Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back Up and For Sale

Phew!  My book is once again available on Amazon!  With the addition of a few photos of myself when I re-habituated two baby Howler monkeys back into the northern rain forest of Guatemala, my book has enough pages to have info on the spine!  Oh so important.  Thanks for your patience and enjoy!  And PLEASE write a review on Amazon!  🙂

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Happy New Year!

Here is to another year of getting to create worlds in our minds and share them with world!  Happy writing everyone.

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A New Beginning…Again

I am excited to announce that I have just accepted a teaching position at the Sacramento Country Day School.  I will be teaching humanities (combo of language arts and social studies) to 5th graders in Sacramento, California.

SacCDS

Last month I flew out to interview – 5 hours! – and explored the extensive campus.  The school houses K – 12 with amazing art, science, music and athletic programs.  I had the opportunity to teach a 45 minute class to the current 5th graders and it was such a joy.  They were full of curiosity, eager to participate, good listeners and thinkers.  Really fun.  The administration bent over backwards to welcome me and share all the amazing-ness of their school.  It felt great and I flew back to Gallup pretty high on the possibilities.

This summer I will be teaching a one week class for the incoming 5th graders: Fast Pass to Fifth Grade and hopefully a class I have designed called Adventures in Writing – focused on how to craft a creative fiction piece.

And it looks like I will have the opportunity to coach the  5th/6th volleyball team this fall – crossing my fingers.

So home to Oregon in three short weeks for the month of June.  Then down to Sacramento on July 1st.

Bonus – my nephew, his wife and newborn baby are 30 minutes away in Davis and my oldest sister is 2 hours away in Santa Rosa – Can’t wait to be around family again.

Oh – and I can’t believe I forgot to mention this – but… Sacramento is green, full of trees and sunshine – what could be better?

Have a great May everyone!

Gretchen

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Finally!

So happy that the US is finally seeing the right path that love is love is love.  Couldn’t be happier.

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New Life, New School

Grand Opening is just three days away! The Yew Wah International Education School officially opens its doors to students on September 18.  But since the campus isn’t really ready for us to occupy it, we will be hosting an activity camp at the Sheraton resort just down the road for the first two days.  Here is a rendering of what the school will look like when completed:

YWIES DrawingOnly 6 of those buildings are in progress, but phase II starts this fall.  Eventually this school will have 2000 students from K – 12.  The tall buildings in the back (right) will be staff accommodations and student housing.  This year we are starting with 150 students from K – 10.  My classes have the following numbers of students:

6th: 25
7th: 9
8th: 4
9th: 9
10th: 10

So the challenge will be how to best teach such small groups.  I’m used to 30 in a class.

We still have not been able to get into our classrooms and we are all anxious to get started.  It has been a long month working out of a conference room.  There have been many hiccups, last minute changes, complete gaffs etc.  But I am so happy to say that this new staff has taken everything in stride.  Yes, we are sick of the conference room.  Yes, we are sick of sitting and not teaching.  But, we know each other really well now.  🙂

I have planned my first three units for each class and created the daily lessons for the first unit for each class.  I’m feeling well prepared on my end.  I have purposefully not gone any further as I do not know the level of students I am getting.  I don’t know their English level, nor if they have had any humanities or geography.  So the first week will be very much centered around understanding the knowledge and skill base the kids are starting the year with.

On Friday a few of us went shopping for items for our classrooms.  We had placed our requests the week before and someone was to have scouted out where we could find our items.  Then we were told we would go to two or three stores, check the products and make orders.  The gals would then pay for them and they would arrive at the school by Monday (tomorrow).

Instead, we jumped off the van in old town Huadu and spent three sticky and exhausting hours trying to find anything that might work in the dust filled piles of warehouse type shops.

Shopping Collage

Photos taken with my iPhone 4s

Needless to say there was very little for humanities.  I did find one, very dusty globe in a stationary store.  So I have resorted to ordering online and crossing my fingers that my atlases etc. arrive before Monday, September 22 – the day we really start school.

Tomorrow we start rehearsing, at the school, the opening day celebrations.  At least we get to be on campus.

Besides school preparations, I have been riding my bike around town.  Cruised around Huadu lake.  It is quite huge and full of statues and leisure stations (snack bars).

Huadu Lake 2 Huadu Lake Sun Statue

I have now ventured via the train, into Guangzhou.  It took us an hour to get there.  But the trains are really clean and efficient  and thankfully air conditioned.

There is construction going on everywhere.  Huge buildings with at least 50 stories.

TV Tower & Dwntown

The pointed building in the distance is the TV tower that lights up in lots of colors at night.

 

Street Music Man Metro Map

 

The days are flying by.  I am really excited to meet my students.  And I am excited about my crazy classes.  I had to align the Chinese national curriculum with the national curriculum of the UK.  There was a basic outline for what the Chinese felt I should cover.  Other than that, it was up to me to cover all the required standards and create classes that made some sort of sense.

So here is what I created – don’t laugh or groan.  I know they don’t seem to flow, but it was hard to get everything required into these classes.

Units Y6 - Y10

EOTC stands for Education Outside the Classroom.  We’ll be heading to a village community and doing a community project.  In Y6 Ancient Civilization was given only 3 weeks in the Chinese curriculum.  I gave it 14 weeks.  Its going to be challenging to cover everything, but the projects they’ll be working on will hopefully lend to broader understanding.

It continues to be super hot and sticky here.  I almost stepped on this guy as I was walking through the forest part of our apartment complex.  He was about 5 inches long and moving fast!

 

Slug

 

I ventured back into RT Mart.  This time, 9am on a Saturday morning.  This is definitely the preferred time to shop, for me that is.  Easy and relaxed.  I had a chuckle when I came across an aisle dedicated to instant noodles.

Instant Noodle Aisle

But then I headed over to my wonderful covered, outdoor market.  Such happy, smiling people.  They love teaching me how to say the numbers (ie. cost of items).  Although hot and sticky, so much more enjoyable.

Market

Crabs

Crabs! Some were still twitching.

So another week has flown by.  I am so excited for what is about to begin.  I promise to take loads of photos.  We have been warned against posting any photos of our students, so I will try to capture the essence of the events without exposing the kids.

Also, sorry about the lack of quality of the photos, in this post all have been taken with my iPhone 4s.  The ones of Huadu Lake were as I was pedaling along.

Have a great week!

Gretchen

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Clean Water for Everyone!

After half a year of opening the eyes of my third graders to the plight of people less fortunate than them, they decided it would be really great to give back some how.  I was thrilled.

I introduced them to brainstorming and we came up with tons of wonderful ideas.  Then narrowing it down, they decided that clean water was something that everyone needs and where they wanted to put all their effort.

So I did some research and found a bunch of organizations that work around the globe bringing clean water to folks in need.  We reviewed the sites and decided on Water.org.

Then we brainstormed a fun team name and voila, the Spinning Tornadoes were born:

Spinning Tornadoes;

Spinning around the world filling buckets with fresh water for those in need.

Next came how to raise funds.  And my super creative third graders came up with a Water Bucket Carrying Contest.  Then we added a walk-a-thon (absolutely foreign concept here in Myanmar) and bake sales.  Our goal is to raise US $2,500.00 by the end of January.

Of course it has not helped that I have been sick for the last 8 weeks – but I was alive enough a couple months ago to explain it all to the other teachers and send letters home explaining what we were doing and what in the world a walk-a-thon is.  I’m still not sure the concept is completely getting through, but I think we’ll have a decent showing.

Our bake sales turned out to be donation from bakeries, sales.  The kids themselves have so many “helpers” (maids, nannies, drivers etc.) that they simply couldn’t comprehend actually baking something at home and bringing it in.  Odd I know, but I haven’t been able to get any of them to do it.

The walk-a-thon is in two weeks.  The water bucket carrying competition is in January.  Our bake sales revenue (3 weeks worth) so far has brought in at bout US $50.00.  So we have a long way to go.

Water Project Poster Making

Working hard creating our Spinning Tornadoes poster for the hallway.

I started a fundraising site on the Water.org website.  If you have any interest in helping us out simply go here and you can make a donation with a credit card. And please, spread the word – we need all the help we can get!  Thanks!

Water Project Group Photo

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Adios Dengue and Typhoid Fevers!

So just as I was thinking I was on the mend a few weeks ago – Wham, I’m punched in the chest and thrown backwards in pain.  My miserable body-mate, Dengue fever, had not moved out.  Every joint and muscle screamed in pain.

But this time I knew my body was too weak from trying to overcome this evil that lived inside me the last six weeks.  So I crawled out of my darkened torture room and put out a distress call.  Next thing I knew I was at a clinic getting my blood drawn.  Ended up I had not only a devilish case of Dengue Fever, but in my weakened state had also caught Typhoid Fever.

My blood was declared “sticky” and I soon became a twice daily inhabitant of the “drip room.”  I tapped into a four hour drip of electrolights, in a small room full of outdoor lounge chairs and people in various states of unrest, all connected to drip lines.  After four days of this, the pain was finally dulled.  Unfortunately I had a mandatory Visa Run, so off I went to Bangkok.  Basically an expensive five days of sleeping and shuffling to find food.

I returned on a Wednesday and the shakes set in.  My vision was blurred and I couldn’t concentrate on anything.  So to my darkened room and sleep for another four days.

Monday I emerged, hopeful that I could actually make it through a day of teaching.  Although weak and shaky, my mind was clear and I managed to survive the day.  It really helped that as the day began and the kids started arriving they would see me and with big smiles on their faces yell “Teacher Gretchen is back!”  This filled me up and bolstered my energy.

Then mid-way through the day a cake arrived to celebrate… me!  Although my birthday is tomorrow, it was a lovely gesture and the sugar high kept me going for the rest of the day.

Today is now Wednesday and although I still have a bit of the shakes, I am happy to report that I feel I am on the road to full recovery this time.  So adios my evil passengers.  Gretchen is back!

Gretchen's Bday

A little pale and shaky, but love the cake!

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Sick As a Dog!

It started a couple of weeks ago.  The weather started raging – rain-wise and the pressure in my head started tightening.  It was as if my head were in a vice and someone was cranking down hard.  Then I had trouble breathing, or rather, filling my lungs completely.  I stopped working out in the hopes that more sleep and less physical stress would help me overcome.

I started snapping at everyone and was generally in ill humor and I felt like the students were taking me to my whits end.

Then I went home right after school one day and layed down.  I didn’t get back out of bed for 3 days.  My body ached, I writhed back and forth, I was a bit delirious.  The next day the Admin at my school knocked on my door and said I should go to the doctor.  I went, half knowing what I was doing.  The taxi dropped me off at a clinic with 30 people waiting – outside, with no place to sit, no receptionist and no sign of a doctor.  Then it started to rain.  My body was having trouble standing there and the rain drops pushed me over the edge.  I got back in the taxi and went home.

Three more days passed and I was able to rally in the late afternoon for my Newspaper Club.  The issue had to go out.  I met my team, we folded and delivered it and successfully planned the next months’ issue before I collapsed.

The next day was Halloween and although I was physically present in the classroom, I was in a complete fog.  I floated through the day appropriately like a ghost.  It was as if my chest had been scrapped out (from all the deep chest coughing I had been doing) and felt as if I had consumed copious amounts of caffeine as I was so shaky.

By Friday I was coherent again and the sun came out, the temperatures dropped, humidity was gone and the vice had un-screwed.

I have no idea what I had but as I have had Dengue Fever and Giardia before, it felt similar in pain and disorientation combined with the aches, chills, fever and cough of the flu.  Yuck is all I can say.

My head is still a bit foggy and I am not 100% but a solid 90%.  I can work with that.

So, this is all to say that I will write a proper blog soon with updates on life here in Myanmar.

Here’s to health!

Gretchen

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Laughter Echoes Amongst the Stupas

Four days of relaxation, lots of laughing, bicycling through ancient pagodas, spurts of torrential rain and thousands of stupas.  I just returned from a fantastic trip to the ancient city of Bagan.  Founded in the 9th century, Bagan has gone through many metamorphoses leaving it full of rich architecture and stunning panoramas.Stuppa landscape 2

As we pedaled out of the city of Nyaung U, we entered into a mystical world of primordial brick structures that numbered over 2000. Originally perhaps a cairn, the stupa soon acquired cosmic symbolism of “Buddhahood.” Many temples also were built to honor a notable person, or even bring lasting remembrance to an important family.  There are also much larger multi-storied buildings that were/are places of worship that include frescoed corridors and Buddhist shrines.  The larger Bagan temples included a variety of other buildings such as living quarters for monks and ordination and assembly halls. These temples have massively built square or oblong bases with outer terraces representing Mount Meru, the symbolic home of the gods, and surrounded by a thick wall to separate its realm of the sacred from the outside world.Stuppa Vista

But let me back up.  The trip began on an early morning in the rain.  We launched our trip with a leisurely trip down the Ayeyarwaddy river on a three story boat.  Our ten hour trip was relaxing with intermittent rain and sun, a warm breeze and moments of interest.

Buddha on AyeyarwaddyApologies regarding some of the photos.  It was such a misty and humid weekend that my camera lens kept fogging up and therefore some of the photos are bit unclear.

Fishermen 3jpg

Bagan - First Glimpse from AyeyarwaddyNext morning we rented bicycles and pedaled our way into a quiet and contemplative valley.

Bagan Sign FullThe freedom that the bikes offered was great.  We would dart off the main road and head down trails whenever something caught our eye.

Biking in BaganWe also found my two favorite Buddha images so far.  The gilded one was inside a 2000 year old pagoda that still had one of the original carved lintels in one of the archways.  The non-adorned Buddha below, I just loved as it felt more ‘real,’ more accessible.

Buddha in Stuppa

Buddha in Stuppa 2

Gretchen Stuppa

The next day, my friend went off to play a round of golf, so I hoped on a bike and went out to wander.  The sun was shining a bit more and it got hot fast.  My first stop was a the Shwezigon Pagoda – massive and gilded.  Reminded me of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

Shezigon PagodaThe small detailed artwork caught my eye the most.

Shwezigon Pagoda Carving

Shezigon Pagoda Carving 3

Then I pedaled through more pagodas, zedis and stupas and came across this wonderful scene.   Don’t you just love her ashtray?

Old Woman 2

Old Woman 1

We biked through puddles, dashed out of the pouring rain into small cafes for ice-cream and lassi’s, ate fantastic Tibetan, Indian and Italian food and generally felt relaxed and happy.  I highly suggest everyone visit Bagan!

Have a great week.  Gretchen

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From Ugh to Ahh in One Day

Will you allow me a moment to complain?  Or at least a bit of a vent?  I promise to reward you with photos and happiness later on.

Teaching third grade is time consuming and really hard.  Hats off to all those that do it and love it.  It requires so much more planning than the one subject courses I have taught in the past to older students.   As a world geography teacher for both high school and community college levels, I could teach full time and get my lessons planned within a 45 hour work week.  Designing four subjects for my little munchkins seems to take me upwards of 60 hours.  Then of course there is the after school club once a week (I’m co-chairing the school Newspaper) and of course I offered my services to teach adult ESL twice a week.  So I have definitely filled my plate nice and full.  I had forgotten how draining it is to be “on” all day long.  No sitting at my desk drilling into a problem.  The few moments between 8:30 and 3:30 (or 8:30 – 5:00 on M/T) when I am not teaching, I am correcting papers, devising alternative plans for my struggling students, speaking with parents etc.

I know.  Blah, blah, blah.  Every teacher in the world knows this.  But I guess I felt the need to mention my revelation because I have been feeling so down for the last couple of weeks.  I suppose its just stress, but in reality I think it is the fact that I haven’t been breathing the proverbial Myanmar air.   I have been feeling very removed from the culture.  I think living on campus is a huge part of the problem.  We (all of us foreign teachers) live in free accommodations built right on the small campus grounds.  So we never really leave.  Of course we do, but its not like going home to your own place surrounded by the culture you are here to be apart of.   I can’t complain too loudly – it is free accommodation.  But I have been missing the connection with the heart beat of this place.

So to remedy my disconnected feelings I spent yesterday alone.

Ha!  I’m not sure that is possible here.

I was sans-foreigners (not that we are all that bad :-)) and instead surrounded by this wonderfully rich and diverse populace full of smiles, giggling children, outrageous juxtapositions, wonderfully spicy smells, monks with iPhones, and a rich history oozing from its very core.

Let me tell you how I jump started my good-feeling, glad-to-be here mood.

I woke up with the sun and lazily laid there listening to the birds that nest right under my window.  They are a happy little chattering lot.  By 8:30 I had motored over to Mandalay Hill, removed my shoes and started the steep climb to the top.  Climbing on stones barefoot is amazing exercise for your calf muscles.  Along the way I met numerous people selling their wares, making the trek to pray, snuggling with their sweetheart and children running up and down as if we were on a flat sidewalk.   At various spots there are platforms with a variety of Buddhas in different states of repose.   Buddha must have been a joy to be around.  He is always depicted with such a gentle and serene gaze and sometimes with an outright smile.Buddha - Mandalay Hill 2

I thought I had reached the top about four times.  But just as soon as I started to relax and look for the promised vista, some smiling, bowing soul would see me and motion me onward.  Its a bit of a maze in the middle.   Then just before the top you enter into the trinket zone.  T-shirts, bamboo flip-flops, bamboo purses, jade jewelry etc.  Just as I was starting to fear that I would never escape, but be circling the stalls for years, I spied yet another staircase and up I went and this time I was greeted with the flashing of gold and cut glass.  The cool breeze swirled around me and I was lifted out of the trees to a near 360 degree view of the Mandalay valley and surrounding Shan mountains.  It was a bit of nirvana.

Mandalay Hill - Top

Beautiful arches at the top of Mandalay Hill.

The temperature was at least 15 degrees cooler than the valley floor.  The whipping wind was a joy.  After photos and a wondering I just sat, leaned back against the gold, facing west and the Ayeyarwaddy river.  I breathed deeply and smiled, well smiled mostly because I was such a spectacle that everyone was smiling at me, so it only felt right to oblige and smile back which resulted in giggles and blushing.

Mandalay - Looking NW from Mandalay Hill

Looking NW from Mandalay Hill. Mandalay city is on the other side of Mandalay Hill.

Buddha - Mandalay Hill 3

In most of the Buddhist temples there is swirling iron work that I have really been enjoying, especially next to the brilliant colors of paint and gold leaf.

Architecture - Mandalay Hill IronAfter an hour or so I found the view of the Palace below was beckoning to me.  I had to go explore its expansive interior.   Although burned out extensively during World War II, much has been reconstructed of the palace itself.  I am currently reading The Glass Palace by Amitov Gosh, an historical fiction novel.  The palace is known as the glass palace due to King Thibaw’s bed made of glass bedposts.  Inside the palace grounds there is a small museum and it houses his glass bed.  Quite unique.

I motored over to the palace, over the moat bridge (good sailing weather by the looks of the white-caps on the moat!) and parked.  I could have driven in, but I wanted to fully feel the immensity of the grounds.  Foreigners are only allowed to visit a very small portion of the grounds as the military has taken over the walled in location.

Never the less, I walked among tall trees, with little disturbance from the dust and grim of the city.  I met three very nice monks visiting from a city far in the north. Walking makes it so much easier to meet people.

The main palace first came into view.  It was hard to get a full photo of it.  The grounds are full of residences of the once thousands of people that lived and worked for the royal family.

Palace - Collage

After wandering through all the residences and council houses, I climbed to the top of the “Watch Tower” – the spiral staircase in the photo above.  The trees have grown so tall that it was hard to see very far, but the photo of me is from the top.  The black and white photo is of King Thibaw and Queen Suphayalat.  I loved all the detailed wood carvings on each of the buildings.

While sipping ice-cold water purchased from the vender at the base of the Watch Tower, I was joined by a happy family with three adorable boys.  They were all smiles and racing to and fro.  The wind was really whipping at the top and although it felt great, you could really feel the Watch Tower sway.  I took a few photos of the boys and then out came their phones and we had a full on photo shoot.  Funny how we are all so excited to take photos of each other – complete strangers.  But all our silly grinning and happiness just filled me up.  I think when this picture was taken was the only time these boys weren’t grinning from ear-to-ear.  They were such happy souls.

Palace - My Boys

As I started to motor home, sticky, sweaty, filthy… I decided to make a stop to get my toes polished.  Why not?

Other teachers had done this, so I thought it would be no problem.  Well, it was a HUGE deal to the gals that I popped in on.  I had 12 girls, many with orange-ish hair, apparently that is as close as the bleach here will get there lovely black hair, trying to decipher what I wanted.  No, I didn’t want a fancy design on my toes.  Just color.  That, I, was very strange.  They said the polish gal was on her way, so while we all waited they just sat around and stared at me, smiling, giggling, staring.   At first it was tiring and I was getting grumpy.  But I wasn’t on a main street and this probably had never happened to them before.  I had to remind myself that I must seem very different to them.  With that I got over my “I’m tired of being stared at” attitude and started smiling and trying to engage them.  Might as well try and make a happy and lasting impression.  Soon the polish gal came and within 5 minutes my filthy feet (remember I had walked to the top of Mandalay Hill without shoes on that morning) had new polish on them.  No foot soak and no leg massage.  Simply wipe off the old, clean a bit of dirt of the nail and re-polish.  Then a hand fan and some physical leaning over and blowing on the toes and I was on my way for a whooping $1.00 – yep, one dollar.

Toes - Getting a Polish

With bright toes encourage my new serenity, I motored home, took a quick shower and was out again with a fellow teacher to have cocktails and watch the sunset over the Ayeyarwaddy river and then to listen to a local band sing mostly foreign songs in Myanmar.  What a fantastic day!

New energy and a determination to SEE all the little, beautiful things that surround me each day, its a good way to start the week.  Just riding to a place where I could write this blog today, I was once again seeing the arching trees, the vibrant colors and the uniqueness of the people again.  Feels good.

Have a great week.

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