El albergue

El albergue

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The dog

I love that the office I'm doing my magazine internship in is so relaxed. I especially love that there are two dogs that wander around. Well, ok, so I really love the editor's dog. Maybe it's because I spend all day every day shut up in the editing office with the editor, sub-editor, and dog, so I don't really know the other one... but this one is adorable anyway.

 For instance, when he's not waddling his fluffy little white body around or snuffling asthmatically, he's usually sleeping on the editor's backpack on the floor. ...And he snores! yup. I'll be tweaking an article or editing some sound clips for my project, and from the other side of the room drift intermittent snorts coming from the pile of white curls with legs sticking out to the side.

 Sometimes though, he wakes up from his snore fest and really, really wants attention. In which case he waddles over to me, stretches his front paws up to my thigh, and begs with moist brown eyes and wheezy pants to be petted. So of course I have to pet him!

 Or, when the editor leaves the room to talk with someone, the dog either trots along with him, tongue lolling out, or sits right inside the door of our room, head cocked to one side as he watches his master. And when he gets shut in the room because the editor doesn't want him interfering with something, he sits expectantly in front of the door, obviously waiting for it to open right back up so he can be with his favorite person.

 So cute.

 (Note: this was originally posted September 14, but it needed some corrections, so here it is again...)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On the first day of Christmas...

Christmas is upon us!!! Yay! I just love the holiday season, the lights, the decorations, the food, the laughter, the Christmas cards, the extra joy that crackles through the air. It is truly a wonderful time of year. So, in honor of this joyous month, I’d like to share how my roommates and I started our celebrations.

First, after a good little bit of sleeping in, I went for a run. It was a good run, especially since I have Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens on my iPod. It’s a good book, and it always makes my runs more interesting. It’s going to end soon though… sigh… I guess I’ll just have to find a new book to listen to! (check out my secret spot for free audio books here)

Next, after a flurry of taking showers and dashing about the apartment getting ready, Kels and I headed down the street to have lunch at one of her friends’ apartment. It was a lovely, relaxed, quiet meal with lots of conversation and even a little bit of dancing (yay for learning new salsa moves!). After, we headed over to a little German Christmas market, where I had just enough time to snag a toasty warm soft pretzel before running away to meet up with a friend.

Lunch date!

Once we met up, we headed to the center of the city, meandered around the fun Christmas market in Plaza Mayor for a few minutes, then got some gift boxes started for our church’s Christmas ministry. Have you ever heard of Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree or something like that? It’s something along those lines. We had to fill shoeboxes with an assortment of lovely things like toys, school supplies, soap and toothpaste, and more toys. Then, this morning after church, we actually got to finish off the boxes and turn them in. Within the next couple weeks, those boxes will go out into the world to bless some children who otherwise wouldn’t be getting anything.

Later in the evening, I went back home to make pumpkin pie pancakes for a festive roommate dinner with Kels and Danielle (plus D’s boyfriend). The pancakes were dense and moist enough to be described as satisfyingly heavenly. And oh, were they delicious topped with cinnamon yogurt, banana, and blueberry jam, OR spiced apples and honey. So good!!! Then we put up our homemade advent calendar, which has an activity or quote or verse for every day until Christmas.

And the crowning glory of the day – Movie Charades! We didn’t keep score or anything, but it was a lot of fun watching each other be silly as we tried to get our teammate to understand which movie we were supposed to be communicating. In fact, we had so much fun that two and a half hours went by and it was 1:30 am before we even realized we were tired.

(the movie was Black Stallion)

All in all, it was an amazing day. Definitely the perfect way to start Christmas!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

This Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, the other language assistant at my school and I got to teach the third and fourth graders a little bit about this quintessential American holiday. I love storytelling and being silly, so of course I hammed it up quite a bit, even going so far as to draw a truly horrid and inaccurate map on the blackboard to illustrate the voyage of the Pilgrims from England to their new home in America. But despite my lack of cartography skills, I think the kids enjoyed learning a little bit about a holiday that doesn’t exist in their culture. Plus, the description of all the food we eat on this wonderful day didn’t hurt either. After listing all the pies and other dishes of amazing deliciousness, I distinctly heard more than one student exclaim, “I want to go there!”

Then, to focus the kids on what the spirit of Thanksgiving was about, we did a class brainstorming session on the board of all the different things they were thankful for. And then we made hand-turkeys!!! Some of the end products only marginally resembled the birds they were supposed to the modeled upon, but they still worked just fine as a place to write down what they were each thankful for.

Nacho is thankful for:
"my frands, (friends) Christmas, this school, my spader (spider)."
And of course, the turkey has an epic collar. It's only natural.

Ari didn't quite get the instructions...
More than one thing fell victim to her overly exuberant pencil and scissors.
"I'm thansful (thankful) for the hospitals."
"I'm thanful ... " ???YES???
"I'm thanful mi (my) fried (friends)"
"I'm thanful mothers"
"I'm thanful ho..." I think that might be house...
But she totally got an A+ for cuteness. I mean, that turkey has a bow!

 And finally, all the turkeys went up on a big poster in the downstairs hallway.

Yay Thanksgiving!!!

And just for kicks and giggles, here's another poster the other language assistant and I worked on to teach the kids a little bit about our lovely home state. It took a while, but it was fun!

Isn't it beautiful??!!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tickets to the symphony

I have in my possession prime tickets to the symphony. To the most amazing audio dance there could be. And the best thing? They were free! AND I can use them over and over again. They never expire. They never go out of date. They are eternal, you might even say.

These tickets are perfect because the symphony is always changing its tune. The basic movements are often very similar. But the rhythms and sway change all the time. The instruments and musicians often change too. I’m never disappointed or bored.

Plus, the hours are perfect. I can take advantage of my tickets at any moment I choose. Seriously. Any time. Let me demonstrate…

I’m walking to the metro from my last private class of the day. I’m thinking of home. I’m ready to be there and not here. But then, the music starts. I hear the instruments tuning up around me. The symphony coughs and splutters to life as I begin to listen.

The wind instruments make a standout entrance in a forceful blast that sends dozens of crumbly leaves skittering across the sidewalk. They crescendo and decrescendo through the last leaves clinging to the tree limbs overhead.

The brass section makes its presence known. They blare out in the occasional car horn sounding across the open residential neighborhood. They blend a little better in the overall whole with the gentler revving and slowing of cars entering and exiting the roundabout.

The strings are soft and mild tonight. They shimmer through the hair falling over my ears. They caressingly bring forth a swaying vibrato with the long grass growing on the hills of the park.

The percussion lays a steady beat with the purposeful stride of my feet. They accentuate with the tinny clink of the key chain dancing by my side. The cymbals splash out a highlight in the muted crash of a basketball sinking through the hoop behind the rise.

There are even vocal solos tonight. A sharp tenor comes through, sounding rather like a dog. And a giddy young soprano shrieks out in laughing exuberance.

Slowly, the symphony fades to an end. The instruments fall quiet as I step into the metro. And there, another begins…

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Just do it!!

In an uncharacteristically short post, all I’m going to say is that you need to make this Thai peanut sauce NOW!!! Yes, that’s right, you need to get off your email, put aside all plans for the day, and make this amazingly fantastic delight that will change your life forever. Just do it!!! (You will never, ever regret it, I promise)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Moments to remember

My roommates and I went on a little trip through the north of Spain last weekend, and as usually ends up with trips of any sort, there’s just way too much for me to be able to tell you about all of it. So, rather than try to explain every single thing, here are a couple moments from our journey that I definitely want to remember in the future, moments worth sharing.

On every one of the various bus rides we took through the north country:
Everything I see is misty, soft, shadowed, blanketed, and veiled. It’s a world of wet – of lakes, streams, rivulets, and oceans. It’s a land where the wet below meets the wet above, and everything is…well, wet.
The dripping wisps of cloud drift through the crowded hills, completely obscuring what is far away and drawing a gauzy film over what lies near. Tails of mist disconnect and embrace the earth, insinuating themselves into the leaves of the many trees, the lone little houses spread out and scattered around, the blinking eyes of cows placidly chewing their cud in the green fields, the blades of the plentifully abundant grass covering every hillside, and the very particles of the soil itself.

On All Saints’ Day, in Gijón:
There’s a woman standing on the steps below us, steps that lead down to rocks battered by the waves of high tide. Her hands are clasped as she leans against the railing, her whole body expressing a certain sadness as her eyes tilt down towards the dozen red roses she has just cast into the water. The roses drift about according to the wont of the currents. First they spread out in a sort of red blanket, then they are swirled together in a wet bouquet. In their every change of direction, the woman’s eyes follow them, remembering no doubt someone she once loved, someone who is now gone from her forever.

Lunchtime, in Oviedo:
We have been eyeing everyone diner in the packed out plaza, waiting for a table to clear out. Kels sees a group starting to stand up across the way, and we swoop on the table. Success! The two men at the neighboring table are eating something rather on the stranger side of looking. I can’t help but ask them what it is – sea urchins! They kindly offer us each a bite so that we can try this cold water delicacy. It’s so odd…it tastes exactly like the ocean smells, and literally melts away on my tongue. Weird.

Bus station, Santander:
…oops. Luckily, Kels has a rain coat she’s able to let me borrow for the time being…

The streets of Bilbao, nighttime:
We’ve been working our way around a couple of different pintxos bars, tasting an incredible assortment of delicious little pintxos, and now all we want is ice cream. We ask a friendly couple where to go. They point us in one direction. We get to that destination. Sadly, we don’t want frozen yogurt, we want ICE CREAM. We ask a group of young women where we might find some. First, they marvel at our desire to eat ice cream in this cold weather. Then they send us off again. We aren’t really sure if we’re going right or left or straight or what. We ask an old man smoking outside. Yes! Thank you, sir! Heladería Alaska! Girls, it’s right there in front of us! We have found our ice cream!

Serra exhibit, in the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum:
These giant steel sculptures make me feel like I’m Alice in Wonderland. They curve and slant and twist all around. They echo so wonderfully that I find myself filled with the urge to burst out into song…I may or may not actually sing a line of two…

Bilbao airport, in the security line:
Something is wrong, and Kels CANNOT get her boot off. She starts to giggle. I try to help her. We heave and ho. We’re laughing hysterically as I try to pull of that darn boot. The other people around us start to laugh with us too. It’s such a ridiculous sight, who couldn’t?

Bilbao airport, waiting area:
Well, I guess we now have an hour and a half extra to wait around the airport, because our flight just got delayed. Hey, what the perfect opportunity to play a great number of rousing rounds of Scattergories!

We got home late that Sunday night, completely exhausted, but happy we had gone on our trip. It was a good one, filled with even more moments than these, moments of reflection, delicious food, sleepy nights, and wondering wandering. Heck! It even had its moment of bird poop!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The poetry of life

Many people consider poetry to be a dead art form in the modern world. After all, nobody really reads it, right? I myself don’t tend to read it that often just because I generally prefer something along the lines of Dickens or Austen, although my mother tells me that I loved it when I was little. However, I am so frequently amazed at the moving poetry of life as it occurs around me, the sheer beauty inherent in so many acts of living and being. Really, poetry still exists.  It is alive and breathing.  It follows us everywhere we go; all we have to do is open our eyes and see it and allow it to move us.

Sometimes, life’s poetry comes out in actual words, in lines of deep meaning and emotion. For example, during an icebreaker activity at a recent Bible study, in which we had to create sentences out of the random assortment of words we pulled from a box, one friend wrote this simple phrase: “El pájaro negro suena al campo.” (“The black bird sounds like the field.”) Maybe to those of you more scientific and literal minded, such a sentence might seem like mere nonsense.  And yet for me, there is something in those six (or seven) words that thrills through my inner mind, something elusive that my spirit identifies with but can’t quite define, something that speaks of whole worlds residing in the simple song of a simple creature of the earth. Read those words again. Do you see what I mean?

Of course, if words of poetry aren’t for you, there’s all of Creation waiting just outside to astound you with beautifully complex poems of form and movement.  A couple weeks ago, I decided to rest by the side of the river in Toledo as I waited for my parents and aunt and uncle to tour the cathedral (I was tired and had already seen it). As I sat on a bench at the top of the cliffs dropping down to the water, my mind releasing the worries of the day and soaking in the peace and calm of the water below, a flock of birds suddenly took off from the lower slopes of the opposite cliffs. There were hundreds of them swirling about in flurries and floating to and fro. I looked down at them from above and felt like I was watching Nature’s soul dance about in sheer joy, swooping intricately in patterns I could not follow as it gave full vent to its passion, heedless of who could see.

Then, sometimes poetry comes out of something unexpected. Like a movie you go to see with your roommate that turns out to be poignantly beautiful and heart breaking. A couple weeks ago, Kels and I went to the little theater across the street to see a modern interpretation of the classic Snow White tale set in Sevilla, Spain, in the 1920s. We were rather surprised when we realized it was silent, but the lack of voice made the music and the visual aspect so much more impelling. Plus, the cinematography was beautiful.

There are many other ways that life’s poetry can be experienced too. You can feel it in the embrace of someone you love after a long separation or in that last sweet look when they turn around before disappearing into airport security on their way back home. You can smell it in the melody of aromas wafting around your apartment building during the lunch hour. You can hear it in the crunchy resonance of your feet on the park trails as you go for an early run. You can see it in foam twisting up in a passing swirl of wind from the fountain that someone has secretly tainted with soap.

So for those who claim poetry is dead – each moment, each experience has something of poetry in it. Life is, in and of itself, in many ways a poem. Sometimes we just need to liberate our minds from the mundane rut we so often fall into to be able to see it. We need to think, to feel, to see, to smell. We need to participate in the poem.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Oh, my love

When I was in Finland this August, I tasted some of the most amazingly, lusciously delicious chocolate I’ve ever had the pleasure of indulging in. I mean, normally I’m a straight-up purist – give it to me real dark and real simple. That’s the way I like it. But sometimes, I find myself seduced by tantalizing flavors that tempt me by their surprising originality… and I stray. The unadulterated wonder of my pure dark chocolate slips from my fingers as I reach out in a childlike daze for the shimmering unknown beckoning me with the mere idea of… I don’t know what, otherwise it wouldn’t be unknown, would it?

This Finnish chocolatier – Fazer*, to state the name – makes a number of incredible chocolates (cue Salted Cashew), but the one that completely stole my heart was the Dark Chocolate with Pear and Roasted Almonds. The idea of putting pear in chocolate was really what made me reach out for that beautifully wrapped bar of chocolate as I passed it in the aisle of the supermarket underneath the Helsinki Central Station. Of course fruit and chocolate go well together…. but I HAD to see how they managed to match the mellow flavor of pear with the raw power of dark chocolate.

Oh. My. Sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln. I just about died when I ate it. As I savored, the delicate pear didn’t back down from the strength of the cocoa – it teamed up with the depth of the roasted almonds in a mind-blowing contest of flavors storming across my taste buds, both undermining and enhancing the complexity of the chocolate. Let’s just say that I was more than a little sad as I finished off the last square of the bar I brought back to Madrid.

Well, just last week was a going away party for a friend from church, and as I sat there, pondering what on Earth I was going to bring to the party, I was struck by the lightning of inspiration and thought, “Wait a minute! That chocolate from Finland! Cookies! What is this magic going on in my brain?!”

Yes, I made Dark Chocolate Pear cookies. And they were awesome.

I didn’t think to write the recipe down until after I had already thrown all the completely un-measured ingredients together into the most heavenly of doughs, but this is the basic outline more or less of what I did, in case you’re feeling curious…

Finely chop those two ripe pears that have been hanging out in your fridge for a while and toss them in a big bowl with ½ cup packed brown sugar.
Slosh in some vanilla extract.
Stir in a pinch or two of salt and roughly two teaspoons of baking soda.
Dump in the last of your bag of oatmeal, which is probably about 1 cup.
Set that aside.
In a saucepan, melt about ¼ cup butter and 100 g (3.5 oz) dark chocolate.
Throw in a generous dash of rum because it’s sitting on your counter, begging to join the party, and you feel like being nice.
In a small bowl, whisk up two eggs.
Once your chocolaty goodness is all melted and perfect, take it off the heat and drizzle a little into your eggs, whisking the whole time.
Now that your eggs are more the temperature of your chocolaty goodness, slowly and steadily whisk them into the mixture in the saucepan. (You had better be whisking like your life depended on it the whole time!)
Next, pour your newly created chocolate custard into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix it up good.
This is where you add the flour. How much? I really don’t know. Start out with a bit more than 1 cup, then just stir in about a half cup at a time until the dough is looking really thick, but still pretty sticky.
Use teaspoons to measure out small two-bite balls onto the greased cookie sheet.
Bake for about ten minutes at 150C (300F).
Let them cool for as long as you can stand before greedily shoveling these piping hot puppies into your soon-to-be-burned-yet-happy mouth.

*Chocolates are actually only a small part of the entire Fazer operation. The empire includes many cafés, restaurants, bakeries, and confectioneries. 

Time to swim

Today marks the beginning of the second week of the 2012-2013 school year for those of us who work as Auxiliares de Conversación. Or, in other words, all English classroom assistants here in Spain have jumped on in to the inexorable wave of educational madness that is school and have kept their heads afloat for at least one week. It´s nice to be back into the swing of things, but I think this year could definitely be described as that typhoon-like wave I just mentioned. What I mean is, things are a little bit crazy. Due to budget cuts, we have one regular teacher and one floating teacher less, and in an attempt to accomodate the different credentials of all the different teachers, the swirling whirlpool that is second grade looks something like this:

There are two classes, 2A and 2B.
2A has one teacher for Spanish, Math, and English. Their Science teacher is also the Science and English teacher for both 1st grade classes as well as the secretary for the entire school.
2B has a different teacher for Spanish and Math. Their English and Science teacher is also the director of the entire school. 
And the kids are wild, squirming, noisy things that love to shriek and wiggle.
There are, of course, the clueless ones too, and they just sort of float around the class, carried by the waves of energy their classmates exude, adding to the tangled confusion of little bodies because they don´t really know what´s going on.
Oy vey.

Also, there´s been a fair bit of confusion over the Auxiliares this year. First, there are supposed to be four of us, and right now there are only two. How? Well...

There was supposed to be another girl returning (like me) from last year, but she hasnt´shown up. Then, we were assigned someone last minute on the first day (who apparently got a double assignment to a second school without being aware of it, and so is currently trying to figure out where the heck she actually IS supposed to be). And the fourth spot is still a mysterious question mark. 

Now, if those two empty spots don´t get filled, then I´m assuming that the other Auxiliar and I will get new schedules so that every class gets at least one hour of native English help every week, which means that we will be all over the place. We´re already all over the place though - I work with both 2nd grade classes in English and Science and both 3rd grade classes in English, plus one hour a week with one 4th grade class in English and one with one 6th grade class in English. And if this Auxiliar finds out she has to go to the other school that seems to be claiming her, then I don´t know what´s going to happen!!!!!!

Despite the threateningly wild and tsunami-esque aspect this year seems to present though, I think it´s going to be a pretty good one. Why? Well, a lot of the kids have claimed me as a friend (even more now that I´ve come back for a second year), I really like a number of the teachers that I´m working with, and I'm excited to implement things I learned this summer at English camp (even though it was for the kids, it was like boot camp for English teachers!). 

So yeah, I'm ready to dive right in. Sink or swim, baby!

Can they get here any sooner?!

Tomorrow’s the big day!!! After months of waiting and watching as October 9 got closer and closer, I finally get to see my parents! I can’t meet them at the airport when they fly in at 8:30 am because I have to go to work, but as soon as I get home from school, I’m going straight to their hotel. Not even going to go home first. Nope. I’m going straight to their hotel to hug them tight and get in the first bit of parental lovin’ I’ll have in over a year. There’s so much that I want them to see, eat, and experience while they’re here in what feels like my second home. But really, I just want to be able to see them in a more reliable format than Skype (as wonderful as that modern mode of communication is!), to be able to hug them and feel their warmth and love seeping into me. I’M SO EXCITED!!!!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Let's talk food

I feel like so many of my posts end up being about food. Like the only really exciting thing in my life is what I eat. And yet, honestly, it really often is the true highlight of my days. Food. One of God’s greatest blessings to mankind in my opinion. I mean, just think about all the textures, colors, and tastes that exist in the world. There are so many that you could never truly experience each one, much less the endless combination possibilities. Maybe that’s why I’m always trying to make and eat new things – I am continually blown away by how amazing food is, by how one little change can make a huge difference in texture, aesthetics, or flavor. Or all of the above. Yeah. That’s awesome.

Take, for example, an experiment a friend and I embarked on a few weekends ago.

Our original intent was to make some terrific-looking veggie burgers we had seen on one of our favorite food blogs. But, en route to a third friend’s house to make said burgers, we somehow forget a few key ingredients…and the recipe. Sooooo……rather than admit defeat, we came up with something new! We roasted the butternut squash we had with some garlic cloves, cooked up the white beans, diced up the avocado, quartered our pita bread (yes, we were going to make pita burgers), and whipped up the crowning glory of a sauce that brought it all together.

This sauce was really the only mildly complicated thing in the whole meal, and it was really actually quite easy. It consisted of plain greek yogurt (oh how I love this stuff!), pepper, salt, paprika, maybe some powdered garlic and oregano…and bunches of fresh parsley.

Oh man, did that parsley pop! It’s brightly fresh flavor combined to perfection with the creaminess of the yogurt, and when slathered on top of a stack of pita bread, mashed squash with roasted garlic, avocado, and beans, it was heavenly. Also heavenly, and a little less messy, were the stacks with just one filler ingredient. The sauce went so well with everything! Although, if I did it again, I might want to mash the beans a little…hmmmm…

Speaking of mashing the beans, a couple nights later, my friend and I decided to take our leftover beans and garlicky butternut and go back to making those originally-planned veggie burgers. Best idea ever. Here’s the link. Go make them. NOW!!! 

*Note: we substituted butternut for sweet potatoes because that's what was available in our grocery store. Either way, it's delicious!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Funny Business

Today marks the beginning of my second week at my new internship at Hot English magazine here in Madrid. It’s an educational magazine geared towards people who are learning or maintaining their English, so the level of reading difficulty isn’t very high, and there’s lots of pedagogical stuff mixed in there.

As an editorial intern with the magazine, I get to do lots of random things like write up recipes, transcribe audio recordings, do research, write articles, fact check, and… look up jokes! There are always a couple of longer jokes in every issue, and I guess after so many issues the editor has started to run out of new material. One of my jobs is to find fresh stuff for him.

So, I decided to share the hilarity. Here are a couple of my favorite ones that I’ve found so far. I hope you enjoy!

Barry and Hannah, an old married couple, are sitting on the couch watching TV. On the show they were speaking about how to prepare in case of death, etc. "Honey," says Barry, turning to his wife, "If want you to promise me that if there ever comes a time that I am dependent on just machines and bottled fluid, that you will make sure to put an end to it." "No problem, honey," said Hannah, and she promptly got up, turned off the TV, and poured his beer down the drain.

Harry and Barbara's marriage has been on the rocks for a while, so when they hear about a marriage seminar being given in the neighborhood they decide to attend. "One of the most important things in marriage," says the speaker, "is to get to really know your spouse well. For example, how many of you know what's your wife's favorite type of flower?" Harry leans over to Barbara and whispers, "It's Gold Medal All-Purpose, isn't it?"

Farmer Joe was in an accident with a semi truck. He decided his injuries from the accident were serious enough to take the trucking company responsible for the accident to court. In court, the trucking company's lawyer was question him. "Didn't you say at the scene of the accident, 'I'm fine?'"
Farmer Joe responded, "Well, I'll tell you what happened. I had just loaded my favorite mule Bessie into the..." "I didn't ask for any details," the lawyer interrupted. "Just answer the question. Did you not say at the scene of the accident that you were fine?"
Farmer Joe said, "Well, I had just got Bessie into the trailer, and I was driving down the road..." The lawyer interrupted again and said, "Judge, I am trying to establish the fact that at the scene of the accident, this man told the Highway Patrolman that he was just fine. Now, several weeks after the accident, he is trying to sue my client. Please tell him to simply answer the question."
But by this time, the judge was fairly interested in Farmer Joe's answer and said, "I'd like to hear what he has to say about his favorite mule Bessie."
Joe thanked the judge and proceeded. "Well, as I was saying, I had just loaded Bessie, my favorite mule, into the trailer and was driving her down the highway when this huge semi-truck ran the stop sign and smacked my truck in right in the side. I was thrown in one ditch and Bessie was thrown in the other. I was hurting real bad and didn't want to move. However, I could hear old Bessie moaning and groaning. I knew she was in terrible shape just by her groans. Shortly after, a highway patrolman came to the scene. He could hear Bessie moaning and groaning, so he went over to her. After he looked at her, he took out his gun and shot her between the eyes. Then he came over to me with his gun in his hand and looked at me. He said, 'Your mule was in such bad shape I had to shoot her. How are you feeling?'"

As a first grade teacher, I often hear from my students things going on in their family. Harry’s mother was expecting, and naturally Harry was very excited about it. When one day Harry stopped talking about it I was concerned and questioned him why. “Well”, Harry said, “My mother told me I could feel the baby moving in her stomach, I think she ate it!”

Two men, Jim and John, were walking their dogs when they passed by a restaurant. “Let’s go in and get something to eat,” Jim suggested. “We can’t” responded John, “don’t you see the sign says NO PETS ALLOWED.” “Aah that sign,” said Jim “don’t worry about it” and taking out a pair of sunglasses, he walked up to the door. As he tried walking into the restaurant he got stopped at the door, “sorry no pets allowed.” Can’t you see” said Jim “I am blind, this is my seeing eye dog.” But it’s a Doberman pincher, who uses a Doberman pincher as a seeing eye dog?” the man asked “Oh,” Jim responded “you must have not heard, this is the latest type of seeing eye dog, they do a very good job.” Seeing that it worked, John tried walking in with his Chihuahua. Even before he could open his mouth, the doorman said, “Don’t tell me that a Chihuahua is the latest type of seeing eye dog.”
Thinking quickly John responded in an angry voice “You mean they gave me a Chihuahua?”

One day a college professor was greeting his new college class. He stood up in front of the class and asked if anyone in the class was a moron, and if they were, they should stand up. After a minute a young man stood up. The professor then asked the kid if he actually thought he was a moron. The kid replied, "No, I just didn't want to see you standing there all by yourself."

Monday, August 27, 2012

So long for now, my friend

According to the vendor, hats are the cheapest way to
get a face lift...who knew?

Helsinki now lies many miles behind.  I glance across the stiffly tumbled bodies of my two sleeping neighbors out the window at an expanse of fluffy white clouds that occasionally part to reveal glimpses of some country below – which it is I have no clue.  And yet just a few hours ago I was saying goodbye to my friend before she headed off the work.  I was looking around the quiet apartment to make sure I had left nothing.  I was walking between train and bus on my way to the airport.  Now, behind me is a truly beautiful country, one whose plants seem to be fairly be bursting forth with fresh life and vigor as they make the most of the sunny hours before dark winter comes, one whose interesting architecture and sweeping landscapes both make for pleasant vistas, one whose people are quietly friendly and inviting.  

Picnic time!
I’ve really enjoyed my week in Finland.  I had my doubts at first about being on my own so much, but I passed many a pleasantly contemplative moment in silence, with no need for making conversation and no worries about whether I might or might not be boring my travel partner out of their mind.  It was quiet.  It was peaceful.  It was thoughtful.  

Of course the observation deck would have a fighter jet
And the rest of the time, I really enjoyed spending time with my friend Elina.  We hadn’t seen each other or even talked a whole lot for a year and a half due to our separate busy lives, and yet right off from the start our friendship felt as sure as it had when we were hanging out in Madrid in the fall of 2010.  We had lots of lovely and fun conversations as well as plenty of moments of companionable silence.  She showed me around and took care of me – she was quite a wonderful hostess.  We shared delicious food, went on walks, ventured out in kayaks, picked wild blueberries and raspberries, enjoyed an afternoon at the public sauna, rummaged through a flea market, picnicked on rocks overlooking the bay, watched a marathon, visited important city sites, and generally packed quite a lot into these days we were together.  Overall, a most excellent, excellent trip.

Picking blueberries in Central Park

Go, go, go!

Such peace, such peace...

Until next time, Elina!

Helene Schjerfbeck

I think I can say without a doubt that Helene Schjerfbeck is now one of my favorite artists.  Never heard of her?  I hadn’t either before coming to Helsinki, but apparently pretty much every school child here in Finland knows who she was.  She’s one of the most important figures in the Nordic art scene, and the beautiful Ateneum art museum in the center of the city has a wonderful exhibition right now in honor of her 150th birthday, or some such thing.  There are a few hundred of her works displayed chronicling her journey from a more Naturalistic style as a young woman to a very modern, minimalistic approach in her later years.  The thing that captured me the most in the exhibit was, besides the variety of styles, the sheer beauty inherent in nearly every single painting.  She chose, for the most part, to paint human subjects, saying, “There’s nothing as interesting as the human face,”  and it’s remarkable the emotion that she seems to be able to call forth both in the expression of the subjects themselves and in the viewer (or me, at least).  There is such grace in every stroke of her brush, pencil, pen, or whatever tool she happened to use.  I think that right there is probably why I like so many of her paintings so much – they are full of grace, a certain softness that makes the eye contentedly happy.

The Convalescent was one of my favorites


I’ve been infected.  I was feeling solemnly contemplative as I sat here on the rocky outcropping next to the Sibelius monument, looking at the beautifully bright pipes jumbled together in decorative, floating clumps that remind me of an unearthly pipe organ and wondering what they mean, what they might possibly stand for.  When suddenly a group of American tourists trundled off their bus to take their 10 minutes’ worth of pictures before moving on to the next photo-snapping point.  Two of the ladies in particular  were enjoying themselves as they snapped pictures of each other sticking their heads in the pipes and giggling uproariously.  Just hearing them, my serious mood evaporated and a smile spread across my face – I do believe they’ve quite infected me.  It’s a good infection though, one I’ll welcome with open arms rather than seek to get rid of.  Maybe I’ll even spread it a little to someone else…

I found out later that this mystical organ was dedicated
to the music of the famous Finnish composer... 
...Jean Sibelius

Childish art

I came to the flea market this morning hoping for a treasure trove of fun things I could sort through to find the perfect mementos.  And although there is indeed an impressive array/smorgasbord of only heaven knows what, my favorite thing that I’m taking away isn’t something that I bought but rather something I saw…

I was browsing one seller’s table of old clothes and random knick-knacks when I saw a stroller parked next to two fellow female browers.  Since it’s universally known that babies are, usually, adorable, and I happen to believe this universally known fact, I sneaked a peak at the little blonde guy seated there.  And I noticed that he was happily engaged in something...  He had taken off one of his little leather loafers and was daubing what remained of his ice cream on a stick all over it, inside and out.  His caretakers were completely oblivious as he explored his experimental artistic side and swirled the popsicle stick about the inside sole, occasionally lifting it to lick at the chocolate that still clung on.  Of course, once the two women did realize what a creative genius their little charge was, they merely dabbed at the sticky mess before surrendering the masterpiece to the childish hands once again, with the one stipulation of a few soggy napkins that pretended to stand guard inside the shoe.  Who knows, maybe he’ll be a famous painter some day?

Another little kid with ice cream - her cone was as big as her head!

Foodie Time!

Nom nom nom
What do you call these things?  No idea.  The name on the label is completely indecipherable to me, but I just wolfed down all three pastries in the bag with relish here on the edge of the dock next to the Market Square.  With the breeze off the ocean on my face, the water gently moving at my feet, and the bright sun warming my legs, I don’t really all that much care what they are called.  All I know is they were delicious.  A thick square of airy pastry folded over a creamy blend of broccoli and feta.  The inside soft and slightly chewy.  The outside flaky and just the right amount of crispiness, with toasty brown shreds of Swiss cheese liberally adding that delightful extra touch.  Was it something traditional here in Finland?  No idea.  Either it was, and I just experienced a true Finnish delight, or it wasn’t and I just experienced a true (insert nationality) delight.  Either way, it was totally and completely worth all the wonderful, buttery calories.

Heaven help me
I’m simply putting off the inevitable by picking up this pen and starting to write, but I can’t help it!  I want this moment to last forever!  I mean, who wouldn’t want to prolong the eating of the most perfect cinnamon roll so as to be able to savor every tiny bit and morsel of heavenly deliciousness for as long as possible?  When I bought this astounding pastry from the tiny, hectically cluttered café that looked like somebody’s back kitchen, it seemed to be nothing more than a cinnamon-y, sugary croissant.  But oh, it is so much more that that.  It has the soft, bready texture of a cinnamon roll, and it HAD the shape of a lumpy homemade croissant, “HAD” being the key word there, as I am agonizingly reaching the final few bites.  Some of the edges have that incredible chewiness that comes from sugar that has melted into oozing little puddles in the oven and then soaked into the bread.  There is the perfect amount of moisture – you know, that amount you always dream of producing yourself in your own cinnamon rolls but never quite actually end up achieving.  Oh! And the spices!  They feel hand-ground practically.  Seriously, as I nibble the tiny chunks of cinnamon, I can just imagine the spry grey-haired lady bustling around the café grating pixie dust over her pastries as she weaves magical spells of tasty delight into her products.  There’s something besides cinnamon too.  Something darker.  I’m not exactly sure what it is (Cloves? Nutmeg? Something magically mysterious?), but it adds an extra pungency that sometimes borders on a kick.  As I finish off the last bite (one of the chewy, sugary bits), I’m kind of sad that there isn’t any more.  And yet, I am really, really, really ridiculously happy with what I just ate.  Oh man am I ever.

A Trio of Churches

The center of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

The Helsinki Cathedral feels nearly barren as I look around and think of all the incredibly ornate churches I’ve been to in Spain.  It was the same impressive feeling of vast, open space induced by huge domes arching up to the sky, but there is so much more white, smooth surface here, more simplicity, more visual peace.  It is not without adornment, but the decorative column heads and arch details are unassuming and quiet – rather than call attention to themselves, they serve as a complement to the whole, adding to instead of detracting from the desired focus on the altar and pulpit, which besides the moderate chandeliers and magnificently impressive organ are the only parts of the interior displaying gold gilt and bright colors. 

Interesting facts about the cathedral: 
It was originally known as St. Nicholas’ Church.
There is a statue inside of Mikael Agricola, the father of the Finnish Reformation and literature.
Besides the normal Lutheran church services, other events to take place here include official state and university functions.

Simplistic beauty

The Finnish Orthodox Church is the second of the two national churches in Finland, and at its heart is the Uspenski Cathedral, the largest Orthodox Cathedral in Western Europe according to the Helsinki tourist booklet.  In contrast to the Helsinki Cathedral, the Uspenski Cathedral fairly shines with the bright reds, blues, and golds that predominate the paintings and delicately intricate designs that cover a large part of the walls and every inch of the ceiling.  The chandelier coming down from the star-speckled central dome has a weighty look of importance about it.  The rich scent of hot wax from the burning incense candles perfumes the air, lingering in my nose as I walk out the simple side entrance open to visitors.  I look up at the brick walls and copper domes, a brilliant golden cross crowning each pinnacle, the city spreading out beneath its hill.  It is as different from Spanish cathedrals as is the neoclassical Helsinky Cathedral, and it is beautiful.

Interesting facts, courtesy of the tourist booklet:
This cathedral is one of the clearest symbols of the Russian impact on Finnish history.
The members of the Finnish Orthodox church account for just over 1 percent of the population.

I loved the geometric patterns painted on the ceiling and walls.

Not exactly the typical church exterior
The Rock Church is different from either the Helsinki Cathedral or Uspenski Cathedral.  Indeed, it’s rather different from any church or cathedral I’ve ever seen in my life.  Just imagine with me a huge mound of solid rock in the middle of Helsinki, apartment buildings and small businesses rising up on every side.  Now, imagine a great big hole dug into the rock, and a church sanctuary placed inside.  Rocks have been built up around the hole, and a large, flattish dome of rolled copper is held up by ray of steel and glass.  The stone of the walls in unfinished, evoking an earthy, natural feel.  There’s a beautiful, beautiful pipe organ to the left side, but at this moment there is a concert pianist closing up the shiny concert grand piano on which he has been pouring out his heart for at least the past hour.  There are also mobs of tourists wandering around, flashing their cameras and chatting in nearly normal voices, but I was more or less able to block them out as I sat and soaked in the music…wup!  There’s the piano encore!  …lovely…and now as the cover gets drawn over the shining instrument, I guess it’s time for me to move on – out from this rocky church and on to the next sight to see…

Just look at that organ!