We arrived at the Bethel airport shortly after 7pm on Monday night and arrived in Houston the next day (Tuesday) around noon. By the time we got to our hotel it was round 2pm and they went ahead and checked us in. We stayed at the hotel where the conference was located, which made it really easy to get going in the morning. Too bad the morning commute isnt always so close. Our hotel was just two blocks away from Houston's famous Galleria mall, the 4th largest mall in the nation. It was massive, to say the least, and very upscale. I'm not really much of a mall shopper anyhow, so a mall with such pricey stores was even less appealing, but we went to check it out. We found a place to eat and got our hair cut. They had this massive Christmas tree right in the middle of the ice skating rink on the lower level. Yes! That Christmas tree is 3 stories high! and it was beautiful!
After walking around the mall for 5 hours and getting lost several times, we went back to our room and crashed majorly. I was so tired after all of our travel and mall walking, that I actually went to bed at around 9. That's 6 o'clock Bethel time!
The next morning (Wednesday), we got up bright and early and fully rested to attend the SIOP conference. SIOP stands for Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol and is basically a way of teaching that allows ELL's (English Language Learners) to practice/improve their language skills while participating in their content (science, math, social studies) classes. I wont go into details except to say that the conference was wonderful. I learned a TON of stuff and have already started using some of it in my classroom. This is the first time I've been to a conference where I've actually gone back with things that are immediately usable in my classroom. Most of the other teachers there were from schools were their ELL's are spanish speakers, so many people were curious about Alaska and what language barriers we were dealing with. One man even walked up and asked me why we had so many Mexicans in Alaska and what draws them there! I wanted to smack my forehead and make that sound Homer Simpson makes when he does something stupid. So, of course, I explained that our students are Yup'ik speakers predominately, but that we also have large Asian, Macedonian, and Albanian populations. Interesting, he says! :)
That evening we went shopping at Target and bought enough stuff to practically fill the trunk of our rental Chevy Aveo. When you live in bush Alaska, you learn quickly to make use of your trips into civilization, especially by stocking up on things that are outrageously priced out here. What that means is that I didnt buy anything fun and exciting at Target, most of what I bought was bathroom stuff...soap, shampoo, conditioner...that kind of stuff is crazy expensive here. For dinner, we strolled over to the authentic looking Greek restaurant across the street from our hotel. I ordered this seafood dish that was cooked in a white wine broth and was served in a little cast iron pot with the largest spoon I've ever seen! Ok, I guess it wasnt the largest I've ever seen, but this spoon was the largest spoon I've ever seen given to someone with the idea that they would actually put it in their mouth. I think it's a fairly easy assumption that I have a big mouth, but there was NO WAY that spoon was fitting. The meal (after I got a mouth sized spoon from our server) was delicious!
I think the best thing about being in Houston was wearing shorts, short sleeved shirts, and sandals. A close second was driving a car in traffic on a road the goes more than a couple miles. Houston traffic was crazy and I almost got killed about 4 times (literally), but I still loved every minute of it. This was the view from our room. We also got the joy of a thunderstorm that rolled through the first night that we were. It was so nice to hear lightening and see thunder, even if it was for only a few minutes when I woke up in the middle of the night. Thunderstorms are another thing I miss.
After another full conference day and a bunch more learning about how to be a better teacher, we decided to give the mall another go. I wanted to go because the mall has a Border's book store and I had just finished Book 1 of my new addiction, Twilight. I finished the book the night before and had to run out and get the next book. Stupid, I know. If you know me well enough, then you know that books are my addiction and you would have suspected that I might have been talking about a book when I mentioned my new addiction. It's not so much that I NEED to be reading a book all the time, but more that once I start a book, I'm hooked! So, once I started that Twilight series, I was, of course, HOOKED! and hooked in a bad way, too. I stayed up much too late reading and read on all of my flight rather than sleeping. I even spent some time reading in the bathroom, when leaving a light on at night bothered my hotel mates. I am currently finishing up the 4th book now and you're lucky you're even getting this blog post in the midst of the epic conclusionary (is that a word?) book. Anyhow, it just so happened that while I was at Border's buying the book set, that cast from the movie was at the mall signing autographs. So, I went to go check it out, but the line was unbelievably long. Literally, the whole length of the massive mall, which had to have been a good quarter mile and I'm not even exaggerating. Well, I got a free poster anyway! I bought the whole set thinking that Avery might like to read them too, and dontcha know, he's hooked now too. He actually asked me if he could stay up an extra half hour tonight, so that he could read. AWESOME! But, I digress...back to Houston.
That night for dinner, we went to Panera to hook up to their free internet. That's were I was when I sent my quick Houston post. At Panera, I got to indulge in one of the other simple pleasures that I miss when living in Bethel...fountain pop! There's just nothing like a Dr. Pepper from a fountain pop machine. Here in Bethel, there are only 4 fountain machines in the entire town and since eating out is very expensive, I very rarely ever have one. YUM!
Of course time flew by, so before we knew it, it was the last day of the conference and we were saying our goodbye's to the other teachers we had met and heading out to explore Houston a bit more. First stop...the zoo! And the most memorable moment in Houston...by far!
Tune in next time!