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El albergue

El albergue

Saturday, June 30, 2012

What happens when school gets out


Oh man.  I feel like the laziest bum ever.  It’s a wonderful feeling.  School finished with a bang on Tuesday, or rather a very big splash, as the water games got a little crazy and nearly every student went home a happy, sopping mess, then came the laziness.  There were no longer screaming, excited children that could barely be contained in a classroom.  There were no longer pretty much any immediate responsibilities which needed looking after.  So what did I do?  NOTHING.  Well, actually, I did do stuff, but lazy awesome stuff.  Like make these ridiculous schizophrenic brownies with my roommate.

And go read in the park.

And creatively improvise dinner out of nothing.

And then make English muffins to make a weird dinner completely amazing.

And clean…oh wait, not quite laziness material right there…

And catch up with friends I haven’t had time to talk to.

And help a friend pick out and plant new palm trees on his terrace.

And sit at home all day and watch about 6 hours of a new TV series.  Well, Suits isn’t new this year, but it’s only in its second season, and it’s new to me, so I think it still qualifies, right?  Anywho.  Great show.  I’m hooked.

However, these lazy days are about to end.  Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I am hefting on my rather full backpack and heading out to meet up with the buses schlepping all the camp teacher/counselors out to two weeks of summer English camp.  I will be planning and running a class completely my own, which is kind of intimidating, as this year I haven’t had quite that responsibility, but I’ve got some awesome co-teachers I look forward to getting to know who will probably be happy to help me out.  The thing I’m most excited about – we’re going to be staying in an old (ex) monastery!  How cool is that?!

I’ll be sure to update ya’ll as the week gets going, but for now, in case anyone has a hankering for some RIDICULOUS brownies, try these suckers out…

Yay summer!!!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Exotic American Culture


Do you remember how the last week of school always was when you were little?  All those schoolbooks got put away for good (after all, next year you were getting new ones), and you waltzed through end of the year activities getting more and more excited for the impending summer holidays.  Well, the same has been going on at the school I’m working in – all the kids are getting exponentially more rambunctious as classes draw to a close, the noise level in the classrooms sometimes reaching unprecedented levels in the enthusiasm they express for different activities we’ve been doing, extended sessions of Simon Says being a particular favorite, although coloring special pictures meets with nearly as much joy and abandonment.  Wednesday afternoon, I had a brilliant idea for how to fill out the lesson-less hours ahead of us on Thursday…I had to prepare a treat for the next round students who had put up that magical 20th sticker on the reading chart…so, why not take the opportunity to give a class on American culture? 

Sounds like such a treat, right?  But it was!!!  How can a lesson be a treat for second and third graders, you ask?  Never fear, it was delightful. 

In each class, I called forth the students who had just completed the Reading Champs chart…I reached into my mysterious plastic bag…and pulled out paper towels…and two knives…laughing at the cries of “Oh no!  She’s going to kill us!” I dramatically whipped out a loaf of bread…a jar of strawberry jam…and……………a jar of peanut butter! 

I asked who had ever tried peanut butter before, and was met with maybe one or two raised hands.  Then I told them that in America kids their age eat a lot of peanut butter, especially in the form of sandwiches with jam (heck, I do to!).  There were murmurs of incredulity mixed with interest.  Then I showed them how to make these exotic treats.

ME: First, you take a piece of bread, and put peanut butter on it.
STUDENTS: It looks like caca!  Bleck!  Haha!
ME: Then you take a second piece of bread and put jam on it.
STUDENTS: Yum!  Ooooo!
ME: Then you put the two pieces together.
STUDENTS: NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Then, as I made lots of sandwiches and cut them up into four pieces for taste testing, the special Reading Champs helped hand out the snack to all the students who wanted to try it.  There were a couple kids who handed it back after taking a nibble, frowns of dislike contorting their small faces, but for the most part everyone liked it.  Then there were the students who originally claimed they didn’t want any, but who asked for a bit once they saw how many of their friends were enjoying it.  Success!

Now, I wonder how many will go home and ask their parents for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…I also wonder what the parents will think of this (to them) CRAZY food pairing.  It’s so funny to think of such a classic as peanut butter and jelly being something completely exotic. 

It makes me smile.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Little Bird

There is a little bird in our second grade class.  She comes every day with all the students.  Petite, nay tiny, with big shiny brown eyes, her little voice twitters through the general disturbance of distracted 8 year-olds.  She perches on her little seat, cocking her fluffy head at me as I teach, and laughingly trilling out whenever even the slightest bit amused by any situation.  She can have a rather stormy temperament though, and will glare and sulk on a moment’s notice, even throw things to the floor or strike out with her feet when particularly peeved.  A little petting and cool water usually suffice to calm her down again though. 

“I can fly!  I can fly!”  She has said to me more times than I can count, hopping from one tiny foot to the other as she furiously flaps her outstretched arms, a strange determination masking her pixy face.  She’s quick to dissolve into giggles though as soon as I hoist her up in my arms and spin her around.  And if I tickle her, she dissolves into a little heap of bubbling laughter at my feet, unable to support herself in the face of my friendly attack.  In those moments, her featherless wings turn into wispy human arms again, with no thought in her head for anything save the shear delight of playing and being silly.

She is still a little bird though, however much I try to bring her back to earth.  She is determined to fly.  Someday she probably will.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Who says books aren’t fun?


One of my favorite parts of my job this year has been working with the weekly classroom English libraries in 2nd grade.  Why?  Mostly because I think reading is an incredibly important part in any child’s educational formation, but also because I loved seeing their excitement as they kept jealous watch over their progress on the Reading Champs chart.

The Reading Champs chart is just a simple poster in the back of the room with each child’s name written on the left in fun, colorful letters.  But, as much delight as I took decoratively writing each individual name, I have to admit that that is not the kids’ favorite part of the chart.  No, these little non-admirers of art have been far more interested in counting the line of stickers growing away to the right of their names, each sticker representing a different book that they have taken home, read, and turned back in to the library.  They have been counting all year long, getting more and more excited as they near the final space on the chart, the big TWO-O, or 20 for those of you who tend to like more solid numbers and less wordy rig-a-ma-role (but really, who doesn’t like a little wordy fun?). 

Now, if one were to simply look at the chart, reaching the final space/sticker/book wouldn’t seem like such an extraordinary thing.  After all, 20 stickers are merely 20 stickers, right?  WRONG!!  Twenty stickers is the magic number of stickers, the perfect amount that will bring you within reach of the mysterious “surprise” promised by us, the mysterious teachers, at the beginning of the year.  Whatever could that surprise be???  Well, read 20 books, and you just might find out…

This past week, two students in both of the 2nd grade classes reached that magical number, that promising “20” that beckoned them with the tantalizing scent of mystery and surprise.  Actually, I think they just wanted to get a present, but who’s to say that presents aren’t as intriguing as any mystery?  Anyway, when those students put on their final, 20th sticker, completing the line of red reaching all the way across the Reading Champs chart, there was celebration in the entire class, everyone clamoring for me to give those special ones their “surprise.” 

It all started with a clue…which led them to another clue... “Your next clue is UNDER the bench UNDER the blackboard.”  (No opportunity lost here to reinforce words learned during class!)  “Now, go to the FRONT of the classroom and look BEHIND the giant ball of gas.”  (We had just studied the solar system)  “Finally, look IN the paper bag BETWEEN two windows.”  This last clue actually happened to be quite troublesome for the kids, as there were multiple windows and the idea of a paper bag seemed to rather escape them - no matter how many times we tried emphasize the idea of a paper bag being a BAG made out of paper, they kept looking behind posters.  At long last though, they somehow found their way to the bag containing their prize.  And then they were further confused by pulling out a simple Tupperware.  “What’s this?”  Umm, open it up, love, I swear it isn’t just an empty box of plastic.

Finally, the Tupperware was opened, and happy cries arose from the sight of little jam-filled thumbprint cookies rising in stacks to the top of the container.  They of course had to share with all their classmates, but I don’t think that in any way diminished the joy they felt over they discovery of their “surprise.” In fact, I think it rather gave them a sense of pride in being able to share their bounty with their friends.

And that, my friends, is why I like the classroom English library so much.  Not just for the books.  For the cookies!!!!!!

And if you happen to want to make those delightful little stacks of thumbprint cookies that my students discovered at the end of their literary journey, here’s the recipe!

Reading Champs thumbprint cookies
Cream: ¾ c. soft butter and ¾ c. sugar.
Add: 1 egg and 2 tsp. vanilla.
Sift together, then add: ¼ tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking powder, ½ c. cornmeal, and 1 ½ c. flour.

Roll the dough into small balls half the size of a ping-pong ball and place fairly close on a greased cookie sheet.  Make a small hole in the middle of each with your pinkie, and fill with the jam of your choice. 

Bake at 350 F or 175 C until a light golden brown.  Let cool a little before removing from the sheet.  Then pick up a good book, some tea, a few cookies, and ENJOY!!!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Nature walk


Last weekend during a church retreat, I went on a hike through some of the foothills outside of Madrid, and it was such a blessing to be out in nature, inhaling pure air and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.  Imagine, if you will, a chaparral-esque forest, with scrubby evergreens rubbing boughs with craggy old oaks, which combination of leafy heads and shoulders does enough to provide generous shade while at the same time allowing large portions of the sky to peer down at us as we wind our way along the faint outline of the trail between the snagging fingers of bushes and thorny vines.  We pass plenty of wild lavender, stopping every now and then to rub the perfumed leaves between the tips of our fingers or take apart of small piece of the herb to carry along and inhale its fragrance at will. 

In some parts, our feet kick up little puffs of dust in the dry, brown earth; in some parts, they flexibly navigate the crevices and curvatures of many small stones that seem to stick up their heads above the ground at random angles, almost as though they are groggy sleepers trying to figure out what in the world is going on above them.  In one part, our toes gingerly hop from one stone to another, avidly avoiding getting wet in the water of the stream that laps so close to the surface of the stone; in some places, they brush through the soft heads of long grasses hanging over the path like foot soldiers falling asleep at their post. 

If we sniff the air, we can smell the forest around us.  We can smell that faint scent of forest-y things that will always remind me of freshly boiled artichokes – it smells green, it smells warm, it smells delicious.  We can smell the sunshine gently warming the plants around us; we can fairly smell the sap flowing up from the awakened roots of plants long dormant and of plants sending up fresh growth into the new heat of approaching summer. 

And if we listen, we can hear the forest around us.  We can hear the crickets playing their merry song in orchestral unity, their many different sections spread out around the path as we walk along; we can hear the tiny sparrows adding their lilting flute-like voices to the melody and the woodpeckers punctuating the score with a good, solid drumming of some tree or other. 

As we turn the corner, walking, smelling, and listening, we suddenly find ourselves in front of the most gorgeous of gorgeous meadows.  It opens out among the trees of the forest, a luxurious carpet of grasses and wildflowers that invites a picnic, a blanket, a book, and a nap.  If we were to lay down out there, I’m sure we would completely disappear from sight, our entire world framed by nodding wildflowers that seem to be conversing with the breeze as we lie on our backs, gazing up at the brilliantly blue sky and soft white clouds.  We continue on our walk though, and soon enough, another, grander meadow opens up before our delighted eyes!  It’s as though we are taking a tour of the jewels of the earth, the forest offering up for our inspection the gem-like fields it hides in its interior. 

So very different from walking through throngs of people, over cobbled streets, right next to the many cars that fill the city with their rumblings and their exhaust.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the city.  But this walk out into nature was exactly what I needed.