Spelling is Hard

Posted by Goodwill Librarian on Facebook 10 Feb 2016

Posted by Goodwill Librarian on Facebook 10 Feb 2016

I learned to read before kindergarten but I just memorized whole words, I had no decoding skills. When I started grade one, most of the class did phonics work but since I could already read, while they were cutting and pasting words and syllables I had a different text and workbook (it was yellow and was called “A Duck is a Duck”, the second in the series was green but I forget the name – a Google search has come up with “Helicopters and Gingerbread”). Somehow I was able to read most anything but I couldn’t spell to save my soul. In third grade, I started to cry when I was placed in a high reading group – not because I couldn’t read the texts but because I didn’t know how to write the words to fill in the answers in the workbook. I managed to convince my teacher to move me down a level. (She was a very experienced teacher so now I’d like to think she was on to me but if so, she didn’t let on.) In fourth grade, my dad helped me study for my weekly spelling tests and I became a good speller.

We moved to Canada just before I started grade 5 and I was faced with some new spellings and pronunciations. I remember a spelling achievement test in grade 6 and being baffled when the teacher said “left-tennant” (interestingly the google doc spell checker knows what that is supposed to be…). Perhaps seeing my baffled look, she then said it was also pronounced lew-tennant. I heaved a sigh of relief but then realized I might not know how to spell the word but hey at least I had heard of it! (That teacher was also the first person I ever heard call the black and white stripy animals ze-bras rather than zee-bras though for a long time I was sure she was calling them zed-bras.) Going to school in Canada, I adopted Canadian spellings – colour, neighbour, mould, recognize, centre. Some of these were reinforced as I learned French and French also caused me to regularly misspell certain words – filtre, litterature.

I once read that to cope with Canadian English’s mix of American and British spellings, most spell checkers just accept both spellings if you have it set to “Canadian English”.

Since I leaving Canada 10 years ago, I have been surrounded by English speakers from a variety of countries. This has had an impact on my vocabulary and also on my spelling. For the most part I stick to Canadian spellings but at some point my Google language setting ended up as UK English (I have just switched it back – interestingly for Gmail display language you can only choose between US English and UK English.) However even with it switched, Gmail is still insisting on UK spelling and as a slave to the red squiggly line, I usually give in.

This morning I went to write skeptical but wasn’t sure if I was spelling it correctly so I Googled it and it came up as sceptical. I did some further research later and realized it was one of those words. Apparently the k spelling is more common in North America. Suffice it to say that I am thankful for spellcheck but even then I have doubts about which spelling I should be using!

As for vocabulary, I discovered the “Not One-Off Britishisms” blog this morning and it seems to be that my use of English expressions that are not traditionally American won’t be as noticeable as they once would have been. Then again some of these “Britishisms” are also “Canadianisms” – ex. in hospital – and reading the index of entries, I would be hard pressed to tell you for many of them if I used them when I lived in Canada or if I have picked them up in the last 10 years…

Ten Years Overseas

Me, Cathy, Malcolm, Lizzie and Sue

Farewell dinner in Ottawa, January 2006

Saying goodbye at the Ottawa Airport, 13 January 2006

Saying goodbye at the Ottawa Airport, 13 January 2006


10 years

4 countries on 4 different continents

2 paying jobs

2 volunteer positions

Too many flights to count

In January 2006, Facebook was not yet open to the public, YouTube was less than a year old, Twitter hadn’t been founded, iPhones hadn’t been released yet. Skype existed but computers didn’t have built in webcams. It wasn’t the dark ages but it was sure different from the always connectedness of today.

Before I moved to Singapore, I had lived in and/or visited 15 countries. I have now up to 51 and I have been back to about half of the original 15. I now have friends in many countries and on all continents except Antarctica (at least as far as I know…)

I have met lots of people, seen many places, eaten some weird things, and made many memories. I have had amazing times with friends new and old.

I have missed some weddings, several funerals, and it has taken me awhile to meet some  babies that were born.

Long plane journeys have become commonplace (and long bus journeys may soon be as well).

I have learned and forgotten words and expressions in many languages.

It has gotten easier to keep in contact with faraway friends and family but it is never quite the same as spending time in each other’s presence.

I wonder what the next 10 years will bring…

Sunday Afternoon at Parque Bolívar

Parque Simon Bolívar, a long, skinny park that is not far from my house, was originally a private park for a princess. Now it is a popular spot for runners, couples and families. I wandered by last Sunday afternoon and marvelled at the variety of activities taking place.

In addition to running (and walking), there are many other ways to do laps of the park (but most are for children).








In the middle of the park is an Eiffel tower that was designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. It was shipped from France to Sucre in 1908 and was used as a weather tower for the first 16 years. It was moved to the park in 1925 and you can climb up the spiral staircase if you like.


Around the tower runs a waterway and you can rent paddle boats or try out the “Splash O Balls”.




There are plenty of bouncy castles set up and a painting station (where you buy pre-printed outlines to paint).




There are also plenty of items for sale (including food).


Gelatina is a favourite among Bolivians but I usually just go for a bag of popcorn.


At the far end, there is a fountain and rose garden. Apparently the fountain is turned on and there is a light show at 7:30 pm on weekends but I haven’t yet been there for it. (And I didn’t take any photos at that end last Sunday.)

At opposite end there are two large arches and a couple of pillars. Here is one of the arches.


Along one side of the park there is a tennis club, a swimming pool and a large playground with a dinosaur theme.

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It is a busy place!

Volunteers and Rights – taking part in various events in Sucre

Over the past week or so, I have been invited by Maritza, the director of BiblioWorks, to take part in (or at least observe) a variety of events in Sucre.

On Friday 4 December (the day before International and National Volunteer Day), there was a special ceremony organized by CONAVOL-Chuquisaca (a chapter of the Consejo Nacional de Voluntariado) to recognize 60 volunteers from a variety of organizations in Sucre and other places in the department of Chuquisaca. Maritza was elected the vice-president of CONAVOL-Chuquisaca in September. They are working on laws to have volunteering officially recognized and valued. I was honoured to be selected for recognition for my work with BiblioWorks but even more pleased that a lovely young Bolivian, Ariane, was recognized for her work with Inti and the working children of Sucre. She comes from a family of means and has been surrounded by books and reading from a young age. On Friday afternoons, she joins BibliWorks staff and the Inti children in the plaza for storytelling and activities. She has also accompanied the children on excursions to various sites around Sucre.



Members of CONAVOL – Lidia (secretary), Samuel (president) and Martiza (vice-president) with Ariane and Roxana (project manager with BiblioWorks).





IMG_0361On Saturday 5 December, to celebrate International and National Volunteer Day, members of CONAVOL gathered in the main plaza of Sucre with a marching band and a floral arrangement. After a few speeches and some numbers by the band, we marched and danced our way around the plaza and then to a hall for refreshments. It was neat to be a part of one of the random groups of people marching and dancing in the streets that are regular occurrence here.

IMG_0376   IMG_0380 IMG_0383 Every Tuesday afternoon, Maritza meets with a group who are working on laws to protect the rights of children in Bolivia. On Wednesday 9 December, there was third of four sessions being held to present the input of local children and youth. Maritza presented the ideas of the working children who sell Inti magazine in their own words. (The children themselves were not present because they were on an excursion organized by the canteen for working children which provides them with a free lunch each day.) They would like things like a bathroom in their house and a place to relax in the plaza after work. The country director for UNICEF (who happens to be from Korea) mentioned to Maritza afterwards that it was wonderful that she presented the children’s wishes in their own words.


On Thursday 10 December, International Human Rights Day, I accompanied Maritza to the central plaza to meet with some others working on children’s rights. If I understand correctly, members of the press gather each morning in the plaza. We had copies of a press release which was shared with them and then they interviewed Maritza and others on the spot. There was other groups doing the same on a variety of topics.


Out next destination was a ceremony organized by the Defensoría del Pueblo (Ombudsman). The Defensoría is a public institution charged with defending human rights. After a presentation recapping their actions during 2015, they recognized key players from several different organizations and then served hors d’oeuvres and wine (at 10:30 am!).


From there we headed to the Casa de la Libertad where there were more speeches (but no wine so we didn’t stay long).


It is fascinating and a privilege to be invited to attend these events. Bolivia has room for improvement in many areas and it wonderful to see the dedication of Bolivians to bring about change.

Back to Asia

As some of you know, two weeks ago I accepted a teacher-librarian position at Busan International Foreign School in Busan, South Korea. I officially start on August 1st, 2016 (but I assume I will arrive a week or two before that). Here is the story of how this came about.

Soon after arriving in Bolivia, I decided it made sense to look for a teacher-librarian position at an international school for the 2016-2017 school year. Recruiting starts early and I didn’t want to go to a job fair so by mid-October I had managed to activate my account with Search Associates. (Part of this was bugging four former supervisors and colleagues for confidential references.)

Once my account was activated I could see open positions advertised at various schools. I was keen to find a school with all three IB programmes and that wasn’t too huge. Many of the positions advertised were middle/high school or K-12 positions. I contacted a few friends working at the schools with positions (including in a couple instances the current librarian who was obviously making plans to leave) or someone I knew who had been at the school who was able to put me in contact with someone currently at the school. One person I contacted was a librarian I met while I was in Tanzania. She was working at an international school in Dar es Salaam and I spent a day in her library. We left Tanzania around the same time and she took a position at a school in South Korea, Busan International Foreign School.

Initially the position at BIFS was advertised as a K-12 but then it was modified to be just elementary. On Tuesday 27 October, I emailed the school and the next day I got an email from the principal offering me an initial interview with herself and the PYP coordinator the week of November 9 (as they were on holiday the first week of November). We set it up for my Monday evening (Nov 9), their Tuesday morning (Nov 10).

In the meantime, I sent an email to a school in Bangkok that was advertising a middle school/high school position (but I never got a reply and I wasn’t really surprised, seeing as all of my experience is in elementary).

Monday evening, I put on a dress (and makeup!) and headed to the BiblioWorks office because the wifi is stronger there. The interview seemed to go well. I asked a bazillion questions and was happy with the answers. Skype cooperated and we had both audio and video. The next morning I had an email from the principal about a second interview 3 days later (Nov 12/13).

Before that happened a position at the International School of Phnom Penh came up on Search. I contacted a friend who used to teach there to see if she could put me in touch with someone who was still there and she did. However in spite of being on Search Associates, ISPP asks that applications be submitted via a different recruiting site, Schrole. It meant filling out some information about myself, uploading my CV, answering some questions provided by the school and getting more confidential references. I hummed and hawed a bit. I wasn’t keen to bug my references again when I was already in the process of interviewing with another school.

Skype did not cooperate for my second interview with BIFS. We tried calling multiple times, turned off video etc but it wasn’t working well at all. They could hear me but they were garbled when they spoke. We ended up doing the interview with them typing the questions and me answering orally. It was weird. At the end, they said they were down to two candidates and asked if they could check my references. The next morning I had an email introducing me to two of the coordinators and asking us to set up a time for a short interview. I replied but figured I wouldn’t hear back until Monday at the earliest.

Sunday, November 15 I decided I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket and I started work on my Schrole application. Monday night I heard back from the coordinators and an interview was organized for their Wednesday morning (my Tuesday night). I completed my Schrole application and bugged my references (who were super quick) and applied for the ISPP position.

The interview with the coordinators was short but seemed to go well and by the time I woke up the next morning,I had an email from the principal introducing me to the head of school so we could set up a time for an interview as well as one from him directly. After a bit of back and forth, we ended up scheduling it for his Monday morning (my Sunday evening).

Thursday morning I had an email from the elementary principal at ISPP offering me an interview the week beginning 30 November as they were going on holiday the following week.

The next day I contacted a teacher who had worked at BIFS but was now working at ISPP to see what he might be willing to share about both schools. He said good things about both of them…

On Sunday, I had an email out of the blue from the principal at a school in Budapest saying she would like to talk to me about a position at their school that had just come up and wasn’t yet advertised on Search. We set a time for the next day. I wasn’t really interested in the position but I was curious about how inquiry is at the school as they are not PYP and I was flattered she contacted me. (Coincidently, the current librarian at that school used to work at ISPP and I met her on a boat on the river in Phnom Penh when I was there visiting a friend in June 2011 – small world.)

That evening I had my chat with the head of school in Busan. It was a friendly discussion and much of it focused on the salary and benefits. I walked home after, changed out of my interview clothes and made a snack. As I was eating I picked up my phone and realized I had an email from the principal asking if I had time for quick Skype. I crossed my fingers that my home wifi would cooperate and got online. Skype cooperated and she offered me the position. I asked how quickly she would need to know and confessed I had other interviews lined up. She said she would need to know fairly soon so as to not keep the other candidate hanging.

I emailed the principal at ISPP to let her know I had an offer from another school and got an autoreply that she was away all week. I took it as a sign and emailed the principal at BIFS back to accept the offer. She forwarded me a letter of intent right away. I emailed my Search Associates person because in their instructions it said to get in touch before signing anything. I got an email back from the principal at ISPP saying it wouldn’t be possible to do the interview any sooner (which didn’t surprise me) and to let her know if I did accept the offer.

I went to bed and tried to sleep. By the next morning, I hadn’t heard back from the Search person and as it was already night in Korea, I decided to give him 24 hours. I went ahead and signed the letter and attached it to an email but didn’t send it. (I did go ahead and cancel my interview with the school in Budapest though – I didn’t feel it was right to take up her time when I wasn’t considering the position.) By that evening, I still hadn’t heard back but I went ahead and sent it anyway (and then emailed the principal at ISPP to cancel our interview).

I am still waiting for it to sink in that I am moving to Korea and that I already have a job lined up for next year. However at the same time I want to take advantage of the time I still have in Bolivia and not spend it planning the future. That will be my juggling act for the next 6 months or so.



Random Arts

Yesterday evening, I wandered out to see what events were on offer as part of the Festival Internaciónal de la Cultura that is currently going on in Sucre. An online search had proved fruitless so I went by the Casa de Cultura to see if I could pick up a program. I didn’t see any so I checked the giant version and nothing took my fancy.

On the way home, I walked via a small plaza that has a theatre building at one end, Teatro Gran Mariscal. There were barricades around the end of the plaza facing it as well as some lights on platforms and a sound board set up. There were also some people milling around the entrance. I was curious about what might be going to take place so I sat on a bench to see what I could see. After a while I was joined by an older woman who asked if I knew what was going on. I told her I did not and she suggested I accompany her to find out. She seemed harmless so I decided to go along. First she wanted to buy some candy (and this being Bolivia someone with a cart selling various sweets was set up right by the entrance). She offered me some and I declined but she insisted I take one saying she had bought them for me. (I put it in my pocket.)

We went toward the entrance but then she decided we should sit on the bench for a bit longer. She introduced herself as Teresa and asked me a bunch of questions (including if I was married and if my hair colour was natural). She also shared that she was single but a 23 year old son. I am not good at ages but I think she looked like she was in her late 50s. 

After awhile she decided we should try going into the theatre. No one stopped us and they were handing out programs.


We went in and found seats in a box. I perused the program and discovered that we were at the closing ceremonies for a three day arts education conference. However the program said it was supposed to start at 6 pm and it was already after 7 pm… It eventually started around 7:30 pm and consisted of a variety of dance and musical numbers interspersed with the presentation of certificates or diplomas for people who had made a difference in various domains of art education (music, dance, theatre). They were calling them masters of arts but from what I understood they were honorary degrees (and most of the people receiving them looked like they had already had long careers). It all wrapped up about 10 pm. Teresa suggested we go for tea but I begged off and instead we exchanged phone numbers. I am not sure if I will hear from her again or not…

Wine Tasting in Bolivia

On Wednesday, a group of seven of us set off from Sucre for Villa Abecia. We have been in the process of setting up a library there for over a year but the official inauguration was Thursday. Our group consisted of a family of three from Canada who will be volunteering there for about six months, Maritza (the director of BiblioWorks) and two American volunteers, Kristen and Deirdre.

Wednesday evening, after we dropped the Canadians off at their apartment, Maritza, Kristen, Deirdre and I picked up a bottle of wine from a local winemaker. He had two kinds – a sweet white and a port. We went for the port.

The next day, the inauguration was in the morning and in the afternoon we explored some local water holes called “pozos”. 

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Around 5 pm, Maritza headed off to Camargo to catch up with family and friends and a bit later Deirdre, Kristen and I were picked up by a taxi headed to Tarija.

I was quite out of my comfort zone, knowing that we would be arriving in Tarija after dark without accommodation reservations but decided to put my trust in Kristen and Deirdre and go along with it. The taxi dumped us out at the side of the road and we managed to flag down a taxi that took us to the main plaza (after I dug out my Lonely Planet to check the name of said plaza). It took a few tries but we eventually found a cheap hotel with a room available. It wasn’t great but we decided it would do for one night.

In the morning, we set out to find breakfast, a new hotel and to book a wine tour (in that order). We were successful on all three counts.

The wine tour was supposed to be at 2 pm but one of the women in the office told us to come at 1:30 pm. We did but ended up hanging out on the street corner until 1:50 pm when our guide, Jorge, came by and introduced himself and then a driver showed up shortly after. We picked up a couple from La Paz at their hotel and then we were off.


Our first stop was at the Campos de Solana winery. We had a pretty standard tour, starting off by seeing tanks and barrels.


Then we headed for the tasting room. Here things were a bit different. After our tour guide showed us the various wines they have, we were told we needed to come to a consensus as we would only be trying one wine. We chose a rosé that was quite nice.

Our next stop was at Casa Real, a singani distillery. Singani is a spirit made from grapes and it is usually mixed with ginger ale. 


We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the distillery or the bottling plant. At the end, we each got a glass of singani mixed with ginger ale as well as a taste of one of the special ones straight.

Our third stop was again at a winery. This one is located in a house that is more than 400 years old (but with more recent additions) and it is appropriately called Casa Vieja.


It was super busy there. Eventually we were herded into a tasting room with about 25 other people and told to make a circle. The man leading the tasting poured 12 or so glasses of wine and told us what each one was. He then started handing them to the person closest to him and the idea was to take a sip and pass it on. It was rather surreal but also sort of like communion. The whole time he was encouraging us to pass faster. The wines were all pretty sweet and I was rather relieved when we got to the last one.

Other Tarija highlights were the Museo Nacional Paleontológico Arqueológico, with more glyptodon fossils as well as other large prehistoric mammals, a shrunken mummified person and various rocks and minerals; a set of waterfalls with more pozos; tasting little freshwater crustaceans (I let Kristen and Deirdre do that) and a buffet lunch at the only vegetarian restaurant.








Last night we took a bus that left Tarija at 7:30 pm and arrived back in Sucre around 5 am. The big buses tend to be double decker but with only baggage (and the driver) on the lower level and people on the top. We had the front row (which freaked Kristen out as we speed down the highway in the dark) but I put a scarf over my eyes and tried to get as much sleep as possible.


Saving Your Parking Spot in Sucre, part 2

Since my previous post about saving your parking spot in Sucre, I have spotted yet more objects being used to reserve stretches of the street.

Some are variations on the cement with metal sticking out of them:

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Wooden poles can be placed parallel or perpendicular to the street:

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Stumps work too:


Or you can use whatever is handy!

A big box:



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And sometimes it is best to use a variety of materials:

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Maybe you can even practise your patterning!


Oh and don’t forget to chain your pylons to a post so you don’t lose them when they are not saving your space:


Books and Music in Yamparaéz

Last week, I was able to spend a day in our library in Yamparaéz with two American volunteers who are doing a special music project in several of our libraries. Kristen Ford is a singer/songwriter and she and her partner, Deirdre, are spending three months traveling in South America after spending 15 months touring all over the U.S.

We took a micro to the Parada Tarabuco (the Tarabuco bus stop in Sucre) and from there got on a minibus. The minibus will drop you off in Yamparaéz but charges the same as if you were to continue on to Tarabuco (10 Bs). Once the minibus was full, it departed. (It was full by Bolivian standards – one person per seat – but not by Tanzanian standards.)

I have a had a few conversations with foreigners and Bolivians alike about littering. There are signs around both prohibiting dumping of trash and encouraging good behaviour but they don’t seem to be having much impact.

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Unfortunately this sign on the minibus telling you to throw your rubbish out the window rather than on the floor of the bus seems to sum up the attitude of many people.


We arrived in Yamparaéz after about 30 minutes.

Kristen and Deirdre has spent the previous day there (with Silvia from BiblioWorks) promoting their workshops at the school. There was one secondary music class scheduled to come with their teacher before lunch and an open session for primary students in second grade in the afternoon.

We had a bit of time before the first group arrived so I took a look around the library. The non-fiction books are organized using a simplified Dewey system (numbers only and only to the tens place) and I smiled to see that the picture books been given the call number “1000”.



The secondary class didn’t show up right away for their session so Kristen and I went over to the school where we found them getting organized and they eventually made it to the library. After introductions and a bit of music, Deirdre read a picture book to the group “El ocaso” and then had the students generate a list of things that happen in the evening. Kristen used their ideas to create a song and the students joined in with various noise makers while she played the guitar and sang (and tried to get them to sing as well). The group was a bit timid at first but after the singing and some drawing, they warmed up a bit.


A few students were interested in trying out the guitar. 


Then it was time for lunch. We stopped by the town hall ostensibly to use the washroom but also to check out the glyptodont fossil that is on display there.

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Then we headed to a park to eat our sandwiches (the day before the local lunch place had run out of food so we brought our own). There is a statue of a glyptodont in the middle of town.


The afternoon group of younger students were more animated and involved in the singing. They too were interested in trying out the guitar. 








To return to Sucre, we headed out to the road and waited for a ride. The day before, Kristen, Deirdre and Silvia had gotten a lift in the back of a pickup but we were picked up by a guy in an SUV. He did a lap of town to collect more passengers and then we were off.

Kristen and Deirdre spent the rest of the week in Yamparaéz. Yesterday and today they have gone to the school library in Pampa Aceituno. Tomorrow afternoon, along with Maritza (the director of BiblioWorks) and a Canadian family of volunteers, we are heading to Villa Abecia for the official inauguration of BiblioWorks’ 12th library (it has already been open for nearly a year but the official ceremony has been delayed). We have chartered some transport for the 7 hour journey. Monday is a holiday (All Saints) so I am planning to go from Villa Abecia to Tarija and check out Bolivia’s wine region.