Go Forth and Celebrated the Fourth!

What is a better way to celebrate the birth of a new nation than by going out in to the woods in central Idaho, freezing a wild porcupine with bright light, loading him up and hauling him back to town where he will compete in what may be the world’s only annual porcupine race? I can’t imagine there is one!

The tradition of porcupine races in Council, Idaho is decades old, and has been a part of my family’s annual celebration since I was the same height as the spiky competitors themselves. Before each contender is hauled out to the racing ground though, he is put in a cage, strapped to the back of a four-wheeler and driven through town as part of Council’s 4th of July parade. Once all have had a gander at the challengers, each animal is auctioned off, with the winning “owner” getting a cut of that day’s prize purse. Run Mr. Porcupine, run!

Of course, each year there is a jailbreak during the race, where at least one, if not many, of the pokey little guys scurries under the plastic sheeting meant to be the course perimeter. It is at this point that small children are quickly hoisted on to the backs of their fathers, mothers let out squeals of terror and the entire crowd takes off as if a grenade landed in the vicinity of their viewing area.  It just wouldn’t be a porcupine race without a few quills dangling painfully from the calf of an unprepared spectator sporting shorts rather than the necessary long-pants required of such a potentially painful event.

On top of the trek to Council to see the races, my childhood Independence Days were rounded out with evenings spent  lounging on a blanket spread across a patch of lawn in front of the College of Idaho’s library, munching on Idaho Spuds (a wonderful concoction of puffed marshmallow swathed in a thin layer of chocolate covered in coconut flakes) and where we had a perfect view of the small-town fireworks provided by the city of Caldwell.

This  year, there were no porcupine races on my agenda, no Idaho Spuds making a mess of coconut down my shirt, and no red, white and blue fireworks to commemorate the birth of a new nation.

That isn’t to say the day wasn’t celebrated though.

I attended not one, not two, but three separate 4th of July events over the course of the previous week. The US Consulate in Chengdu hosted two events- one last week in Chongqing and one this week here in the city. Both were official parties, thrown to celebrate with our host-country dignitaries and contacts. Official event really means “working event.” The evenings are definitely networking opportunities, where both the Chinese and Americans come with their stacks of name cards, making connections with new people, passing out contact information and building relationships. This is all great, expect for the fact than I neither have name cards, nor, as CLO, am I a contact that people are looking to make. What this means is that as soon as someone I was chatting with realized I had no real power/information, our conversations quickly came to a halt and they moved on to bigger fish, leaving me to swim alone like an awkward little minnow.

The third, and final, Independence Day event was the community one, planned and hosted by this brand new CLO.  As my first official party as the planner, I decided to go informal and low-key. By this point in the list of parties, people were not looking for anything too rehearsed or regimented. I heard that sidewalk chalk (or at least colored chalk) was available at the local IKEA, so I made a trip out there last week, which could be a whole blog post of its own, as I saw not only several people sleeping on the beds and one guy actually preparing a small lunch in one of the sample kitchens, but also a photo shoot in one of the living room display areas! I ordered seventeen pizzas from Mike’s and put a whole lot of soda in the fridge.  With several spouses offering to provide desserts, we were ready to enjoy an afternoon of hazy skies at the pool. (Haze is constant here. Sunshine is a rarity. Chengdu has to be a solar panel’s worst nightmare!)

The day before the party, I checked The Weather Channel’s website, just to make sure I was set for the party. When the site listed Wednesday as having 100% chance of rain, I knew a change of venue was imperative. 100% leaves no wiggle room. It will rain. It will be muddy. There will be no swimming.  I sent out a quick email moving the party indoors and made sure I had a giant roll of butcher paper to take the place of sidewalk for the kids.

After going in early to put beer and soda on ice and bedeck the reception room in glorious red, white and blue, I was set for a rainy day party. But what did I get?


(Now is not the time to get me started on my feelings about weather forecasters. Yet again, I’ve been misled and mistreated by these “professionals” who peer into their crystal balls of meteorology and divine the future of local cloud cover and precipitation. I put no more faith in them than I do the woman at the county fair whose tent is bedazzled with fake gems and who will read your palm for the low, low price of just $5.)

That’s right. In a city that hasn’t seen actual rays of sun in well over two weeks, my 100% chance of rain day turned into the nicest day we’ve seen in a fortnight. The sun was out, a slightly blue sky was visible and the sidewalks were begging for amateur artwork. Needless to say, the party quickly moved outdoors where pavement was splattered with pink flowers and blue clouds and green trees and the pool was filled with everyone from toddlers to Marines.

So, my 4th of July might have been missing mid-sized spikey mammals competing to waddle across the finish line on a high school football field, but it was filled with new friends, passable pizza and most importantly, some rare buy glorious sunshine! (Rumor has it those delightful little treats known as Idaho Spuds are in a care package somewhere between Idaho and Sichuan as I type.  It’s never too late for marshmallow-y goodness.)

For You the Flag is Flung

O Captain! My Captain!

Walt Whitman

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
    But O heart! heart! heart!          5
      O the bleeding drops of red,
        Where on the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;   10
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
    Here Captain! dear father!
      This arm beneath your head;
        It is some dream that on the deck,   15
          You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;   20
    Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
      But I, with mournful tread,
        Walk the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.

While Flag Day was the main event of the last few weeks, it has hardly been the only event.  We were lucky enough to have some friends from Idaho fly in for the big day and then spend time touring our nation’s lovely capital city.

One of the great things about living in the DC area is hosting friends/family who have never been here before.  It is awesome to be with people on their first circuit of so many iconic places.  For those of us raised in the West, images of the Washington Monument lit by fireworks or the view of the White House from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial are ones that we encountered year after year in our history books, but remain two dimensional until the opportunity to cross the country arrives.  Those photographs were always compelling, but there really isn’t anything like seeing those same places in person.  Having people in town and experiencing those sites with them for the first time is a great reminder of just how tremendous it is to live here.

The weekend after Flag Day was the first time we have had a chance to get out of town, so we rented a car and headed out for short adventure.  That Saturday we filled with a self-guided car tour of Gettysburg.  I am not sure the guys all realized that it was sixteen stops long!  It really was a full-day activity, but the park area is set up so that the visitors can go through it in chronological order of that terrible three day battle.  After information overload from each of the stops, we ended our tour at the Gettysburg Cemetery where Lincoln gave his famous ten-sentence Gettysburg Address.  Sunday saw us visiting the homes of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  It was incredible to see the massive undertaking these estates are and image the work that must have gone into creating them hundreds of years ago.  I especially liked the beds that Jefferson built into the walls of the home to save space!  They looked like fabulous places to curl up with a great book or two.

Flag Day wasn’t the end of Thad’s A-100 training, so while he went back to work on Monday, I continued to sightsee around town.  We hit the requisite Smithsonian Museums, (had a great fry bread lunch at the Native Americans Museum) , walked the monuments and took tours of the National Archives (who knew butter was a food group at one point?), the Bureau of Engraving (no free samples) and the Library of Congress.

As another week came to an end, so did Thad’s A-100 class.  Friday July 1 was the last day of orientation and in the afternoon the official swearing in ceremony was held at Main State.  He, along with his 93 classmates, to their oath and became official diplomats in the Foreign Service.  It was a nicely put together ceremony, formal enough to convey the importance of the job, but not filled with never-ending speakers.

With time running out for our Idaho guests, it was time to celebrate Independence Day.  Sadly, I didn’t plan ahead enough to get Idaho Spuds shipped in from back home, but I think the Idahoans may have been the only ones in our group who would have enjoyed them anyway!  We were lucky enough to be able to meet up with several China RPCVs and watch the fireworks as they lit up the night sky over the Washington Monument.  (No longer is it just something from my history books!)

The past weeks have been filled with exciting milestones in Thad’s career and visits to amazing historical sights with friends from home.  As A-100 wraps up and Chinese lessons begin, Thad will be kept busy with studies and I will continue to explore Washington on my own!

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*Me at Mt. Vernon

*Thad and me after the official Swear-In ceremony (He’s official folks!)

*Jeremy, me, Thad and Jess at the Swear-In ceremony

*Enjoying the fireworks on the National Mall with friends

*4th of July fireworks at the Washington Monument