Monthly Archives: March 2016

Glad It Happened, But Sad It’s Over #sol16 31 of 31

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

It’s already March 31st?!? My last day of slicing in the SOL challenge for 2016 is here. Noooo! I don’t want it to be over. I have more stories to tell and more connections to make. Can’t we have more time? You know that quote by Dr. Seuss “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”? Well, I think it’s baloney! I can be both sad that it’s over and glad that it happened. And that’s okay.

Every year, my last slice ends up being a reflection of the month, a time for me to look back and take stock of all of the slices I’ve shared. Certain themes emerge year after year, revealing who I am and what I value. This year, more than one third of my slices were about traveling. As someone who lives to travel, this comes as no surprise to me, but what was interesting is that not all of my travel slices were from places I visited while participating in the challenge (every year, I travel during the SOL challenge since Spring Break falls in March). Some of my travel slices were sparked by a memory or a conversation, and were more reflective pieces, rather than ones written in the moment. Those stories have more depth. They’ve had time to marinate, adding more flavor to the story. My favorite slice this year has to be 18 Hours in Rome. That story waited nearly 3 years to be written, and it turned out perfectly. 🙂

Another theme that emerged was writing about work. It makes sense, considering I spend an inordinate amount of time there, and my life sort of revolves around it. My work slices were mainly about being stressed or overwhelmed, which is bound to happen in a school, but some were about my passion for literacy. I’m glad to see that those slices bubbled up to the top, begging to be written, as they truly show who I am and what I’m about.

Living abroad and my apartment, friends’ babies, and reflective pieces about my day, my interests, things I’m thankful for, and my last year rounded out the month. Again, this is me. I am passionate about living a life abroad, and enjoy making my house cozy and inviting. I am reflective, and often look back on my experiences in order to imprint them on my memory, learn from them, or savor them. And my friends honestly make the cutest babies around, so how could I not write about them? 😉

As I pack it in this year, my sixth year in the challenge, I am once again grateful for this space to connect with writers the world over, sharing bits of ourselves with one another. Being a part of this challenge makes me a better writer. Not only does it increase my energy and stamina for writing, but it gives me a purpose and an audience. I learn from other writers, and am encouraged to continue writing each and every day. This is a challenge that I look forward to year after year. I find that, despite everything on my plate, I make time for writing. Without this commitment to daily writing, I make excuses and other things weasel their way into my day, leaving me with no time to write. But in the month of March, I carve out time. No matter what’s going on, I put it aside to pour my heart out on the page, hoping to make sense of this crazy, wild ride we call life. I am honored to do this with all of you, my SOL community. I cannot thank the leaders at TWT enough for hosting this challenge each year. I know it’s hard work, but it’s good work. Thank you.

Talkin’ Shop #sol16 30 of 31

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Tonight’s plan was to head to The Montrose for some Mexican food (I was totally craving it!), do a bit of work, blog, and come home early-ish. The atmosphere at The Montrose is laid back and very conducive to writing, which I was hoping would get the creative juices flowing. After scarfing down my quesadilla, I got to work on some paperwork for school. I was taking a break from work, trying to think about what I wanted to write, when a colleague and friend of mine walked in the door.

He walked over, and I invited him to join me. He and I started talking about blogging, and I shared my experiences with the SOL challenge over the years. This led to discussions about teaching, specifically reading and writing. He happens to teach middle school language and literature, so it was right up his alley. Being a primary-only experienced educator, I was unfamiliar with what reading and writing looks like in middle school. My only assumption was that it typically looked quite different from primary. Shortly into our conversation, however, he mentioned that he taught using reading and writing workshops. Say what?!? My ears perked up, and my literacy hat came on!

From there, he and I discussed the learning happening in his classroom, the energy for writing palpable. What followed was a back and forth exchange of ideas, comparing writing workshop in primary to how it’s done in secondary. His students just finished a memoir unit (swoon!), and have just begun a persuasive writing unit. I jumped in, telling him I have some teaching resources (that just so happen to be for grades 3-8) that I can lend him. “Bring it on!” he said. That discussion led to his last unit of the school year, which is poetry. We have a shared philosophy for teaching poetry, in that we both believe it’s not effective to teach form poetry, but rather provide students with ample mentor texts to learn from and tools to use in their own writing. At this point, I shared a few mentor poems as well as my own poetry from my blog, and we realized that we’d both had the privilege of attending PD from Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger. Small world!

Anyway, our conversation continued for hours, meandering from swapping teaching ideas to ways in which we document our travels to other school stuff to travel plans in the future. Despite getting home 3 hours after I had planned, and just now getting to blogging, I am so grateful that he walked in the door. It’s been a long time since I’ve geeked out about literacy, and I was so energized by it! Spontaneous shop talks are always welcome. 🙂

Putting Some Zen On It #sol16 29 of 31

I went to IKEA a few weeks ago, and ever since, I’ve been itching to put all my stuff away and organize my apartment. Since I’ve been out of the country the past three weekends, I simply haven’t had the time. Once I got home yesterday, I started on my room. Tonight I picked up where I left off, finishing up my room and the living room.

IMG_8041

IMG_8045

I was pretty happy with my place before, but now it’s got my stamp on it. I feel so zen and peaceful in my room now. For one thing, plants bring life and vibrancy into what was once dull and lifeless. I just love how a place can be spruced up simply by adding some green plants! Before the transformation, I had these heavy, ornate, large lamps on my bedside tables. The light they gave off was harsh and too bright. My new lamps give off a warm glow, and make it feel so much more of home-y. I’m big on lighting! I organized my drawers, throwing out a bunch of junk and putting everything in the right place. Now my bedside tables are no longer cluttered, and are able to hold some art and plants, and my writer’s notebook, of course. I love hanging out in here now!

IMG_8044

IMG_8042

IMG_8048

I made a few minor changes to the living room. I swapped the old floor lamp for softer lighting. The previous one flickered every time you turned it on, and was very distracting. I also added some new artwork and pictures that I had recently bought. Plants and candles complete the transformation, making it more like home.

IMG_8052

IMG_8049

IMG_8053

IMG_8054

I can’t wait to finish the rest of the house! I want to reorganize the bathroom with all of my cute new baskets and bins that I picked up. My kitchen is in serious need of some reorganization, too. I plan on clearing out all the unused dishes cluttering my cabinets, which will make it easier to find what I want. Lastly, I can’t wait to finish organizing my guest room, making it more colorful and inviting. This weekend should be the perfect time to get it all done. I am in town this weekend, and I’m so happy to stay put!

Layover in Paris #sol16 28 of 31

 

Today’s journey home, from Dakar, Senegal to Tirana, Albania, was a long one! We left at 1:00am Dakar time and flew to Paris, then to Rome, and then to Tirana. The whole trip was over 18 hours. But…what made the journey so much better was my layover at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. No, it wasn’t long enough for us to go into Paris. I wish! What made it so special was that I got to catch up with a good friend of mine who I hadn’t seen since departing Shanghai this past summer. Heather was on her way to Mauritania to begin a 2.5 month substitute teaching position, and just so happened to land in Paris 15 minutes before I did in the same terminal. Now that’s a coincidence, huh? Well, naturally, once we figured this out, we made plans to meet up in the terminal before moving onto our connecting flights.

I was coming down the escalator when I saw her. Of course, we both screeched, because that’s what you do when you see a friend you haven’t seen in forever! We hugged, and then sat down on a nearby bench to “speed catch-up.” It’s like speed dating, only instead of getting to know someone, you trade highlights of your life since you last saw one another. Sure, we keep up on social media and chat using WeChat, but that doesn’t replace really chatting, that fluidity you get in face-to-face talks can’t be matched by typing or even Skyping. All too soon, our chat came to an end, as we watched the clock and knew we needed to give each other time for our connections. The best part of our meet up is that Heather decided to come visit me in Albania this June once her contract is over. We had plans to have her come last August, but circumstances and timing prevented that from happening. I’m so stoked that she’ll be my first visitor! Here she is…how cute is she?!? 🙂

After running into Heather, Sally and I made our obligatory Starbucks run. I had my usual Iced Chai Tea Latte and a blueberry muffin. She had a Java Chip Frappaccino. We had to go through security and customs, exit the terminal, and hike to another terminal, but when you are Starbucks-deprived, you’ll go to great lengths to get it! It was yummy!

Our last stop before boarding was Laduree for some of the best macaroons in Paris. When in Paris, you must Laduree! Today’s flavors were salted caramel, raspberry, pistachio, praline, and chocolate passionfruit. The salted caramel and raspberry are my favorites, but the other flavors are new to me. I can’t wait to try them! If you’re ever in Paris (or even just the airport), do stop in and pick up a few. You won’t be sad you did!

Sweet Reina #sol16 27 of 31

IMG_7981

That sweet face right there is none other than Miss Reina Mei, the cutest baby in Africa! I am going to miss all of our snuggles and laughs we shared this week. Reina is the daughter of my good friends Mel and T. I have FaceTimed plenty of times with Reina and seen tons of pictures of her cute, squishy face, but meeting her in person was such a treat!

IMG_1329

Reina’s one of those babies that would make you want to have a baby, because you’d be lulled into this false reality where you think all babies are so easygoing, happy 24/7, sleep when it’s time to sleep, wake up when it’s time to wake up, etc. Not only is she an easy baby, she is so much fun to play with! We spent so much time giggling because her laugh is so contagious. My favorite thing to do was tickle her. She gets this big smile on her face and tenses up, but she doesn’t really laugh out loud when you tickle her. She holds her breath til it’s over, but is loving every minute of it.

IMG_1326

IMG_1330

We went up to Mel’s school on Thursday for Sports Day, but we arrived a little early, just in time for story time! Reina was right in there with the big kids, listening to the story. Mel’s students loved her to death, and it was hard to keep them focused once she arrived! At dismissal time, they all crowded around her to talk to her, make her laugh, and coo at her. How could you not when she’s so stinkin’ cute?!?

IMG_1334

Reina and I got to spend a lot of time together during the week while Mel was at work. The other morning, I was blogging, and Reina was on the couch behind me. I kept hearing her making noises to get my attention, and when I’d turn around, I’d see her leaned over looking at me with the biggest grin ever! 🙂

IMG_1247

Her eyes melt me every time…especially when she looks up at me like that!

IMG_1308

Reina loves to sit on poppa’s shoulders and pull his hair! I’m pretty sure it’s her favorite pastime. Poppa doesn’t mind, and even encourages her by saying “Don’t pull my hair!” in silly voices.

IMG_1369

Reina is so good on car trips! We took a long ride out of Dakar (3 hours) on Saturday, and she either played or slept the whole way, despite the heat and length of the ride. All of the adults were more crabby than she was! Look at her lip when she sleeps…it’s so cute how she pokes it out like that! 😀

IMG_1358

Reina got a new bow at the market, and she’s so happy to model it for us!

IMG_7990

IMG_8016

Today was Easter Sunday, and we went out to a place near the beach for lunch. I took a few family photos while we were there. This baby is so photogenic! Oh, and her parents aren’t half bad either. 😉

Thank you Reina for the fun this week. I’m going to miss you! Aunt Jen loves you!!

My Senegalese Market Experience #sol16 26 of 31

IMG_7927

I’m not new to the market thing. As a former resident of China, and extensive traveler in Southeast Asia, I know a thing or two about markets. I’m always curious to check out the markets in new cities that I visit, to soak up some of the culture and pick up a few trinkets and/or a piece of art along the way.

IMG_7939

Dakar has a few local markets around town specializing in everything from fabric to art to used clothing. Mel took me to a market mainly focused on art, but luckily they had a few shops that also carried fabric, jewelry, and other knick knacks. The first thing that drew my attention were all the bright colors; anyone who knows me knows I love color! I felt like a kid in a candy store, looking from one thing to another, not sure what to buy first. Some of my favorite things were the colorful, handwoven baskets, fabrics in all sorts of colors and patterns, paintings of local scenes and people, and all the handmade jewelry.

IMG_7928

One thing that’s essential when shopping at a local market is knowing what the going rate is for certain items. This information is vital in order for you not to be ripped off. In China, I knew whether the price they quoted was good or not, based on my experience (and that of others) over the years. As a foreigner, you just have to expect that you are going to be ripped off to some degree, but you want to minimize it as much as possible. They see my blonde hair and American accent coming, and I might as well have dollar signs floating around my head. As a seasoned market shopper, I drive a hard bargain and am adept at negotiating. But in Senegal, I had no idea what I should expect to pay for anything, neither did I have a firm grasp on the exchange rate from CFA to USD. Mel had only been to a fabric market here in Dakar once, so she didn’t know normal prices either. We took the offer them half of what they quoted us approach, which sometimes worked, but other times did not. Even so, we weren’t sure whether or not we were getting a good deal.

IMG_7936

As we walked through the market, lots of people tried to get us to shop at their stands. It was pretty overwhelming, so I tried to ignore whatever they were saying to me. When ignoring didn’t work, I said in English, “Sorry, I don’t speak French.” They would then bust out their spiel in almost fluent English. Senegal’s official languages are French and Wolof, and around town I haven’t heard much English, so I was definitely struck by the amount of English spoken by the vendors. Mel and I became everybody’s “sister,” whereas in China, everybody was “friend.”

IMG_7935

We quickly realized that stopping into a shop just to browse was frowned upon, and you would quickly get literally roped in if you went into a shop. More often than not, vendors would physically grab us, pulling us back into their shop or not letting us leave. Another tactic was to block us into their shop and not let us leave until we bought something. We had to forcefully tell them that we did not want to buy anything, and to let us go. Regardless of us being firm, they would repeatedly grab us and try to pull us back into their shop. I haven’t experienced this type of aggressive behavior at markets before, and I was definitely put off by it. Not all the shop owners were like this, as you can tell from the picture above, but there were enough of them that it was noticeable.

IMG_7947

Another nuance we found while shopping at the Senegalese market was that many shop owners would agree to one price outside of their shop, but once you came in to buy it, the price would jump back up. We would argue that we were not going to pay a higher price when we had agreed upon a lower price, and they would resort to grabbing us to keep us in their store. Another tactic used quite often was for the vendors to tell us how poor they were and how much they needed the money for this or that. Now, I know that most of the Senegalese people live in poverty, and that they probably do need the money, but begging is not going to make us buy something, especially if it’s something we don’t really want. I feel very bad about the poverty situation in this country, but that does not mean I am willing to pay an exorbitant amount for any one item. That’s not a long term solution to the problem. One tip I do have is to go to the market with small bills only- 1,000s and 500s- because oftentimes they didn’t want to give back any change if you gave them more than the total. Instead, they tried to give you change back in the form of other goods in their shop.

IMG_7930

My experience at the market was more positive than negative for sure, and I managed to get some really cute stuff to take home and remind me of my time in Dakar, but I will say that the constant harassment by the vendors eventually frustrated us to the point that we decided to leave earlier than we had anticipated.

 

TBAs #sol16 25 of 31

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Reflecting is a part of life. Taking stock of what you have, what you’ve done, and what you’ll do next time is essential to living. All too often, my reflections are focused on ways to improve upon something, to be more efficient, effective, productive, or thoughtful. But sometimes it’s just good to reflect on the good things in my life. Today, that’s what I intend to do through TBAs, which stand for Truths, Beauties, and Appreciations.

Truths…

  • I have a magical, wonderful, little life!
  • My friends are some of the best friends a girl could ask for! Even when we are continents apart, we are always there to support one another and share in each others’ successes. I love them!
  • This year’s SOL challenge has been good for my soul. It’s gotten me out of my writing rut, and allowed me to reconnect with some of my old friends.
  • I’ve missed reading. Too many other things have taken my time lately, but I’ve gotten back into this week. I’ve been reading Nightingale, which I am loving.

Beauties…

  • Reina, Mel and T’s adorable baby girl, whose smile lights up a room and who can make me happy, even when I’m feeling sick and wiped out.
  • Shagger’s new baby Marlowe, who is just too cute for words! I cannot stand not being there to snuggle up with and love on her!
  • My passport, full of stamps from my travels around the world.
  • The bright, colorful, patterned fabric they have in Senegal. I’ve not seen anything like it before!

Appreciations…

  • Sally, my colleague and friend, who is always offering to help me out when I’m stressed. Even when her plate is full, too, she is always willing to lend a hand. What would I do without her on my team?
  • The love and care Mel, T, Sally, and Agnes have given me this week when I haven’t been well. It’s certainly not what I expected- to be sick while in Senegal- but I appreciate all the care I’ve received.
  • My FaceTime chat with Linner this morning. Oh how I have missed her! 🙂
  • The fact that I felt well enough to venture out today! Mel and I got to check out the local market. Now that was an experience! It’ll be tomorrow’s slice for sure! 😉

What do you know to be true, beautiful, or appreciate?