Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Abalone Diving

Click on ALL photos for more detail
 For over thirty years, my husband and a band of friends have been making trips to Mendocino to dive for abalone.  Abalone are sea snails that live underwater, attach themselves to the undersides of rock edges with their single suction-cup foot and graze on the kelp growing in the ocean. They are hunted avidly by divers. The taste of abalone is hard to describe. Not fishy in the least, it is tender and almost a cross between the taste of lobster and crab meat. It is simply delicious.  To legally harvest this delicacy (you cannot buy wild abalone and farmed abalone sells for about $100 per pound) the hunters must ‘free-dive’ meaning no oxygen tanks or oxygen hoses can be used. This limits the depth to which a hunter can go, and it limits how long he/she can stay underwater. Supposedly these restrictions give the abalone a fairer chance. 
Legal sized (seven inches) abalone can be found at any depth, but the larger ones are usually deeper and hidden in crevices.  My husband can dive to about 25 feet, but is much happier when he can get good ones at 12-15 feet.  Abalone hunters wear thick rubber wetsuits because the ocean in Northern California is very cold (50 degrees F/11 degrees C).  The wetsuit my husband wears to surf is not thick enough to keep him warm for an abalone hunt. These hunters also use snorkel masks, weight belts and fins, and have their 'ditty' bag attached to a float board. The ditty bag is useful in hauling their equipment when they descend or ascend the cliffs, and it is useful to haul their catch! Three legal-sized abalone would be very awkward to carry (they are round with no handles!) and are heavy (about ten pounds altogether). The ditty bag also carries the tags and ties that are required to legally take abalone out of the ocean. The heft of the weight belt is determined by the diver's body weight. The heavier the diver, the more lead weights on his belt to help him stay underwater. Most divers in their prime can dive for one minute, but it is more comfortable to remain under for only 30 seconds. Try holding your breath for one minute, and imagine swimming and prying a reluctant critter off a rock at 20 feet at the same time. Not easy to do.
Divers/hunters are limited to three abalone a day and a total of twenty-four  per year. Divers can only hunt for abalone in certain months of the year, and the shell must be a minimum of seven inches across for the abalone to be mature enough to harvest. Divers carry small ‘ab irons’ that resemble tire irons and these are what they use to pry the abalone off the rocks. It costs nearly $75 to get a license for abalone. The rangers sit on the cliffs and watch through binoculars. If they suspect someone has too many abalone or is not tagging them properly on the beach, the rangers swoop down and write tickets with enormous price tags. About three years ago, the first year with the 'new' tag system, my husband freely admitted to the ranger that he had not tagged his abalone properly because he did not have scissors with him at the beach. The ranger ticketed him on the spot at the campsite and it cost $500.
Abalone meat is delicious to eat, and the shells are beautiful to display. The diving, I am told, is fun as long as you don’t get caught in the kelp or lose your weight belt or see a large creature with a single fin eyeing you like you are going to be its lunch. The ocean must be very calm and the tide must be out for optimal abalone diving.


Swimming in the heavy kelp
 When I first moved to California, this is one trip my husband could hardly wait for me to make with him. Off to Mendocino to camp in a tent for four days in Van Damme State Park, his diving friends and their families camped around us. I enjoyed the whole event. Definite selling points for me included the potluck feasts every night with the main entrĂ©e being abalone,  the side dishes that were family specialities and the big 'family reunion' atmosphere. Long evening sessions around the campfire with my husband and his friends playing their guitars and singing campfire songs were so entertaining. The visiting and bouts of laughter were cherished. The physical contentment that comes from days spent outdoors led to deep restorative sleeps in our sleeping bags in our tents.  The camaraderie of the band of abalone hunters was seamless, woven tightly after many consecutive years and strong enough to have survived these many years. The members of this band were newly-weds together, young teachers together and new parents together. They observed the growing up of each other’s kids and the growing old of each other.
Coming in, giving me the all's-good wave!
An abalone as it comes from the ocean
The annual Mendocino camping/diving trip seems to be on its last legs. The group used to number in the forties for the potluck dinners, and whole sections of  Van Damme State Park were crammed with our tents, trailers and RVs. No more. Last year there were only two families in our section of the park, and only about ten of us for dinner each night. There were two other families from the original group in another part of the campground but beyond some socializing, there was not a lot of contact. Most of the original abalone divers have 'retired' due to their age or health conditions. My husband and maybe one or two others of the original hunters still dive. The next generation (with the exception of a very few who were raised with annual camping/diving trips) seems to be more interested in other recreational pursuits. It is sad to see this 30-year-old tradition end.  I shall miss the campfires, singing, shared potluck meals and hours of visiting in the afternoon sunshine.  I know my husband is mourning this loss of the time together with his friends in the water and woods.
 

Abalone shells emptied of their meat with an ab iron resting on them



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taking Care of Business

It had to happen. I have to talk about the wonderful response I have received in the three weeks since I began this blog. The particular program I am using to create my blog is Blogspot from Google, and it gives me the ability to track some amazing statistics. Let me share some of them. As of today, over eight hundred visitors have come to look at this blog. Some of them are probably coming for the umpteenth time (thanks family), and some are coming for the first time and may never return.  I can’t track that. There have been visitors from several countries, listed here from most visitors to least visitors: USA, Canada,  Australia, Russia, Germany, Malaysia, Thailand and Slovakia. Visitors from the United States slightly outnumber visitors from Canada. Most readers are logging in during the evening. That is what the amazing stats page tells me.
Emails, comments and checkmarks in the response options (funny, cool, interesting) tell me so much more. The blog entries most visited are first, “Who is Cindy Anderson Deetz and why is she writing this blog?” followed by Growing old takes a long time”, my birthday entry. The comments and emails I have received have been so supportive, so positive and so helpful. In fact, this entry is my way of responding to this feedback. Some have asked me to specify what it is that I am looking for in feedback. Some have asked me to clarify why I am writing this blog. Several have written to me to ask how to post a comment or how to become a follower. Let me try to respond to these comments here.
“Who is Cindy Anderson Deetz and why is she writing a blog?” was my very first entry. Seems that I answered the first part of the title question very clearly and with a lot of detail (ho-hum-boring) but somehow I skipped over the second part. OK, I am writing this blog because I like to write, I would like to be published and I was told to do so. I attended two publishing conferences (one a weekend-long, another an evening) and both of them had noted authors, editors and publishers teaching us, the ‘wannabe’ writers. They said that it was almost mandatory in today’s writing world to develop a “platform” of readers. In other words, I must get my writing out in the world and see if anyone likes it and what parts they most like. If I can develop a strong and stable platform (or as we ordinary people call it, an audience), it is much more likely that a publisher will be interested in looking at my work.
So I began this blog. Two very observant readers have commented to me that I have not settled into a genre ~ am I going to be writing personal stories, information pieces or comments on current events? Each piece I have written fits into one of those areas, and I am relying a lot on the feedback from my readers to determine which genre I am better at, or which appeals most to you. At this point, the pieces that are more personal (“Who is Cindy Anderson Deetz….” and “It takes a long time to grow young”, written about my birthday) have been the most read and most commented on.
With this blog, I hope to see where my writing can go. I also belong to a weekly writing group, have attended two publishing conferences, attended a workshop on taking memories to memoirs, and I am registered for a weekend writing retreat on memoir-writing. I have always written for my own pleasure (or as a way to vent). I enjoy sharing my writing with others. There are many people that have been told this same thing, I am sure, but I have been told over and over that I should write a book. If I can find an audience and consistently write engaging pieces, I will know that I am heading in the right direction. If I find writing for this blog too difficult or my audience becomes too sparse, I will know that I am not meant to publish magazine articles let alone write a book.
I appreciate ALL feedback. For those that asked, here are more specifics. For those that choose not to comment, relax and read and enjoy the blog. No one need feel they have to comment (even though I love it and am begging for it!) That said  if you want to know what feedback  I am most interested in hearing, read on.  I really want to know how you react to any or every blog entry here. Was it boring, interesting, funny or flat? Is it the worst piece I have written or the best or just mediocre? Am I being too anything ~ too whiney, too sarcastic, too tear-jerking, too exaggerating, too drippy or whatever you can put too in front of? Please let me know what you felt or thought when you read it. Also, please please please let me know what you liked.  My goal is to produce more of what my readers like.

Lastly, because several of you have asked, let’s talk about how to become a follower and how to post comments. I think that the advantage to you of becoming a follower is that you receive an email notification whenever there is a new entry on my blog. For me, the advantage is that the more followers I can show, the more interest I can generate in the writing world.  To become a follower, look at the top right of my blog page. It says “Followers” and has a button to click to “Join This Site’. If you have a google account (gmail) or a yahoo account, complete the rest of the form. If you don’t have either, there is a link right there to get your own free google account. Another option is to look at the very bottom of the blog page, and find the box that is titled “Follow by email”. Fill it out and hit submit and it will pop up another window for you to complete and then you get notification of new entries. Finally, the last issue I have received a lot of questions about is how to post a comment. At the end of each article, click on comments (see the little envelope). Write your comment in the box. Now select your identity: you can remain anonymous, or use your google account or yahoo account name. If you don’t have a google or yahoo account, you will have to be anonymous and if that is what you want, great. Just know that you can add your first name, initials or nickname to your comment IF you want me to know who you are. After you have chosen your identity, hit preview and decide if you like your comment. Then hit submit and retype the nonsense word that appears and then hit “Post Comment”. There, that is all there is to it. Honestly, I follow several blogs and posting comments is easy after the first time or two. One more business thing before I end this. Please pass this website address on to your friends! The more the merrier! Thanks.
So here we are. The business is taken care of. I think. If you have other questions or comments or just want to tell me something, please let me know. To everyone that is reading this, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. I really appreciate every one of you taking the time to read my words!


Monday, August 15, 2011

Away to Mendo


Where the river meets the ocean below the village of Mendocino
 And away to Mendocino we go again. Along California’s northern coast, this is a place that my husband and I visit at least twice a year. We pack our overnight bags, our dog and my husband’s dive gear and off we go. The trip easily takes five or six hours from our house in Santa Cruz (it is almost two hundred miles) and it is not a fun drive. It takes at least thirty minutes to get to San Jose over the coast mountains via the dreaded accident-studded Highway 17.  Onward to San Francisco, through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then through the heavy traffic of Santa Rosa.


Golden Gate Bridge
The mercury in the thermometer begins to seriously rise and by the time we get to Cloverdale, it is often 95 degrees (35 Celsius), a huge difference from the 65 degree temperature (18 degrees Celsius) when we left Santa Cruz three hours ago. We always stop at Cloverdale and fortify ourselves with sandwiches and cold drinks for the remainder of the trip. Sometimes it is too hot for the dog’s feet to walk on the asphalt so we carry him to the graveled side yard to relieve himself. Cloverdale is the last stop on the four-lane freeway. From there to Mendocino, a one and one-half hour slow drive, there is a two lane winding up-and -down road that makes me car-sick EVERY time. My husband does not suffer from car-sickness. Neither does the dog. I suffer alone. Usually as we crest that last hill and twist through that last turn, and finally see the ocean again, I have a gut-ache, a head-ache and a severe lack of cheerfulness. And still I come at least twice a year.


Winding road

Coastal redwoods

Why do I willingly submit to a horrific bout of car-sickness at least twice a year? Obviously Mendocino is a magnet for me. Lest you question my intelligence, let me tell you that I am not the only one affected by the pull of this area. Thousands of visitors from all over the world make their way to this quaint village by the sea every year. Originally settled by loggers lusting after the huge redwoods, Mendocino was created in the middle of the nineteenth century. The big redwoods were cut, milled and loaded into ocean-going freighters. Trucks replaced ships, logging became more regulated and the logging industry required fewer workers. Mendocino went into a slump. In the 1950’s, it resembled a ghost town. Enter Bill Zacha, a multitalented high school teacher from the San Francisco Bay area who envisioned an artists’ haven. He began to rebuild Mendocino. He bought run-down properties for as little as fifty dollars down, and spruced them up to attract renters and businesses. It worked. The picturesque houses and commercial buildings remained standing. Artists began to settle in the town and the surrounding area. Mendocino attracted several big movie productions with it pristine appearance and willingness to work with the film companies. Some of the two dozen or more movies shot here include: "East of Eden", "Island of the Blue Dolphins", "The Summer of '42",  "Cujo", "Overboard", "Wired" and "Karate Kid III". The long-running TV mystery, "Murder She Wrote" with Angela Lansbury was also filmed in Mendocino.

Tourists began to make the drive to see the location where their favorite films had been made, to see the quaint Victorian houses on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, to walk on the headlands surrounding the town and make their own discoveries in the art galleries and unique shops of the main streets. My husband and his friends have been coming to Mendocino for over thirty years to camp and dive for abalone, a delectable sea snail that lives underwater. When I accompanied my husband and his friends on a June camping and diving trip many years ago I received my first introduction to Mendocino. I can proclaim that it was love at first sight!

Flower garden in the village
Mendocino is the most beautiful place on earth. Easy for a prairie girl from Saskatchewan to say, right? Well, since my very first trip years ago to Mendocino, I have been to a few other places. I spent two weeks in Scotland (gorgeous), ten days in London (interesting but not beautiful), a week in Hawaii (nice but not stunning) and two weeks in Spain (another gorgeous place). None of those locations can unseat Mendocino in my personal (and biased) hierarchy of beautiful places. The picturesque houses, the high wooden sidewalk, the blooming flowers everywhere, the cleanliness of the town and roads, the view from the main street out to the ocean and backed by redwoods, the sheer dramatic drop from the cliff tops to the ocean, the rattlesnake grass blending into the flowing golden grasses on the headlands moving in the chilly salty air all add up to a splendor I have not witnessed anywhere else I have been.

The headlands: rattlesnake grass in the foreground
Click for more detail
Perhaps the isolation of the town and the tininess of the town remind me of my childhood in Saskatchewan. Perhaps the long view to the horizon on the Headlands and the waves of golden grass also remind me of the Prairies where I grew up. Perhaps it goes back even farther. Perhaps, because of my Scottish lineage, and the resemblance of Mendocino to Scotland’s coast, there exists in my very genetic material, in my DNA, an inherited attraction to the scenery of Mendocino. 

 
Village of Mendocino
Today Mendocino is a village of less than 900 residents. It is possible that its population triples during the day when visitors crowd into its shops, galleries and restaurants and remains double at night when all the beds in the bed-and-breakfasts and inns are tucked up with sleeping travellers. You can eat fish and chips in a family-type restaurant, or duck breast in a tres French restaurant.You can buy almost anything there from groceries to art works to estate jewelry to hemp clothing to homemade jams to books and so on and so on.  The coffee shop just off the high street serves a diverse group. Dreadlocked men and women in ragged hippie clothing sit side by side with very proper tourists from England, young parents try to chug their lattes while they rock the designer strollers their fussing tots sit in, campers from the parks smell of wood smoke as they catch up on the world news in the papers and some people just sit there and simply watch the people passing through. The coffee shop is a microcosm of life in Mendocino; all kinds of people with many languages heard, different ethnicities observed and yep, some wild wardrobes displayed.

MacCallum House: our wedding planner
The strongest reason why Mendocino is such a magnet for me is very personal. The appeal of Mendocino is forever cemented in my mind by its association with a life-changing event that occurred there several years ago. On a chilly June evening, on the edge of the cliffs of Agate Cove at sunset, our wedding took place. We drove to the edge of Mendocino with a Justice of the Peace and a photographer, and at 8:00 pm, we exchanged vows with only the JP and the photographer in attendance. We were in Mendocino a day before the dive band of friends and family were to arrive. The next afternoon as the divers began to drift into camp, we told them we had married the night before. We celebrated the first days of our marriage with these dear friends in the most beautiful place on earth. This may be the main reason that keeps Mendocino in my mind as the place I have to visit at least twice a year, regardless of the car-sickness, traffic or heat. To me, Mendocino is a sacred place, sandwiched between redwoods and ocean, carpeted by golden grass, paused in time and seemingly untouched by modern cares.

Agate Cove~ our personal wedding chapel.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Yoga. Even Mayo Clinic embraces it.

Yoga. Even Mayo Clinic embraces it.  Their current list of the top ten ways to beat stress (mayoclinc.org) places yoga squarely in the number six spot.  Meditation, a component of a true yoga practice is in the number two spot.  Traditional and alternative medical practitioners tout yoga as an excellent prescription for relaxation, lowering high blood pressure, building immunity, reducing chronic pain, lowering anxiety levels, maintaining range of movement and increasing overall health.  Let me explain this blog entry's title: When I grew up on the Canadian prairies, Mayo Clinic was considered the finest medical facility to go to when the local doctors in Saskatchewan or Alberta were stumped.  Probably Montreal or Toronto would have had the same expertise but Mayo Clinic was closer. You could say, and you'd be right, that I grew up with tremendous respect for Mayo Clinic.
Om...the yoga symbol in Sanskrit

The original purpose of yoga was to calm the mind, to relax the mind and to focus inward.  That is still the primary focus of any true yoga practice today.  There are some yoga practices that focus only on stretches and poses and might more accurately be called gym workouts with a yoga flavor. There are several varieties of yoga but I am only familiar with two types.  For one winter in Canada, I practiced Iyengar yoga.  Iyengar yoga encourages the use of props: wooden blocks, canvas belts, walls, chairs and the emphasis in on attaining a perfect pose.  An Iyengar instructor might use his/her hands to help you achieve perfection in the pose.  I appreciated the Iyengar class that I took, and while it was my introduction to yoga, and I love yoga, I did not fall 'in love' with the Iyengar version.

Integral yoga,a form of Hatha yoga, claims my heart and passion.  The focus of Hatha yoga is stretching and relaxation.  About five years ago here in Santa Cruz, I spotted an advertisement for an Integral yoga class being offered in my neighborhood.  It was called “Relax with Yoga” and was held at a nearby community center.  It sounded perfect so two friends and I signed up.
Om, the yoga symbol in Jain

The teacher, with thirty or more years of experience, began with the story of yoga and I am going to try to repeat it here in my words.  (All mistakes are mine, not hers!)  She told us that a very long time ago yoga was developed as a way of quieting the mind, of going inward, of finding mental peace.  The first yoga participants found that sitting very still and focusing on their breathing helped them achieve a state of mental peace that they were unable to attain any other way.  Unfortunately sitting very still for long periods of time in order to achieve this mental state can be very hard on the body.  Just when the mental comfort level was highest, the physical discomfort of sore buttocks, tired backs and cramped legs would begin to creep in.  It is difficult to stay focused when physical pain is insinuating itself into your mind.  The ancient yogis ( someone who practices yoga) created a series of stretches or poses (called asanas) that if practiced regularly, would help them to sit in meditation for longer and longer periods of time without pain.  As a bonus, these ancient yogis found that these poses also increased their energy and vitality.  It seems that today’s research proves them right!

A typical Hatha yoga class with my teacher always begins with us sitting comfortably, eyes shut and mind focused inward. We chant Om three times and then we begin our movements.  Salutation to the sun is a moving posture that is done three times and provides a nice warm-up for the more difficult poses to come.  Poses with names such as the cobra, the fish, the bow, the short boat, the warrior, and the shoulder-stand make up the repertoire of every session.  There are countless poses and we constantly try new ones.  After the smoothly flowing series of poses, we go into the relaxation portion of the class. In the corpse position, flat on our backs, arms away from the body with palms facing up and legs slightly spread, we are guided by our teacher through carefully choreographed relaxation exercises.  We tighten our fists and then release them, we clench our jaws and then release them, and in this way, we work our way through our whole bodies.  On and on this goes until we feel as if our bodies are melting into the mats beneath us.  Cautioning us to let our bodies sleep while we keep our minds awake, the teacher guides us into the “yogic sleep”.  After a period of time (five to fifteen minutes), she slowly helps us awaken our bodies.  Once we are all sitting up again (some of us are loathe to leave the wonderful pose!), we practice some controlled breathing. We close with a short chant in Sanskrit that translates as this prayer:  May all people everywhere experience sweetness in their lives.  The final step in our yoga practice is perhaps the most beautiful part of all to me. Each person puts his/her palms together at the chest, bows his/her head slightly and says “Namaste” to the group.  Namaste (pronounced naw-maw-stay) might best be translated today like this: the spirit (or divinity or God) in me recognizes the spirit (or divinity or God) in you. This part always moves me deeply because it addresses my own need to acknowledge that there is Something greater than us.

Five years later, I continue to attend the same yoga class along with one of the friends that joined with me originally.  Why am I so committed to this activity?  Yoga came to me in a period of my life when I was extremely overweight, hitting my fifties, hurting with sciatica and suffering my fair share of stress and anxiety (or not so fair share, who knows?).  I was desperately in need of the benefits of yoga.  The blessing was that even when I was at my fattest, I could still do yoga.  I couldn’t do the poses perfectly but it didn’t matter.  Yoga is not competitive.  Anyone with any body shape or body condition can do yoga. Yoga is about doing the best you can with your body at any given time.  Our teacher says to imagine in our minds that we are doing the poses perfectly.  Truly liberating to me is that our teacher has us all close our eyes during class.  She explained that if we close our eyes, we are concentrating on our own bodies and as a result, we pay closer attention to what WE can do, and we end up with fewer injuries.  If I thought that everyone could have seen me in those first few sessions, I would have been too embarrassed to continue.  I could not do what my thin and trim friends could do, nor could I do what the twenty-year-old Gumby next to me could do! Still can't and don't care. As long as no one else could see how my rolls and bulges prevented me from bending more compactly (strap a couch cushion to your middle and try bending over and you will know what I felt like!), I was happy to keep trying.  An excellent teacher, my yoga instructor was always positive and encouraging and patient with her very fat student.  I found that with yoga, my anxiety and stress levels went down.  The night of the week that I always sleep the best is the night I have yoga class.  The sciatica pain only appears now when I miss two consecutive yoga sessions.  I found that the simple and spiritual (but non-religious) components of yoga contained in the meditation, chants and the beautiful Namaste ending are truly satisfying to me at this stage of my life.

Yoga for who?  From baby yoga that is parent-facilitated (ask my daughter what her 6-month-old son’s favorite pose is) to chair yoga for those physically not able to get up and down off the floor (cancer clinics, cardio rehab clinics, assisted living facilities, etc.), there is a yoga practice for every age and ability level. 


Trust in the Mayo Clinic.  We  Saskatchewanites (residents of Saskatchewan) of the Canadian prairies surely did!





NAMASTE
 




Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Naked ladies everywhere!

It seems that everywhere I look these days in Santa Cruz, I see naked ladies. It is only at this time of the year that they appear in such profusion! They are so long and lean, so pink and fresh and they are often seen in groups of ten or more in the most run-down rubby-dub conditions! The first time I saw them, we were driving down the street and my husband called out, "Look at all the naked ladies!" I'll tell you, my head about snapped off as I whipped it to and fro trying to locate the nudes. My husband had himself a good chuckle over my intense interest in naked ladies, and then he kindly pointed out the randomly appearing flowering stalks that were growing along the side of the road. Once my eyes were able to focus again (the violent back and forth motion had made my vision blurry), I could see the beautiful flowers.

Tall, greenish-reddish stalks barely supporting their trumpet-like bright pink blooms, they seem to appear out of nowhere.  Against a fence, around a sign post, between the stumps of trees and in people's front yards, they spike through the ground one day and the next day they are fully- crowned, top-heavy cotton-candy pink blazes of color on thin sticks of reed.They are known as 'naked ladies' because they grow blooms on leafless stems. Most flowers (thinking of my sixty-two rose bushes now, and the dahlias the neighbor is growing) have leaves that hide and protect them.These gorgeous ladies grow virtually naked.  Even after ten summers here they continue to amaze me as they thrive in the oddest places and without any gardening care at all. They are 'volunteers' here in Santa Cruz.. At some point in the past, these bulbs of the amaryllis family known by their taxonomic name of amaryllis belladonna, were planted in the city. They survived and thrived and spread. Small bulbs, they are easily transported in floods, erosion (slides) and in pocket gophers' mouths. They grow where they want. They survive the worst of conditions. They can be killed but it is hard to do. Strangely enough, you must use kindness to kill them: water them, fertilize them or move them to what you think is a better location. Poof. They die. The naked ladies exist only only on their terms and conditions. As a feminist, I like the sound of that!


Skinny stalks

A bud
 




Growing in a flower bed or........



in an untended lot. These ladies don't care!





   
Naked ladies are a thing of beauty from bud to bloom.  Next week the blooms will drop and the stalks will develop leaves! Seems so backward somehow, blooms before foliage. Sort of like eating dessert first. Oh wait, I LIKE that idea!

Cotton candy pink


Monday, August 1, 2011

"Socialist-pinko- commie-canuck"

For those that do not know, I am a Canadian citizen.  I am also an American citizen.  It took me eight years to achieve this dual citizenship, and some money and some time spent being fingerprinted and interviewed.  Heck, I even had to marry an American citizen to get citizenship.  Actually that is such an ironic joke, because if I had not fallen in love with this California man and moved to California in order to be with him, I would have never even entertained a thought of becoming an American citizen.  We have all heard of cases where someone wants to be an American citizen and get the ‘green card’ so badly that they find an American to marry.  I think there are a few movies and novels about this exact topic.  Well, that was not my case at all.  I quite liked being a mono (as opposed to dual) citizen of Canada.  I know that some people who immigrate to the USA come from war-torn, politically-unstable, poverty-stricken countries.  Not me.  Canada is a GREAT country.  Instead I moved for love. Okay, make that love with a capital L. Love Love Love. To see what I mean, look at the photo below!

Our two countries' flags tattooed above his heart. Surprise Christmas gift. (double-click for detail)

A lot of folks figured that I would have no difficulty making the transition to American culture.  As I heard over and over, “There isn’t really much difference between Canadians and Americans anyway.”  Fallacy.  There are differences.  Some of them are bigger than others.  
For example, yesterday my husband spent a large part of the day watching the news programs about the “debt ceiling” crisis.  Oh, it was exciting to him. The last minute deals, the predictions of the political guests, the assumptions of the news announcers and finally the address by POTUS. (It took me awhile to figure that one out.  POTUS  stands for President of the United States.)  To my husband and millions of other American citizens, this was nail-biting television.  To me, it was rather ‘ho-hum’.  What difference did it make if anyone watched the minutiae of the day’s activities?  In the end, the results would be the same, right?

Mine
I don’t understand American politics. I also don't know much about Canadian politics. I never paid much attention to politics when I lived in Canada, and I honestly thought I was doing well when I remembered which party our Prime Minister represented.  (Oh, yes, there is no President in Canada, did I mention that?)  I truly thought I was a middle-of–the-road, middle-of-the-line, mainstream voter.  Are you getting my feeling of mediocrity here? No one I knew belonged to a ‘party’.  The NDP, Conservatives or Liberals or whatever they called themselves must have had members but I did not know any card-toting, dues-paying members. I never knew who my friends and family voted for in Canada.  I did not even know how my parents voted (swear to God, cross my heart).  It seemed that in my part of Canada, politics was never discussed in the personal sense.  Oh, one could say that the Prime Minister screwed up, or that the NDP were getting stronger or the Senators were useless old farts occupying lifetime seats and getting big pensions but no one ever said who or which party they voted for.  I actually thought it was against the law to tell how you voted (swear to God, cross my heart) when I was a kid. As I got older, those same lessons were reinforced time and time again.  As an adult, I knew it was not against the law to say how you voted but God forbid you asked someone.  We, my friends and family, discussed politics mostly by complaining about whichever party was in power and whining about laws and policies we did not like.  We did not publicly or privately claim membership in any party.
Now fast forward to life in California where one of the major cultural differences between Canada and the USA became apparent immediately.  Politics.  Donkeys and elephants. Republicans and Democrats. My husband is a card-carrying Republican.  He believes in ‘small government, individual freedom, less social services, and ‘might is right’.” He also believes that the US is the referee of the world and sees its involvement in all the civil wars, border wars, and assorted wars around the world almost like the USA is Superman appearing in the nick of time to save the world. After telling you all that, I must tell you that my husband is a nice guy. Maybe he is one of the nicest guys you might ever meet (I am always being told that by people who meet him.), and yet he is a public member of a political party.  He is ‘registered’ for heaven’s sakes.  Not only has he admitted who and which party he votes for, he has admitted this in public.
His
This knowledge presents troubles for me on many levels. The shock and horror of publicly declaring ones' allegiance is trumped only by the fact that he is a Republican, a member of the GOP (another tough one for a Canadian girl, it means “Grand Old Party”, which is presumptuous beyond belief ).  After studying the popular political parties here, Republicans and Democrats and trying to figure out where I fit in, I gave up.  When I became an American citizen and it was time to register to vote, the form asked me to select the party I belonged to.  I refused and selected ‘no party’.  In my husband’s eyes, I am a rebel for doing that.  In Canada, if faced with the same choice, I would have been a rebel for choosing a party.
My husband soon helped me figure out which party in the US I leaned towards. It is probably summed up best in the nickname he first gave me in the midst of a political discussion (argument?).  He called me his “socialist-pinko- commie-canuck” with great affection.  He continues to use this nickname during political discussions, and after some initial mild irritation, I have come to regard this as a term of endearment.   I have tried to educate him (and a few others) that socialism and communism are NOT the same but it falls on deaf ears. I guess I am a closet Democrat.  There I said it publicly. I will also say publicly that I think universal health care is awesome, and Tommy Douglas will be my hero forever for getting Canada to utilize that. I am also proud to say that I come from the place in North America with the first democratically elected socialist government.  Saskatchewan truly was and is a land of pioneers.  Even with that information proudly and publicly shared, I am not telling you how I voted in Canada!
We get along fine in our house!!