The French Revolution: A Book List for High School (or Adults)

My vision of our high school curriculum is a kind of smorgasbord of half year studies that my scholars can choose from according to their interests and tastes.  It’ll take me almost forever to pull such a thing together, but eventually, someone will have the benefit of lots of options, and I will have the benefit of not so much work.  Theoretically.

I do not personally know very much about the French Revolution at all, but it was a pivotal event, not just for the people of France, but for the entire Western world.  These are the books I’ve chosen, with some options.  Note: I’m an extremely good Book Chooser, regardless of my knowledge of the subject, in case you doubt my selections.  Meg will be my Course Tester this year, and we’ll tweak it a bit when we’re done, because there will be more books than we’ll have time for, and it’s possible that one may not add enough to the fight to stay on the list for the next student.  We will update as we go!

Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama seems to be the one book on the French Revolution that all others aspire to outdo. I’d originally suggested a different and shorter title, but when it arrived, I realized it did not compare with Citizens for readability. So, even though it is nearly 900 pages long, this is my preferred text for complete coverage of the Revolution.

The Terror: The Merciless War For Freedom In Revolutionary France by David Andress also covers the whole of the Revolution, but with the focus on the Year of Terror.


Optional: Lafayette by Harlow Giles Unger. Lafayette was a hero of our American Revolution, after which he returned home to his native France to play an active role in the Revolution there, too. He was welcomed as a hero, but before long, he, too, was targeted by the Public Safety Committee.


The Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution by R. R. Palmer is a classic biography of the twelve men of the Public Safety Committee that orchestrated the Terror, including Robespierre.


Optional, but highly recommended: Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr is a more in-depth biography of the most famous architect of the Reign of Terror, and perhaps a bit more sympathetic than history often chooses to be. It’s very important to me that my children see the humanity behind historical events. We are all flawed, and it’s easy to villianize someone after the fact, but very difficult to know what you would do if you were in his or her shoes.

Optional, but highly recommended: The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury looks like a very Anastasia type of tale, but might be more sympathetic to the plight of the monarchy than the others. I really like to present my students with as many points of view as possible. I like to think it helps to train them in the virtues of compassion and right judgement. Nothing is ever black and white.

Song at the Scaffold by Gertrude Von Le Fort is a fictionalized account of the sixteen Carmelite nuns executed during the Terror. It is the only specifically Catholic book I can find on the Revolution, but it’s a moving tale.  Because the Revolution was also so violently anti-Church, I think it’s an important aspect, and I wish there was more available material.

Optional: Marie Antoinette by Kathryn Lasky is a children’s novel from the Royal Diaries series, but not everything has to be hard, does it?



The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and The Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, both by Robert Asprey. These two could be optional, but Napoleon was definitely a product of the Revolution, if perhaps not its most desired outcome. Plus, he’s pretty cool and hard to fit in anywhere if we don’t get to him here. :-) I really enjoyed Waterloo by Bernard Cornwall, too.

Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke was written before the worst of the Revolution and is not enthusiastic.The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine is a response to Burke’s piece, and a defense of the Revolution.  I intend for these two to be read last and for the student’s final essay to be a response to either or both Burke and Paine.

Other essays could include portraits of key players, Catholic responses to the actions of major figures or to the Revolution in general. We haven’t actually been through this course yet, so I’ll update with ideas that present themselves as we talk our way through this unit.

I wanted to include a literature component, which would likely round this out into a full year, two credit course. I have a few texts selected that would work great, but the literature of the period was so depraved that I don’t think anybody should read it, certainly not an impressionable young person. If you are what you read, and these were the most popular novels of the period, it’s no wonder the Revolution devolved as it did. Relevant or not, however, I can’t subject my children to that. The other option is to use the few decent texts available or to cover literature about the Revolution. I’d go with the second option, I think.  I don’t have a book list prepared for this section yet, so if you’re interested, check this post again in a few days!

Henry, Four Months Old

8x10 feet bw 8x10 henry hand bw henry face

I just adore this child.  Especially those legs!  Those arms!  He is so chunky, so sturdy, and he has the most gorgeous skin.  Most of us are pretty fair, but Rosie and Henry have this gorgeous Mediterranean skin, smooth and deep, and did I mention gorgeous?  He’s round about 20 lbs already. (!) He’s very much wanting to taste our meals, so I share anything that’s tastable, like mashed potatoes and ice cream.  He usually sleeps pretty well, but he’s so big that I wake him up between 2 and 3AM to feed him, just to keep my milk supply up for him.  Lately, though, he’s been waking two or three times per night, and sleeping a lot during the day.  I suspect another growth spurt is imminent. (!) He has a most lovely personality, much milder than Miss Evie, which is good, because two Evies in a row would be crazy!  One Evie is more than enough for anybody.  But if you can follow an Evie up with a Henry, you’re doing okay.

A couple of weeks ago, I had both of these babies lined up on the floor for tandem diaper changes.  (Evie’s taking a potty break.)  “Look at me!” I said to Davey. “I’m 44 years old!  What were we thinking?”  But here’s the reality.  These people – these children, this man – are my road to Heaven.  They are the ones who inspire me to be more than I am.  They open me up to a bigger and more meaningful life than I would ever have found on my own.

So, twenty years into my motherhood, I still change lots of diapers.  I still cut food into tiny pieces or mush it in a blender.  I still wake multiple times in the middle of the night to check on small people.  I still think of outings in terms of stroller-friendliness.  I’m still limited, bound by the needs of children who depend on me for their most basic needs.

And twenty years into my motherhood, I still need to learn over and over again about sacrificial love.  I still need to learn to die to self, to not mind another diaper change, to work cheerfully with only one free arm, to patiently rise from my bed to nurse by the light of a digital clock, to listen to another story, to toilet train another child, to commit to educating just one more.  It’s hard, and in some ways, it’s getting harder.

But then, those sweet faces smile at me, pudgy arms wrap themselves around my neck, and I melt into a puddle of contentment.

What the heck.  Sleep is for sissies anyway.

Fine Arts in the Homeschool

We planned to start school this year on the fifteenth, but I haven’t got all the lessons planned out yet, so that is definitely not going to work.  I’m making progress, but it’s slow, partly because I’m thinking as I’m planning about why and what and how we should be learning.

Let’s take art, for instance.  I’ve got two homeschool high school graduates now, but I’ve only really realized the value of art in the curriculum in the past year.  I know!  I’m crazy!  Or maybe I’m not.  Maybe it’s a general trend, even among homeschoolers, to undervalue the fine arts.

Allow me to think out loud here for a while?

Last year, I put a special emphasis on making art.  Not as much as I could have, but we made more art – together and independently – than we ever have before.  We had a Refrigerator Art Gallery and a constantly rotating collection.  We were looking at each others’ work, admiring what was beautiful, moving, interesting, unique, but also offering suggestions and critiques. (Kindly!  Because it’s very brave to put your work out there for all the world to see.)  The consequence of this is that we all grew in skill and expressiveness, but also in the way we see the world around us.  We are looking at things more like artists, at the details and the light and why it makes us feel a certain way.  I have loved watching that unfold, and it’s something I very much want to continue with and expand upon.

I used to consider art as one of those “beautiful extras” – fine if you have time for it, but not necessary.  I put Latin in that category, too.  But after the first year of studying Latin, I noticed that the children seemed to be thinking more clearly, more analytically.  They were more intelligent for just that little bit of Latin.  Even if there were no other benefits to learning this “dead” language, Latin will forever more have a permanent place in our curriculum.  But over this past year, I could see that art had a similar and complimentary effect on the children.  If Latin sort of fine tunes their brains, art expands them.  All kinds of art: music and literature, painting and theatre.  Latin and the arts are not beautiful extras; they are, or should be, the core.

If I were to consider the most important things for the children to study, I would start with those: Latin and art (and music).  Then I would add literature and writing, and finally, history and math.  Science wouldn’t even make the cut.  (We have and use religion texts, too, but I see more value (obviously) in our living relationship with God and Church and in our working out together how to practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy than in the texts.  The texts’ primary value, for me, is in opening up discussions. Which is something else I need to think through!)

But back to art.  This year, I plan to continue and expand upon the work we did last year, and I also want to add in music studies.  We’ll be using the SQUILT curriculum to get us started, and we’ll plan to see at least one orchestral performance.   Children are more than capable of sitting quietly (so as not to disturb other patrons) and enjoying a theatre or orchestra experience without any special accommodations needing to be made.  I mention this because the Louisville Orchestra has special, abbreviated performances for children and doesn’t recommend their regular shows for those under 12.  Regular performances only last about 70 minutes, though, just about as long as a Mass, and, I suspect, they’re more entertaining.  I would not expect to have any trouble with my children at a full-length performance of any kind for as long as two hours.

I want the children to learn to read music, too, and I’d like them to play an instrument, but I think piano would be as far as we could go.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, if we could all play something different?

There was a time in my childhood that my mom, God bless her, regularly took my Girl Scout troop to see Broadway plays in New York City.  I saw quite a few, and remember the experience vividly.  Professional plays are a bit expensive for a family our size, but we have summer Shakespeare in the Park, and the high school productions are quite good.  We’ll make it a point to see those, too, so the children get a feel for the theatrical, as well.

I’m just kind of working out our priorities here, because there is never enough time, and I don’t want to drop a thing that’s actually very important in favor or something that’s less important but more culturally acceptable.

Art matters, in ways I never realized before.

What do you think?  Do you make art at home?  Have you noticed any particular effects on your family?  How would you prioritize the academic subjects?

How I Use Social Media

“My Facebook is more like Dramabook today,” she said.  As she told me about her friends’ angst, I remembered a younger me, a different time, when every cause on the web seemed like something that ought to be taken up.  But older me has learned that (a) nobody really cares what I think about any particular issue anyway, and (b) these arguments do nothing to further my vocation to motherhood, to raising and educating these children for the glory of God.

I’ve learned – and keep learning – that I can’t change the hearts on the other side of my computer screen, but I can influence the ones around my table.

There was a time not so very long ago when there was a vibrant community of Catholic “mommy bloggers” on the web.  Most of us are quiet now, except on Facebook, and I always think that’s such a shame, for we still have so much to offer one another.  And actually, most of us are quiet on Facebook, too; it’s not a good forum for communicating deep thoughts, and when we make an attempt, we are bombarded with a barrage of hateful, hurtful comments.

We’ve become so accustomed, as a society, to communicating via screens, and we forget too easily that there is an actual person on the other side of that screen, a person already wounded by this soulless world.  We let careless words fly, heedless that they cut like daggers.  We read too much meaning into the most innocuous of posts, tearing down instead of building up.

Another glorious sunrise.

Another glorious sunrise.

It’s a harsh world, and it takes some effort to keep all that drama and angst from defining your day.  It takes vigilance to avoid becoming part of the problem.

Sometimes, for some people, the answer is to walk away, at least for a time, but so many of us have found community through social media where none exists locally.  And for the more transient among us, it allows us to keep up with the friendships we’ve acquired in our travels and the extended family we’ve left behind.  It’s a shame to give up all the good to protect against the bad if it isn’t absolutely necessary, and I find that some basic ground rules are effective for me.

  1. Don’t be afraid to delete comments.  I consider my spaces on the web an extension of my home, and if you speak to me or my guests in a way that would be inappropriate in my living room, I just delete.  I don’t explain myself or offer any warnings.  The comment just disappears.  I don’t mind disagreement and discussion, but I expect visitors to always honor the person they are speaking to.
  2. You don’t have to be friends with everyone.  It’s not a contest to see who can get the most friends, likes and follows, even though it can feel like it sometimes.  Unfriending or unfollowing the people who routinely make me feel uncomfortable, discouraged or angry keeps my feed angst-free.  Mostly.
  3. Find the forum that works best for you.  I love my blog, but I also post often throughout the day to Instagram.  It’s a friendlier place than Facebook, and the photos and captions are collected automatically into Chatbooks, which they print and mail to me each month.  The whole family adores these little books, so my posts are mostly memory-keeping.  I seldom post directly to Facebook, choosing instead to share selected Instagrams that I think my mom would like.  Or Marla, being the archetype of Friends Who Aren’t On Instagram.
  4. Be the light you’re looking for.  Whatever you wish you were seeing in your feed, be that for other people.  There’s a difference between needing prayers or encouragement on a bad day and constantly complaining about every little thing that happens.  There’s a difference between sharing a concern or thought that invites discussion and telling your friends why they absolutely must support your point of view.  I try to come from a place of love, understanding and gratitude.  I don’t always succeed, but that’s the goal.  I don’t want to be bitter or hard-hearted, not in real life, and not on the internet.
  5. Watch your time.  There’s a whole beautiful world out there, full of intriguing, wonderful people.  There’s one standing at my knee right now, two years old and singing the ABC song as I type.  I don’t want that screen to come between me and the people I’m supposed to be loving.  I don’t want that to be the thing they remember most about me.  That means that I really can’t have Facebook on my iPod.  It’s too tempting to spend too much time there, and it’s a shallow, shallow place.  Better to keep a book handy for those forced down times (like nursing the baby) which are my trigger.
  6. Leave a comment. The whole point of social media is to be… social.  We need to talk to each other, not just “like” and run.  Share a helpful experience.  Offer praise.  Commiserate.  Encourage.  Laugh.  But go ahead and speak.  That’s why we’re here.

How about you?  What is your favorite social media and how do you keep it from dragging you down?  Do you worry about likes and follows?  Do you want to give it all up? What are your favorite pizza toppings?

I can't believe God does this every day.

I can’t believe God does this every day.








Back Again!

I just keep disappearing. :-) Actually, I’m going to blame it on my laptop. It’s been quite a while since my laptop worked properly. First, it was the battery. My beloved bought a new one, but it was an off brand, and it only held a charge for 20 minutes – less time than the one it was replacing! So no battery. Then, suddenly, the keyboard was on the fritz. Not all the keys, just some of the keys. So I attached an external keyboard, and if you need a keyboard, you need a mouse, too. My laptop had very much become a desktop. But babies play on the floor, and they like to have a mama nearby, and when I got time at my desk, I worked on school planning. That wasn’t going too well, either, because I wasn’t getting too much time at my desk!

The other night, Davey asked me, “So what do you want for your birthday?”

“Can I think about that for a minute?” I asked.

He nodded. “Oh, by the way, your new laptop will be here on Monday.”

“Wonderful!” I paused. “You know what? Let’s just call the laptop an early birthday gift. Come to my bowling party and we’ll call it good.”


Henry and laptop

So now I have a new laptop that is actually portable, and I can sit on the floor with the baby and write, or edit photos, or type up the school lesson plans. Also, I get to celebrate my birthday for the entire month. Laptop this week, party next week before the girls go back to college, cake on the actual day, and, later, ice cream at Emery’s. Davey said, “Perfect, because nobody really likes August anyway.” True enough!

The face of hot.

The face of hot.

Last week was our county fair, and the family made a pretty good showing in the home economics building. One of us even won a Grand Champion ribbon! Penelope won for a crocheted piece. It’s our family’s third one, and I’m really proud of the effort the children put into their projects.

The weather was a little milder than the week before, but it was still hot! We drank a whole case of water and about a dozen lemonades in the five hours we were there. It was still pretty quiet when we left at 7:30, so we had a great time on all the rides with hardly any waiting. Also, funnel cake. Lots and lots of funnel cake.

Can you tell who they're dressed up as?

Can you tell who they’re dressed up as?

I should be able to blog more regularly, now that I can write just about anywhere!  I’ll share some of our school plans, and also those make-ahead breakfast recipes I promised.  Easy mornings are good!

Taco Week!

Harrell's nice old pick-up.

Harrell’s nice old pick-up.

When you let the kitchen helpers plan the menu for the week, and they choose meals they have been craving instead of meals that kind of make sense together, you might start noticing a certain trend forming by the time you get to Wednesday.  In our case, for this week, the girls were feeling very taco-ish, and every single dinner features – you guessed it – homemade tortillas.  For a family our size, that means we’ll be making something like 150 tortillas this afternoon.  Now, normally, I would have adjusted their suggestions to make for a bit more variety, but sometimes it’s just fun to run with it.

I’ve been planning monthly for several years now, but I’m trying to go back to a weekly schedule, just stocking up on pantry essentials and frozen veggies once a month, and doing all the rest of the marketing on Fridays.  And, because this is the sort of thing we women shared back in the old days of blogging (ten years is a lifetime on the internet!), I’m sharing my menu plan.  :-)



First, we’ll need lots of homemade tortillas, which we’ll make all at once today.

Saturday: potluck picnic at the neighbors’ 4th of July party
Sunday: Chicken Enchiladas
Monday: Chicken Tacos
Tuesday: Chinese Burritos
Wednesday: Greek-Style Burritos (recipe coming)
Thursday: Ordinary Tacos (recipe probably coming)

Most of these will be tripled for making freezer meals.  I’ve used all of mine up and I miss them!  Also, there’s no sense in making just one pan of enchiladas.  They’re too much work and mess to waste the effort.


Crowd Pleasin’ Chicken Tacos

This recipe came to me from Kristy B. through Facebook and boy was it good! She calls it Crockpot Chicken Taco Meat.

I served the chicken on homemade tortillas with a dollop of sour cream and the children loved it, even going so far as to mention it in the same sentence as their all-time favorite meal of enchiladas. Somebody said, “We never like crockpot dinners, but this is really good!” Even Rosie, who is firmly entrenched in the picky-eater stage, gobbled her taco right up. “Make this again!” somebody else called out.

Of course, whether a meal gets repeated or not – or at least how often – depends pretty heavily on the opinion of the Man of the House. He’s not a real emotional guy and did not express the same enthusiasm as the rest of the family. He just nodded and said, “You can make this again.” Then he had seconds.


1 whole chicken 1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chicken broth 2-4 tbsp diced jalapenos; to taste
3 tbsp taco seasoning


Pour the tomatoes and jalapenos into the bottom of the crockpot and top with the chicken. Dissolve the taco seasoning in the chicken broth and pour over all. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. About an hour before dinner, shred the chicken with two forks and return to the sauce for soaking. Serve on tortillas with cheese and sour cream.

Chinese Burritos

A recipe from 2005!

I made these chinese burritos tonight and they were absolutely delicious! (At least I thought so…the kids were somewhat divided!) I got this recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Dieter Cookbook.

Chinese Burritos

18 oz boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp dry sherry
Nonstick spray (I used a little oil)
1 medium onion, cut into wedges
2 medium green or red peppers, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (I used one can)
1 Tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp fresh grated gingerroot (I used about 1/4 tsp dried ground ginger)
1 8 oz can bamboo shoots (I skipped this altogether, as I didn’t have any)
1/4 cup chicken broth (all out–I used water)
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup plum preserves

Mix chicken, soy sauce and sherry in a bowl and let marinate for 30 minutes. Spray a cold wok or heavy skillet with nonstick spray and heat on medium high. Add onion; stir fry 2 min. Add pepper; stir fry 1 minute. Add mushrooms; stir fry 1 minute. Remove vegetables to a bowl. Drain chicken, reserving marinade. Add oil to wok. Add gingerroot and stir fry 15 seconds. Add half the chicken and stir fry 3-4 minutes till no longer pink. Put the chicken with the veggies, and repeat with remaining chicken. Return everything plus bamboo shoots to skillet. Stir broth, cornstarch and reserved marinade together and add to skillet. Cook and stir till slightly thickened and all is coated with sauce.

Now for the finishing touch! For the burritos, add 1/2 cup plum preserves. Heat through. (Preserves will melt!) Serve in warmed tortilla shells.

Notes: Mine came out a little runny…I’d add more cornstarch next time. Also, I didn’t have any leftover marinade. And it made ALOT! I froze half of it for another time.

The Best Tuna Salad Recipe

That’s what I googled to find this recipe!  I love, love, love it, and – even better – my two tuna haters like it, too!

tuna 1

4 cans of tuna, drained*
1 large, firm apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 small sweet onion, finely diced
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Mix all ingredients together with just enough mayo to hold it all together. Spread on good bread, and enjoy!

*I usually buy water-packed tuna. Oil-packed tastes better, but it’s packed in soy or canola, and I don’t feel either is a healthful option, so water-packed it is.

Also, make sure everything is cut pretty small, otherwise those chunks of apple fall out of your sandwich when you’re not looking! Also excellent stuffed into homemade pitas.

tuna 2

Blueberries and Other Things


This is the summer I can’t hardly abide being at home.  And home is my favorite place in the whole wide world!  But go out, we must, and go out, we do.  We have access to two libraries, both of which have fun summer reading programs and lots of attendant performances by folks with varying degrees of talent.  One week, we saw a show by a pair called Impossible Magic.  It was a great show!  The next week, we saw a different magic show by Mr. Moustache.  Even the two year old was disappointed.  Silly gimmicks don’t impress us; we want to see some real magic!  Last week, we saw a fun folk storyteller and a strange little puppet show. It’s hit-or-miss, but it’s a free Something To Do, and the children are enjoying it.

(Did you know my dad could rub an eagle through a quarter?  Or turn three sticks into rocks?  I was a rock collector, so that was a handy trick, and he always made the best rocks.  I particularly recall a nice, smooth, pink one.)


Blueberry picking is one of our regular summer activities.  We pick a whole year’s worth in about an hour, and then go home for blueberry pancakes.  These photos were taken toward the end our picking time, and Delaney was taking a break by throwing blueberries at me.  She said she was aiming for my pail, but I am doubtful, as most hit me right in the chest.


Boo needed a break, too, so while I nursed the baby, he snacked on his pickings.  I got scolded for snacking on mine, but, fortunately, Delaney threw enough at me that I didn’t suffer too much.


Big kids and outings. I have found that to be one of the hardest things about them growing up. I want them to come, too, but one or the other is always out! I’m sorry to say I’ve given up. I just put things on my schedule and go with anyone who is available and interested. The little ones and I are having much more fun this way. 

How are you spending your summer? Reading? Traveling? Library programs?