Saturday, August 19, 2017

OMY: 5-18 August (W4&5)

Due to some technological issues, I couldn't post last week. Here's what we've been up to!

Sat 5 August
Chris spends most of his weekend days proofreading, so this is a common sight on a Saturday. However, soon he'll be all done with his required editing shifts, so we'll have more fun family time on the weekend. Yay!

Sun 6 August
Monsoon days... At least I didn't have to go to school...

Mon 7 August
I go a little nuts on, especially since we now have a baby. What a random order this was: toy box for Chloe's growing pile of crap, real vinegar, and chocolate-flavored creamer.

Tue 8 August

We've been cleaning out some drawers with a look to the future, but for some reason every time I find these temporary tattoos of our friends' faces, I can't throw them out... :)

Wed 9 August
One perk of coming home to feed Chloe midday is access to fresh food from our ayah, Shanti. Here are some of her amazing aloo paranthe. So yum.
Thur 10 August
Now that she's into month 5, Chloe's been rolling from back to front like a boss. Unfortunately she still often gets stuck in this position and begins to cry, but she's getting better at rolling out of it.

Sat 12 August
Chloe's been more and more interested in Sadie these days. It's pretty cute.

Tue 15 August
It's my last Indian (and Korean) Independence Day, and Chloe's first. We got dressed up for a day on the town...

Tue 15 August
I spent a lot of the ceremony pacing around with Chloe near the table tennis area; parenting certainly changes my perspective on different events - literally and figuratively.

Tue 15 August
In honor of Korean Independence, our Korean staff/students shared this terrifying but fun game!

Tue 15 August
An unfortunately blurry photo of Grade 11, the class I advise.

Wed 16 August
Character diagramming with A Passage to India with my Grade 12 students. I have a lot of fun unpacking literature with these guys and gals.


Some other stuff happened, but I clearly didn't document it. It's amazing how quickly this school year is going...

Have a beautiful week,
love, mel 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

OMY: 29 July to 4 August (W3)

We survived another week of work and parenting -- phew! Here are a few photo highlights...

Sat 29 July
Chloe looking hipster-ish for our walk around the chakkar! I really feel she looks like the captain from Jaws in this hat, for some unknown reason...

Sun 30 July
Chloe loves hanging out and squirming around in her diaper. Clothes are for losers!

Mon 31 July
I finally made one of those cheesy inspirational walls in my classroom out of abandoned student art. It helps brighten up our windowless room...

Thur 3 August
Chloe turned five months old today, and celebrated with a bit of flight.

Fri 4 August
Friday was advisor night. My ten advisees came up for dinner and some hanging out. As you can see, at my place, advisor night = junk food... 


Hope all is well out in the world beyond...
love, mel

Sunday, July 30, 2017

one more year: 19-28 July (W1&2)

Many of you know that Chris, Chloe, and I are saying goodbye to Woodstock School and India at the end of this academic year. We're returning to the U.S. for a number of reasons, but mainly because we want Chloe to be closer to her extended family. Though we're excited for this transition, it's also bittersweet. I love teaching at Woodstock, and we've built a home here that will be difficult to unravel.

Because there's a lot we hope to remember about this place and our lives here, I promised myself that I would take a photo each day, and then post the results in a short blog post. I'm already sure that I can't maintain this goal, since I didn't even meet it for the first week! Oh well. Here's what I did snap: "issue" #1.

Wed 19 July
On the first day of school, we took Chloe to day care, a service we hope to use 2-3 times per week so Chris gets a break and can get more work done. It did not go well, to say the least. She was happy when Daddy was there, but after he left, she freaked out and screamed so much she gave herself hiccups for most of the day! We'll try again soon, but for now we're trying to get her through her first cold...

Thur 20 July
Prepping to teach In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Re-reading the books I teach is a pleasurable part of the process!

Fri 21 July
Chloe's been pretty squirmy these days; it's hard to capture our active little girl!

Sat 22 July
I'm sure when we're back in the U.S. I'll miss grocery shopping like this! Each week I make a meal plan and then draw up a list that I call into a local shop. Later that day, my groceries magically appear at my house courtesy of a coolie. Though we can't get everything we like, it's certainly less stressful than battling the crowds at large U.S. stores like Wegman's and Stop & Shop.

Sun 23 July
Happy anniversary to us: six years of marriage and thirteen years together (we think). Celebrating has changed a lot since we had a kid. Instead of going out, we spent some time enjoying chai and banana cake.

Mon 24 July
Monsoon views from my office window. Since my classroom this year is window-less, my colleagues were nice enough to give me some window space in our shared office.

Wed 25 July (?)
Chloe looks like a possessed stay-puff marshmallow kiddo in her sleep suit. We shot this as we got her ready for bed. 


Have a beautiful week, xoxo, mel

Sunday, February 19, 2017

dharamshala round 2: peace & compassion

Each morning my spirits fall as I scroll through the news articles on my FB feed: travel restrictions on Muslims from abroad, a scarily unqualified set of cabinet members, an oil spill in the Dakotas, attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.

I feel distanced from all that’s happening in my country. I feel powerless. I feel cold.

Of course, one silver lining of this awful administration is that we’ve seen a surge in protest and political involvement. People refuse to sit idly by as our nation and its values disintegrate around them. I teared up scanning images from the Women’s March on Washington, reading poetry from friends, and watching videos of the recent protests at airports around the nation. Some paint this uproar and reaction as pointless time-wasting from a group of petulant babies, and others say it’s a sign of the power of the people. Both narratives force dynamic action into static black-and-white paper cuttings, beautiful but flawed.

All of this political turmoil has me thinking a lot about compassion.

This past October 2016, I had the privilege to chaperone one of Woodstock’s Activity Week trips to Dharamshala, a small city in Northern India. Though the bus ride was 14 hours of pure hell and my anxiety at shepherding seniors around was distracting, the trip afforded us some amazing opportunities.

One such opportunity was meeting His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and then hearing him address a group of Chinese pilgrims – all of whom had to conceal their real reason for being in India due to the tenuous relationship between Tibet and China.

This wasn’t my first time seeing HHDL speak; he had addressed the Woodstock community several years ago. But I was again reminded of what an amazing person and leader he is. HHDL has a certain irrepressible spark and spirit. He glows with joy and love, even when he speaks of the terrible ills in this world.

As many know, one of HHDL’s main messages is to show compassion to all those around us. When we visited HHDL’s temple in Dharamshala, I spent some time meditating on this idea a bit:

“He says we must live with compassion – not just claim it as a belief, but actually make it true within our hearts. He asks a lot of us.

It is easy indeed to think we are compassionate people. But consider who it is we show our (often inconsistent) compassion to: our family, our friends, our pets, our colleagues, those who share our belief systems. How much harder it is to show compassion to those beyond the small circles ringing our own private worlds…”


I had scrawled these notes in a small notebook amid the clamor of other visitors and pilgrims, in a completely different headspace than the one I occupy now. But my reflection seems to me linked to a major problem in America these days: we’ve lost sight of compassion.

The root of the word compassion, from compati, is “to suffer with” (Oxford English Dictionary). It would be easy for me to demonize Trump and his supporters by arguing that they don’t “suffer with” or have sympathy for those in need. Indeed, some scholars, like George Lakoff, have divided the left and the right into two camps: liberals who follow the nurturing parent model and conservatives who follow the strict father model (Lakoff). Liberals, then, might seem more compassionate than conservatives, more willing to support high taxes and government welfare programs, to welcome refugees, to protect freedoms for all people.

But this oversimplifies and skews the narrative, and my summary of Lakoff’s research is another example of that. Lakoff found that conservatives do feel they are showing compassion through a “tough love” approach that they hope will allow citizens to build independence from the government. Nothing is as simple as it seems.**

We all must learn to feel the sufferings of one another, which are varied and complicated but always there. As many political pundits have noted, Trump’s base is full of people suffering from job / wage stagnation and a melting-away of the values they hold dear.

I unfortunately don’t have any real suggestions to solve the divisive politics in America, and at this point my frustration with the Trump administration makes me want to fight its every decision tooth and nail. However, it would be wise for us to remember HHDL’s challenge and remain sensitive to the unique sufferings of those around us. We’re all human, after all.  

love, mel

PS -- If you'd like to see more photos from our trip, check out FB. 

Works Cited

“Compassion.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University, 2017., Accessed 7 Feb. 2017.

Lakoff, George. “Metaphor, Morality, and Politics, Or, Why Conservatives Have Left Liberals in the Dust.” Social Research, vol. 62, no. 2, 1995. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017. **Thanks to my poli sci-trained husband for his help with Lakoff’s work!**

Thursday, January 19, 2017

eden in the punjab

India used to feel overwhelming, its normal street life a constant tangle of overstimulation. But it was our fourth year here, and so I wandered the hot, dusty streets of Chandigarh unimpressed with the tinny beeps of rickshaws, the vivid sarees, the cacophony of smells -- burning garbage, ripened mangoes, frying onion and garlic. It was just another Indian city, comparable to Jaipur or parts of Delhi.

When we first entered the Rock Garden -- pretty much the city’s main tourist attraction -- we didn’t expect much.

smallest ticket window ever!

We wandered through a few interesting courtyards divided by low sandstone walls. The walls themselves were adorned with broken tiles, bits of ceramic, pieces of electrical outlets, wires -- all sorts of castoff garbage made beautiful again when they were united in the space. We wound past tall stacks of red clay pots and groupings of disintegrating human figurines placed in symmetrical lines across tiled expanses.

“This is cool,” I said to fellow explorers Chris, Sydney, and Rachel. “But it’s much smaller than I thought. The article I read made it seem like this garden is huge.”

The crowds of tourists, too, diminished my experience. I silently judged people taking what seemed like thousands of selfies against the patterned walls -- even as I took my fair share of photos.

But further explorations extinguished my doubts. A few bends brought us to the more expansive sections of the garden. Soon, the squat, man-made walls gave way to large, moss-covered rock faces and a dramatic waterfall that sprayed its refreshing mist on passers-by.

With each turn came new delights. One brought us to crowds of animals -- (thankfully) docile monkeys, elegant peacocks, proud, white horses.

Another ushered us into a huge open area with an amphitheater and undulating rows of columns hosting swings. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds swung with abandon, marveled at the scope, or picnicked in the shade.

I couldn’t stop smiling. Nowhere else in India had I witnessed such pure joy -- joy for joy’s sake. Though some might judge the statues rough or crude, they were such an outpouring of pure creativity. This was a place we were meant to revel in, one that felt distanced from the city and its business. Stop, the garden commanded. Look around, forget your worries.

Visitors to and residents of Chandigarh owe the pleasure of its famed garden to Nek Chand (1924-2015). Chand spent his days working as a roads inspector in the newly forming Chandigarh, which sprung up in the 1950s as India’s first planned city (Britannica par. 2). While Le Corbusier worked to design and build a modern city with spacious roads and cleanly defined sections, Chand secretly built a meandering world of statues on protected forests in the outskirts of the city (Economist par. 4-5). When the city discovered the hidden garden, they decided to help Chand complete his work, rather than razing the place (Britannica par. 3). We’re lucky they did.

Works Cited

Blumberg, Naomi. “Nek Chand: Indian Artist.” Brittanica, Accessed 21 October 2016.

“From Rubbish, Beauty.” The Economist, 27 June 2015. Print.

Monday, February 29, 2016

into the ...

A few weeks ago, I took part in a staff production of Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s musical masterpiece. Shortly after becoming *famous* (j/k), I sat for my first interview with the Woodstock Tiger.

The lovely young reporter gingerly set her iPad on the bench and smiled up at me, assuring me that she only had three simple questions. Great, I thought. I’ve got this.  

“So, Ms. Melanie, what do you think the show’s theme or lesson was?” I had underestimated her; I was stumped.

Despite acting the show for several weeks, I had never sat down and really considered this question. Bad English teacher!

I floundered a bit, but latched on to a song that always stands out for its obvious theme-ness: “Careful the things you say, / children will listen. / Careful the things you do, / children will see -- and learn.”

The play explores all sorts of tensions between parents and children, and the very human struggle between maintaining innocence and unraveling the mysteries of our world -- a world that is often much darker than we want to believe. 

But what always strikes me when I hear the song (good English teacher?) is that the play is really about the power of storytelling.

When the Baker becomes the play’s final narrator, he takes on the role of parent, storyteller, and guide. He assumes the burden of reconstructing a difficult narrative, one that will shape his child’s understanding of the world and their broken/re-formed family. I find this to be such a beautiful moment, a hopeful break from a grim, death-filled second act.
The magic of theater is that, as performers, we too are participants in the dangers and joys of storytelling. If we’re successful, our story unfolds upon the stage. It’s daunting (it’s live! no hiding! no turning back!), but the rewards are tangible. Unlike in teaching, when our hard work may bear fruit years later (if at all), audiences give immediate feedback -- laughter, clapping, shocked gasps, crying, etc.

Hearing the audience’s response reminded me just how important it is to celebrate a great story. As an AP English teacher, so much of my time is spent teaching students how to pick apart the various components of story that I fear I sometimes miss the bigger picture -- simply sharing beautiful stories and reveling in how they charm us.  

The other magic of theater is the camaraderie that comes through telling these stories. Repressing laughter under a colleague’s romantic gaze, learning how to jump on someone’s back, practicing the same dance moves infinite times, helping someone get into costume: I guess these are ways to build friendships. It’s always been difficult for me to let go and embrace my silliness, so putting on this show was something like therapy.

Of course, it was easier to let go around such a supportive cast***, a group of talented people constantly lifting each other up under the guidance of an incredible director. Thanks to all of you for making those crazy weeks worth it. 

My only hope is that I can bring the lessons and energy of that creative outburst into my everyday life. Share beautiful stories. Embrace the silly. Connect.

(Okay, now I sound like some sort of Sark poster. I’ll stop here. Later, ya’ll.)

***I have to note that a sadness hung over our time together, since one of the cast-members -- a close friend -- was stuck in the US during the production due to visa issues. We miss you so much!!

Thanks to Prathana Shrestha for the photos!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

greece: life is good

Athens is an interesting city, a blend of graffiti, polished marble, cigarette smoke, and passionate conversation. 

We stayed about a ten-minute walk from the most touristy area of Athens. This area, surrounding the Acropolis, boasted gleaming storefronts stuffed with Greek antiquities and toga-style dresses, varied ruins, and cafes desperate to lure us in for breakfast, a drink, a snack – “Please come back later! Take my card!” 

We never did go back later, though we made the walk of shame past these eateries every day, en route from our apartment to whatever sights we wanted to take in.

The apartment was worth the annoying walk; it was an oasis within the city. 

We were able to make our own breakfasts – Greek yogurt with honey and granola (delicious), or a modified Turkish breakfast of tomato, eggs, feta, and olives (also delicious). 

Staying in an apartment also enabled us to explore the regular markets locals shop in – always one of my favorite activities. 

We spotted frozen octopi and squids – whole ones! – just a few rows away from a large section of prepackaged croissants. We were clearly not in France.

Having an apartment gave me the illusion of living in Athens, even though our days were nothing like real life. Case in point:

9am – Wake up, put on some coffee, eat breakfast leisurely while… staring mindlessly at facebook; reading ‘Dear Prudence’ or some other empty internet article; searching for good Athens restaurants.

11amish – Slowly get ready for the day.

Noonish – Head out into Athens. Grab a spanakopita or another flaky stuffed pastry pie and enjoy as we walk to our first destination.

1pmish – Enjoy some lovely sightseeing, like an audio tour of the Acropolis, the National Archeological Museum, or the Agora.

4pmish – Head “home” for coffee/lounging/nap or to the local Starbucks for an hour of caffeinated reading (of fun books, not work books!).

6pmish – Practice my lines for Into the Woods. More lounging.

7/8/9pmish – Head out for dinner and drinks, then home and more relaxing.

What a life we had there – though it was brief! In just a few days, the spring semester will hit us full force and we’ll be missing our travels. Still, it’s good to be home with my own pillow, my bed warmers, my lovely ayah, and my cute lil pup.