Monthly Archives: March 2019

Slicer As Learner


#sol19- March 31, 2019

It is surprising to me that it is March 31- living in a land of perpetual summer I have blogged before about how fuzzy time passing is here. Today I finish my 5th Slice of Life Challenge, so as many others will do, I am reflecting today on lessons learned (in some cases relearned).

  1.  I am a pantser- I rarely know what I am going to slice about until I sit at the computer. A few times I drafted an entire slice only o delete it and write the one that was calling me. I often keep lists of ideas (and this year even started taking pictures of ideas), but I rarely refer back to them. What does this say about me? I always imagine I will “bank” some slices and write ahead, but alas, no- it is always after dinner drafting for me.
  2. It felt quicker this year- maybe because my class starts slicing tomorrow, maybe because I am more used to the everyday routine of writing (but why can’t I keep that up all year?).
  3. I am insatiably curious (my younger son would say I am nosy). When I prewrite (aka live life) I try to find reasons/explanations for everything, so I look and listen more carefully when I know I am going to write later. I guess that is the wisdom behind what I try to teach my third graders when I try to convince them to live like a writer.
  4. I often use “bandaids”, but I do not necessarily think that is me taking the easy way out. This year I did not use ideas I have enjoyed in the past, such as “currently”, poems, or many lists (obviously this is a list, so I did write some lists).
  5. I love learning- I read so many more slices than I comment on and I am in awe of the community here. I learn more from each slice I read. Thanks to Fran and Sally I can now even insert a slideshow in a post (wahoo!).
  6. My reading suffers when I write more- time to balance better again (without giving up on writing, now that is the goal).
  7. I live a very solitary life on the weekends- this becomes very clear in my weekend slices.
  8. I love where I live and tend to slice about the here and now- this was my first March where I did not have a week off, so only a few days were from another locale.
  9. I look forward to encouraging my third graders as they begin their challenge tomorrow. I am sure most will not continue beyond tomorrow (that is the one day I give class time), but I hope some will. I still have a few students from several years ago slicing. I am a different writing teacher because I write.
  10. Wifi matters. With power cuts over the last few weeks some times it was really hard to post and/or comment. It is harder to persist when there are wifi issues.

Now for a day off of slicing, before returning Tuesday. Thanks for being a part of the journey.

New in the Neighborhood in Search of a Slice


#sol19- March 30, 2019

I took advantage of an unscheduled weekend to stay at home until afternoon (reading Jennifer Serravallo’s latest, Reading Conferences, which I showed great restraint in waiting until the weekend to read).

I wondered what I could slice about today and decided to take a field trip. After reading a friend’s Facebook post I knew it was time to go explore Dai Khmer, a social enterprise that has recently opened in the neighborhood with a small shop/refill station. The website listed the address as at the corner of Street 464 and Street 155- sounded simple, until I got to that corner. Of course, that is just an approximation and meant I had four ways to look. Choice one was the way I had come and I had not noticed the shop’s name which did not necessarily mean I had not passed it by, but I turned left on 464. Fail. Walking back to the corner I crossed busy 155 and looked on both sides of the street. I still did not see it, but a sign I had passed on the other side of the street caught my eye- perhaps it was the symbol for the shop I had seen earlier on Facebook? Yes!

It is starting out small, but in speaking to the woman in there today she has plans for more to come. She has sponge seeds planted out front, is growing her own aloe vera, and has local connections for some other ingredients.


Laundry detergent, local honey, coconut oil, banana sugar, pepper, and more. 


Soap and shampoo bars. 

This time I only bought a few things, but I will be a regular customer. I love that this is just a short walk from my apartment.


I have been wanting a reusable wooden cutlery set- perfect for travel. 

It made sense when I got home to read the Action for Happiness message for today: “Mindful March – Day 30: Notice the joy to be found in the simple things of life. #MindfulMarch.”

It is great to see the interest in sustainable products growing here. I hope the shop will be successful


The Questions I Never Thought to Ask


#sol19- March 29, 2019

When I moved to Malaysia in the summer of 2014 I looked at maybe ten apartments before choosing one. It was not until I moved in that I discovered the answer to the question I never thought to ask: “Is there hot water in the kitchen?”

Turns out it is “normal” to not have hot water access in the kitchen in many parts of the world, including Malaysia. I was grateful I was living alone, so at least I would just be sharing germs with myself if I did not manage to properly clean my dishes.

I moved to Cambodia last summer and only recently found out the question I should have been sure to ask while apartment shopping. This time the question was: “Is there a generator for the building?”

A few weeks ago in Phnom Penh, we started to have much more frequent black outs. The dry season is upon us and apparently, levels of water are so low that the turbines for the hydroelectric power can not function. Of course, water itself has been affected and outside of the city my TA has not had access to water during the day for about two months. At school, the power goes off and the students shriek or groan, but quickly the generator flips on and regular routines resume, although the wifi has been iffy.

I hear from people about missed Skype interviews, sweltering while waiting for the power to come back, the uncertainty of whether you will be missing water or electricity, and I know I am lucky. Without even asking the question I should have asked I am in an apartment that has a good generator, so although I lose power for a few seconds at a time it quickly comes back to life. Many others are not so lucky, so I try not to get impatient when the wifi fades out.


Nestled in the back of the parking area I never really noticed these, but boy, am I glad they are here!

Walking down the road while the power is out is really a tale of two cities- many shops are dark- they are losing so much business. Some construction sites fall silent, while others call in the reserves. I heard this truck roaring outside a work area, powering it all.


The blackouts are predictable by now, which helps a bit. The local papers publish when each substation will be cut. Today when I called to make an appointment for a massage she told me I would have to wait just over two hours, “We have no electricity, but we will at six.” When I arrived just before six, she told me the power had just been restored.

Things seem like they are going to get worse before they get better. A friend posted on Facebook that tomorrow there is supposed to be a 12-hour blackout- she was offering her air-conditioned apartment and refrigerator space for anyone who does not have a generator. The “real feel” was 40C today (104F).

As I begin apartment shopping to move neighborhoods this summer I now know one of the first questions to ask (followed by “Does this street flood?” as the rainy season approaches).

Today Was Very


#sol19- March 28, 2019

Today was very busy- my only free period was supposed to be a meeting,  but there was no sub for the art teacher, so I took my class to art and was the sub. During lunch, I had already planned the first meeting of my slicers, so no lunch break either. Students slice in April this year and I wanted to kick it off with an informational meeting. Knowing some would love the extra time inside and others not, it was optional, of course. When a few days ago a student mentioned her sister would love to do the challenge too I opened it up to all classes grades 3-5.

In the end, there were less than 10 students there, only one from another class. We had fun nonetheless. We talked about what slices are (and are not), I shared an example from my month (Sunday’s post), shared a former student’s recent slice, and more. We talked about how hard it might be to slice every day, especially since these students are not used to blogging, the way my previous classes have been. We talked about the challenge of having a break during the month and our very busy lives. We talked about the logistics of posting when they do not have their own blogs and I offered several options, both digital and not. I also shared my recent habit if taking pictures of potential slice ideas and saving them for a day I needed ideas. We brainstormed a list of “emergency topics” and I mentioned the benefit of drafting ahead (although freely admitting I never do that).


As recess ended, I was asked, “So, can we meet a few times a week now?”

“Thursdays, I said, “we will keep it to once a week in April.”

When other students walked back in a few other students mentioned they plan to slice too- we shall see!

It is strange to not be worrying about my own month of slicing as the students prepare to slice. I am not yet sure whether I will like this change or not. I do know I am looking forward to seeing how these slicers get in their grooves.

Teachers Teaching Teachers Stress


#sol19- March 27, 2019

I so admire people who are comfortable presenting. That will never be me. I can teach kids, no problem, but put me in front of a group of adults, and I feel physically sick to my stomach. Back to School Night, parent workshops, and pretty much any time I speak in front of more than three adults. So imagine my quandary- I love the idea of “Teachers Teaching Teachers”, but volunteering to be one of those teachers… but somehow I force myself.

Today was our fourth (and final) session of Teachers Teaching Teachers for the year. This takes place during our regular Wednesday afternoon staff meetings and the sessions are just 10 minutes long (which really makes it easier to say yes, but harder for me to limit my scope). We have the opportunity to sign up weeks in advance and can pick our own topic.

The main problem I face is that I am no expert and I know it. I tend to choose topics that I am interested in and want to refine and would love colleagues to join me on the trail. Today I decided to focus on mining mentor texts to teach writing in small groups and conferring and I felt supported by many mentors whose work I referenced (including Stacey Shubitz, Jennifer Serravallo, Carl Anderson, several posts on the Two Writing Teachers blog, Lynne R. Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, Melissa Stewart, Rozlyn Linder, Kate Roberts, and Maggie Roberts). Thank goodness I brought them all in the room with me.

Ten minutes flew by and I am not sure anybody got what they wanted from the time together, but I could breathe again! Will I sign up next year? Time will tell!



A Fun Read Aloud


#sol19- March 26, 2019

Today was pretty exciting- a few books arrived. The students saw them as they walked in after lunch recess and immediately shrieked with glee.

“Can we read that as our book a day?” several asked, as they saw It’s Not Hansel and Gretel by Josh Funk, in the pile. It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk had been a real favorite and many students still laugh when it is mentioned.

“Maybe,” I teased, knowing full well I would, after all, how can you ignore that excitement.

When the time came I told them that I would need two assistants. As usual, when it comes to volunteers I picked sticks. I knew reading a new book out loud would not be within everyone’s comfort area so told them they could pass if they wanted.

I chose P and C. P is an EAL learner and loves humor in books, but as he is not a super confident reader, so I was pleasantly surprised that he wanted to read. C. is a native English speaker, but this is her first year in a school where English is the language of instruction. I was pretty sure she would want to read and I was right.

The three of us sat up front together sharing the roles. C. and P had lots of fun, giggling through their lines dramatically. I got to be the narrator and the witch- plenty of scope for fun there too. As we read the last page the class noticed another fairy tale character spoke up and they predicted (correctly) that the next story would feature Little Red Riding Hood.

“Can we get that one too?” someone asked.

“It won’t be out yet, this book is still new,” a savvy classmate responded.

“You’re right, it is not out yet, but it is contracted,” I added.

I love that this class is passionate about read aloud and eagerly await new books.

It was the perfect end to a busy day!


Public Bathroom Etiquette


#sol19- March 25, 2019

I have a love/hate relationship with public bathrooms, especially, it seems in Southeast Asia. I have my own informal rating system (dry floor, having toilet paper, a choice between squat toilets and Western style, and hooks on the stall door are all plusses). They are so much better here in Phnom Penh than they generally were in Kuala Lumpur-maybe because of the various signs they post. In KL I always had to travel with toilet paper and often would just hold it rather than use the toilets. Maybe I am just trying them out in more touristy areas.



By the sink. 



Back wall of stall art, of course!



Near the sinks. 

Maybe it is because this restroom is in a mall (Aeon2, a Japanese company), but I, for one, appreciate the collective understanding developed through the signs (and when I finally get around to writing my review of public bathrooms wall art may be a new bonus category).


Rumor Has It


#sol19- March 24, 2019

Friday night I heard a rumor and I wanted to believe it.

Sandy told me what Garrett told her. A change was coming Saturday and I hoped it was true.

It has been a busy weekend, so I forgot it until I stepped outside just before 6PM. One side of the sky was black- could it be true?

I walked to the grocery store and wondered if my timing was off. After shopping, I was ready to head home. I sniffed the air and wow, my nose confirmed it. The wind was whipping up and I worried again about my timing. It was hard to cross the street due to the steady stream of cars, motos, and tuk-tuks. I was the only pedestrian out, but that is often true.

Turning on to my street I was sprinkled with dirt- the construction sites are everywhere and the sudden wind meant even my glasses were not keeping the dirt out of my eyes. Overhead lightning crackled and there were a few booms of thunder, but no rain, yet…

Maybe Garrett was right after all and we will have a storm- a day late is better than never. We have not had rain in so long and it is hot, hot, hot. A storm could cool things down and give us a reprise from the dust. Safely ensconced inside I keep checking the window, still no rain, but I am hopeful. Who knows it might even be enough so that the turbines can run regularly and all the people suffering from daily blackouts and no water might get relief too.

What Was I Thinking?


#sol19- March 23, 2019

It all started way back in October with the approach. “We need someone super organized on our team.”

I was new to the school and flattered, quite honestly, that my new colleagues considered me organized (I consider myself organized too, but because I am so messy it might be overlooked by some). Then there was the hook- it would mean lots of time hanging out with musical people. I have always been friends with the musicians. I have absolutely zero musical skills, but I know who the fun people are.

Looking over the job description quickly I could see a few problems- number one was the time involved (which included Mondays beginning in November and Thursdays beginning in January). I already have a leadership meeting each Monday. “No problem,” I was assured, “someone else can do Mondays until the last week and then we will get permission for you to miss that meeting.”

I looked over countless folders and realized that the job really was loosely defined, so I could really manage it- if I chose to accept. They must have known already that I am not good at saying no, so sure enough I said yes.

Flash forward to a week ago and it was THE week. Saturday we had a dress rehearsal and Monday-Thursday we had extended rehearsals from 2:45-4:30. The first show was last night and the last show was this afternoon. I have to be honest there were many times I questioned my sanity for taking on this extra commitment, but at the intermission today it seemed worth it. The end was in sight and I could already look back fondly at the opportunity it gave me to get to know 91 students a bit better and experience something different with them. It also gave me the chance to work with some of my new colleagues in more depth It reminded me that on the delivery table after giving birth to my older son I said, “I would have another.” Already I was thinking maybe I would help again next year, although there were at least 100 times in the last five months that I questioned my sanity for signing on.

As the lights went up and the audience cheered, Ali Baba and the Bongo Bandits came to a close and I felt some personal satisfaction that I had made it through! I really must practice saying no more often, but, maybe, I will say yes if asked to help out with next year’s musical.


Books Saved My Sanity


#sol19- March 22, 2019

Backstage was too crazy- the kids were so loud and it was hard to blame them- they were nervous, excited, and waiting made them restless and bored, so they got louder and louder. It was hard to get them to quiet down and they needed to hear important announcements. Something had to be changed. This was supposed to be fun for us all.

We came up with a plan for the performance days- upstairs as they were waiting for makeup, getting costumes, and waiting before coming to the green room they would have paper, pencils, and crayons. I printed off some coloring sheets, blank comic strip pages, mindful coloring, sudoku, and blank paper.

Downstairs in the drama room while they waited between scenes I would provide books. During recess today some students from my class volunteered to gather the books- they loaded four boxes with 30 books each- trying to choose a mix of chapter books and picture books, fiction and nonfiction. They were trying to create a selection that would appeal to grades 1-5. Judging from the noise level in the room they did a great job- almost everyone was glued to a book. The drama room was so much quieter and it was great to see them calm and settled as they waited for their turns.

The performance zoomed by and I was exhausted but cheerful at the end (and so were the kids). More than 90 students knocked it out of the park tonight- wahoo!