Auntie Tammy


We were originally supposed to go to Phoenix and Grand Canyon but then an invitation from Tammy in Reno made us drive via Las Vegas and Mammoth Mountain.  These changes in plans always happen for a reason and our serendipitous rendezvous with Tammy seemed to be etched in the stars.  Jimmy was meant to have his fill of Paw Patrol, donuts and strawberries and Joshua was meant to have his desired supply of daring cop stories.  Tammy was meant to enjoy a marvelous hotpot courtesy of Jason . . . and I, well I was meant to hear what I needed to hear — encouraging, enlightening, inspiring words from a friend I first met over twelve years ago and introduced to a community along the Pasig River which made bags out of recycled juice packs.

The boys enjoyed being spoiled with hugs, endearments and bedtime book reading by Tammy plus being able to play with two big dogs who have the same amount of boundless energy to expend. Tammy took us to nearby Virginia City where one could go ghost hunting in a town that experienced a big boom in the 1800’s because of silver mined out of its now hollowed-out mountains.  Although we did not see actual ghosts, we saw cellphone photos with ghostly apparitions in the Mackay Mansion, home of one of the most fortunate fortune-hunters in the wild, wild west.

We met Tammy’s Mom, Lulu who collects wind-up toys and wiggly fridge magnets and who made me terribly miss my own Mom.  Joshua enjoyed decimating ants in her front yard using a bottle of vinegar while Jimmy cuddled up to Lulu watching Minions.

For me, the best thing about travel is the connection (and re-connection) made with people who warmly welcome you into their homes, share narratives, open insights and feel the closeness of family even as you keep moving towards the next destination.


How are we ever, ever, ever going to survive without Auntie Tammy?






From Sand to Snow


The same bright green sled slides down sand one day and snow the next.

It looks like a picture-perfect extended holiday but photos do not reveal the backstory of whining in the car, short-fused tempers, altercations over unintentional botches and stress thinking of folks back home who are equally stressed that we have been away too long on a seemingly frivolous journey.  Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me either but the purpose comes back in moments unblocked by doubts, vivid and lucid for a while and then fading to gray, waiting for tomorrow’s fresh light.

The Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort monumentally lived up to its name.  Most of my skiing fears and tension were swallowed by the limitless breadth of the winter landscape.  Plus, at the back of my mind, I heard Tita Jona’s encouraging ski tips on how to relax, jump and glide, moving your hips from side to side.

When Jimmy emerged from the bathroom of the ski resort, he ran into a long-haired guy in a wheelchair.  Jimmy asked him what happened to his legs which were cut-off close to his torso. The guy said a train ran over him a long time ago but he could still ski.  Jimmy asked him how and the long-haired man explained he has a specially designed chair attached to skis.  The man demonstrates how he does it leaping from side to side in his wheelchair.  He goes into the bathroom and Jimmy follows him and again asks in innocent curiosity how he uses the toilet. That was the cue for me to call Jimmy out.

Before driving through Death Valley, we made a quick stop in Las Vegas.  I wanted to avoid this town but I couldn’t.  It worked out well though since it was a kind of entrance-free trip to Disneyland and Epcot with all the imitations of famous sites around the world and the free-flowing live entertainment.

We are so very grateful to Tita Baby for preparing such a wonderful Kapampangan feast for us in San Diego and letting us use her house in Las Vegas.  We were able to rest well after two nights of camping in the desert as well as enjoy the lights of the town otherwise known as Sin City.




Desert Tales


Before we left Sky Valley Resort, Joshua and Jimmy joined Beckett for a bit of Jackson Pollock in the desert.  Most of Beckett’s playmates in the area have made their mark on the canvas and our family is the twelfth addition to the artwork that will be taken home and framed in Canada when they go back when it starts warming up in Calgary.  The kids went beyond the recycled cardboard and painted bricks, twigs, stone and sand.

We passed through the Joshua Tree National Park but since all the camp sites were full, we pitched our tent outside in an RV park.

This is our second campsite with a little fish pond where Joshua and Jimmy fed the ducks with crackers.

We got hungry on the road to the Mojave and stopped by what looked like a classic fifties roadside diner that lost business when the interstate highways were built.  It barely operates to sell Route 66 souvenirs, chips and drinks.  The kitchen stopped when the visitors dwindled.

Because we didn’t get our needed sustenance from that roadside cafe, we found the perfect picnic ground by towering boulders where Jason cooked tortilla wrapped sausages which is becoming our staple because of the ease of preparation.

Our next sleeping quarter was a campsite to beat all campsites.  It’s located in the densest and largest forest of Joshua Trees but ironically not in the Joshua Tree National Park.  It’s in the Mojave National Preserve where there are still free camp sites available.   We biked through Joshua Tree land like we owned the whole kingdom of Dr. Seuss-inspired botanical landscape.  We set camp right by the memorial honoring those who died in all wars.

At night, I lay on the granite boulders in my sleeping bag staring at the stars hung from the sky with different lengths of string, thinking how could I ever complain about anything after seeing this.

The next morning, Jimmy found four playmates among the neighbors who arrived in the evening.  The boys clambered over the boulders and ten-year old Nolan introduced Jimmy to various cacti species that Jimmy couldn’t stop saying the word cacti afterwards.  I chatted with a couple while heating water and cooking breakfast on the high rocks where the wind couldn’t blow the flames out.  After learning about our coast to coast trip, one couple from Seattle offered to let us stay at their place.

We don’t need to win in the casino because we have won a night’s stay in the transformed desert of Las Vegas.  My aunt in San Diego allowed us to use her house and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time after two nights of camping and not bathing.

My new-found friend and fellow Worldschooler, Lesley commented that these incidents where the universe seems to be guiding us in our journey signify that we are meant to do this.  It felt that way too, lying under the constellations that were an arm’s reach away.

Beckett Bounding


When blonde-haired, wide-eyed, seven-year old Beckett came bounding with excitement to welcome us at the gate of Sky Valley Resort, we knew we were in for an awesome time at Desert Hot Springs.  The tiredness from the three hour ride vanished as Beckett’s mom, Lesley even prepared Mexican lasagna for us and drove us to our mobile home in a golf cart.  After our delayed arrival at night, Joshua and Jimmy’s exhaustion turned into pure, bubbling glee taking their cue from their exuberant new playmate, Beckett.

This amazing experience is once again courtesy of the Worldschoolers Facebook group. What are the chances that my son’s new playmate would be named after one of my most admired playwright?   Waiting for Godot was the first play performed when I entered freshman year and it blew my mind.

Together with her parents, Lesley spends half of the year in the California desert during the winter months in Canada.  They go back home when the weather warms up so they get paradise both ways.  The pools in the resort are fed from the hot springs.  Ducks and black swans swim in the ponds.  The houses are small but the whole desert if your backyard. Life is simple and sweet.

Beckett is homeschooled so mom Lesley tries to arrange activities that allow him to interact with as many children as possible.  In Calgary, they had a homeschooling co-op while in California, there’s the friendly community of RV and mobile home dwellers.

When Lesley said that we would be staying at an RV park, we were ready and eager to camp out in a tent in between RVs.  Then she said that there are no spots for tents and booked a mobile home unit for us.  I thought it was our chance to experience life in a trailer but I soon found out that a mobile home is not an RV.

Presenting: Spiderman and Elastic Man!


My husband, Jason is the new ambassador of China to the United States.  In our trip, he is singlehandedly showing off Chinese cuisine and the Chinese art of tea.  His hot pot is a certified hit on the road!


Baby Stepping Forward


One of the first things our student guides, Fatima and Kobe told us about their quite famous school is that they don’t have textbooks and there’s no curriculum.  The teachers use a project-based approach that allows the students to freely explore their interests and inclinations.  We toured the high, middle and elementary schools and salivated over the art and science projects that filled the halls and filled my heart with envy.  I want to go back to school again!  I want my children to attend the High Tech High in San Diego, but since it’s a public chartered school, only American citizens can join but they have taken in short-term foreign exchange students.

The HTH website states that in 2010, 100% of high school graduates were accepted to colleges, of which 80% were to four-year institutions.  As of 2008, 99% percent of graduates had entered college.  Admission is via random lottery and there is no tuition.                                                                                                                          Wikipedia


The structures and projects that peppered the naturally-lit corridors like an over-exuberant art gallery are all made by the students.  The photos above were taken from the high school and the ones below are from the middle and elementary school.


The campus is totally open.  There are no walls, fences or gates except in the elementary section.   The buildings merge with the neighborhood as if to say the entire city is the campus and the playground.

It has a Graduate School of Education which challenges commonly-held assumptions on how teaching and learning should happen.

For more than 75 years most American schools have followed three standard practices that are so culturally embedded as to nearly escape question: isolate students from the adult world, separate thinking from doing, and segregate students by perceived academic ability, class, race, gender, or language ability.

Since 2000, High Tech High K-12 schools have overturned these tenets by:

  • Admitting students through a lottery and grouping them heterogeneously
  • Engaging students in the adult world of work through fieldwork and internships
  • Integrating hands, hearts and minds through rigorous, hands-on projects

The GSE prepares educators to design and to assume leadership in programs with a parallel commitment to equity, rigor, and relevance for all students. Rather than create replicas of High Tech High, educators learning through the GSE are encouraged to use our clinical sites as a context for learning: an opportunity to take risks, reflect on practice and shape their own vision for effective teaching, learning and leadership.

From the HTH Graduate School website




This road trip that we are taking across America doubles as a research project for me to explore alternative forms and methods of education.  Many schools that I have emailed to request for a visit have not replied but High Tech High has an online system which makes it easy to book a tour of the school praised for its innovations.  However, an hour-long tour and short chats with the students is not really research but more of a preview of what can be studied in-depth in the future.   The school visits may be short but it’s important to get a glimpse of the alternatives and later seek out more substance.  These may be baby steps but still steps forward.


Worldschoolers Unite!


Ashley rides a tuk-tuk in America and has two boys, Jacob and Teddy close to the ages of Joshua and Jimmy. They have chickens in their backyard and are selling their house so they can travel the world.  What are the chances that our family, who just sold our house to travel (partly) would meet their family?  If you belong to the Facebook group of Worldschoolers, the chances are pretty high because that’s where all the crazy, looney families are lurking and posting as they gallivant or plan to gallivant across the globe, children in tow.

Ashley responded to my post asking who might want to host us in exchange for an authentic Chinese meal cooked by my husband.  If you say yes to the universe, the universe conspires to give you a blast of a rollicking great time: rough play, shark in the bath tub, Pokemon cards, Popeye cartoons, popping bubbles, chasing Minnie the dog, three kids sliding sitting on a palm tree frond.  You get intercultural exchange at its finest — making dumplings, getting lessons on how to use chopsticks and the art of Chinese tea and for those visiting America, maximizing time in a quiet town on Imperial Beach and seeing San Diego in new light.

For Ashley, it doesn’t matter if her family doesn’t approve or support this dream of hers. She’s following her heart which tells her to simplify her life to be able to enjoy more time with her sons.  Going against the grain would always have its detractors but we go against the grain anyway because it brings us peace.

Saying yes to the universe yielded two additional bonuses, the first one was the tour of the YMCA Surf Camp which Jacob was attending.  At the end of the tour, I wish my children and I can attend that camp, so I’d have to arrange a way for us to bring the Hero’s Journey from China and the Philippines to this part of the world.

The second bonus was a bike ride through the gorgeous Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.   We just have two bikes from Goodwill so Ashley lent us their bikes so our family could enjoy the trail together.  We have to go to more thrift stores tomorrow to complete our set soon.  More trails await.





First Campsite


We’ve gone camping many times before but this is the first time in the U.S. plus there’s an almost twenty day send-off being spoiled by friends and family before we reached that point in our journey where roughing it out finally begins.  Right on Lake Elsinore before hitting San Diego, we set up the six-person tent generously given by Tita Jona.   The place is one of the RV resorts in the area which allows pitching a tent by the shore.   Camping in a first world country is quite different from the third world experience.   Aside from bathroom and laundry facilities, you’d notice in the details, rules and regulations how the whole recreational industry is quite developed.

Our camp spot is almost too good to be true by the lake, mountains behind and wild flowers abloom.  At night, our neighbor approached us and let us use their fire pit because they were heading back to their RV, so we stayed up roasting potatoes and sweet potatoes warmed and entranced by the dancing flames.  Waking up to a tent slowly heated up by daylight was difficult and packing up was slowed down by the scorching sun.

The advantage of camping versus staying in a house is that the kids forget the tablet and TV and play with whatever they find.  Whenever we stay at other people’s houses, they request for screen time even if toys and play things abound.



More L.A. Shorts


Bella and Jimmy are both into costumes which Bella had a closet-full of, so one went with Butterfly Mermaid Princess and the other was Rastafarian Cowboy Batman.   The family where we stayed loved Jason’s authentic Chinese cooking and raved about the hotpot he prepared.

In the office where I once worked, we often giggled about the possibilities of romance around the corner and to see it realized — still as fresh as if the couple just got married yesterday — is something to aspire for and live by.  I only heard of Ismael from Ate Badette so it was great to finally meet him.  Ismael runs the L.A. marathon yearly and has amassed medals he proudly shows off.

A few weeks before we left China, a 10-year old American boy gave us some books from the series, Secret Agent Dingledorf.  Joshua, Jimmy and I never laughed so hard reading a book so I immediately researched about the author, Bill Myers.  His biography was quite inspiring and after finding out that he lived in Malibu, I sent him an email saying that we’ll be in the area in March and asked if it would be possible to meet him.  He replied in the affirmative less than an hour later.  Yesterday, we met up and he gave Joshua and Jimmy a book each and signed them plus, he even read to them a chapter from The Case of the Drooling Dinosaur.  How cool is that?  What an immense blessing indeed!  He also introduced us to one of his students who happens to be from Tianjin which was our home in China.  So I don’t know what this means except that life is truly full of wonder.   Saying yes to the moment opens doors.

This is the part from Bill Myers’ biography that moved me:

Well, one thing led to another and even though I got C’s in my one writing class in college (and told God I could do anything for him but write) I got my first writing job for a TV series. And then another and then some directing jobs and finally some books. (I think I’ve written and/or directed a few dozen films and about 60 books). The projects have won about 40 awards, I get to travel all over the world, and I’m having the time of my life. I often think that none of this would have happened if I lived my life my way. I would have never chosen writing and directing for a living. Instead, I might be in somebody’s mouth this very minute drilling away as a dentist. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being a dentist, it’s just not what I was designed for. So, everywhere I go, I encourage people to say yes to God, no matter how foolish it may feel, because by doing that, they’ll be in the center of His will and living a cooler life than they’d ever dreamed possible. It’s not always easy and it can be a little scary…but it’s anything but boring!

And we made it to Malibu beach!  Before going down to the shore, we grabbed something to eat from the deli at Ralph’s supermarket, one of our strategies to economize.

And as promised, I completed meeting the children of Tita Joesy and Tito Sonny:  Lareina, Leo, Lilibeth and Jay.


I also had a chat with an incredible, dynamic woman named Sue.  She reminded me that a blog shouldn’t just be journal.  It should contain something deeper.  The problem, I told her, is that sometimes, I’m too much in a hurry to write something with more substance especially while traveling and there are too many things happening everyday.  It’s easy for the blog to degenerate into a photo album but she reminds me to catch myself before it does.






L.A. Short Stories


We biked, roller bladed and scootered from Venice to Santa Monica beach.   We escaped the exorbitant parking fees close to the beach by going further inward.  We also found a side street with more affordable food – Indian, Mexican and NY style pizza by the slice. Venice was grittier than it’s tonier sister, Santa Monica but all throughout the Pacific coast were an overwhelming array of choices for everyone to have fun in a major, major way.

People were practicing slacklining, climbing ropes and there was this:

Graceful as monkeys, they swung with complete, wild abandon while the skateboarders have a galactic, interplanetary blast against the dramatic sun, itself showing its own prowess.

Visiting the schools on my list is proving more challenging than expected because of many unanswered emails but we just forge on.  We were able to drop by Urban Homeschoolers where we met Bruce who introduced us to their community-based learning center.  Their branch was based on the Waldorf way and when we met him, he was getting a box of sugar cubes for their multiplication activity.

We were lucky enough to visit the Incubator School on the day parents can visit their kids, and though we weren’t able to see the classes, we were introduced to the school that hopes to nurture entrepreneurs.  The students start their own businesses.

We tumbled into the arms of Danny in downtown L.A.  We juggled the schedule so that we could attend the rehearsals of the GMCLA, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles which was such an amazing treat being a broadway musical lover.

We are grateful to Danny because he made it possible for us to visit the Walk of the Stars in Hollywood.


Before we were delivered into the muscled biceps of Danny, we made a random stopover at Oxnard Beach Park for a picnic right after our favorite staple, Goodwill thrift store.  The park had a big playground surrounded by picnic tables and beyond that was the wide, wide beach where benches were lovingly dedicated to people who had passed away and where seagulls left footprints on the sand.







Yesterday, it was foggy but outright fun at the beach.  Throughout our thus-far two-week journey, we have gathered from the Goodwill second hand shops – two bikes and a scooter plus a skateboard from a big chain store.  We were each equipped with a vehicle to enjoy the lengthy beach paths.  Joshua switched from scooter to skateboard to bike so at one point I ended up with the scooter and never realized how hard and tiring it was.  We really ought to look for two more used bikes so that all four of us could be on bikes together.  The highlight of the day were tall mounds of powdery sand where Joshua and Jimmy slid and dove into like it was water.   Other boys joined in the revelry.

My friend offered to take us to a Mexican or Seafood restaurant but I said maybe my husband would enjoy the Chinese restaurant, at least for the variety it offers.  Both she and I knew the Chinese restaurant would not be good but I went ahead and consciously made the decision that proved to be wrong.  We should really make it a rule not to eat in Chinese restaurants in America especially if there are other choices.  And trust the local friend!

Did you ever make major decisions in your life that you regretted?  Did you ever make a choice with good intentions and watch it turn sour?  Were you ever trapped with a hand of cards that surely you couldn’t win?  But life’s beyond a card game because you could still play the hand you were dealt with and come out a winner no matter what.  Could you?

You jump and hope you land on soft sand.  If you don’t, something catches you that you’ll settle for.  Some say don’t settle.  Some say it could still be made to work.  What do you want when all you hear are other voices?  Which one is yours?  Which is the one you lost along the way to settling?

Along the beach, this creative DIY pick-up house trailer caught my eye. I put a picture of a regular trailer for contrast.  The owner of the hand-made one posted on the side of his home the surrender speech by Chief Joseph delivered in 1877.  Chief Joseph believed in peace and thought he could secure his homeland without fighting.

Tell General Howard I know his heart.  What he told me before I have in my heart.  I am tired of fighting.  Our chiefs are all killed.  Looking glass is dead.  Toohoolhoolzote is dead.  The old men are all dead.  It is the young men who say yes and no.  He who led on the young men is dead.  It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death.  Many people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are – perhaps freezing to death.  I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find.  Maybe I shall find them among the dead.  Hear me, my chiefs.  I am tired; my heart is sick and sad.  From where the sun stands I will fight this war no more forever.

Is it possible to secure peace without fighting?   Do you win by sticking it out through the long haul?  Or do you win by dying?

There.  Is that loud enough for you to hear my voice?  You knew I always screamed in silence.  Nobody reads till the end.


And to Her Royal Highness, you’ll know how it goes when we get to New York.