Grading, Spit-up, and Decorating

It’s been kind of quiet around here lately. Yes, even where I live, even with a baby. Though for a couple days last week, he broke his “good baby” streak and got a little crabby as he was sick. No, I won’t rub it in for those of you who have babies who cry every evening for four hours without fail. Two days of that was plenty for me, thank-you-very-much.

Other than baby getting sick, I’ve mostly been grading essays. Last year, I taught six writing classes and had six sets of around 120 papers each. I could usually get them all returned by the time the next class session rolled around–and I thought I was a pro at grading papers. But mix in an international move and a baby, and suddenly those papers don’t move so fast off the desk. Now, as soon as I start grading I’m interrupted by baby waking up or wanting to eat or needing a diaper change, and my concentration is gone like that. I’m ashamed to admit how long it’s taken me to grade only 32 papers. But finally, finally (probably feels like forever to my students) I’m  done with one set–now on to the next set of 32! (And then they turn in one final set this weekend, so it’s not over yet.)

I’ve also been monkeying around with Photoshop the last few days, watching YouTube tutorials and all that. I figured out how to do that black-and-white with a pop of color thing, see?

Pretty snazzy, huh?

Now I can mess up my pictures for the blog here, and ya’ll can be tortured by them.

Now what you’re really here for–the Christmas decorations. This is how we decorate for Christmas:


Red bowls? Check. Pretty flowers? Check. Red flowery glasses? Check. Baby? Check.

He adds a certain flair, don’t you think?

In case you don’t like the baby in the window option, I have option number two for you:


Introducing: the baby as the dinner table centerpiece. The piles of books and papers are essential for completing this look. They help to ensure that the baby won’t go anywhere. (Ignore the food–I take really bad pictures of food, as we all know. )

And, you know, I mentioned spit up in my title, so I’ve got to talk about it for a minute. Not that there’s much to say about spit up, except is it one word or two? And it lends its unique smell to everything it touches, which, as of now, is everything. I consider it a good day if my shirt has only been spit up on once. Jared considers it a good day if his hair doesn’t get spit up in it. He’s considering patenting a new conditioner–after all, they make soap out of goat milk, so why not regurgitated breast milk? Makes your hair smooth, shiny, and strong!

Oh, and a few pictures of London for you too. We were on our way to church yesterday and kind of got lost on our shortcut through the park when we ran into this view:


It’s pretty amazing to live in a place where you can find a view like that just getting lost (it’s from the Greenwich Observatory, by the way, and our church meets in one of the buildings in that square down below).

I tell my students they need to write good conclusions that neatly wrap everything up, but how do you wrap up something so random? Maybe a pithy phrase will do it: have a good week, and may the spit up stay out of your hair!


In Like a Lion

Thankfulness comes hard in February. Short days coupled with grey weather and (here, at least) lots of smog make it hard to think of anything but what you want to be different.

Perhaps that’s why they say March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb: it’s an apt description of how you feel at the beginning and end of this month. Thankfully, now that it’s March, things are starting to warm up, the sun’s coming out, and we even had a beautiful cloudless day today with the pollution at only 29! So maybe I’ll become more lamb-like quickly (don’t bet on it, though!). With school starting and lesson plans galore, plus rejection letters pouring in from everywhere, a change in the weather still isn’t helping this grumpy person much.
Still, I’m excited about this semester. I’m finally getting to teach actual EFL classes instead of College Composition adapted for non-native English speakers. It’s going to be so much more fun to talk about things like friendship and music and clothing in class instead of things like sentence writing or comma splices. Plus, there’s the added benefit of my students telling me (in their self-introductions to the class) how beautiful I am and what a cute smile I have. I can’t imagine any university student in America saying that to their teacher–can you? (Although of course I don’t mind.) Must be different cultural norms here!

So maybe now that March is getting its move on and it’s starting to get light in the mornings, I’ll get more creative inspiration and less moaning about how awful job searching is. It certainly can’t hurt that I won’t have time to fill out applications 24/7. If you have any ideas of blog posts you’d love to read from me (all 16 of you who read my blog), you can leave a note in the comments. I’d love to hear your ideas!

I Love Vacation

I know this sounds crazy, but school is starting soon. (Yeah, don’t mock me, all you US readers. I understand you’re about to do midterms now. Well, China’s DIFFERENT!) I’m going to have to give up my life of leisure applying for jobs and filling out forms that I’m convinced were invented by someone with a diabolical imagination (sequel to the Screwtape letters right there) and going to Chinese class and tutoring in the afternoons and suck it up and actually work. On my four (4!) classes per week, that I’m hoping will have almost no homework to grade. Sounds pretty miserable, doesn’t it? I hope the tears of pity are dripping down your face right now.

It’s pretty bad that I have no idea how much homework these classes will have–and I’m one week away from starting to teach them. I don’t even know the textbook we’re supposed to use yet. But that’s China for you: keep you on the seat of your pants, they do, and only tell you things when you’re getting mildly nervous about what’s going to happen and what you’re going to teach and wondering if-anyone-shows-up-to-your-classroom-what-are-you-going-to-tell-them and will-they-all-think-I’m-a-confused-American-teenager-that-wandered-into-their-classroom-by-mistake. (Last time, a couple of my students said they wondered if I was one of their classmates. Good for inspiring confidence, that! I should figure out this “mature look” better, I guess.)

You know you’re not very mature when you still take selfies, right?

But by the time class starts, I will know what I’m supposed to teach, and I will have a textbook. They’re being extra kind this semester and giving us our syllabus and information a total of two days before the semester starts. Two whole days.

So excuse me while I make the most of my break here–you can imagine me lying on the beach reading my favorite book or touring around China seeing the Great Wall and everything else.

Oh yeah, that’s where I’ll be. Where it’s sunny and warm.

Imagine me there, because in reality, I’ll be planning lessons for my one-on-one students this week and filling out more job application forms while my brain begins to scream in protest. I vacation in style.

One Easy Step to Foolproof Humility

You wanna know how to get humble quickly? Teach English as a foreign language.

The instant you step into the classroom and open your mouth and are greeted by blank stares from at least half of the class, you will feel like a failure. After all, communication is one of the most basic things in life. You learn to talk in your native language when you’re so little that even jumping is an accomplishment. Speaking is something we all do as easily as we breathe, and we just assume that people will understand us and know what we’re saying.

All of that changes when you move to a foreign country. Suddenly, your language is no longer the dominant one, and the people who speak it may have never even seen a foreigner before, much less heard the strange accent with which you speak. And your vocabulary–when you think you’re using simple words–may be even more of a headache. Simple idioms that everyone uses where you’re from (think “happy as a clam” or “so far, so good”) may (and probably will) stymie foreign speakers.

Add the language barrier to the fact that you’re unsure of what you’re supposed to teach and when and suddenly your stress levels become much higher. If you’re like me, you’ll worry about whether your lesson plans can possibly be organized enough for the students to know what you want them to do, if maybe you should have covered other aspects of argumentative essays in your last PowerPoint (which, by the way, I EXTREMELY dislike using. . . but it saves me money on giving out handouts. . .). You’ll wonder if they will end their semester knowing only vaguely more about writing than they did when they went into it. But since there wasn’t anything more you knew how to do, you figure they’ll probably know a little more. . .and you haven’t ruined their English speaking skills yet, so maybe it was all right. Although some of them still struggle with subject-verb agreement and using articles.

When you begin grading their papers for the semester, it’ll be even worse. You’ll constantly doubt whether you gave a fair grade–maybe so and so really deserved an A, and you gave an A-. Or maybe you’re being too easy on everyone and should give more B- and C grades. On top of that, you feel like you really should give everyone comments on their paper to tell them what you liked and what needed improvement, but then on the 90th paper (out of 110) you have only five minutes before the next class starts so you throw all your careful grading out the window, slap a grade on it, and move to the next. Surely they value actually having a graded paper returned to them instead of one with lots of comments but no grade or one returned a week later!

Anyways, I only have around 60 papers left to grade before 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, when I’ll have another 110 (handwritten, no less!) slung at me. Yes, for finals here (which are 50% of their grade, no less–how am I ever supposed to grade THOSE fairly??), they have to write an entire essay in an hour and a half. Thankfully, they’re generally short essays. And all my objective fairness doesn’t really matter anyways–I can only give 20% As, even if there are more students who deserve an A. But that’s China for you!

Pray for me–I’m off to grade papers! (And I’m sure I’ll become more humble in the process.)

How Do You Cook a Turkey in a Toaster Oven? or, Thanksgiving in China

Short answer: You don’t.

Long answer: You boil it instead.

Even longer answer: Don’t buy a turkey in China. They’re too expensive.

Yes, that’s right. For Thanksgiving, we didn’t eat turkey. We had chicken instead. And it was boiled chicken.

Now, before you throw up your hands and gasp in horror at the un-Americanness of our Thanksgiving, we did have all the other trappings. Stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls–we had no worries of starvation.

We did, however, feel slightly (only slightly? make that very) crazy at attempting to have fifteen people over to our small apartment and our table that seats six or so. For lack of a better option, we turned to plundering. The spoils from our neighbor’s apartment included another toaster oven, serving dishes, another table, chairs, and some pots and pans for less crazy cooking. I could feel my Viking heritage coming through strongly! (Disclaimer–all the things we used for Thanksgiving were borrowed WITH consent!)

Setting up the tables

So while Jared set things up (didn’t he do a nice job?), I baked sweet potatoes and squashes, boiled chickens, made pies, and tried to figure out how to make a second pie when you only have one pie pan. (Our plundering failed to reveal that little detail. )

Note–our tables were in the other room, so all my cooking had to be done on our coffee table. Let’s just say I’d have back problems if I had to do anything on that for more than the two hours before Thanksgiving.

That, folks, was nearly the extent of my counter space. 

Then Jared was put in charge of making sure the sweet potatoes got thoroughly marshmallowed and were sweet enough.

Attacking his task with vigor. Don’t faint–he washed his hands first.

So by the time students showed up, they only had to roll out the bread (which they were thrilled by) and help mash the potatoes and put everything on the table. They loved watching the bread bake and puff up, since in China they only ever steam their bread.

All the food. Wasn’t that a feast?

One thing I didn’t get a picture of was my first ever pecan (actually walnut) pie. It turned out deliciously, for not having any corn syrup or pecans. Everyone loved it.

We did go slightly non-traditional and eat with chopsticks because we had more of those than forks and knives. I think our Chinese friends felt more comfortable with that anyways!

Happy Thanksgiving from China! (I was behind the camera).

All the people! Apparently two fingers is a Chinese thing?

What did you do for Thanksgiving? Was it as crazy as trying to fit 16 people into a tiny apartment for a feast