Monthly Archives: December 2016

Seeking the Familiar in the New


#sol- December 27, 2016

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Being away from “home” at Christmas can be tricky, but being with my son in Thailand was an adventure, so we were excited. We booked a cooking course for Christmas day, so at least we would be in a kitchen (of sorts). I had actually meant to do the course last October, but I messed up my booking, so flew before it happened (oops).

We were recovering from a bout with food poisoning in Bangkok, but after an early small breakfast, we boarded the van. In the end, there were 10 of us, but the van was pretty quiet. “I’m the youngest,” Curtis whispered.

“I’m the oldest,” I countered.

About 20 minutes out of town we stopped at a local market and our teacher, Wass, brought us together for brief introductions. We noticed immediate connections, same parts of the US, similar professions, one woman was even the cousin of a good friend of two others in the group (it is always amazing how quickly these connections are discovered).

Wass showed us some of the ingredients we would be using later and gave us time on our own to explore the market. This brought to mind workshop structure. We had a “connection”, a brief “teaching point”, and then had some independent “work time”. This structure was repeated throughout the day as we learned how to make various Thai dishes. After each dish we made there was a “sharing time” as we enjoyed our food. We celebrated our approximations and were successful (we could assess ourselves as the food was so tasty) because our cooking was scaffolded by a more expert teacher who made it all seem achievable as she modeled and coached.

At the end of the day we were sad to not be able to even finish all of the food we had made, but thanks to the cookbook we went away with we felt like we had the necessary tools to be successful in the future (think anchor charts). Our cookbook gave us suggestions for substitutions, in case all ingredients could not be found. Throughout the day we had choice as there were different variations offered and each person could customize the food to their taste.

It was a great choice for Christmas Day in Thailand- we got to be makers in a workshop geared to introducing us to local flavors.

Home Is Where the Heart Is


#sol December 20, 2016

My younger son is coming to see me over Christmas and I am sooooo excited. That is a distance of 9515 miles (15313km) or 3 planes. He only gets a very limited number of days off a year and he wants to spend most of them with me- I am honored! He is a planner, so he booked the trip long ago.

He was set to leave Arkansas on Sunday morning. On Saturday night he looked up his reservation only to find that his flight had been changed (no email or text to him). This would make for a tight connection in Dallas, so he called to try to change it. He did, but then a short time later found out that the flight was canceled (bad weather predicted). Now he was getting a bit stressed, so he went back to the phone. The only option that they could come up with was that he would drive almost two hours in the very early morning hours of Sunday to get to another airport. At this point, it was after midnight, so he resigned himself to a night with no sleep. He arrived at the Fort Smith airport and found nothing open- no services at all and nobody working the gates, so he sat.

Eventually check-in opened and he boarded his plane. He had some time to kill in Dallas, so wandered the airport. When it was time to board his next flight he learned that there would be a delay of 1 hour 15 minutes, which would make his next transfer tight, so off he went to see his options. As it turned out the flight was delayed much longer than that and he ended up sitting in Dallas for 10 hours (8 hours of that being a delay) with almost no information from the airline.

Then he was on a 17 hour flight to Hong Kong- arriving at 1:30 AM. Because of the delay they had everyone who had an onward flight claim their luggage. His last (changed) flight was scheduled to leave at 8:30 AM, so again he waited in the airport.

As I write, he is waiting to board that last plane and it looks like it will actually be on time. All in all he will arrive 13 hours after originally planned.

Throughout all this we were in touch thanks to technology. It is a shame that so much of his trip has been spent in airports waiting, but he is almost here! Once he lands I have a bed waiting for him (at “home” where he has never lived), but the airport is an hour away. He will have today and tomorrow to catch up on sleep before we head to the airport again- this time to go to Bangkok and Chiang Mai before we spend a few more days back here in Kuala Lumpur.

The day he leaves I will board another plane to visit my older son in Korea for a few days and have another Christmas with him. I am a lucky mom that I will get to see both of my sons.

During the night there was a terrorist attack in Berlin, the city we called home for 11 years. My heart breaks for those who will not be home with loved ones because of this.

Even though our family is spread out we are happy that we get to spend time together (separately) over this holiday season. Home is definitely not a single place for us, but a state of mind.

Managed Expectations + Good Friend + Great Luck = Just What I Needed


#sol December 13, 2016

It all started a few weeks ago when my friend Linnea began planning a long weekend away not so coincidentally on her birthday weekend. The way the school calendar falls here is sometimes baffling. Turns out this last week of school for 2016 would be a short one, as Monday was the Prophet Mohammad’s Birthday and Tuesday (today) was the Sultan of Selangor’s birthday (Selangor being the state my school is in). She wanted to go to Kuching, a city in Serawak, Borneo (still part of Malaysia) to see orangutans. Turns out there is a wildlife reserve there  where you can see them. As we planned the trip any time Linnea was feeling ready for a break she would send me this picture:


As anyone who is a teacher knows, December is a very busy time, so I will admit I did all my research about the area on my way to the airport- I left everything up to Linnea. I learned that there were only 28 orangutans there, but still I was sure we would see at least a few.

We arrived mid-day Saturday and Sunday morning headed to the reserve. The taxi driver told us about a recent customer who had been there a few times and had not seen any orangutans. That was NOT part of our plan! The park ranger who greeted the crowd at the park made a point of repeating several times that it was fruit season in the rain forest, so the orangutans are less likely to return to their feeding areas- hmm, never even considered that we might really not see any orangutans. We staged a shot with Linnea’s photo of the baby oragutan in case we did not get to see any on our own.


We waited in the heat and shhed countless noisy fellow spectators. We could hear the rangers calling the orangutans, but saw no sign of them. Then, after about 30 minutes of fairly quiet waiting the near ranger gestured down the path and said that another ranger had said they were coming that way. We all rushed down the rocky path and waited. We could see the other ranger, but…

After a few more minutes we could see branches shaking! A mama orangutan came down. We watched Mina feast on some milk and bananas and then we caught a glimpse of her toddler, Jubilee.


Thanks to the ranger managing our expectations this really felt like the treat that it was. There we were in the middle of the rain forest getting to see a few endangered animals in their natural habitat. Lucky us!

It turns out that the whole weekend was a series of pleasant surprises. We met nice people (so many smiling people), enjoyed some great food (laksa, special layer cake, and more with only a short bout of tummy trouble, #thankyousmekta) and had lots of fun adventures in a beautiful city (the name translates to “Cat” and as result there is lots of cat themed art around the city. There is also a kitschy Cat Museum we did not get to). It was just the treat we needed! Now on to the last three days of school for 2016! I am carrying the idea of managing expectations with me as we end the semester.

We All Saw a Cat


#sol- December 6, 2016

It is that most wonderous time of year! No, not the days after report cards are finished and everyone can feel an upcoming break in the air, but time for the annual Mock Caldecott! This might be my fourth year doing this and it just gets better and better each year. I will admit that I rely heavily on John Schumaker and Colby Sharp’s list  (this year I am going to add a few, but have not added them to my Padlet yet). This year it is also super fun because my virtual friend, Sally, is joining in from Virginia, as are my two colleagues, Ellen and Jamie. Here in Kuala Lumpur, I have bought all of the books and we are shuttling them back and forth amongst the classrooms, while Sally has borrowed many from her library.

We started last week with an introduction to the criteria, the system, and some previous winners. This week we started reading and I am already so excited. I like to read all of the books aloud, and leave the books around so the students can reread them after. We are recording our thinking on shared Padlets as we read, so when we finish reading them all we have something to look back on. I am blown away by the students’ thinking, even in these early days.

Today we read They All Saw a Cat. I will admit, that when I first read the book I liked it, but this time, reading it with kids, I LOVED it. I was so impressed by the level of thinking. These kids are used to me and my book crazy ways. They love to watch the undressing of the book, they are eager to smell the book, they ogle the end pages. Before we even read the first page they were abuzz, making predictions, noticing details in the pictures. As we read they commented on so many things that they saw and felt. We had a great conversation about the different perceptions of the different animals- they remarked on the changes in styles, how the readers’ vision changed on each page. I could not help but make connections in my own mind, thinking about how quickly I can jump to a conclusion based on my perceptions and how easily these can be biased, based on my previous experiences and what I think I already “know”. This is definitely a conversation that will continue.

I love how this unit develops our community and can’t wait to see what the weeks until the announcement of the winners (in our class and beyond) bring. I know we have lots more great discussions ahead.