience like singing in the SFYCA.
I started learning French in 9th grade. My teacher became my step-mom (but that’s a story for another post). Ever since then, I really wanted to visit France. I got my first chance during the summer of 2001. I went to Europe with Deena (aforementioned step-mom), my friends Katrina, Kenton, Tai and a group of high school exchange students. Katrina and I went as chaperones for the students’ week in Paris and we brought Kenton and Tai along for the ride. We spent a few days in Paris, then went to Switzerland and Italy then back to the south of France. It was a fun, educational and beautiful trip. We were kids on our own on a huge, confusing continent with not much money.
Luckily, I got to return to France this past summer with Jesse. We had more money, and we were a lot more grown up, so we pretty much had a dream vacation. We spent3 weeks travelling all over France. We started in Paris, went down to the Riviera, up to Provence, over to the Alps and ended up in Burgundy.
We spent a lot of time eating during our trip. We ate some of the best meals of our lives. Jesse drank a lot of wine (I had to abstain since I was 4 months pregnant). It was really amazing.
One thing I love about France is how they have so many different things to enjoy. In three weeks, we were in one of the greatest cities, going to museums, swimming in a beautiful sea, walking through sun baked alleys, standing on a snow covered mountain and looking at lots of big, old things.
I have many beautiful memories of going to the art museum on the Oregon campus. I really appreciate that my parents introduced us to art and museums at a very young age. In my memory (which is probably a little bit exaggerated) we went to the museum alll the tiiime. And I loved it. It felt like an amazing sort of playground.
My favorite things about the museum were the courtyard, the doll collection and the Asian thrones and other furniture.
Skiing at Sun Valley in 5th grade - I know you're jealous of my neon pink pants
I learned how to ski when I was about 5 years old. My mom was a ski instructor at Willamette Pass, so she was up skiing most weekends, so my parents decided it was about time for me and Dan to learn. Also, since I was until 10 and mom worked there, it only cost 50 cents for an all day lift ticket. Pretty sweet deal. I’ve always loved skiing. I have been known to say, “This is the life” while on the slopes. And that’s because it is. The life. For reals.
You are jealous of my head band now. Again, Sun Valley but this time during middle school.
There’s really nothing that compares to a clear, sunny day with perfectly groomed (like they are capable of doing at Sun Valley) fresh powder. Nothing beats it. Nothing. I love how quiet it is on the mountain. The air is so clear and bright. I absolutely love the squeaks and swooshes the snow makes under my skis.
Mom and me at Willamette Pass
During college I followed in my mom’s tracks and taught skiing at Willamette Pass. I think I skied somewhere between 30 and 40 days that season. I was so good that year, let me tell you.
I can’t wait to hit the slopes this season! Soon, very soon!
I’ve talked about Azerbaijan in a lot of posts, but now I am going to devote an entire post to the county which was my home for a year.
Azerbaijan is roughly the size of Maine, but feels much larger. It was part of the Soviet Union and gained independence in 1991. While it is a fairly young country, the culture is thousands of years old. It has been part of Persia, Ottoman, Russia and has evidence of dating back to the Neolithic age. All of this has created an interesting, diverse cultural environment. Most people in Azerbaijan are Shiite Muslims, but a very secular brand of Islam. I think this is because of the time they were part of the Soviet Union and practicing religion was forbidden. Women don’t often cover their heads and it isn’t unusual for them to work outside the home.
In Azerbaijan, people speak Azerbaijani. Azerbaijani is mostly a Turkic language but it also takes words from Persian, Russian and Arabic. While we were learning Azerbaijani, we weren’t sure which words were from which language family and it was been fun to meet Russian, Turkish, Persian and Arabic speakers and compare words with them.
Dancers in traditional costume
There are lots of different climates and elevations in Azerbaijan. There are also quite a few natural resources. There are barrels of oil in the Caspian Sea and in Azerbaijan as well as large amounts of natural gas. There have been a couple oil booms over the past century and a half and oil is still the biggest money maker for the country.
The people of Azerbaijan is really what make the country beautiful. I’ve already written about a few of these people and they are just a drop in the bucket of lovely Azerbaijanis.
Caucacus from Sheki
For the first 9 or 10 weeks of Peace Corps training we lived in a little village called Sumqayıt Station. It was a 10 or 15 minute marshrutka ride from Sumqayıt. From what I could tell it was the old train station for the city and people just sort of built houses around the station. I remember very clearly being dropped off at Sumqayıt Station. We were on a bus with a few other ‘clusters’ – groups of PC Trainees who lived together in these small villages around Sumqayıt. We dropped the first group off in a little village near the Caspian, the next group in a green village full of trees with a breeze coming off the Sea, the next group had a similar sea-side hamlet. Finally it was just us, The Station Girls, and another cluster going to a town called Tuq Zavod (which translates to ‘The 30th Factory’ or something with equal squalor). We were huddled in the back of the sweltering bus watching the landscape get drearier and more dreadful. We turned onto a dirt highway and passed broken down factory after broken down factory. We went over a perilous overpass and down into Tuq Zavod. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of the Tuq Zavod trainees. Their faces said, “Well… I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again…” Then we drove on to The Station. I can’t say it was any better than Tuq Zavod. No trees, one street, one market, lots of concrete and lots of dirt.
As it turned out, I loved my cluster of fellow PCTs. We were all girls (except Jesse, obviously, but he walked over the Tuq Zavod every morning for his Azerbaijani lessons). All my cluster-mates were perfectly positive and lots of fun. We would eat watermelon at each others’ houses while we sat in front of the fan. They all liked to keep up with the drama at our house (until we had to be swept away in the middle of the night… that story will come in a later post…) and were always excited to see what “Drunk Uncle” and “Pregnant Uncle” would be doing next. They all had wonderfully sweet host families who were generous enough to let us cook and eat in their homes. We had some lovely meals together. That’s what I remember most from The Station.
Me, Jen and Greta staying cool
It turned out that Sumqayıt was the petro-chemical capital of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russians left all their factories and plants overnight. No one was ever able (or willing, perhaps) to clean them up, so they are just sitting there oozing poison into the ground. Every now and then we would drive by a factory that had caught fire. It would eventually burn itself out, but there was a constant smell of burning tires in The Station. It’s a terrible situation that has no end in sight. People live in those conditions their entire lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Sumqayıt Station this past week because it’s been so hot here. The Station was impossibly hot. It was often over 100 degrees before 9am. We felt deliciously cool when the temperature would drop to 90 at night.
We went to Istanbul after we went to London during Peace Corps. It was basically just a 36 hour layover, and it was the best layover in my life! We got to the Stone Hotel in the snow after dark. I couldn’t believe our view of endless minarets – some modern and some ancient – and the Sea of Marmara.
The Harem in Topkapi Palace
The next morning we woke up to a blanket of snow that was still falling. I have to admit that whenever I pictured Istanbul or Turkey, I always saw fruit trees and sunshine. I think we were lucky to see Istanbul in a different light.
There is so much history in Istanbul. You can really sense the transition from West to East in the city. It was neat to be in London (west) one day, Istanbul (transition) the next and back in rural Azerbaijan (east) the next.
Aya Sofya is really evidence of this bridge. It was built as the largest church in Christianity, converted to a Mosque (by covering the Biblical mosaics and adding minarets) and is now a museum. It is huge and breathtaking.
Besides the Starbucks, we also bought a hookah and some hand painted tiles. I could have spent an eternity and a fortune in the Grand Bazaar. The shop keepers were always surprised and delighted when we would speak Azeri (which is somewhat close to Turkish) and say things like InshAllah.
Istanbul was a wonderfully beautiful city. I would love to spend more time there exploring the culture, history, architecture and food.