Monday, January 31, 2011

It's a long one, but it's a good one. Grab a coffee and come back!

Yes, it's true. It's official. The Epp family will be leaving Canada mid-August to live in Qatar. Jeff has accepted a position as a grades 5-7 math teacher at Qatar Academy, Al Khor campus. It's incredible, really. About half an hour after I wrote the last post, the night before we were to leave for the weekend, I went back to the Queen's TORF site and realized that, hmmm, wait a minute, the list of 70 schools had become a list of 69. So, which one was missing? Who had dropped out? After a quick scan of the schools, my heart dropped into my stomach. And not in a good way. The American School of Doha, one of only three schools attending the fair from Qatar, had pulled out. Now we were down to two. Two schools. And yet, with these crazy odds, and in the end, only one scheduled interview, Jeff landed a job.

Amazing.

However, our story is not complete without telling the story of our friend, Dave. You'll see that the two stories come together quite beautifully, providing confirmation for all of us of this decision to move our families abroad.

Our friend Dave's story has, in some ways, a much shorter time span than ours. But in others, a much longer one. About ten years ago, Dave applied to teach at a school in Dubai. Nothing came of it, so he and his family continued on in their St. Catharines' lives, more or less putting it out of their minds. Fast forward to Christmas 2010. Dave and his wife suddenly decide that yes, it's time once again to apply, and hopefully this time to actually GET to Dubai. Plans are hastily made to go to the Teachers' Fair at Queen's, and sometime in January, Dave and Jeff cross paths and share stories, leading to our fateful decision to go to the TORF as well.

On Friday, after some very informative sessions, it was time to sign up/beg for interviews. Picture this: a gymnasium full of tables with representatives from 69 different schools from around the world. Take your pick. Find a position that matches your qualifications, line up, and hope for the best. You'll either be given a yes, no, or maybe. Three hundred fifty teacher candidates, and about 800 jobs. All over the world. What a thing of beauty! It gives me goosebumps just thinking of it!

For Jeff, it was a relatively simple procedure. There were now only two schools he was interested in. He lined up first for the International School of London and was given a resolute NO. Not even a hesitation. The director was 100% firm on his desire for applicants with IB experience, of which Jeff has none. Take a deep breath and carry on. Jeff had luck with the second school, Qatar Academy, but he admits that he doesn't think he made the most favourable first impression, as the director hesitated a bit before granting him an interview for Sunday, 11:00am. After that, Jeff called it a night. It was only 8:30pm.

For Dave, the process was not so simple. He made a beeline for the many Dubai schools represented. One NO after another. "Oh, you have a non-teaching spouse? No." "Yes, you sound interesting. Oh. Fourteen-year old daughter? Sorry. No." And on it went. By the time Jeff had left for the hotel, Dave had managed to secure only one interview... with a school in Thailand, a location he had little interest in.

The next day didn't begin so well for Dave either. While Jeff spent his day going to various school presentations and talking with taxation consultants (and schmoozing the director from Qatar Academy), Dave went to his interview with the school in Thailand. As he waited outside the door with a few other candidates, the recruiter came outside to say, "Sorry, but we've found who we need. Your interview is cancelled." Crushed, yet again.

But there's a crucial part of the story I'm leaving out here, one that makes the puzzle pieces start to come together.

Prior to the fair, Jeff had advised Dave that if he and his wife were interested in Dubai, they would surely also enjoy Qatar as well. He encouraged Dave to look it up, think about it, and consider it as a possibility. After Jeff left the gymnasium Friday night, Dave, in his desperation (Dave, I take a bit of artistic liberty here with your story! :) ) went to stand in the Qatar Academy line. When he got to the director and requested an interview, she said, "I wanted an interview with you and gave you a blue card, but you turned down my request."

**Brief explanation required: Prior to the fair, recruiters had the chance to look through the candidates' files. If they saw a candidate they liked, they could "blue card" them, meaning that the candidate would receive an interview request from that school. The candidate could then either accept or decline the request. Jeff got a blue card from a school in Egypt. Thanks, but not this time around. :)

Back to Dave...

Dave was astonished. "I never received a blue card from you..." And they found out that his card had mistakenly been placed in another candidate's file, someone who had quickly checked "Decline" without reading the name at the top of the card!

And that is how Dave got an interview with Qatar Academy.

As his interview on Saturday afternoon was coming to a close,the director informed him that she very much wanted to hire him, however two of her colleagues were presently at a similar job fair in London, England, and had found a candidate they were interested in. This would require some discussion. Could he please come back tomorrow at noon?

Dinner that night was an excited, pins-and-needles affair. "What a ride!" "Can you imagine if...?" "No way, that would be just too crazy!!"

Sunday morning. We are all checked out of the hotel, and Kaiya and I are left to entertain ourselves in the main area of the fair. While I'm trying to distract Kaiya with My Little Pony, I myself am ridiculously distracted by the conversations floating around me... "Guess what?! I got the job!!"..."I've been offered a contract by a school in Italy and another in Mexico, but I just can't decide."..."Ya, I decided to go with the one in Dubai because it offers better professional opportunities."

I was starting to feel sick to my stomach.

Jeff's interview was scheduled for 11am, but he went at 10:30 just for good measure. When I saw him at only 10 minutes past 11, I was sure they had already found a math teacher and had cancelled his interview. But he gave me a thumbs up. I was confused. "She was ready for me at 10:30. It went great! She wants to hire me. But her colleagues in London are currently interviewing a teaching couple. If they're any good, they're going to offer them the job." He was told to return for the answer at 12. The same time Dave was due to return.

I was about ready to scream. Let's read Jack and the Beanstalk, shall we Kaiya?

Dave and Jeff both disappear around 12. I continue reading, literally checking over my shoulder after every sentence I read. Dave appears. "Hello, neighbour!" he says, shaking my hand. I literally jump up and down for joy, squealing like a schoolgirl. I quickly realize at least half of my nervousness has been for him.

Jeff comes back shortly after 12, to tell me that they have offered the job to the teaching couple in London, but that the couple has asked for a 24-hour period to discuss the matter. I'm slightly disappointed, but still over-the-moon elated for Dave.

And you know the rest of the story. The couple turned it down, and on Monday at 3, the director emailed Jeff to offer him the position. And that is how Jeff and Dave Giesbrecht came to be fellow teachers at a school in Al Khor, Qatar. And that is how our little Qatari community has continued to expand.

How crazy is that????!!!! What an amazingly rewarding roller coaster ride!

We couldn't have planned this any better, I tell you.

There's so much more that was amazing about the weekend... how great and easy Kaiya was, how much fun we had in the pool, what great family time we had, but the essential story is the one above. The rest is just the nice, warm and fuzzy details.

It really was a great weekend.

Looking forward to a fantastic adventure with you, Dave & Tracie & Honour & Darren & Larissa & Caleb. Now we've just got to get Kate on board. :)

What a Long Day...!

But at the end of it all, the important news is that JEFF GOT A JOB IN QATAR!!!!!!!

After a day of waiting, we just found out.

Details to follow.

Gotta go out for dinner first to celebrate!!

Thanks for your support. This is going to be a fun ride.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Beginnings

I wanted to let that last post sit for awhile. For the first couple of days after I wrote it, I admit, I went back to it a number of times to re-read it, to let the words sink deep into my heart, and to burn the image of that photograph into my mind. I knew this year's birthday post would be much different than last year's, had been planning it out in my mind for a month, but I didn't really know how different it would be.

I wonder what Kaiya will think one day, reading back through it all.

***

The Epps are on an exciting journey this weekend. We've been busier this week than anticipated, so I think the full weight of what we're up to this weekend won't hit until we're on the drive.

Where to? You ask. Kingston, Ontario. And why, pray tell? To go to the mythical TORF - Teaching Overseas Recruitment Fair - at Queen's University.

We're going full-circle, baby, yes we are. About 8 years ago, we heard about the TORF through our travelling friend Sarah. At the time, she was in the middle of seeing wonderful and beautiful parts of the world, all while teaching. Colombia, Mexico, Turkey. She showed us amazing pictures of the places she had lived in, and was probably responsible for kicking this whole thing into gear in the first place. (Mind you, no extra coaxing was required for said kicking...it was probably more akin to waking the sleeping giant). I remember her saying to us, "If you ever want to teach overseas, you've got to go to the Queen's job fair. It's such an amazing and intense weekend. There'll be over 50 schools represented, and you'll meet so many like-minded people and feel so valued as a teacher."

And here we are, all those years later, attending TORF more or less as an afterthought.

For all the planning and thinking that has gone into this decision to move our family across the world, we still, ultimately, like to live life last-minute. It was a friend (who shall as yet remain unnamed), unexpectedly thinking of moving to Dubai, who got us back on the TORF bus. About two weeks ago he said, "Ya, I think I'll go to that fair at Queen's."

And Jeff and I had one of those moments where we looked at each other and went, "Oh, ya, DUHHHHHHH....!"

And then he got online and got busy. Emails, cover letter, resume, letters of reference, transcripts, two-page teaching philosophy, a list of phone numbers...(all while working on his report cards!) If he had been a week later, he would have missed the deadline.

So here we are, getting in the car tomorrow. I'll be watching Kaiya at the hotel while Jeff attends the fair. (It's only for elementary/high school teachers). Registration starts at 3pm, and by the sounds of it, I shouldn't expect Jeff back in the hotel till 10 or 11. It is certainly intense. Seminars on living overseas, on how to conduct yourself in an overseas teaching interview, on different countries and schools represented. Seventy schools from around the world will be represented at the fair. Seventy. We know, from what we've been told, that your best bet is to be open to travel anywhere. And so we know that Jeff's chances are limited, because only three elementary/high schools from Qatar will be there, and with me placing all my hope in one college in Qatar (mostly due to our friends, Darren and Larissa), that's the only country we're really interested in. Who knows if they even have positions that fit Jeff's qualifications? But since some of these schools will not hire without a face-to-face interview, we know that Jeff needs to go. It's worth it.

And it's serious.

I know it's serious because I casually mentioned to Jeff on Sunday that maybe he should consider buying a suit? And he was ON it. The very next day. Yes sir, a fine, black, Calvin Klein suit is accompanying us on our travels tomorrow. A SUIT! I haven't seen Jeff in anything like it since our WEDDING!

Yes, this is serious. I think it says that we mean it now.

I'm trying to be honest about how I'm feeling. I get a little superstitious about these things. I'm afraid to let people know what I really want because I'm sure that if I voice it, I won't get it. So I'm casually nonchalant. "Oh, you know, we'll see. No big deal." But I read somewhere recently that if you do that, you're robbing yourself of two things: the joy that comes if you DO get what you were hoping for, and the support group of family and friends to console you if you don't.

So let me say this now, once, and maybe only once: We really want this.

And friends, I hope you'll come along on the journey with us. This Sunday, I was asked, "What are you passionate about?" Jeff quickly leaned in and said, "Don't get stuck because you're wondering or feeling guilty about what you SHOULD be passionate about. Just speak it out."

And you know what? I didn't waste a second. I blabbed on and on about how I love meeting people from other cultures, and I love living in foreign lands, and I love expanding my worldview, and I love tasting different foods, and learning about different cultures and religions, and I felt the smile on my face and the warmth in my heart, and I thought, "Yes. This is where it's at for me."

I know many of you would never dream of doing what we're doing. But I hope you can still come along with us for the ride.

I love that many of our friends and family read this little space and follow our little Epp lives (although far too few of you leave comments! Ahem!) But I have to admit... this blog started as a travel blog, and it has nearly died a number of deaths since our return from Japan. I have managed to shape and mold it into something else, and something lovely (at least I think so!), but the heart and soul of it is travel. And so I sincerely hope that you'll check back here regularly to see how (if?!)things are progressing, and, one day, to follow our travels again.

Love and peace to you. (And please forgive my slap-together job! This was not a particularly well-written post!)

We're off!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Daughter

Hello, you. Yes, you. My Cinderella-fairy-princess who always wants to dress herself.

Do you know that three years ago today you blessed us more than you could ever possibly imagine by entering our lives and our hearts? I know it's hard for you to believe there was ever a time before you. You always look confused when daddy and I reminisce over our travel stories and we explain that that's from before you were born.

You. You are my daughter.

I didn't always call you my daughter. For a long time you were my baby. Then you were my toddler, and my little girl. But sometime this past year, your dad and I started calling you "daughter." And I'm not sure why, but that word holds a special place in your heart, because you beam so bright whenever we use it, especially when daddy leans in with the smile he saves just for you and says, "You're my daughter."

I want you to know that you are growing up too fast. How can I possibly capture and store all the moments you bless us with? Try as I might, I simply cannot memorize them all. I remember last spring, when you mostly skipped an entire size of clothing, and I just kept right on buying you clothes that were just a little too little... because I could not come to grips with how fast you were growing and how much I already felt you slipping out of my hands. Two felt more like twenty, and although I tried to hide it, this momma's heart was breaking.

Me and you. The push and pull of the mother-daughter relationship. I feel it already, sweetheart. The fierce independence that both awes me and frightens me competes with and often dominates over your need for mommy love. And I struggle, already, yes I do, to know when to fight you, when to pull you into my arms, like it or not, and when to let you go. You and me, we love with a fierce love, and it's not always an easy love, is it? Sometimes we push away the ones we love most. Lucky for us, the keepers always come back. And I will always be here. And I will always come back.

I am afraid, Kaiya, that some of life's lessons will come to you hard. You have a strong fighter in you. I know it, and I love it. After all, I know where you got it from. And I know that sometimes you're going to fight harder and longer for things that just need to be let. go. But what do I know? ;)

But oh, you. Your fighter is somehow a sensitive fighter. As I said last year, you know who your peeps are, and you love them fiercely. Your sensitivity sometimes overwhelms me, and I'm aware of you reading our moods, and I want to tell you, over and over and over again, "There are no eggshells here. This is solid ground. You focus on being a KID." And I don't want you to be limited by what mom and dad are comfortable with. I will always be overprotective. But please don't worry about me.

I want you to fly.

Some days my face almost explodes I'm beaming so much at you. Like tonight when you pointed out all the "s's" to us on the wall at Swiss Chalet. In those moments, I feel a pride unknown to me before you came along. Other days, you challenge me to no end, arguing from the get-go... what to wear, what to eat, what to play, how to play... and I find myself counting to ten umpteen times per day. Still other times, your sweetness is crushing. A solemn "I love you, mom," a soft kiss, a bear hug. Your affection surprises me. You've even started closing your eyes when you kiss me!

I love you, and I am proud of you, daughter. I love your strong personality, the mix of spunk and sweet. The giddy giggle, the little girl voice you suddenly developed out of nowhere. You are going to keep surprising all of us, I know you will. And I'll be beaming from the sidelines, every step of the way.

Happy birthday.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Little Morsels of Life

In the midst of an all-day prep session for a new course I'm teaching, I'm feeling the need to procrastinate, I mean, to post an update on the little things going on in the Epp household these days.

Kaiya's foot is much better. The bruising is mostly gone, all except for her little toe. That toe is still kind of purplish, particularly the nail. My toe is getting better too, apart from the fact that I can't really put any pressure on it or curl it like I used to. I'm choosing to believe it's not broken.

This past Sunday we went for a fun little family trip to St. John's conservation area.
Kaiya enjoying the snow:


Me and Kaiya throwing snowballs at each other: (most of the time I formed them and gave them to her so that she could throw them at me.)


Me getting ready to schmuck Jeff's camera (I have my limits, and he must have taken a couple hundred shots of "snow on trees" by then.)


Later on Sunday, we found out that Jeff had sold a photo at the "Peace" art exhibit at Gallery 145. And although the gallery hasn't been around for long, his is the first photograph to ever be sold. Very exciting news! It's this photo here, taken in Taiwan in the very early morning hours after a grueling hike with a flashlight (while I was sleeping peacefully).

And finally, Kaiya has learned to make smiley faces. Aren't they great?


I'm feeling a lot of optimism about this year. I'm really liking the journey right now. It's good. And I'm choosing to mostly ignore the growing knot in my stomach as I await to hear news from CNA-Q in Qatar... news that may not come till the end of February! One day at a time. That's how we're rolling these days. Walking, watching, listening, sharing in this good life with all the good people we're blessed to be walking with.

For today, I'll leave you with some hippo-love. Kaiya's started asking for a daddy hippo for her hippo family. I guess momma hippo and teddy-daddy are on the outs. Momma's lookin' for a new man. We'll have to see what we can do about that...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Ouch!

It was January 2nd. I was helping to fulfill one of my New Year's resolutions by buying dumbbells. Nothing fancy. 5 pounds. 8 pounds. I figure last year was the year of me scrutinizing our food choices and trying to make better ones, so this is the year I'm finally going to start moving a little more. Just walking, and a bit of yoga. And the weights, for my arms, because I've always liked using free weights.

Kaiya was with me when I bought the dumbbells, and she was fascinated with them. She kept wanting to hold them, to pick them up, to show me how strong she was.

When we got home, it was a mad rush of putting away the groceries and making some dinner. I was distracted, tired. I wasn't paying attention to Kaiya as she once again grasped the dumbbells, trying to show off her strength. That is, until the moment I turned around to see her drop the 5-pound one from the kitchen table right onto her right foot.

I can still see that moment in my eyes. The slow-motion falling of the blue dumbbell. My face frozen in shock.

I started crying before she did. About half a second before. It was her right foot, her little baby toe. She screamed in pain, her face turning red, then slightly purple. Jeff came flying down the stairs to see what had happened. I found out that I am NOT particularly good in emergencies. I ran around, grabbing her blanket and teddy to give to her for comfort, flying to the office to banish the evil dumbbells, flying back to the freezer to scoop out ice cubes for her little foot, and immediately spilling them all over the floor, dashing to the cupboard to fill ziploc bags with Goldfish crackers, crying the whole time, worried, scared, angry with myself for allowing such a STUPID thing to happen.

All the while, Jeff stood in the midst of my hurricane-frenzy, holding Kaiya, trying to calm her, and finally getting a good look at her foot.




"We're going to the hospital," he said.

***

I wish I had gotten the name of the nurse who was working at Prompt Care that night, registering patients. I would like to give her the "dealing with stubborn almost 3-year olds" award. She was gold.

Kaiya was calm by the time we got to the hospital. She was sweet and cuddly. But after a visit to emerg this past summer, I knew that that could all change quickly as soon as she met the nurse. It could quickly dissolve into a writhing/screaming/frothing-at-the-mouth match.

The nurse met us and spoke only to Kaiya. "What's your name?"
"Kaiya."
"How old are you, Kaiya?"
"Two."
"No way.... are you sure?"
(Giggle, giggle)
"When's your birthday?"
"In January."
"Well, I've never met a two-year old who could tell me that her birthday is in January!"
(Pan over to beaming, dabbing-at-the-tears mom)
"Well it seems that not only are you long for your age, but you're also very smart!"
(More giggling, more beaming)
"Now, I wouldn't ask any ordinary two-year old to do this, but you're no ordinary two-year old. Could you stick this little thermometer under your tongue and close your lips around it?"
COMPLETE COMPLIANCE

This nurse had us all. We were like melted buh-ddah. All ooey-gooey and gagga for her.

They ordered x-rays. Thinking it would take a long time, Jeff stepped out to get us some food. However, before we knew it, I was lugging "long" Kaiya up to the fifth floor, where a nice, but not nearly as kid-friendly nurse started to set us up.

The tide turned. Stubborn Kaiya made her sudden appearance. Taking off her sock? NO! Lying down? NO!! Putting on protective garb? NO!! NOOOOO! The nurse was getting insistent, and I was getting desperate. I said, "Kaiya, can we sing a song together?" Fully expecting another NO, I was taken aback by her sweet, "Okay."
"What song do you want to sing?"
"Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer."

And that sealed the deal. I held her hand. The nurse suited us up and took the three x-rays, while Kaiya and I locked eyes and sang the song together, twice. The nurse left, the room faded, and for a rare, precious moment in this multi-tasker's life, all that existed was Kaiya and I and this ridiculous song we were softly crooning to one another. That is the main image I am left with. Of us holding hands and locking eyes. And I thank God that it was only for a silly little bruised foot. Nothing more.

***

We're lucky. We're blessed. The doctor didn't find a fracture. He said that if the pain continued and she refused to walk for over a week, we should come back for another x-ray. But we knew better. Kaiya took her first steps as soon as we got home again.

For the most part, you wouldn't even know anything had happened. She's walking, she's running. Limping sometimes, but mostly not. And she loves to pull off her sock and show everyone her poor little purple foot. And when you ask her if it hurts, she smiles and says, "Naaahhhh!" Yes, the double whammy of Epp/Urbancok stubbornness is going to serve her well. That's our girl! (more beaming!!)

***

The story doesn't quite end there. The very next day, while Jeff was finishing up Kaiya's bath, I was doing my whirlwind routine in the kitchen, madly washing dishes and getting lunches prepared for the next day. I whipped out the cutting board to chop up some veggies, and promptly dropped it. The corner of it. On my right foot.

Yup, you read that right.

I howled in pain. I hobbled over to a chair, clutching at my leg, my foot, trying to make the throbbing go away. Jeff and Kaiya came rushing down. And yes, I actually, in the midst of my moaning and groaning, LAUGHED as I told them what had happened. WHAT are the CHANCES here, people?! Is my subconscious mind playing a trick on me? Am I getting myself back, in a not-so-subtle manner? How ridiculous!

I pulled off my sock to inspect my own bit of bruising and swelling. Mine came with a small gash too, thanks to the corner of the cutting board. Kaiya and Jeff got me a Little Mermaid bandaid, and Kaiya soothed me with "Aw, mom, cheer up!" And ultimately, we had a good laugh.

That's me and my girl. We share it all. Even our injuries, and our silly little limp. And we'll gladly pull our socks off to show you the bruising and swelling. But I think hers most definitely trumps mine.