Monday, March 29, 2010

except with my head cut off

this is me today.
except with my head cut off.

(note, i'm one of the bird things--not the child.)


p.s. and just in case you're wondering, most of it is because the infamous inspectors are coming to my school today & tomorrow. the whole ordeal to get ready has transformed the place into nothing short of a three ring circus.

p.p.s. if you're the praying type, please pray that i will be patient, calm, and think clearly . . . it's been a challenge!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

in case you're feeling a little low today . . .

from Bloom, Grow, Love

. . . you're not alone. be encouraged, my friend. i'm told that "all it takes is a little faith and a lot of heart, sweetheart".

you can listen to deb talan singing a little bit of "stars" right here.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

If You Can't Beat 'Em . . .

. . . join 'em.

"Pick your battles" is sage advice. It is an adage that applies to many different contexts, but is extremely relevant in Abu Dhabi. A good amount of selective inattention, especially about things that are way beyond my control, is necessary for survival. Seriously, if I tried to fight every battle and complain about every negative or ridiculous circumstance in my workplace, I would go crazy. (I would also be a jerk.) Some things just aren't worth the hassle. Take our fire drill for example . . .

Our fire drill was just plain silly.

Reason Why It Was Silly #1: We had to have a fire drill in order to show the Infamous Inspectors that the company hired to manage the school is doing their job. Fire drills that actually help you escape from a burning building in an orderly fashion--those are helpful. Fire drills that seem to be done solely for documentation purposes--those are silly.

Reason Why It Was Silly #2: Our school is small. It is rectangular. We have 12 classrooms, a few offices in the front, and a big covered gym/auditorium in the middle. There are doors at each corner and additional doors to the front offices; these 6 double doors lead to sidewalks on 3 out of 4 sides of the school. You would think that exiting the school would be fairly straight forward, right? Guess not. Since November, the bus monitors, bless them, have been laminating little cartoon characters and posting them on the walls around the school to show the quickest way out of the building. They have also been putting tape on the floor so that each classroom can follow their designated "escape route" to safety. Trouble is, they've changed the routes and the cartoon signs so many times that no one even bothers to look at them anymore.

This way!

Reason Why It Was Silly #3: If you follow the most recent "escape route" you will walk straight into a dead end. My students are supposed to follow the yellow tape from Room 4 out into the hall and exit the building through 2 doors next to the music room. However, these doors are almost always locked. I first noticed they were locked back in December when we started trying to go outside to do our weather unit. Every time I've checked since then? Locked. When the Vice Princpal's secretary came around to tell us that there was going to be a fire drill, I told her that the doors on my escape route were locked. She responded with a quick, "Oh, don't worry. We will unlock them for the fire drill." True enough, they were unlocked the next day. The day after the fire drill? Locked. Again. I guess she wasn't kidding when she said she would unlock them for the fire drill. Hopefully they will unlock them for the real fire, too.

Reason Why It Was Silly #4: There are no smoke detectors in our school. Hopefully the fire will be detected before the halls become a blazing inferno.

Reason Why It Was Silly #5: In my former school experiences, in a fire drill it was important to evacuate the school and then line up at a designated meeting point. It's pretty much the same in Abu Dhabi. However, I noticed a big difference when I started to compare where we're supposed to rendezvous. In the US, it was well away from the school. Here, well I guess we just butt our kids back up against the burning building.

Each class is supposed to line up in front of their sign. My two classes are 1/3 and 1/4.

When I saw these signs up before school, I had to chuckle. I could just picture myself saying, "Here, children. Line up!! Yes, back right up next to the blaze! Keep going! KEEP GOING! Straight line! You--NO talking! What? Oh, that's just smoke. Don't you pay it no mind! You'll be safe because you're on the outside!"

Reason Why It Was Silly #6: We never even checked to see if everyone was present. Instead of standing with clipboards, class lists, walkietalkies, and a simple system for notifying the principal that all students were accounted for, we just quickly walked outside, lined up, stood for 5 seconds, and then the students were dismissed for snack break. I felt like it was more of a speed drill than anything. (Yes, the nurse had a stopwatch and yes, she was using it!) I sure hope everyone in my class was outside; I tried to count before we left, but the nurse was screeching at us from down the hall. Without having any time to check once we lined up, we could have easily been missing Shaqra in the bathroom or something.

For like 2 seconds, I thought about talking to the administration to suggest new fire drill policies--or at least to tell them that they need to unlock those doors. However, I quickly regained my senses. Naaah. That battle's not worth the effort. Some things you just gotta let slide . . .

My new outlook is to reserve my energies only for issues in which the outcomes will be "very possible" and "highly likely." Very possible we will have another fire drill? Nope. Highly likely we will get some smoke detectors in the next couple months? Nope. Very possible they will switch our emergency rendezvous location? Nope. Highly likely those doors will stay unlocked on a daily basis? Nope. Highly likely we will have a real fire? Let's hope not !!!

Oh, Abu Dhabi.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Professional Development, Emirati Style

Two weeks ago at work, a bus monitor came in during my lesson and started passing out notices to my students. As you would imagine, the notices were written in Arabic, and as you know, I don't read or speak this language. The bus monitors, bless them, don't happen to speak English. This interesting dynamic between message/messenger/receiver typically results in frequent misunderstandings. In this instance, it meant that I had no clue what the notice was about. (Really, I didn't worry too much about it.)

However, I was quite surprised to show up to work the next day and discover that the students were going home at 10:30 am. No, 10:00. No, really 11:00. (I don't think anyone knew what time they were actually supposed to be dismissed.) Regardless, the students went home early.

The reason? Well, it turns out that all was explained in the notice from the day before. Students were dismissed early so that teachers could attend a seminar. (Or, as they like to call them here, "a PD".) The art teacher was giving "a PD" on using color analysis to determine the personality of students. Something like that.

When I stepped into the art room for "a PD," I had to smile to myself. It was definitely different from what I would find at home. The lights were dim, the air was so thick with oud that you could hardly breathe, there were goodie bags and folders at each desk, and a dramatic powerpoint slideshow set to an instrumental version of "Amazing Grace" was playing in the background. (Just a bit of pre-seminar entertainment.)

I'll spare you the details of the "PD," but it wasn't about colors and personalities at all. It was 2 hours of analyzing drawings to determine the mental and emotional health of each child artist. Since most of it was in Arabic, I didn't catch too much. I do remember learning that when children draw round noses on people, it means they consider the person to be "dog-like;" a smile with teeth means that the child wants to bite others; and that if the child draws her family, but she doesn't draw them holding hands, it means there is trouble at home. The last hour quickly turned into a "look at this picture and guess what I'm thinking game" between the art teacher and her local colleagues.

Although the presentation could have been intriguing, I was more interested in the goodie bag. It had the standard chocolate/pen/perfume combo. Not bad, not bad. This one also had a little extra somethingsomething: cell phone bling. Check this out!

What do you think?
Does creepy come to mind?! Plus, compared to my cell phone, it's huge! Anyway, don't you think seeing this little lady dangle from my cell phone was definitely worth all of the missed teaching time?
Yep. Me too.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Very Sweet Birthday

The day before my birthday, I woke up to find this message posted on my Facebook wall:

Eat lots of sugary goodness; it's your birthday, you're entitled.

Well, Ms. April, I guess birthday wishes really do come true. My birthday in Abu Dhabi was very sweet indeed.

It started with an early birthday party at Jill's . . .
Since my lovely friend, Sarah, happens to celebrate her birthday on March 1st, Jill threw us a double birthday bash. She went all out with a kid-themed evening complete with delicious food, a homemade happy birthday banner, and an exceptional cake. We even played the old classic party game: "Pin the Hump on the Camel". (Well, classic but with a culturally appropriate twist.)

The birthday girls

which was followed by cupcakes for breakfast when Lisa & Esther jumped out of my closet at work . . .

These were so good I had 2!

. . . and continued with a delightful birthday dinner.

My friends, Cait & Eda, hosted a party with friends from church. They even went to the trouble to bake me my most favoritest birthday sweet: angel food cake.

The crew enjoying lasagna,salad, and a few birthday hat sprinkles on the side.

But wait! It didn't stop there!

The birthday celebrations continued halfway around the world! All the way back in Washington, this birthday party was being held in my honor.
My favorite party critters

The accompanying pictures of these happy little people was a very special birthday gift. Their homemade birthday videos? Well, those were definitely the icing on the cake!

You can watch more birthday cheer here and here.

Thank you all for such a sweet birthday!

1. Sunshine, lavender and so much thoughtfulness from Wendy
2. Cupcakes from Esther; as good as if they came straight from New York City's legendary Magnolia bakery
3. Rainbow cake from Jill; This cake is nothing less than epic!

Thanks to Cait, Jill, and Wendy for the photos!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things . . . from 2005

First, the Not-So-Favorite Things:
Well, I think it's safe to say that work hit an all time low this week. (I might tell all later, but for right now, I need to play it safe and keep my mouth shut.) To make things even ''better" all you need to do is take some of those challenges at work, add in a some other frustrations from your personal life, keep telling yourself that things will never change, and voila! You'll end up with a nasty mix of discouragement and negativity. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

What do I need to do to make things better? Well, a magic wand to twirl and *POOF* would be nice. Since that's not so likely to happen, though, I'm trying some other solutions. One of my solutions is straight from my very favorite musical heroine. She suggests a simple, adaptable, foolhardy plan that is even supposed to work on dog bites and bee stings. I'm told that all I have to do is try my best to focus on a few of the many, many wonderful, happy, little things that make me love life. In other words, all I need to do is to simply remember a few of my favorite things and then, somehow, I won't feel so bad.

Frankly, it sounds stupid.

However, it worked for me in the past and I'm thinking it's worth a try in the present.

Now, a few of the Favorite Things:
A little while ago, Deena (an incredible listener, thinker, questioner, and reminder-er) thoughtfully forwarded me a copy of an old email I'd written. Enclosed in this email was a list of "My Favorite Things" . . . all the way from 2005.
  • good, solid, non-tension filled but still-hard-to-breathe hugs; my mom's hugs; my dad's hugs; hugs from little kids with both arms around your neck and both legs around your waist (I LOVE these!)
  • having people stand around the piano and sing
  • freshly washed sheets
  • staring into the eyes of babies; I also like it when they grab onto my fingers--they seem so strong yet you know that they're so fragile
  • sunsets and sunrises; good ones that seem to be from another world (I like to think that they're pictures from Heaven kind of like in C.S. Lewis' "THE LAST BATTLE".)
  • good guitar music that makes you feel folksy
  • Egyptian licorice tea--this stuff is d-e-v-i-n-e
  • hammocks!!
  • raspberries off of the vine that are a little warm from the sun
  • when my mom laughs at her own jokes
  • when Galen tells jokes
  • when my dad is witty and won't stop making puns (that are usually really corny)
  • pictures--those candid ones that totally capture emotions or theoretical ideas; (ie. this picture IS joy, this picture IS uncertainty but courage at the same time; this picture is freedom)
  • laugh fests in general; laugh fests with my family are even better
  • exchanged looks without words where everything is understood
  • driving down the road on an early warm summer night with the radio blasting and the car windows down singing as loud as you can (Galen and I had some good times doing this)
  • "free forward movement" when riding dressage on Charlie
  • when Charlie runs to see me, when he whinnies when I come, when he whinnies when I leave, when he rests his head in my arms, when he nuzzles my ear, when he twitches his lips when I rub the curry comb on his belly
  • reconnecting with people you haven't seen for awhile (as opposed to just being with people you haven't seen for awhile)
  • when pigs show off and seem to act silly
  • chatting with Deena
  • having one-on-one's with the INN staff (especially Hil, Anne, & Bri)
  • listening to my dad's old record: Maple Street Memories (this is my favorite momento of my family before the divorce)
  • listening to my grandparents tell stories of when they were little
  • playing Ghost in the Dark
  • green Thai curry
  • having the top bunk
  • late night conversations with my roommates
  • being with my dad & Wendy & feeling like a family
  • having Dickens, Hoot, or Marilla 'comfort' you when you're sad
  • the first few moments after your last test during finals week
  • the word "cozy"
  • going to the INN on Tuesday nights and getting a million hugs and seeing people who are excited to see you
  • Old Spice aftershave (my dad used to wear that)
  • LORD OF THE RINGS (both the books and the movies)
  • the smell of fresh peaches (I think it makes me think of summer)
  • going on calving calls with my dad
  • running over the Palouse hills as fast as your horse can take you
  • dresses that just seem perfect and fit perfect and make you feel perfect
  • when people run up to meet you (especially if they happen to be your little brothers!!!!!!!)
  • a song or an email or a conversation that puts into words the things you feel but are inadequate at expressing
  • seeing bears in the wild--this makes me so excited!
  • my Grandma and Grandpa McGraw's backyard
  • the smell of lavender
  • the smell of horses when they're shed out and when they're just a little bit sweaty
  • fitting 4 people in my mom's bed to watch movies
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • climbing trees
  • the "guess what" game my Grandpa Bruce invented
  • games of charades when people get into it and aren't embarrassed
  • riding on the back of my dad's pickup
  • good friends who you don't always have to explain yourself around and who are real and open and who love you even when you are having a hard time loving yourself
  • knowing you've grown and changed and have been made a little more like Christ but at the same time knowing that it was Him in you that did it all
I find it interesting to see the favorites that have changed and the favorites that have stayed the same in the past 5 years. And, as horribly cliche and cheesy as it sounds, after reading it, I do feel at least a little better.

P.S. Thank you, Deena, for sending this to me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Because today is a significant day . . .

. . . I thought you should read this.

I love you, Walter!