Things to Do and Places to Go

A lot of interesting events happened last year. Two that stand out are 1) I talked DH into going to Cleveland because I wanted to see the exhibit for the 2018 inductees to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, specifically The Cars, and fell heads over heels in love. Cleveland is really cool, and if I wanted to stay in the US, I’d pack up the cats and the man and move. Also, I got to interview Joe Milliken for my other blog; Joe is the author of “Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars,” a great, in-depth biography that came out in November. So for all things Cars-related, here is my heartfelt thanks to the late, great Ben Orr!

2) I decided to see if I liked the idea of teaching English (see also my previous post), got certified, certified, certified, and certified, found a job, and am having a great time learning with and from my students, even it’s mostly biology. Whoda thunk?!

Both occurrences have roots, or rather tentacles, or maybe runners, that stretch into 2019. In the summer, we’re going back to Cleveland, and I can’t wait! We would probably have planned another trip anyway, but now it’s definitely on the list because this morning, I was accepted to the CELTA course run by International House Frankfurt in July! This is a prestigious, intense, four-week training class run by the University of Cambridge, and I am literally frothing at the mouth that I got in (ok, it could be because I didn’t have time for lunch today and I’m hungry, sue me!). The two words that describe me best right now are TOTALLY and TICKLED.

Closer to home, I’d like to make it official: the Fort Wayne weather service is the absolute worst on the planet. Sure, sure, it’s kind of windy out there, but is it cold? Wet? Snowing? Nope. Balmy and sunny! Sunny, as in that golden orb in the sky, and balmy, as in the so-called meteorologists that make these predictions. Do you have to pay money to go to school for that? *snort*

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Nature or Nurture?

My mother used to make fun of our last name when my parents were still married. She claimed it was a derivative of “Schultheis”, only she’d pronounce it “Schul-theis”, emphasizing the ‘Schul’ or ‘school’ part. It certainly seemed fitting: pretty much everyone in my dad’s family was somehow associated with school or university. My grandfather used to be a teacher, then the principal of the school my father went to. Dad’s eldest brother was a professor at the local university, the middle brother a teacher in Switzerland. My dad himself had planned on attending uni for teaching, except I came along, and plans, well, changed.

As a kid, I always thought being a teacher seemed kind of boring. And a lot of work. In other words, not a job for me. If I couldn’t marry Prince Edward and be a princess, I’d be the singer in a rock band, and if that didn’t work out, there was always the option of becoming an adventurer in Australia. Naturally, I married a man who considered teaching as a career after retiring from the military… *cough, cough*

Many people seem to feel nostalgic about their time in high school. I look back upon mine with fear and loathing. After I was held back a grade, what remained of my less-than-stellar scholastic career comprised some of the shittiest years of my life. You can imagine my surprise when I, for lack of a better idea, enrolled in college in the US and actually started to enjoy learning! Decades passed, education happened, professional development occurred, but nobody ever mentioned the T-word again.

Until the husband decided to consider a degree in TESOL. He even did some observation and student teaching, from which he quickly gathered that, on second thought, this was not really the right path for him. But somewhere along the lines, the acronym TEFL kept popping up like a cartoon speech bubble in my head. I have always enjoyed language learning. English was my favorite subject in school. And if you do it right, you won’t be stuck teaching a bunch of kids. Right?

It turned out that a friend of mine had gone the TEFL path and very much enjoyed it. I had also become aware that an unreasonable percentage of my Facebook friends were in education, as teachers, principals, deans, tutors. It was beginning to look like a setup!

It took some soul searching and some serious consideration of pros and cons, but finally I signed up for an online TEFL course. Living in the vast wasteland of, well, anything as we do, of course there were no classroom courses available in my area, and being unemployed (or less than optimally employed) didn’t allow for the financial folly of spending  a few weeks in a more educationally aware place like, let’s say, the Big Windy. Again, surprisingly, I enjoyed the course. So much so that I decided to add on a specialized certificate in Teaching Young Learners. And while I’m on the topic, why not tack on Teaching Business English? Oh, there’s a sale, let’s pick up Preparing for the IELTS. And what the heck, might as well get an idea about Teaching English Online…

I see that superior smile you’re cracking: sure, sure, that’s a lot of pretty papers, but that doesn’t make you a teacher. No, you’re right, teaching makes you a teacher. When I signed up for the TEFL course, it did not include a practicum like other courses do. And even the one that did basically said “arrange for your practicum, and we’ll give you extra credit for it.” Instead, I started to look into what types of jobs were available. When I stumbled over postings for ESL School Assistants, I knew I was on the right track. Within a short period, I had interviews lined up at the elementary, middle, and high school level. The principal of the elementary school never called me back (which is, by the way, unprofessional and bad manners – always call back, even if you decide to hire someone else!). The AP of the high school was really nice and seemed to really like me, and just as importantly, the guidance counselor sitting in with us also really liked me. They were so enthusiastic, they offered me the job that afternoon. I was so elated, I accepted. The interview with the middle school never happened.

On my first day, I got to shadow one of the other school assistants. After my five hours there, I was sure I had made a mistake. These kids were loud! They didn’t know the difference between active and passive voice in tenth grade! They didn’t work! They were unmanageable!! The school assistant’s job seemed to primarily involve yelling at people to be quiet, giving them talks in the hallway, or cajoling them into doing something resembling school work. I went home, shell-shocked. When I told the husband, he said “well, it’s an inner city school. You could just quit.” I went back the next day and decided to visit my own classes instead of doing another tag-along. And then, I stayed.

In the beginning, it was indeed a lot of yelling. Amazingly, teenagers are ill prepared and quite unwilling to stay welded to their seats and pay attention quietly for seven hours a day. The classes were huge, having close to thirty kids in the classroom was the norm. Most kids spoke Spanish as their first language. A great number spoke Karen. A few spoke Arabic. No allowances seemed to made for those ELLs, everyone was taught the same content with the same material. The ELLs had English class before everything else, and naively, I assumed that meant they were being prepared for the academic skills they needed to succeed in school. When in Government class I asked my kids what was meant by “the right to bear arms”, they flapped their appendages. They really didn’t know! At this point I realized that yelling and talking-to would not do with these kids, most of whom really wanted to do better scholastically. I would have to assume the role of tutor and, you guessed it, teacher.

This summer, I hope to attend a four-week CELTA course back home and afterwards, get a job as an actual English teacher overseas. Now ask yourself: have I always had the propensity to teach? Is there a teaching gene? Or was it enough to fall in love with the process and possibilities of learning at college? My mother, by the way, decided to switch gears and go into senior care after my parents divorced. As she advanced in her profession, she did a long-term stint as an educator for the next generation of care-givers. Her husband, who used to be her professor, now runs the care facility where she works. “Schul-theis” indeed.

Where am I, and what am I doing there?

Well, the answer is pretty easy: I am, physically speaking, still stuck in Hoosierville and as yet remain unemployed. Which doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything; not at all. When I’m not in the kitchen, womanhandling my cooking equipment, I’m -of course- reading. And because nobody ever asks me my opinion about what I’ve read, I’ve decided to set down my thoughts in a new blog. Visit me at Stop and Smell the Pages, read book reviews, leave me a note, give me suggestions for the to-read pile. In short: don’t be a stranger!

And when something happens, and you can wiggle a little deeper, do so… what Eric Schiffmann means in this particular instance is, as soon as life throws me a frickin’ bone and circumstances become a wee bit more blogworthy, the Better Life will be better again. Promise!

Drowning the Dream

Have you ever harbored a dream? Not just had one, but kept it, hung on to it, stashed it away in the depths of your heart to be dusted off whenever the time for it was finally right?

As long as  I can remember (and my sister says it’s been at least 30 years), I’ve wanted to go to Australia. Not just GO, but EXPERIENCE. BE there. Perhaps not forever, but certainly fully, completely, for a while. At the same time, I cultivated the unfortunate attitude of rolling with the punches, because, self-help books and Internet memes tell us, things “will work out”. And they do, of course, but what the gurus don’t tell you is that you have absolutely no say in the how or when.

According to the Chinese zodiac, this is the Year of the Monkey. It’s an anything-goes kind of energy that can bring change when you least expect it. After the year we had in 2015, change was/is sorely needed, and as I strolled down a busy street in Fremantle last spring, the salty ocean air wafting up my nostrils, it felt for the first time in a very long time as if change might really come. Change for the better. It seemed positive.

That Schäfchen, our elderly guinea pig, died almost immediately after my return seemed to contradict that trend at first, but then I thought, now it’ll just be the two of us. Surely we can make things happen in our favor with one cat and two bunnies. DH’s dream is to return to Germany, to be with friends and write his bestseller that’s been on his desk for some time. I figured I might toodle off and follow my dream for a little while, killing two birds with one stone: I’d BE in Australia and make money, because after all, I am in one of those professions everyone claims to be looking for.

After initial reluctance to even consider this, DH and I sat down to look more closely at what would need to be done. Since we’ve just recently added two kittens to our family, he would have been more comfortable had I been able to take the rabbits with me, but alas, unless you’re coming from New Zealand, Australia won’t allow rodents (which makes perfect sense, since ours are desexed, indoor rabbits but hey, let’s not quibble). Anyway, he’d be stuck with cats and bunnies, but still asked me to investigate further.

I did. And what I found was Reality giving me a toothy grin and a big, fat Fuck You! In order to not screw up my visa application, it would be best to hire a migration agent. One returned a quote of $200 to make sure my paperwork was in order. That doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Then I must fork over $500 to the reviewing body in question so they can use my application stack to hold their desks down for three months, after which time they may approve me and may award me enough points to propel me to the next step in the visa process.

I’ve now spent $700 merely to get to apply for a visa! No clue how much that costs, as from here on, things get a bit murky. In any case, should Immigration and Border Control grant me a visa, I’ll have to get the obligatory health check, which back in the day I moved to the US was around $150 (for the US, 20+ years ago, if I remember correctly).

By now I’m out roughly a thousand dollars, after which I’ll have to find a job. The application process alone would eat up any and all savings I currently have, which is not an option for an unemployed person. In short, I can’t afford it.

Anita Goa writes on her blog that the Pisces moon brings release. I guess that means it’s time to use this dream to feed the fishes.

Now go back to the opening lines of this post. If you answered yes to my questions, you’ll know exactly how I’m feeling right now.

Perth’s a Bitch, and then you cry

See what I did there? Of course you did (NOT!)… it’s not quite so dramatic, really, but why don’t we just start at the beginning, if I can still get my head straight. Which, after 27 hours on various airplanes, is easier said than done.

I was pleasantly surprised by the entire Abu Dhabi leg of the trip. I had a lovely lady from Pakistan as my only neighbour in the row. We chatted, she shared some snacks with me, it was nice. Although I’m almost 100% certain this was not the extra legroom seat I had requested, it was comfortable and plenty roomy. The food was excellent. Which is a good thing, as the “light lunch” turned out to be the same thing as the vegetarian dinner option, just without cheese. I still enjoyed it the second time around.

Abu Dhabi’s airport is well organized and has lots of things you can do, mostly of course shop and eat. Also, shower (and for free), if you happen to have toiletries and a towel, which I did not and did not feel like purchasing. I might take them up on that on the return trip, though. Meanwhile I can report that the dry shampoo I ordered for tons of money is worth every penny and works like a charm.

Airport security consisted of a line-up of blokes who were really nice and even funny. Then again, I was there pretty early, which is always a good thing. No silly security scanner, no arguing that my deodorant is really NOT a can of Coke…

Boarding for Perth began on time. And then time stopped. Due to high traffic over Musqat, we sat on the runway for an hour. Which, you know, wouldn’t be a big deal if the seat was ok, but sadly, it was not. I had paid $150 for that whole legroom thing, which placed me in an emergency exit seat whose back did not recline and that, of course, had no storage in front (though I sneakily used my own seat to stuff things under). We ended up getting in with a delay of only 40 minutes but my back is shot and my arse sore as hell.

The food was ok. I had the fish biryani, mostly because the vegetarian choice was, oddly, garlicky mac and cheese, and I didn’t want to do that to my host, Ian, who was picking me up in Perth. In the middle of the night, we were served sliced apples as a snack. In the morning, they gave me neither breakfast nor something to drink. Fuck them.

Flying into Perth in daytime is quite something. You come in from Indonesia and get to see the entire WA coastline from about Port Hedland on down to Perth. The country up there is mostly just some bush and red dirt. LOTS of red dirt. A bit further south it begins to be divided up into large parcels which at least from the air still look like nothing more spectacular than red dirt, until even further south you start hitting farmland and getting more trees and bushland. Pretty cool, actually. I tried taking some photos for you guys but my camera ran out of juice before I got to the really good stuff.

They weren’t kidding when they said there’s been lots of construction at the airport, either. The new scan-your-passport-yourselves, you-silly-buggers stations are perhaps quite de rigeur but as I was an automaton, I ended up in the line for the real life border patrol agents, anyway. And you know, the sheep in the other line were no faster! You have to scan in your passport, answer security questions, then the machine spits out some kind of paper that you have to walk down to another machine 15 metres away. There, you insert the paper, have your noggin scanned, get the paper back, then take it and the passenger card, aka “you’re all dodgy people to us customs people”, down to Customs.

I nearly had a heart attack when I got there: the line doubled in on itself several times, then went behind a wall and performed another few doodles! See, we weren’t the only flight who didn’t come in ON time, but they all somehow ended up there AT THE SAME time! What a joke. The nice thing was, I handed the customs lady my questionable-suspect-card and she… sent me straight through! No scanner, no unpacking suitcases, not even a sniffer dog! And so I had time to visit the friendly folks at Vodaphone to get a new chip for my old mobile before my ride arrived.

Clearly, though, Perth is not nearly as excited about having me here as it was last time. When I finally had the internet up and successfully identified five of my Facebook friends (one of whom was ‘identified’ by a photo of Tony Abbott – rrrright) just to log in, I learned that the barbecue I was supposed to go tomorrow has been postponed. So, no welcome gig by the Spudniks, no burger with beetroot.

I am, however, freshly showered and have had a cup of tea. Now to put up the feet for a bit…

Vyv Does Oz: Cold Feet, Warm Hearts

My great-grandparents had on their wall a framed piece of embroidery with the lines “Wo man singt, da lass Dich ruhig nieder, /böse Menschen haben keine Lieder” (roughly: where there is singing, gladly rest your head /where evil dwells, no song is to be had). Taking this as my motto for the upcoming trip, I couldn’t be safer anywhere else. Most of my friends on the other side of the world are musos. Phew!

At least for a few days I’ll be staying at a fabulously beautiful place in Bassendean, nearly exactly opposite to my pad in Swanbourne. If you’d like to take a peek at Cook House yourself, feel free.

In order to provide you, my three-and-a-half readers, with the most bang for no buck, I have unearthed my old Flickr account where I will post trip pics as I go along.

My schedule is beginning to be occupied with gigs and barbecues and theatre visits and coffee meets, all of which is certainly giving me the warm and fuzzy. And yet, the first bell that rang in my head when I woke up this morning sounded an awful lot like “Idontwannago, I dontwannago!” Considering there are still five days left until departure, this does not bode well. Not that the sudden case of cold feet is entirely unexpected; I suffer from a minor version every time I’m going anywhere, and if it’s just to a local event. Even if I’m really, really looking forward to it. Not sure why it gets that way, but there isn’t much I can do besides talk myself down and carry on with life.

Vyv does Oz, Take 3

Getting to Australia the first time took roughly 17 years from start to finish. The interval between Sydney and Perth was only seven years long. And now, it’s shrunk down to three. I take this as a sign that I’m either going to croak soon or get back even sooner next time. But who knows, my crystal ball has been rather murky since we moved here.

In any case, the time for travel is very nearly upon us again. In fact, yesterday was my last day at work. Another notch in the retail belt. I can’t say the customers have grown on me very much, although we did have a handful of lovely regulars. Everyone else: mainly shitheads. But that is material for a different kind of post. Let’s talk about some more pleasant matters.

Australia, land of sun, sea, sand and snakes who frolic on the beach. To my still fresh surprise, I am actually visiting friends there. And doing a fair amount of state hopping, which is only possible because my stays are also getting longer. Where I walked off the pounds during ten days in Sydney in 2006, I spent fourteen glorious days toodling around Perth three years ago. But this time, dear friends, I won the holiday jackpot with five whole weeks of sightseeing, music and flat whites. I’m returning to Perth, previously much snubbed by me during penpal days, voluntarily and happily, then casually jetting to Melbourne to see what they’ve got to offer, and up to Brisbane to find out how my former classmate ended up there when nothing in her bio could have predicted it.

Honestly, I am excited. But also regularly waffling about the grade of excitement. While I enjoyed Perth quite a bit last time, it was also occasionally quite challenging. This time could be far better or far worse. What will people’s expectations be of me? What are mine of them? And what will I eat for dinner once I move out of my AirBnB place in Bassendean, where my hostess will cook for me?

The journey begins on March 30.