Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dulcimer Jam Session

Some people call their job "work." I call my job "awesome." Today the Acadian Cultural Center hosted a dulcimer "jam session," in which volunteers came out to jam on their... dulcimers (listen here):

It was a delightful way to spend my Saturday morning, listening to a variety of songs played. At one point, as the players picked out a Cajun tune, the older (and more experienced) player began to sing the words in Cajun French. It was slow, unusual for Cajun music, but sweet.

I continue to find my new job filled with fascinations and surprises. It is no wonder I have a bounce in my step in the morning as I anticipate what my workday will bring.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two-Tone Drink

When possible, many of my dad's side of the family gather at my grandparents' house in central New York for Thanksgiving. While I was in high school, my dad was stationed at Ft. Drum, a little over an hour's drive from my grandparents' house, so we were fortunate that we could spend holidays with them for a few years. Thanksgiving was usually the most-attended, but Grandma found a place for everybody to stay. Traditions include watching the Macy's parade on TV, playing Monopoly, and popping "poppers" at the end of the meal (and proudly wearing the paper crown, as long as it didn't tear).

One tradition that had evidently lapsed with the family was that of the Two-Tone Drink. Two-Tone Drink is grapefruit juice with a twist. Half of the juice has been mixed with lots of sugar and some red dye to make it a little thinker, pinker, an much sweeter than the rest of the juice. To make the two-toned appearance, the regular juice is poured into a glass to fill it up about halfway. Then, with what looks like a ginourmous eye-dropper, the darker pink juice is sucked into the eye-dropper "straw," carefully inserted into the light pink juice glass, and carefully sqeezed underneath the pink juice. The density of the sugar forces the light pink juice to the top, creating layers- a Two-Tone Drink. It looks very pretty, especially when served in crystal-clear goblets (like Grandma had).

I had never seen this drink, but one year Grandma decided it should be served with the Thanksgiving feast. It happened to be the same year that my siblings and cousins seemed to have made themselves disappear while dinner was cooking and the table needed setting, so I was the only "kid" to help (and for this family, the definition of "kid" does not correlate with one's age. You sit at the kid's table until you have kids of your own, I believe...). Grandma assigned me with setting the tables and creating the drinks (they have to be made in place, because if you move them around too much, the layers mix). It was fun, using the skills I learned from Milton Bradley's Operation to create mini beverage masterpieces.

As the family sat down for dinner, my dad and aunts nearly squealed with delight. "Two-Tone Drink!? My favorite!" They remembered the drinks from their own childhood (and knew what was in the drink, though never verbalized it). The drinks are beautiful to look at and my siblings and cousins were carefully analyzing the concoctions. "How are there two layers? What is it? How does it do that?"

Now, if you know me, you know that inside of me there is always a battle. Nice Elizabeth and Naughty Elizabeth are constantly struggling with each other. Nice Elizabeth does not always win. I knew the drinks were actually pink grapefruit juice, a tart (almost sour) taste, and thought about telling the cousins that the pretty pink drinks were actually not sweet (until you got to the dark layer).

"You should tell your cousins, you know."

"Don't do it! They won't drink it! Let them try the drink for themselves."

"That's not fair. The element of surprise in this case could have horrible results. Like, what if one of them is allergic to it?!"

"No, if they volunteered to help, they could have seen what was put in the drinks. Let them find out. It won't be so bad!"

"It is pink grapefruit juice! Of course it is bad!! At least if you are expecting tart, it isn't so bad but they are expecting sweet to match the pink!"

"Ha ha ha ha!!"

Oh, I can remember that internal battle well. It lasted over the entire course of grace and the time it takes for us to go around the table to share what each of us is thankful for. Naughty Elizabeth won. I decided to not speak up and tell my siblings and cousins what the drink was made of.

Of course, everybody drank the Two-Tone Drink simultaneously, and if we were a cartoon, seven little explosions would have left the table saturated in pink grapefruit juice. Instead, polite grimaces and slight groans occured and the reactions to the juice happened around the table.

Maybe I should have told them. But I still laugh when I think about their faces. And am thankful that I have a family willing to forgive when Naughty Elizabeth overcomes Nice Elizabeth.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

my dream job

Blogging is one of many forms of journaling that I do. Maybe it is the historian in me that feels the need to record my day-to-day. I also find it helpful to record things in order to track progress (I have a journal for work, because heaven knows time flies by so fast that I can never remember when events happen). I also have a fun journal; a "Q&A-a-day" journal that has space for five years-worth of answers. Each day it poses a thought-provoking question and has a few lines for an answer. In theory, you record your answer and a year later answer the same question over the course of five years. I am only in the first year (about six months into it); it will be interesting to see how my life changes over the next five years.

Yesterday's question was, "what is your dream job of the day?" That's easy! Being a park ranger! But the ease of which my answer came to me prompted me to consider the question more thoroughly. Is that really my dream job? I don't have another? Have I seriously hit the jackpot?

I pondered it for a while. Maybe a Ben and Jerry's ice cream taster? A pilot? A photographer for National Geographic? A host for a show on either the History Channel or the Travel Channel? A children's book illustrator? An astronaut? :)

Yes, there are other cool jobs on this planet, but I am seriously living out a dream and fairly regularly am told by visitors that if they could do it over again, they'd consider park rangering. I am very fortunate that I found something I love to do so early in my life. And in this month of thanksgiving, I am thankful for both the employment and the satisfaction I get from my work.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Barataria Preserve

Yesterday, one of my days off, I decided to begin exploring south Louisiana. I started by seeing another part of my own park, the Barataria Preserve. Even though the calendar reads "November," it reached 85 degrees yesterday afternoon. Whew. I stopped at the visitor center, talked to the ranger there for a bit, then decided to take a short hike. I had dinner plans and was on somewhat of a schedule, but even the short time I go to spend exploring the small portion of the park was amazing. I stuck with the Visitor Center Trail (though, walked down the Palmetto Trail a short distance).

The boardwalked trail had minimal signage.

The mystery and lore contained in the idea of a swamp was evident (to me, anyway).

As I reached the end of the boardwalk, I could hear distant rolls of thunder and smell warm, heavy scent of a possible rain.

I decided to start back when the I felt the plops of huge drops.

My pace broke into nearly a run as I realized I would be soaked in a minute's time if the rate of rainfall kept up. Eek! I had to go to dinner and I did not bring another nice oufit! But as quickly as the downpour started, it stopped. And the swamp turned into a warm, sticky sauna. That was my cue to head back to my car and work my way over to New Orleans. Now that I got to spend some time at the Barataria Preserve and know what is available, I know for the next visit what to pack in order to be better prepared for a longer visit.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

boot polish

There are certain smells that I automatically think of as "Army smells." Boot polish reminds me of early mornings when my dad would let myself and brother "help" polish his boots. We probably made more work for him, but time we got to spend with Dad was so much fun! Barbersol shaving cream and starch reminds me of Army hugs and kisses, usually goodbye kisses as we left for school or Dad left for work. A freshly pressed uniform makes a particular sound when giving hugs. Engine oil mixed with dust (and probably sweat) was what Dad's bags smelled like after he returned from time in the field or deployed. But those were good smells because it meant Dad was home.

Army smells were just a part of my life when I grew up. Moving where the Army sent us was a part of life. Making new frriends quickly because we may not stay long was a part of life. Hearing cadence calls from passing troops doing PT in the early hours of the morning was a part of life. Stopping the car and paying respects at 5pm when the post's flag was coming down was a part of life. Acronyms like PCS and TDY were a part of life. Dad being gone for weeks, months, or even a year at a time was a part of life.

The words "Thank You" can not express enough how deeply I feel gratitude for those who serve and have served in the military. But I feel a special "Thank You" is in order for the families of service members. I was a fortunate child, resilient, loved, encouraged. I could not have asked for better parents or a better upbringing. I can't imagine the difficulties that both of my parents experienced, but appreciate their sacrifices more than I can say. That is where my remembrance rests today, on the servicemembers and their families. Where would our nation be without them?

And may I say, I now polish my own boots every morning (albeit park ranger boots) and the polish ALWAYS reminds me of my dad and those mornings spent with him.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

young astronaut

In order for my days off to change from Sunday/Monday to Tuesday/Wednesday, I had to work seven days in a row, so I haven't really felt like posting. Then yesterday I spent organizing my last few boxes of paperwork, thesis stuff, bills needed filing, etc. That took forever to accomplish, it felt like! I have caused many trees to die, but now those trees are neatly filed in several filing drawers.

Among my crazy, mixed-up files I found papers from my childhood. Report cards, homework pieces, art projects, and books. My favorite piece might be the Young Astronaut Passport:

At the age of seven years, I was a part of the Young Astronauts Club at my school. As far as I can remember, it was an afterschool, extracurricular club for elementary students to learn about space. I don't know if it were the space exploration part, the fact that I felt like a big kid (because I got to stay after school with the big kids), or the sugar straws that we got at the end of each club meeting, but finding the passport reminded me of a very positive childhood memory.

I now feel that even though I did not grow up to be an astronaut, I continue with exploration in a different sense. I continue learning. And I try to instill the sense of wonder, a sense of exploration in youth that I work with today. So maybe one day they will grow up to be an astronaut. Or a park ranger.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

a girl of many talents

I would say I wear many hats, but in reality, I only wear one hat. One very distinct, recognizable hat. But by wearing that recognizable hat, I am expected to have many skills (or at least be willing to learn many skills). Today I was not just park ranger, but also projector intstaller.

Jean Lafitte NHPP has six sites throughout south Louisiana, each one with a different purpose. The Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice needed a new projector installed, so myself and my partner in crime (the other park guide), trekked off to Eunice to install said projector. The trip also served as a training trip for me, a way for me to continue to learn about the region and the park's resources. This site is set amongst farm fields (rice paddies, sugar cane, and other crops):

The center in Eunice greets you with a maniquin dressed in the traditional Mardi Gras costume found in the more rural/country areas of south Louisiana.

Clowns are scary, everybody knows this. Unfortunately, the traditional costume resembles that of a clown's ensemble. I will have to research where the tradition of the costume comes from (so it becomes less scary to me). I walked through the museum quickly to see what the site had to offer, then got to business.

The other park guide and I had to get on top of a ladder, remove the old mounting system, install the new mounting system, install the projector, and trial and error our way through making the projected films just right (right-side-up and focused). After almost an hour, we got it fixed:

Curtsy! Curtsy! I am a big girl! No need to call in the big guns or make an IT specialist drive in all the way from New Orleans! I call that just another day serving America.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

boat ride on the bayou

I finally did it! I finally got to go on my first boat tour of the bayou! And, yes, it was just as exciting as I had imagined.

For those that don't know, bayou is another term for river (borrowed from the Choctaw word for "slow moving water"). My only exposure to bayous prior to my move here came from the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disnelyland and the Disney classic, "The Rescuers." Disney's version of the world impacted much of how I am today (to include my desire to spontaeously break into song and dance), but I digress.

The weather could not have been better. It was sunny with a high of 75, with a very light breeze. There was a lot to see.

We got to see some wildlife (mostly birds, to include a blue heron and several kingfishers), but no gators. I am in no rush to see an alligator in the wild. The bayou serves as another form of travel form some (even today, with modern roads established throughout the area) and we passed some residential areas.

This house had a "Keep Out" sign posted in the front. It conjured up images of the Pirates of the Carribean ride (without the singing... or the pirates...). We passed some fishermen, the airport, a country club, and a dead cow. Not all at the same time, however. Evidently, dead cows along the bayou are fairly common. There is a lot of grazing along the bayou and sometimes the cows get stuck in the mud along the banks. The state of Louisiana offers a subsidy for fencing to prevent this, but some have not put up fencing (I was told because it was cheaper for owners to lose a cow every once in a while instead of fencing the cows away from the river and coming up with another way to provide water to the herds). In case you were wondering, dead cows smell about as horrible as you can imagine a dead cow smelling.

We partner with the Bayou Vermilion District's Historic Vermilionville, a site that interprets a recreation of a 19th century Cajun village. Our bout captain, Greg, is from the area (and Cajun) and helps with the tour (and, incidently, as boat captain, drives the boat). I am still in training but will soon enough be leading my own tours along the bayou!

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