Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Art of Thai Massage

Hi readers,

This past weekend, I went for my first Thai massage (Kenika Thai Massage for those of you who are interested).
Thai massage is fabulous!  

1.  The lady at the desk procured me a little bowl of water on a flower-covered serving tray.  The provision of water is, without a doubt, one of my favorite parts of a body treatment service. Finally, someone concerned about my hydration.  This is how dogs must feel all the time!

2.  I was led into my little Thai massage room and given pajamas!  Yes, I love spa robes.  But I don't love anything as much as I love pajamas.

3.  This adorable Thai woman came into and started crawling all over my back.  There is an element of surprise and wonder to the whole experience: "Is that her foot? Her elbow?  Can she pull my arms any further back without dislocating my shoulder?"  It promotes a vital sense of curiosity. 

4.  The massage table had a bowl of flowers underneath the space where I put my head.  (See photo)

I thought this was an especially nice touch.  Because even with all the hydration and the spider-monkey massage techniques, I find it difficult to relax if I don't have something to focus my mind on.  It turns out obsessively counting plastic flowers is a good focal point (there are 16 in that bowl, in case you're curious).

In deeper thoughts on relaxation (which I had time for while I was locked in the massage room with the nice spider-monkey-lady), I find images and easy, repetitive mental exercises help to lull my mind into a state of low-frequency thinking. I think it's why people have meditation shrines and mantras.  But anyway...

5.  The best thing about Thai massage? No oil! I was free to wonder out of the room, enjoy some sweet Thai tea, and carry on about my day without a shower (there are many activities where I consider a shower optional, but being slathering in massage oil is not one of them). 

Overall: Highly recommend!

(Disclaimer: it there is much more to the whole shrines/mantras thing, and bowls of anything in a place of relaxation are actually a big deal: check out extra information here and here).

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New Year, New Me

Hi readers,

Happy 2018!  This year so far I have:

1.  Purchased a large pile of books in a country I don't live in (one of my favorite activities and makes packing a dream come true!  I once moved to New Zealand for 10 months and brought 1 pair of pants and 10 pounds of books with me)
2.  Seen a Rangers game (they lost)
3. Been stranded in the bomb cyclone back-up at JFK airport (I do NOT recommend this)
4. Completed (almost) my first Coursera course (I HIGHLY recommend this--very interesting!)
5. Woken up at 2 AM for three days in a row, ready to take on the world!

Unfortunately, my work day starts at 9 AM, and I find by then I'm slightly fatigued.  I'm not usually very susceptible to jet lag, but this return to Spain has been brutal.  I blame the bomb cyclone.

I get a little keyed up coming back from vacations anyway (not sure if this is just a teacher thing?) so when my eyes pop open in the middle of the night, my mind starts racing immediately:
Should I give partial credit to students who incorrectly define helicase, but understand the function of all types of DNA polymerase?  Do students need more instruction on their biomes project?  Does my SST meeting conflict with my Global Citizenship meeting?  Are the bunsen burners still on in my classroom?  When am I going to finish writing my book?  Can mold spores develop on mushrooms?  If yes, is my refrigerator a hazardous mold spore breeding ground?  Should I diversify my pod cast listening?  Is Opera really going to run for President?    
I've decided to just go with it.  Instead of laying in bed and worrying about things I should do in the morning, I've been getting up and enjoying all kids of productive activities: emails to my family, blog posts, internet research about North Korean Olympic athletes, coursera lectures, reading, deep cleaning of refrigerator drawers....
2018: Embrace the jet lag!! New Year, New (slightly tired/really good at siesta) Me!  
Winter pic from NYC below (slightly before we sank into the depths of bomb cyclone 2018).  

Friday, December 29, 2017

Back to the USA

Hi readers,
When I return to the USA for the holidays, there are always some surprises in store.

First, I continually forget how desensitized I am to background conversation.  In Spain, I need to really concentrate to eavesdrop, on the streets of New York it is as easy as hailing a cab.  And I LOVE eavesdropping! No Susan, you shouldn't call him again before he calls you back; yes little 22-year-old Morgan Stanley intern, your boss does think you're a total idiot; no Chuck, those girls from Whiskey Ward are definitely not going to call you.

It's so nice to be immersed in a culture and a language I actually understand, instead of a country where I'm desperately trying to figure out if we're talking about meatballs or lawyers (sometimes the responses would be the same, but sometimes "que delicioso" doesn't cut it when you're talking about an attorney).

Second, it is COLD here.  I'm glad for the cold, in a "oh-maybe-climate-change-isn't-going-to-cause- Manhattan-to-sink-tomorrow" type of way.  But worried in a "oh-maybe-we-will-freeze-to-death-instead" type of way (as well as being greatly discouraged from going outside).  I've spent a disproportionate amount of time since my return plotting how to better winterize windows with packaging tape and trash bags.  My mom thinks I should start a business.

Third, I forget how easy it is to lose track of time over the holidays.  I've spent afternoons relaxing in bed, left my watch (and phone!) at home when I head out to do errands.  It's so nice to be on vacation time and surrounded by family and the magical streets of New York. My best "magical streets of New York" picture below.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A bit of mental space

Hi readers,

Like all good teachers, I spend a fair amount of time perusing educational advice blogs (it's a great procrastination strategy-check out some of the best education blogs of 2017 here).  One of the best posts I have read lately was advice from a tutor on how to be effective with your students.  Her number one piece of advice:

Give the kids some mental space

The advice resonated as I nudged my stack of 55 ungraded long-response tests around thoughtfully on my desk.  I opened a new window to google mental space, forgot what I was doing and started googling "alien light beams" and "the new jersey shore" and "how to grade tests faster", checked my work email and realized....

You know who else needs some mental space?  

I think mental space is one of those nebulous concepts that probably means something different for everyone (note: I don't know for sure, because I forgot to google it.  The Jersey Shore thing really took up a lot of time.)  For me, the things that create mental space change all the time.  I think to genuinely feel "space", you need to engage in something new so that old, familiar walls and habits don't start building up. 

Mental space is NOT mindless pouring through the same (well basically the same) Women's Health articles every day. 

Just every few weeks, with the New Yorker in between ; )

I'm off to do my newest mental space thing--exercise! Just in time for New Year's Resolutions.....

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)