From Sunrise to Sunset I Love Home

Returning to Phnom Penh last week after three weeks away I was struck by the change in the sunrise – turns out it is still rising later here and I really noticed it on my morning commute. I love watching the city wake up- cleaning up from the previous night, sweeping up- sometimes into the street, sometimes into bins. People setting up their shops- hauling products out front. I pass innumerable KTVs (Gooogle it- karaoke is big business here), tons of cafes, tiny specialty shops selling anything from floor tiles to tires. When I leave home just after 6AM there is very little traffic- the city is just waking up.

Contrast that with this afternoon. Today I left school a bit earlier than usual and headed to the Russian Market area for a pedicure. It is a bustling area with a mix of old and new- small boutiques stand side by side with traditional workshops. I opted to walk home- walking in Southeast Asian cities is always an adventure- sidewalks come and go, traffic is BUSY, motorcycles do not bother themselves with lanes- they zig and zag everywhere. You find your self having to walk far out into the street in places, as vehicles stop and/or park at will. I have a bit of a sense of direction in this part of the city- generally, even numbered streets run east- west, while odd numbered streets run north-south. I knew as I headed out I would hit a cross street that would take me closer to home, or if I was heading in the opposite direction I would be on a street with lots of restaurants and I was hungry. As it turns out I headed for home and weighed dinner options as I dodged danger. The streets were crowded and I had to be on full alert. As I got to my street the construction sites were just closing down and the city was heading toward nighttime mode.

It is easy for me to love this city!

Zhi Hong slices too!


Remembering and Celebrating


#sol19- January 8, 2019

I was in Berlin recently and my very good friend’s husband (also a good friend!) passed away. A year ago he was diagnosed with ALS, so his family had months of grief already. When it was time to plan the memorial service, as usual, Lisa worked to make it an inclusive event. Part of her invitation read:

“We invite and appreciate your contributions to the memorial service, be it in words, in music or any other form.

If you would like to participate, please let us know by Thursday.

Following the program part of the celebration, we hope to stay together with everyone and talk, sing, make music, eat and drink and do all the things Erasmus liked to do.

If you like, please bring instruments with you, we will provide you with notes from Erasmus’ favorite pieces and anyone who wants can join in some spontaneous music-making.

Also bring stories and photos that remind you and us of Erasmus. We will create a space for written words and photos.

For planning purposes please RSVP if you are coming. However anyone who decides

spontaneously to join is still very welcome!”


There were many people who wanted to be involved. There were 19 parts in the end. There were musicians Erasmus had worked with who wanted to play a range of music- a testament to Erasmus’s talent at playing and arranging. There were also speakers- both friends and family members-in German and English, who spoke with love about Erasmus through the years. There were several songs where everybody was asked to stand and join in, including Seasons of Love. This song had me thinking long afterward even though I have heard it many times.

Everybody agreed it was just the kind of evening that Erasmus would have loved.  A few of my takeaways from this celebration of a life well lived are:

  • people are complicated- it was lovely to hear more about facets of Erasmus’s life that I did not know much about
  • #lovewins (it was so moving to see and hear the range of participants (and taste the food that was also prepared with heart). Lisa’s parents and siblings flew in from Minnesota to be there.
  • sometimes you can choose your family (I am so lucky to have found this framily)
  • how do you measure a year? A life?

I will remember Erasmus as a steadfast supporter. Although a talented performer he was not about the spotlight. He quietly found ways for others to shine. Erasmus helped me personally with his skills in translation, his knowledge of how things work in Germany, his driving skills when I had to get rid of things before I moved away. his muscle when I moved in, his friendliness when he included me in various events, his ease. I appreciated the way he shared his family with me and am grateful for these forever friends. He was a listener and taught by being a strong example. He really lived his life aligned with his beliefs. I know that he will be missed by so many.


Zhi Hong keeps slicing (former student).




#sol19- January 1, 2019

For the last few weeks, I have been seriously contemplating the word I would choose to guide me through 2019. I have been talking about it with friends, reading tweets and blog posts about already chosen words, and quite honestly, dithered. Yesterday being the last day of 2018 I carried my list around all day looking it over waiting for the choice to be clear. I had my list “narrowed down” to ten, but then another word came to mind that seemed to push its way forth to the top of the list. I then narrowed the list down to four and saw how that one word sort of encapsulated the other three. Thus, at midnight I chose “intentional” as my one little word for 2019.

2018 began and ended with loss- my cat died as the new year was just settling in and my great friend’s husband, a truly inspirational man, died on one of the closing days of 2018. Challenge was the right word for the year for so many reasons- I was tested in new ways- sometimes of my own choosing, other times by circumstances beyond my control.

Recently I took a foundational course in mindfulness (which was in my top four of choices for my olw) and in 2019 I am going to take the next level course designed for educators. This has helped me to start to live with more intention. I want to be more intentional in the choices I make both professionally and personally. I aim to align my beliefs and actions more carefully so that I live more sustainably (knowing that this word has many meanings- I want to make new choices environmentally and within my own systems to make changes I can sustain). I also want to work with students in ways that better reflect all of my intentions- as a teacher, I am always inquiring into ways to be a better teacher so I will continue my professional development (beginning with a literacy conference in Hong Kong at the end of the month).  I know that I am more intentional when I write more, so that is something I will prioritize- my notebook has been untouched for weeks. Personally, my time in Berlin has reminded me that I need to be more intentional with friendships. I tend to be a hermit and do not easily develop friendships, so I really have to focus on strengthening and valuing in all sorts of ways the friendships I do have (I am currently reading Text Me When You Get Home, a really interesting book about women and their friendships through time).

As you can see, this is a fairly random beginning list of the way that I think “intentional” will guide me in 2019, but as it is day one of the year I know there will be more connections ahead. I look forward to seeing what other people have chosen for their word and what my students will choose for theirs once school starts up again.



Zhi Hong (former student) still slicing.

Time Travel


#sol18- December 18, 2018

Today I am writing from Berlin, Germany (well, actually Kleinmachnow, a small town outside of Berlin). It is so strange to be here- I lived here for a total of 11 years spread over 12 (with a year in Mumbai in between), but have not visited for 2 1/2 years. I have some very good friends here and we are all cozied up (with others coming from Atlanta, Georgia and myself from Cambodia). It is a funny combination of familiar and new. So far we have visited our favorite massage place (highly recommended respite after a day of travel) and eaten doener. We have spent time chatting, cooking, playing games. Later today we will visit the school I taught at to be a part of their end of term holiday party and I look forward to seeing old friends and colleagues (and hopefully seeing some former students beforehand too). Wednesday is the last day of school for my friend still teaching here and then we will have even more time together. I am so grateful to be here being a part of this group- but still feeling mother guilt that I am not spending time over the holidays with either of my sons… Yet, I know it is important for me to be here now too. My friend here is juggling lots, as her husband has ALS.  I am grateful to be able to spend time with this amazing framily (friends + family) who supported me so much through all my life’s trials and tribulations when I lived here and continue to be such an important part of my life. It will be a different kind of Christmas, but one that reminds me of the importance of togetherness, traditions (old and new), and celebration. Family comes in so many shapes and sizes.

Here’s hoping you all have time travel opportunities over your break.

Checking in with My OLW- Challenge


#sol18- December 11, 2018

I chose my OLW (one little word) because I knew I would need it. I knew I was making another move- and by the time I chose my word I knew where I would be heading, but there was still so much unknown. I had visited Cambodia once before but had never been to Phnom Penh, only Siem Reap. Everybody who had been to both only told me how different they were.

Moving is always a challenge and although I have done it many times it is what it is. Moving from a country can be tricky- and there were hoops to jump through leaving Malaysia, but mission accomplished. Challenge accomplished!

Moving into a new country is its own challenge, but I have to say the school did lots to make it easier- including greeting us at the airport with a sim card. Sure there are aspects to living in Phnom Penh that are challenging, as there are in any city, but I have to say Phonm Penh has far exceeded my expectations- I love it! Still sure to have more challenges, but…

Finding housing was supposed to be easy- turns out I had a lot of expectations- I saw more than 25 apartments before choosing the one I am in. It is great, but I would like to be in a more centrally located neighborhood. Am I up for the challenge of house hunting again?

Settling into a new school is bound to be a challenge- and it was, but I was lucky to have a super supportive team to help me along the way. Happily, I love my students and that makes every day fun! I know the challenges in getting used to a new school will ease up bit by bit, but it is a challenge I chose and I am all in. Challenge ongoing.

Traveling alone has continued to be a challenge for me. I traveled alone a few times this year and continue to find ways to make it work for me. More challenges ahead!

I think that having challenge as my word helped me to see all the change as a chance to challenge myself, which helped me to focus on the positive. Having the word as my computer screensaver has helped me to remember this focus and concentrate on the positive aspects of the word meaning.

I am already mulling over words for 2019. Which word will be the one to move me forward in new ways? I always share my OLW with my class and in January they will pick a word each as well. This reminds me that I should look back to see what I have chosen in the past to have them all in one place!



Zhi Hong currently.




#sol18- December 4, 2018

Our current unit in third grade is part of the theme Where We Are in Place and Time and has the central idea that innovation creates change and can lead to new possibilities. It was a new unit this year and looked like the perfect time for our students to really inquire into an idea of their choice. We started by looking at a few innovations and considered the positives and negatives of each. Students then considered their interests and identified a question or problem they wanted to address. Then they had time- time to research/investigate, develop their ideas, create, and evaluate- often toggling among all of these in the course of a few minutes.

Flash forward a few weeks and here we were today! The students probably had 10-12 hours to work on their innovation. I loved the variety of their ideas and the forms they took. We learned about global warming and the need to buy local, saw contraptions to make students feel more comfortable in their high bed, learned how to make bags from used t-shirts from a student concerned about too much plastic and more. Other students were also clearly impacted by our previous environmental focus and made baskets and chairs from cardboard, designed a combo trash/compost bin, reused markers, and tried to teach about the importance of not wasting food. Other students considered their own interests or needs and came up with a podcast to help you sleep, a book to teach about how to cope with stress, an umbrella hat with a soda can holder, taught more about various animals, made a prototype of sunglasses that morph into binoculars, combined an interest in Yoda with teaching children about bullying prevention. There were some boredom busters, ways to make your room more beautiful, and toy ideas for children who do not have much.

This is the kind of unit that I think will stay with the kids. They have had so much independence and really were so engaged. Their reflections were honest and sincere and their work was 100% theirs! As for me, I learned a lot too. Not only did I learn more about their interests, but I really saw their work ethic, perseverance, problem-solving, and more (sometimes less admittedly). This is definitely a unit we will keep for next year (and hopefully find ways to make it even more awesome).

Now to find ways to get that innovator mindset into more of our days!


Zhi Hong slices.

Ordering Frustration


#sol18- November 27, 2018

Today was a busy day, as so many are, but after school, I had a meeting with two colleagues, and it went something like this:

“Let’s just get rid of this entire page.”

“No, we can’t get rid of that!”

”I agree, let’s just keep all of these!”

”But how are we going to trim $2000?”

“Ack, let’s just each take a page and…”

”I’ll highlight what I think must be saved.”

”I’ll cross off what we might be able to eliminate.”

”How about we take some of these down to 1?”

”How are we going to share these? The kids love these?”

“We cannot get rid of this- so many kids will only read this.”

Yup, our order was 100% books and it was killing us to delete any of the books.

It continued on and on like this and the internet and/or the website we were using was NOT helping! Eventually after much to-ing and fro-ing, and a few unuttered choice words (okay, a few may have been said aloud too) we were finished, sort of, but all left with a heavy feeling. Such is ordering season (for next school year). I can’t even get into what happened two minutes later.



Zhi Hong is still slicing.