Highlights of the decade

Lots has happened since 2000. On this day ten years ago, I was sitting in a faluka (a type of boat) in the Nile River in Cairo, Egypt, celebrating the year 2000 with my good friend and her family!

Since then, I:
  • went to college (and graduated!!)
  • got married
  • moved to California for two years
  • entered the workforce
  • moved to Michigan for two years
  • adopted three cats
  • went on a few European vacations (thanks, mom and dad!)
  • moved down south
  • bought our first house
  • adopted our first dog

The last four items happened in 2009 alone!! It's been a busy year, and a good year. And it's been a fantastic decade!

In the next decade, I'd like to check off a few more items from my Life List. Particularly number 11. What will you do?

This Christmas (Pop) ROCKS!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Was Santa generous this year? Were you able to spend time with friends and family (even if it was just over the phone)?

We've had a fun-filled day on the family farm. I got Pop Rocks in my stocking, because Santa remembered that I'm a child of the 80's and 90's and knows my tastebuds like to reminisce! And the Pop Rocks reminded me of my students.

I know, I know; I'm not supposed to be thinking about my students on Christmas break, but I just couldn't help myself! I was remembering the time that "Michael" was spending his fake-money-for-good-behavior at my classroom store. I had recently included some Pop Rocks I had gotten at the dollar store, and Michael asked me what they were. Child!! Do you not know the abject joy of Pop Rocks!? Buy them now because they will change your life!

So he did! And before I could stop him, he had opened the package and dumped THE ENTIRE CONTENTS into his mouth. And he closed his mouth over it all, then he opened his eyes as wide as saucers, and started to jump up and down with the Pop Rocks....

I hope you all (y'all!!) had a Pop Rockin' Christmas this year!

I said yes

Vacation is FINALLY here and after 23 hours of driving, we are FINALLY back in Michigan. Life is good. The house is all decked out for Christmas and I've been enjoying the warm fireplace. Barney thinks that the family farm is an amusement park specifically designed for him! He requested that we stay on vacation here forever.

Dr. Seuss would be proud! Or maybe confused.

Today, after reading "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", I had both classes write a letter to the Grinch to convince him that he should love Christmas instead of hate it.
Here's what my 4th and 5th graders came up with (spelling and language mistakes and all!):

Dear Grinch,
Why do you hate Christam? You should love Christam becuse you like to read book how about you don't keep childen prens't  For Chirstam. I want you to be happy.
Dear Grinch,
Did you like Christmas after you change your mind. I love Christmas when I was litte. I still like it right now. You should like Christmas because Christmas is about love with familys and friends. Grinch, Merry Christmas.
Dear Grinch,
You should like Christmas becas it is so butyfull. You should like cristmas becoues it is a famly thing. You suold lik cristmas becaus you get present. You should love Cristmas you have frend. You should love cristmas becaus you get wat you want.
(And my personal favorite):
Dear Grinch,
Grinch, Christmas is a hopefull holiday and helpful. It wants to let you know that its not about the presents it about the love and joy. It's not about steling Christmas its about enjoying Christmas. So just like Christmas not hate it. Stop hating it and continued with life.

Christmas Slacking

funny pictures
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Only five days left until Christmas vacation!! Is anyone doing anything educational in their classrooms this week? Because my handwritten plans fit onto a post-it note (literally!). I'll break it down for you:

Monday: field trip
Tuesday: How the Grinch Stole Christmas with related activities
Wednesday: The Polar Express with related acitivities
Thursday: Santa's workshop (Christmas themed centers!)
Friday: Christmas party

Yep! Then it's off to Michigan to spend the holidays with family :)

Maybe I'll get another teacher aide!

"It is very SUPER cold."
That was a statement from one of my fourth graders this morning as we walked from the main building out to my portable. His assessment was quite accurate: 23 degrees this morning. In TEXAS! And it's hovered in the thirties for the past two weeks. Normally, I wouldn't really care too much about the temperature (unless we're talking about the possiblity of a snow day, then that's all I care about!). But for the past three weeks, the heat has been broken in my half of the portable (there are six classrooms in our portable and I was one of the two with no heat). Which means that I've been teaching with my coat and scarf on all day, every day. And I need the use of my hands to teach so I couldn't wear gloves and you can just imagine how five popsicles attached to a palm feel like.
Almost every day, my colleague next door and I would ask our janitor how the progress was going. He would always mumble something about how he had put in the work order and was waiting on the district people to come out. Well yesterday, my colleague had just HAD it and threatened that unless he did something she was going to call the superintendent!! There were three men out working on the problem by 8:30 that morning. By 3:00 that afternoon, the heat finally kicked on (OH BLESSED SOUND!!).
What I want to know is, what else can I get done around here by threatening to call the superintendent?

It gets cold down south too!

It's exciting that we finally live in the kind of place where neighbors bring over baked goods for no other reason than that they had extra. And offer to babysit your cats. And let you borrow their lawn equipment. And most the most recent perk? Christmas goodies! One set of neighbors dropped off a poinsettia plant and a delicious variety of homemade cookies all in Martha Stewart packaging!

Of course, this means we should reciprocate in kind. After scouring the internet for my favorite craft inspirations, I came up with this:

Peppermint cocoa mix and peppermint stirrers

And after a few hours shopping for ingredients and putting it all together, it came out like this:

Next up? Christmas activities with my students!!

Snow Show

It was cold this morning. As I dropped my parents off at the airport before school, my dad said it couldn't be THAT cold because he didn't feel cold (I was, though!!). Once I pulled up to the school and got inside, large white snowflakes were falling fast and furiously.
My fourth graders were waiting for me to pick them up in the auditorium. As they walked outside to get into our portable, they saw all that snow falling... One student said: "OH MY GOSH! It's got a lot of snowflakes out here!!" We settled into the classroom but all these Texas kids could think about was the snow outside--it was even sticking!!
So, being the good teacher that I am, I ditched my lesson plans, bundled up the kids and ran outside to go Experience the Snow. Everyone had a jolly ol' time romping around in the quarter inch of snow (a few other classes had come out as well) for about fifteen minutes... trying to catch snowflakes on their tongues, making snowballs without gloves, and wishing there was enough to make a snowman. Eventually, though, the kids realized they were cold and wet. One of my students said (all haunched over into his coat and wincing with the coldness of it all): "Let's get outta here". So we did.
Unfortunately, the heat in our side of the portable is broken so we didn't get the warmest welcome back inside. The kids made a big deal of blowing into their hands, drying off their faces, and declaring their hands too cold to hold a pencil.
Yeah, I'm too cold to do any work today either--let's all go home!! :)

Red and yellow, black, and white...

Nothing noteworthy happened today at school, so I will relay a story from about a month ago. I would have related it at the time but I was too busy railing against my job back then to be in the mood.

So we were reading a story called "Sees Behind Trees" about a Native American boy who can hardly see but needs to prove himself with a bow and arrow in order to become a man. Before reading any story, I start by tapping prior knowledge and building background. I didn't get very far before I realized my 8 fifth graders didn't know what "Native American" was.

At that point, I realized I had to define and give examples of "race". (I have two African American students, five Hispanic students, and one Caucasian student). So I gave examples using my students because they already know what "African American" is and what "Hispanic" is. I also said that different races and cultures are known for different things. Like Asians eat a lot of rice. And Hispanics eat a lot of tortillas. And... before I could go any further, an African American girl piped up in the back with "I LIKE FRIED CHICKEN!"

But it gets better, folks. I was pointing out which students were what (you know, to make sure everyone knew what "race" is. You can never be too explicit when you're dealing with kids with language impairments!). And I said: "Alice and Martha are African American. Jose, Norma, Gabriel, Luis, and Roberto are Hispanic". Then before I could say another word, my one Caucasian kid shouts out: "WHAT AM I? I know, I'm WHITE". And I said "White isn't really a race."

Then, he ventured: "....French?"

And I am

My school district has this "incentive" where, if you take two professional development days during the summer or the school year, they would let you have the Monday and Tuesday off before Thanksgiving (the kids are off all week). I heard about this deal, but I wasn't in Texas over the summer, so.... I sacrificed two entire Saturdays to sitting through awful professional development sessions. I remember both times thinking it was such torture to work a six day week. But I knew that Future Sarah was going to be soooooo happy come the week of Thanksgiving!!

Stinky =

8 fifth graders crammed into a small room with one window that DOESN'T OPEN!

It may be time to have a discussion about proper hygiene.....

Note to self: close all doors

Today was Day One of Barney's new living arrangements. Over the weekend, we furnished our guest room in preparation for my parents' arrival for Thanksgiving next week. That meant that it was no longer this nice empty space for Barney to roam around in during the work day (we put up a baby gate in the doorway since we don't have a door there yet).

So today we decided to let him loose in the house while we were gone for work. We still put up the baby gate so he couldn't get IN to the guest room, then we scattered his toys, bed, water dish, and pee towel across the living room.

Imagine my surprise when I got home from work, totally expecting to see an excited puppy greeting me at the door, and instead am mobbed by three hungry cats! "Barneeeey!". No answer. (Where did he go?). "BARNEEEEEY!!". And then I heard a whimper from the other side of the house.

I walked down the hall and sure enough, the doof had gotten himself shut into the office. I opened the office door to be greeted by a leaping dog, and I looked past him see the wreckage he had left in his wake: a river of pee flowing from a chewed up Intro Psych textbook, and a two-inch gash where he stripped the black bookshelf of its wood.

I have no idea how long he had been stuck in the office. I have no idea HOW he got himself stuck in the office. Was it for some alone time? Was he trying to preen in the full length mirror on the back of the door? Or was this some evil scheme on the cats' part?

I guess we'll never know....

I say the same thing every time I go to the mall

As my fourth graders prepare for store, they take inventory of all the tokens they've earned for good behavior. I have one particular student who absolutely cannot concentrate on counting when others are counting around him. "STOP TALKING", he'll insist, as he himself continues to count out loud. Finally today I said: "Hon, just take off your hearing aids if you need it quiet to count". He was happy to tear them off.
Looking back, it may not have been the smartest thing to call his attention to the fact that he can selectively hear whenever he wants, but for today, it stopped the whining, and that was really all that mattered.
This same student had twenty-five tokens and took a lot of time deliberating over what prize he was going to buy at my "store". He thought through a few scenarios, working out the subtraction on the board to see how many tokens he would have left if he bought x or y or z. He finally settled on two pieces of candy, but walked away afterwards declaring: "I will spend no more and I am NOT kidding".

Musical intelligence in action

We were reading about the Iditarod Race, held in Alaska every year. We came across the word "champion", and because students who are deaf/hard-of-hearing usually have vocabulary difficulties, I stopped to see if anyone knew what that word meant.

"Does anyone know what 'champion' means?"
(No one did).

In a fit of inspiration, I sang this line (hamming it up, as I usually like to do): "Weee are the champions, my frieeeeeends....."

Eight faces stared at me blankly, some clearly confused as to why their teacher had just broken into song. There was deadpan silence for about two seconds.

Then, from the back, one of my fifth graders stated matter-of-factly: "Queen"

Ahhhh, there is hope for this generation after all!!

Tactful Ultimatum

As you may or may not have noticed, I'm unhappy with my latest job assignment. I've been having a rough time of it since the beginning of the year, in fact. But I kept telling myself: "Sarah, it's just because you're in a new school in a new state. Things will get better soon". Then I would put my big girl panties on and try to get the job done without a breakdown.

Well, we're almost into week 12 and, while some procedural things have gotten easier, the bulk of my job has gotten harder (this may have something to do with the fact that for every new meeting I go to, I discover another set of paperwork to fill out!). I could give you a laundry list of why this teaching assignment is too hard for me, but I'll sum it up this way: I'm teaching 14 students while each of my deaf ed. colleagues is only teaching 5. Oh, and I have three out of the four "difficult behavior" students in the program, and two out of the three "impossible" parents.
Last week was a particular nightmare with some major behavior issues, a meeting EVERY SINGLE day after school, and a parent who yelled my ear off for a good fifteen minutes on Friday afternoon. So (after all of the sobbing stopped), I felt completely justified when I started job hunting again this weekend. I even replied to a job posting! (The fact that I would be willing to leave this school mid-year should tell you something about how difficult and stressful this job has been.)
On Monday, one of my co-workers encouraged me to talk to the Deaf ed. administrators about this situation. So I did. I was very tactful and polite but I explained that I was being stressed too thin and that it was ultimately my students who were suffering. She was very understanding and concerned that I would quit before June, and she promised she would collaborate with the other deaf ed. administrators to see what could be done to help me.
I don't like quitting and I don't like this feeling of perpetual, overwhelming stress, so I hope to goodness that someone can do something!!


Yesterday, as I led my students into class, I was asking them if they had a good Halloween. The first two students replied enthusiastically (Yes I did! I got so much candy! etc). The third student said: "I did not go to Halloween". I prodded: "Why? Why not?". He just kept repeating over and over again: "I did not go to Halloween". Finally, after I kept pushing him for an explanation, he stated: "Because Jesus does not even like Halloween!"
At least his dad gave him a bag of candy as a consolation prize!

Teachers Anonymous

(you know, instead of AA)

We would all sit in a circle, then one by one we would introduce ourselves: "Hi, my name is Sarah. I'm a teacher and my best is never good enough."

Then we'd all go out for drinks and laugh about our kids and cry about our administration.

After that, we'd fall asleep promptly at 7:30 from sheer exhaustion...

Fool me once...

Students are reading quietly (or, as "quietly" as is possible for fifth graders). "Logan" comes to my desk to ask this question: "Can I go to the bathroom 'cause I need to throw up".
"Can I go to the bathroom 'cause I need to throw up?"
It was such an odd request and totally threw me off guard, so I said... "Okaaaaaayyyyy"
Then he turned around, walked out my door, and started skipping and jumping down the hallway.
Next thing you know, I'm half-yelling down the hall: "WAIT JUST A MINUTE, GET BACK HERE, YOU'RE NOT SICK!!!!!!!!!!"
Obviously no one has taught this boy how to fake it......

He forgets I'm untenured

Every weekend, I do my lesson planning for the week ahead. It's extra time consuming because my principal wants me to submit my lesson plans on this special form. The form and the way it's set up is completely counter-intuitive and is in no way helpful in actually implementing my plans. If a substitute came in and was handed my week's lesson plans on the principal's form, she might say something like: "Oooh, that's a pretty form!! Now what should I do with the students?"

So, like most of the other teachers at my school, I end up having to make two sets of lesson plans: one to appease my principal, and one that I can actually follow. Double the work!

Ten minutes ago, I finished MY set of lesson plans. I was about to go to the computer and fill out the principal's set of plans when my husband suggested that instead of tediously filling out all those boxes, I just write: "See diploma. See resume"

Because I do know what I'm doing, after all.

Plan B: Quit

Remember when I said that no token system is going to stand against a chemical imbalance in the brain? 'Member? There is just no defense but to brace yourself against the wrath and fury that is sure to be unleashed when that One Student walks into class with murder in his eyes...

"Jose" is that One Student on my caseload. He's had trouble regulating his emotions since preschool and is frequently defiant (but maddeningly passive aggressive about it!), avoids any kind of work, is verbally and physically aggressive, and loves to engage adults in power struggles.

As far as I can tell, the staff that have worked with him have been great: documenting what goes on, involving the parent, enforcing consequences to the best of their ability, trying 101 strategies to find one that works, writing Behavior Plans and Functional Behavior Assessments up the wazoo, and calling the behavior specialists when they are out of ideas.

Unfortunately, the behavior specialist assigned to our school is less of a behavior specialist and more of a Professional-Documenter-and-Boss-of-the-World.

I had my first interaction with her last week and she was quite rude. She asked me what had been going on with Jose since the beginning of the year. I tried to tell her, but PDBW kept interrupting me to berate me for behavior documentation done last year that wasn't on the CORRECT FORM. Last year, you know, when I was in Michigan and not in this state. And the form!!! If we document on the incorrect form the world will stop turning!!!

After SEVERAL interruptions to my answer, I started to get pretty ticked. First of all, listen to the answer to your question, or don't ask the question in the first place! Secondly, I shouldn't have to feel defensive when I'm doing all the right things!

Trying my best to keep the anger out of my face, I succeeded in being respectfully assertive. I started with "LOOK..." then talked very quickly to get out what needed to be said.

I ended my mini-speech talking about appropriate placement: his primary disability is no longer his hearing impairment, it's his emotional impairment. She responded by saying that she didn't want to put him in a behavioral unit because he was just going to get worse.

And she may think that she has the authority to single-handedly decide the placement for a student, but she has another thing coming.

My plan? Document (on the CORRECT FORM) the heck out of every misbehavior, then call an IEP meeting where the IEP team will make a decision about Jose's placement in a behavioral unit based on our data.

If that doesn't work....

Good luck to me!!!

After weeks of looking, we finally settled on a dining room table we were happy with. Max spent lots of time putting it together for me... and now we can finally have people over for dinner!!

Here are some different views from which you can ooh and ahh over it:

Do you see those two shelves underneath? They're really to store stuff or display stuff, but our cats think it's a place for them to lounge! We've been zealous with the water spray bottle....

Anyways, I am lusting over FLOR rugs--I would really love to put one under the table to soften the space up a bit! But since we're trying to be careful with money right now, my best bet in getting one of these incredible rugs is to win one!

So I've entered two different "giveaways" in the hope that my comment will be randomly selected to win a free FLOR rug!! You can enter to win one of your very own here, and here!

Keep your fingers crossed!

Living Proof

Today was Junior Achievement Day at school. Local business people came from a nearby national bank to every classroom and did five to six activities designed to teach kids about how business works, etc. Teachers were told over the speaker system to sit in their classrooms and catch up on paperwork while the business people taught the class. It was an all day affair, and I'm sure for some of the business people, the Longest Day of Their Lives.
Watching them in action reminded me of the No Child Left Behind legislation that mandates that all teachers need to be "highly qualified" in their content area in order to teach it. So if you've been teaching science for twenty years, but you don't have the science endorsement on your teaching certificate, you must either get the endorsement or get another job. This has been causing headaches for special ed teachers at the high school level; suddenly you can't teach your students with severe learning disabilities in a self contained room all day unless you are endorsed for English, Science, Math, and Social Studies. And no one gets endorsed in each subject area! So there are some problems with this.
My BIGGEST beef is with the underlying principle of "highly qualified": it assumes that in order to be an effective teacher, you simply need to be an expert in your content area. When in reality (not that I recommend this) you just need to stay a chapter ahead of the kids. So... no, no, NO! A highly qualified teacher should be someone who can take any subject area and construct an engaging lesson, utilizing effective classroom management techniques; it should be someone who knows how to use assessment to drive instruction and is an expert in educational psychology and methodology.
My point was made painfully clear watching these very highly qualified business experts flounder in the classrooms. I don't care who you are or how smart you are, if you don't have a quiet signal, you're screwed!

Or maybe just a seatbelt

Throughout testing (a week of district testing last week and now a whole week of state testing--the TAKS -M- field test), my token economy continues to work its magic.

HOWEVER. I have found that it cannot overcome certain issues. I have one fourth grader who is severely ADHD (never seen anything like it in 4+ years of special ed!!). And though he loves those tokens and he loves buying stuff at my store, no amount of bribery can overcome a chemical imbalance like the one he had last Wednesday when grandma forgot to give him his meds.

In fact, every morning it's like a bit of a gamble. I think to myself: Is he on his meds today? Will he be, or won't he? And then at 7:55 when I go pick up my motley crew from the playground, I can tell immediately from a long way off what kind of day he's going to have. If he hasn't had his meds, he walks with a pronounced swagger and bobs his head up and down and calls out props to imaginary peeps. Meanwhile, the real "peeps" are usually avoiding him and telling him to STOP being SO annoying! But if he has had his meds, he walks like any regular little boy and is generally quieter and in control of himself.

Then some days he has had his medication, but just very recently and it hasn't started to take effect yet. On those days, this is my life:

funny pictures of cats with captions
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And then I think to myself: does the Tie Chair come in a Size Fourth-Grade?

He's 9, not 517

All week we've been doing benchmark tests, which are a district assessment. Most of my kids get the test read aloud to them as an accommodation (except the reading test, of course), so it's been pretty tedious. This morning was the Social Studies' test. In Texas, like most other states to be sure, Social Studies gets kind of lost and forgotten during the day because of the rigorous demands of the Math and Language Arts curriculum. So I didn't exactly know how my kids would do.
Sure enough, the very first question said something like: "In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail in search for: _______" and there were choices A, B, C, D. I read the question. I read the answers. Then one of my students raised his hand and, in total bewilderment, said: "But how do I know? This long time ago. I only born 2000 !!!!!!!!"
Yes, indeed. Maybe that one shouldn't count ...

A lesson in Economics

Well I can safely say that the new Token System.... works!!! I hope it will last and that blogging about it won't jinx anything, but so far so good ;).

I explained to the kids which behaviors get tokens. I pulled out each item from my store and made a huge deal about it (the students complied by oohing and ahhing). I added that they could save up for something big-- 200 points for an extra recess one day!-- or a movie at lunch! And each child promptly declared they were going to save up for something big.

And then for the next 2 hours that I had them they were total and complete angels. I mean, it was mind-blowing. I was like "who are you and what have you done with my awful, awful students?". I opened the store at 10:40 (right before they go back to their general ed classrooms) and gave them all an opportunity to spend their tokens--they had each gotten about 20-25.

Despite their good intentions of saving their tokens, they all broke down and bought something. Someone bought a miniature slinky. Someone bought a mechanical pencil. Someone bought a spinning top. "Brandon" was the one who bought the top. After I put the store away, Brandon was fingering his new toy while everyone packed up to go to their next class. He asked me: "What this do again?"

I spun the top around on the desk to show him. He watched it spin, looking at it doubtfully. Then he said: "Can I have my tokens back?"

Buyer's remorse! I had pity on him and gave him his tokens back. Within the next three minutes, my other kiddos wanted their tokens back too--I guess they changed their mind about saving for something big!

Forty dollar investment into my sanity

One of the reasons why I dread going to school in the morning is my fourth graders. That sounds awful, but it's true. I have a grand total of four of them that I pull out into my classroom for Language Arts every morning, then follow them back into their general ed. class to assist when needed until lunch. Here's a snapshot of what I deal with:

"Jose": Both Hearing Impaired and Emotionally Impaired. Very defiant but passively aggressively so... like you tell him not to do something and he'll do it anyway--as he looks at you and smiles. Can't move on after a real or imagined unfairness/insult/issue. Frequently tries to leave my room and walk off school grounds.

"Thomas": Both Hearing Impaired and Emotionally Impaired. Severe ADHD and is on meds. Unfortunately, these don't kick in until mid-morning. He goes from being uncontrollable to a total wallflower.

"Brandon": Hearing Impaired. Overly sensitive. As in he will completely shut down so that you can't get him to participate or even look at you for 20+ minutes all because you had the nerve to NOT call on him when he had his hand raised. Frequently bursts into tears over things like: "He didn't let me borrow his eraser"

"Martha": Hearing Impaired and Cerebral Palsy. No behavior issues here, she's just really low and needs a lot of attention and help to do any sort of task.

I have been through two behavior plans already that have clearly not worked. Both have been based on taking things away and losing privileges. But tomorrow I'm trying something new: The Token Economy. Anytime they show desired behavior, they will get a token. They will have a chance to spend their tokens every day or save up for something big. The ultimate plan is to phase out the tokens. I usually don't like behavior plans this involved, but I'm dealing with some, ahem, special kids here.

So I spent some of my weekend getting my "store" together:

Like it? I hope the kids will and that it won't take them long to buy into the system!

More signs

You know you're having a GOOD day when you can get through your whole morning and teach ALL of your lesson plans without any major incidents!! Yay!!
Also? The day before a three day weekend is automatically good anyways, no matter what happens :)

A sure sign

You know you're not having a particularly great day when you feel like JOINING your emotionally impaired student as he has his third meltdown of the morning.

The letter that should have come with my diploma

Dear New Teacher,

Congratulations! You are about to get (under)paid as you start your career and make a difference in the lives of students!

Here is your mission, should you choose to accept it: Teach the state standards and bring all students up to grade level while simultaneously preparing productive citizens for a competitive global society.

Your tools? Your student teaching experience, the best practices you learned at our fine institution, whatever resources you can find on the Internet, and the colleagues at your new school.

Keep in mind as you go about completing your mission that you will need to successfully navigate around the following pitfalls:
  • Insufficient supplies
  • Pressure from your administration, district, state, and nation to get your students to perform well on standardized tests
  • Accountability paperwork. This includes turning in weekly lesson plans, writing IEP's, goal/objective tracking, behavior documentation and assessment reporting. If you thought you went into this for the kids, think again. Your job is to do the necessary paperwork to prove you are teaching the necessary skills.
  • Lack of administrative support, and in some cases, respect
  • Attending meeting after meeting and training after training. Some will be useful, most won't. In any case, wave bye-bye to your planning time!
  • Thinking you can do it all while staying happy, healthy, and sane
Now that we have fulfilled our obligation to warn you of the potential danger of your mission, we can officially launch you into the Real World of Teaching.

Ready, set, GO!!!!


Possible reasons why my principal charges STAFF members one whole dollar for the privilege of wearing jeans on Friday (payable each Friday, thank you very much):

  1. To fund her new boat
  2. To gather enough money for early retirement
  3. Because what applies to students must surely apply to teachers as well
  4. Starbucks
  5. Because the staff doesn't deserve a break
  6. To pay for secret cameras in each of our classrooms
  7. Lunch money
  8. Because it's funnier that way

Heard it through the grapevine

"Kate", my Deaf Ed. colleague who teaches Kindergarten across the hall from me shared this charming story:
She was teaching her students about the five senses (you know: seeing, hearing, touching, feeling, tasting). In an attempt to elicit from them the word "ear", she said:
"You see with your EYES, and you hear with your ..... ??"
All six of her students responded enthusiastically: "HEARING AIDS!!!"

Whining is inappropriate for #500

Wow. So this is my 500th post. Five hundred! That's a lot of pressure to come up with something fantastic to say on this momentous occasion. I really don't have anything extra special to say.

But do you know what was extra special about my day?

  1. My one fourth grader took his meds this morning so class wasn't a train wreck! YAY!!!!!
  2. I had a very important administrator drop by to observe me and my class this morning (unannounced). And I happened to be in the middle of a lesson that was semi-good and interactive; and due to number 1, I actually felt like I was in control of things!
  3. I won two different online giveaways today: one for a piece of jewelry of my choice, and the other one was a gift card to "Ecostore" (green, non/toxic products for the body and home). So yay me!!
  4. My wonderful husband is making dinner for us right now... yummm: stuffed peppers!
Hope all of you out there have had a good day too!

Rebel without a cause

I'm knee deep in a full day of district training and I'm writing this from the computer lab in the building during my lunch break.
This is not the engaging, useful, and relevant training that I have sometimes had the pleasure of attending. During those trainings I sit up and take notes and actively particpate. No, this one is squarely in the other category: mind-numbingly dull and mostly irrelevant training. During these trainings, I usually doodle, stare out the window, or brainstorm excuses of ways to get out of the training (so far, self-injury seems to be the most effective option).
I wasn't sure which type of training I was going to be attending today so I came prepared with copies of the teacher's edition of our reading curriculum and my plan book in order to do my lesson planning for next week. My only regret is that I didn't bring MORE work with me as I have finished all of next week's lesson planning and I still have a whole afternoon to fill as our lecturer drones on and on.... and on....
I used to be a conscientious and active participant in all meetings, even the boring ones. But this is my fifth year of teaching, and maybe something inside my brain just snapped. Because I refuse to waste any more of my precious time! I fulfilled my requirement of physically being there, and I'm not bothering anyone by discreetly scribbling in my lesson plans.
But I do feel like quite the naughty teacher. On Tuesday I went to a training from 4:30 to 8:00 PM about how to navigate our special education IEP software. As it turns out, it's a two part training, and the training that I specifically needed was in Part 2 (not meeting until November). Part one was... well.... let's just say that the presenter spent ONE WHOLE HOUR talking about how to log into the system. I kid you not!! When we had a short break at 6:30. I high-tailed it outta there. And I only spent about six minutes feeling guilty about it.
I was never a bad kid; I never went through anything close to a rebellious stage as a teenager; and I was the perfect model of responsibility in college. I guess I'm making up for all of that now!!

Now for my next magic trick

So I think it was a tie between a) being a good Christian, and d) peeing in her office.

Guess what people? The choice was made for me, and it is e) None of the above. Bulldog came to our staff meeting today to announce that she has taken a different position in the district and her last day at our school is Friday!!!!!!!

Now what else can I make disappear by venting on my blog.........

Dog Crap

If you are blessed enough to have a secretary / administrative assistant / office manager at your school who is both competent and helpful, GO EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE RIGHT NOW.

During the two years I taught in California and the two years I taught in Michigan, I did not realize how lucky I was to have office managers who made my life easy, not miserable.

But this time around? This time around, there's a bulldog guarding the school at the front office disguised as a young woman who can't seem to wear a shirt tall enough to hide her lacy black bra.

We've been in school for about three weeks, and the interactions I've had with her have been painful.

Week One: I'm looking for butcher paper to set up my room. Nobody thought to give the seven new teachers a tour of the school, so I'm hunting around for the work room on my own. I wander into the office to see if maybe the butcher paper can be found behind one of these three doors. I would ask Bulldog, but she's busy talking to someone and I don't want to interrupt her for something so trivial, so I cautiously open one of the doors. I had barely opened it a few inches when Bulldog interrupts her own conversation to yell my way: "Hey!! Don't you know that's the principal's office and SHE'S IN AN IMPORTANT MEETING??????" For effect, she looked at me like there was a good reason I was in Special Education. I retreated with my tail between my legs. Also, I was ticked.

Week Two: I'm trying to schedule an IEP meeting. I have to check with the principal to see when she's available as the presence of an administrator is required at IEPs. I go to the office to ask Bulldog (who's in charge of the principal's schedule) when she'll be available. She tells me to go ask her in an email. Okaaaayyyyyy... I ask her in an email which of two dates will work for the principal. She states "The principal will not be able to attend a meeting on either day as she has other obligations". Fine. I just email the IEP team and say "The IEP is scheduled for this day and time. The principal will not be able to attend as she has other obligations". I specifically wrote that so that Deaf Ed. administrators who are on the email recipient list will take the hint that one of them will need to come.

Little do I know that Bulldog is also on the recipient list. Next thing I know, Bulldog has sent one of my colleagues to watch my classroom (because yes I was in the middle of teaching) so that I can come to Her Office. I'm wondering what the emergency is (because HELLO I was in the middle of teaching) as I walk into her office. She is sitting behind her desk when she starts SCOLDING me for saying in an email that "the principal has other obligations". She says: "What I write to you in an email is confidential information. Telling colleagues that she can't come makes her look bad. In the future, don't repeat anything I write to you in an email"

And then she barked a lot, bit me on my neck and ran me off of her territory.

Week Three: I need copy paper. This is the only school I've worked at where you have to bring your own copy paper to make copies. I've run out of the two packages I had previously found laying around and had asked around where to get more. I was told that the office gives each teacher a box of paper per semester. I decide to email Bulldog instead of venturing into enemy territory. I politely ask her what the procedure is for getting more paper. She writes back:

"Ms.____, Please be advised that homeroom teachers get one box of paper per semester. All other support professionals are only to receive half a box per semester. Thank you."

That's great. WHERE'S MY PAPER???????

And lest you think that she has a personal beef against me, I overheard her chewing out my colleague (a first year teacher) for getting herself locked inside the building at six o'clock on a Thursday evening. There is no mention anywhere of the official opening and closing times of the building in the staff handbook.

I was talking to Max about this situation, and it seems I have a couple of options:

a) be the Christian I am supposed to be and take this unnecessary treatment patiently and graciously.
b) Say nothing out loud. Use the blog for venting.
c) Be more assertive when she is rude.
d) Mark my territory by peeing in her office.

So what'll it be?

This makes the school day TOO long!

Tonight is "Meet the teacher" night. So I took advantage of my twenty minute commute (which just seems insanely short compared to my one-hour commute in Michigan!) to come home and hang out before tonight's festivities. Also, I knew there was a puppy waiting for me at home who has been feeling quite under the weather lately and I wanted to make sure and check on him.

Well, he seems to have turned a corner because the second he heard me come in, he started whining excitedly. And then when he saw me? Oh boy. I think he must be feeling a little better because his tail was wagging so fast it was a blur. And then he kept jumping up and down in all of the excitement. Awwww... It will be sad when I have to put him back in his room behind the baby gate (don't quite trust the cats yet) for when I go back to school this evening--Max won't get home till after that.

I'll be interested to see exactly how many parents show up for this thing tonight. Once again I am teaching at a regional program for deaf students so most of them live quite far away. And I really won't be able to blame parents if they don't want to drive all that way just for a meet and greet. My prediction is that three or four sets of parents will come out of the fourteen that I have. We shall see!

The couch cushion covers are in the washing machine right now

On Wednesday, we brought home a puppy from the local animal shelter! He is half papillion and half toy fox terrier and his name is Barney. We actually had a difficult time naming him. We settled on Barney (actually short for Barnabas) because he reminds us of the Barnabas in the Bible who followed Paul around on all of his mission trips. Barney-the-puppy likes to follow us around wherever we go :). Also, Barnabas was an evangelist; and our little Barney is already making friends for us. Do you know how many strangers want to come up and talk to you when you are holding a darling puppy? Lots, as it turns out!

Anyways, you may be wondering how our three lovely cats have reacted to their new brother. I made sure to film their very first meeting (it's by no means thrilling, but I know some family members have asked!):

As of now, Mrs. Hufflepuff is the most tolerant of Barney, Mowgli is the most hissy and upset, and Gizmo.... Gizmo acts like she just wants to sniff him and get to know him but then she'll surprise us by biting down on his head or his tail very deliberately to see how he tastes. Naughty!

Right now Barney is not acting like himself. He's got "kennel cough" and he's feeling quite lethargic. Also, he's coughing, flinging snot everywhere, and puking. The good news is that the vet based at the animal shelter didn't charge us for all the medicine she gave us when I took him in yesterday. The bad news is that we're kind of sick of cleaning up his pee and his vomit!!

More pics when he's feeling better!

Untenured Teacher Gets Her Groove Back

Yesterday was a bad day.

They tell you to be prepared for those, and I certainly have had bad days in my previous four years as a teacher, but seriously. Yesterday was a VERY bad day.

It was the first day I was pulling out my four 4th graders for language arts in the morning, and my eight 5th graders in the afternoon. As I got ready to come to school, all I felt was dread. I had my carefully laid plans but had to think on my feet as I COULDN'T GET A WORD IN EDGEWISE when I was working with my four 4th graders. Turns out? One of the students hadn't taken his meds. My fifth graders were a much quieter and more pleasant bunch, but I was down in the dumps all day. Couldn't shake a (usually very foreign feeling) of HATING every aspect of my job as a teacher. I had lost my joy, my motivation, my creativity, my will to teach.

I started to think about all the other jobs that I could be good at. Anything to get me out of the classroom, please. I did one sigh after another, after another until it was time to punch out.

I'm not sure why I was feeling that way--maybe, new job in a new school in a new state with zero time to get used to it all before the kids showed up? I was worried it was more than just passing stress.... what if I was never happy teaching again?!!?

Max was so sweet--patiently listening to my list of complaints, assuring me that I'm a fantastic teacher. But I was still dreading coming back to school.

That evening I was reading Exodus 18 and 19 (making my way through the Old Testament these days) about how Aaron and Hur helped Moses keep his arms raised for the length of the battle against the Amalekites. And later how Moses' father-in-law Jethro came for a visit and showed him how to make his role as judge much easier.

And I fell asleep praying that God would send me some help.

I woke up this morning with my arms crossed (pouting in my sleep perhaps) and I dragged my sorry self to school. I had just taken about six steps past the front door when I was intercepted by a woman wearing a visitor badge.

She said (and this is a direct quote except for her name): "Hi, my name is Sally. Are you Sarah? I'm here to help you and support you in any way you need it!"

And then angels burst forth in song, and I totally burst out crying in relief and gave her a giant hug. Or I played it cool and just smiled as we walked to my classroom. Whatever.

She explained that while her official role was a diagnostician, she wanted to make sure that she was available to the new Deaf Ed. teachers to the building. She thought she had met us all, but it turns out she hadn't met me yet because I wasn't at the New Teacher Orientation.

She stayed in my classroom for about an hour as I worked with my fourth graders (now considerably subdued because Mr. HYPER had taken his meds this morning). She came up to me later in the day to shower me with compliments about my teaching style.

And that is how my prayers were answered. And I even feel like I'm getting my teacher-joy back!


My new classroom!!! (Don't misread the exclamation points--I'm not really all that excited, especially after FIVE hours of lesson planning for the upcoming week. I know it will get easier. I think. I hope.)

Now bear in mind that this room, along with the six other classrooms in this very large portable, had been used as a dumping ground for materials for TWENTY-FIVE years. Count 'em. That's twenty-five years. When I walked in on day one, all ready to move in with my boxes, I hadn't counted on hauling boxes of textbooks from the seventies OUT first. (On a related note, teachers are pack rats... THROW IT AWAY PEOPLE!!)

Anyways, here's the spiffed up version (you may recognize stuff from years past on my wall-- no time to be creative this time around...):

The "Put your best foot forward" is for students to display their personal goals for this year. The empty yellow bulletin board above the red chairs is for language arts stuff.

All that's missing is some students and a busy teacher!

Sarah gets a history lesson

I found out some interesting things today during lunch recess. I was having a conversation with a fifth grade teacher (Mr. K) and Coach. Both are probably in their late fifties. The interesting thing about Coach is that he is from eastern Michigan and started teaching in this state in 1984.

This is what Coach told me:

In 1984, my particular district hired hundreds of new teachers. Three hundred of them were from Michigan. When Coach was hired, no one told him about the salary step schedule that doesn't ever get very high, and no one told him that the health care was SUCKY. No one told him that this state doesn't have a teacher's union like Michigan has.

In 1985, a politician decided that every teacher was going to have to take a test to determine whether or not they were qualified to teach; if they didn't pass, they would be fired. There was a huge uproar but nothing to do about it (remember? no union?). It turns out that the test was just a thirty minute thing that basically you could only fail if you were illiterate.

But most of the Michigan teachers decided that was the final straw. Two hundred out of the three hundred left this state after just a year.

Oh, also? No tenure here!! So it looks like I may be an untenured teacher for the rest of my days :)


So I've officially taught special education in three states. California! Michigan! and now Texas!

Did you know they all have different acronyms for special education terms? You might conduct an IEP in California, but it's called an ARD in Texas. You may hold a MET in Michigan, but that's a Triennial in California, and an FIE in Texas. Confused? You should be :)

On top of new terms for common paperwork, I'm adjusting to a new school culture and new personalities. Let's see, there's a flamboyant kindergarten teacher, an eighty year old resource room teacher (yes, she is actually 80, that's no exaggeration!), and a surly office manager. And I'm still trying to figure out the principal. My school has about 300 students, 85% of which are Hispanic, 13 % are African American, and 2% are Caucasian. The staff is even more diverse!

Despite all the newness, the kids are still the same everywhere I teach. There are those who are a handful and those who are delightful. They are all at that age where deaf kids think it's uncool to be wearing their hearing aids. They are all hoping to succeed, feel good about themselves, and feel cared for by their teacher.

My self-confidence comes back when I'm with my kids!

Getting to know my school ... and the ER

So, I'm done freaking out now. I think. The newness is slowly wearing off and I'm getting more and more comfortable the more time I spend in my new classroom and school. A bit of unexpected grace saved me on Wednesday when one of my deaf ed. colleagues told me that we won't be pulling kids out for the first week of school. What?? A whole other week to get my room and myself prepared? Burden just rolled off my shoulders like tumbleweed in the southern wilderness!!

I've found out more about my position: I'll be doing pull-out services for deaf/hard-of-hearing students for reading and writing remediation. I'll have five fourth graders for two hours in the morning, and eight fifth graders for two hours in the afternoon. The rest of the time, I'll be going into their classrooms for extra help in other subjects. I'll also have a teacher's assistant to send out wherever my kids are needing more help.

We'll also be using a language arts curriculum new to the district this year. The district administration has said that because students working with this curriculum have had lots of success over at the State School for the Deaf, that it's going to be successful with our kids too. Never mind that the school for the deaf is a total communication program heavily emphasizing sign language. Our oral students should succeed with it too. This may be a major headache, but I'm trying to keep an open mind.

For a much more interesting post on why we spent our Saturday evening in the emergency room, see here.

Breaking them in

I've decided that taking a job in a new school (and in a new state too!) is just like getting a pair of brand new shoes.

When you first get the shoes, you think how lovely and pretty they are and what a delightful choice you've made. And then fall comes around and it's time to wear the new shoes. And suddenly you realize that these new shoes aren't as comfortable as your old sneakers. You're not as steady on your feet now and the process of breaking them in is difficult and sometimes painful. You can't wait to get home and take the shoes off and rub where the blisters have formed.

And yet. The only way to be comfortable in these shoes is to keep wearing them until you've made all the right cracks in the leather, until you've endured through all the newness and the discomfort.

And then hopefully one day you'll walk around comfortably and feel like these shoes have always been a part of you...

Where Am I ??

We closed on the house on Wednesday and moved in that night. The next four days were spent frantically unpacking and shopping/buying appliances (also, desperately missing the Internet!). Last night, we got the living room, kitchen, and bedroom looking in tip-top shape then threw the rest of the boxes into one of the other bedrooms. Outta sight, outta mind... right?

Today I started my first day of school. Well, more like the beginning of in-service week before the kids show up next Monday. I could bore you with all kinds of details like how I'm teaching 4th/5th and how I have my very own pull-out classroom for my deaf/hard-of-hearing students. I could tell you haunting nightmares of the DISASTROUS state of my new room and how the overwhelming sense of "no-way-will-I-be-prepared-for-kids-by-Monday" reduced me to tears. I could tell you about my friendly co-workers and how the jury is still out on whether or not I'll like the principal.

But instead I'll tell you about the incident that sticks out the most in my mind today. I went out for lunch with the art teacher and with one of the other deaf ed. teachers who is also new (and a first year teacher!). I'll call her Jane. Jane is slightly younger than I am and she has lived in this state her whole life. She was telling me and the art teacher the disastrous state of her own classroom when she walked in last week:

"There were hundreds of transparencies and note cards covering the floor! Broken crowns everywhere!"

I snapped to attention as I tried to figure out why there would be crowns on the floor. Burger King crowns? Happy Birthday crowns?

She continued: "and it was too bad about the crowns, because I don't have any of my own and Kindergartners really love to color and write with them."

As the realization hit me that she was actually saying crayons, I felt truly out of place. My version of normal pronunciation is clearly all wrong down south!! I stopped myself just in time from saying what I was thinking: "Ohhhhhhhhhh... you mean CRAY-ONS!!"

They talk funny down here :)

I'll miss the family too!

Dear Meijer,

In just one more day, we'll be moving down south, away from all of your hypermarket goodness.

I remember the first day I saw you, fresh off the plane from France, shopping for college dorm room stuff in your huge aisles stocked with overwhelming choice. It took some getting used to you then, but by the time I was doing all of my grocery shopping with you a year or two later, I had fallen totally and competely in love with all you had to offer!

Then later, when we moved to California and you weren't out there, we were a little lost. We spent two years shopping at four different grocery stores every week just to get what we needed. That was horrible!

And what will happen now that you won't be moving with us down south? I suppose there's still Costco and Kroger, but Kroger is usually overpriced and Costco is so... big. Many would claim that Super Wal-Mart will easily replace you, but they haven't seen Meijer's fancy cheese selection, or their organic selection. And Meijer brand food is so TASTY compared to other off-brands. And your non food-stuff is of such better quality than everyone else! Meijer, why are you making this so hard?!?

I will miss you. Wait for me, I'll always come back to you.

PS: Who is going to entertain me with hilarious commercials?

This and that

Well we got back to Michigan with only 24 hours of travel (that's including all the layover time and drive time in addition to length of flight) without any major incidents.

The cats were happy to see us, when they remembered who we were.

I slept a grand total of six hours last night. (I hate jetlag!)

Now we have lots of stuff to do and take care of before we drive down south for the big move. All of it has to do with our stuff, our cats, our cars, and our finances as we close on the house. I actively try not to think about the school year starting because when I do I start to panic...

I have absolutely NO idea what I'll teaching and who will be my co-teacher. I've bugged my new administration about it, but they don't seem to know either as it depends on other staffing issues. So as it stands, I'll either be teaching grades K-1 or 4-5 (with most of the class being regular ed., and a small group being hearing impaired). I would be fine with either, but I am anxious to meet the teacher I'll be working alongside of all year. Day one with the students is Aug. 24th and as it stands, I will be a whole lot less prepared for the classroom than I'd like to be!

So for now I'm pouring all of my energy into moving to a new house, because that's all I can do!!

Finally in France

**NOTE** This is my third post today. Scroll down to see pictures of Bratislava and Vienna, and of our eventful travel day!

It was a long drive from Bratislava back to my parents' house in Alsace, France. We knew it would take about 9 hours drive time, plus we figured with bathroom breaks and the possibility of traffic, it could easily take us 12 hours! No one was really looking forward to this. Here I am wondering if we're there yet:

And then my dad dragged us all to Salzburg, Austria on the way home. Now I don't want to sound like a snotty, stuck-up European traveler as I say this, but we had just spent nine days being tourists 24/7 and we were EXHAUSTED and everyone just wanted to get home. But dad decided it would be some kind of crime if we didn't stop in Salzburg, even though we were in the middle of a massively long drive home. So with sighs of resignation, we gave him a ONE HOUR time limit and we hopped out of the car to see the city square:

To his credit, he did manage to get us back in the car after one hour (after we graciously agreed to start the timer after we stopped for fuel). And I suppose Salzburg was very pretty in the end, so no harm done.

Anyways, we were very happy to be home again after such a wonderful trip!!

Back and forth between Bratislava and Vienna

The next day, we toured around Bratislava for a few hours in the morning, and then headed to Vienna (only thirty-something miles away!) in the afternoon.

Let's start with Bratislava. We started by hiking up to the Bratislava Castle (inhabited since 3000 B.C)! Unfortunately, the whole thing was covered in scaffolding and undergoing renovations so it was closed to tourists. This was disappointing.

After our picnic lunch, we walked around the city taking pictures:

You know you're American if you pose with statues:

Vienna was a spontaneous decision. Max had never been there so it was reason enough to go. We power-walked all around the city and were able to see the main attractions. Click here for Max's version of the play-by-play of stuff we saw there... Here I'll just post some random pictures in no particular order:

Above: We ate NUTELLA ice cream in one of the many city squares. NUTELLA! ICE CREAM!
Below: We stopped shoving food in our faces long enough to pose in front of St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Below: When we're not eating or posing, we're behind the lens. Max is taking a picture of some fabulous building and in the background is the Rathaus (mayor's building):

Above: The two very nice people who spoiled us rotten on this trip. I call them mom and dad!
Below: For all of his eccentricities, you can't go to Vienna and pass up a peek at Sigmund Freud's house.

After walking around until we were ready to collapse, we headed back into Bratislava for dinner at the Slovak Pub, which my dad had heard about from a local. Authentic and CHEAP Slovakian food:

We had the most amazing garlic soup (I think I can still taste it!), and some kind of dish with special Slovak cheese made from sheep. It was incredible and I recommend going to Bratislava for no other reason than going this restaurant!

On the road again

We had an eventful travel day from Wroclaw, Poland, to Bratislava, Slovakia.

We woke up in Poland.

We ate lunch in the Czech Republic:

We booked a hotel in Bratislava, Slovakia:

We ate dinner in Hungary:

We had ice cream for dessert in Austria:

Weary in Wroclaw

We drove three and a half hours to Wroclaw, Poland. In looking over the pictures I took of Wroclaw, I was momentarily puzzled by the few number of them, and then I remembered Oh yeah, we were EXHAUSTED!

We started out with lunch at an out-of-the-way restaurant. We were looking for traditional Polish, but happened upon traditional Georgian food (you know, the Republic of Georgia, not the state!). We figured that never in our lives would we get an opportunity to sample the fare of such a small country so we went for it... and we weren't disappointed!

Next, we found another church tower to climb for views of the city. The view was worth the stairs and all the pigeon poop:

We posed for lots of pictures at the top. Here's one where I am reminded once again that I married a goofball!

And here's me and dad:

When we got back down, we were extra tired. Did I mention it was also one of the few very hot days we had? We rested inside the church we had just climbed:

We walked around the town's square a bit more and then collapsed on a bench. At one point, mom said "What we really need is a big air conditioned mall". And then we all laughed warily because 1) they don't "do" malls in Europe, and 2) air conditioning is rare here too.

But whaddayaknow? We happened to walk a few blocks out of town and to Max's great delight (hope you heard that with sarcasm, folks!), we came upon a four story, nicely air conditioned mall!! My parents were, of course, besides themselves to run into a bit of America all the way over in Poland. So we humored them and spent some time there :).

We finished the day with a very late (and yummy!) dinner back at the hotel. This finished our last day in Poland, and all in all we very much enjoyed it. It's definitely not a very well-known tourist destination but I would definitely recommend it. Great prices there too!

Next up: an eventful travel day!

Proud of Poznan

The next day we headed for Poznan, Poland from where we were staying near Gdansk. We decided to go to Poznan because it's the town that my dad's grandfather is from! Anyway, the trip was supposed to take four hours. But let's just say that the Polish roads aren't the best (yes, Michigan has worse potholes, but at least the speed limit is 70 in the U.S and not 40. FORTY!!). Also there was some construction and that slowed us down so all in all it took us about seven and a half hours to get there.

We had some fun on the way though. We saw, outta NOWHERE, this giant Country Western saloon themed restaurant and hotel and we stayed there for lunch. I'd never seen anything themed up this much ever. Not even Disneyland. Or Dollywood. The pictures don't show much of the decor, but just the fact that they gave us all cowboy hats when we asked the waitress to take our picture should give you an idea of how it was:

We finally got to Poznan ("my people", dad kept saying) and didn't know what to expect, as it wasn't a popular tourist attraction. But it ended up having a lovely square with very colorful row houses and some cathedrals:

It also happened that there was a display that boasted of Poland's independence from Prussia in 1919 in that very city square!

That evening, we ate at one of the many open air restaurants lining the city square. Here I am laughing at some of Max's antics (or some chest pain, I can't be sure...):

Gluttons in Gdansk

When we drove to Gdansk, Poland, we decided that we wanted to stay outside of the city itself, thinking it would be cheaper. We rolled into a little town on the coast of the Baltic Sea called Sopot, which turned out to be an expensive resort town. We inquired at a few different hotels who quoted us 100 dollars per night, per room. By the grace of God, we found some very cheap and very rustic (though clean) cabins NEXT to a nice hotel. They were equipped with two rooms and a bathroom:

And that night, when the drunk party animals in the cabin behind ours kept us up till all hours of the night, we comforted ourselves by thinking about ALLLLL that money we were saving!

The next day, we took a short commuter train into the city of Gdansk (which used to be called Danzig when it belonged to Germany for all of you history buffs out there). This is what the city looked like by the end of WWII:

Here's what it looks like today:

We hadn't been walking around for too long before we seized the opportunity to pig out on some pierogies:

Then we went into a very small museum and saw the tallest tile stove in Europe. Over ten meters high!

As it turned out, there were a lot of tall things to see in Gdansk; next we climbed 406 steps up to the top of the oldest brick church in Europe (St. Mary's Cathedral). Here's the view looking down on the church spires:

Here's the rest of the town from above:

At the very end of the day, we went back to Sopot and Max and I walked to the touristy/happenin' place by the beach. We bought a whole bag of Haribo candy from those colorful bins and ate them on the beach as the sun was setting on the Baltic Sea. I don't have a picture of that, but let me assure you it was a sight and taste to remember!!

Our trip part 1: gallavanting across Germany

I promised pictures from our trip, didn't I? Well now that we're all settled at home in France, here they are (in installments, bien sur). Let's start with all the places we visited in Germany.

Our first sight was good old fashioned German traffic ("stau") on the drive from the Frankfurt airport to Berlin. We were stuck in it for four hours. Passengers gathered on the grassy median to socialize, drink, or ask other drivers what was going on. We tried to stay patient, happy, and awake (stupid jetlag!)

We started our one day tour of Berlin with the Holocaust Memorial in the middle of the city (new since May of 2005). The 2,711 concrete blocks are meant to represent coffins. Despite the somber atmosphere, we can't help but smile for a picture:

Next up, the Brandenburg Gate:

We stopped at a cafe after this (one of many in ten days!). Max poked fun at my dad's compass and insisted that he knew which way was North in his head at all times. For the rest of our ten day trip, my dad would stop randomly, cover his compass, and quiz Max on where North was. What is it with boys and their competition!?

Next, we went to Checkpoint Charlie. Here we are in front of some of the remaining wall. To think we were seven when it came down!

We ate at a Persian restaurant for dinner in eastern Berlin. Here Max is drinking Dugh, a yogurt drink mixed with mint herbs. It was a little salty, and very delicious:

The next day, we drove three hours to Rostock (and nearby Warnemunde) in northern Germany on the Baltic Sea. We ate an incredible seafood lunch in Rostock. We ordered a seafood salad and potato and shrimp soup that were TO DIE FOR.

We hopped on over to Warnemunde, a popular seaside resort, and immediately checked out the candy stands. Because we needed desert, that's why. There was tons to choose from, but these looked especially colorful:

Here we are in front of the Baltic Sea. Way too cold up there to go in, so we battled the wind to take a picture:

Mom and I had ice cream for dinner (spaghetti eis!!). Because we're grown ups and we can!

Max and Dad opted for something "healthier" (ha!) and ate Doner Kebabs while we walked around town:

Never sick of posing:

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