Category Archives: Family Life

Dear Icelandic Volcano,

Please stop spewing out volcanic ash. I know it’s a bit like asking Mathew Mcconaughey to stop taking his shirt off, but I beg you to just *try*. I haven’t seen my family in 3 years, and I’d really like to see my mother before she gets too old for me to recognise. I mean, you already threw up all over us last year for crying out loud! How much ash can one little hole-in-the-ground produce?!!?!?! Never mind, forget I asked; I don’t really want to know. I’ve got nothing against Iceland, really, even if you did produce Bjork and inflict that madness on the rest of us…but this volcano business is enough to make me think really poorly of Iceland. And don’t start whining about forces  of nature and give me this “it’s not our fault” nonsense…put a cork in it. If my flight, which is in less than 2 weeks, gets cancelled, you’ll be receiving a very strongly worded letter of complaint from me. I mean it. I’ll be using words like “inexcusable” and “furious” and “boycott everything from Iceland,” (which may be quite a short list of items, but that’s *not* the point.) If you can’t stop all the spewing ash, then you’d better gather up all your electric fans or wind turbines or whatever and start fanning it towards Greenland or something. Nobody lives in Greenland, anyway…only vikings and the like, and they prefer to travel by boat. They won’t mind.


Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Family Life, Michelle


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Goin’ Vegan

Reader discretion is advised…seriously.

Another note: this post isn’t meant to be a lecture; I’m not out to push others into veganism. I just wanted to share my story and talk about my personal reasons for going vegan.

There’s this blog that I love: Twist365. Jackie is smart, witty, funny, informative, and entertaining. She mentioned a book called Skinny Bitch, and how she went vegetarian for 8 months after reading it. I was curious, so I had a sample sent to my Kindle. After just a few paragraphs, I knew I’d stumbled upon a great book.  All the claims the authors make are backed up with cited references. I love its no-nonsense, kick your a** approach. Being an overgrown kid, the witty swearisms made me giggle.

The food you put into your body works its way through your organs and bloodstream and is actually part of who you are. So every time you put crap in our body, you are crap.

This book was seriously shocking. I was expecting a diet book and what I got was a wake up call.

Dioxin, one of the most toxic substances in the world, is often found in dairy products.

Not only that, but rocket fuel is also found in milk, often at levels well above those considered “safe.”

Rocket fuel!

I know that meat, eggs, and dairy products are full of crap (often literally), that livestock animals are treated badly, that they’re diseased, deformed, pumped full of hormones, steroids, and antibiotics. I’ve seen the watchdog programmes. But the news reports and watchdog programmes only give you the PG-rated bits.

I’m going to get a little graphic now.

I went on to read about how cows are slaughtered…how the “stunning” they receive isn’t always effective…how they’re often still alive as they are taken apart piece by piece. Hogs, which are dunked into 140-degree scalding water to remove their hair, are sometimes still alive for this process.

Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. We are burial places.
—Leonardo Da Vinci

And those free-range eggs aren’t as ethical as I thought they were. “Free Range” doesn’t always mean all that free, In the hatcheries for the egg industry, the unwanted males are dumped in the trash or thrown into grinders. Here’s how the chicks are stored in the hatcheries:

Photo from Our Planet Today: The Cruel Life Inside a Factory Farm:

Speaking of chickens…

Here are two quotes from poultry plant workers:

‘Every day, I saw black chicken, green chicken, chicken that stank, and chicken with feces on it. Chicken like this is supposed to be thrown away, but instead it would be sent down the line to be processed.’

‘I personally have seen rotten meat-you can tell by the odor. This rotten meat is mixed with the fresh meat and sold for baby food. We are asked to mix it with the fresh food, and this is the way it is sold. You can see the worms inside the meat.’

Dear God in Heaven.

And don’t even get me started on how dairy cows are treated.

So, I turned aspiring, yet unsure vegan. I began doing more research, looking at vegan recipes and books, setting up a vegan notebook…the usual things we enthusiastic types do.

A few days ago, during my web travels, I happened upon a website, I clicked on the tab about celebrities and watched the video of Ellen Degeneres talking about why she became a vegan. She mentioned watching a documentary called “Earthlings” which documents our dependence on animals for food and other products and how those animals are treated. I Googled it. I clicked “view trailer.”

Okay, I’m going to get dramatic, but I’m also being truthful.

It was one of those life-changing moments.

I’ve never been so stunned, ashamed, sickened, frightened, appalled, transfixed, horrified, and angry in my life. Shaking, I closed the computer and gave in to some hearty sobbing.

Thankfully, no one was at home to witness my moment. It was one of those times when you just need to be alone.

I don’t think I could handle watching the entire film. I don’t think I want to. The trailer was enough to convince me to swear off all animal  products for life. No meat, eggs, dairy, leather, or anything else containing animal products.

I haven’t included the link yet intentionally because I wanted to give ample warning first. It’s very, very graphic. Scenes of animals being stripped of fur whilst still alive, dogs being stepped on, poles shoved down the throats of animals to force feed them, animals being beaten, crying out in pain…and the blood. Lots of blood. If you want to view the trailer and/or watch the film, here it is:

Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you anymore.
—Franz Kafka, while admiring fish in an aquarium


Posted by on May 1, 2011 in Family Life, Inspiration, Michelle, Vegan


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Sometimes I Don’t Like Living in England…

…and sometimes I love it. We had a weekend break in London. The weather was glorious and whilst strolling the bustling London streets I felt…at home. Strange, considering I’d love nothing more than to buy a cottage out in the country and live a slightly hermit-like existence, burying myself in my books and enjoying a quiet life virtually stranger-free. But I loved it in London. No one looked twice at the white woman wearing a headscarf. It made a lovely change from being stared at, spat at, and called “white Paki.” The people were actually friendly.

But it was more than just the lack of racism. It’s just such an amazing place. Bursting with history, crammed with people speaking all languages; I heard French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and many more that I didn’t recognise. Beautiful architecture, wisteria in full bloom climbing up the terraced houses, a myriad of adorable and tempting boutiques, maddening one-way systems, surprisingly clean streets, endless places to eat, constant police sirens; the noise was ceaseless.

I was a typical tourist, gawking at everything, snapping photos left and right.

On Saturday we strolled through Notting Hill, then visited the Natural History Museum. Here is the entrance:

And just look at that ceiling…

When I’m rich I’m having that in my house. Well, not that one, but a copy. Just waiting to win the lottery (which I don’t play) or for a rich relative (which I don’t have) to die. Any day now…

On Sunday we did the touristy thing and walked along the Thames. Here are some highlights:

Harrod’s, which I really wanted to go into, but didn’t have time:

The iconic red double-decker:

The Big Pickle, more commonly known as the Gherkin:

I love this style of terraced house:

Another row of houses I love, this one with a bit of Wisteria. (Other houses had Wisteria leaking from their very pores, but I couldn’t get shots of those.)

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre:

Esa and Hubby, posing with the London Eye and Th Houses of Parliament our new mansion in the background:

St. Paul’s Cathedral and some other stuff:

Some interesting sand sculptures, which the tide washed away not an hour later:

We also went into the Tate Modern (to use the restroom), which was a monstrous and rather ugly building, but I felt cosmopolitan going in.

In truth, I probably wouldn’t  be happy actually living in London, but it sure is a fabulous place to visit. ♥


Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Family Life, Holidays, Second Grade, Time off


To Jab or Not to Jab

Vaccines are a hot topic for many parents, especially here in the UK, and especially amongst homeschooling families in the UK. I know many homeschooling families who have chosen not to have their children immunised, and one mother even claimed that the rise in measles was due to immigration. I had to bite my tongue and go to my happy place to avoid responding to that.

I know immunisations aren’t without risk, and I’m well aware of what those risks are, but not immunising is also full of risk: brain damage, paralysis, heart failure, and death. Yes, for some children the immunisations don’t ‘take.’ But if all children, who are able to be, are immunised, their immunity provides protection for the unprotected ones, as they will not catch and pass on the illness.

I feel that many parents have become complacent because we don’t know what it’s like to live in an age full of communicable, deforming, deadly childhood diseases. We don’t know what it’s like to worry that our child will catch polio or diptheria…and this is because vaccinations have just about wiped them out. We now fear the result of the immunisation more than the disease itself. That’s understandable; I always felt a little nervous whenever Esa had another vaccination, and I, too, worried about any long-term damage. But I knew the risk of him catching measles and suffering complications was higher than the risk of a severe reaction to the jab. I also didn’t want to put other children at risk but leaving my son unprotected and allowing him to not only catch a disease, but pass it on to another child who is not immunised.

I’m not posting this to spark debates or condemn parents who don’t immunise; it’s just one of the many tough choices we parents have to make and to each their own. I’m just voicing my own opinions on vaccinations,  and I wanted to post a link to an article that may be of interest:

Doctor Behind Autism-Vaccine Link Study Accused of ‘Deliberate Fraud’

It turns out the data in the study linking MMR to autism was fudged and Dr. Wakefield’s been banned from practising medicine.

After the study was published,  many parents stopped administering the vaccine to their children, and the cases of measles increased, as did measles-related deaths.

This passage, in particular caught my attention:

“We had a measles epidemic in Britain, a drop in immunization rates in [the United States]. I personally know of children who were brain-damaged as a consequence of their parents deferring immunization as a result of this concern,” Wiznitzer said. At the same time, he said, “[autism] research monies were diverted to disprove a hypothesis that was never proven [in the first place] rather than invested in exploring issues that would be of benefit to the public and to children with the condition.”

Not all children who are immunised actually gain immunity, so he can’t really prove that all the children he’s come across have suffered brain damage because of not being immunised, but surely some of them could have been spared such a horrible outcome had they been immunised. Not only have many children suffered from preventable illness, but autism research has suffered, which is such a shame.

What are your thoughts on vaccinations?


Since posting the above, I’ve had a comment that I wanted to share:

HI, Michelle,
Oh, I agree with you!
Yes, there is risk in any immunizations and for that matter in taking any medications.
But, as a Polio survivor, I know what it is like to live a life after getting one of the diseases that today we have an immunization for. I lived in a time when many, many children came down with Polio every year! Our parents lived in constant dread that their child would be the next victim. I was one of the very must lucky ones: My experience with Polio as a four year old child left me to learn to walk all over again and then with little or no problems until I hit age 50 and became one of the generation of Post Polio Syndrome victims. No one knew about PPS and no one predicted its results. I went from being an active adult to walking with a cane, from a practitioner of yoga to one who could not get into the most easy pose, from an independent person to one who has limited mobility. Yet, I’m still one of the lucky ones: others suffer breathing problems, depend on wheel chairs and scooters, or have great difficulty swallowing food or liquids. Almost every family had one or more polio victims when I was a child: our family had three. One cousin spent her life in steel braces, on crutches and in the end in a wheel chair. Children spent years in “iron lungs” just to stay alive. All life has risks, yet we have polio immunization now, we no longer have whole hospitals filled with children and teens with polio.
My mother lost two little sisters, one in the morning and one that same afternoon, to diphtheria when Mama was a child. The whole community was hit. My grandfather dug the graves and buried the girls himself as no one else would for fear of the terrible disease. (early 1900′s)
My grandmother lost two siblings with in one week to scarlet fever, in her childhood. We NEVER want to go back to that time. There are risks in taking ANY medication, but to go back to a time before immunization we just do not want our children to do that!
Keep Esa safe as our medical level can!




Posted by on January 6, 2011 in About Us, Family Life, Hot Topics, Michelle


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A Very (Mr.) Happy Birthday

I was feeling a bit low last Friday. Our two weeks of holiday were coming to an end and I really would have loved to have another week (or 3) off. But by Sunday I was looking forward to resuming lessons and trying out Song School Latin.

Saturday was Esa’s seventh birthday. I decided to throw him a real party. In the past we’ve either done something as just the three of us; stayed home, ordered pizza, and watched a movie; or just had a cousin or two over to play for a bit. I’ve always made him a cake and made a fuss over him, but he’s never had a real party.

It was, however, still a modest affair as birthday parties go. We played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey (homemade), musical chairs (which made me a little uncomfortable because I don’t like games where children get “out”…they always look so sad, and it’s supposed to be a party after all…), pass-the-parcel, and the piece de resistance: a piñata (again, painstakingly homemade.) The piñata was filled with fantastic goodies: party crackers, mini Mars bars, Kinder hippos, Pop Rocks, chocolate coins, Love Hearts, and loads more.

The piñata took nearly an  hour to bust. Initially, the children were blindfolded and allowed 3 swings (they were allowed to feel for it first). After each child had had 2 or 3 goes, we did away with the blindfold. At one point, the piñata broke away from the string, and the children shouted with joy, but my husband, who was enjoying it more than anyone, shouted, “Wait! It’s not open! I’ll reattach the string and you can keep bashing it!”


So, the fun went on for another 30  minutes. By the time the piñata was well and truly busted, the stick they used to bash it was broken and those poor kids barely had the strength to gather up the goodies.

Not really. The sight of chocolate was like reviving salts- they dove after the stuff.

As I’ve mentioned before, Esa loves Mr. Men. We decided to do a Mr. Men-themed party, so we had plates, cups, napkins, and banners all in Mr. Men. He requested carrot cake, which I iced and decorated with Mr. Happy, his favourite Mr. Man.  He also received a Mr. Happy mug, a SpongeBob calendar, a Lego annual, Tonka trucks, some money, and agamefor thexboxthathegotfromhisdadandIknowIsaidI’dneverallowhimtohaveonebut theyworemedownandreallyhe’sbeenveryrestrainedandI’mnotallowinghimto playittoomuchsopleasedon’tshootmeeventhoughI’mahypocrite.


Posted by on November 29, 2010 in Family Life, Milestones, Second Grade, Time off


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I Should Be Cleaning, But…

…I need a little break. (This post was written yesterday)

Speaking of breaks, we’re right in the middle of one. A nice, long one. Two whole weeks. Last week my husband was off, so that was taken up with a religious holiday and the busyness that only seems come about when husbands are at home. You know how it is; you don’t get a moment to yourself.

So, I’m supposed to be cleaning the house, as I do on Sundays, and especially this Sunday because the moment my husband leaves for work, my real holiday begins and I don’t want to spend it cleaning. I want the house spotless (which it isn’t), otherwise it’ll bug me and I’ll squander my precious time cleaning (which I have been).

What have we been up to lately?

We’re cruising along nicely. To be honest, there just isn’t much to mention that’s interesting. We’ve not changed curricula, we’ve not changed methods, I’ve not discovered some great new resource or book…

Things have really changed from last year in that sense. We’ve settled down, found our groove.

Last year we were quite focused on History and Reading. This year math and writing (as in usage, not handwriting) are taking centre stage. Having more math facts memorised has made math easier and more enjoyable for Esa. He loves being able to go to a shop and see something for £6 and something for £4 and know straight away that it makes £10, and no, he doesn’t quite have enough money to buy both things. Our chanting method has worked a treat and he enjoys practising his facts. This is what I love so much about homeschooling: we do what works for us; we’re not stuck with a book or way of doing things that makes learning a chore, or worse, impossible.

Confession Time

Okay, I have ordered a new Latin curriculum. (Yes, another one…but the other 2 will get used next year). I’ve heard a lot of good things about Song School Latin. Initially, I dismissed it because I’m not a fan of sing-song type…things, but after having a look at it I think it just might work for us. Esa learns really well with chanting and the workbook sections look fun. Best of all, it seems easy to implement with no prep work and shouldn’t take long. I’ve ordered just the text which comes with the CD from Book Depository with 10% off, so it was only about £12. I’ll comment  more once it arrives and we give it a try.


Posted by on November 22, 2010 in Family Life, Latin, Second Grade, Time off


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Five Weeks Down

We’re on holiday this week. Well, supposed to be on holiday. My husband is doing some DIY and every 5 minutes he’s calling me to help him with something. On day one I was pretty patient- he did need my help and I was so thrilled that he was finally getting the work done that I was happy to help. But it’s now day two, the work’s only ¼ of the way finished, and I’m getting fed up. I want to draw and paint, not hold boards above my head, measure things, and assess brightness of lights. Then again, if I don’t check on his progress every now and then I certainly can’t complain that things aren’t right once it’s all done.

So, in between stints of being Barbara the Builder, I’m writing.

Right, enough moaning, on to homeschooling.


I’ve decided to drop Latin for the time being. We’ll pick it up in 6 months or maybe at the start of 3rd grade. Lively Latin is too advanced for Esa as it contains writing and grammar that he’s yet not ready for. I thought we’d have another go at Minimus, but our schedule is just so full that something had to go. The funny thing is, I had a little premonition that we wouldn’t be doing Latin this year. I was sitting at the computer, just before the start of second grade, doing some planning. An evil little voice whispered in my ear, Latin’s going to wind up getting dropped. I banished the voice with: No! We will do Latin. Latin’s cool and will add style and panache to our homeschool! (forget the academic benefits, right?)

But, alas, my instinct was right. Something had to go and I think he’ll get more out of Latin if we wait 6 months or even a year.


Math facts: the bane of our mathematical pursuits. When we first began using Singapore Math, I had every intention of having Esa memorise his facts. Later. Next month. In the summer. A year went by and apart from 2+2 and 5+5, he didn’t have any facts memorised.

So, we did the flashcard thing. Within a week we were both dreading those 3×5 cards. He didn’t learn a thing.

I thought we’d just leave it then. Maybe he’d pick them up as we went along. Maybe it wasn’t necessary for him to memorise facts; I’d teach him to count on his fingers, which is what I did do.

No, no, that’s no good. I don’t want him, at 30, still counting on his fingers. Can you imagine it? Well, I can, because his father does it, and let me tell you, it’s not a pretty sight.

Ok, so we’d ditch the cards and take it slowly. But what would be actually do? Then I had a brainwave: chanting and dry erase. Chanting is pain free, kids seem to like it, and it works. We’d chant some facts, pointing to them on the dry erase board, with no pressure to memorise, then when he had some down, we’d add more.

I began with the facts that make ten, omitting the 1+’s and 0+’s. I also presented them using the commutative property, so we’d chant 2+8=10, 8+2=10. Done this way, there were only 4 sets to learn:

2+8, 8+2

3+7, 7+3

4+6, 6+4


He learned them quickly and easily and he can recite them in his sleep. But best of all: he enjoys our few minutes of chanting and quizzing and it is helping him with his work.

We’re now adding the other doubles (3+3, 4+4, etc). Once he has those down, we’ll fill in the rest. He’s also noticing more patterns. This is working a treat.


Prior to 2 weeks ago, we had only done science once in our homeschool since second grade began. It’s just not happening. How could it be that I have this great science curriculum, that I’ve praised to the hilt, but we’re not using it?

Simply put, it takes a lot of prep work. It’s do-able, but it’s time-consuming to prepare. And with everything else I have to do, it’s just getting left out. You know how it is: you do math, handwriting, reading, spelling, grammar, copywork, and history, and you’ve saved science for last because it’s going to take an hour or more and you wanted to make sure you got all the essentials in for the day, then the time comes to actually do science and you look at the clock and sigh and say, “we’ll do it tomorrow.” The next thing you know it’s Friday, something comes up at the last minute and you have to be somewhere and science just doesn’t happen.

Next week, repeat.

At least, that’s how it works in our house. Despite how much we love science, it’s getting left out. And all that prep-reading and set up are killing my enthusiasm. BFSU takes a lot of prep work. There is a lot of reading to do, and it isn’t scripted, so you’ve got to take notes because the instructions are interlaced with the science-y bits. I often have to read through the lessons 2 or even 3 times to make sure I’ve got it all and I know what I’m doing. There have even been times when I’ve left something out, or had to stop mid-flow to refer to the book, and that’s a big momentum killer. I need something with a little more hand-holding.

So, I’ve decided to give R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey a try. This was my second choice after BFSU. They have great try-before-you-buy samples that don’t require any registering or obligation; you simply click on the link and a pdf file opens up.

I’d heard lot of negatives about R.E.A.L.: that it was babyish, the labs didn’t always work, it’s not in-depth enough, needs supplementing, and some of the labs were downright pointless.

But, I decided that none of the those negatives matter… he’s six and this isn’t our only shot at science. We’ve got lots of time to go more in-depth, read, and explore. But if the programme we’re using is too much hassle and it’s just sitting there and science isn’t getting done, then it doesn’t matter how great it is.

The most important criteria for a science programme for us are:

  1. It’s enjoyable
  2. It’s easy to implement and doable
  3. It ignites a love of science
  4. Promotes the use of the scientific method
  5. Leads to further scientific study

RSO, from what I can see so far, meets all of those requirements.

Initially, I agreed with the views that RSO was babyish. The funny drawings and tone of the lessons did make it seem a little young. But I now see it as lively and fun. It’s a very sound curriculum and there is a lot of overlap between it and BFSU. The main difference with BFSU is its seriousness. There’s not a single picture or drawing in the book (since it’s geared for the parent), and although the tone is inviting and encouraging, it’s very sober and no-nonsense. But my son is 6. He’s energetic and silly and giggly and thinks science is fun. So where’s the fun? I want him to love science.

BFSU is too grown-up for us right now. Too controlled and managed. It’s not messy or silly…or fun, sadly. Maybe it is; maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m making it not fun.

The biggest problem of all: Esa’s losing his interest in science. I’m really shocked that this is happening, but it is. Week after week he asks me, “when are we going to do something in science?” The lessons in BFSU are more like demonstrations and discussions. There’s little for him to actually do. I find myself saying to him, “Once we get a bit further on in the programme, it’ll be more exciting.” But we’re nearly 1/4 of the way through and if anything, there’s been less for him to actually do. He’s bored. Yes, he’s learning about scientific concepts, but he’s uninspired by it.

To be fair, not all the lessons are this way. Some have gone well, and some of the lessons Esa really enjoyed. But he wants to make things and mix things and feel like an explorer. R.E.A.L. Science will give him that. When I look at RSO I can see the fun.  BFSU volume 1 has no chemistry activities. I’ve told Esa that we’ll only be doing Biology for now, but that we will later be doing chemistry…a whole year of concoction-making, mess-making, kitchen-science fun.

So far we’ve done the first 2 units and Esa’s really enjoyed it. We’ve spent 2-3 days each week doing science, supplementing with The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Encylopedia and library books. Science is getting done and we’re loving it.

Update: We’ve since gone back to BFSU. RSO wasn’t the great curriculum it first appeared to be. It was truly a fact-based learning programme and we very quickly became bored with it. We’ve realised just how great BFSU is and I’ve made a few adjustments (it *was* my fault that it wasn’t fun) to how we do our lessons and it’s now working beautifully for us. Science is now fun and inspiring and now that I’ve realised just how great this programme is, I don’t mind the extra work involved. The things worth doing often do entail hard work. 🙂

I am not being paid or otherwise benefiting from this review. I simply want to share our experiences and opinions. Chances are things will change as we go…as they often do. We could be back to BFSU before you can say “fickle homeschoolers.”


Posted by on October 19, 2010 in Family Life, Latin, Math, Science, Second Grade, Time off


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