Sunday, May 31, 2009

Speaking of birthdays and monkeys....

I have a couple of teacher friends who have birthdays in June and July. This is after we are out of school and most teachers overseas have flown back to the states and since two of us moved to a new country last fall.. that means that 3 of us are now in 3 different countries. So, to me that meant.. I needed to get on the ball and get their gifts sent to them quickly.

Last year for Memorial Day weekend and the Monday holiday that we were already out of school and an additional 3 days of 'any purpose' leave days.. that we all signed up for early enough to insure that we'd be able to take these 3 days off from work.. we went to Bali for a week.

I had always wanted to go to Bali.. for what seems like forever. I know it stems from watching SOUTH PACIFIC when I was a child... and I just knew that if I didn't go this time... before I left the Pacific region and Asia in general.. that I'd never have the chance to go. So, off I went with 2 other friends... (the friends who just happen to be celebrating the June and July birthdays that I mentioned)

I never did blog about this trip last year.. because I moved from my apartment and into a hotel right after we returned from Bali and of course the trip also happened during the last 3 weeks of school. That is a very busy time in general.. without throwing in a vacation and getting ready for the movers to come to your apartment to take away your worldly possessions. Much less setting aside your best 'guesstimate' as to what 150 pounds is for the 'express shipment' that the military will fly to your new destination so that it arrives in one month instead of the 3 or 4 months that it takes for your household goods to arrive by boat. And, let's not forget 'deciding what you need for the next 3 months and what will fit' in the suitcases to take with you for your summer vacation (usually in the states) and to tide you over in your new location.

As you can imagine, quite often one over-estimates what they have, need, or will fit in a suitcase.. especially with the weight limits of today. Did you know that for international flights you used to be allowed to check 2 bags weighing up to 70 pounds each? When I made international moves was the only time that I did this.. but, it was great for when you were moving. Of course, those days are long gone. Just like cartoons being shown instead of commercials at the start of movies in theaters.

All of this packing, deciding, and add in shipping a car, and all the grading and report cards, meetings, etc.. that one has to do to close out a school year.. and the end result is that you just have no time to blog about travel adventures.. much less think that you have any time to go away on a vacation anyway.

Part of our Bali adventure, included going to the Monkey Jungle. We saw adorable, sweet, little monkeys. I even saw a group of tiny baby monkeys being 'babysat' by a few adult female monkeys.

So, in honor of their birthday, the monkey jungle of Bali just one year ago.. and let's face it.. the caffeine in the form of coffee, or soft drinks that most teachers tend to rely on to make it through each day.. much less the last few weeks of school... I decided to knit them a gift that would fit all categories. Their gifts have been mailed and received and now I can post the photos on my blog.

May I present: THE MONKEY 'soft drink can' or water bottle keep-cold cozy.. which can also double as a 'keep warm' coffee cup holder cozy.
The one with a purple hat just makes me smile.. it looks like the monkey finds the soft drink 'just a little too cold' for his/her liking! She/he seems to have a very startled look.

I loved the ones that I knitted for my friends so much that I also knitted myself one.

I will admit that this is a pretty rare feat that I have accomplished.. making something like this for myself.. because, I usually have good intentions to make myself 'something' after making a handcrafted ______________ for friends... and I just never find them time to make the items for myself.

Or let me put it this way, there are many hand crafted ornaments 'that are not decorating' my tree.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

One night in May...

About 4 or 5 years ago, I was living in Gaeta, Italy. It is a small fishing town and the population swells with tourists in the summer months. It is right on the ocean about halfway between Rome and Naples. I moved into my rental house late November. I found out that my job was to be excessed (eliminated) that spring and I moved from my house with a view of the ocean, mountains, orange groves, and the ever changing skies the last week of May.

When one moves to a new location, state, or even a different country as my moves tend to be... it takes a full year to see they cycle of plant growth, the seasons, the changes in the sky, the weather, and the various endless gifts each month offers as the month begins, unfolds, and closes.

I lived on top of a small mountain... with a wide sweeping view of the Gaeta Harbor, mountains across the harbor in all directions and then the open sea. On very clear days- I few times I even could see the faint grey outline of Mt. Vesuvius; the still active volcano in the Naples Harbor.

In the winter, the mountains across the harbor had snow on them... yet, my area would never actually freeze.. but, it was quite cold and damp from the cold winds blowing across the ocean.

Finally, the long awaited spring time arrived and flowers started blooming. I didn't have a car and my school was 4 miles away. My route was to leave early enough to walk the 20 minutes down the mountain, arriving early enough to walk to the city bus stop found at the base of the mountain. After about 20- 25 minutes on the bus, I would eventually be at the stop that was fairly close to the school. I then walked the last 3 blocks to work. I allowed an hour and half to get to work. This bus only ran once every 30 minutes each hour. Even though, I arrived 'before' the scheduled bus arrival time.. it was clear sometimes that they had either 'arrived earlier' than scheduled or the bus was running later because of traffic.

If the bus wasn't there by a certain time... I started walking towards school. From my house to the school the route was four miles.

On my mountain walk, there weren't any street lights and only 2 other houses were to be found in this area. I never saw the lights of any other house. When night fell, it was pitch dark outside. I met the movers at my house on the first official day in my house, they unpacked my household goods... ok, unpacked from the sea crates is a more accurate description. They do set the furniture out where you want it- but, most of the boxes are unpacked as you can for several days or in my case.. weeks. It's difficult to do so, because of working all day and darkness falling at 4:30pm in the winter.

Prior to moving into the rental house, I had been staying in a hotel in the shopping area at the bottom of the mountain. As a result, I didn't know how dark it got on my mountain until the next day after work.

It was late November and after work.. I started my 4 mile route home up the mountain this time. Before I could get home total darkness had fallen. I had only been on this road once the day before, when I met the movers, in the daylight. There was a fork in the road that went off to three different directions and my way was on the far left- or at least I thought it was. I remember standing there.. at the end of the paved road... and all that was before me was total darkness. I could only vaguely remember that there were either 2 or 3 different splits in this road and I knew that I lived to the left. I just wasn't 100% sure. So, I stood there.. no flashlight (it hadn't been unpacked yet) and not even sure where any of the roads were.. much less which direction to start walking. This area had thick trees immediately off to the road that was only the width of a car.

I remember standing there... trying to get my night eyes.. that clearly weren't going to come.. since, there was no moon and no light source only the woods and darkness. I finally prayed and asked God to help me find my way home. As I stood there, listening to the crunching of branches, animal sounds, and rustling in the grasses and trees all around me not knowing which direction to start walking. One road had a steep drop off along the sides of the road.

I stood quietly, trying to figure out which way to start walking, I finally remembered that my road had gravel on it. So, I slowly took a few steps.. listening for gravel crunching. I took a few steps, listened for the gravel sounds, and took a few more steps. I kept taking a few steps, listening, standing still and remembering to keep facing the same way until I finally made it to close enough to my house. (I always pretended that all of the noises that I heard were only stray kitty cats meeting up with their friends.)

One night, the following May as I was walking home with only a few more days left in my residence- darkness began to fall around 7pm. The difference? After several months walking home, I now knew my way home and since regular flashlights were almost useless in the total darkness of nightfall on the mountain.... I now always carried a small, powerful, very bright military specs flashlight at all times for my walks home.

I was thinking about the beauty and the serenity of this area and how I'd miss walking to work and home again ... watching the sunrises unfold onto a new day on the ocean and the beautiful sunsets saying goodbye as I walked home. I knew that I would miss the ever changing flowers growing along my walk and that I'd miss the sea most of all. I would have to move before I'd know what July, August, September, and October's nature's gifts would be.

It was now almost fully dark and as was my routine, I already had my flashlight in my hand to turn it on the moment that I could no longer see the ground below my feet.

As I turned the sharp uphill curve that led to the final straight path to my house... I beheld a sight so amazing that it caused me to stand so still lest it not really be real or disappear because of any movement or noise that I might make.

Before me was a multitude of fireflies... so many that surely all fireflies in Italy must have gathered at this one place before their summer season started. They were in the trees sparkling like white twinkle lights, they were everywhere, taller than the trees with no ending or beginning. So many blinking all at once... that they were illuminating the road before me. They landed on me like butterflies on flowers. I stood still not wanting to break the spell of this special goodbye gift. I was standing at the exact place that 6 months prior that I had prayed for guidance to find my way home.

I had no need of a flashlight that night.

The daily routines of life are the special events. Look for them, they are looking for you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I no longer have to hang my head in 'lawn maintance shame' in my German neighborhood

Just look at how tall the grass is/was! For a clearer image.. click on the photo

AND, I know that they WERE talking about me!

I don't have a lawn mower. I tried 6 weeks ago, to hire a teacher's husband who had advertised as doing 'yard work.'

I did an email search to find the name of the person who had sent the email advertising her husband.. the week before we went on Spring Break and sent an email to the teacher spouse... (since, I didn't know who he was or how to contact him) she wrote back and said that 'YES, he still did have openings.'

She apparently either called him or sent him an email... because, later that day.. I received an email from him.. saying that 'YES, he was interested and did have time and when did we want to set up the first meeting and lawn mowing/maintance visit?' Other lawn mowing dates could be scheduled without myself having to be present to fit better into his schedule.

Since, this was Monday.. I decided that Friday would be a good day.. it would give him enough time to reply back if there was a scheduling conflict so that we could re-schedule. I had also sent by email my phone number and directions to my house. He knew the town- since, he had told me that he already worked for someone in that neighborhood.

So, when I didn't hear anything back from him.. I considered the plan a GO, right? At least that is the way it is in my brain and in my past experiences. I left for home as soon as I could and waited and waited and waited. No lawn guy (American) shows up, no phone call is made, no note was found on my door.

So, even though I had already spent several weekends.. trimming trees, plants, and pulling up dandelions and other various 'yardy' type of activities to get my yard ready for the summer. I finally decided that weekend- that since I couldn't wait anymore- that I would just finish up the yardwork myself. I filled 8 bags with clippings. I also borrowed the landlord's lawnmower and mowed the yard.

I, again tried to make contact with the 'missing yardman' and even tried to 'pretend' that I wasn't able to connect with him- if he had tried to call.. because.. of the German answering service. They do call your house and replay a message in German to let you know what numbers had called your house and the recording says the numbers in German.. which I don't understand. This is all true, but my house phone is also like a cell phone- it gives you the number of all incoming calls.

So, eventually I got an email from the husband.. that "Yes, he still was interested in taking care of my yard." So, I wrote him immediately back and gave him 9 different dates.. that week and the following week that he could choose from as a day to come by my house... for lawn maintance/mowing. *I didn't need anything for the next few days- since, I had just spent the weekend doing what needed to be done.

About 5 days passed.. and I got another email from him suggesting a date that I did NOT PUT DOWN (duh, there must have been a reason.. it was a date that didn't work for me!) We had a staff meeting after work and they usually last an hour and half.. plus, I had errands and other planned activities that night. So, I wrote him right back and told him that that date wouldn't work-- and could he come on any of the other dates that I had already suggested (and which were in this message) and I also said.. 'IF none of these dates work for you- please suggest a different date.'

Let's just say.. it's been 3 weeks and I haven't heard back from him.. so, I guess that none of those dates worked for him. What do you think?

I had had enough, tired of waiting on this guy with a limited work ethic.. and was tired of the feeling like I should sneak into my house, eyes darting to the side, not making eye or sound contact. (My landlords live next door and they are working in their yard everyday and must mow it every 3 days.) We've had a lot of rain and I could see the grass getting taller everyday... I'm sure that they and the neighbors were talking about me.. "THE AMERICAN WHO DARED NOT TO MOW THEIR GRASS FOR 3 WEEKS!"

Last Friday, I stopped by the housing office on base (the go between office for German landlords and the American tenants) and asked them if they knew of any German landscapers/yard people/etc. They gave me the phone number of 3 men.

The next morning was Saturday and I made my phone calls. The first guy answered the phone and was very nice, spoke really good English and asked where I lived. I asked him about his rates. He told me it was 30 euro per HOUR! Mama mia! He also told me that he'd have to see my yard to tell me how much time that he thought it would take each month. *All I can think of is.. the hours and hours that I had already spent cutting branches, pulling weeds, etc.

I told him that I'd think about it and hung up. I called the second phone number- it was a fax number of a wrong number.. but, anyway.. you know that irrating noise that can cause you to spill all your secrets? That was what I heard. I called the third number and it was an answering machine. Darn, what to do. So, I called a friend who had lived here for a few years. She suggested that I just buy my own lawnmower and do it myself. (I didn't feel comfortable needing to always use my landlord's mower nor have them constantly monitoring my lawn mowing schedule.)

I don't have a place to store a lawn mower unless it is right there on my patio which is in the elements during rain and snow. I also think that I might have a 'torn ligament' in my left knee and if that is true.. there will be no lawn mowing for me this summer.

So, I finally decided to just call the guy that actually answered my call back and ask when he could come by to check out my yard. I figured that I didn't really need to purchase a satelite dish, a converter box, or pay several hundred dollars to have someone install all of this stuff so I could watch a couple of channels in English. After all, I had lasted almost 10 months without TV reception. Sigh... Double sigh.. Ok, I was ready to watch some American TV.

The lawn guy was able to come to my house that morning! He was right on time. Always a good sign. Had a firm handshake, had a sense of humor, and laughed when I told him that I was feeling 'lawn care stress' from my landlords! He also told me that he had another guy who came and worked with him. So, even though.. he charged more per hour than the NO SHOW American spouse... I figured that two people could certainly work more than twice as fast as one person.

He couldn't come that day-- probably a day off.. since, the German workweek is short-only 30 hours or maybe less depending on the job. (I'm not sure if those short hours also applies to Lawn care people too?) We'd also had too much rain in the past few days.. so, Monday was going to be out of the question. He told me that he thought that Tuesday or Wednesday would be possible. We exchanged emails. I asked that he email me the day that he was going to come to my house that week.. before 3pm so that I would come home in time for him to be there.

AND, wouldn't you know.. that on TUESDAY my landlady rang the doorbell and asked me if I wanted to borrow the lawnmower! I know that they probably looked out their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floor windows (one house) looking out in daily distain at my fast growing grass... that looked like it was ready to get a hay-bailer in any day. At least, I had the pleasure of letting her know that I had hired a yardman and that he would take care of the yard one day this week.

AND.. oh happy day.. they came by yesterday and made my yard all spiffy and clean, cut tree branches, used a weed eater, etc. They were there for an hour and half and only charged me for one hour.

HE also took the 8 bags of clippings/trimmings/branches that I had cut over the past several weekends with him to take to the 'natural plant' recycle place. I didn't know where it was.. and he did at least tell me that you can only take things there 2 afternoons a week. AND, I didn't know it.. but, you aren't suppose to put this stuff in plastic lawn/garbage bags. I didn't know about the 'no plastic bags' allowed and that is what I'd done.

I paid him in advance for 3 visits in June and told him to come at his convience and the yard's need.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Just have your morning beverage and go out and be brave.. or just try to get it over with....

Forgot to mention: Art work done by one of my second grade (7 years old) art students. I love this cat's expression and clearly this child has known a cat personally.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's been one of those days...

Sigh.. sigh... sigh... Last day of school is June 12 and I can't wait.

I teach art to 700 students per week. We have a full schedule; as a matter of fact we have 31 classes that we teach each week in a 30 class schedule. How do we do have this ability to teach an extra class where no extra period is available? One class doesn't come to our classes at all- instead 4-6 of her students are divided each day to go to different specials. Art, Music, PE, and Host Nation. So, as a result.. we teach much larger class sizes for that particular grade level.

Yesterday, I got an email from one of the classroom teachers.. informing me that she was going to come to art at a different time.. (in a morning 2nd grade time slot instead of her own scheduled time slot in the late afternoon ) because she was going to be gone on a 1/2 day field trip and as a result would miss getting a planning period. Not a big problem, but.. wouldn't it have been nice to ask me if it was this change was OK with me.. instead of just telling me that you are doing it? I know for a fact that she wouldn't like her schedule changed around without her permission. I mean common sense tells you to ask about it, right?

I sent an email to both principals today... explaining that this is going on and to please put a stop to it- before other grades start doing this in the future. At all of the other schools that I've been to- if you miss because of an activity or whatever.. you MISS. There is no changing around of the schedule. Sigh

Soon, the 'schedule changing teacher' emails me.. and tries to make it that "I'M THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM.. that she didn't know that this would cause me such STRESS and be SUCH A BURDEN for me. (please) Double sigh.. I again stated.. that it would have been nice to clear it with me- instead of 'just changing my schedule' and then tell me about it after the fact. On and on... I got a few emails from her.. about this.. on and on... Never once understanding that it is not OK to change someone's schedule to suit your needs and then just tell them about it. *There's more to this story- but, I won't go into it here.

I really like the location where I am... but, there are many factors like this that make the job not so good. I have never seen such petty 'minute counting' and division. We large group specialists just seem to be at the bottom of the list of importance too. It's sad really- since, it was a brand new formed school in a brand new building... such hope and promise. I have very little art materials to work with- the least that I've ever had at any school. My supplies came from a school that closed and I'm not sure what happened- but, apparently most didn't make it to me or maybe some of it was thrown away? I've done the best that I can with limited supplies.

Anyway, I know that my readers... must be ready for one of my lighthearted stories instead? I know that I am.

Today, I was on my daily 20 minute playground duty (all large group specialists have to do this- don't get me started on why this isn't fair for us only to do- when small group specialists don't have to help do this or even rotate into this schedule)

anyway... this little girl (2nd grade) comes up to me sobbing... "See those boys running away?" I nod yes. She then proceeds to tell me that they are trying to crush her snail. I said, "A toy snail?" She sobbed.. "No..." I then asked what kind of snail it was. She continued to sob, face all scrunched... "I found it on the ground at my house and I had it in my pocket."

Yes.. eeeooow.. she had one of those nasty garden snails that eat my flowers in her pocket! I suggested that she keep the snail in her pocket until she got home, so no one would know that she had a snail. ... so, it would be safe. At least they are loved by someone.

Just another day on the playground.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

And what says MOTHER'S DAY better than flowers? Every week, new trees and plants are blooming in my yard and each new discovery is such a surprise to find... since, I moved in last fall. I went around and took some photos to share with you...

Here are some of the bulbs that I planted, that managed to survive the midnight snacking from the Nasty Garden Snails..

Some views of my outdoor patio area.. I also have a large balcony off my living room which is on the second floor actually on top of this patio. IF you happen to see the bags of cuttings from my yard clean-up.. please ignore them... I don't know where the 'organic recyle place is for my town'... all I know is that they don't pick it up from your house with the regular trash.

My newly planted HERB GARDEN... *My basil and parsley haven't been brought down with the other herbs yet.

Here's a view from my kitchen window (see the African Violets?) looking out onto one of my window boxes planted with flowers. I have these window boxes on all windows on the front of the house.

AND look at what I found outside and cut for a fresh bouquet. My living room smells so nice now.. of course, I did find a few bugs and spiders, as would be expected on the blossoms when I cut them, but of course.. now, it feels like bugs and spiders are crawling on me.. off and on.. at least I hope it's my imagination. :D

I hope everyone had a nice weekend...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wah! I miss Yangjae Flower Market in Seoul, South Korea

Even if it was a subway ride with 2 transfers (meaning: lots of stairs and walking) that took me across the Han River and once out of the subway entrance to street level- then I had to take a taxi the next 2 miles to get to the flower market buildings... trust me it is always fun to get in a taxi and tell someone where to take you.. when you both don't speak each other's languages!

This market was amazing.. 5 enormous buildings and just full of flowers. This building was my favorite one. It was where the orchids were sold. If you look carefully, you'll see the signs with numbers? They each represent a different person's 'flower shop'.. I loved going to this place. The air was moist and smelled heavenly of flowers. It was like going to a Botantical Garden. The aisles were wide and no one was shoving and pushing- which is an unfortunate result of living in a city of 16 million. The shop owners were so nice and friendly- I don't think that many Americans were part of their regular customer base.

I have lived in Seoul three different times and in times past.. one of the shop keepers was near one of the exits and made a point to stop at her place last- Even though she and we/I didn't speak each other's language.. all it took was a gesture to our ear like we were using a phone and say "TAXI" and she would always call us a taxi and let us keep our bags of purchases in her shop so that we could make the rest of our purchases.. She sold fresh herb plants and I always planted herbs in a window box.

Here's a view of a couple of the aisles.

*Trust me, you'll want to click on the photos for a better view.
Here are just a few of amazing orchids that they sold...

Needless, to say.. I always had orchids blooming in my apartment in Seoul.

There are only a few types of orchids for sale here.. the normal colors: white, that pinky purple color, and I have seen a few yellow ones for sale.. but, those are the basic orchids sold any place that sells orchids.

They are also twice the cost of the more exotic orchids found in the Yangjae Flower Market. I would make a Saturday morning outing of the flower market every couple of months. It was well worth the long subway journey to get there too.

There are always experiences, foods, views, and local experiences and cultures that you miss when you move from one place to another... even if it is just to a new house with a different view. I am missing Yangjae.

On the other hand, I have a yard, trees, and my own window boxes filled with new flowers ready to greet myself, my friends, and my neighbors.

Nothing much going on...

Nothing to write about. It's the same old same old going on. Go to work, drive through the 'farmer's field' to avoid driving who knows how far away to avoid the 'road construction detour'.. (let me say that I am so happy to have found the famer's road that turns and diverts through a field and eventually gets me to the area of the first part of the detour.. which I can then.. cross over the 'detoured highway road'.. and back onto a much shorter detour to help me avoid the road construction detours.)

I am happy to report that we can now once again 'so far' for the past 2 days... drive on my regular highway again! I sure hope that they don't decide to another another stretch of my road on the road construction detour path) this week ...

I'm not sure why they decided that they needed to totally remove all the layers of blacktop off of 2 sections of my road. One looked like it was about a half a mile long and the other one was less so... no pot- holes, nothing uneven on the road, ? So, I'm not sure why they spent all that money and time.. stripping down the blacktop to the bottom layer of the road and repaced it with all new blacktop surfacing? They are still in the 'paint the stripes on the road' again stage.

I just hope that they don't do it again.. I only know 3 ways to get to work.. and if they divert me from the road that takes me to any of those three ways.. I won't know how to get to work or home in the future. So, let's hope the 'road repair' is done and over.

ANYWAY, in honor of the almost completed repair.. but, it is completed enough that I get to drive on the road that takes me home.. here's a photo that I took out the window of the van that picked me up from the airport on the first day in Germany last summer.