Friday, June 26, 2020

Recognizing the Good Things

Over the course of my life, I have been accused of many things. I will not even begin to list them here, but I will tell you one of the things I have never been accused of:

Having a lack of confidence.

Now, to be honest, I have always been filled with self-doubt but I faked confidence because I've always believed it made people take me more seriously. Unfortunately, I often went overboard.

As the years went on, I learned to dial it back a bit and come off as less of an arrogant jerk.

I think the youthful arrogance has gone by the wayside for the most part and now I just quietly live my life, but occasionally I feel my pride starting to swell. The past month has been good for my ego. Or bad - depending on how you look at it.

About a month ago, the mother of one of my online students asked me to quit my job and become her son's personal tutor. She offered me an ungodly amount of money for my wife and me to move to Beijing so I could work exclusively with her son for the remainder of his school career. (He just turned 6 two weeks ago.) She would cover all moving expenses and living expenses and then pay me a very impressive salary. It took some work to convince her that I would never move back to China, but the offer really made me take some pride in my work. I can honestly say that I am good at what I do.

Since then, my wife and I have been asked by a couple of different parents to come to visit them when Vietnam allows travel again. I have been invited to Harbin and Tokyo and Red has been invited to Hong Kong.

Last week, our landlords from our previous house contacted us begging us to come back. They even lowered the rent about 35% from what they were asking when we moved out a year ago. They really enjoyed us as tenants and are sad they created a situation (significant bump in rent) that caused us to leave. Good tenants are difficult to find. Plus, now with COVID, things are even more difficult. It is nice to be wanted.

Finally, just a few days ago, our current landlords commissioned me to be their grandson's ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher when he turns two. He is currently six months old. Once again, it is nice to be wanted. And it really feels good to be recognized for doing something well.

In the midst of all the misery and difficulties happening in the world right now, it is important to sometimes stop and consider the things that have been going right. We've had our setbacks like everyone else, but a quick consideration of the good things as well is good for everyone. We still have plenty to be thankful for.

Now, I just have to get past one of the things I have been accused of many times.


Monday, June 15, 2020

I Want It Now!

I think I'm ready to get a dog.

No. I know I'm ready. I've wanted a dog for the last year, but I just haven't gotten one yet. I've been concerned about the commitment of having a pet. So, I have stalled.

However, I have been coming more to the realization that my wife and I are home most of the time. This is the thing I have been most concerned about. What do you do with your dog when you leave the house? I don't just mean for the day, but weekend excursions or even longer trips. I never want to be one of those people who burden others with having to take care of their animals while we are jet-setting around having fun.

As I have been mulling these thoughts over, something happened.

We got new neighbors. And they have a puppy.

The other day I got caught sticking my fingers through their front gate to play with the puppy. I told the owner how much I had been thinking about getting one. He said that I could borrow his any time I wanted. So, I took it home for the morning.

This is Miss Magoo and she lives across the street. And now after a morning of playing with her, I need my own TODAY.

I'm in Vietnam and am still learning how things work, so I need to find the local vet and get some other doggy-care questions answered but it is happening. If my wife and I ever take a longer trip, we will just have to figure it out.

I already love my new doggy.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Give It Up

Last night, while walking home in the tropical Vietnam heat, I chafed the insides of my thighs bloody raw. Two days ago, I had a kerfuffle with some acid and destroyed my motorcycle helmet. And while these two events are unrelated, I am very thankful it wasn't the other way around.

As you let that joke sink in, please be advised that I don't really know what it means either, but I thought of it and had to put it out there. That's just how my brain works. My wife is almost used to it now. She gets to hear all my jokes before they've ripened and become palatable for public consumption.

As I sit here spread-eagled, dumping baby powder onto my "stranger danger no touch area", I'm reminded that things don't always work out as planned.

Seriously. I'm not even supposed to be in this country right now.

For the last year, Red and I have been saving for our trip back to the States to visit family. We were going to fly into Texas, visit the Bloggess at her new Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio, rent a car to drive to our families in the Midwest and spend the whole month of June. For those of you keeping score, that is this month. We live 12 time zones away from our families so we knew this trip would be the last time we saw them for a very long time. So, we wanted to make it count.

Unfortunately, the entire world got sick at the beginning of the year and then two weeks ago America basically exploded. Not a good time to visit the States, plus we couldn't even if we tried since the borders of Vietnam are sealed. International travel isn't a possibility. So, our best guess for the moment is that our trip has been delayed until next year. However, until the vaccine materializes, things will still stay tense for the countries which are taking it seriously.

So, we have to stay home for a while. I can do that, but summer in Vietnam means an extra-crispy epidermis if you get caught in sunlight. We'll just stay in. Yet, this would not go as easily as expected. Last week, our television stopped working.

You know that sad way a TV looks when it is turned off?
That is identical to what ours looked like all the time.

While we were waiting for our television to be repaired, we decided the temperature of our living room was intolerable since the tile on our floors were too hot for our feet to comfortably touch them.

Do you remember the FLOOR IS LAVA game you played when you were a kid?
It is not as much fun when you are forced to do it for real.

We went out and bought a stand-up air conditioner to help Red stay cool when she sat at her desk and would hopefully keep our sneakers from melting. We hooked it up and were amazed at the difference that it made. And then, it flooded our kitchen.

The next day a representative from the appliance store came out to look at it. Not being able to speak to each other (the whole Vietnamese thing is kind of tricky), I showed him the video of the river flowing through our house. His solution was that we were not putting enough water in the unit. Yes, I typed that on purpose.
The reason water was leaking out was because it needed more water.

That seemed ridiculous to me, but I often don't understand how things work in this country. So, I conceded to his wisdom, filled the tank to the top and let him go on his way after he observed the solved issue. And let me tell you something.

That little man was wrong!

Twenty minutes later, there was water everywhere.

That solved the floor lava issue, but the trade-off wasn't worth it. They brought us a different model the next day. One that kept the river inside the unit.

Despite the mishaps of the last few months, I recognize we have a great life. But it has been a stark reminder that things do not always go according to plan. Flexibility is useful for more than just the bedroom.

Even if COVID-19 had not permeated every crevice of the planet like rogue glitter at Christmastime, we would still have had to stay home to keep our house from melting.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Forced Homeschooling

In the midst of this worldwide crisis, I feel almost guilty in knowing that my wife and I have it pretty good. Living in Vietnam, our country only has about 200 cases of COVID-19 and most of those have already recovered. There has not been a single death. AND this is a country that borders China. This is not by chance. Vietnam has been on top of this thing from the beginning and is not taking any chances.

And while everything is shut down and people have to stay home, we already worked from home. AND we just happen to be in online education. The whole world is now doing school at home and that is exactly what we do for a living. Our income actually went up when the world started falling apart.

Despite the fact that this is what we do for a living, I see a lot of stress being caused by this new life that has been suddenly thrust upon everyone. Forced homeschooling is not working for many many families.

For those of you who are nailing it, good for you. And I mean that. It's great, but for most people, it is not working. And there is a variety of reasons for that. First off, believe it or not, the majority of adults are not teachers and never wanted to be. Raising your kids to be a self-sufficient, responsible adult is not the same as trying to help him understand the symbolism of Henry's journey in the Red Badge of Courage.

Unless you are a teacher or work in a specific field, much of the stuff you were taught in school you haven't seen in decades. Not many parents remember how to do these things:
  • Diagram a sentence
  • Know the precise meaning of the grammar terms - present perfect tense, past progressive tense, gerunds, participles, helping verbs, phrasal verbs, indirect/direct object, etc.
  • Solve math problems using the Quadratic Equation or Pythagorian Theorem.
  • Understand the implications of the U.S. involvement in the War of 1812
  • Outline a term paper
  • So many other things that were forgotten after you left school

And that doesn't even take into consideration the fact that not all households have a parent at home to do this work with their kids. Many people are still considered to be "essential" workers and have to go to work. Or they might be at home but have their own work to do. Work-at-home is not vacation time. It means there is work to do. A large percentage of the population is having a very difficult time finding the time (and patience) to get their kids' schoolwork done.

Let's also not forget the number of households who do not have adequate internet. Or only have one computer when there are three kids who "need" it or dad needs it to do his job. What about the households that just don't have a conducive atmosphere for learning?
  • Older kids having to babysit younger kids
  • Abusive, neglectful or alcoholic parents
  • Noisy environments
  • Little space
  • Illness in the home
  • Chaotic atmosphere

All of these things make it very difficult for the schoolwork to actually happen. And, even if it is being completed, the strained environment means that nothing is actually being learned for many students. Plus, this insistence on completing the school year is putting the population at risk of further infection.

I have seen multiple Facebook posts by people noticing school-aged children sitting in corners at Wal-Mart with laptops to take advantage of their free Wi-Fi so they can get their homework assignments. The same is happening in McDonald's parking lots and many other places. In South Carolina, some districts have parked buses in rural areas that transmit a Wi-Fi signal to help those students who may not have internet at home. These buses are meant to help, but…

At the same time, people are being told to stay home and there is a reason for that. No child (or anyone) should have to leave their home and put people's lives on the line just to complete homework.

Many suggest that kids who do not have internet should contact their teachers so they can have packets sent to their house.

Once again, not safe. Cardboard and paper have been proven to be able to hold onto the virus for days. Exchanging packets back and forth is just another way of potentially spreading the virus.

Is all of this stuff worth the risk just so little Johnny doesn't fall behind?

I have news for everyone.

Your child is not falling behind when the rest of the entire world is in the same situation!

If they don't get their work done, it will not be a disaster when they go back to school because there will be tons of other kids who didn't get it done either. Or kids who got it done, but didn't actually learn the material. Or kids who have so many questions or holes in their learning.

Plus, I know teachers from several different states and the expectations are different everywhere:
  • Some schools aren't even keeping track of grades right now
  • Some schools are requiring teachers to still report to school during school hours (unsafe and irresponsible practice)
  • Some schools have dismissed classes until next year 
  • There is no national or even state-wide standard for any of this. Each school is scrambling to make it work.
  • Teachers are doing an awesome job tackling a situation they were not prepared for, but there is no consistency in learning because every home is different.
I have a friend who works all day. Her older children (still children themselves) have to try to school the younger children during the day and can't even begin their own schoolwork until Mom gets home to take care of the younger kids.  Their life is just babysitting and schoolwork on top of all this other stress. There are lots of tears in that house all day.

The world is very scary right now and incredibly stressful. For the children also. They may not really understand what is happening depending on their age, but they know things are not right. Adding to that stress by insisting that all this extra stuff has to be done as well just makes things worse. Plus, it's not going to really matter when they all go back to school anyway. The teachers will be scrambling to even things out once again and try to fix this.

I am not suggesting that children should not be engaging in academic activities. I am only saying that school is not and should not be a priority right now. If it gets to be too much, let it go or cut it back. We're going to be locked in our houses for much longer than most people (including our leaders) want to admit. It is very important that our homes be as happy and stress-free as possible.

Love your kids during this time and make them feel safe. If when this is over they haven't learned how to recognize adverb clauses when used as adjunct adverbials, is it really going to matter?

Monday, December 16, 2019

Christmas Questions

I found a list of questions about personal holiday traditions and I tackled this in this post. So, here's a little about me and my Christmas practices.

What is your favorite Christmas film?

I actually have several favorites and it is difficult to pick just one. Here are the first few I thought of.

The Ref
(1994) - A cat burglar is forced to take a bickering, dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve.

(1984) - A boy inadvertently breaks three important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town. 

Die Hard
(1998) - An NYPD officer tries to save his wife and several others taken hostage by German terrorists during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.

Rare Exports

(2010) - In the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains, 486 meters deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up. This Christmas, everyone will believe in Santa Claus.

A Christmas Story
(1983) - In the 1940s, a young boy named Ralphie attempts to convince his parents, his teacher and Santa that a Red Ryder BB gun really is the perfect Christmas gift.

Trading Places
(1983) - A snobbish investor and a wily street con artist find their positions reversed as part of a bet by two callous millionaires.

(1988) - A selfish, cynical television executive is haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve.

Have you ever had a white Christmas? 
I grew up in the Midwest so I've had plenty of white Christmases. (minus the cocaine)
And, yes, Christmases is the proper plural for Christmas.
I offer Bing Crosby's words as proof.

Suck it, grammar nazis!

Where do you usually spend your Holiday?
This will be my fourth consecutive Christmas outside of the US. I am not only out of my home country, but I've been in countries (China/Vietnam) where they don't even recognize Christmas. So, not only do I not go anywhere, I usually have to work.

What is your favorite Christmas song?
Carol of the Bells
Anything played by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve? 
We tried a couple of different traditions when I was a child. We eventually settled on Christmas Eve presents AND we always saved one to be opened the day after Christmas. I don't remember why. Today, we don't exchange gifts.

Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
At one time I could and might still be able to, but since most of them never bothered to learn my name, I just don't care anymore.

What holiday traditions are you looking forward to the most this year?
We don't really have any traditions. My wife and I only spent one Christmas in the States after we got married. Since then, we have been outside the country. We are away from family. We have no children around and it is typically a workday. We try to get out for a nice meal, but that's about it.

Is your Christmas tree real or fake?
I grew up with a fake tree, so the idea of bringing a real tree into the house was totally foreign to me. As an adult, I learned that we only used a fake tree because it was discovered that my younger brother Kyle was allergic to the real tree.

As an adult, once I got divorced I discovered that my kids weren't really interested in the tree, so I haven't had one since. That was over ten years ago. I will probably never have a tree again.

What is your all-time favorite holiday food/sweet treat?
Reindeer Testicles

Be honest:  Do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?
Honestly, I hate both. I find the exchanging of gifts extremely uncomfortable. I refuse to participate in Secret Santa activities any place I work and only begrudgingly do it at family events. I don't know why I am this way, but I am.

What is the best Christmas gift you have ever received?
When I was in high school, my parents got me a stereo. I didn't even know I wanted one until I opened it. It was great. It is probably the gift I got the most use out of.

What would be your dream place to visit for the Holiday season?
I have no idea. I hate cold weather, so no traditional places. I already live on a tropical beach, so no point in aiming for something like that. So…I guess I'll go with the Moonlite Bunny Ranch.

Are you a pro present wrapper? Or do you fail miserably?
I rarely give gifts (see above answer), but on the rare occasion that I do, you'll be lucky if I even take it out of the shopping bag.

Most memorable holiday moment?
Every year brings to mind the time I wandered into the kitchen hours after the big family meal and found a plate on the counter already loaded with turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing. I didn't know who's it was, but I tossed it in the microwave for a moment and snuck off to enjoy it without getting busted by whoever prepared it. I learned later that it was food which had been scraped off people's plates and was about to go out to the dogs.

What made you realize the truth about Santa?
My brain. I'm not stupid.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?  Do you stick to them?
I made resolutions when I was younger, but I do not anymore. I haven't made any in years. I learned long ago that it is a waste of time. Change happens when you really decide to make the change and dedicate yourself to it. Not because the calendar changed.

What do you wish for Christmas this year?
I feel like I have a pretty good life. My wish is that it would continue.

What makes the Holidays special for you?
There is a lot of assumption built into this question. The holidays are not special to me. I have nothing against them (other than having to hear Christmas music for three months straight), but they are not special. I enjoy seeing my family, but I enjoy that any time. Holidays or not.

Favorite Christmas smell
My favorite smells would be mostly nostalgic. The smells of my mother baking Christmas cookies and making mint chocolate. The smell of a fireplace or wood-burning stove. The morning of the family get-together and the house smelling of all the food that is being prepared.

What is the worst/weirdest gift you have ever received?
The weirdest was given to me by my sister-in-law. Christmas morning, she handed me a very cold gift. I opened to discover an 8-pack of Klondike bars. She laughed as I opened it and said, "You know. Because of that joke you said."  Neither my wife nor I had any idea what she was talking about.

The worst (not that bad, really) came from an aunt. My mother's side of the family was much further away than my father's. We didn't make it to see them every year, but when we did her sister always made sure she got us a gift. It was the same thing every time we came. A Matchbox car. At 17 years old, I still got a new Matchbox car. It was sweet that she bought us anything. I am not complaining. I guess that since they did not see us very often, it was forgotten how old we had gotten.

Favorite Holiday drink?
I discovered egg nog a few years ago. Don't know why it took me so long to try it. I love it. Spike it with cinnamon and bourbon to make it even better.

Have you ever spent Christmas in another country?
Ha! Yes.
Puerto Rico in 2001 (not really another country, but felt like it)
I spent two in China.
This will be my second Christmas in Vietnam.

What place/landmark in your town do you love to visit during Christmas?
I honestly don't have a place I like to visit other than my family's house. When I was a kid, several of us would go to my great-aunt's house down the road to go sledding because she had a huge hill in her front yard.

Were you naughty or nice this year? 
That really depends on who you ask.

Do you own/wear a Christmas themed jumper or T-Shirt?
No. The closest I have come to Christmas themed clothes was a tie that had the manger on it. I wore it to church one year, but it is long gone.