07 November 2009

A Difference of 24 hours and 6,000 Miles

On November 6, Tapa got its first snowfall of the season. Eyewitnesses report children sledding and building snowmen. Roads were very slippery.

In Springfield, some 6,000 miles away, on November 7, less than 24 hours later, I cut the grass for hopefully the last time this season. It was incredibly sunny and, subsequently, more than 20 degrees Celsius.

20 October 2009


I have - we are all really blessed with - many families.

At Tapa Gümnaasium, I had a family of teachers - the usual crowd that got together for one another's birthdays or to eat fresh mushrooms from the forest - as well as a family of students - a group of affable kids who didn't think anything about speaking in English and liked to laugh or travel or play cards.

In Tapa, I belonged to a family of librarians - a talented bunch that acquainted me with Estonia's less publicized cultural and historical sites in exchange for wine-infused accounts of my own excursions around the country and across its borders. I even had my own surrogate family with an Estonian mother, little brother, and niece and nephew to celebrate Christmas, New Year's Eve, and Jaanipäev with.

Now that I am back in the USA and chilling back in my hometown for the first time in almost 10 years, back in the house I grew up in, I'm with my "real" family, escorting my inquisitive three-year-old niece to the public library on the city bus, shopping at Walmart, Kohl's, and Bergner's with my gabby seven-year-old niece, watching one straight-laced nephew play soccer and a warm-hearted one play football, walking with my cheerful aunt to "make strides" in the fight against breast cancer, talking to my tale-laden uncle who's called or stopped by for the heck of it, and drinking coffee and reading the paper earlier every morning with my sometimes abrupt but nonetheless indefatigable parents.

06 October 2009

How My American Students Described It

"In Estonia, the traditions for graduation differ from those in the United States. For example, the students in Estonia do not wear caps and gowns for their graduation ceremony. In addition, the students carry flowers and wear dresses and suits for their graduation in Estonia." (Danielle)

"Graduation can have mixed emotions. For example, in the front row a senior has a frowned look upon her face. Next example, in the middle row, another senior has flowers in his mouth and he is smiling. Another example, the back row is laughing like they are having a good time. In conclusion, graduations can make you laugh, smile, or frown."

"The pink dress is really ugly, and there's some fire orange hair, and the guys seem to be having a great time, they all look anxious, nervous, but strangley exicted. It's a happy day, but a day that some fear, as you go from childhood to adulthood, scary stuff I've been there, I've done that." (Thomas)

"Graduation day in Estonia is a happy day when all seniors have flowers. In front of the men were all women holding different colors of flowers. In the back of the women are men all dressed in tuxes, and some have flowers. Beyond the group of seniors of 09 is large area of trees. Above the group of graduates, looks like a cloudy sky. In conclusion, graduation day is one day that the graduates will never forget due to happiness brought from the flowers."

"In the middle of the tables are several half empty bottles of wine, large dishes of food, and empty plates from the feast that was just enjoyed. In front of the empty plates is a long line of women chatting away after filling themselves." (Danielle)

"Happy teachers pig out and get drunk after putting up with bratty students. In a tent, I see plus size women eating. On the table, I see empty plates and half empty red wine bottles. On the other side, there are a big bowl of salad and a long loaf of white bread. In conclusion, teachers should have fun after teaching."

"There are four bottles of wine. They are drinking out of coffee mugs. All of the plates are empty. All the women and men are sitting on one side. All of the wine is in front of the man. Teachers have a good time outside. In conculsion, all of the teachers were happy, drunk, and full. (Sikiesha)

"This class is very out of control and wild. For example, the students are up and out of their seats and some are standing in their chairs. In addition to being out of their seats, some students are showing inappropriate hand gestures. The most important example is the fact that the students are hurting each other by choking other students, trying to push students out of their seats, and pinching an ear of another student." (Danielle)

"One kid is flipping the camera off, another one is strangling another, it seems to be a very rowdy classroom, sexual harrasment, I swear I thought I saw someone picking their nose in there, and if I had to discuss this with principal, I would tell him/her that they're the same as every other class." (Thomas)

"Sixth graders can be bad. In the back of the room I see a kid standing on a chair. In the middle I see a boy holding up two middle fingers; in the front on the left I see two boys choking each other. On the right in the front I see a other boy standing on a chair. In the back there is a lot of kids putting bunny ears on other kids, and there are also kids holding there hands up. In conclusion sixth graders in Estonia can be very crazy in school."

"Kevin Hagen doesn’t have the kids under control. For example, kids are giving fingers to teacher. Also, one kid is strangling another kid. Moreover, one kid is standing on a desk, and a girl behind him is trying to push him off the desk."

31 July 2009

This man ain't tired of London.

An important personal achievement:

I was in London, England for at least four days in

August 2007,

August 2008,

and July 2009.

30 July 2009

London for Free

1. Tomorrow's Warriors live at Queen Elizabeth Hall, a jazz concert.
2. Parkour exhibition, featuring one of the founders of parkour, outside Festival Hall.
3. King's Place.
4. British Library.
5. Tate Modern.

6. The Ceremony of the Keys inside the Tower of London.
7. BBC Philharmonic and BBC Proms Family Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall, a BBC Proms concert.

8. Natural History Museum.
9. V & A Museum.
10. Refills of soft drinks at Pizza Hut.
11. British Museum.
12. A nap in Bloomsbury Square Gardens.
13. Evensong at Westminstrer Abbey.

14. A second Domino's pizza if you paid for the first one.
15. Pigeon friendships.

24 June 2009

Backyard Hopping

June 23 in Lairi, Aigi, Egert, and Tiit's backyard: After sauna, imported beer, pork and chicken kebabs, dil and cucumber salad, and frisbee, along about 11 p.m., we started capturing insatiable mosquitoes.

June 21 with Sveta (the school nurse), Naima (the dean of students), Mrs. V., Maija (a Russian teacher), Mare, (a PE teacher), Kersti (a math teacher), me, Kai (a music teacher), and Sirje (an Estonian teacher) in Kai's backyard to celebrate her birthday.

June 20 with Jürgen, Marge, Laura, Sigrit, Raili, Kristel (seated), and Anton nearly in the Baltic Sea at Eisma following their graduation from high school a few hours earlier in Tapa.

June 17 with Nik, Sirli, Külvi, and Rita (and her beloved Corgi), all fellow English teachers, in Rita's backyard to celebrate the end of the school year.

23 June 2009

Dedication of the War of Independence Monument

So, in fear of offending one million people, I am going to confess that I have had a problem with the Vabadussõja võidusamba from the very beginning.

The monument is part of a major reconstruction project of Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square), which poured out from one of the gates on the southern end of Old Town in about 1910. I believe the square should have been restored to its 1937 appearance, given the similarity between the architecture surrounding the square then and now, with the new monument (maybe a little leaner but a little taller) erected where the column stood. Less is rarely more in Estonia.

Nevertheless, on June 22 at about 8.30 in the evening, the glass monument to Estonia's War of Independence, constructed with 3,000,000 Estonian kroons in privately donated money, stood at an awkward attention in front of two dozen rows of blue folding chairs and a surprisingly large crowd of people with cameras and flags, pressed against the customary metal barricades that circumscribed the empty chairs. Over the next hour, grey-haired veterans and hunched-over grandmothers shuffled to their seats of honor. Men in dark suits blew into the VIP section as well and waved a number of times but at no one in particular. A few clogged the aisle with their convivial hand-shaking and back-slapping. Other well-dressed indiviudals wandered into the cordoned off area, too, a bit put off that the only seats left were those in the last rows underneath the television cameras. Finally, the constantly constipated prime minister, the permanently squinting speaker of the Riigikogu, the perpetually smirking defense minister, and a number of other politicians filed in and dutifully filled up the first row.

Then the president rose from his blue folding chair, walked up the "steps of victory", opened his leather-bound folder and said - on this very festive occasion under a peaceful summer sky before so many talkative Estonians - "...only 190 years ago we were serfs. We were, literally, enslaved." And he continued with more poignant reminders: At the beginning of the last century we lacked liberty, ...the freedom to speak, to write, to sing, ...the right to elect our own government, ...to lead complete lives and to speak our own language." Well, that really burst my "We Are the Champions" bubble. The glass is usually half empty in Estonia.

"Pro Patria", Urmas Sisask's oratorio, sung by Finnish mezzosoprano Merle Silmato and Estonian baritone Jassi Zahharov with members of the Society of Estonia Choir, the A. LeCoq Chamber Choir, the Pärnu Chamber Choir, the Old Town Choir, and the Revalia Mens Chamber Choir, accompanied by the Estonian Military Orchestra (Peeter Saan, conductor) was absolutley fantastic!

21 June 2009

Swans at 3:06 a.m. near Eisma

28 May 2009

Last Class of the School Year: Last 5 Minutes

Last Class of the School Year: Next 30 Minutes

Last Class of the School Year: Next 5 Minutes

Last Class of the School Year: First 5 Minutes

23 May 2009

Navitrolla's Trees

21 May 2009

Most Noble Order of the O'Upstreamth

Because of a series of upcoming national exams for 12th graders, today was my last class with Tapa's 12th graders, the 14 or so teenagers I have taught for the last three years. I began the 90-minute lesson with a look ahead, saying to them:

About a month ago, I received a letter from the Kodakondsus ja Migratsiooniament - the Citizenship and Migration Board. The letter said 'Lugupeetud Hogan: You have been in Estonia for three years, and you still cannot speak Estonian. We think it is time for you to leave.' About two weeks later, I received a letter from the Russian consulate. The letter said 'Uv-a-ja-yee-moi Gas-ba-din Hogan: You have been in Estonia for three years. You know how to speak Estonian. We think it is time for you to leave.'

And so, after three years of ironing my own shirts, after two summers that lasted no more than two weeks, and after a year of watching CSI: Miami, New York, Las Vegas, Detroit, Idaho and Extreme CSI and NCSI, I have - as many of you know - decided to return to the US in August. I thought about teaching in Viimsi Gümnaasium and even Jõhvi Gümnaasium, but when Elmu asked me a second time to stay here in Tapa for at least another year, I felt it could be only Tapa or Chicago.

I told Elmu I really couldn't stay for one year anyway. If I would stay, I would have to stay for two years, to see the 10th graders - who are my second favorites - through to graduation. But if I did this, I would miss my own nephew's graduation next spring. Moreover, I have a two-year-old niece I have seen for only two weeks, not to mention a whole Facebook friends list of individuals - colleagues as well as classmates - I haven't seen for three years.

The older my parents get, the more help they need. The older I get, the more difficult it is to find a job. Just as it was the right time for me to come here, so it is the right time for me to go back. Besides, after your graduation parties, I doubt there will be much Russkij Razmer left in Estonia.

Today, I would like to thank each of you, to thank you for letting me be a part of your high school years. When the 6th graders were like wild animals and acting all crazy and the 11th graders were like zombies and wouldn't say a word, I knew that I'd find mature, astute, and even funny young adults among the 12th graders.

I then addressed each student in the classroom individually, thanking Raili, for example, for her near perfect attendance over three years, Marge for the image of her walking out of a Subway sandwich shop on Oxford Street in London, Kristel for being an ambassador for Tapa with a sense of humor, Oleg for his enthusiasm, Mikk for his honest opinions, Jürgen for being my right-hand man, Mihkel for his leadership, Annika and Nelda for their fantastic compositions.... And then I concluded with tears in my eyes:

I have worked in big cities and little towns. I have worked with white people, with black people, with Hispanic people, with Asian people. I have hired people, and I have fired people. I have been in the homes of poor people and in the homes of rich people. I have peed alongside millionaires. Maybe you are from Tapa or Lehtse or Ambla. Maybe you graduated from Tapa Gümnaasium, maybe you are from Estonia. In my opinion, though, there's no one here who does not have the ability to be successful anywhere in the world.

After that, I had to blow my nose and have a cup of coffee in the teachers' lounge. During the second half of the class, I had - thanks to the kindness and cooperation of the esteemed Duke and Duchess of Upstream - the extreme honor and priviledge of bestowing upon my 12th graders - those who had stuck with me for three years - perpetual and irrevocable membership in the Most Noble Order of the O'Upstreamth. Because it was indeed an official induction, forever recorded in the Great Register of Upstreamth, I had to don the Great Miter of O'Upstreamth (above), sent DHL by the duke and duchess.

With the miter atop me head, I proudly gave each student a certificate that read:
The Most Noble Order of the O'Upstreamth is hereby bestowed upon...for hitherto participating in more than 400 English lessons from September 2006 to May 2009, taught by an inexperienced, balding, middle-aged, overweight American with a big Irish nose, and for hithermore completing tedious grammar exercises, reading uninspired textbook articles, acting out everyday situations, writing profoundly moving essays, watching tear-jerking black and white movies, and laughing countless number of times, especially on Friday afternoons after 1:45. And at the bottom of the certificate, the fine print read: This certificate entitles the bearer to one night’s lodging, one steak dinner, and one bottle of domestic beer anywhere in the United States, when accompanied by a valid Mastercard or $399 in cash.

25 March 2009

There is a time for everything

Bright sun.
Baby blue skies.
Thick blanket of white snow.
Thin bare trees blocking the horizon nonetheless.
Babbling stream wandering aimlessly through the middle of nowhere.
It is indeed postcard-perfect.