Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So This is Christmas...

...and what have I done? (Besides not update my blog in six months?)

I am enjoying reading all of the Christmas missives that come to me from around the globe, and apparently I haven’t done a Christmas update for a while. It seems I’ve set the bar pretty high a few years ago, and now that I’m back in the United States, back in my home state, hometown, and very nearly the home I grew up in, there’s almost a sense of “nothing to report.” All systems are normal.

Two years ago this coming February I began my new career as what I like to think of as a “paid Peace Corps volunteer” in my hometown. I am a faculty member with the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension system, a university “agent” or “Extension educator” in the Department of Family Living. Perhaps best known for the nation-wide 4-H or agricultural agent program, the university extension system has long (100 years in 2012 in Wisconsin) served as the university’s outreach arm from the campuses to the everyman around the State. Cooperative Extension has gone through a lot of changes over the last century, not in the least thanks to the emergence of the Internet and Google. My role a few years ago would have been as a “home economist” helping housewives select the best stove for their kitchen or explain the best way to get ring-around-the-collar out of shirts. We don’t do that anymore (and thank goodness, because I wouldn’t have lasted long!). Now my job is almost as difficult to explain as a Peace Corps volunteer’s. So, I won’t even try.

But, it has given me the opportunity for several firsts in this last year. It began in January with my first time teaching parenting classes. I guess this could be considered a promotion over teaching sex ed and HIV prevention to teenagers in Africa and Asia, but no less ironic. The Raising a Thinking Child curriculum is very interesting and almost – almost – makes me think it would be fun to have a kid to try some of this stuff out on.

Another first is live radio. Twice during this last year I had the opportunity to sit on a panel for an hour-long live radio forum…which then got me roped into joining the host of our local independent public radio station in pitching for their pledge drives. Now there’s something I never thought I’d ever do. I have yet to pitch for the polka show, however!

The next first was becoming a Master Food Preserver and exploring the big world of canning and dehydrating. One part of the “home economist” part of my job that does remain – and is gaining interest rapidly – is the art of home canning and food preserving. So, in order to be able to field the questions that come into our office about canned foods, I took the Master Food Preserver training taught by our state food safety specialist. It was a fabulous training, and enough to get a staunch anti-home economist like me to go out and buy a waterbath canner, pressure canner and food dehydrator all of my own (and inspire me to clean out a part of the basement to create a pantry). So, thanks to farmer friends, a good year for blackberries, and the UWEX food preservation publications, I put up tomato sauce, tomatoes, jams, zucchini everything, pickled watermelon rind, random vegetables, and chocolate raspberry ice cream sauce that I’m now enjoying all winter long.

Some of this year’s firsts have nothing at all to do with work. When I’m not working (and I’m still careful to not do too much of that), I’m usually busy making musical noises with various groups. I still play French horn, and now play in two community bands, two brass quintets (one in the winter only), an occasional community big band, and, this last year, a old silver cornet brass band. So my first for this year was learning to play (and transpose for, when necessary) the Eb alto upright horn, also known as a peck horn.

But French horn is still my first instrument, and this year I was blessed with the miraculous arrival of two more amazing horn players in our area. Our community band is now up to five (count them, five!) horns. Then, as another first, three of us got together to “ring the bells” for the Salvation Army Kettle, performing Christmas duets in the entry way to Shopko – much to the amusement of a large number of shoppers.

Also in musical firsts this year was my first Luther College reunion, which was also the first Luther College Concert Band reunion. Over 250 Concert Band alumni filled the stage to perform once again under the direction of the retired Weston Nobel and retiring Frederick Nyline. It was a sheer thrill to be smack in the middle of a 25 member horn section and to see so many faces from my college days – and to get to almost room with my college roommate of four years – again. (And yes, Callista Gingrich, wife of Newt Gingrich, was there in our horn section, and then, by extremely random chance, I encountered them afterwards coming out of a McDonalds in a town a hundred miles north where I stopped to steal free wi-fi - you can read about her take on the event here.)

Another first came when I took time off of work and flew out to San Francisco. Fellow Madagascar RPCV Kelsey Lynd picked me up from the airport and wisked me off deep into the glorious redwoods and took me on the longest HASH I’ve ever experienced – my first official half-marathon, and my first time doing a half marathon covering more than 3500 feet in elevation gain. Yeah, I hurt for the rest of my time in San Fran, but that didn’t stop me from doing a second half-marathon around the city from Golden Gate Park, to the bridge, down the warf, through the financial district and on. Perfect weather, amazing trip.

Wow, rereading all that amazes me. It seems I haven’t done much simply because I have been “home” all this time, but I am still managing to find firsts around most corners. And 2012 holds promise for even more firsts that I look forward to reflecting on next year.

In the meantime, I hope 2011 has brought you much to learn from and explore, and you have my best wishes for a 2012 full of happy firsts. May your life in the next year be full and satisfying, and may you find riches in all that comes your way and in all that you do.