Flicker Medicine

Photo credit: All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Like lots of people these days, many of whom have much larger problems than I do, I’ve been having a hard time with what’s happening in America. I’m stressed out about the hard time you’re having if you’re someone who has been targeted or burdened by unfair treatment from Donald Trump and his terrible administration. I’m stressed out about what that same administration and other republicans have been doing to animals and the environment (I talk about this stuff on Twitter all the time — too much, I’m sure, so I won’t go on here, but I have to say if your USDA is run by someone who thinks puppy mills are cool you’re a monster). And as I always say, once you fuck the environment, you can’t unfuck it. I don’t even understand how you could think it’s ok to be a total dick to Mother Earth, the planet we all call home.

So I’ve been doing what I can to try to help and to get by: Donating to the ACLU, the Humane Society of the United States, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Xerces Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Planned Parenthood. Calling my U.S. Senators, one of whom is a total asshole who doesn’t give a shit what I or anyone else who isn’t lining his pockets thinks. Writing letters, sending emails, signing petitions, putting signs in the yard, supporting causes, banding together with neighbors to try to make the world a little friendlier and more hopeful. Seriously considering getting solar panels installed on our house, even if it would require replacing part of our roof that’s only two years old, because I very strongly believe that right now, if you’re not an asshole who doesn’t give a shit about the environment, it’s your absolute duty to do everything you can to help. Engaging in escapist fantasies wherein we say fuck it all and move to Costa Rica, which seems to be a pretty perfect destination for us and totally doable, the downsides being malaria, dengue fever, rampant pesticide use, and the fact that you might wake up with a scorpion in your bed. Stretching it a bit, but supporting Nordstrom by buying a satin bomber jacket featuring bedazzled cranes that I’ll rock even after satin bomber jackets, which are everywhere right now, are out of style in approximately 10 minutes, like, when I’m old and I travel to crane festivals for fun.

Mostly I read Twitter, because I have to know what’s going on and whether I can help with something important at any time, and feel really, super down. If you’re an empathetic person who leans left, you feel the same way. It’s hard and it’s overwhelming and you see people telling you to take care of yourself but you feel like a jerk because you even have the luxury of taking care of yourself. People have died. People have been detained. People have had their rights violated. People are going to be able to kill sleeping bears in their dens and shoot baby wolves in the face. Puppy mills can be even more cruel to puppies and even talking about taking care of myself feels like esoteric bullshit.

But you have to, of course, or you have nothing left to give to anyone else. So I’m trying. One thing I’m working on is going hard into the hippie lifestyle I’ve been gravitating toward for years. I mean yeah, cool, I’ve been vegan since July, but let’s also start getting into herbalism. Let’s sit around looking at rocks (I’ve been trying to meditate for years and as someone with ADHD it’s hard, so baby steps, a pretty crystal gives you something to focus on). Let’s suspend disbelief and let smells change our mood. Let’s realize that nature is our religion, Mother Earth our god. Wearing what most people would consider pajamas out to dinner is totally cool.

I knew I was getting somewhere with this all when one day I told Ben about my spirit animal. I know that’s weird, maybe. But you know what it does? It helps me feel connected to earth and in tune with nature, and that’s monstrously helpful to me right now. And who am I to say no to a spirit animal who presents herself to me? You’re an animal and you’re my friend, and you’re telling me something I particularly need to hear right now.

We’ve had a bird feeder on our front porch for over a year, since Soren and I started homeschooling and he picked the black-capped chickadee as the North American animal he wanted to study. Getting a bird feeder is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I can’t even tell you how much joy it brings me. Before we had the feeder, I remember observing that there weren’t many birds around here. Now, I’ve gotten to know them, lots of them — the chickadees (as expected, they were the first to arrive), house finches, house sparrows, red-breasted nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, the occasional downy woodpecker, and the northern flicker.

The flickers are the ones who speak to me. There’s a pair who take turns visiting our feeder. They’re much too big for it and cling awkwardly to the side but make it work. Sometimes one will sit on the porch railing, calm face looking around, beautiful feathers shining in the sun. They’re regal and radiate peace. Even if you’re inside with the windows closed, you’ll startle a flicker away if you move or make too much noise. So I’ve learned to stand still and silent, watching the bird for as long as he or she is there, forgetting myself and everything I was doing, feeling a sense of calm and connectedness I haven’t felt before. If I’m outside and hear the “kyeer” from a nearby tree I’ll stop to listen. Even when I don’t see them, I feel better knowing they’re there.

Northern Flickers are large, brown woodpeckers with a gentle expression and handsome black-scalloped plumage. On walks, don’t be surprised if you scare one up from the ground. It’s not where you’d expect to find a woodpecker, but flickers eat mainly ants and beetles, digging for them with their unusual, slightly curved bill. When they fly you’ll see a flash of color in the wings – yellow if you’re in the East, red if you’re in the West – and a bright white flash on the rump.

–from All About Birds by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Flicker medicine is showing you that it is time to find your rhythm, for you have a new cycle of growth that you will be entering. She is grounding and will teach you to connect with Mother Earth and to find balance and harmony in the physical, mental and spiritual realms. Flicker is asking you to take a look at the issues in your life, find the deeper meaning and the hidden qualities in the patterns and “coincidences” that you are experiencing and accept that your perceptions are changing. Trust in your intuition. Flicker’s constant hammering is telling you to have tenacity in your endeavors, while also having patience. Her rhythm will guide you to perfect timing and show you how important it is for healing love and how powerful forgiveness is.

Have you found your balance? Are you connected to Mother Earth and nature spirits? Rhythm is a powerful way to affect your energy – are you tuning in to your own unique rhythm? If you have tuned in to your unique rhythm, are you following it? Do you follow it with tenacity? Do you get frustrated or do you exhibit patience? Do you honor what works for you? If you have not tuned in to your rhythm, then it is time to change what you are doing. Open yourself up to your own healing love and forgiveness so that you can find your rhythm. Do you look at the aspects of your life rationally? Do you jump into situations or do you take the time to dig into them to find the hidden meanings?

–by Susan Jolley, posted on

I know it’s hard right now, but if you can, find your spirit animal, your whatever it is that helps you feel a little hopeful for the uncertain future.

Our Great Big Secular Eclectic Homeschool Plan

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Every homeschool needs a gigantic world map on the wall.

My overall goal is for Kindergarten to be an introduction to learning. Although Soren has been in preschool for years and has already done kindergarten (referred to as “junior kindergarten,” which is when Soren’s school let some kids who weren’t technically old enough join the kindergarten class last year), this is the year we spend learning how to learn (him) and learning how to teach (me).

Without further ado or more words on a long post, here’s the scoop on what curricula and resources we’ll be using this year.


The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington

  • What: just the book
  • Why: recommended in The Well-Trained Mind (WTM)

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Englemann, Phyllis Haddox, and Elaine Bruner

  • What: just the book
  • Why: recommended online

BOB Books

  • What: Set 1: Beginning Readers and Sight Words: First Grade
  • Why: recommended online plus they’re really cute

Hooked on Phonics: Learn to Read Levels 3 & 4, Word Families, Ages 4-6

  • What: everything that comes in the boxed set
  • Why: I’ve seen this recommended online many times and kids seem to really like it. This is the only thing we have that comes with a DVD. Once we dig out an old computer that can even play DVDs, I hope Soren can on occasion use it to work independently.

Amish reading books

  • What: Before We Read; First Steps (book and workbook); Before We Read and First Steps Teacher’s Edition, Learning Through Sounds and Learning Through Sounds Grade 1 – Book 2; Learning Through Sounds Book 1 & 2 Teacher’s Edition; Helping Yourself: A Seatwork Book for First Grade
  • Why: I saw these recommended online and I love how old-timey they are! I’ve only flipped through them but I haven’t seen anything overtly religious. There’s a lot of chickens and cows and farm-type stuff, which we like.

Also, we will be reading tons of books (see discussion of Build Your Library below).

Wow, that’s a ton of reading stuff. I don’t think you can have too many options when it comes to learning to read, but now that I look at this, I can’t say for sure that we’ll do everything. We can see what works and always save some for next year.


Handwriting Without Tears: Letters and Numbers for Me

  • What: the book and a pack of their wide double line notebook paper
  • Why: recommended in WTM and online



Spelling Workout by Phillip K. Trocki

  • What: Spelling Workout Level A book and teacher’s edition
  • Why: recommended in WTM



First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind by Jessie White

  • What: just the book
  • Why: recommended in WTM



Math in Focus: Singapore Math by Marshall Cavendish

  • What: kindergarten A and B workbooks and teacher’s edition and the book of kindergarten assessments
  • Why: This is the math curriculum they use at the highly gifted and talented school and I figured those guys know what they’re doing.

I also ordered the Math in Focus Complete Manipulative Kit Grades K-5 from Rainbow Resource Center (that is not an affiliate link). This was expensive but probably a good idea — Soren already likes to ask if we can homeschool now and play with math stuff.


Intro to Science by Paige Hudson

  • What: teacher guide, student pages, experiment kit, and The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
  • Why: recommended online, plus I like how structured it is for someone who has no idea how to teach science

Charlotte-Mason-style nature study

  • What: Masterclass Premium Sketch Book, 9×12 inches, 60 pound, 100 sheets, perforated/acid free (for nature journal — I got one for me, too, so we can both keep a nature journal); The Young Naturalist by Andrew W. Mitchell; The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms by Clare Walker Leslie; The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
  • Why: I agree with Charlotte Mason that nature study and being out in nature is super important.

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Earth & Space (level one) by Terri Williams

  • What: just the book (We probably won’t start this until we finish Intro to Science, but I thought it looked cool and figured I’d get it now so I don’t forget.)


Adventures in America: An Introduction to American History For the Grammar Stage by Angela Blau

  • What: teacher book and student notebook, the book Smart About the Fifty States, plus the ten recommended read aloud books
  • Why: I saw this recommended online and think it will be a fun introduction to U.S. history. Next year for first grade we’ll start the four-year cycle advocated in WTM and do ancient history.


Geography is the kind of thing we can tie into anything. We love looking at maps and talking about different places.

  • What: Michelin World Map, Stack the States for iPad, Scrambled States game

See also Build Your Library

Build Your Library

This is really cool! It’s a secular, Charlotte Mason inspired, literature-based curriculum.


Art Lab for Kids by Susan Schwake

  • What: the book and tons of art supplies from “The Master List” in the book. I spent a lot of money on art supplies and didn’t even come close to getting everything listed.
  • Why: I found this while browsing for art stuff and it looked really cool. I am happy to be over ambitious with art.

Build Your Library also includes art projects.


Guitar lessons

Music appreciation and enjoyment/listening to different things/going to concerts (Riot Fest is educational!)

Physical Education

This will be a mashup of things, including: playing on a soccer team, golf through The First Tee of Denver, yoga, and stuff from The Ultimate Homeschool Physical Education Game Book by Guy Bailey. Soren isn’t old enough to lift weights yet but sometimes shows interest in what I’m doing so I try to incorporate some age-appropriate activities for him when I can.


Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness With Children by Thich Nhat Hahn and the Plum Village Community

  • What: just the book and accompanying CD
  • Why: I think mindfulness is a super important thing for kids to learn and that I could benefit from it, as well.
  • Note: This is Buddhist and not secular.

Current Events

  • What: I got a subscription to High Country News, which is a really cool nonprofit, independent, biweekly publication that focuses on “issues that define the American West.”
  • Why: I want discuss current events without getting into difficult political/social/justice issues just yet. So for now we’ll focus on issues related to living in the West and the environment. I’ll read an article aloud and then we’ll discuss it, maybe over lunch.

Field Trips and Social Stuff

I plan to get us out and about at least once a week for field trips and/or fun social time with others.  Plus we’ll be taking frequent trips to the library.


Brain Quest Workbook (K)

Home Workbooks: Getting Ready for Kindergarten

Home Workbooks Gold Star Edition Phonics for Kindergarten

100 Write-and Learn Sight Word Practice Pages

Big Workbook Kindergarten (We’ve been working on this one over the summer.)

Poems to Learn by Heart by Caroline Kennedy

a small whiteboard for keeping track of our daily schedule and some classroom bulletin board/calendar/job posters

We’ll also be doing stuff around the house, like taking care of the garden and chickens and making lunch together.


I’m using the 2015-2016 Family Homeschool Planner by Patricia Espinoza of I had a hard time deciding between a printed or an online planner. For now, I think printed will be easier for me because I have a hard time looking at the big picture planning-wise on a screen, plus I don’t want to get stuck using an online planner that requires monthly payments because geez I’ve already spent enough money on all these books. This was inexpensive and it contains nice quotes that don’t come from the Bible.

I plan to have a rough schedule for each day, which I’ll put on a whiteboard in the kitchen, but there won’t be set times for things. For example, we might start with math. Math will take as long as it takes and when we’re done, we’ll move on to the next thing. We’ll take breaks. Ideally, we’ll have free time in the afternoons.

Ordering Homeschool Supplies

I ordered most things from Amazon or Rainbow Resource Center. Yesterday I ordered a few classroom-type supplies from Really Good Stuff. I haven’t included links for most things because if there’s something you want to buy, you’re probably better off googling and deciding where you want to shop, plus I like to make clear that I don’t use affiliate links and am never trying to sell you anything.

Wow, that’s a mountain of stuff! We’re going to do a lot of learning this year!

Charlotte Mason

I was going to write a post about the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling, but good news! Somebody already did it!

Here’s a great post about Charlotte Mason in the Secular Homeschool. I plan to mostly use this method, although I will use some textbooks (I think they’re fun textbooks!) for kindergarten at least. My big post about our curricula is coming soon — really soon, because we start homeschooling next week!

Classical Education/The Well-Trained Mind

The Well-Trained Mind (WTM) is the first book I read about homeschooling. To summarize as briefly as possible, WTM is like the Tiger Mom of homeschooling. It covers everything, and more — more than you’d ever want to actually do. This is great because my biggest fear (and I suspect the biggest fear of most new homeschooling parents) is that I’ll miss something and my child’s education will be woefully lacking in some way. WTM is intense, but that’s good because its intensity is what convinced me I can do this. Reading WTM1 gave me the information I need to build a foundation for our homeschooling. It gave me a good grasp of “the what” of homeschooling — what we want to learn.2

Here is a good overview of WTM.

What I’m Taking From The Well-Trained Mind

“Seize this early excitement. Let the child delve deep. Let him read, read, read. Don’t force him to stop and reflect on it yet. Don’t make him decide what he likes and doesn’t like. . . .”

“The immature mind is more suited to absorption than argument. The critical and logical faculty simply doesn’t develop until later on. . . . There is nothing wrong with a child accumulating information that he doesn’t yet understand. It all goes into the storehouse for use later on.”

“Remember, classical education teaches a child how to learn. The child who knows how to learn will grown into a well-rounded — and well-equipped — adult . . . even if he didn’t finish his first-grade science book.”

In elementary grades, prioritize reading, writing, grammar, and math.

Subject areas to cover: reading, writing, spelling, grammar, math, science, history, geography, art, music.
1. Full disclosure! I didn’t read the whole book. It’s huge. I read the parts that apply to elementary education. I figured I don’t need to overwhelm myself by reading about middle and high school yet and can read that stuff later.
2. My next discussion of “the what” will focus on curricula. When it comes to “the how” of homeschooling, I’m leaning toward Charlotte Mason and Montessori.  Apparently as a legal type, I like to break things down into substance and procedure.

Socialization and Homeschooling

When you tell people you’re homeschooling, you get so much shit about socialization. And to some extent I get it. Some people homeschool because they want to isolate their kids from negativity or from un-Christian influences or whatever liberal evils they perceive in our society. They want to make their kids’ world smaller. And I’d think people who know me at all would know that’s not my intent. I want to make Soren’s world bigger. The world is our classroom and we’re free to do things you can’t do within the confines of a traditional school.

When I try to explore this concern with people who voice it, what comes out is about something more than just basic social skills. They think it’s important for kids to have to deal with people and situations they don’t like, which is not as likely to happen in a homeschool setting. They think it’s important for kids to have to deal with people and situations they don’t like so they can grow up to deal with people and situations they don’t like. My addition to this is: It’s important for kids to have to deal with people and situations they don’t like so they can grow up to deal with people and situations they don’t like when they’re a cog in the machine of a job where there’s nothing but people and situations they don’t like.

And look, I’m just going to call bullshit on that right now. Of course I don’t want my kid to turn into someone who runs around parties like a feral cat swishing its puffed-up tail in fear and confusion because he doesn’t know how to interact with other humans. But I strongly disagree with the idea that it’s my job to raise him to be a cog in a machine. I mean, if that’s what he wants, I hope to give him the skills and education he needs to make that happen. But I think, as someone who has the amazing privilege to opt out of traditional employment and homeschool my kid, I have a duty to aim higher.

Although I think socialization is important, my main question about homeschooling isn’t about socialization — it’s about how much of the huge world and how many possibilities we can explore as we try to find out what else is possible in life.