Saturday, December 31, 2011

'Tis the Season

I know what you're thinking: "My isn't this post a little late? Christmas has come and gone... silly girl." But you are thinking of a different sort of season than I am. You are thinking of the holiday season and I'm thinking of... duh, duh, duh (cue the suspenseful music) RECRUITING season.
Yes, now that the new year is upon us, the recruiting season is in full swing for international school teachers. It's this time of year that we spiffy up our C.V.s and get all our references sorted (truth be told I did most of that a couple of months ago as the recruiting season seems to be earlier each year) and, if our contracts are up for renewal we begin to ask what's next? And sometimes that is easier answered than others. Sometimes the teacher in question is happy with their school and vice versa so the answer is nothing... I'm staying right here. Or sometimes there is discord and the teacher and/or school knows it's time to move on, to sever the relationship as it were. And then there are times where the choice is difficult. Where there is no clear cut answer and there is a lot of thinking to do (typically before the winter break comes and that can be fairly stressful).
However, once the choice is made to go recruiting, the season starts in full swing. I have chosen to go recruiting this year. I don't HATE my school or the place I live, I just feel like a better fit might be out there for me and I'd like to see if it is, so I'm going to check that out. Now, I've chosen to use the help of a recruiting agency. I've signed on to a group called Search Associates and for a fee from me and a lot of my professional documents, they will alert me to jobs etc that match my desires and also help facilitate an opportunity for me to interview with several schools in a matter of days: a job fair.
So the recruiting season has begun and it's stressful and fun and exciting all at the same time. I personally love networking and meeting new people, so the whole job fair process is a thrill for my extroverted self. I also love looking over the specs of a number of schools and day-dreaming about what it might be like to work and live there. Sure, it seems early as the school year doesn't end until June but it sure is nice to have job security in knowing where your next job will be several months in advance.
So blow the horns, let loose the hounds (as it were) and let the season begin! To all my teacher friends in the hunt, good luck and stay confident! To all my administrator friends in the hunt, good luck and may you find the best fits possible for your schools!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Today's adventure was to hop the Circumvesuviana train and head out to Pompeii. I didn't know what would be out there or what the crowds might be like since it was Christmas Eve and all. So I packed some water, an apple and some delicious Neopolitan cookies that my sweet little Italian Grandpa gave me (if you are a facebook friend you know all about him already, but if you aren't here's the back story: The other night I popped into a store to buy some water andthe little man behind the counter kept calling me bella and gave me a cookie to try. It was amazing, so I bought one to go. A couple of nights later, I popped in for more water and another one of these cookies when he decided that I really should try them all. So I bought one of each and he gave me one to eat right away... um... these people make GOOD cookies!!).

Off I went, hopped the train and was away! When I got to the station (Scavi Pompeii), I hopped off and out into the street where there were signs pointing me to the excavation site. Pompeii is still an active archeological site and some of the streets are closed from time to time as things are dug up or restored so that tourists can safely walk through. Below are a few of the pictures that I took on my wanderings in the nearly empty site (winter is a great time to be in the region as there are few tourists and the sun is out... felt more like spring or fall than winter).

Pompeii is beautiful... the whole area is and I highly recommend seeing it. It was a treat to do that on a warm and sunny day and to have the whole site nearly to myself until the last 10 minutes when a couple of large Japanese tour groups arrived.

Friday, December 23, 2011


It's almost like you could hear the cry echo in the anfiteatro in Santa Maria Capua Vetere. Almost... or maybe it was the delirium of excitement at having finally FOUND the place.

The adventure begins in trying to figure out how one gets a Metro Nord'Ouest ticket at the Stazione Centrale in Napoli. I must have wandered around for about 30 minutes before locating the appropriate office (which was literally right in front of my face at least 3 times) with the help of a lady who worked in another office. What I was looking for was the official artecard office because this little gem of a card gets you into a certain number of historical sites or museums included in the price and gets you free public transport (trains, ferries, subway, buses etc) and some great (as in 50%) discounts on the other historical venues. So once I sorted out which card I would need and chatted with the saleslady about how to make best use (she told me all the museums are open and FREE on Christmas Day and that Pompeii was included in my card... guess who's going to Pompeii tomorrow?) of the card, I went to find my train. And this is what I found:

So CUTE!! It just has 2 cars and runs around the area. Very handy, very quick, very clean and comfortable. Once I finally (45 minutes) got to Santa Maria Capua Vetere (this is where ancient Capua was), I thought I'd pop off the train and right into the city centre, full of signage etc like Sorrento was... WRONG!! Not so many tourists make it out here and there is NO signage when you first get off the train and wander into the street. So let me help you avoid the extra 45 minutes or so of wandering the random streets of S. Maria Capua V. like I did. Once you come out from the station, follow the road to the T and then GO LEFT! You will follow that road up a curve and on your right will be a brown sign for the museum (which I would avoid going to, it's literally 2 rooms of stones behind glass... we have BETTER artifacts from the same period in Turkey). Keep going, going, going (you may want to ask for directions and most Italians are sweet enough to point you in the right direction). Finding the museum will help orient you for sure. The museum should be on your left... walk past it to a roundabout, take the left and keep walking until you see the anfiteatro on your right. It's hard to miss with the big open square and men playing afternoon games of Bocce Ball. And that's it. It's not spectacular or anything but if you are a history fan and a fan of Spartacus, then you might like to see it. The anfiteatro costs 2 Euro 50 to get in, so it's really cheap and the walking is easy, just over crazy uneven pavement (the paving stones of old are still in use on most streets). While, I'm exhausted from all the walking and wandering, I'm really glad I saw it. The walk was good for me and invigorating actually, and the site is just cool...

When in Rome...

So when I found out that Rome was just 2 hours by train from Naples, I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to go there. So began to research the feasibility of a day trip. I know that a day is not long enough to see all that Rome has to offer, but when you find out that there is just one thing that I've been desperate for YEARS to see and it's in Rome (actually its in Vatican City, no not the Pope), you'll understand my crazed efforts to run up there and back. Not to mention that I had already booked my hotel here in Napoli and had no intentions of canceling the booking in order to re-book for a few days here and a few days there. I had PLANNED a trip to Napoli and was more than content with just that... well, until I found out that Rome is SO CLOSE!!

Anyway, I began to research by getting in touch with my friend Google. I asked how to get from Naples to Rome and a whole bunch of sites came up but the one that was useful was the Italylogue site as it had links to the things I needed to know and got me online with the train system here in Italy. I booked my train tickets and that was easy. Then I decided to book a tour for the Vatican since I had been told that lines are astronomical, even in winter and more so because it was the Christmas season. So I went to a website that books tours etc for you. And they were great! They were able to get me 2 tours for decent prices and that fit inside the time constraints that I had. I love the Internet sometimes!!

Anyway, I hopped my train at 7am (and just so you know, no cat calling that early... all the cool guys are sleeping and it was a fairly peaceful walk to the train station) and was off and running. Taking the train in Italy is really easy. I had booked online, so I didn't need a ticket, just my confirmation number (it gives me a seat and car too, so no jostling around for a seat). Anyway, once on the train, I was absorbed in watching daylight come to the GORGEOUS Italian countryside and 2 hours zipped by.

Rome was FREEZING! So much colder than Naples and I was not aware so I had my winter coat and boots, scarf and hat, but NO gloves! And I was taking an open air, hop-on/hop-off tour bus first!! ACK! My fingers nearly fell off several times but I got some fantastic shots of the city. I didn't get off at any of the stops until the Vatican. I simply didn't have time and it wasn't part of the plan. Part of the life plan is to go back though. What a gorgeous city.

At the Vatican, I found a cafe, had some lunch and wrote a couple of postcards. I wanted them posted from the actual Vatican so, I had to do it there. I was also fortunate enough to swat away an adorable waiter who thought I should spend Christmas having coffee with him and maybe dinner. Too cute! He was crestfallen when I told him that my plans were to be in Napoli.

Next came my tour of the Vatican. And, surprise of surprises, the Vatican was nearly empty that afternoon. Even our guide was shocked. She said that in the summer 25,000 (yes, THOUSAND) people go through there in a DAY. So much so that she cannot point out the mosaics on the floor or spend more than 5 minutes in the Sistine Chapel. That would have annoyed me to have paid and be pushed through. Anyway, I went, I saw and then the ONE thing I was waiting for:

I've loved this sculpture for my whole lifetime it seems. Something in Mary's face breaks my heart in a way I can't describe or even truly understand myself. Something in the gentle folds in her dress leaves me breathless. And this is why I HAD to go to Rome, I had to see it up close. Michelangelo was just 23 when he started creating this. It is the ONLY piece he signed. She was special to him and she is to me too.

After I saw her, gazed at her beauty and soaked in the atmosphere, I was done. I took the bus back to the station, seeing some more gorgeous sites and then rode the train back to Napoli. A day well spent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It May Have Been the Leopard Print Leggings....

So tonight I was meant to meet up with my lovely breakfast partners but somehow it didn't happen... this is the traveler's life sometimes... missed connections. Not a big deal, sure I would have enjoyed a dinner laughing with them, but somehow I know we will connect sometime in the future again (they have my blog address and email address: HI LADIES!!!). So I waited in the "lobby" of our B'n'B but it made the owner nervous to have me there with no apparent reason (he's just the sweetest man and wanted to help as much as he could) and then I went downstairs to the entrance way to wait... and that's where it all began....

Yes, I was wearing my new leopard print leggings (listen... I'm on holiday and just cute enough to pull it off... check the picture if you don't believe me - sorry for the shoddy mirror shot, but what's a single traveler to do?! Oh... and I'm wearing knee high, flat black boots that you can't see... so it's not a WHOLE leg of leopard).

I was standing in the doorway, watching the comings and goings of this neighbourhood, which is interesting in and of itself (kind wish I had a beer or a wine to sit and watch all the bizarre pass by) but people were watching me too. I felt a little like a fish in a bowl. But I tried to pay it no mind as the neighbourhood can be sketchy late at night (this was only 8 pm so I wasn't worried) and I'm sure not a lot of chubby chicks stand around in leopard print leggings looking foreign. Anyway, a very handsome YOUNG gentleman passed by 2 or 3 times before pretending to need into the building (the entrance wasn't locked at the time, so the ruse was up as soon as he got in as he had nowhere to go!! hahaha). He began to chatter to me in Italian, to which I responded that I spoke none (in English of course... saying it in Italian would have made me a liar). He then asked where I was from and when I said Canada, he switched into fluent French (guess I can't use that as my code language here, I should have said Turkey!). I understood very little of what he was saying, but just enough to understand that he thought I was beautiful and was trying to get something which is not his to have!! Eventually he left and I decided that meeting my new friends wasn't going to happen. I stepped out into the street to find a little pizzeria (my lunch was my big spend meal today) for dinner and was accosted by "smack, smack, psst, psst" by nearly every man I passed!! YIKES! I mean, every lady wants to feel attractive, but I was beginning to wonder if the leggings led these shady men to think I was a lady of the night or something!!!! I kept walking and avoided any eye contact and did not respond and that worked just find... no man pursued me, spoke to me or touched me (so perhaps they didn't think I was a lady of the night... let's cross our fingers and toes and hope that's the truth of the matter) or was aggressive in any manner.

Later, I found my little ristorante/pizzeria and they were showing the local soccer match between Napoli and Genoa. The waiters were funny and engaging (they kept trying to get me to have another drink and to stay a little longer... the place was full of good energy, I liked it) and the food was delicious (I so need to cleanse when I leave here... at least no gluten for a month or something... I'm getting my fair share and yours too). So I watched the first half and then decided that 10 pm was plenty late for me to try to walk back to my hotel. It was much quieter on the way back and Napoli was winning 4-1 when I left.

So maybe it's that I'm cute (and I AM!!) or maybe it was the leopard print leggings, but today I finally got all the male attention everyone warned me about!!

Sleepy Sorrento

Today's adventure included taking the train to another location and navigating new streets on my own. And it was surprisingly easy, even with no Italian in my bag of tricks.

This morning, after a great breakfast (made great by the fellow travelers at my B'n'B that share knowledge, stories and laughs), I made my way to the Circumvesuviana train station which is about 3 minutes walking from my hotel. I had heard and read in the guide books that this area is rife with pick-pockets and just plain dangerous... however, there was no danger when I went (I guess that's the benefit of traveling in the off-season). Sure, there were vagrants begging and some less than savoury people standing outside, but no one hassled me or even approached me. I strolled in, right up to the ticket counter and bought my return ticket for 8 Euros total. The train was easy to find, was clean and generally comfortable. I will say that it pays to get there right when the doors open though as it fills up very quickly and generally is standing room only all the way to Pompeii (which is a fair ways away).

The train right was pleasant and it was good to see the little towns and Mt. Vesuvius whizzing by. I loved that the further south it went, the more citrus trees I saw. I was shocked that the lemons, oranges and mandarins were still ripening on the trees.

Upon arrival in Sorrento, it's pretty easy to find the city centre. You exit the train, walk straight and there you are! The streets are incredibly clean (which is a nice change after the piles of garbage in Napoli - I never said Napoli was clean in the last post... the good things far outweighed the bad in my first impressions) and beautifully decorated for the holidays.

I arrived at about 11 am and in Sorrento (as in much of southern Italy from what I am learning) everything pretty much shuts down from noon to 4pm or so. I thought that the markets would be bustling with last minute shopper etc, but no... Sorrento was sleepy. This beautiful seaside town was already shutting doors and locking up when I arrived. Thankfully some of the shops were open in hopes of getting the few tourists to loosen our purse strings (which I dutifully did at the limoncello store, Limonoro). So after wandering and getting a couple of gorgeous shots...

I went for lunch. I'm not always a fan of things like mussels and clams (almost never really) but since I was in a town that is FAMOUS for their seafood, I thought I should at least try. I am SO glad that I did... it was delicious!!!

After that, there was just very little left to do and the sun was already sliding out of the sky, so I headed for the train station and got into the next train headed for Napoli. It was a faster route going back, which was nice and it was basically empty. I popped off at the Piazza Garibaldi stazione this time and was greeted by a really lovely Christmas tree (covered with hand written Christmas letters and wishes... very sweet). As I was walking back, I saw a coffee shop mentioned in my guide book (I like the EyeWitness guide books) as the BEST place to get coffee in Napoli. So naturally, I had to test it out... and it might be the best cappuccino and sfogliatella that I have ever tasted (it was my first sfogliatella to tell the truth). So if you are ever at the Stazione Centrale, hit up Mexico Cafe/Bar... YUM!!! And it was 2.60 Euros... ridiculous!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

First Impressions...

... are important. They leave lasting impressions. So my first impressions of Italy will leave me with lasting impressions of being impressed, amused and a little in love.

Last night when I boarded my plane to Naples from Munich my first impression of Italian people is that they travel like Koreans. They have MULTIPLE shopping bags and carry-ons and jackets and and and.... and they shove it all up into the compartments above or under the seats or under YOUR seat if they need to, but the difference is they are apologetic if they need your space or if they've made you uncomfortable. They smile, they say excuse me and they seem generally happy. So my first impression of the Italian people is that they are sweetly chaotic and I like it.

Once I arrived I got my bag (nearly first off the plane), wandered out onto the street and began to wonder about hailing a taxi. No problem! There is a taxi line and drivers are helping each other to get fares instead of competing to take them from each other. It was fast, efficient and friendly to hop into a taxi and the rates are FIXED. Twenty Euros from airport to hotel door and the driver wanted to be sure I was safe so he walked me to the door, rang the doorbell, explained a new guest had arrived and even offered to pay for my elevator (it costs 10 cents to to use the elevator in the building I am in)!!! Can you imagine?! So my first impression of Italian taxi drivers is that they are gentlemen!

My hotel is a bit more of a bed and breakfast, the rooms are small and simple and CLEAN. It suits my needs perfectly! And the staff speak VERY little English but want to chatter away to you in Italian as the two ladies did this morning at breakfast, asking me in rapid fire about the kind of coffee I wanted. I was overwhelmed but also overjoyed at their friendly sweetness... thank goodness for the two American ladies who were there and had been for a couple of days. They were able to help me get a coffee. :) So my first impressions of Italian ladies is that they are sweet, funny and kind. My first impressions of other travelers in Italy is that they too are sweet, funny and kind.

Today I decided to wander the streets of Napoli (Naples), just looking around and getting a feel for the place. I wanted (hoped I could find, more like it) to see the street where they sell all the presepi (nativity scenes). And, I did! In fact, I stumbled upon it as I just wandered the streets, following the loose directions of one of the hotel workers (he's a lovely and flirty Italian man who greeted me by name this morning... I really do recommend the Sweet Sleep Bed and Breakfast if you come to Naples). I loved wandering the noisy and chaotic streets of Napoli. Cars and scooters and people all swimming together in the channels that are the streets here. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to how it flows, but flow it does. And I felt safe... Sure, I took proper precautions with my valuables but I never felt that having a bag on my shoulders made me a target or that I was going to be hit by the scooters careening down the streets. My first impressions of Napoli are much like my first impressions of her people, sweetly chaotic, funny and kind.

Here are some photos that encompass my first impressions of this place:

I love little markets and specialty shops and this place is full of them. It's the way of life here!

Amid all the chaos are these amazing buildings, sculptures and pieces of art... beauty is everywhere!

One of the LARGER streets in the area of my hotel...

Some of the pieces used to make the presepi (nativity scenes)... they aren't all serious and holy, they encompass the comic and the every day... just like Italians in general.

Me... happy... it's a bum shot of myself but I have no one to blame but the photographer!! hehehe But I'm happy.... happy to be here, happy to stay where I am staying and happy to experience new things!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hives, Hospitals and Hankerings

Yup, the three H's of my last week. Let me chronicle for you exactly what happened.

Saturday in the wee hours of the morning (yes, I was returning home from a great night out with friends), I felt my back go into full spasm. I couldn't stand up straight, couldn't walk and couldn't relax. So Saturday I spent most of the day in a horizontal position (nope, not one of the H's yet).

Sunday I began to feel better and dragged myself out of bed and down to the school's brunch/bizarre in support of our CAS Project (I've posted about this recently). I had a great lunch but was feeling a little hot and like another cold was heading my way. I had work to do so after the brunch, I wandered down to Starbucks for a coffee and some work time. I had forgotten a pen and so didn't get all that I needed completed. But never mind, I came home and got right to work, completing my report cards, writing important emails and developing some much needed documents for my school. Great day! Nope, still no H's... yet!

Around 3:30 on Monday morning I woke up with an itch (yes, yes, here come the H's) on my leg. It was like an intense mosquito bite, so I woke up scratching it but thought nothing of it until later when I woke up for real at around 6:30. My leg was itchy all over, both were... they were covered in HIVES. I wasn't too worried though as they weren't anywhere else on my body and I thought I had simply put some unusual cream on my legs or something. The hives then moved to my torso, feet, arms, head and neck. I was scratching like crazy and took some Benadryl to calm it down but it didn't help. So off I went to basketball practice and then to home. I thought I would flush whatever it was out of my system with lots of water etc.

Around 2:30 am on Tuesday I was loading myself in a taxi because now the hives were causing major swelling in my left foot and left forearm. I was in full freak out mode at this point. Off to the HOSPITAL I went... yah! Now, if you know me, you know that I have no love for hospitals in general, never mind where a language barrier could be involved... but I had to go... the first H required the second H because I was HANKERING for some sleep and relief. Once I got there I found a nearly empty emergency room with 3 nurse itching (no pun intended) to help me. One slid an IV in my hand (best one I've ever had... didn't even feel it) and promptly hooked me up to a bag of "anti-allergic" as my doctor said. I was out and back home within an hour... relieved and exhausted.
Later that same day I went back to the hospital to get checked by a doctor to get to the bottom of this allergic reaction mystery (no, no change in foods, lotions or detergents that I had been using previously). I slept off and on for most of the day.

On Wednesday I woke up to find a couple of minor hives on my legs but there was no itch except my feet, hands and ears. However, the hives came back with a vengeance... attacking my legs, arms and torso this time. They were angry and red.

On Thursday, I taught for the first 2 hours of school and them my teaching partner (who is pretty much a goddess) let me go back to the hospital to get checked again. Turns out the first set of tests said I was only mildly allergic to dogs (but since I don't have one in my home, that wasn't the cause this time) and nothing else. My doctor smiled sweetly at my concern, did a little check of the vitals and declared me fine. He then gave me a new drug regimen to help with the hives and sent me home for the rest of the day. Again, I spent most of it sleeping.

Today is Friday and I have been 95% hive free all day and the last of the left me this afternoon. It's been a week of hives, hospitals and hankering to be hive-free! Thank goodness it is over!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Is it an allergic reaction or EVIL EYE?

This year has been very busy and stressful for me. I'm part of the leadership team in the elementary which also means I'm part of the school-wide curriculum leadership team, I lead a whole elem. staff inservice at the beginning of the year, I coached boys high school volleyball, I'm assisting with girl's basketball, I'm searching for new jobs and I'm the social coordinator for my entire staff. Now, those of you who truly know me know that I THRIVE on being busy and close to the edge of maxed out. But it's been hard this year because I'm also struggling with one illness after another since volleyball ended. So in November, I returned from the volleyball trip to London with a little bit of a cold that after 2 weeks turned into a raging infection and cold. I finally dragged myself to the doctor who immediately put me on anti-biotics to clear up the infection and other meds to deal with the cold symptoms. Great... I began to feel better but then struggled with my back spasming (this I can handle pretty well) and some uncomfortable side-effects to the anti-biotics. Back to the pharmacy I went, got the meds I needed and started feeling better from that when I felt a cough and chest cold coming back. I prescribed myself with rest, relaxation and some Vicks Vapo-rub only to wake up with hives covering my body. Now I think it must be an allergic reaction, but my Turkish teaching partner says it's the Evil Eye.
LinkI'm not entirely convinced but perhaps someone out there is jealous or wishing me ill-will and it's effecting my health. I sure hope not and I also hope that these hives fade into the background as does the cold so I can enjoy my winter break in Italy in a week's time.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

One of My Favourite Things About BLIS

One of my favourite things about my current school (among a few others that are pretty awesome - including the people I work with and my ADORABLE students) is the CAS Project. Today I went to a brunch that our school and parents put on to raise money for the CAS Project. And, no, I can't remember what CAS stands for (something to do with community service though) but I do know what they do and that's what I love. This group (primarily high school students) works to make the world better.

One of their projects that I have participated in is the Sunday visits to the Ankara Center for Rehabilitation. Most of the children at the center aren't from Ankara, but from outlying villages where there is little help for the mental and/or physical difficulties that these children are challenged with. So they come to this center and stay for a prescribed period of time (the mothers come with them to care for them around the clock) to get help during the week. On the weekends they are permitted to stay there, but there is nothing for them to do. So the kids in CAS go out there and spend time with them, playing games, doing simple art projects and just bringing a little brightness to their weeks. I've been, I see the impact it makes and it's huge. I love it. I get way more from it than I give and I know that the kids feel the same.

Another one of the projects is to go to Romania or another country hosting the Habitat for Humanity project. They go there, bring their cheerful selves, build relationships and a house for a family in need. I haven't gone with them but I've seen their pictures and heard their stories and I know that as much help and sunshine as they bring with them, they take so much more away.

Yet another one of their projects (their biggest one) is to help a school in a village in Turkey. They raise the money to have proper bathrooms installed, then they go there and give the school a mild make-over (paint etc), establish a library for the children (sometimes there are none), and to spend a week loving on the kids at that school by sharing activities, smiles and hugs. Again, I haven't gone but I've seen the pictures and heard the stories. It's incredible.

And what I love most about it is that the parents, teachers, staff, students and whole school embraces the CAS project. We use it in my classroom to give the kids a goal of community service to shoot for, and I am sure it's like that in other classrooms too. How wonderful to try to instill these children at every level with the concept of social responsibility and to show them how much better they make the lives of others and themselves through it.

Today was a great reminder of all of that.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bullying, what are we doing?

I don't know if you've seen this video from this boy named Jonah or not. I know it went viral and is still floating around cyberspace, causin a stir. I just saw it today for the first time and was so saddened by what this kid has had to endure. I was abused and bullied as a child and then just bullied as a teen. I never cut myself like Jonah did, I never felt as alone as he does in this video, but I've known that kind of pain and alienation.

Now I'm a teacher and as I watched that video I got to thinking about all my students past and present. How many of them were like Jonah? Did I do enough to make them feel protected and safe, loved and somewhat happy? I've never thought of teaching as just a job or a 9-5 occupation where my only responsibility was to impart practical skills and knowledge to my students. I've always viewed my students as my kids. I love them like they all live with me (thank God they don't, though... that'd be far too many kids for a 2 bedroom apartment!!) and like I am responsible for their happiness. But I know that I didn't connect with EVERY student (I don't think it's possible simply because of personalities being different) and I worry. I worry that they felt sad, that they felt afraid, that they felt alienated, that they felt like there was no one for them to turn to.

This video also makes me ask the question of what were his teacher's doing? What are we ALL doing to lessen bullying in our schools and in our student's lives? Are we working hard to make sure that these kids understand social responsibility? Are we ensuring that they understand the meaning of words like tolerance, acceptance, caring, responsibility and respect? Or are we just taking a hard line, no tolerance kind of attitude (I agree that we can't tolerate bullying, but I don't know if expelling every bully is the solution to the problem... feels like a bizarre kind of Band-Aid) that teaches kids the power of complaint rather than the desire to create solutions. I don't have all the answers, but I sure have a lot of questions about how to handle these kinds of situations. I know that one can't just DEMAND tolerance, kindness, respect, trust, integrity and so on from children. They need to be taught these things by example (and I am, by no means, a perfect example of any of these), with words, with actions, and with care.

To my students of the past and present, I hope you have always felt cared for and safe in the classrooms where I have taught and I hope none of you suffered a Jonah-like experience when I was your teacher. I hope and pray that I will be more vigilant about teaching my students the kind of characteristics it takes to be a truly good and productive citizen of the world and that I will be more aware and mindful of the experiences my students have at school.

And finally, to my fellow professional educators, let's try to find solutions to this bullying situation together. Let's be examples of tolerance and acceptance, kindness and caring to our students on a daily basis. It won't be easy (especially on cold winter Mondays... speaking from my own experience) but it will be worth it if one less child feels the need to cut or consider suicide. It will be worth it if one more child learns to accept that kid who just isn't like all the others. It. Will. Be. Worth. It.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turkish Doctors, Take 2

You of the faithful few that read this blog will remember the absolute craziness of the last time I was at the doctors when they tried to give me a topical cream for an internal injury... *sigh* So for the past 2 weeks I've been battling a cold/sinus infection/chest infection/whatever else phlegm-based that could be going on in my body. Today, I finally admitted that I had lost the battle and trudged down to the campus health clinic wondering what could be the diagnosis or how on earth they would decide to treat me... After much fawning over the fabulous purse that Raymond gave me a couple of years ago, they sent me off to see a doctor. His English was great, he asked the right questions, gave the lungs a listen and then proposed some antibiotics to fight the infections and a sinus cold medicine for some more immediate relief. He also took one look at me and said that if I wanted he could write a doctor's note that would excuse me from the next 2 days of school! WOW!! So different from the last experience! YAH!!! Just goes to show... consistency is so not the name of the game in Turkey! ;)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Soho in London... the land of dead Barbies and fun times

Yup, you read right... the land of dead Barbies and fun times. When I was in London, I was able to have most of my evenings free. This was great because I got to spend some time with family, so good to see Donna and Mike. I also got to hang out with one of my great friends who is a little CRAZY!! He decided that I needed to see the famous Soho of London and off we went for dinner and a couple of drinks. The streets were full of people getting ready to go to dinners, shows and parties. It was alive with energy and life. I loved it. First we went to a great restaurant that I can't remember the name of. After that we headed off to one small pub and then another. The last place was the one that caught my eye. We walked up to the door that was guarded by a very dapper and gorgeous man dressed in a black suit. I was nervous that the place was too posh for me, until I went downstairs that is. Downstairs was dark, the music was bumping and the ceiling was covered with dead Barbies and Troll dolls. You'd think this would be uber disturbing, but on the contrary, it was just plain funny. So, thanks, Taljit, for showing me the land of dead Barbies and fun times. Miss you much, my friend!
The wild and crazy streets of Soho

Yup... dead Barbies lining the ceiling... I took this leaning backwards and upside down... super fun!!

Me and Taljit...

Traveling with Teenage Boys

It's not the first time and I am sure it won't be the last, but traveling with students presents a special challenge. It's a challenge to get them to meet you at 3:30 am so you can make your early flight. It's a challenge to get them to remember that their passports need to be in their carry-on bags and not left in the seat pocket of the plane you just exited. It's a challenge to get them to stop asking you ridiculous questions. It's a challenge to convince them to sleep on the late night return flight. It's a challenge to get them to walk from one place to the next without complaints. And it's a challenge not to adore them all by the end of the trip!

What's this all about, you ask? Well, a couple of weeks ago I traveled with my boys volleyball team from Ankara to London to participate in a volleyball tournament. It was the first tournament for this team and they ranged in age from 14 to 17. They were nervous and a little scared to be in a big gym with some very established teams, but they sucked it up, went in there and did their best. We didn't win a lot of games but we pushed some of the best teams to perform better and we made a lot of friends along the way. And, they stole my heart. Everyone of those boys did me proud with their play and their teamwork and with the way that they found love for a sport that many started to play just to travel to the tournament.

Here are some pics of our trip and my boys:

Playing their new "brothers" at the German School of London.

Getting ready to let the world know that we are BLIS! A timeout...

Warming up for a game.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How The Mighty Have Fallen

Not too long ago, I rated my favourite and least favourite airports. Some are ridiculous with the security measures they take (but, hey, at least you have some sense of security, right?), others had nothing to offer outside of the plane right and a nasty bench to wait on. At the top of my least favourite list was London Heathrow. It always seemed disorganized and like a zoo when I had been there. That is until last summer when I sailed through transfers there like never before and the shopping etc had risen to the level of amazing. I cautiously moved it from my least favourite list, but it's BACK! I was traveling with students and tried to do a group check in. The grounds staff seemed a little confused at first but got on board and had a supervisor usher is forward to someone who would "help" us. I guess the forgot to tell her that as she proceeded to tell me that ONE at a TIME was all she was doing. Okay... that's fine. Then she was rude and grumpy with the students when they were fairly polite to her. However, others stepped in and got our kids processed VERY quickly and efficiently and even managed to organize it so that we were sitting together. We breezed through security (these kids are pretty seasoned travelers themselves so it was easy) and split up to spend our 2 hours of free time shopping etc. Sounds fine, right? Well, typical to Heathrow, our gate wasn't listed on our boarding cards. We told the kids to continually check the boards and to give themselves plenty of time to get to the gate. The gate was listed to close at 2:55pm. At said time, the boards still listed our flight as please wait. Also not unusual but we asked an attendant and he informed us we'd be boarding at gate 21. So off we went, hoping it wouldn't change (which it didn't, so that was great). Once we FINALLY boarded the plane (well after our departure time) we found out that the reason for the delay was that Heathrow wasn't fully staffed that day for some reason and couldn't accommodate the volume of traffic (uh... people, millions go through this airport on the regular and have done so for AGES... you'd think you'd know that you need a butt-load of people to make it work). Fail, Heathrow... not epic, but enough to shift you back to the yucky list! ;)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Natural Disasters and the News

When you live overseas one of the first things that you may notice (I did) was how inaccurate or ego-centric North American media can be.

When I lived in Korea, I got worried emails and calls almost weekly about the riots (I worked directly across from the National Assembly my first year there and the worst their riots ever did was cause me a delay in getting home, no worse than the spring Cherry Blossom Festival) or the constant threat of kidnapping or bombing from North Korea (which was mostly posturing by one side or the other to look meaner than the other). News reports made it seem to most North Americans that Korea was a place of serious unrest and that it was just a matter of time before I died from it all as a lone white face in the crowd (there are multitudes of foreigners living happily and safely in South Korea, by the way).

When I moved to the Middle Eastern country of Oman, I also got regular calls and emails worrying about the imminent invasion or danger (this was right around the time of the second Gulf War... please excuse my ignorance in not knowing which Operation it was... I'm Canadian, not American and not all that interested in the technicalities of battles etc, instead I simply worry about the folks involved and am grateful for their sacrifices) from the anti-air firing of one kind or another. Sure, times were more precarious and I was in the Gulf region, but I was way down in the south of it and my sweet lifestyle wasn't altered a bit. I wasn't treated less for being North American or white... I was respected as a woman and a foreigner and I loved being there (would move back in a heart beat if the opportunity arose). Media in North America planted a seed though that ALL the Middle East was oppressive and dangerous. It just wasn't true and I STILL find myself defending the beautiful people I met there.

Now I live in Turkey and some of the attitudes about the people are similar to that of Middle Eastern people (which Turks are not, by the way. They do not consider themselves Middle Eastern and, in fact, they are much more aligned with Eastern Europe than the Middle East). But that is not the biggest misconception. The biggest so far is that Turkey is a small place. It's not. Turkey is a HUGE country. Just the past Sunday, a massive but shallow earthquake struck the Van region in the east of Turkey (most news agencies led with the headline that a massive and destructive earthquake hit Turkey and my inbox got flooded with concerns. I know, I know... the public is also responsible to educate themselves and should have looked a little more deeply, but it wouldn't hurt the media to at least mention that it was in the far east of the country). Van is more than 1,000 km from where I live and I didn't feel the slightest tremor. I also didn't feel last year's closer earthquake in Sivas (I was in the air on my way to Antalya at the time). Nor did the bombing that happened in Ankara (my actual city) hurt anyone I knew nor was it heard or felt anywhere near me (although, that did shake me up more as it was closer to home for sure).

I guess what I am saying, folks, is that when the news throws some scandalous headline your way, PLEASE read a little deeper, find out a little more before you panic. Also, I'd like you to think about how you can help the victims of the earthquake in Van. Connect to the Turkish Embassy or Consulate in your country and see if you can do something, donate money or find out if international organizations are helping out. Turkey is mobilizing wonderfully, starting blood drives, clothing drives, medical drives, food drives and so on. The area that was affected is very close to the Iranian border and it is VERY cold in the winter. Winter seems to be coming early this year and tens of thousands of people are currently without homes, clothes and basic survival needs. Even my students are pitching in, we are helping to spear-head a drive for basic needs at school with the fifth grade. We need more help than just this country and her loyal foreigners can give. Please send aid if you have the means or the time at all.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Struggle to Survive

That's the title of the first Unit of Inquiry that my students study at BLIS. They learn about needs and wants, how those look different depending on climate and location and how some don't have their needs met equally and what happens as a result. It's a pretty amazing thing for kids to gain a more global understanding of basic needs for survival and to see them grasp it and to become more socially responsible is simply a thrill. Not all the kids get it and not all of them take action, but some do and hopefully more will in the future.
To help the kids understand the consequences of not having our basic needs met, we took them to an animal shelter here in Ankara. It was eye-opening for all of us and left many of the adults heart broken. The shelter we went to see houses over 2,700 (yes, TWO THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED) dogs alone. We weren't able to ascertain if they had a spaying/neutering program but it didn't seem like it as puppies were abundant. These dogs aren't tame and can't be adopted and the government seems to give minimal support as many of the animals looked to be on the brink of starvation. It was sad but it did drive home the point with many of our students about having our basic needs met and helping others meet theirs.
Here are some photos of what we saw:

The cage where some of the cats are kept. One climbed the cage door to try and get the kids to touch her.

The kids carrying the food they brought to give the animals. They were walking through a corridor of cages filled with malnourished nursing moms and puppies.

One of the cages filled with both female and male dogs.

More dogs. And this was the nicest of the cages... most were dirt and row after row of dog houses (thankfully the dogs can get out of the weather somewhat).

The cats...

My Seker (Sugar) Bayram (Holiday)

*this post is super late... sorry folks*

Here in Turkey, they mark the end of the month of Ramadan with a holiday called Seker Bayram. I got a whole week off from work for the holiday and it translates into Sugar or Sweet Holiday and sweet it was!! I had already planned my week last spring and was ready to hop on the plane whe the time came. I flew from Istanbul to Vienna and overnight-ed there (I love Vienna). Then I hopped on another plane early in the morning, bound for Amsterdam where my lovely aunt and uncle picked me up and whisked me off to Rotterdam. We spent a couple of days together with them showing me great places like Delft, Den Haag and all around Rotterdam. It was their last weekend there as well, so it was a pleasure to spend it with them, even if the weather had no intentions of cooperating.

Me being cheesy in Delft. Everyone needs a shot in the big shoe when in Holland,

The beautiful streets and canals of Delft.

Deflt Blue Porcelain is what people think of when they think of Holland... well, that, the shoes and the tulips. In Delft, they even put it in the sidewalks and streets.

In Den Haag, we saw a procession of police waiting to escort a minister from Turkmenistan or one of the 'stans... it was pretty interesting... especially the cop on the end who was dancing...

The big cathedral in Den Haag. So beautiful.

My savoury Dutch Pancake... so yummy, washed down with a wheat beer... also yummy!

Every train station had a sign for the kiss and ride... so much nicer than the North American drop and ride or park and ride.

The boat we took for our tour around the harbour of Rotterdam. So nice!!

There they are... tulips! And these are wooden ones!

An old street car in Rotterdam.

A building in Den Haag.

After that I took a train to the most beautiful place I'd seen: Brugge, Belgium. It was the most beautiful little town with winding streets and canals everywhere. I really enjoyed wandering around trying to find my hotel on my own (not always that easy, since street signs are few and far between and the locals don't seem to know street names either - they mark a location by the church that is nearest). Once I found my hotel, I was thrilled to find out that I had the top floor where the roof was tilted and the view looked out over this fairytale city. It was simply gorgeous and the beer... well, it was DELICIOUS!! I even tried some of the local food (some of which was way out of my comfort zone: mussels au gratin, rabbit stew) and just loved it all. Not to mention the fantastic chocolate!

The view from my hotel in Brugge. It was beautiful!

The horse carriages were common and popular in Brugge. I didn't take one but I wanted to.

The peaceful cloisters in Brugge where women can live in peace and not be nuns. Very interesting and serene.

Mmmm... more Belgian beer! With over 1,000 varieties to try, I did my best but came no where close.

A Belgian waffle of course!! ;)

A very tasty brewery I found while wandering the streets in Brugge. I did a LOT of walking that day.
One of the first things I saw when entering the town. It was just so beautiful.

The next day, I hopped another train (the train system in Europe is fantastic and not that expensive really) bound for Brussels. I was fortunate enough to have a former colleague and friend who was letting me sleep on an air mattress at her place (and sleep great I did, by the way). She was also willing to be my guide that evening and to tell me the must see stuff in Brussels (she was the one who also suggested Brugge... by far my favourite place on the entire trip). I had some trouble finding her though as Brussels is much like Brugge in that no one knows the names of the streets and very few street signs or maps were around (unlike Paris from my previous spring break... where finding things was super easy). But find her I did and we went out for one of the best salads of my life in one of the prettiest restaurants I've ever seen. We also went to the local farmer's market that turns into a giant street bar! It was a blast and the beer... well, YUMMY!!This was my favourite beer: Raspberry beer!!!
The next day I hopped yet another train bound for Amsterdam and wandered around there for 3 days. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the city. People were friendly and relaxed and it was incredibly easy to get around and see everything. They even have a hop on, hop off canal tour, which I took. The weather finally began to cooperate and it was lovely.

The famous I AMsterdam sign. This is when I wish I had a travel buddy to take a pic of me in front of it.

The bell tower of the church next to the Anne Frank Huis... an amazing experience to visit there.
The view from my hotel on Prinsengracht.
Bicycles everywhere!!
The old Heineken Brewery that is now a museum and Heineken Experience. Very cool!