Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Long Day ...

Just thought I might give a synopsis of a typical day at KAUST. Today I got up about 5:40 a.m. (If inspired enough and not injured from following Hayden over ski jumps, I get up earlier and join a small running group of teachers once or twice a week.) I showered and dressed and headed downstairs for coffee and BBC news. Around 6:40, David woke up Hayden and Logan, got Logan dressed and ready, and the boys came downstairs for breakfast. Warmed by a sweatshirt for Logan and David's neon bike jacket for me, we headed off on the motorbike for Logan's classroom where we always read a book together before we start our separate days. Hugs and kisses first.

I teach first my advisory students who are currently mired in trying to figure out how to do a skit which shows risk-taking. They actually risk-take daily but can't really figure out how to present this. Next, I am off to the conference room for an 80 minute training on how to use the online library resources. Our library is phenomenal, which is wonderful for students and teachers alike. Next I teach my first 85 minute block - Grade 7 English. We are reading a novel about Afghanistan, having lots of discussions, practicing combining sentences without making run-ons, and studying children's picture books. The students are soon to start writing and illustrating their own picture books which we will eventually read to the preschool and kindergarten students. A quick lunch follows and then another 85 minute class - Grade 6 English. We are reading a novel about Egypt, which connects to their humanities class on Ancient Egypt, and they are writing ABC books about themselves which are due next week. They have had lots of time to write, revise, and edit with each other, but I am not sure how well the peer revising and editing has gone. Needs a lot more work, I suspect. After a quick break, I am off to teach Grade 7 girls' P.E. We go to the Harbor Rec Center across the street where they chat, run on treadmills, chat, ride stationary bikes, chat, do some stretching and strengthening with me, and chat some more. After we walked back today, I was responsible for monitoring after school detention for students who continually come late to school or class or who have other issues with homework or behavior. The students in detention have to sit in a very cold lunchroom without their laptops and without talking to anyone. They can read and do homework. I much prefer working after school in the learning center where we engage with students who choose to come for homework help or are told to come for homework help. Much more engaging.

End of school, I head back to the Rec Center to pick up Logan who has been playing there with his after school play group. We head home to meet Hayden who went for a bike ride after school and just finished his homework. Logan and I spend five minutes working on his beginning reading. Hayden checks his email. I start dinner - our favorite Hanoi Pasta (known by the name my friends and I called it when we lived in Hanoi and based on the ingredients we could get there). We sit to eat and watch Hayden have fifths! I clean up and David heads back to school for an evening parent meeting about report cards. The boys bathe and have stories or read and get to bed by 8 p.m.

Busy day. Sometimes it's hard to know if my students are really learning. Some days are so long, like this one, and some days are more reasonable. We have the BEST principal I have ever ever worked for. Really. And that helps so very much. She is wonderful - and from Seattle as well.

Finally, off to relax and get ready for bed. Tomorrow is Wednesday, our last day of the week, and David heads to Dubai for an Ultimate frisbee tournament for the weekend. The boys and I will relax and play. Maybe David will find those elusive vacuum bags ...

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The first race at kaust from Hayden

Hello all,
Today was the first race ever at Kaust. It was a total blast. It wasn't too long and it wasn't too short. A lot of younger kids tried to compete but they went really hard in the start and then after a kilometer they were so tired they could barely move. I did not make the same mistake. I ended up passing all of those kids. My friend Colin did it with me too. We talked along the way. It made it go by much faster. The course was basically flat the whole time. It wasn't a really exciting course, but I still had a good time. All the Philippino workers watched in awe as we went by. You should have seen some of their faces. They act like they've never seen a running race before. Well, I guess most of them haven't, but still their faces acted like they thought we were from neptune. In the last kilometer I dropped Colin and managed to pass three people before the finish. When I did finish, my Dad was there and he urged me on. Apparently, I finished second in my category. The only person who managed to beat me was a high school boy who was really fast. My dad finished first though. He got a big trophy that said: Kaust first place. He let me hold it. My mom ran too. Thank you for reading this!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Teaching at Harbor Secondary School

Greetings all,
I have had many questions regarding the students, the school, and the teaching which I thought I might try to address. The greatest shock in the first couple of weeks for many teachers was the realization that we had significant numbers of students who knew virtually no English but were attending a school in which the primary language of instruction is English. There were many frustrations initially, some of which continue at times, but I was realizing today that several of our students have made huge strides in English in just thirteen weeks of school. On the first day, for example, I had one 7th grade boy who could not say, "Hello, my name is ..." Today, though, he was able to explain to me that he reads a lot of books in Arabic and that he likes to read (!) but that he is slow in English. This from the boy who appeared to opt out mentally of all things at school in the beginning. Another day he asked if I could send an email explaining the homework to his mother because they were going to work on it together. When I responded that I would be happy to do that, he smiled at me and said, "Thank you, Mrs. Evans." Remarkable and impressive. This boy, I understand from our Arabic instructor, is a top student in that class - always does his homework, always polite and respectful. I realize that in my class when he does not do homework, it's because he simply did not understand me. He's really trying - and many teachers have noticed.

In my classes, I teach about 12 boys and girls together for world geography and English. In the 7th grade P.E. class, I teach only girls - twelve of them. We have access to the gym with the windows covered so the girls can play sports without fear of being seen. The girls love to play tag and running games, but we have also done units on fitness, badminton, and floor hockey. Sometimes we use the new Harbor Recreation Center where they can use the female gym for organized fitness classes (Jennifer's version of yoga and strength training), treadmills, and training bikes - or they can bowl. We are trying for more of the former. One day the rec center was experiencing water leakage issues and flooding, despite the dry weather, so we had to play basketball outside. For some of the girls with their head scarves and abayas, this was stressful until one girl called her mom to be sure it was okay. Then they relaxed, practiced tossing and passing the ball, and shot at the basket. By the end, most of the girls said it was really fun.

In the humanities class, we have been reading about Incan civilization as a precursor to student research projects and presentations on ancient civilizations of their choice. I have been thrilled to observe the mixture of students discussing questions from the readings (words that people don't understand) and trying to figure out what is important to know. The progress is startling when I remember that it has not even been half of a year.

Our own children are also maturing well. I know that we are throwing a bit of a kink in their lives by pulling up stakes from home and moving, but I have also seen growth in them that I might not have seen at home. Hayden is understanding and aware of the language developing in some of his classmates and he is becoming a leader in his class academically. He is also proud of his improving skills in Arabic. We have lots of younger kids around on our block, and often I see Hayden outside helping a younger boy with his scooter or starting a game of tag with several five-year olds. Logan just seems generally happy with life. He is beginning to read some words, sounding them out little by little, and he is quite pleased with himself. Both boys are good cyclists, getting plenty of practice on these flat streets (as opposed to the steep hills of Seattle), and developing as inline skaters!

Thanks for reading. Sorry if this is too long. Jennifer

Friday, January 15, 2010

Skiing by Logan

My grandma and grandpa paid for me to have ski lessons in Austria. I am really good now. I learned how to do jumps, and I liked to go fast. It was really fun because there were lots of really steep slopes. I saw lots of other really really good skiers who looked like they skied a lot. And also I got to go really fast sometimes, but the nice thing about learning is that you get to go slow also. And it was so cold that on the last day I had to wear more than I usually wear, and I got some new mittens that were really nice. I learned how to ski on the little kid hill, but then I got to go to Rosschute and the six-person chairlift and the gondola. There was a funicular that was just a little train that went up to the lodge at the top, and they had a little kid play area inside. I loved it so much that I want to go there again.

I really liked the Austria food that they had there. I liked the frankfurters with catsup and french fries and the chocolate croissants.

And the ice skating was really fun but it was hard. I fell down sometimes.

Thanks for reading my blog, Logan

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Vacuum Bag Saga Part II

I did not really expect to write about our vacuum bag issues on a blog, but the issues continue, so I have to continue the story.

"Austria. Next to Germany. Home of Siemens products, including our vacuum. Perfect," I think. Ha. I carefully write down our specific type of vacuum. After Christmas day in Seefeld, Austria, our home for two weeks, I meander into a small appliance type shop which sells expensive clocks, espresso makers, hair dryers, and vacuums, among other things. I buy two alarm clocks - radio-controlled which are not, in turns out, radio-controllable in Saudi Arabia (though we can manually set them) - and a travel hair dryer. I ask about vacuum bags. "Oh yes, I have Siemens bags," replied the saleswoman. "What type of vacuum do you have?" I slowly take out my notebook and show her what I have written down. It's the wrong information. "There is a small number on the bottom of your vacuum. I need that to know which kind of bag. Do you have your vacuum?"

Right. I always carry my *@*# vacuum when I travel. "No, I didn't bring the vacuum with me. I live in the Middle East."

"Oh, too bad," she says, looking truly sad. I ask her if she might be able to make a call to check for me on which bags are needed. She hesitates but comes around eventually and tells me that she will call when Siemens re-opens on January 5. We leave on January 6. No time to order.

We go to Innsbruck. I take my notebook with my list, just in case. We buy some court shoes for us and Hayden and inline skates for Logan, have a great lunch, and leave the restaurant just as all shops close for New Years Eve at 2:00 p.m. Fair enough. It's a holiday. We enjoy Innsbruck's incredible beauty, festive lights and trees, and forget vacuum bags.

Our final day, we leave Seefeld early to catch a train to Munich, hoping to have two hours to quickly find and buy a few items we need but have a hard time finding in Jeddah. We get up early, take a lovely train to Innsbruck, get on the ICE train to Munich and sit back with a beautiful breakfast in the dining car. The boys are truly impressed. Hot chocolate. Eggs. Bread. On a stunning train going 155 km/hour. Wow. We get to Munich with few winter clothes on, mostly packed, knowing we are heading soon to Jeddah. It is FREEZING. Seriously cold. And all shops - I mean ALL shops - are closed for Three Kings Day. I had no idea that Bavaria celebrated a day in honor of the three kings who were at Jesus's birth. The church bells are going crazy, and we slip into a huge cathedral to enjoy the choir, the warmth, a sermon given in German with a welcome to the congregation in English, Spanish, and Italian. The music is phenomenal and the cathedral is breathtaking. After some time we head back outside. It's even colder. We head back to the train station, passing by a large beautiful store with MY vacuum in the window. Closed. The train to the Munich airport goes right past a stop named for Siemens products. Sigh. I am just not destined to get these bags. I guess it's time to empty the bag again - or buy a broom.

Thanks for reading. Jennifer

Friday, January 8, 2010

Nordic or alpine?

As one who grew up downhill skiing with my family and taking the Winter Park ski bus on Saturdays, it was with such pride and pleasure that I was able to ski with our boys in Seefeld, Austria. When in Seattle, we went to the Kongsberger ski club Nordic trails nearly every weekend throughout the winter. As members of the club, we enjoyed the cabin, the friends, and the sauna available there. The boys spent many hours being pulled in a ski sled (when they were little), Nordic skiing, sledding, or having snowball fights at the cabin. In Seefeld, however, they were interested in trying more alpine skiing, which they had sampled in Leavenworth and Snoqualmie Pass. Signed up for lessons, they quickly developed their strength and coordination as alpine skiers. The first day, Logan needed help to ski down the beginners' slope, but by the end of our trip, he was able to ski down longer steeper intermediate slopes tha
t his older brother liked. Hayden, on the other hand, had moved on up to even higher elevations and longer slopes at Rosschute. David and I took turns skiing with them when they were not in their lessons, and I remembered skiing at Winter Park with my parents when I was young. It was thrilling, though a ski jump wipe-out reminded me that following Hayden over jumps no longer seemed to be such a good idea!

Each day we picked up our rental equipment and headed to the ski bus or let the boys go to their lessons and then we headed to the Nordic runs. Growing up as an alpine skier, I have had a slow transition to Nordic - it's hard work, I have to ski up hill, and there are no chairlifts. However, on this trip I realized that though I enjoy skiing alpine with the boys, I truly love Nordic more. The boots are more comfortable, I always stay warm, and it's great exercise. Nonetheless, I am so grateful for the opportunity to do both.

We did take the boys Nordic skiing one morning and after Hayden started getting the feeling back, he also admitted that he enjoyed it and that though he had not always wanted to go to the cabin in Seattle, he was really appreciative of the fact that he could do both types of skiing well. Logan struggled with Nordic at first, but after a while he started striding and
swinging his arms and moving fast. Huge smiles! He too was proud of his accomplishments.

When we first arrived in Munich, we had to wait for a late-arriving train to take us to Seefeld. We gradually started pulling out more and more winter clothes - hats, jackets, mittens, boots - until Hayden was pretty sure we would soon be lugging along empty suitcases. While shivering on the train platform, Hayden said, "I am so cold my bones are freezing together. I wish I were back in Jeddah." We did not let him forget that statement.

One particular ski afternoon was frustrating for Logan who was trying so hard to ski fast without falling. He fell yet again and said to me, "I don't know why I fell down because I am already really good." Skiing fast was his main goal. My main goal was for him to ski in control. We worked on combining the two!

Seefeld was festively decorated for the holidays with sparkling lights and trees all over town. We loved being there, eating lovely foods and drinks that are not necessarily available in Saudi Arabia. We rented a two bedroom apartment with a kitchen and a living room, so we could cook many meals 'at home.' Returning each day, it really did feel like home.

Thanks for reading. Jennifer

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Skier's Paradise

Those who know us even just a little are probably aware of how much we like to ski. Indeed, skiing, personally and professionally, has informed a large part of my life over the last decade or so, and as our boys have gotten older and stronger the family side of skiing has gotten more fun.
The family fun factor hit new heights in Seefeld, Austria in the Tyrolian Alps recently when, in two snow-packed weeks, we fit in all the great times we normally have over the course of an entire winter, and then some. While the boys were in alpine lessons most mornings at one of the four alpine venues within shouting distance of downtown, their dad, with occasionally Jennifer as well, was having the time of his life on some of the 260 km of cross country trails in and around Seefeld, home to more than a few of Austria's World Cup thoroughbreds and site of one of the coolest Nordic ski shops anywhere.
Incidentally, Seefeld has hosted the Nordic competitions of not one, but two, Olympic games ('64 and '76) and has also hosted many a World Cup Nordic event, so it's putting mildly to say Seefeld knows free-heel skiing. Heck, we even found out that World Cup downhill titan Lindsay Vonn (who learned to ski on Minnesota bumps) loves the slopes of Seefeld and often uses it as her home away from home when in the Alps, so it's not just Nordic skiing that works its magic in Seefeld.
Anyway, one morning I'd come in and ask for skate ski gear, whereupon the young man who happily greeted me each day would suit me up with the latest, fanciest gear I'd ever been on. The next morning I'd hit the trails on superb classic gear, freshly and perfectly waxed for that day's ski conditions.
Once on the trails, there were short, medium, and long options, and flat all the way to anything but flat variants of each. Modest roller skiing at sea level in Saudi Arabia had not quite prepared me for the shock of daily, often very hilly skis at 1200 - 1600m altitude, but eventually the body was bludgeoned into some form of ski shape and ultimately craved the next day's permutation of trails.
In true Austrian form, no matter the trail, a skier is never more than 10K from the next restaurant or cafe, ready to administer to every possible solid or liquid caloric need; it's impossible to get lost - just follow your nose to the schnitzel and strudel!

Thanks for reading, David