A Giant Shout-Out of Thanks, Gratitude and Appreciation

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This cross-country voyage of 96 days and 10,200 miles (16,415 km) would not have been possible without the many family and friends who welcomed us into their homes, took time out to be with us and showered us with provisions.  People keep asking us which is our favorite place but I can’t think of any one impressive place although if you ask me if I could choose to live anywhere among the areas we visited, it’d be Imperial Beach.

However, my real favorite part of the trip is definitely meeting up and having long conversations with old and new friends.  Joshua and Jimmy also can’t think of one place which they like the most but what they like best is being with other kids, the numerous playmates along the way.  So in the end, it doesn’t matter where; it’s not so much about the place but about the people.

We have a lot of people to thank — for giving us shelter, for cooking for us, for treating us out and for letting Jason use their kitchen to whip up his magical Chinese meals.  He has blossomed into an ambassador of China making his love for hotpot and tea a contagious disease. More than the place, travel is about food, food, food, plus discovering people’s personal paradises more than mere sightseeing or ticking items off a bucket list.  Everyone’s warmth and generosity has touched and blessed our family.

Edmund and Darin, we carried your Marathon water bottles from the start to finish line.  The Chevy Avalanche was a dream to drive which through your help, we were able to find, purchase and sell.

Cotton and Bill, we look forward to more park dates with Jade and Noah in the future.  Noah’s shoes joined Jimmy in his adventures all the way to New York but we did part with the Lego along the way when the two kids fought over them.

Nanie, I hope you meet up with Cotton more often after our crazy night-out.

Tita Jona, the tent you gave us was the first one we ever had where we could stand up inside since it was so spacious.  Your pied-à-terre will forever be associated by the kids with their first encounter with Alexa.  Kwenby, it was fun recreating our pose from our seventies Sanrio days.  You’re the Hello Kitty to my Twin Stars.

Egay, the big bottle of peanut butter lasted and served us during emergencies and I wouldn’t have been able to figure out Spotify (which sustained the kids throughout the long drives) without you.  The kids never stopped singing the theme song from Steven Universe thanks to Gabbi‘s introduction.

Claire, your construction paper was transformed into thank you cards by Joshua and Jimmy in many stops.  Whenever we go through a gate that opens automatically by remote control, they think of you and throughout our trip, I found myself continuing our conversation in my head.

Danny, when we hear Broadway musical songs, we remember you and your 300-strong group.  What a happy night we had at your rehearsals!  Thank you for making it easy for us to see stars in Hollywood.

Tita Joesy and Tito Sonny, even if we missed seeing you, we are forever grateful that all your children warmly hosted us in their homes – Lareina in Thousand Oaks and Leo, Lil and Jay in Eastvale.  I remember how you were always raving proudly about them and now I understand why.  Jimmy enjoyed playing dress-up with your granddaughter Bella while Lauren was a great host to my sons.

Ate Badz, you know I’ve always wanted to meet Ismael and after seeing you two, I’m happy and inspired how the two of you take such good care of each other.  Sana ganun din kaming mag-asawa.

It was amazing serendipity how Bill Myers agreed to meet with us through the books given by a boy, Silas in Xishuangbanna.  Bill met with us bringing autographed copies of Secret Agent Dingledorf and even read for the boys.  Bill introduced to us, Jason, one of his students who happened to be from Tianjin. What are the chances, right?

Ashley, Jacob and Teddy, you are our first worldschooling family stop in the States.  Jimmy is always talking about how Minnie wakes him up by licking his face and we’ll never forget the ride on your tuktuk.  We look forward to hearing about your work-away adventure in Iceland and your travels through Europe and the rest of the world.

Tita Baby, what a feast you prepared for us!  Nijel and Elaine, how sweet of you to indulge in Jimmy’s obsession with Paw Patrol.  Tita Baby, we were able to catch our breath after two nights of camping and had a truly relaxing stay in your Las Vegas house.

Lesley, if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have experienced living in a cozy mobile home and we wouldn’t have discovered this oasis of a community in the middle of the desert, complete with hot spring pools.  Beckett with his boundless energy was a good match for Joshua and Jimmy.  Lesley, thanks for ensuring that we have hosts in your other home in Calgary.

Nolan and Carter, Jimmy had a blast roaming and exploring the Mojave Desert with you guys.

Tammy, the ghosts of Virginia City will haunt us always, as well as your overflowing spirit of generosity and warmth.

Lisha and Collin, the boys enjoyed the big bonfire in the cold morning and getting the chance to chop firewood plus what a treat to tour Zoe and Nate‘s “forest school.”

Miranda, the boys tumbled down the stairs and went wild in the basement with Dexter and Theo who then enjoyed the stunt, off-road bike park with Joshua.

Lisha and Miranda, it’s refreshing to see the much simplified, sustainable lifestyle of your family which is in sharp contrast to the consumerism your countries are known for.  I had to google family cloth.

Danielle, I am so happy to meet Kurt at last!  Marion, I treasure our talk about Bah’ai and your mini musical concert with Danielle.  Jason enjoyed hearing the Chinese songs. Joshua sorely misses Toren.  I picture Danielle and Marion playing boggle and Toren on the trampoline.

Julia and Julio, our stay in your St. Cloud home was everything you said it would be – long and leisurely.  We blended in with the locals because of your generous preparations even before we arrived.  How could we ever forget Mhong night, two Easter egg hunts and the hilarious talk with Summer?

Vinny, your research laboratory was awesome and knowing you was even more awesome.

Kirsten and Ruben, you introduced our kids to Awana (where Joshua sang, danced and shopped) and you took care of them when we needed to rush to the city at night.  We are grateful for the playdates with Henry, Soren and Bjorn (Their Chinese level is amazing!) and for the sparkle box that kept us afloat.

Rinna and Chris, you know what a God-ordained meeting it was despite the unexpected.  Joshua and Jimmy now want to get a corgi because of Sir Ollie and Tommy.

Hossein, you held on tightly to your filmmaking dreams and look where it’s taking you – Cannes!  I appreciate listening to your story of perseverance and the universe conspiring to make things work in your favor. Jimmy enjoyed making homemade muffins with Laura and eating the strawberry crepes with Marjan who was a model older sister to Joshua and Jimmy.  It was lovely meeting Karen and seeing Kayhan and Janan so grown up.

Florence, we will be hanging your beautiful paintings on the wall of our new home.  So wonderful to bridge the gap of time and two continents.

Joanna and Jonathan, because of you we were able to try the best pizza in Chicago and bike ride to the school playground with Allyn, Dean and Dylan.

Ken, to add to our Nottingham memories, now we have sipping wine in your kitchen with Karen, boodle fight, hotpot in your home with a magnificent view, the maple syrup festival and our four kids enjoying themselves to the hilt.  JJ and Alicia, Moana songs form a special part of our trip because of you.

Lally, your invitation to the Royal Ontario Museum worked to keep the kids busy while we were able to catch up.  Without your help, I wouldn’t have known about nor had the opportunity to visit the Dr. Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School.  Your daughter, Avery was an excellent tour guide and I hope next time, she and Coco can play with Joshua and Jimmy.

May and Bill, from homemade beer to craft beer, what a chillaxing stay in Framingham which happened to be strategically located for my research work as well.  The boys love Aidric to bits. Even goodbye was chillaxing flying the styrofoam airplane.

Peter, who could sit through a boring, detailed discussion of the alternative schools I visited and listen to me blab about this education research?  Only you, plus the privilege comes with omelet, lake, forest and potential kayak trip if the weather was more cooperative.

Auntie Inyang, you spoiled us with your homecooked meals which took us back to the Philippines.  Uncle Pabling, you helped Jason get the Avalanche ready for the photo shoot.  While Uncle Pabling drove us to Jocelyn’s place, Auntie Inyang’s many stories kept me riveted.

Jocelyn and Paul, it’s like we made it to Cape Cod with your lobsters and a quick trip to Duxbury beach.  Kylie swings like Tarzan from a rope hanging from the tree and Jimmy kept asking for her days after our visit.

Rick, after several skype sessions with you about my PhD proposal, we finally meet in person and I get to update you how the thesis has evolved to become something else different.  Thank you for showing me YOUR Cambridge.

Gambel, hanep na daig lahat ng counselors at therapists na pinagsama-sama all in one plus more.  Jun, walang walang makakatalo sa sipag at sarap sa pagluto. Kara and GJ, my kids couldn’t have asked for better playmates.  Despite the age gap, you guys rocked their world!

Peggy, grabe perfect New York escape talaga.  Wala akong masabiMarion, please make sure Peggy gets your bike and gets into fencing.

Denise, the Supermom/Wonder Woman, I look forward to knowing where Basti will be heading in the future.

Tonyboy, June, Veronica and Sophia, best impromptu barbecue ever! Hope all goes well in the crossroads decision making we’re all praying for.  We’ll remember fondly how Abigail led us up and down the dam park and showed how to make stop-motion videos using her phone.

Ate Bigi doesn’t want any mention in blogs but I hope she knows how happy I am always to see her.

Tita Shereen gave something that she has been holding for me for over a year, the most precious gift of Ma’s book of selected quotes, “Thoughts in Times of Trouble.”

Ninang Lin, we were all thrilled to watch Lion King.  The kids savored kayaking, biking, feeding the swans and visiting the beach.  Max, they also had a freezing and short swim with Harry in the pool.

Jerry, we were bowled over when you brought out your foldable ping pong table that filled the living area, ping pong machine plus rolls of cardboard to contain the balls when they fell on the floor.  Joshua had a rollicking great time with you teaching him the moves while Jimmy “fell in like” with Auroja.  Finding the books on alternative education in Jerry’s home-office was a dream come true for me.

Acela, oh to be among those trees both on the ground in the arboretum and up in the air at the Adventure Park.  David, the barbecue was superb and the breakfast sustained us in the airport.  Bu, the purple shirt you gave Joshua is now one of his favorites, a souvenir connecting him to you.

Melody and Andre, I truly miss climbing mountains with you and though, we didn’t have time for a trek, seeing you even for a short time was enough to rekindle our AMCI days.

Mew Yee, you are living our New York dream in a “secret” island to boot!  Ning and Hue, I admire your way and patience with kids.  Kin Hui, I haven’t finished “Ego is the Enemy” but I got too curious about Ryan Holiday’s other book and started reading “The Obstacle is the Way.”

Cass, I really think you should publish your children’s books.  Matthew and Sophie are so lucky.  We were able to enjoy lying on the grass with Mew Yee while Choy and Jason had their men’s talk because there were two excellent babysitters equipped with bubbles.

Jeanette and Will, your brood of five, Janelle, Genevieve, Giana, Justin, Jessica, made Jimmy’s birthday wildly unforgettable.  If you didn’t let us “park” our kids at your place, I don’t know how we could have attended that forum in Princeton.

Tita Gloria, watching you cook in your kitchen brought back so many memories of our days with Lola Pilar.  Vincent and Anna, your three daughters are so bursting with talent.

Eric, thank you very much for Jimmy’s birthday cake “from America.”  Although we are sad parting with Eve the Avalanche, we are comforted by the fact that she is now with a wonderful family who will love her perhaps even more than we could because she will stay with you much longer.

Eve, just perfect-for-us Eve.

My dad was worried sick during this whole time we were travelling even if I kept re-assuring him that we’re okay.  He didn’t know we had so many angels taking such good care of us.  It was also my dad, mom and Tito Ahing who made this trip possible for our family for which we are eternally grateful.  Actually, we have to thank our whole family in China and the Philippines for understanding that we needed to undertake this trip.

I am sorry I wasn’t able to see Jan, Lloyd, Mel and Vibes in Vancouver.  I’m dreadfully sorry we missed Maisie in Windsor when we were so near in Toronto but she was on holiday back in China.  And I apologize we weren’t able to go down further from NY to visit Yancey in South Carolina and Rusty in Florida.

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This pick-up truck was our home for three months.  Home is any place where the four of us are together. The people who welcomed us enlarged our hearts and our home.  Words are never enough to express our gratitude, so until next time!

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Tigers, Humans and SDE

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Throughout this three-month, ten-thousand-mile journey, aside from enjoying the adventure, we’ve also managed to insert time for my research work (an adventure in itself!) and visited fourteen schools and centers which offer or promote an alternative form of education.  I’d usually observe or talk to the teachers, students and parents, but number fifteen on the list-of-places-to-visit is quite unique because a forum happened to be scheduled on May 31st, coincidentally three days before our departure.  How in the earth was I going to miss that?  The Princeton Learning Cooperative (PLC) in New Jersey held a panel discussion with teenagers and young adults sharing their non-traditional high school education and how it’s possible to go to college and have a career despite the unusual path.

While waiting for the forum to start, I sat chatting with the person beside me who happened to be a teacher at PLC.  Katy quit teaching in a public school after fifteen years because she refused to be a proctor during state tests.  She is not against all standardized test but she protests the way data is used and how the process is data-driven rather than people-oriented.  For her, education is not a business and tests can’t evaluate what’s most important.  Test results are not a true reflection of students’ capabilities.  She is much happier now at PLC seeing students directing their own education rather than being dictated from above.

When the forum started, Alison introduced the four young people who unfurled their stories: Jacob, Kennedy, Nathaniel and Cameron.

When Jacob’s mom told him about PLC, a school that gave no grades and had Wednesdays off, Jacob was eager to sign up.  He discovered that those perks were not the true advantage of being at PLC.  It was being able to spend time the way he wanted which was immersing himself in music, writing songs, being in two bands and even taking classes at the community college.

Kennedy is also into music and her dad is in the field of education.  Sometimes, it’s odd to be in a radical place like PLC when your own dad is involved in traditional school but the bottomline is that it’s a great fit for Kennedy being at PLC. She plans to get a degree in music and expand her clientele base in music teaching.

When Nathaniel entered PLC, he thought he wanted to be an architect so PLC looked for a volunteer local architect to teach him.  Nathaniel gradually realized, it was not the field for him and discovered something else.  He eventually got a personal training, CPR, first aid and wilderness certificates and plans to study Health and Exercise Science at the Colorado State University.

Cameron had health issues that made her dread going out.  She missed so many classes in school so her parents found PLC but even then, she was reluctant to go.  Only after a while did she start warming up to the PLC community thanks to a persevering mentor.  She took classes in photography, philosophy, emotional intelligence and art and is now training to be a yoga teacher.

Somebody in the forum asked about how they position themselves in college applications.  It is no longer a handicap to be homeschooled nowadays.  Since PLC does not give out grades, the student has to come up with a narrative transcript and write a self-evaluation.  They categorize the classes that they’ve taken in and out of PLC and put them into an acceptable format with the guidance of their mentor.  Students at PLC have taken placement tests and SATs to get into college.

Each PLC member meets weekly with mentors to discuss individual goals, issues, track progress and troubleshoot problems.  It can be more or less an hour depending on the need.

The participation of parents is important in PLC where family meetings are held three times a year for each member.  Among many other things so unlike regular school, the students appreciate that there’s no detention.  Whenever a problem comes up, they have to discuss and resolve it together.  In real life, there is no detention.  The members of PLC respect that every teen wants to be in PLC so abuse of freedom is not common as long as they keep in their hearts the key words painted on the colorful table at the center of their space: encourage, include, contribute, respect and empathize.  It’s simply an inspiring, nurturing and beautiful place to be that allows you to be you. That sounds pie-in-the-sky, too-good-to-be-true.  Is there a downside?

Having free, unstructured time could be a challenge in the beginning and each one grapples with time management and owning choices.  One panelist said that it’s a challenge having to transition from a fully supportive community to having none in the outside world but since they are equipped with tools to handle situations as they come, it’s not a major problem.  There is a feeling of isolation also as they see their other friends in regular schools prepare for graduation so they have to tell themselves that their path is different and unique.

How is graduation done at PLC?  Everyone says something about the graduate, speaking about how they made a difference in their life and you can imagine how that could end up in tears.

Nathaniel used the caterpillar in a cocoon metaphor.  If one cuts the cocoon too early, the butterfly doesn’t develop.  The caterpillar must be allowed to stay in the cocoon and the butterfly will emerge naturally through it’s own bidding.  For me, the cartoon that hits a home run for self-directed education is a Calvin and Hobbes strip stuck to a post in the central common space at PLC.

Calvin:  When a kid grows up, he has to be something.  He can’t just stay the way he is. But a tiger grows up and stays a tiger.  Why is that? 

Hobbes: No room for improvement.

They both pause and contemplate.

Calvin:  Of all the luck, my parents had to be humans.

Hobbes:  Don’t take it too hard.  Humans provide some very important protein.   

Some people have a difficult time grasping this aberrant-looking form of so-called education like the PLC.   We are all expected by society to perform and get good grades in school and “be someone” when we grow up.  There’s not much economic gain to merely “being.”   However, places like PLC show that if you nurture somebody to grow naturally towards the direction that he or she seeks, things fall into place in its own time.

Know more about self-directed education and PLC:

What is self-directed education?

Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Alternatives to School

Stories of How Teens Create Paths for Themselves

Who are the PLC mentors

I was very fortunate that on my visit to PLC that my husband came and shot the video of the forum.  I’ve tried uploading it onto Youtube but the file is too big so I have yet to figure how to cut it up.  But do check out this video on how PLC works.

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Fwenvy

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My very own Covfefe!  Fwenvy is my made-up word for First World Envy.  I experience it whenever we hit well appointed, beautiful public parks and libraries which we have a dearth of in Third World nations. People pay taxes for these and the government (despite Covfefe) works for the people, probably more than its own citizens appreciate.  The grass is always greener elsewhere.

I feel fwenvy, oh so fwenvy when I went to the Highline.  My New Yorker cousin doesn’t find anything special about it but I salivate at the details of its urban design and the revitalization of otherwise leftover and forgotten spaces.  This is my wish.  This is my other fantasy – to buy out all the empty lots in Metro Manila and transform them into parks.  Plus allocate a decent amount of land to affordable housing that is NOT an SM shoebox!

The Highline, has probably gotten too popular for its own good.  It looks as if it has jacked up property prices around it which may be good or bad depending on who is concerned.   It is a narrow park better enjoyed with less people but during holidays, people unfortunately get the same bright idea so try to visit this at odd hours and not on special days.  The original design intent probably can’t remain pure because there is more pedestrian traffic than expected and portions of the grass have to be cordoned off making it less than aesthetic.

I snuck out a solo tryst with the Highline and as Gambel said, I’m so lucky that I don’t have to think twice leaving the kids with Jason and going off on my own to explore parts of the city that won’t be too convenient if I brought the brood by bus and subway.   This is one of the things I wanted to see before leaving New York because Mew Yee gave me a book about it some years ago.  The story of how one man started a crusade to save an abandoned raised railway is inspiring and encouraging.  How it has expanded as a branded experience probably takes a bit away from its humble beginnings but that is part and parcel of New York’s dynamic evolution and constant re-invention.

Tale of Two Islands

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Whenever I hear or say the word “island,” it now automatically comes blaring in my head with the theme song from Moana complete with voice and instruments.  That’s our road trip song that beats out Hallelujah covered by Pentatonix or Hakuna Matata from Lion King.  It’s the song we listen to over and over through days of driving.  It’s the chorus Mew Yee’s daughters, Ning and Hue, Cass’s children Matthew and Sophie, know so well as well.

“I know I can’t be the perfect daughter” keeps ringing and hitting home.  I will disappoint my parents by wanting to discover and live on an island of my own in Mainland China.   “But I come back to the water.”  Does it mean I will always come home to the Philippine Islands, eventually when the time is right but not now when the home that is calling our family’s name is across the sea.

See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know, if I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go

Lyrics from Moana: How Far I’ll Go

Oh, but I’ve deviated from what this blog is about: the tale of two islands, the tale of one and a half secrets of New York: Roosevelt and Governor’s Island.  The former is a hush-hush gem few tourists know about and the latter is probably a little more well known as a place where you can spot the Statue of Liberty from or where to go when you’ve seen Central Park.

For two days, we were treated to the rare privilege of living on Roosevelt Island, a residential area on a sliver of an island in between Manhattan and Queens.  My friend, Mew Yee lives there and what an amazing way to enjoy the guilty, almost sinful pleasure of having the best of both worlds – being in close proximity to the maddening crowd while maintaining a demeanor of peace and calm.  The only way you can get from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island is by cable car or subway.  The only way you can drive a car into the island is through a bridge from Queens.  So the island is saved from traffic noise, hassle and danger, a true oasis.  It is almost the island of my dreams.  When I was very young, I envisioned living on island connected to Manhattan by private subway and on that island is my very own amusement park with roller coasters and rides.  Was this a Michael Jackson complex of sorts?

Mew Yee is my friend who shared the same dream of living in New York when we went there over 20 years ago on an architectural holiday.  The dream came true for her via a job for her and her husband at the United Nations.  That’s another dream I had way back when I wanted to save the world and I always asked my Lola Pilar, “Who is the Secretary General of the UN?” countless times during meals when we played trivial Q & A.  I had visions of running the world a’la the Justice League.  It was the stuff of little girls’ fantasies – weird little girls with Michael Jackson complex.

We rode the tram to Roosevelt Island and it lay before our feet a most glorious, glorious view.  Why do people pay overpriced hop-on, hop-off tours and other packaged tours of Manhattan when right here you can have it for $2.75?  And you can take it again and again as much as you want, like an infinite loop which Jason, Joshua and Jimmy did at night with the amazing lights on, using Mew Yee’s unlimited monthly subway card while Mew Yee and I had story catching up to do.

The next day, Mew Yee planned a whole day trip to Governor’s Island with her friends Cass and Choy and their two kids, Matthew and Sophie who were closer to the ages of Joshua and Jimmy.  The four kids plus Mew Yee’s teenage daughters had a blast on an island built for the kid in each of us.  It’s a giant playground that could be accessed through a ferry especially crowded because it was Memorial Day weekend.  But the inconvenience paid off.  The island delivers the goods: everything from a hammock grove, bubble-friendly grass, picturesque picnic spots, playgrounds, unlimited climbing, long slides down a hill and of course, ice cream trucks.

It was another friend from mountaineering days and who also happened to work at the UN who delivered us to Roosevelt Island.  We picked her up from her famous workplace where across the street, a woman on a megaphone was screaming like a broken record, “Communist government is the Chinese mafia” with a heavy accent.  I prayed for Melody to show up soon because my husband didn’t appreciate the propaganda against his country.   Melody rode the bus with us to the tram station on 59th, introduced us to the cable car and walked us to the end of Roosevelt where you felt like being on a ship’s prow moving off into uncharted territory surrounded by sea water.

I didn’t have to go to art galleries and museums.  Art was everywhere including Mew Yee’s home filled with Ning and Hue’s creations.

Also, Cass happened to be a cartoonist on the side.  These are too precious not to share:

Whatever happened to that little girl with delusions of running the worldwide government?  It didn’t connect with the rollercoaster island, did it?  It has been superseded by other age-appropriate, context-specific fantasies, the current one of which is settling into a home and getting a couple of dogs I promised my two boys.  Final fantasy?  I think not.

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P.S.  I don’t know if you could call it a weakness or a bad habit.  Because I love and adore books, I have a predilection to poke into people’s bookshelves, searching for commonalities and book ideas that I could possibly purchase on my kindle.   Kin Hui, Mew Yee’s husband had some books I wanted to read and he, knowing it brings me great pleasure, told me I could have it even if was in Africa at that time of our visit.

Forgive me; I need to quote from Ryan Holiday’s book.  If I can give it to certain people as a hint, I would, but it’s a hint mostly for me, too.  I’m so intrigued with the book, I want to get Holiday’s other title, Obstacle is the Way.

Maybe you’re young and brimming with ambition.  Maybe you’re young and you’re struggling.  Maybe you’ve made that first couple of million, signed your first deal, been selected to some elite group, or maybe you’re already accomplished enough to last a lifetime.  Maybe you’re stunned to find out how empty it is at the top.  Maybe you’re charged with leading others through a crisis.  Maybe you just got fired.  Maybe you just hit rock bottom.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, your worst enemy already lives inside you: your ego.

 

It’s when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us. . . .  This is the ego . . . that sucks us down like the law of gravity.

In this way, ego is the enemy of what you want and what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight.  Of working well with others.  Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity.  Of repeating and retaining your success.  It repulses advantages and opportunities.  It’s a magnet for enemies and errors.

 

We surround ourselves with bullshit.  With distractions.  With lies about what makes us happy and what’s important.  We become people we shouldn’t become and engage in destructive, awful behaviors.  This unhealthy and ego-derived state hardens and becomes almost permanent.  Until katabasis forces us to face it.

Duris dura franguntur.  Hard things are broken by hard things.

The bigger the ego the harder the fall.

 

If ego is the voice that tells us we’re better than we really are, we can say ego inhibits true success by preventing a direct and honest connection to the world around us.

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Infinite Agility

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In computer games, spawn is the appearance of a player in the game.  At the Agile Learning Center (ALC), mornings start with spawn when students share what they intend to do that day and during the afternoon spawn, they report whether they were able to fulfill those intentions.  That day I visited their Manhattan school, there was an offering in writing, philosophy and a field trip to the South Street Seaport to check out the ship which Chuck, one of the ALC facilitators, helped restore.  The rest of the day, kids played on the computer, watched a movie, hung around and walked to two neighboring deli stores.

The offerings are quirky as the facilitators and students who provide classes to whomever are interested: fermentation, bomb disposal, coding, printmaking, cooking plus the class that’s been offered for the longest span of time – Japanese, courtesy of a parent whose child wanted to study the language.  If anybody is interested in pursuing a subject or developing a skill, all one had to do was ask.  If any of the facilitators or students feel that people could benefit following a topic or if they have a personal passion for something, it can be offered up to the group. A friend from Brooklyn is tapped to give classes in circus acrobatics.  All over whiteboards placed in every room, there are constantly evolving marks, signs, calendars and colored post-it pads which announce ideas and communal decisions.

The ALC takes off or branches off from other alternative forms of education — unschooling, democratic, free school, Sudbury.  ALC is more like unschooling but within a community.  It’s more intentional than free school and Sudbury in that facilitators can make suggestions to guide kids to advance their interests.  How do you know when to actively step in and when to stand back?  It differs from person to person but knowing the person within a close-knit community for some time allows you to gauge each case individually.

ALC also takes its cue and inspiration from agile software practices since its founder, Art Brock is immersed in the IT industry.  There is a sense of modern fluidity and systems flexibility, an aversion to wasteful long meetings and if I don’t seem to be making any sense describing it, you can check out their website and examine the lingo.  They also derive insight from the Quakers who, without resorting to voting, capture the spirit of the meeting to arrive at resolutions.  The emphasis is on agility in creatively solving problems and meetings are not platforms for the perpetuation of power dynamics.

To the students who go to ALC, it simply feels like a home – a school and a home at the same time.  Everyone who comes through its doors tries it out for a week to see if it suits them.  One of the students once struggled and fought over completing homework with his parents when he was going to regular school.  When he joined ALC which his dad discovered, there are a lot less conflict with his parents. Another father is happy to see his daughter thrive in a setting that allows an inordinate amount of freedom.  He is pleasantly surprised when his daughter spews species of trees and types of rocks after playing Minecraft and how she was able to make a skateboard at six years old.  Another student hated school because he was academically ahead of his class and couldn’t go on his own pace which he was then able to do at ALC.

Mel shows a TED Talk video about making sense of string theory and though there are only three other people in the room, there is a thought-provoking discussion afterwards. Every Friday, everyone blogs and reflects on what they did that week.  Towards the end of each day, everyone helps clean up and there is an optional Gratitude Circle where you share what you are thankful for that day.

The facilitators in ALC are able to pursue their own personal interests like baking bread in Mel’s case or the nature of dictatorships in Abby’s case.  Abby lived and studied dictatorships in Eastern Europe so she once offered a class about that in ALC.  She was particularly fascinated by how the educational system differed before, during and after dictatorships which cemented her advocacy to have schools in total service of the children.  Abby also worked on a farm so she once offered classes in bird and plant identification.  Each facilitator has a “superpower” and Ryan’s is being with the kids without having an agenda.  Chuck is into photography and after getting his art degree, went sailing for four years.  At ALC, he is happy that he doesn’t have to put his interest on hold.  Neither do the students.

Check out the ALC website and one of the coolest thing about it, I think, is the sliding scale tuition fee.  One of the parents devised this neat computer trick.  The ALC network is also growing.  If you want to find out more about ALC, check out their FAQ page.  If you want to get into the mind of the ALC founder, check out Art Brock’s blog.   What’s in store for the future of ALC is quite exciting as Art explains:

The next step we’d like our older kids program to be in the same building as a social enterprise incubator (EmergingLeaderLabs.org), and a co-working space (WeWork.com). This provides an easy, practical, natural transition into the kind of entrepreneurial activities that most kids will be moving toward in our evolving economy.  Also the entrepreneurs, freelancers, and innovators could share their passions with our students in workshops, classes, talks, boot camps. Students can apprentice with startups, artists/designers, and nonprofits working in the same building.

I would definitely want to see that happen and would like to visit the space once it’s realized.  Read Art’s whole article co-written with Tomis Parker here.

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Yin to My Yang, Yang to My Yin

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A little over 10,000 miles in three months and we’ve reached the end.  There were portions of the trip when I looked forward to settling into a stable home after moving around too much but nearing this trip’s finish line, it was like “Wait, wait, wait!  Hold it for a moment longer.”  Something in me changed like I’m a stretched rubber band that can’t return to its original shape.  What this trip taught me among other things, was that we truly worked as a family unit and whatever differences the four of us had, we were the yin to the other’s yang, the yang to the other’s yin.  Maybe, Joshua and Jimmy are too young to realize that they are each other’s yin and yang but maybe for now, it’s enough for their parents to discern this themselves.  At the end of the day, after the trials that test our patience and breadth of understanding, we balance each other out and love one another no matter what.

It’s hard to say goodbye to people who have graciously and generously hosted us but we’ve been saying goodbye every two to four days during this trip, we should be used to it by now, right?  With the Dizons, it was harder than normal to say goodbye because we stayed with them the longest.  They threw a Paw Patrol themed birthday party for Jimmy who screamed his signature shriek when his guests arrived bearing gifts while Joshua danced with the gusto of a pro.   Jeanette and Will came, their five kids in tow and that was enough to create the havoc required in parties.  It turns out that they live near Princeton and so we conveniently left Joshua and Jimmy with them when we had to attend a forum in the area on May 31st.  The kids had a blast while Jason and I had a rare date in the famous university.

Saying goodbye to the truck:

Saying goodbye to the swans:

Saying goodbye to the parks:

Just as we had planned, we bought the pick-up truck in San Francisco and sold it in New York.  We met Chris one morning in Lareina’s house in California and he readily helped us by putting the vehicle info on Craigslist by the time we reached NYC.  However, the one who eventually purchased the truck was a friend of our friends from Long Island.

While driving us to the airport, Eric, the Avalanche’s new owner, shared with us life truths, including his go-to source of inspiration, the story of two monks who crossed a river.   The older monk carried a woman who asked for help while the younger monk seethed with disappointment the rest of their journey because he thought it was an improper act.  The older monk told him that he left the woman on the other side of the river but asked why was he still carrying her.   Whenever there is something in need of letting go, Eric gently reminds himself to put the lady down.  Don’t burden yourself and travel light.

We tried to travel light on this trip.  We try to travel as light as we can in this life but it’s challenging and we need reminders like Eric’s.

When I visited the States as a child with my grandparents, we stayed with Tita Gloria, Tito Sixto and their son, Vincent who was my playmate way back then with seventies photos with seventies hairstyle as proof.  My two boy’s finally met and played Lego and cat’s cradle with Vincent’s three girls, bridging decades that passed.  The kitchen where my Lola and Tita Gloria spent time chatting was exactly how I recalled it was with collections of plates from around the world.  Vincent’s wife, Anna introduced us to sumptuous, buttery steamers, a Long Island favorite.

We rarely have photos of the four of us together and the latest one was taken by Melody by the Roosevelt Island Tram station.   Jason and Jimmy flew back to China while Joshua and I flew back to Manila.   We each have matters to take care of in each country so we have to temporarily separate.  It feels odd after being together 24/7 but it brings me back to the feeling that we did right by taking this trip because it strengthened our family and drove home the point that we could dream of something and make it real.

I still need to blog about the Agile Learning Center and the Princeton Learning Cooperative, about meeting up with Melody and Mew Yee and inserting a quick visit to the Highline but this farewell blog had to come out first because that’s the one that bubbled urgently to the surface.

Last Camp Hurrah

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We camped in our tent three times in California and we’ve been trying to find camp sites since then but it was too cold heading north and when we finally reached the east coast, the camp sites in the area still closed.  We’re on our last weeks in New York and the weather has settled into a comfortable spring nearing summer so we resolved to search for a place and found the perfect one in Beaver Pond Campground at the Harriman State Park not too far from the city.  We also wanted to maximize our last days with Eve, our Chevy Avalanche who has served our family so well these past three months through almost 10,000 miles of adventure.  Parting with the best vehicle we have ever had would be quite difficult so we wanted a last hurrah with her and celebrate the outdoors.

NYC was too much city for Jason who preferred the empty roads through stretches of land and mountains, and the forest of trees rather than the canyons of buildings.  In Beaver Pond, we biked, pitched our tent, cooked corn and sweet potatoes over the bonfire, followed the water from a dam rushing down through rocks and had a stretch of beach all to ourselves because it was just a few days shy of Memorial Day weekend so the summer revelers weren’t out in full force yet.

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Before we found Beaver Pond, we got caught in a whole day of rain so we took shelter at the Stony Point Center, a multi-faith retreat and conference center that was such an amazing find thanks to a bad, smelly motel that turned us off and led us to find accommodation elsewhere.   Stony Point Center had a meditation room surrounded by trees and deer romped on the grass, chewed on the leaves, stopped and stared at you. The reviews of the place were also accurate because we were able to confirm that the food they served in the canteen was really quite good, much better than the ones we’ve been having in some restaurants.

The first time we went up Bear Mountain State Park, it was pouring so we went back the next day when the skies cleared and the sun opened the curtains so that we may be mesmerized by this green expanse which with eagle eyes, we could fly over.

Before driving up to the Bear Mountain peak, we stopped by and biked through the Iona Island right at its foot, in the middle of Hudson River — marshland and moss, a bird sanctuary to boot.

So what a way to go and celebrate our last days with Eve in gardens of Eden we keep discovering one after another, within our reach right here on earth.