Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Got back from Ecuador late Saturday night and have spent most of the last two days dealing with my pictures. Anyone want to place a bet on how many I took? Two categories: (1) How many pictures did I take overall? (2) How many pictures were left after deleting the bad ones? The winner in each category gets a giant tortoise or exotic sea bird of his or her choosing.

In short, the Galapagos adventure was unreal. Exceeded expectations by all measures. Nowhere will ever be better than New Zealand, but this ran a very close second.

Pictures are coming soon, but given how many I took (seriously, place your bets) it might be a slow process. But here is a teaser from the Equator.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ecuador, in Brief

No time to write about everything (using the free internet at our hostel), but here's a quick rundown of the highlights so far. All will be more interesting once accompanied by pictures:

-People (and animal) watching at the Otovalo market
-'Mi Otavalito' where we had lunch in Otovalo to the dulcet tunes of a mariachi band playing 'The Sound of Silence'
-Tianguez, a restaurant in the bottom of the Monastery of San Francisco. Best dish: humitas, which are ground corn steamed in the husk. They're like the dough (is what what you call it?) for tamales, but fluffier and sweeter
-Live music in the streets of Old Town Quito on Saturday night
-Live music in a church courtyard in Old Town on Saturday night. We were promptly pulled in to join the party and offered two kinds of alcohol (including a bright blue concoction in an old water bottle). Was it rude to decline?
-'La Ronda,' a street in Old Town where restaurants serve food and drinks out their doors and everoyne just walks around. We did sample the alcohol there: canelazo, sort of a hot cider with cane sugar alcohol, and vino herbivo, sort of a mulled wine sangria
-Mountain biking down the Cotopaxi volcano, with an altitude change of about 1000m. Yes, I did fall.
-Ginger tea on our bike ride
-Taking the 'Transhemisferico' bus to 'La Mitad del Mundo,' the Equator marker and Ecuadorean Disney Land. Then taking lots of pictures standing on the Equator line.
-'Museo Inti-Nan,' the museum on the real Equator about 200m away (supposedly). You know it's the real one because (1) they tell you that a GPS says so and (2) they make water go down a drain in different directions on either side of their line. Obviously, the 'museum' also included exhibits of shrunken heads and guinea pigs that deemed us to have good energy.
-Eating a guinea pig. Tastes like really salty chicken.

Tomorrow we leave for the Galapagos. More highlights to come...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another Check on the Bucket List

Woo hoo! As of about midnight last night (local time), I successfully achieved my life goal of visiting all the inhabited continents. Fear not, Antarctica is still on the to-do list, but I´m counting this as a major success. My only disappointment is that I had to renew my passport a few months ago so this is stamp is separated from all the others (and it's a lame stamp--computer printed rather than from an inkpad). I guess my only option is to make it back to all the other continents in the next 10 years so that I'll have a complete set.

Quito is impressive so far. We spent today walking around Old Town trying to dodge cars on narrow cobblestone streets and snapping pictures of manicured balconies and really old churches. The church highlight of the day: a massive cathedral where instead of gargoyles they built sea turtles, iguanas, alligators (crocodiles?) and other native wildlife. Does that count as an example of syncretism or just awesomeness?

My Spanish is miserable. So much for those two weeks of intensive immersion Spanish lessons last summer. Actually, I can understand a lot (probably because I get to spend all year practicing my eavesdropping on Spanish-speaking students), but oh man is it painful trying to say anything that makes sense. I'm not sure how much I'll gain back in these few days of actually having to communicate with people (the blue-footed boobies won´t care what I have to say), but it's better than nothing.

On the docket for the next few days:
Saturday: Otovalo, supposedly Ecuador's best handicraft market. I know very little about indigenous Ecuadorean handicrafts, but I imagine that I will know more by this time tomorrow. More exciting, we plan to get there (2.5-3 hours from Quito) via chicken bus, an adventure that always ends in good stories.
Sunday: Mountain biking on Cotopaxi, one of the world's highest active volcanoes. Expected sights include a glacier, up to seven other volcanoes, and me crashing my bike one way or another.
Monday: Taking pictures in front of the Equator marker and then traveling the couple hundred meters to the actual site of the Equator. Turns out the French mathematicians got it wrong, but the ancient indigenous people got it right. Oops.
Thursday: Hop on a plane to the Galapagos to fulfill lifelong dream numero dos for this trip.

Many, many pictures to follow. My new waterproof camera is in working order or at least it didn't die when I dropped it in the pool), so the excitement of Galapagos snorkeling and (hopefully) seal swimming promises to be preserved for prosperity.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Happy Birthday America

When I went back to Michigan in June, my very wonderful, very Californian roommate requested that I bring back something that represents Middle America. I don't like to brag, but if there were a rubric for awesome gifts from the midwest, I would be in the "exceeds standard" column.

It all started when we were in Lowell, MI. That should give you an appropriate context (even if you have never heard of Lowell--my point exactly). On the day we were setting up for Maggie's wedding we had to run out to get some clips for the tablecloths. And where would one go in West Michigan for any and all shopping needs? Obviously Meijer (a place I very dearly and non-ironically miss since leaving Michigan). While Jenny and Emily went to find the things we'd actually come for, Becky and I scouted out potential middle America gifts.

And there in the women's clothing section we say a display shining like a beacon of freedom. $4.99 patriotic tees! So many slogans! So much red! So much white! So much blue! SO much camouflage! It was a veritable wonderland of everything that is right with America. I carefully selected two to bring back to California. Sarah and I of course modeled them at the Cupertino fireworks on the 4th of July.

[In case the picture is too small to read, the wolf tee says "Protect the American Way". The kittens are "American Heart & Soul." So pretty.]

My only regret: I did not purchase the t-shirt that featured a potted plant on a windowsill and the caption "Butterflies - An American Tradition." I will probably spend the rest of my life searching for it.

Happy birthday, USA.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Oh Summer

Does anyone still read this anymore? I can't imagine why you would, given that it's July and I've only posted seven times this whole year. I keep thinking of things I want to write about, but then things like teaching get in the way. Here are some topics I truly intended to post about during the school year, but obviously never got around to (and probably never will, ugh):
-A summary of my course evaluations
-Reflections on this quote: "Excuses don't change policy."
-What it means to be a "Productive math learner," as defined by next year's 9th and 10th grade math teachers at my school (I am super-excited about this)
-Reflections on what a school can--and should--focus on to achieve maximum success. The big question: should a school put its time/resources into supporting content and classroom learning or into developing student skills? Is there a way to do both effectively?
-Should a school give D's?
-What does it mean for a student to "show mastery at the basic level" of a subject? Is showing mastery at a basic level one time enough to say that a student should pass the class and/or is ready for the next level of the subject area?

But enough about teaching and about all of those things. Because it is SUMMER. Oh glorious summer, with your unscheduled days, long hours of sunshine, and lack of teenagers. I love you summer, with your oh-so-many opportunities to nap by the pool and feel only semi-guilty about it (as opposed to the full on soul-crushing guilt I feel during the year when I take time to do something like cook dinner instead of work). Seriously, during the school year I forget how normal people live. Here are some things I've done since classes have ended:
-Went curling
-Saw Wicked (the musical)
-Tried out new restaurants in San Francisco
-Saw friends who I haven't seen in forever
-Stayed awake past 10pm doing things unrelated to school
-Went to the Exploratorium to see the greatest math exhibit ever (also the only math exhibit I've ever seen). I might have to put up a post about this later.
-Went to a movie in a real movie theater
-Walked around and explored new parts of San Francisco
-Went to Point Reyes

And I have also done all the things that I wrote about in a similar post last year. Sort of. This summer so far, what with a trip back to Michigan, two weddings, and a week of math curriculum planning, has been somewhat more busy than last summer so far. Right now I have eight more days of relaxing and then it is off for my not-so-relaxing (in a good way) adventure for this summer. Which is why I started writing on the blog again. Stay tuned; you're going to want to see the pictures giant tortoises, baby sea lions, and blue-footed boobies.