Saturday, June 13, 2015

Expat Moves

Lots of expats have moved more than I have, but here are some things I've learned in my three moves. 

Expat moves are different from regular moves because it generally takes at least a month to see your stuff again. Living out of suitcases for that long takes some planning, and arriving in a new place with very little is hard, too. In my last two moves, it was a month in our new country before our things arrived. 

We were lucky to know about our move several months ahead, so there was plenty of time to get ready. 

Months ahead (as soon as you can):
  • Touch every object and piece of clothing in your house. Decide if it's to keep, sell, or toss/donate. 
  • Box up the stuff to sell and get it gone (yard sale, consignment, Salvation Army, whatever)
  • If there are things you want to throw out that are still useful, consider throwing them away later; they may be handy after your shipment has gone but before you leave the country (for example: old towels, cutlery, dishes, etc that will get you through the last week or so of living in an empty house.)

Two months ahead:
  • Get shipping estimates (3-5 companies is good)
  • Compare insurance rates, packing fees per hour, packing materials (will they reuse boxes for less money?) storage fees in case the shipment can't leave right away or arrives too soon before you are in your new country.
  • If you are bringing carpets, get them cleaned
  • If you have things you've been meaning to frame, do it.
  • Tie up loose ends: back up computers, sort through kids' old artwork and scan/save only the best, finish projects, etc. Make a list and stick to it. 
  • Once again, go through everything to be sure you really want to ship each thing. Now's the time to check that each marker has ink, that your decks of cards are all complete, that the DVD cases have the right discs inside. It's so annoying to get to your new place and deal with unfinished messiness from your last life!

Two to three weeks before the movers come:
  • Identify the basics you'd like to have once the house is empty. (For example: will you cook? Better leave yourself an old pot/pan that you can toss when you leave. Will you still be working? Save out 1-2 professional outfits.)
  • Once these things are identified, put them aside so they don't end up in the shipment
  • Dry clean any clothes you plan to ship, as needed.
  • Make up some freezer meals in disposable pans: lasagna, taco casserole, soups. Believe it or not, kids get tired of take-out and restaurant food, and some of your home cooking will be comforting.
  • Make two floor plans: One for your current place and one for your new place (if you know it). Give each room a number, matching up the numbers. For example, make the kitchen #1 in your current place and #1 in your new place. Then the boxes with #1 will be the ones coming from your kitchen and will get unpacked into your kitchen.
  • Complete your inventory. Identify the cost of items you'd like to replace if lost or damaged. I had a friend whose entire shipment sank to the bottom of the ocean; that inspired me to claim a bit more than usual just in case. My most precious items are ones that are irreplaceable (family photos, artwork) so I claim mainly the replacement value of practical things instead. A whole new wardrobe for each person in the family? It adds up. An entire kitchen-worth of stuff? Yup, it's a lot. We claimed $30,000 in insurance which cost under $1,000 extra on fee of the move. If we lost everything, that would get us the basics. Note: We barely shipped any furniture. 

One week before the movers come:
  • Pack your suitcase with clothes you want to keep out of the shipment. For us, it's pretty much the same as packing for summer vacation. Aim for one suitcase per person. Keep another set of suitcases empty (for us, it's carry-ons) and use them for overflow and any loose ends when you finally leave.
  • Set aside the towels you want to ship and put out only the old towels for your family to use. That way, you don't end up with "good" towels in the laundry on the day of your move.
  • Put the temporary sheets and blankets on the beds. Wash the "good" sheets and bedding and set all of it aside for the shipment.
  • Check your car to be sure there's nothing in it that you want to ship (CDs? GPS?) 
  • Go through each room and confirm with your family members what is going in the shipment and what is staying behind. If you have kids, talk it through several times; it can be hard to grasp the logistics.
  • Pack up your office. Box the things to ship and bring them home, set aside the things you need for your last weeks, identify things you can leave behind for you successor.

The night before packing:
  • Choose pillows (the worst ones) and give one to each family member; put the rest, the good ones, aside for the shipment
  • Disconnect TVs, DVD players, gas from the grill and such.
  • Watch out for kitchen items you want to ship; make sure none of them are in the dishwasher.
  • Take pictures off the walls that you plan to ship; it helps you be sure they get packed.
  • Go through each room again and confirm with your family members what is going in the shipment and what is staying behind. Split the room into "take" and "stay" so that it's clear for the packers.

Packing Day
  • Walk through the rooms with your mover and be clear about the room numbers. Each box should have a room number on it that matches the numbered floor plan of your current and your new place. Even if you don't know where you'll be yet, at least you'll know what room the things came from.
  • Open every cabinet and every drawer before the movers leave. I thought we were all packed up until I instinctively opened the cabinet above the sink for a cup and realized everything was still in there. If the shipment had left, that would have been a major drag.

A word about selling:
  • Price your larger items, such as furniture, as low as you can bear. In exchange for low prices, require buyers to take care of the transportation.
  • Sell your items early but keep them in your home as late as possible. Again, for low prices you can ask for buyers' flexibility. Be clear ahead of time about which items you can part with early and which ones (your beds) you need until the end.
  • Require buyers to pay in full to hold the items they want. If you price your things low enough, they'll be ok with paying and waiting.
  • Consider posting your things in a google doc that you can update as needed. 
  • Just before you leave, sell your temporary stuff (the old sheets, towels, cutlery, etc) or, even better, donate the whole lot. Perhaps your school would like a starter set for a teacher coming in? Or maybe there's a shelter that could use the things.
  • When it's all gone, sit back and enjoy the emptiness. It's such a relief when you've sent it off, knowing that what's in those boxes is truly the best of your household.

In the comments, I'd love to hear other tips!

Here are some other posts about expat moving:
Expat Info Desk: Extensive checklist covering everything, not just the packing/moving process.
Expat Arrivals: Good for people moving abroad for the first time.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Summer Read Selfies

It's time for #summerREADselfie

I love this time of year...when we can chill and enjoy books just for fun.

The goal for middle and high school students is to read at least FIVE books this summer. 

In high school, we challenge students to choose one title from our list of "Page-turner Classics."

Also, anyone in the world (especially in the library world!) is invited to join us for Summer-READ-selfie.

Let's make summer reading go viral this summer:

  • Post a picture of yourself with each book you finish this summer
  • Tag it #summerREADselfie 
  • Post it to your favorite social media site(s)
Teachers and Librarians:
Printable signs
Printable Locker Badges

See more: 
News From The Pit: Summer Reading Edition

In the comments...are you in for #summerREADselfie?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Library Orientation as "Interval Training"

At the beginning of the year, grade 9 Foundations classes
Quick! Get those Deweys in order!
completed an "interval training" to learn about using the library. 

The goal: Work in teams to figure out all of the amazing ways the library and its services can help them during the year.

The other goal: No teacher talk!

Here's the doc with handouts for each station and an overview of the lesson. It's a full period (70 minutes) but could easily be broken up into several mini-lessons.

Students document each skill with smartphones and social media. If students don't have phones, they can borrow an iPad and use their email to send their evidence to me.

Skills covered: (links go to station directions)
Finding areas in the library
Finding call numbers
Dewey order & Library Website
Using the catalog
Library in Your Pocket (Installing Destiny and other apps)
Using Resource Lists & QR codes

This is LOUD and lots of fun. 

All you need to do is set up each station as far apart as possible with the directions and any materials needed. I told students "No questions. Read the directions!" and actually did have some groups do it all on their own correctly (!) 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Notes from Narrative Biographies

Grade 7 students are preparing for their Biography Pageant! They'll read about an inspirational person and then act as that person to share what they learned.

Guiding Question: What's "Narrative Nonfiction"?
Last week, students selected biographies from the library. These will be independent reading books for the next couple of weeks, so we wanted to provide "page turners" instead of the typical fact-laden, reference-type bios. 

Some favorite narrative-style biographies
We talked about what makes a nonfiction book a "narrative." 

Structurally how is it different? 
(Reads like a story: sense of beginning, middle, end; character development, engaging style, chapters often have a central idea)

Visually how is it different? 
(paragraphs versus headings and sub-headings, may or may not have pictures)

See titles in our catalog here

Guiding Question: What's effective note-taking?
Next, we talk about how to take research notes as we read, explaining the differences among quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing. See last year's full lesson here.

Notes template in Google docs
This year, we added two elements to the notes template: "Comment" and "Category"


In my work with high school students, I've noticed that students need lots of practice with adding their own voice to a research paper. Providing a steady stream of commentary and avoiding a list of facts makes an essay more dynamic and shows what the writer really thinks.

To help students internalize this skill, we ask them to add a personal comment for each of their notes. Comments can be anything that shows their thinking, questioning, or planning about their topic.

Another addition: We ask students to write a category on each note. Asking them for some "meta" data about their fact helps them synthesize what it's about and it will help them organize their facts into an outline later.

Now it's time to read and get inspired by some interesting people! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ski Week Reads

I was sick for half of our February ski week. It's ok! I read some of the new books that came in just before we left.

Glory O'Brian's History of the Future, by A.S. King

Glory and her best friend (because she lives close) find a dead bat and mix its decomposed ashy remains with a beer, drink up, and begin seeing visions of the future. This happens at a natural turning point for Glory: high school graduation. She's made it though high school with her mother's suicide haunting her for 13 years. It's time to get some answers and see if there's anything worth sticking around for. 

She confronts her father, stagnating on the couch, best-friend Ellie's "all about me" personality, and her own curiosity about her mother's past, and she finds there's much more good ahead than not. Alongside, she writes a history of the future, as best as she can patch it together from the "transmissions" she gets from anyone she makes eye contact with. The future is a kind of political nightmare in which it's illegal for women to work. 

This whole parallel story felt forced, but I guess it was necessary for Glory because that's how she finds her excitement for the future, in what she could be if she gets involved and chooses to live fully.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Lesley Walton

It's not often I find myself reading just to enjoy the pace and language of a story as it unfolds - not to find out what will happen, but just to be with the characters. This is that kind of story. 

It's the story of Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings. She tells us in the prologue that she's researched her ancestors to find out how she came to be. Turns out how she came to be is a magical tale stretching back to her great-great grandparents and the loves and losses felt in each generation. 

An astonishing and beautiful novel.

Tomboy, by Liz Prince

Liz dresses like a boy, and has since age 4. She's comfortable that way. What this means to the people around her, however, is where a lifetime of tension begins. What does her appearance say about her? What does it mean about her identity? Why does it make others uncomfortable and make her a target? She explores these and other questions as she charts her path through elementary, middle, and high school. Fresh and honest, she takes on the question "who am I?" in a way that boys, girls, men, and woman can probably all relate to.

One of the more relate-able aspects of this memoir for me is the ever-shifting landscape of her friendships. How her friends change, or don't, how they support her, or don't - this constant process of finding people who click with her, during whatever stage she's in, feels super real.

Note about the artwork: It's sketchy. The text is sloppy enough to be tricky to read in places. It's part of the charm and it forced me to slow down my reading - something I need to do with graphics to fully appreciate them.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han

This is a light read, so light that it's tempting to put it down a star because it feels like the teen girl is too normal, so lacking is she in her desire to make "a statement." Our narrator is Lara Jean, a Korean-American high schooler who writes love notes to boys she likes but never sends them. Somehow, the notes get sent and this starts a swirl of romantic activity unlike anything she's ever experienced. 

It's all sweetness and light flirting, family dynamics, and boy-next-door innocence. A great read for that patron looking for a "fluff" read that's well-written and real.

I Remember Beirut, by Zeina Abirached

This is a personal account of what the author remembers about her childhood during Lebanon's Civil War in the 1980's-90's. She family lived in East Beirut, cut off from the rest of the city. They lived "normal" lives, getting their car windshield replaced often when bombings occurred, waiting for hours in traffic to get out of the city for a reprieve, and adjusting the logistics of daily life when supplies, electricity, and transportation was interrupted. This is not as chronological as its predecessor, Game of Swallows. It feels more personal and sometimes it's like a private joke since some of the references aren't known to the average reader (even me, who lived in Beirut in the early 2000s.)

Still, it's worth a read because it captures that breezy Lebanese air of "War? What war? We're living our lives!"