Tag Archives: reflection

Another SOL Challenge is in the Books!

As I begin my annual SOL Challenge reflection, I’m struck by the odd feeling I have. For the past ten years, I always feel one of two ways on Day 31. I’m either saddened by the end, longing for more time to develop myself as a writer and connect with others in the SOL community, or I’m glad it’s over, as I limp to the finish line, depleted of words and ideas, unable to eke out another slice. It’s typically the former. But today I am feeling somewhere in the middle, like it’s just another day of slicing. It’s a strange feeling to not have a sense of finality. It probably speaks more to my mental state at the moment than anything. My brain is full-up, the endless end-of-school-year to do’s running through my head.

This year has been unlike any other SOL challenge. I’ve written every day, but I haven’t connected with the community as much as I usually do. With my limited time to slice and read/comment, I tended to gravitate toward my Welcome Wagon newbies and old slicing friends I’ve gained over the years. Unlike years past, where I made a point to read a few new slicers each day to get to know other people and expose myself to a wider range of writing styles, I simply didn’t have the time. Apart from my lazy Saturday mornings, where I explored new-to-me slicers, I was on autopilot, mining my WordPress Reader feed of followed blogs to read and comment on. And even then, I didn’t get to everyone I wanted to every day. This is probably why it feels so weird today. This community of writers is what I love most about the challenge and keeps me coming back year after year. I’m disappointed that I didn’t make more time to get to know other slicers and widen my circle. I want to change that next year.

When I look back on the past month of writing, there were some ups and downs for sure. Luckily there were more “ups” than downs! I noticed that challenging days resulted in slices of poetry. As someone who is much more comfortable with narrative, this was a surprising realization. Since moving to my new home on Jeju island, I haven’t made time to write about life here, but this month, I was able to write a few slices about my new experiences. I hope to add more as time goes by. Seeing as I was time poor this month, I didn’t rely on writing formats, such as “Currently…” or “Today I…”, as often as I would have thought I would (I used them only 4 times). A few times my slices were about something that happened in the past, coming from a spark of a conversation or something that triggered the memory. I also wrote about everyday things, like fire drills and snacks with colleagues, which is in stark contrast to my SOL challenge from 2020 where nothing could be classified as “everyday.” I’ll take a little normal and a little boring after last year.

As I close out my eleventh year of slicing in the SOL challenge, I’d like to say a big thank you to my fellow slicers for coming along on this journey with me. I’d like to thank the TWT co-authors for all of the hard work that they put into this challenge each year. I’m sure there are countless hours put in behind the scenes to make this a reality. Lastly, I’d like to thank the slicers who left comments on my slices. Your words were comforting and supportive and very much appreciated! A special shout out to Terje, Elsie, livinglife, Ms. Chiubooka Writes, Ms. Victor Reads, StandingTall, Fran McCrackin, and karpenglish for your support and love this month!

Until next time, SOL community, happy writing!

Sundays are Fleeting

I relish my weekends, more so lately as I seem to be working longer and longer hours on school days that bleed into my evenings. The opportunity to sleep in, taking comfort in the additional time wrapped up in my covers, knowing that there’s nowhere I have to be, nothing I have to do, paired with the unstructured day ahead, where I can choose to do anything I want to do (even if it’s nothing at all), is the very definition of luxury. My weekends are the time when I recharge my proverbial batteries, catch up on the things I want to do, rather than the things I have to do. During the month of March, my mornings are spent lazing on the couch, a cup of tea in one hand with my laptop on my lap, reading and commenting on my fellow slicers’ posts, while I enjoy the mid-morning sun streaming in through the windows and the light spring breeze coming through the open patio door.

Sundays start out just as promising as Saturdays, my morning routine the same, except for when I catch up with Shags on Facetime like today (I always welcome this break in the routine), but somewhere around lunchtime, time speeds up, the grains of sand falling faster than they should, and before I know it, Sunday’s almost gone. As time flies, I begin mourning the loss, knowing that the impending morning will be here quicker than I expect, the alarm interrupting my perfect slumber, stirring– no shaking– me awake, bringing me back to the realization that I can no longer sleep, that I can’t ease into the day, waking with the sun as I had done when it was Sunday.

I wonder, is it the knowing that it’s coming that eats up my Sundays? Does anyone else feel like their Sundays are fleeting? Or is it just me?

Exactly One Year Ago

I’ll always remember March 2nd, and not just because it’s Dr. Seuss’s birthday or Texas Independence Day. I’ll remember March 2nd because on March 2, 2020, everything as I knew it changed.

I was living in Jakarta, and while the world grappled with the effects of Covid-19, we were content to continue with life as normal, as if we were invincible. No masks, no social distancing, no restrictions.

Well…that was until March 2nd. March 2nd was the day Indonesia announced their first confirmed case. It was the day one of our teachers was hospitalized because she was suspected to have Covid-19 (spoiler alert: she tested positive and recovered a month later). It was the day we began what was supposed to be a 14-day quarantine period, one that turned out to be 80 days for me. It was also the day we decided to move to online learning.

As I sit here, safe in my home in Jeju, happy that we now have all students back on campus every day (as of yesterday) after a few months of 2/3 of our students on campus and 1/3 online, I can’t help but think of my colleagues and students back in Jakarta. They went online a year ago and have never went back to face to face school. That’s a whole year of online learning. A whole year of working from home. A whole year of isolation. My heart breaks for them. As tough as I am, I don’t know if I could have made it. I think it might have broken me by now.

I commend them for sticking with it and doing so well in spite of the rotten circumstances they’ve had to endure. I know it’s a long shot, but I sure hope they get to return to some sort of normalcy before the year ends. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have only ever met your students online.

Hang in there ACG! I’m sending you my love and support…you’ve got this!

Letter to 2020

As I begin my eleventh year of slicing in the SOL Challenge, I am, once again, faced with the first-day jitters. What should I write about? What can I say that will matter? I started by reading a few other slices for inspiration, and then went on a deep dive into my past slices, rereading my day one slices, but that one great idea never surfaced. As I sit here, reflecting on where I was last year when the challenge began, I was reminded about the year that was 2020; the year we all just barely survived. On that note, let’s begin this year’s challenge with a letter to 2020…

Dear 2020,

While you started with promise, as I claimed (yet again) that ‘this would be my year,’ you didn’t turn out as I (or anyone else in this world) had hoped. Earlier this year, as I thought about what my One Little Word for 2021 would be, I paused, trying to remember what my OLW was for 2020. It’s definitely not a good sign when you can’t remember the word that’s meant to guide your year. Looking back through my journal reminded me that it was health. Yeah, that didn’t really happen…in fact, the opposite would be more accurate.

As we all know, you brought a ton of awful stuff, so much so that it’ll forever be etched in our minds and history books. No need to rehash it all here. The wounds are still fresh. Despite all the terribleness that you brought, there were a few good things that happened.

I can remember sitting with Michelle in Thailand, recapping 2019, setting our goals and intentions for 2020, as we do each year, and weeping. I wasn’t happy with much of my current situation and felt stuck. I didn’t love living in Jakarta, as the city didn’t offer me much, and work was no longer bringing me joy. Our school year started out okay, but quickly took a turn for the worse, leaving me with a feeling of dread. I tried to mask the unhappiness I felt, but I wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all myself. Add to that a general lack of energy and motivation to do much of anything, and I was looking for a change.

Coming into 2020, I was offered a job in Jeju (where I live now) and the prospect of a change of scenery and a new work environment brought excitement and anticipation. But I still had half a year left in Jakarta. I’d taken on two additional positions at work, so in addition to being the Head of Primary, I was also the PYP Coordinator and full-time Year 6 teacher. As if that wasn’t enough, school closed on 2 March, and we all went into lockdown, while simultaneously navigating online learning (when we didn’t have a clue what we were doing). Those last few months of school were hectic, and I often worked 16-hour days, work bleeding into personal time, without the separation of work and home.

As it was for many people around the world, you became the year of quarantine. I endured 110 days of quarantine; 80 days in Jakarta, 15 in Texas after my flight home, and another 15 in Seoul when I moved to Korea to start my new job. The 15 days in Seoul were definitely the hardest, as I was stuck in a hotel room, with no access to fresh air or good food. But I survived. I have found that my habits have changed as a result of so much time spent in isolation, as I now spend more time alone than usual. I’m not sure how I feel about it.

As I mentioned, regardless of the struggles you made me endure, there were definitely some highlights. The move to Jeju was the right one for me, and has brought me much joy and fulfillment, both at work and personally. That excitement and spark I thought was gone has returned, and I know I’m where I belong. I’m making a difference, and it feels good. Being in Jeju has meant that life has returned to as close to normal as possible. Korea has handled the pandemic well, and we are free to move about with minimal disruptions (with appropriate precautions, of course). School has been in person the majority of the time, bringing a sense of normalcy. I’ve made new friends and kept in contact with old ones. My new house is starting to become a home, and I am feeling more settled in my new place.

As you ended, I was hopeful, as most people were, that 2021 would suddenly wipe the slate clean and we’d wake up to realize it had all been just a bad dream. While that didn’t happen, 2021 is shaping up to be a bit better, and I’m hopeful for the future. As much as I wish you didn’t happen, and as much as I wish I had been able to fast-forward straight through the bad parts, I am grateful for the lessons learned, the perseverance I showed, and the gifts you gave me.

Peace out 2020,
Jennifer

Join the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers! I highly recommend it!

Bicycle

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

B is for Bicycle

Tell me a memory associated with a bicycle. The spokes, the wheels, the narrow seat.

The white and yellow Huffy, with the white thick-tread tires, wasn’t a girl’s bike. No banana seats, baskets, or tassels for me. I had to have the tough boy’s bike. At that age, I rejected everything girly. No pink. No Barbies. No dresses. None of that stuff would do.

Tearing through the quiet streets of my neighborhood, I pumped, not rode, to the sidewalk park, where I’d meet my friends for races, make believe, and hide-and-go-seek. That bike wasn’t made for leisurely rides. It was made for riding as fast as I could, at break-neck speeds. To stop, I reversed the pedals, and on more than one occasion, I nearly flew over the handlebars. But I didn’t mind; I was tough.

When I would come home to grab a drink of water or a bite to eat, I’d ride right up to the front porch and throw my bike against the concrete steps, scuffing the sides every time. My mom constantly nagged me to use my kickstand, but I had more important things to do, and her requests were always ignored. I knew I wouldn’t be home long anyway. After a pit stop, I’d be back at it, riding around til the streetlights came on and it was time to come home.

I don’t remember when I grew too big for that bike, when it was finally retired. I’m not even sure what happened to it once I moved onto a newer, shinier model, one I can’t for the life of me remember now. I wish I had a picture of me on that bike, with the curly, never-brushed blonde hair I was known for back then. The girl who rode that bike was sure of herself. She was who she was, unapologetically, and she didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. I want to go back in time and talk to that little girl and tell her that the world’s going to expect a lot from her. That they’re going to try and change her, fit her into the mold that’s expected. But she needs to stand firm in her beliefs and fight like hell to stay who she is. She doesn’t have to fit in. She can be whoever she wants to be, and that’s okay.

And Just Like That, It’s Over

On March 1st, I eagerly wrote my first slice to mark the start of my tenth year on the Slice of Life Challenge, reflecting on who I am now vs. the me from 10 years ago. I’d been anticipating this challenge for months, the excitement growing each day that it got closer to March. I needed something to reignite my writing life, the one that lay dormant for months.

I began March 2nd like any other slicing day, keeping my eyes peeled for potential slices, debating about what would make the cut. Little did I know that everything would change that afternoon. The writing plans (and let’s be honest…all other plans) I’d had for this month vanished before my eyes.

Each day brought new challenges, as I, like many others, embarked on the monumental task of virtual schooling, with little to no preparation and very little sleep. Many of my slices centered on this new reality that I couldn’t seem to escape. I wrote to reflect on my experience, learn from it, and hopefully help others who would soon join me on this journey.

I leaned on this writing community more than ever, and my fellow slicers rallied around me, lifting me up with encouraging comments, empathizing with my situation, and offering suggestions. I felt seen and heard and loved.

The slices I’ve read this month have been raw and honest. We’ve all laid bare our worries and fears for everyone to see. I feel honored to be among these writers.

March 2020 will forever be etched in our memories. We’ve witnessed and lived through a historical moment in time, and in doing so, have recorded memories that we will look back on for decades to come.

This month, that seems to have lasted forever, yet was over in the blink of an eye, had more highs and lows than I’m used to, but instead of shying away from the ugly emotions of isolation, fear, and frustration, I wrote through it.

And just like that, it’s over.

Thankful for the Busyness Today!

After a week off for term break, our virtual school resumed today. My work day began at 7:00am and finished a little after 9:00pm. To be honest, I’m tired and ready for bed, but more than anything, I’m thankful for the busyness of today. After nine days off, the days had started to run together, and by the end of the week, I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything. While this is a less than ideal situation, and I would 100% rather be in the classroom, I grateful for the routine of my virtual school day. I was excited to chat with my students again today, and while many of them were tired today from a week of staying up late and playing, I can tell they were glad to be back, too.

After our first three weeks of virtual school, we reflected as a leadership team, taking into account student, parent, and staff feedback about their experiences with online learning, and made some adjustments for this last term of school. We realized that it was unrealistic to expect primary students to attend virtual school all day like they would at real school. We scaled back the expectations, and now students have four homeroom learning days and one single-subject day. This means that on the four homeroom days, students take part in one lesson each of literacy, math, unit of inquiry, and PE per day. This is in addition to a morning message video, which may be pre-recorded or done as a morning meeting on ZOOM. We all do one ZOOM class meeting per homeroom day.

On their single-subject days, students have one lesson each of art, music, PE, library, Bahasa Indonesia or Mandarin, and Religion or Indonesian Studies. On the single-subject days, the homeroom teacher has time to plan and prep lessons for the rest of the week and give student feedback, as the only requirement is to post a morning message video and the daily learning overview with the students’ schedule. My single-subject day is on Wednesday, which is perfect for me. I can prep for Monday’s and Tuesday’s lessons on Sunday, and Thursday’s and Friday’s lessons on Wednesday. It’ll be nice to have a bit of a breather in the middle of the week, too. I hope that this new schedule is helpful for the students and that they no longer feel overwhelmed with everything they have to do.

Another change we’ve made is to be more mindful of screen time. We’ve encouraged teachers to assign more offline activities during virtual school so that they are not online all day. I know how being on a screen all day affects me, so I can’t imagine how the students must feel!

How’s virtual school going for you? Have you made any changes?

What to Write

From the title, you probably think I’m writing my annual writer’s block post (it inevitably happens when one writes for 31 days straight), but I don’t have writer’s block per se; it’s just that there’s nothing I really want to write about. To say that this has been the weirdest month ever is an understatement. When have I ever, in the history of my life, been stuck inside for an entire month straight? I’ll give you a hint…it’s never!

What gave me pause when I sat down to write today was that I’ve written about it all before. I mean, how many more slices can I write about virtual school (it starts back up tomorrow), how I feel about quarantine (the ups and downs have been covered), and connecting with people virtually (which is fun, but there’s only so much I can really say). I started rereading my past slices from previous years’ challenges to get ideas. While I thoroughly enjoyed the walk down memory lane, I was acutely aware that all of those slices were about things I had done, experiences when traveling (which I’m always doing in March), or life as an expat in my current city. When you are confined to your house, writing inspiration for a slice of life is slim pickings.

I am so looking forward to being back out in the world. Writing about my experiences and travels is such a gift. Reading my old slices brought back a flood of emotions, the memories bubbling up to the surface. This Slice of Life Challenge has allowed me to capture these memories forever, giving me a purpose and an audience to develop a writing habit for a month each year. While I always have every intention of keeping it going, I never continue for very long. Life always seems to get in the way. But I’ll always have this yearly month-long slice of my life to look back on. It might not be a lot, but committing 1/12 of every year to paper is something worthwhile. Without the daily slicing commitment, I could easily have a blog with only the ‘good stuff’ on it. But when you write every day for 31 days about your life, there are bound to be days that aren’t so good, days when you stumble, and days that are down-right crappy. In this challenge, those days get written about, too, which is real life. Thank you TWT for hosting this challenge that is a gift I give myself year after year.

Productivity and Working from Home

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about productivity, time management, and scheduling. Working from home has never been a strong suit of mine. Whenever I need to get a lot of work done on the weekends, I always have to work somewhere else…school, a cafe, Starbucks. If I don’t, I am so distracted by things at home that I just procrastinate all day until I stress myself out and end up staying up late on Sunday night and then don’t even get half of my list done!

What started me thinking about time management was my students’ reflections on virtual school last week. All but one said the hardest part of online learning was time management and managing distractions. Same for me, guys. To help them learn more time management techniques, I went on a deep dive on YouTube, because let’s be honest, I’m not the model for this skill! I found 2 really good videos (here and here) for them and they’ve been using the new techniques to create a daily to-do list and schedule each morning, which they submit to Seesaw. I’ve seen improvements this week in their ability to submit assignments in a timely manner. If we are still online after spring break, I’ll tackle the distractions element!

While researching for my students, I came across a YouTuber named Amy who is a time management, scheduling, morning routine, and productivity expert. I’ve watched way too many of her videos this week! With tomorrow being our last day of virtual school before a much-deserved week off, I’ve been reflecting on how I will improve how I approach the planning and execution of virtual school and how I will take some time for myself on my isolated spring break. Here’s what I’ve planned so far.

Things to do during Spring Break

Daily:
-Exercise
-Blog/Slice
-Read
-Skincare routine
-Sleep well

Fun:
-Puzzles!
-Try new recipes
-Catch up on my shows
-Movies and popcorn
-Coloring books

Organize:
-Clean out closets
-Cook and freeze meals
-Create a daily schedule for Spring Break
-Create a daily schedule for virtual school (if it continues after next week)
-Decide what to pack/move and what to donate

Work:
-Plan ahead for the next week
-Film all lessons for the next week
-Student feedback
-Catch up on curriculum work
-Brainstorm how to do an entirely online PYP Exhibition (if it comes to that)

I’m hopeful for next week and want to be productive, not succumb to binge-watching Netflix every day, because we all know how easy that would be!

This video from Amy is sooo helpful and applicable now! Anyone struggling with working from home should watch it. She gives great tips!

Freedom wasn’t so freeing

Today marked Day 16 of self-quarantine. Sixteen days that I’ve been cooped up in my house. When the decision was made on March 2nd that our entire community would go into self-quarantine and begin virtual school, I was in shock. That shock turned to bitterness and resentment a few days in, grumpy and frustrated to be a prisoner trapped in my own home. By about day 5 or 6, I was downright depressed at the fact that I couldn’t leave my own home. However, once I passed the first week mark, I had accepted it. While I dreamed of freedom, looking forward to waking up on March 17th and getting to go out to dinner with friends, drink a hot chocolate at Starbucks with a good book, or just do a bit of walking around in the mall, the closer it got to my freedom, the less excited I became.

In the days leading up to my day of freedom, talk of social distancing and staying at home to not only protect yourself but vulnerable populations began to emerge. Reflecting on the what-ifs, I came to the decision that I would continue to remain indoors and in isolation. My newfound acceptance made the decision that much easier.

But today I had to leave my house. I didn’t want to, and it certainly wasn’t for something fun like a dinner date or to hang out at the coffee shop. My teeth had been really sore for several days, and I needed to go to the dentist. I feared that my wisdom teeth might be coming in and pushing on my other teeth. If you’ve ever had tooth pain, you know it’s not something that can easily be ignored. So I made the appointment.

When it was time to go, the nerves set in. Why am I so nervous to leave my house? It’s not that big of a deal. But the number of cases here in Indonesia has been increasing at a rapid rate. And the President said yesterday that he’s intentionally withholding information from the public about the actual number of cases and deaths so as not to create panic. My worry about catching the virus was heightened.

I debated over whether I should taxi or Go-Jek it. Which is the safer option? Is it literally touching the person who’s driving me but being in the open air or sitting in a confined space and breathing the same air as the taxi driver? I opted for the Go-Jek, but wore my pollution mask just in case. Armed with hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and tissues, I headed out.

The first thing I noticed was the ease in which we were able to drive. The usual bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go, weave-in-and-out, drive-up-on-the-curb-just-to-get-ahead traffic was a thing of the past. Clearly the message to stay home had reached a large number of people. What would normally have taken an hour to drive (yet it’s only about 7km away) took about 20 minutes.

As I walked into the office tower, I was acutely aware of my surroundings and my actions. Don’t touch your face. But my nose itches. Don’t do it, Jennifer. You haven’t washed your hands since you left home. I walked slower to avoid walking near someone else, trying to keep at least 1 meter distance between me and other people. Having a bit of extra time to kill, I popped down to the ATM. Using my sleeve as a glove, I typed in my PIN. The change in withdrawal limit from 3,000,000 (about $200) to 1,000,000 (about $65) meant I had to make many additional withdrawals. Sanitizing my hands, I headed upstairs.

After my dentist visit, where I learned that I have two impacted wisdom teeth (oh, joy!), I stopped at the grocery store nearby to pick up a few things. My temperature was taken upon entry. As I wandered around the store, my fellow shoppers and I avoided one another like the plague, the unwritten rule being that only one person was allowed per aisle. After checking out and applying more sanitizer, I headed home.

Once back home, I breathed a sign of relief. While I had my first taste of freedom today, all I wanted was the comfort of my little bubble. I don’t think I’ll be going out any time soon.