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  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?

Monday, March 7, 2016

I wondered...

Hi readers,

In a particularly brilliant moment of lecture in one of my science classes today, I asked my students what they were reading in English class. I wanted to make the point that analogous structures in biology are similar to analogies.  (I know!  My students were all super impressed and interested.)

For those of you who have not been exposed to high school vocabulary in the last 20 years:
Analogous Structures: organs that look different but serve the same function in different organisms.  For example a fly and a bat both have wings but a fly's wings are made of chitin and a bat's wings are made of skin and bones.
Analogies: a comparison between one thing and another, typically during an explanation.  For example, you can make an analogy between the human heart and a pump.

I learned two things:
1) I'm not super clear on the difference between an analogy and a metaphor.  (It seems a little complicated, and hey-I'm a science teacher)
2) My students are reading Romeo and Juliet.

In a flash of inspiration, I looked up Shakespeare's Sonnet 18.  The kids just smiled politely and waited for me to get back to the point, but the gentle, lyrical sway of "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day..." stayed with me through the afternoon (though I am still not clear if that would be a metaphor or a simile).

When I'd muddled through enough thoughts on the Bard, my mind eventually turned to my favorite poem of all time.  I used to read it every night with my father, right after an equally delightful (but slightly less "timeless") poem about chocolate milk.

Words below.  Happy Monday!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Caso De Campo

Hi readers,

This morning I went for a run in the Casa De Campo.  Casa De Campo is a 7-mile stretch of park west of downtown Madrid that used to be the royal hunting ground.  It is across town from where I live and where I usually go running (Parque de Buen Retiro).

This little change in location felt empowering.  First, it forced me to get on public transit for a run, something I usually consider to be a total waste of time.  But it was nice to review the metro map, examing the stops I don't usually get off at (Madrid has three metro stops in Casa De Campo, a phenomenal show of good planning in a culture that views train schedules as "suggestions").  I felt inspired to enlist some other small changes in my routine.

Most substantial: I walked.

Usually, the goal of my running routine is to get a steady stream of endorphins flowing as fast as possible.  Twenty minutes of running as fast as possible (ie: not very fast) is usually sufficient.  Today, I wanted something different.  I wanted an adventure (of the cheap, close, local variety).  I wanted to coax my brain into a place of escape, rather than a place of chemically-enhanced happiness. I wanted to notice the trees and slow down my thoughts.  Walking fit my mood.

Eventually: I put on a podcast.

After I had been satisfactorily re-introduced to our urban nature environment, I decided to check out my podcast selection.  I download podcasts in great, energetic piles about 3 times a year.  I try to listen to them while I'm falling asleep or walking to work in the mornings.  Generally, I lose interest after about three days and let them sit collecting dust in my little stretch of broadband for months at a time.  Today, I picked up where I left off in October with two selections:

"Meanwhile, in the Future" by Gizmodo
"Happier" by Gretchen Rubin

I would highly recommend both "channels".  Today, I learned about the possibility that we can genetically engineer humans to combat climate change and the research on dark matter of Harvard professor Lisa Randall (I'm sure there are slightly less geeky components to both if those ideas do not sound as appealing to you as they do to me).

On the way home: I bought flowers.

There is actually nothing that unusual about me buying flowers.  It's something I do every weekend that I find myself by the flower stand. The flower stand, however, is on the way to Casa De Campo and not on the way to Retiro : )

Today, I bought some butter-yellow craspedias (see photo).

Friday, February 26, 2016

More mindfulness

Hi Readers,

The mindfulness topic has stayed on my mind through the day.  Here are some continued thoughts:

1) I feel like am more mindful in my private life than in my professional life.
2) That's probably because it's difficult to be mindful (ie aware and present for what is happening in the moment) when someone is dictating the parameters of what is important and setting the deadlines for work to be completed
3) Maybe I should stop caring so much what the administrators that set deadlines think of my professional performance.

To bring mindfulness into my professional life, I think I need to set my own parameters for what I want to accomplish: in my days, in my years and throughout my professional career. It would take away the feeling that I am not working towards anything, or that I am working towards something I don't totally understand. For me, a lack of mindfulness can be associated with a feeling of drifting and times when I don't understand the big picture.  Currently, the goal in my personal life is fairly simple: I want to be happy.  Hence my enhanced level of mindfulness.  I'm able to gauge: Am I happy?  Why? Why not? Etc.

The goal in my professional life feels more complicated: I want to create an atmosphere of disciplined student learning.  I want the students to be happy too (I'm a big advocate of happiness, generally), but I want them to be happy in a challenging, inspired environment, not happy because they have their phone balanced in their lap looking at snatchap while they pretend to take notes.  Disciplined learning is hard.  It's especially hard to gauge the amount of disciplined learning that is going on in someone else's brain.  It's hard for me to know when and what my students are actually retaining from class.  I think the first goal towards mindfulness in my professional life rests on that--considering my job from the student perspective more carefully. 

I'm excited to try and bring a greater sense of peace and thoughtfulness to my career. I'm especially excited to start.....on Monday.  Happy weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Hi readers,

Mindfulness has been a trending topic in education lately.  Like all trending topics in education, the popularity has led to much sarcastic skepticism about what it really means to be "mindful".  There are lots of super fun internet searches involved in this! Someone with a reasonably sarcastic sense of humor (me, my boyfriend, the majority of people I choose to spend time with) can have a ton of fun debating the merits of quotes like "Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness" and "Spending time on purpose".

But seriously, I sort of get it.  It is about being present in the moment.  That's important.  It involves lots of deep breathing.  I love deep breathing.  It's very good for your complexion.  I wish I could stay  focused in the present moment, indefinitely.  The problem for me is what I am focused on.  My infinitesimally minute slice of the world is constantly overflowing with deadlines, projects, long commutes and vague efforts towards self improvement.  It all feels very disjointed, and makes for some very long days.  If I gave 100 percent to everything I did, I don't know how much I would be able to get finished.  It makes me feel very un-mindful to write it, but it's true.  Is trying to give 100 percent enough?  Is trying even mindful?! Is un-mindful even a word?!?!

This is when the concept gets confused for me.  I understand what mindfulness looks like in a vacuum (seriously, I'm really good at deep breathing).  But I get stuck in the application of mindfulness to other aspects of life.  I want to approach things in a mindful way, not just sit in my office taking deep breathes all day.  But I don't really understand what to focus on in a mindful approach.  Do you just sit with other people taking deep breathes?

Actually, that sounds sort of nice.