Tuesday Tome Week 18 – Madame Bovary

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I read Madame Bovary painstakingly. It took me longer than a week because I had to put it down over and over again. I was not sure I could finish it. It pains me to see characters – especially women – making foolish mistakes again and again. When I finally came to about 80% of the book, – yes, I read it on my Kindle – I started enjoying it. Why? Because Emma Bovary was finally hitting rock bottom.

Madame Bovary

I don’t like reckless behavior, whether in real life or in literary fiction. I understand why Susan Wise Bauer included this novel in her list of 32 best novels to read from Western literature. It is the first novel chronologically which puts an end to Romanticism and starts Realism as a current in literature.

Gustave Flaubert shocked many people with the realistic depictions of every day life and the adultery Madame Bovary engaged in while married to Charles Bovary, a country doctor in Yonville, France. Flaubert even got sued over the book, which shocked the sensibilities of many in the 19th century.

Continue reading »

Anyway, I am glad I read it because (1) I read it in French, in the original, and I saw it as a way to practice my French; (2) now I can tell you about it; (3) I can keep going down the list in The Well-Educated Mind without feeling like I skipped over something; (4) it is always good to finish what you start.

And (5), I found several pearls – any book has them, you just have to be willing to look for them. The pharmacist was one of the few characters who ends well by the time the story is over. He said a few things and just the way he was, the way Flaubert described him, I gained insight into somebody I know – we won’t mention any names.

So Emma Bovary reads too many romantic novels for her own good and wants to live her life on an emotional high. The daughter of a farmer, she gets sent to a Catholic convent for education. As a Protestant, I have never thought sending children to a Catholic school is a good idea and this book proves it – and this 200 years ago! Of course, we are dealing with fiction, but art imitates life most of the time.

The books we read and what we make of them can really influence our thinking. No wonder many Puritanical educators do away with fiction altogether. They don’t know how to handle them or how to teach them to their children.

Our heroine Emma Rouault marries Dr. Bovary, a widower, and becomes completely disgusted with her husband because he is not refined. She craves expensive goodies and launches into not one but two affairs (not simultaneously) with men who could not have been more different from each other. The woman is confused to say the least and ends her own life in the most horrible way, by eating arsenic. Her daughter becomes an orphan not long after that, as Dr. Bovary dies of a broken heart once he finds Emma’s love correspondence with the two men – although he told one of the men that he did not hate him.

So what’s the good in such a novel? First of all, the form. Flaubert invented the art of telling it like it is – a reaction against the Romantic novels up until that time. It is not by accident that Emma’s sad life and tragic end are caused by reading romantic novels. Secondly, if you can read it in French, it would help you tremendously. Don’t stop to look up every word you don’t know. As long as you can get the gist of what is happening, move on. Thirdly, read it so you can count yourself warned – adultery and living beyond your means never take you down a good path. At least Flaubert did not reward Emma by letting her live on and somehow glorifying her mistakes.

For me, “tout à coup” remains the main expression I learned after reading Madame Bovary. I saw it many, many times throughout the book. I should have counted it. Glad it’s over though.


Tuesday Tome Week 6 – Jane Eyre

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Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a masterpiece. No wonder then that of all the things the Bronte sisters wrote, Susan Wise Bauer included only Jane Eyre into her list of 32 novels produced by the Western world since the genre was created, around the 1600s. Jane is way ahead of her time. She makes herself the equal of a man (a wealthy gentleman, too) – great feat in 1847! – through conversation and wit and attitude.

Jane Eyre

But Jane Eyre is more than just an early feminist. She is a Christian who is grappling with injustice, hypocrisy, delusion, and missionarism in the people around her. Some have said this book is anti-Christian because of characters like Mr. Brocklehurst and St John Rivers. These men seem more like caricatures, but have you not met hypocritical characters in your local congregation? Have you not met exalted young missionaries who are deluded into thinking they are doing God and the world a favor through their daily sacrifices? I know I have met my fair share of such people. So this book spoke to me on a very personal level.  Continue reading »

I have also enjoyed reading the development of Jane herself. This book is written as an autobiography, so we hear Jane speak in the first person. She takes us on a journey about her life from the time she was 10 until her late 20s.

And then, there is the love story between Jane and Mr. Rochester. I will not give away much of the plot, but suffice it to say that it is fascinating. Personally, I have never liked men my father’s age in a romantic way. But I know several women who enjoyed relationships with men who were older by 13-25 years. In that aspect, I did not “get” Jane. Everything else about the evolution of their relationship though was very believable and I could come to terms with.

I liked how Charlotte Bronte described the landscape and the rest of the characters. I enjoyed looking into the metaphors hidden in the names of the different places Jane stayed at: from Lowood to Ferndean, the author hid a message and a description in each location name.

This has been such a powerful book, I need a break from fiction for the next week, so that I can still bask in the atmosphere of Jane’s universe while I read a nonfiction book.

By the way, I watched the 1970 production of Jane Eyre, which is available for free on Amazon Prime, but did not like it very much. A lot was left out of the book – big chunks, which gave a lot of insight into the development of Jane’s thoughts and feelings. Several things were changed from the book, to fit a simpler plot. It is really not worth your time unless you want to have a visual of what some of the scenes might look like – and even then, would you not like to stick to what your mind imagined by reading the book?

This movie is definitely not a replacement for reading the book. Oh, and you can get Jane Eyre free on Kindle. Your local library probably carries it too, in the Classics section.


The Well-Educated Mind

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When I purchased my copy of The Well-Trained Mind three years ago, I thought I would never be interested in The Well-Educated Mind. I thought I would be reading right along my children as we followed suggestions from The Well-Trained Mind. Who would have time for anything else? I was wrong.

The Well-Educated Mind

The book for homeschooling parents who are thirsty for more

Not that I find myself with “vast chasms of time” on my hands, to use Thomas Jefferson’s expression. But I got my kids on track with their assignments from The Well-Trained Mind and now I find myself curious, hungry, and eager for filling in the gaps in my own education. When I heard The Well-Educated Mind was being revised and re-published in October 2015, I placed my pre-order in September and waited (im)patiently for it to come out.  Continue reading »

Right from the introduction, I was very impressed. The book offers tremendous information about how to read a book. I read How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler last summer and learned a lot, but The Well-Educated Mind offers more precise advice, better organized ideas, and information geared specifically toward the homeschooling parent. Sorry, Mr. Adler!

I have already started down the list of 32 novels, which are listed in chronological order and have been chosen for their meaning in the history of novel evolution. I keep The Well-Educated Mind nearby and refer to it often, as I am still learning how to mark each book and how to read it on the three levels of classical education. And while I do not have the time to do everything Susan Wise Bauer recommends, I think I follow 90% of her suggestions in this book.


Smithsonian Associates Event

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The Smithsonian Associates is the largest museum-based educational program in the world. They offer over 750 events in a calendar year: workshops, tours, lectures, performances, summer camps etc.

My educational guru, Susan Wise Bauer, will be lecturing there on December 5, about one of her books – The Story of Western Science. I have read the book and learned a lot from it. I highly recommend it. It will give you an overview of the scientific themes humanity grappled with over the centuries. The book also contains enough details about each important scientific manuscript to help you understand specific topics.

Her all-day lecture (with lunch break) at the Smithsonian it titled Reading the Great Books of Science. The cost to attend is $150 if you are not a Smithsonian Associate member.  Continue reading »

I own this book because I think it makes for a great reference tome. But if your budget for traveling to DC or for reference books is short this year, I say get the book from your library, curl up with a cup of hot tea and count your blessings. Keep your $150 for an annual membership at your local zoo or science-technology center.

It would be fun though. And very, very fascinating, no doubt. Sigh. I live eight hours from DC and so my equation of time-space just does not allow for such jaunts. Sigh again.


Story of the World, Vol. 2, Chapter 1

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We started the second volume of Story of the World during what is officially our summer break because (1) my children asked for history and (2) the textbook has 42 chapters while the school year only has 36 weeks. It is recommended that we cover one chapter per week, so we need to cover six chapters before we start our new school year in August. Of course, nothing bad happens if we get behind or if we finish the textbook after we close our 180 days of school next year…

But when my five-year-old says, “Mommy, we have not done history in a long time. We need to do history!” and when my son says, “When do we start studying about the Middle Ages, mom?” I know it is time to start photocopying the activity pages and order extra reading material from the library.

Magic carpet craft activity

I printed out a picture of them so we can glue their faces onto the page provided.

Just to clarify, the Activity Book gives parents permission to photocopy activity pages (maps, coloring, craft patterns, paper dolls etc) for the needs of their family. Also in the Activity Book one can find lists of corresponding literature, fiction and non fiction, which one can purchase or borrow from the library, to enhance the study of each chapter.  Continue reading »

When I met Susan Wise Bauer, the author of the Story of the World curriculum, at the recent Appalachian Home Educators Conference in Knoxville, I asked her how many books she thinks my seven-year-old should be reading for each chapter. She said, “One a week. And maybe alternate each week, one fiction and one non fiction.”

Flying over the Mediterranean

Flying over the Mediterranean

I asked her because I used to order a lot of books, almost all of them. And I noticed a trend: some books were intended for middle schoolers going through this program and, as such, they were completely inappropriate for us. On the other hand, too many books on one subject makes one sick and tired of the topic. But I am a rather thorough person and if you give me a list of six book I will read all of them… I needed some clarification and I received it. Now I have the author’s permission to only get one extra book on the topic we are studying. Sigh of relief.

Teddybear flying over the Roman Empire

Teddybear flying over the Roman Empire

So the first chapter of this second volume, which deals with the Middle Ages, was a recap of the fall of Rome. We traveled all around the Roman Empire on an imaginary magic carpet, which allowed us a chance to review geography. My kids both noted that the activity page provided was too large for our wall map or for the atlas pages. They came up with other solutions to represent themselves: my son picked a LEGO brick, my daughter one of the counting teddy bears.


Thoughtful Thursday Week 27 – Homeschool Conferences

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I have said it before, and I will say it again: homeschooling parents should attend a homeschool conference at least once a year. Sorry for should-ing all over you, but you should. I am not saying you should spend money on transportation, hotels and restaurants to get to one. But if you have a local event, by all means change your schedule, get a second job to pay for the fee, volunteer at the conference for discounts, do whatever it takes and attend.

Adriana Zoder and Susan Wise Bauer at the Appalachian Home Educators Conference in Knoxville, June 2015

With Susan Wise Bauer at the Appalachian Home Educators Conference in Knoxville, June 2015

The reason people don’t attend homeschool conferences is that they don’t think they will get enough value out of them. I know, I know, some of you are saying, “That’s not true. Some actually can’t afford a conference.” I can agree with that only for the extremely poor, but even they make an effort to earn some extra money for something they deem valuable.

Ultimately, it is human nature to choose activity A over activity B because activity B does not offer as much satisfaction or perceived value as activity A. Sure, I understand schedule conflicts. I also understand lack of resources. I even understand the fact that homeschooling parents are afraid of being made to feel inadequate in their efforts by so-called homeschooling experts.  Continue reading »

And yet, I say, homeschooling parents should attend a homeschool conference once a year. If you think you are doing great and don’t need any help, you should go. Pride comes before a fall… If you are in need of help, you should go. You just might find the right workshop that will get you out of trouble. If you don’t care because you feel blah and hailing down the yellow school bus seems more and more attractive, you should definitely go.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 27 - Homeschool Conferences

The Appalachian Home Educators Conference came and went. Attendance was low. Vendors got in the red after they paid for their expenses to be there for two days. Organizers appeared disappointed. Susan Wise Bauer said this was the slowest conference she has ever attended.

But numbers aren’t everything. I saw some sales being made, parents learning new teaching methods, questions posed and answers given. I saw networking happening, friendships started, and new partnerships forged. Things happen at homeschooling conferences even when they are small.

As for me, I gave my two workshops as scheduled to small but very attentive audiences. I was excited to answer questions and help people. I met my educational guru, Susan Wise Bauer, and spent some time asking her questions of my own. I purchased Peace Hill Press curriculum at 60% off and some really cool science gadgets and field guides for my kids.

My husband got to listen to Ms. Bauer and received a final confirmation that my choices for our homeschool are right for our family. Last but not least, I discovered Virginia Soaps do not give me allergic reactions, despite the fact that I am allergic to fragrance. Their ingredients must be so far from parabens and other chemicals used in commercial soaps, that it actually makes a difference even for those of us who must have everything fragrance-free.

All in all, it was a great weekend we spent together as a family. I wish more of you could have been there, but… again, I understand. There is always next year. Or, why not? There is this online homeschool conference sponsored by Well-Trained Mind Online Academy.


Story of the World, Vol. 1, Chapter 13

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Chapter 13 deals with The New Kingdom of Egypt. The kids colored the map and the mask of Tut while I read the first two stories. I asked if they could handle two more stories and they said yes. So I finished the chapter in that one sitting. The following day, my son brought his coloring pages to Daddy and told him about the Valley of the Kings and how it is full of tombs etc. I praised him for his narration, which I had not even requested.

That’s one thing I learned: when the chapter is long and we do it in one sitting, they do not want to answer review questions or to do a narration. They are ready to get away from the table and play! So I will have to work on reviewing this lesson later this week.

I asked if they wanted to make a monument and read the paragraph which explains it could be about somebody who died, a toy, an activity they enjoy or whatever. My son said he wanted to make a monument to Papaw – my husband’s father, who passed away one year ago. My children both were affected greatly by his passing and the concept of death became real to them then.

Bread and Glue

Bread and Glue

So we took bread and glue and proceeded to mix them together as indicated. It required white bread, which we never buy – we like whole wheat bread. My daughter, who is almost five, saw how messy and sticky this exercise was, and told me she did not want to build a monument.

Ball of glue and white bread

Ball of glue and white bread

Instead, she wanted to try the white bread. She ate a slice and loved it so much, she grabbed a second slice. Then, she asked for a third and a fourth, in a PBJ. I am always happy to see her eat, so I obliged, after we finished our monument and we washed our hands very well.  Continue reading »

Flattened ball of bread and glue

Flattened ball of bread and glue

My son gave up on his monument at this point. His hands were super sticky and covered with patches of sticky bread. He did not know how to flatten the ball of glue and bread. So he went to wash his hands. I was determined to make a monument. If somebody had told me 10 years ago that I would write a sentence like “I was determined to make a monument” in order to describe a homeschooling moment at our house, I would have told them that they were crazy.

Rectangle cut out of clay

I cut a rectangle out of that irregular shape, with the blunt edge of a knife.

So a monument I made, based on my son’s original plan. My son came back and declared himself happy with it. He wants it to dry first and then he will paint it gold – he loves that gold paint!

UT Monument to Papaw

UT Monument to Papaw

Since Papaw was a UT Vols fan, I used a plastic plate as a base for this monument. I could not bend it any more without breaking it, but it had just enough curvature to stand on its own. I did use the extra pieces (which I had cut out to obtain the rectangle) as reinforcements in the front and in the back.

It actually looks a bit like marble. But if you removed the crust of the bread slices, you would not get as much dark brown spots. The instructions did not say to remove the crust, so I had not.

Gold Paint Monument

Gold Paint Monument Craft

A few days later, my son painted it gold and it looked even better. What do you think?


Story of the World, Vol. 1, Chapter 10

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We studied Ancient China, chapter 10 of The Story of the World Volume 1 mostly in the car. I knew the Story of the World CDs would come in handy. The kids enjoyed the story of the silk worms. They had no idea about how silk is made. I feel so privileged – all over again – to be the one introducing them to such facts about the world.

They did their mapwork. My daughter colored the page with Chin and his dad, but my son put it off. Again, I do not insist on coloring if he does not want to.

We read some of the books recommended. My local library did not carry these particular titles, but they got them for us in about a week through the inter-library loan program. Meanwhile, the children’s librarian brought us similar books which they did have. One of them actually had the same title as the one recommended by Susan Wise Bauer, i.e. “Ancient China,” and it made it confusing later on as I was returning both titles.  Continue reading »

But we sorted it out and moved on from it. My librarians are very relaxed and if we make a mistake or they make a mistake, they take it all in stride. I appreciate such a working partner.

I chose not to make pictograms or Ming dynasty bowls. My kids have been playing with clay a bit too much lately on other projects and I am tired of cleaning up after art projects. It’s my classroom and my prerogative. I give you permission to do the same when you get tired of cleaning, in case you needed to get permission from somebody.

We are totally behind in our history curriculum. This is school week 15 for us and we should study at least chapter 15 in Story of the World Volume 1 this week. Oh well. This is a good challenge for me: figure out how to get history done. It’s all about priorities and planning, of course.

The temptation for any homeschool mom is to wonder if  kids finish things better in a classroom environment. Here’s the short answer: they don’t. And now, for the long answer…

I have recently spoken with a teacher who told me the older the kids get, the less they get done in class. “If you wait for 15 kids to get their math books out, you can spend 15 minutes… That’s why we give them homework. Because we can’t finish the lesson in the class.”

It was like a boost in the arm mid-year when I heard that. January and February can be dreary months for a homeschooling mom, you know. In fact, Susan Wise Bauer says that February is burnout month and we are a few days away from February. So I choose to relax, take each day as it comes, do my work and even if I don’t get everything done, I go to bed with a positive spirit.

Homeschooling feels like a privilege to me. When I look back on the time I get to spend with my children, nobody can take that away from me. And, if things get dreary in winter, I can always look forward to next year. I have already ordered some second grade curriculum for my son. I can’t believe I just typed that. My son, in the second grade? Yup! It will be here before I know it. No time to mope around!


Story of the World, Volume 1, Chapter 1

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Last week we started Chapter 1 in our history curriculum, Story of the World. I read to the kids the first section about the first nomads. Then, we read “It’s Disgusting and We Ate It” – one of the recommended books. The kids (and I) can only take so many pages of that book. They groan and moan at almost every sentence. It truly is disgusting. 🙂

“Ancient Agriculture” is rather dry for a living book. It feels like a textbook. I tried reading it to the kids and they interrupted me, asking for another book. I must say, this is where I don’t follow SOTW to the letter. I know Susan Wise Bauer, the author, recommends doing different activities if they work for our families. This is where I have to learn to watch for their reaction and not feel bad if we cannot complete a certain reading assignment.  Continue reading »

Bottom line: if the kids don’t enjoy something, I don’t insist. Right now they are young and the objective is to get them interested in learning and excited about discovering new things.

From the beginning, I questioned whether ancient history would even be something to teach in first grade. But, as I learned more about SOTW, I realized it is truly written as a story. Plus, it has all these hands-on activities and reading assignments which my children would enjoy. Finally, exposing them to vocabulary and concepts and giving them a framework of history and geography won me over.

However, I made a decision early on that, as soon as an activity or book does not interest them, I would not push it on them. That’s what I love about homeschooling. We have freedom to choose.

Little girl making cave paintings

We made cave paintings for our craft. The mess was incredible. I cleaned red paint off the table and in the bathroom for a few days after that, always discovering a new spot. My mistake was that I sent them to the bathroom to wash their hands without thinking that they will be touching light switches and sinks in the process. But they had fun and that’s what matters.

We also looked up cave paintings under Google Images. As I was doing that research, I found out that cave paintings have been recently found in Romania. They are some of the oldest cave paintings in Central Europe, demonstrating that early people engaged in similar art activities throughout the continent, not just in Western Europe.

I would say we would take the kids there when we go to Romania, but these cave paintings are naturally protected from human eyes as one must go under water inside the cave to get to their location. Phew! That’s great, because I don’t like caves to begin with.

By the way, I don’t get into the age of the earth with the kids right now. They are too young for that debate. Instead, we started Through the Bible with Felts all over again. I have used this Bible curriculum with them in the past for specific stories. I even started it out with them last year, following it chronologically, but by Moses and the plagues we all gave up. I think picking up the felts for the next story got to me. I hope to be more diligent with it this year. Pray for me. 🙂

This time, I started all over again from Creation and we are working our way through it to reinforce customs and people of the ancient world. At this stage, people and locations on the map are more important than dates. I was glad my son knew who was the son of Abraham and Sarah. I did not know that answer until I was 17, when I started reading the Bible on my own. It’s fun to teach them these Bible lessons in their childhood.

This week, we received our National Geographic world map from Amazon. We put it on the wall in the room where we do most of our studies. The kids love it. They look at it every day and ask questions. Informally, we do some geography, too, it seems like. I grew up with maps on the walls in my room and that has always kept me aware of the world around me. I want my children to know their geography, let’s put it that way.

They really liked The First Dog and Little Grunt and the Big Egg. We read those during our bedtime reading.

I would have made the effort to make a “Game Bag” but (1) I don’t enjoy sewing all that much and (2) we don’t need another craft project lying around the house and needing to be put up at the end of the day, when all the playing is done.

That’s it for Chapter 1. How have you enjoyed working through Chapter 1 in your homeschool?

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