I normally write my SOL challenge reflection on the last day of the challenge, but this is the slice that is begging to be written on this penultimate day.
When I started my twelfth Slice of Life Challenge thirty days ago, I was giddy and ready to write, write, write! However, a few days into the challenge, Covid blew up in Korea and we started to have large amounts of students and teachers test positive. All of my energy went to Covid triage, leaving me with little left to devote to my writing.
In all my years taking part in the challenge, this one has been the hardest. While I have written every day (some days I wasn’t sure if I would, but I eked something out), the joy I normally have has been overshadowed by everything going on outside of my writing life. I’m saddened by this fact and wish I could have a do-over. As a commenter, I’ve not lived up to the usual daily number of comments as I have in past years. That’s the essence of the challenge, and the part I love the most- connecting with wide range of writers. If I haven’t commented on your blog enough, I apologize. It’s not you, it’s me.
As I limp to the finish line this year, I am proud that I managed to finish (well, almost…one more day to go), but have much regret. I am hopeful that 2023 will be easier (it has to be, right?) and I can get back into my regular groove. Thank you to this community of writers that supports one another, even when we’re going through a hard time.
I love my job (well…most days!) and the work that I do. As a school leader and curriculum coordinator, I enjoy planning units of inquiry with our teachers, hearing about the students’ learning, insights, comments, and action, and further developing the curriculum. The meaningful work energizes me, spurring me on to do more and do better than the day before. But lately, the tedious things, the stuff that has to be done to keep a school running (especially during a pandemic) has worn me down.
I’m busy all the time, but I don’t seem to make any headway on my big projects or the stuff that really matters. The hours are taken up by administrative tasks, such as finding cover for the sick teachers who are out, creating and adding to the daily bulletins, making schedules for this or that, editing reports, EMAILS!, and the list goes on. Not to mention we are still hiring for next year. While finding the right people for our team is crucial to our success next year, the time it takes to sift through applications and search for candidates online, correspond with said candidates, interview, and follow up with references is incredible. More and more I feel like my calendar, inbox, and head are overflowing, leaving little room for much else.
I have ideas and plans and hopes and aspirations, ways to make my teachers’ lives easier and the curriculum more engaging and robust. But when can I get to all of it? I’ve never been the best at prioritizing. I tend to put out the fires right in front of me, rather than stepping back to see if this is something that really needs my attention right now. As I looked ahead at the calendar today, I realized there are only two and a half months left in school. Two and a half months!!! But I have way more than two and a half months worth of work left to do.
I know I need to take a step back, look at the big picture, prioritize what has to get done, what I would like to get done, and what simply won’t get done, and make a plan for the rest of the year, but when do I have time to do this? My problems aren’t unique. Many of us (okay, most of us) in education feel this way; there’s never enough time to do it all. Is there anyone out there who’s figured it out? Any words of wisdom or magic pills you can offer up?
Last May, when I went in for an annual medical check-up, they found a large tumor attached to my uterus. The doctor, through a translator app, told me it was 6.7cm in diameter and would need to be removed immediately. Unsure of whether I should trust a doctor I couldn’t communicate with, I booked an appointment with a specialist a week later who, luckily, spoke English. She confirmed that I would need surgery soon. Dread and fear sank in. I had to undergo my first major surgery in Korea, where I don’t speak the language and don’t have any family support, and it had to happen soon.
The surgery happened in the beginning of July, shortly after school finished. Gail, a dear friend, offered to help and spent every day in the hospital with me. Without her, I’m not sure what I would have done. The surgery was successful (tumor was benign), however while they were in there, the doctor found loads of endometriosis lesions all over my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. He “cleaned it all up” but said if not treated, it would soon return, causing more issues. Endometriosis explains the pain and issues I’ve had for most of my life.
Without much warning, I had to make a decision about treatment, which was pretty much do the treatment or don’t do it and have the lesions return. The treatment meant I couldn’t have children…at least not for a few years anyway…but I’d just turned 40 and am single, so I figured that ship had sailed anyway. I opted for the treatment, which began just before I went back to school. The treatment consists of three months of hormone shots (high dose, once a month) followed by two years of daily endometriosis hormone pills. The doctor warned me that hormone shots would throw me into forced menopause and I would have hot flashes and my periods would become irregular and eventually stop.
I was ready for the hot flashes, which would come at the most inopportune times, but I wasn’t prepared for the other symptoms. The first issue was the crying. It was spontaneous, uncontrollable, and came on for no reason. It was so embarrassing at work. Here I am, a leader, trying to lead orientation with my teachers, and I’d start crying. They must have thought I was so unstable. Then the panic attacks began, again out of the blue and at inconvenient times (Is there ever a convenient time to have a panic attack?). However, the worst thing was the insomnia. I can remember being dead tired, willing myself to sleep, crying from exhaustion, yet the sleep wouldn’t come. I tried melatonin and sleep music and lavender oil diffusers and praying and a new nighttime routine, but I only managed a few hours a night. Through all this, I felt like I was going crazy. I was at my wit’s end and didn’t know what to do.
When I went in for my first monthly check-up and told my doctor about my symptoms, he said I was having an adverse reaction to the treatment, which had caused me to develop depression and anxiety. He said I needed to stick it out and it would eventually get better, but when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t see a way out. I was in a really dark place and didn’t recognize myself. I had never experienced mental illness firsthand before. Through this whole ordeal, I developed so much empathy for people who live with mental illness; it’s worse than any physical pain I’ve ever experienced. I can remember crying to the doctor, begging for him to trade me my old physical pain for my new emotional pain. But by then, it was too late.
Music has always been my go to for any emotion. Happy? Play upbeat music and dance around. Angry? Play angsty music on high to work it out. Sad? Play sappy music and cry it out. During my depression and anxiety period, I found a few songs that spoke to me and helped articulate how I felt or how I wanted to feel, and I played them on repeat. One of those songs was Dermot Kennedy’s “Better Days.” I can remember driving around, alone, blasting this song from my speakers, as I sang along, tears streaming down my face. He promises, “Better days are comin’, if no one told you. I hate to hear you cryin’…” and “I know you’ve been hurtin’ waiting on a train that just won’t come.” and “The rain, it ain’t permanent, and soon we’ll be dancin’ in the sun.” and “Your story’s gonna change, just wait for better days.” His words, the promise of better days coming, got me through some of my darkest days.
I’m happy to report that the depression and anxiety did eventually subside, just like the doctor said it would. I think the better days have come.
Better days are comin’ If no one told you I hate to hear you cryin’ Over the phone, dear For seven years runnin’ You’ve been a soldier But better days are comin’ Better days are comin’ for you
So when the night feels like forever (Mh-mh) I’ll remember what you said to me
I know you’ve been hurtin’ Waitin’ on a train that just won’t come The rain, it ain’t permanent And soon, we’ll be dancin’ in the sun We’ll be dancin’ in the sun And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh) And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
We never miss the flowers Until the sun’s down We never count the hours Until they’re runnin’ out You’re on the other side of the storm now You should be so proud And better days are comin’ Better days are comin’ for you
So when the night feels like forever (Mh-mh) I’ll remember what you said to me
I know you’ve been hurting (is our time ever soothing?) Waiting on a train that just won’t come The rain, it ain’t permanent (is our time ever soothing?) And soon, we’ll be dancing in the sun We’ll be dancing in the sun And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh) And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh) And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh) And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
Your story’s gonna change Just wait for better days You’ve seen too much of pain Now, you don’t even know That your story’s gonna change Just wait for better days I promise you, I won’t let go
I know you’ve been hurting Waiting on a train that just won’t come The rain, it ain’t permanent (is our time ever soothing?) And soon, we’ll be dancing in the sun We’ll be dancing in the sun And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh) And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh) And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh) And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
At the start of the year, I decided to take a break from social media. The only account I had was Instagram, as I’d already deactivated my Facebook back in 2017, and I’d never gotten into TikTok, Snap Chat, or Twitter. Instagram is a great app, and I really enjoy posting travel pics, keeping up with my friends, and following inspiring accounts. However, I realized that I was spending an inordinate amount of time scrolling through random reels and photos, wasting hours each week.
I’m not one of those declare-that-I’m-quitting-social-media kind of people; those posts always come across as attention seeking to me. I just quietly signed off, deactivated my account, and deleted the app, unsure of how long I’d be away. When January 1st came around, I began my hiatus. While it was difficult at first, and my habit of picking up my phone multiple times a day took an embarrassingly long time to break, after a while, I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I would.
I figured I’d stay away for a week, maybe two; I didn’t think I’d be away this long. In some ways, I think I should go back, since I miss seeing my friends’ photos and finding new ideas for school. On the other hand, I worry I’d go back to my old ways and waste time again instead of using the app sparingly. I’ve read articles and books about the power of social media and the grip it can have on someone. These apps are designed to make it hard for people to stop using them, and despite knowing the tactics they use, I still fall prey to them.
Social media can connect you to other people, but it can also isolate you. Finding balance between the two is like walking a tightrope. Since signing off, I’ve lost touch with some people, and I don’t always know what’s trending at the moment, but I’ve gained more connections with people in real life, as I’ve prioritized my social life now that things have opened up more here. Whenever I decide to get back on social media, I hope I can do it in a balanced way.
Two years ago, I was well into lockdown and figuring out this thing called online learning. Two years later, I move around freely and get to be in person at school.
Two years ago, I was living in Jakarta, Indonesia, finishing up my third year. Two years later, I’m living in Jeju, South Korea, finishing up my second year.
Two years ago, I did all my shopping online and had everything delivered. Two years later, I pop down to the shops to pick up what I want.
Two years ago, I didn’t own any masks and the idea of wearing one was completely foreign. Two years later, I have a basket full of colorful cloth masks and mask straps near the door, match them to my outfits, and can’t imagine leaving the house without one.
Two years ago, I was perfecting my banana bread baking skills. Two years later, I can’t remember the last time I baked banana bread.
Two years ago, the airports were eerily empty. Two years later, the airports are bustling again.
Two years ago, I was terrified of catching Covid. Two years later, I’ve had Covid and luckily it wasn’t that bad.
Two years ago, I spent all my time alone. Two years later, I can be social again.
Two years ago, I never used the words quarantine, PCR test, or travel restrictions. Two years later, they are part of my everyday vocabulary.
Two years ago, I thought everything would go back to normal soon. Two years later, I’m not even sure what normal is anymore.
Two years ago, Covid was all people talked about. Two years later, Covid is all people talk about.
A few friends and I went out to dinner tonight to celebrate my friend’s birthday, and we had one of those meandering conversations where we start talking about one thing, which leads to another, which leads to something completely different. Throughout the conversations, we had lots of laughs, learned many new things about one another, and made a few connections to things in our past. One of those things was summer camp, and I had a flood of memories come back to me.
As a kid, I went to a few different camps. In my elementary and preteen years, I attended summer day camps while my parents worked, and when I was a tween and teenager, I went to church camp for a week every summer. But the most memorable camp experience was going to Young Life Frontier Camp when I was 15.
I can remember the extremely long bus ride from Texas to Colorado, the furthest I’d ever been away from home. As we neared camp, the mountains surrounding us, I couldn’t believe I was actually there. Since I didn’t really know anyone at camp, I was open to new friendships and experiences.
I can remember the cluster of cabins, tucked in amongst the pine trees. Naturally, I chose the top bunk. While I can’t remember any of the girls in my cabin, I do remember loving our camp counselor, a college-aged girl with loads of energy and enthusiasm.
What made Frontier Camp so special was that it was full of surprises. No one told us what to expect when we were there (I’m pretty sure it was designed that way), so we were constantly surprised by all the events they’d organized for us. What I remember most was that we had a different theme each night, but because they hadn’t told us about them, we had to get creative with whatever we’d brought with us. Our camp counselor was always good at helping us scrounge up items for our makeshift costumes. Western night was that first night. I didn’t have anything cowboy-ish, despite being a Texan. I remember I wore my favorite grey and white Henley t-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. To make me look the part, my counselor braided my hair into French-braided pigtails, tied a red bandana in my hair, and used her eye liner pencil to draw freckles on me. I was ready to go!
Down at the mess hall, we sat with our cabin mates for dinner. The food wasn’t typical “camp food.” It was actually delicious and we looked forward to each meal. Each night, after everyone was served, the counselors would put on a show for us. That first night, one of the male counselors, a pillow stuffed under his shirt and donning a too-tight blazer, started swinging his arms around, saying in a loud voice, “I live in a van down by the river…” The mess hall erupted with laughter throughout the whole of his skit. Now I know he was mimicking Chris Farley’s famous SNL sketch, but as a naive 15-year-old, whose parents wouldn’t allow her to watch SNL, I had no idea and thought that this guy was the funniest man ever!
I’m not sure how to explain how this happened, other than to chock it up to the magic of camp, but I had a week-long romance with a fellow camper from Kansas. I can’t remember his name, and I know I never even kissed him, but I do remember being totally smitten. He was tall, towering over my short frame, and had broad shoulders like someone who played football. His hair was blond and shaved close to his head. On the last day of camp, we cried as we said goodbye to each other. After returning home and developing my photos, I added a photo of us my friend had taken on the last day of camp, where we were hugging one another and I was looking up at him with such a sad face. I remember that we kept in touch for a while after camp, through handwritten letters and a few long-distance phone calls, but you can only sustain a week-long romance over hundreds of miles for so long.
When I can’t settle on one idea for a slice or when my mind is thinking about many things, I like to write my TBAs. It’s a reflective exercise I learned many years ago from a wise friend, which stands for Truths, Beauties, and Appreciations.
My back pain flared up earlier this week, making it difficult to sleep, but luckily I’ve felt much better today.
The Covid outbreak at my school is starting to let up…I hope it stays that way!
I’ve been feeling a little down lately and I’m not sure why. Hopefully the winter melting away will lift my spirits.
I haven’t been living out my OLW (Health) lately. I need to focus more on my health, both physical and mental. When things are stressful at work, I tend to revert back to old habits.
I love shopping for clothes in person, but shopping online is so tedious and boring. I want some new clothes, but online shopping takes so much time that I generally just give up.
My green plants, which always make me smile.
The new Pixar movie “Turning Red” is such a lovely film! I watched it this afternoon and loved all of it. It’s a perfect coming of age movie, depicting an honest mother/daughter relationship, the struggles and fun parts of being a teenager, and what puberty is like.
The sweet smelling candle I’ve been burning all day makes my house seem so cozy.
Spring Break is on the horizon, and in a month, I’ll be traveling to the mainland with friends. We are going to Seoul for some much-needed city life, where we’ll stay at a fancy hotel, go shopping, explore the city, and eat out at some delicious restaurants.
My stack of to-read books that I am so looking forward to reading soon.
The warm spring weather today. The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, and the temperature had warmed considerably, rendering my coat unnecessary for the first time in months.
Having a whole day to myself to do whatever I wanted to do, which to be honest, wasn’t much.
Coming home to a clean home yesterday. My cleaner comes on Fridays, which is always a special treat to start off the weekend.
A friend of mine had surgery yesterday, and it went really well. Now onto the recovery, which will likely be a long road.
The fact that quarantine is being lifted soon in Korea, which means I can spend more time at home this summer. I can’t wait to spend more time with my parents, nieces and nephew, and brother and sister in law, plus all of my extended family.
I’m a reader, have been since I was four years old. It’s in my DNA, who I am. I’m the kind of person who loves a good conversation about books, sharing my latest favorites and must-reads and hearing about which books my friends, colleagues, and students are reading. I make annual reading goals, and I keep track of my books on GoodReads. The other day, a friend and I were discussing books, and she shared that she wants to get back into reading. She asked me what my top ten books of all time were. I didn’t know what to say. Only ten?? How can I choose just ten? Ten of each genre, maybe, but ten total? It seems impossible. I’ve given it some thought, and while I know that I’ll be missing out a lot of good ones, here goes, my top ten books, as of March 10, 2022.
I first read 1984 in high school as a required reading book in one of my English classes. I was instantly taken with the dystopian future Orwell describes, thinking that in no way would this ever happen. I’ve since read the book a handful more times, and each time I read it, it becomes more and more true.
I will forever associate The Alice Network with quarantine in Korea. When I moved to Korea in the summer of 2020, I was required to do a 14-day quarantine at a hotel in Seoul. The only book I brought (weight restrictions!) was this one. I started each morning with a cup of tea, curled up in the chair by the window, while I read for an hour. I became enthralled by the story, on the edge of my seat as I learned more and more about the characters’ intertwined lives. Once the book was over, I mourned, wishing I could have had more time with them.
Mrs. Decell, my fourth grade teacher, first introduced me to the mystery From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I was instantly in love with Jamie and Claudia’s adventure, as they ran away from home to live in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I connected so much with Claudia’s character, which made this one of my all-time favorites. I have since read this book aloud to every class I’ve ever taught (and they have loved it too!).
I read The Things They Carried while living in Shanghai, so I would have been in my early 30s. O’Brien’s writing style, sharp and to the point, caught my attention. I’d never read much about war, but reading this book made me empathetic to the soldier’s plight- both physical and emotional. It’s a book I’ve carried with me since then.
I adore memoirs, especially the ones that are real. Angela’s Ashes is as real as it gets, and while I was appalled by so much, I couldn’t put it down. I read this one on a trip to Morocco in 2016, and I remember my friends telling me to put it away and enjoy the scenery, as I read it every morning on the balcony of our riad, but the story drew me in so much that I couldn’t put it down, even for Morocco.
The magic of Matilda is something every child should experience. This was another fourth grade read and another instant classic. Matilda’s powers, combined with her awful parents, hilarious antics, and the lovely Miss Honey, make this a book you want to reread again and again. It should be mandatory reading for all children.
I love a good novel in verse, and Brown Girl Dreaming is a perfect example. I remember reading this one in Hong Kong, during my trip to the Literacy Institute at HKIS. Woodson’s depiction of growing up as a brown girl in the South gripped me from beginning to end. My favorite chapter/poem was “what i believe,” which I have shared with countless others over the years. I have even written a couple versions of my own over the years.
The Joy Luck Club was another required reading book that I fell in love with. I still have my original copy, dog-eared, highlighted, and nearly falling apart. I enjoyed the many interwoven stories of these Chinese immigrant women and their American-born daughters as a teenager, and even more as an adult. When I reread The Joy Luck Club after living in China, it had so much more meaning to me. I was able to make connections to the culture (and I could pronounce the pinyin words correctly!).
If you can get through The Fault in Our Stars without crying, you have no soul. This YA book had me in its grips the entire time, and was one I both wanted to devour as quickly as possible and read slowly so I could savor every last word. I read this book on my trip to Egypt, and I can remember staying up late on the overnight ride across the country, reading by the light of tiny bedside lamp while the train car jostled us to and fro. I wrote lots about this book- my thoughts, quotes I loved- in my journal.
Shel Silverstein is brilliant, and while I grew up loving his poetry (Where the Sidewalk Ends was my favorite collection), I wasn’t introduced to The Giving Tree until I was in college. I babysat a family of three children, Josh, Jessica, and Luke, and one day Jessica asked me to read it to them. We all cozied up on the couch together to read. As I got to the end, tears poured down my face. Jessica, then four, innocently asked me why I was crying. I told her it was because I loved this book. A few months later, I was gifted a hardback copy with a birthday message scrawled inside by the three kids. When I asked Suzan, their mom, how she knew I loved this book, she said Jessica told her.
A tradition I start years ago on the SOL challenge was to reflect on the past year through photos (no captions, in chronological order). The idea came from Jeeyoung, a fellow slicer, and once I saw hers, I was hooked on the idea! You can have a look at the past years here- 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.
As an international school educator, I often travel to different countries several times a year, which is reflected in my Year in Photos. Due to the pandemic, 2021 will be my first year in photos with only two places represented- South Korea and United States. I was lucky to be able to get home for a few days this Christmas break, after a year and a half away from family. Despite not being able to travel as I normally do, I am blessed to live on a wonderful and safe island, Jeju-do, and have come away relatively unscathed from the pandemic. With that, here is my year in photos.
I’m not one to resort to a form slice so early on in the challenge. These are typically reserved for those days when I have nothing left in the tank but need to eke out a slice. Using a format for a day 2 slice is unheard of for me, but I can’t settle on just one idea for a slice today. My day was frenetic and nonstop, so this format fits perfectly.
Today I, along with the Grade 5 team, introduced the PYP Exhibition to the Junior School faculty, sharing our excitement about this upcoming culminating experience that will see our Grade 5 students taking ownership over their learning. We have made some interesting changes to this year’s Exhibition that we hope will result in a better experience for the students. One of our changes is that we’ve decided to do the Exhibition outside of the Programme of Inquiry, as a seventh unit, which will give students more agency over what they choose to explore.
Today I led four grade level planning meetings, where we continued to flesh out the Grade 1’s new unit in which students will inquire into ways people learn about the past, historical evidence, fossils, and the importance of preserving and learning from the past. We discussed ways the Grade 3 students could take action in their unit of inquiry all about how water is essential to life, how it’s a limited resource, and conflicts that arise over water. As a collective action, we are planning a water walk to raise money and awareness for the water crisis in South Sudan; we will donate the money to build a well. The students will also take individual action in their cause groups as a result of their research. In Junior Kindergarten, we discussed the transition of one teacher to another, as one is about to go on maternity leave. We reflected on the previous unit in Grade 5, discussing ways we can improve upon the assessments for next year.
Today I engaged in three conversations about the curriculum work we’re doing, my energy palpable as I got to talk about what I love to do. We are doing some really great stuff!
Today I ate my lunch in under 5 minutes, as I went from one thing to the next. I barely remember what it tasted like.
Today I assisted in the antigen testing of a Grade 5 class who had a confirmed positive Covid case. Luckily all are negative (so far), but they were picked up at noon and will be doing online learning for the next three school days.
Today I made plans for us to extend online learning for our JK Prep students (preschool aged), as two thirds of them have tested positive.
Today I read and commented on other slicers’ slices.
Today I sent 18 emails. Not many at all…I’m surprised!
Today I smiled as I read the comments left on my first slice of life, fueled by this writing community.
Today I left work well after dark, after going down a rabbit hole of finding resources for our new Grade 1 unit of inquiry.
Today I missed my walk with Gail. We are going tomorrow!
Today I had an impromptu conversation with a colleague about writing, the SOL challenge, books, book clubs, and memoirs. It was energizing!
Today I laughed many times.
Today I took 6,142 steps, which is honestly more than I expected considering all the meetings I sat in.
Today I admired the four bouquets of flowers I currently have at home and school. The tulips are my favorite.
Today I felt like I was inside a pinball machine, being bounced around from one thing to another.
Today I am getting to bed late. Let’s hope I don’t oversleep tomorrow.