Blog Archives: London Living 2008 - 2009

Before I had this blog here, I had another one from my time when I lived/worked in London in 2008 - 2009.  The problem is, I had that blog through MobileMe's (Apple) web hosting services and iWeb program, which are no longer offered...therefore my blog and all of that fun stuff on there went buh-bye.

HOWEVER, the thought occurred to me the other day that I use to email out my weekly blog posts to friends and family back home via my olddddd AOL email address.  I decided to login to that the other day (ohhh, the horror!  SO.MUCH.SPAM. --no wonder I abandoned it!) and low-and-behold, way back in my sent folder I found some of my blog posts.  I thought I'd do a little 'blog archive' post to stroll down memory lane.  Anyways, this can get lengthy...but I thought it'd be good to put out there anyways.  Enjoy!

August 27th, 2008:

Hello everyone!  Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to do the mass email thing, but I figured I'd go ahead and send a warm little email to let all of you know I've arrived safely--with all of my luggage!--in London.  I flew on Air India from JFK in New York...and I know a few of you said it was going to be the worst flying experience of my life--uh, try the BEST!  First, it didn't smell at all--no curry to be found!  It was a huge Boeing 777 jet that probably wasn't more than a few years old.  Every seat had it's own TV with a ton of movies, music, games, TV shows, etc... that you could watch on your own.  And, the best part (minus the fact that it was only a 6 hour flight!) was that I had an ENTIRE row to myself!  How lucky!  So it really was a great way to fly over here--the adventure did not start off bad! :) 

So since I got here this morning I've been running around like crazy--which I can't believe all I did since I didn't sleep AT ALL on the plane.  My hotel/dorm thing I'm staying in wouldn't let me check in until 2pm, so I ventured out to try and get a new cell phone (the one I have is super expensive) and of course, every store, every plan, told me I needed a UK credit or debit card to get the phone--ARGHHHH!  I was just mad that now I have to wait to get a UK bank account will be opened on Friday, so no worries that I'll be armed with a cellular device sometime by next week.  Then I went to this visa office (for one of the 2 visas I had to get!) to get it stamped so I can start working...well, come to find out you have to attend an orientation session before they stamp it! UGHHH! luckily, there's one tomorrow morning at 10:30am I am going to catch.  After that, I moved my stuff into my temporary room in London (until Saturday) and headed up on the train (only 30 minutes!) to High Wycombe to look at some places.  I recently today found out that Scott, the guy I was planning on living with, is having big time visa problems...and he has no idea--if at all--when he'll be here...therefore, I'll be getting a place of my own, which is totally fine--Scott will just have to come over and visit!  So after running around all day--literally, from tube stop to tube stop to the train and back, I am beat.  I luckily have scored free internet here, which is a total bonus, so now I can call the US for .02 cents a minute using skype instead of the ridiculous 0.65 cents a minute on the piece of crap cell phone I have and can't wait to get rid of, as soon as my bank account opens! 

Anywho, it really has been a crazy past few days...with seeing 3 Broadway shows in NYC (yes, I'm obsessed...although give me some credit...I only purchased my Sat. evening show to Wicked in advance...I won the Young Frankenstein lottery on Saturday day and the Wicked lottery on Sunday), having a blast with Meredith at our favorite diner, lugging almost 150 pounds worth of luggage around, I can say officially that I am wiped out.  I have a busy next few days, heck, next 10 days! but I think I'm going to treat myself to a half-price west end (broadway) show tomorrow night if I can strike a deal.  Keep good thoughts coming this way that I find a decently priced place, in a decent location, that I'm able to get a phone that doesn't cost me an arm and a leg, and that my orientations tomorrow and Friday run smooth.  I'll catch you all soon!  and check out my website if you haven't: {site does not actually work anymore. boo hoo.} I've put some new pics and stuff from NYC up already.  Later gators! 

September 7th, 2008

Hello all!  I know I said I wasn't going to do the mass email thing,  however, some people--non Mac people--have trouble viewing my website for my blog and everything...therefore I've decided to go ahead and do the email updates and also post them on my you can chose which one you want to check out.  I know, I'm so thoughtful.

Alright, well a lot has happened this week! First I'll start with the non-school stuff...I'm still at the Buck New University dorms in High Wycombe...about 30 minutes northwest of London by train (approx. 25 miles)...luckily I'm the only one in this building, so I essentially have the full run of the floor, bathroom, etc... however, it still is not ideal.  85% of my stuff I brought I packed in "space bags"--those bags they advertise on TV that you can pack 3 times more stuff in them then suck the air out of the with the vacuum and you've got more room to pack...well, let's just say I can't open those to get my stuff cause if I open them they will expand and no longer be compressed and able to fit back into my suitcase, so that sucks.  However, I do have some potential good news...later today, on Saturday, I am going to look at an apartment in Maidenhead...about an hour from where I am now.  However, Bourne End, where I work, is halfway between Maidenhead and High Wycombe, so the commute will be the same, just from a different way (and instead of taking the bus I can take
the train from Maidenhead to Bourne End which actually will be nicer and faster :)  So I'm really hoping it works out...the price is right, and from the pics on the internet it looks like a pretty nice flat -it even has a yard!  I'd be moving in with a woman who already lives there, but I've talked to her on the phone already and she seems very cool, so hopefully I'll not be homeless come this time next week!  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

my probable new apartment in Maidenhead

So some school, oh my!  I have so much to report!  First, let me start right off and say this: for all you teachers getting this email, you've NEVER met students like these...seriously, it makes  
Kirkwood look like it houses only thugs and felons!  These are the most well-behaved students I have ever met--granted it is only the first week (however the other teachers say it's pretty much like this   all year!)--but they are so good!  It appears that the number one objective in the school is discipline and behavior--that comes above all else.  Students are to address myself and other female teachers as "ma'am" and the male teachers as "sir" (which was really odd the first time they called me this!).  I think they feel that if behavior is firstly addressed, then the teaching and learning come easier if everyone is sitting up straight in their seats, looking forward, and keeping their mouths shut while the teacher is talking.  At this school they also wear uniforms--boys have ties, girls have white shirts, all have blazers (which look dreadful to be wearing!)...and they get in serious trouble if any of their uniform is not "perfect" (tie not straightened, white socks instead of black,  etc...)...I think they have staff walking around and randomly going into rooms to make sure the students are in their appropriate uniforms.  Similar to our "in school suspension" they have a "student support base" or SSB...this is where you can send unruly students (or uniform offenders) any time of the day, and they have to remain there until the school closes at 5pm, which many do NOT want to stay they lose 15 points for their tutor (homeroom) class.  And you're probably wondering what that is...each teacher has a tutor/homeroom class of about 14-15 students.  These students can earn points during the day from their behavior and work in lessons (5 points for each blue "student of the lesson" form)...and at the end of the set day, the tutor group with the most points wins a rewards trip--basically a field trip like ice skating with pizza, going to the movies, etc... so even the oldest kids in the school think these are pretty cool and do act as a motivator with their behavior (because they can get points taken away as well for "naughty" behavior)--Does this remind anyone else of what they do in Harry Potter?  Because each "year" (class) group has a "house" and are trying to win the "house cup" at the end of the term by combining all of the points for their tutor groups.  Harry Potter has now made so much more sense to me. :)

my classroom

One funny thing about school is the language..obviously we all speak English, but there are some words we use in the US that the kids have no idea what they mean here.  I'll give you an example...yesterday I was teaching and someone asked me about the toilet I began to explain when the appropriate time (before class, during break, etc...) was to use the restroom.  A boy in front put his hand up and said, "Ma'am, we don't know what a "restroom" is..."  I was floored!  The special ed teachers aid was like, "We call it a toilet here." -- which, to me, sounds not very appealing! I always thought restroom was a nice and polite term...I guess I was wrong!  I've been told not to say "pants" (because that means undies) and it's quite either trousers, knickers, or jeans. Even though we speak the same language there are some language barriers that I've come across...which just actually makes the day that more interesting!

The Wye Valley School campus

In a few weeks the history department is taking a trip to the US history museum here...and I've been asked to go as a pseudo-tour guide!  I'm quite excited.  I know many of you are curious what  
exactly I am teaching, so I'll give you a general break down  below...keep in mind the daily schedule here...although it contains the same time frames each day (5 lessons/classes, etc...) it is on a 2 week timetable where NO two days out of the 10 are the same for either the teacher or the's really quite confusing and I'm not even going to try and explain it in an email...just know that I have 300 students' names to learn who may only see me 2 times in those two weeks during different hours of the day each of those two day...ahhh, a lot of names to learn!  and the year groups, as they call them here, are equivalent to our grades over in the year 8 = 8th grade and so on...

Year 7: 
Religious Studies (what is god?) and History (history skills, key terms, the Romans, and the Medieval period, 1066-1500)
Year 8:
Religious Studies (the holy spirit in christianity) and English Kings and Queens (english history 1500-1750)
Year 9: 
Jack the Ripper, Slavery, WWI, WWII, the Holocaust (1750-1990)
Year 10: 
the American West, 1840-1895 (what I'm looking forward to the most!)

yeah, so there's a lot to cover...6 total subjects taught (because for each year 7 and 8 they have a separate religious studies class as well)...however, what's nice about this system is that they have  
literally every lesson, every objective, everything for every class done for you if you need it...if you don't, you can teach what you want, just making sure you're hitting the national curriculum  
objectives.  The ultimate goal is at the end of Year 11 the students take a selected number of
GCSEs, which is basically a test over a given subject that essentially makes or breaks what they'll do the rest of their lives...if they want to go on to university, they have to score As and Bs on this test...if not, their options are limited a bit...I was told all employers and schools look at these grades on their tests and that is the major basis for if they get accepted into that job or university.  Basically it's a lot of pressure for the kids to perform well on their tests, and also a reminder not to screw around in their
early years or it's more to learn in May when they're cramming...and typically they take 7-8 of these tests in May and June after year 11...yikes.

Alright, well I think I've written a book, and I apologize for that!  But I figured people would be very curious as to how the school is run and everything, and now in future emails if I refer to anything you'll know what the heck I am talking about! :)  I think I am venturing up to London today, then later this evening to Maidenhead to check out that apartment--keep your fingers crossed for me!  I hope all is well back on the other side of the pond...everyone here asks me daily about the election...even though I don't have a TV I'm able to stream some of the speeches, and I've read all of the DNC and RNC speeches from the candidates this past week so I can at least appear to be a semi-politically educated American when I'm constantly asked about it.  Take care, sorry about the length, I hope it doesn't take you as long to read it as it took me to write it!  :) later gators!

September 28th, 2008:

Hello all! Wow, what a week!  Seriously, it was intensely-busy! (but in a good way :)...and it was capped-off with an awesome jam-packed  day in London yesterday.  Which, I'll start with because it was indeed quite exciting.

So Scott and I had decided to share something we love with the other person...he loves soccer, I love musicals!  So we decided to each get tickets for one of those in London for yesterday.  He came through and got us 5th row tickets to the Fulham vs. West Ham soccer match in London (they're both in the top/premiere league...kind of like being in the major leagues for baseball as opposed to the minor leagues).  And I came through and got us front row tickets for Wicked!  The day started off EARLY for Miss Alex...I woke up at 4am, left my apartment at 4:45, caught the 5:20 train to London, got to London a little after 6am, hopped on the tube to Victoria station (where the theater is  
right across from) and queued up for the 24 front row seats they release each day for 25 pounds at 10am when the box office opens. from  about 6:30am onwards.  I wasn't the first person there (to my  surprise, actually!), I was the 6th!  The 5 people in front of me I wanted to punch...yes, I know that's mean, but they were heinous and mean.  Everyone who walked by or asked how many tickets they were each getting (you can each buy 2) they were completely rude and hateful to them...the one time I tried to be polite and talk to them they were quite rude to me also, like they had more right to these tickets and no one else should.  They were just foul...but it gave Scott and I something to talk about later! :) So 10am came and I got the front row tickets...I then headed back to Paddington Station
where Scott would be arriving around 10:30am and met up with him.  We grabbed a quick sandwich from a shop and decided what we were going to do until 3pm when the soccer game was!  We decided to go to the Science Museum  (cause it was free!) so we hopped on the tube and did that.  It was  alright, nothing like the science center in STL...there were a lot of  exhibits "under construction" and there would be a huge floor with  like 2 things to look at in it.  So we left there and went over to the  Prince Albert memorial and theater...well we walked by the theater and some woman asked us if we'd like to see a free exhibition of Nelson we did!  It was very neat--a celebration of his 90th birthday...and it came with a free smoothie drink afterwards! :) we then checked out the huge gold and sparklely memorial, which was neat, and then decided to head to the stadium.  After we got off the tube we just followed the huge 60,000 people crowd that would be filtering into the stadium...the internet said a 10 minute walk from the tube,  uh, try 35 minutes! Those liars!  but the stadium was awesome...right on the river! :) So NEAT!  And the game, WOW, like NOTHING I've ever experienced before.  We sat on the home team's side, who's fans were quite mellow, but the visiting team (west ham)--oh my lord, they didn't sit down or stop singing the entire game! It was crazy! A great experience nonetheless. 

Then after the game, which took us over an hour to walk from the stadium to the tube and ride that 4 stops to Victoria, we hit up a fun little fish and chips place right outside of the theater and then went and saw wicked.  Scott had never seen it before, but said he wanted to see it, and I think now that
he has he's glad--he really liked it! of course I liked it too, and it makes it so much better when you're in the first row right there and can actually see the details on the costumes! :)  Then we took the train back home, getting in a little after was a very long day for both of us!  but we had a blast.

Wow, so that took a lot more words to explain than I anticipated it would...woops! sorry about that!  the rest of last week was still kind of the same old thing...lots of teaching and planning!  But friday
was "academic review day" which was basically like a day off for the kids and parent-teacher conferences...each kid got a 15 minute time slot with their homeroom teacher during the day to discuss with their parents how they are doing in each of their classes.  Since I don't have a homeroom teacher, I just got to check people in and chat with some other teachers who don't have a homeroom class--it was actually very fun!  We talked a lot about the different words that the US and England uses, and about different types of foods and candies that are available in the US but not here.  I really
enjoyed the day for the conversations...scott may disagree since he had to do conferences all day! :)

Alright, wow, I've written a lot again, sorry...but I've been told by several people they enjoy my super-long emails! Today I'm laying low...doing some grocery shopping and planning for next week...pretty boring compared to yesterday.  And I'll probably watch the 1st episode of the new season of the Office...they just put it on itunes yesterday and I was too tired last night to watch it!  But I am loving keeps me in the know with US TV since I don't watch any here! :)  Have a great week back home...and I'll talk to you all soon!

October 5th, 2008

Hello all!  Another week has gone really seems like the weeks fly by here!  I think that has to be because it feels like I am  busy every minute of every day--but busy in a good way.  I really am  
enjoying every experience--good and the really is giving me an entirely new perspective on things.  and especially with teaching--I really feel like when I go back to the states I'll have this other experience that no one else has--hopefully sets me above everyone else when applying for a job! :)

Not much went on here this weekend...I just hung out.  Which actually was totally fine...the weather was horrible--cold and rainy all weekend (which is what it's going to be like now until March!) but  
despite that I did manage to make the best of it.  Scott and I just hung around Maidenhead...on Saturday we went into High Wycombe to do some shopping--he really wanted to get a backpack at "Blacks"--this Alpine Shop/REI-esque store.  I ended up buying a much-needed scarf and a giant golf umbrella (which I have been using since I bought it!).  We also went and saw the movie "Taken" with Liam Neeson--it was really good.  It was a thriller/action movie which I thoroughly enjoyed...and surprisingly I found out it doesn't come out in the states until January 29, 2009!  WOW! One movie that the UK gets before the US! :)  That was a nice treat.  Today I ran into town and got some things Ithought I could live without but after struggling these first few weeks I
have decided I MUST get them--things like a hair dryer and straightener (I brought mine but it blew up on my 2nd day here! arghhhh!).  I really hate spending money on things I have back home, but these things I really felt like I needed NOW--the hair products especially cause I am sick of looking like a deshevled mess at school some days!

This week is going to fly by's a 3 1/2 day week! YAHOOO! we have a half day tomorrow with an open house/prospective parents night tomorrow night (which Scott and I (we don't think at least!) don't have to go to), and we have no school on Friday! It's suppose to be a teacher's meeting day, but this weekend is the new staff/teachers' weekend in Wales!  So we leave Thursday after school and get back late Saturday afternoon/evening.  We are super excited about really should be a lot of fun!  And yes, I'll remember to take lots of pictures!  I may have to get a throw away camera to take on the gorge walk...supposedly it's quite wet and muddy, and I would hate to ruin my digital camera!

I am really excited too that 3 weeks from tomorrow I leave for'll be a much needed break for me and a really cool experience getting to stay with my buddy Tobi.  I leave Monday, Oct. 27, however, Sunday, Oct. 26 there is an NFL game in London (New Orleans Saints
vs. San Diego Chargers) that Scott and I are going to try and go see.  Right now the cheapest tickets are like 75 pounds-- yikes, super expensive.  However, my lovely father suggested that we just go into London before the game and try and get cheaper seats outside the stadium...apparently they never sell out, so hopefully we'll be able to score some good seats.  I really want to go cause I think it would be an excellent taste of home/US to experience over here in London.  Maybe we can find some English chaps to teach how our "Football" is played!

Alright, well that's about all I have for now.  I've attached a couple  of pictures of my cross country club...we run once a week during lunch (the kids give up their lunch to run...last week we had 65 kids come out at Lunch!  there's only 800 kids in the entire school, years 7-11!) and a few nights after school.  We normally do this run back behind the school (shown in the pics) but on Friday we did a special run down by the river (of course I didn't bring my camera that day!)...that was absolutely gorgeous.  Go watch "The Secret Garden"-- and that's exactly what we saw.  Breathtaking!  And it wasn't raining, so it made it even nicer! Anyways, I'm sure people are curious as to what these little Britty kids look like, so here's a group shot of some of my cross country kids.  The other pic
is of the kids running and the scenery we get to run past all the time.  It really is awesome.  I'll talk to you all later!  Have a great week!! :)

October 12th, 2008

Hello all!  WOW, what a weekend I had! ...and it's only Sunday morning! :) However, my weekend started Thursday about 3:30pm...and ended about 8pm last night when I passed out from shear exhaustion! Let me backtrack a bit to last week to give the full layout of what went on.

Last week we had a very nice week--only 3 1/2 days of school!  We had a half day Monday because Monday evening was an open evening (kind of like an open house but for prospective parents and students) which went really well.  Luckily each subject teams up together in one classroom as opposed to everyone being on their own in their own classrooms (which was especially nice for a new person like me!).  Mostly we just put some of the kids work on display and talked with the parents and students about the school as they came in.  Needless to say, even though it was technically a "half day" I was at school from 7:30am until 8pm--a long day for Alex.  Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were all full days--and they ran as usual (however now since I have introduced the "American" candy that my aunt Kate has sent me into my teachings (little history competitions) I have floods of my students (and students I don't even know!) coming to my classroom begging me (and even trying to BUY from me!) for some American candy...and I stand firm on my ground saying they must "earn" it--therefore my classes have been seemingly more engaged with the thought that they may win some "American" candy (tootsie rolls!) at the end of class...which makes them more attentive and my classes run smoother...thank God for external motivations! :)

On Friday we were to have an "Inset" day--like a teacher's workday with meetings.  Well, this particular week every year the new staff go on a residential retreat for 2 nights in Wales.  So, 20 of the new staff and veteran "team leaders" (like administrative staff in the US) loaded into 2 mini-buses (like giant passenger vans) and set out at 3:30pm on Thursday for the 4 hour trip into the Welsh mountains.  Scott and I both were so excited about this--for us, it was a free trip to Wales--a place both of us really wanted to visit!  And it was hosted by people who "knew what they were doing (unlike us when we go on our adventures!) we were equally thrilled.

After setting out about 4pm on Thursday, we travelled for about 4 1/2 hours (with a few potty stops :) until we got to Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales--the smallest town in Britain! By this time it was about 8:30 and all of us were starving and more than ready to get out of the vans.  We were staying at a hostel in town where the owners of the hostel also ran a bar and restaurant right next door.  They prepared a 3 course meal for us that was ready the second we arrived--I had soup, lamb shank and mashed potatoes, and chocolate sponge cake for dessert--it was so good!  The lamb literally melted right off the was so tasty!  After dinner and drinks and a lot of getting to know you, we all crashed into bed around midnight--some of my fellow companions staying up until much later! :)  I, on the other hand, having been warned what type of day Saturday was going to bed, played it safe and fell into bed around midnight.

We got up at 7:30, had a traditional english breakfast of eggs, toast, some veggies and beans, and OJ, and prepared to set out for our days activities.  We were split into 2 groups of 10 where we would switch activities after we met back at the hostel for lunch in the afternoon.  My first activity was hiking in a gorge deep inside the Welsh word: WOW...this was one of the neatest things I've done!  We got all suited up in our "Wellies" (i.e. rain gear!), helmets, harnesses, and traversed down into the gorge.  Unfortunately I don't have any pics of actually going down into the gorge because it was so wet my camera would have been ruined :( but other people in the other group took their waterproof ones so hopefully I can get my hands on those pics soon.  It was a lot of fun...and I got to know a lot of people that before I only knew them by their face!  I'd say it was  about 2 miles of gorge walking/hiking and needless to say, even though with the rain gear I still got incredibly soaked!

After returning to the hostel and having a quick "pick me up" lunch, we were met by a husband and wife team of mountain bikers that were going to take us all around the welsh mountains on bikes.  This was what I had been waiting for!  And we had totally lucked out on the day--it was probably 60 degrees and sunny...a rarity for the UK at this time of year!  So we started off on what would turn out to be a 15 mile extreme bike ride--WHOA!  This was seriously one of the coolest things I've ever done...we flew down tiny passageways that were covered in mud, water, and huge rocks!  Several people went (literally!) head over handbars and flew off their bikes...luckily my only "crash" was after flying down a really rocky hill (and having one of our administrators yelling "keep going Alex!  you've got it!!") and trying to make it across a HUGE muddy pool, I got lodged knee-deep (and half tire deep!) into a huge pool of water and mud.  I literally "stuck" with my feet that it was impossible for me to actually fall off! :)  It was great fun though.  

So after riding a ton of miles through gorgeous mountains (I put a teaser pic in this email...make   sure you check out my website under "Wales" for all of the other ones!) my legs (and especially my already banged-up knees!) felt like they were going to fall off we headed back for a much needed shower and food.  The showers, all 2 of them, were barely that...there was no water pressure or anything, but at the least they were hot!  So we managed to get cleaned off, despite taking a
little extra time to do so.  One of our fellow new teachers is from Seville, Spain, and she offered to cook a traditional spanish meal for us Saturday night. She made pailla (I can't spell it) which is like spanish rice with beans, seafood, and chicken, and a spanish omlet (potatoes, egg whites, and  cheese)--wow, it was so good!  I really enjoyed it...and I think everyone enjoyed it because they were so spent from the day of adventures we had! 

After dinner, which was around 10pm, we were suppose to play this silly games...let's just say those types of games aren't my cup of tea, so I sat back and watched everyone else play.  After that we headed right next door to the bar, which had a few dart boards and pool--Scott and I tried to play team USA and challenge the brits to a game of pool...we didn't represent the US very well :( we   got smashed!  But it was great fun...and we got to mingle a bit with the local welsh people...but after a while it seemed that our big noisy group overtook everyone!

Yesterday we woke up early again to clean everything up (we made a bit of a mess... :) and head back home...most everyone was exhausted and totally spent from the past two days that all we wanted to do was sleep on the minibuses on the way home.  I was in awe of the scenery on our trip was so dark on the way there that we didn't get to see it, but WHOA! on the way back it was incredible...definitely a place I want to go back and visit!  And we totally got lucky with the weather this weekend...both yesterday and friday it was gorgeous out... now today, back in lovely maidenhead it's cloudy, foggy, and probably going to rain--perfect timing, eh?  Anyways, it was a great weekend and I'd love to do it again...I met some really awesome people that otherwise I may never have gotten to know!  It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.

Wow, I've done it again...I written a book!  But it was such a good weekend, I thought I MUST share it with all of you! :)  And if you've missed any of my other blog email entries, they're posted on my website so you can check them out there.  Well I hope all is well back home...only 2 weeks left of teaching for Miss Alex and then I head off  to Stuttgart, Germany for a week (leaving 2 weeks from tomorrow!  AHHH!)...I can't wait.  Take care, and I'll talk to you all soon! :)

October 19th, 2008

Hi all!!  Wow, these weeks are flying by--I cannot believe I just have one more teaching week until our half term break!  AHHH! I'm so excited!  And for me, that means a trip into London to (hopefully!) see an NFL (New Orleans Saints vs. San Diego Chargers) game and then a week long trip down to Stuttgart, Germany to visit my friend Tobi!  And within that trip Tobi has planned a bunch of mini day Heidelberg and then to Straßburg in France...I can't wait!  

So last week was pretty uneventful...the kids had a "dress down" day on Friday and if any of you are even remotely familiar with uniformed schools when the kids get the opportunity to wear their own clothes it's a little crazy...the kids don't act like themselves--they're extra crazy and nuts!  So that's what I got to end my week with, however, I only had 2 classes on Friday to worry about the crazy kids so that was good.

Yesterday Scott and I spent most of the morning/afternoon at a lovely little park in High Wycombe helping out with our kids in a cross country event.  It was a lot of fun...we had about 25 kids come out and race in their different age groups...our school did alright--right in the middle of all the other ones.  Some of those schools have kids on club running teams so they trounced everyone else.  All in all I think our kids had a lot of fun...and they had to run through a stream that came up to their knees! they loved that.  Last Thursday during lunch (when our "training" sessions are) we do a big loop around school and the neighboring village.  We run through some fields and such, well last week there were about a dozen cows blocking our path!  I'm not kidding, these cows were planted right on our path where we were suppose to run down the hill!  After some coaxing the kids made it past them...some were scared they were going to get "stampeded" by the cows :)

Last week I did get a new bike...well, a new used bike!  My original bike I bought when I got here got stolen...all of 10 days after I had gotten it.  I was mad, but (surprisingly to me!) got over quickly and realized I was meant to walk.  Well on our Wales weekend I was talking to one of the teachers at the school and he said he had an extra mountain bike at home that he wasn't using that he'd sell to me for 20 pounds--well I pounced on that!  So I got a new bike and spent almost that much on buying a super heavy duty U-lock for it.  Anyways, I'm a happy camper now because I can get to places much faster and easier now that I again have the freedom of this bike...and the fact that it's not "new" helps because hopefully it'll be less attractive to steal! :) but instead of leaving it at the train station all day while I'm at school I'm bringing it to school with me where I can lock it up right outside the main office.  Alex is once again very happy! 

Last Thursday we had a school trip to go see the Lion King in London--you all know my dying love of musicals...well, this was one of them that blew me away!  The music, the costumes, the colors--it was all amazing.  It took me all of 30 seconds when I got home to buy the soundtrack off of iTunes--it was so good!  And I just love the fact that London is only 30 minutes is such a luxury to have where I am!  So I do recommend the Lion King to anyone who has not seen really was fantastic!

Alright so I thought I'd write about some "differences" between here and the US...people are always asking me about how different it is here than back in the US, so I decided to compile a list and tell them to you...if nothing else, they are quite interesting!  And a great starter topic at a dinner party! :)  

Here are some:

  • the ONE stop sign I've seen since I've been here is right down the street from me...yes, I've only seen 1 stop sign.  Everywhere else there are round-abouts (which are like giant everybody yield to your right circles).  I am going to take a picture of that ONE stop sign because it seriously is the only one I've seen!
  • Fries (in the US) are Chips here...Chips (in the US) are Cris ps here...Cookies (in the US) are biscuits here...Biscuits (in the US) don't exist here. confusing, eh?!
  • It took me 35 minutes to find advil/IB profen at the store...apparently it's called percocet here...
  • It's not rude here to ask "who are you voting for?" or your stance on anything political...apparently this is even a great way to start a conversation
  • In the US when greeting someone we usually say, "How's it going?  What's going on?  How've you been? etc..." Here they say, "You alright?" this was very very confusing the first several times someone said it to me...I think I'd give a puzzled look that came off as saying, "Why?! do I not look alright?!"  It still gets me...but it's the English way of saying "How's it going?"
  • I love cheese...cheddar cheese on my potatoes, burgers, etc... however, here, the cheddar cheese is white, and does not taste like my beloved thinly shredded cheddar cheese from schnucks.  Apparently they don't use the preservatives that we do in the US so the cheese here is more "organic" and pure.  So I gave it a whirl...eck, no good.  I've found out I like preservatives! :)
  • from High Wycombe to Maidenhead is approximately 10 miles.  It takes over an hour on the bus to get there, about 35 minutes or so in a car.  To drive 10 miles in the US takes all of 20 minutes, non highway.  Where I work is only 4 miles away, but to drive there it usually takes 15-20 minutes...crazy, huh?!
  • every town has a town centre--where all the shops are, movie theatres, grocery stores, etc... EVERYTHING is there.  I have a student who's moving to Phoenix, AZ and asked me about what the town centre in Phoenix is like...I explained to him that we really don't have those in the US...he couldn't believe it...that there isn't one central place that you can get everything! I told him about our malls and such, but even those don't have grocery stores and such...he was in disbelief.  Even the smallest towns here have a town centre with shops and such...some places in the US people would have to drive for miles to get to a place that has "everything" (or even to get to a grocery store!)
  • it is super easy to live here without a car.  Public transportation (for the most part!) is reliable, cheap, easy, and fast.  Plus, if you convert liters to gallons and pounds to US dollars, gas here is about 8-10 dollars a gallon--yikes.  Unless you live in a big city in the US, public transportation doesn't really benefit too many people...whereas here EVERYONE (car or not!) uses it.

Alright, those are about all I can think of for now.  Of course there are the obvious ones that the food is different here and they drive on the left, but those are pretty common knowledge.  Above are the ones that I've come across that I thought would be interesting to note.  Well I'm off to the grocery store...I'm going to make some Chicken tonight with this awesome breaded's quite good.  The weather has turned was all-of-a-sudden that it wasn't 60's more like 40 and rainy/windy.  I think the yucky weather is finally here.  And in a week with daylight savings it starts to get dark here around 4pm, which means that sports and clubs after school can only take place if they are on a lighted field/area!  No more cross country running after school for a while!  Well I hope all is well back home...I miss it a lot, especially my puppy.  I'll talk to you all soon...I love getting your emails!  They really make my day! :)  Talk to you soon!

October 22nd, 2008:

Hello all!  So this is very uncharacteristic of Alex--to send out a midweek update...however, it's happening today!  So some of you may have already heard about this, but I felt before I got the plethora of emails asking me questions about this I figured I'd go ahead and send out a lovely "update email" to everyone so they can be "in the know" with Alex.  Basically, contrary to what I was told, I am going to have to leave the UK at the end of February when my current visa expires.  And, although I was quite peeved off earlier this week when this surfaced, I've accepted it now and am ALL positive...taking this (hopefully!) as a sign that I'll be able to come back to the US and apply (and hopefully get!) a job that I wouldn't have otherwise gotten had I stayed here until July.  Anyways, here's the detailed story:

My visa's where it starts: I was told (and I think I probably told you all this too) prior to coming over here since my contract is only until February I'd be able to extend it through the entire school year (through July) no problem--that the school would most definitely keep me on (as long as I didn't suck or abuse and children!). Well apparently the British Government has changed the visa/work permit regulations, and after Oct. 31st (a week from FRIDAY!) when the new regulations go into effect it will be impossible for me to obtain a new visa or an extension.  They are moving to a "point" system, where based on your nationality, age, education, income, etc... you earn points, and in order for me to stay I need 75 points...well I've only qualified for 55 (because of my age and income and that I only have a bachelor's degree).  Therefore since we are on break all of next week I have until this Friday to have the school find me a position and get a work permit sorted out for me--by Friday.  Unfortunately this is not going to happen...the "job" that I could potentially have the school won't know if it's available until December, way too late to get me a work permit...and if somehow they were able to get me one by this Friday it probably wouldn't happen considering the fact that they (the school...things work at a slower pace here...'immediately' is not a commonly used word) messed Scott's up (the other American) and he was 3 weeks late getting here.  And since the visa I'm on now is not technically a "work" permit (it's a special type of visa that is a limited, 6 month only, NO exceptions or renewals student visa issued NOT in the UK but the US) I'd have to go back to the US to get a new one, which would not only cost me a plane ticket home to get it (which is roughly $1000 out of my pocket) but also the cost of the visa and entry clearance (again, new regulations, the one I have now is void come March), which is over $500--and no, the school or agency does not pick up this expense (with the visa I have now I've kind of fallen into a "doesn't happen very much" category with my circumstances)...So I'll be coming home at the end of February/early March.  Since I've gotten here apparently the visa requirements and regulations have really been "stepped" up, with the economy and mass amount of immigrants wanting to come into the country.  Anyways it totally sucks because I was led to believe that I could stay here--at the same school!--until July.  But everything happens for a reason, right?  And even if I had to go home tomorrow I really feel like I'm at such an advantage with all of the experience I've gained thus far--and hoping that would set me apart from other people applying for jobs!  I'm taking this as a sign that I'm meant to go home to interview for jobs back in STL and then hopefully I'll get one (which are hard to come by!) so it'll make leaving earlier than expected having worked out perfectly.  My last day of working is February 13th, 2009...they have a week long break the next week and school resumes Feb. 23rd, but my visa expires the 20th so I can't work after that (or risk deportation if I got caught!).  Anyways, it's alright...I'm taking this in my stride and being positive Alex...which I have found to be a much more pleasant and enjoyable persona that suits me.

So that's the deal people...and yes, it does suck, because it is the exact opposite of what I was told, but it's alright.  Everything happens for a reason, so Alex's is meant to move back to the US at the end of February! Poor Scooter will not be mom-less anymore! :)  So that just means the next 4 months I am going to be living it up over here...seeing everything and anything I can look out for a great deal more exciting emails!  Talk to you soon!

November 2nd, 2008:

Hello all! Wow, it's been a crazy busy last few weeks...but I've had loads of fun and taken a lot of pictures! (check out my website to see my Germany pics! :) So, hmmmm, where to begin...let's see...last week, the week starting with Monday, Oct. 20 was our last week of school before half-term break.  And the kids (and the teachers too!) were definitely ready for break...having had 8 full weeks of school the kids were ready to burst out of their little black uniforms, so the break couldn't have come sooner.  The week, surpringly! flew by, and I was getting exited about going on "holiday" (vacation) to Germany to visit Tobi for a week.  I spent last weekend just hanging out, procrastinating on some much needed grading that needed to be done (I didn't want my break to have anything to do with school work! ...maybe regreting that now...) and packing my stuff to fly down to Stuttgart on Monday morning--very early.  Sunday I spent the day in London--which was horribly rainy and cold. eckk...but I got a lot done that I wanted to--hit up a few stores that we don't have in Maidenhead (the Apple store, a cd shop, etc...) and then dart on over to check out Wicked-London's WICKED day festivities.  Every year for the anniversary of the show they do a "Wicked Day"--where this year it was promoting this idea of "going green"--both for the environment and a play-off of the main "green" character.  So it was really fun to get to see the actors perform--for free!--and get a bunch of cool stuff.  I got Tobi a London tshirt because he says you can't get them in Stuttgart.  Let's just say he was quite happy when I gave it to him on Monday! 

So Monday morning I had to wake up at 4am...catch a train at 4:50 to go to Heathrow to make my 7:50am flight.  It only took about 45 minutes on the train to get to the airport, and then (I'm not kidding) 10 minutes to check my bags and get through security.  yes, only 10 minutes...I had "Checked in" online so I just dropped my bags off and went through the monster huge security section...they had so many xray scanners and such that it literally took no time at all to go through--so by 6am...a whopping 2 hours before my flight!--I was trying to kill time in the terminal.  I did buy 2 magazines--People and TIME--because it has been the first place in Europe that I've found them here--and for a reasonable price! I was quite happy, and that kept me entertained for quite some time. 

My flight was only 1 1/2 hours, so I arrived in Stuttgart by 11am after getting my bags.  Tobi met me at the airport and we headed off for the "Ritter Sport" chocolate factory--wow! coming down the street you could smell the chocolate! It was great...and I got a "sampler bag" so I could taste test all of the different kinds.  After that we went to Tobi's house to drop my bags off then headed into town for the evening to see the Stuttgart nightlife.  It's crazy...already here they have a little Santa's village, ice skating rink, and christmas lights and decoarations EVERYWHERE! Tobi says that Halloween really isn't big here, and since they don't do Thanksgiving Christmas stuff starts to appear at the end of September/ for all of you who think that putting the tree up after Thanksgiving is "too" early, hahaha, I laugh at you now! That's LATE compared to here! 

Tuesday we decided to go to we hopped on a train and journeyed about 2 1/2 hours to Heidelberg.  It was gorgeous...the weather, although it was not the best this week, definitely smiled upon us (i.e. NO rain!) a few days...and Tuesday was one of them.  We walked all around Heidelberg, Tobi being my personal tour guide, and then even hiked up to the castle on top of the hill ( It was defintely a hike, but super cool to see.  We had our "American" experience and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe in Heidelberg. 

Wednesday Tobi had class, so we spent the day locally in Stuttgart...but there was so much to do that it wasn't like we "wasted" a day!  In the morning we went to the TV tower--the world's 1st TV tower built from concrete! we went all the way to the top, but since the weather hated us this day it was quite foggy and rainy and it was hard to see anything.  it was kind of cool because it was like we were in a cloud!  Tobi then had class, so I spent the morning exploring the town.  In the afternoon he had his English class, so I decided to go with him to that.  That was very interesting getting to sit in on an English class in Germany!  His professor is an American guy from Chicago, and had the class do a writing exercise and a listening exercise...and, for someone who's native language is english, I FOUND this listening exercise hard! plus, it took almost 70 minutes to complete, which, being a teacher I know that most people's attention spans--even adults--are 20 minutes and then you need a break.  well this guy didn't give them a break, so after about 25 minutes I was gone, daydreaming about something, writing to-do lists for when I get back to England, etc... so I can't imagine what the Germans in this class were struggling with!  Afterwards Tobi even said it was very difficult!  There is a huge Merecedes-Benz factory here, along with a giant we spent the rest of the afternoon checking that out.  It was amazing...I loved how they used the progression of the cars/buses/vans, etc... right along with what was going on in history! :) Very neat...and a very BIG museum too! We then went to a really authentic german restaurant that night...I got Lamb--it was delicious!!  Then we decided to go see a German!  We saw "Pineapple Express" which I had already seen in English (so I knew what was going on!) but I was up for seeing it again in German.  It was a neat experience...even though I had seen it before it was still kind of a challenge to follow without subtitles! but still good...the movie is hilarious, by the way, so even though it was in German the scenes spoke for themselves! 

On Thursday we went to Strasbourg in France...we went with 3 of Tobi's friends from school (if you get 5 people to go the ticket is split 27 euros 5 ways!).  Wow, let me just say I felt like the most uneducated person EVER.  I know Tobi is a walking translator...he can speak French, English, German, Russian, and Portuguese, but his friends wereeeee just like him!  They'd switch between French, German, and English in the blink of an eye! I felt like a dofus only being able to speak English.  I guess it's part of their culture...they grow up from age 5--when they start school--learning languages, we don't do that in the US.  Anyways, it was really neat to hear them talk in multiple languages.  I think I need culturalize myself and learn another tongue!  Strasbourg was very's right on the Rhine river just outside the border of Germany.  It was a German city until after WWI and then whent the borders were redrawn it became french.  There was a super old church there--1200 it was built--which was really neat to see.  And they also had an astronomical clock too!  Tobi took me to the petit french sector, which was untouched by WWI and WWII...that was really neat to see as well...lots of old style houses with the wood on the side.  The 3 girls we came with spent their day shopping, Tobi and I spent it doing touristy things :)  

Friday was another "stay in stuttgart" day...Tobi had 2 classes again so it gave me some exploring time on my own.  I went up in the train station tower, which was not as high as the TV tower but still gave a good view of the city.  Tobi then went to class, and I immersed myself into a German book store trying to find a German book, in English, about WWII...ehhh, let's just say I'm still searching :) I met back up with Tobi to go to the University restaurant for lunch--a lot of food for super cheap! :) then we took this historic 19th century cable car up to the top of the city...very neat.  Tobi then had another class, so I mosied around for a while, checking out the castle and more german bookstores, then met back up with him after his Portuguese class to go to the theatre...yes, it was Wicked night!  Although I've seen it countless times in English, I was so excited to see it in another langua ge.  I know the story by heart, so I was so anxious to see how another culture of people were going to put on this production... and WOW! what an experience it was! First off, we had AWESOME seats...2nd we got to see everything up close!  Since I'm an unofficial expert on the show, I did notice a few changes from the english production to the german...for example, all of the wizard of oz references aren't really noticed by the German audience...even a few of them were cut out of the scenes! (Tobi says that there is not a following of the wizard of oz over here like there is in the states...and that many people don't even know the story to begin with! I had to explain a few things to him as well!) all in all, it was an awesome experience.  And I have the German soundtrack, so we were really in for a treat when we got to see the original german cast (who's on my CD!) perform...they were brilliant.  The journey home was not that took us an hour and a half to get back...the trains were running late (and we seemed to always miss them!) and we had to venture home with all the crazy halloweener-drunkards. so after we arrived back around 1am, we immediately went to bed because we had to wake up onlz 5 1/2 hours later to catch a train to Nuremberg! 

Saturday I convinced Tobi to take a 3 1/2 hour train ride to Nuremberg!  Although it was some sort of country holiday, we went anyways.  I was really interested in the WWII history there with the rallies and trials... so it took us 3 hours both ways to get to Nuremberg, but it was so worth it.  the weather was awesome...sunnny and about 55 degrees. day I had in Germany!  Everything was closed, but the imperial castle was open and all of the old churches and such.  And, as luck would have it Saturday, november 1st was the LAST day for 2 years that courtroom 600 would be opened (the courtroom which housed the famous nuremberg trials that put all the nazi war criminals on trial) so we got to experience the last tour until 2010! It was awesome...all in German, but my walking translator Tobi kindly translated everything for me :) It was really neat to be in the courtroom...a place that I wrote a 30 page undergraduate thesis about in 2006! (on the doctor's trial) of my favorite parts of my german trip.  When we got back Tobi's mom had made us an authentic German meal--I ate so much I thought I was going to throw it all up afterwards!! :) It was so good! some type of German meat, veggies, and scalped potatoes...and an apple-pie type dessert. SO GOOD! a great end to my trip.  THe next morning my flight was at 7:25am, and luckily Tobi's dad said he'd take me to the airport where we'd leave at 5:15am instead of having to leave at 4:30am for the bus/train route.  All in all it was a fabulous trip!! :) 

So that's my journey...and wow, again I wrote a book.  Sorry about that...but I hope it kept you entertained for a little bit! :) I loved Germany so much that I'm planning a return trip in January sometime to go to Berlin for the weekend.  And, as luck would have it, Tobi has an uncle who lives 30 minutes outside of the city in Potsdam that says we can stay with him! YAHOOO! I can't wait...Berlin is the one city in Germany that I really really want to see, and am glad to hopefully be getting the opportunity to be seeing it.  Tobi has invited me back to Stuttgart for Christmas, so I think I'm going to take him up on that.  I also want to do some skiing in the alps and maybe a trip up to Scotland, so I am going to try and use my 2 weeks of  teaching-freedom to explore europe to its fullest, then hopefully do the Berlin thing at the end of January for a 3 day weekend.  Wow, life's busy!  In a few weeks I'm meeting my friend Laura and her mom in Paris for Thanksgiving!  Then Tobi is coming up to London for a long weekend at the beginning of December!  However, since I know when I am leaving now (sometime around mid to late February) I am trying to make the most out of my time here.  Wow, again, I've written too much.  I'm stopping now...I hope all is well back home, and am contemplating waking up super early on Wednesday morning to find out the election results! hmmmmm.... :) I'll talk to you all later...have a great week! stay warm! (it's freezing here now...and gets dark by 4pm! YUCK!) 

November 16th, 2008:

Wow, what a week.  Does anyone else feel like the weeks are just flying by?  I just looked at my calendar and it says 16th of November--Holy cow!  We're already over halfway through November!  Where has the time gone?!  It seriously feels like I blink on Monday and it's already Friday, which, I might add, is fine with me--the quicker I get through the work week the quicker I get to have adventures on the weekends! :) I mean, don't get me wrong, I love teaching, but there's so much to see and do here I just want to get work over with and get out and see it all!

So last week was "marking" week--or grading week in US terms.  It's kind of weird...they open up the online gradebook for 5 days--so you have 5 days to get 6 columns (overall grade, level of work, behavior, attitude, progress, and comments) of grades in for over 300 kids--yikes, that's a lot.  However, I planned accordingly, and did the kids overall grades and levels in my own gradebook, and just transfered them in there, which saved a little time.  That added to an eventful week last week.  Other than that, school ran as usual...the kids already seeming to get anxious for the holidays--and I saw holidays...some kids don't celebrate Christmas!  I'm trying to be political correct here, given that there are Muslim, Jewish, and other religions kids in my class; however, it's still referred to by everyone as "Christmas" time or "Christmas" break.  And all of the year groups have big Christmas parties in a few weeks with trees, and cookies, and presents, and so on.  But no one seems to be offended if it's not their holiday...which I find completely different from the US--because December is "holiday" time, not "Christmas" time, because not everyone celebrates Christmas.  Just another thing I noticed here... :)

Speaking of school adventures, this Wednesday myself and the other history teacher (Sandy) get to take our year 10s (roughly 8th and 9th grade ages) to the London Dungeon.  I cannot wait...first off, I begged and pleaded with the school to let me go--heck, I've never been before and I'm leaving in 3 months! Luckily, someone was smiling upon me and I get to go.  I'm so excited!  Supposedly, it's really haunted--as the kids tell me...which, until 3 other teachers told me that, I was calling their bluff.  And apparently they reenact a bunch of tortures and murders and stuff that can really freak people out.  And there are rides!  A "hanging" ride--to feel what it's like to be hanged, and a few others.  I feel so lucky to get to go! Okay, and let me justify "why" we get to go there, as much as it probably seems like an amusement park to you right now.  The year 10s have 2 different history sections--one with me, and one with Sandy.  With me, we're doing the American West (how appropriate, right?!), and with Sandy they're doing Jack the Ripper and Crime and Punishment--so the London Dungeon fits in with that.  They went to the American History museum earlier in the year, however, that trip I was not allowed to go on :( because there wasn't enough substitutes available to cover my classes.  However, I put my foot down to be able to go this Wednesday! :)

Yesterday I was going to down to Brighton, rent a vespa, and cruise around the coast.  Well, one-step-ahead Alex called the rental place just to double check everything before I went, and with a foreign national (i.e. missouri license from the US) license, it has to explicitly say "for motorcycle/scooter use" on it...well, if you look at any of our US licenses, they don't say anything like that.  They have class ranks on them which correspond to what you can and can't drive.  I explained that to the guy, but he said it "had" to be a license for those types of bikes and scooters...and it actually in print had to say that on your license (his insurance requires him to have that for everyone).  Well, even though on a normal missouri license you're covered for vespa and scooter use, since it does not explicitly state that on there, I was out of luck.  Therefore, I elected not to travel 3 hours both ways down there if I couldn't rent one--I mean, the whole point was so I could go out and see things on my own that I wouldn't be able to get to on foot.  I told myself if I had gone and rented one I probably was going to be hit by a car and killed, so it was a good choice I decided to stay up this way instead :)  Yesterday then I decided to do another London day--there is still so much in that city that I have not seen yet!  And of course there's always a really cheap musical ticket I can get my hands on--you all know, it's my favorite thing.  And since I know I'm leaving in 3 months...approximately 89 days to be exact...I want to see as many of my favorite things as possible.  So I got up early and went into London and headed to Churchill's war and cabinet museum in word: WOW.  One of the coolest things I've ever seen.   It was basically his underground bunker he (and some of his family!) lived and worked in in the was deep underground so if a bomb hit they'd be safe.  The coolest part was most everything--even the equipment!--was untouched and preserved since the end of the war--I think that was the coolest thing, being in the presence of things that were actually used (maps, radios, tables, etc...) by Churchill and his men.  Anyways, I put some pics on my website under "My UK" section if you want to check it out.  After I spent over 2 hours there I decided to take advantage of the "no rain" Saturday and do a walking trip around Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, and the Thames river.  Wow, it was very nice--and even though it was cloudy and "looked" like it was going to rain, it didn't.  I then headed over to the west end to do some early Christmas shopping (pat on the back, Alex!) and go see a musical.  Guilty, I went and saw (no, not Wicked! nice try!) "We Will Rock You" again--yes, it was that good!  First off, the first time you see a musical just gives you a taste...I always (if I can!) like to see a musical at least get so much more out of it the second time and can pick up on some much more stuff!  It was fabulous once again...however, my next Musical weekend will have to be going to see "Billy Elliot"--I've heard great things and really want to see that!  After the musical I went home...exhausted.  I felt yesterday like I may be getting a cold, so I darted to the grocery store when I got back (the only thing open after 6pm on Saturdays!) and bought some allergy/cold medicine...which I hope knocks the cold before it even comes.

Well, that's about all I've got.  I'm just doing some lesson planning today for the week, maybe a trip to the store to get some food for the week, and if Scott ever returns my call we're suppose to go to lunch at this little mexican place in town.  The weather is yucky today...nice and wet.  Great.   But at least it didn't rain yesterday! :)  I have so much coming up in the next few weeks it's overwhelmingly exciting!  I go to Paris a week from this Friday, my friend Tobi comes the week after that, I have one weekend to myself, then on the 20th I fly to Stuttgart to spend Christmas with Tobi and his family!  Which, we're already planning a ski trip down in Austria somewhere! AHHH! I can't wait!...then a few days after I get back from Germany my friend Laura comes, then 2 weeks after that I go to Berlin for a long weekend! And, although I haven't booked anything yet, I'm planning a trip to Scotland in January/February to (hopefully!) see it all pretty and snowy up there.  Wow, it's going to be a very busy next 3 months! Alright, well I've exhausted myself just thinking about it.  I hope all is well back home, that you're staying warm and dry, and I'll talk to you all soon!

November 23rd, 2008:

Wow! What a week!  So let's just say it didn't start off well--health wise! (and it was pretty chilly weather wise too!)...last Saturday as I was coming back from London I felt a sniffle over take me on the train.  I've had allergy problems my whole life, so I'd consider myself pretty good at self-diagnosing a cold.  I hopped off of the train and ran over in town to the grocery store--the only place open at 7pm on a Saturday night.  The medicine here is VERY different from the US' it took me a bit to find the cold/sinus ones. Anyways, I managed to find an "extra strength" night/day combo pack--which I assumed was just like Dayquil and Niquil.  I was determined to nip this cold in the butt before it even started--let's just say I was feeling really proud of myself Saturday night.  Well, Sunday came and I got up to go for a run--cause it was not raining!--and I could barely make it 2 miles without coughing--uh oh.  I decided to lay low last Sunday, just hang out, and hope that it was a one-day cold--um, nope.  I was way wrong.

Monday rolls around and I feel awful...barely have a voice, can't breathe through my nose, eck, it was no fun.  Alas! I went to school--and of course, as soon as I got there people were like, "Why didn't you just stay home and take a sick day?!"  I politely responded, "Uh, I don't get paid if I don't come in!"  So I felt exposing my coworkers and students to my cold was worth my hundred-or-so poundage I'd make that day. I mean, I didn't have a fever, wasn't throwing up, and still had an appetite, so it couldn't have been that bad--or contagious.  And in my defense, one of those little bacteria ridden children probably gave it to me! :)

So Monday and Tuesday I didn't feel great--at all.  My voice was gone--that was interesting trying to teach like that!  and I couldn't stop sneezing and blowing my nose.  Yes, it was an eventful way to start off the week!  However, Wednesday came around--still, not feeling great and no voice--but I was excited: it was London Dungeon day!  YAY!  Basically a day off with 30 some odd kids in London--just what I needed. A paid break from teaching!  The best part was that I didn't have to speak all day--we were on guided tours so the kids just had to listen to the tour guide.  And there was 3 other teachers there too, so it worked out nicely (plus the group of kids we took are fabulous students...very well-behaved, polite, etc... all that "niceness" you'd want taking a group for 14 and 15 year olds to London :).

On Wednesday we first went to the Clink--the oldest prison in London.  Wow, it was tiny!  And underground!  They tour fella said that the walls and such were originals--some dating back as much as 1000 years ago!  WHOA!  That is so cool to see, especially considering any buildings in the US aren't more than 500 years old--if even that.  So that was super cool to experience.  The tour guide was very "hands on" and let the kids sit in the stocks, pretend to have their heads chopped off, experience tongue torture, and so on--they really had a good time (check out the pics on my site!).  Then we headed over to the London Dungeon.  Now this is more of an amusement-park type experience.  It has a little history, but it's mostly exaggerated and sensationalized for the public's enjoyment.  The kids have a coursework piece on Jack the Ripper, and the London Dungeon actually has a pretty good recreation of the Jack the Ripper scene so it wasn't all just for fun :)  What amazed me the most was how well the kids were in London--we had to walk about 1/2 mile from the Clink to the Dungeon--through busy London streets! (just by the London Bridge area) and I was just amazed.  I mean, I was really impressed in how mature they acted walking through the streets and busy intersections.  I guess this isn't something new for them--they've been going to London their whole educational career for field trips, but as an outsider looking in, I was quite impressed with their "big city" behavior.  Anywho, so the Dungeon was very neat--it had 2 rides (a "Pirates of the Caribbean"-type boat ride and a "hanging" (drop) ride)--the kids were very impressed that Miss Pepin went on all the rides with them--the other 3 teachers sat out with the students who didn't want to go.  The actual dungeon was a little like a haunted house--with actors popping out at you and things shooting out at you from the walls.  It was actually a lot of fun--and some of our kids got really scared--even tears were shed!  However, it was really sweet how no one made fun of anyone for "being a baby" and actually offered to go around with that person to keep them company.  It was cute.

So after Wednesday's events I was hoping my cold would start to diminish...and it did!  I still didn't have too much of a voice on Thursday, but it was a lot better than what it had been earlier in the week...and it just got better for Friday--so I was thankful for that--that I could actually teach the rest of the week and not make the poor kids do more group work or reading! :)

Yesterday I decided to go into London--again!  It's so great there, and there's so much to see...every time I go in I see something new, which I absolutely LOVE doing.  I decided to see a new show yesterday--"London's show" as I was told it's called.  I went and saw "BIlly Elliot."  I had a matinee ticket, so I went into London early (the weather was freezing yet sunny, so good enough for me to do some walking tours!) to see the sights.  I wanted to check out the "free" natural history museum, however, when I go there the line was crazy long out of the doors so I decided to skip that and just walk around.  The tubes were manic yesterday...everyone seemed to be on them starting their Christmas shopping!  And there was a soccer game, so that makes them even more 2 lines were shut down for construction work, so that made the lines which were open even more crowded!  Anyways, I opted to walk everywhere yesterday--which was great.  The sun was out, I had my hat and scarf on, and I was set.  I got to see some neighborhoods and places I'd never seen before!  I ran across an Australian war memorial for WWI and WWII--being a history person I was shocked I'd never heard about this before!  It was a memorial recognizing those who fought alongside the British in the world wars.  That was really interesting!  Then I saw a bunch of cool neighborhoods (which I'm sure are uber-expensive!) around the south bank of London (Thames area) and in Westminster.  It was really neat!  I then went to Billy Elliot...which I'm glad I saw, but am not in a hurry to rush out and see again.  It was good, the kids in it were amazing! but nothing I'm going to rush out to buy a ticket for again.  For me it was hard to understand what the heck they were saying!  They all had really thick northern accents, and either my ears were plugged up or the mics were down but I had a hard time hearing.  Anyways, again I'm glad I saw it but I think that'll be my only time.

So that's about all I did this past week....that stupid cold didn't help things, but I think I'm safe to say it has finally left me--and thank God.  Not a moment too soon, cause it's Turkey Day week!  Yes, 4200 miles away and I'm quite excited for it!  I decided to make Thursday--since I have to go to school :(--Turkey Day history day in my classroom.  My lovely friend Robyn sent me the Turkey Day DVD she made last year (and makes every year--go check it out! ) so I can show department head is all for it--she says the kids will get a real kick out of experiencing the history of Miss Pepin--and I agree! Plus, a lot of the kids ask me all the time what school is like in the US, so not only will they get to see a glimpse of the greatest football rivalry but they'll also see how things are run in the states!  It should be quite fun...I cannot wait for Thursday!  And then...gasp!  Friday morning at 6am I take a train to Paris for the weekend! YAY!  I cannot wait!  My own little Turkey day treat to myself...I'm meeting my buddy Laura down there and we're going to see as much as we can see in 3 days in Paris as is humanly possible.  I cannot wait...and now that I can breathe again I can start to get really excited.  These next few weeks are going to be great...Paris this weekend, the Tobi comes for a visit, then a weekend to myself, then I cruise on down to Stuttgart for some skiing in the Alps and Christmas vacationing!  Wow, I hope it all doesn't fly by too fast that I can't take it all in.  Anyways, I've written a book again...sorry about that.  I guess I write like I talk, and as most of you know that's about a mile a minute!  :)  Have a great Turkey Day week...I hope all is well...miss all of you and talk to you soon!

November 30th, 2008:

Howdy all!  First off, I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving...unfortunately it wasn't capped off with a Kirkwood victory :( But hopefully we'll get the bell back next year.  Wow, I had another busy week!  But it's great--it keeps me very busy and I am really seeing some pretty amazing things.  First of all, last week was a tough week to be away--I've always (minus one wacko year where I was playing softball in Florida...) been home celebrating Turkey Day with my family and all of the Kirkwood festivities.  I really missed that this year--the chili cookoff, the pep rally, and of course the game.  However, my lovely friend Robyn sent me the DVD from last year that she made (GO BUY IT!  it's amazing! check out her website: --she is one talented woman! :) and that made me feel more at home.  Alright, enough sappiness from Alex...I really did actually have a fun turkey day, despite not being at home.  I definitely would say I made the best of it being over 4200 miles away in England!

So school went by last week effortlessly it seemed...until Thursday!  This was a big day for me--the kids were now going to get a slice of Miss Pepin's homelife and (more importantly!) the Kirkwood-Webster Turkey Day tradition.  I was so excited...I had the whole day planned--the first time EVER here I'd teach the same lesson to ALL of my classes--10 year olds to 18 year olds.  It was intense.  So I was banking on showing the last years Turkey Day DVD Robyn sent me on Thursday...well, as luck would have it it didn't arrive until Thursday during the day--too late for me to get it seeing as I was already at school.  However, no worries on this end--I had a back-up plan!  Robyn posted a bunch of her past videos and clips on youtube and her website, so I kindly "borrowed" those for the day (since I can't open youtube at school) and spliced them together, making a nice 9 minute turkey day video.  Then I thought of finding some pictures from previous games, hallway decorations, etc... I found a few on google images, and my aunt kate sent me some great ones from the 1970s, and then I got a few from some current KWOOD students from this year.  All in all, about 20 or so pictures--perfect!  So I hatched a brilliant (or at least I thought it was!) powerpoint of the history of Thanksgiving, then moving onto the Kirkwood tradition with the movies and pictures.  When that was over (and the kids were so into it--I loved it!) I had the kids create "Turkey Day" posters.  Oh my gosh--words cannot describe how much they LOVED this activity!  Go check out my website under "Turkey Day" for the gallery of pics I took of their creations.  Seriously, the kids got so into it--some even making anti-webster posters!  It really made my holiday--where I should have been off!--actually be enjoyable since I had to work.  It was a real treat--and I think not only for me but for the kids too!

Alright, so Thanksgiving weekend--whoa!! This was one fun weekend, let me tell you!  First off, I woke up at 3am on Friday (and while I was walking to the train station talked to my parents back home seeing as it was only about 9pm there time on Thanksgiving and they were just finishing dessert! :) and had to catch a train to London.  Well since the London trains arrive at Paddington station and the Eurostar to Paris departs from Kings Cross/St. Pancras, I had to then take the tube to the other station.  After about an hour or so of commuting, I finally got on my short, 3 hour train ride to Paris.  I arrived into Paris about 10am, went to my hotel and met my friend Laura and her mom.  Let me just say it definitely pays to go to a foreign place with someone who knows their way around!  I think this was Laura's 4th or 5th time going to Paris and she was one heck of a tour guide! :) I loved it!  So the first thing we did was go get some food--I was starving!  We ate at a little cafe and I had a yummy chocolate crepe.  After that we trekked to the Eiffel Tower--last time I was in Paris we just "looked"--we didn't go up.  So this time I really wanted to go all the way to the top!  Despite being bitterly cold and windy out, we did manage to get all the way to the top of the tower--what a view!  It was cloudy, but you could still see everything.  It was so neat!  After the tower we decided to get some lunch and plan out the rest of our evening.  We then decided to walk to the Orsay museum, which is right by the Louvre.  We walked through the neatest little neighborhoods and backstreets--it was quite a jaunt, but we all wanted to walk to "experience" everything.  We stayed at the Orsay until closing--we were so loving all of the impressionist pieces!  My favorite was Van Gogh--so awesome!  After the Orsay we were exhausted--Laura and her mom for having been there for a week going non-stop and me for having been up since 3am!  So we decided to go to this cute little pizza/italian place by their hotel.  This was so awesome...we were literally sitting right on the river (inside of course!) with Notre Dame all lit up right behind us!  It was amazing!  After dinner and some pictures I took the metro back to my hotel and crashed.  What a day!

Saturday we decided to meet at 9am outside my hotel--because we wanted to go to the opera house (world famous!)...and my hotel was literally 5 seconds from a metro walked 10 steps out of the door and you were heading to the underground--so very easy to meet at.  And the opera was only about 1/2 a mile down the street.  We got some yummy french pastries for breakfast, and then went to the opera.  Okay, if you've seen "The Phantom of the Opera" this is the opera house where it's set--check out the pics on my website--it looks just like the opening scene of the movie/musical! :)  And Laura said there really is an underground lake below it!  Anyways, this was probably my favorite thing we saw--you all know how I love musicals, and this was like the FOX theatre in STL on steroids--it was gorgeous!  So many crystal chandeliers and gold everywhere!  Really awesome!  After the opera Laura and I decided to do our own thing--letting her mom do some "much needed" shopping (as she put it!). So we headed to the Arc de Triumph--again, since the last time I was in Paris we just looked and didn't go up.  We walked down the chandelles (which I don't know if that's how you spell it or not...oh well...) which is the big boulevard heading to the arc.  They had a ton of little shop huts selling stuff for Christmas...we decided to get a belgian waffle with chocolate.  WOW...this was heaven!  It was so good!  And it definitely wasn't hersheys syrup poured on the top, but actual milk chocolate from belgium!  YUM!  So after we walked a ways (definitely looks closer than it really is!) we went up into the Arc--very neat!  Another great view of Paris...and I love how most of the buildings have a built-in garden area inside the walls.  After the Arc we went and got a light lunch, and decided to go check out Notre Dame in the day time.  After that we met back up with Laura's mom--who wanted to do some more shopping!  So Laura and I decided to go to the Concierge--where Marie Antoinette was held (along with 1000s of others) before she was beheaded.  It was an old prison from the 1700s...that was really neat.  We then went on a sunset cruise along the river...this was awesome.  We timed it right, going about 5pm just as the sun was setting--so we got to see all of the buildings (and the Eiffel Tower!) all lit up!   It was very cold, but very neat.  I'm glad I had my hat. :) After that we met back up with Laura's mom and they took me to their favorite restaurant in Paris (which was convienently right by my hotel! :)--wow, this food was so good!  I had baked chicken and mashed potatoes--yummy!  What a great meal to end a very quick 48 hours!  After that, it was way after 9pm so we decided to part ways--they had a plane to catch back to the states in the morning and I had an early train back to England.  It really was a fabulous weekend...although short, I got to see so much more than I thought I would!  Plus, it was SO nice getting to see familiar faces from back home.  I really loved that.

So that's about all that's happening with me!  This week should also be fun...Tobi comes on Thursday until next Monday, so I've got to get some stuff prepared for his visit.  It's actually working out perfectly because starting Thursday my roommate has to housesit for a week, so she'll be gone all weekend!  Alright, well that's about all from me over here...and yikes, I've written a book again...sorry about that.  But I hope all is well back home...and WOW!  only 24 shopping days until Christmas!  I better get a move on!  There was no "black friday" here :( so no deals for Alex.  Oh well...anyways, take care, have a great week, and I'll talk to you all soon!  Miss everyone!

December 8th, 2008:

Hello all!  Wow, what a weekend!  I know I’m a bit late of my predicable “Sunday morning” email--which I'm sure through some of you for a probably thought I either A: died or B: forgot to include worries, here's the email! :) And to my defense, I’ve had a super busy last week and weekend!  But it was a lot of fun.  Last week was a very cold and wet week here in England—just “warm” enough for the rain not to freeze, but make it very cold coming down.  And the wind didn’t help at all either!  Although, with looking at the weather back home, I can’t complain too much because it looks like back in STL it’s freezing there as well!  J   I think it’s just impacted me more here this winter because I have to walk everywhere…whereas in the past I would just warm up my car and hop in it, never really worry about if it was raining or how cold it was.  Oh, the things you take for granted!  

So last week was a busy week…we had these entry data things to do for each class last week where you have to give a comment on EACH student’s progress, assignment completion, etc… and these weren’t “select a comments” but actually typing them in.  Yikes, they took a while!  However, they’re done and I can move on—and thankfully won’t have to do them again!  J   School went well last week…one of my year 7 classes (5th/6th grade age) were absolutely uncharacteristically bad.  I really laid into them, telling them where my expectations were and how their behaviour wasn’t reflecting that.  Well, at the end of the day one of them came to me with a huge stack of apology notes their homeroom teacher made them write to me.  I about died—it was really nice of them to write them, but some of the stuff they wrote on them—oh Lord, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard!  It was great—a definite “good end” to the work week.  And I think a lot of kids are getting really excited about the holidays, so that makes them even more goofy in class since we’re getting to the end of the term.

Tobi arrived on Thursday morning—I had to work, so he just hung out in London all day, doing a bit of sightseeing by himself.  When school got out I had him take the same time train as me (from London for him) and we met at the Maidenhead train station.  We then hiked up the big hill—rain and cold and all!—and left his stuff at my apartment.  Luckily it worked out that my roommate was housesitting for a week so she was gone—which was quite nice because it gave us the run of the apartment, especially since we’d be getting up early and probably staying out late.  Anyways, after we stashed his stuff we went down into the city center and I showed him around Maidenhead.  We then got dinner at this great little Italian place in town and headed back home to get settled and organized for the weekend (and let Tobi unpack!).  I had to work on Friday, and Tobi arranged to go see a friend he studied with in France last year who lives in Southampton—so it worked out perfectly!  He got on a train at the same time as me on Friday morning (good planning work, huh?!) and got off the train back from Southampton again at the same time as me.  After we both got back on Friday we decided to go see a movie, so we went and saw “Changeling.”  It was awesome—one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.  Clint Eastwood directed it and it was just fantastic—and a true story (I love my historical films!).  Anyways, I highly recommend it…it’s about corruption within the LAPD during the late 1920s.  Very very good.  After the movie (it was about 2 ½ hours!) we headed back to my place and I was going to make us my famous homemade pizza.  It was a hit with Tobi—he loved it!  J   We then headed off to bed pretty early because we were getting up at 3am to queue for front row West End seats.

Saturday morning, after about 4 ½ hours of sleep, we woke up and hopped on the train to London.  Tobi took me to see Wicked inStuttgart, so I was repaying him the favour.  The best seats available are the day seats (£25 for front row seats!) they give out at 10am every morning when the box office opens.  Well, you kind of have to get there really early to get them!  So after waking up super early and getting on the first train to London, we arrived at the Apollo Victoria Theatre at 5:15am…and we weren’t the first people there!  There were 7 other girls IN SLEEPING BAGS! Who had been there since 12noon on Friday.  Wow, and we thought we were crazy for getting there 4 ½ hours early!  These girls were (or should I say “are?!”) beyond obsessed.  They literally camped out all night (and didn’t even need to because no one came between when they got there at 12noon on Friday and when we got there Saturday morning!) to see the show.  Come to find out it was the British actor’s 1st weekend back from performing in NYC on Broadway, so that’s why they camped out.  Anyways, you all know I really enjoy the theatre and Wicked, but these girls make me look silly.  They are completely obsessed…but not in a good way.  They literally spend every dime they have going to see the show (one girl says she “has” to see it once a week! AHHH! That’s nuts!) and from what I gathered fit the “stalker” type personality (they know where the actor’s live!  That’s not right!).  Anyways, Tobi and I just kept our distance from them—we didn’t want to be associated with them!  J   A nice guy came just after us and he is an aspiring actor/singer/dancer.  He just got into a prestigious dancing college in Cambridge and one of his teachers there is one of the monkeys in the show.  He was great to talk to—telling us all about his musical experiences and how he hopes one day people are lining up to get tickets to see a show he’s in!  I was like, “Well, tell me your name so I can say I queued with you when you’re famous!”  He really helped Tobi and I pass the time.

After we queued—and it was a really nice day, or at least it was not raining!—we decided to head over to Picadilly Circus area to look around.  We then had lunch in Chinatown—I don’t know if it was because I was super hungry or what, by I had the BEST sesame chicken I think I’ve ever had.  It was so good!  After we ate we walked around a bit more and then walked to BuckinghamPalace and the Westminster area.  This was neat because it was a pretty decent day on Saturday and there were a ton of people everywhere!  After that we headed over to the theatre for the 2:30pm performance of Wicked.  Since Tobi was only in town for such a short time, he convinced me to do a double-feature of Wicked on Saturday rather than seeing 2 different shows.  I was sceptical at first…even though I love Wicked, twice in one day may be a bit much.  Actually, it turned out great!  We got to see the same cast, and we felt like critics comparing the two performances.  You could definitely tell the matinee performance is like a practice run for the evening one…the evening one blew us away!  It was so good!!  The only down side is that at both performances we had to sit by the obnoxious girls, but luckily they sang louder than the girls who were singing along.  By 11pm when it ended I felt like I had crashed into a brick wall…I was so tired!  And we were doing it all again (going to London, that is!) tomorrow.  I just wanted to get home.  So we got on the tube, then the train, and headed home.  After almost being away for 24 hours, I hit my pillow and it was lights out for me.
On Sunday we “slept in” (haha, not really!) till about 8am…got up, got on a train, and went to London!  Today was tour-guide Alex day…so I mapped out a route for Tobi and me to go and see.  And actually, I picked out a bunch of places that I had yet to be inLondon, so it was a bunch of new stuff for me too!  J  We first headed up to north London to go see the famous Abbey Road.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t crowded at all—besides another couple, we were the only people there!  J  It was really neat to see…and, for those of you who are deceived by the Beatles’ album cover (as I was!) it’s actually on a really busy street!!  When we “walked” across we kept having to wait for the traffic to stop!  After that, we headed down to Covent Gardens and the opera house.  My oh my was this a crowded venue on a Sunday morning!  But we had a great time walking around and seeing all of the Christmas shops and decorations out.  We walked by the opera house and there was a film and stunt crew set up filming a movie!  That was neat to see…and we have no idea what movie they were filming…but they all had harnesses on and big cameras!  After that, we headed toSt. Paul’s Cathedral and walked across the Millenium bridge to cross the Thames to the other side of London.  We then walked along the Thames path by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Clink Prison, and the London Dungeon (and I totally looked like a great tour guide because I had just been there a few weeks ago with my year 10s on a trip!).  We then walked across London Bridgeto the Tower of London and that area.  By this time, I think we had walked at least a good few miles!  We then decided to head back over to Picadilly Circus (by the tube this time!) and go to the musical and movies store.  Tobi got the piano music for Wicked—again, making me look uneducated!  He can speak 5+ languages and plays a musical instrument!  Geez!   J  Tobi really wanted to get some traditional English fish and chips, so we found a cute little bar in Leicester Square that not only had great fish and chips, but was cheap!  By this point it was after 5pm and we decided to call it a day and got back to Paddington station to take the tube home.  Last night I felt like I had been hit by a bus…I was so tired!  We had done so much in such a short amount if time! 

Once we got back we decided to look online at flights…we did this because was giving away one million £5 flights to a ton of places all over Europe.  After some intense searching, I found a £5 flight from London to Barcelona and Tobi found one from Frankfurt to Barcelona…so we’re going to Barcelona for a long weekend in late January!  We can’t wait!  And, with that, I officially have 2 free weekends left here…can you believe that?!  Let’s see…this weekend I’m going to Windsor, next weekend flying to Germany, the following weekend I’m still in Germany, the one after that my friend Laura is coming to London, the one after that Tobi comes back, after that go to Berlin, then after that Barcelona, then the last weekend in January going to Belgium with the year 9s for a WWI battlefield trip!  Holy cow!  I’m so busy!  I think I’m going to try and do a quick day trip to Dublin or Glasgow the two weekends I have left…but I just can’t believe that I’m already that busy until February!  But, like my dad says, if I want to go to any of these places after February, it will cost me thousands of dollars, so might as well do it now while I’m over here, right?!  My passport is already crazily stamped up…what’s a few more on it?!  It expires in 2016, but I think I may have to get a new one before that seeing as I only have a few blank pages left!  J

Wow, so yes, it was a crazy busy last few days.  But totally worth the lack of sleep I got!  Tobi is a great person to travel with…he’s a walking translator and is pretty much up for doing anything!  Plus, he likes musicals, so that’s always a plus in my book because you all know how much I love going to musicals!

Yikes, I’ve written a book again…I hope that play-by-play wasn’t too long or boring for you to read!  I’m counting down now…in the single digits for days left of teaching!  Only 9 to go!  Yahoo!  And this Friday is the students’ Christmas parties, and next one is the teachers’, so not much will be happening those days.  I cannot wait to go to Germany for Christmas…it won’t be like home, but another great experience nonetheless.  Tobi said it was all snowy there when he left, so I think it’ll be so neat to have a white Christmas in Germany.  I hope all is well back home, that you all are staying warm and frantically getting your holiday preparations in order…I’ll talk to you all soon!  Later gators!

December 14th, 2008:

Howdy all!  I'm a little late on my predictable sunday morning email...sorry about that!  However, I'm here writing one now, so no worries! :) Although not much went on this week since the last time I wrote--yes, I know, hard to believe, isn't it?!  Actually this week was kind of a chill week for Alex--no big weekend adventures, and nothing too exciting at school...except for last Friday.  Last Friday was the annual Christmas Lunch, where the whole school has a big lunch (in 2 shifts!) and then Christmas activities afterwards.  On Thursday, I was really looking forward to Friday--I knew it would be a kind of relaxed day for me as far as teaching...only two classes, and we were watching "Roots," then having Christmas, was I wrong.  Okay, words of observation here: these days are worse than having to teach all day!  Seriously, I came home with a headache and was completely worn out!!  First off, the kids were in "mufti"--or their normal clothes (which meant that the teachers could wear jeans! yahoooo!), so whenever there is a mufti day the kids are already nutsola.  Well, then you throw in the Christmas lunch and yowza, it was craziness.  The kids were way excited, which equaled complete chaos.  Seriously, I've never seen the sides of some of these normally quiet kids!  It was nuts!  But luckily I survived the day...and thankfully got put supervising a viewing of "Elf" in my classroom at the end of the day (not having to chaparone the "disco" or dance part--someone was smiling on me!).  Anyways, it was a crazy day, but fun as well.  And I learned a lot about holiday parties in school--I think my vision of school parties was still that of a student perspective and not the teacher's trying to keep everyone from killing each other with their excitement!

Tobi departed Monday afternoon, however, I will see him again very soon--this Saturday already!  :) I'm quite excited about that.  He's got the whole week planned out for us...and actually, a lot of it he's not even telling me what we're doing!  He wants it to be a surprise...which will be fun.  It's going to be weird not being home in kirkwood for the holidays, but I think Tobi realizes that and is making it the best he can for me in Germany.  Actually, he did the same thing last year for a group of US students he was studying abroad with in France--he invited them all back to his place, so he has experience with US-ers away from their homeland for Christmas.  What a great fella.  

So this week probably will go by extremely slow--since I am looking so forward to this weekend!  (I get in about 10:30am Saturday morning, then we leave Sunday to go to Austria to go skiing for a few days and then come back to Stuttgart on Tuesday for Christmas)  The kids will probably be little manic beings this week as well, since it is the last week of term.  I do have a special treat for them at the end of the week (because they don't have any tests or finals here like they do in the US)--we're going to be watching "Home Alone"--I found a copy of it today for 2 pounds at the grocery store and just had to get it!  It's a classic! :)  And plus anything I buy and leave with the school they give me my money back--how sweet is that?!  

Well, that's about all that's going on here...pretty boring week if I must say so!  It rained a lot, which means that everything is soaking wet.  I think that's the part I hate the most. Yuckies.  And yesterday I was going to go to London but it was pouring out, so I decided to hang out here and go see a movie in town instead.  I feel so boring this week--almost too boring to write an update email!  Although I figured if I didn't write something that I'd probably get some panicked emails from people either thinking I left them off my "send to" list or that I died (I got a few of those last week! hehehe), so I decided to go ahead and send probably my most drab email yet.  Alright, well I'm off to get ready for the week--a few lesson plans to finish up then off to bed!  I'm counting down the days until I leave for Christmas vacation in Germany!  I can't wait!  I promise to send another update next week--even though I'll be technically "out of the country" :) I'm bringing my laptop to Germany this time because I can't stand using the German keyboards...the stupid Z and Y are switched and it frustrates my 96 wpm typing hands! talk to you all of luck with last minute present shopping!  I hope the predicted ice storm in STL isn't too bad! :) (Although I'm sure some/most of you would like a freebie day off of school, am I right?!). Later gators!

December 20th, 2008:

Hello all!  So if the subject line didn't give it away, this will: I'm HOME!  Like HOME in Kirkwood! SURPRISE! :)  My lovely Aunts Kate and Mary and my Grandma Goose and I had been planning this since late August--yes, 4 months ago!  And last night we pulled it off--giving my poor parents a heart attack at midnight!  The silence was so worth it--who of you out there did I fool??!!  Here's the deal-e-o with that...I couldn't tell anyone for fear that someone might "leak" something back to my parents.  I thought it would be a fun Christmas surprise and thus far has proven right.  It's a little after 7am here, but my body is telling me it's 1pm!  I only got 5 hours of sleep--after the exciting festivities last night!--but I figure I can take a nap now...since no know one knew I was coming home I really don't have any plans--quite nice, eh?!  And for those of you who are questioning my flight details, here they are.

I left London-Heathrow yesterday at 1pm (7am STL time)--I had a connecting flight in Dallas at 8pm (STL time) that night.  We were supposed to arrive at 5:20pm, giving me plenty of time to go through customs, recheck my bags, security again, and get some lovely STL food.  Well, if any of you saw the news yesterday there was a big storm in the northeast--I was thankful at least I was going south and not connecting there--and the captain decided to go "up" to get down to Dallas--so we flew north over Scotland, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, and down through Minnesota, Missouri then Texas--yikes, it added a good extra hour or so to the supposedly 10 hour 30 minute flight--we arrived at 6:45pm in Dallas.  I was mildly concerned...I knew I'd make my connecting flight, but paranoid my bags wouldn't--I literally had an entire suitcase JUST for presents!  However, I got through customs and all of that smoothly and went to my gate to see my flight was now leaving at 8:15am--not too bad, right?!  Well after several delays (I honestly thought they were going to cancel it!) we finally left at 9:45pm...which got us into STL a little before 11pm...well, with the oh-so-slow baggage claim in STL and what seemed like a million other flights coming in, it took a while--nonetheless (and I'm not complaining! I think I was just tired! :) got home to surprise the parentals about midnight, using my sweet grandma as a cover-up for why my aunt and her would be stopping by.  Perfect.

So that's the news from me!  I'll be home for 2 weeks--I go back Jan. 2 (and I'm only back for 6 weeks until I move back for good!) if you're in town, give me a ring (on the old-fashioned landline phone...I have no cell! 314-821-7718) and we can get together.  Like I said, my schedule is pretty free! :) Have a great Christmas and new years...and I'm sure I'll have oodles to report back when I'm on the other side of the pond!  Although Germany/Austria now was a cover up, I"m really going to Berlin and Barcelona in January!  Oh, and the best part about being home?  I get to see my Scootie!  And he remembers me--bonus! :) Later gators, so happy to be back on this side of the pond!

January 11th, 2009:

Hello all!  Wow, it's been a while since I've sent out one of my big emails...well, things have been kind of busy!  However, I decided--for those who tend to like the "shortened" version of things--to make a sort of cliffnotes version of my email at the beginning to satisfy those people's tastes who can't be bothered to read the entire thing :) Anyways, so here is the condensed version:

I flew home for Christmas, surprised my parents and most of my family, had a really great holiday, got to see my puppy, flew back on a free first class upgrade (the best!--thanks Linda!), met my friend Laura in London the day I got back, went to see two shows with her and showed her around London, she left, I started work, had one of the best teaching weeks ever with the kids, Tobi came, we saw three musicals and the movie "Defiance," he left, and I had Sunday night (today!) to finally breathe and get stuff together.

Alright, so there's the shortened version--which is very uncharacteristic of myself.  So, here's the cliffnote version in "Alex" format! :)

As most of you know, I did come home for Christmas--and it was great.  Absolutely one of the best Christmas' I've ever had.  The suspense and anticipation leading up to the big surprise was great--it had really kept me going during the long dark, cold, and wet weeks over here.  I won't doddle too much on Christmas, because I did see many of you and it really was a good time.  Already from today it's only 37 days until I'm back in the US--I know it's just going to fly by.

Anyways, so I flew back to the UK on Friday, January 2nd.  And thanks to the lovely Linda B., I got a free first class upgrade on American on my 8 hour return flight from Raleigh, NC.  Well let me tell you one thing--it was the best flying experience I've ever had!  It made such a difference--I was actually able to get 4 hours of decent sleep!  Partially because the seat folded totally flat and they gave us Bose noise-canceling headphones which made a huge difference (no more hum and buzz of the plane!).  The food was decent--better than in coach!  And each seat had their own personal entertainment system.  It really was a huge treat to be able to fly back that way--and the best part was that it was free!!  I think it did play a huge part in the "doing away" with the jet lag coming back this way--I definitely didn't feel as knackered (as the brits would say) as I did when I flew home.

Once I got back last Saturday my friend Laura L. was in London for a short trip on her own.  I decided instead of heading straight to bed at 10am I'd go into London and stay up as late as I could so I could try and get back on my regular sleeping pattern (and the fact that school started back up on Monday I thought I had no time to try and slowly adjust myself!).  So we tooled around London for a while--getting some food, checking out some museums and places Laura really wanted to see (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc...)...and, while doing this, Laura also helped me to film my Survivor application video!  I really think having it filmed in 2 countries (I shot some before I left the US) will make an impact, don't you?!  Or at least I'm hoping it does! :)  We decided to see Les Miserables last Saturday night.  We both really wanted to see it and never had--and it's the world's longest running musical, so we figured we had to see it!  We got really cheap 20 pound seats--they were really high up in the balcony, had a bit of an obstructed view, but we managed fine.  It was an excellent show--the entire production was sung opera style.  Very cool.  We really enjoyed it.  Laura then went back to her hotel, which was about 5 minutes from the theatre, and I hopped on the tube then the train back to my place.  I had to stay on the phone the entire ride home so I wouldn't fall asleep and miss my stop!  Luckily I didn't...but I did treat myself to a cab ride to my apartment because I was just too tired to walk.

Sunday I slept in--I didn't wake up until my phone went off about 10:15am when Laura text me and said she was on the train to Maidenhead.  Sunday she decided to come out and see where I live--which was fine for me that I could just hang around town and get some stuff done before school started the next day.  I showed her all around the town centre, walked down by the river, and then ate at my favorite little Italian place in town.  I then showed her my apartment and neighborhood--unfortunately my roommate was MIA so she couldn't meet her--and then she headed back into London to do some more sight-seeing on her own.  It really was nice to finally have a US friend here to show around!  I had a blast with her that weekend--I hope she did too!

Sunday night I think I fell asleep about 6:30 or 7, when, in hindsight, that was probably a mistake.  I ended up waking up wide awake at 11pm, and couldn't fall back asleep till 2 or 3!  yikes! Then I had to get up at 6am to catch the train to school.  Luckily it was a teachers' meeting and work day, so I just had to "listen" most of the day, which, I admit, I was so tired it was more like straining myself to not fall asleep as the head teacher was talking!  I figured if I did they'd probably have understood, right?! :)  Anyways, immediately after school got out I hopped on a train into London.  This was Laura's last night in London and her dad (thanks Donald!) got us 2nd row tickets to see--what else?!--Wicked!  In justification Laura had never seen it, and to tell you the truth I was more excited for her to experience this musical that I love so much than I was excited myself to see it.  We had a nice little dinner in Picadilly Circus, then headed to the show.  As usual, I was blown away!  I think Laura really enjoyed it as well--it really is a fantastic show!  And I know I probably sound like a broken record saying that, but it truly is! Go see it!  After the show I bid Laura farewell and a safe journey back on Tuesday, and then I headed once again back to Maidenhead.

The kids came back on Tuesday, and I was prepared for a hectic day since I was still a bit jet lagged and tired from the night before.  However, to my surprise it was actually an excellent day--heck, the entire week with them was! :) The kids were really fantastic last week...I don't know if it was because it was just the first week back and they were on their best behavior, or because they found out that I'm leaving soon--I'd like to think the latter!  But I'm pretty sure it was because they have parent-teacher conferences (or as we call it "Academic Review Day") this Wednesday and want to start with a nice report for mommy and daddy.  Last week I came up with a lesson plan that totally ROCKED! (seriously, even the kiddies thought so!) It took about 3 class periods to do, but the kids LOVED it.  I first had them read a section in their books (about Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots) I then had them get into groups of 3-4 and come up with a lesson plan (I gave them the format) for what they read.  It should be interesting and informative, but something they'd want to actually have taught them in class.  After that, I had each group do a mini 2-minute overview presentation on their lesson, then they all voted on who's group's lesson they thought was the best.  The winning group then got to be "teachers for the day" and actually put into action their plan.  It was great...the students loved it, and the 3 boys who won really liked "being in control!" but they also found out how frustrating it can be when people are talking and not listening to them (teaching moment, eh?!) It was so good.  I told my dept. head all about it and she is going to do it with her classes.  It really was awesome.  Then on Weds. I did another awesome lesson with another class...we were wrapping up our slavery unit and I asked them to come up with a piece of work that illustrates what they've learned about slavery or their thoughts.  It could be anything--a poem, story, letter, picture, cartoon, etc... WOW, you should have seen some of the stuff I came up with--especially from my kids who normally don't do anything!  It was fabulous.  I'm so impressed with them.

Tobi arrived on Thursday night...and to say I wasn't completely exhausted from the previous 5 days is a lie--I was.  However, I willed myself to get though the weekend--with a positive attitude!--and I did!  Actually, we had a blast.  I set aside my tendency of thinking of all the stuff I had to do and just focused on what we were doing at that minute.  Anyways, we had a really fun weekend.  Tobi came back this time specifically for a London musical weekend--so guess what!  We saw 3!  On Friday night (after I worked all day and he spent the day in London) we went and saw "We Will Rock You"--I'd seen it, but he hadn't.  It was great--definitely one of my favorites.  On Saturday we met up with one of his german friends from Stuttgart who is an o'pear in London for coffee and hot chocolate.  Then we managed to snag really cheap tickets for "The Sound of Music" for the matinee on Saturday and "The Phantom of the Opera" in the evening.  both shows were excellent!  I really do love the theatre!  Today we got up and went into London again and checked out the National Gallery.  We then grabbed a quick bit to eat and I made Tobi go see "Defiance"--about the Holocaust/WWII in Russia.  It was excellent--I definitely recommend that (and also go see Slumdog Millionaire--it is fabulous!).  It was odd always seeing the Nazi flag and such and wondering how Tobi was feeling next to me, knowing that was his background.  However, after the show he said he really liked it and it was "brilliant"--so a good move on my part!  We then parted ways and he hopped on a train to take him to the airport and me back here to write this super long email (sorry!) and to catch up on some job application stuff and to get ready for the week.

Luckily this week it's only 3 teaching days for miss alex--yahooo!  We have parent conferences on Wednesday and then I am missing school Friday to fly to Berlin for a 3-day weekend.  I'm really pumped about that because not only do I get to see where the wall once stood and checkpoint charlie, but also a concentration camp as well.  Alright, well I think I've written myself to death....and kudos to anyone who read this entire email!  I always wonder how many people actually read whole thing...I should put some crazy statement at the end just to see if anyone picks up on it and I get a response...maybe nextime. :)

Well have a fantastic week back in the US...stay warm, and in 37 short days this girl will be back in kwood for good!  uh-oh! :) talk to you all soon!

January 18th, 2009:

Greetings!  I hope everyone survived the arctic temperatures that seemed to grace most of the US last week.  Luckily here it wasn't so bad...about 30-40 most of the week, and the rain seemed to hold off most days which was quite nice...however, no matter how long I'm here I still can't get used to the sun going down and it being dark by 3:30 or 4pm!  That's just nuts!

Alright so last week was an awesome week at school--the kids were great.  And I don't know if it's my unofficial New Years resolution (I didn't really have one, but I'm thinking this "thing" I've been doing since I've gotten back here is working out to be "it") but my classes were really enjoyable last week--even the ones I used to always have to take a few extra deep breaths before.  Anyways, I've "turned over a new leaf" I guess you could say and really have tried to take a positive outlook on EVERYTHING.  I've always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason--there's a reason why something goes one way and not the other--so regardless of what happens, I'm really trying to find the "good" in everything--and you know what?!  It's actually a nice feeling!  I mean, even if something as stupid as today (I missed the early train and had to wait 40 minutes for the next one from Heathrow) I wouldn't have noticed this cool hotel/pod thing (check it out at that I'll probably stay in my last night here--funny how things work out like that, eh?!  Anyways, positivity is working for this girl, and it's going to be with me for a while.

This past weekend I hopped on a plane and headed to Berlin!  ...I took a lovely personal day on Friday, headed out of my apartment at 3:30am (that's 9:30pm for you STL central time peeps on Thursday night!) and caught a 7am flight to Berlin to meet up with (who else?!) Tobi, my travel buddy.  Luckily his uncle lives in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin (and you may remember that name from the conference that was held there after WWII with the big three (US, Britain, USSR) to decide what they should do with Germany/Europe.  Anyways, so we had a free place to stay--and let me tell you, traveling is a whole lot better when you have free accomodations!  Anyways, so once I landed Tobi met me at the airport (he flew in an hour earlier from Stuttgart) and after dropping our stuff off at his uncle's place we headed into Berlin.  It was very cold and it had snowed/iced the week before so there were still remanents of that all over the ground, streets, sidewalks, etc... (yes, it was slippery!  apparently their public works aren't like the US where there is salt everywhere!).  However, I remembered my hat, gloves, scarf, and I was all set to brace the cold (unlike dofus alex in Paris earlier this year who was definitely unprepared for the weather!).  First off, before I "get going," let me brace you--in 2 1/2 days, we saw A LOT of Berlin!  Seriously, I think I gave my parents an ulcer when I told them about it!  I guess I kind of like to go and see EVERYTHING possible! haha  

Okay, so after dropping our bags off we headed over to Berlin.  Our first stop was the reichstag--or the German government building.  It held the German's parliament from 1884 until the Nazis took power in 1933, (Hitler never used it) and then it began being used again in the late 1990s.  It was really a neat building...we got to go all the way to the top and inside the dome--very cool!  After that, we headed a few blocks to the Brandenburg Gate and my "mothership" (or the US embassy).  This was really neat...they had pictures of what it used to look like, what it looked like after it was damaged from the bombings during WWII, and of course as it looks now.  Definitely a key symbol in German it was neat you could see the marks in the ground where the Berlin wall once stood, only 20 years ago!  After that I remembered a professor from SIU telling me about this unique Holocaust memorial in Berlin, so I dragged poor Tobi over there.  Basically, it's 2000+ stone statues of different heights and sizes all arranged on a huge piece of concrete about a block from the Brandenberg gate.  Let's just say with the ice, the hills, and the huge stone structures it was quite easy to get lost in there!  But very cool--and definitely a different remembrance to the Holocaust than I've ever seen.  (check out my pics on for all of these places I'm describing! I know some of you need visuals!).  Anyways, after that we headed over to Alexanderplatz--a big shopping center near the museum island--to get some much needed hot chocolate.  After that, we walked around by some old churches that had been bombed and left untouched (kind of unreal to see!) and some museums.  By this point it was the evening and we were starving!  We grabbed a quick bite to eat, then headed over to Potsdamer Platz (yeah, not in Potsdam, but still in Berlin...confusing, I know! I sure was!) where Tobi had gotten us 2nd row tickets to see Mamma Mia!  It had been in Berlin for about 1 1/2 years and this was it's last week--so we were really lucky to see the show.  It was great--all in German--but you can't go wrong with the ABBA sounds, can you?!  I really enjoyed it.  After that we were exhausted...having been up for nearly 22 hours we both just wanted to crash!

When we woke up Saturday Tobi went to the bakery to get us some bread and jam for breakfast, which we ate with his uncle.  His uncle is a lobbyist and was only home saturday morning for breakfast before he had to head out again for another business trip.  We ate a nice breakfast with him then went to the Potsdam castle near his house.  After that we headed back into Berlin, first to go to the East Side gallery--which is a mile-long stretch of the Berlin wall that has remained "up" and untouched since its counterparts came down in 1989.  This was really neat to see--how much history is written in those walls!  Different drawings, poems, writings--even pleas--it was really something remarkable.  After taking all of that in, and probably taking too many pictures (hey, who knows when I'll be back!) we headed over to the Stauffenberg memorial and museum.  Okay, for all of you who don't know who Stauffenberg was, go watch "Valkyrie"--it's Tom Cruise's character!  He was a Nazi who tried to "switch teams," initiate a coup and kill Hitler.  Obviously he was unsuccessful, with Hitler taking his own life in April 1945, but still this guy stood up to the SS and tried to turn Germany around without Hitler at the helm.  Anyways, he was caught and executed just outside his office in the courtyard (along with 10 or so odd more conspirators).  So we headed over there (where "Valkyrie" was just filmed, too!) and checked out that spot and the museum commorating all of the resistance fighters against the Nazis (my other favorite is Sophie Scholl--google her, she's was amazing).  Really neat exhibition--and surreal that we were looking out of the same window he was when the coup was initiated.  After that we went to Checkpoint Charlie--the place where the Allied (US) sector and the Russian sector met, and you could "drive" through if you had a pass, etc... Anyways, this is a really famous landmark because it showed not only the security and part of the wall (I took a picture where I was standing in 2 places at once--east and west berlin!) but also how people creatively escaped from east berlin to west from there.  Wow, taking out a car engine and putting in a smaller one so a person could fit in the hood! now that's creative!  Anyways, I got my passport stamped there with the authentic allied sector stamp for west berlin--i thought that was really cool!  By this time it was late afternoon and we were famished, so we went to a quick little Italian place for lunch.  It started to rain :( and it was getting dark, so we decided to catch an "original version" screening (i.e. in ENGLISH! YAHOOOO!) of "Seven Pounds."  Wow, sad movie.  Yet I was just happy to hear some words I understood!  :)  We had an adventure then afterwards getting back to Potsdam with the rain and some closures on the S-bahn (like the subway) but after about 2 hours (yikes!) we made it back, and once again collapsed from exhaustion.

This morning we woke up bright and early a little before 6am.  My flight was at 2:30pm, but I wanted to go to Sachsenhausen concentration camp just north of Berlin before we left.  Plus a lot of places are closed on Sundays so we thought it would be a good trip to go there.  It took us nearly 2 hours to get there, but it was worth it.  We had the camp to ourselves--literally.  We got to spend 3 hours there and only was it on the way out that we saw other people.  One of my favorite movies, "the Counterfeiters" was based on prisoners from this camp--it was all about how the Nazis organized this huge counterfeiting operation using skilled Jewish prisoners they picked and chose and had transfered to this camp.  It was the largest counterfeiting operation in history, and it took place there.  It was very eerie being there as the sun was coming up, snow on the ground, and no one around--kind of made you think of who was standing there 65 years ago at this same time, and what they weren't wearing for warmth that we were.  Kind of gave me a chill thinking about that.  The camp was very big--a lot bigger than Dachau that I went to outside of Munich in June--but it had a lot of information.  I'm glad I went, definitely another learning experience for this teacher!

So after the camp we headed to the airport, another long trip, but made it for my flight.  I made it safely back to London-Heathrow and now I'm back in Maidenhead writing this email and getting ready to crash--yet again!--after my busy weekend.  But it was definitely worth it--I felt like I saw so much history and got to experience so much in such a short amount of time.  Alright, well I'll end my rambling weekend I'm off to one last trip--Barcelona--for 3 days--again, should be exciting!  I've never been to Spain!  Hopefully it'll be warmer than it is here now, and I'll get to dip my feet into the Mediterranean!  Anyways, have a great week back in the states...holy cow, I'll be home in 30 days! my how time flies!  I hope all is well, talk to you soon,

January 26th, 2009:

Hello all!  So I´ve just arrived back from España--it was absolutely gorgeous!  The weather was perfect--about 60, sunny, and a little windy (I´m sure many of you saw the weather reports from the past few days over here...yes, the winds were fierce and when I was arriving in Barcelona it was on the scariest plane landing I´ve ever been on!  But that story is to follow shortly... ;)

So last week seemed to fly by once I got back from Berlin.  School went flawlessly--the kids were once again very good!  Many of them have tried to convince me to have a party (with candy and goodies, of course!) on my last class with them.  I´ve definitely had--and still HAVE to--think on this one...because if I did that that would be 15 parties!  I have 15 different classes!  Those parties would literally be starting next week!  Again, some hard thinking on that...I did promise my year 10 American West class that we´d celebrate my trip back to America (and do a nice little curriculum link to their unit!) with an American West food and culture party our last Wednesday of class--they LOVED this idea.  Hey, I know American food and I´ve got a little Native American in me, so why not?!  This next week with school is going to fly by too--darn the bad luck I missed school today (Monday) and only have 4 more teaching days left this week!  And tomorrow (Tuesday) I only teach 1 class--I have 4 planning periods!  How nice!  Wedne sday from 5 to 10:30pm myself and 3 other teachers in my department are going to a spa...I cannot wait. First off, I´ve never been to a spa.  Second, I never do anything nice for myself (i.e. spend money on "spa-ish" things because I´m cheap and would rather go do something with it...but that´s just me) so this is a real treat.  Plus, normally it´s like 120 pounds for this evening spa deal, but since we booked in December during the buy one get one free deal, it turned out to be only 60 pounds a person...then since we had a group of 4 coming on a weeknight, it droped to 35.60--a deal in my book!  I cannot wait...hopefully that´ll make me good and relaxed my last few weeks here!  This Friday my neighbor--who so graciously lets me use her wireless internet connection--has invited me to a shin-dig at her place. She´s a teacher at the private girls school in Maidenhead, so we have a lot of "teacher comparing" we can discuss.  I´m quite exited!  Then this weekend is a chill weekend--after literally being on the go for the past, wow, almost 2 months, I´m just going to chill.  Probably go into London, maybe see a show, but really have no agenda--and I can´t tell you how excited I am.  Don´t get me wrong, I love my weekend adventures, but sometimes you just need a break, right?

Alright, so speaking of adventures, this weekend was Barcelona.  Friday night I just hung out at home--got caught up on "the Office"--which is so much more funnier now that my mom met Phyllis!--and "ER" and just relaxed.  Saturday was travel day--it was an experience.  Let´s just say I´m glad I "experienced" it but am in NO hurry to do it again!  Okay so I caught the 10:45am train to London from Maidenhead (dumbo Alex thought her flight was at 3, when really it was at 3:30)...took the tube from my train station (Paddington) to Victoria station, got on the Gatwick airport express (took about 40 minutes) and arrived at Gatwick.  Here´s where the fun begins.  So I was flying on ryanair...which if you don´t know is a super super cheap European airline.  My roundtrip ticket--with taxes and everything--cost me 15 pounds.  It cost me more to get to the airport!  Anyways it´s a very cheap way to fly--and now I understand why!  I went through a different security way than the normal british airways-type flights and there was (or what seemed like!) a terminal just for the cheapo flights.  I saw people I didn´t think were the "flying" type! Wow, definitely an experience.  And from the departure boards, minus my own flight, I recognized 3 other destinations--Shannon, Cork, and Rome.  I had no idea where the other destinations were! Probably why the flights were so cheap!

Anyways, so after a 30 minute delay we finally took off.  And it was "free" seating on the it was like a herd of wild boars getting onto the plane!  Insane!  Next time I´ll pay more for British Airways, have my own seat, and get to the closer airport!  So when we took off and were flying over the coast of England there was some turbulane...not a lot, but some.  It always makes my stomach drop.  I´m not afraid of flying, just falling to my death. Especially recently.  Anyways, after the short 1 hour 30 minute flight, we began our desent--most terrifying experince flying EVER.  You know how sometimes when you fall your stomach drops?  that happened to me 5 times...I thought I was going to die.  I was at a window seat and I literally saw the wings going up and down...not a little, but a lot.  It was awful.  Finally, when we miraculously landed everyone started clapping--I´ve never experienced that before either!  I kissed the ground when I got off.  Okay, no I didn´t but I wanted to!  (and later I found out that the rest of the flights in and out of Barcelona were cancelled due to 100--yes 100!--mph winds! YIKES!! Thank the lord I made it safely!

So since I took the cheapo flight I arrived in Barcelona-Girona, or 60 miles outside of Barcelona.  There was a shuttle bus for 21 euros roundtrip that takes you right to the city center, so I hopped on that.  By the time I landed and got into the city it was I met up with Tobi and his Scottish, Irish, and English friends (who he studied with in Angers, France last year).  We decided to do a Tapas and Flamenco tour--it was great.  Awesome food...very yummy!  And the dancing was incredible!  I don´t watch the show, but this guy would have beaten everyone on "so you think you can dance."  unbelievable! After this was over it was pushing 1am--I know! super late for miss alex!  so Tobi and I decided to go back to our miniature hotel room...well, it wasn't even that!  It was definitely a hostel...with all the qualities! Although we didn't get "great" nights of sleep, it was only for 2 nights and only cost 20 pounds a night, so we bit the bullet and stayed there--heck, it was only for sleeping right?!

Sunday morning we woke up and met up with his UK friends again...they were leaving later in the day but had time to do breakfast with us.  First off, let me make it known that I love Scottish accents!  They are so fun to listen to!  So his friend Natalie was a riot when she talked!  What an accent!  After breakfast and bidding them farewell Tobi and I headed to the beach--oh my gosh, it was gorgeous!  it was about 60 degrees--which felt like 90 to me! and a bit windy, but not a cloud in the sky.  It was absolutely breathtaking (check out my pics on my website).  after trouncing around the beach and Mediterranean for a while we headed to the Gaudi park.  This was a bit of a hike up a huge hill...but the view was suppose to be worth it.  However, once we got up there the gates to the park were closed! NO! apparently the storms the night before with the winds blew over several trees...however, we noticed a ton of people hopping the fence to get in, so naturally we followed along--the policia can't arrest 100+ people, can they?!  Anyways, dodging the down trees and limbs we made our way through the park--it was really neat.  After that we got some lunch--spanish food!  Then we headed to the La rambla--a very neat street that leads all the way to the beach.  We skipped the cathedral because it was under construction and you couldn't see anything :( we then decided to check out the amusement park on the top of the mountain overlooking Barcelona--you have to take a cable car to get there!  so we hopped on, it was super high!  I coericed Tobi into going on the ferris wheel which was on the edge of the mountain--poor guy, he's afraid of heights!  But he made it through that ride like a trooper--from the top you could see the snow-covered peaks of the surrounding mountains as well as the sea!  So awesome!  By this time it was getting dark so we decided to grab a snack and eat it by the boats in the harbor.  It was such a nice and relaxing night!  After this we headed back to our hotel--we were exhausted and we both had a long journey of traveling to do the next day.  We sure saw a lot--and had a lot of foot traffic!  It was amazing!

So today was up, took a 1 1/2 hour bus ride to the airport...I opted to ride the bus with Tobi at 8am--his flight left at 11am mine at 2, so I got to see 3 more hours of the Girona airport than he did!  but I had my iPod and a good book, so actually it wasn't all bad.  The flight home was uneventful--thank God.  The one to Spain was terrible!  I really hope I never experience anything like that again!  And actually, I feel fortunate for all the flying and traveling I do that this was my first "oh my gosh" turbulance experience.  Alright, well I'm back, getting ready to make some dinner and for 4 days of school this week, and I'm exhausted.  Traveling wears you out--especially sleeping on a bed of death! :) Have a fantastic week...all you students and teachers in STL I'll keep my fingers crossed for a lovely snow day off tomorrow!  That would be nice, eh?!  Talk to you all soon!  Holy cow, I just realized I'll be home in 21 days! YIKES! see you soon then! :)

February 1st, 2009:

Hello all!  Alright, let me warn you, this might be one of my shortest emails! (gasp!)  And actually, that's alright with me because this past week has been the first week in about 2 months where I could just do my own thing and relax...and I LOVED it.

After getting back from Spain on Monday, I only had 4 short days of school--which was quite nice.  They seemed to go by relatively fast too!  Wednesday after school myself and the other ladies in the humanities department went to a spa in Reading.  Wow, it was so nice!  Considering we got the spa evening package for 1/3 of the price made it even better!  There were all sorts of pools, saunas, steam loungers, etc... that we could use.  My favorite was the flotation massage we did.  This was in a pool filled with Dead Sea salt and minerals and we just floated and were massaged by the jets and the warm water--I almost feel asleep...floating in a pool!  It was that nice.  So after spending nearly 5 hours there, I was super relaxed come Thursday.  Although I have a hard time justifying spending money on those types of things, every once in a while it definitely is worth it--I recommend it!

On Friday night my neighbor Kelly, who teaches at a private all-girls' school in Maidenhead invited me over for a movie night with some of her teacher friends.  It was a great time--I got to meet some new people, and we all seemed to have a commonality in things to talk about!  One of the guys, from Northern Ireland, did an exchange program way-back-when in the US, and guess where his host family was: St. Louis!  What a small world!  So he told me of all the places they'd been (up in the Arch, McDonalds boat on the river (yes, it was that long ago!), etc...) and that was neat that someone had actually been to the place where I say I'm from (although most of the time people have no idea so I just tell them it's 5 hours south of Chicago).

Yesterday I did something I hadn't done in WEEKS--literally!  I slept in!  Although sleeping in for me is like 8 or 8:30, but it's definitely sleeping in compared to the 6am that I wake up at every other day!  It was really nice...and since I was just "chillin'" this weekend, I decided to go do my favorite thing: yep!  You guessed it!  I went to see 2 musicals!  And the nice thing about seeing them here is that I can normally (with some good searching!) find tickets for 1/2 the price they're listed for, so then I can inevitably see 2 shows for what I would have paid for 1 full price ticket.  Anyways, so I jetted into London yesterday around 1pm and caught 2 shows.  I saw "Grease" (which made me love the movie that much more!) and "We Will Rock You" in the evening.  Yes, I've seen "We Will Rock You" before, however, I wanted to see it one last time before I left.  It is the only musical here that is not playing in the US (and never has) I figured who knows when the next time I'll be able to see it will be, so I decided to go just once more.  It really is an incredible show...I now have a bit of an obsession with Queen...

Oh, here's a funny story...not really, but maybe you'll laugh at my misfortunes!  So I was in row 3 for "We Will Rock You" last night and there was this lady in front of me in row 2.  At about 7:20 (the show starts at 7:30) 3 women coming walking up and tell this woman, "Excuse me, I think you're in our seat."  Well, low and behold both groups had the same seats listed on their tickets.  So the 3 women walk back to get a manager to solve the problem.  Since the group of 3 had bought their tickets from ticketmaster, there's were the "legitimate" ones...whereas the lady (come to find out she speaks little English and is from Greece) her ticket was from one of those discount ticket booths and they screwed up and accidentally sold her a ticket that had already been purchased (by those ladies).  Well, but this time it's 7:30 and the show SHOULD be starting...well, this Greek woman is refusing to move (saying "MY SEAT! No understand!") and all of a sudden it's now like 7:40, she STILL won't move, and there's like 6 theatre officials standing there trying to get her up--she literally is delaying the start of the show!  The people around her, myself included, are getting peeved off because this woman is being so stubborn.  Finally, when the house manager comes she reluctantly gets 7:45!  So the show ended up starting 15 minutes late...where, (this is the funny part), since it did I missed the 10:45pm train back to Maidenhead...I ran out of the underground to the station and watched the 10:45pm train pull away.   I blame the greek woman.  Anyways, so I had to wait 45 minutes until the 11:30 train. That sucked. Oh well, made for a good story, eh?!

Alright, well that was kind of a short email by my standards...and mind you if I didn't tell you the story it would have been shorter!  Well I hope you all have a great week...I'm being lazy today and just hanging out...but I am going to see "Milk"--I just have that and "the Reader" to see and I'll have seen all of the movies up for best picture! (something I don't think I've ever actually done!).  I still can't believe I only have 10 teaching days left...WOW!  Well, have a great week, stay warm, I hope the snow melts!  And I'll talk to you all soon!

February 7th, 2009:

Howdy!  Alright, this very well could be the second to last update email you receive from me abroad I thought I'd give you a warning now so you can prepare yourself for in a few weeks when my seemingly regular weekly email pops up in your inbox.  I still can't believe it feels like I just got here!  I really think time does fly.  And, the sad thing is, this past week or so I've gotten to know people a lot better that I have been in close proximity with for the past 6 months--my roommate included!  Funny how just when you're ready to leave new friendships start to bloom.  Life's funny that way.

Alright, so this past week was bizarre, to say the least.  Sunday night I went to bed nice and early, ready to tackle my last "week 2" of teaching (we're on a 2 week rotating timetable, so this was the last week I'd see some of my classes)--my mondays of week 2 are especially "challenging," so I was ready to bare it with a good nights' sleep!  Well, I roll out of bed monday morning, and it's still dark--as it always is at 6am.  I go to the bathroom, put my contacts in, shuffle back to my room, get dressed--the usual.  It's only when I go in the kitchen to fix myself a bowl of cereal that I notice the 5+ inches of snow outside! WHAT?!  I was so amazed and shocked!  Immediately I went to my computer to look at the train website and updates, and (of course!) all of the trains were shut down due to the weather.  I was mildly freaking out.  In my hefty phone book of 10 contacts in my UK phone I quickly texted the deputy head (like a vice principal) at our school--she responded that we were off!  WOW!  What a treat...a snow day in England!  a definite rarity here.  So after getting really excited, I then calmed down to try and figure out what the heck I was going to do with my time all day.  Luckily, right across the hall my new friend Kelly (who's also a teacher) was off  
too, so we decided to hang out all day and be vegetables.  We made a lovely little eco-friendly snowman (we only used "natural" elements for his eyes and such), walked to the store to get some "rations," and then settled back into her apartment (where she has an excellent 50 inch TV!) to veg out and watch movies all day.  It was a very nice and relaxing snow day...all the while it continued to snow outside!  many of the TV critics and news stations outside of the UK were making fun of the English for everything "shutting down"--how these wimps here   an't deal with it.  Well, in all fairness, if that snow had happened in STL, we definitely would have had school.  However, here, they don't have the snow plows, the salt, the street crews like we do in the US.  and, all of the cars are TINY--rarely do you find an SUV or a car with 4-wheel drive.  This was the worst snowfall in 18
years, so having to deal with this and "shut everything down" once every 18 years seemed alright to deal with.

Well, Tuesday came and voila!  We had ANOTHER snow day!  This day was great--I woke up, saw a text that we were off, and went back to sleep.  I spent most of the day reading, playing phone-tag with FedEx about shipping a box of stuff back to the US, and watching movies.  It was nice.  Although, I was getting concerned that the trains would be all messed up on Wednesday and if we had school I wouldn't be able to get in, plus I had a ticket to see Oliver in London Wednesday night  that I was NOT going to roll over and just miss!  Well, Wednesday came and everything was back to normal.  We had a normal day of school, and the trains were running fine.  I got a surprise with my Oliver ticket though--apparently they double-booked my single seat, which was suppose to be in row U way on the side--not a great seat at all, but a seat nonetheless to a show that's sold out until September.  Well, instead since the theatre screwed up they had to put me in row C--the 3rd row!  Although when I got there it really was the 1st row because how the theatre was set up there was no one in front of me!  How sweet was that?!  Rowan Atkinson--the guy who played Fagin, the gang
leader--was incredible.  It was an absolutely amazing show.  I definitely recommend it.  Very good!

Thursday I woke up and what do you know!  It had  snowed AGAIN!  This time I got a text saying school was open, and come in if it was safe to travel.  That was stupid to say.  Luckily the trains were
running,  however, most people's cars were not making it very far out of their driveways.  By 8:40am when school was starting there were maybe 15-20 teachers there and a little over 100 (out of 800+!) students.  So since there weren't enough students or teachers to run normal classes,  they all were sent to their individual year groups to watch movies and such while a decision was made as to what to do the rest of the day.  Well, by 11am it was decided that we all were going home--so they sent the students and the staff home!  Woo hoo! another half-day snowday!  This was shaping up to be a pretty nice week!  And, by this point I had found out that we DO get paid for snow days, so that was an added bonus!  Later on that night we found out that another wave of bad weather was coming in and school was canceled then on Friday too!  So  I went to school all of a day and a half this past week, yet I got paid for 5!  It was a very nice week!

Last night I took my roommate into London to see Jersey Boys.  She had never seen it, and I found us some front-row 20 pound tickets.  It really was a fun night--she loved the music!  She was so surprised by the story and all of these songs of the 4 seasons that had been recently re-done into big hits.  Anyways, it was a very fun night--and fun to have someone to go to a musical with!  Today it was too icy this morning for her to go to work (she works sometimes at a little gift shop about 45 minutes away) so we decided to take the train into Reading to do some shopping (or looking! haha) and see a movie.  We saw "Revolutionary Road"--it was excellent!  Until about 15 minutes   from the end and some little turd pulled the fire alarm for no reason and we missed a very crucial part of the middle of the end climax!  We were so angry!  Luckily the theatre people gave us free vouchers to see another movie of our choice, so that kind of made up for it.  Then we hopped on the train and headed back!

The forecast for tomorrow actually doesn't look great--says more snow is on the way.  And, to tell the truth, as much as I enjoyed my snow days last week, I want to go to school--uninterrupted!--this week and finish out my last week here in the UK and teaching on a strong note.  So hopefully it'll blow over us.  Wow, 1 week...5 days of teaching...25 classes.  Kind of seems surreal.  And I've managed to plan something for EVERY night this week so I'm busy with coworkers and friends my last few nights here in the UK.  It'll be a busy week, but one to remember.  Makes me sad thinking about I'll end it here.  I hope you all have a great week back in the states...I'll see you all very soon!

February 15th, 2009:

Hi if you didn't already guess it from the subject line, this is my last email/blog from the United Kingdom.  It's actually very sad--I can't believe in 48 hours I'll be at Heathrow waiting to get onto a plane!  I mean, I am very excited to see my family and of course my pup again, however, I've made some great friends here and really love the city and it's just such a bittersweet feeling to go.  Anyways, enough of the sap stuff--let me tell you how I spent my last week in the UK.

After an eventful (or non-eventful, I guess!) week packed with snow days the week before, I was ready to get back to work.  I really didn't want my last week at Wye Valley school to be disrupted by snow and bad weather!  Luckily, although snow was predicted, it never came--just lots and lots and lots of rain, which I'm very used to.  So school--all 5 days!--went just as normally as they had before the great snow of the previous week.  On Tuesday evening we had a year 8 parents evening--kind of like a parent-teacher conference but just for the kids in year 8.  That was fun...because the kids sign up for which teachers they wan to see, and all of the kids I "needed" to see (i.e. the behavior ones!) didn't end up turning up at all!  So I had 2 hours packed with the good kids who had no major problems and them sitting there watching their parents glow as I gave a sparkling report.  After that we headed to this little pub on the river called the Spade Oak for a kind of good-bye dinner to me.  It was very nice...about 10 people showed up and we just chatted and laughed for about 4 hours!  I couldn't believe how long we spent there!   Looking back, it seemed like we were only there for maybe a half hour!  Time flies when you're having fun!

So the kids all week were trying to come up with ways to get me to stay--and surprisingly, even the bad kids were not wanting me to leave.  Whether it was cause they actually liked me or fear of getting a new teacher, who knows, but it was so hilarious with the suggestions they had.  One told me I could hide in his garden shed, another said they put superglue on my chair so I wouldn't be able to get up, and so on.  They really are sweet kids--and I am going to miss them.  On Friday my 6th formers (year 12s and 13s--I only have 6 all together--3 in each year group) threw me a surprise party!  Seriously, with cake, party poppers and everything!  It was a lot of fun!  And the gifts!  Oh my gosh, on Friday I was showered with gifts and cards from both the students and the staff.  All I kept thinking was, "stop giving me these presents!  I can't fit them in my suitcases!"  It was so nice of them to do--and I got some great stuff.  A red telephone-booth bank and a shirt for scooter, just to name a few (yes, some of these students knew me SO well they bought my dog a present!).  The school got me a nice collared shirt with the school's logo on it!  Now I'm official with my "Wye Valley" gear! :)  After an very fun-filled last day of school, we all went again to the pub for a farewell to a bunch of people--a guy who worked in the math department and another lady who finished her cover as head of year 8 (like a principal), and myself.  It was another night that I looked at my watch and couldn't believe it was after 9pm.  Wow, what great friends I have made here.  I did make sure I got all of their addresses, emails, etc... so I could keep in contact--and we all KNOW how I love to keep in contact! :)

Yesterday was my last day in London--kind of surreal.  It will be weird not being able to hop onto a train and head into London for the day to do whatever--shop, see a show, go to a museum, eat real fish and chips.  I'm going to miss that a lot.  Well yesterday I got into London early to go see some of my favorite places before I left.  Luckily it was a nice day out so I got a few good last pics of my favorite city.  I checked out westminster area, buckingham palace, picadilly circus, and the west end.  Of course I couldn't have my LAST day in London without seeing a show--so I saw two!  I saw the matinee of We Will Rock You and the evening show of Mamma Mia!  I had my whole day planned, and it went accordingly until one little was valentine's day!  So after the 2:30 show I went to find a place to eat--in chinatown, my favorite food--and NO one was accepting walk-ins!  You needed a reservation!  Heck, even for Pizza Hut you needed a reservation!  I was so hungry at this point I bit the bullet and did something I think I've only done 1 other time since I've been here--I ate at McDonalds.  I was so hungry and it was the only place that I didn't need a reservation!  I did have to stand to eat my food though--it was so crowded! So a minor oversight on my part.  woops.  But I didn't let that damper my day.  The shows were fantastic, as usual, and for both they were loaded with understudies, which I love seeing because sometimes those people are better than the originals (coming from this self-proclaimed film and theatre critic!).  It was a great last day in London--topped off with no rain!

So that's about all from and tomorrow I'll be packing and cleaning, trying to squeeze my English life into 2 suitcases that weigh 50lbs or under...definitely a task.  I'm flying out at 11am on Tuesday (5am STL time) to Chicago, then have a 5:25pm (STL time) connecting flight from there to STL.  So, any thoughts and prayers of good weather, safe flights, departing and arriving on time send my way!  I hope you've enjoyed reading my life these past 6 months, heck, I don't know if I've done anything that I haven't written about--so basically it's like you were here! :) Anyways, you've been a great audience! I'll talk to most of you IN PERSON very soon!  Adios amigos!

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