San Fran


San Francisco is San Freakingexpensive!   Thank goodness, my friend, Edmund introduced us to Goodwill, the chain of second hand stores all over the country so in case we need anything, it’s easy to get at non-shocking cost.  Coming from China and the Philippines, the price of everything from food to non-food is quite astronomical.  My Ninong Ariel was spot on about my slightly underestimated budget but hopefully as we find ways to save, daily expenses will decrease.  We got a second-hand pick-up truck that we could sell at the end of the trip to recoup the investment and beat renting.  We went to the Chinese and Asian groceries to get supplies so that we can cook for ourselves instead of eating in restaurants.  I didn’t realize how “Chinese” I’ve become until I stepped into America and started missing good, affordable, varied Chinese food on the third day.

Aside from having a family bonding adventure, the other purpose of this trip is to do my research on alternative forms of education.  I was so looking forward to going to Tinkering School after listening to the TED Talk about it but they never replied to my emails and we were turned away at the door because the kids had a field trip.  We’ll try to catch some sessions in New York because the Tinkering workshops are offered among homeschoolers over there.

We stopped by 826 Valencia that is a Pirate Supply Store fronting for a young writer’s center. It’s a great community-building initiative which links young people with writers through workshops and tutorials.  They come out with published anthologies of stories and poems created by the kids themselves.   I love the bustling creativity oozing out of San Francisco pores but exorbitant parking limited our time to tarry.  After depositing a few quarters into the meter, I rushed back to refill.

Next stop is Cotton’s place, my highschool BFF whose kids, Jade and Noah are near the ages of Joshua and Jimmy.  They have a blast playing.


A Short Thank You Note


We’re about to leave one of our homes for an adventure.  Most people are excited for us while a few are worried sick, knots in their stomachs not understanding the why behind it all.  Maybe that’s me too, a few days before the flight.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed our last days in Manila and look forward to exchange stories when we get back.   Just wanted to share what I’m grateful for during this stay in Manila, the most important one being — spending quality time with family and friends.  The following are added bonus:

  1. Joshua and Jimmy being able to get in four sessions of football practice
  2. The kids being able to find new instant playmates and reconnect with old ones
  3. Climbing trees
  4. Seeing my niece’s bamboo instrument music chorale perform
  5. Seeing my aunt’s new place
  6. Swim and beach time
  7. Discovering new playgrounds
  8. Learning finally how to download apps courtesy of RM

Loving Baby


We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for a shameless plugging for . . . . LOVE!  A quasi-stranger texted me this quote on Valentine’s day, “Love is our true destiny.  We do not find meaning of life by ourselves alone, we find it with another.  T.M.”

Our family spent February 14 by pouring attention on the newest, cutest, chubbiest member of our clan: Wam.  The beach is truly the happy place for babies who take adults back to days of pure, unadulterated wonder at the freshness of everything: sand under your feet, sand in your mouth and the sound and spectacle of splashing water.


The Site is Up!


The crowdfunding site is up and running!   After going through a series of hoops and hurdles as all worthwhile endeavors involve, I was giddy with excitement finally seeing it online.  I received a lot of help and encouragement from the people at CauseVox, the platform for people and organizations with an advocacy, a dream, a burning passion that keeps them up at night and energized in the day.

My friend in China, Donna and I wish to bring Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson to Manila for a seminar-workshop sharing their experiences about democratic and self-directed education on July 29, 2017.

Read about Yaacov here:

Democratic Education Around the World

Excerpts from Yaacov’s Speech

Read about Simon here:

Interview with Simon Robinson

And if you’re interested in attending the seminar-workshop on July 29 in Manila:

What the Seminar-Workshop is About

Or supporting the cause of spreading the word about self-directed education:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

And if this is not enough and you simply want to know more about self-directed education:

Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Video on Self-Directed Education

Hope to see you in July!

Answered Question


I’ve been wanting to share this for two days but I still can’t get over watching and reading things about the hard-to-believe, it-could-only-happen-in-the-twilight-zone inauguration but the unthinkable happened and there is no turning back.

Anyway, some days ago, I posted a question online and got a substantial and very insightful answer from Dr. Randy Kulman, founder of LearningWorks for Kids. They have made it their mission to maximize the potential that video games and technology offer in improving children’s thinking skills.

Here’s my question followed by Dr. Kulman’s advice:

I’m homeschooling my two sons (ages 7 and 4) and started by using workbooks and abandoned it quickly because it was too frustrating for all of us.  We’ve been using online programs instead but it seems to be good only at the start and then it gets boring.  We started with Time4Learning and then quit after a few months.  We’re now using Splash Math and IXL which seem better.  Teach Your Monster to Read is great but is wearing out its novelty.  Getepic is so far the greatest online resource that is never tiring for us and is such a joy to use. However, I’m the one reading to them all the time.  I’d like to find a game that will challenge and motivate my kids to learn to read in a fun way — sort of like Teach Your Monster to Read but more creative and less redundant.  When it comes to reading sentences in that game, I have to come in and help my boys.   I would truly appreciate any advice.

Your question is compelling because you’re not only asking how to build your sons’ reading skills, you’re looking for a way to make the process enjoyable for them. Helping your children learn to read is one of the most important tasks you will undertake as their teacher. Helping them love to read is one of the greatest gifts you can give them as a parent. If your kids can learn to enjoy reading, they are far more likely to become critical thinkers and self-led learners.

We are in agreement that a program that is too advanced for them, which requires you to come and basically do their work, isn’t effective. However, as you already know, your involvement — moral support, guidance, leading reflections — is paramount to their success.

Out of the many tools we’ve reviewed at LW4K, my favorite are interactive electronic books. While some of these books may be a bit advanced for your four-year-old, your seven-year-old is likely to be able to enjoy them and learn from them as he practices his reading. The Crack the Books series, which includes the interactive Earth Science textbooks Seashores to Sea Floors and Pines to Vines, is a wonderful set of tools to engage a child in reading and get them interested in the world around them. Designed primarily for elementary school students, Crack the Books apps offer different levels of reading difficulty, allowing children in grades 1 through 8 to enjoy the texts without changing the nature of the core curriculum. There are many other publishers of interactive e-books that might also be helpful for you, such as Ocean House Media and Capstone Publishing.

Another great tool for kids who are learning to read on their own is’s Whispersync.  Whispersync is a service that allows a Kindle user to listen to an audio version of the book while reading along as the words are highlighted in the text. While I do not recommend Whispersync for beginning readers, it can be very helpful for children who already have basic reading skills. Not only can it help them gain reading fluency, it can build their vocabulary by introducing them to new words and helping them with pronunciation. By making reading a less frustrating experience, Whispersync can help kids learn to love books.

I have my parents to thank for instilling a love of reading and learning in me. I can think of very few pleasures greater than sitting down with a great book. I encourage you to continue to look for engaging tools and technologies that will help your kids love to read. Let us know what you find and what works.

I asked our editor, Leah Watkins, for her suggestions. Here’s what she said:

Of course you know that kids will focus and stick with reading if it’s fun. You might try LeapFrog’s LeapReader, which has stories starring characters from Disney, Pixar, and Nickelodeon. The Sprout, PBS Kids, and Scholastic websites are also excellent resources, offering games and listen-and-read activities that feature books and TV shows like The Magic School Bus, Arthur, Dot and Caillou.

But if you had success with Teach Your Monster to Read, I really think you should check out StoryBots, a multi-platform edutainment system with a focus on phonics and reading. Created for kids 3-8 years old, its apps, books, videos, and games have gotten so popular in recent months that it’s now a Netflix Original animated series.

Drunk with the Joy of Everything


“Shui, shui, shui, shui, shui, shui!” (sounds like ‘sway’ but with a ‘sh’shway)  The men shout six times and down their bai jiu (Chinese alcohol).

“Water, water, water, water, water, water!” what it sounds like to my limited Mandarin ears but in the Dai minority dialect, it means, “Drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink!”

The revelers also greet each other, “Yang yang hao!”  To me it sounds like good goat or good itch but correctly deciphered it means, “Everything good!”

“You’re about to lose your job!”

“Everything good!”

“Your marriage is in shambles!”

“Everything good!”

“I don’t know what the heck I’m doing!”

“Everything good!”

“I don’t know what the future holds!”

“Everything good!”

It’s good to get drunk now and then and be swept away to another frame of mind by 50% homemade village alcohol tinted bamboo green.

My friend in the Philippines was telling me a story of a very rich man’s mansion that they visited which had it’s own man-made or man-added-sand beach, hectares and hectares of manicured grass. The house had more than twenty rooms but the guests weren’t offered much to eat.  I told my friend what a contrast to the simple mountain villages we visited where guests were treated with a feast.  Everything eaten in China is equivalent to a feast elsewhere but that is how Chinese people eat — with more dishes than usual for other nationalities.  It was no different in Xiao Lu’s village where we had a pre-Spring Festival celebration.  Each household killed a pig and prepared a variety of dishes with fresh pork and vegetables from their garden.

Tomorrow, we fly back to Manila.  I will surely miss Jinghong especially my favorite room, my favorite office, the one with the sweeping view of the mountains and enough space for my clutter.  Plus, in our xiao qu, it’s relatively easy for Jimmy to find a playmate in the sandpit.




Riverside Favorite


In Jinghong, there is a part of the Mekong River that we always love to go to but that’s being renovated now.  There’s a convenient swimming pool and water park that’s now demolished so it’s good that we went there as much as we could before the wrecking ball came.  There’s a part where people flew remote-controlled airplanes that’s now boarded up.  So we ventured into another part of the river and were pleasantly surprised that it’s even more idyllic than our former favorite.  Big stones to sit on and ponder, grass to lie on and slumber and the perfect bike path that becomes a boardwalk on another side where bikes are not allowed but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying a perfect afternoon.