Saturday, August 17, 2013

One Odd Year

  One Odd Year.  

  That's what the front of my Senior yearbook from 1991 has on it.  I've thought a lot about that year for lots of reasons in the last few months.  It applied then, as it does now.

  We started this journey to teach in South Korea as a family of four.  Now, there are only three of us here to further our adventure.  

  Korea isn't to blame for my marriage breaking apart, just know that you can move across the U.S of A, or even try a new continent, but your troubles follow you.  Korea is just what this small town Oklahoma girl needed to find her big ajumma panties and decide to go it alone.  I have found 'me' again in the Land of the Morning Calm.  

   Korea is a safe place for a single mother.  I still go anywhere, even after dark.  I let the boys go on the subway without fear.  There is always someone who speaks enough English to be helpful.  It's hard for family and friends who have not experienced this place to understand this, but, spend a month here and you'll soon realize it's true.  

  I thought I'd document my One Odd Year, 2013, for posterity.  A year ago, I named this blog Seoul Pokes, because we were two Oklahoma State grads (aka Pokes).  Now, we're one grad and two OSU legacies.  So, it still works! 

  If I ask my boys, Quade (or Will as he likes to be called in Korea because the Q doesn't translate) and Zane (he doesn't care the Z doesn't translate), what their favorite thing about Korea is...besides their independence...they'd say FOOD!  We love to eat out and we love to cook in.  I try to vary the stores I shop at because they all offer a different variety of Western foods.  Keeping our diet pretty normal and eating Korean at school or when we go out seems to help with homesickness, too.  As funny as it may seem.  I frequent Emart in Jukejon, Homeplus in Ori, Kim's Club in Migeum, I Love in Jeongja. I also head to EMart Trader's in Guseong and Costco in Yangjae when I can. Prices are more than you'd pay in the States.  Sometimes a lot more.  But, you get used to it and when you want it bad enough, you learn to just deal with it. I a say that, but I still refuse to pay 25,000 won for a watermelon!  I will pay almost 3,000 won for a can of black beans, though.  

                                                             Quade, my oldest son, loves to cook.  And, I let him.  

Here he added onion and octopus to ramen.  

There are two Butterfinger restaurants I have found.  One in Gangnam, one in Jeongja.  Both are expensive, but when you just need a taste of's so worth it.  You gotta try the Orangeaid.  It's about 8,ooo won, but yummy.

This was lunch...I often feel like I'm on an extended vacation, so why not have breakfast for lunch?  With whipped cream!!  There's also a yummy waffle place in Irwon Station that smears banana or strawberry butter on the waffle, then folds it in half for you to eat.

Occasionally, we have to take pictures of what we want to show the person behind the counter.  I love my iPhone even more at times like this. 

Sometimes, you just need a taste of home.  And bacon.

When you find a good, cheap, and convenient place to eat, they will take care of you the more you go in.

More comfort food to keep some normalcy to our lives.  I can't find ready made pie crust, so I'm getting good at making my own.  Finding Campbell's cream of chicken wasn't too hard, but it's not just cream of chicken.  I've found different varieties I never saw in the States, like Cream of chicken and mushroom and Cream of chicken with herbs.  Both made this pot pie pretty scrumptious.  

Korean BBQ.  Need I say more?

I did a happy dance when I found this green chili salsa at Homeplus.  I only bought one jar, though, in case it wasn't any good.  MISTAKE!!  It was great, and they haven't had it since!

Pork cutlet is a good go-to food for kids.  Pretty normal breaded pork.  

Starbucks are everywhere!

When you don't have 6,000 won for a coffee, these coffees are at any convenience store and under 2,000 won.  You can have them hot or cold.  Add a yummy prepackaged pastry and viola!  Breakfast!

I get this ox-bone soup anytime I see it on the menu.  They say it's a great hangover soup.  Not that I'd know....  Restaurants provide water free as 'service'.  They don't seem to frown on you bringing in your own drink, as I did here, with my coffee.

   Though our year was pretty crazy, we managed to do some pretty cool things. Korea has so many areas to explore.  You can go to certain areas that sorta specialize in one thing or another.  My favorite places for day-trips this year were Dongdaemun for fabric and jewelry making, Itaewon for Western apparel and food...Taco Bell...(or to go hear people speaking English since it's right off the base), Myeongdong for clothes, Insadong for souvenir-type items, musical instruments, art supplies, Icheon for handmade pottery, and Gangnam for the cool underground clothes shops in the subway and trendy shops above ground.

   Here are some of the highlights:

Boryeong Mud Festival in July was a lot of fun.  Grown-ups playing in mud.  The boys actually got bored and spent most of their time at the beach looking for shells and starfish.  

Seoul Tower has amazing views of Seoul.  We took a tram to the top and then walked down hundreds of steps.  The walk is worth it because of more amazing views. 

Icheon, ceramic village.  These are kimchi pots.  


Nakwon, near Insadong, musical instrument market.  Floor after floor, store after store of instruments.  Bandites would hear angels upon entering it's doors.

A ride on a tricycle in Lapu Lapu, Philippines.
The view from my chair on Bantayan Island, Philippines

Our trip to Mactan Island in the Philippines at Christmas was an adventure in itself!  But, after 6 weeks in the hospital with Quade for his splenectomy (see previous blog), we finally found our beach, and some serenity.  Once we left the bustle of Cebu and Lapu Lapu.  

Zane and I were privileged to attend the International Special Olympics in Pyeong Chang with Korea International School in January.  It was a chance of a lifetime to go to support our American special athletes, some of whom visited our school to put on a demonstration a few days before.

 Quade, Zane and I went with several other families for a long weekend of skiing at Yong Pyong.  This place will be a venue for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.  We can watch the downhill and say we skied that run!

Dongdaemun is a crafter's paradise.  If you can sew.

Jeongja, just east of our dong is a great place to find good food.  It's a bit pricey, though.

Seoul National Forest is a neat place to spend the afternoon.  There's timed fountains the kids can run through on a hot day.

We went with a school-sponsored group for paintball!

Zane teamed up with two friends to do a triathlon.  He biked 15k.

Quade and I got our feet cleaned by some fish at Dr. Fish in Gangnam.  

Korea War Memorial is a somber but beautiful place.  The boys enjoyed looking at the military aircraft and vehicles on the grounds.

    The first year passed quickly.  I know this coming year will too.  I have yet to decide if we'll continue our stay here.  There are a lot of personal factors going into my decision.   But, I know for certain we will continue to have a great time exploring all this beautiful country has to offer!   

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I got my hair did!

I got my hair did!  Ok, a really Okie way to put it, perhaps, but hey!  I did!  I'm not sure why on Earth I have put off getting my hair cut in Korea.  Especially at Juno Hair.  (Maybe it's my loyalty to Janelle at Beyond the Bridge in Durango who last cut my hair in June!)  But, I'd heard about this place from teachers who have been here a while.  I've heard it's an awesome experience from teachers who got here the same time as me, too.

So, yesterday, I walked to Sunae, found Juno Hair and headed up to the 2nd floor to make an appointment.  The receptionist spoke enough English to take my name and wrote me down to see Jessica the next day.

I got there a bit early with my freshly purchased White Chocolate Mocha from the Starbucks down the way.  I sat looking at a magazine while I waited for Jessica to appear.  This place is set up like a spa.  There's even a barista!  Jessica rounded the corner and introduced herself.  She spoke English.  ~I'm not sure why it's still such a treat to find people who do, but it is.~  She took my purse and umbrella and put them in a locker, then returned with the key and placed it around my wrist.  My coffee was placed behind the bar for keeping.  Next, she helped me into a robe and said we'd be going to 'counseling first'.  Great!  Hair therapy.  I need it.  

I opted for a moisturizer treatment along with my hair cut.  We started off washing my hair.  The first round of treatment happened in here as well.  Next, she had me to into another room where I took off my sneakers and was given slippers.  She placed a pillow behind my back as I sat in the chair.  I received another pillow for my lap on which she placed a very thick Glamour magazine.  In Korean.  But, who really reads the articles anyway, right?  Anyway...I sat under a humidifier for several minutes.  She left and came back with my coffee and a tray with goodies.  A quarter of a chocolate muffin, 2 Saltine crackers, and 3 pretzels.

As sat there with my slippers, in my robe, sipping coffee, nibbling on my yummies and flipping through a Glamour mag, I thought how I could certainly get used to this!  "When in Rome", right?

Oh, but wait.  "Last treatment" began.  With a scalp massage.  I almost fell asleep.  I laid there thinking, "I don't care how much this costs.  I'm 40, I deserve this!  Happy Birthday to me...all flippin' year!!!"

She did a great job on my hair!  I signed up for a free VIP membership!!!  I'm high falootin' know, folks!  She gave me a card, added a discount bar code sticker for next time and walked me to the elevator, making sure to tell me I need at home treatment too....if she only knew.....

Thoroughly relaxed and feeling lovely, despite the rain that was now coming down pretty hard, I enjoyed my walk to the bus stop.  I decided I'd go home, take a hot bath, drink a glass of bokbunjajoo and finish spoiling myself.

As I pulled out my phone to check the bus schedule, I realized I'd missed several calls from the kids while the phone was in the locker.

They quickly picked up and I was jolted back to reality as my youngest son, through his tears, told me their guinea pig had died before they got home from school.  After skipping the bus (it was 39 minutes away), I literally ran home to be with my kiddos.  As we finished burying Irene under a tree, using a spoon for a shovel, in our raincoats, using a flashlight, next to a beautiful granite rock, Zane added these final, heartfelt words:  "Irene, I hope you find Quade's spleen."  :*}

I didn't get my bath or my bokbunjajoo.  But, I was reminded that even though my kids are older, they still need to be comforted by Mom.  They still need me around to dry some tears, even though they pretend to be tough guys most of the time.

All the more reason to take care of me (every now and then) so I can be around longer to take care of them.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Soapbox Moment

I recently heard someone I respect say that anyone can teach special education.  I have been a special education teacher for 18 years in K-5th grade.  This is not just my job, my career.  I look at it as a calling.  So, this naturally bothered me.   My first thought was..."then why aren't all teachers special education teachers?" 

I have known many teachers in my career, which, in my opinion, would make great sped teachers, but they still needed me. Needed my expertise. 

Being in an introspective mood anyway, I’ve been contemplating why I chose to be a special education teacher.  What does it take? 

I remember being in Deanna Mendenhall’s 3rd grade class at Central Elementary, Sand Springs, Oklahoma, USofA.  We would go down to the basement room that was the self-contained special education room.  The teaches would have to take students from their wheelchairs and carry them downstairs to the classroom.  Our class would read to the kids.  How varied were the students.  My special friend was a girl who was blind.  She would sit and rock back and forth as I read to her.   I think her name was Laura.  I thought she was beautiful.  And, I was hooked.

Special education teachers must be familiar with all aspects of the disabilities in the make up of each and every student we work with, from intellectual disabilities that are congenital to those that are a result of harm.  There are physical disabilities, health conditions, sensory disorders, mental illness and more.  Imagine a caseload of 35 + students!

We then have to take all aspects of the child and apply it to the education setting.  Figure out what’s best.  This model looks different for each and every child.  Each class, each teacher, each subject, each building, at home, in the community.  How does it effect?  How can I help?  How can I advocate?  Not only for the child, but teachers and often siblings, and parents as well.  Is this a child who needs me occasionally?  Do I need to be in the classroom, pull them out to see me?  Co-teach?  Provide modifications and accommodations within the regular classroom setting? 

Then, I must involve others.  Specialists…occupational, speech/language, physical therapists…social workers, counselors, audiologists, behavior specialists, school psychologists…to name a few.  Utilize school nurses, Educational Assistants. (and find time to train them)  Be familiar with psychological and psycho-educational assessments, how to read them, how to implement them, how to explain them to parents in layman’s terms.  I must be able to seek outside help for support as well.  I have to know people who know people.  We must know about assistive technology and how to adapt reading, math, science, social studies curriculum, music, PE, computer… life skills, social skills….

Keeping up with the ever-changing landscape education (endless requirements of an inept bureaucracy), disability research, best practices, assessments, progress monitoring.   The countless hours of preparation, working with other teachers, developing lessons for the students you have in your room, modifying lessons so they can be successful when they aren’t with you.  Tracking down teachers’ lesson plans, knowing every schedule.  What do you do with a child who can’t eat in the lunchroom because of anxiety?  Autism?  Are they being bullied. 

Did I mention isolation?  Feeling like people don’t like that you are bucking the system because you have a child who doesn’t ‘fit’ in the grand scheme of things? Working with a small number of students’ means you don’t get out much.  You’re on an island unto yourself much of the time.   Not to mention you get left out of staff decisions, get very little in the way of money for your classroom, and are often placed in the most remote recesses of the building.  The feelings at times are so overwhelming it is often difficult to grasp the immensity of this path I have chosen.

And, then the paperwork!  You must know your district requirements, State and Federal law.   Manifestation determinations, Functional Behavioral Assessments, Behavior Plans, Individual Educational Plans, lists of forms you on which must be proficient, because they ARE legal documents…. You must know how to make an IEP not just a document that stays in a locked, fire proof file cabinet, but, taking it, turning it into a living document that keeps everyone involved with that child on the same page, working toward a common goal.  

Did I mention patience? EVERY child on your caseload is a challenge.  You must balance their strengths and weaknesses.  You balance their relationship with the teachers.  You must be able to start with plan A and go to plan Z within the course of a lesson.  Then, pick someone else’s brain after school for another if that doesn’t work.  You are called on to put out every fire, either with administration, advocates, teachers, parents, or other children.  I have been bitten, kicked, punched, called evil words.  I have sprinted to catch a runaway child.   Restrained out of control children.  I have changed diapers, pushed wheelchairs, and wiped boogers.  I have fixed lunches, tested blood sugar levels.  Held them when they are hurting.  Cried when they cried.  Always remembering that there is a reason this child is acting this way.  Always trying my damnedest not to take it personally, but failing miserably in the attempt.

My goal has always been to make my children (and I’ve always referred to them as My Kids) successful in this LIFE.  To make them feel valued and accepted.  To make them feel that they are special, and that they can do it! 

I am so much more than an over-paid tutor! I’ve been known to obsess over a child, a problem I couldn’t solve, conflict with other teachers, who are my friends, regarding a child.  I go to bed thinking of the situation, even dreaming of what to do. 

I live for those light-bulb moments with my students.  I live for the challenge of finding the thing that makes it all come together for this child that God placed in my hands to advocate for, to educate. 

Has it been an easy calling?  Nope.  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat.  My kids have made me pull my hair out, laugh through my tears, and above all appreciate the little triumphs in life. 

Now, dear administrator, tell me.  Can just anyone be a special education teacher?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Playing catch-up: Part 1: WHAMMO!!

It's March 16, 2013.  

Where in the world has the time gone?  The last time I checked in was July.  It was still hotter than hell here in the RoK.  School had just begun and we were all getting used to working and going to school at Korea International.  Meeting friends, students, learning the ropes.  It was a whirlwind, to say the least.

Quade and Zane celebrating Q's birthday, finally, in October
Then, WHAMMO!!  The good Lord above decided we weren't on enough of an adventure!! 

I thought I'd go ahead and write about our experience, in case someone who didn't go through this with us, following our posts on Facebook, might take something from it. Like... South Korea has a great medical system!  

The second Wednesday after school began, Quade came down with a low grade fever.  Being only the second week of school, there was no way we were going to let him stay home.  Right?  Take some Tylenol, put on a happy face, suck it up, and stay in the game!  He went to school again Thursday and met me at my room to ride the bus home because he was just feeling too crummy to walk 10 minutes.  So, Friday, we let him stay home.  He's almost 14, so I instructed him to take his temperature, take Aleve, stay hydrated, and stay in bed.  We called him periodically to check on him, no change, still a fever and stomach pain. I got home to find him in the bathtub trying to cool down his 105 degree temp!  Tre's principal rushed us to the ER at Samsung Medical Center.  

Samsung Medical Center at sunset
That's where we'd stay for 3 more weeks.  Quade was diagnosed with a lymphangioma.  A large 21cm cyst growing from his spleen and having its own blood supply from his inferior vena cava.  It's a congenital condition that chose to show itself and rupture, causing infection (hence the fever) after our move to the RoK.  Fun, huh?  

Surgery #1 went well, initially.  After over a week of trying to get infection levels low enough for surgery, the plan was to take the portion of the cyst that was outside the spleen, drain and seal it off.  This surgery was done laparoscopically with 5 incisions.  Dr. Seo, the surgeon, was optimistic that he would be able to recover with his spleen in tact. 
Recovering from the first surgery
Oh, here's where I mention that we had TWO typhoons come through while Quade and I were in hospital!  

And, he turned 15.  And lost over 30 lbs. 

After a week recovery at home, Faculty Support staff and friend, Eunice, drove Quade and I back to Samsung for some tests to see how things were going.  He'd been running a low grade fever again for a few days, but was still on medication.  Eunice and I noticed as they did the ultrasound, that it looked like the cyst was back.  We only exchanged glances, and said nothing to Quade as she drove us back to the apartment.  We were to have another appointment later in the evening with Dr. Seo to go over the results.  As we pulled into the parking lot at home, her phone rang.  She told Quade to go on up to the apartment to rest because she needed to talk to me before she left.  It was the hospital calling to confirm our suspicions that the cyst was back and we were to be readmitted as soon as possible.  

So, Eunice left us to repack and wait for our other FST friend, Kwancho (you may remember Kwancho broke Zane out of his bedroom when the door stuck?) to come pick us up for the return trip to Samsung.  He stayed with us until late in the evening through more tests and translated for us.  Our FST friends certainly go above and beyond their job descriptions, for which we are forever grateful!

Quade had surgery a day and a half later to remove his spleen.  This surgery was complex because the cyst had it's own blood supply.  And, had a huge incision this time.  Another week and a half in the hospital for recovery and then home.  

I must say that the nurses and doctors at Samsung were wonderful.  The pediatric doctor who was on rotation in the ER the night he was admitted came frequently to check on him.  He had a touch of pneumonia initially, as well, so the infectious disease doctor came through.  This surgeon, Dr. Seo, was a professor who teaches here in Seoul and had a gaggle of residents that would follow him on rotation with one of them being Quade's primary resident.  The international clinic also had Dr. Young assigned to us.  She was involved with everything so she could answer any questions I had, or ask questions for me.

Who says hospital food has to be gross?
They provided a translator, Grace, for us on call Monday-Friday.  I only needed her a few times because all the staff and nurses did their best to communicate with me through Google Translate or just their best English.  Quade had such anxiety over needles and testing and a low pain threshold.  Everyone was very patient with him.  They allowed me to stay every night and the food was actually really good.  I even had a Western menu to choose from.  The nurses also took my cell number so I could go on some short walks to get some fresh air.  They'd keep an eye on him and call if he needed me.  I had a shower and a cot. 

We had friends we'd only known for a short time at KIS cooking for Tre and Zane. Friends let Zane stay the night and helped with homework, took him to the ballet...which he secretly told me he liked, but won't admit to any other male.   There were friends baking cookies, muffins, sending books, puzzles, movies, pillows, anything fun for Quade to keep him occupied.  People came to visit us, loaned Tre their cars.  We didn't have phones yet, so the director lent us a school cell phone.  Our director's wife even brought us Burger King (and homemade cookies)!  This list could go on and on!! 

Quade has recovered nicely!  He lost a lot of weight, not the way he wanted to, but did all the same.  His red blood cell count is still a bit higher than they'd like, so he sees a hematologist periodically to monitor that.  And, because he has no spleen, he is on amoxicillin twice daily until he's 18.  Other than that, he's as normal as any 15-year-old can possibly be!

Quade recovering at home in October 2012.

I am a firm believer in providence.  I believe that God has a plan for us.  There is a reason everything happens when and where it does.  So, I believe God was telling me that I needed to dig down deep and find the strength I had had all along, but somehow forgotten.  The strength He'd given me.  The strength to be in a foreign land in the first place.  The strength to face losing my son.  And, the strength to turn it all over to Him and know he was in control of it all.  I just had to trust him.  And, I know I'm stronger now than ever for it.  I know we'll all be stronger for it.