Dedication #SOLC day 31

This morning, we had a special assembly to welcome our visiting author for Book Week, virtually, to our school. Minh Le is a Vietnamese- American children’s author and what made his visit doubly special is that our school is the first school he has ever visited in Vietnam! Many of his celebrated picture books like ‘Drawn Together’ and the graphic novel ‘Green Lantern Legacy’ are books based on the relationships he had with his grandparents. I had the incredible honour of listening to him while he spoke to our lower school this morning and was very moved as he talked about what motivated him to write about his grand mother and grand father.

It got me thinking.

I was so lucky to have had the opportunity to grow up with my own grandmother in close quarters. Amie Thai, or just Thai, to us, as she was lovingly known, was a force of nature and a character in her own right. I remember her vivid recollections of growing up in Coorg, in the south of India. I remember her stories of the adventures she had as a single, young woman in the 40’s in New Delhi. I remember the simplicity with which she told of how she stood up for what she believed in, married the man she loved – her needle in a haystack- and followed the faith that she believed in and the one that gave her solace. She moved mountains why she defied the gravitational pull of culture and tradition and did what felt right to her. She lost the man she loved in a tragic and cruel accident and ended up as a young widow, raising 4 young children.

To me she was just, Thai. I loved her vitality and sense of humour. I loved the time she had for me. I loved her stories and her unshakeable faith. She was kind and silly and could be just as firm and fastidious, when necessary. She introduced me to yoga and beer shampoo. She taught me how to arrange flowers in a vase. She wrote to the Queen of England one time and travelled the world- seeing more than most people could imagine. She loved deeply and strongly and always had pictures of her very grown up children, as babies, in her wallet.

She was mine and I am of her.

I want her to know I miss her everyday. I regret, everyday, not having been there for her. I have had her by my side all my life and especially in my most trying moments.

On this the last day of posting for the #SOLC in March 2021, this is in dedication to my Thai. My deep gratitude for inspiration to be able to write about her today, for Minh Le’s beautiful stories and for Two Writing Teachers for giving me the space to share.

What are we but a product of all that we are and all that came before us.

Rest in peace, Thai.

Thai and me in the 90’s. The big hair is a hang over from my most favourite decade. I love you, Thai.

Ready to move on #SOLC day 29

There was considerable excitement at our dinner table tonight. Much of the talk was about an assembly our fifth grader attended which was all about… Middle School! We heard about the fall semester, laptops and new schedules, about needing notebooks and moving from one classroom to the other. We heard about choosing a performing art and what time lunch would be and being able to buy a snack at the 2.00 pm recess. We heard about language choices and about a survey that needs to be filled in by the end of this week. It was a lot to take in and a lot, I am sure, for all those young-but-not-so-young fifth graders to process.

These last few weeks of the school year are always bittersweet for me as a mum. I think the end of fifth grade is going to be even more so. Time goes way too quickly sometimes and it feels unreal that my little girl is almost eleven and talking about course selection for middle school. She started pretty nonchalantly and then got more animated as she went on. Listening to how much detail she had to share, she had taken it all in and is excited and a little nervous.

I am bracing myself with a handy pack of tissues as we move towards the end of the school year and celebrate all that our fifth graders have achieved. Coming up in the next few weeks the children will participate in exhibitions and assemblies and take part in rituals and fun ceremonies as they bid farewell to elementary school.

She is ready and she will shine.

Her mama might need some extra TLC.

Make-Up #SOLC day 27

I usually have a range of 5-6 different foundation sticks. I check for clean sponges, the correct pallet of blush powders, the big blush brush and the black eyeliner pencil. The make up routine for the upper elementary musical starts with the children lining up for their foundation. I am learning that foundation application requires a few different skills including some nifty colour mixing. I start by dabbing the chosen colour onto the cheek of the very excited little performer in front of me. Every child’s skin is a different hue and requires some trial and error to find the right shade. Once I have the right base of colour I dab the sponge deftly over the face. Spreading the colour evenly might be the most tricky part- I have to be careful to avoid the sparkling pair of eyes and get the children to hold their lips in so that the foundation blends easily around them. My aim is always for it to look seamless as opposed to a plaster of colour that doesn’t quite match.

Next, comes the blush. The ensemble characters get a prominent bright pink round of blush in the center of each cheek. This is fairly smooth and easy to apply. The lips take a little longer. I wipe the red lipstick pad with a fresh cotton bud/ kew tip and get the child to open their mouth wide. I trace the lipstick around the shape of their lips, carefully avoiding any colour anywhere else. (By the fifth child I need to be careful of colour on the side of my palm and doubly careful of inadvertently getting colour on their smooth foundation base!) The children gently rub their lips together and flash a beautiful smile. I have a pack of wet tissue incase I was overly enthusiastic with the red bud.

I leave eyeliner to the end. It is the part that comes most easily to me and the action my hand has practiced almost daily for 25 years. I ask the children to close their eyes and try not to move too much. I start from the inside and draw a smooth line- usually in one go but occasionally requiring two and three tries- to the end of the eye lid and just extending a little bit. I have the children keep their for being able to contain their excitement and keep their eyes shut for what must seem like an eternity, is about 90 % of the time, I would say!

I always ask the children to look in the mirror and tell me if they like what they see. I especially love the beautiful big smiles amid the giggles of excitement before they rush out the door!

Having had the luxury to show our school musical twice in the last 2 days is a luxury in a time when so many are still so restricted. I have come home both days exhausted and exhilarated from watching our 9, 10 and 11 year olds shine. Such joy to watch them sing and dance and love every minute of it and such fun to play a small part in helping them get ready!

Gratitude #SOLC day 25

Taken from the site, todays prompt is a 10 minute quick write. Its a bit of an experiment to see what I write without any planning…

How have you been surprised by the way in which your life has unfolded?

I have been surprised in many ways. I am always blinking with disbelief at the many aspects of my life that are abundant and joyful. I have family and friends that are close to my heart, a career that pushes me and makes me grow, I have a physical body that works (most of the time anyway!) the beauty of nature, as long as I care to look for it.

Even the tough times have come with an element of surprise. I never saw myself in some of the places and spaces that I have lived through. There have been many times when I have worried myself sick over the the moment, wondering when it will end. And sometimes, if it will ever end. That part was surprising.

Any extreme, whether really good or really bad, has had an element of surprise. Disbelief that it is happening and wonder and awe when good and beautiful.

May I have the fortitude to take what comes my way and more importantly, may I always feel gratitude for all that I have and call my own.

Pause #SOLC day 24

I listened to Krista Tippet talk to Christine Runyan on the On Being podcast this week. They were talking about the nervous system and the neuroloical response we have to trauma. I heard Christine talk about a quote attributed to Viktor Frenkel that stuck with me…“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space lies our power to choose. And in our choice lies our growth and our freedom.” 

I have been thinking about that a lot. The self awareness to pause. Especially when we are triggered. The ability to breathe between stimulus and response. And choose to act in a way that helps tp deescalate the amygdala.

Marc Brackett talks of the power in naming the emotion and being able to identify what we feel. His use of the pneumonic RULER is a useful tool and of course his mood meter has provided so much descriptive vocabulary to use with children and adults a like. Susan David talks of toxic positivity and not brushing over big emotions but instead sitting with it so that we can see what lies underneath and ask the question of what is causing us to feel this way?

My focus for the foreseeable future is to think of that space between stimulus and response.

To breathe

To pause

To feel grounded.

Food tour (iii) #SOLC day 22

Cafe Ngan has been around for 60 plus years. The old lady who was the original owner, died a couple of years ago, having spent a lifetime making and serving the most delicious kind of coffee there may be. The large framed portrait of her pouring a cup of coffee, silently welcomes anyone who enters the cafe.

The lady who owned this shop invented the recipe by accident. One day a customer asked for milk in his coffee. The shop had run out. So she beat an egg yolk till it was thick like cream. The customer loved it and they never looked back. Do you want a black coffee? Why not try a white one too? How about an egg chocolate?

He was asking but really wanted us to taste all of it so we nodded happily in the affirmative and waited. The first coffee to appear was the traditional café sua da (black coffee with condensed milk) served on ice and plain back coffee, also served on ice. We had both so that we could share. The strong dark flavour of the coffee hit my senses as soon as I took the first sip.

This is robusta bean, our guide explained. That is why it is so strong. The coffee you drink at home has arabica beanit is not as strong. Ours is the best coffee in the world! We nodded and smiled as we sipped.

The pièce de résistance of the day, ‘egg chocolate’ in medium sized bowls was accompanied by little cups of frothy egg coffee. Each egg chocolate cup had a generous spoon of cocoa powder sitting on top of pale yellow froth. Our guide picked up one bowl at a time and deftly whisked the cocoa powder into the mixture. This was the mixing of a much practiced hand. Like magic the cocoa powder melted into the mixture, turning it from a pale yellow to a chocolaty brown. ‘Here, now taste that’. It. Was. Divine. The smooth, soft texture, the delicate taste of chocolate, the overall sensory experience was all just beautiful. I had no idea what to expect and I loved every last drop. The egg coffee was too bitter for me ( as was the black coffee) but the most delicious part was that gorgeous texture.

We finished up and left the little hidden gem of a cafe and reentered the main street. We turned right and then left and walked through the next few streets including what looked like underwear alley ( literally shop after shop selling all manner of lingerie…!) till we came to a broader road. We stopped at a smallish stall, with a modest seating area inside, which served vermicelli noodles, thicker flat noodles, deep fried, crispy calamari all tossed in with herbs and dressing. It was delicious. All the family seem to be involved in preparations while customers ate. The older looking gentleman sat across the street slicing the calamari, while the two women alternately fried the squid or prepared the many ingredients what went into making to overall dish. This was the only dish this restaurant serves. Needless to say, they have mastered the art of preparing and serving a really tasty dish with complex flavours, to perfection.

As we crossed over the cart selling fresh mango salad came into view. Again in a matter of a few minutes a bowl of thinly sliced, freshly cut, green mango topped with fried camalari, peanuts, mint and a generous helping of dressing found its way into my hand. The sweet, sour, chilli, salty, umami taste really does awaken all your taste buds and I found my self desperate for more while needing to take a break.

What an experience! It was worth every moment of the wait. A little while later, on the way home, I knew that this was going to be a food tour I would not forget in a hurry. Remarkably, I was neither over stuffed nor uncomfortable from all the food. 3 hours of walking, eating, taking in all our beautiful surroundings seemed to have done the trick.

Egg-chocolate. Quite literally the most delicious dessert I have tasted.

Food Tour (ii) #SOLC day 21

Duong Dung wet market is a well known, local land mark. And again, rather embarrassingly, although not entirely unsurprisingly, it was new to me. We walked down the narrow lanes, crowded with with neat little stalls selling vegetables, fruit and meat. I always love seeing sellers with vegetables- piles of fresh green leaves, herbs, brilliantly red tomatoes and deep purple aubergines… I am reminded of my own home, growing up, and there is a sense to familiarity, which is always welcome when one lives far away. The stalls at Duong Dong were in no particular order, the woman selling meat and expertly slicing paper thin slices with her large angry looking knife, was next door to the lady who was motioning the truck to come and off load fresh spinach onto her mat. We were there at an in between time, our guide informed us, and hence it was quieter than it would be in an hour or so when it would all spring to life and the narrow lanes would be full of hungry buyers.

We wandered through the lanes- the fresh green pumpkin leaves and newly cut morning glory were being prepared at more than one stall. I walked past pig hooves, trays of fresh shrimp, silkworms, more than one pail with eels energetically swimming around and a big bag of subdued bull frogs. There were canisters of fermented rice liquid (used for cooking), dishes full of thinly cut squid and beautiful green broccoli. The local variety of mint is a staple herb and it was glorious to see piles of it, fresh and ready to eat. Our guide informed us that the butchers selling beef, would cut your meat to order, and would even marinate it for you, at no extra charge. I looked over her stall and saw the ingredients for a variety of marinades ready to go- fresh black peppercorns, grated ginger, garlic, chilli, soya sauce. The generosity of it amazed me and yet it is not surprising. These are kind and generous people.

We turned left, past the big garbage bins and stepped into the narrowest of pathways. On my right was a series of shops and immediately to my left, the wall was lined with food stall and after food stall, surrounded by narrow benches on three sides. People, like me, entering the space had barely two feet of space to walk along. No surprise though, that even that narrow path was used for 2 way traffic- a steady stream of people going in both directions. We squeezed our way through and came to a stall right in the center. Our guide is clearly well known and well liked in these parts- many stall owners waved at him as we walked through and warm greetings were exchanged. We sat down, careful not to hit out head on the swinging sign and had two new dishes to sample. One was a cold salad with a version of beef jerky. It had a sour dressing and was generously doused with pea nuts. The other was the most delicious warm pork and noodle salad- again a fabulous dressing with hints of fish sauce and chilli, it was tangy and slightly spicy and topped with a large helping of crushed peanuts. There was a jar of thick chili sauce- red and potent- which was offered for added punch. I graciously declined- my tummy protesting at the very sight of it. Fresh, cold beer appeared and the both dishes were consumed gratefully.

Each stall only sells on kind of dish- that is what the quality is so high. What a great idea- make one thing and make it superbly. I will be going back for more.

At the end of the narrow lane was the lady who sold shrimp fritters. Her’s are the best in the city. Unfortunately for us she was done cooking for the morning and we were welcome to go back after five pm if we wanted to sample some. We walked into the day light and on to a pretty busy street. Had I need walking down that street myself, I would never have known that that tiny entrance held all manner of delectable treasures.

We walked along what was clearly plastic street-shop after shop was filled from floor to ceiling with large cylinders of plastic wrap, bubble wrap, tape in every conceivable size and sheets of hard plastic.

Our next turn left and then right, took us further into the heart of the old quarter and just like that, on our left appeared Cafe Nang, renowned for its egg coffee. As if by magic, we got off the wet and muddy pavement and entered a beautiful serene space, tiled with the traditional coloured tiles and found our tiny table and tiny wooden chairs.

The best was yet to come.

Fresh pumpkin leaves
Morning Glory
Fresh shrimps aplenty

Food tour (i) #SOLC day 20

There is such joy to be a tourist in the in which you live and love. And when it is a beautiful, ancient city and bursting with colour and character, that makes it even more joyful.

We started our food tour ( my first, ever!) on one of the many by lanes in the old quarter. The afternoon was overcast and drizzly making it perfect weather to eat, walk and chat and, almost literally, soak it all in, for the next three hours. We started in a small street stall, which served freshly made double fried crab spring rolls. You need to know your fresh roll from your fried roll here in the Noi. There is almost every kind and variety you can imagine in this city and I have loved spring rolls from the day I arrived. I am partial to the fresh rolls, but it is very hard to say not to a freshly friend nem. The lady who owned the stall sat on a small green plastic stool in from of her glass box cum table top cum storage unit and expertly rolled the crab, pork, fresh herbs, finely cut spring onion and cucumber into neat rolls. The huge frying pan of boiling hot oil bubbled away to her left, hungrily awaiting whatever was to come its way. Just as quickly as she rolled the last one on her plate, she began dousing them in the oil, draining soaking and re frying for that extra crunch. We were served the rolls with fresh rice noodles, a bowl full of fresh herbs and of course, the all important dipping sauce. 

Did we know how to use chopsticks? Yes? Good. How about a cold beer? Yes? Good choice.

The first dish of the afternoon set the tone for what was to come. It was scrumptious. A explosion of flavour and texture with beautifully crunchy fried rolls, an undeniable taste of crab, fresh herbs and the tang of the fish sauce and caramelized sugar syrup… We were instructed to go easy on the noodles as we had many dishes yet to sample. The cold beer washed it all down perfectly and before you knew it we were on our way again. 

When walking my way down back alleys and by lanes, I am more than happy for someone else to take the lead. I have known to be geographically challenged and so I followed our tour guide blithely, sipping my beer, chatting and laughing and just loving that I could be out on Saturday afternoon as a tourist. 

One thing that always strikes me about this city is how clean it is, so as we turned right and left and came to the stall at the head of the wet market, I was not surprised to see neat shops, small garbage pails and a noticible lack of trash. Our next snack was freshly fried cakes made with mandarin peel and dill… they were served wrapped in brown paper. I bit into a piping hot cake, soft in texture and again, an explosion of flavour. The delicate taste of the mandarin married with the dill made for a beautiful melody.

You don’t have to eat all of it. You can throw it as soon as we are away from the shop. This family has been here for many years. Everything made here is their family recipe. Why don’t you try the small mung balls? They are very delicious and slightly sweet. 

Our wonderfully, characteristic guide was generous with his tales, knowledge and love of his city. We spent the afternoon laughing, eating and delighting in the beauty and wonder of the city. This was a food tour, with a difference.

The next stop was the Duong Dong wet market.

Double fried crab spring rolls.

Change the words #SOLC day 19

My blog is called ‘Change the Words’.

My question to myself tonight, is what words do I need to change? Am I going to be aware of my implicit bias? Do I check my preconceived ideas? Am I going to use my voice to speak up? Does it mean I care less if I choose not to speak? Am I aware of how to use the right words to make a change?

I grew up seeped in the notion that ‘the system’ was so impossibly huge and cantankerous that the thought of moving it or trying to change it was futile. I was always told to work hard and try my best. And beyond a point to let go of fanciful dream of life being more fair or just. We already had it so good, wanting different seemed greedy.

The fact is I am an educator. I am a parent. I teach my students and children alike to never be bystanders. To stand up for what is right and to be true to who they are. 

Changing my own words is no longer a choice.

Using my voice is my duty, because I am an educator and a parent. It would be hypocritical not to.

What words will you change?

Great students #SOLC day 17

“No teacher exists with out students.”

Natalie Goldberg, Old friend from Far Away


Today’s prompt is a dedication to students who have left an impact… its probably fair to say that most, if not all, students impact their teachers in one way or the other, some just a little more lasting.

Toby was about to turn 6 when I met him. He had a shock of curly brown hair and came to school dressed in his prim and proper school uniform, hair neatly brushed and shirt tucked in. It didn’t ever last- he was appropriately scruffy and muddy by the end of first recess. Toby was funny, with a terrific sense of humour, and didnt think twice to correct an adult who might have mispronounced a word- even the visiting Bobby got told off! Attending his mother’s funeral and watching him stand on that front pew, in a miniature waistcoat, with ‘Hey Jude’ playing loudly in, the background as the coffin disappeared behind the curtain, will be an image I will never be able to forget. 

Louis was also nearly 6 when I knew him. His tip toe walking, disproportionate reactions if I went even a couple of minutes off schedule, his ability to recite the London Underground Map, his shiny blue eyes and blond, translucent hair all made for an unforgettable child. I learned his triggers over the year he was in my class but the couple of occasions he threw a chair or got so frustrated he was try and hurt a friend or himself left me wary and cautious of not putting him in a situation what was out of his control.

I remember Robert- he had the most vivid imagination and told so many stories, I didn’t know which was fact and which was fiction! The one about his family spending their summer in Chile was peppered with details that made it very hard to disbelieve. In the end it was as made up as his stories about his imaginary friend the parrot who would sit on his shoulder.

Angharad with her mane of orange hair that wouldn’t be tamed. With names like Yu and Ai I had to constantly phrase what I wanted carefully. . And then there was Andrew. He projectile vommitted right as school inspectors prepared to step in my class room. It was my first inspection and I was very nervous. They did a sharp turn around… so in the end I was thankful for little Andrew, or mostly, anyway! There is Taisuke- gorgeous and funny, his pint size that can pack a punch. He was the most present child during our many weeks of Distance Learning. Every synchronous lesson, every See-Saw post, every asynchronous session, Taisuke delivered. and Little Miss J- part Irish, part Italian she is small and mighty. I have never seen a little one let us know, as clearly as Julia did, that she was done with school (on day 1 ) and that we were to take her home RIGHT THEN. Love her passion and high energy, especially now that she loves school and is able to divert it elsewhere.

I could write for ever on this one. So many wonderful little beings and so worth going down memory lane to think about them all. What a privilege and how much I have learned!