tooting my own horn

Last week, my 8th graders learned how to write a thank you letter. Their homework assignment was to write a thank-you letter to one of their teachers who has impacted them. A couple of the letters were for me:

Dear Rachel
I thank you for teaching us English. You are a great teacher. With you English seems to be so easy. I'm sorry if I wasn't so good as you were expecting. Thank you because you are so patient.
That club in English that you made for us, it is great.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share American culture.
Thank you for coming in our country to teach us English.
Yours Sincerely, Lavinia

Dear Miss Rachel,
Thank you immensely for that this year we have progressed in English and that only thanks to you. I am very sorry that you will leave soon as it was and still is an excellent collaboration. If you were not here I would not have the knowledge that I know now. In the near future we will get together if you will of course come to Romania because I do not think I will go to America. As I understand you will go on to do master in your native land. I hope that you will come back.
Thank you once again,
Of your student Andrei




A peace corps volunteer who lives near me received a package in which were, among other items, a package of dove heart chocolates.
These chocolates were wrapped in shiny foil with hearts on the outside and Martha Steward quotes on the inside.

"To start a romantic fire, crisscross kindling on top of newspaper." -Martha Stewart

If this is how you start a romantic fire, I have to ask, how do you start a regular fire? with squared kindling on top of newspapers?
Also, Ms. Stewart, not to be rude, but you're romantic fire will only last you as long as a french kiss.


valentine's ball

Following the successful Halloween and Christmas parties at my school, students asked if I could help with a Valentine's day party. Several 7th grade girls, actually. While the student council's party committee were the designated decorators, friday night before the party, twice as many students showed up to decorate the school's gym as were required.
We cut heart shapes out of pink construction paper and taped them to the wall, we strung up red lights and the crowning achievement was the big pink heart outlined in red christmas lights.
The Valentine's party was sparsely attended, due in part to the heavy snowing. We danced the Brasoveanca, Pinguini, and Macarena at least 3 times each, interspersed between a variety of games and snack breaks. These are group dances that are typically danced at least once at any wedding, barbecue, dance.

8th graders setting up the speakers

The light-lined heart and dance floor

7th grade boys scared to dance volunteered for the food table

Macarena hair

Me and a fellow teacher in the Penguini line-up:
right foot, right foot, left foot, left foot, two hops forward, one hop back
repeat for 8 minutes

Middle school is grand, especially if you're the only boy with the guts to dance


who cooks

Last night, I was chatting in the kitchen with Gabi and Ciprian.
We were talking about my trip to Vatra Dornei that morning, to go skiing.
"So, when you visit other volunteers, do you cook or do they cook for you?" Gabi asked me.
At first, I was confused by the question. Well, of course if you invite people over you cook for them. But I was stopped on this train of thought when I remembered the majority of my visitors...
When Natalie visits me, she typically makes the coffee
When Dave Pi visits, meals are a joint effort.
When Mark came over this summer, he demonstrated his potato frying skills.
When Baddorf comes, if he doesn't cook, he always does the dishes.
"Typically, we cook together. Like when I was in Cimpulung a few weeks ago and we all stood around the oven, stirring something," I responded. "But, people cooking for me might be pretty specific to me. I know how to cook, but if others want too..."
"Rachel likes to sit back and watch," Ciprian commented.
"I was just asking out of curiosity, because when people visit me, I always cook, and I noticed it's not that way when you have visitors."
"It is not something with American cultural," I said. "It's me."
Or the volunteer culture.


reluctant fire

When I come home from school, my room is still warm from last night's fire, although chilly. I make some tea and read, snuggled under a blanket in the afternoon light, allowing myself to drift. As the dimming light makes reading more difficult, I start to feel the chill even under the blanket.
I put back on the layers to go outside and pile a load of wood on my arms. During January and February, the climb up the stairs with the pile of wood becomes easier than in November. I sweep last night's gray fine ashes down through the grate in my soba and place two kindling pieces a few inches apart, crumple up some pages from a romanian language manual I used when I first arrived in the country for training, and place the crumpled pieces between the wood. After stacking more kindling perpendicular to the first two pieces, on top of the paper, I light a match. Today, the paper burned quickly, before properly lighting the kindling. I sat crouched next to the soba's mouth, feeding more paper, watching my kindling fall on top of each other, extinguishing what little flames had begun, amazed at how fire can engulf thousands of acres of California forest and yet catches onto my kindling so reluctantly.
Now the fire is noisily lapping up 3 logs behind the closed door to the soba's mouth. But it has transmitted its reluctance to me as I consider the rest of the week's schedule, summer plans, commitments.
Hopefully I will catch on to something soon.