One day in our Colombian life

It is a Sunday in October. Back home the leaves are turning into beautiful colors in homage to the Autumn season. Kids are getting ready for Halloween and are preparing their Halloween costumes. Oh how I miss Fall!

We have been on the road for nearly 16 months. Currently we are renting an efficiency apartment for a month in Villa de Leyva, Colombia. This small town is in the mountains at about 7000 feet elevation so the climate here is mild and can even get a bit chilly at times. Bogotá, the national capital city, is about 3 hours’ drive from here.

Today we had planned to go for a hike outside of town, but we woke up to overcast skies that threatened rain so we decided instead to work today and postpone our hike until later this week.

So Witt is at the computer working away. He is employed part-time as a consultant doing software development for a small US biotech company. We are fortunate that his work schedule is extremely flexible and allows us to continue to travel while he completes his assignments in coordination with his supervisor. We also have the flexibility to work weekends and take off during the week to take advantage of better weather and fewer crowds.

Witt works at his computer

Witt works at his computer

Our day started by waking up naturally (which is, in my opinion one of life’s most treasured luxuries). Surprisingly, perhaps, that doesn’t happen very often for us. You see, we have an alarm clock of sorts (aka “Quinn”) that travels with us and who usually doesn’t let us sleep in.

(In fact, he’s at a point in his life where it seems that he starting to require less sleep than either Witt or I — we collapse exhausted into bed shortly after he falls asleep and he is almost always the first one awake.)

When Quinn does wake up (which is a little later today than usual) he crawls into bed with us for a morning snuggle. It is my favorite part of the day — especially since I slept really well last night.

Then we get up and get dressed. We can’t drink the water out of the tap here so I go out to the van to fill up our water bottles from our filtered tap. I put on the coffee. Witt (our amazing chef) starts breakfast while I straighten up the place. I take down the mosquito net from over Quinn’s bed on the sofa and put away his bedding. I sweep up the bug corpses (flies, mosquitos, and various insects with stingers) that have fallen on the floor overnight and dump them outside. Our place is actually quite nice, but this is the tropics!

We brought the bug nets with us -- we are SO glad that we did!

We brought the bug nets with us — we are SO glad that we did!

We enjoy a delicious breakfast together on our patio where we plan out our day. After breakfast, I wash the dishes and take out the trash and compost. We have access to a clothes washer here so I put a load of laundry in early so that everything will have time to dry on the line before it rains. Our landlord brings us some clean sheets this morning for our bed, and we take the opportunity to tell him about the clogged shower drain that has meant standing water in the shower since yesterday. He fixes it promptly which bodes well for the hot shower that I am planning for later today.

Witt waits for the rest of us for lunch on our patio

Witt waits for the rest of us for lunch on our patio

When I am not taking care of domestic duties, I am either doing trip planning (lots of logistics there) or figuring out how to further our son’s education. The latter of these activities actually takes up the large majority of my time.


It might sound strange that we worry about education since Witt & I together have amassed almost 20 years of university education plus another 20 years each of successfully working in professional careers. That ought to be worth something, right? But as I have found out (rather painfully actually), those that can DO can’t always TEACH.

After reading literally hundreds of articles and books over the past few years on various homeschooling philosophies, we have come to believe that Project-Based Homeschooling (PBH) is the best approach for us. It is a hands-on version of child-led learning that requires fully supporting your child’s interests in order to provide a well-rounded education. So far it seems to be working for us. Quinn is happy and he is learning tons!

To better support Quinn’s ongoing learning, I have been taking a PBH master course for the past 6 weeks. I got a little behind during our time on the road, so I am still in catch-up mode. Taking this course has been a wonderful experience for me and my skills and confidence have improved tremendously as a result.

Quinn’s interests these days revolve around trains and Minecraft, and we support him whole-heartedly in those interests. We ensure that he has plenty of ebooks (and some real books too) on those topics so he can read them whenever the mood strikes (these days the mood strikes often). We take him on train rides whenever we have the opportunity. He has watched so many train videos on YouTube that he can actually talk with a passable British accent — many of the videos are narrated by blokes from the UK.

It also means that Quinn spends a lot of time playing Minecraft. At first we were quite reluctant in supporting this interest — I think we all have heard about the dangers of kids and video games. Then we discovered that Minecraft is not just a video game; it is a place for kids to create! It is like having access to unlimited Legos and much, much more.

I think our big aha moment came when we saw him using redstone (the Minecraft equivalent of electricity) to create an XOR logic gate. An XOR logic gate is one of the building blocks of computer and electronics design and it is a topic that Witt & I didn’t learn about until we reached our college engineering courses. Quinn learned about them on YouTube and built one by himself in Minecraft. It was then that we realized that Minecraft combines creativity with engineering and computer science.

Quinn's redstone music player. The timing of when the lights and music play is dependent on the redstone connections and the use of redstone repeaters with user-specified time delays.

Quinn’s redstone music player. The timing of when the lights and music play is dependent on the redstone connections and the use of redstone repeaters with user-specified time delays.

We also credit Minecraft for teaching Quinn how to read. He had been sounding out words for awhile, but playing on Minecraft has dramatically accelerated his reading abilities. Now he is reading fairly fluently, has a renewed interest in reading in general, and is even starting to read small snippets on his own in Spanish. Apparently learning to read from playing Minecraft is not unusual. Wired magazine even recently wrote an article about it.

We discovered a Minecraft server called SKrafty where he can safely play online with other kids — it is monitored by adults and responsible teens to keep it that way. Through this server (or really it is a series of servers), Quinn has met his current best friend — a young boy who lives near Richmond, VA, and who loves building things as much as Quinn does.

One might argue that having a physically-collocated friend would be a much healthier experience for a young child, and in an earlier lifetime I would have agreed. However we have found that being collocated physically is no guarantee of friendship. Kids can have different interests, backgrounds, personalities and so on. Friendship is not just situational, it is also chemical — the right elements have to be there to mix in just the right way. Through Minecraft Quinn has found a kindred spirit, someone to play with, to be inspired by and to laugh with. Sometimes they communicate via text chat, and sometimes they Skype together. Hearing their laughter as they play is like music to our ears.

As a bit of an experiment, Quinn is also taking a online math course through the Skrafty Minecraft Homeschooling web site. Every week there is a book assignment and a build assignment on the Minecraft server.

Part of Quinn's build assignment.  He had to build seating for two people and write down how many cookies each person would get out of 12 total cookies.

Part of Quinn’s build assignment. He had to build seating for two people and write down how many cookies each person would get out of 12 total cookies.

This week the book assignment covered the principles of basic division (“The Doorbell Rang” by Pat Hutchins). First his grandparents, Henry and Kathy, bought the book and read it to Quinn over Skype. Then I worked with Quinn on his build assignment. This week we got to use a pile of fruit and some bowls to help him figure out how to divide 12 items in several different ways. The beauty is that I merely set up the challenges for him and he did the math all by himself! He also entered the appropriate answers himself for his build assignment. This class is definitely up his alley!


So Quinn and I spend a lot of our time devoted to Minecraft and today is no different. He plays on the Skrafty server with his friend for awhile and then switches to watching Stampy Cat — his favorite kid-friendly Minecraft YouTube channel. I help him when he has questions, take notes about his activities and look for ways to expand his learning.

Now it is mid-afternoon and the rain has stopped. Witt has finished his work for the day and it is time to get some exercise. We walk into town for an early dinner.

We stop at an Italian restaurant near the town plaza. Quinn has fresh mango juice and spaghetti Bolognese while Witt & I share a delicious pizza Napolitano and a bottle of Chilean wine.

Afterwards we walk to a heladeria (ice cream shop) for a very rare treat. Our landlord owns this shop so we know in advance that they have non-dairy options on hand. Normally we don’t even venture into bakeries or ice cream shops since there is usually not a SINGLE item on offer that Quinn can eat because of his food allergies. Thus we are all very excited to see Quinn get his first EVER “ice cream” cone! I had tears in my eyes. Sniff.

Quinn enjoys his first ice cream cone EVER!

Quinn enjoys his first ice cream cone EVER!

We wander out onto the town plaza with our treats. The Plaza Mayor, as it is called, happens to be the largest plaza in all of Colombia. There are many other families in the plaza out for a Sunday evening stroll. Kids ride through the cobblestones on bicycles. There is a random cow tied up near the fountain in the center. We can hear the sounds of Sunday mass from the nearby church. The fading sunlight glows on the buildings and makes for a stunning spectacle.

We passed this church on our way home.

We passed this church on our way home.

We walk “home” as the darkness approaches. From sweeping up bugs to eating ice cream in the plaza our day has run the gamut from mundane lows to small, yet exhilarating highs.

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