Monday, October 31, 2011

Oh Look! There's Four Trick or Treaters!!!

We joked that Gracie's "SCARY" Halloween costume could be the "Grouchy Gringa" and she could yell at kids in English in an old lady's voice..."Stop making all that racket!" and "What are you brats doing ringing my doorbell!". :-)

Far from scaring our trick or treating friends, we actually ran out our door and practically begged all four of them to come take a treat!

Our dear friends, Alonso, Maria Eugenia, and Andrea were over for dinner and all seven of us left the house to gawk at the small group crowded on the steep stairs that pass for our street. The sight of us all running out to witness this anomaly probably did scare them!

Earlier in the evening, Grace and Theo dressed up for our benefit. Theo dressed as a Chilean soccer fan and Gracie was a Peruvian flute player! Thus the Chile vs. Perú photo op. But it turns out our kids are a bit old for Chilean trick-or-treating.

So a fairly uneventful evening as far as Halloween goes. It seems as if Halloween in Chile is more of a US marketing import, in order to sell candy and costumes, than a holiday enjoyed by throngs of kids. I think we're all missing running around with friends and visiting all our favorite neighbors back in awesome Lyndale Neighborhood tonight.

And of course, because we handed out only four pieces of candy, we're back to last year's quandary. I quote from Theo's post from November 2010 (our most read post to date):
"I have been wondering what to do with all of my Halloween candy.

My mom says that I cannot take it with us to Chile (substitute the US here) and I cannot eat all of that

candy before we go. I need suggestions! Post a comment below. Theo"

Funny how some things have changed so much and others not at all, in one year's time.
Happy Halloween to all of you!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

ESL potluck at our house

Last night we invited my ESL class over for a potluck. I made a big Mexican feast...which was a bit confusing for our guests. We laughed that my typical US menu was either Italian, Thai or Mexican! We ended the evening with a rousing game of dry-erase board pictionary!

My stepfather taught ESL for many years and perhaps because of that I have a deep appreciation for what a special environment an ESL class can be. I remember growing up and coming into regular contact with foreign students. My memories of these social gatherings were that the food was inevitably extraordinary, even if I didn't have an idea of what I was eating, and the students had to have been some of the nicest people around; very appreciative and respectful towards their teacher and by extension his family.

So, I've found one way of contributing to another community while visiting is by offering English classes. There is often a great need for it and its fun to help folks move from what typically has been a grammatical study of the language to a more dynamic conversational study. Inevitably, I learn more than I teach. We end up comparing customs, trading anecdotes, laughing about cultural idiosyncrasies. The richness of cultural exchanges is one of the reasons I love to travel and work with immigrant communities in the US.

While some of my students attendance could be characterized as somewhat sporadic, they actually overcome a lot of constraints from work and family to attend the class. Jessica, Lorena, Paola, Jenny, Fernando, Marcos, and Ivan all did great in the class. And we have had a lot of laughs.

Kudos to them all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Running through Chile

A "cultural heritage marathon" through the port city.  (Image from here).
I ran the 10K portion of the first ever Valparaíso Marathon Sunday, which featured 10,000 participants running through the city and on the docks of the container port, one of the biggest ports in South America.  We ran past two huge container ships, their loading and unloading process paused for a few minutes to allow us to run past.  The dock employees lined up on either side of the race route and cheered us on.  Normally the docks are closed to the public, so it was a treat to see a part of the city that we don't usually get to see.

Being part of a running club here has been a great way to meet people, and also to get to know the country.  In addition to the loading docks and avenues of Valparaíso, we've run races across desert-like hill country in Puchuncaví, and around the lagoon and forests of Curauma.  And our weekly training grounds along the Pacific coast in Viña del Mar feature cool ocean spray and great views.

The only downside I've found is that having a conversation with someone while running is hard enough in English, and nearly impossible (for me) in Spanish.  And there was that one race in which I misunderstood the instructions at the starting line and ran the wrong way.  Luckily my teammates have been very patient with me.

- Dan

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Well into spring...

I have been taking pictures for more than a month now. Spring is beautiful here. Even very urban Valparaíso can't keep back the glory. This post is for all my gardening buddies - enjoy.

p.s. Nasturtiums and california poppies are considered almost weed-like here! My neighbors hydrangeas are 20 feet tall! Incredible. I think that must be wysteria? The big white one...a magnificent magnolia! The smell of jazmin filled the air all throughout September.

In the groove...

This week I heard Dan tell a coworker during his daily skype meeting that there was no big news and that we're on cruise control now. That said, I give you permission to stop reading now unless your a grandparent! :-)

It's true. No big news. We are starting to feel the wind down and we're just cruising through our daily routines. So some quick updates.

Dan is spending a lot of time on skype with India these days. As part of Dan's new parent company's plan to expand, the developers team went from three to eleven in a little over a month. So his solitary days of working on code are now interspersed with lots of phone calls from across the world - folks getting up to speed on that same code. Dan continues to run with the Viña Runners. Tomorrow he's signed up for a 10K! We're all impressed. He also has requested Spanish at dinners after spending his work day in English, which we're all okay about - although we slip back and forth really.

Theo continues to love soccer and marbles at school. He's usually willing to take about a 2 mile run along the ocean with me while Grace is her Tae Kwan Do class after school on Wednesdays. Very cool. He recently brought home his "dream room" made from a shoe box and plastilina (play do/clay-like substance). It was super cool and looked a bit like a room from Club Penguin. My favorite was the hanging chandelier. Yesterday, we had Theo's friend Vincente and his family over for pizza and wine. Fabiola is a social worker and Marcelo is a music professor and Diego is a cutie pie 2 year-old brother. We had such a good time - with lots of silliness and soccer balls moving in this little space!

Gracie now can loosely fit into my shoes! Yikes. She was asked by her school to participate in the national exams that determine how the nation's schools are performing. Regardless of my feelings about standardized tests, I thought it was telling of how far she's come in her language acquisition that her school wanted her to be part of its aggregate scores (as it would have been very easy to have asked her to sit this one out). Anyways, she left school early on exam days and we had a nice gal's lunch and later Gracie joined me for my mosaic class one day. She is working on a beautiful box that we'll post when she's finished. Several folks have commented on how confident she is speaking with adults in Spanish these days. Its great to see her confidence and her mood so high these days.

I had a very interesting week. I ran off to Santiago for a day to attend a training on Open Space facilitation. Open Space had its world-wide conference in Chile later in the week, so I got a little exposure to this unique model. I think its similar to what is termed an "un-conference" in which session topics and discussions are determined and realized by conference attendees themselves. Highlight..I got to rap in Spanish!

I also finished another 7 week session of English classes with a great group of folks. They are a little flakey about always showing up, but they are very motivated and just very nice folks. I also continue with my organizational analysis work for a volunteer-run youth development organization here in Valparaíso. I am having fun doing interviews and attending/helping out with events, but somewhat dreading writing my report in Spanish! I also finished another mosaic project...shhhh, this one may show up under the Christmas tree (I'm pretty sure I can't leave it in Chile as it would look great in our living room).

I also had my neighbors, Señora Sonia and Señora Rosa over for tea and zucchini bread. They started sending cuttings of plants for my nascent garden, then food or drink or other little gifts. They are very sweet and always wonderful for a chat on our way up or down the stairs.

Finally, Dan, the kids and I ran out of town last Saturday for a day trip to a National Park Reserve (El Lago de Los Peñuelas) about 30 minutes outside Valparaíso. Nothing spectacular but we saw a rogue llama running around and had a nice time having a picnic, reading Harry Potter, and throwing the frisbee.

That's all for our updates for now. Thanks for catching up on news and our best to all of you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Carnaval Valparaíso style

Carnaval or what is known also as Mil Tambores (a thousand drums) took place last week in Valparaíso. This event was born in 1999 as an expression of protest for the lack of public spaces for artistic, cultural expression. Each spring tens of thousands of folks participate in a weekend long gathering of musical and political expression.

It definitely reminded us of our May Day celebration in Minneapolis. This year's event was dedicated to Violeta Parra, a folk hero and pioneer of the Nueva Canción in Chile. You'll perhaps know her most well-known song, "Gracías a la Vida". Its one of the most covered Latin American songs ever. Our kids have learned several other of her songs in music class at school.

Here's some photos of the culminating event - the parade. We had a lot of fun attending with our friends the Dicus Breen family. A carefree celebration filled with creative costumes, dancing, lack of costumes, all to the backdrop of thousands of drummers. It was awesome.