Friday, June 3, 2011

Back to My Future

I started this blog as a curriculum sharing site and an online community for likeminded educators (think NYCORE- New York Collaboration of Radical Educators!) to share with and inspire each other. Then I met my husband and moved to Chile and Paris and now that we're finally back in New York and life is almost back to normal, I feel like it's time to go back to using this forum for its original intent.

There are so many amazing blogs out there. I have been incredibly inspired by how rich the blogosphere is- and how many people who have actual jobs and also put hours into sharing content online. So I will switch gears and this summer as I prepare to get back to what I love to do- teaching art; I will try to refocus the lens a bit and document getting back to teaching.

I think teaching is really fascinating especially in New York there are so many interesting lenses through which to look at education in urban communities that are both privileged and low-income. The politics of education are my passion, policy reform, stakeholders and Arne Duncan, Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein make for some very interesting conversation threads.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Today I had two or three interesting conversations with work friends.

The first conversation was with a fellow wisconsinite. She got married almost a year ago and told me the story of how her "maid of honor/best friend" sabotaged her wedding day because she wanted to see Mood Fabrics to take pictures to show her mom as she was a fan of project runway and later making her late to her own reception. And how her parents were so selfish they had her running around new york showing them the "sights" until after midnight the night of her wedding. I had to change the wording of this synopsis a couple times because I wrote it in a way that implied she had no way of saying, "no", which obviously she did. She never put her foot down or left her friend of family to put herself first (although her dad did abandon her and her maid of honor at Mood Fabrics).

Then I had a conversation with my friend Morenike whom I asked for advice about an issue I'm having with the apartment I'm moving into tomorrow. The woman I'm subletting from wont allow me to receive mail there... which I feel entitled to do. Morenike told me, I ought not to feel entitled... If you lay out the arrangement- I'm subletting for 3 months from this woman, the only mail I have is Netflix, so... Whats the big deal? I've sublet 5 or 6 apartments in New York not to mention france and chile and I've always been welcome to receive mail... Moreover I've sublet my own apartment to others for years and everyone was always welcome to receive mail... not to do so, seems unnecessarily uptight and paranoid. Nonetheless, as Morenike points out, in this lifetime, I am not entitled to anything, and I best keep that in mind.

Later I talked to a man at work whom I want to know better, but whom I generally only see in passing... In hoping to know him better I asked if he is a lifer in the profession of teaching... He said, well, he whispered, No. He told me he intended to live his life consciously and direct his life to the extent that he made conscious choices driving life changes and experiences. I wanted to know this teacher better because he reminds me of my best colleague (work version of best friend- not the same status as best friend, but best work friend) Thomas, who moved to Chicago at the same time I left for Chile. I miss Thomas and something about this teacher reminds me of something in Thomas. When I left for Chile I was at a point where it felt like I needed to take the wheel and step off the plan- make something happen, making a conscious choice for something else. New York was comfortable, I had a job at a school I liked, but I felt myself slipping into frustrating dramas and living my life in a way that felt automatic. He said, most people like that, they work hard when they're young to achieve all this "stuff" and then stop and put their feet up. There is this idea (that a lot of people accept) that people ought to put their head down and muddle through, they work for 20 years maybe, and then they plan on enjoying life in retirement. He said, well, I certainly don't plan on having social security around to rely on upon retirement. I won't have a pension working for a charter school... Its important to me that I live my life, now. I don't think he was talking about moving to Chile, but making memories, doing things, having events to look back at in regular intervals to prove he had not wasted this lifetime.

I'm blessed to have these moments in my life when people remind you what not to take for granted. Without feeling pity for my fellow wisconsinite, I'm glad I am not afraid to say "No" when people take advantage, that at times I can put myself first and not feel guilty. Because I don't want my memories of my wedding or any other important day be about how my best friend thought it was more important to take photos of bolts of fabric than celebrate my big day. I'm lucky to have Morenike who always tells it like it is, no matter how right you might be, Morenike isn't going to tell you what you want to hear, she's going to tell you how it is- most of us aren't looking for that in a friend even if we often say we do, but I recognize as hard as it is to hear what she has to say sometimes, life never comes down to whose in the right. We are always this close to being swept up in getting a little too comfortable. Sylvain and I are cat sitting for a friend whose home (for us) is like staying at a 5 star hotel. For ten days we get to relax and enjoy this amazing space that feels even more special because it's our friends' space. There are moments where all I can aspire to is having my own 2bd/2bth in the city, but in order to have a home we would need to set roots down. I can't imagine us doing that in any real way. We move around to better know ourselves, to take on challenges and to know about more than just our needs and desires. I can't imagine a day when we will have more than just enough to get by on, but I imagine we will always have friends somewhere who leave town and need someone to feed their cat, or a visit from mom and a delicious meal out.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Meditation Workshop

In so many ways it feels like America is falling apart at it's seams, the ways that we are tied together as a community of Americans sharing the same soil and air space, but bitterness and resentment is all we feel for our neighbors who see the world through a different lens. And yet, I find that at least in some pockets of this country there are folks who really let all that stuff go. The spiritual folks who may adhere strongly to their beliefs but those who leave space and find a way to love those neighbors who have different ideas about which way is up.

Thursday was a snow day here, and I grabbed my new yoga mat and headed to yoga class. My teacher, Mary, was one I've never had before, and she was a gem. I didn't practice yoga much in Paris, I didn't really feel connected to the community and the style and it was super pricey, so I just shelved it. Whenever you're away from whatever is your 'center", your "home" you return and you feel a little guilt and awkwardness coming back. I was feeling a little of that, I was out of shape and I knew that I might struggle a little to feel the flow, maybe a little intimidated by the class regulars whose poses didn't need a bit of adjustment but Mary made it feel like a welcome home party. She didn't have us do endless cycles of downward dog and she was always using these great phrases that put smiles on my face. I can't wait to go back. That's what I dig about the states, everywhere I've ever taken a yoga class it's been welcoming, joyful and positive. I think it speaks volumes that a place like the states with our culture of fast food and vitriolic politics and general dumping and abuse on the environment that we can get this so right.

Mary announced at the beginning of her class that she was having a meditation workshop Saturday and I decided I was going to attend. Sylvain started talking about meditation when we moved to Chile, he's not a yoga kind of guy but he has a really open mind and so I asked him to come and we made it a date. In Chile I got some instruction from my cousin Ken and tried doing some meditation there but it wasn't a hugely successful attempt. For a week or so I made it work but I didn't really know how to get into, to find my own style. Sitting on a cushion was relaxing and I like to have some time to let go of the worldly stuff, but I wasn't feeling drawn to it. Later I realized with a little help from my friend Shirley that meditation doesn't have to just be sitting on a cushion, she told me to go take a walk, move.

But I wanted to get comfortable with the cushion too and I had a feeling Mary would be a big help, because I sort of felt lost doing it on my own. One of the reasons I like going to yoga classes is that sort of vibration of likeminded folks all working together, in college the fusion of energy in the art studio was really inspiring and today was no different, 15 or 16 folks in a circle all trying to achieve something alone together sitting on a cushion and sharing with each other the humility of that struggle. I just think American's do this so well, we are eager and non-judgemental about this kind of stuff, sharing intimate stories, being vulnerable and kind with one another.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kettle of F-bomb

Last year Sylvain and I came back to NYC just before Christmas, we caught one of the last games of the season at the Packer bar in NYC Kettle of Fish. It was a great game, full of Packer fan's, kind, warm, celebratory. We had such a good time, it felt a little sad to be headed to Paris for who knows how long when we could be watching the Packers play at Kettle of FIsh eating brats and drinking beers. So it should come as no surprise that at noon today we headed downtown to catch todays playoff game even if it meant spending 30 minutes freezing our toes off standing in line outside the bar with about a hundred other Packer fans. We were pretty far back in line outside a manicure and pedicure store and the two guys behind us with a 414 area code started cracking gay jokes because there was a guy inside the spa salon. I didn't think I'd be using my French very often in the states because Sylvain and I have always spoke English, but I find that we've had plenty of opportunities to speak French here- whenever we come across rude annoying Americans. It's 2011, does a man getting a massage or a manicure really necessitate gay snickering? This is New York after all, not redneck Wisconsin.

Inside we sat down in front of the TV by the fireplace. RIght away three women sitting on the couch poked us on the shoulder and told us the waitress would be telling us we couldn't sit there "Just so YOU know" they said. We laughed because that is always where we've sat at KofF. The waitress never asked us to move, but several more packer fans sat around us.

We spent the entire game listening to these three girls use the most fowl language I've ever heard in my life, it was angry, and ugly and ruined our enjoyment of the game. The f-bomb generally doesn't phase me, but when it's non-stop and used in such a violent negative way it becomes distracting. I wanted the Packers to beat the Bears as much as anyone in that bar today, but it wasn't fun watching while the folks behind us spewed hate. We won't be watching the Superbowl at Kettle of Fish.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


By the time Christmas rolled around moving back to the states seemed less and less appealing. I didn't want to be a nanny anymore and I was happy to even trade that job for the equally mind-numbing and frustrating position of substitute teacher, even if just for the change of pace.

I'm back now and I've had a couple weeks to adjust. I have an overwhelming feeling of "been there done that". Our sublet is directly behind my former morningside heights apartment, I'm back at work subbing for the school I used to teach art at. The only thing that has changed is my perspective. Living in France was no dream, but like everywhere you grow to appreciate things, and you grow accustom to and accept a different base point.

Not to pick on Americans for their weight problems, but after living in France where most people are very thin and the non-very thin people are not overweight- the extra weight Americans carry seems down-right cartoonish. We were flying from Appleton to Milwaukee and the man next to us could not fit his seat belt around him and told Sylvain he had recently gained 60 lbs after quitting smoking. This seat to body ratio thing is also noticed on the subway, molded seats run along the sides and when there are 10 seats often no more than 6 or 7 people can wedge their way into a seat.

Sylvain has often remarked on how many friends I have here who are vegetarian- something I never saw in France- we just spent a week skiing in the Alps with some of the hippiest earth loving people I have ever met, all of them, hearty meat-eaters. The US has had a longterm movement of people who adhere to organic diets, who are gym fanatics, and who are simply health conscious, and yet in France where it's almost impossible to come across a gym, or someone who exercises with any regularity or eats as consciously as many Americans do, we're the one's that can't fit in our seats.

Are we thinking too much about food and health? Do we have these problems because the food that is accessible is so bad for us, filled with preservatives and chemicals? Is our food industry regulated in such a way the that the foods available and affordable are those that are superficially maintained by our government?

One of the main differences I see is a cultural acceptance in America- and a personal will power or determination in France that stops people from becoming overweight. A little voice that says, this is too much and it's not ok for me. There are definitely attitudes in France that place too much importance on being thin, but not nearly as extreme as some of the ways these extreme attitudes towards food has manifested itself in anorexia and bulimia epidemics in the US. What worries me most is that even when someone places a superficial value on being thin as you sometimes find in France, these attitudes hardly end up costing lives, the biggest loser and heavy shows just how many Americans have lost their lives-I mean the acts of living - that comprise a life.

Food is hugely important in France, but it has never become a weapon against ourselves. It has added to the living, not chipped away at it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Skiing in the Alps

Sylvain and I started the tradition of instead of buying things for holidays and birthdays we would do stuff, go somewhere, make some memories. Last Christmas we left Chile and on our way out we went to Pucon, what great memories we have of doing hydrospeed and capping off the adventure that was Chile. For my 30th he brought me to Bruges and this Christmas I really wanted to finish our chapter in France with a ski trip in the Alps. It helped that Sylvain's lovely friend Fabien has a chalet there. We were joined by another friend Guillaume and his 3 year old son Rafael and two guys that were friends of Fabien's girlfriend Chloe.

I grew up having a cottage we went to more weekend's then we ever went to church. We played a lot of cards a lot of scrabble, and a lot of trivial pursuit. The week at the chalet did not disappoint and reminded me a lot of those nights around the dining room table both as a child trying to sleep but kept awake listening to the adults in the main room getting loud while drinking beers and playing cards, and also as a high school student being invited to join the adult fun myself.

I was worried that with that many people meals would be a disaster and cleaning up even worse, however, the dishwasher saved us from any trouble on that count, and the meals were some of the best I've had in France. We played cards, got loud, with Rafael we found an old game of Connect 4 (puissance 4) and young and old became obsessed with getting 4 chips in line for hours on end. We ate traditional Savoyen meals, the weather was perfect, and Rafael was the perfect edition to our group as he was a sweet natured kid and a social butterfly.

I learned to ski from my aunt and her family when they invited me along on their skiing holidays 16 years ago. Her sons have both worked in Colorado for the ski season as ski patrol and it's hard to catch up with their family without hearing about some skiing adventure the boys were on. During the week I learned to ski, I remember my uncle telling me how serious the hills were in Colorado, that the mountains took 30 minutes to get down, and the chair lifts were three times as long. I've never been to Colorado skiing, but I can confirm this for the French Alps.

Pure Food

I really like the neighborhood I live in in Paris' 18eme, I found the most delicious pastry here called a Bichon au Citron, a sort of lemon chasson au pomme. It's one of the best things I've ever tasted sweets wise, and one weekend when Sylvain went out to get our saturday pastries he went to a different boulangerie and I had a minor tantrum when he didn't bring one home. It's not that I am prone to tantrums but for 30 minutes while he was doing errands and getting the pastries I had literally been imagining the first bite, the disappointment was bitter.

I'd say raclette has been my favorite "meal" discovery and we live near Abesses where there is a great Savoyen restaurant on the corner somewhere along Rue de Trois Freres, about a month ago we went with another couple and ordered the raclette, I literally inhaled it, I don't remember coming up for air except to ask for more cornichons. Raclette is totally brainless, if you buy raclette grill and raclette cheese all you do is add potatoes and charcuterie, I need a jar of cornichons to myself and generally you start with a salad and drink a dry white. I really don't think anyone could fail at raclette and it's fun and easy to do with a dinner party.

Sauce au poivre I ate off of Sylvain's plate and then went straight home and found a recipe how to make it, I generally put it over pork chops but it goes over red meat more traditionally I think. I make potatoes as a side because they soak up the extra sauce. This is a sauce I could easily lick the plate over, but since I know better I refrain.

We just went skiing in Savoy between Christmas and New Years and we ate well, raclette, tartiflette and fondue are traditional meals in this region and all were amazingly satisfying after a day on the pistes. Ive never been a HUGE fan of pasta, it's okay, but give me potatoes and yum. Tartiflette for me is the number one comfort food. I'd eat this on a cold winters day or on any of those days that just beat you down and you need to eat your way out. Tartiflette is like carmalized onions, potatoes, lardons (bacon), and cream with roblochon fromage. Again it's a white wine meal and it's wasy to forget about calories with food that tastes this good.

One thing you can never go wrong with in france is a planche with cheese charchuterie and if it's offered, get the ones with pate, usually it will come with some salad and cornichons, and of course, baguette, all you need is a bottle of wine.

France doesn't do a menu carte the same way we do in the states, good restaurants generally have a chalkboard menu that you choose a prix fix of starter, main, dessert or a combination of two like starter and main. I like my sweets after a meal, but I find that generally the starters are the best things on the menu and as far as french desserts go, you've already tasted most of them because they've crossed the Atlantic and although they'll be good, you won't taste anything new or surprising. I also feel that by the time I get to dessert I have two bites and don't finish it, the starter is where it's at.

In other food news, skip the chinese in France, it reminds me of what you would get if school cafeterias offered a chinese menu. One interesting food experience I had here was when we ordered a pizza here a couple weeks ago- we got creme fraiche on it and it was a winning experience, unlike some other creative offerings I've seen, like chicken, and corn in the UK. For my money, macaroons are totally overrated and overpriced and a pain au suisse kicks up a regular old pain au chocolate up a notch. After watching the Julie and Julia movie and reading Julia's book just before arriving I dropped a small fortune on trying Sole Meuniere because Julia has a Meg Ryan experience eating it in the movie, a bit of a waste of money if you ask my palette, it didn't hold it's own. I'd say ditto for the Beef Bourguignon. My two cents on the whole Julia Child cookbook thing, is it's about as useless as it is pretty. People don't eat the same today as they did 50 years ago anywhere, our tastes have changed somewhat and so has the alimentation available. I'm not advocating McDonalds eating, just that today's chefs have amped up or reinterpreted older recipes with new life, and a simple google search will reveal great recipe options without the hulk of that brick.

Anytime you have friends over or are invited your bound to experience the Apero, this is the drink and snack portion of the experience almost similar to the Brits tradition of having tea. French wine glass are very small and so it truly is just a bit of alcohol like a pastis, a kir, whisky and coke, anything you like actually, and some bar snacks, nuts, cheese, olives. I've found as much as the food, the way of eating is as enjoyable as the food itself.