Saturday, January 30, 2010

in the works again

I'm headed back to teaching tomorrow. I'll be taking over a grade eleven American literature class after a teacher resigned mid-year. The good news is: I'll be starting at a fresh semester. Less good news is: it's a new school year in the middle of the year for both my students and me. I anticipate that the first week or two (okay, month) will be a lot of getting used to each other (my teaching and their learning styles), referring to my established discipline plan and class procedures (I am armed with a frightening load of organization this time), and testing boundaries and humor. As in, how many of my jokes and side comments will fall flat?

I think it should be okay. I went back and forth for a little while about accepting this position, but decided to after realizing a. it's for one semester, with no longer contract attached, b. my contract will literally double our savings potential this year since we can easily live on one salary here, which translates into c. less financially strapped travel opportunities for the next year. Also, d. I like American literature and, e. will enjoy being on campus again.

I will miss Claire durning the mornings - I love our mornings together - but by mid-June I'll be back at home full time to begin potty-training the little one. (Which will probably time out perfectly since I'll be into my third trimester and won't mind joining her every five minutes for a potty chat). Anyway, the mornings will be early since I do plan to maintain my running - though I'll likely cut miles for the sake of time during the weekdays - but I'll get home and rest for twenty or thirty minutes (door closed!) before tackling playtime, dinnertime, bedtime. So I think the four and a half months will be manageable.

When I accepted the job, I made a deal with Justin that we not travel during our spring break. I want that week to explore Kuwait (there are about three places here to see: should I see them all this year, or parcel them out? ha ha). He's a little grumpy about not getting to Jordan this spring, but I think he'll get over it. I suggested he and Claire make the trip to Petra while I stay home sleeping in and eating French toast, reading books on the couch and showering at noon.

So wish me well. I meet my new students tomorrow. We're beginning with two excellent texts, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. I'm not there yet. I've still got Saturday lunch to make for a girl who's throwing a fit!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

heard a heartbeat today!

Claire is joining the ranks of all big sisters this September!

We are very happy to announce our baby on the way. I am seven weeks along, nauseated by noon, and absolutely exhausted by two in the afternoon.

But oh so happy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

a sky that could be anywhere

It is winter in Kuwait. Winter came suddenly this year, on a November morning. I had to go buy a pair of nice shoes since all I brought with me were sandals. I had to buy a couple of sweaters. I began wearing my husband's thick, warm socks around the apartment. I shiver here in Kuwait and I certainly did not expect to shiver in this desert.

Right now the wind is shrieking, tearing around the corners of our building. Sometimes the wind is so strong, the windows rattle. The screams wake me at night. I have yet to see a bad sandstorm, but when I hear the wind, I want to look out the window.

Thunder here is rare and I like it. Shortly after we arrived, all I wanted was a cloudy day. I wanted Biblical rain, like the fat rain that fell in Colombia and turned a hill into a waterfall. We get rain here, more than I expected, during the winter. It falls like marbles and carries the dust in the air to the ground. After the rain, cars are mud-splotched, windows are dusty. A few days ago, in the afternoon, I heard loud ping ping ping and went to the window to see hail bouncing off the window ledge.

The other morning, Justin and I lay in bed; the curtains were open and we were staring at the blue blue sky. "That sky could be anywhere," I said. The wind was whistling and if I closed my eyes, I could be in Wisconsin, warm in my bed while it snowed outside.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

extra awesome

Yesterday afternoon three of us went for haircuts. In the cab on the way to the salon, someone said bloomin' onion and we all thought must have one now. After haircuts, Ellie had to leave for another appointment, but Amanda and I decided to go find a deep-fried onion.
was an immediate need. The cab driver took us to Chili's for an Awesome Blossom (extra awesome) to go. We sat in the back of the cab inhaling perfectly fried (not soggy with grease, but crisp and hot) onion strings with sauce. Okay, I inhaled. Amanda was a much neater eater.

Sooo good.

An hour later I felt absolutely horrible. Way too much of a good thing.* But it'd been so long since I'd recklessly ordered and consumed that much grease in one sitting, that even though I can't really fathom wanting another Awesome Blossom for years, it was utterly delicious shared in the back of a cab on the 30 home.

*Lesson learned for the fifty billionth time in my life.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

letting myself like it here

Yesterday I talked with my friend Nira, who is still in Colombia for her third year and is planning to stay a fourth. I admitted feeling jealous of the teachers at Bolivar who stayed for longer than their initial two year contract. I spent the first couple of months here very sad that we weren't there. I missed our friends, walking up the hill to La Carulla, the birds that began calling at four in the morning, the product ladies at La14 dressed like Energizer batteries and Italian chefs; I missed our nanny, Patricia, and our school secretary, Marlene; I missed and missed and missed.

All of that missing makes it difficult to warm up to a new place. Last night I got off the phone with Nira and cried. "I think we made a mistake," I said to Justin, "a third year would have been so good for us." I don't know what would have happened with that third year. I really don't. We would have been broke. I might have improved my Spanish. We would have taken a few more trips around Colombia, perhaps made it to Cartegena or back to Tyrona on the coast. I would have gone trail running at least a few times, with Justin biking along. Claire might have latched on to a few Spanish words. Perhaps I would have done the Medellin half marathon again.


Justin assured me, "We made an okay decision." Okay!? Okay!? "A good decision," he said, mustering conviction.

Here's what I think: I think I'm afraid to like Kuwait. It's a dump. At least where we are, it is. Sand and trash. There isn't anything shiney and new or glamorous about Kuwait except for its malls. So if I say I like this place, what does that say about me?

Last week, Justin, Claire and I were out for a walk down to the littered beach, along the shore, and back. Near our apartment building, two other teachers on their way home pulled up beside us and stopped. "If you have a camera, I'll take your picture," Monica said. Before us was a line of palms, the setting sun. And all I'd been noticing until then was the trash underfoot. Perhaps I need to look up more.

And perhaps I need to give myself over to living here in Kuwait. Knowing that leaving after two years is emotionally and logistically difficult, we're staying for three or four, maybe five. There are people here that stay for six or seven years. One woman I know says that she and her husband are "lifers." I don't think we are lifers here in Kuwait, but I do think that I need to be done feeling sad about leaving Colombia and I need to let myself like living here in Kuwait.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

story corps

One of my latest finds is Story Corps. I won't say too much about them except to encourage you to visit their website. I think the work that they are doing is historically important but also immediately important as people are talking with one another.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

seven about sarah

Jessica posted this: listing seven things about yourself. And then she tagged her readers. I think I've made it through a total of two email forwards asking really telling questions about yourself (gift bag or gift wrap? dinner in or dinner out?) but this should be fun. I'll go for the little known seven things about Sarah.*

1. I wish I were one of those people who simply doesn't like chocolate. "Oh, I don't like chocolate much," someone will say to me, passing on the offered slice of cake, and I'll think yeah right. But there really are people who don't like chocolate much and as baffling as that is to me - a woman with chocolate kicks satisfied by homemade pudding or (this is the latest) Cadbury Shots or Chocettes - I sometimes wish I were one of them. Only sometimes. Because wouldn't it be nice to not be gripped by the absolute necessity of a bar of dark chocolate
2. I am starting to really hate eating meat. For a short time in college I was vegetarian. Well, lacto-ovo, meaning I ate dairy products and eggs. I don't think I adhered to vegetarianism on my occasional weekend visits home. When I started dating Justin and joining his family for dinners they served beef or chicken or pork all the time and I ate along. But lately, ick. Not sure what to do with this aversion and I know Justin (already used to most of our meals being meatless) would have a hard time accepting not even chicken. Dairy and eggs would have to stay though.
3. I still fantasize about becoming something well beyond reach: an Olympic athlete, a CIA spy, a fighter pilot (I don't want to fight, I just want to go really really fast), someone with amazing hair. I have always daydreamed and usually daydreamed big, elaborate plots I'd add onto each time I got lost in that land. I remember being about nine or ten and desperately wishing I had curly hair; I had this whole daydream about waking up and looking in the mirror and there it was! A head of curly hair, like kids in commercials. When it just didn't happen, I began my off and on relationship with bad perms.
4. I am very content. Most of the time.
5. When I glance in the mirror and see a glimpse of my Mom in my expression, or when I hear myself say something she might (calling Claire, "Sweet girl"), I am pleased.
6. I have grown up so much in the last two or three years and wish that I could pass this new wisdom on to my nineteen year old self. Since I cannot, I try to hear what my forty year old self is telling me now. I think my forty year old self is better yet and I'm looking forward to meeting her one day.
7. I am addicted to news podcasts on iTunes. I download a slew of 60 Minutes, BBC documentaries, Frontline, NPR's Fresh Air, To the Best of Our Knowledge, On Point, and Wait, Wait; I also listen to The Moth podcasts and This American Life. I listen while I run on the treadmill in the mornings. I also have this thing about finding long podcasts and fitting my listening selections so that I don't have half a program left at the end of my run. So I usually have to choose a forty or fifty minute show and pair that with a twenty minute documentary. Some mornings, a new podcast is the only reason I decide to run.

*Or so I think little known. You may very well know most of this already.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

India: an elephant & a poser

Justin kept saying that when he went to India, he was going to ride an elephant. Ride an elephant, ride an elephant like a refrain. When I suggested we could also wait on an elephant ride until Thailand (if we get there), he said, "No." So it was a mini-mission to find an elephant to ride in India. We found this elephant in Jaipur, near the Amber Fort. We rode, and lo, it was wonderful.
My brother also sent this shot along as a compliment to my current profile picture. You know, I felt ridiculous taking my own picture (though not so much as to not!) but seeing a picture of me taking my picture: it's a new ridiculousness.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

India: a few more

This man is making samosas.
Joie, my sister-in-law and the one who coordinated train tickets and hotels and remembered to bring along a guidebook so we knew what we were looking at.
Will and I shared a coconut milk.
Will and Annie both enjoyed Claire's stroller. Annie was funny about "baby Claire," her younger cousin by a year. She wanted baby Claire to sit on her lap and she wanted to help push baby Claire in her stroller - and she's saying all of this in her own baby voice. Sweet.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

India: the taj mahal

Here we are at the Taj Mahal. We woke up early to stand in line and pay 750 rupees (about twenty dollars) to see this tribute to a woman who died in childbirth. I think that great monuments like this hold different meaning for different people; the Taj might be a symbol of love, or a spiritual place, or simply an architectural wonder. I didn't know what to expect but was amazed by the intricacy of the inlaid stonework and carving.

India: getting from here to there

We walked on the mountain, through the bazaar, dodging puddles and mud, avoiding cows parked between motorbikes in the cities, alongside traffic that seems to move faster and more chaotically than it really does. But we also took these to get around:
Taxis. There were fleets of white 1950s cars with racks on top to shuttle people from the train station in Dehradun. This rather cranky man took us up the mountain when we first arrived.
In Dehli, we hopped in rickshaws to navigate the city. A rickshaw ride is like all of your nerves firing at once and you have to look everywhere right now because you might miss something. The split second you see something - two kids whispering to each other on the back of a bicycle rickshaw, the flash of color of a woman's sari, an old man with no legs - you are past, blinking.
We all fit in a big rickshaw, with Joie and her sister Eleanor sitting in back. Last year I read a book about an MIT graduate who decided to live on as little modern technology as possible; when he and his wife settled back in the land of electricity, he bought a bicycle rickshaw to carry people around his new town. Since I don't bike, I volunteer my husband to do that.
This is our bus driver on our trip from Agra to a fort about an hour and a half away. Check out the wires. He knew how to wrench the shift too.
I rather enjoyed the train rides. We had two bench seats facing each other, two upper bunks and two more bunks that we could make if we needed. We had enough room - especially if one or two of us were on a top bunk with a sleeping kid - but our "enough room" was a call to any cramped passenger to sit with us. For an hour or so of one ride, a boy joined us and just stared at Will, Annie, and Claire, making little noises and faces to amuse them. Nate found out the boy had a ticket and told him to return to his seat; he told the same to another woman who was parked on our bench. A couple, likely riding on only one ticket, squashed together in a seat at the end of our bench, eating a meal and saying nothing.
Trains offer different classes of passenger travel. The class we were in was upper, but a couple removed from first. We were "non AC" which meant that we felt whatever the weather was outside; during this cool season, we just bundled up in hats and blankets during early morning and evening, but I don't think it'd be much fun to ride "non AC" in the heat of summer. Our class also allowed men, women and children to walk the aisles loudly selling food and drink, toys, shawls and socks. Above, Nate shares a samosa he bought with Will.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

India: the buzz

They call the bazaar the buzz. It's a thirty minute walk down the mountain and into Mussoorie, beginning where the shops begin. The stores are small and tightly packed with a variety of goods, usually displaying a few outside of the store itself. Shopping requires a bit of hunting: while one store might sell utensils and cooking pots, the next store might have bigger pots or a better price. Storekeepers are happy to show you all that they offer, if you have the desire (or time) to sit and listen.

Bartering is very much a part of shopping here but there are rules. Start low, perhaps at half the asking price. Say you are buying a shawl and you see one you like. Look at a variety of shawls, careful to not let on that you really like that deep purple wool wrap. Then justify your price: there are loose threads, this color is a little faded, the stitching is uneven. You go back and forth until "Last price." Shrug, walk away. Say, "It is too much." They'll call you back. "When they start to wrap your purchase," Joie explained, "you can be sure they'll sell it for your price."

The first time I really bartered was in Delhi with an old woman selling dusty old tapestries. A blue design caught my eye. I got hot and sweaty trying to convert rupees to dollars to dinars to decide whether or not I really wanted to pay that much for a dusty old tapestry. A woman overheard the asking price and unleashed a stream of Hindi reprimanding the old woman for trying to rob me. Finally, my brother rescued me and pulled me away. He and Joie gave me a few tips and I returned, shaking my head, asking to see more, shrugging, adding another (slightly less dusty and old) tapestry to the deal, and paying a price that was still probably a little too high. But then again, the old woman followed me down the sidewalk, saying, "You are happy, you are happy" and I looked at her two rotting teeth and thought So what if I could whittle this down another two hundred rupees? and bought the two pieces.
This is a man at a shop selling Kashmir tapestries, plates, bowls and boxes. Beautiful work.
After walking around the buzz for a couple of hours, we stopped for lunch at a place that offers a better variety of cuisine. As in, Nate and Joie can order a pizza there when they are tired of curry. Claire was tired from the walk (well, the ride on Papa's back) and as parents, we're still amused by our sleeping baby.
One of Will and Annie's favorite things to eat: mo mos. Mo mos and samosas reminded me a bit of the different types of empanadas you can find in South America. Claire woke up in time to enjoy a couple of mo mos too.
Such a good big cousin!
Always so much to see! Speaking of India, and not just the buzz, Nate told me that after three and a half years of living there, he still sees new things.

India: our stay at redwood cottage

We arrived in India on the seventeenth and took a train north on the eighteenth. We spent a week at Redwood Cottage, Nate and Joie's home in India. The restful days were wonderful and I enjoyed seeing my brother as a husband and pappa, and I was glad to get to know Joie better. The cousins were fun to watch: at first, circling around each other and then growing comfortable enough to play together (though Claire is a little young yet to always appreciate all the games Annie had in mind). Below are a few (out of order) pictures from that week.

Christmas day. We walked up the mountain to a potluck dinner with other Woodstock teachers. Claire enjoyed all of our outdoor time, chilly or not.
Walking with Papa.
The cousins! Last time we saw Will and Annie, they were two-and-a-half and just seven or eight months old. I really appreciated the chance to see who they are now; near the end of our visit, I began thinking about who they might be in ten or twenty years and what stories we might tell from this visit in India.
Nate and Joie have talked about India being a difficult place to live and I saw that in much of the daily work. Here I am making Russian teacakes (or pecan sandies or snowball cookies or Mexican wedding cakes), stirring the dough by hand. When I burned out my first mixer in Kuwait, I froze: how would I bake anything!? I thought about that silliness while making Christmas cookies with Joie. I spent the week being very impressed by all that Joie must do to bring food to the table since there is nothing simple or easy about preparing meals from scratch with food you carry on your back from the bazaar.
Joanna sent Joie little tart tins and a recipe for my Great-Grandma's sandbackels. We had no idea just how many cookies a single batch would make. Joie soon realized that I should receive my own Christmas present from Jo and Ron early: another set of tins. We baked and baked...and baked. They were delicious. All four hundred and seventy-two (ha ha).
My brother cooks! I didn't know this. He began cooking during a semester in England where he and a friend learned how to make sesame chicken and stew. For us, he made an amazing orange chicken with sauce, served over rice.
Joie is a very musical person, playing guitar and piano and singing. I think Claire enjoyed that very much.

Friday, January 1, 2010

safe & sound

We arrived home from India on a cloud of dust from Delhi and our own travel stink. The last leg of the journey is always the longest. All I thought about the entire taxi ride home from the airport was shower and Q-tip.

Ah, sooo nice.

Enjoyed a nap, went grocery shopping, and am looking forward to a long-ish run tomorrow.

Wishing you each a happy New Year.

P.S. India pictures and posts to follow next few days. An amazing couple of weeks. Very grateful that I had the chance to visit my brother and his family while they are living there.