Monday, December 30, 2013


Last Sunday was a day full of performances. Ken led his little class in reciting the first part of the Sermon on the Mount at our church in the morning. It sounded beautiful. He conducted them like a choir. Their voices were powerful and confident. Sometimes they spoke individually, sometimes the boys, then the girls, and sometimes all together. No mistakes! There's something powerful about God's word spoken with gusto.

And then in the evening, Anna and Lydia had their first ballet performance! It was at another church, where their ballet teacher attends. There performance was a part of the church's Christmas program. Very, very cute.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stroke of genius

This doesn't happen often, so I need to document. The kids' lovely, doting cousin sent them a few items of clothing yesterday. Very cute; very classy. But one of the shirts that they both received, I decided we needed to give away despite its beautiful wine-red color. And then an idea popped into my head.



Since I am not interested in having my girls rocked ever, save when they were babies, these few drops of ink have spared them a sad parting. They are now free to wear these shirts.


Friday, December 13, 2013

extra protein

My dear Lydia.

This little chunkymunk (who is really excelling in drawing) need not worry about her riboflavin intake.  About a week ago, in a desperate attempt to be set free from re-filling cups of water because a fruit fly happened to drop in, I explained to the kids a study that I had heard about long ago. It's very vague, but I remember reading about Indians living in Great Britain suffering from some sort of ailment due to the lack of insects that would otherwise be hidden in vegetables. Food in England was clean to a fault. Insects are a wonderful source of protein and other necessary nutrients, so take advantage of one in your water, was my conclusion. Joseph took to it right away, and swallowed the next fruit fly floating in his water. Life became a little easier.
A few days ago, after Lydia saw Joseph drinking down a fruit fly, she noticed one in her water.
"A fly!", she said triumphantly. She took her two unwashed fingers, and rooted around her water for it until she had it in her grasp.
"Lydia, you don't have to eat it. It's ok."
"But Joseph did!", and she stuck her fingers into her mouth and swallowed.
Oh boy.
Well, I guess this new lifestyle really can't hurt, unless they we start exploring unknown phyla.
It's a bit scary, the power we parents have in the lives of our children. At this stage, anything we say is unquestioned truth.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cinch it in

What do you do with a son who, inspired by his Robin Hood book (thank you, Sherilyn!), proudly steps out of the house with a belt cinching everything in tidily at his bellybutton, if not above?
"Mom...", he said with bright eyes and an expectant smile, hands in his pockets. That's when I saw it. Aaah! So at first I admired it a little, then I went right into why that look wouldn't work for him. 
"You see, it's more like something ladies would wear." (note to self: walk him through the Michelle Obama fashion blog which I unabashedly follow)
"No, Mom! Don't you remember those pictures in Robin Hood? They were all men."
Oh dear. How do you argue with an illustration? I was torn. How good to know Joseph won't bend to the whims of fashion. He is his own man. But noooo, not this! 
Well, that Saturday, he wore that belt with pride. Sunday morning (this very morning), when he came out once again with the dreaded belt, I said NO. 
"I'm drawing the line here, buddy" I pumped all the authority I could into my tone. 
"Well, I'm crossing over that line." He intuitively knew I couldn't dictate that deeply into his affairs.
"I've already built a brick wall on the line." 
By this time Anna piped up, happy to be on Joseph's side. "Joseph, say you break down the brick wall! Say that!" I think he said it. Anyway, yes, he wore it to church. He pointed it out to some of his friends. He was completely oblivious to the fact the some thought it a bit odd. In his world, he was Robin Hood in all his broad-shouldered, muscled-thigh glory...with a sturdy belt to cinch all that power in.

I tremble to think how long this might last...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Anna learned how to crochet two days ago! She has an extra share of dexterity, so it only took about 10 minutes to teach her, and she was off.

She was hooked. Here she is supposedly watching "Learn to Read" with Lydia.

That evening, Joseph asked me to teach him. I was too busy planting beans, so he actually allowed Anna to teach. After a little fine tuning, he got the hang of it.

So as of two days ago, Joseph and Anna have garnered a new skill! Here a little, there a little.

Update on Lydia's reading: She made it through the first five lessons, so she and Anna dropped everything and milked the m&ms for all they were worth. This turned into a very long "picnic", with a blanket (they thought of it after I took this picture) and plasticware. I'm not sure how much more Lydia can handle. Even m&ms may not be enough of an incentive to keep her focused. Her attention span just can't seem to handle the load. So I think I'm going to quietly ease out of this. I will wait till she asks to do lessons, and hope she'll forget to ask for a few months. I'm sure the m&ms will keep.

I just had to post this picture. This is pure Anna. She loves to really enjoy her food. She's a saver like her aunt Laura. Laura, we told her the story of the chocolate. :)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lydia's turn

I started Lydia on "Teach Your Child How to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" (thank you, Kristie!) today.

It worked well for Joseph and Anna. I started Joseph right before he turned six, and Anna begged me to let her do it too, so I did. It worked! But every child is different. I'm not quite sure how Lydia will take to it. She has been showing interest in writing recently (her name, and other "words"), and even asked me to teach her how to read once. So I'm giving it a try. I'm going to hold myself accountable to not put pressure. We don't have to succeed. I sometimes forgot that with Anna, and got frustrated at repeated mistakes. I know, that was mean. Then I would remind myself that she was three, and we were doing this only because she was interested.
So here I am again, hoping to remember that we can happily crash and burn with this endeavor. Nevertheless, I have positive reinforcements at the ready - a little plastic teacup full of m&m's (thank you, Anna!..not my Anna) after every five completed lessons. For Joseph and Anna, it was a piece of gum - way back when gum was a whole new concept to them. (I don't know how I managed to keep Joseph innocent until almost six) So that really helped. Oh yes, and Joseph and Anna will get a cup each too, so they can trade colors and have a grand old time. That way, Lydia will have her own little cheer leading team always available to keep her going.

And the writing part is purely for fun. I think there are schools of thought that frown upon learning to write too early. I think of this almost like drawing. We'll keep up the writing part as long as she enjoys it, and drop it if it gets too tedious. We'll drop it all if it gets too tedious, for that matter.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Basil tea

Anna made basil tea today. We have a basil plant (perhaps planted by the owners?) beside our house that has not come to much use. Anna has been wanting to make "basil tea" for a long time. Really? I asked. I don't think you will like it too much. But she was adamant, and finally today, I gave her full, unmonitored use of the kitchen. Was she ever excited! She asked question after question about how much water, how long to boil it, etc. I wasn't sure, so I winged it. Dear girl wanted it to be perfect.
The result was pretty good!
I just googled basil tea, and will tell Anna first thing in the morning all the wonderful benefits of drinking it. She'll be ecstatic. 
Her recipe: Boil basil leaves in water. Strain and add honey.
There you have it.
Actually, she had not yet put honey in my tea when I drank it, and it was still good. So there's really only one necessary ingredient. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rainy days

We had heavy rains about two weeks ago. I was imagining a lazy day inside, and couldn't bare to think what a few boredom-induced naps might do to the bedtime routine. So in my most adventurous voice, I invited one and all to put on their boots and come enjoy the rain. The enthusiasm caught on, and this is what ensued:

They soon spotted the rising pool in the empty cement covered ditch in our front yard, and made a rapid descent. I warned them to walk carefully in the water so it doesn't spill over into their boots and make them feel uncomfortable. With a mischievous smile, Joseph said, "I like water in my boots."  That was all that the girls needed, a leader to show them what unbridled play in the rain was all about. I continued on my way down the hill to tend to the chickens, and when I returned, boots were off and not one inch of dry material remained on any of the three bodies.

Here is Joseph, kicking things up a notch.

I only discovered that the dogs were involved when I looked at the pictures later on. Ken was taking all these pictures. This one looks a little cruel, but... seems Cutie (the dog) didn't mind the pampering that followed her water slide experience. Below, Anna and Lydia made her a boat.

I guess Joseph thought since he managed to throw Cutie in, he could get Rhino - twice Cutie's size - in as well. He failed.

After all the fun had been sucked out of  the rainy day, everyone had a shower and hunkered down for some games inside.

I love that feeling! 

I remember in Shirati, after playing in the rain, getting all clean and dry was the perfect ending to a perfect rainy day of play. All was well with the world. 
Well, this day was almost perfect, except the outcome of the chess game triggered a huge altercation between Joseph and Anna. It took a while to diffuse that one.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Hen and Chicks re-launch

I wasn't made to be a professional photographer for a modeling agency, and I'm glad did not choose that career path. After almost an hour and over fifty attempts, below is as perfect as we could come to a photo for our company, Hen and Chicks.

This is a good sampling of the other fifty photos. AAAAH! How much inspiration does Lydia need to gather from the clouds, trees, and any other object that is not the camera lens? Anyway, it's done.

So we are attempting to sell stuff. We did so on two previous occasions, and it was fun. Now we'll see if folks in Taidong like baked goods enough to buy regularly. Here is the very beginning of this new venture: Ken will translate this page, and link to it on facebook. If anyone in the city places an order, we will deliver on Thursdays. I wonder if it can all really be that simple. Again, we'll see...

(A handy accident - we like the way the "H" in Hen kind of looks like a "K". Both work. Hen and Chicks, Ken and Chicks)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Almost like Shirati guavas

We just discovered today that the guava tree growing right beside our gate is bursting with sweetness. For the past few months, I have watched it dropping countless neglected fruit. I occasionally took a halfhearted bite out of one or two, but it was just too much of a hassle to navigate around the worms. For some reason, when Ken picked some today, they just came alive on our taste buds.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I thought we were farmers

Every now and then I feel like we are making strides toward true farmerhood. For example, today, I managed to erect a few more bamboo poles for my elaborate bean lattice, and plant a few seeds with the girls. I felt good. I felt that I had gotten a lot done...until later on that day, we went noni picking at the home of a family of brothers who have welcomed us to take as much as we want. These brothers raise fish in the gutter beside their house, keep wild bees for honey, raise crabs, raise chickens and ducks, and on top of all that, plant and sell pumpkins, and much more, I'm sure.

The one brother (below) who welcomed us to his noni trees (above), caught some fish for us to take home. 

Then, after explaining how to get bees to move into a man-made hive, quickly disappeared and came back with a bottle of liquid gold. To give away such a scarce resource as raw honey indicates a kind of generosity that I have yet to attain.
The youngest brother invited us to watch him feed their crabs with chopped up fish.

This kind can fetch a pretty high price. They have fur on their claws.

For supper, we feasted on delicious fresh fish. 

Before and After

These skeleton instruments were inspired by Pingu.

We are inspired by this family's resourcefulness. Maybe someday we will be able to add crustaceans to our list of animal husbandry. Maybe someday we'll have our own supply of wild honey. Maybe we'll have a cow and some goats someday!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Perfect homeschooling day

I love days like this. Homeschooling took on a life of its own without a drop of nudging from me. I had two chickens to butcher, and since the novelty had already worn off, I just couldn't turn my work into a homeschooling activity. So while I was busy pulling feathers, I vaguely hoped that they would find something to do. What a happy surprise to witness productive busyness happening all around me! 

Joseph decided to finish making his bow and arrows. Anna eagerly joined in to help sand the bamboo arrows that Joseph split with his ax (so glad that that job was completed with all digits intact).

One of Joseph's arrows was too thin, so he gave it to Anna, who suddenly became inspired to be a teacher. She herded her one student into class and taped math problems on the wall for Lydia to recite.

Lydia, who had previously been singing song after song to herself while climbing over everything, was glad to have an organized activity arranged for her.

Anna even made her her own math notebook, in which she wrote with great care. (oh yes, besides singing, Lydia also wrote a letter to her cousin, Ella. It's that yellow package on the stool)

Ken helped Joseph make a bamboo quiver, and...

project completed! He stuck with it to the end! He can actually shoot pretty far.

Oh, what a lovely day it has been! I got a lot done, and the kids had a day full of activities as if I had spent hours the day before preparing. 

Now how can I make this happen more than roughly once a month?

As if my day weren't perfect enough, we had the most relaxing post lunch reading time, complete with the best ice cream ever - frozen (ba-jiao)banana, cocoa powder, coconut oil and a little water.  That, with some granola and mini chocolate chips on top, and all was most well with the world. This has actually become a tradition. If we have done enough work in the morning to merit a long break in the heat of the day, we milk our "siesta" for all it's worth. Once, when we had been reading for close to two hours after lunch, I sensed we had gone too far.

Suffice it to say, today went very well. I'll be sure to document this day to prove to the officials that creative learning actually happens sometimes.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Puzzle of Taiwan

Perfect homeschooling activity right here. It can't get much better than a thousand piece puzzle; a detailed map of our country, no less! We have already spent many a guiltless minute bent over this perfect educational tool. It reminds me of the good old days at Shirati, when we were almost always in the middle of some vast puzzle with a lot of sky, sea or grass.

(almost guiltless)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

They are all artists

Fascinating the way a child's skills develop. For example, drawing. Anna and Lydia draw together...I can safely say an average of 6.5 days a week. They love it. They do it so much that almost every new picture surprises me because it is so much better than the last one. Joseph doesn't draw as much, but when he does, he takes it seriously. He drew a traditional Taiwanese house a few times (he wasn't satisfied with the first few tries), and employed a ruler to make things just right. I took a picture of it, but don't have time to hunt for it right now. I'll add it later. For now, here is a sampling of Anna and Lydia's art:

Anna loves to draw ladies with pretty dresses, ballet dancers, and elaborate flowers.

Lydia draws the stuff of dreams. Her drawings are hard to categorize. This one, she explained, is Mommy (with hair!) doing birth (or some such cute Lydiaism) to Lydia.

We just might frame this one. Something about the confident, swirly lines catches the eye.

Friday, September 13, 2013

New Glasses

Get a load of Joseph's new poison frog greens

The surprising compatibility of what the glasses technician called "wasabi" green glasses with Joseph's skin brought a little comfort to our aching hearts, when we found out that Joseph's vision has declined considerably. His vision was already worse than mine; now it's much worse. 
We found out that he needed new glasses when the teacher told us he can't see the blackboard from the back of  the room. Yup, teacher and blackboard. Joseph goes to school. So this will be my last post at this homeschooling blog. Just kidding. :) Ken and I decided to let him take Chinese and Math three mornings a week. The teacher does a good job - better than us - so we are grabbing the chance while we can. That's the trick to parent-led education: finding resources, and humbly conceding when it is apparent that the parents aren't always that resource. Sigh. But I'm already seeing benefits to this arrangement, so that's good.

What a big boy standing there all (but not quite) alone, facing the world with his poison frog greens.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lydia's note

Anna showed me this today. She said that Lydia gave it to her.
Ha! Almost don't have to teach the younger ones. They just follow the older ones.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Anna and ballet

Anna's passion has not waned at all in the past three years. It grows ever stronger. I'm still wondering if it was a good idea to watch "First Position" together. Fascinating documentary, by the way. I wanted her to get an idea of what ballet would look like in the future; how tough it could be. As I was watching I knew there was no way we could become that serious about ballet. But it was still touching Anna's reaction to the movie. She put on her ballet shoes, and tried to immitate as many moves as she could. We are now all fans of Michaela DePrince. I wonder if there is another way to pursue dancing professionally. Perhaps it doesn't have to be that expensive, that exclusive, that unattainable. We'll see. For now, it's fun to watch Anna's love for dance manifest itself in almost everything she does. Recently, she has been role-playing as Lydia's ballet teacher. Lydia enjoys that for about three minutes. Anna could do it all day.

As I said elsewhere, every dress I make has to be able to spin for these dancers. Lydia used to ask of all the dresses I put on her, "Does it work?" What good is a dress without spin? (Here's a chance to boast a little: I did it! I just finished these dresses last week, and they actually fit! Sort of. If I had it in me, I would make adjustments, but I don't. So I won't. And I will never make this pattern again. It was fun once. Took too long. I had to adjust a 12 year old girl pattern, and the guesswork that went into the myriad of measurements forces me to conclude that it was a tiny miracle from God that made it all work.)
Oh, the fun they had with these! Oh, the dances they danced! I have to put a few more pictures of just to capture the full range of movement...

Also because I have a feeling they won't be wearing them much, since I won't be adjusting them anytime soon. So I'm just going to enjoy these pictures every time I come to post.
This is Anna's accomplishment today! I never could do the splits as a kid. Never really tried. I wonder if it's too late.
Next week, ballet class starts up again. Anna is beside herself with excitement. Lydia's excitment is mostly fueled by Anna's. Anna will be in the "real" ballet class now. She is expecting real stuff. She has been asking about toe shoes. Cute to watch all the dancing and anticipating that is going on around here. I wonder what all this will lead to...