Homeschooling, Poetry & Words

East of Eden Book Club Hosted by the Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Hello, friends! Late summer finds me here, back in Tennessee after my summer wanderings. School books are stacked up again, pencils are sharpened, and we step into the rhythm of lengthening shadows and lingering sunsets. Here and there a leaf drifts by as if to whisper what’s next, on the wings of the wind.

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East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

“A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to.” -John Steinbeck

Sometimes, as homeschool parents, our world can end up being all-consumed with education, can’t it? Especially when we’re entrusted with the education of quirky, out-of-the-box, outlier kids, we can easily spend all our spare time chasing down solutions to help our asynchronous students thrive. This is definitely true over in The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community, the closed Facebook group that’s an offshoot of this blog. We spend a lot of time discussing giftedness, education, curriculum, and our kids in general. I love the support homeschool communities can provide. I’ve learned so much about various homeschool helps for gifted and twice exceptional kids.

But do you know what else is essential for success?

Our own wellbeing, as homeschool moms. We need to fill our reservoirs, too. If we’re stressed out, frazzled, expended, and flat-out exhausted, we’ll find it a whole lot harder to pour in to our kids, and lean in to this whole homeschooling craziness.

We think nothing of spending hours tracking down the precisely perfect literature list for our kids, but then somehow allow the stack of to-reads on our bedside table to languish. We make sure our students spend time digging in to the nuanced treasures hidden in stories, knowing it will enrich and edify, but then we scroll through social media instead of paging through a classic. (Or am I the only one?)

Online Book Club for East of Eden

Reading is really a wonderful kind of literary, thoughtful, continuing education. This fall, won’t you join us as a group of us from The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community pick up John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, lingering over four chapters each week?  I’m planning to pick out a brand-new commonplace book, too, and jot down passages which stand out to me.  (Everyone’s favorite Sarah Mackenzie explains what she keeps in her commonplace book.)

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

I’m naturally an overly-speedy reader, so keeping a pen and commonplace book handy as I read forces me to slow down a little more. As I wrote in a recent piece called Five Rewards of a Reading Lifestyle,

“Sometimes the nuggets of truth in a written passage are readily apparent; other times, the nuances require a little deeper digging before they’re visible. This is analogous to life; the profundity of life will not always shout to us from the surface, but is often

  • hidden away in quiet corners,
  • glistening in the shadows,
  • camouflaged by the everyday,
  • waiting to be discovered.

Reading teaches us it’s not always the flashiest or the loudest moments which are the most precious. In quiet searching through the written word, we are rewarded deeply.”

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

And as a writer, slow reading spurs me on to write, every single time. Yet like Steinbeck, “I find it difficult to write about my native place, northern California. It should be the easiest, because I knew that strip angled against the Pacific better than any place in the world. But I find it not one thing but many–one printed over another until the whole thing blurs. What it is is warped with memory of what it was and that with what happened there to me, the whole bundle wracked until objectiveness is nigh impossible.” -Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I can’t wait to open East of Eden and travel west — walking figuratively through the West Coast again, seeing familiar places through new eyes, and stretching myself through intense plot and characterization.

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Join us, September 2nd, as we dive in to all 601 pages of East of Eden!

so you can chime in during our online discussions.

If you don’t have a copy of the book, ThriftBooks has several copies for around five dollars. (Click through to ThriftBooks from this page, and get 15% off your first purchase. Overly obvious disclosure: this is a referral link.)

Alright, ready? Mark your calendars for September 2!

Download the East of Eden Book Club schedule 

In September, the air smells different. Septembers are charred. The earth is dried and shattered into thousands of immovable pieces. I can always taste the wildfire in the air in September, that deep mix of ashes, burned pine resin and dust. No one else talks about it, but I think there’s a hint of pollen and petals in it too — that faint scent a rosebush gives off at the end of a long dry summer, when the blooms are slumped into disfigured, twisted crepe. I’ve always loved the way everything in September aches for the rain, looking forward to the washing that’s around the corner, even when everything is in ashes.” -an excerpt from my in-progress memoir

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

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Life in Photos, Poetry & Words

This Whole Land of our Sojourn is my Home

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This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home
This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

This summer, we whisked ourselves away to the rugged northern wilds of California, Minnesota, and Michigan.  On the West Coast, we ducked into a secret redwood garden awash with Rivendell lights; in Michigan, we built campfires on the edges of a 19th century settlement, and — while reading Amory Blaine’s exploits in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise — drove through both Amery and Blaine.

The sun rose and set, for me, in  four states on three of this country’s borders, over two different oceans, on the edge of one Great Lake, and even — thirty thousand feet aloft — over dozens and dozens of sparkling little towns.

I highlighted as many lines in Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley in Search of America as my digital swipe would allow, then watched them all vanish in a burst of pixels, as the server sucked the virtual book back in after three loaned weeks. I sorted through old family documents, scratched away in fountain ink, faded proof of all the secrets and genes tumbling down through the generations.

It’s temporary glory, to put words in Steinbeck’s mouth.

It’s all a temporary shimmer of the eternal.

“To find not only that this bedlam of color was true but that the pictures were pale and inaccurate translations, was to me startling. I can’t even imagine the…colors when I am not seeing them…. ‘It is a glory,’ she said, ‘and can’t be remembered, so that it always comes as a surprise.'”

It can’t be remembered.

It always comes as a surprise.

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

I belong nowhere, and everywhere. I come home through so many different doors, walk with a sigh across so many different thresholds.

Sarah Dessen rattles her way across the keyboard onto the novel’s page to tell us all, “Home [i]sn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It [i]s wherever the people who loved you [a]re, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”

This shell of mine is stained with the red clay of Oaxaca and the Sierra Nevada, gilded in copper patina from the Ljubljanica River, dusted over from the kiln-like heat of the Sacramento Valley,  preserved in the subzero howl of the northern wilds, and sloshing from the perpetual rain of these subtropics.

It’s always with me.

And it always comes as a surprise.

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

I don’t know how I would handle having my roots all smashed together and compacted into one tiny plot of earth. I wasn’t made for roots like that. I was made for the kind that stretch and strain and burrow, through clay and sand and heat and rain, putting a little branch down here and other down halfway across the globe.

Steinbeck felt it through and through. “When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ships’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, once a bum always a bum. I fear this disease incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself….A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

The faded old documents I sorted this summer traced a journey across the Atlantic, on both sides of the family, through Ellis Island. As a child, I flew this route over their ghosts by air; less than a hundred years earlier, great grandparents on both sides of the family took this route by sea.

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

This Whole Land of My Sojourn is my Home

Neruda once said it was our destiny to love and say goodbye. I think it’s our destiny to love and say hello, over and over and over again — in all the “places with no weight” as Octavio Paz would say —

in all our many homes, knowing that He’s put eternity in our hearts [1], knowing all the time that we’re heading Home no matter how many different places we land,

in this, the land of our sojourn.


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