Dec 26, 2008

December in Saipan

I love December in Saipan. There's no snow. The temperatures remain in the same tropical range of the mid-eighties as they do the rest of the year. The ocean sparkles blue against the white sand like always. But since when is Christmas about the weather?

Let it snow, let it snow, somewhere else. In Saipan it's the spirit of the season that matters most of all.

Herewith a few of the holiday happenings among our Saipan family this December:

Book Club

Carol leads the discussion of our latest book club selection, The Shack, by William Young.

We started our book club last year with a group of friends. We covered several titles including Love in the Time of Cholera, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Eat,Pray, Love and The Time Traveler's Wife --enjoyable books all, though each quite different from the other. The book club went on hiatus for awhile, delayed both by the departure of many of our members at the end of last school year and by the arrival of one Little Fella at the beginning of this school year. But the idea remained alive--it took awhile, but finally on December 7, 2008, our book club finally got going again. We met to discuss the surprise-bestseller, The Shack by William Young. The book has garnered a lot attention for it's non-traditional portrayal of God. Many have been moved by the fresh take on the heart of God's love in the story, others have raised concerns over what they feel is an irreverent representation of the Trinity. I won't say more than that--you'll have to read the book and decide for yourself, but suffice it to say the book prompted lots of enthusiastic discussion in our group.

The group will continue past the holiday season. In a nod to members' past, our next book will be My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult chosen by Veronyka Perez, last years' kindergarten teacher.

Cristina makes a point as the discussion continues.

Christmas Open House

Our 3/4 teacher, Rhonda Prokopetz, poses in her classroom. Check out the fireplace in the background. She's so creative!

On Thursday, December 11, we held a Christmas-themed Open House for parents and students at our school. All the teachers and their students worked hard to spruce up their classrooms for the holiday and put some of the best of their work from the first half of the year on display.

Another view of Rhonda's classroom

Miss Angie, our kindergarten teacher with her Christmas tree made of hands.

Miss Girlie, our 5/6 homeroom teacher with her Christmas village.

Ms. French shows off her cottonball snowman.

Here's Eliah and Mommy, chillin with one of his peers. This young man is several months older than Elijah and is the youngest sibling of one our second grade students.

Ms. Cristina, our 1st and 2nd grade teacher with her tree.

Here I am in my classroom. Perhaps my biggest weakness as a teacher is that I hate decorating my room. I admit I've put off changing the bulletin boards, but Open House (plus hearing from another teacher that the students had commented that my room looked boring compared to hers) motivated me to put some effort into changing the decor.

Another view of my classroom. The long table draped in white butcher paper is a medieval mural that my freshman world history class is working on. At the end of the unit they will have an oral test in which they must discuss aspects of the mural. The books to the right in the foreground are some of the titles we've read in our freshman literature class so far this year including Romeo & Juliet, The Screwtape Letters, The Pearl, and The Good Earth.

Staff Christmas Party

Our staff getting into the Christmas spirit: On the couch, preschool director Amy and 5/6 grade teacher Girlie. On the floor, Rhonda (Grades 3/4), Nicole (Grades 7/8) and Edna (Pre School).

On Saturday night, December 14, 2008, the teachers and staff of SDA gathered at the hospital to give out gifts at the childrens ward of the hospital. After that we all returned to our house for a dinner of Capricciossa pasta, Bab's famous Mediterranean salad, french bread with olive dip, and three blueberry pies baked from scratch (courtesy of yours truly). After dinner we played the fun gift exchange game that we usually play at our church Christmas parties.

We celebrated our office assistant, Megan "Mocca" McCollum's birthday at our staff Christmas party. Her birthday was actually the next day, but we decided to celebrate it Saturday night since everyone was already there.

Miss Mocca gets her wish!

Ms. French contemplates the much coveted purple bag during our gift exchange game. Sadly for her she ended up losing it to Virle at the end of the game. Ah well, it was all in fun!

At our staff Christmas party we also took the opportunity to bid farewell to Antonee Aguilar (sitting on the left next to Miss Cristina our grades 1 & 2 teacher and fellow preschool teacher Miss Jamie), who was worked in a variety of capacities over the past year from ESL teacher to office assistant to his most recent post as preschool teacher. He hopes to continue to work elsewhere in Saipan, so if that works out, hopefully we'll still see a lot of him. He's a real stand-up guy.

Farewell to Xian Xian

Xian Xian and Elijah at the Hyatt Regency's Giovanni's restuarant.

One of our former students (and the current student director of REAL Christian Theater), Xian Xian Cui (formely referred to on this blog as "CK Girl") moved back to China on December 22. The move was sudden and unavoidable. Fortunately she had enough credits to graduate from high school a few months early, and she will be ultimately relocating to the U.S. to go to college. So as an early graduation gift Babs, Elijah and I took her out for dinner on Sunday, December 14, at one of Saipan's swankiest restuarants--Giovanni's at the Hyatt Regency. Xian Xian is a young woman of high ambitions so Giovanni's seemed like the appropriate dining spot for someone headed for the top. We are so proud of Xian Xian and all she has accomplished since she first came to us a shy fourth-grader, and I know she will accomplish great things in the years ahead. It was enjoyable evening of reminiscing the past and envisioning the future. We know we'll see Xian Xian again, and until then we wish her well.

Elijah, Me, Xian Xian and Babs at the entrance to the Hyatt.

Hello to Keisha

Keisha poses with Elijah

Another former student of ours, Keisha Paez, now a college sophomore came home for Christmas, and Babs and I were fortunate enough to see her briefly before we left for the States. We've long had a tradition of spending Christmas Eve with the Paez clan, but this year, we planned the party for a little earlier, since we'd be in Ohio for Christmas. So on Wednesday, December 17, in the midst of a very hectic week, we took some time out to head over to the Paez house to celebrate and spend precious time with some of our very closest friends on Saipan. This was our last Christmas with Carol and the kids, as they will be relocating to Oregon this next summer, so we made the most of it. As usual, I brought the Paez kids gifts of peach cobbler, apple pie, and peanut butter blossoms (all homemade of course). Carol, as usual, made the soup and salad. And as usual we sat around and talked til way later than we should have. All in all, it was a perfect evening.

Keisha with Babs and Me at the Paez Christmas party. This is where the true reward in teaching comes--watching your "kids" grow up and live their dreams. Keisha is a pre-law student majoring in psychology.
We saw Xian Xian again at the Paez house. She was there to spend some time with one of her dear friends since the 8th grade, Fredo Paez. Fredo is a senior too.
Elijah contemplates his first Christmas gifts--a toy and a book-- from Auntie Carol and the family.

Christmas Program

The school warms up with a short performance with selections from our Christmas play for the manamko (senior citizens) at the Manamko Center, Monday, December 15, 2008. That's the entire elementary school singing, and you can make out Ms. Mocca on the far left sitting at the piano. Somehow she managed to play the piano for all the songs AND direct the kids. Amazing!

On Thursday, December 18, we had our annual school Christmas program. This year the story took a medieval turn--a story about the legendary "Good King Wenceslas" and his daughter Princess Wences (played by "Little Sister"), who through the story turns from selfish and spoiled to generous and giving. The plot was thin, but the music, ably directed by Ms. Mocca was fantastic. Lots of catchy tunes with plenty of solos to spotlight our students' singing talents. In a bold move, Ms. Mocca had the ENTIRE school sing in the choir; amazingly, we managed to pull it off. Ms. French did a great job directing the actors, Miss Rhonda, Miss Angie, and Ms. Sanchez did beautiful work on the set and props, and Miss Girlie created gorgeous medieval costumes for almost all the students. Everything came together well and the program was a defintive success!

"Little Sister" who had the starring role of "Princess Wences" in our Christmas play, posing with a friend. She is such a gifted actor!

A scene from the play: Two court jesters played by "Ko" and "M" try to cheer up "King Wenceslas" (who shall be henceforth known by that name) who is grieved by his daughter's selfishness.

Dec 22, 2008

An Artist's Debut

Barbara's display at Saipan's annual Holiday Art Sale, Sunday, November 30, 2008.

Around Saipan, Barbara is known primarily as an administrator--an organized executive, an inspiring leader, and a skilled businesswoman. But there is another side to Babs--one that I know well, but that until recently she's not shown to very many others. She is also an artist--an imaginative painter, with an eye for abstract designs and the creative and beautiful use of color.

This past November 30, Babs took the courageous step of sharing her artistic visions with a wider audience. She decided to exhibit some of her work at Saipan's annual Holiday Art Sale. Her unique abstract paintings really stood out and garnered attention from those attending the sale.

I'm so proud of Babs and I think her work is wonderful. Of course, I am biased, but I also know that I'm genuinely drawn to her work and that I would not be able to create the visually interesting and athestically pleasing works of art she has designed.

I find it interesting that both Babs and I have lately taken steps to pursue our artistic ambitions, me with my novel and she with her painting. Who knows whether either of us will ever make it big with our art. . .the important thing is that we are doing what we love and taking steps to share what we love with others. I am enjoying that journey with her.

Below are four of the ten paintings Babs exhibited at the art sale. These are my favorites! All paintings are acrylic on canvas.

Spiraling Blue

Road to Palau

Blue Race

Windows of Peace

If you're interesting in purchasing one of Barbara's pieces or would like to see more of her work, leave me a comment and let me know!