Books for Moms to Befriend

IMG_9480Sometimes homeschooling parents get so busy choosing the best books for our kids that we forget to do the same for ourselves. One of my favorite ways to unwind is a hot bath with a favorite book. This doesn’t always work out well; poor At Home in Mitford has taken at least two dips in the tub.

IMG_9494I walk by my bookshelves and see some of my best friends: the books whose worn covers I touch as I walk by, the ones that bring a smile and demand to be read every year or so. My favorites are all tame and clean. Most are Christian with a moral and open discussion of God and His plans, books in which you learn something new every time you read them. Here, in order, are some of my absolute favorites. Sorry, dads, I’m afraid most of these books will appeal more to the ladies. I’d like to hear which books everyone else enjoys, if you care to comment. What gems am I missing?

(Additional great books by the same author are in parenthesis in the order I rank them.)

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Persuasion) (Don’t waste your time reading Northanger Abbey.) P & P is my absolute favorite book of all time –Elizabeth and Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Lydia –some of the best characters ever written, plus clever banter and satire, not to mention romance.
  2. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol) A little hard to get started, but this is a must read for every high school senior. The messages about making choices and living with them will open discussions. The sarcasm and commentary on English society at the time are biting, funny, and leave you thinking.
  3. IMG_9495All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, and The Lord God Made Them All) I don’t use the words “excellent” and “love” lightly when describing a book, but I absolutely love James Herriot’s excellent, excellent books. Each chapter is a separate story, yet all connect on a common thread. They are sweet, taking you back to a simpler time of small town characters you wish you might have known. The story of Tricky Woo makes me laugh to tears every time. The story of Jim’s friend who has to quit farming and move to the city to work at a factory tears my heart.
  4. The Obsession of Victoria Gracen by Grace Livingston Hill. This book is unlike any of her other works. It lacks the syrupy sweet element so common in books from the beginning of the last century. Victoria Gracen takes in an errant teenage nephew and changes life forever for him and the other “trouble makers” he attracts.
  5. Christy by Catherine Marshall. The story of a young school teacher at a mission in Appalachia. She faces struggles, strange superstitions, and finds love in an unexpected place. I love, love, love this book.
  6. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (These Happy Golden Years) I started reading Laura books in first grade and never stopped.
  7. Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John (Rainbow Garden, Star of Light, The Tanglewood’s Secret) A story of sin, redemption, and forgiveness with a nice twist at the end. It’s really written for kids, so I read it to mine and then assign them to read it a few years later.
  8. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Who doesn’t love a tale of pirates and treasure, mutiny and courage? I mean, skeletons pointing the way? Creepy and cool.
  9. At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. Father Tim and Cynthia, Barnabas and Dooley, Miss Sadie and Absalom Greer. This book has characters you wish you could meet, a good plot line, and inspires you in your relationship with God.
  10. IMG_9492Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. For whatever reason this is the Shakespeare that I laugh over and read again and again. I’m always amazed by how many of Shakespeare’s phrases have slipped into common usage in our society.
  11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I like that doing what is right at any cost is a given for Jane. Authors rarely write like that today. (I can’t believe Charlotte’s sister wrote Wuthering Heights, which I hate.)
  12. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery (Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island) As a kid I skimmed over Anne’s flowery speeches and descriptions. Now I love those parts. Then there’s her deep friendships, her love of Marilla and Matthew, her crazy yet oddly understandable escapades, and of course Gilbert.
  13. Little Women Louisa May Alcott (The Inheritance) Who doesn’t cry when Beth dies?
  14. Pollyanna by Eleanor Hodgman Porter. This book always makes me smile, so much better than the Disney version of the story.
  15. A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton Porter (Girl of the Limberlost and Laddie) She lives, learns and grows with the decisions she makes. She relies on God and herself and becomes strong and fiercely independent.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. An excellent book, this doesn’t make the top list because it is too gripping and violent, which doesn’t lead to relaxation. But, it is a powerful story with a great message.
  2. Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley (I don’t like the sequel) This is the touching and sweet story of a pastor who loses his faith and the family and congregation who help him to find it.
  3. Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark (Weep No More My Lady, All Around the Town) I’ve read all of her books and can’t put them down until I’ve finished, or sneaked a peek at the last few pages. These mysteries aren’t Christian, but Clark is a Catholic, so her books often feature mass or priests, and don’t have racy scenes.
  4. The Client by John Grisham (The litigator, The Runaway Jury, The Last Juror) I like his books. He writes an entertaining, gripping story. He’s a believer, which isn’t blatant in his writing, but I appreciate that he keeps things clean.
  5. The Enchanted Barn by Grace Livingston Hill. ( Lo Michael) These both have a bit of Hill’s more sappy elements, but are still interesting and worth reading. I like the pictures they paint of society at the time.
  6. Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin (Hidden Places) This book features the entwined lives of three generations of women. It deals with making the right choices, even when it’s not what your heart wants. I like that the main character doesn’t have a romance in her story.
  7. Escape by Barbara Delinsky (Coast Road) (Careful with her books. She seems to have begun her career writing trashy romance novels. I was pretty disappointed in her when I stumbled across a plotless book of trashy love scenes and shallow characters.) Escape is the story of a woman who steps out of her life to reevaluate what is really important.

The Unique Challenges of a Homeschooling Dad

I often wonder how many of the daily homeschooling challenges I encounter are particularly common to men. Sorting this out is tricky since our attitudes and habits, not genders, are usually responsible for our results. The many cathartic conversations I’ve had with moms in the HS community confirm that the similarities in our experiences far outweigh the differences. Upon reflection though, I believe those differences do exist, and they are worth noting.

Most importantly, the HS Dad must be aware of what we might call “bad-cop programming”. While being the heavy seems natural to a man, its effectiveness is diminished with more than very occasional use. He must cultivate a manly patience, and be willing and able to discipline his children calmly so as not to set a bad example of flaring temper (Think Atticus Finch).

The HS Dad also tends to be challenged in finding a harmonious relationship with stuff. He is frankly astonished at the amount of it that is supposedly required. A man is understandably dismayed when he receives 40 lbs. of crafting materials with the math program he orders (I’m looking at you Saxon). He does not see this as a bonus. In his consternation, he may become a reactionary, and refuse to equip himself with the most basic necessities. This is dumb. A happy medium can be found by keeping a short list of essential items on hand. This might include sunscreen, snacks, water, diapers, wipes, and extra baby clothes.

Finally, if a man makes it his business to shoulder the load of his kids’ education, he must not fall into the trap of thinking he is a full member of the mom club. His presence among them changes the dynamic, and while they are happy to include him, it’s good to be sensitive to the fact that conversation would flow through more topics if he made himself scarce from time to time. Of course, manly pursuits require his attention, and so this should be a relief to him as well.




Is it Time to Quit Homeschooling?

Christmas was over. The ceaseless cold set in and once again I dreamed of boarding schools in Switzerland that would take my children until they’re eighteen (or even twenty-one) and send them back as well-mannered functional human beings capable of bringing untold benefits to all of society.

More realistically, as I do every year around that time, I pulled up the websites for local private schools and called the public school for a kindergarten information packet. This year I went so far as to fill out and drop off applications for three of my kids at a local private school, go to an open house, and schedule a meeting with the principal.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but homeschooling can be tedious drudgery. In all the articles that I read telling me I should homeschool, this was never mentioned. I’m tired. I’m worn.  Sometimes I want desperately to quit.

I’m no homeschooling newbie; I’ve been at it for eleven years. But, at times it is so much, too much. It defines my life and the person I am. I feel that homeschooling has eclipsed me. I spend all day with my children but wonder if they even know me.

Am I selfish in wanting to pursue dreams so long on hold? I’ve written four novels and published none. I want to sit in a coffee shop sipping mocha as I edit a manuscript instead of worrying about gaps in my kids’ education.

At my third INCH Convention I went to a session by Christine Field entitled “Is it Time for a Change?” She addressed this very issue: throwing in the towel. One thought stuck with me all these years. Christine said (basically), “As much prayer and soul searching should go into your decision to put your kids back into school as went into your decision to take them out in the first place. If you felt led by God to start homeschooling, you need to wait for the same leading to quit.”

This year more than ever I prayed and sought counsel. My friend Linda Hall said, “His will could be a number of things as long as I’m doing them with a clear conscience and covering them in prayer.  He can bless a multitude of paths if they aren’t contrary to scripture.”

This was very freeing to me. There isn’t just the one right path which I must somehow decipher, but possibly many.

“But,” I told Linda, “I want to follow the BEST path, God’s best plan. I just can’t figure out what it is.”

The homeschooling path is difficult. It’s work. It’s selflessness. It’s deciding to do for the kids instead of for yourself over and over and over, and it’s a path I finally decided to continue to travel.

Why am I going to continue when it would be so much easier to quit?

Because a path being difficult doesn’t make it the wrong path, and the reasons I began homeschooling in the first place still exist:

  • I don’t want to spend eight hours a day missing my kids.
  • I think homeschooling will give my kids the best chance to draw close to God. One day I will be held accountable for the choices I made and how those influenced my children’s hearts for (or against) Him.
  • I want my kids to learn independence, not to follow the crowd. Homeschooling is making that happen.
  • We’re having good results. With two in high school now, we can see that it has actually been working.
  • I like taking vacations during the off season and scheduling appointments during the less busy times.
  • I like my kids having plenty of time to run wild and free. (Though I do wish they would do it with less mess.)
  • I have a lot of great curriculum I’d really like to keep using.
  • My kids take care of each other. I don’t think they’d be as close if they were in school.
  • The other day my seven year old and five year old spent hours playing with my friends’ (homeschooled) fifteen and nine year olds. Meanwhile my sixteen year old and one of their twelve year olds were hanging out in the next room. I love how with homeschoolers age so often is not an issue.
  • My fifteen year old makes me breakfast. He couldn’t do that if I were putting him on a bus every morning.

Anyway, let’s be honest, I’m not really cut out for the school system: the daily commute, packing lunches, and don’t get me started on dress codes. My girls wear an odd array of dress up clothes, leotards, scraps of cloth and blankets every day. I don’t really want them to be stifled into khakis and polo shirts.

Writing for homeschoolers…what is your plan?

Since I have been part of Explorers I have worked in one way or another in writing classes. Most extensively with IEW. As a homeschool mom, I probably purchased one or two curriculum packages per child for writing! I am quite familiar with many writing programs. Now I am working with Terri Rigby in our High School Classical Writing class. Of course this curriculum is my current favorite.

Since we have this blog, I put this question out there : What is your writing program? Do you love it? Are your kids good writers? How did they get there?

Best of: Grandparent Wisdom

Grandparents are famously inclined to give parenting advice, and for the most part, we’d be pretty dumb not to listen. Some of their pearls become especially well-worn in the day-to-day of homeschooling; for example, my mom once made the frank and humorous observation that:

“It takes a long time to civilize a human being.” 

The sanity-retaining power of this mantra can hardly be overstated. It is my mental go-to move when confronted with the inexplicable acts of my children who I know are smart enough to have not just done whatever they just did. It reminds me that you’re supposed to have to tell them the same thing a thousand times–that’s just how it works!–so no use being upset about it. Many angry tirades have been checked by her ten extremely well-chosen words. What a wonderful gift.

Now, while I’m pretty sure my mom actually is the smartest one out there, perhaps we’ll see she has some competition. Please drop your best homeschooling grandparent wisdom in the comments, and it will be like having an army of grandmas on your side.