Maroon 4

It’s not the ocean but Lake Michigan.  Four lost souls like Maggy, Milly, Molly and May looking for themselves in the sand, infinite blueness, pebbles and driftwood.  Drifting, maroon-like but sledding with all the joy of bright green plastic at the Warren Dunes State Park.

Our time in Chicago was super short but meaningful because another family took us in at such short notice and through the grace of my stepdad and his Auntie Inyang and Uncle Pabling. Thanks to Joanne, Jon, Allyn, Dean and Dylan for taking us to the playground and introducing us to the best deep pan and best thin crust pizza in town, Lou Malnati’s which sounds suspiciously like illuminati.

A stop in Chicago no matter how quick, won’t be complete without a visit to Florence whom I had not seen since she left Tianjin over eight years ago and who misses China as much as we’ve missed her.  She showed us the scarves she knitted for the North Dakota pipeline protesters and gave us one of her beautiful paintings.  We watched President Obama’s first live public appearance since the who cannot be named was sworn in.

Gentle Souls


Events have overtaken my blog.  There are more pictures to post from Illinois to Toronto and more stories to tell than I have had time to write about so the moment passes, the ideas flit by and I don’t know whether to pick up the pieces going backwards or to move forward as fast as I can to catch up.  Forgive me if I don’t do justice writing about this beautiful family and I do have much to tell but my head right now is spinning with life-twisting, life-altering choices.

I was going to rave about the gentleness of Laura and how I wish I had her patience with kids. She played a mystery face guessing game with Joshua and Jimmy, drew chalk figures on the ground and let Jimmy stir the muffin mix in her caring, gentle tone.  Her husband, Hossein is ever the passionate filmmaker whose love for celluloid is leading him in the next few months to that famous festival in Cannes in search of a distributor for his first full-length movie, Waiting for Kiarostami.

A kite was stuck in a tree and Jimmy was jumping up and down trying to get it but there was no string to pull on.  Hossein tried throwing a ball to knock it down and it struck me how much Hossein is a problem solver with his years of experience creating documentaries and short films.  When they moved from China back to the United States, Hossein worked as a taxi driver but his dream to make a movie kept nagging at him and he decided to follow that voice.  It was a miracle that he was able to find funding and finish a movie within a short period, shot with a cast of characters from different parts of the globe all converging in Ningbo.  The spirit of the acclaimed Iranian director, Kiarostami must have been guiding him.  The finished film is Hossein’s tribute to his dear friend who passed away last year and led Hossein eventually running back to their shared devotion of storytelling.


Memories from Huntley: strawberry crepes, homemade muffins, Janan’s football practice, Jason’s jia jiang mian and tudou si taking us all back to China, biking in the park, instant Easter egg hunts in the backyard and conversations that are food for the soul

Isaac, Neo and Kai


Will Jimmy ever remember that he played with Isaac, preparing their favorite foods in the sand at Eau Claire, Wisconsin and that when it was time to leave, he wanted to send Isaac a thank you card? The next day, he still talked about Isaac and coincidentally, met another Isaac while climbing a boulder in a playground in Huntley, Illinois.  Will Joshua remember Jade and Neo who roasted mashmallows with him in Lapeer, Michigan?  Will Jimmy remember talking endlessly with Kai’s mom while swinging?  They may or may not but this blog will.

People have asked me why are we choosing to travel with our kids at this age (7 and 4) when they probably won’t remember any of it.  I posted this question in our Worldschoolers group page on Facebook and got tons of answers that if anybody asked me that query again, I’d have plenty to fish from or I’ll just share them this link for convenience.

Hi Guys. I was wondering if some of you encountered this comment — “Your kids are too young to remember any of these travels. Why don’t you wait until your kids are older?” How do you reply? Just wondering. : )


Karen King I have. And I know it’s true because my daughter doesn’t remember things we did when we first started travelling in 14 months. But traveling for us is not just about seeing the world, but loving our lives, experiencing new things and being happy. She will remember all the time she got with us when she was little. And she will remember growing up in a happy family where we have time for each other.

Sein-yat Chew My son was 4 when we went on a long trip, we were surprised how much he knew and remember from the trip after more than a year, I guess involving him during planning stage helps.

Bob Mahan So why do anything with your kids?

Marca Wesen Bondurant Yes, perhaps we should just lock them in a room until someone decides they are old enough to remember. lol

Marca Wesen Bondurant They may not remember the specifics, but the things they do will help shape them and how they see the world and others as they grow and develop.

Fiona Fernweh I read an article once and it said you say “then why read them bedtime stories or build sand castles with them because they don’t remember that either?”

Tamilla Cordeiro I have the same thoughts! But I always think back to my own childhood. I was born and raised in Russian until I was 7, when we immigrated to the States. People always ask, what do you remember about living in Russia? Well there was the cool trip we took to visit the Ukraine, and there were the summer vacations to Azerbaijan, and that time we went up on some mountains in who knows what country. My memories of my actual home in Moscow? The goodbye party in our apartment, right before the ride to the airport to fly out to the States. The point is, kids remember travel! More than “regular, routine life.” At least this kid did. 🙂

Alicia Urrea I always say “maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but I will remember this as one of the best times of my life”.

Karen M. Ricks For us, world travel isn’t about creating a singular memorable experience like a once-a-year vacation. It is a new way of life, an entirely different framework through which we view the world and our place in it. As such, it is truly a process that began at birth, and continues as a daily education for us all. I fear that anyone who is suggesting that you should “wait until your kids are older” does not understand the foundation you are building in your child, for your child, and with your child. My response would be to say that we travel for more than just happy memories.

Lori DiPippa DesRochers I let my 4 yo tell them about all the stuff we did on last summers road trip. But really, who cares if they remember the details. They will remember the culture and that there are different people around the world. It will help them grow into more tolerant and understanding adults.

Carrie Blunden A quote I once read about teaching comes to mind – ‘They won’t remember the words you say or what you taught, but they’ll remember how you made them feel’. My girls are 5 and 3 and it blows me away to think they’ll very likely remember nothing of their lives up until this point when they’re older. But the adventures and sense of wonder we have, the love we show them and the connection we develop as a family in these formative years shapes them and stays with them forever. Hopefully! Haha

Barbara Ber I actually travel because I love travelling. Doesn’t matter if they remember anything. But they will remember values, open mindedness, different food and the lifestyle itself. Therefore we choose destinations that we like plus are child friendly, but it’s not the focus to go to places only kids like.

Melanie Mather Normally I say something like ‘I see this as a foundation just like taking the to the park to learn about interacting with other and learning motor skills.’

Janna Fesolai No but you’ll remember it. The smiles/laughs/experiences/new sights/sounds. Your kids eating weird food/playing with foreign children etc etc. Plus photos and videos are amazing. I still look back at photos when we lived in the pacific islands as a child. I feel grateful. We have those memories. It’s amazing how pictures and videos can trigger memories too.


Monique Maree Isn’t it about so much more than creating tangible memories? What about intrinsic wonder? Sense of adventure? Spontaneity and flexibility?

Cassandra Artemissa I remind them that it isn’t simply about memories, but how it shapes their forming minds.

Denise Ankersen Yup. I hear this a lot. They may not ‘remember’ but it has shaped their view of reality.

First Christmas in Phnom Penh ALL four of our children did not have ONE single thing on their ‘wish list’. (5-14 years old at the time.)

Penny Smith This. This is a fabulous reason. Clearly their needs are met and they are happy without need to focus on material things 🙂

Christie Ogden So does that mean that you shouldn’t do Christmas or other holidays or take little ones anywhere because they won’t get anything from it?

Everyone gets SOMETHING out of travel. Just because a little one doesn’t get what you got out of it, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth taking them. We went to a tourist attraction with a friend the other day. My two year old is thrilled he got to play in water! Not what I got out of it, but not any less valuable of an experience!

Danielle Gallart Herter Knowing they have been somewhere creates interest in kids, Even if they don’t remember it. Look back at pictures and telling stories. My kids love hearing about the places they’ve been.

Vicky Scarth I say “well this isn’t going to be the only trip we ever go on” and then that it gives my son a sense of worldliness

Natalie Chen I tell them then it’s the same as taking them to the park, or reading them bedtime stories. What they see is the expense and not the experiences and family time that shapes them into the global citizens we hope they become

Denise Ankersen I LOVE so many of the answers here. <3. This is such an amazing group of people.

Sigrid Regina Sturm I always find that a weird argument… I have heard it before.. we will travel when the kids are older, so they will remember. Yes, but in the early years, I think it has an even bigger impact. It shapes how they see and discover the world. Their approach to people, new enviroment, different smells, tastes and so on…

Fay Andrews-Buckley I say in that case there’s no need to tell them you love them, give them birthday parties/ presents, send them to preschool or play with them or bother doing anything with them is there? they may not remember EVERYTHING but the experiences help shape them and they remember aspects and things that are important to them. when my son was 3 we took him to NCY (one place he seems to have loved) at 6 now he can still remember the huge buildings, the room number of our apartment, the subway trains, a specific toy and the giant ferris wheel in toys R us etc, and all that without having talked about it or looked at any photos (we never print them ect) so that’s pure memory…

Amanda Real Kids don’t have to remember something to be influenced by it. Our experiences shape who we are, whether we remember them or not.

Amanda Cardwell Carones A) because i love traveling and hope to instill this love of adventure in my kids  B) these experiences help to shape their view of the world and the people they will become  C) they may not remember the places they traveled, but they will remember doing things together. Plus I will have the memories of doing these things with them.

Crystal Anderson I say the first 5 years help set foundations for the rest of their life’s

Dezirea Noker Just remember how enriching and nourishing experiences are for little brains and bodies. They won’t remember the experiences but those experiences ARE shaping their brains, their personalities, their whole lives ♡

Carolina Day Why don’t we wait till the kids are older to teach them anything?!? Seriously. If they’re not going to remember, why bother doing ANYTHING with them ever. Just shove them in a room and feed them bread and water 🙂

Imogen Moore I never quite understand this comment but yes I’ve heard it a lot. My kids probably wouldn’t remember if I beat them every day until their 2nd birthday either but I bet it would have an effect on who they are!

Marie Red My husband remembers things from when he was very young and so do i

I actually remeber (more a feeling memory ) being fed milk while my mum sang a certain song to me when i was under a year old . I asked her why I got a taste of warm milk when I heard a specific hymn at church and she was shocked and told me she used to feed me warm milk and sing that song to me as a baby .

My kids have all remembered travels from when they were 2.5-5 years old . They remember

Keri Lewis Wellman We thought about it, but the kids won’t fit in the storage unit 🙂

Gràcia FD That’s why I never hug or kiss my kids or play with them. They won’t remember anyway.

Harmeet Kaur Sidhu So good to hear, what I so often have to say! Some of you might enjoy this……/travelling-with-young…

Travelling With Young Children: It’s Not to Make Marvellous Memories‏


Christie Cho I use to think this way. Then I asked my mom of an incident to find out I was only 3 when it happened. It was to a friend, I was just there. It effected me in a way I remember it.

Profound experiences might get tucked away for a while, but they eventually come back

Katharina Nickoleit I told them that we can see how open minded our son was, how easily he made new contacts and how quickly he settled into new situations. Teachers snd caretakers very well noticed all of that and still do so.

Debora Oliveira Goodness if that was the case I wouldn’t go anywhere. I have a horrible memory… I recall very little of my childhood, the only little facts I remember were about adventures…

Laura Roberts I have one who can recount trips and details that were not documented when she was 1.5-2 yrs old! My other can’t remember what we did last weekend though until he’s reminded by someone else. 😂 But that is maybe one of the most ignorant questions I’ve heard, right along with homeschoolers being isolated and unsocialized. Quite the opposite!

Damaris Crespo-Ramos I would say to the person “you might be right but what if you’re not? I wouldn’t want to risk denying my child that great experience just because a what if. After all it’s MY responsibility to educate he/she how I see fit and either way it won’t hurt to try.”

Stephanie Solowiej Every experience is based on the previous experiences. It’s not about remembering the experience, rather its one long moment. If the world ends tomorrow will we have lived our life to the fullest. When I can say yes then I have no fear. Life is valuable and worth living. When we aren’t living we are afraid. Afraid to miss out. Because we are not living. But when we are living we are not afraid. 🌷

Kelly Susan Kumar Same reason they go to museums, art shows, libraries, concerts, field trips, and travel since babies….not only do they enjoy it they are also cultivated to these things! Plus it’s our family culture and memory making…they love the stories as they get older and share them when they meet someone from a place they visited which creates social ties, like…learning to swim and ice skate in the Philippines…losing a first tooth in Singapore…it’s fun to remember!!!

Teresa Hardy He won’t remember everything, no. But that is no reason not to do it. I get asked this a lot and I just tell them that all our experiences shape who we are, even the ones we don’t remember. Do you remember your mother holding you as a baby? No, but you know she did, you have that bond with her because of it.

Shelley Brewer Semple I think one of the biggest mistakes is believing kids are too young to remember. I face it constantly parenting my child who experienced childhood trauma. I’m a big advocate at promoting the fact that kids are never too young to remember. They may not have conscious memories, but their brains are forever altered by all experiences. For the good with amazing, positive experiences, or for the bad with abuse, neglect, trauma… children are NEVER too young to remember. Travel has been amazing for my children. And to be honest, I barely remember all the details of trips I took even as an adult. That’s why I take pictures.

Kristen Mosteller Say…so what am I supposed to do just sit in a room with them doing nothing until they remember things?

All experiences are shaping them into the people they will become and also as a parent you deserve these memories with them.

Lisha Fitz Well… I agree with that statement. And there are some trips we are choosing to postpone for the reason that I’d like them to be able to remember it (africa, europe). I also think that the experience molds them into the person they are- but while they are young (2&4) we tend to choose more beach destinations as it is more ‘fun’ and requires less maturity.

Jessica Headlee Helps shape them into well rounded, (hopefully) grateful human beings.

Rosemary Javier Yanez So much of who your children are is formed in the youngest years. Why not make sure that they are the best they can be?

Katherine Mulvaney They’ll remember their parents being joyous and excited about life.

Casandra Anthony Response 1: “They’ll be too young to remember according to whom? Who said that? Show me at least 3 credible research studies that says they don’t remember childhood experiences. I’ll wait.”

Response 2 (for those people that just won’t let it go): “So with that logic you’re saying a child that was molested or assaulted at an early age doesn’t remember or internalize those experiences?”

Maggie Alexander “So should we lock our kids in the closet and not do anything fun until they can remember?”…/7-reasons-why-travel-is…

7 Reasons Why Travel Is Never ‘Wasted’ On Young Kids


Sarah Yothers photos and great storytelling. My kids still sing japanese songs to themselves at night though we’ve been gone for 3 years. They were raised there and were 2 and 4 at the time. But they remember. They will catch a smell of a woven rug or something that smells like tatami in a store and their olefactory will remind them instantly of a memory in Okinawa (because smell is so powerful and bypasses the amygdala in memory storage). The beats of drums in Uganda or the bird songs in Brazil. These things will be deposited in their brains even if they don’t really recall it until later.

Mariana Page Learning starts at a young age. You are not also traveling for memories, but for learning and experiences.

Nicole Kingsleigh you’ll remember! You could argue that kids won’t remember the toys they had so why buy them any! It’s about living in the moment and enjoying life.

Tara West So your baby is too young to remember your love and affection so just prop it in a self containing pod until it is old enough to remember. Uh…no.

Stacy Holt Yes, most kids don’t remember things when they are that young. But then who would want to remember the daily life in preschool? It’s kinda boring and monotonous. But when they can see, smell, and touch another place, believe me, it’s worth remembering to them. And if they don’t remember after a while, they will still keep those memories long enough to shape who they become.

Allison Pregon Kinahan I think traveling and exposure to different things like plays, ballets, operas makes the child. It instills a love of life a love of learning. Traveling with children has so many wonderful benefits. It teaches them how to transition from one situation to another, how to problem solve, how to be patient, occupy time, try new foods, respect new cultures and arts, how to make new friends and interact with people, it teaches them to navigate the world. It’s an amazing gift to be able to give this life to a child.

Deany Goode It’s true. My son doesn’t remember trips taken before age five. Why argue.

Angela Ressa Because life is happening now.

Melissa Arnold I would just laugh and say I don’t think that will be an issue we will probably be onto Mars trips by then, besides if the kids really feel they want to travel when they are older (assuming we stop for some reason) they could always just…travel lol + theres all the benefits that have probably already been mentioned above 🙂

Merei Milbee They don’t have to remember the trip to get the lifelong benefits of having learned what you learn when you travel or of having the quality time together that’s made possible by travel.

Colleen Jepsen They remember the feelings of being with family. Also an understanding that being with family is fun, learning is fun, and the world is not scary.

Maree Chase-Laukka My children are aged 23 and 12 years we have traveled abroad to many countries since they were both around the age of 3 months old and we continue to travel together as well as independently they’re not scared of new destinations, my children love traveling. My eldest has a career in the aviation industry and my youngest is aspiring to be a pilot he is due to start flying lessons when he turns 13 yo.

My children don’t remember every holiday but when they do recall memories they are filled with happiness and laughter

Travel is such a gift of freedom

And adventure it’s bound with priceless experiences.

It’s your life, do want you want with it you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself.

Kathrine Howard Miller I grew up going on weekend “field trips” since I was born with my dad. I remember most of them but beside that I think the most important thing I learned was the love of experiences. If kids grow up with experiences I think they crave more. Not having fear of new places and people but know it is a learning experience and is exciting. Kids pick up on that at very young ages.

Belinda Carreras Smile and say, “That’s interesting.”  Proceed to take my children on another trip.

Shella Zelenz First of all, why do they care? What’s it to them? I didn’t realize I was having to do things in order to please anyone else. My kids and I are very happy, so I’m not sure what their point is. Well, I do know. It’s their own stuff and they are projecting it all over you.

Rob Tullis My wife wrote about this about 3 years ago before we left, I have to say it all rings true after almost 1100 days of traveling. There are a few links at the bottom to others who also wrote about this topic…/

Why Travel When Mak Won’t Remember? – The Expat Experiment


Aria-Jayde Shady I understand both sides of this argument.

Cissy Sanders From my own experience, I remember very much of our travels in Mexico and Central America when I was between the ages of 5-8 yrs old. My single mom would take my sister and I out of school in May and drive from south Texas through Mexico to El Salvador and Guatemala in the 70s. I was between the ages of 5-8. We lived in a house in El Salvador during the summer and then would drive back to Texas. Those early travels along with my mom’s love for travel is who I’m doing Worldschooling now. Kids absorb more than you think – the smells, the noise, the light levels, the food, the language. It’s all very vivid as a child.

Melinda Saunders I was ‘world schooled between the ages of 5-7. I remember a lot of it. In fact people used to comment on my vivid memory. We toured the world, from Australia round the Pacific Islands through America down to the Med then through Europe!!

Lauren Arikan They’ll always have the passport and the pictures. We took my daughter to Paris at 2… she remembers things in detail at 10. The city had such an impact on her. As did the bakeries. 😂

Amy McDonald Our earliest years are our most formative years. Experiences are not always about making sure we remember them. They are about making sure they mold us into who we want to be.

Lnk Witz Not even I will remember much 😀 But everything leaves some kind of mark, impression, feeling… Or you can make friends, talk to people who have something to say, find new and interesting hobby… I think it is very close minded to look at it from the point of “remembering”. Every single thing in life has an influence and impact on future. Things won’t be the same. Neither we will.

Three Bonuses Plus


Originally, I didn’t plan on visiting any school in Minnesota for my independent research work on alternative education.  However, because Julia introduced me to Kirsten and Summer and in turn, Kirsten introduced me to Katie and Owana, I was able to see three amazing places of learning in the non-traditional mold.

Classical Conversations (CC) supplies audio, book and other materials for homeschoolers and builds communities among its users such as the one thriving in St. Cloud.  Every Tuesday, the children gather for lessons in the morning for those in the lower grades and for the higher grades, they have additional afternoon classes.  The teachers are trained in the CC method and the parents are welcome to sit in so they know how to apply the techniques at home.

In the lower years, CC entails a lot of memorization but it’s done in a fun way with songs, actions and games that it simply bowled me over how much kids pick up. Joshua, Jimmy and I joined the class of kids age 6 to 8 and they were singing about the Laws of Thermodynamics, conjugating Latin verbs, identifying countries in Africa and spouting world historical facts naturally.  The mini-class ended with a show and tell presentation by each student and with a final review game.  Just sitting in for an hour and a half made me dizzy as if I had attended the whole spectrum of grade school and high school crammed with knowledge.

The kids don’t have to understand everything they memorize but the course immerses them in the vocabulary that they would be studying more in-depth in the future.   In the afternoon, we attended a mom and son duo dissecting a cow’s eyeball and the thirteen- year old boy eagerly fished out his folder and showed us his drawings of the eye, heart, respiratory and skeletal system.

The morning started with a big group discussion about the bible and two young people talked about the instruments they played.  After that, the kids broke up into smaller classes of around ten.  Before lunch, they went back to the big group and tested the strength of bridges each group made of straw and tape the previous week.  They placed one stone at a time as everyone counted loudly in excitement as some bridges fell right away while others held up well.  After all the bridges were tried, they discussed what made the winning bridge better than the others.


My friend Julia introduced me to Kirsten and Summer.  Kirsten has three sons attending the Chinese Immersion Program at the Madison Elementary School and they spoke Chinese fluently since they had been studying it from Kindergarten to Second Grade without any English classes to dilute the experience.  They only started learning English formally in Third Grade to bolster their Chinese but their English doesn’t fall behind because it’s what they speak at home and outside school.

Summer teaches First Grade at the Chinese Immersion Program and it was amazing how her classroom transports you immediately to China.   The seven-year old kids can speak, read and write Chinese almost as if they were native speakers.  Some of them could write not only Chinese characters but entire sentences.  Summer took full command of the class and maximized the use of the electronic board.  It was so awe-inspiring that I wish Joshua and Jimmy could attend her class.

It’s strange and ironic that I’m both inspired by the CC homeschooling and a public school’s language immersion program.  Is there a way to combine the best of not only both worlds but all worlds?   Imagine I still have a number of schools to visit in the remaining thirty seven days of this journey.

Kirsten invited us to Awana which takes place every Wednesday night.  We entered Discovery Church in St. Cloud and were swept away by everybody’s hospitality and warmth.  Joshua joined Soren and Bjorn at the Sparks group while Jimmy joined the pre-school age Cubbies.  After listening to the pastor speak, the Spark kids went up on stage singing praise songs following gestures on the video.  Joshua was right in the middle and even if he didn’t know the songs, he sang along as if he did.  The best part of the night was the Store where the kids could purchase toys using the “money” they earned throughout the weeks of attending Awana.  They could earn this through memorizing bible verses and other tasks.

Awana is a global, nonprofit ministry with fully integrated evangelism and long-­term discipleship programs for ages 2 to 18 that actively involves parents and church leaders. Each week, more than 3.7 million children and youth, 470,000 volunteers and 260 field staff take part in Awana in over 47,000 churches around the world. Offered through local churches, Awana reaches kids where they’re at and walks alongside them in their faith journey.

Julia took us to celebrate Easter at her Church where Jimmy joined other kids while the adults attended service.  After the celebration, we went to pick up Jimmy and he repeatedly kept saying “Jesus is alive!” showing us the cup he made from where Jesus on a popsicle stick symbolically pops out from the dead. The facilitator in that class must have been an excellent one to have produced such an avid reaction.


Crayola Days

It was the only second “touristy” thing we’ve done so far in this three-month journey. The first one was the Las Vegas strip but we also couldn’t pass up Mall of America because we had time to kill before an important rendezvous.  Yes, it was amazing and humongous, impressive and awesome but the best thing was coloring in instant print-outs of our photos with crayolas — for free.  In the words of Julia and Julio, that’s called Zen navigation describing that knack for finding the simplest and best pleasures for free. Another case in point is Julio’s daily free bagels at Panera courtesy of Julia’s quick thinking.

The day-pass at the Nickolodeon amusement park was out of our budget so we let each child choose just one ride each.  Joshua chose the Spongebob Squarepants Rockbottom Plunge roller coaster which he rode with his Mom hungry to relive Magic Mountain days. Jimmy chose the Ghost Blaster which he rode with his Dad because Mom was just too selfish and choosy and wanted the fierce roller coaster ride for herself.  Ghost trains are for sissies.  Roller coasters rule!

Two things among many I truly envy in developed countries are parks and libraries. How I wish my country can play catch-up and have parks and libraries galore but till then oh far, far date, I salivate at the beauty of libraries in more economically endowed nations like the U.S.  I ended up reading a dozen storybooks to Joshua at the St. Cloud Public Library while Jimmy played most of the time at the kid’s corner.  I took pictures of displays and signs which show how relevant, engaging and interactive the library is with blackout poetry and modern takes on Shakespeare.

One cannot have too many parks and picnic grounds — another perk of being in a developed country.  I know I keep posting pictures of them but they are too beautiful not to share.  Here’s another gem of a park by a lake at Eau Claire which nicely broke a six-hour drive in half from St. Cloud, Minnesota to Huntley, Illinois.

These parks and libraries show how taxes are working for the people but in third world countries where there is a dearth of these, the taxes go up the unmentionables of politicians.



Breathing St. Cloud


Since this North American road trip began, we have only stayed three nights at the most in one place.  We’ve been hopping from one place to another every one to four days.  My friend Julia noticed from my blogs that this may not be a very healthy way to go and asked us to linger in St. Cloud and we did just that in her town in Minnesota.  Chill out and relax, breathe in, breathe out, don’t run too fast, child.  Monsters are not out to get you (but demons are).  It was a much-needed break to not unpack and pack up as soon as we arrive.  It’s soothing for a change not to have three or four hour long rides with two children who keep asking why it’s taking too long to get somewhere.   We have tried to keep the drives less than four hours but our longest drive by far was the one from Regina to Jamestown clocking in at seven hours before we reached St. Cloud in another four hours the next day.

Julia and Julio’s house in St. Cloud was the perfect place to have a week-long breather from the mad dash, car chase of a trip.  We can park our bikes inside the garage and take rides by the river every day.  We can visit the public library and not have to substitute the Goodwill second-hand selection of books for the homeschoolers’ craving for new materials to read.   We can pretend we have a cozy house in America which happens to be situated in a dynamic, internationally diverse university town.  We can set meetings with the locals while the kids can see their playmates a bit longer but probably still not long enough for them.

Julia was not in St. Cloud when we arrived because she taught classes in Minneapolis, but she linked us up with her friend, Kirsten who happened to have three boys, Henry, Soren and Bjorn who were not only into Pokemon cards like Joshua and Jimmy.  They attended a Chinese immersion program in a public school and spoke Chinese fluently.  They were not only fluent, they also read and wrote Chinese characters because they were formally studying Chinese three years before their formal English education commenced.  Henry who is ten years old has already read Charlie and Chocolate Factory in Chinese!  I was flabbergasted.  I wish I could send Joshua and Jimmy to that school.  I wish we didn’t have to homeschool.  I wish I could convince my husband to send our children to school, but that is another story for another blog.  (Insert meltdown.)

Kirsten introduced me to Kathy, the director of the Confucius Institute who had lunch with us together with a visiting scholar from mainland China who had just arrived that morning to study about American education.   Kathy also introduces me to Jerry who started the Jane Goodall school and the non-profit organization, Yes Network which helps strengthen community ties.

We visited the research laboratory where Vinny (or Vinicious), the Brazilian student who rents a room in Julia’s house, spends his days and nights holed up, tinkering and working on possible life-saving devices and other engineering techno-wizardry.

We attended the Mhong night at St. Cloud University where we got a glimpse of how culturally rich and diverse this little spot in Minnesota is and how great it would be to re-live university days if one can enter a university like this.  The Mhongs are nomads and nation-less but the US has embraced and adopted a number of them.  They shared their culture with the audience with a palpable passion.  Jimmy fell in love with one of the Mhong women wearing silver coins that jingled, jangled, sparkled and fascinated him.  The students enacted a Mhong folk tale about mortals and gods, evil and goodness, love, death and reincarnation – the ingredients of any gripping mythology but oddly and surprisingly, it felt fresh, bold and powerful despite the simple package.   The show ended with a rap about identity rallying Mhongs to stand proud of their heritage.

We attended Easter Sunday church service and had two egg hunts – one by the Riverside Park courtesy of a radio station and the other at Lake George courtesy of Julia and Julio.  Jimmy won a coloring book and he never had the patience to finish anything he colored before except for this particular prize.

Because there was no TV or Wi-Fi in Julia’s house, we were forced to more creative and we discovered the best way for Jimmy to sleep faster at night is to dance with him.  I took a hiatus from blogging, facebooking (semi-hiatus because there’s mobile data) and other screen activities which is part of the idyllic charm of being in retreat mode.  The boys work on the garden raking leaves, burying a dead squirrel and organic waste.

None of these experiences would have been possible if we rushed to exit the town so that we could reach another so I have to thank Julia for insisting.  (Not to mention, the meltdown.)


Backflips, Boggle and Baha’i Songs

Toren and Joshua were playmates three and six years ago when they were much smaller but no less cuter than today.  It feels good to be reunited with Danielle and Toren who lived in the same building block as we did in TEDA, China.   We moved to Manila but returned to China around the time they moved to Tianjin City.   Our paths criss-crossed but we managed to arrange playdates.  Before they left for Canada, Toren gave us an unforgettable dance performance of his favorite tunes in their living room and now, he opened the reunion floor with his recently learned, cool hip-hop moves.  Danielle made sure the trampoline was ready for the kids’ arrival in Regina and the three remastered front flips and attempted backflips.

Danielle has lived in mainland China for thirteen years so there was food she missed that Jason was only too happy to prepare: jiaozi, jia jiang mian and huo guo.  Those are dumplings, Chinese spaghetti and hot pot.  We were transported back to Tianjin, a family gathered around a spring festive table, struggling to fit the meat filling within a tiny square.

There is a Filipino word that is hard to translate into English — kilig.  It’s the excited giddiness of meeting a crush or meeting your friend’s special someone.  Knowing the backstory of the long distance relationship (not to mention other hurdles), I felt kilig finally meeting Danielle’s boyfriend, Kurt in the flesh.

We biked and scootered in the park, visited and played in Toren’s school and went to the museum where my interest in First Nations was piqued when Danielle who is part Cree, told me about the residential schools the previous evening.

In Canada, the Indian (Aboriginal) residential schools (French: pensionnats autochtones / écoles résidentielles) were a network of “residential” (boarding) schools for Indigenous people (First Nations or “Indians”; Métis; and Inuit). The network was funded by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and administered by Christian churches.

The school system was created for the purpose of removing children from the influence of their own culture and assimilating them into the dominant Canadian culture. Over the course of the system’s existence, approximately 30% of native children, or roughly 150,000, were placed in residential schools nationally. At least 6,000 of these students are estimated to have died while in attendance.


Danielle and her mom, Marion played Boggle every morning and afternoon.  When I joined them for a couple of rounds and performed poorly, I realized what an amazing privilege it was to see how people’s perspectives are broader than your own.  They found connections where I desperately couldn’t and it’s me again appreciating how much of a metaphor this is for life.  Sometimes, it’s an uphill battle to keep blinders off so we can see the bigger picture.  It comes through constant practice and being exposed to experts who do it with relative ease.

Our last night in Saskatchewan was capped off by Marion on the autoharp and Danielle on the ukulele gracefully singing Baha’i and Chinese songs.  The words of one of the songs struck me as something I’d like to aspire living out more.

Where there is love
Where there is love
Nothing is too much trouble
And there’s always time, time, time,
Time, time, time, time, time, time


Here’s also a beautiful poem Marion herself wrote:


Squashing Down the Stairs


Four boys ages 4, 5, 7 and 8.  How wild can it get?  Sliding down the stairs on blanket and pillow sleds squishing and squashing each other in a heap of giggles and laughter.   Head-butting with boxes in the basement.  Hiding, biking, swinging, running, screaming, fighting, making up and when it’s time for Chinese hotpot, they fish for treasures in the soup.  It’s another stay with a worldschooling family – again thanks to the Worldschoolers on Facebook and to Lesley who formed a group of her friends who could possibly host us in Calgary where she’s from.  Miranda took us in and the boys hit it off with their love of Legos and their energy, energy, energy.  Jason bonded with baby Nicolas while I had long conversations with Miranda about parenting, homeschooling, family and global issues.

What are the chances that the families we stay with back to back both do not use toilet paper?  They do provide paper for their guests but for themselves, they use something called family cloth.  The chances may be good if the people happen to be part of the Attachment Parenting Village of Calgary where some moms take eco-action seriously. Miranda makes her own soap, shampoo, compost, the most delicious kimchi among other things.   It’s a sharp and welcome contrast to the prevalent consumerism and disposable culture practiced commonly in developed nations.

Dexter and Theo have been homeschooled before but are trying formal school for a year and after, Miranda can’t wait to switch back to homeschooling.  Dexter and Theo are both early readers and 8-year old Dex is on his second time reading Lord of the Rings on his own.  Talking to Miranda, all my fears and doubts about homeschooling dissipate but linger after.  She asks me where my insecurities about homeschooling come from and it’s quite a long story.  I think I need to talk to her more but we stay for a day and a half only.

Miranda takes us to the newly opened Fish Creek bike park where the kids rode up and down the humps and bumps amongst older riders flying larger leaps.  Jimmy and I take the smooth route round a small lake, a bridge across a river, past people fishing and into a dead end that forces us to trace our way back and overshoot by a bit.  We arrive as the others finish the stunt track.


Miranda and Charlie’s wedding photo and art works by Theodore and Dexter:





Our Own Forest School


Lisha wanted to start her own forest school with other moms but then realized she and her family were already living in a forest and didn’t need to.  We were blessed and fortunate that Lesley whom I met through the Worldschoolers on Facebook introduced me to Lisha who welcomed us to their home in Alberta, Canada.  After the longest stretch of not staying with anyone and continuously driving at least three hours every day from Reno to Calgary, it was a great relief not to move and an even greater bonus to enjoy the peace and stillness of the pine forest.

Kids’ happiness is merely to be with other kids so Joshua and Jimmy played the whole day long with Zoe and Nate bouncing on the trampoline and painting tree trunks with mud.  Joshua chopped wood while two families were warmed by a big fire in a wintry morning.  In the afternoon, Lisha led us through the forest and into a thawing river where the kids played fetch ice with Nash, the sheep-herding dog.

That’s not a store-bought antler chandelier but one handmade by Lisha who likes creating things with her hands.  She has worked as a paramedic for sixteen years and has reached a point where she can pause for extended periods and relish being a homeschooling mom, making things like kimchi, waffles, indoor and outdoor furniture and other things from scratch.  The treehouse is an ongoing project from recycled materials.

While Lisha speaks gently to Zoe and Nate, I make mental notes about what I should remember the next time I struggle with my own kids. When I told her how I admired how she is as a mom, she said she looks up to the mom in the PBS show, Daniel Tiger.

She and her husband, Collin are avid dirt bike riders, skiers, snowboarders, campers, travelers and adventurers.  She has solo-backpacked in countries around the world even before she got married.  Dreams of a borderless world may be delayed but doing her part for the environment isn’t.  She minimizes waste and uses the least amount of plastic that she could in their household.

Lisha fishes out healthy, home-baked snacks from a zippered cloth bag during our trek in the forest.  She shows Jimmy the Dragonbeard that grows on the trees and Jimmy carries a horn-shaped branch covered with the pirate-sounding moss all the way to the river where they would have to wait till summer to swim in.


What is a Forest School?

Forest School is an inspirational process, that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.

Forest School is a specialised learning approach that sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and woodland education.



Yet another free park to compensate for the over-long drives through great swathes of land.  Miles and miles of almost nothing but gorgeous land may be enough for adults to appreciate but kids need their energy expender and the generous park in Helena, Montana does that perfectly.

I stayed on the flat path while the kids, my three boys, went up and down the Vigilante Bike Park.  As it says, it’s for Vigilantes only, not for those cowering in the safety zone.  Is that a metaphor of some kind telling me something?

The previous day, we stopped by a river where fishing hobbyists and fanatics came.  All over this gorgeous land, there were stops in the middle of nowhere.  Again sorry for that term. Nowhere seems so negative but it’s a relative description.  In the midst of nowhere, there’d be clean bathrooms with toilet paper, as in rolls of toilet paper locked in place and plus heavy duty picnic tables.  Ah, developed nations.  It makes my mind wander about the economics of development that allows such seeming luxuries possible and wonder how an under-developed country could possibly catch up.

I’m getting better at long distance travel and keeping the kids occupied while practicing and building their reading skills.  But it’s still not enough for them to stop wanting to get off the car in relief.  And it’s still not enough for me to wish we could have just limited our trip to the west and east coasts because that’s the urbanite in me.  But again, look at where it’s taking us — places I wouldn’t have chosen to go personally but we are chugging along, learning just fine.