How We Spent Our First “official” Year Homeschooling

I’m not a tree hugger, I haven’t worn Birkenstocks for 20 years and I wouldn’t call myself a radical anything. But when Sofia was just a few months old, I started thinking about homeschooling. At first it was because we are a film business family, and I wanted to make sure we kept the family together as much as possible. But then I started to really fall in love with the notion (John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Well Trained Mind, etc.) and pretty early on decided to homeschool. But then it was time to tour Kindergartens and all my mom friends were on the bus. I tagged along. This caused me unnecessary grief and suffering as I doubted my choice. People told me, “I knew homeschoolers. They turned out weird. Like weird-weird.” People looked at me like I was nuts and asked, “Why on earth would you want to be with your kids all day?” Like I was one of those people without a life or a helicopter parent hovering anxiously around the kids, just waiting for them to choke on something. And then Sofia got accepted into some really lovely schools.

I adored school myself. Given just two more hours in the day I would be in a Ph.D program of some sort. Some of the schools Sofia was accepted to made my heart leap because they were the kind of school I would have loved to attend. But I kept feeling a tug, like homeschool would be a fit for her. I have to admit, selfishly, I like having both the girls around. And we travel so much, it allows us to all be together. But I was terrified. I hired consultants, (Tammy Takahashi), I drove my unschooling pals crazy, I asked numerous opinions. Claudio asked that Sofia sign a waiver saying she agreed with us ruining her life. I prayed I wouldn’t be ruining her life. I saw a shrink and I took her to one as well.

My friend Lorraine and my sister and mother all told me I could not go wrong by following my heart and also said, “So what if you fail? Then put her in school for first grade.” I finally calmed down and just committed to it.

The girls and I went to the HSC convention of homeschoolers in Sacramento. Claudio could not be coerced into joining us. He believed Homeschooling would be “Death of Fabulous,” to use his words. I question how much Fabulous we really have to begin with…(See previous post of him counting his chins.) Homeschool in his mind was right up there with a minivan and mom jeans. A bit too parental. The conference was titled “There’s No Place Like Homeschool” and the first night of sleeping in that Sacramento hotel room felt like death of not only fabulous, but anything I had ever imagined for my life.

The next morning I trudged to the keynote speaker’s talk. Linda Dobson’s kids are now all grown and she and her husband were selling their house and sailing around the world. She was an interesting, funny lady and as she spoke of having a calling to this life, (she discovered homeschooling on the Donohue show back in the dark ages) and of her love of being with her kids, of how joyous her life had been during the homeschooling years and her memories, I started to cry. I know! Like a baby. I was surrounded by tie dye, birkenstocks, fairy wings and tree huggers and really lovely, lovely people who were as jazzed and excited by learning as I was, and I stopped feeling weird and just decided to enjoy myself.

There were other women like me there: One woman stood up during the “Is Homeschool Legal” session and announced how much she hated being there, that the noise level and crowds of homeschoooled teens roaming around freaked her out, but that she was so glad to be talking with people who understood her. A New Yorker accosted me in the hotel lobby and grabbed onto my arm and said, “Thank you. Thank you for trying.” I didn’t know what she meant and then she pointed to my glasses and all black garb. “If I see one more piece of tie dye or another braless woman, I may scream. At least you are trying.” (I did not point out that I too was braless, just pert because I was still lactating and due for a feeding.) And I couldn’t really hate her for her judgmental quality as it mirrored my own from just an hour earlier.

I called Claudio and told him of my epiphany, of my feeling of finding kindred spirits and he said, “Are you making hills out of your mashed potatoes, too?”

Still, once home, I offered Sofia school probably about once a week. I’ve even, truth be told, threatened her with it, as in, “Sofia, if you whap your sister one more time you’re going to School! School-School. That’s right. With recess!” We did two months of homeschool in Los Angeles, and then moved to Taichung, Taiwan for Claudio’s latest film, where I would tour a Kindergarten about once a month because the city of Taichung had really no Homeschoolers to speak of, and certainly no one the same age as my girls. I was told if she wasn’t Socialized I would be raising a weirdo, and Taiwan was definitely the social experiment. When I would get nervous, I’d tour another school. It looked like this:

Me: Sofia, look this school has an American teacher, a slide in the classroom named “The Kitty Room” and they have the biggest ball pit in the world! How about this school?

Sofia (age 5): Hmmm. Nah. I don’t want to give up my freedom. Who wants to be at a desk all day? I’m a homeschooler!

Here’s one of the schools I tried to convince her to go to:

Here’s what we did, for the record, as much as I can recall for this year.

My goals for her were to have fun and for her to read fluently by the end of the year. But mostly fun, since it was Kindergarten, after all.

Sofia loved doing workbooks. She did books 1-4 of the Explode the Code phonics books. (Actually 8 books as each one has a 1.5, 2.5, etc.) She would pretty much take these off to a corner and do them by herself, although now that she is in Book 4 it requires some assistance on my part with the phonics rules. “The silent E on the end makes the vowel say its name.”

She did Spelling 180 and is now into 360. ( She pretty much did these on her own with me sitting beside her if she got stuck.

She did Singapore math 1a and 1b. We had a tutor in Taichung for awhile, but Sofia seemed to do much better with me. (I came into math class one day with the tutor and Sofia was on her back with her legs in the air, screaming at the top of her lungs and was beaning the tutor with the math manipulatives. She doesn’t do this with me.) We’d do a little every day and when she got bored or wiggly, we’d quit. Fun was our operative word.

I will never forget one night when we stayed up late, and somehow she figured out how to carry the one and she started screaming, “I get it! I finally get it. I can carry the one. I’m a rockstar!” I had been lightly introducing the concept and watching her flail for about a month, so I’d back off, and then one night she just got it. I almost cried and I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

Here is a video of math flashcards. Who says they are boring?

We bought her a hundred pounds of books. (I know because I weighed them when packing to return to the U.S.) and she read like a fiend. There was no library in Taichung, a big handicap, but there were a couple of good English bookstores. The first week we landed back in Los Angeles we went to the library. We have a basket that we like to fill each week. It’s much more cost effective, I must say. She loved books like the Ivy and Bean series and classics like Black Beauty (short form, not original). She is mad for Bearnstein Bears and Lola books. She is currently in the middle of The Secret Garden (original, read mostly aloud by me and occasional paragraphs by her) and she likes to run off with any spare luggage keys she finds in hopes that they’ll open a secret garden door should we stumble upon one.

She loved practicing her penmanship. She wants to “do cursive” next year, so we shall. She loved reading poetry, especially Silverstein.

Science was potions, (Sofia’s invention–salt, water, soap, whatever else she found in the kitchen to “do spearments” with), and cooking. (Scrambled eggs: “I don’t need your help mom. I got it.”) Magic School bus videos and experiments. And she was very into the Monster Inside me series, worms and bed bugs and if I never have to see another one of these videos, I’ll be fine with it, especially the one about the guy who found a worm crawling down his thigh in the dark one night. She is obsessed with head lice, worms, and dandruff. I count all this loveliness as opportunity for science. Here is a photo of what the chickens in Taiwan look like when you thaw them and take them out of the freezer bag. It’s Science!

All of this “schooly” stuff took less than 2-3 hours a day. We would sometimes go together to the hotel or apartment lobby and do some work together, sometimes in the office or at the dining room table. It was amazingly simple and easy and unexpectedly fun. I like a bit of routine, so we’d usually “do school” from 9-11 or so and then I’d find us doing things that would “count” if you were so inclined to keep track of that sort of thing throughout the day. Learning just happens. (All my Unschooling pals told me this over and over and I would roll my eyes at them behind their backs. Sorry ladies: I take it back. You were right.)

She took daily Mandarin private lessons with sweet Leli, a friend and tutor, but kicked and screamed the whole way. I think it was her way of dealing with homesickness, and the fact that many Taiwanese speak English, (or just because Mandarin is so kick-ass hard to learn)so her Chinese is not as strong as I had hoped. We may keep it up in the fall or we may return to Spanish.(I made it through eight months of living in Taiwan knowing only how to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Hello.’ I’m kind of an International Jackass. A.K.A. An American.)

She had thrice weekly violin lessons with a private tutor.

She took a Taekwondo class with a master teacher who was magnificent.

Computer time was for when she woke up earlier than me, when I was fried from being up with Lily all night. and were her favorites.

And the rest of the time we played, went to museums, day trips, hung with her good friend Taiwanese pal Brian or her friend Ingrid, another LOP film family. We made friends with the wait staff at a local pizza joint and had a play date with all of them at our place.

I did not stress about Lily, our two year old. We did not use a curriculum with her learning to walk and talk (I joke….) and she spent her days reading, running around a local park, playing with the occasional Taiwanese kids we encountered at museums or out in the world. There was a joint down the street from our apartment called “Baby Castle” that was good fun. Lily could understand Mandarin pretty well by the time we left and she would even use the Mandarin for “come here” instead of English. This post is mostly about Sofia because no one wants to know how I homeschooled Lily last year. I get questions about the starting of official school–Kindergarten. But I can’t resist: Here is Lily with Chai Ling, our invaluable nanny. She liked to wear panties as hats, and who were we to tell her no?

There were definitely days when I thought, “What am I doing?” There were middle of the night moments when I’d wake up with a thought like, “Sofia can’t tell time yet!” There were days when the girls fought and screamed and I lost my patience and then I’d remember the keynote speaker from the HSC conference who said, (my paraphrase from memory, with hauntings of Claudio), “You will have those days. Days when you question everything, the laundry is miles high, the house is a mess, you haven’t had a wax or haircut in over 6 months, and you feel a definite Death of Fabulous. When that happens, do this. It works. Throw your hands in the air (above your rats-nest un-highlighted hair) and scream FIELD TRIP. And get everyone out of the house.”

I did that a few times.

And then I would treat myself to a massage or facial or a walk around the block by myself near the temple and let the sandalwood incense calm me down and bring myself back to fall in love again with this amazing circus life we chose.

Right before we left Taiwan Sofia and I were taking one last walk to the ice cream store and she turned and looked up at me and said, “Mom, thanks for homeschooling me. I love it.” Cue the sappy music.

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My man!

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Writerly Wife

When I first stopped drinking I thought my life was over and that I would never write again. Not that I wrote that much drunk. I wasn’t published, (never sent anything out), and hardly ever told anyone but the little writer’s group I attended sporadically that I was even interested in writing.  I was closeted and done, before it even began. I was 27 years old.

I’m now 41 and married, and it feels like I can’t write because what if I say something to offend my husband? I could never understand people afraid to offend their family. What’s family for if not for offending?

I recently finished a first draft of “Floyd,” the memoir of my misspent youth tracing the trail of my dead-father by interviewing his friends and lovers and trying to find myself along the way. My sister read it and she said, “It’s funny, but Jesus, you’re not going to let Claudio read that, are you?”

“Why? What’s the problem?”

“Just… Jesus. Keep it to yourself.” She elongated Jesus into ten syllables. “I wouldn’t let my husband read it if I wrote it,” she said.

I used to mock all the wanna-be writers in the aforementioned group. I’d call the group leader, Bruce, and complain about them. “Fucking housewife wanna-be writers,” I’d say. “Can’t you fill your group with some real writers?”

“They are actually very complimentary of your work,” Bruce would say, thinking, I suppose, that if I knew they liked me I would have some grace.

“What do they know? They’re housewives!”

And here I am, a housewife, desperate for a moment to myself to write, and when I get it, I wonder. Will that offend my dear husband? Like I’m living under Taliban rule and he could behead me. Like it’s still the 1950’s and I need to be ladylike.  Like the time I lisped in front of a producer on one of his jobs.

“You lisped? Why would you lisp?”

“I don’t know. I thought it was funny.”

“She thought you were weird.”

“I am weird.”

“Don’t lisp anymore.”

“Yeths, dear.”

It’s my own fault. When we married he had yet to read anything I wrote. Bruce asked me, “He’s never read your writing?”


“How are you marrying him?”

“It’s not like I am a secret porn star or something. I’m not even published.”

“Yes,” Bruce said, “but writing is so much who you are.”

I liked that Claud never got in my face about things. I could leave my journals around the house and he’d never crack one open and peer inside. He left me space to breathe, which I never felt before in a relationship. I felt safe and like I could relax. Maybe not wholly seen, but who wants to be wholly seen? That takes time; I daresay it’s what marriage is about.

Maybe those f-ing housewives from my writing group were working on the exact thing I’m struggling with now, same as then: Voice, perspective and the audacity to put it on the page. Will my husband still love me? Will I mortify my children? Worst of all, will anyone read it? Same thing. Doubt. Fear. Anxiety. I know these Biatches. So old, these friends still sitting at my feet and nothing at all to do with my husband.

But I do know this. I know if you, whomever you are reading this, came to me and told me you had a dream–whatever your dream–I would put my hands on your shoulders and say, “You must do it. You must heed the call.” Perhaps you would jump back, unnerved by my ferocity. But I would look into your eyes and tell you, “Do it. I know you can do it. I hear it in your love of what you are talking about.”

Maybe I would lisp for you. “Don’t be thscared. Justh thsee yourthelf doing it, and thoar.”

So I sit writing a blog when I could be editing my work. I have a thousand fears and only one raspy, older voice who says to me, “Kelli, for Christ’s sake. You’re forty. What are you waiting for? Let ‘er rip. Get on that hog and ride, girl.” I wonder who she is, old broad. Muse?

Do you know what I am talking about?


Posted in Writing | 4 Comments

When We Were Last Happy

Today Claudio was showing Lily photographs on his phone and I overheard him say, “That is a picture of when we were last happy.” I was curious as to when he thought that was. Was it last weekend when we went as a family to Kenting, driving and hacking, both girls sick, and playing “The Twelve Princesses” on the car CD player over and over and over? Was it a shot of the girls both asleep at the same time (has that ever happened?)

It was taken at his 40th birthday party, before either of the girls were born. We had just met. We were basically strangers to one another at this point. It was the first time I met his parents, who were sitting across from us as the photo was taken and I recall my thought was, “No tongue in front of your mother, for the love of God.” Here is the photo: When We Were Last Happy, per Claudio.

He didn’t yet know how I pack (read: everything.) He didn’t know I hate to fly, have read every self-help book out there, had yet to see me give birth twice, and hadn’t met my mother. But this is When We Were Last Happy.

When we met, I was fed up with dating and being led astray with at first fluff of love. I interviewed him before our first date; I required references. He gave me his ex-wife’s number, so we had drinks.

At the point this photo was taken I still believed him when he told me that yes! He would love to go with me to an Intimacy Couples Yoga/Chakra Cleansing/Raw Food/Meditation Retreat with me.  “I’m looking for that kind of guy, Claudio, and tell me now if you’re not Him, because that’s what I want.”

I believe he told me, “Yeah. I’ve been wanting to go to one of those things.” I didn’t know him well enough to know he was mocking me, or maybe he faked earnestness in effort to get laid.

Another month after this shot we were pregnant with our dear Sofia. Now it’s six years later and we have two kids. Our second one, Lily, has not allowed me to sleep for a solid-8 since she was born. She’s sitting on my lap now as I write and nursing because I am too lazy to wean her and I’m afraid she’ll never sleep if I do. We homeschool, though Homeschoolers scare Claudio.

It dawns on me that perhaps I scare him.

This is When We Were Last Happy.

I know, I know. The poor bastard is tired. He’s been working from 4:30am till 10pm for months. And then turned upside down and shooting nights, and then immediately back to a day schedule. It’s the film business. It’s been a long haul shoot here in the Taichungle of Taiwan. I think he needs a long series of naps and some time in nature away from a tank of water and a black box where he looks at images of a boy adrift at sea all day, every day. But still. When We Were Last Happy?

Here is a shot from Mother’s Day. I’m no Oscar nominated photographer, but this shot breaks my heart. It’s my Tres Corazons. This is all I need in this world. I have everything I never thought I wanted. I’m a housewife, I homeschool, I love my husband and once in a while I can sit down and write something. What else is there?

I also want to say to him, “You douche. We were happy last week. We’re happy now under all this exhaustion. We’re rich–our kids are healthy. That’s money in the bank. We have each other. I’m faithful to you. We have little kids who wake up happy to see us. We have all our faculties. Our bowels work! This is life, brother. We’ve got it good. This is what heaven on earth looks like. Fuck the Rapture. This is it, my brother, this is it.”

He’s so tired I think he’d stare at me blankly, like he often does after one of my diatribes. I wonder what he’s thinking in there, like that  Tom Waits song, “What’s he Building in there?” Is he wishing he could go back after this sweet tongue-in-the-ear party moment and wish it all away? This is When We Were Last Happy? I’m happy every god-damned day. No matter what. I pick happy, even as I know you will never, ever attend a Yoga/Into-Me-You-See retreat and you’re not as talky as I would like, and you like to mock me. Marriage is hard. Knowing someone well can be a bitch.

But I am happy today, dang nabbit. I’m happy right this second. And I love you even though you kill me with these off-the-cuff little phrases you sometimes say, like, “This is When We Were Last Happy.”

Here’s Sofia art:

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Tina Fey is a C-word

I woke up yesterday cranky and resentful. I felt hungover. I scanned my mind to see what could be bothering me and found it: Tina Fey. I read her memoir the night before and there was a line in it that didn’t much bother me at the time of reading, but overnight, had brewed and festered into a full scale resentment.

Here is the line: “A coworker at SNL dropped an angry C-bomb on me and I had the weirdest reaction. To my surprise, I blurted, ‘No. You don’t get to call me that. My parents love me; I’m not some Adult Child of an Alcoholic that’s going to take that shit.'”

I took personal affront. Biatch!

My pop was a drunk. He was a car salesman and a wild man and he loved his scotch. And he called me the C-word on a regular basis. Like from the age of ten or so. As well as Super Bitch, Hell on Wheels, A God-damned Pain in the Ass, and he would threaten to sell me to his customer, the King of the Gypsies, as a child bride. I kept a poster in my bedroom with a ballerina on the front with the aspirational saying, “Dream it and Become it.” On the back of it I wrote down all the names he called me as evidence.

“Fuck you, you stinky twat,” he’d say.

“This isn’t normal,” I would scream at him, Sharpie in hand, as I made permanent record of his transgression. “Normal fathers don’t call their daughters stinky twats.”

“What do you know of normal?” Floyd answered. Floyd and I fought like cats and dogs.

But how dare Tina Fey suggest he didn’t love me.

The first time I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” I had a flashback to my childhood. It was how we lived, Floyd and I. We screamed and yelled and ranted. That movie felt like home. Except I wasn’t Liz, matching him drink for drink (that followed years after he died); I was a member of Barbara Bush’s ‘Just Say No’ crowd and stayed up late waiting for him to come home from the bars so I could berate him for driving drunk at 3am.

“We’re gonna lose everything, Floyd!” I’d say. “Killing yourself would be the best case. If you kill someone else, they’ll sue us for everything we have.” Momma Bean would be sleeping in the waterbed in the master bedroom  while I paced and screamed at him. He would cook liver and onions and call me a Ball Buster. Which, for a 12-year old, I kind of was.

It took me a long time to get over this. I used to cry every time I’d see a loving father and daughter going feeding the ducks or just sitting talking over a bowl of ice cream at a restaurant. I was unkind to the men in my life because it took me decades to understand that men have feelings too. (Trust me, they do.) I hired shrinks, went to support groups and conferences where you cry and strangers hold you after you fall backward into thin air. I opened a hotmail account in Floyd’s name and sent myself fatherly letters from him in the afterlife. (Read: Hey Kiddo, It’s your father. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke. Now get off your ass and get back out there. Love, Floyd.) It worked surprisingly well. I don’t cry when I see good fathers out on the street, and my husband is a very loving father to our daughters.

Last year I was following said sweet husband around our house, harranging him for something, he finally turned to me and screamed, “Shut the fuck up,” as loud as I’ve ever heard anyone yell. It shut me up and for a moment I had the strangest feeling. I’d not been cursed at for so long I forgot how it felt.

And then I collapsed in laughter so hard I thought I would pee. Claudio stared at me as I slapped my knee and thrashed about laughing. “That’s a good one,” I said. “Shut the fuck up! I love it.” It took me awhile to calm down and he watched me with an odd expression on his face, no longer angry.

It took me some time to figure out why I was laughing so hard at something that could have sent me into righteous anger at Claudio. In that moment I felt a kinship with Floyd; I got him for one second. I’m not saying he was right for calling me names all those years, but in that second I finally saw how my harping at him may have felt. I empathized with him. I saw my part, even though I was a kid and he was the big Adult. No, no, no, he shouldn’t have called me names or tried to break my spirit, but I gave it right back to him. I loved the fight. And after he was dead I missed having him to scream at.

Claudio, by the way, has never cursed at me again.

The other day I asked Sofia what the worst word she could think of was. After a furrowed brow and long thought she said, “The baddest word is Shut up! And No Christmas for You!”

“Whoa, those are doozies. I know I’ve slipped a shut up now and again, but where’d you hear the Christmas one? We don’t say that in our house.”

“I read it in a book. Do you think a kid would really just get a lump of coal for Christmas?”

“Not on my watch.” I said.

I have great compassion for the little girl Kelli who was called all those names, and I have  great compassion for Floyd, who didn’t know how to live happily and at peace with his family or himself. Being an alcoholic is hard. I dare say it sucks. It was harsh on our family. But if it’s true that children get to pick their parents before we are born, then I chose well. He was the perfect father for me. I had to figure out my own way to be at peace in this world, and I don’t think I would have paid so close attention if he were not my dad. I noticed my own problem with alcohol much sooner than I could have with a “normal” dad. I would not be as grateful for my life now if I didn’t have Floyd in my childhood. I wake up grateful and awed at the fact that I’m alive.

He used to tell me, “I hope you have two little girls and you have to put up with the shit I have to deal with. Karma’s a bitch.” I think of that a lot when I’m with my little girls. Karma. This karma is such a dreamy bitch.

And brings me back to Ms. Fey. Her book is a good read. You’ll laugh. The lady can write.

Read a slice of it here:



Posted in Spirit | 5 Comments

Sofia and her God Bucket

Sofia has taken to carrying a white basket with sparkly gold Easter grass most everywhere she goes. The basket has numerous treasures hidden inside it and one tupperware container with 3 pink bows and 3 purple bows that she carefully sealed shut with plastic wrap. Last week when we were hanging out in the lobby of our apartment building she took the tupperware container out and held it over her head and walked around shaking it and saying, “This is how I serve God. Serve God. Serve God. Serve God.”

I looked at Claudio and shrugged. “Not me,” I said.

“Where’d you learn that?” Claudio asked.

“Prayer class,” she answered.

He gave me a look.

“I promise you, we don’t have Prayer class in our home school.” I said. He looked dubious. “Not that Prayer class would be a bad thing. Just the other day I was worried that Sofia had no spiritual instruction at all. I thought maybe we should take her somewhere–I don’t know where. I was thinking maybe we should tell her about Noah’s Ark or something.” I looked over at her running in circles singing her praises to God. “Maybe not.”

Sofia sang, “I’m gonna praise God everywhere, praise God everywhere, serve God everywhere.” She took her gold sparkly grass out of her bucket and spread it on the floor  in front of her and started praying and singing with her hands in prayer position.

I’m sure mothers everywhere worry about their kids being odd, but especially as a home school parent, I worry about this. I’ve been trying to get over it and just let her be. This fall when we were at a tennis club, and she was changing clothes for her tennis lesson, she got freaked out by the automatic flusher toilets and ran around the club changing room naked screaming, “Automatic Flushers!” My first thought was, “Home Schooler.” I know! I’m an evil mother. Her praising God fills me with similar horror. And pride. And then horror again. Followed quickly by joy and pride. I did not know this is what motherhood felt like.

Maybe all kids have sweet little hearts for God before it is mocked out of them at school. I’m sure this behavior wouldn’t be okay in a school, but then, maybe it would. I felt odd my whole life, so maybe odd is normal. I looked down at her.

“She looks like Sergio.” I said. Sergio is Claudio’s father, and he has always been a Spiritual Giant. He meditated in a homemade elevator surrounded by twenty mirrors during Claudio’s youth. He taught EST classes. He smoked a lot of pot and ran around naked. When I first met him I found him to be filled with the Spirit of Joy. I’ve never met anyone happier than Sergio.

“Don’t put this on me. This is you,” Claudio said. “You baptized her in the tub.”

“Ok. Better than in a church, no? Harmless little ceremony.” I turned to Sofia, “Who teaches you Prayer class?” I asked.

“YOU don’t,” she said. “I just learn, Mom. I know God. She is very nice. I’M GONNA SERVE, SERVE, SERVE GOD!” she sang.

Claudio said, “God is paying me back for all my disbelief.”

“She is.” I said.

“Mom believes in God. Dad doesn’t. Dad doesn’t even like the word God.” Sofia continued. I don’t know who she was talking to. “Dad likes us to say ZIGGA WADDA WHODA BIT instead of God.” And then she sang some more praises to God.

It’s true. Claudio doesn’t like me to say the name of God. For awhile we called God “Bob Smith.” It was a more neutral name for the ever-loving Spirit of the Universe. But there is a car dealer in L.A. named Bob Smith and we would be driving and having a fight and I’d say, “Look! A sign! Bob Smith wants us to stop fighting and love one another!” when we’d pass a dealership billboard. Claudio got annoyed and that’s when he chose ZWWB as the name of God. I have yet to bring ZWWB into any conversation.

But watching Sofia, I felt a tinge of envy at her total freedom. God is constantly on my mind in one way or another. But not in a God-dy way. More like a stream of gratitude or a conversation in my mind. I wake up in the morning amazed to have another day to spend. I can be moved to tears by some quality of light in the afternoon or amazed at how good it feels to breathe in and out. Lily’s little hand on my cheek first thing in the morning moves me to tears. These things all make me think of the grace of a Higher Power, call it what you will.

I don’t remember ever not believing in God and talking with It (as Sofia references God when not calling her a She…) but it’s not really something I share with anyone.

Other than all you Bloggers.

Posted in Homeschooling, Taiwan | 4 Comments

Coming home!

This is a Taiwanese Mini-Van. Look! No car seats!

Things I will miss about Taiwan:

Our nanny, sweet Chai Ling

Firecrackers in the street to move out the spirits

Tofu stands

Sofia’s best friend Brian and his mommy, Aileen, “The Angel of Taichung”

Walking everywhere and people always around

Waffles in the apartment lobby and the gym

Everything in Mandarin around me so I have the quiet of my own thoughts

The lovely, warmhearted, beautiful people of Taiwan. I love the Taiwanese.

What I Am Excited About Returning To:

Our friends

Our home

Trader Joes

Almond butter

Mrs. Salisbury, the world’s greatest violin teacher and Sofia’s tutor, Terry

The gardens around our home

Homeschoolers! There are none in Taichung

My vitamix (Never leave home without it)

Raw foods

The woman who does my eyebrows! It’s been so long I can’t even remember her name!


It’s all happening so fast and I’m noticing everything as I spend our last month here. It’s a miniature version of life. I wonder if at the end of my life I’ll feel the same: “It was such a fun and wild adventure and it went by so quickly.”

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I suck at Scrabble

Claudio and I have “Word with Friends” for iPad–basically Scrabble. Claudio originally thought I would be great at it because, well, I always yap about being a writer. No, Writer, capital W. And I always have my head in a book. Listen, I’m as shocked as he is that I suck. I am horrible at Scrabble.

Scrabble is teaching me something about myself I could have learned years ago were I paying closer attention. It teaches me something about my writing, my basic personality type and I’m wondering if I can change it or if I am just stuck.

Let’s frame it in the past. In the past, I hated to lose and gave up…(just so as not to keep this pattern going. Language is powerful and intentional.) If in the first two moves I had 16 points and my husband opponent had 64, I wanted to throw my iPad off my balcony. I was ready to quit.

Last night I was almost 100 points ahead of Claudio, and he wasn’t affected at all. I was texting him, “Bean is the new Ming!” (Ming is his co-worker who is particularly adept at Scrabble.) Claudio just shrugged and said, “It’s not over till it’s over.” And he just plodded along and came back and beat me by 100.

Actually we’re still in mid-game, and I’ve been ready to give up.  I was devastated and he said, “Hey, I just played sad-ism for 64 points!”

“You don’t even know what that is! It’s sadism, not sad-ism.”

“Who cares? It’s worth a lot of points.”

I’ve been noticing that Claudio has a certain freedom and joy around language, or at least Scrabble, that I do not have.

Is this like life? Claudio built up a career for himself by just plodding along and having fun on the way and working hard? Never giving up, and never taking any of it too seriously and learning the “silly” 2-letter words that no one ever uses in real life? If life is a game, am I just a poor participant? A give-upper and read-a-booker?

I think about this today as I head back to edit my memoir. Is there a way to plod my way through this without being a sadist? Without hating myself  or kicking myself all along the path and eventually giving up again and putting the yellowed manuscript back under the bed? Because I never played games as a kid, am I forever behind in the rules of life, the fun of playing just for the fun of it? Is my ego so out of size that if I’m not President of the club I don’t want to play?

I hope not. If knowledge is power, maybe I can do something with this. I woke up cranky and irritable today, and while Sofia is studying violin with her tutor I intend to begin rereading the manuscript. Here goes.

It sucks to suck. If I don’t try, try again, I’m certain to keep sucking.

Off to the game of life!

“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

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Lily’s Nightmare and Our Late Nights

Ok, now I’m blogging instead of editing the memoir. I have no idea where to start on this mammoth beast, so I’ll tell you instead of Lily’s first nightmare…

Yesterday she woke up screaming a high-pitched horrific scream and crawling with her little body like something was happening. She has had a terrible time of sleeping since she was born. She doesn’t like to sleep alone and so after much suffering on all sides, I’ve given up and let her sleep beside me at night. She is fine for a 1 or 2 hour nap, but at night she must have a human beside her.

Anyway, she woke up screaming and I happened to be right beside her. I hugged her to me and asked her, “Was that a nightmare? Were you having a bad dream?” She is now able to talk and tell me so much more and she nodded and said, “Ya. Ya. Woof.” She told me she was being attacked by a dog and when I asked where he bit her she told me her knees, her head and her neck. She seemed to feel better telling me all about the woof-woof who bit her and we had a long talk about telling the dog NO and to GO HOME. And I assured her that Mommy and Daddy would never let a bad dog get her.

It’s now Monday at almost 11am and she is still sleeping. Maybe she finally can get some rest?

She has been talking in 2 or 3 word sentences and is quite taken with the moon, the large, shiny moon of the last 2 nights. Her nanny Chai-Ling showed her the moon when she was babysitting. I guess I’ve forgotten to show Lily the moon because we usually go to sleep so early here. Lily was certain I didn’t even know about the moon. She woke up after we came home and she would not go back to sleep until she took me out on the balcony and showed me the moon. She kept saying, “Moo! Moo! NaNa (her name for nanny) Moo big!”

I did not have the heart to tell her I’ve know about the moon for years and forgot to tell her about it. Her favorite book is “Good Night Moon” and I think she thought the moon was only a literary device. It’s real! There really is a moon, Mom!

Last night we took a late night walk to Finga’s, an American-style deli here. We walked through side streets and could see into shops and houses. Sandalwood was drifting in the wind, and night in Taichung feels somehow more foreign than daytime. I suddenly realized we were thousands of miles from home on the other side of the world. I felt very alive and so happy to be with our girls and my favorite husband, under a very large moon. Lily fell asleep on Claudio’s back and he played with her little limp-sleepy hands. There were no dogs in sight and I felt incredibly happy.

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I’ll be committing this to memory…

Thanks to my pal Eddie for finding this one.

From 12 Step Prayer Book # 67

Lord, keep me from the habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from wanting to control everybody’s affairs.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details–give me wings to get to the point.

I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others’ pains. Help me to endure them with patience, but seal my lips on my own aches and pains–they are increasing and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint–some of them are so hard to live with–but a sour old person is the crowning work of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.

Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but You know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

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