Friday, 19 January 2018

The Refugees by A.Conan Doyle (1892)

The Refugees by A. Conan Doyle is subtitled, A Tale of Two Continents as it takes begins in France and continues in Canada.
In 1598 the Edict of Nantes was signed by King Henry IV of France, granting the Huguenots certain freedoms and rights and putting a temporary stop to the religious wars between them and the Roman Catholics that had been going on in France since the 1560’s. In 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV, Henry’s grandson. The Refugees begins just before the Edict was revoked and takes the reader into the court of Louis XIV at a time of great intrigue and machinations.
Louis has a mistress, the volatile and ruthless Madame de Montespan, but he has had enough drama and would like a more peaceable wife. In fact he loves Madame de Maintenon, a very gracious, pious, and beautiful widow, whom de Montespan had employed as a governess. He was impressed with her character and she was considered to be a good influence upon the King, therefore the Church leaders were keen to encourage the relationship for the good of the country.
With encouragement from the Catholic Church leaders, Madame de Maintenon is advised to acknowledge her love for the King and agree to marry him. One of the conditions the Church leaders place on the marriage is that Madame de Maintenon, an ardent Catholic, would influence the King to revoke the Edict of Nantes.
Amory de Catinat is a guardsman in the service of the King. He also happens to be of Huguenot descent and is engaged to his cousin, Adele Catinat, daughter of a famous Huguenot cloth maker. Amory has risen quickly through the ranks of the army and has served his King well. The young man is ambitious and idealistic but when the King puts Amory’s fidelity to the test by asking him to sign an order that the Huguenots give up their beliefs or suffer banishment or captivity, at the same time as he promotes him to a major, Amory refuses.

“Man, you are surely mad! There is all that a man could covet on one side, and what is there on the other?”
“There is my honour.”
“And is it, then, a dishonour to embrace my religion?”
“It would be a dishonour to me to embrace it for the sake of gain without believing in it.”

Driven, but feeling no way out of his predicament, the King asks Madame de Maintenon, now his wife, what he should do and her reply, together with the admonishment of the Bishop and the Abbe, persuades him to sign the document.

De Catinat had taken a step forward with his hand outstretched. His ardent, impetuous nature had suddenly broken down all the barriers of caution, and he seemed for the instant to see that countless throng of men, women, and children of his own faith, all unable to say a word for themselves, and all looking to him as their champion and spokesman. He had thought little of such matters when all was well, but now, when danger threatened, the deeper side of his nature was moved, and he felt how light a thing is life and fortune when weighed against a great abiding cause and principle.
“Do not sign it, Sire,” he cried. “You will live to wish that your hand had withered before it grasped that pen. I know it, Sire; I am sure of it. Consider all these helpless people - the little children, the young girls, the old and feeble. Their creed is themselves. As well ask the leaves to change the twigs on which they grow. They could not change. At most, you could but hope to turn them from honest people into hypocrites. And why should you do it? They honour you. They love you. They harm none. They are proud to serve in your armies, to fight for you, to work for you, to build up the greatness of your kingdom. I implore you, Sire, to think again before you sign an order which will bring misery and desolation to so many.”

As a result of Amory’s intervention, he loses his commission on the spot and rushes away from the palace. Flying to his betrothed's home, he urges her and her father to get ready to leave France.
What follows is a mad dash for safety on board a boat, a pursuit by the King’s men, and a shipwreck.
When they finally reach Canada, their danger is not over for now they have not only the Roman Catholic Frenchmen seeking them in order to send them back to be tried in France, but also the savage Iroquois on the warpath.

The Refugees is an exciting historical novel delivered in Conan Doyle’s wonderful literary style. From start to finish it is full of action, adventure, and historical insight. Interspersed with some humour at times, this is a great read, and as always, I’m left impressed with the author’s knowledge of history and his ability to weave this into an engrossing narrative.

The age suitability for this book is about 14 years and up. There are some mild adult themes to do with the King's mistresses but it doesn't go into too much detail. It is also fairly gory in places and mentions some forms of torture used by the Iroquios.
The book is free online in a nicely done Kindle version here.

Inheritance Publications in Canada has reprinted this book. I've ordered books from them after emailing them for postage & delivery details, and although the books took a couple of months to get to Australia, (which they informed me about) they arrived in good condition & the postage was very reasonable. This is a good option if you were interested in buying a number of books, otherwise if you're in Australia, you'd probably be better off getting the Dodo Press version from Book Depository. I have a few books from this publisher and they are quite good.

The Refugees is my choice for a 19th Century Classic in the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge.

It's also one of my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge reads.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

And There There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)

'Ten little soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were Nine...
One little soldier boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself and then there were None.'

An old nursery rhyme forms the backdrop to Christie’s murder mystery, And Then There Were None.
Ten strangers, each with a secret in their past, receive invitations of various sorts to an isolated mansion on Soldier Island. Arrangements had been made by a person going by the name of ‘U. N. Owen,’ the new owner of the island, for the individuals to be picked up at a certain point and then transported via boat to the island.
The guests realise too late that there is no way off the island until the boat returns, if in fact it ever will, and one by one the invited guests are killed in mysterious ways. Those remaining try to figure out who the killer might be and they each view the others as their enemies.

Agatha Christie has been a mixed bag for me. I’ve loved some of her novels: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Man in the Brown Suit, and The Secret Adversary were great reads but although the plot in the book I’ve just finished was clever and interesting, the characters were just awful. There was only one of the ‘Ten’ that I thought had any redeeming qualities; the others were plain old nasty and selfish. It was difficult to feel any sympathy for the cast of characters in this book. Give me Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey or even Margery Allingham instead of Agatha Christie anytime...well, at least until I read another of her books that changes my mind again.

This book is on my list for the 'Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge' and it's my choice of a Crime Classic for Back to the Classics 2018

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Reading, Thinking, & Domesticity #2

We started lessons again this week but we're not back into full swing yet. It will be short weeks for the next little while as we have a camping trip planned. The night sky isn't easily observed where we live so to view the sky we have to get up out of the valley and away from all the trees that overhang us. I want to use the opportunity of being away from suburbia to do some star gazing and hopefully identify some constellations.

Family from interstate visited last weekend and Moozle joined her two cousins and two aunties for a visit into the city. All three girls came back with their hair braided after a visit to a braiding shop.

While the girls were doing this, Nougat drove down to Canberra with his Uncle and his cousin to the Summernats Exhibition - a testosterone-fuelled event of noise, burnouts, and cars in general.

Our weather has been extremely hot so a family trip to the beach late in the afternoon for a dinner of fish & chips went down well last weekend and the girls and I had a couple of visits to Bridal shops this week so that Zana could try on some dresses.


It's laughable that I could share anything technologically related that would help any of my readers, but you never know...I've had some issues with Blogger over the years that I've had to sort out with a little help on the side from the techy people in the family, who say they know nothing about blogging but usually manage to point me in the right direction.

* At one stage Feedburner stopped sending out emails to some subscribers to this blog. Apparently, whenever I copied & pasted what I'd written from a Word document directly to my blog post, rather than typed directly onto Blogger, it included lots of random HTML code. You can check this out by clicking on the HTML link at the top left hand side of your dashboard. For some reason this can interfere with Feedburner. The problem is, you don't know you have a problem unless someone tells you they're not receiving your blog's emails. The solution was to copy & paste my Word document contents onto an online notepad and then copy it from there onto your blog post. A couple of online notepads I've used are: rapidtables and anotepad.

*  Wordpress users sometimes have difficulties posting comments on Blogger. To fix this, I went into Settings & clicked on Posts, comments & sharing. In comment location you have four choices: embedded, full page, pop up window & hide. I've always used 'embedded' but this supposedly was causing problems, so I changed that recently to pop up window & it seems to be working ok. What I don't like with this new setting is that you can't always reply directly to a comment. Your comment just goes under the last one that was logged so it can be confusing if you don't address each person by name when you reply to them.

*  On occasion, I've used Google Forums if I had a problem. Often you'll find it's not only your own blog but others are having similar issues, like I discovered last year when my followers gadget disappeared.


These are my unfinished books from last year that I will be reading in 2018. I'm taking ages to read N & N as I really have to be in the right frame of mind to read it. It's good but very dense. Or maybe it's me that's dense:

Norms & Nobility by David Hicks

Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason

Parents & Children by Charlotte Mason

Life Under Compulsion by Anthony Esolen - Esolen throws in all sorts of quotes and references to authors and literature, which is something I enjoy & appreciate, and I like to know what books an author has read or been influenced by.
Esolen's Introduction alone refers to Genesis, Little House on the Prairie, The Screwtape Letters, The Bethrothed, Dante, and Thomas Aquinas!

I read the three books below last year but never got around to writing about them until now:

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt was written in 2007 and is a Newbery Honor book. It is set in 1967 and centres around the mishaps and adventures of Holling Hoodhood, a 7th Grade student, who is forced to read Shakespeare by Mrs. Baker, whose husband has just been deployed to Vietnam.
At first this book annoyed me. It's written in the first person from the protagonist's point of view and it struck me as frivolous at first. It's quite funny in places and when Benj read it at around 15 or 16 years of age he thought it was good. It grew on me as it went on and the conversations between Mrs. Baker and her student about life and Shakespeare's characters showed sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Readers from about age 14 years and up would enjoy this - boys, especially, and particularly boys who don't like Shakespeare! With it's backdrop of the Vietnam War, Holling's family tensions, and even some of the reflections about Shakespeare, some maturity on the part of the reader would be helpful in order to get the most out of this story.

"You know," I said, "it's not easy to read Shakespeare - especially when he can't come up with names you can tell apart."

..."Shakespeare did not write for your ease of reading," she said.

No kidding, I thought.

"He wrote to express something about what it means to be a human being in words more beautiful than had ever yet been written."

"So in Macbeth, when he wasn't trying to find names that sound alike, what did he want to express in words more beautiful than had ever yet been written?"

Mre. Baker looked at me for a long moment. Then she went and sat back down at her desk. "That we are made for more than power," she said softly. "That we are made for more than outr desires. That pride combined with stubbornness can be a disaster. And that compared with love, malice is a small and petty thing."
Dombey & Son by Charles Dickens - Paul Dombey is a cold and ambitious man whose wife had died leaving him with two children, his daughter Florence, whom he callously ignores and neglects, and her younger brother, whom he positively dotes on. Pride is the overarching theme of this book and as the Book of Proverbs says, 'Pride goes before destruction,' so it goes with an array of characters in this story; but there is also an eleventh hour where love snatches a life from the jaws of Pride, the destroyer. As is usual with Dickens' novels, it is peppered with deplorable characters, the worst of whom is Mr. Carker, who is an even darker and more dangerous version of David Copperfield's Uriah Heap. A great story!

The Root of the Righteous by A.W. Tozer- I loved this book and I've scheduled it for Moozle in Term 3 of AmblesideOnline Year 7 in place of the suggested devotional book as I thought it would be a better fit for her. The Root of the Righteous is a simple & wise book that I let distill into my soul for the better part of last year:

Speed and noise are evidences of weakness, not strength. Eternity is silent; time is noisy. Our preoccupation with time is sad evidence of our basic want of faith. The desire to be dramatically active is proof of our religious infantilism; it is a type of exhibitionsm common to the kindergarten.

The bias of nature is toward the wilderness, never toward the fruitful field.

Of all persons Christians should have the largest hearts; to them the narrowing of the heart should be an unthinkable calamity...
And one singular characteristic of the enlarging life is that it is quietly unaware of itself. The largest heart is likely to be heard praying, 'Narrow is the mansion of my soul. Enlarge Thou it.'

January Reading:

The Gulag Archipelago by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn - this will take me a few months I expect. Non-ficiton, very readable, but awful in places. Goodness! How can we not learn from history?

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis


This is what Moozle has been working on:

Update: this is what Moozle made after watching the video above. Very cute:

A neat little boxed stationery set

Take the lid off and there's a storage area for cards, notepads, pen, etc

Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Reading, Thinking & Domesticity #1

My plan is to have a regular post that will include a variety of domestically related ideas and practical matters plus things that I've read that don't make it into a more formal 'book review,' such as articles, current affairs and anything else that I think is interesting.

'Domesticity' - Latin,  domesticus, from domus, a house (home)
The word 'domesticate' means to accustom to live near the habitation of man; to tame. 'Domestication' is the act of taming or reclaiming wild animals. Sometimes it feels like that in family life. We're taming and reclaiming lives, including our own.

Liturgy has been a word that has resonated with many of us over the past few years. The dictionary definition is:

  A form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship,
 is conducted.

I emphasised the word public above as it is an important point, especially in light of the article below. Are we seeking authentic community & commitment, or self-expression and aesthetic experience? 

‘The desire for liturgical forms of worship that are structured, ancient and formal, steeped in Scripture and Church Fathers, is commendable if the desire is for that liturgy to shape community life together, rather than being a new form of aesthetic and preference for a consumer-driven culture.But if all this is is a reflection of the "hipster magpie" making serendipitous finds in the vintage store alongside the 78 records then it's highly suspect. Taking a piece from this era, an object from that era, and blending it all together to form one's own "authentic experience", completely divorced from the values and frame of the cultures and eras from which these things are taken, simply means that yet again style has indeed trumped substance.In other words, as Jamie Smith points out, the point of all liturgy is to embed  itself as practice in our communal lives.  But if the practice of our individual lives is to be a private consumer then, ironically, a return to liturgy can mask such a practice with the appearance of worship.’

A couple of new authors I read in 2017 were:

Dorothy B. Hughes who wrote The Expendable Man in 1963. Published by Persephone Books, this is a suspenseful story that starts with a solitary man, a young doctor, driving through the desert towns of the American Southwest, as he returns to his hometown for a wedding. From the beginning there is an undercurrent of unease that builds up as the story progresses. It is a time of racial unrest, where an innocent decision taken by the wrong person in an atmosphere of prejudice, may have disastrous consequences.
A great story with a romantic thread that despite its lack of character development kept me spellbound till the end.

There was a picture in a gold frame hung on the mottled gray of the wallpaper. It was of a country cottage, smothered with roses, banked in green, shaded by leafy trees with a brook at their feet. In spite of what this man was, in spite of what he had done, the pathos of that picture smote Hugh. That it was there, a home, an old home far from this desert wasteland. That misshapen old relic was once a country child, was once a boy with dreams, once a student with aspirations, once a Doctor of Medicine. The poignant cry rose silently in him: What can happen to a man? Why? 

I’ve read books in the spy/espionage genre by John Buchan and Helen MacInnes and thoroughly enjoyed them but this was my first foray into the darker world of subterfuge where things don’t end well. I was prepared for a dismal ending with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré (also published in 1963) but I was interested in reading something a bit different, and le Carré's book is set during the Cold War, an era that has always intrigued me. However, this was such a good story that I tended to reflect not on the ending, which was inevitably tragic, but upon the clever plot, the twists and all the little hints I missed while I was reading.

John le Carré’s was a British security agent who left his life of espionage to write full-time after the success of his third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. The book thrust the author into the spotlight when it was published in 1963. Written over the course of six weeks, le Carré had flown from Bonn to Berlin as soon as the work on the Berlin Wall began and looked on in disgust and terror. His observations of the ‘perfect symbol of the monstrosity of ideology gone mad,’ coupled with his deeply unhappy professional and private life, resulted in this chilly, disturbing tale of Alec Leamas, the spy who wanted to end his life of espionage, to ‘come in from the cold.’
Burnt out and cynical, Leamas agrees to one last assignment before he leaves his life of spying. Unwittingly he is used by British Security to secure the position of a British double agent (a man Leamus hates and believes to be the enemy) and to his dismay, ends up in East Germany. There he finds that the young woman, the one who had begun to awaken his humanity, has been caught up in the machinations of both sides because of her association with him.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a bleak look into the ruthless game of espionage with its accompanying lies, fears and treachery but it also has a few swift moments of beauty:

He knew then what it was that Liz had given him; the thing that he would have to go back and find if he ever got home to England: it was the caring about little things - the faith in ordinary life; the simplicity that made you break up a bit of bread into a paper bag, walk down to the beach and throw it to the gulls. It was this respect for triviality which he had never been allowed to possess...

Inspiring Reads from 2017 

One of the best books I read last year was Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng. In fact it's one of the most inspiring books I've ever read and I wholeheartedly recommend it!!

Exceptional books for those aged about 12 or 13 years and older were The Forgotten Daughter and The Small Woman.


I've been cooking regular family meals for close on thirty years and in the last twenty years, I've had to cook in bulk for my growing family. Cooking en masse doesn't lend itself  to gourmet creations - at least not in my case. I have a few dishes that are standard, mostly because they are popular and don't require too much work to produce. Every now & again - actually, very rarely, I come across a new recipe that makes it into my hit list. This was one I found late last year, although I've changed the herbs around a bit to accomodate the eaters here: Herby Green Roast Chicken
The author of the website is a diabetic so the meals are low carb but she has a whole range of options which work well for families plus a free ebook. I'm trying out a few of the dishes in the ebook and this is one that I liked but everyone else was turned off by the green colour: broccoli sandwich bread.

Something I've done this year is to use cauliflower in place of white sauce when making lasagne. I just use a packet of frozen cauliflower, steam it, and them put it in the blender with a few dollops of ricotta cheese & a little seasoning. It thickens up very well and makes a good, healthy substitute.

I've always been good at beefing up mince, pardon the pun - I grate a huge amount of zucchini and mix it up in the mince as I cook it. Sometimes I add a grated carrot or two as well, but the zucchini alone is great. I add some burrito seasoning with some hot water and let it all simmer for a while. If I need to extend it even more I'll add a tin of kidney beans and some tomato puree or passata sauce. Great with salad, burritos & grated cheese.

We're in the middle of summer here and we're reasonably close to a number of beaches and my sons often head off to one of them on the weekend or after work if it's been really hot. A couple of the beaches are known for their strong rips. I read this article today about rip tides that occurred on a Sydney beach eighty years ago. This was a more unusual event, but rips kill many more people every year in Australia than shark attacks but they don't get anywhere near the same attention & warnings.


I really like the look of triangles in patchwork and recently found an easier method of sewing them.
So now I'm experimenting with all my blue fabric scraps...

These are only two ways but there are oodles of options, as we keep finding out...

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth? 

Monday, 1 January 2018

2018 Reading Challenges

This is the fourth year in a row that I'm participating in the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen @ Books & Chocolate because I love reading old books and there are so many I keep discovering. I've listed some titles I'm thinking of reading, but as is usual I'll end up reading some and changing my mind about others, which is one of the appealing features of this challenge:

1) A 19th century classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

 The Refugees by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1893)

2)  A 20th century classic - any book published between 1900 and 1968.

Sick Heart River by John Buchan (1941)

3)  A classic by a woman author. 

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss (1869) 
The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1924)
...or a Josephine Tey title

4)  A classic in translation. 

Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar by Jules Verne (1876)
The Gulag Archipelago by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1958-1968)
...or The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanisaki (1936)

5) A children's classic.
Seacrow Island by Astrid Lindgren (1964)

6)  A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction. 

Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers (1927)
...or And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)

7)  A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction. 

Mission to Tashkent by Frederick Marshman Bailey (1946)

8) A classic with a single-word title.
Hiroshima by John Hersey (1946)
...or Pastoral by Nevil Shute (1944)

9) A classic with a color in the title.

The Black Tulip by Alexandr Dumas (1850)

10) A classic by an author that's new to you

The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge (1956)
...or something by Leo Tolstoy

11) A classic that scares you.

Anna Karenina (1877)
War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1867)
or...The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

11)  Re-read a favorite classic.
Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)
...or Bleak House by Charles Dickens  (1853) - so I can read the lovely HB copy I was given for Christmas.

Deal Me In Challenge

I've been umming & aahing over this one and finally decided to do a modified version (which is allowable). Deal Me In is a short story reading challenge I've thought of doing in previous years but this is the first year I've actually sat down & thought through what I wanted to include. There are speeches, poetry and essays I've wanted to include in my reading but never seem to get around to even though they don't require a lot of time. So my plan is to randomly choose a card from the deck once a fortnight, mostly using books I already have: Great Speeches, the Albatross Book of Verse, and a few others.
Some of my choices are from selections on the AmblesideOnline website for Years 10 & 11.
There are a few options on how to participate in this challenge but the basic idea is to choose 52 short stories (or in my case, 26) and assign each of them to playing cards. Each week (or fortnight, or month) you pick a card out from your deck and that will determine which short story, poem, essay etc you will read that week. Get all the details from Jay at Bibliophilopolus.

Hearts - Speeches/Essays

A  Parents & Children - Charlotte Mason, 1904
2   The Man With the Mud Rake - Theodore Roosevelt, 1906
3   The Only Thing We Have to Fear, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933
4   Our Finest Hour - Winston Churchill, 1940
5   Against Aktion T4 - Cardinal Clemens von Galen, 1941
6   Iron Curtain - Winston Churchill, 1946
7   I Have a Dream - Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963
8   Dismissal Speech - Gough Whitlam, 1975
9   Tear Down This Wall - Ronald Reagan, 1987
10 Perils of Indifference, 1999
J   Good Bad Books - George Orwell, 1945
What Good is Information? - Dougald Hine, 2014
Eulogy for Gough Whitlam - Noel Pearson, 2014

Diamonds - Devotionals/Poetry/Short Stories

A  Introduction to Athanasius’ On The Incarnation - C.S. Lewis
2   Wislawa Szymborska
3   The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (1842)
4   The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
5   Christina Georgina Rossetti
6   Satan's Devices - George Whitefield
7   Czeslaw Milosz
8   Master of Many Trades - Robert Twigger, 2013
9   The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer
10  Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor (1965)
J    The Memorable Hymn – Charles H. Spurgeon
Q   Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God – Jonathan Edwards
K   Edna Vincent Millay

Other Reading

A monthly book club - I participated in this a few years ago and hope to attend again this year. The list of books has yet to be chosen.

I've done my final update for the TBR challenge hosted by Adam:

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Boys! Homeschooling Through High School

When our eldest two were in their mid-teens, I was involved with a Charlotte Mason (CM) email group that had started up with the intent of encouraging families who were using the CM method in their home schools. The question came up about how to know when a student needed to go to school, and there were a number of responses, some of which I totally disagreed with. I didn’t join in with the discussion because none of our children had been through their teen years and come out the other side at that stage and I didn't know anyone else's who had.
Now we are mostly on the other side with six of our seven children graduated after being home educated beginning to end. Four of them are boys, so when I was asked some questions recently about homeschooling boys through high school, I decided to write about our experience.
The questions vary but this comment below conveys the essence of not just what I’ve been asked recently, but also at different times in the past:

“I have come across a lot of discussions on social media and/or blogs about how their boys ended having to be in regular school once they got into high school because CM style or homeschooling wasn't working for them at that age. Some even say it is beneficial for them to take direction from someone other than mom and that their boys thrived in that setting. My boys are 10 and 6, but I wonder if that is something I will have to worry about?”

My Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about this because I have seen situations where a teen may have been better off going to school for different reasons, but it wasn’t always the teen years that were the problem per se. Entering the teen years often amplified the problems that were already there.
I also think much depends on the personalities involved (mother and son).

Most of the homeschooling families we have known sent their children to high school at some point. There were a few reasons for this. Some parents were concerned about how their children would get into university; some were fine through the elementary grades but were not confident about teaching  high school, others didn’t think they could provide a quality education themselves and didn't have any external assistance. In many cases the decision was taken because of conflict in the mother/child relationship.

The homeschooling situation in Australia is very different to that of the USA, and although it has become more visible in the past five to ten years, it’s not yet a mainstream choice. School students go through the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in years 11 & 12 in order to obtain the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) which is the primary criteria for university entrance. However, this isn’t an option for students taught at home and they need to find another way. In the past this has been an obstacle to many parents, and it was a significant challenge & learning curve for us the first time around, but in the last couple of years alternative pathways to university have been increasingly easier to access.

My intention here isn’t to bag those parents who decide their child needs to go to school for the later years. I know families who made the decision with heavy hearts due to difficult circumstances and I have a close friend who made the commitment to teach her only child for the elementary years, knowing that it wouldn’t be an option for high school. This decision came at a cost for my friend and I applaud her and acknowledge that both decisions were wise ones.

My aim is to encourage those who have the desire to continue homeschooling through the high school years, believe it’s the best decision for their family, but are worried about the unknown. It is also to point out some pitfalls or areas of potential difficulty so that they don't come upon you by surprise.

As the questions I’ve been asked came from mothers who mostly follow the Charlotte Mason/Classical method of education, I think it’s a good idea to start with some comments Mason  herself made about boys and school in A Philosophy of Education.

Now a fact not generally recognised is that offences of the kind which most distress parents and teachers are bred in the mind and in an empty mind at that.
That is why parents, who endeavour to save their sons from the corruption of the Public School by having them taught at home, are apt to miss their mark. The abundant leisure afforded by home teaching offers that empty chamber swept and garnished which invites sins that can be committed in thought and in solitude. 

A Philosophy of Education (pg 188-189)

Charlotte Mason makes an important point about too much leisure and it’s something to keep in mind if we are teaching our boys at home so that we offer sufficient mind food and physical work.
One of the temptations we face at home is to avoid conflict by allowing boys to slacken off academically. It’s much easier to take everyone to the park, let them run around and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that they need to burn off some enegy. Of course physical activity is necessary, but there needs to be a balance of both or we are doing our sons a disservice.
I think it safe to say that Public Schools in Mason’s time, while they were by no means perfect, didn’t have the extent of problems we see today. They didn’t have access to drugs, pornography, the internet and mobile phones. The prevailing culture was contained within parameters that ours has overstepped. Christian schools often have to contend with the same issues.

We’ve had a lot of opportunity to see the results of the education system via friends’ children who attended Christian & public schools. I don’t think their parents had an easier time than we did. Their children had opportunities that ours didn’t but the opposite is true also. They were not immune to problems and conflict because they were away from home all day.
Raising children is hard work and sending a child to school is swapping one set of circumstances for another, each with their pros and cons.

Our schools err, too, in not giving anything like enough work of the kind that from its absorbing interest compels reflection and tends to secure a mind continually and wholesomely occupied.

This is something that concerns me about the school system. A friend’s 15 year old son had to write a composition on ‘my life as a carrot.’ Absorbing? Compelling? Interesting? Not unless he wanted to go into agriculture, perhaps.
Another concern is the increasing propensity to add the latest politically correct agenda to the curriculum. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear, ‘people need to be educated about this...’ during a current affairs programme or a news report. From substance abuse to applying sunscreen - ‘schools need to teach this.'  But what about the time taken from other areas of study?

Supply a boy with abundant mental pabulum, not in the way of desultory reading, (that is a sort of idleness which leads to mischief), but in the way of matter to be definitely known, give him much and sound food for his imagination, speculation, aspiration, and you have a wholesome-minded youth to whom work is a joy and games (sport) not a strain but a healthy relaxation and pleasure.

'Much sound food...' This is a challenge for us as home educators, but I’m not convinced that schools necessarily supply boys with what they need in this department either.

As the homeschooling movement has grown, so have the options for external support. Online courses, tutoring, correspondence studies, DVD material, and other assistance are options that can help lift the load from our shoulders. Even here in Australia, the options have mushroomed in recent years, although we still look with envy at what’s available to home educators in places like the USA where the homeschooling movement has gained wide acceptance.
Personally, when I think back on the times I had difficulties with my boys, sending them off to school would have been giving the problem over to another person to try to sort out. It would have been out of sight, out of mind, but not dealt with. Plus, some of the best conversations I’ve had with my boys wouldn't have happened if they'd been at school all day, and the more important topics often arose after we'd wrestled with differences of opinions.

Some questions we need to answer are:

Why did we decide to homeschool in the first place?
What has changed since then?
What alternatives do we have that could help our situation?

For many of us, there are not a great number of options in the choice of schools or if there are, they are unaffordable.
For those specifically identifying as CM educators who don’t think their son is challenged sufficiently, I would ask whether you are really following her methods or if you have been practising an adaptation. Have you read A Philosophy of Education? This was a game changer for me. I used to regularly hear that a CM Education wasn’t rigorous enough for highschool but it came from those who really weren’t familiar with what a real CM education involved. It is challenging and full - and it certainly isn’t a tea party.
Too many boys are allowed to have ‘empty minds.’ Whether or not a boy is academically inclined or wants to be a plumber or a concretor, he needs to have his mind filled with ideas.

Sometimes when we are homeschooling a few children, we can focus more on the younger ones and leave the teens to work independently without much input from us. It’s easy then to forget you haven’t gone over their maths or read their composition. They become slack in their work because they know we’re not checking up on them. By the time you get around to doing it, the mole hill has become a mountain and bad habits have become ingrained.

How we managed:

Prayer! - no one else is really qualified to decide whether you should or shouldn't homeschool your son through high school. Listening to advice is wise and may save you from making some bad decisions but it's not a substitute for talking to God about what you should do. As mothers, most of us tend to be vulnerable concerning the opinion of others. As much as I enjoy community and being a part of discussion groups/forums, there is a drawback to them at times if we're not careful. We can be more impressed by the opinions and advice of others and neglect to find out what God has to say.

• At the risk of sounding totalitarian!! I am amazed by the number of parents who decide that because their child expressed the desire to go to school, they let them make the decision to go. That was never an option in our home. In the same way, we never said that we’d take homeschooling year by year. We made a decision to homeschool just as we have decided where we will live and what church we will attend and that was that. Of course we know that there are circumstances in life that can alter our decisions about anything, but we didn’t plan our lives with that thought in the background. We just decided that it would be unsettling to think that way.

Accountability - there were a few years when I needed to be able to call my husband during the day so he could talk to one boy in particular. He would listen to my emotional dump and then talk to the boy concerned very calmly and matter-of-factly, reminding him of what was required. My son would get off the phone, knowing that he would be answerable to Dad if he made life difficult for me and that was usually enough. My husband did spend quite a bit of time travelling interstate and overseas at that time and it’s interesting that I rarely had issues when he was away. He used to have a talk to the boys and tell them to look after Mum and the girls while he was gone and they stepped up to that.

• Our 4 eldest were able to work one whole day a week from about the age of fifteen in a pharmacy warehouse their Aunty managed. It was a good experience; they worked with a wide variety of ages and people from diverse cultures; enjoyed earning some money of their own and it helped me to have some more focussed time with the younger ones. Two of our boys have taught music both in schools and at home & were able to experience the difficulties of trying to teach children who were unmotivated or just belligerent & I think it helped them mature in their own attitudes towards being taught.

Physical activity in the form of exercise or hard work are non-negotiable. We didn’t do a lot of organised sport but the boys were active & had to help out around the house, chopping wood, chainsawing, & gardening.

Hobbies & interests - how often do you hear of men who are totally lost when they retire? All their lives have been taken up with work and no time has been invested in hobbies and interests pursued just for pleasure. Playing an instrument, stamp & coin collections, sound production, chess, cooking, woodwork, soccer & home maintenance are some areas that worked for us.

Service - I’ve mentioned this in some other posts but it is such an important aspect for children to learn. Doing something without an immediate reward, behind the scenes; a bit of hard physical work - this helps to make a man.

Growing their gifts - years ago I read a verse in 1 Chronicles, chapter 25 and took it to heart: ‘...all of them, trained and skilled in music for the Lord.’ I felt this was a specific word for our children but we had to be intentional about making a way for it to happen. We’ve spent many, many hours taking them to music lessons, supervising practice, orchestra rehearsals, church music practices, as well as lots of money on instruments and lessons. This was something we made time for each day. It helped to discipline them, fill their minds and souls with beauty and give them an avenue to bless others. We know some other large homeschooling families who have done this and I know that the nature of homeschooling has allowed music to flourish in our homes. If this was the only benefit we had for homeschooling during the high school years it would have been worth doing for this alone.

• When our eldest boy was about fifteen, my husband and three other dads organised a father and sons’ group which went for a few years. They met monthly and each of the dads shared their expertise and taught the boys engine repairs, first aid, bird watching, debating, and a whole lot of other things. They also went on camping trips and bush walks. It was a significant commitment for all those busy dads but it took some of the pressure off our roles as homeschooling mothers and filled in some gaps that were difficult for us as mothers to address.

Teaching respect - my boys all went through a season where they gloried in their sense of humour. This was a bit of fun but sometimes they’d joke and it bordered on being disrespectful. This was a good teaching moment as I’d point out to them that what they’d just said was discourteous. They were always surprised when I said this. They hadn’t developed any filters with their humour and were more focussed on how clever their comments were without thinking whether they were appropriate or not. I have a very acute memory of doing the same thing when I was about sixteen and being so shocked when my mother took me to task about it after our visitors had left.

Taking directions from others - part-time work, being part of a team, external courses are some ways this can happen. When boy number one was about fifteen, he was quite difficult, liked to argue the point about everything, and could run circles around me mentally. It was a very busy time of life for me and I had a younger son who needed lots of one on one teaching. My husband suggested our fifteen year old do correspondence school for a year. I reluctantly agreed. We used the ACE curriculum which was so very different to the type of education he’d been accustomed to and I thought he’d hate it. He did, but it gave me a breather for about nine months as he had to work independently, correct his own work and send it in to be checked and recorded by the supervisor. He couldn’t argue that his maths and chemistry answers were correct and the teachers manual must be wrong etc. which was a large part of the conflict in teaching him. He whizzed through the year’s work quickly and was more than happy to go back to what we were doing at the end of it. I have some good memories of his high school years but the 14 to 17 years age span was hard going. However, definitely no regrets. When he was going to university he told me that homeschooling had been good preparation for doing a degree because I made him work & when you are at uni, you need to be self-motivated.

Boys can be late bloomers and they may not blossom academically until they are in their mid to late teens. I panicked a little with one of our boys who was in this category. He was also a late bloomer physically and didn't really hit his stride until he was nearly seventeen. We had no idea what he would eventually do and I was so thankful that we could give him a wide curriculum and hadn't narrowed down his work as it kept his options open. Home education with a Charlotte Mason approach is ideal in this situation.

I've covered some areas related to homeschooling teenagers & motherhood generally in this post:
Ten Things to Make Time For.

This is the other boy in our household. He has a bad attitude at times and tends to be moody. Now that he's older he has matured somewhat and isn't so aggressive. This could be because he is lazy and can't be bothered making the effort, but I'll be gracious and give him the benefit of the doubt. He is, however, quite unteachable and this makes for tension between the two of us.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 Wrap-up Post

Back to the Classics 2017

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason (1866)

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1967.

The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin (1941)

3.  A classic by a woman author

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (1926)

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. 

Cancer Ward by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1966)

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare ( 1599)

A romance classic. I'm pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

My Love Must Wait  by Ernestine Hill (1941)

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818, 1831)

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, The Nine Tailors, Henry V, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

The House of the Four Winds by John Buchan (1935)

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc. 

 My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (1956)


10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess (1957) - set in China

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

The Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Dale Snedeker (1933) Newbery medal

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. 

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924)

Linking to Final Wrap-up at Books & Chocolate