Wednesday, December 15, 2010


This past week, students in grade 2 were asked to honestly reflect on their own growth/learning/ability within each of the 10 'Learner Profiles' that we talk about and strive towards during our school year. We did this because these self-reflective scores will be the scores imputed on the upcoming report cards in January.

For this, I gave the students a simple sheet with a box for each Learner Profile. The box included a simple sentence describing the Learner Profile, space to give relevant reason for the score they chose for themselves, as well as a place to circle their scores. It's taken about 6 days total, doing one or two reflections a day, to get them finished, and now I'm putting the scores into the school's electronic report card program. When I am marking the score on the actual physical report card, I only record the number grade that each student chose for themselves, not the explanation. The explanations are more for them to prove their thinking and reflect in words.

Of course, I am always amazed at what second graders write. One of the largest joys of my job is the simple spelling mistakes they make ('shit' for 'sheet' or 'penis' for 'pennies', as examples). But, sometimes the written sentences and ways they describe things are a joy as well. In this case, their answers are not only honest, but sometimes as shocking as they are funny.

As always, it's my pleasure to then share them with you, hoping you'll find them as enjoyable as I do. So below, I have listed each learner profile, added the description in italics, and sampled a few of the best reflections for you. To save your sanity, I have correctly spelled and punctuated each child's words, as well as added [brackets] where clarification was needed. Please also enjoy my comments, where applicable, within parentheses...


I use my words to share my thinking, and I listen to others when they are speaking.
"I'm a awful speaker - my brain seems to run away. When I'm in trouble I can't communicate and I know I can do better."
"I think I have to work more on communication because at home I am very very very mean to my brother. But after all, I think I am perfect."


I take care of my friends and the classroom, and I treat others with kindness.
"I scored it 4. Why I think that is because I give stickers to my friends everyday."
"I am so much caring to my BFFs, people I don't play with very often, and people in my family, also people around the world."


I am curious and ask a lot of questions, and look for the answers too.
"I ask lot lot lots of questions. I try to find the answer. I wonder a lot."
"I think I'm good at inquirer because I always ask my mom questions like, 'Where's [brother's name]?' and at least I ask 5 questions a day. Also because I try to look for the answers by my mom says: 'Wait!' (I think because she's tired of answering questions)."


I use my brain to think about what I know, and use it to help me understand new information.
"I am sometimes a thinker but not that often. But I do take time thinking about something. Because of that, I have the perfect books in my book box."
"Because I don't use any old information to tell, or think. I don't use my brain to talk about." (Evidently you don't use your brain to finish sentences, either!)
"I'm good at doing this. In [the book] '11 Planets' I thought '11? But aren't there 9?' I thought hard... and I got the answer if you add two dwarfs like Pluto and Eris does 10, and then the asteroid belt. So it is 11."


I try new things and am not afraid to make mistakes.
"I can improve better. I try new things but I'm afraid of making mistakes. If I make a simple mistake, my dad will do this: 'Bla Bla Bla', so I think [a score of] 3."


I listen to the ideas of others and consider their thinking too.
"I listen to others but I forget what they say. I can improve better."
"I suck (huh?) at being open-minded. I always think my ideas are good. I don't listen so well."
"My listening sometimes gets carried away because after Ms. Foreman talks about something it makes me think about something else."
"I think I can improve on Open-Minded because when people say their thinking I don't really listen and I just thinking about my thinking. Also because sometimes I try new things like eating chicken hearts."


I do the right thing, even when nobody is watching.
"Sometimes I find money on the ground and pick it up, but I need to be reminded to put it back."
"I marked it a 3 because I don't usually behave wrong. This doesn't mean I do wrong not at all."


I am healthy and take care of myself in many different ways.
"Sometimes I just eat the rice, but not the meat or chicken. Sometimes I want candy and don't eat any good food."
"I think I can help myself in winter and sometimes when I am wearing three shirts and it is cold outside I think I can win but it's so cold I need to get a big jacket still."
"I am very balanced because I take or do healthy-junk, non-fiction-fiction, run-walk, play-work."
"I marked it 3. I practice stretching everyday, and on every Saturday and Sunday, I go to 'onsen' spa to take a bath. This helps me balanced."
"I think I am balanced sometimes because when my family goes to McDonalds I always get the same burger."


I try to learn a lot about myself and the world around me.
"I graded it a 3. I want to know more about the wonder like, why the color in the sky changes from morning through evening to night. I'd like to learn many things."
"Sometimes when it's math time I feel like learning and sometimes I don't feel like learning. That's just the way I am."

Lastly, my two personal favorites from the Learner Profile 'knowledgeable':

"I am knowledgeable because my knowledge gets stronger when Miss Formen teaches me. I am also knowledgeable because I take care of the world around me and Gondy said to be the change in the world..." (bless any second grader who quotes Ghandi!)

"Sometimes I want to know more about the world, but just sometimes I just want to give up."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Below, a recent situation I faced, which encouraged me to send an e-mail out to all of the American staff at NIS


My fellow Americans,

Imagine my shock when I showed up to the Japan Post this week to mail a package, only to find that the US has placed an air shipping restriction* on all parcels to the US. My limited language capabilities prevented me from finding out why, for how long the ban will remain, or which other countries might fall under the same restriction (my first thought - 'why Japan?') from doing the same. And, although I argued (whined!), "Buuuuuuut, it's Christmas!?!", the nice ladies behind the counter didn't seem to care.

Long story short, at this time, any packages weighing more than 453 grams are not permitted to be shipped from here to there (whether it's Christmas or not).

Wishing you the most festive of Christmas seasons anyway,

*shipping by sea, although costly, is still allowed, although travel time is up to 20 days.


I found the following online after doing a bit more looking in to the situation (, which helped me understand.

Regardless, now it seems that my idea of just taking everyone out for dinner next summer (in lieu of prezzy buying for all) was a fortuitous one...

When left to their own devices...

A few years ago, I bought some red tinsel with green stars that, year after year, I hang around the Smartboard during the holidays.

Well, today, we had a decorating party, and I was pulling out all of the decorations for the kids to out out (this year, I decided to put them in charge - they had free reign to decorate however they wanted to) and the red tinsel came out with it. I left it on the counter, and about five minutes later, asked Mrs. A to put it up around the Smartboard. But, it was missing!

We (Mrs. A. and I) looked all over for it before realising that Arshiya had taken the liberty of decorating out lone palm tree with it, right along with paper
candy canes made by Ash and Molly, and a couple of small ornaments Mana had brought in! It was just hilarious, because the tinsel was allotted for one thing, but without guidance, the kiddos found a better place for it, and had the whole tree done without us being any the wiser.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Little-known secret

When I was little I used to stick Sixlets up my nose. You know, those little, round, tiny, chocolate candies? Well, Mom used to go out to warm up the car early in the morning, and before she'd leave (and mind you, she'd only be gone for a minute or two), she'd beg me not to - she'd say, 'No Sixlets today, little girl...' Lo and behold, though, when she came back, there would be me sitting there with Sixlets up my nose, and she'd have to pinch them out. That is one of my earliest childhood memories. To this day, I still look at Sixlets with a minuscule longing for the nostalgic feeling of them up my nose...'

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Yum Orleans

For this post on my recent trip to New Orleans, my topic will food, and my quest to experience everything southern on my culinary adventure.

When Tera asked me what I wanted to do and see during our weekend in New Orleans, I said, "I have no agenda. No agenda, that is, except to eat. I want Southern, down-home, comfort food that I can't get anywhere else. Fried catfish, collard greens, grits, sweet tea - that's all I want. In fact, the more Southern, and unlikely, the better."

Tera did not disappoint.

Starting on Friday afternoon, we crossed into Mobile, Alabama, and immediately set our hearts on a shack in the sky called Felix's Fish Camp. It was a complete eyesore, but the parking lot was completely full, so we decided that was good enough for us to want to give it a chance. My meal was three demi-cups of soup - on each of turtle, clam, and gumbo. Add six oysters prepared three different ways, and a local dark beer, and I felt like I was off to a good start.

Friday evening's dinner was shared with our friends, locals Eric and Kim, and as we listened to Eric tell us about his life growing up around the area, we dined on lump crab meat stuffed catfish with cajun stuffed potatoes, which had been proceeded by an appetizer of oysters in the half shell and gumbo BBQ whole shrimp, and was accompanied by local dark stout beer. Our post-meal included a table at Pat O'Brien's, one of the most frequented bars on Bourbon street, drinking Hurricanes as big as our lower legs.

On Saturday morning, we started with huge coffees and beignets, which are Nola-Famous, fried pillow pastries with powdered sugar on top. When we arrived at brekky, Eric and Kim had already ordered four sets, allowing us to start out our day by filling ourselves plentifully with fried sugary goodness.

Lunch (on the go) was a bottle of water and one New Orleans praline (famous in the South). It was delicious, yet sinful, and brought my daily caloric intake a bit higher (only, though, to even out all the walking (and sweating) we'd done).

Late afternoon dining at the Royal House was a shared appetizer of fried eggplant sticks, and a half-dozen oysters in the half shell for me. I paired this with a huge, huge pale ale, which not only quenched my thirst, but set me on a good buzz for the rest of the afternoon (not shocking, having only eaten sugar and coffee for the bulk of the morning). Of course, I had a bite or two of Zach's gator po-boy, which was fried and delicious as well, but did not make me any less tipsy.

Dinner Saturday evening started out with some fresh mussels, followed by whole fried soft shell crab (meaning you eat the shell and all!) topped with a creamy sauce of artichoke hearts, both complemented by the darkest beer on tap. Zach and I shared this, and then followed up with a piece of down-South, home-baked sweet potato cheesecake.

Sunday presented us with a double-car breakdown and an unexpected night in Biloxi, MS (of all places) which allowed us to make multiple cups of lemonade out of the lemons we were thrown. Unfortunately, our great culinary adventure for the day included, in it's highlights, Starbucks coffee and Dairy Queen ice cream, which, in dire situations, can actually make a sour situation slightly better.

Regardless, the day ended with my stomach on a bit of a dive, probably less from Sunday's sugar rush than from all the WTF foods I had eaten over the weekend. I don't regret a single bite, though, and am glad for having had the chance to partake in such down-South, home-cooked classics. Even if it did include a caramel latte or two...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why I buy Apple products

I bought my first MacBook in 2006 before leaving overseas to live in New Zealand. The purchase was an easy decision, and an even easier transition, as I had been using a school-supplied MacBook in my role as a grade 1 teacher at Waukee. I had found the computer easy to work with, quick running, and effortless to carry around, and making the decision to purchase one of my own was only natural.

Along with my MacBook, at that time I also owned a 3rd generation iPod, as well as an iPod nano for working out. The Nano I received free with the purchase of my MacBook, and the 3rd gen was a present from my parents from a previous Christmas.

I bought Apple products because they were new, innovative, well put-together, and durable. But I will continue to buy Apple products because of the superior customer service they provide. My recent trips to the Apple Store this summer only confirmed that, and if, after this story, you're not sold on owning your own, then I'm going to go ahead and call you silly.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Apple's service policy, a quick tutelage: All Apple products are automatically covered under Apple's Protection plan for one year after the date of purchase, and additional AppleCare can be purchased for up to two years afterwards, giving your electronics a fix-it life of three years (which, in this day in age, is a heap of time). When a product is broken, defective, or running funnily, and still under warranty, Apple will gladly fix, replace, or fiddle with it until the problem is fixed. No questions asked, free of charge, and with very, very, very little hassle.

When I bought my first MacBook and got it home, I immediately experienced issues with the camera turning on and off without my doing so. I dropped back into the Apple store, and within hours, had a brand-new-brand-new computer that worked just as it should. Similarly (and more fortunately) only a week after purchasing my (very expensive) Japanese iPhone, and consequently after a night out with Rachel that included her spilling more than one drink on me and my new toy, I took my slightly battered phone down to the Nagoya store, pled the 5th, and, within an hour, had a brand-new, perfectly working phone, as well as a data transfer to make sure the settings were exactly as I had left them on the original. In both of these situations I paid nary a cent for either replacement, repair, or time spent. The appointment, fix-it, and new products were completely free of charge, and the people (both in Nagoya and Des Moines) who did the work served me knowledgeably, pleasantly, and very, very quickly.

But, like I said, nothing tops the customer service I received just last week. It's the reason I do, and will continue to, support Apple.

When I came home this summer, I quickly spent a small fortune on a new MacBook Air, a light and peppy little piece of work weighing only 3 pounds and perfect for the can't-be-bothered traveler. I had decided to treat myself to a new computer when, a) I couldn't be bothered to carry the 7-pound original through airports anymore, b) the 'h' key had fallen off of it, c) the mouse clicker didn't work either, and d) it was a year off of warranty (plus, I figured four years with one computer was plenty, thank you very much). So, I made an effortless and easy purchase of the Air, and have been in love ever since.

Along with my Air came a 1:1 service plan, which included complete data transfer by a Genius expert. When it came time for said data transfer, I dutifully dropped off both my old Mac and my new, and left them in the hands of a lovely Macboy with the promise that the data would be transferred within 24 hours. It was, and I picked up both computers gladly and thankfully, expressing how constantly impressed I was with Mac's superior customer service.

When I got home, though, I had trouble. I turned on my Air, which was fine, but my old MacBook refused to start. I had planned on letting Nik use it for the rest of the summer, as well as using it as a back up and an additional CD drive, but it wasn't cooperating with starting up, or even pretending that it knew me. A year ago this wouldn't have bothered me, but as the old Mac had been off warranty for a year, I knew that if it was going down, there wouldn't be anything I could do about it that probably wouldn't cost me a few hundred bucks. But, since the computer began having these problems AFTER the data transfer, I figured I had a good leg to stand on when I took it back in.

R, my Mac pro the next day at the Genius Bar, assessed the situation before looking at me sadly and said, 'Your hard drive has gone.' I replied, 'But, it was working fine when I brought it in the other day,' to which he replied, 'Yes, but sometimes these things happen.' Trying not to look too sad and forlorn at him, I instead looked longingly at my old friend and began lamenting it's untimely death when R replied, 'Well, luckily, I think I can replace the hard drive for you quite easily.' I quickly looked up, big-eyed, and truthfully (because Karma counts) replied, "But, I'm not under warranty on it any more." He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Eh, no big deal." I was ecstatic, and he began the quick replacement of the hard drive. After 5 minutes, he handed me back my computer, new hard drive in tact, and asked me to wait a moment to fill out some paper work. Then, we hit roadblock number 2. R noticed the broken hard drive he had just taken out of my computer (and was getting ready to send in to Apple for defective product inventory) was not actually a Mac hard drive (a co-worker in Japan had replaced it for me earlier this year in lieu of a generic brand with more storage space). R looked at me and said, "This isn't an Apple hard drive, and I actually can't replace it for you," meaning that he would have to re-remove the new hard drive he had just put in, and replace it with my dead one. But, after giving it a moment's notice, he instead replied, "Well, I'll pretend I didn't notice.' Nice!

He gives me instructions on how to take it home and reinstall everything from an external hard drive that I owned, which I promptly did. I had no issues whatsoever, except that Itunes, although recognizing my entire music library, would not open for lack of proper updates. Just to be safe, I made a third appointment with Apple the next day, and again, walked it in. R gave me a big smile, welcomed me back, and asked what was up. I showed him the iTunes error box, and he said, "We simply need to run an update. No worries. Come back in a half-hour, and it will be done." Earlier that day, my 'h' key had fallen completely off, and before handing it off, I warned him to be cautious of it. He looked at me and stated, "Why don't we just replace the top case for you? It'll fix the 'h' and the mouse, all at once." I quickly looked up, big-eyed, and truthfully (because Karma counts) replied, "But, I'm not under warranty on it any more." He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Eh, no big deal." So he sent the computer to the back for updates and a new top case.

When I came back three hours later to pick it up, he had replaced the battery as well

New MacBook Air: $2000
Three trips into the Mac store: 4 hours of time
Having half of your old computer replaced with no hesitations, hassles, questions, or worries: priceless.

So, why do I buy Apple products? Because if customer service counts as currency, they are worth every single cent.

Monday, July 05, 2010

26 hours

of travel.

This time, coming home, 26 hours is what it took.

Instead of my usual two flights, I was routed on four, which made for a long and somewhat over-stimulating day. So, what does an overzealous girl like me do? Type it all out on my Iphone. Because hey, do you have a better idea of how I can occupy my time? As you know, I could (and sometimes do) write novels about all the things I do, or the random bits from inside my head, and so became the case for this trip, as had plenty of hours to pen (or thumb-type, in my case) the highlights of each bit of my long and weary travel day.

Now, I'm not gonna lie, but when I typed it all out (flight by flight and layover by layover), I did have a particular audience in mind. But after spending so much time getting it all out and edited, I decided to reedit and redistribute to a second audience - all of you. Because that's what this blog is all about - the random and irrelevant ways in which my life is sometimes funny and always interesting. Even if by 'interesting' I mean within the realms of qualifying Julia Roberts as a competent spokesperson for Lancome makeup (see 'Layover 1' below).

So, please, if you will, sit and enjoy Wendy's random (and sometimes funny?) take on the plight of the twice (thrice?) yearly trans-Pacific traveler.


For starters, it's worth noting the things I never travel without (alongside the myriad of regular things in my handbag): Dramamine, ear plugs, a buckwheat pillow, two books, a hooded sweatshirt, extra hand sanitizer and Tide sticks, multiple cell phones (consequently, multiple wall chargers too), and multiple sets of keys to multiple international houses (the latter two on the list contribute to the Bond-girl in me!). Also along with me on this past travel day were a few sentimental items, including some recent snapshots, a personally-planned schedule of events for the prior week's holiday, and an expired USMC golden base pass.

Flight 1 (Nagoya to Tokyo):
Hella short (45 minutes) and fast. It was empty-as, so much so that, immediately upon take-off, I upped the armrests, tucked the seatbelts in, opened all three blankets, and went horizontal in my empty row. I was enjoying a half-nap when the plane hit the fan, and we did two barrel rolls through turbulence. The small child three seats behind me went into hysterics, and not to be outdone, the smaller child two rows ahead joined. Naptime: over. Then, because the turbulence evidently wasn't enough for all of us to think the wings were gonna break off, the plane took a sudden and sharp, funny-feeling shot upwards a few minutes later. Startled, I opened my shade, wondering, 'Are we landing already??' to instead see a JAL plane shoot out just below us. I'm going to go ahead and call its range: a) within 500 meters of us, and b) judging by the sharp upward swing, was as unexpected by the pilots avoiding it as it was to me seeing it. I have never, ever, ever seen two airborne planes so close, and I'm pretty confident that they're not supposed to be. Not gonna lie, though, that since I didn't die, I thought it was pretty bad-ass. To top it all off, the pilots were American, crazy-as, and I swear to God, as we descended into Tokyo, were flying twice as fast as the legal limit (obviously making them my kind of pilots).
Bonus: finding half a bag of cocoa dusted almonds at the bottom of my purse, much to my relief, as I was starving.

Layover 1 (Tokyo's Narita Airport):
It only took 10 minutes from disembarkation before a business-class gaijin (foreigner) asserted his American-entitlement and (much to my horror) tried to whine/complain/argue his way through security without a ticket. I made a heightened effort of passing through veeeery quietly, and smiled extra politely, in hopes of placating the universe and making it up on his behalf.
The Tokyo airport is pretty fab. I did a little window shopping at Hermes (yummy!) and Bvlgari (yummy!) before stepping into a duty-free shop to spritz myself with a light mist of my favorite Chanel (yummy!). I also checked out some new makeup at the Lancome counter, and quietly reckoned that those Lancome guys should have picked me as their next spokesmodel instead of Julia Roberts, because although her beauty is beyond compare, she's a bit of a, well, obvious choice. Then I had a spot of lunch, though I won't say where, and gleefully (luckily) spotted and snatched up a box of adzuki caramels for dessert.

(Pre-) Flight 2:
Getting on was a mission - per it being the July 4th weekend, every passenger (on this double-decker, Pacific-crossing, air-Titanic (which means a lot of people)) was strip-searched on the way in. They patted me down (not unpleasant, really) and scoured my handbag, finding nothing of consequence in either place. As a result of the search, the flight took off a good hour after its scheduled departure time, but since I wasn't in a hurry to be anywhere fast (and because I was getting ready to travel through time anyway), I wasn't fussed. Plus, it gave me more time to randomly type it all out. Now comes my secret admission - I love plane food. The saltier and more artificial, the better. Flying makes me slightly queasy, very tired, and ravenously hungry. The menu was satisfactory (Sliced beef with oyster sauce? Danish pastries* for brekky? Don't mind if I do!), so I was quite happy about that. My immediate neighbor was an older Asian lady whose bag I helped put up in the bin, and whom I spoke to in Japanese. I only wondered at her lack of response for a moment, for when she sat down, she pulled out a copy of the Bible, in Korean, and vigorously signed the cross, up-down-left-right, over and over again. During the meal service, I gave her an accidental, but sharp elbow blow to the shoulder. I apologized profusely in as many languages as I know how (none of them being Korean), to which she put her hand on my shoulder and slowly said, 'No English, but, very beautiful.' then she pointed at me and gave me a thumbs up (which is a universal language for good things!). Luckily, I know how to say 'thank you' in Korean, and after I blushed 4 shades of pink, I smiled and did just that. In the end, I slept the entire way, which is something I don't think I've ever done on a trans-Pacific flight. I woke up an hour before landing at around 8am LA time, and was pleasantly satisfied with my body's sleep cycle. Gave myself a little shout out even - for starting this holiday off on the right sleep pattern**.
*Actually, I drew the line at the Danish Pastry. I may be on holiday, but I still have standards...

Layover 2 (LAX):
After a long walk, the entire plane aggregates at Customs, and the complaints start. 'Never flying this airline again,' or, 'They call this customer service?' They say this as if they've forgotten in the last 6 minutes that they've just come off a huge machine that magically flew them halfway across the world to the great land that is America, are happily fed, coffeed, and entertained, and that Delta, bless them, has anything to do with delays at Customs. Me = smiling, hopefully appeasing the universe and appealing to the better nature of this room of unhappy people...
I stopped again for a spot of lunch, though I won't say where.

Flight 3 (Los Angeles to Memphis):
I board next to a nice young kid sitting alone. He's into a book, and, as a reading teacher, I find myself inclined to ask about it. He's not real talkative, though, not past the title at least. So, I continue my book as well. A few minutes later, the flight attendant comes over, looks at him, and says, 'You're one of my UMs, right?' The boy nods, and is promptly whisked away to first class. Having received proper acronym training just last week, I quickly worked out that UM means 'unaccompanied minor,' and that this kid, along with two other U13 UM (under-13 UM) girls have just unintentionally worked themselves into first class, and consequently, all the free beer they can drink (luckies!). This leaves an empty seat between me and my neighbor, who is the only guy on board wearing a turban. Of course, I'd like to make up a story in my head about this guy, but I don't have to try hard, because based on the way his unending hair is tied in his turban, as well as the silver bracelet on his wrist, I'm thinking that he's a Sikh, which means that he's also packing a knife somewhere on his person. Not gonna lie - that's kinda cool. I'm pretty sure he doesn't speak English, and wonder if he's a bit frightened (as being 'that guy' in a turban on U.S. flights probably doesn't come with its share of warm fuzzies). I smiled at him a couple of times and pretended that it helps. I considered asking to see his knife, or his comb, but instead decided otherwise.

Layover 3 (Memphis):
Memphis. Bless. As you know if you're a traveler, each new airport is like a box of chocolates, and you never know what you'll get. Will they have a Starbucks? A Cinnabon? Free wi-fi? Well, Memphis had all three, and although I enjoyed, plentifully, the former and the latter, I (sadly) skipped Cinnabon altogether, remembering it might not fare well in conjunction with my cholesterol test Monday morning. Bonus points: Starbucks sells hummus, and I can read all of the ingredients in it. Double bonus (in two words or less): low-fat frappucino (150 calories in a Grande? I'll even go one better and settle for a Tall!).

Flight 4 (Memphis to Des Moines):
Our flight attendant is bubbly-as, and hilarious to boot. She keeps (with an 's,' meaning multiple times) referring to our craft as 'The Little Plane With A Big Heart,' and has just introduced herself as both, 'Trudy, the bag in charge of the bags,' and 'Grambo.' We are all laughing out loud. The flight is short, easy, and my hummus-filled belly is happy. Plus, Grambo dancing the bev cart down the aisle while singing, 'Watch your fingers and your toes, here I come,' to the tune of, 'If you're happy and you know it,' is enough to make anyone smile. Lo and behold, an hour in, the earth, from 10,000 feet, began to flatten out, cul-de-sac suburbs popped up, and Des Moines' one, lone, tall building came into view. With the exception of Aukland, New Zealand, I have the uncanny affinity for living in the most boring cities on the planet.

And there it is. 26 hours, 7744 frequent flier miles, and a lot of typing later, I arrived safely. I immediately whisked myself off to a local brewery for some catch-up beers with a dear friend, and eventually made my way home to Nik's comfy spare room. It was a very long, but incredibly stress-free, non-problematic day.

Sigh. It's good to be home.


** Good sleep patterns my a**, as I type this to you at four a.m. Monday morning...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dear Miss F.,

If any of you know me as a teacher, you'll know that literacy and the teaching of reading are my passion. When I arrived at NIS three years ago, Paul, my principal, asked me to help pilot the direction of school's reading program, which was to transition from basal readers and lacklustre lessons to proficient reading strategies and reading workshops. All the rest, as they say, is history.

So, it will come as no surprise that one of my favorite lessons of the year (well, ok, they're all my favorite lessons!) is the last one. Each year during this lesson I read my favorite book aloud (this year it was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble), give them nearly an hour of free reading and reflection time, and then ask them to write me a letter about what reading means to them.

This year, as always, I got some really great responses, which I'd like to post. I'm doing this not only because they're well-written, thoughtful (and sometimes funny) but because it's always fun to pick out the best bits of what kiddos say to share with others.

One of my favorite little kiddos is German, and for the life of him, can only spell phonetically. His papers are always a joy to read for that value alone. Although this particular sample of his doesn't include any laugh out loud spelling errors, I do smile at 'noligible' (knowledgeable), 'sianse' (science), 'trie' (try), and 'aut' (out):

The next one comes from one of my little guys who pretends to be 'too cool for school,' but who, deep down, is one of the strongest learners in the class. He's been my 'project' this year, if you will, as it has been my mission to encourage him and push him without his knowing. I think I might have done an ok job...

This little pumpkin makes me laugh with her fabulously colorful voice:

And this guy, another cool learner who can't follow directions for the life of him, but has more spirit and coolness than most:

It's no doubt that the above examples come from kiddos whom, throughout the year, bless me with their knowledge. This year has been a year of incredible thinkers, and I have really enjoyed some of the amazing understandings these kids have shared. But the following two students could easily run this class for me (and on a couple of occasions, did). They're the kind of girls whom you want to raise yourself and take credit for.

The first, from a little pumpkin who holds a special place in my heart as one of the best kiddos I've ever had the pleasure to teach. Her mother says she was born with a smile on her face, and I don't doubt it for a second, but along being kind and warm, she is incredibly bright, mature, and of the well-rounded grounded type. Here is just a snippet of her letter to me:

Lastly, from another kiddo whom I've grown to love. She came to us half-year, and I couldn't have been luckier to have her:

I sit at my computer and share this with you on the last day of second grade. My shirt says, 'Love' on it, to reflect my mood for the day. The sun has decided to peek out, and it is silent in all areas of the school except for the clicking of my keys and Israel Kamawababe's Somewhere Over the Rainbow playing softly from my speakers. I am satsified for another fruitful year, and agree with him that it is, indeed, a wonderful world.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A quick pick-me-up

Whenever I'm feeling like I need a reminder of why I do what I do (and not that I do that very much, because I really adore the details of my job), I look to the kiddos. Often times they say (or spell) the funniest things, and other times, they're just so sweet.

The following example is from a little cherub, a fourth-grader, who left our school just last week. Before leaving, she wrote the following in the Elementary Newsletter:

It's worth noting that this wasn't even one of my students two years ago when she was in second grade - she was in the other Grade 2 class that year. Maybe that makes her words a bit more sweet to me, and makes me smile, reminding me of the smallest ways we can often touch others without even realizing it...

Saturday, June 05, 2010

A total paradigm shift

Now, (to me) it's no shocker (although it still might be to all of you!) that more than one of my recent posts have been about food. It's kinda my new thing. (Well, ok, that's a half-truth, because there are many new things in my life right now worth telling about, although not within this particular blog). So, as I sit in my kitchen tonight smelling my first-ever batch of homemade granola, sipping on a green smoothie and just having finishing some seaweed for dinner, I'm having a mental giggle at just how far my diet, and my cooking, has evolved.

I work with and live around people with some pretty unique diets, and have friends who are incredibly self-conscious about what they eat. At school alone, we have 3-4 coeliacs (can't eat glutenous foods), a few people who are lactose-intolerant, and lots of granola-munching veggie lovers. With exception of Ricco and Mike, who eat out every night, and Michele, who eats cheese and crackers for dinner, the rest of us get along pretty well with our diets. And, per my past post, the contents of my fridge lately have definitely reflected the way I have come to think differently about the food that goes into my body.

Although I have a healthy tolerance for both glutenous and dairy foods, they are two food groups that I try to avoid as much as possible. Last year, during my lactose-free kick, I dropped 5 pounds and 26 cholesterol points, which was enough proof that consuming a lot of dairy isn't necessarily the best for me. Dropping gluten like it's hot was an easy choice to make as well - who needs all that bread and cookies and cereal and cake anyway? To be honest, without the temptation of any of them, I cut out an awful lot of crap from my pantry (and my diet) that I would have normally eaten.

One of the top favorite things of each of my weekends are trips to all of the local greengrocers. It's plural because, although I'd like to tell you that one store is enough, it is commonly known that one certain store sells celery cheap as chips while another store doesn't even sell it at all. And there are other places that, if you're willing to sell your own soul to the devil, you can occasionally find fresh blueberries. SO, when I'm done, 4 stores and ¥10,000 later, I've got a colorful fridge full of amazing things. And no, by amazing, I don't mean string cheese and chocolate milk...

Other visible modifications in my dietary thinking:

*I received a box of Lucky Charms for my birthday this year (thanks, Mom!). Because I'm sitting back on my consumption of glutenous foods, that box of cereal has been sitting in the back of my closet, until this weekend when I did a massive clean of my stuff and donated it to Leila (who accepted with a huge smile on her face!).

*I now bake granola instead of cookies. When I do bake cookies, I use gluten-free flours. Then I give all of the cookies away.

*My new favorite snacks include small packages of wet seaweed, cottage cheese with prune dressing, or homemade whipped spinach hummus.

*Instead of two bowls of cereal for breakfast in the mornings, I drink green smoothies, which are not only delicious, but satisfy my New Year's resolution to 'eat more veggies this year than last, even if I have to drink them'. Raw greens blended in a 40/60 ratio with fresh fruit and water, and your colon is as clean as, well... let's just say they're delicious too.

*Sometimes if I'm particularly craving something salty for brekky, I'll grab an onigiri (triangle-shaped, seaweed-wrapped sushi) from the corner store. This is a real change from two years ago when I'd go traveling, find that the breakfast place we'd stop at served fish/rice/miso soup, and did not, in fact, serve bacon and eggs like I wanted (followed by me crying in frustration).

*Texts to friends whom I normally rely on for cooking/shopping help have changed from, 'Do you have a cup of sugar I can borrow?' to 'Do you know where I can buy pumpkin seeds?'

*During last week's trip to Okinawa I spent a mere $60 combined at the Commissary. My purchases included steel-cut oats, Grape Nuts, flax seed, wheat germ, rice cakes, and almonds of assorted flavors. This very much differs from my usual trips to American-stocked stores and my usual purchases of Twizzlers, Golden Grahams, and 100-Calorie Snack Packs.


To be completely honest, not only is this new change good for my body, but I believe good for my mind as well. It's almost as satisfying emotionally to not crave those Twizzlers in the fridge (thanks, AB!) as it feels to physically not have eaten them. So, part of all of this is mental, but it's a mentality that I think I could get used to. The more healthily I eat, the more healthily I want to eat. Recently, someone who inspires me with his own personal brand of amazingly-insanely-inspiring fitness quirked, "The more I learned about food, the easier my craziness got. As I got more crazy, crazy got easier,' and I could not agree more. For for me, wherein food and healthy eating is concerned lately, the crazier the better.

"Tell me what you eat, I'll tell you who you are."
~Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Happy eating!


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The contents of my purse

About 18 months ago, I took a holiday to India with two of my closest friends. On the way back, during a stop in the Hong Kong Airport, I rewarded myself for surviving with one of the best purchases I've ever made: my Longchamp purse.

This thing is, no doubt, sturdy as. I have never had a purse hold up so well for so long, whilst having taken such a beating in the process. It is the sturdiest thing I have ever carried, and I hold my life in it on any given day. It's small enough to carry on the day-to-day, and large enough to use as a travel bag, and I use it for both situations readily and often. Of course, though, with a big roomy purse comes the opportunity for a whole heap of collected nonsense in within it's recesses. My life is heavy, and random, and often, unorganized, and my purse is an outstanding parallel.

Therefore, when I reached in this morning to pull out my keys, and instead pulled out a plastic packet of lime juice leftover from a from-last-week bottle of Corona, I just knew it was time for a post about the contents of my purse. So I dumped it out, took a picture, and am ready to share.

Random, but true, here's what was inside today:

* an orange Eco-bag
* my wallet
* 2 ¥500 coins
* 4 large garage sale tags
* my camera case (the camera was inside as well, but i took it out for the picture)
* an onigiri (seaweed-wrapped rice triangle)
* a small bottle of hairspray
* a golf pencil (?)
* another wallet (leftover from the weekend's night out)
* 2 handkerchiefs
* lip balm in a tin
* sunglasses
* an empty sunglasses case
* a make-up bag
* a bobby-pin bag
* a mini-towelette
* my computer
* a tin of tampons
* Iphone
* aspirin
* tissue bag
* my flowered lunch pail
* a tube of lip gloss
* a can of minty Mentos gum
* a pack of strawberry-banana Extra gum
* my apple mouse
* a couple dozen pig-shaped thank you cards
* an orange
* 2 hair ties
* 11 rogue bobby pins
* earphones
* an envelope of tutoring money
* a pencil bag
* 2 Philippine pesos
* a birthday postcard
* cuticle oil
* 2 beginner driver car magnets
* 1 pack of corona lime juice

It was slightly therapeutic, cleaning the bowels of my purse, and putting it away (while trying to remember where and why in the hell a golf pencil fell out) felt good.. Funny, though, I still haven't found my keys...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Miranda Rights

Renewing your driver's license in Japan is a process that, like most others here, is ridiculous for foreigners. Ridiculous, pointless, and a waste of time.

The story starts with May. To add insult to the injury of turning a year older this month, the Japanese punished me with a 30-day window for mandatory driver's license renewal. As an act of (shockingly!) sheer convenience, the station is open on Sundays, and I figured this past Sunday, nestled in the midst of the 5-day Golden Week holiday was as good as any.

As I've mentioned to many a friend in recent e-mails, I believe (and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one) that being a foreigner in Japan is harder than any country in the world, based on the language barrier and the culturally-closed-minded nature of the Japanese people. When it comes to anything, no exceptions for foreigners are made - driver's licensing being no exception. Passing the test the first time was very, very difficult, but the renewal process was just plain laughable, downright annoying, and a bit torturous. I went prepared with stories from my friends - what I was to look forward to was no more than an easy two hours of Japanese lecture, and that's exactly what I got, with a heap of funny stories to boot.

I started off easy in the line to pay for the licensure. ¥2500 (about $25) for the license fee, and then varying fees depending on your level of driving over the years of your previous licensure. I deciphered quite quickly that I was to qualify for the 'offender's' course - having received a ticket within the last two years. This raised my fee another ¥1700 (about $17), which I walked up to the window (at exactly 12:45, when it opened) and paid readily.

The lady behind the counter handed me my change as well as a huge form, written all in kanji (Japanese writing), to fill out before proceeding. I mean, I would like to think she looked at me and thought, 'Oh! A foreigner! Let's see... do I have an English form here? English, English... Nope, not there. Hmmm. Here? Nope, not there either...' before handing me a Japanese form, but alas, no such considerations were taken.

Worth mentioning - to be fluent in reading Japanese, one must know about 2000 kanjis. I can read about 50. So, with the 'stricken foreigner' look (which, mind you, I have perfected), I walked over to a nice uniformed gentleman and held up the form with a 'What the f** am I supposed to do with this?' look (whereas two years ago, I might have politely uttered 'Sumimasen, wakarimasen, tetsudatte, kudasai?' ('Excuse me, I don't understand. Can you help me please?')). He was generous, though, and led me to a table to help me out. I understood the basic idea of the form, and I can read 'address', 'phone number', 'name', etc, but am not privy to the fine print. He helped me get it started and which basic parts to fill out.

But it's what happened next, though, that almost put me in tears.

He turned the form over to reveal a checklist, which I likened to the kind of form you'd fill out before arriving on a flight to a foreign country. You know, the customs paper that says, 'Are you bringing, for yourself or others, any illegal drugs or narcotics?' or 'Are you carrying more than $10,000 of any foreign currency?' and 'I agree that the above statements are said and true, and by withholding information understand that I am punishable by law.' It was that kind of form. And, to add more insult to the injury of being illiterate and feeling stupid, he began reading it to me in Japanese. Mind you, as I am recalling this right now, I am laughing quietly to myself, trying to recall the exact situation, and the look on both of our faces - on his, as he read it to me, was a look of slight humor and annoyance, on mine, as I listened, a look of both horror and contempt. The humor and annoyance on his part was very much from the fact that he was reading me this list of boxes to check understanding fully that I had no idea what he said. And after each question he read, he said (in Japanese) 'No, right?, and gave me a wry smile'. The look of horror and contempt on my part can be attributed to the fact that I quickly realized that I had no choice but to answer 'Right. No.', or go no further with my driver's licensing process. So, for humility's sake, I deferred, and quietly answered 'no' to each of his questions. For all I know (and for which I hoped not), he could have been asking such questions as, 'Are you of sane mind to operate a motor vehicle?', to which I would have obediently and unassumingly answered, 'No.' 'Are you of legal driving age?' ('No.') 'Do you hold a valid alien registration card and can prove to be a legal resident in this country??' ('No').


But for all the frustration that it was worth, the rest of the entire process was truly easy (and often laughable). I barely passed the eye test (good thing I can say 'up', 'down', 'left' and 'right' in Japanese!). I gave a bad-ass smirk for my new picture (tell me I can't smile - ha!) and daydreamed through the entire lecture. The beaut of the story's end is that, when the instructor was done, at exactly 3:00, paying no attention to nor asking for proof of our comprehension (or lack thereof) of what we may (or may not have) learned over the last two hours, they deemed us ffit to drive again, handed us our new licenses, and shooed us out the door.

To be a foreigner in a foreign land. It's something else...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's what I do.

(and what is it, you ask, that I do?)

Well recently, it's cooking.

Now, it's been a long time coming, and it didn't happen overnight, but over the last three years, I have developed a passion for cooking. I don't know where it came from (ok, actually, I do), but it is serving me well lately, and I have never eaten so deliciously.

I've always loved to bake. To me, it was simple - a random set of 15 or so ingredients mixed and re-mixed in different proportions. Flour, butter, salt, sugar, the occasional sprinkle of cinnamon, and voila - a delicious batch of cookies, or a cake, or muffins of some sort. But cooking always frightened me, with it's infinite number of ingredients and more challenging directions (slice, mince, blanche, sauté...). Plus, everyone around me was eating so well, and so healthily, and I wasn't even sure what to do with a head of garlic.

But all of that has changed. Many of the people around me (mostly my married friends) me have inspired me to become a great chef, which is a skill (whether great or not) that everyone should have. I'm not going to lie, I'm slightly embarrassed for my nearing- or past-30 friends who have completely empty pantries and one meal they can cook properly (whilst living on take-aways for the other 28 days of the month). And although that was me not so long ago (when I was closer to 25, really), I've vowed it not to be any more.

Becoming a cook doesn't come easy, or quickly. One has to slowly ease their way into ingredients. And when living in Japan, one has to be willing to improvise, try things a bit differently, and be prepared to make mistakes. But through those processes, the skill level rises, and pretty soon you've got a fridge full of fruits and veges that you know how to slice, mince, blanche, and sauté, a freezer full of spices to flavor it all up, and a pantry full of dried and canned goods that play great supporting roles.

So there - before I even knew what had happened, I was a great cook (with the fridge and pantry to boot).

Over the last four months, I've collected more than 6 different kinds of flours, four different kinds of sugars, nuts of every varietal, more canned tomatoes and garbanzo beans than you can shake a stick at, and so many colors of grains that my pantry looks like a rainbow. Also, since the purchase of my juicer, I have a freezer full of frozen fruits and pulps that go great in morning smoothies or cakes, as well as a couple of casseroles that have been frozen for quick and easy on-the-go meals.

But, what else do I do? Well, everything efficiently, of course, as most of you know, and cooking is no exception. So, the inspiration for this blog post came after a Sunday evening of cooking, which was so high-speed and maniacal, that I felt I had to share (probably because many of you aren't actually going to believe that yes, Wendy does, indeed, cook, but that yes, she does do it fast and efficiently).

I've gotten into this habit of trying to make my week as easy as possible by cooking up a heap of stuff on Sunday nights, or planning out my week from what's in the fridge. I don't like to be wasteful with food or time, so this suits me well. Sometimes I look up recipes and buy the foods, and other time I have the foods on hand and try to find a recipe that sorts it out. For this particular Sunday night, with a fridge full of food (Sundays are my grocery day), here's what happened...

I started off with a pot of homemade marinara. Only five ingredients, but a double batch will serve me for two nights of homemade pizza (from scratch - crust and all - that will be Tuesday and Friday night's dishes!) as well as extra for a pot of seafood linguini (next Sunday?).

While this was cooking on the stove, I cubed and baked up some croutons from two loaves of cinnamon raisin bread that I had purchased at a local ma and pa bakery. The croutons go great not only on salads, but as the base of a quiche I love to make (just blend until fine in the food processor, add a 1/3 cup of butter, and voila - insta-crust).

Of course, I love the sweet, so I put together a quick loaf of creamy jello for the week's dessert.

Seeing half of a jar of Old English Cheese in the fridge, I decided to whip up a mini-batch of crab canopes, and although Japan's version of canned crab isn't nearly as crabby (or delicious) as it is from the good old U of A, I made due. Into the freezer those went for a night when I'm feeling up to a quick and light meal (which is why they went in next to the frozen casserole).

To go with a tofu scramble I was just getting ready to make, I grated some cheese and threw together some quick gluten-free cheese biscuits, Red Lobster style, minus all the butter, garlic, and wheat flour. They turned out a bit doughy, but delicious nonetheless. I had made a half batch only, but it still yielded 12 biscuits, so I cooked 6 off and put the other 6 in the freezer. (Luckily, the crab canopes were frozen enough by then, as I was running room for all the pans in there!).

Lastly came the tofu scramble. I'm starting to learn to cook with tofu, and have erred on this many times (I dare you to try to come over and read the kanji for 'firm' tofu!). But, after about 6 attempts, and through a bit of help from a friend, I found some that was satisfactory enough to use as an egg substitute. And by egg substitute, I mean I made scrambled eggs without eggs, using tofu instead, and added curry, spinach, and onion. Really simple, and very delicious with drop cheese biscuits.

Then I sat down to write this. Whew. Tiring, but very satisfactory indeed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Makate, Manila, where I've been for the last hour, finishing a fairly heated (passionate?) email that I've been typing since yesterday arvo. The subject is health care, my opinion on it, and is to a friend and staunch Republican whom I commonly share political words with.

I'd like to share this thread with you, his question and my response, and openly invite you to weigh in as well. I am more than eager to consider new opinions and ideas to better inform my decisions and attitudes about this, and welcome good conversation from either side. 

His question:
Now on to politics - you have traveled the world, seen a lot of different systems, experiences, etc. You can't really believe that a government takeover of healthcare is good for our country, especially right now?

My response (slightly edited for anonymity):
Ok, so, for starters, I'm not sure that living abroad and travelling to different places really makes me an expert on health care around the world, especially when I am travelling through third world hell-holes most of the time. Here in Manila, just down the road from my high-priced hotel, are slums of naked babies playing and begging in roads caked with human feces. This is very common in many more places in the world than you can imagine from [where you are]. 

Health Care reform in America? Honestly, I am not informed enough to make a good opinion on its componants. My world news is limited to as much as 45 minutes of watered down broadcasting a day, as well as whatever tidbits I can bring up through the New York Times app on my phone. When I do get a chance to inform myself, I find it hard to find unbiased sources from either side. I do know that health reform hardly solves all of America's many crippling economic problems, and that it will be years and years before we'll be able to see the ripples that this dropped stone will make. I do have a limited knowledge, though, that many of our friendly allies, including the British and the Canadians, have found success with socialized health care for years. To me, their countries seem to be plenty strong economically, and by far more cohesive within.

What does matter to me, more than health care reform itself, is the way in which people are reacting. I am hugely unsupportive of any hateful, harmful, angry, or unjustified attitudes. I grossly disapprove of the mudslinging and overall invidious treatment and sentiment towards the whole thing, or towards anybody who was a part of creating it. I am also enormously bothered that those who tried to defeat the bill did it not only for their dislike of it, but also (and maybe more so) to undermine the president politically, and as a consequence, gave up an enormous opportunity to influence the bill in a positive way, to move forward with solutions or common agreements on how best to make this bill a success.   

Would it be naive of me to wish that when it comes to what's best for America, it shouldn't be viewed as what's best for Democrats or Republicans, or the rich or the poor, but instead what is best for the overall whole. Given, this does come at a cost to some, but really, in most matters in life, when doesn't it? 
Would it be too simple-minded for me to hope that this legislation will change our country's mindset on what it means to be healthy? That it might encourage people, corporations, or the government to act and encourage in ways that are personally and globally more healthy and wholesome? Or that as a result, people might possibly begin to understand that life is short, that maintaining good health is important, and that in the end, no government reforms will change that? 
Is it ignorant of me to hope that this reform, the kind that proliferates equality (admittedly, again, at some expense) will incite people to do a better job of taking care of each other, from their closest neighbors to the poorest of strangers, instead of only thinking of themselves, or participating in the continual casting blame towards others? 
If so, then call me naive, or simple, and they're names I'll wear proudly. At least I'm staying positive and supportive towards some sort of greater good.  I think if all Americans would do more of that kind of thinking, it would really make a sizeable difference, not only in our morale, but in our policies, and in the way we are viewed by the rest of the world. Negativity for negativity's sake, including from you, will further no one, and for that reason, I just don't love talking politics with you. 
In the end, I don't believe this bill, or any bill, will ever begin to make positive changes unless everyone begins to find some way to view it positively and move towards making it better, whether they like it or not. 

The president, were he to be Democratic or Republican, has my support, and therefore, so does this bill.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

My Friend Debbie

Debbie Miller has been my eduhero for the last 5 years. I can not count the amount of times I've referred to her book, Reading With Meaning in my teaching. My personal copy is all marked up with notes, full of old student work, and has traveled to every continent that I have. I just don't leave home without it, and I certainly wouldn't think of teaching without it either. One time, a couple of years ago, a good friend and teacher said, 'Wendy, can I borrow your copy of it?' to which I replied, 'Sure, but Paul [my principal] has copies that you can check out for loan as well.' She responded, 'Yes, but I want your copy. That's where all the real information is!'

So, in my first year here, when Paul asked what kind of professional development we should have, or what it would take to keep me at NIS longer, I shot for the moon. 'Bring in Debbie Miller,' I said. He looked up and gave me the e-mail address of her publisher, asked me to write a letter in his name, and submit it. What did we have to lose? Why not?

Well, Debbie responded. For a few months, she and Paul went back and forth with price and date negotiations, and before we even had time for it to sink in, Debbie Miller was penned in to our 2010 calendar.

I was of course, very eager, to continue to be a part of planning and organizing this event, knowing full well it could lead me to a place where she and I could talk openly about standards in education, and that she was someone I'd love to have as an educational contact (well, duh!). So, I let Paul know that I would work with him until she arrived to make the visit wonderful for her, and for us. So he put the load of non-official, non-administrative responsibilty on my shoulders, a burden I gladly accepted.

The whole Debbie weekend turned out to be a collaboration between NIS (who had the original idea) and EARCOS (The East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools), whom we championed to help us fund it (and it worked - they footed part of the cost of the weekend in order to have their name be stamped all over the official documents). This also allowed us to offer the conference to other teachers in schools all over Asia, and we ended up hosting 25 of our teachers plus 45 others from around asia (as far as Bangkok and Taiwan for the workshop on Saturday and Sunday. She was also contracted to stay for two private days with just our staff, which happened on a Monday and Tuesday.

My responsibilities included:
- being a second contact for Debbie (along with Paul)
- setting up and organizing kids for the Saturday/Sunday conference demo lessons (which were my students, thank you very much),
- sorting a schedule for Debbie's two days at NIS (for observations and demonstration lessons),
- organizing my teaching materials for Debbie to use,
- procuring and time-tabling subs for the demo lessons and debriefs at our school on Monday and Tuesday,
- purchasing a parting gift,
- picking her up at the airport,
- coordinating one of two groups of visiting teachers to go out in Nagoya on Saturday night of the conference,
- negotiating with a local restaurant to host a 20-person closing dinner
- greeting visiting staff and accepting payments (a very minor job)
and, now that it's over,
- writing a published article for EARCOS's monthly magazine

For starters, Debbie and I were in e-mail and phone contact since October, which was really neat. At first, like with most 'celebrities', it made me really nervous, but as time went on, and we chatted more and more, it was very normal to talk back and forth with her, and that nervousness went away. Honestly, she's kinda like your mom, really, in that she is just so real and bubbly and happy and educated and stuff. And not pretentious at all, which was so refreshing.

As we finalized the plans, by bit, our time with Debbie drew closer, and e-mail contact became more frequent, leading up to her arrival on a Wednesday. Paul and I headed to the airport to pick her up, which I really enjoyed. I really enjoy my principal Paul, as, when you get him one on one (and we do have a really good working relationship), he's good for good conversation (and free dinner!). We chatted about our excitement over coffee, dinner, ice cream, and two train rides, all on the way to get Debbie. When she arrived, we recognized her immediately, as she looks just like in her picture on her book (which, coincidentally, she once used as identification to get into America from Canada when she lost her real ID, a story I found incredibly hilarious!). We fetched her and her husband, and headed back on the train.

On Thursday morning she came to school to go over logistics for the weekend, including stage set up, lesson plans, and venue information (walking around and checking everything out). I left my kids (unattended) in the classroom for a good 40 minutes (they were angels!) while we went to the stage and discussed the lesson, which was to be with my kids. She had a vision, and I supported her on it, and for about 15 minutes we went back and forth collaborating on how the lesson would go (I about died! Me! Collaborating one on one with Debbie Miller!). At the end of our conversation, she looked at me and exclaimed, 'This is going to be so much fun!', followed by a generous hug. Sigh...

On Friday afternoon we set up the stage in the commons with my materials. My original intention was to share my easel, chair, lamp, and plant (the basics of what she might need), but Paul suggested that I hang some of my anchor charts up as well (for decoration, as well as to make it as close to a real literate environment as possible). So, I went all out, adding another easel full of anchor charts, a couple of book baskets, and four anchor charts hanging from the stage curtains in the back. (In the picture above, you'll see my classroom materials right behind her!).

On Saturday morning, everyone arrived for the conference. teachers started poking their way in and out of classrooms and taking pictures of all of our stuff, as well as what was on the stage (I imagine they figured they were Debbie's anchor charts!). I greeted Debbie and we went over last-minute details about the lesson we'd be doing with the kids (Yes! I said 'we.' Holy shit! I get to teach with Debbie Miller!), as well as the stage set-up. when the conference started, she started by thanking Paul, Rob (the headmaster), and me, for all of our work to get organized. To be honest, I wanted to die of embarrassment (well, secretly, I was like, 'Hells yes!', but on the outside I tried to be very humble and pretend I wanted to crawl under the table).

The conference was amazing. I took more than 14 pages of notes for those two days alone. Everything she said was so smart, and made me rethink everything I do in my classroom, not as though I am doing it wrong, but in the ways I could be doing it so much better. The lesson we did with my kids was spot on, both days, and i enjoyed being on stage with her. I also found that between sessions, she would come over to chat (which was to be her way for the next two days as well). I think she felt comfortable with me, having met me first, and knowing how much work Paul and I had put into it. In the end, she even gifted book from her lesson with my kids to us, with a nice inscription on the inside cover. Incredible.

What you find out early as an international school teahcer is that the networking that happens with conferences, the meeting and getting to know other teachers from other schools, is usually just as good as the conference itself. I was responsible for taking a group of willing teachers out for a night on the town in Nagoya, which ended up being legendary. Going out on this Saturday night put a chain of events into place that turned into one of the best 5 nights of my life in Japan. I am not kidding, the group of 8 i was with (all American/Canadian teachers from Tokyo, Bangkok, and Hong Kong) laughed so hard that it was almost embarrassing. Needless to say, we had a lot to (quietly) laugh about at the conference the next day as well.

Back to Debbie - during her two days at NIS, she observed different classrooms, as well as did demo lessons and debriefs with all of us. On those days, I took 9 more pages of notes on every word she said, each interaction she had with kids, and everything I could get out of her. We chatted often, she answered my questions, and whenever she had a free moment, she'd pop into my room and say, 'I'm in the library - come and chat!' And each time I would. She even wrote an inscription on the front cover of my Reading With Meaning book, which would be like having my Bible signed by God.

i honestly think Debbie will be one of those people I stay in touch with forever. She was so easy to talk to, and mentioned to me in various ways (notes, e-mails, inscriptions) that she wanted to stay in touch, 'for real'. In fact, the morning after she left, we e-mailed three or four times back and forth about some questions she was answering for me about the conference (for aforementioned EARCOS article). I've attached some of the snippets right here!


"HI Wendy,
Yes! I'd be happy to answer your questions, either on the plane or once we get home.

AND GUESS WHAT??? At about 10 PM last night our son, Chad, texted us that he and Rachel were on their way to the hospital! We got texts throughout the night, and Baby Finley should be born within the next hour
or so. Now that's a nice homecoming present!

Have a great day at school today and tell everyone hi for me--I feel like I made new friends in Nagoya! Especially you. Talk to you soon. Debbie"


"...I'm not sure what people/students picked up--you might have to ask them that-- but many did thank me personally. I did think it was the sweetest thing when someone said, "I was nicer to my kids today." I loved that.

We had a wonderful time in Japan, and I am going to write up my little cab reflections. I'll send them on when I do! Wendy--thank you so much for all you did to make us feel so welcome--you are a thoughtful and reflective teacher and person, all at 28! I can't wait to see what you do next! Love, Debbie

PS Finley is officially here!"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ten Minutes

I'm at dinner the other night with my friends Justin and Karianne. They're a teaching couple here at NIS, and came in with me in the same crew three years ago. We'd just sat down to a fine Indian dinner (ala our favorite local haunt, Fulbari) and were chatting about a recent interview they had with the headmaster of The International School of Manilla back in October. I was incredibly interested to find out that the principal who interviewed them only had one interview question:

'Tell me about yourself.'

He doesn't ask questions such as,
'Tell me about your teaching career.'
'What defines you as a teacher?'
or the ever-dreaded,
'Tell me about a time where you overcome difficulties in the classroom.'

Instead, he simply says, 'Tell me about yourself,' and rumor also has it that if you finish before you've talked for 10 minutes, he'll say, 'Tell me more...'.

This got me thinking, if I had to respond to this question in an interview, what might I say? I guess I think most people would probably start at the beginning, and tell all of the expected parts, such as where they grew up, where they went to school, and about their teaching experiences thus far. But my thinking is that this stuff is pretty much on your resume, and probably a bit obvious. So, I thought to myself, why not shake it up? What if, when asked such a question, you just replied with brutal and random honesty. I mean, if he wanted to know about your teaching experience, he'd ask, right? If he wanted to know how you've dealt with challenging administrators, he'd ask, right? But to unexpectedly get to know about you, really-and-truly you, for ten whole minutes of honest revelation - wouldn't that be great?

As I bathed, I thought about this more, and immediately recognized that the first things I would say would indeed be the random (and sometimes mundane) things that define me as a person. To me, it's the perfect kind of answer, and the kind of unique response I hope would make me a memorable candidate. So I went ahead and jotted down the first things that came to my mind (or as Ricco would say, 'first thought best thought'), and the following is what I came up with. If you care to visualize, I imagine that between each separate thought would be a big, dramatic, thought-provoking-looking pause, which would serve as the transition between all of the things you might hear if you sat down with me in an interview with me and said, 'tell me about yourself...':


'Well, first of all, thank you so much for the chance to really and truly tell you about me. I intend to be nothing but honest as I acquaint you with the everyday person that is Wendy.

I have come to love the Japanese onsen experience. There is something so freeing about stepping into a public bath with perfect strangers and being comfortable about it. It's the perfect relaxer for muscles after a long day of skiing, and it's a casually intimate thing between friends. Aside from being one of my favorite thing to do, it's one of those things, like many, that one becomes accustomed to when living in foreign lands, and the kinds of cultures and customs that, although initially scoffed at, become increasingly acceptable. I guess my thinking is that this kind of small experience can be one that can not only become one that you enjoy, but one which eventually opens the door for further experiences outside of your own comfort zone.

(dramatic breath-pause, repeat between each paragraph/thought)

I have these smile lines on each side of my mouth. One is more prominent than the other because of a slight imperfection of my facial make-up. Up until a few months ago, I used to slather on cream to try to diminish the wrinkles, but have lately come to accept them as proof that I live a happy (and often funny) life.

Recently, I have begun to read, and completely enjoy the work of author Jhumpa Lahiri. I used be wearied by intercontinental travel, dreading 13 long and often sleepless hours on a plane, until I started treating myself to a new book before each flight. The third of Ms. Lahidri's books was one of my most recent choices before embarking on an aforementioned flight, and was a book that I finished within the many hours between take-off and landing. Upon my arrival in Japan, I immediately checked out and dove into her other two works, enjoying each one just as much. There is something so remarkable to me about any author who writes well enough to inspires me to be a voracious reader, which is the kind of reader that I love to inspire my students to be. Plus, for me, there's nothing better than falling in love with a good story, and not wanting to put it down. In my mind, that's the trade of a brilliant author.

I have one of the most enormous closets of clothes you've ever seen. It's like my clothes are procreating in my closet. And yet, each day, I can't find anything to wear. Do you ever feel like that?

I live most days in one of two ways: inexcusably lazy, or over-productively active. The best part is that both feel incredibly good.

One thing I am not is smart. I am not terribly bright about economics or politics, or even what is going on in the world each day. I watch the news every morning, but have a bad habit of not attaching anything to my schema. My world geography is abysmal, and once I've traveled somewhere, I rarely can recall the individual places I've visited there. I am, though, a willing researcher, and constantly use online and material resources to find out what it is that I am curious to know at that moment.

Along that line, I only have one regret from my time as a classroom teacher, and that is my vocabulary. I feel that 6 hours a day of conversing with 7 years old has really taken a toll on the amount of verbal words I can use. Consequently, I feel much more comfortable doing most things in writing, as in this venue, I have time to think about and perfect the words I can use. It is also within this venue that I share my world, as I am a blogger. Started as a journal of my first life overseas, it has now turned into a random free-for-all about my life. I have a loyal following of about 8 people whom I feel are truly happy reading what I write. And I very much enjoy sharing my everyday with them.

One of my new loves is cooking. I absolutely adore spending a Sunday trying new recipes and making things out of things I never knew I could make things out of. My winter obsession is soups and muffins. I love to be resourceful in the kitchen as well. At the end of one day, for example, after making muffins out of the fresh and fibrous pulp from my morning carrot/pineapple/orange juice, I was regretting the choice I had earlier made to buy a load of turnips. Within an hour, though, I had looked up and made a delicious and completely healthy mashed turnip dish with just a few basic ingredients. I also adore feeding my friends, none of whom can cook worth a lick (in their defense, cooking for one, especially in Japan, is a bit of a mission - and an expensive one to boot), and I feel that enjoying a freshly-made meal in the company of friends and laughter (and some red wine), is one of the best ways to spend time.

Nothing moves me more than great music. My first and true musical love was (and still is) the Beatles. And I love to sing. But only in the car, or the shower. The best purchase I ever made was a portable Bose sound-dock, which I carry with me all over the house and everywhere I go. Music is the background for my ever moving (although sometimes lazy) life.

(big dramatic, long-lasting, suspense-filled pause)

Lastly, at this moment, and every moment I have lived before this one, I am exceptionally happy. I am in complete awe of my amazing friends and family, and when I look back to my personal experiences, there has rarely been a decision or situation that did not somehow work in my favor. I have the world and all of it's wonder to be thankful for, and each day I truly and completely, without reserve, am so.

So, in the end, thank you, again, for the opportunity to speak with you today. I appreciate the chance to tell you a bit about myself. Of course, I also look forward to the idea of being a working and valuable member of your learning community..."


Now, an afternote. Justin and Karianne (Cook), fortunately, were prepared for this interview question by an insider, a friend who encouraged them to reply. The Cooks are fantastic, fantastic teachers, and answered readily and honestly. They were offered positions there, and sadly will be leaving us at the end of this year.

But I wonder, having read my response to the same interview question, would you have hired me??

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The promise of a new year

As I flew into Nagoya this evening, it was a bit of a surprise to feel so nostalgic. But, as I do each time I return, it feels like I'm back to an old familiar again. As Nags is a fairly lackluster town, and from the air (and especially at night), there is nothing to distinguish this city from any other. There are no immediately recognizable landmarks, just featureless streets, resembling so many in other places, only with tiny little lanes and tiny little cars. Regardless, flying into a city any time, and just knowing it is yours, knowing that you are home (and about ready to unload 140 pounds of new stuff!) feels good.

During this flight, my plane chased the sun. Each time this happens, I am always hopeful that well catch it, but am secretly glad that we don't, as falling behind the sun means dark skies and good sleeping. I sat next to two very nice English speaking Filipinos who crossed themselves at every opportunity: take-off, landing, before each meal, and during turbulence. I recognized this immediately as a sign of their devout Catholicism, per my connection with Mike, who is also Filipino and devoutly Catholic. Either way, this time I especially knew our plane was going to be all right (whether we caught the sun or not!), as they said enough Hail Marys for all of us.

I have decided that each flight home deserves the gift of a new book, as reading more books than last year serves as one of my new year's resolutions. On my way to America, I polished of two quick books before even setting foot in Des Moines. On the way back, I picked up and finished another, enjoying it immensely. Although the first two don't count, I did finish two other books I was half-way through, after the new year, bringing my total already by this day to 3.

During the initial descent over Japan, when I first recognized the northern peaks of Sendai and Aomori-ken, I struck me how amazing it is that once or twice a year I can hop on an industrial metal machine and fly (literally) halfway across the world to see family and friends. From door to door, it's 24 hours of travel time, with luggage stress and weight paining each leg of the journey. This time, the stress was in bringing back things for others. During my flight I had silently remarked to myself how any gifts I brought back, for teaching friends, Japanese teachers, baby presents, and a full workout kit for Ricco. A box of cereal, requested by my friend Karianne was the only one my suitcase could afford, ironic that in all the room I made for others, nary was a box of cereal for myself.

I anticipate 2010 to be a good year. Two years ago, December and January found me learning how to live and travel on my own. Last year at this time, I was nursing a failing relationship. This year, I intend on moving forward with what I have learned from those years past. I understand that old adages are true for a reason, and that time heals all wounds. What doesn't kill us does indeed make us stronger, wiser, and better prepared for the newer circumstances. And often, good things fall apart so that better things fall together. May it be a year of continued growth for me, and for all whose lives I am directly connected to. As I do for myself, I wish you the best as well.

Finally, in closing, I offer one of the more profound moments of my return: As I disembarked the plane, a well-dressed Japanese ariport employee headed down towards the aircraft. Ready to speak my (mother) tongue again, I politely offered 'Konbanwa' (good evening). He ignored me completely.

That's how I knew I was home.