Saturday, September 24, 2011

Oktoberfest at Playa Lucia

If I had to pick just ONE weekend out of the year that I wanted to be home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, well, okay, it would probably be Christmas.  But thankfully I have 3 weeks off at Christmas, so I’m making that happen.  BUT if I had to pick just one OTHER weekend out of the year that I wanted to be home…
It would be this weekend.  The beginning of Oktoberfest. 

Why I want to be home is not so much that I want to join the rest of the city in a 10 day drinking binge or eat my year’s share of bratwurst.  It’s the people, and the atmosphere.

Unlike high school, after college there are no 5 and 10 year reunions to look forward to.  But if you were in marching band, there’s something better.  And it is called The Alumni Band, and marching the Oktoberfest parade. 

Oktoberfest weekend, almost every person I remember as a friend from college comes back to La Crosse.  Friday night brings Alumni Band practice, reuniting with friends, and usually going out on the town.  Saturday, of course, brings the parade…more friends…a 3 mile march with a drum and lots of free adult beverages (many offered from people in the crowd), and a sea of familiar faces—many that I only see once a year…and more fun after the parade ends. 

It’s a time I hate to miss.  But, this year, I did. 

Instead, I was here.

Danielle and Kelsey and I tried out a new beach today called Playa Lucia, and we found it to our liking. 

The beach is beautiful—though the water wasn’t as clear or blue-green as at some beaches we’ve seen.  As we pulled off the road, we entered a forest of planted palm trees with sandy drives winding among them.  We pulled up to a deserted spot on the beach and planted ourselves there. 

Later, we explored further down the beach, and discovered that though the south end of the beach is breathtaking, with enormous boulders lining the shore, it is also full of seaweed, making swimming there impossible.

We mainly spent the day just relaxing.  Lying in the sun listening to the waves, with an occasional short dip to cool off, was exactly what I needed.

Of course, as I lay there, polka music played through my head.  Roll out the barrel… (Hurray, Hurrah, La Crosse!  La Crosse!)  

You're right little friends ARE all there.
But I've got friends here too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

El Día Internacional de Limpieza de Costas, Ríos y Lagos

If a picture is worth a thousand words, and the pictures don’t cut it, how am I supposed to write a blog about my Saturday experiences?  Nothing I say will do the day justice. 

To show you what I mean, here’s the bare bones of what I did on Saturday: I got up before 8am, met a group of 5th and 6th grade students and their parents, and picked up trash at several locations along Rio Patillas (the river in a nearby town named Patillas).  See?  It doesn’t SOUND like a wonderful day.  But it was.

Saturday was El Día Internacional de Limpieza de Costas, Ríos y Lagos (The International Day of Cleaning Coasts, Rivers, and Lakes).  Therefore, the 5th and 6th grade Recycling Club at Guamani organized a day to clean up Rio Patillas.  Being a friend of the 5th/6th grade teachers and a good little volunteer, I came along. 

We met up at a restaurant, and carpooled to 3 river locations from there, because we had such a good turnout of students.  (16 students and their parents and/or brothers/sisters).  Our group traveled in a caravan of 5 cars.  Rachel and I rode with 2 of her 5th grade boys and one of the boys’ fathers.  Riding with them made me smile as we listened to a Kids Bop cd of popular songs, the words changed.  (My favorite edit: “Meet a really nice girl send some really nice texts” in “The Lazy Song,”).  There are kids in this world who are still kids! 

At the river, we grabbed our Glade Force Flex trash bags (different brand, but every time I put something heavy in one of them, I thought to myself, “HEFTY HEFTY HEFTY!”)  and one rubber glove each, and went to work.  I picked up countless plastic bags, paper plates, food wrappers, etc.  Others found bottles, cans, and some more interesting pieces.  In one of the other groups, they found a toilet seat. 

The whole group hanging out in the river
at the end of the day

Doing my part!

Heisha and Rachel.  :)

Soon we were done with our spot along the river, and moved to a new area—or tried to.  Turned out to be private property, so we went to the park (still on the river) where we would meet up with the other groups at 11:30.  We cleaned up that area (there I found a broken ceramic plate, part of an engine or something, a ceramic pipe thing, lots of broken glass, and metal wires that did my Force Flex in—much more interesting finds for me), and then the kids played in the water and enjoyed their newly clean river. 

I sat on a warm rock in the sun and took in my surroundings.  Palms and flowering trees lining the river, green rolling mountains dotted with trees and grassy areas in the distance, colorful houses along one shore.  The sky a pretty blue, with fluffy white clouds passing us by.  It was a perfect day in an idyllic location.  In the quiet mountain park, I felt like I was experiencing the true Puerto Rico. 

Around 12:30, people started filtering out, and we rode back to the restaurant where we’d first met up and left our cars.  We were hungry, and decided that since we were already at a restaurant with a pretty view of the lake, we might as well eat there.

Unfortunately, there were probably close to 20 of us, and at 1:00 in the afternoon (probably not this particular restaurant’s normal busy time), there was only one waitress.  45 minutes after we ordered, we were brought a pitcher of water.  An hour after we ordered, we had silverware and condiments on our tables.  About 15 minutes after that, our drinks and food began arriving.  Really, the wait wasn’t the worst thing in the world…though we were hungry, we did have a nice view and good company. 

A great view as we waited...and waited...and waited for our food.

Before we got our food, we watched the turtles play from
the deck where we sat.
After we ate, the kids fed the turtles our leftovers.
Or tried to...the fish were often quicker than the turtles.
(Liz--don't hate me!  I was not party to this wildlife feeding.)

We returned to Guayama around 4:00pm.  Both Rachel and I were tired and ready for naps as she dropped me off in the Walmart parking lot (where I’d left my car to carpool with her that morning).  As she drove away, I discovered that my keys were not in my purse.  They were, after a quick check through the window, definitely still in the ignition…locked inside.

Mmhmm...those'd be my keys all right.

Thankfully, Eddie must have been nearby, and after I called him, he arrived with a coat hanger only minutes later.  Also thankfully, it seems my Honda is easier to break into than my Jeep back home was (impossible to get into with a hanger—I tried several times over the years), and Eddie had me inside in minutes.  A rather comical ending to the day.  This week’s mission: make a copy of that key!  

PS...I don't know why the words are highlighted in white on this's bugging me, and I would fix it if I knew how.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Good Day

I had a good day at school today.  And that is important and exciting, because today was a B Cycle day, which usually means my rowdier kids, no prep period, and a general haggard feeling by the time 2:15 rolls around.

Today, however, was different.  In first period, we FINALLY started reading The Hunger Games, which my 7th graders are completely excited about.  It was so refreshing to see my students completely engaged in our reading.  The difference is palpable.  As I read aloud, the students actually stop me to ask comprehension and vocabulary questions (during the short stories from the textbook, they're never interested enough to care whether or not they 100% understand).  When I pause to ask questions during The Hunger Games, multiple people are ready to supply the (correct) answer. But there are also others who say, "Come on, we've answered it now...let's keep reading!"

In second period, my 8th graders were surprisingly (refreshingly) focused as well.  To give you an idea of the difference from past days, let me explain a ranking system we use.  We do a grammar or review activity, and afterwards, the class rates themselves on how efficiently they use time, how orderly the are, how on-task, how seriously they take their job, and how accurate their responses are.  I keep the classes honest by establishing my right to veto any score I disagree with.  Usually, my 8th graders end up giving themselves about 30/50.  Today, they gave themselves 41/50, and I agreed.  Talk about improvement!

By lunch time, I was singing "Zippa-dee Doo Da" under my breath and practically skipping to the teacher's lounge.  I could get used to this!

(The last period of the day was 7th graders again, and it also went pretty well.  I had a little more trouble with talking at the beginning, but once we started reading, they too were completely focused).  The day that started on a great note also ended on a positive note.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


On the list of “things I never thought I’d experience but I somehow was able to and now I’ll never forget,” watching the sun rise over Old San Juan while sitting in a hot tub on the roof of my hotel currently tops the list. 

Needless to say, my weekend in Old San Juan was memorable. 
It’s hard to put into words, actually, just what made my weekend so enjoyable.  But I’m going to try.

The original plan was this:
All 7 US teachers from Guamani, along with Danielle’s boyfriend and Kelsey’s brother, who both arrived in PR on Saturday to visit for the week, would go to San Juan (the capitol, and biggest city on the island), staying in a hotel Saturday night and going to a club, then going to the beach on Sunday and coming home. 

Things didn’t go quite according to plan, however…

First, we got a late start to dinner on Saturday night, making our time to get ready to leave a little tight.  Our aim was to arrive at the club before 11pm, because it was lady’s night, and we ladies would get in for free (avoiding the $20 cover) if we entered before 11pm.  As we were not ready to leave the hotel by 10:30, we relaxed until around midnight, then set out. 

We got to the club, found a long line, and discovered that one of our boys didn’t meet dress code (no collared shirt).  We accepted defeat, and got a recommendation for a cheaper—but supposedly just as fun—club very near our hotel.  We back-tracked to the same parking garage we’d just left to check it out.  We walked back past our hotel.  We continued on, hiking up several Old San Juan cobblestone hills.  We found the club to be closed. 

Unsure of where to try next, we progressed to the bar literally right next to our hotel.  Talk about returning to where we started. 

Around 4am, after an unsuccessful venture to find an open eatery, we returned to the hotel and went up to the rooftop hot tub. 

And the night completely redeemed itself. 

As we sat staring out over the Caribbean Sea at around 5:30am, I sighed, “It’s too bad we’re facing west…it would be great to watch the sun rise from up here.” 
Hmm…check out those lightening clouds over El Morro… yeah.  Definitely facing east.
Decision made.
Four of the nine of us made it up till the sunrise…and it was well worth it.  Watching the sun come up over the city was one of the most memorable events of my lifetime.  I felt so lucky to be sitting where I was, seeing what I was seeing.

I didn't have my camera at sunrise...but imagine this view with the sky a rosy pink,
and a cruise ship rolling in off to the right (but not obstructing this view)

After a few short hours of sleep, we rose, checked out of the hotel, and went to Cafeteria Mallorca for breakfast.  Perfection.   (Sidenote: Cafeteria Mallorca was featured on a Travel Channel episode, so I’m told.  I want to find the clip…but it’s a big search.)  

Then, on to El Morro (the fort in San Juan).  Full of history and breathtaking views of the sea.  The water was so blue!  

Next stop: the beach at Isla Verde.  We finished out the evening at a restaurant right on the beach  after swimming a bit, then headed home—the windows rolled down, drinking in the cool night air as we cruised down the autopista, mountains looming in the distance and (for at least part of the drive) visions of pterodactyls swooping above us peacefully (thank you to Rachel’s imagination). 

I haven’t laughed as hard or as often as I did this past weekend in a long time.  Even though I was running on approximately 3 hours of sleep, I couldn’t fall asleep at home Sunday night because my mind kept turning over the wonderful events of the past 36 hours.

No one can tell me I’m not living my life to the fullest at this moment.  

Standing on the roof in daylight

Rachel testing the waters of our hot tub in the daylight.
Hot hot hot!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Enough Talking, Already!

The school director is fed up.  Enough is enough.  He spends class periods just walking up and down the halls, listening for excessive noise coming from classrooms.  In the last week, I have had no less than 8 interruptions during my class time by the school director, the principal, or the high school office assistant.  Most often they have an excuse—dropping something off for a student or giving me a message—but several times it has been simply to poke their head in the door and tell my students to quiet down, or stop speaking in Spanish, or to get off the desks.  (Some explanation for that last one—we were playing a game of Jeopardy, and I told the students to move their desks closer together so they could converse in their teams.  Rather than doing that, however, some students chose to sit on the floor in the aisles, or on to alternate between sitting on top of the desks and standing near their teammates.  Everyone was pretty focused, so I let it go.)  I’m told I’m not the only one experiencing these unexpected visits by administration, that some of the other new teachers are having issues too, but it definitely puts me on edge knowing someone could be listening in on my classroom or waiting in the hallway at any moment. 

I knew before coming here that talking in class would be an issue.  The American teachers who were here before me told me.  Every single one of them.  And they did not lie.  A month into the school year, my students are still not pros at coming into my room, sitting down, and silently beginning their journals at the beginning of class.  If a student comes up to ask me a question before class starts, the rest of the students take my distraction as the perfect opportunity to escalate the noise level.  I can get them quiet again—but it means telling the student in front of me, “One moment, please,” and then raising my voice over the din to let the students know I’m still in the room, and the rules are still in effect, and there is a PROBLEM when I can’t hear the student standing two feet from me in front of my desk.  This should not be necessary in Week 4. 

But it is.  As a new teacher, I welcome ideas to keep them quiet for longer periods of time.  For now, I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t believe in yelling, and that if I become negative, things will only spiral downhill from there.  So every class period, I put on music that my students enjoy, I smile as I make my rounds policing the room and reminding them they don’t need to talk as they write, and I reward them when they manage to quietly focus on the task at hand for five or ten minutes.