Monday, December 27, 2010

"Compulsory"


Responding to the waving arm of a village woman clad in the traditional clothing of shalvar pants and long white head scarf, the dolmus driver pulled over.  As the door to the mini-bus rolled open, the woman leaned inside and asked in Turkish, "Is this the bus to Urgup?"

"No," responded the driver, "This is the Nevsehir bus.  The Urgup one is coming along soon."

"Ah, okay," the woman said as she removed her foot from the step, backing away from the bus.  At that moment, a buzz went through the first two rows of seats, amongst other traditionally-garbed women. Suddenly mutters of "Not the Urgup bus?" and "Going to Nevsehir?" and "Whoops, wrong bus.  Lemme off!" accompanied the bustle of several other women packing up their bags, re-adjusting their scarves, and making for the door.

Not even rolling his eyes with the exasperation to which he was due, the driver waited while they disembarked, wished them a good day, and propelled the dolmus back into gear. 

As it turns out, Groom and I sorely lack that kind of placid lenity.  We are card carrying eye rollers, in fact, and our club privileges kicked in during those few rustling moments of "whaaazuh?" and "huzzabuzz" and "wherewegoin'?"  In fact, by the time the last woman had slipped her feet back into her sensible slides and exited the bus to wait on the roadside for the imminent Urgup dolmus, I actually had to take off my glasses and rub my eyes for a second.  Feeling a bit wonky, I blinked real hard-like until focus was restored. Then I dared a glance at my husband and gasped.  Who knew he was so damn cute? 

Such are the dangers and benefits of Acute Ocular Elliptoid Circumvolution.  The eye roll--that bewitcher!--dupes one into certainty of superiority...even when one has been having a quiet cry over a plate of toast while bemoaning belly fat mere hours earlier.

Once Groomeo and I stopped with the eye whirls, we marshaled the energy to speak.

"How come," I choked out, "every time we get on the bus,"--and here I stopped to wheeze a bit, simply for dramatic effect meant to punctuate nothing--"this happens?"

Running with it, His Groomishness chimed in, "I know.  We're here in the village, picking up people who have lived here their whole lives, heading to one of two possible destinations, and there's this vast confusion about which bus to get on.  Women hop on, get to chatting about how their knees ache, only to discover six minutes later that they're on the wrong bus..."

Seeing my moment, I broke in with a, "...WHICH IS SO WEIRD, WHAT WITH THE DESTINATION BEING PRINTED ON THAT BIG OLD PLACARD IN THE FRONT WINDOW AND ALL..."

'Tis true.  The dolmuses from our village either head to Nevsehir, or they head to Urgup.  In the front window of every dolmus is a big sign that says either "Ortahisar-Nevsehir" or "Ortahisar-Urgup."  Even I, legally blind, myopic bi-focal wearer, can decipher the six-inch letters when the bus pulls up.

So, as they kids these days acronym so effectively, WTF?

Although I can lay out myriad explanations for this syndrome of the ladies not knowing what bus they're getting onto--theories that range from Women In the Middle of a Good Gossip Are Oblivious to Vehicles...to They Are So Sheltered and Well-Watched After That They've Never Had to Pay Attention for Themselves--

the reality is all too easily explained:

Until relatively recently, Turkey's requirement for mandatory education was built around five years of primary education (now students are required to finish out 8th grade, however). Factor into that a lack of busing, families that didn't approve of educating girls, and overcrowded schools that offered half-day sessions so that a second set of students could come in during the afternoon hours,

and it's amazing that these women are able to find the bus stop at all.


As the slightly-emptier bus rolled towards Nevsehir, and Groom and I reviewed our notes about the history of compulsory education in Turkey, Girl piped up.

"So, wait.  What are you talking about?"

Quickly, we briefed her.  In a final parental attempt to drive home the scope of this issue, I said to her ten-year-old self, "So basically, a whole bunch of people in Turkey, unless they were lucky enough to have special intelligence or a family with the means to send them on, stopped going to school after 5th grade.  Think of it this way:  imagine how much you wouldn't know if this year of school you're doing right now were your last, if you never again had to sit down and get your head around fractions and decimals, if you never again had your brain spin in the face of simple versus complex sentences, if you never again got to learn anything academic.  Imagine if 5th grade were the end of your learning.  That's what we're talking about:  people for whom 5th grade was the peak."

For just a beat, one perfect beat in 4/4 time,

Girl was silent.

She looked out the window at the garbage blowing in the wind.  Her eyes took in the crumbling houses, already eroding although only half-built.  She flashed back to hours spent in waiting areas, times when we muted the collected crowd by opening our bags and pulling out books.  She recalled that these hours in waiting areas took place in a governmental building to which her parents were required to make repeat visits because, with each visit, different workers offered up different versions of "I don't exactly know the answer to your question.  I need to make a phone call," and when the phone call ended, said worker offered up an entirely new explanation of what needed to happen.   Her active brain remembered all the times the cash register at the grocery store indicated we owed 12 lira, and when we would hand over a 20 lira note, it would take a minute of finger counting under the counter before change was made. She blipped to the street repair outside our house, when the entire lane was dug up to fix some pipes and then, a week after that job, dug up again to fix a few more.  And, of course, she riffled through the many instances of women getting off the well-marked bus once they realized where it was headed.

That single beat later, Girl's sponge of a brain--so ready to absorb any input--had processed the information about Turkey's former educational requirements, and her eyebrows shot up.  Matter-of-factly she noted,

greeted by our hoots of laughter,

"Well, that sure explains a lot."

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Hippy Hollyday"

At the start of December, we made an advent calendar, a way of counting down to the Big Day.  Each of us took a little time to paint, draw, and glue our contributions. 





Groom's little cartoon panels were my favorite addition to the calendar, so I asked him to scan them in and compile them.  If you haven't been visiting his blog of our time in Turkey, do head over to http://www.layingfallow.com/:



In the last few weeks, as we've counted down the days, opening a new door on the calendar each day, we've also gotten together with new friends and made crafts, done some secret shopping, mailed off letters to Santa requesting specific gifts (Paco sent Santa, under separate cover, a question:  "What is your favorite kind of cookie?"  Santa replied a couple weeks later, surprising us with a note tacked to the fridge:  "Sugar!"), and put up the most hilarious fake Charlie Brown Christmas tree ever.  As someone who doesn't particularly like the tree-mounting and tree-undoing aspects of the holiday, I was delighted to hang only a handful of ornaments on a tiny little bit of Not Much.


And now it's Christmas Eve, and Paco swears he won't sleep at all tonight.  I assure him, in a vaguely threatening tone, that Santa doesn't come unless kids are asleep.  Our Girl is several years past Santa belief, so we anticipate she'll conk out nicely.  As Paco riddled out how Santa is going to get down one of our chimneys, what with them being blocked by soba pipes ("Oh no!  Santa is going to get sucked into the soba pipe and get burned up!"), it occurred to us that, because we have two tons of the stuff to fuel the sobas, there has never been an easier year to put a lump of coal in someone's stocking.

Note to self:  line stocking with plastic bag.

------------------------------
For our pagan-leaning family, the celebration is as much about The Solstice and sharing gifts and appreciating darkness and light and eating cookies as anything else.  However, despite my heathenish spirit, I find myself contemplating the power of Christ:

This week, as we sat in a government building in a city near our village, filling out form after form, walking from one office to another, paying fees, getting help from some friends with translating, chasing down our residency permits, we heard a voice ask our friend Gulcan, in accented English,

"These people you are with, where are they from?"

Gulcan answered, "They're from America."

I lifted my head from an application form and saw a beautiful seventeen-year-old girl sitting a few chairs down.  While she had the exotic coloring and bearing of a Middle Eastern female, she wore a cross around her neck.  This poised teenager continued, "If they are from America, why are they here?"

Gulcan filled her in:  "They are applying for residency permits so that they do not run into any visa problems in the next few months."

"No," clarified the girl, "I mean why are they in Turkey?"

"Well," Gulcan told her, "They want to learn about the country and culture and learn some language."

The girl, still a bit confused, gave a small chuckle.  "So they came here on purpose and left America?  Are they Christian?"

Gulcan checked in with me (because it was nearing the end of the work day, I kept at my task of hurriedly copying down passport numbers onto four forms before the offices closed) on the religion question and then explained, "They are not religious. They will go back to America after some months here, but, yes, they chose to come here.  Why are you here?"

At that point, this girl gestured to her family, who were sitting all around her, "We are Iranian, and we are Christians.  We had to leave.  With secrecy and great difficulty, we have made it into Turkey and have gotten this far.  Now we are trying to get a refugee status so that we can be safe and try to make some money.  Our goal is to get out of Turkey and one day, God willing, get to America.  All we want is to get to America so that we can worship freely.  That's why I can't believe there are people here today, in this same place, who left America on purpose."

To her everlasting credit, Gulcan (the owner of an inn) moved closer to the girl, wrote down her phone number, and, in a complete "there's room at the inn" moment, had a quiet conversation about being paid under the table.  

That day, as the lights overhead flickered off--the workers were trying to clear the building--we turned in our paperwork to get permission to stay in Turkey, and this Iranian girl and her family turned in their paperwork to get permission to stay in Turkey.  

Eventually, our year here will end, and we'll head to America. 

Eventually,

and this is my wholehearted Christmas wish for these Christians on the run,

so will they.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Unleavened Barn Raising"

Only five months later can I comprehend the shock that overtook me when we arrived in Turkey. Had we first stopped in Istanbul, the landing might have been softer and felt more gradual in terms of West-to-East, but since we flew straight to Cappadocia (one hour flight from Minneapolis to Chicago; ten hour flight from Chicago to Istanbul; one hour flight from Istanbul to Kayseri; one hour shuttle ride from Kayseri to Goreme) with only small lulls in between each leg, we showed up in this Land of the Past feeling tired, excited, expectant...and found the place vibrant and laid back and full-of-more-yet-less and crazily-foreign and HOOOOOOOOOOT.

Indeed, I only feel just now that I'm recovering from that August heat and the weird, off-kilter sleep deprivation. It's like the 110 degree temperatures, unrelieved by air conditioning, sauteed any rational or predictable reactions. Even now, still in the midst of the experience, I can look back on August and think, "Who was that woman, stumbling around the broken cobblestones, attempting to orient herself and hone in on some sort of context while mopping the sweat out of her armpits? She was a leeeetle bit scary."

In significant ways, I'm still that woman, but at least now I'm wearing long sleeves and the odd pair of mismatched socks. Perhaps more importantly, the sleep deprivation has eased since I generally wake up for about half an hour with the first Call to Prayer and no longer have to count myself as Awake for the Day Starting at 4:30 a.m.

But here's the part of the process in which I'm reveling: we're at the point of acculturation where we can say there are things in the villages of Cappadocia that we know we'll miss intensely once we return home.

Trust me, the Call to Prayer at dawn is profoundly not one of them. Nor are the aggressive flies that triangulate their trajectories straight towards our retinas.

However, we've come attached to this volcanic, tufa-rocked, accordion-pleated, beige, hollowed-out landscape in ways that alter our heartbeats. We've had our breath arrested by the beauty that lives inside simple souls who may struggle to write their names but who would never leave us standing on the sidewalk in the rain, waiting for a ride that isn't going to show up. We've seen our historical compasses become re-aligned around a region that has been more continuously inhabited than most others, that has hosted Hattians and Assyrians and Hittites and Phyrgians and Lydians and Persians and Romans and Seljuks and Ottomans and Turkmen. We've felt the whap of our jaws hitting the ground as we've peered into the thousand-year-old cave rooms beneath our 400-year-old Greek home. We've felt our knees weaken from the basket-view of several hundred meters high, inside the vantage point of a hot air balloon.

We've eaten fifteen kinds of peppers. We've seen women in their fifties who only recently have adopted a head scarf as daily wear--because they are certain, under the current government--that their sons in the military may live to see another day if they, as Mothers, adhere to conservative Islamic notions of dress. We've seen families making pottery in the same shops as their great-great-grandfathers. We've been touched by the attentive way young men in their twenties take stock of who is stepping onto the bus, hyper vigilantly moving their seats so that women and older men are assured of a place to sit down. We've spent long stretches of time in the nut and dried fruit shops where the owners scoop out sample after sample, insisting that we have at least a taste of every single of the seven varieties of hazelnuts. We’ve stretched our arms to the ceiling with delight when we step into one of our two heated rooms and feel the warmth smother the chill of the kitchen tiles.

And.

We’ve grown a little addiction to a thing called yufka.

Circular, several feet across, thin enough to see through, yufka is an edible purse. Fill it with cinnamon, sugar, and walnuts, and it’s breakfast. Stuff it with cheese, and it’s lunch. Roll it around ground beef, and it’s dinner. Swipe in some Nutella, and it’s dessert.

Swaddle an infant in it, and he sleeps through the night.

Oh yea, it’s amazing stuff. Along the lines of phyllo-meets-tortilla, yufka is a versatile staple of village cuisine. It can be bought factory-made, in a package, or from a specialty shop where capable men wielding long wooden dowels roll the stuff out and sell it by the kilo.

But it’s best of all when made by the village women themselves, which we found out first hand one Sunday afternoon when we stopped by our friend Christina’s house. Her courtyard was full of women—her landlord’s family plus neighbor ladies, all working together for several days to lay in the year’s supply of yufka, stacks a few meters high—

Rolling, patting, clacking, chatting, stoking, cooking, flipping,

and sharing.








By virtue of standing around and watching, we each scored a huge, warm, hot-off-the-griddle piece of yufka folded into a wad of newsprint.

Moments later, though, back to tending their fires and sharing gossip, the women swirled around their communal task, hardly noticing us in the corner,

wiping the melted butter off our chins.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Saturated"

Every. single. day.

I think anew,

"I don't foresee ever getting over this place."


















All of these pictures were taken within four minutes' walk of our house. Just imagine the delights if one were feeling particularly hardy and ventured a five minute expedition.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Open Book, Open Wallet"


At twenty-six, with a newly-minted graduate degree in hand, I got a full-time job teaching writing at a four-year university.

My salary was $17,000 per year.

It wasn’t for nothing that one of my esteemed college professors characterized the teaching of composition as “working in the armpit of the university.”

However, having never been quite sure that English majors ever earned any income at all outside of what they made behind the wheels of taxis, I thought $17,000 seemed fair enough compensation for 60+ hours of work per week plus the bonus Emotional Hardiness Training that came from reading student essays which asserted “people with AIDS deserve what they got.”

It’s like I was overpaid, really.

After three years at that university, my pay (No benefits! No retirement fund!) ballooned to almost $19,000 per year. Because I’d struggled to make rent and often exceeded the budgeted $25 per week for groceries, my credit card debt was on par with my salary.

Realizing I was on a slippery slope, financially, I made the move to Minnesota and the community college system. I was hired into that system with a 90% raise.

So there I was, twenty-nine, a slightly-tarnished graduate degree in hand, having just scored a huge raise, suddenly hitting the national average salary—for high school graduates.

Because I never graduated from high school, though, it was impossible to gauge what a reasonable compensation for my years of study and time in the classroom should have been. None of the “predicted income by education level” charts had a column for Graduate Degree Sans High School Diploma. Moreover, it seemed presumptuous to imagine that following one’s inclinations and enjoying one’s work assured a higher tax bracket.

Now, fifteen years later, that 90% raised salary has grown by another 75%, and if you’re able to parse out those percentages, you’ll know the upshot is that, well, I’m more fortunate than most but less fortunate than many. Work in the fact that this Average-ish Salary also supports three dependents, and you’ll understand why we eat a lot of lentils and keep the thermostat set at 56 degrees.

In the States, all I have to do is tell someone I’m an English teacher, and they immediately have a sense of the lifestyle that affords: comfortable, but Lamborghini-free. Pretty quickly, I know anyone spending time with me isn’t after the dosh.

In Turkey, however…

It’s occasionally disheartening to know that the welcome we receive has undertones of “Money. Gimme some of your money. Money. How about the money?” Now, I don’t necessarily mind this attitude when I’ve willingly entered a place of business; fair enough, really. And I get that our income, while nothing major in the U.S., is well above the average Turk’s. I get that much of the eye contact aimed my way is more about “You can help me with a cash infusion” than “You look like a really interesting person I’d like to talk to.” Despite this, it was still hard to stand there as my friend Pamm got vastly overcharged by a Turkish businesswoman whose shop I have patronized faithfully. Still, it’s hard to contact a young Turkish woman who said she’d be happy to give our family Turkish lessons (“Even though I’ve never taught Turkish and couldn’t really explain the grammar; but I could help with vocabulary and answer your questions”) and hear back from her that she’d be glad to teach us for 50 Turkish Lira per hour. Contrast this number with the 25TL charged by the professional potter who gives our kids lessons that last for several hours, “until we feel like we are done.” Ultimately, when smacked with blatant overcharging, my nose gets out of joint, but I also realize it’s to be expected because tourism trains people to get what they can from the yabancı (foreigners). I also have a snortle (the sound emitted when a nose joint is out of alignment) over the idea of my hard won average American income as admirable.

It’s just that, as much as I understand that Turks want our money, there’s unexpected stuff that keeps sideswiping me. Most surprising is that the sideswiping comes from the expats…who, one would think, might serve as havens from the experience of “Money. Gimme some money,” who might provide the welcome and comfortable counterpoint of making us feel like bona fide fellow human beings.

Who knew my most startling lessons this year would come from attempting to navigate expat culture? Compared to icy British blondes who can’t be bothered to return a “hello” at intimate dinner parties; compared to Kiwis who can’t get through an evening without multiple bottles of wine (each); compared to married couples who make a life’s game out of deceiving their partners; compared to the general “junior high didn’t work for me the first time around, so now I’m doing it again as an adult, and I’ve decided I’m a power player this time” modus operandi of many expats—

a culture of isolated women who cover their hair so that only their husbands are privy to The Reveal; who rarely leave the street where they live; who never get behind the wheel of a car…feels positively honest and sensical.

Cuz, Poodles? The expats is kind of crazy (and trust me, I generally like me some crazy; my only requirement is that The Crazy be accompanied by a dose of self-honesty and deprecation).

Over the last few weeks, after several expat social interactions during which it became clear my role was to listen, nod, listen, say “That’s amazing,” listen, try to insert a question asking for more detail, and then listen, I got a little sad. I realized that I’d met these people a handful of times, spent hours in the same room with them, yet I wasn’t sure they even knew my name. I was fairly certain they had no idea about what I do for a living. I was completely positive that they had no interest in any personal history I might bring to the table, that the role newcomers are cast into here is to reflect back to the actors an image of themselves that they are purposefully creating. They perform; we are to applaud. At the end of one such evening, freshly tapped out of standing ovations, I left the dining area and walked into the living room, where Groom was attempting to amuse the kids—you can bet no one was talking to them!—and whispered, “Wow, I don’t believe I’ve ever felt so socially useless before. Mostly, I’ve realized I like you, and that’s about it.”

We had a little moment there, when we realized we were far enough into trying to be “open” and “friendly” that we could make some decisions about the ways we would spend our time during the rest of the year. It was time to implement a policy of Social Winnowing.

How fortunate, then, that we’d had some genuinely fine evenings with one particular couple—first meeting at a party, then having them over for dinner, then spending an afternoon at their place, rounded out by the menfolk having a lovely morning hike together. Quickly, it had gotten to the point where they invited us to take some time this winter—“One, two, three weeks; whatever you like! You’d only need to cover electricity and incidentals. Since we’ll be leaving soon for our travels, just email us if you’d like to use the place”—and have a stay in their house down on the Mediterranean while they spent a few months sailing around the Middle East. After the third time they mentioned this possibility, Groom and I decided it would be a great mid-winter option and that we should avail ourselves of the offer.

So I emailed them this past week and said we’d love to take them up on their proposal, would be happy to cover all related expenses, and hoped to firm up some dates. A day later, the reply came in: “Lovely! It will be 100 lira per night, along with 100 lira for the cleaning woman, which you can leave on top of the fridge before you go. Just let us know which weeks you’d like to be there.”













That silence you read in the empty spaces above represents my reaction. There might have been a tiny gasp, too.

I still remember so well the years of making $17,000, praying I didn’t get sick because I couldn’t have paid the bill, thanking the nice check-out guy at the grocery store for letting me take my bananas and lettuce even though I was a dollar short (“Don’t worry, sweetie: you’ll get me back next week when you come in”),

that I forget to see myself as I am here. When I read that email, I had forgotten my role as—laughably, really—Bulging Wallet.

Yea, okay then. So no staying in their house. And sure as hell no more morning hikes. Plus, maybe there was a little bit of stomping around for a few days, accompanied by mutterings of, “I just don’t like anybody here. If I were back at home, where there are more choices of company, you can bet your Mastercard I wouldn’t have most of these people in my life. Let’s further the strictures of our Social Winnowing Policy so that we now adhere to If You Wouldn’t Make the Cut Back Home, You Don’t Slide In Here, Either, Horace.”

The beautiful thing about a snit is the way it gets pulled up short mid-wail: you’re standing there in your crib, shifting pajama-clad feet back and forth on your mattress, batting the musical mobile out of your eyes, peering over the edge of the bars, about to hurl a glow-in-the-dark caterpillar towards the diaper changing table, when Mommy walks in with a ‘Nilla Wafer,

and, sheepishly, you let the caterpillar drop to the floor with a soft “plop.”

This is just what happened to me mere days after my “I don’t like anybody here” funk. ‘Nilla wafer crumbs dotting my chin, I emailed with a lovely woman (hi, Vicky!) who had left a comment on this blog about the dearth of books in English in Cappadocia (and, even more, the dearth of book sharing amongst expats with control issues). We met at a café so as to pass her a bag of books but, more importantly, to compare experiences and Talk Life. A day later, I took a phone call from a delightful German anthropologist. He and his Turkish wife invited us over for dinner. He insisted on picking us up, as “I have wheels, and you don’t.” That evening, they fed us an amazing meal, engaged us in conversation, offered to help us in any way they could. Two days after that, we got a call from a Turkish doctor, a woman who wondered if we’d like to go to a jazz night with her and a friend. They picked us up, spread a feeling of good humor, introduced us to a little-seen subculture of music and nightlife, bought the kids chocolate, refused our offers to buy them something to drink,

and went far in redeeming our belief that we are more than walking Lira Notes.


----------------------------------
Having written about some of my disgruntlement to our friend Christina, she who just returned to The States after 7 years in Turkey, I received the following wonderful, helpful, spirit-bolstering reply:


Honey, honey, honey. Turkey took me by the ankles, turned me upside down, and shook me like a son of a gun when I first arrived. It can be hard, hard, hard. Every expectation, co-dependent habit and belief system clattered from my pockets to the ground. And then it twirls you around by those ankles until you can't stop giggling, puts you down, and gives you that pony you always wanted. It can be full of love, joy, and laughter.

I think there's a wall that has to be hit. You let go of all the expectations you didn't even know you had, play with the bag of seemingly broken and half missing marbles, and make yourself up a completely new game. Call on your faith, whatever that is. Doing this with 3 other people makes it sooo much easier, you have your island - and sooo much harder, because you're an island for them and its harder to make those slashing adjustments when they feel like they come up. Remember your favorite piece of art from home and "Hang in there" babe.

Consider your family a handful of beautiful agates that have been thrown into the polisher for refinement - turning your worlds around and upside down. I guarantee you'll all be shinier and even more beautiful people at the end of your journey.

-------------------------------------------------

Indeed.

But I’m going to maintain to the finish that it shouldn’t cost even the roughest agate 100TL per night to sleep in an empty house while the owners sail the Red Sea.

Friday, December 03, 2010

"Songs of Experience"

The (semi) Romantic poet and artist William Blake is certainly no Mary Oliver to me, but I do enjoy the fact that he could invite someone over to "look at his etchings," and he'd actually have something to show that visitor upon arrival that was, you know, etched. I also like that he taught his wife to read and write--and that his peers largely regarded him as mad.

Even more, I appreciate that his writings--although they strike this modern reader as a bit simplistic in some cases--explore the idea that it takes oppositional forces to create something that is Whole. Blake wrote about innocence and experience, heaven and hell, corporeal and spiritual, ultimately making the case that you've got to have the two sides to have anything at all.

I agree, yet this year in a new environment is highlighting the fact that many don't. Maybe it's natural for inhabitants of a leisure culture, but it does seem like a lot of caring people want every day to be "good," want every thing to be "a great time," believe that if something is periodically flat or unhappy then maybe it should be rethought.

I've been mulling this over in regards to our experience here because I'm very, very glad we have days that are challenging. If we started out with "it's so beautiful here" and then moved to "the people are amazing" before ending with "we've never had more fun," then we'd be having a one-dimensional experience, free of layers or complexities. In other words, I'm really grateful that I feel sad and lonely sometimes. I find it delicious that, especially when so much of my life is "set," I get to feel constantly off balance here.

The thing is, the tough days make the happy, wavy days all the richer.

When it comes to the melancholy that has set in each time visitors from the States have left us to return home, it's a beautiful bit of heart piercing because it means we have people we love, and they came to share in our adventure, and they had compelling reasons to return home. It's wonderful to feel bereft when they leave. Because an empty heart means we've been very, very lucky.

This is just how I feel a day after our good friends Pamm and Ed have left us to fly back to Minnesota. They came, and each day was sun dappled and conversation filled. Then they left, and we felt empty, missing their laughter and wonder and card playing. The pull of opposites, reminding us of the abundance of our lives, was positively Blake-ian.