Happy Holidays!

They always get away from me, holidays do. My best intentions are not sufficient to overcome inertia! This year was worse than past years as we didn’t get out of school until just days before Christmas so the few cards I sent out were late.  And I’ve gotten lazy about blogging, instead posting short updates on Facebook. I guess the good part about not having hours to write is that it’s due to being gainfully employed, yes?  At any rate I hope everyone had safe, peaceful and joyful holidays. Many thanks to those of you who reached out to help make ours happy!

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And now, early for once, Happy Chinese New Year! 2017 ushers in the Year of the Rooster beginning January 28 and ending February 15 (that’s a holiday I can get behind – one that gives you ample time to celebrate). One website offered gratitude that the chaos of the Year of the Monkey is now behind us and I concur on a personal level as this was a chaotic year health wise for the family.  We had a broken tooth, an emergency appendectomy, a wisdom tooth that needed to be extracted and finished the year with another visit to the ER as my youngest daughter managed to slice through her left index finger and had to get a dozen stitches. Naturally all these doctor visits created some havoc in my finances as well! This year we had no problem making our very high healthcare deductible!

Apparently we are moving from a year of upheaval to one of confidence and energy (but only if one guards against nonsensical plans and avoids being over domineering). What does the Year of the Rooster portend for you?* In general, from my research, it seems that years of the Rooster are marked by success for those who have invested patience and hard work in their projects and stick to practical and well-proven paths. That sounds like a safe prediction to me – work hard,stay focused and reap rewards!

You can check out more detailed prognostications  specific to your astrological sign at Astrology Club or Sun Signs. As usual with horoscopes the predictions tend to be general and at least moderately positive – mine promises I can get ahead if I work hard and be patient, be sympathetic and keep out of other people’s problems 🙂

I plan to do at least some of that (no promises on the last one). I’m hoping our STEM program will continue to grow in a sustainable and well thought out direction and I’m looking forward to professional development activities in problem based learning and computer sciences. I’ve undertaken to educate myself about engineering as well as computers (who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks) so that I can make sure our curriculum fulfills our new science standards. I’m planning on writing several grants both for basic supplies and for our new aquaponics (fish and plants) center (part of the high school agriculture program).

On the home front I have two projects I would like to complete this summer, one requires an infusion of capital and the other a lot of sweat equity! We really need to get a gravel driveway installed – this has been a very wet year and our soil is a spongy mess of clay that the wheels cut huge ruts into and that sucks your shoes off your feet when you step onto (into) it. Even with 4 wheel drive it’s easy to get stuck. Our estimates for gravel run anywhere from a few thousand to around $6,000.

The other project is putting a porch/deck onto the back of the house. This one we shall attempt to do ourselves which means it won’t cost as much but is likely to resemble Pippi Longstocking’s home when we are finished! If we can at least partially enclose/cover it we will be able to move recycling bins (and cat box) out of the house proper which will give us more room and a nicer interior environment!

My oldest daughter will complete her sophomore year at IU and is hoping to land a summer internship at the Office of Sustainability. Next year she plans on moving out of the dorm – another step towards adulthood, independent living! My middle daughter is gearing up to take the SAT and agonizing about what to be when she grows up. I reassure her that she doesn’t need to have that pinned down just yet. My youngest daughter is wanting to find a job (she’s just turning 14 in February), get to high school and get on with life. She is not one to linger in childhood! And my son continues to be a happy, thoughtful child whose determination to become an engineer hasn’t faltered.

I hope your New Year Resolutions and (positive) horoscopes all work out/come true and that it is a good year for you and your families!

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*assuming you have the willing suspension of disbelief that allows you to consider that there’s anything to fortune telling (I don’t but enjoy checking each year anyway).

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What a trip! Part 1

(Note- I started this post awhile ago and the photos were taking forever to load on our slow internet and life got busy. I decided not to change what I’d written but just add to it.)

I’ve now been back from China for a week and I’m just beginning to get a decent night’s sleep! The jet lag is worse on the return as it only took a couple days to get on China time (exactly 12 hours ahead of home).

The trip was fantastic – the smoothest international trip I’ve been on to my recollection – no delays, lost luggage, illness, missed connections. It probably helped that it was a fairly routine business trip, not an adoption trip! The flight is long – approximately 12.5 hours from Chicago to Beijing, several hours in the Beijing airport then another 2.5 hours to Hangzhou. Our smaller group of 5 met up with the travelers who had opted for the extended tour of Beijing at the airport and we all traveled to Hangzhou together. We were all sleep walking when we got to the hotel at approximately 2 AM!

We spent the first day sightseeing and the sights were wonderful. Hangzhou is the most beautiful city I’ve visited in China. It is full of greenery – plants everywhere! It’s like a park with buildings and streets inside of it. Despite the 8.5 million residents and crazy Chinese traffic, I found it quite peaceful.
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We spent the first afternoon at West Lake, where we took a boat cruise on the lake (it’s huge, and actually more than one lake).  While the sky was somewhat hazy the weather was veryimg_2155 balmy and pleasant.

The lake is a tourist destination so there were a lot of other boats on the water and we shared our boat with a group of Chinese tourists. Their guide had a microphone, ours didn’t, so it was hard to hear much. Still it was a pleasant ride. At dusk the pagoda on the hill was lit up, making it a beautiful sight.

Froimg_2210m there we went to Qinghefang Street, one of the most famous historic streets in the city and now a tourist shopping area.  Most preserved buildings are from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

 

 

According to the guidebook, “Strolling on this street, you will be attracted by the img_2304antique buildings and local crafts, such as silk parasols, brocades, noted Zhang Xiaoquan scissors and Hangzhou fans.” I found the people watching to be more interesting than shopping – and while I didn’t buy any, was especially curious about the snacks for sale like this sugar? syrup? dragon!

 

On the 2nd day we visited one of the top schools in China – the Hangzhou Foreign Language School. It is very large and prestigious and students come from other countries (we met students from the UK and Germany while there) to study while the Chinese students study English, German, Spanish, and Japanese.

Unlike in the U.S.img_2221 students in China don’t just move from their neighborhood middle school to their neighborhood high school. Instead at the end of middle school (or Junior High) the students take an exam and the results of that exam will dictate which high school they can apply to and even whether they go on to high school.

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Hangzhou Foreign Language School has about 2000 students. The blurb on their website says “Every year, 80% of our graduates are admitted to top universities in China and abroad, such as Tsinghua University, Peking University, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, etc.”

After a tour of the school we headed out for more sightseeing – this time to XiXi  National Wetlands Park. It was not at all what I would have thought of as a Wetlands Park – while there was plenty of wetlands I don’t think I saw more than a handful of birds and none were waterbirds.img_2279

We strolled around the trails and took another boat ride, ending up at a shopping street full of stores selling souvenirs (these are ubiquitous).  Hangzhou is known for its silk and everywhere we went there were beautiful, colorful scarves!

 

Once again there were a lot of other tourists there – and even a model photo shoot!

 

20161017_145355Then it was off to dinner out as a group. The next day we would all split up and head to the schools we’d been assigned and would see much less of each other.

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I will leave it there for now as each photo takes a very long time to load! More on the STEM side of things in the next post.

 

 

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Countdown to China!

Less than a week before I leave for China for my trip with the International STEM Fellows. We will be visiting (and teaching in) Chinese schools in the Hangzhou area. This is a wonderful opportunity and I’m excited to be going to an area of China that I have not visited. In addition to the 90-minute lab that I will teach 2 or 3 times to Chinese middle school students I’m one of the four teachers (out of the 12 going) who has been asked to prepare a 30-minute presentation on STEM education for a regional education conference.

Preparing for this experience has been a bit difficult. We are not sure what supplies and materials will be available to us so we need to pack nearly all of what we need for the labs. That made me change my topic as I wasn’t going to pack glass test tubes and beakers! My lab is an engineering design challenge – the students will build their own water filters. So most of my materials are small and don’t weigh much – water test meters, coffee filters, cotton balls, cheesecloth and the like, and I’m anticipating being able to find plastic bottles, clean sand and gravel and dirty water in China!

We won’t have translators although the students and Chinese teachers know some English (more than the amount of Chinese I know, I’m sure) so I had my oldest daughter make me a video with the help of one of her Chinese friends and fellow students at the University explaining the lab. I also have dual language hand-outs and lab worksheets. It was funny to see the response of all the teachers when we were told that there would not be a translator in the classroom with us – the middle and high school teachers looked somewhat dumbfounded and anxious and the elementary teachers just smiled, shrugged and said in a cheerful voice ‘That’s okay – we’ll just diagram it and act it out!’ Well, of course – they’re used to talking to people who don’t speak that much English!

My oldest daughter will come home from college to look after things while I’m gone and our relatives are just up the street and across the street so she will have help if she needs it. The kids are pretty self-sufficient and used to taking care of the animals so I’m not expecting problems. I am expecting to miss them like crazy as I have not been away for more than a day or two before. I’m also worried about expenses. I was able to get the trip cost paid for through Donors Choose but that did not include buying lab supplies, gifts for Chinese teachers and officials, rental car to get to Chicago to catch the plane (and get home from Chicago) and leaving money at home for gas and food. With my daughter’s appendectomy bills coming in we are stretched even tighter than usual (and usual is to the breaking point).

Thankfully I don’t need much for the trip – I’m borrowing my daughter’s suitcase and packing light. I’m not buying anything extra for the trip aside from a travel umbrella (weather forecast is rainy) and one of those neck pillows for the long plane flight. I do plan to buy travel insurance – too many planes have gone down in the past decade and the Chinese drive like crazy so I figure my chances of being in an accident are slightly higher while traveling! And if anything does happen it would be good to leave the kids a little better off than they are now.

Hmm, rereading what I’ve written I see I’m slightly more anxious about this trip than I was letting on to myself! So to end on an up note – I really am looking forward to the experience. I plan to bring back all sorts of video, resources, connections and ideas to my schools to help our teachers. I’m excited about the networking possibilities – I’ve already been asked to get involved in some other education committees and events because of the trip (yes, even before going!) and I foresee that this will be helpful in my late life career. I enjoy traveling and am grateful for the opportunity to make more meaningful connections than those usually afforded on a tourist trip. So wish me (and the kids) good luck!

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