Our Personal Saudi Jungle...

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Well, we've been in Saudi for a little over a year now.  Never were there truer words than....time flies.  It's been a very busy year!
Today is my darling husbands birthday and I thought a post bragging about how amazing he is was in order.  He's really worked hard on our house and making it a home...
When the hubby first moved here our yard was nothing but dirt, dirt and more dirt.  With 3 months of living alone on his hands, he got busy with the yard.
And what an achievement!  My green thumb husband has turned our yard into a garden paradise!  Our banana trees are producing bananas, the veggie garden is coming along again, and the flowers and grass look wonderful.  Not to mention, our chicken coop with our resident 3 chickens, who give us fresh eggs almost daily.
Whenever I go outside or come home from work, I feel peace wash over me.  All the colors, all the green, it just makes my heart happy.  We may not get to live in a fancy compound...but we sure do have a lovely home.  Thanks to my husband. :)

So, here we go...photos of then and now. 

our lovely Saudi gate.. :)


Teaching in Saudi Arabia...part 2

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Well, I've been teaching now for almost 3 months.  I've gotten back into the groove of teaching, but hands down, this is a totally different experience!
There's so much to talk about, though, and I'm not sure where to start.  
Let me share some of the unique bits about teaching at an international school in Saudi Arabia.  Even though we are teaching according to American standards, the grading is different.  E for exceeds expectation, M for meets expectations, A for approaching expectations, B for below expectations.  It's made my grading interesting.  
All students are required to take Arabic classes twice a week.  They have PE once a week and Technology (aka computers) once a week.  Since the lower elementary is so big, they've had to alternate Art and Music per grade.  So, kindergarten gets Art, first gets Music, second gets Art and so on.  Kinds stinks that my own daughter in kindergarten doesn't get to have a music class.
The students get a morning recess, lunch recess, and an afternoon recess.  Which, is very different from when I taught in Vegas.  The elementary kids just got lunch recess.
The most interesting part for me is teaching Social Studies.  The texts are American of course...and so, here I am, teaching American history to 17 students who have never set foot on American soil.  But, we have some really great discussions comparing where they are from and what life is like in America.  The kids get really excited to share about their own countries and they love hearing me tell about life in the States.
Of course, this difference of cultures has really made an impact on how and what I teach.  I spent a week teaching my class a new group of vocabulary words...they all knew them...knew what they meant and how to use them in a sentence.  But when it came time for the test, most did not do well.  I didn't understand...until I realized that the sentences used in the test referred to things that these kids had never heard of.  One sentence talked about cheerleaders at a game.  Another mentioned a barn.  I had 10 kids come up to me asking what a barn was!!  I was shocked!  But then thought...well, where in Saudi are they going to see a barn??  The kids really have a hard time comprehending a lot of the curriculum because it refers to things they just have never experienced or seen.
My entire class is Muslim.  And they love telling me things about their culture and religion.  Some of my kids are anti-pork (of course) and you should have seen their faces when I said how much I love eating piggies!!!  It was a riot.  I think they really get a kick out of how different we are.  

Anyway, that's just a few things I've encountered in the last few months.  
They may not celebrate Halloween here, but I gave my students a "Pumpkin Day."  Everything was about pumpkins and I even had them gut the pumpkin and paint them.  (yes, you can get pumpkins here, though they are the small ones)  This was a first for most of my students and they had an absolute blast.  Made me feel good to give them a chance to experience something new.
Here's a few shots of them getting their pumpkin on!

I also survived parent teacher conferences...most were pretty easy.  One rough one...but, well, I got through it.  One parent even gave me a Guide to Islam book.  I thought it was nice that he wanted to share with me.  ;)  
A week or so ago, I had a student tell me (during the middle of a lesson) that he needed to go and pray. Okay, now, I had no idea how to handle this.  I kinda just ignored him and continued on.  The next day, same thing.  I was really worried that I'd get in trouble refusing to let him pray, but I mean, this just isn't something I've ever had to deal with in class before!!!  After talking with the counselor, I was told that he could pray during recess if he wanted, or before school in the mosque on campus.  (until that moment I had no idea we had our own mosque!)  So, yeah, that was something new.

Now that the weather is FINALLY cooling off a bit...I've noticed a few other strange things.  Such as: giant snow coats, mittens, hats, sweaters...wait, where do we live???  But that isn't the icing on the cake...the best was this the other day at school:
Student: "My mom said that I can't go out to recess today."
Me: "Why?"
Student: "It's too cold outside." 
Me:  "I'm sorry, what??"
Student: "It's too cold."
Me: "Too cold??  Seriously??"
Student: "Yes, that's what my mom said."
Fact:  It was 70 degrees outside....
Must be a side affect of living in Saudi for too long...  ;)

So, now I'm getting ready to finalize report cards and wrap up the first semester.  Then it's a fab 2 week holiday break in Budapest!  
More teaching tid bits to come soon!

Almalfi Coast, Italy

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Time to wrap up our trip to Italy.  This was the final part of our journey...meeting up with family in beautiful Positano.
upper right and lower middle are the views from the house.

The hubby, girls and I were still in Mennagio, so we needed to catch a couple of trains from northern Italy to the south.  The day started off fine...we got a ride to the train station and then...waited.  The train was late.  Really late.  Once we finally got loaded and moving Matt and I realized we were barely going to make our connecting train...if we made it at all.
So here we were, pulling up to the train station...we have three large suitcases, a couple of carry on's, a back pack, two kids, and their little rolling luggage.  We stood at the ready and bolted as soon as the doors opened...
And when I say bolted, I mean we flat out ran!  I had a death grip on Lily basically dragging her along the station and yelling at Sara to keep up.  Sara is crying as she's running.  Matt is behind us...pulling a crap load of luggage...which at the moment one bag decided to lose both of its wheels.  We keep running, keep dragging...and we actually make it.  By all of 2 minutes.  Now, we weren't the only idiots running through the station to catch this train, but I'm sure we made the most commotion.  Could we have caught another train?  Sure...at some point, but we wanted to get to Positano before it was the middle of the night.  We still had to get our taxi to drive us to the house.

All said and done, we made it all the way to the house in Positano.  My mom and stepdad and Aunt and Uncle were waiting for us.  The house we had rented was incredible with a killer view.  The only downside is that Positano is very, very hilly...so lots of hiking up and down stairs.  Ah well, it worked off the pasta and wine!  :)  
a few of the rooms and the two patios of the house.

The rest of our trip was spent touring the Almalfi Coast.  The highlight of the week was taking a private boat out for the day.  It was our baby girl's birthday (already 4!) and we wanted to make it special.  (seeing as how her sister got to spend her 5th birthday at the top of the Eifel Tower).  The boat ride was amazing.  We all felt like superstars relaxing on the nose of the boat as we skipped across the water to the Isle of Capri.  We toured around there a bit and then spent more time just jetting around the coast line.

upper middle and lower left are in Capri.  Other shots from Positano.

We stopped to do a bit of swimming, but found that the water was already occupied...by jelly fish.  My poor mother got stung but good right on her wrist.  That put a little damper on things...but not too much.  We sang happy birthday to Lily while anchored in the Mediterranean Sea.  That was pretty awesome.
Another highlight of the trip was this amazing amazing restaurant we found.  This place has been owned by the same family for over 30 years.  They send a car to pick you up and bring you to the restaurant.  It's a fixed menu, so you get what you get.  But, oh my, what a feast!  Everything was so good.  It was a three course meal with wine included.  Each course included anywhere from 6-10 plates of different dishes.  They grow their own veggies right outside the restaurant.  It was so good we went there twice in one week!

We spent time shopping, went to Ravello, and chilled on the gorgeous beach.  Even rented a stand up paddle board and took the girls out on the water.  Positano is just so beautiful and we enjoyed every day.  It was a wonderful way to end an incredible 5 week trip to Italy!  Can't wait to go back next year! :)       

all of these photos were taken in Ravello.


Cinque Terre, Italy

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After seeing photos of Cinque Terre, I just knew I had to see it for myself.  It was very close to where we were staying in Lucca, so we decided another day trip was in order!  
Be prepared to walk when you go!  There are trains connecting the five towns, but there is still quite a bit of walking if you really want to see the sites.  

I wish I'd done more research before going....totally would have brought along towels and bathing suits.  It was another hot day in Italy and man, that water was beyond tempting!!  We let the girls wade in the water a bit and our little one looked just like a local in black short pants and no top!  :)
The towns were quaint and lovely.  We had an enjoyable meal overlooking the harbor of Vernazza.  I really wish we would have had time to stay into the evening, I have a feeling its a place that comes alive at night.  A bit of a rushed trip, but still glad to see that I got to see it with my own two eyes!  

Back to Lucca for the night and then we'd be heading back to Menaggio for a few more days....this trip sure was going quick!  ;)

Pisa and Lucca, Italy

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During our trip to Italy, we were lucky to be able to travel around and see some of the nearby towns.  My mom and step-dad rented a house in Lucca and we joined them for a few days.
Lucca is a large town, actually, but when you get inside the old walls, everything becomes quite tight.  We were so lost trying to find the apartment when we got there.  Thank goodness for nav on the iPad!  The house they rented was lovely place tucked away in the old town.
We wandered the streets a bit, ate at some nice restaurants and sampled the local gelato.  The next day we ventured off to Pisa!

I must admit that caught my breath at the first site of the Leaning Tower.  I mean, when you see pictures of something your whole life...and well, there it was!  It is so beautiful.  
Total tourist trap of course.  Tourists everywhere.  I took some amazing photos, but we weren't allowed in the tower.  Ok, well, adults are...with a tour only.  No way was I going inside and leaving my poor girls to stare up at us with longing.  So we settle for touring the Baptistry and listened as a man sang to show off the incredible acoustics.  My sweet baby girl was so moved, she asked Grandma, "is that God talking?"  Actually brought tears to my eyes.

As wonderful as Pisa was...we didn't spend very long there.  Barely half a day.  It was hot.  Overcrowded and overpriced.  I'm sure there are some lovely places throughout the town, but with the heat...nobody was up for meandering around.  
It made for a very nice day trip and we drove ourselves back to Lucca for dinner and a nice night in the lovely flat.
quaint Lucca

more of Lucca, and a pretty little wine shop!  :)

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