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Reading Over My Shoulder: Education Is an Atmosphere

Lately there’s been a lot of that going on.  While I try to be attentive to my children at most meals, especially, I will confess to reading the local newspaper over breakfast.  However, I’m once again realizing that almost everything can (and likely will) become a “learning moment” (whether I want it to or not 😉 ).  I refer to Lulu as a blossoming reader, and while I’m sure there’s a more appropriate educational term, I like mine.  I see her mind opening up to the possibilities inherent in the ability to read.  While she sometimes balks at our short phonics lessons (‘though she does extremely well and even likes it when it’s said and done), she is forever going about the house reading whatever she sees–shampoo bottles, book titles, canned goods labels, newspaper headlines.  This brings us up to day, breakfast time.  I was eating my bagel and peanut butter and skimming an editorial when Lulu announced, “There’s an s and a z together in that word!”  The article entitled “Chavez’s socialist project hobbled” on the page next to the one I was reading had caught her eye, especially the strange-looking arrangement of letters.  This led to a quick little discussion of possession and the use of apostrophes. 

I think this is the part of homeschooling that I find most rewarding and most confounding.  It’s rewarding because I think this is where much of real learning takes place–in the incidentals, the times when there’s a need to know something, or simply an interest in knowing something.  Will my kindergartener remember everything I told her about possession?  No.  But will she at least be a little more familiar with it than she was before?  Yes. 

It’s confounding because my brief experience as a public school teacher makes me want (need?) to quantify our learning.  Should I make a note that we talked about this?  Can I somehow work this into our lesson plans for the day?  If you have that same voice in your head, you know what I’m talking about.  If you don’t, lucky you.  😉

I’ve been reading up on the Charlotte Mason method lately, especially by perusing Simply Charlotte Mason and slowly going through When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today.  Up until the past few weeks, I was fairly certain that I wanted to put into practice the methods of a classical (neoclassical?) education a la The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home .  I still love the idea, but I’m wondering if what I think of as a more gentle approach might be better for us in the beginning.  I’m still mulling it all over in my brain, trying to figure it out myself.  The reason I bring this up now is because I’ve been thinking about one of the pillars of a Charlotte Mason education:  learning is an atmosphere.  I understand that there’s probably a lot more to this little statement than meets the eye as far as an education method is concerned, but I think it must have something to do with the whole incidental learning situation.  I want to be free in my mind for this to be the way our days go.  I think in reality they already go pretty much this way, but in the back of my mind there’s always the little record keeper, checking things off her list. 

I’m still thinking.  I’ll keep you posted.

Classics Book Club–Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

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I have a distinct memory of the first time I read Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca–I was lying on a float in the middle of my aunt’s pool, the thick paperback novel shading my face from the sun and the realization that I was in the VERY hot and humid South, not a beautiful-but-foreboding English estate.  (Of course, this was Before Children when I actually took reading material to the pool with the expectation that I would actually read it, not just get it wet.)  Rebecca made quite an impression on me then.  Making an impression is what this book does.  Honestly, I had forgotten most of the details.  Due to the fact that we have a lot going on here at the House of Hope right now, I have not made as much progress on the novel this time as I had hoped.  I am just about half way through it this second time.  However, I wanted to share a few of my observations and thoughts about it so far for August’s Classics Bookclub over at 5 Minutes for Books, thus making this another one of my “Reflections in Progress” posts, as well.  I love it when all this bloggy stuff coincides.  🙂

Lisa has posted all kinds of good discussion questions in anticipation of this month’s Classics Bookclub, but I’m not even going to attempt to answer most of them.  Instead, I’m going to spring board off a couple of them because they really feed into what has been going through my mind as I’ve read the novel this time around.   Lisa asks the following: 

Why do you think the heroine remains nameless? (did you notice she was never referred to by name?) Don’t you find it interesting that the novel is titled “Rebecca” yet our narrator is nameless? Why the contrast, do you think? Do you see her anonymity as indicative of some deeper meaning?

Did you like Maxim at first? Did you trust him? Why do you think the narrator was so unsure of his affection? Did you share her doubt? What gave her confidence in his love–or did she remain insecure? Did you alter your opinion of either Maxim or the narrator in the course of the novel? What made you change your mind?

I’ve been thinking mostly about the narrator during the first half of the novel.  The narrator reminds me of the insecurity inherent in all relationships.  I think the narrator really reminds me of myself.  However, sometimes when she takes her little flights of fancy, her imagination running at breakneck speed ahead of what is actually occuring in the situation, I want to yell to her, “STOP!  You have no idea what that person is actually thinking!”  Perhaps DuMaurier meant for this to show her naivete, her innocence.  I don’t know.  I really don’t remember even noticing it the first time I read Rebecca, so maybe it shows that I’ve matured a little bit as well. 

The issue of the narrator being unnamed is another thing I noticed more this time. Actually, it is not that she is unnamed, but rather that she is not given the honor of her married title, that bothers me.  I know that this is the point–that the first Mrs. deWinter would never be replaced at Manderley.  However, early on, when the narrator answers the house phone and says in response Mrs. Danvers calling her by her married title, ” ‘I’m afraid you have made a mistake. [. . .]Mrs. deWinter has been dead for over a year'”, I wanted to shake her.  Of course, this just adds to the atmosphere, and atmosphere is what this novel postively drips with. 

I’ve enjoyed this read immensely thus far.  It has been a great break from all of the nonfiction I’ve been reading lately.  I’ll try to follow up this post with more thoughts when I actually finish the novel.  Until then, hop over to 5 Minutes for Books to read what others think about this masterpiece of gothic romance.

Reflections in Progress::A Mother’s Heart by Jean Fleming

I picked up A Mother’s Heart: A Look at Values, Vision, and Character for the Christian Mother for my daily quiet time reading after finishing this book .  I’ve fallen into the habit of beginning my quiet time with some sort of devotional reading to quiet my heart and spirit before I go any further with Bible study, prayer, or further reading.  I procured A Mother’s Heart through Paperback Swap after reading Fleming‘s Feeding Your Soul (my thoughts here).  I knew her to be a quiet, contemplative, encouraging sort of writer, which is just what I need. 

Lately, as Lulu nears the age of school attendance (‘though not yet mandatory school attendance age, certainly past the age at which most children in our acquaintance have attended some sort of institutional school), I have begun wondering exactly what it is I am doing–what I am building my life upon.  Well, not that, really–I know I am building my life upon Christ; rather, what it is I am spending my life for.  I love being with my children every day.  Do I love it every minute?  No, of course not.  Who does?  But is there anything in the world I’d rather be doing?  I can answer a resounding no to this question.  Living on one income in a two income world, especially when my return to work would almost double our household income, is hard.  Don’t get me wrong–we are not in need.  Sometimes, though, I have to admit that I am in want.  It is made even more difficult by the fact that we have no close friends who are doing this.  I am hoping that once we begin attending our homeschool group in the fall that we will make some friends who are living out similar choices, but until then, I’m just really having to figure this one out on my own with the Lord’s help.

I think about this giving up of myself on so many different levels, and all of these levels are felt/experienced with all of my heart.  For example, I WANT to do this–to be this vital part of my children’s education.  In fact, sometimes I think this want drives me above all others.  Equally, though, is the want for the elusive “better life” for my girls.  (I’m ashamed to type this, even as I do.  What on earth could possibly truly make their lives better?!?!)  This “better life,” which I would even have a hard time honestly defining, requires a two-income lifestyle, I’m sure.  (I’ll leave you to wrestle with the logic of that one.)  When I leave the materialism out of it entirely, I think that I am more likely to become the person I am meant to be if I am able to have a quiet life at home.  I need lots of “margin” (as I’ve heard it called–from a book which I’ve not read and can’t remember the title of at the moment) in my life.  I desire to live a meditative, prayerful life.  I’m not sure I could do that as a working mother.  (Disclaimer:  This is not a slam on working mothers or any implication that they are prayerless, etc.  It is just my own rambling thoughts.)  My life is most likely to approximate that goal if I have time to accomplish it (and more discipline, of course). 

I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth this has to do with my opening paragraph about A Mother’s Heart.  I’ve read just over half of the book, and while there’s nothing earth-shattering about it, at least Fleming has reminded me that although what I’m doing earns no paycheck, it does have huge spiritual implications.  Chapter seven, entitled “Going Beyond ‘God Bless Charlie,'” resonated very deeply with me this morning.  In this chapter, Fleming obviously focuses on the importance and power of prayer in our children’s lives, and not prayers they pray themselves–prayers we pray for them.  She states,

It is impossible to begin too soon, or to pray too much for our children.

I feel like I”ve barely scratched the surface.  I’m always in a hurry to go on to the next thing–blogging (I admit, it’s high on my list), laundry, cleaning, reading, cooking, whatever.  I know this is a season in my life that will soon be over, but I need God to partner with me in this mothering thing now as much as I ever will.  When, oh when, will I ever learn this lesson?  Fleming quotes S.D. Gordon’s Quiet Talks on Prayer:

The great people on earth are the people who pray.  I do not mean those who talk about prayer; nor those who say they believe in prayer; nor yet those who can explain about prayer; but I mean those people who take time and pray.  They have not time.  It must be taken from something else.  This something else is important–very important, and pressing, but still less important and pressing than prayer.

Ouch.  This all seems to be so intertwined to me–my inability to finally put to rest my desire for a “better life,”  the equally strong desire to live a life of sincere piety, and the realization that I can’t have it all.  I really just need to come to a place of peace about where I am going in life.  I’m wondering, especially for those of you who have been at this gig for a while (i.e. homeschooling and/or homemaking), does this tension ever get easier?  How does one come to a place of true contentment with what she has chosen?

This type of confessional post is highly unusual for me, but it’s what’s going on in my mind while reading A Mother’s Heart.  I don’t like to wear my heart on my sleeve blog, but thank you for listening.  🙂

Reflections in Progress–Les Miserables “Cosette”

It was only when I got about two-third of the way through this section of the book that I began to question my decision to read the unabridged version. In fact, if our usual library run had not been preempted for a trip to our favorite Italian eatery for lunch after Bible study last Wednesday, I would probably now be reading the abridged version. Alas, it was not to be, and I am still persevering through all 1400 pages.   Actually, what I’m doing is abridging the novel myself, which I’m pretty sure is not as good of an idea as reading one that someone abridged who actually knew what he was doing.

I did finally make it through the second section of the book, and I enjoyed most of it immensely.  I skipped the first book, “Waterloo,”  because my interest in the Battle of Waterloo peaked back in an undergraduate history class on the French Revolution and Napoleonic period.  To tell the truth, I really wasn’t too interested in battles, even then.  I abridged the book myself again when I got to book six, “Petit-Picpus.”  I actually read the first few sections of this book, but I got pretty bogged down (not to mention depressed) by all the details of convent life, so I skipped to the next book to read more of Jean Valjean and poor little Cosette.  That’s the real story, after all.  (I hope I haven’t missed anything dreadfully important by skipping these two books.  If I did, please clue me in.)

Those two books notwithstanding, I have thoroughly enjoyed this section.  In my first Reflections in Progress post about the first section of the novel, I wrote that I was really impressed by Hugo’s ability to create suspense.  After reading “Cosette,” I see that he is also a master at both descriptive characterization and comedy.  I love the description he gives of Cosette’s “benefactress,” Mme. Thenardier:

tall, blond, red, fat, brawny, square, enormous, and agile; she belonged, as we have said, to the race of those colossal wild women who pose at fairs with paving-stones hung in their hair.  She did everything around the house, the beds, the rooms, the washing, the cooking; and generally did just as she pleased.  Cosette was her only servant–a mouse in the service of an elephant.  Everything trembled at the sound of her voice, windows and furniture as well as people.  Her broad face was covered with freckles, like the holes in a skimming ladle.  She had a beard.  She had the look of  a market porter dressed in petticoats.  She swore splendidly; she prided herself on being able to crack a nut with her fist.  Apart from the novels she had read, which at times produced odd glimpses of the affected lady under the ogress, it would never have occurred to anyone to say:  That’s a woman.  This Thenardiess was a cross between a whore and a fishwife.  To her her speak, you would say this was a policeman; to see her drink, you would say this was a cartman; if you saw her handle Cosette, you would say this was the hangman.  When at rest, a tooth protruded from her lips.  (377-78)

This description is priceless.  Although it reminds me of some cartoon villainess,  dimwitted and slow, I still would not want to be Cosette’s shoes.

My favorite part of this section, though, is at the very end when Jean Valjean is smuggled out of the convent in a coffin and is then readmitted as Fauchelevent’s brother.  The scene in the cemetery with the new gravedigger is the perfect blend of suspense and comedy!

I might be reading this slowly, and I might barely finish it by the time Steady Eddie and I see it on stage this summer, but at least I am enjoying it!

Classics Bookclub–Les Miserables

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Sigh.  I’m still plugging away at Les Miserables, with only about 900 more pages to go.  : )  Back when I started reading it near the beginning of February, I had so hoped to finish it by today.  However, by the time I had gotten well into the first section, I realized that this book requires the type of concentrated reading that I don’t get to do much.  I tend to read in spats and spurts, with maybe a good thirty minutes at night before I turn off the light.  It’s hard to get through 1400 pages quickly like that.  I am enjoying it, though, and I intend to keep posting my Reflections in Progress as I finish the major divisions of the novel.  I’m almost through with the second section, so stay tuned to Hope Is the Word for my thoughts on it.  You can read my thoughts on the first section, “Fantine,” here.

To read others’ thoughts on this wonderful story, click over to 5 Minutes for Books.

Reflections in Progress–Les Miserables “Fantine”

Way back when I decided to read Les Miserables, I also decided to take a cue from Carrie at Reading to Know and respond to this book while in the process of reading it.  I am reading the unabridged version, after all, and at around 1400 pages, it is by far the longest book I’ve ever read.  (I’m fairly certain I’ve never read anything else over 800 pages.)  I started reading this book around February 1, and since I’m composing this post on February 11 and I’ve only finished 300 pages in this novel (the first division, entitled “Fantine”), I would say that I’m off to a pretty slow start.  My post-childbirth memory is very poor (never-you-mind that my baby is three), so I want a place where I can keep my “running thoughts” about the long novels I read; hence, the Reflections in Progress category of Hope Is the Word.

Contrary to what the fact that I have read an average of only thirty pages a day since starting this book seems to indicate, I am really enjoying it.  The only section of “Fantine” that really made me question my resolve to read the unabridged version was Book III, “The Year 1817.”  This is the section in which Fantine’s sordid past history is discussed in plenty of detail.  It wasn’t so much the details about Fantine and her boyfriend and friends that I found so trying; it was the details about French history that were completely lost on me.  Once upon a time in a former life (B.C.–before children), some of this might’ve actually made sense to me, but I have forgotten nearly everything I ever knew about the French Revolution and Napoleonic France.  It’s a shame, too, because it sure would’ve come in handy here.

In general, I think I can already make a few observations about Victor Hugo’s writing:

  • He has an amazing ability to encourage sympathy for the underdog or those who are considered the dregs of society.  In fact, it’s more than sympathy; at times, it borders on empathy because he makes his readers realize they might not do any better in the situations that, for example, Jean Valjean or Fantine find themselves in.  He puts a very human face on their suffering.
  • He is a master at suspense.  I was completely drawn in during the false identity crisis of Monsieur Madeleine.  Completely.
  • This book is all about characterization.  I loved the Bishop of Digne, and it was all because of the portrait Hugo paints of him.  I love books with richly drawn characters (I would actually trade good characterization for an exciting plot any day), so this makes me very happy.

Did you know that the title of this blog, Hope Is the Word, comes from Les Miserables?  No?  Well, neither did I until this week.  : )  I happened upon the quote by Victor Hugo (look below the blog title if you’ve never noticed before) on a piece of artwork at a local art show during the summer of 2007.  I’ve forgotten what the piece of art looked like, but I’ve never forgotten the quote. When I got around to joining the blogging universe, that quote was still percolating in my brain, so I called my blog Hope Is the Word.  My blog has evolved from a general homemaking, child-rearing, miscellaneous sort of blog to a dedicated book and education blog, but I have been loathe to change the name to something more appropriate since the quotation is from a famous author and since it uses the word word in an interesting way.  Anyway.  I came across a version of this quote while reading Les Miserables (and I cannot for the life of me find it now, despite a copious marking of my paperback for favorite quotes).  Of course, what I read was not a verbatim version of the quote from which my blog’s title is taken (or vice versa, really), and it briefly made me consider axing the quote up top.  Then I decided that I wouldn’t because it captures the spirit of what Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, and besides, I really, really like it.

Victor Hugo was a master at writing aphorisms (although really, some of what he says is rather long-winded and not aphoristic at all).  Here are a few of my favorite quotations from “Fantine”:

M. Myriel could be called at all hours to the bedside of the sick and the dying.  He well knew that there was his highest duty, his most important work.  Widowed or orphan families did not need to send for him; he came on his own.  He would sit silently for long hours beside a man who had lost the wife he loved or a mother who had lost her child.  Just as he knew the time for silence, he also knew the time for speech.  Oh, admirable consoler!  He did not seek to drown grief in oblivion, but to exalt and dignify it through hope.  He would say, “Be careful how you think of the dead.  Don’t think of what might have been.  Look steadfastly and you will see the living glory of your beloved dead in the heights of heaven.”  He believed that faith gives health.  He sought to counsel and calm the despairing by pointing out the Man of Resignation, and to transform the grief that contemplates the grave by showing it the grief that looks up to the stars.  (17)

“The most beautiful of altars is the soul of an unhappy man who is comforted and thanks God.”  (M. Myriel, Bishop of Digne)  (21)

[T]he goodness of the mother is written in the gaiety of the child.  (Fantine and Cosette) (151)

[B]ooks are cold but sure friends.  (163)

He did a multitude of good deeds as secretly as bad ones are usually done.  (F. Madeleine) (165)

The old woman, Marguerite, who had given [Fantine] lessons in poverty, was a pious woman, a person of genuine devotion, poor and charitable to the poor, and even to the rich, knowing how to write just enough to sign Margeritte, and believing in God, which is knowledge.

There are many of these virtues in lowly places; some day they will be on high.  This life has a day after.  (181)

On entering the order, Sister Simplice had two faults that she corrected gradually; she had a taste for good food and loved to receive letters.  Now she read nothing but a prayer book in large type and in Latin.  She did not understand Latin, but she understood the book.  (214)

There is one spectacle greater than the sea:  That is the sky; there is one spectacle greater than the sky:  That is the interior of the soul.  (219)

One can no more keep the mind from returning to an idea than the sea from returning to a shore.  For a sailor, this is called the tide; in the case of the guilty, it is called remorse.  God stirs up the soul as well as the ocean.  (225)

I am eagerly anticipating continuing the story of Cosette and Jean Valjean, but I think I need a little break first.  I hope to finish Madeleine L’Engle’s The Love Letters for Semicolon‘s Book Club before continuing on this journey with Victor Hugo.