Sunday, 29 December 2013


As of 29 December 2013, when you click on the Meet Maggie, Teaching FAQ, My Bucket List, Korea Blogs or Contact me, you will be redirected to This is my new website that is currently under construction. I hope to go fully live with it from February 2014.

Thank you and happy reading!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The most wonderful time of the year

Imagine you are in a room with bunk beds. Some people are lying in the bunk beds and others are lying on the floor, sleeping bags tucked up under their chin. A CD is playing. Toys, books and games are in messy piles waiting to be used. Instead, the occupants of the room are caterwauling their hearts away to "Santa Claus is coming to town!"  Ever so often, Mam or Dad poke in their heads to ask "Are you kids ever going to sleep"? Fast forward to morning, and I am the first one awake. I wait as long as I can (usually 5 minutes) before deciding that my siblings have slept long enough and I start singing (off key as it's the only way I sing) Jingle Bells or some other tune. A lot of growling, pleas to shut up and threats to smother me later, we stand at the top of the stairs, blankets wrapped around us, socks pulled as high as they can go, waiting on our mother's signal. Down we creep, each of us grabbing our Christmas sock. We file into the front room and wait for our dad to return with the tea (good guy, Dad!). Jostling each other we fight for the best seats and then open our socks, spilling pens, sweets and goodies onto our laps. Christmas day has started.

I love Christmas and everything connected to it - Christmas Eve Mass, the Nativity Scene, Christmas trees, lights and decorations, food, traditions and gifts. Coming to Korea, I knew that I wouldn't get to celebrate Christmas the way that I had in the past. While there were some traditions I wanted to keep (Kris Kindle with my family), there were some I had to forgo (my Mam's Christmas cake) and some I got to start. Some of these traditions I've decided to not only continue in Korea but for the rest of my life. What better way to keep a piece of my family and Korea with me always than by sharing with my own (hopefully, someday!) family.

Christmas is different in Korea - it's harder to get the turkey... and the spiced beef isn't happening....but you can still have the sides: mashed potatoes, garlic potatoes, roast potatoes, fried potatoes (did I mention potatoes?), green bean casserole, roasted veg and even pumpkin pie. It just takes being a little more creative. Last year, Christmas morning was spent having brunch with some close friends and their siblings. It was a lot of fun as everyone contributed yummies from crepes to chocolates! The evening was spent having a Christmas dinner where again wonderful food and company was provided. Now there are way more people in Jochiwon than last year, which means meeting in one person's house is really difficult. On Christmas Eve, a bunch of us are going to meet to exchange Kris Kindle gifts and on Christmas night I've invited the community to come to my house, if they want, for some drinks and maybe dessert.

Being with your family is probably impossible as an expat in Korea, unless someone visits you or you are lucky enough to get the Christmas week off to go home (on both counts, I am the queen of envy!). However, you can still spend it with people you love. Spend it with your friends and Skype with your family. That's what I did last year and what I am doing this year. My house isn't big enough to fit people sitting comfortably (last year at least 3-4 people had to stand to eat!) and as mentioned already we have a lot of people this year. Both this year and last year, I spent the majority of the day with my close friends and then the evening with my all my other friends. I know I wasn't the only one then and I won't be the only one doing it this year. My brother and his friends travelled distances to be together as their "family" his Christmas here.

I've already talked about how I have made decorations for Christmas and I mentioned the advent calendar. This is my new favourite tradition. A lot of times, I find it hard to balance my excitement with what the season is really about. When this happens I can become a bit snarky (Christmas 2011, anyone?). I don't like this side of me, so in an effort to combat it and so I don't feel "let-down" by Christmas I came up with my advent calendar.  This calendar allows me to put up one decoration a day from the 1st to the 25th December starting with the Christmas tree and lights all the way down to the baba Jesus in the crib. Every day, I get to put up one decoration (Santa decoration) or several types of one decoration (baubles). There are days where in order to put up the decoration, I must make something (snowmen and snowflakes). I have found that doing this has helped me to keep my Christmas spirit intact all the way through Christmas Day and even into the New Year. I've been quite busy this December so some things I am leaving to make on my birthday and even maybe the next crafts club in February (it's a sewing project, so it's allowed!).Another tradition that I have decided to start is making my own Christmas inspired foods and drinks: Non-alcoholic apple cider and mulled wine (my sister is going to send me the recipe..hint-hint), peanut butter cups (thanks, Jaime), mincemeat, and my own version of the Chocolate Refrigerator cake (original recipe is here).

Some other things that have helped me was to enjoy Christmas in Korea are as follows, and who knows maybe they will help you too!
  • Listening to Christmas FM. This is is a charity radio station from Ireland and every year their charity partner changes. They play lots of Christmas songs and it's always nice to hear the Irish accent!
  • Don't sit alone at home. This is key. Sitting alone at home induces wallowing and the cry of "Why me?" Go for coffee, meet for dinner - just get away from yourself for a few hours.
  • Go to something Christmassy. Last year, I saw The Hobbit and I went to a performance of The Phantom of the Opera. I have yet to make it to the second Hobbit movie but I did go see The Nutcracker.
  • Decorate your home. Even if it's just to put some fairy lights up - it puts you in good spirit, add in that music and sure you'll be laughing in no time at all! The more creative you are the better - I like making Christmas decoration and will happily spend hours cutting out snowflakes but you could also do what my friend, Rucy, did and make a Tripod tree. 
  • Do something charitable, even if you can't make it to an actual place to volunteer, give some cash to the Salvation army or if you know someone who is involved in a charity, perhaps you can donate. This year, one of the girls in my town is organising gifts for the local orphanage. Another girl is organising a wrapping party for these gifts. Fun shall ensue! 
  • With your close friends share a part of your childhood Christmases. Santa always brought stationery to us and I am passing that useful tradition on to my friends. Delicious roast potatoes will be my other reminder of home this year as is the tea, games and chats. At home, my family doesn't turn on the TV for the few days surrounding Christmas. Instead we partake in each others company. So in my house (while the computer will play music), no TV is the rule on Christmas day!

"Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night". 

 Clement C Moore

So you might think I'm mad to try and start traditions in Korea that I think I want to do for the rest of my life. You might think I'm mad to try and recreate as much as I can the Christmases I had as a child. Christmas is about magic and if you believe hard enough, then much like Tinkerbell, Christmas is alive and well. As my very wise mother once told me when I was being a bit of a brat, Christmas is what you make it - if you only let yourself get caught up in the commercialism of it you will be let down. So even if you are far from home and far from loved ones, keep your Christmas spirit and just maybe you'll find that the "love ones [don't need to be] near" for it to be "the most wonderful time of the year."

PS. This post is inspired by the song "It's the most wonderful time of the year" and trying to make Christmas in Korea the most wonderful time of the year.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Love and laughter and joy ever after

Yesterday morning, I had English class with my 3-1 class. When I walked in the classroom, the home room teacher told me that my students had a song to perform for me as a gift. I was delighted as they pulled out their Korean recorders/tinwhistles (I don't know the name but will post a photo later as I have a gift of one at home). They played one of the songs from Fantasia and they were excellent.
I had already decided that today I was going to bring some choco pies to give them as Christmas presents as I won't see these students until St Stephen's day. The students were so excited when the saw them and at the end of class I started to hand them out. The teacher stopped me and had me gather them back up. Meanwhile, the students formed a circle where I stood in the middle.. Then the teacher told me that they had heard my birthday was coming up and as I stood there red with embarrassment my 3rd graders sang "Happy Birthday" in English, congratulated and some even gave me little gifts of candy. One student gave me a gift of a toy camel which I'm going to include in my crib. I had to pull back on the tears but the corners of my eyes were wet!

I'm really proud of them regardless but I today am really chuffed that they wanted to do this and were encouraged to do so by their teacher. I feel really, really loved today and it just goes to show if you have teachers who care about English, you will see your students shine as they learn the language.

So, thank you to my "children [for] singing [birthday] rhymes" and to my teacher for reminding me Christmas is a "time for believing" especially in the small things.

PS This post is inspired by the generosity of my students and their home-room teacher. I used Cliff Richard's Mistletoe and Wine to illustrate their loveliness!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Loud, LOud, LOUd, LOUD, sssshh quiet.

When I cook, I sometimes have the TV or some music on but, generally, I prefer silence as I chop, slice and dice. I like hearing the sounds of whatever I am making come together - the hiss of the oil, the rolling bubbles of water and the clatter of pots and pans  - as I make my way around the kitchen. Usually, this is the only time I allow my self some quiet (outside of reading). It's not that I don't like quiet, I do, but I find it hard to just sit quietly and think. When I cook though, I am able to separate my brain from my actions. I know how to chop an onion, peel a carrot and crush some garlic. I do this automatically and my brain gets to think, quietly.

Hmmm this sounds as if I only think when I cook. That's not true, I think a lot - on the bus or train (when I'm not napping), snatched minutes between classes, whilst I am out for a walk or wandering around Home Plus by myself. However, I have noticed that over the years I have developed some bad habits: when I am not cooking or doing some other crafty thing, I generally don't set aside some time to meditate or just think. Instead, I use up my free time doing stupid stuff: playing on my smartphone, Imgur (seriously, whoever told me about this site, I want to take back my thanks), Facebook, TV, streaming TV or movies. None of these things are bad, of course, but like anything in excess they are not healthy for you me. 

With this in mind, over the last few months, I've been making some changes to get a little more quiet in my life. While the whole TV related thing is where it has always been, I have made strides in two areas: Facebook and my smartphone. A few months ago, I deleted FB from my phone for 4 weeks. It was tough and I didn't like it at all. I had become very reliant on the FB app so I decided to bring it back. When I did I changed my settings though. I changed them so that my phone no longer vibrates a notification or buzzes me a preview of a message. Instead, when I go into the app, I see my notifications. It's heavenly. Yes, I do sometimes miss a few messages here and there. Yes, I do sometimes check my phone obsessively every 10 minutes but these times are less and less. Instead, I only use my FB phone app on the bus and when I am at home - and not as obsessively as before!

With the freedom no longer have FB notifications gave me, I decided to extend this freedom to my other apps: Kakao especially buzzes a lot. I love this app as it keeps me very connected here in Korea.  Instagram, has also followed suit. It's amazing how much time I don't spend on my phone, now. I also turn my phone off when I enter work and turn it on again when I leave. It gives me so much more freedom to just get things done. I only have notifications for Gmail and Snapchat. Only 2 people Snapchat me so it's not too big of a deal to have it on my phone and Gmail is used for several things - from messages from my family, co-workers and projects I am involved in, so it's important that I keep those notifications!

However, despite these efforts, I still haven't found as much quiet time as I want to have in my life. Again, this is mostly my own fault. Somehow despite having between 5-6 hours every evening to be productive and get quiet time, it seems to just fly in. I don't know what is that I do, but the evening  is always over much faster than I expected. School can crawl by but the evenings fly by.  I let myself get distracted by stupid things - checking Facebook and staying on Facebook for hours, Imgur and Lamebook are total distractions (to prevent you from being distracted, I have kindly refrained from providing links) and I spend a lot of time just watching TV. It's actually good that I like to read, cook and do crafty things because if I didn't I'd totally waste my day.

For the rest of December (3.5 weeks), I am going to to make time for a little silence in each day. I don't know yet what I will do but I feel that these two things are manageable: I am going to use the quiet place everyday. It's only a few seconds (90secs). But they will be my few seconds to breathe. I am going to get outside by myself and go for a walk or a jog for a few minutes everyday. I already do this in my main school 3 days a week but I need to incorporate the other days into my life, too. 

So you might think I'm mad to waste so much of my time. You might think I'm mad to not take time to just breathe and be quiet. You might think I'm mad, considering it's snowing heavily, to want to go out everyday of the next few weeks. Well, I agree with you for one and two. I definitely need to manage my free time better. For three, well....even when it's snowing there is still value to be had in going outside and just breathing! So with a little help and prompting from myself, I think I can get a little quiet in my life! Wish me luck!

PS This post is inspired by my daily struggles to find some time to reflect and be quiet.
PPS This post is inspired by the Super Simple Song "Open, shut them" that I have used in a lot of my classes to demonstrate opposites. 

Monday, 9 December 2013

Let's get together, yeah yeah yeah and why don't you and I [drink wine]

I love cooking. I may have mentioned this before but just in case I haven't... it is one of my most favourite things to do in the whole wide world! It's such a nice way for me to unwind and relax. I love the chopping, dicing, slicing, stirring and mixing. I love following recipes and creating them. I love making mistakes and figuring out how to fix them. I love realising what spices and herbs go with food item I'm cooking and I love surprising myself when something I made up turned out just right. (And yes, I do despair when I make up something and it's just mank!)

In other parts of the creative world, I don't excel as much - sewing, knitting, crocheting and pottery have all passed me by. So, you might be surprised but I am a novice wood-turner. I did wood-turning for a few terms and it was one of my favourite hobbies. The only reason that I stopped the class was that I had decided to do my TEFL and to move abroad. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made and the first time that I realised that following your dreams can mean sacrificing things that you love. Whilst the course itself was not expensive it was an entire evening every week dedicated to wood-turning would have cut into my study.

Coming to Korea initially, I let my interest in crafty stuff disappear in the excitement of wandering, travelling, eating and experiencing. However, once winter set in, I found myself craving some crafty time. I am pretty nifty with a scissors and some glue, and on top of being able to draw (and I like to draw), I found myself trying to find ways to while away those long winter hours. So,  I started drawing hands, again. When I took art many moons ago for my Leaving Certificate, my teacher informed us that for our first couple of classes, and for homework, we were just going to draw hands until we could do it perfectly. This exercise is a favourite of mine whenever I come back to drawing after having been away for a while. If I can't draw a hand, I can't draw that elaborate picture I had in my head either! Once I had my hands perfected to my satisfaction (they may not have quite pleased my Art Teacher!), I started to think of ways I could expand my horizons.

Although Korea has a lot of Christmassy ornaments in Daiso and Homeplus (and other shops too), none of them really reminded me of home. My favourite decorations that we have are our little wooden ones that I believe my mam got in Germany many years ago when she was au-pairing there. Over the years, I've started my own collection of ornaments from beautiful glass angels to little wooden decorations. I even seem to be following in my mother's footsteps with a slowly growing collection of nativity scenes.   Thanks to my travels these ornaments are beautiful reminders of trips with family and friends as they hail from America, Italy, Ireland and Scotland. My love of Christmas decorations is so well known by my family and friends, that one year, in a work Kris Kindle, I was absolutely delighted to receive a gorgeous carousel and some glass angels. I was so excited that despite our Kris Kindles supposed to being anonymous, my friend (once more a million thanks, Presc) had to tell me that it was her as I kept telling everyone I met that day thank you! Sadly, I don't have any of these things here with me in Korea. Firstly, I've too many to take on one trip. Secondly, some are too breakable for such a long journey. Thirdly, I don't want to lose them here in Korea.

So back to Christmas in Korea....Daiso and Homeplus didn't have what I was looking for (reminder to self: Maggie you are in KOREA not GERMANY), so after a few minutes of anguish, I decided to make a game plan. I picked out a few things that I liked - some lights, baubles, snowflakes, beads and I got some very thin tinsel (my tree is tiny and I don't like big tinsel in any case). . I am not great at origami so a friend of mine helped me to make some penguins whilst I cut out tons of snowflakes. I like making snowflakes so much that I did this with a lot of my classes last year and I would make about 5 to each of my students one snowflake!. I spent hours folding candy canes, drawing ornaments and researching different advent calendars and  paper decorations. I spent so much time on it that my house for about 3 weeks looked like a stationery shop had exploded with all the paper, glue, stickers, bits and bobs. For the rest, I decided to make my own. A stack of origami paper later I was sitting in my house making old fashioned paper ring chains, Chinese lanterns and these beautiful stars.

That was last year and I saved most of my decorations both bought and homemade (St Joseph disappeared on Christmas day and has not been seen since). This year, I cleared my desk and made it my "Christmas corner". Boxes that held my Christmas presents last year now hold all my decorations, last year's advent calendar is up and pinned with an item a day (and in some cases several items a day). The crafty gifts I got for last year's Christmas are up there waiting their turn to be sewn, glued and/or painted.
Crafty folk

Crafty folk 

Crafty folk

Crafting is so much fun, but it is time consuming and, in my case, very messy for my small space! I struggle with trying to balance the hours of fun that I can have doing it with the state my apartment gets in while I am doing it (and stays in for days after). I struggle with knowing that the minute I start I may not be able to finish before bedtime, so that means I know I'll be up until 1.00a.m. With this in mind, I've tried to create a balance this year: for Easter, I only made these origami Easter bunnies and for Hallowe'en I only spent a few evenings working on my projects. The things I made were easy - bats, ghosts and pumpkins. The more elaborate designs (witch, wizard and crazy killer girl) were still made in a couple of hours. With Christmas approaching and the fact that is is my favourite holiday, I knew I'd be way more easily distracted by crafting. Luckily my friend and I had discussed setting up a Wine and Crafts club a few months before and with this thought in mind the first meeting of this club began on December 5th.  This meant, that not only could I spend some time crafting...I also got to do it in a controlled environment! There were 10 girls at this first event and that meant I just couldn't spread out the way I am wont!  Well, I could...but then I'd have spilt the wine! Despite this curtailment on my space, I still ended up making this gingerbread house with some help from one of the other girls:

So you might think
 I'm mad to have chosen doing TEFL over my beloved Wood-turning. You might think I'm mad to mix wine with crafting and you might think I'm mad to not just buy all the decorations I found in Daiso and Homeplus (some of them are quite nice, btw). Well, the most important concern there is around wine - the worst that can happen is that it spills on a craft. And yes, I could have just bought all the decorations but now I have memories for keeps and plenty of ideas on what to do with my students in afterschool classes and, hopefully, with my own children some day. But yes, I think part of me was mad to give up wood-turning in favour of TEFL. It was one of the hardest decisions I made when I started my journey to move to Korea. However, I can always take it up again and in the meantime, I can see the pieces I made anytime I go home!

PPS This post was inspired by my favourite holiday, Christmas, and my love of crafting.
PPS This post was inspired by the "Let's get together" song from The Parent Trap starring Haley Mills and a great night at Wine and Craft Club. Here's to the next one!
PPPS: No wine was spilt or crafts destroyed in the making of this post.