Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Say what?

Let's start by stating the obvious: that sometimes the most simple language that we use as adults can have hidden meanings, but that to a child, it makes complete (and, innocent, undefiled) sense.

For example, once, in a case where spelling was concerned, a child wanted to tell me that, for that day's activities, she had 'done a sheet'. Of course, as most first graders do, she spelled it phonetically, thus replacing the double 'e' in the word 'sheet' with an 'i'.

Today, I was again having a good chuckle at a priceless paper a student turned in. The whole probably made complete sense to him, and had no further relevance than the direct meaning for which he intended. The activity, to do a double-entry journal, is one in which students record events from the book they are reading in one column, and record their thinking (questions, comments, predictions) in another. In the particular book said student chose, called Fly Guy, one of the very first pictures shows a little boy being greeted by his overly-excited grandmother in big crash-hug style. So, on the first line, he asked a simple question that any kiddo might...

The story continues and follows the old tale of The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (no pun intended). You know, the one where the lady swallows a spider to catch the fly, and then a bird to catch the spider, and so on and on until she's swallowed the whole farm? Well, if the first of this child's great thinking didn't blow you away, he earned an additional bonus point by wondering (in true, second-grade, ungrammatical fashion), 'why she never go to the dentist to take him out?'.

Genius, Ladies and Gentlemen. We're encouraging genius here.

In the end, this child received full and enthusiastic credit for the first answer, and a bonus point for the second. As well as the respect of every teacher in the hallway.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This is the question that haunts my sleep and dreams each day.

December 15th is the deadline. The deadline for making the decision to stay at NIS for another year, or to get out of town like a bat out of Hell.

And, what better place to post my answer than on my blog (I mean, it might take me just too much time to call you all personally)? Of course, I won't actually post that decision for another month, but it's worth mentioning that it is omnipresent in my mind each day, and probably worth writing about.

So, to spice up this decision making process a little, I thought I'd give an inside look into my mind, and show you what it is like to be me and make this choice. You can see how my fickle thoughts have, and will continue to be, and how they will likely change over and over. The factors that have influenced me are the great questions that you, my friends and family have asked during our long conversations, as well as the considerations that have to be made from both administrative and personal sides.

Before I start, though, I have to say thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has helped begin to shape my choice. Friends afar, and near, have listened patiently, asked amazing questions to get me thinking, and responded thoughtfully. My family, especially, have been amazing in understanding that these decisions are not easy, and that either way, they understand that I am doing what I love, living my dreams, and am incredibly happy.

I appreciate, also, anybody who takes the time to read through this crap. For those of you who enjoy reading my blog, my deepest gratitude to you. Your comments ALWAYS make me smile (except for the anonymous sad guy who negatively responded to my decision to vote for Obama...) and I think so incredibly highly of your opinions that it IS you who I hope reads this and comments on my behalf. I can thank my mother for the disease of indecision that I am plagued with, and in having said that, would appreciate any comments, ideas, considerations, or questions from those of you whom I love most. This is a decision that would be foolish to make alone.


Let's start with the pros and cons. It would seem that making a pro and con list would be an easy way to make a decision, right? But actually, I think most of us have weights in our mind that make some decisions heavier than others, thus making the balancing scale of a pro/con list, from a numbers standpoint, an ineffective way to make a decision. My pro list, for example, is hella long:

Financial security: The yen is very strong and I can buy a lot of dollars with it. Another year also includes a significant signing bonus and huge pension allowance that increases significantly from the second to third years, and then beyond. I have side jobs and am respected as a tutor. I make enough money each month to live a bit frivolously, and I have no debt to pay off.

Professional growth: I would be able to continue towards the completion of PYP training which is a must-have for international schools, as well as a strong desire of mine. Along with that, the opportunity to meet and learn from amazing authors (whom I absolutely ADORE - I heart Debbie Miller!!) who will be visiting our school (and I helped bring them!) for professional development next spring. In the area of literacy, I will continue to be a respected leader. My class sizes are small, my room is comfortable, well furnished, and my school budget is virtually limitless. I will continue towards tenure and receive my yearly pay increase. And, as this year's lower elementary is new but strong, it will be the same group next year (by default of all of the new teachers' 2-year contracts), which could really be a great learning experience as well.

Comfort: I know the area and am familiar with everything I need to get around. My apartment is amazing, cozy, and well furnished. I've decorated well and am happy coming home each night. I have a car that is paid off and a driver's license that is good until the 86th year of the next emperor (or at least I think that's what it says). My Japanese is wicked good and can only get better with a bit more practice.

Socially: I can't even begin to explain how great my friends and colleagues are. If I had one huge reason to stay, it would be them. They are my world, the pieces of the puzzle of my life. They, by default, are the most close-nit group of friends I have ever had. More recently as well, and also on my mind, is the small but possible opportunity I've had lately with a new guy who I could really be quite fond of.

No recruiting: Leaving would mean that I had to start applying to schools overseas, most of which do not post their openings until spring. I would have to take days off and pay to fly to London or San Fransisco to attend recruiting fairs and hope that the positions that I want are available at schools that I am interested in. It would mean presenting resume packages and paying shipping fees to get them out to the schools that I'd like, as well as online research, and a crap shoot, that the school I would be going to would be a good one that could challenge me as much as I am at NIS.

No hassle: Leaving would also mean that I would have to start thinking, now, about selling my belongings, shipping my stuff, culling my classroom, saving money, starting new visa processes for new countries, figuring out new housing, planning for leaving, and saying goodbye. And to be honest, I just don't know if I can be bothered.

Lastly, something has to be said for the effort that my administrators, namely Paul, have made to keep me here. The professional development planning for the authors was a collaboration between the two of us with Paul knowing that I adored literacy and authors who have inspired me. He has been patient and eager to let me work my magic in my own way, and is incredibly complimentative to my teaching style. New and younger teachers were hired, I like to think, partially on my behalf, and that has improved the quality of my overall (professional and personal) life by a million.


My con list? There are only a few things, but they are just as heavy if not more 'con' than anything on my pro list could make up for:

I do not love Japan. There is nothing in this country that, in itself, that thrills me. The great things I love to do are only fun because my friends are there. I'm not interested in traveling, learning more about the culture, or seeing more and more places, as I find this country to be a bit boring, incredibly expensive, backwardly homogeneous, and somewhat offensive. The weather in the summer and winter sucks, and Nagoya is about the most uninteresting huge city in the world.

I miss, miss, miss dating. (I know, I know, everyone give a big sigh for the sad girl). The opportunity for it here is just not available. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Next, of course, I am not getting younger. My goal is to see as much of the world as I can before I decide to stop traveling. Staying here would make that goal a bit harder to attain. I can satiate it a bit by (with friends - Jen too!) continuing to see exotic parts of Asia. The real fact is, though, that exotic parts of Asia, although probably amazing, also don't thrill me as much as the idea of seeing other parts of the world, such as Africa, and most especially Europe.

Lastly, it is my friends and relationships here who make me want to stay the most. But, were to something unbalance and upset that relationship (God forbid it would happen), I would hate to have made the decision to stay, only to find myself in an unhappy environment. I don't even like to write this because it makes me think I am thinking too much about the 'what if' instead of the 'what is', but it is something that I do think about.


In closing, this won't be the last I think about this. I look forward to hearing opinions, ideas, thoughts from anyone who cares to take a minute. To be honest, I do actually rest well at night knowing that this decision is truly a win:win. Either way I choose I will be happy for the opportunity, because I know that life is too short not to be. Each, if chosen, will present challenges, and I will embrace it with the passion of somebody who has been given the challenges for a reason.

"Hey life: bring it on."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My American Day

Today was an American day. A day, revered by me as one of the best in awhile. The kind of day that doesn't come very often, but makes you proud when it does. A day of the likes of which I haven't had in nearly a month, or ever on mainland Japan. The funniest part is that we didn't even try.

We: Michele and I. Michele, being Canadian, was very eager to play along.

It started with Starbucks. As American as a White Chocolate Mocha.

Lunch was McDonalds. Burgers with American cheese.

For our afternoon entertainment we enjoyed watching the American National Rugby team play the Japanese National Rugby team. Rachel and Mike joined us, and Mike and Michele were slightly willing to oblige holding the American flag for a photo op. We promised them we wouldn't tell their family and friends (see above, but keep a secret?)...

Our dinner tonight was Velveeta Shells and Cheese and Campbells Chicken Noodle Soup.

Then Michele stayed over to watch Walk the Line and appreciate the brilliance of Joaquin Phoenix playing Johnny Cash.

A day as American as Fulsom County and mac 'n cheese...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another day, Another (50) dollar(s)...

Today's trip to the supermarket was again an expensive one. Although I don't love to cook, I don't mind cooking for others, and of the three things I know how to make, Mexican is one of my favorites.

Tonight I went and bought a few staple items, pictured below, to make quesadillas and guacamole, as well as the pre-purchase of some items for next week's Thanskgiving feast.. The cost for the items you see came to 5,015 yen (roughly USD$50).

Here is a quick breakdown on a few of the items I bought:

I bag of Hershey's Kisses: 788 yen (USD$8)
2 cans of refried beans: 473 yen each (USD$9.50 for two)
1 can of evaporated milk: 789 yen
3 avocados: 330 yen each (USD$10.50 for all three)

Shopping here is a real, real, real big budget dropper.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My friends

The universe is spoiling me.

In Japan, this year, is the most incredible group of teachers.

Formerly, in my previous life, my co-teachers in Waukee were an incredible bunch. They were, and will always be, my first love. Without their professional support and friendship, I wouldn't be the person or teacher I am today. Full stop.

In New Zealand I learned such different things from my co-workers, both at SP and at Richmond Road Primary. In New Zealand I became more aware of the world, including it's differences, similarities, and vast potential. For that time I am thankful, as I grew like never before.

Here and now, I continue to be officially happy. There are many, many , many, many factors that have to do with that, but the biggest being my friends. Of course, there are friends afar, such as you've read about before, but throughout the next year, on this page, you'll learn of my new friends. They are incredible, and are a source of happiness for me here.

When Rob and Paul (my administrators) realized that having so few lone, single teachers in the building (that was me, and me only!) last year was not balancing the make-up of the staff, they set out to hire great new teachers, specifically targeting single, young ones. Boy, did they hit the jackpot.

Starting with Mike and Rachel, through to Michele and Ricco, who we were lucky enough to get at the last minute, the administration did no wrong, hiring four winners. Not only are they great teachers, eager to learn, but we are an incredible group together. The universe knew what it was doing when it put this puzzle of 5 together: Ricco who is the master of a million things at once; MIke, who is so sensible-tive; Rachel, with her head screwed on straight; Michele's beautiful body and spirit; and me, the translator.

Add that to people like Leila and Christine, who make up the rest and rock my world, and the satisfactory feeling of possibly dating someone new (more about that later, I am sure) and I couldn't be more happy. Maybe I'm a bit mushy. But I can't help but think that I must have done something right in the past to be this fortunate now. Or, as my (again, amazing) friend Sheena would have said, 'The universe is spoiling me'. My friends are the luckiest treasures I have.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


In a new series aimed at informing the common reader about the innovation of the Japanese people, I would like to present to you more information about some of the finer, and lesser known (or understood?), Japanese inventions. I'll leave it to you to decide if necessity (which usually proceeds invention) was considered...

bed condom (n): The strange looking sheet that your comforter is inserted into before getting into a bed in a hotel room. The bed condom ensures that no part of your body, at any time, touches the comforter, thus eliminating the need for washing by hotel staff between use. The bed condom in my hotel last night was incredibly starchy and uncomfortable.