Category Archives: Inspiration

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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Books I’m Loving Lately

I’ve recently made some book purchases that have had quite an impact on me, and will greatly impact our homeschooling. Here they are:

Deconstructing Penguins. Boy am I glad I bought this! I have a good working vocabulary, I can read most classics, but I cannot analyse a book. I cannot find hidden meanings, metaphors, symbolism, etc in books. This book doesn’t dive that deeply, and I don’t think they get into metaphor and symbolism (I’m about half-way through it), but it’s a fantastic introduction on dissecting literature. It’s really gotten me thinking. I’ve been thinking back on books that I’ve read and trying to identify the protagonist, antagonist, setting, crisis, etc. When I’m finished, I’m going to read The Graveyard Book and see what I can do with it. It’s going to take some practice, I know, which is why I’m reading it now. Not only will it make my own reading more enjoyable, but Esa and I will be able to “deconstruct” books together when he’s ready.

Keeping a Nature Journal is the best book EVER for nature study. I cannot recommend this book enough. I thought it was just going to be pages and pages of sample pages from nature journals, but it’s not. Yes, the margins are filled with nature sketches, and there are some sample pages, but after reading a bit, I’m glad those samples are there. I always thought nature journaling was just sketches with a bit of labelling, but it’s so much more. This book is packed with information, ideas, drawing help, and motivation…there’s almost too much! I *love* this book.

I checked out The Story of Art from our library and I’ve found it difficult to put down. This is a nice, fat book and a must-read for those who, like me, know nothing about art, but wish they did. This book is completely changing the way I look at art. Before, I could only appreciate “pretty” things, but now I’m seeing the value of art that is less pleasing to the eye. I’ve ordered a copy of this because it’s going to take me a while to get through, and in fact, it’ll probably be something I’m continuously reading. And when Esa’s older he can enjoy it, too.

Ok, I’m cheating a bit here, because I haven’t actually started reading The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way yet, but I plan to soon. I was looking for some sort of history of science book for Esa, and I knew the Hakim set was good, but I also knew it was geared for children a few years older. The book just looked so beautiful (all three books do, actually) and I knew we’d use it eventually (even if Esa were to go to school), that I decided to buy it. And it is gorgeous. I’ve only looked through it and read a few pages to judge the suitability (I’m thinking another 1 or 2 years and Esa will be ready for it), but it’s fabulous. When I have time, after reading some of my other picks from above, I’m going to read this for my own benefit.

Sometimes I just know how to pick ’em. A few days ago, I gave Esa a little informal reading assessment. In most areas, I know “where he is.” But I find it difficult to judge with reading. And even though I can see his reading improving, which is truly all that matters, I wanted to have some idea how far we’d gotten. I figured he was at about first or second grade level. My Kindergarten-aged boy came in at early third grade level. It doesn’t matter of course, but I have to admit, I liked having this reassurance. As a little treat I decided to take Esa to a WHSmith outlet where all the books are 3 for 2. (This is not something I normally do; I don’t believe in rewards, carrots & sticks, etc, but I thought he deserved a little something for putting up with my neuroticism.) He really wanted a Captain Underpants book (the only twaddle I allow…they’re fun and funny). He found 2, but we just couldn’t find anything else that looked good. I don’t tend to buy adult fiction because I can usually find something at the library, there were no good reference books, no audio books, and since I have 4 books penned by Alan Titchmarsh I simply do not need any gardening books, we were at a loss. And then I picked up The Graveyard Book.

It wasn’t until after I got it home that I learned two things:

  1. This book is written by the same author of Coraline.
  2. This book won the Newberry Medal in 2009.

At first glance, I thought it was just a fun, creepy story, but after doing a little research, I’ve learned that the book is about love and family. I can’t wait to read it, and when Esa’s a little older, I can’t wait for him to read it, too.


Putting More Joy Into Our Homeschooling

Things have changed a lot in our house. My son is no longer excited to do his lessons; he sees them as intrusions into his playing. In the past when I told him it was time for lessons, he’d shout “Yaaay!” Now he groans. In the past he’d ask to do lessons on the weekends. Now he can’t wait for the weekends so that he doesn’t have to do any lessons. In the past he’d ask for more when we were finished, now he can’t wait to get away.

I’ve painted quite a grim picture. It’s not that he hates our lessons; he likes a lot of what we do, and he loves science. A big part of it is that he’s just so into his Lego, Lincoln Logs, wooden train set, and cars and can play for hours and hours non-stop. His play is quite intricate, complex, and on-going. He resents being torn away from it. And being taught at home means his play things are mere feet away.

But there is more to it than that. The joy has definitely waned. He feels it, and I feel it, too. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Routine. Although we mix up the order of our subjects, we’ve got a pretty regular routine. Routine, although necessary, is not one of the spices of life.
  2. Being over-extended. We were doing too much each day, which caused several problems, and contributed to #3 and #4.
  3. My attitude. I’ve been in a “we gotta get it done” frame of mind for a long time. I’ve tried to stop myself, but being over-extended, behind on housework, tired, etc., has made it very difficult to overcome this. I’m also guilty of showing frustration when Esa is slow/fidgety/not reading well/not paying attention. I’d lecture him and even raise my voice. (No wonder the kid wants to get away.)
  4. Not participating. I’m talking about myself here. I often give Esa something to do, say an art project or copywork, and walk away to do dishes, take care of laundry, or any of the other 80 quadrillion things women have to do each day (see #2). I should be sitting with him, watching, and doing art projects with him.

These problems have been going on for some time. At first I thought it was all my fault and felt a lot of guilt. I thought we needed to get an earlier start, and I needed to slow down, relax, and participate. And the raised voice had to go. This is all true, but I’d set myself up for failure with our overwhelming schedule.

Since I’ve cut back on things and changed to a 4-day-a-week schedule there have been some dramatic changes.

  • Multum non multa: since cutting back, we’re digging deeper into history and science and Esa’s loving it (and so am I!). We now have more time for some of the extra history activities.
  • We’re no longer over-extended.
  • I have time to get the housework done. A clean house makes everyone happier. I also have a bit more time for myself.
  • I’m more relaxed and am participating or at least observing and am “there” (physically and mentally).
  • I’m trying to change things up a bit.
  • We have more time for discussions.
  • We have time for an afternoon read-aloud, something we used to do but that got lost along the way.
  • We have more time to play together.
  • Esa’s getting more outside time which cures his fidgety-ness.

I’ve also learned to relax about his reading (this change happened a few months ago). I used to think that if he was reading badly one day he’d forgotten everything and it was all a big waste of time and our homeschooling career was over and what am I doing thinking I can teach my child and he’s never gonna learn at home…

You know how it is.

Now I’ve learned that it simply means he’s having an “off” day in regards to reading and either needs to read something lighter (and who can’t relate to that?) or we need to put it away for the day and do something else. The next day he always reads better, and sometimes I notice a jump in ability. His brain just needs some downtime to process what he’s learned.

It’s hard to believe that cutting out a couple of subjects and moving from a 5-day schedule to a 4-day schedule could make such a difference, but it has.

Is Esa enjoying his lessons more? Absolutely. I can see it in his attitude, in his face, in his enthusiasm, and I can hear it in his laughter. Is he asking to do lessons again? Well, it’s only been a few days since most of these changes took place, so no, not yet. But watch this space; I’ll keep you posted.

There’s certainly more joy to our day.


A Few of My Favourite Things

My favourite homeschooling resources (a few of which I truly couldn’t homeschool without…)

10. Laminator

9. Crayola erasable coloured pencils (they really do erase and Stiggy uses these in place of regular pencils)

8. Maped 2-hole punch

7. Teacher’s notebook (4-ring binder with lots of dividers and pockets)

6. PrismaColor Coloured pencils

5. CD/radio/cassette player

4. Digital camera

3. HP printer/scanner/copier

2. Laptop

1. Library card

Favourite Curricula Choices

5. Usborne History of Britain (this may, as we get further along, be replaced by Our Island Story)

4. Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting

3. Drawing with Children

2. Singapore Math

1. Story of the World

*My* Favourite Subjects

10. Grammar

9. Natural History

8. Artist/picture study

7. Poetry

6. Handicrafts

5. Drawing

4. Math

3. History

2. Dickens

1. Shakespeare

*My* Favourite Read-Alouds (in random order)

Beatrix Potter

Fairy Tales

Aesop’s Fables

Shirley Hughes

Oliver Jeffers

Shakespeare Stories (Leon Garfield)

Shel Silverstein

John Burningham

Maurice Sendak

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Secret Garden

The Wind in the Willows

Pippi Longstocking


Moving from Well-Trained Mind to Charlotte Mason

I had so many things I wanted to blog about, but I’ve genuinely not had time. I spend very little time online these days, generally once a day, in the morning, for about half an hour while I have breakfast. Sometimes I go on for a few minutes in the afternoon or evening, and then I’m on the computer for an hour or two on Fridays to write up what we’ve done for the week and plan the next week. And that’s pretty much it.

I was also pondering that since my last post about methods in March, I haven’t really talked about methods. It truly was my final answer…until now.

One of the reasons I’ve not had much time for blogging is our new schedule. We’re pretty much full steam now using The Well-Trained Mind, and it’s taking us about 3.5 hours everyday to get through everything (and I still need to add spelling…more about that later). Stiggy seems to be happy spending this much time on his lessons, but I’m not completely happy with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Let’s be honest: of all the non school-at-home homeschooling methods, The Well-Trained Mind is the most school-ish. It’s demanding and at times…dull. Our day has a sort of finish-this-up-because-we’ve-got-to-move-on feel. There’s no time for discussion, no time to stop and absorb what we’ve just read or done…no time to think. It’s too manic. And I can sense that Stiggy’s passion for learning has been dampened somewhat.

I’ve realised that the areas with which I’m happy are those which fit into the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling as well. Singapore Math is great, Italic handwriting is a hit, narration and copywork are going well, Stiggy enjoys classical music and poetry, has a blast with handicrafts, loves learning about plants, animals and nature, and he loves being read to. The areas that are not going well are reading and history. They’re small problems, really. Science is a major problem, though.

So what am I doing about it?

The Modern Curriculum Press Phonics workbooks are going to go. We’re just finishing up level a and we were planning to go on to level b, but that’s not happening. These workbooks are doing little, if anything, to further his reading ability now. At first they were fun, but now they’re a source of frustration and a waste of time. So, we’re cutting them out.

History: I vowed when I began homeschooling I would not administer comprehension questions; that’s what narration is for. But I find myself using the questions in the Story of the World activity book. Big mistake. I don’t expect Stiggy to answer every question perfectly, but I do feel a certain level of frustration when he can’t answer some of the questions that I feel he should be able to. See, I’ve fallen into the schooling trap of finding out what a child doesn’t know, instead of what he does.

Even the authors of The Well-Trained Mind have said that history is not essential for grammar stage children. It’s nice if you can fit it in, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the basics. I’ve let history become more important than it should be at this stage. (Partly because we both love it…which is funny because I hated history in school).

So, no more questions, just narration (which  he usually does beautifully).

I also need to add in more liberal arts: more poetry, more art, more music, etc. More time for discussion, more time to let things marinate. It’s not about ‘covering’ it all. It’s better to really take in one lesson, than to merely ‘cover’ and forget ten.

I’ve been re-reading Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion. I love this book; it’s so inspiring. And although I don’t agree with all of Miss Mason’s ideas (like her views on spelling and grammar), I’m warming to some that I had previously dismissed, such as short lessons (at least for the younger grades).

I want to make more changes, but I’m not sure how. Here’s what we’re doing and what I’m changing:


-Each day Stiggy chooses a book to read. I then choose a short sentence and he uses a movable alphabet and dictates it. One or 2 pages from MCP phonics workbook. Reading is done daily and now takes 10-15 minutes.


-Read a section or chapter from chosen work of literature (usually corresponding to time period in history). Myths, Aesop’s Fables, fairy tales, etc…done daily. One manic poetry reading session of about 15 poems per week.  Read one or two poems daily.


-Using Writing with Ease. This is quite CM-friendly (at least at this point). It’s simply narration and copywork. Stiggy narrates 2 times a week and I produce a one-sentence copywork 3 times a week from his literature selections. We do 4 lessons a week, plus a fun activity from Games for Writing.


-First Language Lessons. Although CM is against teaching grammar to young children, Stiggy enjoys these lessons, and they only take 5 or 10 minutes. We do 3 lessons a week, Mad Libs once a week, and we’ve done a little reading from Grammar Land, but will be putting it away for now as it’s not needed.


-Getty-Dubay italics. Stiggy learns two new letters each week, one on Monday, the other on Wednesday. He practices on the other days. Handwriting is done daily and takes 5-10 minutes.


-I’m planning to use Sequential Spelling as I don’t think Stiggy will learn to spell from copywork alone (Here’s a great post about this topic at a favourite blog of mine). I think these lessons take 10-15 minutes.


-We use Singapore Math along with lots of supplemental activities and stories. Math is done daily and takes 15-30 minutes.

History & Geography:

-We use Story of the World. We do 1 or 2 chapters a week, Stiggy narrates, answers the comprehension questions, does the colouring page one day, map work on another, and we look at the Usborne World History Encyclopedia. We also supplement with Horrible Histories and other books from the library. SOTW is done 2-3 days a week. We’re also doing British History1 day a week using The Usborne History of Britain. I read a section and Stiggy narrates. Geography is done via the maps in SOTW and I drill him with our globe (continents, equator, hemispheres, and oceans) once a week (takes about 2 minutes). No memorisation just yet, apart from Geography. History is done 5 days a week and takes 20-40 minutes. That’s a long time, but stiggy loves it.


-I’m not at all happy with science. We’ve been doing it WTM-style and it’s really dull studying one animal a week and nothing else, week after week. I’m going totally CM with this now. We’ll be using The Burgess books, James Herriot’s Treasury for Children, Ranger Rick magazine, The Handbook of Nature Study, and other CM goodies. We’ll also have a day of doing whatever Stiggy wants and doing little experiments, concoctions…whatever. He’s constantly asking science-related questions (‘how do magnets work…what are the names of the planets…will this float…?) and I’m forever saying, ‘You’ll learn about that later/next year/in 3 years…’ !!! That’s just silly; if he’s interested, we should just learn about it. I want to do science 3-5 times a week.


-We were going to use Little Big Minds and study philosophy, but I’ve decided to hold off until grade 4.


Done rarely. I want to do handicrafts several times a week. We always feel good when we’ve done something like baking a cake or cleaning together.

Art & Music:

-Free reign with art, and I also want to start using Drawing with Children. I want to do art 2 or 3 days a week. We listen to classical music while doing art. I will introduce artist and composer study possibly next year.


I’m still planning to follow the 4-year history rotation and will do logic and rhetoric in the later years. But I think Charlotte Mason’s methods suit us better, although I’m not sure what other changes to make to give us more discussion/digestion time. I know most people don’t do history and science 5 days a week, but I’m not sure how to cut it back. Hmmm, maybe if we do the ‘must-do’s’ first, then work through the other stuff if there’s time. That could work.

Any suggestions?


Top Ten Reasons why Public Schooling is Better than Homeschooling

Ok, this is just a bit of fun; if you are pro-school, please don’t be offended. We homeschoolers get a lot of grief (especially in England) for what we do, and are constantly having to defend our choices to family and the public, so we’ve got a have a sense of humour and let off some steam sometimes.

In an effort to increase the public drumbeat for criminalizing homeschooling, a memo has been distributed containing the top 10 reasons why public schooling is better than homeschooling. Here is an excerpt from that memo:

1. Most parents were educated in the under funded public school system,

and so are not smart enough to homeschool their own children.

2. Children who receive one-on-one homeschooling will learn more than

others, giving them an unfair advantage in the marketplace. This is


3. How can children learn to defend themselves unless they have to fight

off bullies on a daily basis?

4. Ridicule from other children is important to the socialization process.

5. Children in public schools can get more practice “Just Saying No” to

drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.

6. Fluorescent lighting may have significant health benefits.

7. Publicly asking permission to go to the bathroom teaches young people

their place in society.

8. The fashion industry depends upon the peer pressure that only public

schools can generate.

9. Public schools foster cultural literacy, passing on important

traditions like the singing of “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin

laid an egg…”

10. Homeschooled children may not learn important office career skills,

like how to sit still for six hours straight


A Little Boy

A Little Boy

by Helen Buckley

Once a little boy went to school.

He was quite a little boy

And it was quite a big school.

But the little boy

Found that he could go to his room

By walking in from the door outside.

He was happy

And school did not seem

Quite so big any more.

One morning,

When the little boy had been in school awhile,

The teacher said:

Today we are going to make a picture.

Good, thought the little boy.

He liked to make pictures.

He could make all things;

Lions and tigers,

Chickens and cows,

Trains and boats –

And he took out his box of crayons

And began to draw.

But the teacher said, Wait.

It is not time to begin.

And she waited until everyone looked ready.

Now, said the teacher,

We are going to make flowers.

Good, thought the little boy.

He liked to make flowers,

And he began to make beautiful flowers.

With his pink and orange and blue crayons.

But the teacher said, Wait!

And I will show you how.

And it was red, with a green stem.

There, said the teacher,

Now you may begin.

The little boy looked at the teacher’s flower.

Then he looked at his own flower.

He liked his flower better than the teacher’s.

But he did not say this.

He just turned his paper over

And he made a flower like the teacher’s.

It was red, with a green stem.

On another day,

When the little boy had opened

The door from outside all by himself,

The teacher said:

Today we are going to make something with clay.

Good, thought the little boy.

He liked clay.

He could make all kinds of things with clay:

Snakes and snowmen,

Elephants and mice,

Cars and trucks –

And he began to pull and pinch

His ball of clay.

But the teacher said:

Wait, it is not time to begin.

And she waited until everyone looked ready.

Now, said the teacher,

We are going to make a dish,

He liked to make dishes,

And he began to make some

That were all shapes and sizes.

But the teacher said, Wait

And I will show you how.

And she showed everyone how to make

One deep dish.

There, said the teacher.

Now you may begin.

The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish,

Then he looked at his own.

He liked his dishes better than the teacher’s.

But he did not say this.

He just rolled his clay into a big ball again

And he made a dish just like the teacher’s.

It was a deep dish.

And pretty soon the little boy learned to wait,

And to watch, And to make things just like the teacher.

And pretty soon

He didn’t make anything of his own any more.

Then it happened

That the little boy and his family

Moved into another house,

In another city,

And the little boy had to go to another school.

This school was even bigger than the other one,

And there was no door from the outside into his room.

He had to go up some steps,

And walk down a long hall

To get to his room.

And the very first day

He was there,

The teacher said:

Today we are going to make a picture.

Good, thought the little boy,

And he waited for the teacher

To tell him what to do.

But the teacher didn’t say anything.

She just walked around the room.

When she came to the little boy she said:

Don’t you want to make a picture?

Yes, said the little boy,

What are we going to make?

I don’t know until you make it, said the teacher.

How shall I make it? asked the little boy.

Why, anyway you like, said the teacher.

And any colour? asked the little boy.

Any colour, said the teacher.

If everyone made the same picture,

And used the same colours,

How would I know who made what?

And which was which?

I don’t know, said the little boy,

And he began to make a red flower with a green stem.