Saturday, December 31, 2016

Christmas in Estonia

We haven't been in the US for Christmas since 2009 so another Christmas in Estonia shouldn't seem anything unusual, but this year was the first time we have ever spent Christmas just with our family, it was nice!  We had a nice blend of US and Estonian traditions.  Here is how it went down.

 First we got a full sized Christmas tree (artificial).  In years past we have had a 30 cm tree that was very dinky but since we were never home on Christmas we never bothered to get a big tree.  The kids are getting bigger too so this year we went all out.  You'll notice that the ornaments are only on the top third of the tree.  That is about the reach line of our oldest daughter.  Also notice the awesome Star Trek ornament of Spock's death scene.  A present from my brother last year.  It has a nice audio to go along with it. 
 We kept our mini star trek ornaments on the tree, they fit perfectly with the mini tree last year but blended in on the big tree this year.

Estonians celebrate Christmas on the 24th, so we had a nice Estonian dinner (pork roast, blood sausage, potatoes, hot glogg).  We also opened up all the wrapped presents that we had under the tree, mostly from my parents. 
 We started a new tradition, everybody got a box of cold cereal!  We always had a huge breakfast/brunch on Christmas morning.  I'm too lazy and not talented enough to do that but a nice cold cereal breakfast was a big hit.  I made my favorite childhood muffins- french breakfast muffins- they were OK but not as good as when my mom makes them.  I already have some ideas on how to make them better for next time.  1. follow the recipe.  2. Serve them fresh.

Thanks to Hillary, Mark, and the boys for sending this Little People nativity set.  We already had some Little People toys so it is a great hit.  Baby Jesus can be life flighted by our Little People helicopter if needed!

The girls got a lot of cool toys but their favorite present were the water bottles that grandma and grandpa gave them.  They just drank water and went to the bathroom all day long for a few days.

Santa came in the night, we left cookies and enjoyed the presents and fun Sunday morning.   We went to Church for just an hour and coming home I thought that this sabbath was truly a delight.

To all the blog followers we hope you had a merry Christmas as well!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Pre-Christmas festivities

It is customary in Estonia to have as many Christmas parties as possible. We had one at my school - it was organized by the 8th grade students for the kids of all the teachers and workers. They had games and treats and a video. So well done.

I will have a workers´ Christmas party at 28th of Dec and it sounds like it will be big.
Many teachers at my school are such fun loving and funny people. And you have to be to actually get the job done. Or you have to be super strict and never smile. Mostly it is a mix of both. Like a nice drama series.

Matthew had a work Christmas party as well. I did not hear much about it.

And if my kids would go to preschool they would have had a part too. Lots of festivities and parties every December. It is what people do here.

Today we went to Tallinn Christmas market. All the photos are phone photos.
This one is of the stage that is set up each year for all sorts of performances, music, videos.

Then there is a little Santa Claus house and people line up to get in and see him. We just peeked in through the window.

This one is for Ann - the famous sweater lane with tons of handmade sweaters, hats, socks, mittens.

The old town Christmas tree:

I am so glad it is not my job to sit on one of the boxes to sell Christmas stuff. I would not love it. But we sure love buying stuff from there, though.

As we were at the market, many Santas on motorcycles drove in and they started handing out free mandarin oranges and candy. Pretty awesome.

Another one with the city hall, tree, lights and stalls:

Of course there is a train:

Just a random street in the old town:

And finally a candy store I went to. Hand made chocolate made by a Swedish guy and his mom. My favorite was home-made Snickers bar - basically tasted like edible play-doh but with wonderful texture of rice crispy treats. Another one I loved was a big ball of chocolate and oats covered with chocolate and peanuts. Sooooo gooood. Ann and Monte- we will have some ready for you when you come to visit.

There will be a blog about Christmas festivities too. Just wait for it!

Monday, December 19, 2016

God bless you President Obama

8 years goes by fast.  With President Obama's time in office almost up, I'd just like to thank him for the service and leadership he's given his country but more importantly the inspiration and hope he has given me.  Where to start? Well first by starting with the problems.  No president has a perfect track record.  Given the importance of the office of presidency, mistakes often are measured in the number of hundred thousand dead.  Bill Clinton is largely regarded as being one of the most successful US presidents in recent memory.  The economy was humming and he played a critical role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.  It was also a relatively calm period without wars requiring large US troop numbers.  But his sanctions on Iraq amounted to genocide, over 500,000 children died.  Add in the inaction in the Rwandan genocide and the death toll adds up to over a million.  Bill Clinton is not directly or solely responsible for these deaths. Having said that, had he pursued different policies Over 1 million would have avoided a painful violent death.  I won't go into detail of other presidents who were less successful with their foreign policies.

With that in mind, we should remember that Obama has not been perfect. He made policy mistakes and he faced extreme limits on what he was able to do, in large part due to Republican obstructionism.  All in all Obama has done a remarkable job and it is a good time to reflect on his accomplishments.

First I wanted to share a video about President Obama and the mail he gets, it's a few years old but definitely worth watching.  I think it does a fine job of reflecting on the character of the person he is.  It is in sharp contrast to President Trump and his tweets.

Here are two good articles about Obama's time in the White House.  The first looks at his foreign policy.  The other looks at the personal impact he had in the White House.

There is a long list of accomplishments and many measures of progress that have been accomplished over the last 8 years.  Expanding health coverage, killing Osama Bin Laden, ending wars in the Middle East, saving the automotive industry, decrease pollution, tabling the Iran nuclear threat for another 10 years, monumental progress in LGBT equality, and of course overseeing an economy that now has unemployment under 5% and a budget deficit under 3%.  Much of this can be attributed to the Fed, and not Obama's fiscal policies but as a whole the US has done well for themselves.  The Fed was aggressive with stimulus and the US cleaned up the bad banks quickly.  People like to whine about the economy in the US, but they should come to Europe first.  Massive unemployment, very slow response stimulus and dealing with toxic assets.

It's unfortunate that many of these great accomplishments will soon be deliberately undone by President Trump and his creepy cabinet team.  Unfortunately sometimes you don't know what you have until it is gone. God bless you President Obama.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Good education in Estonia - yay!

I was glad when PISA test results were revealed. It is a comparative test that measures students´ skills in sciences, reading and math all over the world (72 countries). About every second 15 year old here took part.

Estonia was 3rd in sciences, 6th in reading and 9th in math in the world. That is better than last time. It is one of the best results in Europe.

(A bunch of countries did not fit in the picture here.)

Most of the best performers are all Asian countries with Singapore as number one. They have a great system where they attract the best of the best of the graduates to become teachers. Being a teacher there is a big thing. Also, there is a very competitive school system and amazingly high motivation that play a role.

In Estonia things could be better, as well as how to attract good teachers. They pay is only so-so. I love my job a lot, though. I am sure the pay will be nicer in the future, step by step.

What I really like is that the system here consists mostly of just plain boring public schools. There are private schools but not that many. I like the system where every student, no matter how poor they are of where they are from, is getting a good education. I like it because I come from a very poor background. Every country should aim for the best education for everyone, not just for the elite. I always feel sad when someone is promoting charter schools or saying public schools suck just take your kids to a private school. Or when people have given up on the possibility for a change. Why not put all the effort into making the system good for everyone? Why give up? It is one thing I have to teach my students every day. Just do not give up. Try.

I felt glad about the test results and just wanted to share my thoughts about it.