El albergue

El albergue

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Good Stuff

So often, it’s easiest to think about all the things that aren’t quite perfect in our lives, all those little problems that plague us continually, all the things we wish would go away or change into something “better.” And yet, as a dear friend recently reminded me, it’s so important to remember all the wonderful things that happen, all the little things that lift our hearts and make us thankful to be alive. I know, I know, it’s a truth we all have hidden away somewhere in our minds, but it’s good to bring it to the forefront of our thoughts every now and again (or every day!) and really think about all the things we have to be grateful for.

So, here are just a few of the things that have gladdened my heart this week, a few things for which I am profoundly thankful.

- I love my private students. True, sometimes I would rather not have to deal with lesson planning, but this week I have had some really great conversations with my older students as well as some fun times with my younger ones… well, at least I was having fun!

- On Wednesday, I got home dead tired from school, barely able to even think about the run I needed to get my bum out of the house for. However, I had a little extra time, so I was able to lie down for a little while. 20 minutes. That was it, and yet it was one of the best parts of my week. I got up feeling refreshed and ready to go a little longer. It’s amazing how much the perfectly placed nap can mean.

- I love Thursday evenings, and this one was no exception. Kels and I both get home from a long day of school, private classes, and commuting, and we just hang out and relax together. We have something cozy and warm for dinner, share all about how our day went, and often watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother. Then we quietly drift about getting ready for bed, the conversations often continuing off and on for a while since our rooms are right next to each other. It’s the perfect way to end my longest day of the week.

- After a bit over two weeks of being laid low by a bad cold-turned-sinus-infection, I was finally able to get back out on the trails around the park near our apartment for a good run. It felt wonderful to get moving again, even if the first day back out was more of a jog-walk that a run.

- It’s so fun seeing the enthusiasm of the students over the school-wide Tongue Twister Challenge I got to set up this January. In all the different grades, there is at least one kid who is excited to know every Monday what the new tongue twister is. I love it when they see the new tongue twister and get that bright look in their eyes, when they avidly mutter it under their breath to practice, and when they pump their fists in victory when they finally get the point for that week.

- I love making pancakes, and this morning I mixed up a perfect batch for one. I got to experiment and put fun things in them, which always makes me happy, and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into their fragrantly warm moistness deluged in Greek yogurt. Yummy.

The more I think about all the great things that have happened this week, the more I realize just how long this list could and should go… Wow, life sure is full of good stuff.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Comfort food

Food is such an important part of our lives, but at times it can be easy to just think of it as fuel for our bodies and ignore all the other benefits it imparts, like amazing taste, sight, smell, and textural experiences, or emotional comfort. Whenever we are feeling sick or sad or down in any way though, we realize just how much food can affect us and just how important it is beyond simple nutrition. After all, why else would the phrase “comfort food” exist?

Last night, I stood in desperate need of comfort food. My prolonged cold had morphed into what I am pretty sure is a sinus infection, and besides all the pressure threatening to explode my face into a million, throbbing pieces, I was so congested that I couldn’t even hear very well. I was physically exhausted. In short, I felt pretty darn crappy.  I really needed something warm and homey to make me feel better. My dinner of choice? Loads of orange juice, steaming chicken broth (I might just maybe have been a little dehydrated…), and piping hot banana peanut butter oatmeal. Kind of an odd mixture, I know, but I was craving each of those items so badly. The fresh-squeezed orange juice was simply amazing. The chicken broth was soothingly hot and savory. The oatmeal made me feel like I had my mom there to take care of me… there’s just something so endearingly comforting about that warm, soft cereal sliding down your throat. I had trouble tasting the peanut butter and banana because I was so congested, but just the familiar texture of the oats was enough to warm my cranky heart.

Again, the other day, all I wanted was cornbread. I craved the comfort of something hearty and warm to make the cold of winter go away for a little while. I think I was also needing the comfort of feeling like I was in a family environment – I shared a big pot of the chili and a big pan of the cornbread with roommates and friends, everyone crammed in around the extendable table in our miniscule living room. The warmth and comfort of the food went perfectly hand in hand with the cozy, amicable atmosphere.

I think a lot of times, food is comforting mostly because of the memories that go along with it. For instance, every time I have oatmeal I think of breakfast on the high stools at the raised counter back home at Mom and Dad’s house and of going oatmeal crazy with my old roommate Laura during that last year of college – we would try new flavor combinations all the time and gleefully report back to each other on our latest discoveries. Whenever I have a cup of steaming chicken broth, I think of turkey broth and egg noodles at Grandma’s after Thanksgiving, everyone sitting around the big old wooden table, and of Mom serving us Top Ramen and Saltines when we were sick, with a little piece of ice thrown in when we were little so that we didn’t burn our little mouths. And whenever I eat chili and cornbread, I think of dinners at home in Shafter and with my roommates in Davis, everyone always meticulously rationing out the delicious cornbread to make sure we all got an exactly fair share (although Dad usually seemed to end up with extra somehow…), conversation flowing freely in between blowing on spoonfuls of hot chili and big mouthfuls of cornbread drizzled with honey.

Maybe this is why I love cooking and sharing food with people so much – I love forming new food memories and contributing to those of all my friends and family… Viva la comida!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

It's all in the music

Music plays such an important role in human life. This seems to be especially true in the modern world, where people are listening to music nearly nonstop - what with mp3 players, car radios, in home stereos, online streaming, elevator music, restaurant mood music, grocery store music, and even the occasional ice cream truck belting out “Pop Goes the Weasel” as it rounds the corner, we are listening to music for a significant portion of every day.

So why do we dedicate so much time to music? There is an argument to be made for the modern person’s inability to stand silence, but beyond that, I think we tend to listen to music in order to invoke emotions. We are essentially emotional creatures, and music speaks beautifully to our inner world in ways that simple words and actions can never quite reach. Just listening to a song can even often completely change our mood.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into one of my second grade classrooms to see the 27 overly rambunctious children I’m used to seeing boiling about in near mayhem transformed into comparatively quiet, studious little creatures under the influence of the quiet classical music the teacher likes to play every once in a while. It’s quite an incredible thing.

Or take for example the distinctly different feel between a laid back jazz bar and the energetic atmosphere of a salsa club. When I go in the first (of which there are several in Madrid), I feel relaxed, disposed to have lengthy conversations about all manner of topics. When I go into the second, my body just has to move, impelled by the beat and the melody to let itself be free. There is no reclining and conversing there, that’s for sure!

And of course, I totally capitalize on the unique qualities of different styles of music when I go running. When it’s a good day and I’m not worried about how long it takes me to get done, I listen to some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll that I can sing along with as I prance through the paths crisscrossing the park near my apartment. But when it’s a slow day and I need a little extra motivation, I put on some of the driving beats from my favorite kick-butt aerobics teacher. That REALLY gets me moving.

Then there are those moments that come out of nowhere, those moments when I hear music floating through the streets and touching my soul.  I don’t look for those moments. I don’t choose that music on my ipod or computer. And yet those moments come, they break over my unsuspecting head in waves of beautiful, lyrical emotion.  Now, coming across music in the streets is a fairly common occurrence here in central Madrid, as street performers abound in the more heavily visited areas, but half the time the music is only so so, not really meriting a real pause in your day. There are many that are happy and bring a smile to your face as you continue walking, but there are very few that take your breath away and hold you paralyzed in the street. But that is exactly what happened to me yesterday.

As I came out of the metro, every step toward ground level brought clearer and clearer strains of beautiful music closer to my ears. Not just any music either – powerful, majestic opera. There was a little old woman dressed all in black playing an accordion on her lap, her face bathed in sunshine as her lips poured out depth and power. She had a sort of melancholic half smile as her face and would occasionally lower her eyes demurely when the man standing across from her would respond in his majestic baritone to her sure soprano. They were simple people, but they were breathtakingly beautiful.

I stopped awhile with the rest of the awestricken crowd in the little plaza, drinking in the glorious notes. When the song ended and I walked away, I felt somehow elevated, enriched, gloriously at one with the beauty of the world around me. I felt like I too should lift high my head, open my mouth, and pour out powerfully raw emotions in a burst of perfect melody.

It was pure emotion, put forth in truly the most lovely of ways.