Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Evestravaganza!

After spending 8 Christmas Eves and Christmases juggling between our families (Christmas Eve Eve at my house, Christmas Eve at his house, or coffee and dessert on Christmas day at my house, or dinner one place and dessert the other...we've tried all kinds of combinations), we finally did it - a Kaye-Nickitas holiday family fusion, a grand Christmas Eve(nt) that managed to smoosh my and Nick's nuclear family, nick's aunt uncle and cousin, and a few sets of my aunts and uncles and cousins and whatnot all into one evening.
After baking an obscene amount during the day (2 loaves of banana bread, 5 dozen almond sugar cookies, 5 dozen chocolate chip cookies...I feel like there was more, but I can't remember what), I fell asleep right before people were due to arrive. So I missed the wine and cheese-y and hello-how-are-you portion of the evening, but I was up for dinner (caesar salad, stuffed clams, eggplant parmesan, linguine with white clam sauce, linguine with red lobster sauce), which was fantastic. It was great to see my extended family, and catch up with Nick's family, too. I've been with them for the holidays for a long time, and it felt right to have them there. Plus, JP, Nick's brother, brought Cranium with him, which ended up being lots of fun.

So picture this: a living room in Connecticut with a roaring fire, 22 guests, all family, plates of freshly baked cookies, coffee mugs, and glasses of wine all over, my father and his sister at the piano playing Christmas songs, and my cousins and Nick's brother and cousin all curled up on the floor playing a board game.

Eat your heart out, Norman Rockwell.


The table:


My cousin Clare was born December 2, 1987, on the west coast, while I was born December 3, 1987, in Connecticut. We almost never get to see each other, but she moved to NY just after I left for Korea, so we had a really nice time starting to catch up!


Clare and Rachel, two of my beautiful cousins:


The gang in the living room:


Nick and JP on good behavior:



Nick and JP give up the ruse:



Clare and Beo:





And last but not least, Beowulf at his most dapper:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Time Zone Troubles

I thought I'd had jet lag before. I mean, I've been back and forth to western europe a dozenish times, and that pretty much just meant that I'd take a couple of wacky naps before getting on my feet.

Three days in, and I'm still way, way out of sorts. Everything is upside-down - night is day, day is night, my twin cousin (more on that later) and I have switched East-West orientation (there's a porn title in there somewhere, but I beg you to let it go), and the biggest Christmas Eve party I've ever been to was just held at my (Jewish) house.

This morning, I woke up at 4, read E. Nesbit's Book of Dragons on my brand-spankin'-new Kindle, and figured by 5:30ish that I was up for the day. So I brewed a cup of earl grey, toasted some leftover banana bread, and sat down with a stack of Christmas books.

Of course, I got about 30 pages in before I started gchatting with other Fulbright kids, most of whom are either still in Korea or home but on jetlag time

This lead me to thinking about culture shock, reverse culture shock, and reintegration. I guess I'd sort of been thinking about coming home for Christmas as a break from my grant year, but it isn't -- it's a part of my grant year. And therefore, I believe, no less blog-worthy.

Which brings me to a recap of the past week. I've been home for 6 days already, but see above re: hella jetlag - I'm still in kind of a time warp. Not that I'm complaining, because the time warp involves soft cushy beds (the kind that don't exist in Korea), TiVo, puppy snuggles, and lots and lots of Italian food. Still, I think writing it out will help me when I'm headed back to Korea and thinking "where did all that time go?"

It went here.

December 22 I landed in JFK and was met by my wonderful family, including Beowulf. (see here for a picture featuring Beo with Louisa, who looks like me but only sort of is). They drove me home to a warm kitchen, where I devoured the first turkey sandwich I'd had in 6 months (on a baguette, with avocado and swiss, in case anyone was wondering) and promptly passed out.

December 23 I slept all day, and was willing to wake up ONLY for a date with Sarah C., who I've been friends with since before I could spell "friends" (see here for a picture from us at summer camp in 5th grade. I'm on the far left and Sarah's standing up - celebrating the last performance of Taming of the Shrew, I believe). We went to Starbucks to catch up (don't judge me! Arcadia, aka Old Greenwich's ye olde towne coffee shop, was closed) and I didn't have to translate my order. It was fantastic. Plus, I got to chat a bit with Sarah's mom and brother, who I've known forever, so that was nice.

Dec 24 - the biggie. This deserves its own entry. Be back in a few, with pictures....

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Traveling East is kind of neat. I've always been something of a night owl, and my parents have been getting a real kick out of my new early to bed, early to rise thing. This morning, I was the first one up, so I came downstairs and made everyone breakfast. And let me tell you - the perfect omelet is a thing of beauty. Mushrooms, chevre, and chives in an egg white omelette for me; mushrooms, scallions, and cheddar for mom and Nick.
It sure is nice to have a kitchen :)

Christmas Baking

The Mission: to make an assortment of desserts for 26 dinner guests, before lunchtime. ...ish.
The Details: Banana bread (1 large loaf), Brownies (1 large pan), Chocolate chip PB cookies (~5 dozen), apple crumble

So far: Two dozen cookies done, more in the bottom oven. Banana bread in top oven. Brownies and apple crumble still to be assembled.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dream a Little Dream

So I slept for a good 4 hours before my internal clock kicked in and said "HEY wait a minute, it's 6:30pm, time to have dinner and lesson plan! (read: torrent movies and gchat for 3 hours)"

On the bright side, since Christmas Eve dinner is gonna be a whole big thing at my house this year, there's enough food to feed an army (pictures of my parents fridge to follow). Thus far, the American food I have prepared for my epic midnight snack is:

1 tangerine
1 giant handful of Stacy's pita chips
1 giant spoonful of sabra hummus
2 almond cookies my uncle made
tea. lots of tea.


Now it's time to snuggle up with my cat, electric blanket, and the Sing Off finale (I know, I know. David told me, so I've braced myself).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Presents for the Homestay Family

Host brother: Bumblebee Transformers action figure
Host sister: pink nail polish (a fairly subtle shade I'm guessing HSM will find unobjectionable), journal, CD of top American pop hits of 2009
Host parents: throw blanket for the living room couch, wrapped in a reusable thin canvas gift bag.

Getting up and heading out early tomorrow to hit up Insadong and finally pick up all of the traditional Korean stuff that I haven't been able to get before (perishables, big bulky stuff, etc). I have to be at the airport by 5 to pick up my stuff from the bus it'll be on (which really means I have to be at the airport by 4:30 to find the place where the buses are), so I'm going to get up early and work fast, and be on a PLANE to NYC by 7:30! Wowza! Gearing up for some intense reverse culture shock when I order a coffee at Starbucks and actually receive a coffee...

You Are So Exotic, Like Monkeys at the Zoo

This weekend, my host parents told me on Tuesday, my family would be going skiing. I've never been skiing, but I tend to have pretty strongly negative feelings about extended periods of time spent being cold as well as anything that requires any athletic grace, so I wasn't especially excited. Still, I thought, it might end up being a nice bonding activity.
So when HSD told me on Friday that we would not, in fact, be going skiing, I had mixed feelings, but leaning toward relief. So for Friday night I made big plans - I'd take an epic hot shower, get a solid 12 hours of sleep, and make French toast in the morning.
Well, all that happened, but somehow, sometime after the french toast (which turned into toad in a hole due to lack of maple syrup), I let myself get talked into going down to Gwangju for Saturday night.

There was a light layer of powder in Daejeon, but as we moved, the scenery got more and more beautifully snow-filled. I took this one somewhere just south of Iksan:


Watching the first big snowfall out the window of a moving train was lovely.

We got into Gwangju just before 3, and met up with a few ETA friends at the Lotte department store to go see Avatar. Since JJ and I weren't too crazy about the idea of sitting through nearly 3 hours of 3-D arrows being shot at our faces, and David had already seen it in 3-D, we decided to wait for the 5pm show. Like many big department stores, Lotte has a food court on the bottom floor (which includes not only your standard korean food court-y stuff, but also slightly classier options like little pastry places, world food stands, an ice cream place, and a couple of coffee options), so we settled down to kill a half hour in a little tea shop. Midway through our discussion of the book the boys chose for their pan-Korean book club, The Game, a 40-somethingish Korean woman wearing a swine flu mask started staring at us through the glass half-wall separating us from the main food court area. She came up and, in impressively fluent and lightly accented English, said that we were terribly exotic, and having us there was like watching monkeys at the zoo. Then:

Her: You must get a lot of attention. But I'm sure you like it, yes?
Us: (pause)
Us: ...no. No, not really.
Her: Oh. (continues to stand, staring at us, for at least 30 seconds, before sitting down at the table next to us)

Nice.

And okay, she maaay have a point about the whole monkey thing (we are, on occasion, ridiculous), but that's just not the ideal thing to hear.

Anyway, crazy swine flu mask lady went on her way, and after a thorough discussion of the potential merits of the dual induction massage, it was time to go see the movie. And actually, despite its being remarkably unoriginal, the movie was great. We all enjoyed ourselves for pretty much the whole behemoth 2 hours 47 minutes of it. I'm glad - I realize I'd been bracing myself for an epic failure, because I couldn't stand to be disappointed. I love James Cameron, not just for his style but for his mainsreaming of juuuust scifi-y enough to be awesome but not to scare away anti-genre folk, plus badass leading ladies. And he did not disappoint.

After that, it was on to dinner at the Lemon Table, the boys' favorite burger joint in Gwangju (I went for pizza, which despite the shrimp on it, was pretty good), where we met up with Dan and Amy.

At round one, we met up with our Korean contingent, which was lots of fun. David's principal's son, Shin, was our gateway drug - he's now introduced us to a few of his friends, and our friend Jo brought her friend Miji, whom she met while studying at SUNY Albany. So the gang gets bigger every time, which I love. Since my current and future employers may read this blog (and my parents definitely do), I'll spare you the details of rounds two and three, except for the fact that we had a great time and I went to bed sometime between 6:30-7am.

I can't wait to live with these crazy kids and spend February exploring Seoul and checking out traditional Korean traditions.

I'm excited to go home tomorrow, and I'm excited to come back in a couple of weeks and get paid extra to teach my winter camp. I'm pumped about spending a week in the Philippines, and thrilled about the one after that, on a beach in Bali. Then I get to come back and live in Seoul with 4 of my best friends.
I'm not saying that this whole year is perfect, or that it's been all highs and no lows. But overall? I work 20 hours a week with kids I adore, come home to a great family, and spend my weekends with some of the coolest people I know. I have no idea what I'm doing with my life after this year, but for now, I'm happy to just ride the wave and enjoy to the max the (almost embarassingly charmed) life that this year has handed me!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Last Day Holiday Party

Lesson of the Day: Cross-cultural traditions, winter holiday party.

Intro: I put on pop-y Christmas music and asked my kids to tell me what they know about American Christmas traditions. I was a little weirded out when the first class shouted "SOCKS!" until I figured out they were talking about Christmas stockings (why DO we call them stockings? They really are more sock-like). They know interesting things...for example, in one class, 5 kids said that Santa Claus resides in Finland, while one vehemently argued that he lives in the South Pole and depends on penguin labor.

Group Work: I split them into 5 groups of 4, and assigned each a sub-topic of Korean holiday culture.
A)How adults/parents in Korea celebrate Christmas
B) How children celebrate Christmas
C) What special music Koreans listen to around the holidays
D) What do non-Christians in Korea (read: Buddhists) do around Christmas
E) What special foods do Koreans prepare for Christmas.

I gave them 10 minutes to brainstorm a 1-2 minute presentation on their topic, in which everyone was required to speak.

That left us with about 15 minutes; 5 minutes for my mini-presentation on Hanukkah, complete with a little history and ple-e-enty of food porn, and 10 minutes for a joyful, sugar-crazed game of dreidel. I tweaked the rules to make sure that everyone got at least a couple pieces of candy, but no one took home a big bag full. It was a very successful lesson, but then again, I totally cheated. Fortunately, I have no compunctions about buying my students' attention -- and affection -- with candy. Those kids have a prescribed life diet of studying, studying, quick break for rice, and more studying, and anything I can do to add a little color to their day is probably for the best.

In other news, I finally caught up on the Bubs on "The Sing Off." Penn singing Sweet Caroline is too cute for words. In both this sense and this sense. I'd been sort of prepared for that by gchatting with some of the Brattleboro crew as it was airing live, but I was NOT prepared to be blown away by their medley, too, which (presumably unintentionally) had a whole Spring Awakening thing that extended beyond Matt's resemblance to Jonathan Groff (skip ahead to about 2 minutes in for the boys part, or enjoy Glee's Lea Michelle being the young Idina Menzel-y phenom that she is. And check homeboy Skylar at around 2:22. Those glasses. That hair! A far cry from the Stagedoor Manor costume department ;) Nothing like a cardigan to bring out the non-threateningly badass schoolboy thing to its full potential.

So. Only one more day of classes to go, and on Monday I only have my mini-class of 6 second graders. And we're watching "Jingle All the Way" while I ply them with candy leftover from the holiday party, so I don't see it challenging my abilities too much. Not sure yet what I'm doing this weekend, since HSF told me during our morning drive that we are not in fact taking a family ski trip. Mostly, my plans involve extensive napping, plus probably a fair amount of baking with homestay brother, and possibly going to Insadong tomorrow to do some Christmas shopping. In any event, it's the last weekend before everyone scatters to the four winds for the next couple of months, AND the last weekend I have to do Christmas shopping. And I pretty much have no gifts, for anyone...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Cappella and Criminally Hot Lesbians

That title is not a gimmick. It does in fact reflect the content of post.

Numero uno - Nicole Pacent, who starting when I met her doing community theater when I was 9 was like the badass, distractingly hot older sister that I never had, is in the running for SheWired's Gay Woman of the Year 2009 for her work in the web series Anyone But Me. I watch it. You should, too. Vote for Nicole here , 'cause she's fabulous.

Deux - Talented musicians, friends of the Smiffenpoofs, and gentlemen all, the Beelzebubs of Tufts University are in a major nationally televised competition on NBC called "The Sing Off." In case you're wondering, that infectious joie de vivre, that vibe that they're actually nice, fun people, and the absurd levels of testosterone you can smell through the screen? That happens in person, too. Watch the videos here or on the NBC site here . You can vote for them here, up to 10 times per email address.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Brb, POS lol luv ya BUHbye =o)~

The title of this post comes from an actual conversation that I had on AIM in 7th grade. How do I know this?

Because while going through my computer to see if I could get my external hard drive to work again, I just uncovered the motherlode. A treasure trove of pictures and AIM conversations from 2000-2001.

I've only gone through the tip of the embarrassingly large iceberg, but my favorite so far (screennames omitted to protect the ridiculous):

J: okay I have today's poll question I get daily from the Communist Party USA
J: im giving it to you
Me: ok
J: Is armed revolution ever necessary?
J: do you think the school'd let me start a Young Communist's Club?
J: http://www.yclusa.org/organize/yclorg.html
Me: lol
Me: talk 2 my WT teacher
J: is he a Commie
J: im actually kinda serious about this
Me: he wont admit it but he told the kids last year he was
Me: or used to be
J: okay
J: well....would you show up
Me: probably not
Me: communism hasnt been a great success so far
J: why not
J: never been tried
J: but thats another story
J: anyway, i gotta go
Me: i agree with the principles i suppose but to find a government that isnt corrupt? thats hard
Me: ok i g2g too i'll ttyl mwahz bye babe


That response would have been great enough on its own, but when followed by that last line, it's pretty epic.

Hold 'Em, I Hardly Know 'Em!

Lesson of the Day: Texas Hold 'Em, poker idioms pt 2
Video of the Day: various (pop covers of Christmas classics)


The mood in the class was much better than yesterday. I think they were grateful to have a break, and I was happy to give it to them. I didn't even bug them about speaking in Korean, and since without my reminding them, they switched back and forth between Korean and English, they got a little English conversation practice anyway. They seemed to have some fun, everyone was getting along, and there was some playful arguing in English about the rules of the game, which I had them look up online - in English. Overall, this lesson idea didn't suck!

John ended up with the most points by the end of class, and ever the gentleman, he diplomatically asked the others what movie they'd like to watch. I gave them a summary and showed a picture of the DVD cover for Elf, The Santa Clause, Jingle All the Way, and the Muppet Christmas Carol. Then I asked them to decide as a group what snack they'd like to enjoy for our last two classes together.

Keep in mind that this class happens at 8:30am when I tell you that they chose "Jingle All the Way" with nachos and coke. God bless us, every one.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Poker, I 'Ardly Know 'er!

Lesson of the Day: 5-Card Draw and poker idioms
Video of the Day: Gaga's "Poker Face" plus various videos we've watched over the last semester

At the faculty meeting this morning, there was thunderous applause in response to something the vice principal announced, and everyone seemed super happy. Coteach turned to me, beaming, to translate that we'd had a great year university admissions-wise, and that out of the original class of 60 kids, only 6 hadn't made it into university out of second grade. Well, while I couldn't be happier that these kids I've invested in are finding success, I also couldn't help that my first reaction was "oh man, those 6 left behind must be hurting," and that my second thought was "since they're probably the ones that can't speak English, I have no idea what I'll do with them for the next 2 weeks."
But when I showed up for class an hour later, there was no one in the room. So I went to coteach to find out what was up, she she told me that they had all stayed in the study room upstairs, intent on studying harder and getting better grades. She brought them down to my classroom, and I've gotta say, I don't think I've ever seen 6 sadder faces than the ones that came trudging into class 10 minutes late, still studying in the halls.
So I told them a story about how a certain dad applied to Yale at 16, didn't get in, and ended up going to law school and being a successful lawyer anyway. This seemed to cheer them up a fair amount - they've really had it beaten into their heads that going to a SKY university at 16 is the only way to have a life worth living.

After that, we moved on to the lesson that I came up with at 12:30am. In the hour just before class, I came up with a list of 12 poker-derived idioms, 6 of which we went over today, with definitions for poker and conversational use, plus examples. So after we watched Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," I passed that out, along with my list of ranked poker hands with examples. We went over the whole thing, and then I wrote on the board and defined "bet" "raise" "call" and "fold," and taught them to play 5 card draw. I think they had a good time with it - at least, they were definitely happier at the end of class than they had been at the beginning.

They bet with "points" - I gave them each 20 points to start, and told them that whoever had the most points by the end of the poker unit could choose the movie we will watch next week, and whoever had the second highest number of points could choose the snack I'd bring. It was enough incentive to give the game a point, but not enough to make them super competitive, which is good. Today should be about bonding and supporting each other so that no one goes and jumps off a cliff.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Life's good.

This morning, I woke up at noon and made coffee, a fried egg, and banana stuffed french toast with chestnut bread. Do I need to expound more on my love of breakfast? Those of you who read regularly (hi mom!) will know, no doubt, that any day that starts with banana stuffed french toast can never completely fail.
This week, I taught for a grand total of 2 hours (plus a couple frustrating teacher and staff classes, ugh). Now that 2/3s of my 2nd graders are gone, and all those classes have been combined into one, I only teach one hour on Mondays and Tuesdays. And my firsties have finals wed & fri.
So I announced that I was volunteering at Keely's school on Thursday, made that true, and voila! Now I'm in Gongju, watching Iris while Keely's host mom peels chestnuts. Tomorrow, I'm spending my day with Keely at her school, introducing the magic of playing drinking games in English classes to yet another community of children. Life's good. Can't wait to check out Keely's on-campus dorm room, of which I am supremely jealous.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Birthday Success

I have loads to say about my wonderful birthday weekend, but for now, I'll just say this -

We went to see New Moon.

I just confirmed that Taylor Lautner is indeed 17. As in, he was born in 1992.

And good christ, do I. Feel. Dirty.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Schedule Shuffle

Lesson of the Day: Speed quiz.
Word of the Day: Senioritis
Video of the Day: Miley's "Party in the USA"

Since the second graders finished with finals, college entrance exams, and interviews last Friday, most of them are outta here (leaving behind those who weren't accepted this year / haven't heard from their top choice yet), the school combined all the second grade classes to make one normal-sized one.


My schedule for today is thus:

8:30-9:20am: Teach the second grade combined class.
9:20am -3:20pm: Nothing.
3:20-4:10pm: English teachers' class

And okay, my job is easy and they pay me well, so gift horse/mouth, but does this seem a little whack to anyone else? It takes me longer to commute than I spend doing actual work.

This.