Summer reading.

“Is it really possible to detect talent in fourteen-year-old children?” Bernard asked.

“Yes, but it’s rarely possible to predict whether the divine spark will keep burning with enough steadiness to survive the world.”  From “Clara and Mr. Tiffany,” by Susan Vreeland.

Our summer reading menu has been a bit paltry thus far, I’ll admit.  Who has time to read with all the traveling we’ve been doing?  It’s been especially hard since the kids and I do some of it by listening to books on tape in the car, and we haven’t been doing much driving these days.  There’s been a lot of flying, but little driving.  In fact, we’ve been listening to the same two books for over a month now, and that is unusual for us.  Ordinarily, we finish them quickly.  We can’t stand not to, even if that means sitting in the car in the driveway while the neighbors wonder about our sanity.

But one of the books that I have managed to read this summer stands out.  This book spoke to me in such a way that I can’t bring myself to return it to the library yet; it feels like I will be losing a friend when I do so.  The overdue fines are racking up along with the guilt at being a book hog; this unwillingness to return it isn’t coming from a logical place, I assure you.  Since I’m finally writing down what it meant to me, though, I should be able to let go soon.  Maybe today…

In any case, the book is called “Clara and Mr. Tiffany,” by Susan Vreeland.  It’s historical fiction, which is a favorite genre of mine.  The author has done an excellent of job of fleshing out the characters, so much so that I really did feel like they had become my friends by the end of the book.

The book is about the history of the Tiffany Glass Co., but from the viewpoint of one of the women artists who worked for the company back at the turn of the last century.  What a beautiful perspective it offers on so many aspects of New York in the late 1800s:  the plight of immigrants, the difficulties faced by women, in particular single women who needed to support themselves.  A main point of the book is in fact the main character Clara Driscoll’s singleness; a Tiffany company policy doesn’t allow women to work once they are married.  Early in the story, Clara marries, leaves the company, and then comes back a short time later after the death of her husband.  She is an artist, and finds so much fulfillment in the work that she pleads for her job again so that she can go back to doing what she loves.  I find it hard to imagine a time when a woman would have to choose either marrying or continuing to have a career.  Oh, wait, maybe I can imagine it…

But I digress.  In the end, the choice in many ways is made for her.  I won’t spoil the book, but when the man she has been friends with for years finally admits his feelings for her, she describes it thus:

“Breathless and half frightened at the prospects, I glimpsed my larger self shining in his eyes, and I loved him for showing it to me.”

Isn’t that what we all want, even if we don’t realize it?  Someone, friend or lover, to show us the best in us, our larger selves?  And yet, for someone who has kept the divine spark of artistic talent glowing within herself, what a terrible thing to be forced to give up. Ah, the beautiful dilemma of it!

Okay, now that I’ve shared about the pleasure that this incredible book gave to me, I feel better.  I think I can now quit being a library delinquent and finally give it back so that others can enjoy it as well.  If you live near me, here in Atlanta, Georgia, go check it out at once.

I just happen to know of a copy that will be available later this week.


Vreeland, S.  (2012).  Clara and Mr. Tiffany.  New York:  Random House.



PS-  I did finally return it and pay my overdue fines on all our books from this summer.  It was an all-time high $8.50 for me, but my debts are now paid.  I can sleep at night.  But I probably should have just bought a copy of it!

The Accidental Homeschooler Tourist Travelers

I snapped this on our last trip to Paris while out for breakfast with my girl at Laduree tea room.
I snapped this on our last trip to Paris while out for breakfast with my girl at Laduree tea room.

I often feel like so much of my life has happened by accident, by chance.  I talk to many people who’ve planned for everything, while for me, it just hasn’t been like that.  I mean, these people know they are going to homeschool before their children are even born!  Before they’re even MARRIED!  I didn’t even get to LIVE with my husband for a while after I married him (thank you, US military)!  Maybe I’m just feeling a “grass is greener” sort of thing- in other words, I only think that others have things figured out while I feel like I’m wandering through life like Mr. Magoo…   Lucky them if they do- my life sure hasn’t allowed me to get so comfortable, that’s for sure.  We seem to be constantly living by surprise!  As in, surprise!  You are going back to New Mexico with your infant daughter, even though you just moved to the Gulf Coast (thank you again, US military)!

But here’s what I mean.  I never set out to join the military.  I stumbled into it when I wasn’t hired by my first choice in career directions.  Of course,  then I met the Pilot, which was obviously meant to be.  I only have to look at my amazing little family to know that.  Also, I never set out to homeschool.  In fact, I’d say it never actually even crossed my mind until my daughter was in the first grade.  And even then it took a mighty shove to get us to make the leap, which we didn’t even do till 4 years later when my son was struggling.  Okay, yes, I see it.  This was obviously meant to be as well- I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We set out last year, thinking we were meant to relocate to the West, and yet it was so, so wrong for us and here we are now, in a community back in the Atlanta area that we absolutely love.  We couldn’t have planned it better if we’d tried.  And we did try, and yet, it seems that this was meant to be as well, this thing so opposite of what we thought was going to happen.

So here’s the latest example of our living by surprise:  My daughter and I have stumbled into a last minute trip to London and Paris.  How in the world does that happen, you ask?  Well, the school the kids attend one day a week had a trip for the high schoolers planned that had a few cancellations and they needed someone to take the spots who isn’t affected by last-minute airfare (we excel at last minute airfare, thanks to the Pilot).  And so, my girl and I are off this Friday to London for about a week, followed by a few days in Paris.  I still haven’t quite wrapped my brain around this fact.  Of course, since we only decided to go a few days ago, I suppose being in a bit of shock is to be expected.

And do you know what the best part of this particular surprise is?  The things we are going to be visiting and seeing in England all tie in with the history that she and I have been working on this entire past semester.  I wrote last month about how incredibly our trip to Alcatraz had worked out for us, having just read a book about Alcatraz and all.  Well, I think that this one is going to work out even better.  Talk about an educational experience- read history, then go see the history.

I couldn’t have planned this one better if I’d tried, either.

Now, it’s not that we’re not planners, or that we don’t at least attempt to plan.  We do, we genuinely do.  Or at least I do.  I don’t think the Pilot is upset by our wanderings at all.  For me, however, there is a certain level of stress that comes with things being up in the air so often, which leads me to my envy of others whose lives seems so calm and ordered, so well-thought out.  Our jaunt out west, for example, led to a roaring case of shingles for me, on my face, no less.  Obviously the stress of it all does indeed get to me sometimes.

Of course, there’s the chance that I am only imagining that others lives are tidier than mine.  Or perhaps the lesson here is one in trust.  Truly, I couldn’t have planned so many things that have happened to me in my life better than they have worked out.  And for all that disorderly, chaotic, messy, delightful, stressful fun, I am truly grateful.

As Robert Burns put it, the best laid schemes of mice and men do often go awry.  But here’s where I don’t entirely agree with Mr. Burns:  It doesn’t always lead to grief and pain.

Sometimes, it leads to joy.




The idea drawer.

Bella, utah
This photo actually has nothing to do with this post, except that it gives me such fabulous ideas… this is my daughter last fall on their hiking trip to Utah. My husband took this- with his iPhone, of all things. So much for my expensive, fancy camera!

I’m slowly working my way through a book titled “Acts of Teaching:  How to Teach Writing”, by Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E. Wilson.  In many ways for me the book is a reinforcement of the way we already do things- process versus product!  Read to learn!  Literature instead of textbooks!  But more than that, and I mean way, WAY more than that is what the book is teaching me.  Naturally, I got the book from my private educational consultant, Ed.D., otherwise known as my mom.  She is, quite simply, the best source of help I could ever possibly want.

But this book, oh, this book.

It’s terrific.  We had already started implementing some of the strategies, such as the daily journaling and just getting your pencil down on the paper and writing. Which I must confess is actually more like 3 days a week journaling because the science and math classes that we take on Mondays and Tuesdays fill those days to the exclusion of anything else.  But anyway, our 3 days a week journaling is quite fun, and has led to a couple of the recent blog entries posted here because when my daughter is allowed to run with whatever she feels like writing about at the moment, I see great things.  My son, however, is having a harder time with it.  His constant complaint:  “I don’t know what to write about!”

As if he doesn’t have anything to write about.

I mean, the kid’s not exactly locked into a white, soundproof room with nothing to do.  No way.  This family does stuff.  We just got back from the Hill Country for our yearly family golf tournament, complete with golf cart crash and ambulance ride to the hospital…  Does this sound boring to you?  Quite frankly, after this weekend I could use a little boring.  I am tired.

But the concept I just came across in “Acts of Teaching” is the idea drawer, which is how one poet that is discussed in the book handles her prewriting.  The idea is that you simply collect up things that move you, or inspire you, or simply remind you of your life and what’s been happening to you in a drawer.  Bits of the stuff of life.  And then you go back to your drawer, and see what becomes something in your brain that you want to write about.  This is, essentially, the prewriting stage.  It’s actually something I’ve done for years, in a way, myself, to inspire paintings.  I take images from magazines or photos and hang onto them until they inspire something that simply must be put onto paper in my own way.

So here’s what I’m thinking for our own idea drawers:  We’re traveling again in a couple of days, to San Francisco this time.  I’m going to require each kid to keep their journals with them, and to jot down things that they see that are interesting or pick up bits of things that interest them, and then when we get home, to deposit these things into their own personal idea drawer (I’ve already got the perfect place).  We’ll let those things stew if necessary.  Then we’ll see what we come up with as we take our ideas (prewriting) and try to organize them on paper (writing).

Wish me luck- I’ve got a seriously reluctant writer on my hands in my ten year old son.  But I think this next stage of our adventures in writing is going to be fun.

Aphrodite’s Dye, by Isabella.

IMG_3394This is a story written by my 13 year old daughter as part of our daily discipline of journal writing.  We’ve been studying Greek mythology, and she has been inspired to come up with several of her own Greek myths.  This is one of them.

 A long, long time ago, when Zeus first began his rule, there was a cave filled with riches beyond imagination. Silk softer than down, pieces of solid sunlight, and beautiful dyes of all different colors. The cave was forbidden to everyone, including Zeus. He had told all the Gods and Goddesses never to go there because the world had nearly ended after a God had taken a crumb of the solid sunlight. Aphrodite was very vain and wanted all of the beautiful dye to herself.  Unlike every other God, she didn’t believe his stories and figured that even if the world did threaten to end, she could probably use her charms to get what she desired. So Aphrodite came up with a plan. The next day, she set off to the Underworld and using her charm, convinced Hates of giving her the sleep potion. Aphrodite went back to Olympus and served a grand feast. She dripped a drop of the potion into the food of each God putting them in a deep sleep. Taking her chance, Aphrodite made her way to the cave. When she entered the cave, she filled her arms with as many dyes as possible then the silk, then the sunlight, then the dye. With very full arms, Aphrodite began the journey back. Back in Olympus, the Gods were waking up. Noticing Aphrodite’s absence, they went to look for her. They found Aphrodite struggling to carry all of the treasures. Zeus was very angry with her and told her to take them back. As if that wasn’t hard enough, he tied Aphrodite’s feet together. As she neared the mouth of the cave, the ground began to rumble. Aphrodite panicked and tripped over a rock sending the treasures into the angry sky. The dyes stained the sky a light blue, and the silk floated in white fluffs just below the stains. The solid sunlight hovered over everyone, bathing the world in endless light. “Now no one can have the treasures and the world will be safe from the power of greed.” Said Zeus.

Two Kinds of People, by Isabella.

The following is by Isabella, age 13, as part of our current writing “adventure.”  Her latest book will be coming out soon as well.  I’ll keep you posted.


There are two kinds of people in this world.

Some people are like baked clay, they are set in their ways and refuse to change. When they are forced to undergo change, they often break.

Other people are like soft clay, they are open to things new and different. They mold and shape themselves to accommodate the change.

What kind of person are you?


Things We’re Reading.

Another year, still happily homeschooling.  And with that goes lots and lots of reading- Charlotte Mason really knew what she was talking about, and I keep on following her philosophies as much as I can.  I wish I had more energy, more time in the day, more, well, discipline.  But I do my best, and I think we’re rocking along pretty well here at the Wright household.  And it’s been a good reading year for us.  The library is our best friend, and in our new home, it’s so close by that we could walk there!  Not that we have, but we could!  Perhaps I should set that as a goal for the spring, when the weather is nicer…

But even though we’ve gone by car, we’ve managed to pick some fantastic reads out.  We do a lot of books on tape- why not fill that driving time or time stuck in Atlanta traffic with a book?  And one of our recent favorites has been “A Single Shard” by Linda Sue Park. I think I’ll seek out more books by her.  This one was wonderful- full of life lessons and lessons in morality, lessons in hard work.  We loved it- this was one of those that had us sitting in the car in the garage because we couldn’t bear to turn it off.

Another favorite was just for fun, a book by John Grisham called “The Accused”, which is part of his series for younger folks.  This book got us home from Texas, which is a 12 hour drive, with a minimum of the question dreaded by all parents being asked:  “Are we there yet?”  Yep.  That’s a good book.  Of course, who else can tell a story like John Grisham?

A normal morning at the kitchen table- cat in chair, dog under table, books piled high, my son eating an entire jar of homemade peach jam straight from the container… Except that we’re not really antique color. I added that effect because I thought it looked cool.

And as for me, I decided that if I’m going to live in the South, I’d better read “Gone With the Wind.”  While I expected it to be a bit of a slog through a classic (you know, one of those that is kind of like taking medicine- you do it because it’s good for you?), it was anything but.  What a book!  What a story!  Yes, I’m perfectly aware of its shortcomings- Margaret Mitchell definitely does some glamorizing of some of the uglier aspects of Southern history, but still a wonderful story.  Scarlett- you hate her and love her all at once.  And I certainly didn’t expect to like Rhett Butler as much as I did!  This was such a treat for me.  I read the whole thing over Christmas break.  I didn’t want it to end.

And we are continuing with “Al Capone Does My Shirts”  by Gennifer Choldenko that we are reading together out loud, as well as Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, of course.  Are we the only folks to read more than one book at a time?

Yes, we are doing schoolwork.

In case anyone is wondering.  It’s not all play and no work, here in France.  Nope, no way.  We are definitely continuing with our homeschooling!  It just looks a little different.

I had a bit of an epiphany a few weeks ago.  During the week, or at least at first, we weren’t going much of anywhere, me and the kids.  We were trying to be unobtrusive, not to stand out, because French children are in school for so many hours of the day and I didn’t want to be too obvious as homeschoolers here in Europe since it’s not something that is understood or particularly well-accepted.  We were spending our mornings at our kitchen table, dutifully doing our French lessons, our math, and our reading.  Practicing our handwriting, like we usually do, by writing on the windows with special markers.  But then it dawned on me that it was probably more valuable to spend less time in the books and more time out in the world experience life in France, and especially, hearing the language.  After all, we only get a few months here, and once we return home, it won’t be so easy to immerse ourselves in a foreign language anymore.  And so, that’s what we’re doing.  We do our math and our reading, but as for that French textbook- forget about it.  It was boring anyway!  And kids are sponges when it comes to language, so what better way for them to learn than by soaking it up?

So now, we are still spending our mornings doing our devotionals and math lessons, and still reading loads of books together, but we’re looking a little “unschoolish” these days as well (I just made that word up).  We have learned lots at Les Fontaines Salees, where prehistoric man soaked in the mineral waters, followed by the Celts and then the Romans and so on…  plus, the museum there was terrific.  We have watched monks at Vezelay, and sat in a cathedral watching an artist restore the frescoes on the ceiling in Autun.  We’ve tromped around castle ruins in Germany, and toured chateaux with Louis XIV’s coat of arms painted on the walls, and tasted freshly roasted chestnuts on the streets of Heidelberg.

Experience is indeed the best teacher.

A few months ago, I lamented about the fact that I live in the suburbs and that my kids don’t get enough nature.  For now, that is no longer a concern.  Today, a Saturday, they spent the entire day outside on the several acres that go with the house that we’ve rented.  They built enough tree forts, far from the prying eyes of our HOA, to stock them up on their nature needs for a while.  And they’ll do it again tomorrow if it doesn’t rain.  We don’t have TV or video games at all, so that isn’t even an option.  Today, they asked me if it would be okay if they ran together to the end of the lane.  Of course I said yes.  Nature deficit?  I don’t think so.  At least not for now.

There.  I just thought I’d clear that up, in case anyone reading what I’m writing had any doubts as to the educational value of our time here in France, about my home-made, homegrown language immersion course.

I’d say that it’s actually going very, very well.