Louisa May Alcott Books

My children, especially the middle one, are loving Louisa May Alcott books. We began with Little Women, then Little Men, and now we started Jo’s Boys. I enjoy them too, and it makes me wonder what is so special about them.

First, they are familiar from one of our favorite games: Authors. It’s an old set of cards from before my childhood. LMA is the only female author. I often wonder if there’s an updated version of the game, and if so, who are the authors? And if not, perhaps I ought to make one!

But why else do we like them? If you read any analysis written about them, especially Little Women, you learn how feminist the book is. Do we like them because they contain such strong and unique women? Well, partly yes, I think. But we like Laurie just as much. And Mr. Bhaer. And then the next two books have a lot of strong and unique boys in them. Maybe we like strong and unique characters in general. There are plenty of those.

More than just the characters, I enjoy the series. I enjoy watching the family grow up and expand. Unlike, say, Charlie Brown, who never gets older, these characters actually mature at an appropriate rate. Jo’s Boys begins ten years after Little Men ended. It seems right. I mean, we laugh because Nat has a moustache, and that’s a funny thought, but isn’t that just like real life? Don’t we have the temptation to laugh at young men when they start growing up and growing facial hair?

These books are also comforting. They have their funny moments, their poignant moments, their tragic moments, their long-winded descriptive moments. But it all strikes chords with our life. Plumfield school sounds a lot like our own homeschool. Demi is “the deacon” because he is pious and philosophical, and we love him for that, not despise him. Tommy is a prankster, and we love him for the trouble he gets into because he is still so good-natured, not horrible and dark. So many contemporary books strike off-notes because we don’t live our lives like the people in the book do. LAM’s books are closer to home than The Boxcar Children or James and the Giant Peach (not that those are bad books).

Finally, I like the wisdom that seems to wrap its way into the books. Jo grows older and learns better how to manage boys, and the book shares that wisdom with us. Amy grows prettier and more sophisticated and keeps her passion for art even as she lives out her life as Laurie’s wife and Bess’s mother. The characters grow more character as they age! I love that. I want to do the same. I think I’ve finally hit on the main reason I like the series. I want to be more Amy as I continue to grow and learn. I don’t want to diminish and become a pale version of myself. God wants me to bloom and be the full version of myself. It seems true that the more we learn from life’s experiences and the nature of other people, the fuller we can extend our own arms out to the world.

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School Enjoyment

Although I’ve personally had a rough summer, I’m taking a few moments to count some of my blessings. Our homeschool is really high on the blessings list. I love the challenge of teaching my children, I’m happy to be sharing the world of beauty and knowledge and wisdom to them, and I am convinced this type of home education is a benefit to them.

Three weeks into the school year… what have we done that merits so much praise from myself? Let me make a list.

  • Five in a Row Volume 4: FIAR continues to be a winning curriculum choice for my girls. When I pulled out the first book on our list, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, all three children gasped and said something like, “I love that book! That’s one of my absolute favorites!” Building their own Roxaboxen in the upstairs family room was a fun adventure which included blankets, legos, Monopoly money, a store of stuffed animals, play food, and empty Mountain Dew cans.
  • Doing an archaeological dig in our little flower garden. I buried some recyclables and let the kids dig them up. Not too difficult, a little wormy, but overall pretty enjoyable, and it was a project that coincided with our history topic.
  • Creating treasure maps with brown pencil and watercolor. We made this fun art project educational with a little info about cartographers. The kids hid some treasure in the house. I had to follow their maps (thank goodness for the obvious symbol of stairs, or I would have been lost!). I found a coin jar (quickly reclaimed by its owner) and two full cans of Mountain Dew. My youngest daughter even made the treasure hunt difficult by adding string-laser beams to the stairway and a teddy-bear rescue mission.
  • The Sassafras Twins Science Book: Anatomy. We enjoyed Zoology last year, and we are finding Anatomy to be even more exciting! It is definitely the most-asked-for subject. And mean Mom only schedules it twice a week.
  • Sneaky Geography. I don’t call it geography at all. My girls claim to despise geography. However, they willingly pull state and country books off the library shelves and beg to write a story about them. We sit on the couch together, paging through the books, and they dictate a vacation adventure story (starring ourselves, of course), which I write down faithfully. Today we went to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. I nearly sat on a patch of prickly pear cactus!
  • Spelling! Spellwell workbooks are simple, not too boring, and do the job of making my kids think when they write their words.
  • Homeschool Co-op. We’ve had one week, and already we love it. I am teaching a class about Beatrix Potter stories to a group of 16 four-and-a-half to six year olds. They were very well behaved, excited about Peter Rabbit, and willing to do the projects I created for them. Yay! I love my class!

There’s my list of a few good things that have happened in the last three weeks. I won’t spoil it by listing a few bad things. I may not be earning money, but I really am doing something important with my life.

Boundaries

Room in Brooklyn by Edward Hopper, 1932

There’s a book called Boundaries that is changing my life. My counselor assigned this book, and I’ve been implementing its ideas. It’s about setting personal limits and knowing when to say no. Like this lady in her room in Brooklyn, I have personal limits, walls and windows, that set me apart from those around me. For example, I have a limit concerning my writing and my children. I’m not okay with them watching me write something personal, like an email. I tell them to not be nosy and go in the other room.

Not having enough boundaries allows other people to hurt you or take advantage of you. If you don’t fix that situation, you allow people to do it over and over again. I’ve been challenged with the concept of enabling people to continue in their sin. Enabling is bad, I know it is. And the flip side of the coin – setting up a boundary so that person knows the sin is going to have consequences – is equally hard. Everything about boundaries is difficult. Most things are unpleasant. I don’t like boundaries.

But, I need them. They help me have that “spirit of power and love and self-control” that is mentioned in II Timothy 1:7. Without boundaries, I have a spirit of fear and craziness and self-doubt. It is true that I still doubt if boundaries are a good thing because I don’t like making people upset. And the consequences can be big and life-changing. However, I believe God works peace and truth through boundaries. Ultimately, God cares about me and wants what is best for me. God does not want someone breaking down my good boundaries and coming in and hurting me. And if they do, God is a healer.

Boundaries is a popular book and applicable to any life situation. I do recommend it. The authors are Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. They write from a Christian’s perspective.

Beginning School Again

This was our first week of school, and as it is a week earlier than planned, I chose to begin easy with only our workbooks. It is going well. Workbook work doesn’t consume too much time, and the beginning of our math books are not too complicated.

Emotionally, I’m drained. Too much confusion. Too much personal drama. I pray for peace, but I’m also praying for God to send out His truth, and I imagine peace and truth don’t always come at the same time. Hopefully, the truth leads to peace eventually.

The beginning of the school season means the beginning of homeschool co-op, and I have a challenging class this year. I have begun to prepare, but I’m not a great classroom teacher, and I will be teaching 16 four-and-a-half to six year olds. Thankfully, I’ll also have the help of three adult aides. And also, my class is first hour, meaning they aren’t so tired yet.

And then there is Sunday School, which isn’t hard, but it is extra preparation.

I’m not exactly overwhelmed with the upcoming school work, but I am concerned how this is all going to work with my personal marriage problems. My counselor says to keep doing things I enjoy. I need to take care of myself. I enjoy writing. So I need to keep writing. That is how I hash things out so I can understand them.

Little Women

I’ve had such drama in my life lately, that I want to write something normal. So I will quote a quiet little truth found in Little Women, which I’m reading aloud to the kids right now. This quote comes when Jo and Beth are at the seaside and Jo realizes that Beth is going to die soon.

… for often between ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is very hard to overcome. Jo felt as if a veil had fallen between her heart and Beth’s, but when she put out her hand to lift it up, there seemed something sacred in the silence, and she waited for Beth to speak.

— from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1869

When I read that line aloud, it struck me as comforting. There’s nothing wrong in feeling shy talking to a loved one. It’s a natural thing, and often the silence between you and that loved one is full of more meaning than the words could ever have.

A Lesson from Job

After a very bad day yesterday, I am having a very good day today. My church is currently vacant, so we invite different ministers to preach for us. Today’s is Mr. Freswick, and he preached quite elegantly about Job. So there sits Job in the ash heap, his skin covered in sores. His friends blame him for all his problems, and at a different point in the book, he curses his own birth. However, in chapter 19, Job writes the thing he wants remembered forever: I know that my Redeemer lives. Job knows his friends are wrong; his problems are not his own fault. He has examined his heart and found himself right with God. So, his problems must have another explanation. Job doesn’t know the other explanation, but he knows that his Redeemer knows. And that’s good enough.

Application: I have problems. I examine my heart. I find that I am right with God. My husband blames me for our problems, but I know that I am at least trying to do the right things. So, there’s another explanation. I don’t know everything. I don’t know the reasons why I have to go through this. But God knows. He’s in control, and He is my Redeemer. And that’s better than anything else.

When Trust Doesn’t Work

I have a private blog where I discuss my marriage problems in-depth to a few caring people, but I wanted to provide a general update here as well. I am on depression/anxiety medication now, and it was rough at first, but my body has adjusted to them. I’m definitely experiencing more even emotions without the roller-coaster ups and downs. And yet, depression still hits, like when my husband of 12 years doesn’t know that I need my glasses for far away (I’ve only been near-sighted for most of my life). And when I’m making financial decisions based on the fact that we have no net income, and my husband tells me I can spend as much as I like (because he knows I won’t spend too much). He doesn’t understand how confusing and frustrating that is. I want to get a job, but I have three kids to take care of.

And then there’s the whole trust thing. It doesn’t work. I find myself starting to be able to meet his eye, talk back to him, and then he says something that sets me back to where I was. I hate it. I actually find myself hating my life.

In Christ, I am loved. In this house, I am loved by my children. Desperately loved. Hugs and kisses every hour or so. I kind of get sick of it, but I am grateful, too. Why do I need to be so affected by my spouse’s lack of faithfulness and love? I wish I could get over it. I wish I could pour my energy into an art project or writing project, and use that as therapy, but all that seems too frivolous for these desperate times. I would feel guilty for being artistic when I should be practical. I find myself hating who I am, too, and I know that’s wrong. It’s hard to talk myself out of these thoughts. What is that called? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Change the way I think.

I’m not telling you all this so you can see how low I get. I’m writing because I need to know myself, and then I can work on praying about the specifics. And you can pray, too. Because God is in control, and He listens and understands.