Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Back to Normal-ish

So the apartment is finally finished. Now I just have to put everything back where it belongs and clean because they didn't clean up after themselves after all the sanding etc that they did. So... YAH!! I have my cat back in my apartment and my privacy back... woo woo!!

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Over the Thanksgiving weekend, we (KJ, Isabel, Manuel and I) went shopping on Black Friday and then recovered on the Saturday by going into the DC area and wandering the crazy streets of Georgetown. Loved the neighbourhood and the million dollar homes we walked past (although I was cranky on the way back... my socks kept slipping down around my toes in my boots and it hurt!!! Funny to think about now though). Below are a few pictures of the Saturday...

Don't you want to live here? These are private residences right on the water and with a gorgeous courtyard...

um... really?! No standing? hahahaha

The reflection of a beautiful bridge...

A church as we walked from the Metro into Georgetown.

One of the embassies in the area... I just really liked the building.

Uh oh... there goes the apartment

Remember how I was so proud to have my apartment all organized, decorated and done? Well, it has recently been undone!! They are re-fitting all the potable water pipes in all the apartments in my complex and so they have cut holes in most of the walls and some of the ceiling to get at the pipes. Of course, they thought that this would be good to start on a Friday (they don't work on Saturday or Sunday) and then complete sometime in the coming week... *sigh* So, now I am living in a construction zone and my little kitty is living with friends... Below are a couple of pics of what it looks like at the moment.

The Gingerbread Project

This entry is dedicated to my friend Sophia who got me addicted to this project. The Gingerbread Project is one where kids research, design and create a gingerbread house that goes to charity in some form or another at the end. I did it twice in Korea and have now begged and convinced the people that I work with that this is a good thing and so I am doing it here in the US for the first time. It's much more convenient here because you can find all the ingredients in the stores and you can buy tubs of pre-made icing... hahaha... it's like I am cheating!!
Anyway, below are a couple of photos of what's been going on in my classroom over the last week.

The blueprints that the kids made to design their house...

Their cracked up versions of gingerbread people... very funny!!

The display board with all the things going on... there is a master plans section, the blueprints section, a reflections section and some progress pictures as well... very neat and orderly (thanks to one of my room moms!!)

Making the blueprints... so cute!!

More working kids!! Look at that, 5 year olds getting along and working cooperatively!!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feelin' the Fall

'Tis the season of falling leaves, changing colors, Thanksgiving, pumpkins, children dressed as Native Americans, Pilgrims and the odd ghoul an gobblin. Here are some shots:

The anonymous Native American for the Thanksgiving feast at school.

Some of our cool pumpkin heads for the scarecrow we made.

The door of my classroom... those falling leaves are their handprints.... clever, huh?

The picture graph we made of the fall vegetables that we like.

The scarecrow that we made!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dealing with Dialects

One thing I've been dealing with here, that I hadn't thought I would is the dialects. I am aware that there are loads of different dialects in a country this big with this many people, but I really hadn't thought that my kids would have such a wide variety. Most of the kids speak with little to no accent but then I have one special little guy that has a thick accent and uses some southern dialect words that I don't always understand. Here is a prime example:

Me: Okay, "Joseph" why don't you try writing your name.

"Joseph": 'Kay

He proceeded to write a backwards J and then say to me: Dat mai naaaaame!!!

Needless to say, I almost fell off my chair.

Elections USA

I know it's a lot late to post my thoughts and observations about the elections in the US, but here you have it. I've been watching this race for the last 2 years from Korea and here in the US and it has consumed my attention at times. Being a Canadian, where our elections are not so much of a celebrity event as a political event, it's been odd to see the fanfare, the rallies, the commercials, the hub-bub as it were. The only thing I can compare it to, that may come close is the elections in Korea where there are trucks blaring campaign messages in the streets both day and night, where candidates are colored-coded and followers wear that color to show support, flyers are handed out and so on. But still, it doesn't come close to what it was here.
Personally, I am glad that Obama won... I know, my Christian friends are now praying for my soul because Obama is NOT a Republican... but you have to understand that I don't view it on party lines, I've never held to a party for political issues, I hold to the issues and the people I think have the answers that make sense to me. And for me, Obama made more sense. And being more of a global citizen, it made an impression on me that he was raised internationally, in a bi-racial environment...
However, I will tell you what does get to me... it's the reference that Obama is the first "black" president... hm... did I miss it? I am pretty sure that his mom was WHITE. So, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that he is the first bi-racial president of the United States of America? I think so... But that brings me to another observation about this country that I am living in: Race is everything here. People are continually asked and made to identify their race, like it is what defines them as human beings.
Okay, I know that this has been one rambling post, but that is kind of where my mind is these days... rambling.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Over-taxed and under-paid

Okay, so we all know that when you leave the international scene you take a pay cut. When you teach in Korea at least, they pay for your housing (utilities are cheap and you pay those yourself), cell phones are inexpensive and you can nab a used car for about $400 (and the insurance is about $500 all year), the school also pays for you to come and go at least once a year, they pay some shipping costs and have all kinds of amenities you can use at the school (like the gym, the field, the swimming pool and so on). So I knew things would be different when I came to the US, I knew I'd be paying rent and I knew my utilities would more expensive. I knew my brand new car would cost me a little more and that the health care would suck in comparison (I don't mean the doctors, I mean the costs)... but I thought I was prepared. But I wasn't prepared to be taxed to death!! There are state taxes on everything (they make Canada look like a tax haven) and there is even a personal property tax on my vehicle. I just found out that I am going to have to pay $300+ by December in personal property taxes because I own a new car... never mind that I already paid sales tax on it... never mind that I have NEVER heard of being taxed on a car (okay, not true, in Korea they tax you on owning a car, but it amounts to about $120 a year total).... The actual yearly total for my car is over $500 but since I came halfway through the year I have to pay just $300... *sigh* and people wonder why people in the US aren't surviving this recession... all the money they earn goes to gas, taxes and the government... sad, so sad...


So, in the normal world chairs are meant for one person to sit in, but not so in the US. Everything here is bigger... this is the chair my boyfriend bought for his living room. I love it and helped to pick it out, but we can both sit in it without even touching. So, this is an American-sized chair... bigger (and I have to say it's better in some ways, we actually fell asleep in it and didn't even notice until WAY later!!). Another picture of me being swallowed up by it is soon to follow. :)

American Football

This weekend I went to my first ever NFL game in Baltimore, MD. It's not quite the same as Canadian football, but it's close. But I think that the fan attitude is more like Canadians are with hockey (the best dang game ever!!).... anyway, here are the pics... enjoy!!

The Raiders playing the Ravens.

This crazy fan painted his head silver...

The Raiders right before the game....

The Ravens band... the biggest band in the NFL.

Kelvin and I at the game.

The stadium before the game starts...

The stadium on the outside...

The tailgate party outside the stadium.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Coffee Shops

Another comparison for you... in Korea when we had our base passes, we (we=Raymond, J-9, April and other cool teachers) could go on base to the little coffee shop to do our grading or some random school work in a somewhat quiet environment.... however, those passes didn't last and we had to beg our way on most of the time through sports or some other random organization or event. So we had to resort to Starbucks or some other Korean coffee shop, which can be the LOUDEST places on earth. They are consistently packed and never, EVER quiet. However, in the US, you can go into the coffee shop, set up your computer and be relatively undisturbed and in a somewhat quiet environment. I am at one now and loving it... relishing in it really... *sigh* This is a good comparison, one where I side with the US...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Holy Halloween Batman!!

Sorry... the title just seemed more fun. In this blog, it has been my endeavour to make observations on the cultural differences I have seen in my travels etc. Here are my Halloween observations:

Oman - No Halloween

Korea - Growing Halloween. This holiday (is it a holiday?) has become more and more popular, but mostly as an adult festivity. Adults in Korea (mostly foreign and some nationals) hold huge parties and dress up. Most kids do not Trick-Or-Treat, although lots of the foreign kids find a way to do that in their smaller communities or schools.

Canada - Kids Trick-Or-Treat and adults have parties. There are pumpkins carved and outside the houses and some decorations. It's fairly innocent with some pranks and fireworks.

USA - Um... wow... the decorations are insane. They are taking over the stores, the yards, the houses (but not the schools... no Halloween there). There are pumpkins carved everywhere, kids talk non-stop about their costumes, and packets of candy have been in the stores since the end of August. It is almost as huge (commercially) as Christmas is at home in Canada.

Korean kids vs American kids

Okay, people are always asking me what the difference is between Korean and American kids and I am here to tell you: NOTHING!! Korean kids whine, talk a lot, chatter endlessly, tattle on their friends, work hard, are excited to learn to read and write and all that fun stuff. But here is the secret, US kids are the same!! They whine (yes, even in that same tone as the Korean kids... and I am talking NON-Asian kids), they chatter endlessly, talk constantly to anyone in ear-shot, tattle on their friends for the silliest things, they work HARD on their assignments, and they are EXCITED to learn.
I guess the biggest difference is the parents. Korean parents go too far in pushing their kids to study hard and advance their education and American parents are much more relaxed. When I would send home homework in Korea, it was done and the kids KNEW the information when it came back... whereas in the US, most of it comes back, some never does and lots of parents rush their kids through it on the first day so that they don't have to do it daily (I send home weekly packets with prescribed pages per day).
So, it's not the kids that are so different, it's the cultures and the parent's approach to education that is so different.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Police and hoops.

SO... after all the trouble and paperwork of getting my car imported and asking 8 million questions to be sure I had it all under control, I got pulled over by the police the other day (just down from my school - awesome). Apparently, asking all the right questions to the right people doesn't mean you get the right answer. The question was: Do I need to get a state inspection for my brand new car? The answer: No, not for the first two years. The truth from the lovely police officer: Get the inspection or I'll ticket you!! Okay... so I got the inspection. Thankfully there is an inspection spot right across the street from my school so I got it done a day later. But geez...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The apartment is done...

The kitchen, I am cooking a small Canadian Thanksgiving...

Bet you can guess what room this is...

The lovely TV that my lovely boyfriend gave me!!

The living room.

More living room...

the hallway...
The dining room
The all important wine rack in the dining room.

So there you have it folks, my first US apartment. There are still things to be done and a couple of boxes of antiques to sell off... but it feels more like home now.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

And this is why...

This is why I do what I do on a daily basis. This is why I get up before the sun to squeeze in a workout so I can be in the classroom earlier and stay a little later. This is why I take crap loads of stuff home with me and work on the weekends. This is why... (I know... you are reading this and asking yourself what the hell I am talking about, right? Well, let me type the letter I got from a parent this week into the space below. Names are not included of course).

Dear Ms. Collins (okay, my name is included),

I wanted to take the time and say how happy we are with the work you have done with M. This is the first week that M has talked about school and tells us how much he loves it. We were so scared that M would stay in trouble and that I would have to be at the school all the time. Things have changed at home too. He wants to read and do homework. I have pulled out my hair on many a day wanting him to let me read to him. I also tried to get him to color and he would have nothing to do with it. However, the last 2 days the boy colors and finishes the page before taking off to something new.Thank you and we are excited about the rest of the year.

This really touched me because this little person has really struggled for a long time. Before he came to me, he was struggling. The mom came in before school started to give me the heads up on him and his behavior, but something in my classroom is working for him and I have the honor of helping to shape this little person into his potential... and he has a LOT of potential!! So, yea, this is why I do what I do... and I LOVE it!! Thank you, parents for entrusting your children to my care and thank you God for giving me the heart for this work... whether it is here, Korea, Oman, Canada or anywhere else!!

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I recently joined the YMCA in an effort to get into the community more, gain health, lose weight and all that other fun stuff. Thankfully, one of my new friends from my school decided to join with me and I have a workout buddy. I had a workout buddy in Korea too. Just about every morning Christy and I would meet and either go for a walk, jog or hit the school gym. It was great and I miss that a lot. So I am thrilled that Lyndsay wants to do that with me too. It got off to bit of a rocky start because it took us forever to get there on Tuesday when we were going to sign up. So we missed the class we thought we'd do, but that was okay. We planned to meet the next afternoon and try their Zumba class (some dance inspired thing) but we got held up at school and didn't get a chance to go. So then we just hit the gym for a little bit... it was more high tech than I have EVER seen. Here is the comparison for you: My first gym in Korea was about the size of my apartment. It had 2 treadmills, 1 bike, one stairmaster and some free weights... and LOTS of OLD Korean men... My first gym in the US has more cardio machines than I can count (and some I've never seen before - like the mountain climber), TVs for all the cardio machines, a system called FitLinxx that helps to track your progress. You have your own number and you have to be trained how to use the machines so your settings can be stored. They track your sets, pounds lifted overall, intensity of workout, calories burned and so on. You can even load your outside cardio into the system and it will log that too!! It's nuts!!!
So today I finally took a class. My friend Lyndsay and I decided to give Spinning a try... OMG!!! It is so hard and awful and yet so good... I have a love/hate relationship with it and will be back next week if there is a space open for me!!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

American Germs...

So I've had another first. American germs!! All last week I suffered with a cold that pretty much rocked my body. All I could do was sleep, take medicine and sleep some more. I guess I am more resistant to the Asian strains of all the flus and colds and stuff... now I get to suffer through a whole new set of strains.... hahahaha Fun times! Another adjustment. :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Apartment not finished, but...

I did get a hair cut, manicure and pedicure!! I know, I know!! I need to get this apartment done, but I just couldn't bring myself to stay inside when it was so beautiful outside. I did get my bedroom all done though, the bathroom cleaned and the kitchen cleaned (look at me, justifying... like I am guilty of my hand in the cookie jar!!). Anyway, I do have a pic though... my new hair cut. Unfortunately, the picture is kinda dark so you can't really see it... but you get the idea.


After being so productive yesterday, I woke with a burning desire to finish unpacking and to get sorted. But as I posted in the comment block to my last post, I am having trouble finding room. I need MORE book shelves and another room. Right now my office is my bedroom. *sigh* I had really hoped to have that spare bedroom for my workout gear and my office, not to mention as a place for my friends to stay when they come to visit (oh yea, you are all coming for a visit, right?). But, alas, I am stuck trying to squeeze all my stuff into a teeny, tiny (albeit VERY cute) one bedroom apartment. It's getting there. I did finish the bedroom today and got another box or two unloaded. I am hoping to finish the brunt of it today. I need to buy one more book shelf (just a little one), a chair for the living room and I think that's it... maybe. I also have stuff to get rid of!! I have a box full of antique china and silver that I don't want, a nice wooden coffee table that is too big for my little living room and just some stuff that I don't know why I kept. *sigh* It feels like a never ending job, but I can actually see carpet today. Hopefully I will get it done and post some pictures later so you can see it. :)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Waiting out the storm

I've been living in Asia for the last 9 years and I've seen some pretty wicked storms. There was my first typhoon in Korea, where the kimchi pots sailed through the air and then there were the flash floods and sand storms in Oman. I've seen them, been in them and heard all the hubbub. And, true to form, I've now been through another storm. I've just moved (as you know if you've been reading this... which you ALL should) to the eastern coastal area of the USA. This weekend, tropical storm Hanna hit our shores (at 3 am this morning to be exact). But I'll tell you what, I am thankful for that storm. It made me stay inside and do the work that I'd been dreading. And now the rain has stopped and the sun is peaking through the clouds. I don't know if tomorrow will bring more rain and I'll be whining about it, but for now, I am thankful.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

All Dads Are Called Steve

I meant to write this in before the first day stuff, but the other day I had parents coming in for an open house. Just a meet and greet kind of event. I have one little boy in my class who is very articulate and intelligent. One this occasion his dad came in towards the end just as his mom was prepping to leave. We asked the boy to introduce his dad and he did. This is what the conversation went like:

Me: Who's this?
Him: This is my daddy, but sometimes my mommy calls him Steve and he calls my mommy Julie.
Me: (giggling) wow, thank you for sharing that.
My Para: Well, what should we call him? Daddy?
Him: No! All adults call daddies Steve!!

So next time you see a daddy, make sure you call him Steve!!

First Days (#11)

So today was the first day of school with the kids. It was my 11th first day of teaching and it was a doozy!! I knew that Kindergarten would suck the life right out of me, but I didn't expect it to be all in one day. And to think that when I first became a teacher, that is all I wanted to do... teach in a Kindergarten classroom. Right now I feel overwhelmed and unprepared!! I have 20 kids from about 8:15 in the morning until 3 (that's if their moms or buses come on time, today one bus was a "little" late and arrived to get the kids at 3:45). I have about 20 minutes to eat my lunch and 30 minutes a day for planning, except for Wednesdays because that's the Hands On Math day when we do an extra 30 minutes of Math with manipulatives (apparently no one told the powers that be that all math at the Kindergarten level is HANDS ON!!!). So yea... It wasn't the easiest of first days but I was so busy that I didn't even notice.
Now... let's talk about it being my first day in a public school and a US public school at that. Again, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. I've never met a culture that loves to waste more paper than the US does. We had to have forms filled out, things sent home, things coming back, paper attendance slips (those are just for the first 15 days of school), lunch counts (on paper instead of electronically sent), my 4th or 5th class list, a bus list made by me with no information from the office, another changed schedule and the list could go on for about 3 more entries worth of space!! YIKES!!
But the best part of the day was meeting the kids!! They are LOVELY!!! Even the ones that I KNOW in my heart of hearts will test and try me everyday, they are just lovely. I have a very intelligent group with very diverse needs. There are 2 little ones with pretty interesting speech habits (one can't say the g or k sounds and so they come out with a t sound... so I am Miss Tollins to that little one... too cute). One with just some interesting habits period. Thankfully that one responds well to me. Two that have mouths that don't stop, but they say very intelligent things. Three whose mouths won't produce much English (thank goodness for my Spanish speaking Para-Educator). One who is so tiny I think I could put that one in my pocket. And a mish-mash of kids with really interesting backgrounds and experiences. I am thankful for the class I have received... it's pretty good!!!
The funniest part of the day was this: at the end of the day I was called to the office... hm... wonder why? Turns out I put a kid on the wrong bus!! Oh wait, no, I put her on the bus her mother indicated.... the mother wrote down the bus stop number, not the actual bus route number. That poor mom, she was just so distraught until we realized what had happened and had the bus return with the little girl... hehehe... just a small example of the chaos today!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Chaos Continues...

Below are some shots on the day that all the boxes and the cat arrived. It was pure insanity but it's getting better day by day. Between that and setting up my Kindergarten classroom I don't have time or energy for much else...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Pink Kindergarten Fairies

This is not my school, but the home of the pink kindergarten fairies. Let me tell you how this all came about. Earlier this week, I was made to attend yet another 2 day session of professional development (I think the York County teachers must be the MOST and BEST professionally developed group of teachers I have ever known). At one of the sessions that I attended, I ended up seated next to the two kindergarten teachers at the above school. We got to talking and they asked about me, where I was from, where I would be teaching and so on. Once they found out I was new to the area, they asked me about how I was finding things and I found myself being very honest about how little I had in my classroom and how little I had to supply the room with. The two ladies seemed shocked and told me not to spend another dime, that at the next PD day (which was just another day away) they would have some materials for me. And today, they came through. Their staff has hot pink staff shirts (hence the name of Pink Kindergarten Fairies) and then came with 2 boxes and a giant bag full of blocks, paper, glue, hand sanitizer, and a bunch of things I wouldn't have had in my room without them. So hats off to the Pink Kindergarten Fairies.... they are heroes in my books!!!

Count your blessings, one by one...

Lately, I've been really struggling to stay positive about my move to Williamsburg (I like to call it The Burg or W-burg). Before I left for here, I was nothing but excited to get here and find an apartment. When I finally got here and got an apartment, I was nothing but excited to get it set up (my furniture arrives tomorrow). Then I was in and out of my school and nothing but excited to get that going... but, I've found that I am grinding to a hault in my excitement. I look at my friends who are overseas still and I envy them because the international school situation is so different. You work with people who share your situation and you become like family because of it (granted, a fairly disfunctional family, but family nonetheless). But here in The Burg, it's not like that. Most people here have been here for years or their whole lives. For example, today I was at an all day teacher's training day in one of the HUGE highschool buildings and one of my partner teachers was telling me that her husband attended that school. *sigh* I don't even know what that is like, I can't identify with that at all. But I digress... The whole point of the example is that unlike international schools, these people have outside lives and roots and are nicely settled into their routines and there is seldom room for a newcomer. Today I was lamenting over the situation with a good friend and she told me not to give up hope and to stay positive. I'll be honest, I couldn't see the apples in the trees because of the clouds and raindrops... I had given up. But after I got off the phone with her, I began to realize that I have plenty to be thankful for: My closest friends are but a phone call away, I am in a place where I can be understood for the most part, I have a great apartment, I have a good job that helps me keep my nice car and great apartment, my great apartment comes with a gym and a pool, there are some people here who really do care (like the pink kindergarten fairies - there will be a post dedicated just to them), and I am healthy. So, when I am getting weepy and homesick for my former life, I need to just remember these things, count my blessings and be grateful for the goodness in my life.... I am BLESSED in the truest sense of the word.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Da Beach... East Coast Style...

So today some of the lovely teachers that are here with the same program as me got together and we drove to Virginia Beach. We laid in the sand for a while, splashed in the waves, walked along the promenade and then had a yummy dinner in a lovely restaurant. When we were done with dinner, we came out to find a band playing.... all in all, it was a lovely day and made me NOT want to return to work tomorrow!! hahaha. Below are a few pictures from today... enjoy, but don't be jealous...