Social Enterprises, Homeschooling, and more in the Latest Print Issue of Babiekins Magazine


Babiekins Magazine - Trendsetting Kids Fashion Magazine for Children and Parents - Summer Print Issue 6

Over this summer, I had the privilege and honor to be a part of two more cover stories in the latest print issue of Babiekins Magazine! (Is that cover pure happiness, or what?) I want to give a big shout out to my incredible team — Kelly Roper Photography, Elizabeth Pettey Photography, Priscila Barros, Leslie Schor Creative, and Liz Jacob of Yellow Finch, all of whom worked tirelessly (and sleeplessly!) to make this issue a reality. You ladies rock!

The first story I wrote for this issue is all about the founder of Isabel Garretón, Inc., an incredible trail-blazing immigrant woman who was producing socially conscious garments long before eco-fashion was a business trend. I really enjoyed talking to her about cultural identity, what it means to really “feel American”, and the complicated issues which accompany managing a social enterprise.

I also was able to share my thoughts on homeschooling as a part of the big Creative Education special feature in this issue. As you know from reading my blog, I don’t think homeschooling is the only option, nor should it always be approached as a lifelong option.  For us, it’s the path we’ve chosen for the time being, almost entirely because, despite studies like this, Florida state law is an absolute stickler about the cut-off ages for entry to kindergarten — or any other grade.

So, we’re homeschooling, although I don’t always approach it from a traditional homeschooling mindset.  In this Schoolkins article, I talk about this eclectic perspective, my own positive experience being homeschooled as a child, and how I think it’s important to look outside the homeschool circle and plug into the community at large. I also share my somewhat controversial thoughts on the harm of downplaying academics.

I hope you’ll be able to pick up a copy in your local bookstore; otherwise, you can always order a copy directly from Babiekins as well.

Rug c/o Rugs USA, one of the sponsors of an upcoming education-themed #schoolkins interior design editorial, premiering soon on Babiekins Magazine

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: Childhood and Summertime


Falling asleep reading
backstage at the theatre
Dala horse and ramen
mosaic fountain
Papa and Aveline
Grumpy Aveline and Spanish moss
Post performance blues
Papa and Aveline
sunrise wakeup call
lighting check
big old palm
raincoat indoors
A little too happy to do spelling

“What child, while summer is happening, bothers to think much that summer will end?

What child, when snow is on the ground, stops to remember that not long ago the ground was snowless?

It is by its content rather than its duration that a child knows time, by its quality rather than its quantity—happy times and sad times, the time the rabbit bit your finger, the time you had your first taste of bananas and cream, the time you were crying yourself to sleep when somebody came and lay down beside you in the dark for comfort.

Childhood’s time is Adam and Eve’s time before they left the garden for good and from that time on divided everything into before and after.” -Frederick Buechner

LITTLE STYLE :: From subarctic to subtropic, Scandinavian children’s clothing, Småfolk


Småfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blog

It’s no secret around here that I love Scandinavian design. I’m always fascinated with the contrast between where I live now (Florida), where I was born (Mexico) and where my family tree is rooted (Sweden and Finland, among other places). The contrast is especially vivid at wintertime during the annual Scandi Christmas series, as I’m sitting here in the subtropics, blogging about the subarctic.

Småfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blogSmåfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blog

Denmark-based Småfolk, one of the Scandinavian brands I love, drew me in a long time ago with their iconic apple design and bold 70s-leaning patterns. And I can’t help feeling like the designers behind Småfolk really gets it when it comes to kids clothes — the designs are bright, fun, stylized, and (what a novel idea!) actually appeal to the children for whom they’re designed.

Småfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blog
Småfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blog
Småfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blog
Småfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blog
Småfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blog
Småfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blogSmåfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blogSmåfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blogSmåfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blogSmåfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blog
Småfolk, Scandinavian children's clothing on the Oaxacaborn blog

Had you heard of Småfolk before today? I’d love to see this established brand take off in the United States, too.  I feel like there’s such a big space in the children’s market here for this genre of clothing, and style this good deserves to go global, don’t you think?

GET THE LOOK :: Apple Sweatpants | Leopard Sweatshirt Dress | Yellow Horses Dress | Anniversary Edition Cars Tee | Grey Sweatpants with Orange Apple | Yellow Velour Sweatpants (not pictured)

Småfolk Website | on Facebook | on Instagram

Disclosure of Material Relationship: I received clothing from Småfolk in exchange for this blog post. I did not receive monetary compensation and was not required to present or promote any specific products, nor was I required to express any particular viewpoint. All the photographs, opinions, and experiences shared here are in my own words and are my own honest evaluation. Please be assured, I only accept sponsorship opportunities for brands I personally use and/or would recommend to close friends and family, and I will always disclose any such relationships.

ADOPTION :: 1.1 Million Diapers


Show Hope to Orphans | 1.1 Million Diapers | Give Diapers Now!

I’ve metioned Show Hope a few times before (see 18 Gifts for Giving Tuesday and A Cure for First World Problems). Founded by Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Show Hope runs several care centers in China dedicated to providing loving care — and medical help — to special needs orphans. The care centers go through more than a million diapers each year!

Let’s help Show Hope stock the diaper cupboards —

  • $30 for one package
  • $60 for two packages (choose this option and a donor will fund an additional package in your name!)
  • $90 for three packages/one case
  • $180 for six packages/two cases (choose this option and you’ll receive original artwork from the kids one of Show Hope’s care centers!)

Give Diapers Now

Show Hope Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest

POETRY & WORDS :: Yes, she is my only one


Yes, she's my only one -  A Post on the Oaxacaborn blog

As much as I share here in this public space, there’s much, much more I don’t talk about.

For a long time, Aveline was young enough that I didn’t have to talk about it. For a long time, her age served as some sort of barrier to postpone the questions and contain the curiosity. But as Aveline has gotten older, peoples’ curiosity is stretched thinner and thinner and thinner. The manners are starting to fade, and the collective curiosity is like a wall of water behind a crumbling dam.

On any given day there are fewer and fewer people left who consider the when? and the why? behind her sibling-less status as private information.

I have an only child.

I’m homeschooling an only child.

And I’ve never been more acutely aware of the stigma in those sentences, or how many sets of neatly-boxed little assumptions exist about this fact.

I’m not here to defend anything.

I’m not here to explain a choice. My redemption lies in my Jesus, not in the number of people in my family.

Instead, I’m here to gently remind you that before you judge someone’s choice, remember that we humans don’t even always hold the power of a choice.

I’m here to remind the curious questioners that in almost every situation under the sun, there’s more.  More beneath the surface. More desperate clinging to hope where you think there’s just indifferent apathy. There’s more to a family than the sum of their numbers. There may be sorrow behind the smile. There may be silent prayers that go unseen. There’s always more to the story than you’ve heard.

What you don’t know, is that my daughter Aveline Alenka was a miracle. Her name, Aveline, from the old Irish Aibhilin, isn’t just a name. It means —

l o n g e d   f o r
w i s h e d   f o r
l o n g – a w a i t e d   c h i l d 

— and every ounce of that is true.

She is a miracle. She is, like her Slovene middle name Alenka, “a radiant light”.

Yes, she's my only one -  A Post on the Oaxacaborn blog

See, what you don’t know, is that when I was in my early twenties, my hormones were operating at a menopausal level. What you don’t know, is that I was looked right in the eye and told my body was the functional equivalent of a sixty-year-old woman.

You don’t know this, because I don’t talk about this.

When my long-awaited child was born, it was four weeks before I could cross the room without holding onto the walls.

You don’t know this, because I don’t talk about this.

When she was six weeks old, I was back in the emergency room, with a group of doctors huddled around me while she was asleep on my chest and I was in agony.

You don’t know this, because I don’t talk about this.

When she was two years old, I was sitting in a specialist’s office discussing the ongoing pain from nerve damage.

You don’t know this, because I don’t talk about this.

I’m not telling you now because it’s an easy or a comfortable thing to talk about (it’s not).  I don’t tell you this because I think I am particularly tragic, or unusual (it’s not), or because I think my story is deserving of either pity or applause (it isn’t).  And I’m certainly not writing this because I think it’s good blog fodder (it definitely isn’t).

I’m not even sharing this now because of me.

I’m sharing this because there’s more to all of our stories. There’s more to what we say and what we do and who we are. There’s more to all of us than what is visible to supermarket strangers and inquisitive acquaintances.

I’m not writing this about me. I’m really not even writing this about only children.

I’m writing this for every single person God has ever created, from every walk of life and every nation and every socioeconomic status. I’m writing this for every single person you come into contact with.

I’m writing this because of one truth, one constant, one vitally important principle: everyone has a story. Sometimes that story is silent, and sometimes it’s spoken. Sometimes you can see a peek of it, and sometimes it’s all hidden. But there’s one thing that never changes…

…there’s always more to the story than you can see.

Yes, she's my only one -  A Post on the Oaxacaborn blog

The world is full of love that goes unspoken. It doesn’t mean that it is felt less deeply or that separation leaves a cleaner wound. Its beauty…and its pain are in its silence. Some of us are not blessed with revelations or confessions. Love cannot be spoken, only shown.” -Call the Midwife

POETRY & WORDS :: Homeschooling Kindergarten


Velveteen_May_Aveline_ALE_2

It’s grown on me, this place, this place of swamps and heavy air and tangled underbrush rustling with the sound of lizards, great and small. Oh, the monsoons and the swirling hurricanes on either side of this peninsula don’t do anything for me. And with all the orange-beaked egrets in the world are nothing to the beauty that is the thirsty earth, the hills of golden grasses, and the twisted, reaching oaks of Sacramento Valley. There’s thick damp mist, here, that rests solidly and perpetually across the marsh; but there is nothing in the low clouds that can compare to the distinctive September aroma of scorched earth and wildfire, and nothing in the flatlands that compare to the piles upon piles of tall clouds stacking up against the Sierra ridge, across the horizon. One man’s hazard is another man’s beauty. Tectonic plates shift and the earth shakes on one edge of the world, and the low water tables rises and the earth sinks on the other edge of the world. There is no place safe.

But it’s grown on me, this place.

This place with all its oddities and all its weird news headlines and its slow, endless stares.

Billy Collins knew about the stares. They’re ubiquitous here. Even the animals look, slowly, here in the place where there is “no more snow…no hexagrams of frost…no black sweater”, only “those birds with long white necks”, who “swivel their heads / to look at me as I walk past / as if they all knew my password /and the name of the city where I was born.”[1]

Velveteen_May_Aveline_ALE_4

But, I’m carving out my place here. This little one is carving out her place here. This little one who’s been raised here — this little one who thinks 72 degrees is winter, this little flatlander who thinks overpasses are such freakishly huge mountains, they necessitate shrieking each time we drive across — she’s been helping me see my place here.

Maybe I’ve shrieked a little, too, as I’ve metaphorically driven over high areas that seemed scary to me, areas where it was hard to keep my focus on the middle of the road and not at the unknown dropping off at either side. Just over a year ago, we suddenly started school because my three-year-old wouldn’t stop begging for “more worksheets, p’ease!” and I had no idea where it was gonna go. I wasn’t planning on a particular homeschool path, really. I just waded in to the waters, wishing they were clear, wishing I could see the bottom, wanting to turn back and sit with my feet dug into the shore, but knowing my little one was literally begging for “more school, p’ease”.

But now, a year later, we’re all in.

This little one just finished a full year of once-a-week Chinese language school (and Chinese folk dance). And she’s almost done with her first semester of Yamaha piano and voice. She finished the stack of preschool books ages ago, learned to read Chinese first, then she learned to read English. Now, the crazy kid is half-way through Kindergarten math, and just finished Kindergarten Science. She cried during Spring Break (“No school?!”) and cried when she found out summer meant no school. 

But in Florida, she’s not legally old enough for Kindergarten.

I did hours of research, and toured the private Christian school near us anyway, to see what pre-kindergarten would offer. I wanted it to work; the teachers and administration tactfully told me it probably wouldn’t.

So, friends, we’re all in. We’re all in, despite all the experts saying it’s too early for formal academics.

We’ve grown into homeschooling, just like we’ve grown into seeing the beauty in the rain-soaked jungle around us. <3

Velveteen_May_Aveline_ALE_5

Aveline is wearing the Ale Dress in Earth Poplin from Velveteen

POETRY & WORDS :: Because I Await Redemption


I write because I await redemption.Everyone has an opinion about blogging. Thirteen years ago, when I started writing online — we called it web journaling then — people didn’t have as much of an opinion.

But now, everyone is an expert: Write more about struggles, so you can be transparent. Don’t write too much about struggles, so you won’t be depressing. Take more pictures of reality, so you don’t deceive your readers. Don’t take too many pictures of reality, because that’s just not artistic. Write more about the good, because you should be uplifting. Don’t write too much about the good, because that’s not reality.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after thirteen years of blogging, is that I can’t please everyone. Actually, I can’t please very many people at all. And if I wrote these words in this little space to please people, what a sorry endeavor it would be.

Sometimes I write about beauty, and sometimes I write about brokenness.

Sometimes I write about hope, and sometimes I write about death.

Sometimes, I write about joy.

And sometimes, I write about all of those things — all together, all twisted up and tangled together — because really, isn’t that what life is? A bittersweet mixture of all that is good and all that is evil and all that is Hope and all that is Him and all that has been buried and planted and is yet to blossom, “pressed down, shaken together and running over” [1], awaiting redemption?

I write because I await redemption.

I write because God gave us beauty. Sometimes that beauty is so searingly bright, we can’t even humanly handle the sheer weight of glory. Sometimes that beauty is a promise, seen only through a glass dimly [2], through clouded tears. But always, there is beauty, because always, God is in our midst.

And that is enough to raise your thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex forever will also drown her pride… Perfect humility dispenses with modesty.” -C.S. Lewis

POETRY & WORDS :: That’s the one thing you can’t do, when you’re a sojourner


The one thing you cant do when you're a sojourner (a post on #grief from the Oaxacaborn blog)

When you’re a sojourner, you miss milestones. You miss friends’ graduation open houses, you miss engagement parties, you miss their weddings. You see the highlights, but you miss all the late nights. You miss the unsung moments that expand gloriously to fill the spaces between each infrequent occasion we mark with a long distance  text, or an even less-frequent card.

And then, as time passes, you start missing something else, too.

You miss the funerals.

Your friend dies, and you can’t be there for the funeral.

Your friend’s mother dies, and you can’t be there for the funeral.

Your friend’s baby dies, and you can’t be there for the funeral.

It is not true that distance makes the heart grow fonder. Distance actually makes the heart swell with grief, makes ones whole being ache deeply, wearily, at the realization that

you

can’t

be

there.

Distance  means you can’t be there

to silently hold,

to cry alongside,

to weep together.

They tell you nothing is the best thing to say in the face of grief.

They don’t tell you how impossible it is to fill a blank card with mutual tears, fold it into a stiff envelope, and drop it down down down into the unknown darkness, where it will sail away, carried by unsuspecting hands, and finally land in a faraway box, alone and a bit worn around the edges.

They tell you just to be there.

And that’s the one thing you can’t do, when you’re a sojourner.

INSPIRATION :: A Global Bedroom for a Tiny Adventurer


Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Earlier this year, a kids’ room I styled was featured in the winter print edition of Babiekins Magazine. I shared photos on Instagram and Facebook — but I just realized I never posted any images here on the blog!

It was such a tremendously fun project. I started with the idea of exploring all the different methods of transportation available across the world — ships, camels, elephants, motorbikes. When I walk into this space, I can immediately imagine rattling down the streets of Italy in a Vespa, lifting up high over the ancient ruins of Myanmar’s Bagan in a hot air balloon, or sailing across the waters on a creaky wooden ship.

I tried to pull in as many elements as I could from various countries, too. There’s a doll brought back from a friend’s visit to Kenya, a red and gold bowl and dumpling spoon from Taiwan, pink Hmong textiles, a yellow and fuchsia strand of mirrors and bells originally meant to decorate a camel, an embroidered dress from Guatemala, a row of delightful matryoshka illustrations representing different cultures.

And there’s a cozy reading nook, too, because what better way to transport yourself across time zones and eras than through books?

Thanks to the always-amazing Priscilla Barbosa for capturing this room through her camera lens.

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

Interior Styling: Gina Munsey | As seen in print edition of Babiekins Magazine

INTERIOR STYLING Gina Munsey | PHOTOGRAPHY Priscilla Barbosa

MOBY CURTAIN Thomas Paul via Burke Decor | CAMEL SWAG AS GARLAND WomanShopsWorld on Etsy | EICHO TWIN BED Spot on Square | FLOAT GRAPHITE SHEETS Unison | MR. N LAMP Koncept via Lamps Plus | VESPA PILLOW In the Seam | MOUNTAIN PILLOW JuniperWilde on Etsy | PYRAMID PILLOWCASE Xenotees via Design Life Kids | PASTA AMORE PILLOWCASE Sack Me! via Design Life Kids | PEONI PILLOWCASE Affinita’ Moderne | FACE PILLOW Lately Lily | PAINTED ELEPHANT NECKLACE Gunner & Lux | INDIA TOURISM POSTER Vintage Reproduction
 | BOOK PAGE Vintage Reproduction from Taiwanese School Book | MARITIME CURTAIN Thomas Paul via Burke Decor | ANANA ELEPHANT LAMP Mr. Maria via Cool Kids Company | VINTAGE HMONG TEXTILE PILLOW BohoPillow on Etsy | SEAGRASS RUG Sisal Rugs Direct | AREA RUG Hayneedle | HAPPY PRINT Colette Bream | MATRYOSHKA PRINTS AmyPerrotti on Etsy | HARU DOOR DECAL Made of Sundays | FLOKATI SHEEPSKIN RUG Shades of Light | BE THOU MY VISION PRINTABLE Jessica Sprague | YELLOW THROW Vintage | ELEPHANT GARLAND ON CHAIR Dot & Bo | ELEPHANT BOOKEND TheGoldenLittles on Etsy | BOOKS Vintage | TRAVELING GIRL BOOK Lately Lily MOBY DICK BOOK Baby Lit | MOBY TOTE BAG Baby Lit


LIFE IN PHOTOS :: Perfect[ly Imperfect]


WEB_March2015_Aveline_grumpy_bed

Have you seen the new photoblog Sham of the Perfect? It’s so beautiful.

Life as it is, life as it’s lived.

No need to make a scene. No need to impress.

WEB_March_2015_Vertical_Spider-PLant_Oaxacaborn
March2015_ShamOfThePerfect_GoodMorning

That tangled head of hair, morning’s first light, the one brown crinkled leaf that catches that light….

WEB_March_2015_Vertical_Bedroom_Oaxacaborn

…the pent up energy on the afternoons the rain falls down around us, the mismatched pajamas, the out-of-focus blur.

WEB_March2015_Aveline_sleeping

“What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?

It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside–
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.

But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.

No, it’s all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles–
each a different height–
are singing in perfect harmony.

So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt–
frog at the edge of a pond–
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.”

-Billy Collins

How to Teach Chinese to Kids (When It’s Not Your Native Language)


How to Teach Chinese to Kids (When It's Not Your Native Language) | A List of Easy Mandarin Chinese Learning Resources

I’m not an expert. I didn’t grow up speaking Chinese. But if you’ve followed @oaxacaborn on Instagram or @oaxacaborn on YouTube for any length of time, you’ve heard my daughter speak Chinese. This little fact delights some people, and perplexes others. Now, if you know Aveline, you know that she talks to everyone. EVERYONE, everywhere. Most people, when they hear her speaking Chinese, look bewildered and then quickly look away in confusion. After all, it is completely out of context for a little blonde girl to be reciting traditional Mandarin poems down the aisles of Target in the suburbs.

Why Chinese?

Other people, though ask questions — a lot of questions. Many are just curious, “Why Chinese?”  You’ve heard the old joke, right?

“What do you call a person who knows three languages?”
“Trilingual.”
“What do you call a person who knows two languages?”
“Bilingual.”
“What do you call a person who knows one language?”
“American.”

But I’m not one to talk, since I lost both Spanish and Slovene to the cobwebbed recesses of my brain. So I usually just say, “Why not? Most people around the world learn more than one language, and ~1 billion people speak Mandarin [1]. Only about 480 million people speak English.”

The truth is, while the characters seem intimidating, Chinese grammar is simple when compared to English’s complexities. For the most part, basic Chinese doesn’t concern itself too much with tenses, plurals, the gender of nouns, or articles like a, an, the. There are exceptions to this, of course, but the bottom line is that you can learn Chinese without spending hours pouring over verb conjugations they way you would in, say, French or Spanish. Yes, it’s a tonal language, so the tones are challenging, but children are much better are differentiating pitch than adults — and the earlier a child begins learning Chinese tones, the better. (Here’s a slightly off-topic study on pitch, musical ability, and early language development. But I digress.)

Another question many curious people ask is, “How do you get her to learn Chinese?”

Well, if you have figured out a way to get a human being — much less a four-year-old — to do anything, let me know, because you sure aren’t going to find the answer here. But I can share the resources we use that make the process fun!

Learning Chinese Through YouTube Videos

YouTube is just overflowing with language tutorials, and videos of native speakers demonstrating how to properly pronounce the words and phrases. And it’s free!  YouTube is where it all started, actually. I was trying to find something fun and different for Aveline to engage her brain. She was three, begging to ‘do school’ and ‘have worksheets’ on an almost-hourly basis, and I was going through [English] preschool workbooks like there was no tomorrow.  I really didn’t have some grand, well-thought-out plan to begin Mandarin instruction, I was just trying to get through the afternoon. (True confessions.) She was hooked after just one kids’ video in Mandarin. After that, it took going through several different Mandarin instructional channels before I found a teacher she really connected with, but once we found our favorite teacher, it was amazing how quickly she began speaking Chinese. I can’t recommend Emma form Learn Chinese With Emma highly enough. Our first video? Learning to count from 1-10 in Mandarin Chinese, seen above. Bonus? Learn the numbers, and you’ve learned the tones, without even realizing it.

Flashcards, Audio CDs, and Reference Charts

WEB_Tuttle_Chinese_For_Kids

If you ask me, there’s only one solid resource in this category, Tuttle Chinese for Kids: Flash Cards Kit Vol 1!  It’s just that good. This set comes with sixty-four beautifully illustrated, sturdy flashcards, an audio CD with all the vocabulary words in context, as well as a separate 24×36″ poster which shows the front side of all flashcards. We keep the poster out in the living room at all times, at kid-height, and our daughter consults it constantly. I really believe a big part of success in language learning is to make it a part of everyday life, rather than segmenting it off into a separate “learning” time. Isn’t that true with anything, though?

The CD is very well done. Each track was recorded at a relaxed pace, with pauses in just right places, so the child (and you!) can repeat back what’s said. Because this kit is designed for children, it’s a refreshing change from the stale “Where is the airport?” and “Can you exchange this currency?” phrases taught in so many (dull) language programs for adults. All sixty-four vocabulary words are included in the CD, as well as a couple of sentences for each, so each word can be learned in context as well.  The sentences are spoken in Chinese as well as in English — and some of the sentences are even included on the back of the corresponding flashcards. For those interested in the proper stroke order to write the characters, that’s diagrammed on the flashcard back, too.

(With this, as with all our Chinese language resources, we’ve chosen the Traditional Character edition, which teaches the characters used in places outside mainland China, such as Taiwan. If you want to learn Simplified Characters instead, then you’ll want the Tuttle Chinese for Kids: Flash Cards Kit Vol 1: Simplified Character Edition.)

My daughter is in Chinese school — more about that later in this post — and I noticed that the content covered in this set was very on-track with the content covered in the first semester of her class. This week, since we’re already well into the second semester, I ordered the sequel set, Tuttle More Chinese for Kids: Flash Cards.  These sets have turned me into something of a Tuttle fangirl, actually. Tuttle is a speciality publishing house focusing all Asian language, culture and history, and I’ve discovered it’s a terrific place to order books about Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other Asian cultures.  I guess I can wave zài jiàn 再見 to that money I’d stashed away for a rainy day!

Coloring and Activity Books for Chinese Education: Dover Books

WEB_Dover_Books_Chinese

Dover Books is another great resource for inexpensive, yet impressively detailed, consumable books. The coloring books, like the Chinese Fashions and Mandarin Picture Word Book titles shown here, have intricate black and white line drawings and historically/linguistically accurate captions. No, it’s not a Chinese language curriculum, but it’s such a fun — and cheap! — way to supplement cultural education. The various Dover Chinese Paper Dolls are great too!

Coloring and Activity Books for Chinese Education: Practical Chinese Series

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The way Wendy Lin’s Practical Chinese Book Series is titled is a little confusing — at least, it was for me. I ordered Practical Chinese: Traditional Characters for Beginners I at first, but then realized what I really wanted was the first book, Chinese for Children,which is the red coloring/activity book pictured on the left. There’s no bells or whistles here, and the illustrations certainly aren’t high-quality, but the workbook lets very young children begin familiarizing themselves with with Chinese characters through basic coloring pages, matching exercises, and other similar activities.  The book covers body parts, names of clothes, colors, fruits, numbers, and a few adjectives like “big” and “small”. I wouldn’t really call it curriculum, but it’s a good cursory, hands-on introduction for a young, interested, child. (If you’re learning Simplified Characters rather than traditional, then you’ll want Chinese for Children, Simplified Character Edition.)

Chinese Phonetics and Learning to Read and Write Chinese Characters

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We started out with mostly spoken Chinese, but now we’re moving on to learning to read and write Chinese characters, since Aveline has expressed a great deal of interest in that. (Ok, fine, my strange child is begging.)  And for reading and writing, I LOVE the Chinese Made Easy for Kids Textbook 1 with CD and the accompanying Chinese Made Easy Workbook 1, which also dives into Chinese phonetics. I think the phonetics aspect might be overwhelming if it was someone’s very first introduction to any kind of Chinese, spoken or written — but already being familiar with spoken Chinese, seeing the written phonetic symbols and learning to match them to the tones given on the CD hasn’t actually been very daunting. These books are fun — colorful, energetic, and designed to really motivate and give the child a sense of great accomplishment. They’re early elementary, but could definitely be used for someone older who wanted to start out as well — I’m doing them alongside my daughter. Again, we’re doing the traditional edition, so if you want Simplified Characters instead, you’ll want the Chinese Made Easy for Kids, Simplified Chinese Edition Textbook 1 and Workbook 1.

Your Local Chinese Cultural Center

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Many areas have an active Chinese-American community association, dedicating to teaching Chinese language, culture, and traditions. Don’t overlook this — it’s is an incredible resource! Through our local cultural center, my daughter not only attends language and folk dance classes each week, but she’s also participated in Chinese festivals like the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, gotten to watch traditional Chinese opera, lion dance, kung fu and musical showcases, and even performed a Chinese folk dance performance with her classmates at the big local Lunar New Year parade and festival. It’s a terrific, welcoming community, and she (and I!) are able to practice speaking Chinese with native speakers on a regular basis.

Where to Buy Bilingual-Chinese Books, VCDs and More

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We love to have bilingual and Chinese books around the house, too, to keep the Chinese flowing between classes or workbook sessions. A few places I’ve found to order Chinese books, puzzles, and VCDs (video CDs that get around that pesky DVD region issue) are China Sprout (the site is split into Cultural and Education categories), Language Lizard, Asian Parent, and the Happy Panda Shop.

Where to Listen to Chinese Books and Songs


Like I mentioned before, YouTube is a fantastic, often overlooked treasure trove for language education. On YouTube, you can listen to native speakers reading children’s books in Chinese, or set up a playlist of popular Chinese children’s songs, like the one above. And when you’re ready to search for music videos or other content entirely in Chinese? Head over to Youku (pronounced yo-ku).

Don’t be afraid to begin learning Chinese! To quote a Lao Tzu cliché: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And, today’s internet makes the world so much smaller when it comes to venturing out on a journey like this. There are SO many resources available.

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If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer! And if you found this helpful, why not click here to get this post’s Permalink, then pin it to Pinterest? :)

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some links above are “affiliate links” provided in conjunction with my participation in Amazon.com’s Associates Program. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.  Please be assured, I only recommend products or services I use personally, and I will always disclose any such links.

This post also participated, without compensation, in a Friday Favorites link-up on HipHomeschoolingBlog.com.

INSPIRATION :: Spring/Summer 2015 TOAST UK Catalogue


Ah, springtime, and with it, another delightfully styled Toast UK collection. I love the specific feeling each of these catalogues evokes, and Early Spring + Spring/Summer 2015 Toast edition is no different. Can’t you just feel the strong, early morning Mediterranean sunshine pouring in through the windows and smell the percolated coffee wafting across the sleepy air?

Toast UK Early SS15 House and Home Lookbook -- Wooden tray, metal coffee percolator

Toast UK SS15 House and Home Lookbook -- Patterned bed linens

Toast UK SS15 House and Home Lookbook  -- Grey cushion covers

Toast UK SS15 House and Home Lookbook  -- Colorful and unusual bathroom towels

Toast UK SS15 House and Home Lookbook  -- Teapot and ceramics

Toast UK SS15 House and Home Lookbook -- Stools with colorful hairpin legs

Toast UK Early SS15 House and Home Lookbook -- Stack of quilts

Toast UK SS15 Women Lookbook  -- Baskets on a donkey

Toast UK SS15 Women Lookbook -- Linen Button-down

Toast UK SS15 Women Lookbook  -- Desert Sunrise

Toast UK Early SS15 Women Lookbook -- Mediterranean Style

Toast UK SS15 Men Lookbook -- Wooden Sunglasses

Can’t get enough of TOAST UK? Me neither! That’s why I’ve been posting these round-ups every year since 2010. You can keep on looking through the TOAST archives, or go directly to a particular season in the list below.

POETRY & WORDS :: Sojourners in Borrowed Spaces


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The dehumidifier broke the other day, and with it went the off-kilter rattle, wheeze and hum to which I’d grown so accustomed. The new machine is better — gathers more of this peninsula’s ever-present moisture, runs more efficiently — but it has a quiet gentle hum I barely recognize. The old noise was the backdrop to months worth of midnights, and the new noise is almost unnerving in its calmness.

The house is that way right now too.

For the last week, the walls of this house held extra laughter, extra noise, extra people, and extra fun. Today, mom and dad are driving back through the Georgia rain, heading up past Tennessee, beyond Illinois, where they’ll slide into the snowy land of Minnesota, home — far away from here.

The house is quiet, and even the sun is subdued.

It’s hard to live far away. They’re not over the river and through the woods; they’re over dozens of rivers and through a thousand miles of woods, and it’s impossible to cross that distance as quickly as a map can fold.

We’ve always been a little far-flung, my family, when it comes to the places we pound our tent stakes. We’ve always been sojourners, the kind of people who put down roots everywhere. We’ve always been this way, since I was a little girl in my first family and now as a wife and mother in my second family. In English, the word “sojourner” means “those who stay somewhere temporarily”; but in Chinese, the word “sojourn” (寄居, jì jū) translates as the idea of living away from home.

And that’s the kind of people we are. We’re not transient, fleeting travelers, floating hither and thither — no. We’re the kind of people who find a place, hammer in the tent stakes with wild abandon, and pour our hearts out onto whatever unfamiliar soil is beneath our feet. 

In Chinese, the hermit crab isn’t called a hermit at all. In Chinese, it’s the sojourner crab (寄居蟹, jì jū xiè) — the sojourner! This has nothing at all to do with hiding or burrowing away from everything, but everything to do with seeing the empty shell in front of you, and being all in when it comes to making this unfamiliar borrowed place a home.

This unfamiliar soil feels like a borrowed place, sometimes. But I’m all in.

I’m all in, filling all the corners and fully living, until the time comes to seize another borrowed shell on some other shore.