Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Color Were the Walls?

Hi readers,

In case you were wondering: high school students get a little restless in the springtime.

Also: so do high school teachers.

I've been feeling a little distracted in my day-to-day life lately.  With spring in the air, it seems possible to go through whole days focused on small moments and questions:

"Where are my keys?"
"Did I turn off the stove?"
"How many rides do I have left on my train pass?"
"What is my password for the Iberia Miles program?"
"Do I have enough money for coffee?"
"Do I have a lesson plan for class tomorrow?"
"Where are my keys?" (This comes up a lot)

The answers to these questions are relatively simple.

-My keys are in my bag. (They always are.)
-Yes, I turned off the stove. (I have always turned off the stove, not that it does anything to alleviate my 20-minutes-from-home-and-I'm sure-my-apartment-is-on-fire induced panic attacks)
-Generally, I have between 1 and 3 rides left on my train pass (I've also recently discovered that I can add more rides before they officially run out and the train pass somehow keeps track of which rides were added first and uses them.  Magic.)
-Usually, I have enough money for coffee.  (If I don't, my boyfriend helps out.  He's very generous and it's in his best interest to keep me well-caffeinated.)
-I'm at the miraculous point of teaching where I generally do have a lesson plan for class the next day.  (One I have already spent pain-staking hours considering and planning out in previous years, so I can just make sure the information is still accurate (and that I have a current answer key for those pesky physics questions) and go in and teach something.)

It's important to have the answers to these questions.  These small considerations are essential for my day-to-day functioning.  However, in the restless spring air it feels like I'm walking down a beautiful path and these questions keep me focused on looking at my feet.

I want to look up and make sure I'm headed the right direction.

As usual, my path to self-assurance in the general direction of my life started with an internet search about successful, happy people and their hobbies.

The good news: There is a wealth of advice of successful, happy people and their hobbies!! (here is what they do before 8 AM, here is morning to night, here is what they avoid, here is an infographic!)

The other good news: I already do a lot of this stuff! I exercise, I read (memes count, right?), I eat breakfast.  I'm halfway there!

BUT in doing all this stuff, I don't want to get lost in the minutia.  Instead of constantly thinking about where my keys are (because seriously, they're always in my bag) I want to focus on some different questions:

-What do I remember about the last news story I read?
-What kind of trees do I walk by on my morning commute?  Why do they grow there?
-Does the person I'm talking to have brothers and sisters?  Hobbies that might be interesting to discuss?
-What is a good adventure for this weekend?
-What was I doing this time last year?  What's changed since then?
-What color were the walls in the last room I was in?

Picture below of a trip (not even a year ago) to Botswana, an adventure I don't think about nearly enough.

Adventure in the Kaliharihari Desert, Botswana 2016

Friday, May 12, 2017

Visitors

Hi readers,
This week, my dad and his girlfriend have been visiting me in Madrid.  (Hi, Dad!) 

While they've been here, I've been thinking about how much I love having visitors. Here's a short list of the things I did this week while I normally would have been sitting on my couch, slow-watering my plants and admiring my bookshelves:

1.  Went to Palma, Mallorca. We ate Mallorcian almonds and finally saw the inside of the Palma cathedral.
(The cathedral is a typical Spanish attraction which means it is open to tourism 9-2 Monday-Friday BUT my dad's girlfriend got us down there during a church service on a Sunday.  Highly recommend!)
2.  Visited the DocumentaMadrid film festival.  We saw short films about life in Aleppo, Buenos Aires and Greece (the depth of the social problems in all those locations is a subject for another time)
3.  Visited the RVTE Teatro Monumental for a Beethoven/Puccini concert.
4.  Had a party! On a school night! My friends got to see my family AND I learned a new spanish suffix: -azo (look it up).
5.  Used my kitchen! (more accurately--my dad's girlfriend used my kitchen while I watched and exclaimed over her cooking abilities).

What a great visit. Picture of Palma from the Hotel Born below. 
Happy Friday!


Friday, April 28, 2017

Routines

Hi readers,

My seniors start their IB exams today.  For them that means a three-week period of tests more difficult than most they will take in college, with an open door into of the next step of their young adult life on the other side. 
For me it means.....they have stopped coming to my class!!
As a high school science teacher at an international school, I had 2 sections of 12th grade students.  I have been with them for the past 2 years, working through a 400 page environmental science textbook ("IB Environmental Systems and Societies" by Oxford University Press for those of you who are interested), designing and completing 24 individual lab projects and grading hundreds of pages of their work and projects. 
I bid them adieu and good luck in their studies at the end of last week.  Since then I have only had to organize 1 set of labs, 2 sets of cross-curricular projects/papers and 1 school-wide event.  In teacher terms, this means I have been free as a bird!! (Yes, I'm serious).   I have been able to leave work at 5 PM every. day. this. week.  Amazing!!

So, what have I been doing with my new-found free time, you ask? 

Today I have been in 2 other classes--a Chinese 2 class this morning and a Theory of Knowledge class (technically I'm "subbing" right now for our IB coordinator, but I like to think of myself as more of an "observer").  Whenever I have the opportunity to go into other classes, I'm amazed at how different the routines and practices are.  In Chinese, they were watching a video (and responding in actual, legitimate Chinese sentences when the teacher paused the video, which was ceaselessly amazing to me).  In TOK (sort of an intro philosophy class) they are drawing pictures of....something.  I think to do with perception? (like I said, I'm just here writing my blog subbing observing).  I've gotten so many good ideas for how to shake up my routines and activities just by observing these other classes. It's nice to have some time to search for inspiration. 


Photo from pinterest.  Happy Friday!


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Vegetarian Croquetas

Hi readers,

I have a vague obsession with weird Spanish cooking projects.  I like cooking things only once, just to prove I can, then going back to eating take-out falafel oven-roasted vegetables for dinner until I feel "inspired to do something more complicated" (translation: using more than 1 pan).

Over the weekend I achieved a milestone of la cucina espaƱola: my first batch of Spanish croquetas. Spanish croquetas are basically olive-oil-soaked fried dough and a famous sort of Spanish tapas/bar food.  See the photo from hogarmania.com for a visual,
except you should imagine little vegetables where the jamon is (note-this may be hard for Spanish people)

The croquetas were at the end of my list.  Other items have included:
1. Spanish tortilla
2. Paella
3. Gazpacho
4. "Spanish Baked Brie" (Slices of cheese melted into empanada dough)

I consider my cooking a cultural experience--mostly because I subject my poor, unsuspecting Spanish friends to both the process and the outcome, usually with very little warning.  For example: I was once making a Spanish tortilla and when a basic stranger who I had never spoken to before delightful friend-of-a-friend walked through the door.  I made him dar la vuelta a la tortilla (a Spanish expression for flipping a hot, heavy pan full of approximately 6 pounds of potatoes and semi-raw eggs onto a slippery plate) before he had even taken off his coat.  Culture!

In making the croquetas, I was able to practice Spanish with a wonderful friend for hours--and learned the Spanish word ahumada can double as a polite way of saying "burned".  I'm fulfilled and proud to report I have turned on both the oven and the stove since the weekend feel inspired to try new things.  Though for my next Spanish cooking project, I may have to branch out into the dessert world.  I think I am at the end of vegetarian-options list for main courses.  Chuleton de tofu?  Probably not going to work...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Call me home

Hi readers,

Hard to believe how much time has passed since my last post.  It's hard to sum up a year.  In no particular order, I have:


1. Undertaken a terrace gardening project
2. Learned to play a simultaneous harmony and melody on the keyboard (hmmm...sort of)
3. Seen a pair of mating lions in Zimbabwe
4. Hiked the Eastern Coast of Mallorca (GR 221)
5. Attended a wedding in Old Lyme, Connecticut
6. Attended a funeral in Amherst, Massachusetts
7. Watched my boyfriend pet a very friendly horse in Sardinia (see photo.  Que guapo!)
8. Caught several sizable catfish in the Okavango Delta
9. Taken two advanced fiction writing classes through Gotham Writers Workshop
10. Read and graded approximately 2,000 pages worth of student work

There we go.  Good enough.


I have been writing, quite a lot actually, over the past year (see #9).  But my focus has been on fiction.  And I found out something important and obvious: writing fiction is tremendously hard.

At the beginning, I found I really couldn't balance any attempt at creative short stories with thoughtful, self-depreciating blog posts.  When I was writing stories, my characters would all come out with the adorable, sarcastic tone I reserve for writing about my personal life.  When I tried to write here, the tone turned floating and invented.  I had to take some time to clarify the two different objectives in my head.

Also, the problem of there only being 24 hours in a day came into play rather regularly.

But, with spring inching into the air in Madrid and several major work deadlines recently behind me, I'm bustling with unrealistic expectations for myself once again and itching to share the obscure, relatively uninteresting details of my life with large groups of strangers!

It feels good to be back.

If you're still reading, the title of this post "Call Me Home" is the name of a wonderful novel by Megan Kruse. Highly recommend.





Monday, March 28, 2016

The Best Things About Easter...

Hi readers,

Happy (late) Easter from Madrid!  After an action-packed Semana Santa in Bordeaux, I am inching back into normal routine.  We came back to a Professional Development day at school (teacher-talk for a day with no kids in the building, when you can actually get work done in what I assume imitates a normal adult environment?).  PD days are a really nice to get back to the work routine.  Today, I am writing report card comments for my students and drinking copious amounts of free coffee.

Yesterday I celebrated Easter by eating vegan food and drinking detoxifying hot lemon waters (spring break in the South of France involved unsurprising, but copious, amounts of wine and red meat). 

I went for a run in the park and looked at the Cuestas de Moyano, a row of book stalls lined up outside the south entrance to Retiro (see photo from of alamy.com).  I took an Easter walk down Calle Atocha (really, I was going to the grocery store, but I went in a very relaxed, slow-walking way).  I video-chatted with almost my whole family, always an accomplishment as they are spread out over up to 5 houses, 3 states and 2 time zones.  I appreciated the European daylight savings time, which marks the return of the 10 PM sunset in Spain. 

While I missed the copious chocolate and English-language church services that mark my Easter celebrations in the states, I felt like the important aspects of the holiday were still observed.  It felt like spring, and a new beginning.  I got to talk with my family.  I took an opportunity to slow down and be grateful.  I plotted out all the olive oil products I am going to eat to mark the end of Lent. 
I searched for fat Easter bunnies and funny Peeps dioramas on google images.  And I was in bed by 9:30 PM : )




Tuesday, March 8, 2016

International Women's Day

Hi readers,

I have a confession to make.  I'm kind of old-fashioned.  Even in my Boulder, Colorado heyday of hippie-inspired activism, I could never really get behind the feminist movement.

Environmentalism?  Great!
Parity in education?  Totally reasonable!
Universal access to health care?  What a lovely idea!

I could corner strangers and harass them about the importance of those topics with the best of them. (Seriously.  I used to canvas for Greenpeace.)  But when people would try to get me talking about feminism, I would muster up and lackluster smile and say, "Mmmhmmm!" as enthusiastically as possible before making up an excuse about needing to hit the 5-day-old produce give-away at the local food co-op and walking the other way.

Here's the problem: Feminism focuses so much on the stuff we want.  In some countries, this makes tremendous sense.  In the USA, I think we need to spend more time being thankful for what we have.  For example, during my four years in Colorado, there was a serious push to re-instate the draft for the Iraq war.  Feminists were not marching down Colorado Avenue begging for equality in that pool of eligibility. They wanted a raise and a female CEO and IVF covered by health insurance.

At the moment, I get to vote and be employed and walk around without a large scarf covering 99.9% of my body.  I'm pretty pleased with the feminist movement accomplishments (again--in the US and the Western World).  I think we are in a good spot.  As a matter of fact, I think it's time to take a quick reality check and figure out exactly what it is we want next.

I like my job and I don't feel threatened by the men in my work environment.  I'm happy with my current level of access to reproductive health care (though it is one of several topics in US news I am currently following very, very closely).  I'm pleased with my level of ability for free speech.  I vote.  I wear heels, slippers and flip-flops with equal levels of comfort.  I love when my boyfriend cooks me dinner and fixes my computer and buys me coffee every single morning.

There's nothing I feel like I am really hungering for in regard to my feminine identity.

So International Women Day threw me a little off-balance.  It's a nice time to reflect and be thankful, as well as to consider the plight of women in other parts of the world where parity is nonexistent.  But do we really need a day?!  Shouldn't we be doing that anyway?  Like, all the time?