October 28, 2010

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Two full days of meeting with parents and students are complete! After 48 hours of your child is A) doing great, B) going terrible or C) could be better, I am glad to be back in my classroom with just the students. Conferences last year went pretty well and this year felt even easier, probably because I am that much more comfortable with my Spanish. Good thing too, because it seems that this year even fewer of the parents speak English.

Once again, meeting all the parents of my students gave me an opportunity to get to know my students better and see a little bit about where they come from. In most cases, the apple still does not fall far from the tree. Most notable interactions with parents this year include one mother, who was wearing braces at the time, calling me "jovencita" (little girl). Another dad gave me the third degree in asking what I thought about the math program at my school. And finally the father who spent the conference text messaging on his phone while I talked to his daughter was particularly amusing. Overall another good round of conferences in the book!

In other news - how about that game one of the World Series last night?!??!?! Tim Lincecum on the mound for the Giants and Cliff Lee for the Rangers with a final score of 11-7 Giants. Whoa! I was hoping for a better pitching duel but still an exciting game!!

Happy almost-Friday!!

October 27, 2010

The Untouchable Island: Providencia

Remember my visit last Thanksgiving to the Colombian island of San Andres? Well, this year Tara, Kelsi and I have dreams of extending the island love to Providencia, the smaller sister island to San Andres.

We explored various options and decided to try to plan the vacation ourselves rather than go with the all-inclusive, but expensive Decameron Hotel option. After finding tickets on Colombian airlines Aero Republica and Satena, we were set to book our flights. Until we realized these two airlines do not accept foreign credit cards or Colombia debit cards - our only forms of payment.

We took a field trip to the Aero Republica and Satena offices in Cali, where the salespeople told us we would need to pay about $30 more per flight per person because we weren't getting the "online special" price. Despite our insistence that we would love to pay online, but we cannot, so we still want that price, we left the office frustrated.

Back on the Mio, we headed south to the Decameron office. If we are going to pay that much for airline tickets, maybe we should just go with the Decameron after all? NOPE. They wanted even more money than the tickets AND we discovered the hotel on Providencia is not all-inclusive so we would still need to pay for food and drinks.

We tabled the idea while we took a vacation over Semana Receso to Ecuador. Back in Cali and ready to figure it out, Kelsi pointed out that Colombian airline Avianca has a trip to Providencia including 3 nights, and 4 days for a great price. Another field trip and there we were sitting in the Avianca office. While this lovely saleswoman explained to us that this deal only worked for groups of two as the rooms include double beds. We insisted that we could sleep three to a room but she wasn't really having it. Hello single-people-discrimination. Also, the flights to and from Providencia-San Andres (because you need to first get to San Andres in order to go to Providencia) had us coming home a day earlier than we wanted.

In summary, Thanksgiving is one month away and we have no plans and nothing is booked. The adorable and gorgeous Caribbean island is slipping away unless we decide to sell our second kidneys in order to pay for the trip.

...so my lovely readers/fellow travelers - who has an idea of how to make this work!??!! I refuse to let my new swimsuit go to waste!! Thoughts??

Clearly this is a MUST SEE. Will we be swimming there from the shores of San Andres?

October 25, 2010

Romanticizing the Good*

"And now that this scared little girl no longer follows me
wherever I go, I miss her.

I do. 'Cause there are things I wanna tell her...
To relax, to lighten up, that it is all going to be okay.
I want her to know that meeting people who like you,
who understand you,
who actually accept you for who you are,
will become an increasingly rare occurrence.
Jen, Jack, Audrey, Andie, Pacey, and Dawson.
These people who contributed to who I am,
they are with me wherever I go,

and as history gets rewritten in small ways with each passing day,

my love for them only grows.
Because the truth is... it was the best of times.
Mistakes were made, hearts were broken, harsh lessons learned,

but all of that has receded into fond memory now.

How does it happen?
Why are we so quick to forget the bad and romanticize the good?
Maybe it's because we need to believe that
the time we spent together actually meant something,
That we were there for each other in a time in our lives
that defined us all,

A time in our lives that we will never forget.
I can't swear this is exactly how it happened.
But this is how it felt."
[Dawson's Creek]

In the Spanish language, the past tense is separated into two specific tenses, preterite and imperfect. Depending on the context, if something happened at one specific time in the past or repeatedly occurred in the past, you use a different tense. When I talk about growing up I begin the sentence with "Cuando era nina..." or "When I was a little girl...".

However, lately I feel like every sentence should begin with "When I was a little girl...". Life changes faster than we are ready for, in ways we can only understand in hindsight, and before we know it the lives we build for ourselves look everything and nothing like they once did.

And I miss things about those former lives. Like when the only thing I had to do after elementary school was go to Girl Scouts with my best friends. Afterwards my mom picked me up, we drove home the four minutes to my house and I watched Full House until dinner time. On Fridays I watched Boy Meets World and went to bed by 9:00 PM. I learned to read, to solve problems with long division, and that girlfriends are more important than boys with cooties.

Some days I would give anything to switch places with my 8th graders. They can only imagine the world that lies in front of them. They have no idea where they are going to fit into it because right now they don't quite fit in anywhere. I miss the thrill of talking to boys for the first time and figuring out that hey, maybe they could turn into friends after all. The feeling of having a huge group of friends constantly around to hang out with, cause they all felt like best friends at the time. The late night (10:00 PM...10:30 if we were lucky) rides home (from our parents) from friend's houses on the weekend. I learned that boys can come in between friends, but best friends will always work it out.

In high school I didn't really belong anywhere so I ended up with friends from everywhere. Elementary school, middle school, sports, work, church youth group, etc. I felt free, independent, but always slightly out of place. I didn't know what I wanted out of life, and when I did know I didn't admit it, because I knew it was different from the things everyone else wanted. I was a good girl - went to work, swim practice, school and my parents never had to ask if I got my homework done. I didn't sneak alcohol into my parents basement, I didn't ever try a cigarette "just because", and the one and only time I left school during the school day we went to eat lunch at Jimmy John's and felt incredibly rebellious. I took leaps of faith in friendships and relationships and sometimes it worked out and other times it didn't. I picked up the pieces more than once and at times put them painstakingly back together on my own. I developed a defense mechanism of sarcasm and quick-witted comebacks that remains with me today.

College felt different. I knew my place in the world and I left Eagan, Minnesota with an idea of what I wanted and how to achieve it. For the first time, I met people who grew up in different ways that I did, who learned differently than I did, and whose perspectives on life didn't always agree with mine. I studied hard and went to my 7:45 AM Calculus Two class every morning of fall semester freshman year. Then I needed a change. All the sudden my life felt different and I just needed to do something by myself. Chapters of my life came to an end and I packed my bags for a summer in Valladolid, Spain. I skipped around the city in black flats, drank calimocho (red wine & Coca-Cola) with my host family and for the first time, experienced a type of travel that wasn't limited to a Midwestern road trip.

I came home from Spain and stopped caring so much what others thought about me - I knew I could find friends anywhere. Friends who would love me, care about me, and invest just as much time in our relationship as I did. I wanted to do well in school, and I closed down the library on more one midnight showing. But then I went out on Tuesdays just because. Or drank margaritas even if Cindo de Mayo did fall on a Monday. I went frisbee golfing instead of going to Reading 328 just because the sun was shining and spring in La Crosse is gorgeous. I embraced my little freshman brother going to my college - and decided to use the time I actually get to know him as a person, not just the stunning natural athlete 15 months my junior. I learned to live fully. I went down to Third Street and danced the night away with girls who are beautiful to me inside and out. We brought along our friends, our boyfriends, our classmates, and we celebrated for no reason at all.

When I look back on these former lives I tend to remember the good, and forget the bad. Not that I block out the unhappy moments entirely, but they do not seem quite so important as they once did. Today I am a combination of these experiences and the people associated with them. I am a whole person assembled from so many different parts. My friends come from an increasingly diverse number of places, backgrounds and life experiences. We don't all eat at the same lunch table everyday, but we share our experiences over the phone, over email, or in cherished visits. Somehow the boys with cooties have become fixtures in our lives and one not-so-far-away day they will be fiances and husbands.

As I think about whether to head back to the States this year or maybe stay one more year in Colombia, I wonder how I will look back on this experience? Will I remember the good and forget the hard times? Twenty years from now how will this time have shaped my current life?
Just some food for thought on a Monday...
In other news, Happy the 106th-World-Series-doesn't-include-any-East-Coast-teams-day!

*Credits to Anna for inspiring this post and so many others.

October 23, 2010

We Are the Champions

When I arrived at my school last year, I had high expectations for the middle school Sports Day, held once every semester, until I realized that my team had a reputation of always losing. I blogged about the first and second Sports Days at school. During Sports Day, all the middle school students are divided into four houses, Barracudas, Sting Rays, Squid Squads and Dolphins. I am on the team of perennial underdogs, the Sting Rays. No one at school can even remember the last time the Sting Rays won. Last year, when we came in third place second semester everyone thought it was a miracle. We finished the day by saying, "At least we weren't last."

Yesterday began the same as any other Sports Day, with the Barracudas somehow "magically" over 100 points in front of every other team as a result of poster competitions and individual student points for random good deeds. Once again it seemed as though their team was set up to win before any else got a chance to give a fair fight. They are the New York Yankees of middle school Sports Day.

However, this year the Sting Rays had a new advantage - 8th grade students who stepped up as leaders both in athletics and sportsmanship. One 8th grade girl in particular really emphasized the importance of cheering for teammates with a cheer that she made up and taught to the whole team.
"Deep inside, Sting Rays are,
We're going to win this time!
Dolphins are not good enough,
Squid Squads aren't very tough.
Barracudas are so last year,
Come on Sting Rays, let's cheer!"
The Sting Rays!

Throughout the day, the other teams had their shining moments, but by halfway through the day it became obvious that the Sting Rays had a decent chance to win! We were doing well in the competitions and sportsmanship category. Competitions featured both team and individual contests. Three-legged races, coffee sack races, soccer games, volleyball games, and strength tests finished we all gathered in the gym at 2:15 PM, anxious to hear the results.

Points accumulated and...Sting Rays won!!! I am so excited for the students, who hopefully will feel like we have a fighting chance to win the second Sports Day! Also, I don't really think its good for morale when there is always one team that is the assumed winner, so hopefully the students take this as a good lesson about working hard and having fun. :)
Champions!

TWO Places At Once!!

I mentioned in my post about 24 hours in Quito that Kelsi and I took a trip to the equator, or as it is called in Ecuador, Mitad del Mundo. This was our first activity in Quito because we knew it was one thing we didn't want to miss.

After arriving in Quito, we got great directions from our hostel and set out to find the equator. Taking the Metrobus from the old part of town to the northernmost station, Ofelia, and then transferring to the Mitad del Mundo bus, we arrived an hour and a half later for only $0.40 each. LOVE Ecuador.

The Mitad del Mundo site is actually divided into two separate monuments. First we traveled to the more touristy of the two monuments. This is the place where, in 1736, Frenchman Chales/Marie de La Condamine made his measurements to show this was the equatorial line. His measurements helped to prove that the world is indeed round, but not a perfect sphere since it bulges at the middle. Here a large stone monument with a brass globe on top commemorates his hard work.
On the Metro to the equator!!
Arrived!
The middle of the earth is quite windy.
Kelsi and I at the first equator monument.
Standing in both hemispheres! (According to French dude.)

This particular site definitely had a tourist feel and seemed more like an amusement park than the equator, but I enjoyed seeing it. The Ecuadorians are clearly proud of this claim to fame! After the Mitad del Mundo site we headed down the road a few hundred meters to the "real" equator, as measured by GPS.

At Museo Solar Inti Nan, the quirky but informative displays and guides will show you all about the myths and truths associated with the equator. We took a tour to learn about indigenous people in Ecuador, looked at a sun clock, learned to balance an egg, and tried to walk in straight line on the equator.
Entrance to the Museo Solar.
The "real" equator!!
Here we are :)
Attempting to walk the line.
Handstand on the equator. I blame the equator for my balance issues.

Sun clock at about 2:35 PM.
Trying to balance the egg.
Success!

We finished the day with Mitad del Mundo stamps in our passports, both from the official site and the "real" equator. A great trip to the middle of the earth!!
It's official!
...and with that the Ecuador posts are over. Time to get back to the real world of blogging about the awesomely exciting life of an 8th grade math teacher.

October 22, 2010

24 Hours in Quito, Ecuador

We arrived in Quito at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport around 11:00 AM last Thursday and headed straight for our hostel, The Secret Garden. After dumping our bags, we headed straight for the Mitad del Mundo, or equator (see future post!).

After visiting the middle of the earth, we headed back into Quito on the Metro, one of Quito's three different public transportation lines. Starving for food we found ourselves wandering around the Old Town Quito near Plaza Grande. The old part of town has been named an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978 and it definitely lived up to its name! We had no trouble locating a cute pizza cafe (with sangria on the menu) to soothe our hunger pains. Exhausted from a day of traveling, we retired early to the sounds of trivia night happening on our hostel rooftop.
Plaza Grande by night.
This central plaza hosts Quito's cathedral, Governor's palace, a cultural center an several shops.

Up early the next day, and well rested, we started to ease the morning chill of Quito with some tea on the rooftop. Next up? A self-guided walking tour through the old town. First? A coffee break at El Cafeto to plan out the sites.
Morning tea.
Cool art on our hostel roof overlooking Quito.
Two coffees and map of Quito and we are ready to go!
Artwork on the wall of the coffee shop. We weren't loving it quite as much as this man...but pretty close :)

Caffeinated and ready to move, we wandered down the small, mostly one-way streets of Quito to see what the city had to offer. Here's what we found...
Basilica del Voto Nacional.
This can be seen from all over Quito because it really is as massive as it looks! The Gothic architecture was cool to look at and rather than traditional gargoyles adorning the sides, this church had turtles and iguanas. You can also climb to the top of those two big towers, however, this being out first day in Quito we opted to spare our lungs the added work at a new altitude.
Old men shooting the breeze in Plaza Grande.
I LOVE this photo!
Architecture + light pink = gorgeous.
A typical Trole stop, yet another form of public transportation in Quito.
Typical street in Quito. Looking up at El Panecillo (the little bread loaf) Hill we saw the Virgin of Quito statue.
Fair trade shop Tianguez right underneath San Francisco church. We invested in some artwork here as well as some Ecuadorian dark chocolate.

Exhausted from our walk, we followed a recommendation from friends to check out Cafe Mosaico, for the great view, and according to Lonely Planet, banana pancakes. Lonely Planet has been wrong before about banana pancakes, so I was hopeful, yet skeptical.
Turns out in order to get to the cafe with the great view, you have to go up a lot of steps to look at that view. We did not have a topographical map when we made the decision to walk there. Oops.
Rewards well earned! Scrambled eggs and banana nut pancakes!! WIN.
Finishing out our time in Quito with delicious food and a panoramic view.

Our 24 hour stint in Quito came to an end and we headed off to the bus station to make our way to Otavalo...

Otavalo Market: A Rainbow of Colors

Taking a break from the life of luxury at our lodge, Kelsi and I spent our Saturday in Ecuador at the outdoor market in Otavalo. As one of South America's largest markets, we had heard a lot of stories prior to our visit and we were excited for some great shopping and sights. Every Saturday people from Otavalo (OtavaleƱos) and the surrounding villages converge on the center of town for an animal market, food market and artisan craft market .

We started our day at the animal market, on the outskirts of town, where we took in the sights of cows, goats, chickens, pigs and pretty much any animal you can think of being sold. The crowds and the smells overwhelmed us, so we didn't stay long, just enough to snap a few pictures of the organized chaos.
Animal market - care for a cow?
The proper way to carry a live chicken.

Next we headed over to the food market. Based on the delicious fruit we were eating at the lodge, I knew this would be a sight to see! The fruits, vegetables, and grains were all so brightly colored and looking absolutely stunning. Also, seeing all the fruit that people bring to town every week was impressive. I cannot imagine bringing all that fruit and arranging it just so!
Fruits & veggies.
So much pineapple!

Finally, we ended at the Plaza de Ponchos for the artisan market. Mostly female vendors set up shop to sell blankets, pajamas, purses, jewelry, paintings, mugs, artwork, alpaca ponchos nad more. They are all pretty friendly and seemed happy to talk to us about their work as well as to bargain for prices. We ran into some friends at the market, shopped around, found a cute cafe for lunch and enjoyed the commotion of the plaza.
Jewelry for sale! Ecuadorian women wear a lot of red necklaces and bracelets to represent the red of the earth.
A variety of paintings and art. I bought something similar to these with a scene from a traditional town square set in brown, pink and green tones!
Art made from eucalyptus leaves.

For more information and more photos about the market check out this blog.

October 21, 2010

Horseback Riding in the Andean Highlands

I believe we all recall my fear of all the animals on this planet - yes? I mean at times I have been known to be friendly with a dog I have known for a very long time, but even that is pushing it. When our lodge stay in Ecuador included two hours of horseback riding I accepted...with great trepidation.

But then there we were in the Andean Highlands of Ecuador and everything was so gorgeous, picturesque, and I had already decided I loved our guide, Jose Maria. I wanted to give it a try - the horses looked capable enough, yet still docile enough not to kill me.

Porque no? (Why not?)

We met Jose Maria outside our lodge where he hooked us up with Blanca and Llora, our horses. I laughed aloud when he told me the name of Kelsi's horse was Llora, which means Cry in Spanish. Little did I know my horse would be the one practically inspiring tears...
All set to go!

So we set out on this nice adventure downhill, checking out the views of the surrounding mountainside. Then, one of my stirrups felt longer than the other. I asked Jose Maria to help me fix it. He got down from his horse to help me. Blanca took this moment to decide she was not having the ride, and took off, galloping uphill. With me grasping to hold on for dear life. With Llora falling into full out run beside us, Kelsi was holding on just as tight as our horses decided to choose their own adventure. Meanwhile, Jose Maria didn't make it back to his horse before it decided to bolt, so his horse is lost somewhere in the hills. Ten minutes into our horsebacking adventure and things have already gotten out of hand.
Post-galloping ridiculousness. Still trying to get Blanca under control.
Kelsi is still loving it. And chose this moment to mention "While I did go to horseback camp as a kid."

I am of course taking this as proof that animals don't like me either. And I will absolutely not be getting on a horse anytime soon. After Jose Maria retrieved his horse, the rest of the somewhat rainy ride was filled with gorgeous views. Views that I observed from the back of a terrifyingly fast horse. While it was being tugged along by our guide - who attached his horse to mine since he judged that either me or my horse could not be trusted.

Perfect.
Not so much "riding" as being taken for a ride.
Clearly she was the winner of the situation.

Oh the adventures of traveling... I remember at one point during the ride thinking to myself, "If nothing else, at least I am doing what I set out to do when I moved to Colombia - having unique adventures that push me outside my comfort zone." Mission accomplished.
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