Saturday, June 24, 2017

End of School

Hi readers,
School ended in Madrid yesterday.  Each year this generates procrastination and despair over grading creative inspiration and time to consider blog fodder. (For notes from a previous year, click here) This year, as I cleaned out my desk, I found myself avoiding grading my finals asking some important self-knowledge questions:

1.  Do people in other professions love office supplies the way teachers do?  My favorite are binder clips!! I have them in all my drawers at school, small recycled glass jars full of a multi-sized rainbow of binder clips.  They also accumulate in my purses and my kitchen (for when I grade at home and need to binder clip 250 pages of exams together to get them back to school).  When I clean out my desk, I love to stop and treasure my little binder clip piles before I stack them away in a hidden cupboard for the fall. (Trust me, teachers are ruthless about stealing "borrowing" office supplies during summer school.  Who can blame them?  You need to make your joy when you are teaching summer school.)

2.  Is it weird to keep "gently-used" spoons in your desk drawer?

3.  How long should people be holding on to never-used hard-copy educational DVD's in this day and age?  My current running time with "Fishing for Change: A Video-Based Approach to Teaching Evolution Using the Oceans" is 5 years.  Our computers don't even have a DVD drive anymore....

4.  Why don't Spanish pencils have erasers?  Is this a thing in other countries as well?

5.  How long should I keep my workout clothes at school?  (The last time anyone used my gym sneakers, it was a student that needed to run on the treadmill for a science experiment.)

For now, my gym sneakers are safely stored away with my binder clips and I'm getting out my hiking boots for my first trip of summer--a week of mountains and beaches in the South of France.  Can't wait!! (For a reminder post about how obnoxiously much I love France click here).

Happy end of school to all the teachers out there!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting old(er)

Hi readers,
There are a few moments in my life when I know without a doubt that I am getting older.  In no particular order:

1.  I'm excited to have a coffee Friday after work.

2.  I realize that the bartender/waitress/DOCTOR is younger than me.

3.  I have no idea what emoticons mean (or text abbreviations).

4.  I relish bringing my lunch to work.

And the most recent addition to the list....

5.  I buy travel insurance.

I noticed the travel insurance this spring.  I tend to purchase large quantities of airline tickets all at one time (not that weird for some select groups of people: young socialite jet-setters, parents of large families teachers).  This summer for example, I purchased five sets of plane tickets (two international, three domestic in the span of 5 weeks.  Rough life, us teachers).

I had never purchased airline insurance before. However, my mother always did.  Last summer, it turned out we had a desperate need for the coverage.  My mother (on the eve of her 70-ish birthday) broke her ankle while we were traveling in Zambia.  As I filled out the packets (and packets) of paperwork that served to reunite us with our thousands of dollars, I realized the insurance had been a great idea.

I'd considered travel policies before, but always shied away at the last moment, reverse-clicking the tab as I decided that the idea sounded too expensive grown-up.  This year, I took the plunge.

Insurance land.  Population: old people. On fabulous summer vacations : )

For other indications that I am actually growing up, check out this post.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Surgical Spanish

Hi readers,

There are many things I am very tolerant about when it comes to my mediocre ability to speak Spanish. 

Server didn't understand I'm a vegetarian? Not a big deal. 
Cab driver takes the long way? I get it. 

Usually, I try to consider it an engaging challenge, like talking to people is a puzzle with lots of moving parts that don't fit together and I get to smile and laugh helplessly. Fun! (See vaguely related post here.  And here.)

But-after some stupidly brave attempts at Spanish hospital visits during my first year in Spain, I realized that I draw the line at my medical appointments. Going to the doctor in Spanish really freaks me out. 

That obvious fact plus a busy schedule is a perfect recipe for intimidating, longstanding medical problems.

This last week I made my first attempt to deal with an adorable little varicose vein that has been on the inside of my left thigh for...ahem...2 years. Yes, I've been monitoring it for growth and check with our school nurse (who I basically consider my general physician) to make sure it didn't seem cancerous, but it seemed time to get it looked at.

Here's a step-by-step breakdown:

Step 1: Use Spanish healthcare website to try and find English speaking doctor (Time on to do list: 4 months.  Time to attempt and realize I didn't want to go to a random internet doctor: 10 minutes)

Step 2: Go to school nurse AKA general physician and have her recommend English speaking doctor ( Time on to do list: 2 months. Time to complete: 10 minutes)

Step 3: Have nurse set up appointment (2 minutes)

Step 4: Attend appointment, where doctor tells me he speaks no English and proceeds to detail what is wrong with me and set up an appointment FOR MY LEG SURGERY in Spanish (1 hour)

Step 5: Go back to school nurse (Her name is Mamen, which I'm relatively sure is Spanish for 'angel sent from heaven to deal with my annoying questions').  Have her call doctor to translate why I need to go to a hospital. (I day)

Step 6: Meet Spanish doctor (now much more agreeable about speaking a small amount of English) in hospital for one veiny lump removal and 6 stitches (1 hour) 

The good news?  I learned lots!

Lesson 1: Spanish OR nurses like to say 'Jolene' (can be translated to 'oh hell') while they are in charge of cauterizing leg tissue WHILE THEIR PATIENTS ARE AWAKE UNDER LOCAL ANESTESIA)

Lesson 2:  I can deal with complicated stuff in Spanish by asking for lots (and lots and lots...) of help.  Very empowering.

Lesson 3:  It's very satisfying to take control of health care decisions and procedures (or at least, to have the very nice school nurse do it for you).  It takes a village. 

Lesson 4: If you really want to know if your doctor speaks English, don't speak to him in Spanish.  (I don't mean to be culturally insensitive.  Someone actually told me this and it was important to consider.)

Lesson 5: Having something on a to-do list doesn't mean a thing until I am actually ready to do it...then things start happening pretty fast. (see related thoughts about to do lists here)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The problem with to do lists

Hi readers,

I'm a planner.  My to-do list each day includes items from "drink coffee" to "plan summer" (the latter obvious must be broken down into several obsessive compulsive sub-categories including plane tickets, hotel reservations, and Facetime conversations with friends so I can beg to sleep on their floors.  Love you guys!)

In these to-do lists, I have been able to manage some significant accomplishments:

Example 1: Getting hired at my current job.  The to-do list stretched out over almost 6 months and included items like "write own recommendation and give to current boss for review" (life hack-ALWAYS write your own letters of recommendation and give them to your boss to sign edit and carefully review.)

Example 2: Summiting Mount Teide (the highest peak in Spain, 3,718 m).  The to do list included finding a guide, dealing with approximately 67 email chains regarding gear and travel, 10 months of waiting for joint availability between our group and the guide service and scheduling travel and accommodations for 4 days for 4 people.

Example 3: Submitting a draft manuscript for my novel.  The to do list included...learning how to write convincing adult fiction over the course of a year's worth of classes, deciding and editing a story line, researching dialogue writing and scheduling writing time into a crazy work schedule over the course of 11 months.

I'm really proud of these accomplishments, and I do think that the to-do lists were integral in achieving each of these things.  The problem with to-do lists is, once the stuff is done, I feel like I forget about it pretty quickly.  Because the whole point of a to-do list is to check stuff off so you never have to think about it again, right?

Which leads me to my latest invention:

A "goals" list.

I like to keep some of the stuff I have done, along with some of the stuff I want to do soon (again, obsessively organized by category), in a separate place from my to-do list.  Two reasons:

1.  Some of the stuff on my "to-do" list stays there for the better part of a year before I'm actually motivated to think of it as a goal.

2.  The little checklist emoji is so satisfying and motivating!  (See vaguely related post on other emojis I wish existed).

So right now, my hiking "goals" list looks like this:

To be fair, my hiking "to-do" list (like, all the hikes I want to do in my lifetime) is much longer and not as realistic, but Monserrat and Pyrenees National Park are two places I will go this summer, and I planned those trips remembering my satisfaction in the summiting Mont Blanc and Teide. When those shift into checkmark territory, I can start planning my fall adventures....

Pictures from the summit of Teide below.  (May 2, 2017) 

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


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


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!