When we decided to get a cat a year and a half ago, I put a lot of effort into researching cat litter.  I’m glad I did.

I discovered that wood pellets are the world’s best cat litter.  They are super cheap (about $6 for a 40 lb bag that lasts for several months).  They are all-natural, non-toxic, and made from a renewable resource; they’re made of nothing but compressed wood.  They don’t track much like some of the finer litters that end up causing a mess around the litter box.  If you’re on a sewer system, you can flush them; they disintegrate into sawdust quickly when they hit the water.  In our old house, we kept the litter box next to the toilet, so it was super-easy to just scoop the poop into the toilet, dump the sawdust from the tray, and flush.  Now that we have a septic system, we don’t want to put the pellets down the toilet, but they can be composted (I researched this too–if you want to use cat waste compost on your garden, you have to compost it for at least 18 months for it to be safe, but we plan to compost it until it looks like compost and then dump it in the woods.  We have one compost bin for cat poop/litter and another for food scraps and other “clean” materials that we can use in our [future] garden.)

The only drawback I can find to wood pellets as cat litter is that they don’t do much for odor control.  But that basically just motivates you to scoop the poop as soon as it happens, so you end up with a cleaner litter box.

There are two considerations if you decide to switch:

1. Buy wood pellets from TSC or somewhere similar (sold either as fuel for pellet stoves or as stall pellets for horses) instead of a pet store.  You can buy “Feline Pine” cat litter at a pet store, but it’s much more expensive.

2.  You do need a special kind of litter box with a grate on the bottom and a removable tray, so there is some start-up expense there, but it will pay off.  You can buy one specially made for this purpose (I think it might be sold by Feline Pine) or you can buy the Tidy Cats Breeze box and use that, which is what we did.  Basically, when the cat pees, it causes the pellets to disintegrate.  Some of them fall through the grate on their own, but some don’t.  You need to sort of stir the pellets when you scoop the poop, so the wet peed-on sawdust falls through the grate into the tray, and then you dump the tray.  The dry pellets stay in the box until they get peed on or scooped up with poop.  You never have to dump the entire box, just add more pellets when it starts getting low.

If you want to save money, be environmentally friendly, and use a product that you know won’t harm your health or your cat’s, using wood pellets for cat litter is the way to go.

We finished our first year of full-time homeschooling last week, just in time for our new third grade graduate to head off to Webelos Scout camp for four days.  It certainly wasn’t my intention to still be doing lessons on the first day of August, but life doesn’t always go according to plan.  My husband applied for, interviewed for, was offered, and accepted a job in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (we were living in Ontario, Canada), so we put an unexpected amount of time and effort into house-buying, house-selling, moving internationally, and getting settled into our new house, which meant we got behind  in homeschooling and had to do three weeks of lessons in July.  Fear not, Peter has still been having an awesome summer, complete with swimming lessons, going to parks, jumping on the neighbors’ trampoline, exploring the woods at our new house, playing with the neighbor kids, and reading lots of books.  We are taking the month of August off before starting 4th grade in September and I plan to be done by mid-June next year, barring other major unforeseen life changes.

When we first decided to homeschool Peter, the plan was for me to stay home full-time with both boys.  Then I had an opportunity to teach part-time and I decided to go for it.  It seemed like we could pull it off–I would still be home enough to do lessons with Peter, but it would give me a chance to make some money, keep my foot in the door with the school board, and have a life outside of my home.  Originally, Don was watching the boys while I was at work, which definitely helped financially, but with his whole job thing happening, we ended up hiring a babysitter to come to the house every day.  Even though I was only gone about three hours a day, it was a challenge to homeschool while working part-time.  I had to leave for work around noon, but factoring in time to eat lunch and get dressed before that, and Peter’s slow-pokiness in the mornings, we usually only had about two hours to get lessons done together, and even that time was fraught with interruptions from Simon (diaper changes, snack requests, and just general needs for attention).  Peter was supposed to do his independent work while I was gone, which also was a challenge sometimes.  After I got home and checked his independent work, it was time to cook dinner and deal with other things, so we rarely did any lessons other than in the mornings.  If someone had a doctor or dentist appointment or if we went grocery shopping or to open gym time, it meant sacrificing lessons for a day.  Even if we got behind schedule, though, I insisted on taking weekends off so that we had a break.  Our scheduling wasn’t ideal, but we pulled it off.

The biggest area of growth over the school year was in Peter’s writing.  He’s still not a prolific writer, but it’s no longer like pulling teeth to get him to put words on a page.  He made it through level 1 and half of level 2 in All About Spelling, which has made him more comfortable in trying to spell words he doesn’t know (and more accurate, even though he still has a ways to go).  Writing a minimum of three sentences on topics of his choice in his daily journal gave him practice writing, again helping him become more comfortable.  I struggled with the weekly writing assignments, both making the assignments and getting him to do them with an appropriate amount of care.  Some of them came from his grammar book, some ideas I found online, and others I came up with myself.  He tended to put them off until Friday and then rush through them.  I felt that the amount of work the writing assignments were to come up with and to go over them with him was not worth what he was getting out of them, so I gave up on them for the last couple months when life was busy and stressful with the move.

The biggest disappointment was art.  I knew going into it that Peter wasn’t a huge fan of art, so I didn’t have really high expectations, but I figured it would be a fun thing to do once a week.  However, I made the mistake of scheduling art on Fridays, thinking it would be a nice way to end the week.  When we ended up behind schedule for the week, far too often I decided to just drop art.  Even when we did art, usually I just went over the directions with Peter before I left for work and then he did it himself while I was gone.  This meant that a) he didn’t put as much effort into his art as he would have if I were there, and b) I didn’t get to do art.  Near the end of the year, I made a point to do art with Peter, and it was fun for both of us.

With French language arts, science lessons in French, French workbooks, French library books, and watching tv in French, Peter seems to have gotten enough exposure to the language that his French seems to be holding up.  That was one of my main concerns about taking him out of school, as he had been attending a francophone school.

History continues to be a favorite subject for both of us.  Going back and forth between US and Canadian history has worked out well.  I feel that Peter is getting a solid introduction to the history of both countries, and I have learned things too.  Even though we both really enjoy doing read-alouds, I finally dropped them around Christmas time because we kept getting so far behind schedule.  Peter is a strong reader and has been able to read most of the read-aloud books himself.  I miss sharing the books with him, but this is easier, and he won’t suffer long-term harm from reading the books himself.  My parents didn’t read to me when I was in third grade and I turned out okay.  :)

All in all, it has been a successful year.  I will enjoy having a month off, but I am also looking forward to the adventure of homeschooling for fourth grade.

Long time, no blog

For anyone who reads my blog but isn’t my friend on Facebook, it must seem that I dropped off the earth after the school year started.  Working part-time, homeschooling, and keeping up with all the usual household and child care tasks have kept me pretty busy, and blogging has been low on my priority list.  Life has been exceptionally crazy around here for the last few months as Don interviewed for a job out-of-town, got the job, we both went on a house-hunting mission, we put our house on the market (18 showings until we got on offer), Don and Peter went for the house/well/septic inspections of the house we’re buying, and we’re dealing with all the preparation for an international move.

As of the end of June, we will be living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I’m not planning to work next school year so I can be around to take care of my family and ease the transition.  It has not yet been completely decided whether Peter is going to school next year (he doesn’t want to, Don wants him to, I originally agreed, but now I’m having second thoughts).

I expect life to be busy and stressful until the move is over.  Then we have to deal with unpacking and settling in, but Don doesn’t start work until August, so that will help.  I have the boys registered for swimming lessons for two weeks  in July (Simon and I will do a parent/child class while Peter does his class) and Peter will be going camping with his new Cub Scout pack the first week of August.  The week after that the boys and I will spend with my family at a cabin my parents are renting (an annual tradition and always a good time).  Our new house is a 5-bedroom farmhouse on 2 acres, partially wooded.  Our land backs up to someone else’s land who apparently doesn’t care if kids run around on it, and his land backs up to a lake that is a public-access nature area, so I’m hoping we can have some good outdoor adventures.  And I’ll try to blog a little more regularly.

Visiting fossils

This is a guest post by my 8-year-old son, Peter:

We went to Rock Glen Conservation Area.


This is my family on a bridge.

My dad was at home.



It had a water fall.

I jumped on rocks.



It was beautiful.

There were fossils.  We kept a brachiopod and a horn coral.



horn coral

horn coral


We found a trilobite.


These fossils are from the Devonian period, 345­­­-395 million years BC.  Fossils are found in sedimentary rock.

Jen Fulwiler of Conversion Diary called for homeschoolers to share a visual tour of their curricula for this upcoming school year.  Despite the fact that I have many more important things I should be doing (thus the reason I haven’t blogged in so long), I cannot resist this call, since this will be our first year of full-time homeschooling and I’m a bit of a curriculum junkie.  So here goes…

First, an introduction.  We are an American-Canadian family living in Canada.  Our son Peter is 8 years old and entering grade 3.  For the past four years (junior kindergarten through grade 2), he has attended French-language schools.  We’ve afterschooled on the weekends and over the summer.  Now we’re taking the plunge and going full-time.  We also have an 18-month-old, Simon.

This is the most recent picture I could find of the four of us, when we went to a sailing club open house in May.

This is the most recent picture I could find of the four of us, when we went to a sailing club open house in May.

I am a fan of the Sonlight curriculum for history and literature (both reading books and read-aloud books).  We’ve afterschooled using Sonlight for the past four years (from P4/5 through core C).  However, core D is the beginning of a two-year sequence in American history.  I have decided to splice core D+E (Sonlight’s one-year condensed version of American history) with a Sonlight-style Canadian history schedule, taking two years to cover both American and Canadian history together chronologically.  It should be interesting!  I’ve never seen American and Canadian history taught simultaneously, but it made more sense to me than doing a year of one and then starting over with a year of the other.  (Note: There is a Yahoo Group for Catholic Sonlight users.  There is also a secular Yahoo Group for Sonlight users.)

US history

This is a sample of the Sonlight US history books.

This is just a sample of the many books we will be reading.

These are some of the Canadian history books we will read.

For English language arts, we will be using Catholic Heritage Curricula‘s Language of God level B.  Peter and I have both enjoyed other Nancy Nicholson books (Little Stories for Little Folks, Devotional Stories for Little Folks, Devotional Stories Too).  It seems to cover the basics without requiring a ridiculous amount of work.  Someone with six kids might come out ahead buying a hardcover textbook and reusing it, but for us, for both cost and ease of use, this consumable workbook is the way to go.  Peter will also be writing a daily journal and will have a weekly writing assignment.

Language of God 1

Language of God 2

We started All About Spelling level 1 this summer after I realized that Peter’s atrocious English spelling skills weren’t improving on their own.  It took a while to get over his “spelling is too hard and I’m bad at it” psychological block, but now he’s starting to make progress.  The fact that he hasn’t yet had to write anything down on paper with a pencil has helped with his attitude change.  AAS starts with flash cards, oral activities, and magnet letter tiles.  When it’s time to write, I think I’ll have him start on a white board with a dry-erase marker, for his psychological benefit.


Handwriting will be with CHC’s Catholic Heritage Handwriting levels 2 and 3.  I was just going to have him do level 3, which introduces cursive, but his consistently sloppy printing annoyed me so much that I went ahead and bought level 2 also, so he can review and practice printing.

Handwriting 1

Handwriting 2

On the left is two days’ worth of work, the right is one day. So again, not an overwhelming amount of work.

For math, we will continue with RightStart Mathematics level C (Peter has done about a quarter of the level already).  After using Saxon and Singapore math for kindergarten (we did two years of kindergarten math), I discovered RightStart and fell in love.  I appreciate the hands-on-ness of it, the way it focuses on building concepts, the visual and mental problem-solving strategies, and the incorporation of a variety of games for practice.  (If you’re interested, you can buy the Math Card Games book and materials separately and use them to supplement another math program–I highly recommend them.)  I wish I had learned math that way when I was in elementary school!  To provide some extra math practice from a slightly different perspective (and so Peter can practice doing math independently), I’m adding in the Singapore math workbooks.  Singapore is also concept- and strategy-oriented, but gives more drill and more word problems (which I personally think are important–what good is it to know math if you can’t apply it?).  Peter will start with the 2B workbook and continue with 3A.


RightStart is an American program, but they do sell a Canadian workbook (money problems have pictures of Canadian coins) and Canadian money cards for their card games.

As part of my effort to maintain Peter’s fluency in French, we will be using materials from the French Ministry of Education’s distance education program, which are available for free online.  We will be using CE2 Français, Instruction civique, and Sciences expérimentales et technologies.  Peter will also be reading library books in French and watching French-language tv.


Sample of French language arts

Instruction civique

Sample of “civic instruction” (rights/freedoms, safety, etc)


Sample of science

For religion, Peter will have daily Bible passages to read, so he can get some use out of the Bible we gave him as a First Communion present in April.  We will also be using the Image of God series 3rd grade book, Who is Our Example?  We did the Image of God 2nd grade book and I liked it reasonably well; the illustrations are dorky but the text is less boring than the Faith and Life series.  The 2nd grade program, however, is mostly in the teacher’s guide (stories to read and questions to ask).  Starting in 3rd grade, the program is based in the student’s book.  Last year, Peter was okay with me reading him stories but complained about doing the workbook, so we’ll see how it goes.


Religion 2

I am quite excited about doing art using ARTistic Pursuits K-3 book 1.  This program is specifically written for homeschoolers.  Peter is not into art by any stretch of the imagination, but I figured that a little art will help him be more well-rounded.  I will have fun with it, anyways!


Finally, I’m hoping that a crazy goat with a British accent will help Peter learn to type.  He’ll be doing the BBC Dance Mat Typing course online (free!).

Dance Mat Typing

It seems like a lot, but I think it’s doable.  We won’t be doing every subject every day–science is two days a week, for example, and art once a week.  Language of God will be one page, twice a week.  French is the biggest “extra” subject, but it’s very important to us, so we’ll find a way to make it work.  Art and typing are also extras; if they cause more stress than fun, we’ll drop them.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’m expecting a great year of learning!

Friday isn’t over yet, so I’m going to squeeze in 7 Quick Takes.


Don left on Thursday morning for a week-long motorcycle trip.  He and my dad are riding around Lake Superior.  If you’re interested in following along, they are posting updates on their trip on this ride report.


My prayer while he’s gone is for him to stay safe and me to stay sane.  I’m hanging in there, despite some larger difficulties (window air conditioner dripping water down the interior wall, Simon being awake from 1:30 am to 3:30 am last night) and minor annoyances (cat eating food on the counters, Peter yapping incessantly about Mario Kart, Simon taking great delight in repeatedly pushing the power button on my laptop to see what happens).


As if it wasn’t enough to be responsible for myself, an 8-year-old, a 17-month-old, a cat, and the house, I’m taking on a foreign teenager in a couple days.  We’re going to host a 16-year-old boy from France for three weeks.  He arrives Sunday evening.  I’m hoping he’ll be a good distraction for Peter, who usually has a hard time when Don’s away from home for extended trips.


We made it through the first week of summer vacation.  I was successful in setting up some basic weekday routines, including implementing our summer lesson schedule.  It’s important to me to have a distinction between weekdays and weekends, otherwise my life as a stay-at-home mom becomes a big blur of day after day after day of child care and housework.  Even if I’m still doing child care and housework on the weekends, I need it to look different.


Last Friday was my birthday.  I had a lovely day.  It rained, which foiled my plan to go on a family picnic for lunch, but instead we went to a local taco place and had delicious tacos.  Don cooked dinner and he and Peter made dessert.  I spent more time than usual on the internet and reading, while Don took care of the boys.  I did clear the table after dinner and change a few diapers, but on the whole, it was a good day off.


Simon slipped and fell face-first into a wooden block today.  He has a bruise and a couple cuts on one side of his nose.  I’m sure he’ll heal soon, but it looks ugly.  I am glad that he really hasn’t had many injuries to this point.


Tomorrow’s plan: haircuts for both boys.  I hope it won’t be raining (as it has been the past two days) so I can do them outside.

I recently received some questions about adopting a child with HIV.  As I was responding privately, I realized that some of my answers would make a good blog post.  First, my disclaimer: I don’t have a child with HIV.  However, this information is distilled from reputable sources, including families that do have children with HIV.  By sharing it, I hope to make HIV less scary.

If you haven’t read it yet, you might like to start with the basic info about HIV that I shared a few months ago.

I’ve been interested in HIV adoption for quite some time, since Peter was a baby.  I followed a blog by a woman who adopted two kids with HIV from Ethiopia.  Her sharing her experiences showed me that it was doable.  I did some research on it then, but because we were planning to move to Canada and we had a lot of debt, it wasn’t a good time for us to consider adopting.  At that time, Canada didn’t allow the international adoption of HIV+ children.  HIV adoption fell off my radar for a few years.  I only learned earlier this year that Canada now allows international HIV adoption.  I re-joined the HIV Adoption Yahoo Group, where parents who have adopted kids with HIV and those who are thinking about it can ask and answer questions, share resources, and support each other.

A common message of parents who have adopted kids with HIV is that it’s not really a big deal.  With advances in medication over the past decade, HIV is managed pretty easily.  Most kids who are on medication have a viral load that is undetectable (they aren’t cured of HIV, but the level of the virus in the blood is so low that current instruments cannot detect it, and their immune systems work just as well as if they didn’t have HIV).  Caring for a child with type 1 diabetes or severe food allergies would have a much greater impact on a family’s lifestyle than caring for a child with HIV.  Basically, they take medication twice a day, and see a doctor every three months.  Medications are available in a liquid form for younger children and as pills for older children and adults.

HIV is only spread from mother to child (through birth or breastfeeding), sexual contact, or contact with blood.  Most children with HIV who are available for adoption were infected at birth.  Parenting a child with HIV would certainly require careful attention to sex education when the time comes.  I suspect that if you looked at the entire life cycle of a child who is born with HIV, that the influence on their sex life is probably the greatest impact that HIV has on their life (well, in the developed world, anyhow).  As for blood, based on my eight years of experience as a mom so far, there haven’t been many occasions when I’ve come in contact with my kids’ blood (the only time I can think of is during one of Peter’s nosebleeds).  It would be prudent to have gloves on hand that could be worn if necessary, but it doesn’t have to be a big concern.  Especially with older kids, unless they’re bleeding profusely, you can just have them wash their own blood off (I learned that in teacher’s college).  Away from home, teachers, coaches, Scout leaders, paramedics, et cetera are supposed to take universal precautions against coming into contact with other people’s blood, so there’s no need to worry about that.  If the child is on meds and has an undetectable viral load, the chance of spreading HIV even in the case of an accidental exposure is pretty small.  In short, the child is not putting anyone at risk, and it’s not necessary to “warn” people that the child has HIV.

For most families, the social impact of having an HIV+ child is more of a concern than the medical aspect.  There is still a lot of stigma associated with HIV, a lot of fear and misunderstanding.  Many parents choose not to disclose their child’s HIV status, or to disclose only to close friends and family, because of fear of discrimination against their child.

I hope that has been a helpful introduction to the topic.  There is plenty more information and discussion out there if you’re interested in learning more.


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