Sunday, December 4, 2011

So how did I end up where I am anyway?

Here we are.  My family lives in Alaska.  I like to call myself 14 years ago and say, "hey Leah you just lived in the middle east and now you live in Alaska?"  I remember when I was 19 years old I had just dropped out of Hawkeye Community College and I was making some pretty poor decisions and living with my mom.  My friend Jessie and I were discussing moving to Iowa City, why not?  My best friend lives there and I always have fun visiting there.  It is this mystical place only an hour and a half away where everyone is a little more liberal, earthy, hippy, and enlightened.  So I throw everything that matters to me into my $750 Mercury, Topaz with one of those sunroofs that open labout an inch and I drive to Iowa City.  Liz has spoken with her roommates at the "Farm house" and they have all agreed that I can stay until I get a job and find a place.  Jessie comes to Iowa City for the weekend and we never hooked up that weekend - she partied with some friends and then headed back to Cedar Falls so the "big move" just didn't work for her. 

In just a few weeks I start talking to Brynn and Ginny and Scott and we decide that we should get a place together.  We start looking at houses after I scored my high rolling job washing dishes at Carlos O'Kellys.  Scott is the average college kid with funding from his mom and dad.  He is currently living at home and decided he is ready to get a place.  Brynn and Ginny have just decided to leave the big city of Minneapolis to see what Iowa City can offer them.  They too are lured by the hippy culture, vegan restaurants and huge Reggae and Creative writing that this party and college town has to offer.  Not to mention the gay per capita is higher than anywhere in the mid-west.  The thrill of the "farm house" bonfire keggars has us all excited for the numerous parties that Iowa City boasts to have.

We find the perfect house!  With in walking distance of campus for Scott, a great distance from all the bars and a great basement for future keggars.  The problem?  It is a 5 bedroom so we are now challenged to find a 5th roommate.  So uhhh there is this guy Mike, he is like 25, but he just got back from backpacking and traveling around Montana and he needs a roommate.  Why not?  25 is pretty old though - but on the upside he can buy us beer and he will be responsible and pay his bills on time so why not?  We meet Mike and we sign a lease.  Bowery street yellow house shaped like a barn in Iowa City really became a famous party spot for our group of college aged misfits merging hippies, punks, and goth kids that frequented our living room playing vampire role-playing games next to a drum circle fighting over whether to play sublime or Bauhaus on the stereo.  There were some crazy parties, a lot of shouting, a lot of stragglers and even a few hippies living on our couch or in the basement or on sleeping bags in my room.  We had the party with the naked guy playing twister, the party where the couch was caught on fire.  Needless to say Mike didn't last long with us before he had to move due to our consistent noise making and lack of respect for a 25 year old man done with this stage in his life - not to say that his "mellow" stage was any better.  Why am I talking about this?  I guess to have this memory sitting in Mike's bedroom when we first settled into our new home.  Mike had this huge coffee table style book of Alaska.  Bright blue and white glaring from the pages and I remember the way he spoke about moving to Alaska.  It really sounded like a far away fantasy land to me at that point.  At this point I had barely been out of Iowa and was living only 90 minutes from my hometown.  He spoke about how he would some day move to Alaska and go to Alaska and I remember thinking, yea, sure me too. 

So my best friend Liz says, "enroll at Kirkwood and take some classes with me, it will be fun," I was incredibly too impressionable at this facet of my life and I thank her all the time for being my roll model on that day.  So I started some general education classes and found student loans.  With my first loan disbursement Liz, Brynn, Julie - Mike's younger and much more fun college student and 19 roommate replacement, and I jumped in my 1986 Toyota, Carolla with plaid interior and our mix tapes of Jimmy Cliff, Sublime, Toots and the Maytals, Liz Phair, and Ween (I will always associate my first drive down the strip in Vegas with the song "Piss up a rope") and we drove to Albuquerque, NM (I had this moment at a keggar we happened upon and met these so much more liberal hippy types than Iowa City and I thought I wanna live here - wow what a pretty mountain) and finally to San Diego, California.  I guess that is when I fell in love with traveling and the world started to open up to me.

As I finished Kirkwood and went on to University of Iowa I was now a waitress that had down-sized to a more acceptable amount of roommates to get any real studying done - just one. Between studying, waiting tables, and Monday night $.50 cup night at the Que, Dollar pitchers at Gabes on Tuesday, dollar you call at the Airliner on Wednesday, and then of course Thursday was almost the weekend, Friday, and Saturday.... I was still using every break from classes to hop in my car and take a road trip.  There was another journey to New Mexico carefully suggested by Liz who I can later give credit to my choice in moving there.  That was the original idea of camping in the mountains in January.  I don't care what your sleeping bag claims you will still have to pee and sit around the fire before bed it just is a stupid idea unless you are one of those hardcore boy scouts and if you are you will be prepared unlike us.  There was the drive to Florida where drunk moms in bikinis roam the beaches with their Milwaukee cans in coozies and young children are encouraged to try and piss off the crocodiles at the everglades.  I would just say I lacked the drive to return to Florida .  The springbreak 2000 trip to Galveston Island - I feel like I really went to college having this shot drinking experience.  Then there was the back packing around Europe.  I was living the whole world is my oyster experience and I guess it just never ended.  I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2003 and set my sights on New Mexico.  Why?  I thought what a beautiful and inexpensive place to go to grad school and do some writing and of course travel to anywhere I wanted at my leisure in the Southwest. 

So before I left on my journey I naturally acquired a dog because otherwise that move might have been scary!  So Afton and I were off in 1993 Ford, Ranger pick-up in the year 2003.  I spent a few years in New Mexico somewhat extending my college years. I found some younger college aged kids to hang out with and I landed a job waiting tables at Landry's and as most people in the Service industry can relate to there is no lack of people to go out with for a drink.  I got a little distracted and there was nothing being written, I kept my letters of recommendation in a nice stack for when I got around to applying to grad school - the creative writing MFA at University of New Mexico was what my heart was telling me.  Then I started to think I needed more of a career - I mean seriously - serving?  Really I was in my 10th year in the service sector and was carrying around this degree and still had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up.  So I somehow decided to apply at AOL - one of the larger and highest paying call centers in Albuquerque.  That is about when Liz decided to pick and move there too - oh and did I mention Julie and Surekha gravitated there as well.  I like to think I have a magnetic pull!

So I started in sales it was my duty to answer the phone and convince people to sign-up for the free trial providing payment information in the hopes they would forget to cancel and the company would actually make some money off dial-up internet that was significantly over priced.  We also helped people get a high speed connection to go along with their high speed internet.  I ended up being decent enough to have some nice bonuses each month and aspired to coach and trainer in the company.  I made my way to Consultant Support Specialist - which was one wrung on the ladder below coach which I am sure I would have eventually made (if the company wouldn't have been on it's way to it's demise).  I also scored an interview as a trainer which I totally blew as I wasn't prepared to model my teaching strategies - I for some reason often think back to that and know I would rock it now with all the the teaching experience I have now.  Anyways here I was a Consultant Support specialist,  when the whole call center was unraveled and rumors of closing came down the pipe when I had just bought a new home with my now husband Michael.  Did I forget to mention the romantic tail of meeting my husband at the call center and the wooing friendship of 1 year before we finally got together - and then bought a house with the very next day?  So the call center is closing and I am suddenly hating my job so I say, Verizon, ok and I quit.  I started at Verizon and decided on University of Phoenix for Graduate school finally.  Kind of lame I know but the application process was a breeze so I can just start - that was sort of the appeal. I am actually pretty sure the reason I never started at UNM is that I was too lazy to fill out the application and write an essay etc.  I didn't make it at verizon very long mostly because I got pretty sick and missed a lot of training and the job was really annoying - face to face customer service with too many acronyms and policies and procedures and standing still for eight hours really was killing my feet - I wanted my soul at the end of the day and corporate America was denying me that.  So low and behold I decided to take on substitute teaching and thus began my teaching career and I haven't looked back since.

Teaching, like student loans has become another the world is my oyster kind of thing.  Teaching brought me to the middle east and then teaching brought me to Alaska.  Is this where we plant our roots?  I now have this amazing family and I am really happy at my new teaching position so I am starting to think this beautiful and majestic - yes I think majestic every time I look out the window of a car, or my house or my school and not sure I will ever think anything else, I live in a majestic place and I may just stick around.  I think about Mike's book 14 years ago and I think yep it's like that you were right and I live here - I do- because I can, right?

Now the naysayers will tell me "make it through a winter first," and I have to say I am trying so hard to do everything in my power to do that with some sanity of course.  When I first started at my school one of my colleagues said to me, "we love it when people move to Alaska.  We just hate it when all they can do is complain about the winter," she has no idea how powerful that was as I have mentally decided I will not complain about the winter.  It has become a mantra!  I will not complain that it is snowing.  I will not whine about the lack of sun.  I will not moan in March when we get even more snow.  I will not be so petty and be one of those people that move to Alaska and then have the audacity to be sour with the snow and darkness - that would be ridiculous.   I know somewhere in my psyche there exists a bout of depression and emotional baggage waiting to suck me under.  So I started weight watchers - cross feeling unhappy about my body off the list and going down to a size 12 jeans has helped a lot and now I am working to a size 10 and I may just feel what size 8 feels like.  I started taking yoga classes so I can get some exercise and relaxation at least once a week. I am trying really hard to find my core and to own my yoga positions so I can flop on the floor and do it on my own with out a class or DVD (which avoid because most of them are just plain evil with their redundant warrior twos and flank position - I mean seriously I am trying to relax here and find my core lady!)  I am playing in the snow with Gavin to get my real sunlight as often as my schedule and the weather makes it possible. I am really excited to get my own snow pants and we are going to make a fort and a snowman as soon as the snow is a little bit packable.   I am swallowing down vitamins - I may overdose on vitamin D.  I avoid dramas and tv if I can at possible and I am also trying to spend lots of time cooking fabulous high fiber, low fat, low carb meals that require time in the kitchen with music and singing. Here is my plug for cooking absolutely in love with this lady's blog and her recipes are all pretty amazing and can honestly not say I have made a one that I haven't enjoyed. I have taken up painting, and planning to take up knitting possibly and now I am even writing - although this is kind of lazy not thinking not planning kind of stream of conscientiousness writing.  Yet I know it is sneaking in - I have these moments where in the bottom of my throat I feel that gonna cry chunk of something for no real or apparent reason.  I let a dad last week yell at me over the phone send me into tears.  So next step I am going to go to a tanning booth now once a week - why not maybe it will help?  Upping my exercise too and downsizing wine intake of course.  I think getting through the holidays is key and then we will start gaining daylight again and in a way we will be half way through the dark tunnel of winter.

Overall I am happy here and I think buying a house next year is a fantastic idea.  I think I may just decide to get my PhD when Gavin starts elementary school and I am thinking I may like to work with kids a little more one on one on some level or I could be a college professor.  Who knows?  Also I have been toying heavily with the idea of becoming a foster parent.  Not sure on that one yet but I sort of feel like taking a few kids home with me every year I teach and well I know I can't really take my students home with me but maybe I could put that love somewhere and help a kid that feels so unwanted feel wanted during his or her transition to an adoption. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The next chapter...Alaska

I apologize to the five people that read and follow my blog (sorry mom!) for the excessive amount of time between blog postings.  However a lot has happened!  In late May and early June after Michael returned to the United States we started to imagine our life back in the states.  There was a list a mile long of pros and cons of both decisions but in the long run we realized that Gavin needed an in home daycare situation in which he could socialize and work on increasing his social skills.  Unfortunately the life we were living in the UAE did not seem to provide enough opportunities for him to interact with kids as we would like him to.  I know that many teachers can tell you a much different story but for our family personally we just were not making the right connections and it wasn't working out for us.  The compound living in close quarters with so many other teachers was having its long-term affect on us and it was really becoming apparent it wasn't a fit for us and our situation.  The other thing that was really clear was that it was stressful for Michael to be the stay at home dad with little to no opportunity for social interaction for him.  Due to the way labor forces work in the UAE there was not going to be an opportunity for him to work there.  The reality for our family was it just wasn't healthy for me to work and my boys to stay home all day together.  Many of my wonderful friends in the UAE had great suggestions and solutions but in the long run we just knew it was time for us to go.

I want it to be very clear that we had an amazing experience with our year overseas and we were able to do and see many things that I never had thought would be possible in our lifetimes.  I had an amazing year in the classroom and will never forget the 47 beautiful girls I had the opportunity to work with.  I also made some friendships I hope will continue to last over the years.  With all that in mind I made this decision and moved forward with it.  I started to apply all over the nation thinking in terms of both teacher pay and areas that my family and I thought would be nice for us to live.  With in weeks I was interviewing for multiple positions with in Anchorage, Alaska.  I came home knowing that I would likely not return to the UAE and spent some time in Iowa with family and friends.  On my way from Iowa to New Mexico I had a phone interview for a special education Language Arts Middle school position and I hung up thinking, that is my dream job, that is the school I want to work in.  With in days I was offered the position.

I will be honest we have faced a great deal of criticism from both family and friends in our decision to make this move.  The biggest thing we have heard is the 6 months of winter, the increase in the cost of living, and of course we may be eaten by a bear or stomped by a moose.  We thought really hard about these cons and here is our response.  Let me start by saying the biggest increase is in rent and we were able to find a reasonable rent margin by moving outside of Anchorage in Wasilla, housing is significantly lower and there is a great small town vibe that we have been getting in the few weeks we have been here.  For example an afternoon at the park means learning everything we can possibly do with our children from all the moms.  Or the cashiers chatting with you or cars letting you in and using their blinkers on the roads.  Walking in a store and bumping into someone and both parties apologize and smile, strangers chat in grocery isles and lines.  I could go on and on but most of you know what I mean and as much as I thought I was a big city girl because I kept identifying with that Iowa girl that wanted to get out of small town Iowa so desperately, well it is me and I feel happy.  I can already visualize myself joining the bowling league, the aerobics class with other teachers and I see myself happy.

Michael has already done his research and there are multiple options for employment for him right here in Wasilla and as soon as we can get Gavin into daycare (which is looking very promising and will happen in just days) then he can begin to actively seek employment.  With us both working we will be making significantly more money then we did in the UAE and start to make some headway in some of our debt.  We can both see our futures here and raising our son and future children here.  Before we get too ahead of ourselves we of course plan to get through the winter, but I am confident if we can get ourselves out sledding, ice skating, skiing and being active the darkness and cold and longevity of it will hopefully not prevail and make us completely insane.  Only time will tell but I am hopeful we will come out the other end putting some roots down.

I have been in my new school now for three weeks, two weeks with my kids.  I am again feeling at home in the middle school special education classroom.  I am amazed at the money in the district and the plethora of supplies and well the complete lack of the need for me to supplement as I have had to in previous teaching jobs.  I swear I keep getting slanted looks when I ask, "are you sure I can have this whole container of glue sticks?  Should I only take 3 or 4 for the kids to share?"  And when I am super excited that we get free school t-shirts and we have enough consumables for all the kids and they were in my classroom at the beginning of the year.  My desk was covered in teacher supplies with a welcome note and everyone wants to help me. The school is less than 15 years old and absolutely beautiful with an amazing view from every window. Another astonishing thing that I am not used to is the staff meetings and staff lounge are filled with positive attitudes, I have yet to come across the jaded teachers that complain.  Everyone problem solves and everyone is enthusiastic.  I am thrilled to be working in a school where learning is happening and parents are involved and the staff seems so competent at their job (I have never seen such a competent staff usually there is the sit on my chair and yell teacher and complain about any changes coming down the pipe or in the UAE the lazy Arabic staff that seemed to float around and drink lots of tea etc.).

Life is falling into place here and I am starting to form a nice routine in my classroom and really enjoying my kids and my troublemakers are far less then they have been in previous schools and I am even figuring out what works for them.  I am meeting with a mom here in Wasilla starting an in home daycare this afternoon.  She has a three year old daughter which will be great for Gavin and I have just felt really great talking to her.  She is certified through the state which means she has had all the appropriate background checks and she is of course cpr/first aid certified.  I will keep you posted on how that works out but thinking it will be a great fit for Gavin as he will get more one on one attention.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

So it has been a long time since my last blog post and I guess you could say life got busy.   Let me see if I can summarize the last few months.  The most beautiful thing  I can share is the realization that I came so far from the beginning of the year with my girls to the end of the year.  My girls really surprised me and I had them doing so much more than I thought possible.  The writing process was taking place, students were retelling events from a story with enthusiasm, Scientific experiments were hitting home and there was a plethora of aha moments.   I have to also give a few cheers for the achievement of the standardized assessment, scores accross the board were higher in English, Math and Science then in Arabic and Islamic studies...hmmm maybe this whole reform is a good idea? My girls were really motivated by my ice cream chart to learn their multiplication charts and in the end they even got excited about division.  I learned a lot teaching elementary this year and even more about ESL then I thought I could through application in the is funny to when you instinctively start doing something that you later learn in professional development is a "strategy".  It was an amazing year for me.  As the year came to a close with my girls we had an amazing celebration for the end of the school year and as the girls had promised they stopped coming on June 1st.

I found this interesting considering the numerous notices sent out by my employers stating that students should continue until June 23, but they didn't listen.  They laughed at me when I told them three more weeks of school.  So the last few weeks of school were spent getting reports finished and packing up our classrooms as our school is set for demolishing next year and we are moving into a new building with boys and girls, consolidating with two other schools. My coworkers and I drove by the new building and it is getting closer to complete but we have some doubt that it will be ready for the new school year.

There was a bit of professional development tossed in the mix by some amazing heads of faculty and I can honestly say it was some of the best professional developments I have been to.  I also had the opportunity to lead some of my colleagues in a professional development that I came up with and presented on Marzano's research-based strategies.  I didn't get nervous and actually felt very comfortable in the role and am thinking I wouldn't mind being a facilitator for other teachers or adults at some point.   The end of the year meant buffets, making hair ties, and henna with our staff. We also had a nice secret sister present exchange which was a lot of fun but kind of lame because no one opens presents in front of anyone else...It was very sad because two of our teachers from Egypt were fired.  One just returned and recovered from breast cancer and it was a very upsetting moment when she cried and told us all how much she loved and appreciated her.  Our employer gave her reasoning for being fired sick leave...with no mention of the cancer.  A bit cruel?  Well we aren't in Kansas anymore...

Michael, my husband, had some things that he had to attend to back in the states in mid May and so we decided it was more economical for him to stay there until I returned.  We figured he could spend some time with our nephews and I even thought it might be a nice break from him. Of course I decided that I could not live with out Gavin so I set out to do some single parenting UAE style.  It started off nice with me wearing him out at the pool and paying a friend's nanny to watch him.  But after awhile I started to feel lonely, sad, overwhelmed and the day care situation became too dramatic and I even had to find Gavin another baby sitter.  Now I sit here with 31 hours before I fly home for my United States tour and I couldn't be more ready to stroll through Wal-mart, Target, Best Buy where the salesmen know what you mean when you ask about DPI, drive-ups, left turns, pumping my own gas, using my debit card for everything, family, smoothies with out ice cream, Old Navy, showing my elbows and knees and ankles off, and many many more perks that await me that I have forgotten to list here....

No matter what I will never regret this experience and will cherish all the friends I have made.  I am a better teacher and person for moving here...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Stream of Conscienceness.....counting the days to summer

So last night I had a dream that I was on a road-trip looking for housing and a few of my friends spread around the states were there along with my grandmother.  I was looking at homes in Iowa, New Mexico, and of all random places a basement windowless apartment in California outside of LA (where I have never visited) and in the dream I remember saying to the strange man showing me the apartment, "am I staring in the movie Dangerous Minds?"  Strange dream isn't it?  I think I can go out on a limb and psycho-analyze it.  I am feeling in limbo here and my mind has been wandering to ask the question,  "what to do next after the UAE?"  I mean my position here is nearly half over.  Now remember this type of thinking is dangerous, you remember what I said about culture-shock in the UAE?  There are two types of expatriates in this country those that make a life and find acceptance in this culture and those that count the days until they return to their home and constantly commiserate with other expatriates...I might be falling into the second category lately, but does this information fit accurate with teachers?   Because we are all counting down at the end of the school year and so optimistic and energized at the beginning of the year, so I might just be experiencing the end of the school year teacher syndrome.  I am fairly certain with this end of the year teacher syndrome we all toy with finding another position at another school and then are happy to return the next year.  Or it could mean that I am dangerously  in that place in my journey here where I can't  help but think about going home, going home, going home.

The other interesting thing this dream brings up is that I an not sure where home will be after this experience comes to a close.  Iowa, as much as I love my family and friends there, I just cannot live there again with the severe weather and mosquitos, New Mexico, as much as my heart wants to be with my best friends, beautiful nephews and in-laws, we sold our home to leave the crime and poverty and underpaid teacher scenario that plagued me there and vowed not to live there again. So, of course we are back to square one who is hiring teachers in America with all these budget cuts and teachers losing jobs?  Well the good news is that as a special education teacher I have more choices, did you know that 12,000 special education positions go unfilled each year in the United States?  If you are a teacher out of work have you considered going back to school for special education because hello job security.  So maybe Alaska? Florida? Virgina?  DC?  Somewhere that will pay me what I deserve Insha'Allah...this is still another year out but cannot help but daydream about a nice rental home, grass, and taking Gavin to a pre-school that can accommodate him.  I haven't had a chance to blog about this incident, have I?

Well my husband was diagnosed with ADHD as a young boy and I am pretty sure there was no mystery when he was kicked out of his first pre-school for escaping the classroom and obsessively jumping on the couch in the foyer of the school.  I can totally picture this with my own son and can proudly say like father, like son.  I am absolutely sure that Gavin is likely to have that ADHD label slapped on him at some point.  As much as friends and family have chimed in to say he is only two this is how two year olds act!  I still believe maybe this is true but am perfectly fine with the idea that my kid has more energy then most.  I mean watch him as he learns his ABCs, he is super smart for a two year old (three next week), he knows his ABCs, all his shapes, colors, and can count to 10 and spell his name (found this out last night!).

So prior to spring break I had visited and spoke over the phone to multiple nursery schools here in the UAE. I had been beginning to feel that for the sanity of my husband and for Gavin as an only child to gain some social skills, it was important for him to start nursery school.  So after searching and searching and realizing many of the western schools were really pricey, had waiting lists, or you just cannot start until next year.  So finally I find a school that is Arabic run with a bilingual program that teaches half the day in English and half the day in Arabic.  This was the first Nursery school that I had walked into that was Arabic run that made me smile.  Some alternatives left me a little concerned for safety and made me sort of feel like I would be dropping my kid off for battle everyday (25 two-year olds to 1 teacher not my kind of ratios).  I kept thinking about that daycare in Mexico a few years back that the teacher was slipping benedryl to the kids to get them to take longer naps and the infant died because he was so sleepy he couldn't roll over.

So here were the choices:

House of Colours Nursery (UK run)  I would only have to sell an organ to get him enrolled but wow it would be worth it! Licensed teachers, amazing curriculum, and I almost got a loan from the bank to sign him up... Here is their website:

The Jungle Book which was seriously, frighteningly under-priced and understaffed for the kids (1 to 25 ratio), there was coloring on the walls, which led me to believe there were moments that the kids were left to their own devices, lots of metal corners and edges, hard floors and concrete, but they speak English with the children so for a moment of insanity it was in the running.

The final choice was so amazing at first!  I toured and they had a bilingual program, reasonably priced (around 500 a month) and they didn't have a waiting list and you could start at any time.  I was really excited!  We toured and it seemed it would be a perfect  fit for Gavin.  Here is their Facebook which is mostly in Arabic, Kids Land Nursery

So Gavin was off for his first day and I realize now it was a mistake to not stay with him for a bit on his first day, and it was a mistake to make his first day a full day, all again mistakes.  But honestly every time I have left Gavin with anyone I hear nothing but wonderful things.  At his in-home daycare back in the states he was one of her favorites (ok so she is one of my best friends and has to tell me this) but she had nothing but wonderful things to say about him!  So around 10 am I decide to call and see how it is going for him.  I am told he has not cried, he is happily playing with the other children and having a great day.  So I am smiling and happy.  Then I go to pick him up from his first day at Nursery school.  When I get there the teacher's aid is standing there with all of his things packed and he is ready for me.  She hands me the phone, the head teacher wants to speak to me, over the phone...I am assuming she has forgotten the English forms again so I grab the phone.

Here is the conversation:
What is wrong with your son?
Excuse me,what?  Nothing is wrong with my son.
Have you taken him to the doctor for hyperactivity?
No he is  only two years old.  He has a family doctor and has gone to all his regular check-ups
He is very hyper.
He is two and yes  he is very active.
He doesn't listen, he doesn't sit, he doesn't play with the other kids.  He is very hyper.  I think he is hyperactive and the ministry of education states that children like him must be serviced at special schools.
(at this point I guess I just panicked and again I am not proud but I start to cry.  In hindsight I should of asked for her credentials to make such a statement).

She goes on to tell me she will try one more day if I want to bring him back but she just does not believe that her school can provide my son with the services he so clearly needs.  I hang up crying and run out of the school crying.  Again not my finer moments.  So we left the Nursery school and haven't been back and we are back to having Gavin stay at home with Daddy.

We joined the health club at one of the hotels and I am hoping that some pool fun will help him with socialization (a lot of the families from my complex have joined) and I am also going to start going  to church with him so maybe he can make some friends at Sunday School (or is it Friday School lol?).  Not sure about next year because I know my son learns differently and I know that he is going to need some patient teachers and unfortunately lack faith that they exist here even in a Western capacity.  Maybe I should try a western pre-school next year I am planning to take  a tour at Sunflower Nursery and may find out how they work with more active children but am thinking that I can just wait until we are back in the states and begin him in a pre-k program for the 2012-2013 school year; at least I know that the right protocols will be followed before I am forced to staple a label on my son's forehead.

I have to admit this blog has really become a stream of conscienceness piece and I wish it could take on the form of a narrative essay but unfortunately I cannot seem to keep on one topic.  So back to my thesis at the beginning which for the record my pre-school experience weaves into because it is another reason I miss home.  I have taught special education and I have a clear understanding of the process in which goes into trying interventions before jumping the gun and labeling a two year old with ADHD.  In contrast I have a few students in my class that have undiagnosed learning disabilities and unfortunately if they get the services they need then they get a label which could make them "unmarriable" later in life.  So I work to find alternate ways for them to learn which is what this pre-school teacher was unwilling to do for my son.

I have been having a lot of missing family and friends moments. I miss Surekha, Liz, and Tamara.  They were my friends back home.  Liz since I was eleven, Surekha since my early twenties, and I met Tamara just a few years ago and we instantly clicked and I never felt like we skipped a beat with our friendship. Do not get me wrong I have made some wonderful friends here, like Sylvia from South Africa that I ride to and from school with every day.  I honestly do not think I have ever had such a wonderful friend with such amazing advice and she has become a wonderful confident.  I am raising my virtual glass to Liz and I's hikes at the dog park, cooking breakfasts together, chats in the yard with a glass of wine or a beer, checking out a local live music show, or shooting pool.  I am raising my virtual glass to making curry (or watching her make it lol) with Surekha and watching "So You Think You Can Dance" and bad chick flicks.  I cannot tell you how much I miss nerding it up with Tamara talking about the latest teen fantasy novels we have read or standing in line to watch the latest Twilight Saga movie or playing Apples to Apples, or an awesome garage sale with a kiddie pool and too many drinks the night before.

So here I am counting down the days until the end of the school year when I get to return home for a month.  And I know next year will be a breeze compared to this year because I won't have to reinvent the wheel I have everything I put together this year.  I have a clear understanding of all of the things my employer requires so knowing  this going in I shouldn't have too many surprises.  I am thinking hard about our future after this adventure and I think this is healthy because as much as the free spirit in me would like to float around I am realizing my body, mind, and spirit needs some roots, needs to see family more often, and I need to make some friends in a long lasting community (this one feels so temporary).  So I leave this blog contemplative....

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mind the Gap!

I have found with previous breaks from school, since my time overseas has commenced, my tendency is to crave time at home with my son and husband.  I day dream during my busy weeks of simply enjoying the neighborhood parks, the zoo, trips to Dubai and even just lazily reading a book or catching up on my television shows.  Well this is a great way to spend a break and it sort of stretches it out making it seem to last longer and it gives me the much needed rest and relaxation but I have also found that I have this unwanted company on my breaks.  That company is the longing for home, missing family, missing my girls back home.  I often spend at least one evening during these breaks having one to many glasses of wine and simply tearing up missing everyone.  So with spring break coming I wanted to avoid this.

One thing that everyone here can share with you that comes with culture shock is the roller coaster of feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, and frustration.  Each of these feelings is contrasted by feelings of enlightenment, joy, amazement, and even sometimes just a high that comes from so many new experiences. I remember once thinking that I was starting to get old enough that I had pretty much done all my firsts.  First bike ride, first airplane ride, first time behind a wheel, first drink of alcohol, first time whitewater rafting, first time traveling across the states, first time in a foreign country, first kiss, first bite of sushi or curry, first time swimming in the ocean, and the list goes on and on but you get the point right?  You get caught up in day to day life in America the daily grind so to speak and you hit 30 and you have your career, you give birth, you get married, and well this looming feeling of I did  all life has to offer and now I just sit back and wait for things to happen to my son so I can live through him now right?  Well I suppose this feeling is sort of gone for me now that I live overseas I mean I really start to see how large the world is and I know that I have so many firsts if I just travel.  So I took my first trip to Athens, Greece so cross that off the bucket list.

In college I had a great roommate named Ginny and we quickly became great friends.  Memories with Ginny include having a good time laughing, dancing, playing pool, traveling to Colorado, and whitewater rafting on the Amazon river.  We have kept up contact over the years and when I would travel back to Iowa we would meet up for a meal or lunch.  Ginny began working at this restaurant in Iowa City owned by this great Greek man named Dimitri.  They fell in love and have been together ever since.  She used to tell me they would move to Athens, Greece and would marry there.  I remember thinking how mythical that sort of life might seem.  Well just over a year ago they did, they sold their home in Iowa and were off to Athens.  I have to admit feeling so distanced from our friendship I had some anxiety about showing up on her doorstep in Athens and staying in her home but it was wonderful.  We didn't skip a beat from college it was like no time has passed and we found as we started to discuss that we had  a lot of the same feelings living in new countries.  We have similar observations of the void of culture in the United States compared to an Arab culture or Greek Culture. When Ginny and I were  roommates we held one of the best cocktail parties ever.  Here are a few images from that time.

Here is Ginny all dressed up.

This is my friend Julie and I at the same party all dressed up...
We had some really fun times that I will never forget and it was really great to spend a few days with her in such an amazing place!  Let me tell you about my trip to Athens, Greece now!  Here is a picture of Ginny and I on top of Mount Parnitha.  We haven't changed too much from 20 to 30 right?  
I had originally scheduled a cheap flight through one of those online booking agencies that give you a great deal with multiple connections and long layovers.  I was a little annoyed but couldn't refute the price, around 400 USD and I could fly to Greece.  Well my layover was planned to be in Bahrain and I figured it would be a great chance for me to do some reading and relaxing in the airport and from my research and from asking around Bahrain was a safe country.  Well then the protests in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Bahrain started.  Bahrain was considered unsafe to fly by British authorities but unfortunately most other countries still felt it was safe enough at the airport.  The country itself had declared a state of emergency, urged people to stay indoors, and schools and government buildings were closed down, but my flight was still scheduled as planned.  I was going back and forth should I stay or should I go?  Most  likely I will be safe right?  I mean if it isn't safe they would shut down the airports, right?  Well as the date approached I was anxiety ridden and decided as a female alone I shouldn't take the unnecessary risk so I bit the bullet and swallowed around 60 USD in cancellation fees and booked a different flight through Etihad airways (super fancy airline and I recommend it if you can find some last minute deals because it is like first class in coach).  I ended up on the same flight of my friend Julie, a teacher in Al Gharbia whom was flying alone to take a cruise from Athens.  It was nice, we met up at the airport and were able to get seats by one another for the flight.

We arrive in Athens and I am expecting to see my friend Ginny at the airport.  Well she isn't standing where I expected her to be.  In hindsight we both realized we have sort of adapted this relaxed attitude about things living in both Arab and European countries.  It is like you lose the need to manage all the little details like well getting your friends mobile number.  She apparently checked the board and found  a flight from Dubai that was delayed so decided to head to the shopping mall.  Meanwhile my flight was actually twenty minutes early. So Julie and I drag our luggage back and forth across the terminal searching for tall skinny girls with brown hair and a Greek man (this is how I describe Ginny to her).  Which funny enough is almost every couple at the Athens airport.  After I send multiple emails to both Ginny, and everyone I know that might know her and attempt to friend her fiancĂ©e on Facebook hoping maybe he has a data plan and will get the notification to his phone (yea right! they are not so connected to electronics like we are sharing one basic mobile phone).  After around an hour I realize that it is possible that Ginny never received or noticed the email that my flight has changed so she is thinking my flight will be in a  day later.  I leave the airport depressed and convinced I will never see my friend Ginny.  Julie graciously offers up her hotel room and we share a taxi to downtown Athens.

Julie and I sauntered around the down town area and I continued to send emails to my friend Ginny and call people in the states at ungodly hours hoping to find her mobile number.  Julie and I decide to enjoy some coffee and ice cream at this cafe centered in the middle of town near the plaza.
Here is Julie enjoying some ice cream...

Here I am at the cafe drinking a cappuccino...
Julie and I drag ourselves to her hotel room and lounge on the beds of her very tiny hotel room.  We take in the view out of the room and just when I have accepted my fate and am ready to fall asleep for an afternoon nap Ginny calls me.  She explains laughing the whole time why the mix up happened and we have a good laugh and she tells me they are on their way to come and get me.

We spent the first evening at Ginny's lovely home.  She lives in a suburb of Athens called Metamorphosis, I am sorry but can you think of a cooler name for a city to live in?  Ginny and Dimitri live in this amazing villa that sets upon a mattress shop and surrounds a lovely courtyard. Here are some images of the street from the balcony facing out to the street.

Here are some images of the courtyard from the balcony facing the courtyard.

 Dimitri's brother and family and his mother and father occupy the adjoined villas that surround the courtyard.  During my stay I had mentioned that I wanted to eat authentic Gyros, spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie), dolmas, and baklava.  So on each night of my stay his mother would drop off one of these dishes.  Every night we ate dinner in Ginny and Dimitri's home and Ginny would make this wonderful Greek salad and put out a plate of feta cheese and bread.  I seriously felt like I had died and gone to food heaven.  Here are a few images of the wonderful things I feasted on.  I learned that the traditional Gyro and the shwarma I have come to know and love in the UAE are not much different. They both come with french fried on the inside (which just never happened to my Gyros in the states which leads me to a whole new conversation to be brought up later that every country has a version of food from another country that is adapted to meet  the needs of their taste buds).
 Dimitri's mother brought these by for us.  They called them donuts.  Donuts?  Um yea dunkin and crispy creme you haven't got nothing on these decadent "donuts."
 This was my favorite evening of cuisine!  We had two different cheese pies one with spinach and one just loaded with cheese.  Homemade meatballs by Dimitri's mother (whom I never met) and potatoes...and of course some feta cheese and a Greek salad.

The great thing about traveling to Greece in the spring is that there is actually a spring to enjoy.  I have been living in a desert climate for so long I have forgotten what spring smelled and sounded like.  It is very clichĂ© but it smelled like blooming flowers and there was the sweet sound of birds singing.  You got the feeling everyone was out  and about just to appreciate the sun shining in the sky.  Here is an image I took as we strolled though town of all the trees in bloom.
Mind the Gap!  That is what you will read and hear before you get on and off the subway all around Greece.  What a great way to get  around town and to walk off some of that pita, feta and fila dough. We took the subway everywhere we went.  What a great way to people watch as well.  I was memorized at the fashion gurus that strolled on and off the subway both women and the metro-sexual men.  The women of Athens are strikingly beautiful and I struggled to find my own minds stereotype of the fat and  happy Greek women and men that American films had painted for me.  Instead I found myself gazing and staring at such beauty and style accessorized down to the toenails and earings and hand-bags.  Here is an image I captured while walking down town and you can see what I mean.  The women of Athens are fashion divas!

So naturally I did the tourist thing and  I saw the Parthenon, the temple of Poseidon, the temple of Olympian Zues, and the acropolis. I did not get to see the The National Archaeological Museum because due to off tourism season they kept strange hours and it just didn't fit into my plan to see everything in just four nights. Here are some images from these historical landmarks.

Then we strolled downtown to the same coffee place Julie and I had been at when we first got to Athens.  This time I had Dimitri with me so it was nice to let him make recommendations.  I soon feel in love with the Nescafe Frappe and sipped on one of those before we headed over to see the changing of the guard.  After the silly  spectacle they put on we got to take our picture with them.  The changing of the guard is not meant to be silly but they are grown men in tights and mini skirts with pom-pom's on their shoes, it is really hard to take them serious.  Here is Ginny and I taking turns posing with the men in tights.

For our last excursion I so desperately wanted to live out some fantasy I have always had of taking a boat to a Greek Island and so it was fulfilled!  We took the ferry to the island of Aegina.  The trip was right around an hour and the boat was really large.  Dimitri's family owns a house on the island that they go to most weekends during the summer.  They informed me that these ferries were filled with people and hard to find a seat in the summer.  In March we nearly had the boat to ourselves.  It was a really nice trip a little cold but nothing a warm Frappe couldn't cure.  Here is Ginny and I enjoying our Frappe's on the deck of the ferry boat.
The island was really mellow during the off season and I imagined it alive and filled with people in the summers.  Boats filled the docks and the townies cruised along on motorcycles and mopeds.  We enjoyed some spinach and cheese pies and walked along the shops.  Then it started to drizzle so we spent the afternoon in a coffee shop enjoying Frappes and having some delicious ice cream that reminds me of Gelato.  We took the ferry back all of us thinking how nice a nap would be.  Here are a few images from the island and from the ferry.

All in all it was an amazing and relaxing trip.  I still found enough time to finish a novel, sleep in late, and being away from Michael and Gavin made me miss them like crazy and appreciate how wonderful my little family is and how much I need them in my life.  I think it is important to realize this from time to time because we can find moments where we forget this in the daily grind.  It was strange landing back in the UAE and feeling this weird feeling of familiar.  This Arab land is familiar?  I felt home driving down the long street past the burger king in the back of the taxi as I pass the mall that will never be built and pull into my immense compound of apartments to building ten, ok now I am home where I find my sleeping boys.  Is this what they mean by Zen moments?  

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I will always choose the roller coaster over the merry-go-round

So I realize that my last post may have sounded a bit unsettling but that was how I was feeling.  Since my last post I have gotten my car back, my evaluation postponed, and received a lot of support from my faculty head to help our girls succeed on this standards-based assessment.

I recently watched the old movie from 1989 Parenthood remember with Steve Martin.  It was a fantastic trip down memory lane and I thought it hit home a little for me now that I am a parent.  Remember the kid Justin in the movie how he butts things with his head and is just silly? Well that sort of reminds me of Gavin...yeah he is the weird kid at the park, yeah he is the destructive little boy at the Valentine's Day craft party, but I love him and I know he is having a fantastic childhood and that is all that matters right?  And well let's not forget he is a toddler and they are crazy!

The whole reason I bring this up is because towards the end of the movie the Grandma talks about how she used to love riding the roller coaster.  It goes up and down and up and down.  There is an exhilarating feeling and a wonderful feeling and your stomach may get upset and you make get really scared but it  is worth it right?  She goes on to say that some people like the merry-go-round it just goes round and round and you always know what to expect.  She says but I always preferred the roller coaster myself.  Well the scene ends with Steve Martin yelling at his wife, "If she is so wise why is she getting in the neighbors car?"  which of course cracks me up as I wipe away the tears from this philosophical and home-hitting moment on the screen in my living room.  I will always choose the roller coaster over the merry-go-round.  I get so bored and restless when my life becomes too predictable.  So yes I went through a few tough weeks but I have come out the other end with a big smile and even a few lovely experiences to share with my readers.

Last week my friend Sylvia and I went to my first Emirati wedding (Sylvia goes to these every chance she gets; she is an old pro and talked me through the whole experience so I knew all the dos and don'ts). It was in   a huge wedding hall near Jabel Hafeet the mountain here in Al Ain.  The men were located outside dancing and eating in large white tents and the women were all in the wedding hall.  We had a big screen that we could view the men while they were doing a very traditional dance with sticks.  I didn't take any pictures but found some images on the website,  to show you what I mean.

The women were located inside a large wedding hall and they were all wearing these gorgeous dresses that some of them were quite  frankly busting out of!  They were all beautiful and it was quite the scene.  There was long red carpet that led to a run-way on stage with this beautiful throne.  On both sides of the running red carpet there were absolutely gorgeous tables set up with beautiful place settings.  There was an array of tabouli, hummus, breads, salads, and dolmas or mashi to snack on.  Lovely ladies dressed in gold came around offering fresh nectars, divine chocolates, decadent bisquits, turkish coffee, tea, perfumes, and even some traditional incense to cleanse you.  I was unable to take pictures but am providing some samples of images that describe what I saw.  

I found some similar dresses to what some of the ladies were wearing on

At every social event I have been to they come around with these divine and decadent cannot describe like heaven in your mouth more expensive then gold chocolates!  
So Sylvia and I enjoy the chocolates and watch all the ladies saunter around kissing one another likely commenting on  how beautiful everyone looks.  We choose our favorite dresses and chat for a bit.  Then it is time for the main course.  Each table of 6 to 8 guests of course, naturally, gets their own goat on a platter of rice and chick peas.  Sylvia and I are sitting next to three older Emirati ladies that are wearing Abayas with the traditional burqa style. I found an example of what I mean on 

When the platter is set down I take a little bit of rice on my plate but am already quite full from all the chocolates and biscuits and appetizers.  Well these ladies toss their plates to the side.  The lady grabs the bone from the platter and  begins to vigorously shake it until the marrow splats into the center of the platter. Then all three ladies dive into the platter with their hand shoveling the food under their burqas as fast as they can with cow chewing cud sound affects.  Sylvia and I look at each other and simultaneously put our forks down to indicate we have both lost our each culture is to their own right?  Mean while I am carefully ensuring the whole time that I don't do any double dipping-sort of a fruitless gesture at this point lol.  

The beautiful golden ladies come out again to collect our dishes and Sylvia and I are both growing tired as it is a week night.  Some time past 10 o'clock what the whole room has been waiting for happens, the scared and beautiful 17 or 18 year old bride comes down the red carpet.  Her dress is elaborate and white covered in sequence from head to toe, it takes three ladies to keep her dress from collapsing under her feet as she takes each step.  There is a spot light as she walks so carefully towards the stage.  She comes on to the stage and walks to both sides of the stage.  Then she sits on the throne.  We walk over to greet our Emirati collegues as it is now an acceptable time to leave.  Sylvia informs me that sometimes the groom joins the bride and other times he does not.  The ladies are astounded that after attending the wedding we are going to work tomorrow!  Must be nice to take a day off to re-cooperate from a wedding...not us!  No such days off for the westerners.  They tell us that the groom will be coming so we must stay just a few more minutes.  So we sit and watch the ladies scurry to cover up their evening gowns with black Abayas and shaylas.  Then the young groom of 24 comes in to meet his bride.  They are presented to the ladies with no smiles on their faces.  They are both very nice looking.  Sylvia and I take this as an opportunity to follow the crowds out the door.

Then just a few days later all of the English teachers at my school were invited to our vice principal's house to celebrate the birth of her seventh  baby.  So my faculty head, and some of my colleagues join in on a caravan to our vice principal's home just blocks from our school.  As one of the other teachers point out you can immediately see how much money a family has from the gate that you drive through to enter their property.  There are multiple houses on the property.  I am told there is a house for the men to entertain, a house for the women to entertain and then there are the main homes for the family.  We are ushered into the house simply for entertaining female guests.  The front room is an Arabic style room with cathedral ceilings, a couch that wraps around the room.  There is a gorgeous Egyptian style rug on the floor covered with ladies sitting and enjoying an elaborate feast of traditional Arabic dishes.  We are escorted into another beautiful room with the traditional Arabic  style couches and again cathedral ceilings to sit and first have juice, chocolates, and coffee.  It is a little off-putting because it feels a little like segregation the Arabic teachers in one room and the English teachers in another.  But we are informed that Emirati culture is very specific with the tradition order of entertaining guests.  Step one we must have chocolate, nectar, and coffee.  Then the baby is passed around for us to stuff jewelery and money if we so desire.  I quickly passed the baby on because he became fussy.  He was a tiny little thing with a full head of hair.   At this point the baby is taken away and the Arabic teachers say good-bye.  We are then ushered in to the next room to eat.  We had these crepes wrapped around falafel and cream cheese that were amazing, and these little tuna wraps, then of course the goat and rice.  Ending with some cakes and these things that are a lot like donut holes that I have yet to learn the appropriate name for but will continue to refer to them as sticky balls.  So we are on our way.  

Finally last night I got to something I have wanted to do for a long time!  A safari tour!  We went through leaving from the Mall of Emirates I got to enjoy a delicious BBQ Dinner and Folklore Show in a traditional Bedouin Camp.  The safari included Camel Rides, Henna Art, a Show, including traditional Arabic Musicians, Belly Dancers and Egyptian Tanoora Dancers. It was a lot of fun!  The dune bashing was a little more than I could ever handle again they cruise up these dunes super fast and then slide down them with sand cascading off the windows and the jeep is literally free falling. I got a little nauseous in the back seat but I wasn't too scared of rolling the drivers seemed pretty good at their jobs.  What frightened me was how close we were to the other jeeps.  Here are some images I tried to capture as I was bouncing around in the back seat.  

So after I gathered my stomach from the back of the jeep and my hands stopped shaking we moved towards the line for camel rides.  It was really just a photo opp with a short walk in a small circle.  Here I am with  a random stranger whose brother took pictures of us.  They made us ride in pairs so I had to find a buddy because Keith and Heather were riding together.  
Then we moved on to ride the quads.  This was about 30 Usds for 15 minutes so I opted out.  Then the guy running the thing felt sorry for me and made me sit and get my photo on one of the quads.  Then I got on the back with my friend Heather and she took me for a cruise. It was a lot of fun but I know I am old because I was really nervous about tipping over!  
After our ride around the track a few times on the quads we headed down to the main festivities where two lines had formed; one for female and one for male to get food.  We got our plate of food and sat down to watch the entertainment.  There were some tourists that plopped down from a country somewhere near Poland and Russia that is slipping my mind right now.  They spoke no English but introduced themselves and shared their remy martin cognac with us which warmed my mouth, throat, and belly!
Then Heather and I were off to get Henna done.  This is the first time I have gotten Henna done.  The young girl was from India and she did a beautiful job so quickly, I was impressed!

We finished the evening in the Shisha tents where I smoked Shisha for the first time, just to say I have done it.  I tried apple and grape, I preferred the grape as the apple seemed a little more potent.  Then we were off to the buses to head back to the mall of Emirates.  I sat next to a young lady from somewhere in the UK that has just taken a job as a teacher (I had a good laugh because she said she is just looking for a low stress job that pays well) and lives in Al Ain.

So my life in the UAE remains a roller coaster of times when I am missing home and consistency and things that make sense to me to times where I feel like I am on a lovely ride that I would have been crazy to have ever passed up.  I am again thankful for this opportunity and grateful for my experiences thus so far on my journey in the middle east.  

Friday, March 11, 2011


I have to be honest at times living overseas becomes a bit too much and I have moments of weakness where all I think about is hopping on the next plane home.  I do not thing that is uncommon for most of us here.  All changes leave us conflicting as we grow older and make significant life changes.  When I went off to college and moved only an hour and a half's drive from my hometown I remember having these moments.  The first  time I crashed my car away from home or got the flu my first instinct was to think, "I need my mommy."  I remember this sinking feeling of being in something unfamiliar and wishing so much that my mom was there.

Then I graduated from college and did something obscene!  I drove 24 hours and planted my roots in New Mexico all the way from Iowa.  New Mexico was so different!  I went through a whole new kind of shock.  There was stop and go traffic, drunk bums in my yard on Christmas, crack heads asking me for money in the grocery store, and people were even speaking Spanish all around me.  I adapted and I even made a life for myself in New Mexico at times thinking I wanted to scurry home to the familiar and it all seemed to work out.

Well in hindsight with both instances the times that I felt like I needed my mom or wanted to run home with my tail between my legs are when my job became too stressful, or it seemed like my health was poor and my car had problems or I got in a car accident or had a bad break-up from a boyfriend.  All the usual need your mommy kind of things, right?

Now I am 33 years old and I have to say it is not so much my mommy I feel like I need these days.  I  do miss my mom don't get me wrong but what I am realizing is that I miss the comfort in understanding how things work at home.  The consistency of living in the same country for 32 years of my life and knowing what to expect in certain social situations, emergency situations, and even professional situations.  These moments of certainty are fleeting living in a completely different country and when I have these moments of heartache, failure, frustration that come with living I feel at odds with this fleeting feeling of unfamiliarity and my instinct is to jump on a plane and fly home;  I won't act on this because my mom taught me not to quit so I won't quit and my practical side makes a mental list of pros and cons of my new life here all the time and in the long run the pros out weigh the cons and I know that this is a great experience across the board.

Let me take a moment to evaluate why I am feeling so at odds with my soul in a sense.  The end of February I was blessed with the sandbox sinus infection which left me feeling wiped out paired with my thyroid levels being a little off which equated to scrapping my diet and becoming super exhausted all the time stuffing my face with as much chocolate and cheese as I could grab.  So I imagine this didn't help me in the long run.  I was frustrated because I wasn't getting better and spent two weekends in a row lying in bed trying to get better so I could work during the week.  Due to the lengthy process of getting sick days off I feel like it is just easier to go to work sick then to deal with going to the emergency room and then going to get your sick note stamped and now the expectation that this is all entered into the computer or your wages are docked which is just too confusing for my head to get around when I am sick.

Well then the 100 days of school was coming upon us and we decided that we wanted to throw a huge educational fair with games revolved around the theme of 100.  It was really fantastic and our girls really enjoyed it and we really impressed our Arabic staff with the quality of organization that we put into it.  It was well worth the effort but it was time consuming!  We spent days after school staying until 4 or 5 o'clock arguing over details, organizing, and setting up for this thing.  The day finally came last week and we were all wiped!
Here was my corner, the art corner (never again so exhausting after 300 girls!)

Here are some of the girls working in my corner

Here are a few other corners we had.  There was also a relay race and a race to 100...

Here is a picture of me and one of my classes...they all have on necklaces we made that week and crowns!

So while all of this is going on I am not saving any energy for my husband and son when I get home.  I am exhausted and cannot seem to shake this evil sinus infection.  We are eating fast food almost every night (which I think may be the leading cause to depression lol).  We have stopped our evening walks around the complex or to the park.  I have stopped cooking and playing with play-doh with Gavin every night.  We aren't lying in bed reading Sandra Boyton books and things seem to be taking an ugly turn for me.

Then my car dies on the way to school on one of the busiest round abouts in the city.  I stand there waiting for the tow truck to come (thankfully I knew I had road side assistance with my insurance company).  A police officer comes along and he speaks little to know English.  I stand there with him trying not to burst into tears while I wait for the tow truck driver.  He asks me, "Car no run?"  I shake my head telling him it won't run and assuring him that the tow truck driver is on his way and isn't far.  He walks away and makes some calls and comes back asking again trying to make sure he states it very clear, "Car-no-run?"  This scenario repeat itself again and again as time drags to a stop and we wait for the alleged tow truck driver to get here.  Finally after he asks me,"Car no run," for the millionth time I proceed to rein-act the sounds my car made as it died.  Then I  demonstrate for him the sound of an engine attempting to turn over with no success.  He seems pleased with my performance and thankfully does not ask me again, "car no run?"

Now the tow truck driver comes and of course he speaks no English and apparently the insurance company gave  him no information on where I would like the car delivered (why would they?).  So after I find a million different ways to explain that the car needs to go to Dubai to the dealership and I plan to grab a taxi and do I have to pay for the extra kilometers?  Mafi English...I try calling my faculty head who speaks Arabic, the policemen calls his friend who speaks broken English and then I do what of done to begin with and call the insurance company to translate.  After a few phone calls and another half an hour I am in a taxi on the way to school.

What is wrong with my car?   My brand new used car?  Well it was the radiator and then apparently due to my negligence it became a cracked head gasket.  However only the day before had I noticed the cars gauge was reading hot when the air conditioning was running (not when it was off!).  So I took the car to get the oil changed at the Adnoc lube.  All fluids were checked and topped off and I was told coolant levels were fine!  I was also shown my black sludge oil which indicated to me that the oil was not changed before the car was sold to me...go figure?!  So now I have been with out my car for going on two weeks now and have had to rent a car and am still not sure if my warranty will cover this and honestly (although now I am being told they will do everything they can to try and get this covered under the warranty).   I am trying to tell myself my car will be ready when it is ready and if I have to pay out of pocket then that is what credit cards are for, right?  It will all work out right?  But you can see  how it sort of feels like things are piling up and I might want to hop on a plane these days?  I will reiterate now it becomes a positive affirmation, I can do this, I can work through this, life only gives us what we can handle right?

Now the 100 days of school party is over and my car is being worked on so breath right?  Wrong now my faculty head comes in with a copy of an observation she did when I was sick and had given an assessment; not actually delivering a lesson.   Until now she has showered me with positive feedback.  Not today!  On this day she piles it on, three paragraphs summarizing my failures at this particular juncture.  I haven't provided my students with an objective for the assessment (a multiplication chart isn't that self explanatory?).  I haven't provided clear expectations for what the students should do when they complete the assessment (I try to encourage them to free read but  they just weren't listening).  Finally, I do not have enough time on task and I need to ensure I am consistently implementing my behavior stop light. I can give you a list of justifications for all of these things but the reality was it was just a bad  day, I was sick, and I wasn't prepared for an observation and we all have bad days.  It just kind of hits me in the gut because I am already asking myself am I good teacher (Do not see Waiting for Superman because ever since I keep asking myself if I am a charismatic enough teacher;  I mean I didn't teach my kids the times table with a song did I?)?

Then we find out that grade 3 has a standards bases assessment coming up in March and we get a copy of the test to begin preparing our students for.  The test we are told will make up 20 % of their grades!  Are you kidding me?  A child can actually be held back in the third grade due to their performance on a standards based test.  I pour myself over these tests really beating myself up and wondering again I good at it or do I do this profession justice or is this my calling?  Math is predominately word problems rather then calculations.  The science is  written in very scientific language.  The English test is pretty easy and I know I have prepared them for this.  But I feel like a big jerk hindering my girls because I decided to modify science and instead of using a  word like dissolve I have said, "goes away," or instead of observe I have said, "look" because in my heart  I think like a special education teacher.  I want them to get the concept and I want them to feel successful.  Have I hindered my girls because we don't drill vocabulary in science or even math.  In math my girls do not know things like, "how many all together" or "sum of" or "number placement (they can tell you what place the one is in but will be very confused with the terminology on the exam."   So again I feel like a failure!  So more cheese and chocolate and now I make a trip to Spinney's Liquor because Mrs. Leah grade 3 teacher needs some wine in her house again.

Don't get me wrong I have managed to create a very strong support system here and after collapsing in tears my good friend Sylvia from South Africa took me to starbucks and turned my tears into giggles.   My friend Carrie from my school reminded me how we all struggle with these same fleeting thoughts.  We come over here to the UAE to teach, with high hopes of turning these girls into grade level standard performers and instead they can carry on a very simple conversation in English and they are beginning to read and maybe even tell you why they like a book.  These moments when a girl comes to me and says in very broken English what she predicts will happen in a book and how she smiles when she is right and then when she tells me why she likes the book I know I am doing something.  I am teaching my girls to love literature in a country where the average citizen reads two pages of literature a year (according to The National).  Unfortunately these are not the results that my employer wants.  They want more and that can feel defeating at times.

Now add to this now prevailing feeling of failure and apparent spring fever in my girls which means they are as Sylvia  might say, "out of their trees," or even, "all over the show."  I am finding it really hard to handle them lately and am very concerned with my upcoming observation because the principal expects their behavior to be perfect when she observes.  Spring break is just two weeks away and I can see it over the horizon but unfortunately that means mapping booklets must once again be completed.  Which means for me 46 booklets, one for each girl, with 14 pages of standards to high light and decipher whether I believe they have completed such feats as "uses descriptive and/or  figurative language to support a point of view," or "model and describe equal groups of arrays and find their totals," or "Group materials according to whether they are solids, liquids, or gases," and did I mention this is all written in size 8 font.  Then once these are finished (only takes about 45 minutes per girl...that is all) then we get to enter the same information in a different format into the computer (which can be minimized to about 20 minutes per girl).  All of this while in the back of my mind we have to make sure our classroom will meet our employers standards because we  are expecting a visit from a group of cluster managers and administrators to evaluate our school and spend two days at our school looking through our assessment binders, our mapping booklets, lesson plans, and curriculum maps.  So no stress right?

So if you ask me at this moment if I love my job, love this experience, am I happy I might not want to answer because honestly I feel like this kind of pressure is what can lead to nervous breakdowns.  I am trying to chill out relax and not take everything so serious and trying to have the attitude that I can do this and it will make me a better teacher and all of that.  And when my girls bring me flowers and tell me they love me and draw me pictures and grin from ear to ear from an activity we are doing in the classroom it all feels right.  A night at the movies giggling with my husband about some of things that make me laugh so much in this country.  I need that.  Writing a blog and putting it all out there, maybe therapeutic.  Maybe I simply need some validity that I am strong and I am prevailing over some pretty challenging  weeks past and coming.  I need a reminder sometimes that teachers, we really are superwomen (and men) all around the globe and isn't about the summers off.

I want to end this blog on a little more positive note.  I am going to get through the next two weeks and I am going to come out on the other end feeling empowered and after spring break I will be refreshed and ready to get through the last trimester successful and I will come back next year knowing so much more and I just know things will be running a bit smoother with this reform and my job will get easier and I will start to know what to expect on some level and I know things will get easier.  After all I get to hop on a plane in just two weeks and go to Greece and see a good friend from college.

Michael has started taking classes online and they are going well and I am really proud of him.  Gavin is going to start nursery school soon which will be really good for everyone and he can socialize with other two year olds and three year olds which will be good for him too.