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Chandra's Blog


Entries in homeschooling (19)


First day

Today was the first day of school. The first time, since becoming a mother almost twelve years ago, that all three of my children will go to traditional school together, at the same time. For twenty eight and a half hours a week. After several episodes of homeschooling and traveling, of book touring and then leading our two lives, one here and one on Isla de Utila, I don't know what to think about this.

Hoffspring leaving their island life

 All the things I thought I'd be so excited to do--go on a long run, start writing on a brand-new project--turned into me rattling around this morning with a second cup of coffee, laying out a few hands of Aces on the Bottom, obsessively checking my email and finally getting out of the house, and browsing (without luck) at the carpet store.

Off to school, Aug 2013

It's funny, in their other life, they learned to tie nautical knots to keep the boat from drifting away from the dock cleat, and leapt barefoot from the boat to their tutor in town. In the other, this past Sunday my father and brothers taught me a hasty and sloppy half Windsor for prep school ties and I obsessed over the minutiae of dress code approved footwear.


After Skyping with them early this morning, J remarked privately to me that the kids look great, though maybe a little like they're auditioning for an Annie Lennox music video. That's ok. It's part of why this two lives thing works. Hopefully, we are shooting for the bigger picture--presenting them with all kinds of options for a life, and hoping we are raising people capable of playing by the rules, (and breaking a few) and figuring out what really matters.


Last night, I wallpapered Hayden's pencil keeper (a wooden Honduran cigar box) with photos of Amigo and Sampson, the dogs he loves in both places, and a tiny cameo of his family, just in case a hip sixth grader whose side part in the photo at left was 'ironic, mom, get it?' wanted a glimpse of familiar faces.  

The hoping we're getting it right is what had me up again at 3:30 am, cutting out Max and Piper's sandwiches in the shape of our stateside house's roofline, and leaving little notes on red paper where the front door would be, telling them I couldn't wait to hear about everything when they came HOME. 


Here's to a great year, and all kinds of new adventures for us all. 

* *** *




Monday Musing -- talk before sleep

Some days with homeschooling my three kids in the middle of a northeastern winter, I wonder at my decisions. Some mornings there is so much whip-cracking and bellyaching involved, I'm astounded. My husband is home from Utila right now and has front row seats to the circus that is our morning routine.

J asked me if it is always like this, and I was tempted to use a phrase that has been long-banned from our relationship, Welcome to my world. Because let's be honest, does anyone, especially among the long-married, ever mean, come on in, can I get you a drink, take your jacket, show you around, welcome you to my lovely world?

But the truth is, it isn't always like this. I can appreciate I've got a pretty good gig, here in this momjob. After we got our busywork done, I took all the kids to the rink where we run "Learn to Skate" on Mondays, which means hours of open ice, friends, and fresh air, followed by Hayden's science club and playdates, Max's hockey practice, homemade spaghetti sauce (where everyone detected the spinach and boycotted!) brownie baking and sleepovers. After reading to Piper and Quinn, Piper's sister cousin age 4, who are on an every-other-on-again-off-again sleepover schedule (it's not as complicated as it sounds) I get to eavesdrop on their pre-sleep conversations. 

Q: Piper! Great news! I can feel the little hairs growing in my armpits! I'm so excited!

<Long pause>

P: Quinn, everyone has hairs in their armpits. Everyone has hairs everywhere.

Q: But these would be real hairs. 

P: Mom. Are you still in here?

Me: Yes.

P: I think I burst another eardrum, just now, while blowing my nose.

Me: Sorry to hear that, honey.

<long pause>

Q: Piper, I can't sleep.

P: Try to do some math problems in your head.

Q: <heaving a sigh> What's MATH?

<long pause>

P: You know what I wish? I wish it were a hundred thousand years ago, and I were a baby, but I still had my sense of humor, and I could just go around eating or stomping whatever I want.

Q: <dreamily> yeah....

Three minutes later, it was this:




La Vida Tranquila -- Pint-Sized Tour Guide

I've never been a good napper. When I lived in Tarifa as a single woman, I spent the siesta hours of the afternoon taking long walks with my faithful dog and a Nikon. Peeking through arched white-washed doorways in this Spanish town with 13th century roots and heavy Moorish influence, I assembled a photo essay called Las Puertas Antiguas de Tarifa. I was thinking today that if I ever put together a photo essay of Utila, my common theme could be La parte posterior de las cabezas Bine y Piper since I spend much of my time in Utila following these two around. It's a pretty good gig.


The Backs of Bine and Piper's Heads 1

The Backs of Bine and Piper's Heads 2















The Backs of Bine and Piper's Heads 3

The Backs of Bine and Piper's Heads 4










Bine (pron. BEE-nuh) is Piper's dearest friend here. Her parents run FLOAT UTILA, the world's largest float tank (designed and built by Bine's Dad). They have one of the best love stories I have ever heard and I could spend hours sipping coffee and chatting with her mom while our kids play cheerfully.

Bine is a creative, curly-haired girl with a whimsical spirit and such a transparent, honest streak she often floors me with her direct imperatives and observations. 

I'm noticing a tender innocence to many of the children of my Utila friends. On the one hand, they are exposed to so much on the streets of Town. I often wish for ear muffs for my own kids when we pass the ferry port and there's crazy shirtless Webb greeting the incoming boat with his tarantula on a stick and some pelvic thrusting as he howls, "GOT-DAMN I WANT SOME FAH-KING GRINGA PUSS-Y!" as the horrified backpacker girls scuttle past. Or there's the diabetic bum begging for soda as he urinates openly next to the cafe where we're having breakfast. Or the crackies spitting at each other in a domestic dispute, or the brash potty-mouths of the twenty-something Aussie divemasters as we pile in the bed of the pick-up truck driving out to beach clean-up. 

But here there is also no TV, no commercials, no WalMart; a complete blissful lack of awareness of mainstream juvenile popculture. Maxim (5) only just learned of the existence of Batman. There is a commitment between the mothers here to maintain that innocence, and preserve some of the wonder of childhood, where afternoons are spent finding snails in the harbor, creating castles for hermit crabs on the beach or visiting bats in abandoned hotels. 

Bine, our tour guide

Today, after Piper's BICA school and yoga and workbooks with the boys in Bundu Cafe, we followed Bine on a tour of her version of Utila. We set out with the girls' hands tucked into mine as we attempted a snake-like single-file through the narrow street, the boys running ahead, and Bine and Pip singing in the sweetest improv soprano soundtrack, 

You have to be nice and caring

to fulfill your heart

and your dreams

of love

You can't be aggressive 

like a bulldog

or Piper's brothers...



 This place caught my attention the first time I traveled from Utila Town to the South Shore by boat, on our way from the US. It is a distinctly dated but elegant structure clinging to the hillside over the harbor. I asked our boat captain so many questions about it--why had it never been finished? who owned it? who lived there? that my kids dubbed it "Mom's Old Hotel".


Bine skipped ahead up the steep, green-slick street of Colibri Hill past a tangle of woods and barbed wire with the promise of bats on the fourth floor and a breathtaking view of the harbor. 

hiking up the hill 

Bat hotel 










I was fascinated by the wild grounds that showed hints of ambition, intricate tile work and the design of future fountains and gardens.

Bine danced past laundry on moss-slick paths, past an ornate red iron bedframe and turquoise bike and tugged open the unlocked door. All four children raced up the stairs screaming and clapping.

Underfoot, decades of guano and fruit pits crunched, amidst panes of broken glass and construction debris.


beautiful tile workIt reminded me of the Disney World attraction "Tower of Terror", set in a 1940s abandoned hotel with endless attention to historical detail to entertain park guests as they stood in hours of snaking line and waited to be thrilled. Only here, as my children clapped to startle bats and climbed through broken windows to balconies, I was acutely aware that no ride inspector or first world litigious system was ensuring their security. 


potentially stunning botanical and water features

view from the topThe view of the harbor below was worth it.



Bine's mom waved to us from the porch of their house below where she was whipping up one of her signature delicious lunches and toddler Gus was no doubt sword-weilding or plunging into their homemade boat bath in his underwear. 


Back inside the hotel, the startled, nocturnal bats flew in and out as we trekked through their territory. Photos couldn't capture it, so I shot a little shaky iPhone video (in between ducking).



bike and bed on the grounds

After I convinced the kids that dropping broken glass from the windows would be a bad idea, we followed Bine back through the overgrown grounds to lookout points. On the balcony of an outbuilding, a young couple kissed, smoke curling up from the cigarettes tucked in their dangling hands. Leafcutter ants stretched a procession a hundred yards long like a miniature landlocked green regatta.

At a fork in the road, we wound up to the Colibri Hotel with the promise of kittens, only to find they had grown into standoffish cats. Instead, we discovered a bright blue pool in a cove of palm trees, and an overloaded avocado tree that rained down its fruit in a gust of wind.


the backs of Bine and Piper's heads 5








A street puppy followed Piper and Bine over the rise in the hill and down again to town, panting and smiling up at them.

A motorbike carrying a family of four zipped past, the baby straddling the gas tank in an overloaded diaper.

An elderly Honduran cowboy in a bright orange shirt bowed and chuckled as Piper and Bine breezed by him.


"Come on!" Bine cried as she and Piper opened their arms like bird wings and rounded the curve of the hill by Johnny's Water back to Town.

"I know where we can see a bulldog named Ceiba and real live green parrots!"

I hurried to catch up. 

* *** *



Other places I am posting...

You can find my latest dispatch from Utila about Why I am Homeschooling in Honduras on either The Huffington Post or a slightly longer version at Anna Cole's Be and Becoming Blog. I'll let readers know when it runs on other sites or publications as well. 

And another reason why we're homeschooling in Honduras this year, in photo form:

the world is our classroom 


 Thanks for reading!


La Vida Tranquila -- Part Four

La Vida Simple


The other day, while waiting for the boat into town, I run into Señor Tino, the general manager for Coral Beach Village. I ask him about agua de coco, something fresh, thirst-quenching and delicious. At home, I tell Tino, I buy my coconut water from Amazon or when I'm in Grand Cayman from Fosters--I regularly drink several cans of Grace brand coconut water con pulpa. Ah, Señor Tino nods, he knows this. One, the fresh agua de coco, comes from the mainland, but has to be brought over refrigerated, and the Grace, is actually an import from Thailand and not available here. We talk about the logistics of bringing over a fresh case of agua de coco when he goes to La Ceiba for the weekend, and then Tino holds up a broad hand and says,

“I think I have a solution for you." When I come back from town later that day, there are ten fresh green coconuts on my screen porch and a dark-blade machete leaning up against the door.

I realize the wisdom of Tino, and smile at my slow transition to a life more simple. In our yard, in the hundreds of acres of Coral Beach, there is an abundant supply of fresh jelly coconuts. Funny that it took so long for me to make the connection between putting my mouth where my intentions are, closed over the sweet cool nectar of something accesible, local and utlimately, simple.


In the States we strive for or at least talk about aspiring to a life that is less cluttered, less frantic, more connected and elemental. Here, over the last week, I am finding it. Sometimes the struggle is as stretching and painful as the dreaded downward dog in yoga I am loathing as my runner’s hamstrings scream. Here, the simple life isn't a choice--it is essential. We wake up at sunrise, the rays flowing in through the ethereal light of our mosquito netting and start our day. Our dog Amigo stretches and pads outside to meet up with his island compadres, Lobster and Princess, Bundu, Foster and Trouble.


J and Amigo making agua de cocoJ brings me the simplest of pleasures—cold, fresh ice water or a jelly coconut with a straw poking out of the top. When the kids get up, they're hungry, and they eat well. Thick pancakes off the griddle or orange-yolked eggs cooked in farm-fresh butter that has a rich array of flavors.


We sweat, and we reapply a generous coating of homemade bug juice, since the sandflies are most active at dawn and dusk. The most ridiculous thing I brought here was not my flatiron but my perfume, because for the next few months, my scent will be an intense blend of lemon, citronella and peppermint.


J takes Hayden for a sunrise SCUBA dive—yesterday they discovered the octopus they have been visiting has laid eggs, which means the end of her life cycle is near. Our friend Brad Ryon, an underwater photographer and marine biologist caught this amazing photo of her:



female octopus and eggs


After diving, J goes to work and we knock off a little schoolwork while everyone is fresh. In the heat of the day, we abandon the house for the beach. In our week here, I have been so proud of my kids and their tenacity, their huge hunger for the ocean, especially Piper, who has a reputation for being somewhat of a diva. At five, she is young to be so comfortable with equipment that can be frustrating, brave to snorkel in a drift current or swell, enthusiastic beyond my wildest hopes.


Art classWe are coming to know the coral heads of the South Shore like landmarks in a new neighborhood. A certain pair of red Christmas Tree worms on a dome of lime-green brain coral the size of a cocktail table signifies the start of the entry to our shallow trench swim home. We often meet a Caribbean whiptail stingray out by the dock, and there are two big-eyed squirrel fish hanging out around the elkhorn coral just in front of our house.




After the water, our appetite is huge. We drink thick smoothies—whatever is ripe and fresh. Even Hayden, my pickiest eater, is guzzling concoctions of mango, coconut, banana, lime and almond or powdered milk. 

Utila Town is a fifteen-minute boat ride away, so we shop frequently, whichever one of us in town, J for work or me for yoga or errands. We go with little plan for exactly what we will eat, selecting based on what looks good and easy. I am learning to browse the various markets since prices for the same item can vary by as much as double. Some items are cheap, significantly less than the States while others, particularly imported American food, can be three or four dollars more per item. We buy only as much as we can carry, and load up the boat.


Boys burning Afternoons are mellow. The wind often picks up. Sometimes I set the boys on caveman tasks, like burning leaves, moving rocks, or carrying food compost out to the crab pile. We are also fostering a pair of kittens and the kids have the job of gentling them and refilling their beach sand litterbox.


 Mostly we lounge and read or paint or draw or play games. We have majorly severed our online umbilicus. Our internet connection is J’s  iPhone, so unless he is home, we are untethered. I wash our clothes and hang them out on the line. Sometimes, by accident or intention, they get an extra rinse cycle because they stay out overnight during the rain. I rinse our dishes with water from our cistern and put them in the drying rack. I refill the seven ice cube trays with bottled water and make sure everyone stays hydrated. Because we are trying to minimize our consumption and output, I wash Ziploc bags and hang them up beside Piper’s watercolor paintings to dry on the porch. The first night we were here, our new neighbors came for dinner bearing the peculiar gift of a gallon Ziploc full of ice and Brad told me we would soon come to see what a blessing both items were. 


In the late afternoon, we exercise on the porch. The boys are particularly fond of ‘mountain climber’—going backwards up the inside of our open staircases on hands and feet. Sometimes, depending on the wind or the weather, we swim again. Amigo is a game dock-jumping and swimming pal. With the incredible underwater reef life here, the kids are learning to bring a mask every time we go in the ocean. Earlier, they would insist, “No, I’ll just swim or flip off the dock,” but hearing siblings squealing through their snorkels because there is some amazing creature underwater--a peacock flounder, a lettuce leaf sea slug, a sunrise talon shell--you can’t see, it quickly got old.


J and the kids roast veggiesIn the evenings, we shower in water warmed by the sun, reapply our spray, and dress for dinner. We eat early—sunset—more of the same. Veggies roasted over a cardboard and driftwood fire, hot dogs or seasoned meat, and of course, rice and beans. Because our house currently lacks efficient solar power and air conditioning or sandfly-proof screening, once the sun has set, we turn the fans on high and settle into the darkness. Online time and before bed, a highlight of the kids day is reading Harry Potter aloud by headlamp. With Amigo and our kitties, the blessed night breeze and sounds of the ocean, we sleep hard. 


Soon, things will be different. The kids' Spanish tutor and our air conditioner will arrive from the Mainland. Piper will be off on her playdates. Max will find his soccer games and Hayden has secured an internship at the Iguana Research Station. During Spanish class, I'll be riding into Town for yoga, work on my third novel and fruit smoothies at Munchies. But until then, we are here, living a life more simple.  






To read Part Three -- First Trip Into Town, click here