Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Dispatch from the road…. Above Hudson Bay: Just a Teacher Job Fair??

Monday, February 4, 2008

I just took flight out of Chicago about 2 hours ago. It was a very rough take off and it was peacefully interrupted by a flash of light and a big boom just to my left. The captain of this United flight assured us that it was “just” a strike of lightening and that they had checked all of the systems and “they are working properly” . I guess we really have no choice but to take his word for it. After all, I am at 31000 feet above the floor of our dear earth, and he is the one at the helm or the computer that he is in charge of is in guiding our way. For those of you out there who have not had the deep and spiritual experience of flying over this part of the world and being able to see Hudson Bay below you, I will try to describe:

Below me is a vast expanse of white ice. From here it seems as if there is no snow, but just ice covered with just a skiff of snow. The ice stretches beneath me to the right and left (east and west) as far as I can see,. The ice is not flat and just white. It appears to be the skin of our earth, pure and white with veins of blue blood flowing beneath us. The heartbeat of our home flows in each vein and the sun shines deep below the ice to depths that cannot be described and I trust that I will never explore in my mortal lifetime I think about the creatures that live there and I trust that they are happy, finding food and living their lives as if they were me sitting on a warm beach somewhere. I suppose life can be struggle or a fight or a series of small challenges that make each of us better and stronger, but does not kill us. If some creature lives down there, I hope that the ice is their beach. This time of year, the bay is ice and life continues on, in Churchill, or wherever one lives.

Just a Teacher Job Fair???
I have never been so glad to see Iowa. I landed without much fanfare in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA yesterday afternoon after a 3-day journey that was mostly spent in a hotel room in Chicago. I did a lot of time on the phone with my parents, and my family and with teachers fearing that I would not make it to Waterloo, Iowa. I made it finally and spoke to them all, but alas the one couple that really had trust I would make it was the only ones I ended up hiring. A nice young couple of soon-to-be newlyweds who will marry this summer and begin their married life in Shanghai. Kind of like Amanda Lynn and me back a few years ago.

I spent about 45 minutes with them in my hotel room and just knew that they were right for us and we for them. I offered the invitation, rolled out the benefits and sent them on their way to give me their answer the next day. My exact words were “I won’t let you answer now. I need to know that I have teachers who will not only give us their heads and their experiences, but also their hearts. We need dedicated teachers who be a part of the SAS community and focus on the school for the next 2 years, while we hope that you will give us 4 years.” In the end they jumped in with both feet and I know they will be my colleagues and friends for longer than just 4 years. I almost feel like these job fairs are where I go and collect friends and supporters for my life and career. It reminds me of a night in New York...

I had been “recruiting” a couple out of Alaska for sometime. I was in Saudi and scanning the databases for ISS and Search like there was no tomorrow. I needed to find some teachers! Recruiting was tough there. Nobody wanted to come our litte dirtball town and I needed a music teacher and a solid, talented HS English teacher. I dropped about 30 emails out to a few folks and got a nibble here and there, but was drawn to a couple out of some school district in Alaska. Go figure. In the process found a teaching couple interested in me and our little dirtball town in Saudi Arabia. They were from Alaska. We wrote back and forth a while and agreed to meet in New York City. The job fair before was wash with me finding nothing and fighting off a bad cold the whole time. My throat was about to explode and I slept and slept and worked through the pain.

The next job fair was better and I reveled in the sight of Martha’s Vineyard below me in the winter sea buoyed my spirits as I flew south and landed in “the city” and began my quest for someone to bring my music program to life again. I me the couple briefly at signup and got them to my hotel room to interview. This is the time I won’t forget….

Into my room walked a tall, regal and intelligent woman. She seemed to be as tall as I am with penetratingly beautiful eyes that reflected her intelligence and focus. Her style reflected her experiences and her heritage and yet I suspected a twinge of fear and trepidation. She obviously new her musical “stuff” well. Her husband was bundle of energy. Positive vibes were emanating from him as he talked about his students his experiences as a special education teacher and a classroom teacher. I hesitate to say this but…. I fell in love. In the end, I encourage my superintendent and he agreed to let me take them on in Yanbu. Their references assured me I would not be sorry. They were right.

Alicia and Andy…. Where are you now? When are we going to do this again?

The same thing happened in Iowa this weekend. A couple of emails and a few reference checks lead me to know that James and Sanna are also great fits for my school. I, like them, took the leap in trusting each other and knowing that each of us will hold the other accountable. In the end the students will be the ones who really benefit.

Is there common sense in all of this? Probably not. My colleague said it best when he stated that it was just like life-- “You just fall in love”. I would agree. You meet the right people and you just know it is right.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Dispatch from the Road… The Tale (tail) of Lester the Cat- The Last Note

February 2nd, and still in Chicago! I won’t bore you with the details. It really doesn’t matter.

I spoke with my lovely and gorgeous and patient and understanding wife Amanda a little while ago. She was headed to bed after a long day getting Lester from his extended hospital stay. She did find some time to blog today though. Check out Maddie’s Minute for a peek into the life of an expat 4 year old living in Shanghai. I gotta say that I have a beautiful family!

Lester- The last note

After we had our little incident in Yanbu on May 1, 2003 we spent our last year in Saudi. It was a long year with lots of tense days and nights. Amazingly we stuck it out, worked our way through a nerve-racking job search and found a way to work in Shanghai. I had, in m head decided that our Saudi cat Lester needed to stay a Saudi cat and I had found someone to adopt him; a nice family with twin girls who would love him and take care of him.

Amanda had other plans though and one night after having a couple of glasses of wine for bravery she boldly told me that Lester was coming home with us. No questions asked! It was my job to figure out a way to get him to the USA, and then to China. I spent the next weeks calling Jeddah, Saudia Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines and…. CHINA to get our free cat arranged.

He landed safely in Illinois, then Arizona, then Oregon and at last in Shanghai. Over 3500 USD later he was safely tucked into his new home where he has lived for the last 2.5 years. Our free cat was now a multiple continent passport holder, and he still thinks I am the best lap to sit on, even if I have a lap top there at the time.

*Note that cat hair is very hard to get out of a keyboard.

Over this last Christmas we left him safely tucked in the house, with our housekeeper coming in every day to check on him, give him a few cuddles and some attention and of course food. He had grown dramatically since his summer walkabout in Saudi and his fat needed some more fat for company. Who are we to deny that! So, he was ok till the day we arrived when he slipped out of the house probably to go look for us. When we got home he was no where to be seen and I looked for him half-heartedly that first night knowing that he would just show up as he always had before. 3 very cold days later still no Lester.

Amanda was convinced that Lester had hopped a freighter for America knowing that we were there, and frankly I was a bit concerned that an obese black and white cat was going to crawl off a Chinese cargo ship in Portland, Oregon and make his way to my parents house. One more day went by and Amanda was now really peeved. She was going to fire the housekeeper who let him out, and I could see that we were going to probably adopt a horse or mule or something if we didn’t find Lester. My secretary helped our distress by informing our nanny through translation that Lester was missing and Ms. Zhou decided herself to take Amelia our 4 month old for a walk to look for our darn cat. Low and behold she found him in a bush, with his paw in a large rat trap. Lester seemed fine. Sore foot but fine. He walked on it for the first few days and then infection set in the foot that was in the trap. The darn implement of rodent death had done it’s damage and Lester spend 2 weeks in a Korean vets clinic (more money!) to have his foot amputated. This darn cat will not die!

Lester made it home today, as I said, and first thing he did was eat and eat and eat (as reported by Amanda on the phone) and then hide under the stairs thinking that he was going to have something else trimmed off. Last I heard though was that he was walking on his stump just fine and was making himself at home again. He will be fine and we will continue to dump resources into him as he is just one of us, and he keeps us entertained. I rely on him to complain about, and Maddie and Amanda love him as well. That’s what pets do for us… giving us something to care for, love and to come home to after long vacations.

I am sure that Jake the Moosehound is in heaven now awaiting Lester’s arrival and looking forward to those ceremonial butt sniffs and a cuddle. Jake, if you are reading this, I want to let you know that it will be a loooooonnnnnnnggggg wait for Lester. For some reason God thinks he needs to stay around a while.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Tale (tail) of Lester the Cat Part II

Here I am on a plane over the Pacific Ocean. I have no idea where I am as the screen on this high quality 747 from United Airline is out and despite the single attempt by an animated and cute flight attendant, the movie is non-existent and I am “forced” top watch a few video podcasts and to write my blog. I am not complaining here… I just would rather dose off with a movie. I think I will try downloading a movie from itunes when I get to Chicago.

United Airlines is not getting my positive vote on this flight for sure, and these attendants seem to really have a bad attitude. Just my opinion, but I am sure you can ask United if they get any positive votes from us in this part of the plane. From seat 43H, it just ain’t that good. Nonetheless, I am a loyal customer and I will continue till they really peeve me off. One of the attendants blamed the lack of maintenance on the executives taking all the money and not paying the employees! Yes... she really said that to about 200 people on this plane! That is employee discontent!

This entry takes the writing on the road thing to a whole new level…. Say 35,000 feet. It is a heck of a lot smoother than the Shanghai highways.

I need to do a brief plug for Gourmet Geeks. Jeff Utecht and I did our 2nd installment and pulled out the old reliable Buffalo Chicken Wings Recipe (see below) with a special geeks spin to it. The meal was delicious (yes… wings can be a meal!) and Jeff and his lovely wife Uma, and my family lead by Hetta the Happy Homemaker snarfed down the chicken like it was going out of style. The recipe is a no-brainer and is super yummy. Try it.

Now…. Lester Part II


Jake, the Moosehound, was kept very busy with Lester during the day in Saudi. He stopped tearing up the house and Lester took his days to a whole new level of following this homely and ugly kitten around the house watching what he was tearing up, and occasionally getting a good whiff of the cat’s butt for some kicks. Life was full of fun and full of “scentational” fun for Jake.

On the other hand, Lester was feeling his oats and was moving rapidly into kitty adolescence. That means he was started to act like a tomcat, and leaving little tomcat markings all over the house, spraying the windows and peeing in the spare bedroom. We didn’t have Maddie at that point and I noticed that his…. Ahem…. “nuts” were looking quite large and he was spending a lot of time… ahem… licking his nether-regions for more than just a cleansing purpose. In short…. the cat was a horny black and white monster that needed a fix.

I joked with Amanda that it seemed that he seems that his personality was based upon the fur around his little kitty testicles. One was covered in white fur and one in black. In short, Lester had a good nut and a bad nut.

I didn’t want to tell Lester, but both the good one and the bad one were doomed as the vet was coming for a visit. The Vet for Jeddah showed up, gave the cat the gas and snipped blacky and whitey off in a matter of minutes, delivering a woozy and somewhat lighter cat to my arms for a long walk back to the house. Lester had had his tomcathood chopped off in a storage closet behind the Star Market for $200.00 USD. I think we would all be surprised. I am sure he was, but thankfully didn’t blame me a bit. He’s loyal that way.

editorial note: I just did a flickr search on the term "good nut bad nut". I got 350+ hits. I am worried about the world.

After that Lester was the most loveable, affectionate cat in the world. I was his best friend. He ignored Jake execept when the occasional butt sniff came his way, and even Amanda came to like him. We had Maddie. We sent Jake home to the USA to stay with Mom-in-law and enjoy life in Arizona. Jake’s life was full of chasing more tennis balls and he had another cat’s butt to sniff in his new home because another cat my wife fended off on her mother lived there.

Now, Lester was free (as I stated) and we have now spent more than we should have to keep this cat “tame” and his shots and even let this darn cat worm his way into our hearts. Then in early April 2003, Lester got out of the house (as he did frequently) and did not come back. This is Saudi Arabia. We were about to move into daily temps in the high 90’s to 110 F. EVERYDAY, and the darn cat disappears. We put signs out, we asked the workers on the compound to find him and yet he is just gone.

May 1, 2003 we have the scary experience of terrorism. Scary is a lame term. People… many people die. Bad people shoot, kill, maim and terrorize an entire city for a whole day. They are killed. We close our school for a week, and shorten our school year to finish a graduation for our seniors and get them off to schools and colleges around the world. I install concrete and barbwire. I turn a school into a fortress. Lester… all the while is gone. We escape to the US for a long summer of explaining to our families why we would be taking our infant daughter and ourselves back to a place where there are others who want us dead and gone. It was a long summer. We returned proudly for our last year in Yanbu. We made it work and worked that school through a tough time.

Still no Lester though and I was sure he was dead. Summers are cruel in Saudi. It is 110-115 degrees during the day. There is no water to be found anywhere. Nothing, including my car lived through the summer unscathed. I finally gave up in early September. I threw away the litter box. I gave away the cat food. I shook my head and wondered where Lester had gone or died. The very next day we arrived home as usual about 4:30 – 5:00 began to unload the car with the huge pile of baby stuff that we hauled daily and was greeted by a familiar “meow”. Over in the corner of the wall by our front door was a skinny, bald, black and white cat that was a shadow of the former Lester, but was him nonetheless! The darn cat had arisen from the dead and come back the desert. I decided right there that this cat was staying in Saudi and I needed to find a home for the cat. I was NOT going to haul this animal out of that country. He needed to stay where he obviously was fit to be.

Next week….. The Tale (tail) of Lester Part III: Does he stay or does he go??

As promised the Gourmet Geeks Recipe-

Gourmet Geeks Super Bowl Buffalo Wings

24-20 wing segments (I just buy the mini drumsticks)
¼ cup Honey
5 Tablespoons of Hot Sauce (The Geeks used Cholula)
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
4 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
If you want it red, add a teaspoon of Paprika. I don’t think red is that important,

Deep Fry wings after coating with some sort of flour (I used corn flour) till crispy brown.
Let Wings cool.
Dip cooled chicken in sauce and then bake for about 25 minutes at 375 degrees

Remove immediately and serve with blue cheese dressing and veggies. The Geeks and the Back Channel Girls (Uma and Hetta) had a nice salad and a lovely after dinner drink. Good food, good company, good times!