Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ready to Write?

It's been almost a year since I have written. In the past year, so much has happened that I gave up on writing. Lately, I have been feeling ready to write again. I don't promise that it will be pretty. So, up early this morning (as I have been for the past 3-4 weeks), I decided to hop on and see what's what.

I almost woke my family up with my laughter bark. The last post I wrote here, except for the date, would fit today. Everything has changed and nothing.

It is true that we are actively grappling again with the stay or go question. Some things are different this year - I am working FT at the school (with a PT teaching load); the kids are older and (maybe?) one year off from a "better" transition year - if we stay one more year, Asher will finish 8th grade and Elia will finish 5th grade. Both these grades are transition points to the higher school - high school for Asher (that's just plain weird) and middle school for Elia; we have a new and quieter apartment with a pool; there are many changes in Admin at the school and it will take time to discover what ideas and excitement these new folks will move forward.

And, it's been a rough start for us this year. Starting a new job is just plain hard and busy. With my new teaching duties this year, there are a lot of systems that I interact with now that I didn't necessarily as a substitute. Not to mention the sheer volume of planning and grading - almost more for a PT load - at least if I had more classes, not only would the pay be more commensurate, but the planning would be more useful - if I taught the same subjects anyway. Ah - the life of the sub - breeze in, breeze out! :)

In addition, Asher was struck by a motorbike one morning while riding his bike to school; I got a persistent flu-like disease that has me totally feeling like I've been to hell and not-quite-back again; our apartment's hot water heater burst - all over our closet, leaving us for (4) days with very little to wear and a soon-to-arrive large electricity and water bill; we have the Invasion of the Ants and, now, if the last two days are any indication, a burgeoning cockroach population is making itself known; and, finally (we can hope), our washing machine broke.

"What do you think is the message?", said a friend to me one day.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Do we stay or do we go now?

Our life for the past two months has been consumed by this question. And this song, by The Clash, just rolls through my mind on an almost daily basis. As the song continues, if "I stay there will be trouble..... if I go it will be double".

Although it is now only November, the deadline is fast approaching by which Andrew needs to declare his final intent to stay at SSIS and renew his contract for a third year. We keep talking about "these past two years", but the reality is that it has been 1 year and 3 months. While I was traveling in New Zealand this past September, Andrew received his "soft" declaration paperwork, due by October 1. So the second year had barely begun and we needed to start thinking hard.

While there are good and bad aspects both here and at home, the truth is, it's a mixed bag. Is that redundant?

There are basically three options.
1. Stay.
2. Go home to Oregon.
3. Try another International School.

Option 1: The easiest in terms of effort, staying means the kids stay in the same school - a good fit, really, for both of them. Elia has started swim team this year, is loving it and thriving because of it. She also was able to start taking ballet this year after school and continues to build herself a bustling hive of friends who keep her busy in the free time. Asher has found his niche at the MS and (except for the homework) is confident, working hard and enjoying himself. He has joined the Environmental Club, the Dragon Tech Ninja (mostly minecraft, I think) and just finished running track. A few weeks back, he was able to join other environmental club members in Singapore at an International Global Issues Network conference. His recent conferences show him to be kind, well-liked, well-spoken and a positive attribute to the middle school.

Andrew loves his job. His class sizes are great, his behavior management is getting rusty from disuse, he travelled to Indonesia this year with students on the Week without Walls trip, joined Asher in Singapore for the HS GIN conference, and attended a conference in Jakarta where he got to catch up with an ex-colleague from Oregon. He teaches International Baccalaureate (IB) Geography, which gives him two years to go into real depth into his subject and, in a developing nation, he doesn't have to go far to show his students geography-in-action. It is all around us, every day.

I have been plagued with homesickness this year. It could be the unexpected trip home with my mom after she had medical issues while visiting us, it could be the trip to see Rene in New Zealand, it could be that I don't have enough to do here, it could be that Oregon is just hard to beat in terms of all the things that help me feel grounded in life - clean air, clean water, good food, family and great friends, beautiful forests, a dark night sky, and sounds of nature putting me to sleep.

Option 2: Not without its difficulties. 35 - 40 student classrooms and behavior management for Andrew, schools for the kids, a job hunt in an uncertain economy for me, car shopping and a return to a car'd life.

Option 3: No sure thing. Could be better, could be worse. Could be more job opportunity for me, could be less. And, requires an immediate and extensive output of energy that neither of us have right now.

It's agonizing every day and, as we fluctuate between these options, we recognize that the mere fact of these choices is a  luxury. Every day we see and live with people who do not have these kinds of options within the country, let alone outside of it. We have had these amazing opportunities to travel and live in another country, with a people very unlike us on the surface, yet so alike in the depths of our humanity. It has truly been a dream come true and, whatever we do next, I hope that is where our memory lingers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


We hired a cook. Her name is Thanh. She prepares dinner for us four days per week, Monday through Thursday. She is friendly and warm, is an excellent cook, brings us flowers every Monday and, lately, has taken to painting Elia's fingernails for her in the neon colors that only an 8-year old can love. For Asher, she makes fresh juice and dessert - this despite the fact that we specifically asked her not to make dessert. Our thinking was that we would spend less money (less take-out) and eat healthier, fresher foods.

I think she's trying to kill us.

After two months, I believe that I can now say, quite easily, that I have NEVER eaten so much fried food in my entire life.  Our stomachs are clenching. our butts are filling out, our pores are oozing. Going through my daily activities, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the smell of french fries. A surreptitious sniff in my general direction confirms that it's me. My stomach is beginning to bulge over my waistline. I am developing a deep disgust of food. Sitting here at the computer, I can hear the oil for the night's dinner sizzling and bubbling, calling out to me from the depths.

My theory involves family genealogy, prior historical conflicts and personal wrongs never righted.

Whatever - I am off to get my cholesterol checked.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Happy No Water Anniversary

In honor of last year's welcome to our new home for which, as you might recall, our running water went out for 22 days (a mere 32 hours after moving in), our water has again stopped working. Almost exactly one year to the day.  But who's counting?!

This time at least we have been back for 3 days. And my mom is here with us to enjoy the experience.

Covering all the bases, the (very kind) guard obviously not on duty in his flip-flops, shorts and casual shirt, who Andrew reported the situation to this morning, came up to check our turn-on valve. We did check that last night. Next, he seems to be telling us that maybe we didn't pay the bill. This is a possibility since we have been gone for a little over 5 weeks. However, it does not explain the reason why there are also other people, on multiple floors, also complaining that their water is not working. Nevertheless, it is good to be thorough.

We can look out the window by the desk and watch the situation from the 8th floor. Five different people now have approached the area where the pumps are, put hands on hips, and stared. One person in very official looking dress of black pants and white shirt, went so far as to take off the "manhole" cover, look down into the hole, put his hands on his hips, and shake his head before putting the lid back on.

Andrew went for a bike ride. Upon his return, there was a person from the apartment complex management company who had a little English. Shaking her finger in his general direction, she says, "You. Wait one hour. "

This is actually better than last year when, for 22 days, we were told that the problem would be fixed in four hours.

Meanwhile, I've been back in Vietnam for 3 days and haven't had a massage yet? Gotta go. I think I remember a shower in that bathroom.....

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Whose crazy, beautiful life is this?!

One problem with not keeping up with the blog is that, upon return, you might find that you are writing about the same themes. I had in mind to call this post "So Lucky". Blast to find that, not only have I already used that title, it was only 2 posts ago!

But, here I sit feeling so very lucky indeed.

We have been home in Oregon for 2 weeks now. All of us are soaking it up as fully as we can in hopes of retaining some essence of home to pull out on the hard days back in Vietnam. The colors and sounds and smells of Oregon zing straight to my heart's home in a way that no other place has yet to do. I long for this feeling of home for my children, while acknowledging that this living-overseas-adventure that we have undertaken, may negate that possibility.

And, it's not so perfect in Oregon either. We have been sleeping on a lot of floors. Asher threw up all over the bathroom on our first day at Cannon Beach. Heated floors - hmmmm. Seems like SUCH a great idea until someone barfs all over them. We sold all our cars before we left and so we feel a little dependent and guilty on the (very present!) generosity of others. Visiting our home in Estacada was lovely. The renters seem fabulous, earnest, and appear to be taking very good care of our place. And, our storage space is infested with mice and their residual droppings. Already, we talk about things like building an apartment into our garage, renting the same beach house every year for at least a week, buying a multi-plex in Portland and leaving one unit unrented so we could set it up as a home base to return to.

We have been gone long enough now, that we are also missing some things about Vietnam. I think and worry about our kittens daily. I can't believe that 2 weeks have passed without seeing or speaking or having dinner with the Thompson-Taoli family. I cannot visit a bookstore without thinking of my doctor-students and wondering both if they are doing their homework (reading a book in English and preparing a Book Talk), and if they might like an Oregon bookmark as a gift. Even on these sunny days, things don't dry here in 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, it is pretty perfect here. We have been blessed with gorgeous summer weather and friends, Rene and David Walker here at the beach. We are all sporting sunburns from days chatting on the deck, riding funcycles on the beach and scanning the near Haystack Rock for nesting puffins. We have been so very generously welcomed into the homes and cars and hearts of friends and family, feeling simultaneously as if we have been gone forever and have actually never left.

I think and hope that we all feel this tremendous gratitude that I am feeling for our life. We get these crazy, weird and beautiful experiences out in the wide world AND get to come home? It's a love-fest for certain.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's getting hotter every day....

Picture the wicked witch, "I'm meeellllttting". Repeat in a high-pitched and screechy voice. Hold that image.

That is me.

It's getting really hot here. So hot, I'm thinking about getting a motorbike. So hot, we get sweaty taking a shower. So hot, the kids are begging to shower (two weeks ago they were whining because we asked them to shower once a week). So hot, I'm seriously thinking about breaking our lease so we can move to a place with a pool. So hot, we have become those people who close all the curtains and hide from the sun all day. So hot, I think I am buying an umbrella to shield myself from the sun. So hot, we go to the pool and lie in the shade.

How quickly we have acclimated. In the 9 months we have been here, we have gone from exposing every possible bare inch of skin (properly protected) to the sun with upturned faces to, well, locals. We don't drink anything without ice in it if we can help it (yes, that DOES include beer), we lounge around indoors between the hours of 10 and 3 (if we don't we need a day to recover), and we are getting to bed later and later as it is only when darkness falls that we want to be outdoors. It might still be hot, but at least the sun is not blazing down.

We are packing our sweaters for home and laughing. After a year of 90 degree days, we will need those sweaters, I am sure, in the cool 70's of NW Oregon.

Ice cream and big hats help keep us cool.

So Lucky

One of my new favorite phrases is "So Lucky". This is a phrase we hear a lot in Vietnam. For white skin, for having a boy and a girl as children, for blue eyes, for the time I crashed on the motorbike and only got a scrape,

My knee post-crash

for an envied new toy, for visitors who are able to come and see us. For some reason, although she seems to be using it more and more, this phrase really bothers our youngest.

I love it.

It's such a good reminder. Maybe not So much for the reasons it is directed at us for.

But - for health (knock on wood), for family and friends near and far,  for Estacada artists and their small works that we were able to pack to remind us that we are never far from home in our hearts. For Skype and Facebook, which are revolutionary in being able to feel connected even when you're half the world away, for renters who pay the rent, for this incredible opportunity which reminds us every day that we are, indeed, so lucky.