Monthly Archives: March 2017

My Mom

This isn’t what I was going to write about today, day 31 of 31 in the Slice of Life Challenge. I had planned on writing a reflection on the past month of writing, my take-aways, if you will. But damned if the universe had different plans for me.

To unwind after a long day, I sat down to watch the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. If you are a fan and haven’t watched it yet, stop reading now, as there are some major spoilers in this post. This week’s episode centered around Maggie and her mom, who has cancer. During the episode, Maggie is fighting her mom’s cancer, taking every risk she can to keep her alive, and the steps she takes only end up making her mom sicker and sicker. Her mom ends up stopping the treatment, and later in the episode, she passes.

Just before her mom dies, Maggie says, “She’s gonna go. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.” With tears in her eyes, Meredith responds with, “You’re never ready. You just…do it. Listen to her. Talk to her about whatever she wants to talk about. Record her voice in your mind. Just keep sitting there.” That quote really hit me. Throughout the episode, we see glimpses of Maggie’s journey- the denial, the fighting to stop it, the crushing realization that she can’t, the spending every ounce of time she can with her mom, and the bond between family, blood-related or otherwise.

It was absolutely gut-wrenching. I cried no less than 5 times while watching this episode. I cried because it was an extremely sad story, of course, but it was more than that. I cried because that will be me someday. Someday, my mom will pass. I hope and pray it’s many, many years from now, but the reality is that the pain Maggie experienced will be my pain. Right now, my mom is healthy, active, and leads a full life. She’s not sick, and I hope it doesn’t happen. But in some way, age will catch up to her, like it will to us all, and I will be faced with a devastating loss.

It makes me think about how finite our time is on this earth, and the fact that we need to treasure every moment we have, especially with the people we love. Living abroad means I don’t see my family very often- only twice a year to be exact. I want to make sure that I make those moments count. I want to be more intentional about the time I spend with my mom. I want to listen to her stories, and commit them to memory. I want to learn her recipes, the ones she knows by heart. I want to do things she enjoys, rather than sneaking off to do my own thing. I want to tell her I love her each and every day, because I do, and she needs to know that. I want to tell her thank you for everything she’s done for me, and for being my biggest fan. I want to tell her I know that she loves me so much it hurts, because I can see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice. I want her to know how proud I am of her, too, for all the sacrifices and hard work she’s put in to being the best daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, entrepreneur, and friend she can be. I want to travel with her, and show her my favorite parts of the world, so she can see the world through my eyes, and I can see hers light up with the excitement of new experiences, tastes, sights, and smells.

My mom is one of the best people I know on earth, and without her, I wouldn’t be who I am today. She showed me how to be fierce and independent, something I wonder now if she wishes she’d done a little less of, considering I choose to live alone halfway across the world. She supports me in everything I do, and she loves me unconditionally. It kills me to think about a time without her in my life. Who will I call when I need advice? Or when I’m scared and alone? Or when I just want to celebrate? For now, I’m fortunate I don’t have to think about these things. I’ll just cherish the time we do have. That will have to be enough.

I love you, mom.

 

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What the SOL Challenge Means to Me

The Slice of Life Challenge is a very important part of who I am. Seven years ago, I took a risk and put myself (and my thoughts) out there for the world to see when I joined the SOL Challenge, and I’ve been excited ever since.

I had been following TwoWritingTeachers for about a year, and I loved reading all their posts about the art of teaching writing. I soaked in all the knowledge that they had to give. I shared posts with my friends and colleagues, tried out new ideas in my classroom, and spent hours poring through archived posts, jotting down ideas for later use. One March, I saw the SOL Challenge posts and wondered, What’s this all about? I read some of the slicers’ posts, and sometimes even commented, but thought, There’s no way I could do that! Who has time to write every day? And what would I even write about? Fast forward to the next February. I had convinced myself I would give it a try. I created a blog and once March came, I began sharing my stories. I didn’t post every day that first year, but I put myself out there, and I was proud of that.

I’ve now been posting for seven years, and I’m a huge fan! I tell everyone I know that they just have to try it out with me. Just dip your toes in. Start a blog, write some slices, see where it takes you. Most people look at me like I’m crazy. But a handful have taken me up on the offer, and I’ve sliced alongside friends and colleagues. We’ve learned more about one another, supported one another, and grown closer in the process. Some continue slicing the next year and some don’t, but all of them are glad they tried it.

What I love most about the challenge is that it pushes me as a writer. I cultivate a habit of writing each and every day, whether I have something profound to say or not, whether I feel like it or not. The quote is true. The only way to become a writer is to carve out time daily to write. I look forward to this challenge before it begins, and I mourn it when it’s over. I need that daily deadline to consistently put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I’ve also grown immensely as a writer through the years. Looking back on my old posts, I can see how my craft has evolved. I am more fluent, more engaging, and try out a variety of techniques now. I can always improve, as we all can, but I am proud of the progress I have made thus far. Over the years, I have also become more open and vulnerable in my writing, something I had always wanted to do. Prior to the challenge, I’d put up a mental block and I wasn’t fully open in my writing. Through the support of other slicers and their examples of laying it all out there, I have begun opening up and showing more of who I am.

I have also grown to love this writing community. This community embraces everyone, pulling us into the fold, and supporting us with their heartfelt comments. I know it’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again. Comments fuel writers. Knowing we have an audience who’s reading our words is important, but knowing we touched someone else enough to leave a comment is magical. Comments leave me with an understanding that what I say matters. Through the course of my time on the challenge, I have cultivated friendships with other slicers. Even though we’ve never been in the same room (or the same country in some cases), by reading one another’s thoughts, we share a bond. We learn to care about one another. It’s an unconventional friendship, I admit, but I cherish the relationships I have made with Elsie Stacey, Sandy, Karpenglish, Amanda, Leah, and Anne, among others.

One of the coolest things about this challenge is that I have a time capsule of one month of my life for the past seven years. Not many people can say that! Looking back at my slices is a window into my life. And for some reason, March tends to be an eventful month! I’ve had multiple injuries, many adventures, and lots of normal day-to-day stuff, too. I enjoy looking back and reminiscing on the person I was then, wondering whether I would have done the same thing as the me I am now.

As a traveler and an expat, I try to write blog posts about my life abroad, but I fall short and typically only post a few times a year, but the SOL challenge gives me ample opportunity to write not only about my travels (I’ve been on Spring Break every March except this year- my holiday is next week.), but about my life as an expat in another country. I have lots of random posts about China, Albania, and now Thailand. This challenge gives me the opportunity to treasure these moments, no matter how small. When I’m 70 years old, sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows with my niece and nephew and their kids, I’ll tell them about my adventures. And when my old, tired brain doesn’t remember all the details, I’ll have my slices to look back on to remind me.

This challenge is a gift, and I am forever grateful to TwoWritingTeachers for hosting it, and to the SOL writing community for continuing to support me year after year.

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When will it be over?

Yesterday, HR informed me that I’d be going to the immigration office to extend my work visa. Bring a book, they said, you may be waiting a while…

We left school at 7:30am, presumably to miss the traffic. Spoiler alert: We didn’t. Thirteen miles and an hour and a half later, we arrived.

The office opened at 8:30. We arrived at 9:00. Tony, the HR rep, lined up to get our queue number (yes, you line up to line up), and emerged with the saddest face. Number 194. One hundred ninety-four.


Around 10:00, we went to check the progress of the queue. The red LED lights displayed number 20. Twenty!?!? You mean we have 173 more people ahead of us?!? This is insane! Free from sitting in the rows upon rows of seats, Tony tells us we can meet him back here at 2:00pm. He tells us about the indoor market full of food stalls and the underground food court we could walk around.

My companion, a 16 year old high school student who is a part of our school’s boarding program, and I slowly, and I mean slowly, make our way around. The market was pretty intriguing! There was the typical market fare, but there were also unique foods I’d never tried. We’d occasionally stop to watch as they prepared the food, asking questions about ingredients and preparation techniques. Almost always we were offered a sample, which I gladly took, but my picky friend did not. The coconut and black sticky rice balls were good, but not good enough for me to buy them. They were sweet, but the texture was too gooey. The curious yellow fruit I’d seen peeled and wrapped in cellophane at previous markets, yet didn’t know the name of, was there. Only this time, I saw the woman removing it from it’s large spiky exterior. A quick inquiry revealed it was jackfruit. I was offered a taste, which I took. The texture reminded me of flesh, and it had a sweet, yet slightly stinky, taste. I decided to pass on that one. I also tried rice crackers, cashew and sesame crackers (which I bought!), and pickled green mangoes, which smelled and tasted like alcohol.

Sufficiently killing time and our boredom, we headed down to the food court for lunch. My high school buddy ordered 2 double cheeseburgers and 10 chicken wings. And ate it all! I ate the PB and J I’d packed and a few fries. After a stop at 7-11 for a slurpee, we checked the time, certain it was nearly time to meet up with Tony. It was 11:19. We had successfully killed one hour and nineteen minutes. Man, this was going to be a long day.

Exhausting all the entertainment the market could provide, we sought out a place to sit and rest. I toggled between texting Shaggers, reading my book, people watching, and scribbling in my notebook. My friend watched YouTube videos and played games on his phone. Lunch break for the office came at noon, at which time they were only at number 70! Everyone was ushered out into the lobby area during the hour they are closed for lunch. Throngs of people, all dressed in black and white, sat motionless on the stools, staring into their screens as the time slowly ticked by.

As I wondered how many more hours we’d have to continue the waiting game, I noticed the hours on the door. They close at 4:30. Will we make it? Will they stay open later? Will we have to come back? Oh, please, don’t make me come back. Just as I’m wrestling with this idea of running out of time and having to do this all over again, a rather large man and his partner walk up.

He’s obviously annoyed and disgruntled to see the doors closed and the lights off. A quick look at the hours posted on the door reveals they’re on lunch break. Looking around, unsure of what to do, I reach out to him. “Yeah, they’re closed for lunch. Should be back in half an hour, but you might not want to come today. We got here at 9:00 and are number 194. They were only on 70 before lunch.” I give him a sympathetic smile.

Anger begins to set in. “But I have to get it. My visa runs out today and I am getting on a flight later, and I need my visa so I can come back into the country.”Setting his jaw, he says, “It has to happen.” I ask him when his flight is, and he says he has to be at the airport at 4:00pm, but he first needs to go home and get his luggage.

I wonder, Why did he wait until a few hours before his flight to try to do this? Will he get it in time? What happens if he doesn’t? Will he make a scene? Desperation makes you do crazy things.

Settling back into our seats by the entrance, I notice security is lax. There’s this illusion of safety, what with the metal detector and the baggage screener set up near the door, but the security guards are mostly on their phones and people just walk right in. Sometimes, when their eyes aren’t glued to their phones, they ask people to put their bags through the scanner, but other times, they don’t. It doesn’t matter though. They never look when the bags go through anyway.

Dude, I hate waiting. I wish I could take a nap. I try in vain to get comfortable on the hard plastic seat.

Restroom break time. Surprisingly, it’s decent. Not super clean, but not abhorrent like it could be. A common occurrence in Thailand, we are provided with one-ply toilet paper with which to dry our hands after washing. Tiny pieces of wet paper get stuck all over my hands. This only adds to the frustration of my day.

Now back in the rows of seats inside the office, I try to read, but the constant ding followed by the robotic-sounding voice calling out the next number in the queue interrupts my flow.

At 3:30, they are only at number 137. Fifty-four more to go. And they close in an hour. Let the nail-biting commence. And the annoyance continue to fester.

On a positive note, I got some mango sticky rice for a snack. The mango wasn’t very ripe, so it wasn’t amazing, but it was good enough to quell my grumbling tummy and take up a bit of time.


Throughout the day, we’d run into familiar faces as we trod along, all of us in on this shared experience, never to see one another again. One in particular was a couple…well, were they a couple? I couldn’t exactly tell. The young man, who couldn’t have been more than 24, was handsome in that boyish, he-knows-he’s-handsome kind of way. Dressed in a fitted suit, red tie, and blue paisley pocket square, his hair perfectly in place, he had an air of arrogance about him. I caught his accent briefly. Definitely not American. British perhaps? I’m not entirely sure. He strode confidently, followed quickly by a young Thai woman, at least a foot shorter than him, cute, hair in a ponytail, and wearing a brown velvet dress and sneakers. She was obviously in love with him, or at least infatuated. She had all the tell-tale signs…laughing at all his jokes, gazing up at him with eyes a sparkle, and lightly touching his arm every chance she could. He certainly wasn’t bothered by it, but he never touched her. That’s why I don’t think they were a couple.

Coming up on 4:30, the crowd thinning, seats emptying, people break free of the imprisonment we have all found ourselves in today. Tony tells us they’re going to keep working past closing time so we will be seen today. Hallelujah! Trying to unsuccessfully distract myself with my book, I am fidgety, wanting this day to end.

Finally, at 5:15, my number is called! A brief interaction with the immigration officer, a few signatures, and a photo later, I’m done. Or so I think. Nope, I now have to wait on my passport.

At 6:00, we load into the van, headed back to our area of town. By this time, I’m hangry. I just want food. Real food. And I want a massage and a shower. And I need to slice. Climbing into the back, I try to lay down, but sleep eludes me.

I finally arrive at 7:15pm. Nearly 12 hours after we left this morning. Such a waste of a day. Relieved it’s over, I get some Kao Soi for dinner and a quick massage on my leg, where I’m certain I pulled a muscle. If I never have to do that again, it’d be too soon.

Running an Errand

This morning, I was tidying up our circle time area and found a book that Ms. Lauren had loaned me that I needed to return. Since I’m still struggling to get around quickly, I decided to utilize my “teacher helper” job and send one of my preschoolers down the hall to return the book.

Thinking that this first errand might be a little daunting alone, I sent a buddy along with my teacher helper. Standing in the hallway, I offered encouragement to my suddenly shy friends. “Go on. Knock on the door.” They disappeared into the doorway, and I waited for them to return.

Two heads peeked out, smiles spread across their faces, and as they emerged into the hallway, I noticed they still had the book with them. “Guys, you have to knock on the door louder. She’ll come and you can give it to her.”

Giggling, they tried again. And again, after a minute out of sight, they reappeared in the hallway, still clutching the book. Now I’m giggling, wondering whether to walk down and help them.

More reassurances. More trepidation and nerves. It’s time to call in reinforcements.

I called upon Alani, my not-afraid-of-anything spitfire, to help them. She gladly tiptoe-ran down the hallway to assist her too-shy friends. Confidently, Alani knocked on the door, and Ms. Lauren opened it, to the surprise of my little ones. They handed over the book, and all three ran back to me, proud smiles plastered on their faces.

I’m glad I didn’t go save them. One step closer to the independence I am trying to instill. They’ll be ready next time another errand presents itself.

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Let’s Get Vulnerable.

On my lunch break, I like to take a few minutes to myself and watch videos on YouTube while I eat my lunch, clearing my mind from the morning. Usually I watch Jimmy Fallon segments, as they’re guaranteed to make me smile. But today was different. Today I scrolled through one of my favorite channels, Soul Pancake, for something new to watch. For those of you who don’t know, Kid President is the brainchild of Soul Pancake.

The That’s What She Said playlist caught my attention. Expecting something light and humorous, something akin to Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, I pushed play. The first episode was entitled “Beauty and Body Image.” Whoa, that got real, real quick.

A focus group of an eclectic group of women sat around a table, talking about body image issues, sharing their perceptions of beauty, particularly their own, as well as recounting times in their lives when they questioned their body. Everyone shared these vignettes from their past when someone said or did something that caused them to doubt their beauty. As I listened to these women laying it all out there, I found myself nodding in agreement, tears welling in my eyes. Why is it that we allow others to define our beauty? Why do we give power to this negativity? Why do we consume media that promotes unattainable beauty standards and think we are less than when we don’t, when we can’t, measure up?

After watching That’s What She Said, I clicked on the That’s What He Said suggested video on the side, not really sure what to expect. The men’s version, entitled “Self Esteem and Body Image,” tackled similar issues related to body image and the messages men receive from others and the media. What surprised me most was that men faced the same things women do. They doubt themselves. They strive to fit this mold of what an attractive man is, someone who’s tall and strong, who can protect their loved ones. It shouldn’t surprise me that they feel this way, but it does. It’s not as widely talked about a topic as it is with women. Listening to them sharing their struggles and concerns was eye-opening. It made me understand a little more what’s beneath the often macho exterior of men.

As I watched both videos, I found myself noticing how beautiful each and every person was. Even as they described issues they had with their bodies, I would think, But look at your eyes; they’re so striking. He has a nice smile, one I’d notice across a room. Her hair is lovely; I wish I had hair like that. Her skin is radiant; I love the way her freckles dot her face. Why is that we can easily notice the beauty in others, but not always see it in ourselves?

Some of the questions and discussions posed in the video got me thinking about my own experiences. How do I feel about my body? First off, I struggle with my weight. I’d like to be much thinner, more fit. I’ve never had a flat stomach. Oh, how I wish I had one. My hair, while a pretty color, doesn’t know what it is. Is it curly? Is it straight? I wish it’d make up its mind. I’ve always been self-conscious of my smile. I have nice eyes, but the dark circles under them have always been there. I wonder if that makes me look tired.

When was the first time I felt not good enough, physically? Thinking back, I was in 7th grade when the self-doubt about my body started to creep in and consume my thoughts. I had always been small growing up. I was short and athletically thin, a result from the endless hours I spent outside running around and riding my bike. In middle school, my body began to change. Puberty hit me full-force, causing my body to grow softer and larger in certain areas. I was no longer thin. I found myself looking at my friends, with their flat stomachs and perfect bodies, and wondering why I didn’t look like that. Boys didn’t pay me much attention, like they did to my friends. I started to call myself fat. I’m pretty sure others did, too.

For the past 20+ years, my weight has fluctuated, from fat to not-as-fat, but I’ve never felt entirely happy with myself when I look in the mirror. I have never worn a bikini. Even when I wore a size 4 (a size 4!), I was too fat for a bikini. I wish I was that fat now.  I can recall, almost verbatim, the times in my life when people I loved have commented on my body. The time when my haircut made my face look too fat; when I wasn’t thin enough for him; when I didn’t look like a model and he deserved that, you know; when I was asked, not so subtlety, if I’d put on weight; when I was asked what I ate that day and whether or not I had worked out; when I was asked what’s wrong with me that I’m still single. Why do I let their commentary continue to play in my head?

When do I feel most beautiful? That’s a hard one. I wouldn’t use the word beautiful to define me. Cute? Maybe. Pretty? Sometimes. But beautiful? Hardly ever. If I had to answer that question, I’d say I feel most beautiful when I’m sharing a story with a friend or laughing with my whole body. If I really think about it, I think that I push people away, afraid to let anyone get too close, because I don’t feel beautiful enough. I feel confident in myself in terms of my personality. I know I’m a good person. I’m intelligent. I’m funny. I’m adventurous. I’m kind. But I lack the physical beauty that people seek. So instead of opening myself up for heartache, I find that I close myself off to others. I hope that the confidence I have in my inner self can be echoed in my confidence in my outer self.

This journey I’m on is definitely a life-long one. Learning to be comfortable in my own skin, accepting who I am and what my body looks like, and gaining self-confidence are all things I’m working on at the moment. I have good days and I have bad days. Today’s not a bad day, but it does leave me thinking.

Spring Break Plans

I’m soooo excited for Spring Break!! Just another 8 days of work, and then I get a magical 12 days off! 🙂 Linner is coming for part of my break, and I’ll be doing a bit of solo travel, too. Today I finalized my plans and I’m really looking forward to it!

When Linner arrives, we’ll have a quick staycation in Bangkok. The plan is to visit the Floating Market (new to us both), stay in a posh hotel downtown with a rooftop pool, get massages, and eat yummy Thai food. All in all, my kinda thing.

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Linner and I will travel to Krabi, Thailand and stay in Ao Nang at a sweet resort not too far from the beach. I plan to lay by the pool (hopefully I can get in, too!), relax with a pina colada or a fresh juice, and read. We’d also like to explore Ao Nang beach. Again, I hope to take a dip. Ao Nang has beautiful beaches, with huge rocks and cliffs nearby. I’d like to take a boat ride one day.


Once Linner leaves, I’ll be solo traveling to Indonesia! After a quick stop-over in Jakarta, I’ll fly to Ubud, Bali, where I will be staying at a relaxing hotel near the city. It has a pool with lounge chairs, a spa, and a good restaurant. The best part is it only cost me $34 a night, including breakfast! There’s a free area shuttle, and if I’m mobile and able to walk around, I plan on exploring. If not, I’ll lounge by the pool, reading and writing. Either way, it’ll be a relaxing trip!


This is why I live abroad…trips like this are possible and affordable. 🙂

Currently…

Currently, I’m…

Listening to my This is Us playlist. Don’t they have the best songs on that show?? I could listen to it all the time!

Loving the fact that I’ll be on Spring Break in a week and a half! Linner’s coming to visit and I’m going to some pretty cool places that involve sun and sand. 🙂

Drinking English Breakfast Tea, my go-to morning drink. It has to be Twinings.

Thinking about all the things I need to still book for my Spring Break trip. I’m such a last-minute travel planner.

Wanting to go watch Beauty & the Beast (again) this afternoon. Such a great movie! Brings me back to my childhood. Oh, and the popcorn with M&M’s is a guilty pleasure, too.

Procrastinating lots of stuff…lesson plans, newsletter, and emails I need to return. Ugh…guess I should do this at some point today.

Needing to do my foot exercises today. I’m getting more mobile, and want to continue the progress I’ve been making.

Reading…well, I actually just finished a book last night. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon was pretty good. Now I’m looking for what I’ll read next. Any suggestions?

Worrying about whether or not my wounds will be healed by the time Spring Break rolls around. Currently, the doctor says I can’t get my foot wet. I sure hope they do, because it’d be a shame if I couldn’t get in the pool or the ocean!

Anticipating my new adventure…so much to do to get ready, but looking forward to this new chapter in my life!

What are you currently doing?

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