Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fare Thee Well, 2008!

Well, 2008, it looks like your time is drawing to a close. I felt some trepidation when you first arrived (only natural, considering how utterly and unspeakably DREADFUL 2007 was), but you shot far above my low expectations of you. In fact, I consider you to be the best year so far out of the twenty-four I've had. 2008, I am really going to miss you.

Let's recap just a few of the great things that happened, both to me and to others, in 2008:

~I came to Korea! Yes, that definitely had to come first on the list, since it was the smartest decision I have ever made.

~The USA took a very big step in the fight against racism (one of the things that I hate most in the world). I may not agree with many of Obama's views and ideas (no, I didn't support McCain either), but I am really glad that he won. If he accomplishes nothing in his four years, they will still be successful because of the turning point in American history that they represent. I don't think for one moment that we'll ever be free of racism, but at least we can make it less prevalent.

~My best friend Steph got a job that will allow her to pursue her dream of missions work and will place her close to the country (Mexico) that God has put in her heart. I'll miss her mightily, but I couldn't be happier for her.

~Jasper came into my life. He's crazy and certainly one-of-a-kind, and he's made this dog lover very, very happy.

~I finally fulfilled my dream of visiting the Philippines, and was able to see firsthand several of the places to which I have dedicated years of study.

~I learned that I'm good at teaching - I had always thought I would make a lousy teacher.

2008, you served the annals of time well, and earned your future place in the history books of tomorrow. All that is left now, in these remaining 30 minutes, is to bid you a fond adieu, and to drink a toast, both in honor of you, and in dedication of your replacement, 2009. I only hope that 2009 can live up to the excellent standard set by you. I also hope that 2009 will be a bit kinder to the economies of the world, which was your great short-coming.

Farewell, 2008! Welcome, 2009!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

I'd like to wish all my family, friends, and readers the merriest of Christmases. Of course, I would also like to wish a very merry Christmas to the ACLU!

I hope that all of you who are reading this are having a restful and safe holiday, full of cheer. I hope you have your family close to you, whether it be physically or in your heart, as is my case. Wherever you are, whoever you are, I hope that when you lay down to sleep tonight, it's with a smile on your face. In the words of Tiny Tim, "God bless us, every one!"

Christmas Morning

Finally, after years and years of failed attempts, I found a way to get my Christmas wish of sleeping in on Christmas morning - just move to Korea! Normally, on Christmas Eve I make my dad (who's still a kid at heart) promise to let me sleep in the next day. It never works. Every year that booming "Ho ho ho!" coming from downstairs jars me out of a contented sleep. Not this year! (To be honest, I kind of missed it.)

Last night I was up quite late having a private Christmas Eve celebration - I cooked a delicious pepper steak and then enjoyed some fresh strawberry cheesecake and a frozen coffee that I picked up from a coffee shop on the way home. I watched "A Christmas Story" (about the little boy who wants a Red Rider gun) and "It's a Wonderful Life" (an essential tradition of mine), then went to bed pondering the deeper meanings within one of the greatest films ever made.

This morning, I woke up around eleven, musing to myself about how different this Christmas is from the norm. Usually my parents and I have a special breakfast with my sister, brother-in-law, and niece, which I really look forward to each year. We have a delicious, leisurely meal, with each person's gaze occasionally meandering over to the tree and the pile of colorful presents both under and around it. My niece noticeably wiggles a bit in her seat from the anticipation. Finally, after the dishes are done, we settle ourselves in the living room. I play Santa each year, doling out the presents to everyone. Every year, I find myself almost wiggling with anticipation at this point, since I'm so eager for people to open the gifts I took such care selecting for them. Later, we head over to my aunt's house (or the family comes to ours) for the big family Christmas. Food seems to stretch for miles, as do relatives, and everyone is loudly laughing, talking, and embracing (or in the case of my nutty aunts, sharing fart and poop stories, and making Grandma squirm and question whether there were a few mix-ups at the hospital many years ago). Later in the day, Dad usually makes our favorite winter treat, snow cream (for the non-Michiganders, it's ice cream made out of snow, which we usually have an overabundance of).

Among past Christmases, every one brings back special memories. I remember fondly the year that we were at Disney World for Christmas (that was one of my presents) and I made a paper tree the night before. Or the year when I wanted a troll doll more than anything in the world, and opened a huge box to find that my mom had gotten me twin troll dolls. There was Cassandra's first Christmas, when Dad and I were so excited about the talking worm doll that we found for her (which she loved). There was the year of the Furby, when Cassandra's Christmas present from her parents first charmed us all with its cuteness, then later drove us nuts with its demands. There was 2005, my favorite Christmas, when Dad gave me my treasured HUGE atlas of the world (which I miss more than any other possession that I left behind) and a beautiful turntable, which I had wanted for years. There was the year that my sister got married, when Mom gave her and her husband a pair of pantyhose stuffed with presents rather than stockings.

After I got out of bed, I let Jasper out of his area, then put my cinnamon rolls (I picked them up at the bakery last night) in the microwave and heated water for my instant coffee. Gosh, I really miss Dad's coffee! I took my breakfast back to the bed, and set about opening the large package that came from my family for me. Or rather, tying to open the package. I think Dad may have been in charge of taping the box! Jasper was desperately trying to gain my attention, so I gave him a "decoy present" to distract him. (Last night, I wrapped two treats in several layers of scrap paper, then sealed it with a couple pieces of packing tape. I figured it would keep Jasper busy while I opened my gifts - and I was right.)

After getting the box open with the help of a large kitchen knife, I poured its contents onto the bed. Mom, Dad, Aunt Diane, and Uncle Richard - thank you so, so, so much! You four are "assa," as my students would say! My favorite gift was the set of gorgeous new pajamas. Aunt Diane and Uncle Richard's card left me a bit mystified at first - I thought that Aunt Diane's writing must be really messy, since she had written "Have a cheery Christmas" in such a way that it looked like she said "Have a cheesy Christmas." I laughed at the thought of teasing her about it later. When I opened the package, I learned that she meant to write "cheesy" - it was lovely, glorious, impossible-to-find-over-here Bluebell cheese! I am also beyond delighted by the box of trail mix bars (non-existent over here) from my parents. What a great haul! I can hardly wait to eat my hot cereal tomorrow, and I plan to ration the cheese so that it will last me for my last two months.

After I finished my breakfast, I gave Jasper (who was still hard at work on the "decoy present") his real gift. Since he's already a gender-confused eunuch-dog, I figured it couldn't get any worse, so I gave him a doll. He proved to have plenty of boy left in him, since the first thing he did with her was undress her! Of course, being Jasper, he didn't play with his doll right after he finished unwrapping her - no, he went off in search of the wrapping paper left from the "decoy present" and played with that a bit longer first! He's currently happily chewing up (and shredding) wrapping paper while resting his head on his doll. It has been a good Christmas for both of us so far.

I love my new pajamas!

Christmas Festivities at School

I had a lot of fun working on Christmas Eve. In the morning, we combined the two kindergarten classes. We had the kids make reindeer antlers to wear, and then made "houses" out of bread, crackers, cookies, and etc. When you see the pictures, you'll understand why I used quotation marks. After that, we had the kindergarten gift exchange, which concluded with Cate handing out presents from the school to the kids (big plastic stockings filled with treats). The kindies were extremely affectionate, wanting to hug me or be on my lap almost constantly (especially Liz, one of the sweetest girls). The highlight of the morning for me was Liz informing me, "Teacher, BIG I love you!" and ten other little voices chiming in in agreement.
The boys in my older kindergarten class: Sam, Eddy, and Issac
My sweet Liz
Hard at work! They got so messy!
Pretty girls, Erin and Lynn
Cali and Amy, the girls in my little class.
My boys: Harry (the affectionate monster), Jay (the adorable loner), Eddy (a bit hyper, but loads of fun), Sam (probably the smartest kindie boy), Issac (just a sweet kid).
My girls: Liz (the sweetest), Cali (the most obedient child I have ever seen), Erin (very smart and a sweetheart as well), Amy (the littlest and cutest), Lynn (the best memorizer I have ever seen), Amber (not particularly obedient, but she's very bright).

Since every afternoon class is divided into two parts (one half hour with the native-English-speaking teacher and one half hour with the Korean teacher), Cate decided that the first half of each class would be a snack party, with juice boxes provided by the school, and the second half would be a game class. Since eating junk food isn't quite enough to keep kids amused for half an hour, I had crafts for my snack party classes to make while they were eating. For the game classes, Cate provided wrapped Christmas presents and candy for us to use as prizes. The presents included holiday headbands (for girls - although it was pretty funny when these were won by boys), pencils, diary books, and winter hats (the really cute ones popular here, which look like animals).

Here are some of my favorite kids from the afternoon classes (I have about thirty favorites, but I just picked the most photogenic favorites):
Lucy, the older sister of my kindergarten monster, Harry. Thankfully, Lucy is sweet and obedient.
Lydia, a shy and lovable little tomboy.
Lenny, one of my most helpful boys - he always carries my basket for me.
Robin, the boy who makes me laugh the most. The way he walks and moves reminds me of Dick Van Dyke's character Bert in Mary Poppins!
Julia and Grace: Julia is talkative and friendly, and Grace is a cute little smarty with flawless pronunciation
Tracy, my child prodigy. She speaks English like a native speaker, and is lots of fun to teach.
Lisa and Gloria, from my best-behaved class, E4-B. These two almost fall out of their seats with eagerness whenever I need a reader or ask a question!
Ray, Liz's older brother. He's sweet like his sister, and is always in a good mood and eager to learn.
Alice and Monica: Alice is Lydia's older sister, and is a very kind older sister. Monica has the best pronunciation in her class (E3-D), even though she only just started.
Rachel, the one I think of as my "mini-me." She always writes about twice as much as I ask for on homework, and likes to talk to me between class. Love this girl!
Lovely Lisa, who I am convinced will be a knock-out in a few years. She's quiet, shy, and very nice.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Contemplations on Christmas Eve

Contemplations on Christmas Eve

I wish I could be a child once more
And relive Christmases from before:
The enchantment in the twinkling lights,
The pleasure from all the merry sights,
Anticipation on Christmas Eve,
All the dreams my childish mind could weave.
I wish I could relive moments passed,
And clutch them tighter, to make them last.
Our tree towered so much larger then,
In those sweet days of “remember when,”
It’s smaller now, or perhaps I’ve changed.
The girl I was and I seem estranged,
Separated by so many years,
With such dissimilar dreams and fears.
I swore I’d never leave her behind,
But time can reshape and carve the mind.
Ev’rything’s transformed, and me as well,
Each sound, each sight, each place, and each smell.
We cannot go back to Manderley,
Whatever for each that place might be.
Time must go onward, and each life, too,
The world’s a stage; we must heed our cue.

~Stephanie Thompson, Christmas Eve, 2008

Christmas in the Classroom

Christmas has made lesson planning such fun that I am really going to be sad on December 26! I have had a ball coming up with Christmas-themed crafts, games, and even a short skit that I wrote about Rudolph (that was a HUGE hit with both the older kindergartners and E3-C). I have also been taking the opportunity to play Christmas music for the kids and am proud to say that I have created several new fans for Doris Day, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole, and Rosemary Clooney (my mom and half of my family are probably gagging at this very minute).

Most English Christmas songs have words that are a bit too difficult for most of my students to learn (or the songs are too fast), but I have managed to teach three classes "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "The Chipmunk Song." Sam, one of my older kindergartners, has a perfect little voice for "The Chipmunk Song" - he really sounds like a little chipmunk when he sings! I am hoping to teach "Jingle Bell Rock" to a few classes tomorrow (well, since it is 2:10 AM, that would technically be today).

Today (okay, technically yesterday), I had both kindergarten classes make adorable little Santa and angel ornaments that I found patterns for online. For the benefit of other teachers and future teachers (maybe even parents as well), click here to go to the site where I found them. Kudos to for having such great coloring pages and crafts freely accessible - their stuff is super cute and easy for kids. The only problem I ran into was time - I figured the right amount of time for coloring, but underestimated cutting time. At the end of my second kindergarten class, I found myself knee-deep in Santas that needed to be assembled!

For other teachers in need of Christmas ideas, let me suggest some of the ones I have had the most success with:

~~"Pin the nose on Rudolph" - That game is a huge hit with multiple age groups! In particular, it seems to work best with the seven and eight-year-olds. It's great for teaching the names of body parts.
~~"Christmas Tree Targets" - I draw a Christmas tree on the whiteboard with a star on top and six round ornaments on it. The star, the tree, and each ornament have point values written on them. I then divide the class into two teams and have them take turns throwing a sticky ball at the board. To make the game more educational, make them say a Christmas word in order to receive their points for hitting a particular target.
~~Skits - Kids love to act, so I wrote out a short skit about Rudolph (a character they are all familiar with and fond of). I wrote seven parts into my skit so that more kids could be involved at one time - kids that aren't involved tend to lose interest.
~~Christmas song mad libs - Take a Christmas song that the kids are familiar with and turn it into a mad lib. It helps the kids learn parts of speech and they especially love singing their new creations!
~~"Get the Presents!" - This is a game I created in which I draw two Christmas trees on the board (one for each team). I have Christmas presents that I drew and cut out, which I tape on the board. I then do a standard "writing race" game where the kids on each team race to write a word that I say first. The twist is that instead of awarding points to the fastest team, I put one of the "presents" under their "tree." The winner is the team with the most presents.
~~"Dressing for Winter" - I have several winter clothing items, like a hat, scarf, and gloves. The kids take turns racing to put on each item as fast as possible (I time them with my stopwatch), but the twist is, they have to say the name of the item before they can start to put it on. Even in a bigger class this works well, because the kids get so excited and have such fun just watching each other. You can also do this one in teams by adding the scores together. With one class, I added the twist that they had to dress another student, instead of themselves. That got pretty hilarious!

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas..."

Sorry it took me so long (it has been a busy few weeks), but here, finally, are the pictures of my Christmas decorating efforts. Yessir, from my "Christmas plant" to the freehand bird I drew for the microwave, to the decorations I made for my windows, to the paper wreath on my door - all are displayed at last! I may not be very artistic, but I certainly am enthusiastic!

That Crazy Jasper!

I am certain that at least a few people think Jasper had help getting the tissue boxes on his head in an earlier photo post. Well, for the enjoyment of all (and to prove that I'm telling the truth), I took a video tonight of Jasper putting a box on his head. Tip: Make sure you don't have anything in your mouth when viewing this video. I am declaring myself not responsible for any choking or clothing stains amongst my readers!

Kindergartners on Stage

Thursday was the kindergarten Christmas performance, and I am proud to say that the kids did not disappoint. On the contrary, I was amazed at just how good they were! Of course, Harry went bonkers on stage and at one point tried to knock Issac off balance while he was dancing, but that was to be expected. Harry's a little monster, and one should expect nothing less from him. I'm just glad that he restrained his "ad-libbing" as much as he did!

The little cuties did ten numbers, featuring various costumes. Afterwards, several of the mommies wanted pictures of me with their kids, which was fine by me. I was surprised to receive a long-stemmed red rose from one student and a gorgeous bouquet of pink roses from another. Apparently, being a teacher has even more benefits than I knew!

After the performance, Cate took all of us out for a delicious pork dinner and drinks. As usual, I enjoyed the chance to spend time outside of school with my co-workers (they are really nice, interesting people).

Photos from the performance:

Most of the balloons that you see on stage (about twenty of them) were blown up by me on Wednesday, when I had a migraine and was doped up on pain meds. Talk about feeling light-headed!

Liz and Erin (both 6 years old) in their show-stopping routine, "Nobody":

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shoulda Called in Stupid...

I had a very stupid week last week. As in, I was very stupid last week. For some reason, my brain decided to go on winter break early, and forgot to take the rest of me. Consider the following evidence:

~~On Monday night, I mixed up my nail polish remover and my eye make-up remover. Luckily, my eye was shut, but it was still red and extremely painful for over an hour. Needless to say, the nail polish remover no longer lives in the bathroom. It has been relocated to across the apartment!

~~On Tuesday, I biked to the gym after work. Followed a satisfying work-out, I walked home, wondered where my bike was, figured it out, then had to go all the way back to the gym for it. An hour later, I biked to my friend Diane's apartment for cell group. On Wednesday morning, I got ready to ride my bike to school, only to find it missing. I then had to walk over to Diane's apartment to retrieve it. Yup, I managed to forget my bike twice in one night!

~~I grabbed the wrong textbook for about three different classes, and the wrong CD on about six separate occasions. The kids were highly amused.

~~On Friday, I attempted to put bread in the toaster, seconds after already putting two slices in the toaster.

~~I almost called home at what would have been three in the morning their time. Thank goodness I caught that mistake in time!

I think the evidence clearly indicates that this teacher is in need of winter break. All in agreement? I thought so.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Regarding the Idiots among the Human Species

There exists within the human species an alarmingly increasing population of a subspecies known as stupi-lecherousicus malicus. Otherwise known as "very pathetic men with more fingers than brain cells." This group adds nothing of value to society, finds themselves exceedingly attractive, and is still waiting to progress to the mentality of being able to create fire. These louts troll about the world insulting women by viewing them as bodies, rather than human beings with minds. To be fair, many women assist them in this lifestyle by their own behavior and clothing choices. Still, that does not excuse away their idiocy.

Men of the world, lest all of you turn into this mangy subspecies of bottom-dwellers, allow me to give you three simple rules for conversing with the opposite sex:

1. It is NEVER acceptable to address a woman whom you are not acquainted with, and are not currently in a bar with, by terms such as "babe," "hottie," or "sexy." These terms are not compliments. They are demeaning, and in using such terms, you are telling the woman (regardless of your intent) that she is nothing more than a piece of cheap meat to you. Yes, there are women insecure enough to enjoy such treatment, but I assure you, they are a minority.

2. When you are speaking to a woman, your eyes should be on her FACE. A woman's face, for those who may not know, is NOT located on her upper chest. It is circular or oval in shape, and usually has two eyes, a nose, and a mouth on it. It rests upon something known as a neck. If you are staring at two circular shapes that do not have eyes, nose, and mouth, then you need to direct your gaze upward.

3. Before acting or speaking, try the following technique to avoid causing insult: Ask yourself, "Would I say or do this if I were speaking to another man? Would I say or do this if I were speaking to my mother or grandmother?" If the answer to one or both of those questions is "no," than perhaps you should rethink what you are about to say or do.

There are a great many very nice men in the world, and it is not fair to them when others act like animals in heat. Such behavior causes women gradually to start hating men in general, and this is neither healthy nor desirable. Such behavior also leads women to feel like commodities.

Women, you too can do your part to stop this trend in male behavior from spreading. When addressed in a manner that you find inappropriate, or that makes you feel even slightly uncomfortable, do not giggle girlishly and thus make such behavior seem acceptable. Instead, give the jerk the "burning glare of death" and try one or more of the following responses:

1. "I am a not a piece of meat."
2. "Thank you for showing me that all you care about is my body. You have saved me from wasting valuable time getting to know you."
3. (To be used when a super-lech touches you without reason or consent) "I have a rare, highly contagious form of leprosy."
4. "Sorry, vomit just came up in my mouth."
5. "Save that line for a girl who rents by the hour."
6. "Finally! An answer to the question 'who is the least attractive man in this city.'"
7. "I have a brain, too. It's telling me to leave now, because I am in the presence of pure stupidity."
8. "Go take a cold shower and come up when you're ready to talk to me like a man, and not a pathetic little boy."

(In case you are interested, I have found great satisfaction in using responses #2, 4, and 5. The others have yet to be tested, but I'm sure I'll have the "opportunity" before long.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Kids Continue to Amuse...

Here's a list of some of the funnier kid quotes from the past few weeks:

Me: "Which is more beautiful, a butterfly or a frog?"
Student: "Me!"

Me: "Which is more exciting, a rollercoaster of a taxi?"
Student: "A taxi is more exciting." [This is definitely true in Korea!]

Ray: [reading] "The monster penguin lays the egg and the father hatches it..."

Cate: "What type of meat is this?" [We were cooking beef.]
Harry: "Zebra!"

Me: "What are we cooking today?"
Sam and Eddie: "Flied lice!" [Most Korean kids have trouble saying "r" sounds properly - they tend to pronounce their r's like l's, which can sound pretty funny.]

Me: "My mother collects elephants. Do any of your mothers collect anything?"
Rachel: "Teacher, my mother collects trash."

Leon: "Teacher, you must be out of my mind!" [If you want to call your teacher crazy, don't use a phrase book!]

Me: "Look at the picture. What is the teacher doing?"
Sam: "The teacher is hi!"
Me: "WHAT?!" [I thought he said "The teacher is high!"]
Sam: "The teacher is say hi."

Me: "Tell me something that is red."
Ryan: "Teacher, knife and ouch! And finger is red."

Julia: "How are you, Teacher?"
Me: "Oh, I am tired today."
Kevin: "You need many 'coppee' [coffee] Teacher!"

Me: "How are you, Ben?"
Ben: "I'm very head bing-bing crazy today!"

Me: "At my house in the USA, there is lots of snow. There is this much snow!"
Ray: "Oh, Teacher, USA should give Korea snow!"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Few Moments as a Modern Brigitte Bardot

I would like to begin by saying, to any who may doubt the veracity of this story, that I would willingly place my hand on a Bible and swear that the story I am about to relate is 100% true. Okay, so now you know that this is going to be another of those "these-things-only-happen-to-Stephanie" stories. And, I repeat, the whole thing is true!

It all began innocently enough. I realized as I went to prepare dinner this evening that the proverbial cupboard was bare, so I pulled on three layers of clothing and my winter coat, and rode my bike over to HomePlus. HomePlus is a bit of a ride from here when the weather is so cold, but it has a much better selection than Lotte, the grocery store that is closest to my apartment. As it was almost 8:00 pm, it was very dark outside, which almost made me rethink taking the journey to buy provisions, but the thought of eating only rice and a past-its-prime apple spurred me onward.

I was out of just about everything, so my groceries completely filled my large cloth grocery bag and my backpack. To keep the bread safe, I tied it to the outside of the backpack. As for the bag of five HUGE Asian pears, there was just no room for them, so I decided to carry that bag on the side of the bike not encumbered by the bloated cloth grocery bag. I made quite the amusing spectacle, as I usually tend to do. I had no idea just how amusing things were going to get (for passers-by)...

A short distance away from the store, the bag holding the pears decided that life was not worth living, and promptly broke. Five ginormous Asian pears saw their chance for freedom, and joyously rolled as far as they could down the sidewalk. I propped the bike and grocery bag against a tree, and then proceeded to spend the next few minutes hunting down all five of the gleefully delinquent pears. Considering that I had on a huge backpack with a bag of bread strapped to it and was muttering to myself like a less-than-sane (and foreign) individual, I am confident that I was the topic of many a conversation between the drivers on the road and their families once they arrived home.

I managed to round up all the pears, but was faced with a dilemma: how to get them and the groceries (and let's not forget the bike) home. I finally did what any frustrated, tired, freezing cold, and slightly balmy person would do - I stuck the blasted things down my coat, hopped back on the bike, and hoped for the best.

I made it in this manner for about two blocks before running into more trouble. Apparently, the pears had had one taste of freedom and were determined to get back to it. They were clustered at the bottom of the coat, ready to fall out at the next slight bump. I stopped the bike, and with considerable shoving and muttered oaths, managed to cram two of the pears into the grocery bag. With even more effort, I convinced the smallest pear to squeeze into one of the large pockets on my coat (it was an extremely tight fit). Left with two pears to stow away, and not a lot of options at this point, I finally did what I'm sure has occurred to several of you as soon as you heard that there were only two unsecured pears left - oh yes, indeed, I did!

I'll spare the precise details of exactly how I secured the two pears, but lets just say that they spent the rest of the journey riding in a very strategic, albeit exceedingly uncomfortable, part of my upper body. It brought back traumatic memories of when I was in fifth grade and my mother forced me to go as Dolly Parton for Halloween (I had wanted to be a mummy). The icing on the cake came a few minutes later when a Korean guy in a car honked at me and then, using pantomime, expressed his admiration for my chest.

Friday, December 5, 2008

What's White, Fairy-like, and Falls from the Sky?

Today is starting out very pleasantly, indeed. I don't have to be at school until noon today, so I slept in, then went to the gym with my friends Diane and Beau. I had an invigorating workout in which I was delighted to see how much my endurance has improved. Feeling invincible, like I usually do after a good workout, I walked outside of the gym and straight into a Korean winter wonderland.

Snow is an infrequent visitor here in Gyeongju, unlike back home where it's more like an intruding in-law that comes for a smothering visit and then never wants to go away until long after everyone is sick of it. Gray skies, another Michigan winter staple, are also infrequent here. For most of my walk home, I was surrounded by large white blossoms, drifting slowly and peacefully around me. Then the sun came out and turned the white fairyland into a sparkling world of miniature rainbows - sorry if my poetic turn nauseates anyone, but it really was spectacular. I don't think I've ever witnessed anything like it.

Sadly, the snow has ceased now, and it's too warm to be hospitable to the flakes that already fell. There is nothing left now of the morning snowfall, other than the memory of it and the peaceful mood it inspired.

Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Monday, December 1, 2008

Welcome to December

I cannot believe that it is December first already! It seems like the year only started yesterday and now it's almost over!

I started my day by walking over to my friend Diane's at nine o'clock. We went to our gym together to get in a morning workout (we decided to get one-month memberships at a gym to keep from getting out of shape now that the winter is upon us). Our gym provides clean gym clothes and a towel each time you visit, and I was overjoyed to find that I can actually fit into Korean-sized clothing. Granted, the shorts were a bit tight in the rear, but I was ecstatic to actually be able to get them on! Korea has been very good for my figure!

Since it's now December, we have a Christmas tree up at school. I read a Christmas story to my older kindergartners, and taught them a Christmas song today. I plan to focus on Christmas songs and stories for the rest of the month. The kids, naturally, were delighted. We had a rousing discussion about Christmas decorations, in which the kids amazed me with how many Christmas words they already know.

I'm hoping beyond hope that I don't get bogged down with homesickness. Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I always found the month of December to be the hardest when I was away at college. Since this will be my first Christmas spent away from home and family, I am anticipating some rough times. So far, though, everything is going well. I thought Thanksgiving would be difficult, but it actually was just fine. The lack of snow helps a little, since it doesn't really feel like Christmastime.

Un-Black Friday

One nice thing about Thanksgiving not being a holiday over here is that "Black Friday" is just like any other day - in other words, it is not a chaotic mess of a day like it is in the States.

We took the kindergartners on a field trip to McDonald's on Friday. Owing to the fact that I utterly despise fast food (I can think of much more exciting ways to kill off my body), it was my first visit to a McDonald's over here. Cate always has the kindies memorize a role play for field trips (using expressions that would be useful in an everyday setting). For the McDonald trip, we got permission from the employees for me to stand behind the counter to do the role play with each child, while Cate videotaped the exchange:

Me: "Hello, how may I help you?"
Child: "I'd like a hamburger, french fries, and a soda please."
Me: "How about a happy meal? It includes everything you want, plus you get a free toy."
Child: "That sounds fantastic. How much is it?"
Me: "It's 3500 won."
Child: "Here you are."
Me: "Here's your change."
Child: "Thank you."
Me: "Please go sit down and your order will be ready in about two minutes."
Child: "Okay."

It was like a trip down memory lane for me, since I worked for McDonald's for three years as a teenager. It was interesting to see how different the McDonald's Restaurants are over here. For one thing, drive-thrus are unheard of. For another, the registers were quite different, and some of the machines were as well. Instead of hamburgers, they have "bulgogi burgers," which taste WAY better. The meat tasted like it had been prepared in a sweet marinade of some sort, and there was lettuce and (I believe) mayonnaise on the sandwich, instead of ketchup, mustard, pickle, and onion.

After lunch, we let the kids play on in the playland for awhile, before walking over to HomePlus with them (it's right next to McDonald's). Each child had brought some money, a small shopping bag, and instructions as to what their mothers wanted them to purchase. We shopped with the kids, asking them to name random items in English. They knew all of the fruits and vegetables, and did surprisingly well with almost everything else. I never cease to be amazed at how smart my littlest students are.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'd like to take the opportunity to wish all of my family, friends, and readers a very happy Thanksgiving. I sincerely hope that each of you are blessed with many things to be thankful for today.

Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Korea, I don't get the day off. I don't mind working, though, since I would probably get a little homesick if I weren't working today. Most of my friends here are not American, so I will be celebrating alone with Jasper tonight. No, don't feel sorry for me! I'm honestly not sad about spending the holiday alone. I'm planning to buy myself a rotisserie chicken (turkey is unheard of here), and then I'm going to have my very own mini-feast.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to take the opportunity to list the things I am most thankful for:

1. A benevolent, sovereign, and loving God. I could go one for hours, and use thousands of words, but I could never fully express my gratitude.

2. My family. All I seem to have in common with them most of the time is a bit of DNA and some shared memories, but it's enough. I love them all very much and I know that if I lost every single worldly item that I possess, at least I'd still have my family, so I'd still be a wealthy woman. They're loud and crazy, but they're full of fun, and they're mine. I thank God for every one of them every night.

3. My friends. Some of them I get to see every week, and some of them I haven't seen in years, but they're still each important to me, and I love each of them. With friends like mine, distance doesn't matter. In particular, I am thankful for my three closest friends, Duper, Brittany, and Jenny - three of the finest women I have ever known. Because of knowing each of them, I have been changed for the better.

4. The opportunities I have been given. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, but I have had many more than my fair share of memorable, wonderful experiences.

5. My health. Sure I keep catching annoying viruses, but I have limbs that work well, an alert mind, and the ability to do the things I enjoy. I'm not in debilitating pain, nor am I in any way restricted. That's a lot to be thankful for right there.

I could go on and on, because I do have a lot to be thankful for, but in the interests of not wearing out my readers, I have decided to just list the top five.

Thank you, God, for everything.

My Crazy Dog

I was previously under the impression that it was an accident whenever Jasper got his head (or body) stuck inside boxes. However, after observing him last weekend, I have learned that it is actually on purpose! I gave Jasper a tissue box to play with on Saturday, which he promptly got stuck on his head (he chewed a hole in the back of it). After pulling it off for him, I watched as he deliberately stuck his head back inside! He spent over two hours with the box on his head, even taking a nap with it! I'm wondering if wearing that cone collar made him feel that he needs to wear something around his face. Later in the day, he stuck his bone inside the box, then put his head back in and used the box as a sort of purse. Yes, indeed, I do have an odd little doggy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Great News

Time to post my big news: I have been accepted to the history master's program at Liberty University, my beloved alma mater! Naturally, I am thrilled, albeit not surprised (I had already been assured by a professor that I would be accepted). Still, it's nice to know for certain that I'm in for fall of '09. I won't hear until March whether or not I'm going to be offered an assistantship, but I have been told that my chances of getting one are excellent.

I'm finally getting over the whatever-it-is virus that I've been battling. In its place, I have a new Mount-Vesuvius-sized cold sore growing out of my upper lip. It's been invading my face since Saturday, although it is not nearly as bad as it could be. I found an excellent remedy for cold sore pain, which is also making it heal quicker. The minute I noticed the cold sore forming, I started alternating putting ice on it for five minutes at a time and then holding a damp tea bag on it for five minutes. The ice numbs the pain, and since cold sores grow best in heat, affects its ability to grow larger. The acid in the tea also helps with pain, and has made the sore heal faster. I completely by-passed the "oozing" stage and am currently in the "ouchy scab" phase. Today one of my coworkers gave me some cream that she recommends, so hopefully I'll have this mountain completely gone from my lip very soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My "New Look"

A few people have been asking me to post pictures of the new hair-do, so here you go. They're not great photos, but they're the best I could do on my own:

It's C-C-C-Cold in K-K-K-Korea!

It has been bitterly cold outside lately, and being sick isn't helping. I have been freezing constantly this week. Yesterday I wore a hooded sweatshirt over my sweater (with another shirt under that), two pairs of socks, and gloves all day and I was still almost shaking from the cold. Unfortunately, our school isn't heated, so between classes, we all huddle around the small space heater in the office. I'm so attached to the heater that on Thursday I joked about considering marriage to it!

As I said before, I'm still sick. My voice has been alternating between resembling an elderly frog and a porn star. The kids have been quite amused all week, needless to say. Fortunately yesterday was a pretty easy day at school: We cooked fried rice with the kindergartners, which was both fun and delicious, and then I gave games to each of my older classes. Two of my classes had final tests on Thursday, which meant they were rewarded with pizza parties yesterday. Whenever we give classes pizza parties, we stick them downstairs and let them watch American television. Unfortunately, that meant that I was subjected to a full half hour of "Hannah Montana" yesterday. I think my IQ dropped a full thirty points from having to watch that idiotic show! Honestly, I can't believe the Disney channel stays so popular when they are putting out such dreadful, mind-numbing programming. No wonder people are getting progressively stupider!

After school, I went home to rest for an hour, then met up with some of the other foreign girls for dinner at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. I really didn't feel like going anywhere, but I knew I needed a decent meal. The fantastic soup had just the right amount of spiciness to help my swollen sinuses a little, and for the first time all week, I actually felt warm. The other girls decided to go out for drinks afterward, but I felt a migraine coming on, so I went home and straight to bed, where I spent most of today. I haven't had a migraine like that one in a few weeks, so I'm not about to complain. It was a little disappointing that it had to hit now, though, as I had been planning to go to Seoul today to meet with my book club (two members of the book club were classmates of mine back in college).

I'm planning to spend the rest of tonight and tomorrow holed up here with my ondol (under-the-floor heating) on, curled up with Jasper and some good books. Jasper has been very sympathetic to my illness, and has been content to alternate between cuddling with me and quietly amusing himself with his favorite bone and his stuffed giraffe (which has been so thoroughly "loved" in the week since I bought it for him that it is now missing two legs, both ears, and both horns). Honestly, I think dogs are the most marvelous creatures in the world to have around when one doesn't feel well. They have such an instinct for knowing when their owners need comfort.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Dog Is a Little Strange Sometimes...

My Jasper is a funny creature. He has the oddest talent for getting stuck inside of things! Last night, he managed to climb into the pot where I keep my umbrellas. I have no idea how he managed it! I was busy getting ready to host my cell group, when suddenly I heard him whimpering. I took one look...and ran for the camera!

Tonight, I gave Jasper a box to play with (I have never seen a dog so completely nuts about boxes). About ten minutes later, I heard him growling and looked up to see him with his head stuck in the box! Luckily, I once again had the camera handy, so I managed to get several pictures before rescuing him:

Yes, indeed, my dog is a certified clown!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sick People Shouldn't Grocery Shop...

I needed to buy trash bags and pomegranates today, so I biked over to Home Plus after the kindergarten classes. Since I only planned to buy two things, I left my marvelous shopping bag at home. BIG mistake!

I'm still sick, and I think maybe it's affecting my judgment. Either that, or maybe it's just that Home Plus feels so much like Wal-mart that when I go there I forget I'm in Korea and don't have a car anymore. Either way, 90,000 won later, I had two bags full of heavy groceries to lug home on a bicycle. When I'm healthy, that's a challenge, but when I'm sick, it's like running a marathon with an SUV strapped to my back.

I found a marvelous new piece of exercise equipment that is positively guaranteed to either kill or severely maim me. It's a device that one stands on and then twists around on, similar in design to the "Slim Twists" that were sold in the USA in the 1950's, but with the added benefits of bumps and magnets that are supposed to be therapeutic on the feet. Of course I had to buy one! It will undoubtedly injure me within a very short time, but it'll be loads of fun until it does. I can't wait to play with my dangerous new toy after class today! Best of all, my new toy is small enough and light enough that it will be able to accompany me back to the US, where I can continue to injure myself with it.

The new hairstyle was a big hit with the kindergartners today. They were full of enthusiasm over the change in "S-tep-ahnee-Teacher" and drenched me in compliments. I'm pretty happy with it myself - I've always loved curls. I'll try to post some pictures after I'm once again healthy and have lost my "Rudolph" nose.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Busy Day for a Sick Girl

I spent the week trying to pretend that I wasn't getting sick again, but by Friday, there was no hiding it. Whatever I had before is back, and it is just as awful as it was the last time around.

Today I needed to teach a demonstration class at school for prospective kindergartners. I did a short lesson in which I taught the seven kids how to introduce themselves and the names of five colors (red, yellow, blue, green, and orange). We then made alligator puppets. I concluded by teaching them the "Alligator Song" (it's a song that I made up one day when my youngest class wouldn't sit still and was driving me mad). The kids all seemed to have a good time, so hopefully Cate will have a nice batch of new kindies new year (I'll be gone when the new class starts).

After the demonstration class, Cate took me out for lunch. While we were eating, I mentioned that I needed to get my hair trimmed (the last trim was back in the US - yikes!) and asked if she could write out some instructions for me in Hanguel. Cate suggested that she just take me to a hair place and explain in person what I wanted. Since neither of us had plans today, she offered to take me right after lunch. So, joined by Cate's daughter Rosie, we headed off to the hair salon as soon as we finished our delicious lunch.

On the way there, we got to discussing hair styles...which led to Cate suggesting that I should get a perm today. I've been thinking about getting another one for awhile, since I loved having curls, but was going to wait until I got back to the US. However, as is the case with most services, it is much cheaper to get a perm in Korea.

The women (there were two working on me) who styled my hair were geniuses. They shampooed it (with a nice head massage), trimmed it, re-layered it, thinned it a bit (it needed it, actually), and then permed it. Then they showed me how to style it. They even brought me a delicious cafe mocha while I was sitting with the chemicals and rods in my hair. I absolutely love my new style - and I only paid 60,000 won!!! Right now, that's about $42. Cate, being the unbelievably gracious person that she is, stayed with me the entire time, as did Rosie, who kept me entertained (she's a chatterbox). Aside from being sick, I had a great day!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Peppero Day!

Honestly, Korea has some of the neatest holidays! Tuesday (November 11) was Peppero Day (no idea if I spelled that right, but that's how it's pronounced). Pepperos are cookie sticks covered in chocolate that vary in length and width. They are quite tasty and are a favorite treat of Korean children. Apparently, the makers of these delicious snacks decided that 11/11 resembles they created a holiday in which people give each other pepperos. My students gave me enough of them to start my own shop! With proper rationing, I should have enough pepperos to last me until I leave Korea!

I haven't been posting lately because I have once again been really busy ad exhausted. I am working an extra hour each night this week in order to prepare Tracy, a seven-year-old child prodigy, for a huge speech competition on Sunday. Since her heart really isn't in this, it hasn't been easy coaching her. I'm really glad that this week is almost over!

On Monday of this week, I took the cone collar off Jasper, who was thrilled to be free of it. Then on Tuesday, I took him for his first walk outside. He was very bewildered at first and couldn't figure out that he was supposed to walk. Finally it all clicked in his little mind, and he had a wonderful time walking on strange new terrain (grass and pavement) and smelling all sorts of new smells. I'm going to try to start taking him out at least every other night.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Regarding the Election

I was glued to for about three hours today, checking in on the American election. I won't bore everyone with my political views, but I will just say that obviously, the results did not make me cheer. Granted, since my candidate never even got the nomination, I didn't expect to be thrilled with either outcome. Ho hum, time will tell...

Still, the election did have one positive outcome for me - it was a great conversation-generator with my classes. Korean kids are far more informed than American kids. I doubt that even one in one hundred American kids have any idea who the President of Korea is, or even if Korea has a President. My Korean students, however, were all aware not only that today was election day in America, but that Obama won. They know all about him, McCain, Palin, and Bush (although they know nothing about Biden, and I figure they're happier that way). I had some really great discussions in the two most advanced classes that I teach. I came away from those classes once more in awe of my kids - they are so bright!

So, even though I am mentally curling into a fetal position over some of the election results, and even though I am extremely concerned about one of the proposals that passed in my home state, I am glad that election day has come and gone. At last the candidates can stop throwing around money like confetti in an attempt to win, and at last I can hear about something new when I check the American news online. Plus, despite my feelings about Obama, I am pretty happy to be from a country where a black person can be President.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Stephanie the Plumber

Apparently, I may have a future as a plumber. I've had a clog in my kitchen sink for the past month (maybe longer, actually) and have tried three different drain cleaners with no success at clearing it. I really didn't want to bother my boss, since she has been so busy, and calling a plumber on my own wouldn't work, owing to the language barrier. So, last night I tackled that drain armed with a wire coat hanger and a bottle of Clorox bleach. I am happy to report that the clog ran for the hills when faced with such an onslaught. Victory is mine!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Oh Jasper!

On Saturday morning, I took Jasper in to have his stitches removed. When the vet flipped Jasper over on his back, however, we got quite the surprise: Jasper had taken it upon himself to remove all of the stitches the night before! That little rat!

So, now Jasper is on another week of medications, and I have to clean/disinfect his little "area" every night. Best of all, Jasper gets to spend a whole week wearing a ridiculous-looking cone collar to prevent him from licking anything that shouldn't be licked right now. He looks so funny!


Friday was a ton of fun, both for the kids and for me. Before telling about what we did with the kids, I should explain that while Halloween is a very popular holiday in the US and a few other countries, it does not exist in Korea.

In the morning, the kindergartners dressed up in adorable little costumes, and we took them "trick-or-treating" to the homes of the Harry, Jay, Amy, and Cali. The kids and I got tons of candy (almost a full night's worth in the US!) and each mommy put out quite a spread of snacks for us as well. At Cali's house, our last stop, we were treated to a selection of seven different types of sweet breads, eight types of fruit, and assorted nuts. I have never been so glad to have skipped breakfast!

After "trick-or-treating," we went to a great little Chinese restaurant, where we had one of my favorite meals: jajang myeon (homemade noodles in a black bean sauce with onions and beef - delicious). After lunch, I thanked Cate and went back to my apartment to get ready for the afternoon festivities.

Since the kids really wanted me to, and since I am still a kid at heart, I dressed up in costume. I had a terrific long black skirt and black blouse, which together looked very "witch-like." I braided and twisted my hair into a rather elegant style, then stuck about fifteen black plastic spiders in it. For the finishing touches, I added huge silver spiderweb earrings and a ton of eye makeup. When I finished, I looked like a very elegant, evil witch. The kids were really impressed, including the several who were frightened by my appearance.

For Halloween, we canceled classes, and instead set up the classrooms into a series of "stores." Each kid had play money to use at the "Creepy Stationary Store," "Cruel Grocery Store," and "Scary Restaurant." We also had a game room and a movie room (for which Cate had rented Chuckie and Chuckie II - I told her she was nuts for choosing those films). At the restaurant, where I was stationed, we served up two types of noodles, mandu (stuffed dumplings), duck-bukki (a really spicy, tasty dish involving rice cakes, lettuce, and fish cakes - one of only two instances in which I will knowingly consume fish cakes), Vienna sausages, and soda. The kids had to use only English to purchase things, and we rewarded particularly good English usage with candy. By the end of the day, we teachers were exhausted!

Cate took us for food and drinks afterward, which was quite fun. I really enjoy spending time socially with my co-workers. By eleven, though, it was time to say goodnight and head home to bed. I think this was one of my favorite Halloweens.

Pictures from My "Treat Weekend" (Part 2)

Here's the rest of the photos from my weekend in Seoul:

Part of my lovely hotel room.

The name of this restaurant made me do a double-take and erupt into giggles.

This one also demanded to be photographed. Where do they come up with these names?!

Yet another sign that made me burst out laughing, to the surprise of several Koreans.

I thought this building was really neat.

My extremely enticing breakfast.

Me posing by the entrance to COEX Mall.

Read the fourth item down on this list of snacks available at the COEX Aquarium.

Yet another sign that caused a chuckle.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"