Monday, November 28, 2011

A Chilean Thanksgiving

On last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, we had a party to celebrate. We invited all our Chilean friends as kind of a goodbye party/Thanksgiving gathering.

My mom made tons of traditional food and people brought other Chilean food to share. Unfortunately, we didn't have a full turkey- but instead deli slices of turkey. We also didn't have cranberries or pumpkins, but my Mom made squash pie. You couldn't tell the difference from pumpkin pie (I thought it was the real thing).

People also shared their talents, like singing and playing instruments. Some people had to sit outside because so many people showed up and we didn't have enough room for everyone.

It was kind of disappointing not to have some of the traditional foods or be with our family, but it was still fun to celebrate Thanksgiving with our friends here.


p.s. Mom says that the reenactment of the first Thanksgiving by us kids was the best part of the evening. See picture of Theo as dead turkey on the floor.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another "seasonal disorientation"

Just look at these '"damascos" - apricots! (I just have to share that this is about a kilo of apricots, which cost about $1.50!). For goodness sakes - it's strawberry and cherry season here. Surely it can't be Thanksgiving tomorrow. Another seasonal disorientation experience.

No family in sight, no cranberries, no whole turkey, and no pumpkins to be had. No holiday lights to get up or last storm windows to put on. No trip to the North Shore to hike along Cascade Falls. No cold weather or chance of snow. It's in the 70's and gorgeous almost every day now. Really there is no Thanksgiving in Chile - or as its known in Spanish - Día de Acción de Gracias. I guess no marketing money to be made, so Thanksgiving hasn't made the export list.

So we are reconciling our seasonal disorientation and making the best of things. Although Dan has the next two days off, the kids have end of year exams all week. I have a parents' meeting at school tomorrow night (yep, on Thanksgiving). So the kids and I are business as usual tomorrow.

But Friday night, we've invited our Chilean "family" to join us for a night of feasting, giving thanks, music and poetry. I'm currently baking a zapallo (it looks like its in the squash/pumpkin family) with hopes of turning it into something akin to a pumpkin pie and the kids are considering a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving. Should, hilarious, interesting. We'll keep you posted.

And we really have so much to be thankful for this year. Enjoy your special day tomorrow. We are sending our warm greetings to all.


p.s. we'll try to turn skype on in the evening

pps. Yes, those are zucchinis or "zapallo italianos".

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You want me to do what?

Surely there was a misunderstanding when I suggested helping with a facilitation workshop (aka; getting signatures, setting up the papers, coordinating the admin, etc.) and Isabel wrote back that I would be co-facilitating a 4 day workshop in Spanish!

I thought I would clear up the misunderstanding and instead I had a great time facilitating.

More than 10 years ago, I trained with folks from the Institute of Cultural Affairs, now they form the Minnesota Technology of Participation or MnTop. I've used the participatory methods over the years in my work and it was a great opportunity to share them as part of a project here with ICA Chile to train disabled folks all over the country.

Isabel de la Maza was my co-facilitator and my mentor for the week. I am so appreciative of the opportunity she gave me and for the wonderful chats each day as we drove about an hour up and then down the coast to the small town of Quintero for the training.

The folks at TAC Cordillera, for whom I recently did the organizational analysis, also had Isabel and me help them with some strategic planning one evening.

It was a long week and probably the most extended time I've been immersed in Spanish this year. It was a pleasure and wonderful for my Spanish skills. The experience also made me realize how much I'm looking forward to working out in the community again.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

StarTechConf in Santiago

Fellow geeks on a coffee break in Santiago (image from here)
One of the advantages of living here this year is that we're only a two-hour bus ride from Santiago, one of the biggest cities in South America.  Big tech conferences don't often come to Minneapolis, but two weeks ago Santiago played host to famous software geeks from all over the world.  I was one of the lucky 1000 people to get a ticket.

There were the usual talks about new techniques and new technologies, and a few interesting forums on Chile-specific projects.  The coolest thing from my perspective was the international flavor of it.  There were 3 series of talks going on simultaneously, with one track mostly in English with simultaneous translation to Spanish.  It was like the United Nations, everyone with an electronic gadget hanging around their neck and an earpiece in their ear.  Other than the delayed reaction of the audience when the speaker told a joke or asked a question, it all went remarkably smoothly.  I met some cool people and learned a lot, including a bunch of new Spanish vocabulary having to do with computers and technology.

Thanks to all the hard-working volunteers who organized the conference!

Monday, November 14, 2011

A weekend of foreign visits - some unexpected!

We had a weekend of foreign visits.

Friday night we invited Eric MacDonald over for dinner. Eric is an electrical engineer on Fulbright from the University in El Paso, Texas. He is teaching at the University of Santa Maria, aka Hogwarts (its a beautiful castle-like university that overlooks the ocean here).

We ran into each other on the long climb up one night and as his family had just returned to the States, we invited him for a family dinner. Here's their family blog: The Year of Three Winters. We had a great time with Eric, although he was feeling perhaps more homesick by the end of the dinner...leaving us to go skype with his six kids.

Then, on Saturday night we stopped to talk to some bikers who were clearly on a long trip - an unusual site in Chile. Turns out they are from Ecuador, doing a tour of South America over the next two years. Mario is a bike enthusiast and somewhat of a photojournalist. They are fundraising by selling stickers and bracelets $2-$3 at a time. Mostly, they are relying on the help of strangers and having all sorts of amazing adventures.

So, Mario and César stayed with us the rest of the weekend and regaled us with their stories. Here's their blog site, check it out ::..:: BICIECUADOR ::..:: .

Opening our doors to strangers was a leap of faith for us, but we are very familiar with getting lots of help in our travels from strangers and so it felt like the right thing to do.

Our best to everyone,

Friday, November 11, 2011

Start clowning around!

We keep hearing loud cheering crowds far off and late into evenings this week. We're not sure if its related to continuing protests or perhaps the 3rd International Meetings of Clowns! :-)

Yesterday, Theo and I ran over to a public show of Tuga, the mime vs. Chumbeque, the clown. It was fantastic! We sat with the rest of the crowd on the really hot cobblestones in the heat of the late afternoon in the Plaza Anibél Pinto and laughed our heads off. Tuga and Chumbeque are locals and definitely household names in this town. In fact, Chumbeque's son is in Grace's class this year. It's a common site to see a crowd suddenly gathering around a plaza and at the center is Tuga, the mime, doing an "intervention". Chileans love these guys and with reason. Can you imagine a mime being a household name in the States? Perhaps that was possible in another less busy, less cynical era.

¡Upa Chalupa! (I just love how that sounds). :-)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cooking from scratch

We certainly don't eat much fast food or processed food back in the States, but we're happy to break open a bottle of Ragu, or use the pancake mix or buy some hummus from the co-op.

Well, this year has stretched our cooking-from-scratch repertoire. Because a lot of our favorite foods aren't available, we've been enjoyed searching the web for our favorite recipes. Homemade bolognese sauce, homemade salad dressings, from scratch buttermilk for our from scratch pancakes, hummus that starts with soaking the chick peas, fresh squeezed OJ, etc.

Yesterday, we were treated to Sunday dinner at our friends' Marcelo and Fabiola's home. Marcelo made fresh pasta, and prepared delicious red, white and green (pesto) sauces. I couldn't choose - I had a little of each.

I had brought along some of Auntie Siobhan's Irish Soda bread - yum - which was a totally new food for our Chilean friends. It was a feast. While the adults sat around with a bottle of Chilean wine afterwards, the kids explored the cool trapdoor and played with the kittens.

There's usually additional time when cooking from scratch, but it's great to skip the additional preservatives and the results are usually well worth it - especially
when in good company.

Additionally, the kids have jumped right in and learned how to prepare a lot of different foods and have been willing to eat more kinds of food too.

Buen provecho a todos,

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nice visit to the countryside today!

Dan was off to Santiago attending a conference yesterday and today. So the kids and I decided to ride Valpo's train to the end of the line (about a 1 hour-long ride through the countryside) to Limache and then we took a bus to the cute, little touristy town of Olmué.

Here's some fun things about our day:

1) We found a great recreational park that was walking distance from the plaza (thanks to the bus driver for the tip!)

2) The high temp today was 31 degrees celsius (88 degrees fahrenheit) - which meant the unheated pool felt pretty good! The synchronized pencil dives were the best.

3) 120 meters zip line -woohoo!

4) Gorgeous flowers all around - even the graffiti looks nice next to the bougainvillea and wall of geraniums!

5) Gorgeous garbage containers - John B., what do you think of getting Lyndale Neighborhood started on wrought iron baskets for garbage collections outside the houses. Love it.

6) We're back in strawberry season - which means yummy "jugos naturales" (fresh juice).

7) We got to visit our friend Victor's folks. Victor is married to my good friend Carolyn Bain from my Peace Corps training days in the Dominican Republic. Last we all met was in Seattle for their wedding - over 12 years ago I think. We stopped by Victor senior (Tito) and Angelica's house for "onces" or tea time and had a lovely visit.

8) Along the lines of toilet paper countdown, we contemplated another race today ...will our stay in Chile or Theo's shoes end first? Feel free to weigh in (yes, those are holes on both shoes & we won't mention what the bottom soles look like).

We had a great day. Hope you did too!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The toilet paper countdown has begun!

Now that I'm not spending indecent amounts of time attempting to write in Spanish, we've turned our attention to other pressing matters. Such as this morning's discussion regarding how much toilet paper we will use up before we leave! Should I buy more and how much more? Such are the existential debates happening at the Prince-Johansson household these days.

Yep, it's time. We are in our last stage here. We can all feel it. We counted and I think we only have 6 or 7 weekends left! Last week I contacted the kids' principal back at home and confirmed our post-winter break arrival. The kids have just a little over a month of school left here before summer break.

Our friend Jenny asked me about how it feels to be winding down. As you would expect, it's a mix of feelings. We're starting to get excited about returning, especially about seeing family and friends. We talked with some of the kids' friends back home on skype the other week and it was pretty fun. I can't wait to have a clothes dryer again. Towels without that damp smell!!! Very exciting. And when tough stuff happens now, its okay since we know its time limited.

But of course, we won't have the ocean out our window and the streets won't be owned by the pedestrians. We'll probably quickly fall back into the busyness of it all and we'll have to get into a car again. I'll miss doing mosaics each week and in particular the fun, women's banter that accompanies each class. Instead I'll need to find job again. I'll miss walking the kids to school each day and chatting with Maria Magal, our newspaper vendor each trip up and down the hill. We've made some good friends here. People who generously made room for us in their lives' knowing that we would only be here for the year. It'll be hard to say goodbye.

And I'm guessing we'll miss a whole lot of other things that we probably won't realize until we're back in the snowy tundra.

So anyways, you're invited to enter the toilet paper countdown pool! Send your guesses and maybe we'll buy a pisco sour for the winner. :-)


Thursday, November 3, 2011

A big success!

Tonight was the culmination of a big project that I set out to do in June. I volunteered to do an organizational audit of a community group whose founder/director had just left after 23 years.

Taller de Acción Comunitaria TAC Cordillera is a very special organization that is doing youth and community development work through non-traditional educational models. This kind of work is rare and the non-profit sector is small and not well supported in Chile as compared to the US and in particular Minnesota. Partly due to this reality and lack of funding options, TAC is 100% volunteer-run and very limited in terms of systems infrastructure.

Anyways, I was excited to contribute in some way as a volunteer and proposed that I do a organizational systems audit.

The result; after approximately 20 interviews and attending a dozen events and meetings, I wrote a 30 page report (in Spanish - which just about killed me and probably took twice the time) with another 30 plus pages in supporting documents/appendixes. I outlined the transition process and provided supporting literature regarding the phenomena of founder departures, reviewed macro organizational challenges and opportunities, and then went through each organizational system (finances, communications, governance, etc), reviewing the challenges, opportunities and providing recommendations to strengthen them.

Tonight, I facilitated a group exercise that had the participants reflect on their transition process and consider what was next and then I presented the report. It went great!!! Now the group is all set to start looking at strategic planning and they want to keep working with me before I return to Minnesota. I felt like I really contributed something of value and gave them a planning document that I think they will be able to use for years to come.

I learned a lot during the course of this project. I learned a lot from the folks running this organization, especially admiration for their commitment to volunteer work. A lot of patience and cross-cultural skills were required. I learned more about being a consultant. Performing the interviews and writing the report were fantastic for my Spanish skills and related to that, I learned that I have a lot of good Chilean friends that were willing to really help me (thanks to my team of editors!!!). Finally, it also confirmed that I really like organizational development work, which has me thinking more about grad programs.

It feels really good to have completed this project! Yeah. Now I can get some sleep!

My best to all of you,