Reading with Friends: Hosting a Book Club In Real Life (with Karoline Strickland)

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

What a joy to talk to one of my oldest friends, fellow second-generation homeschooler, and local book club leader in today’s Homeschool Conversations episode! If you’ve been following me on Instagram this year, you know I’ve been sharing what I’ve been reading lately. Many of those titles come from my monthly in-person book club! If you’ve wished you had something like that in your life, listen to today’s episode for practical tips and encouragement from my dear friend, Karoline Strickland!

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

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Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

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Who is Karoline Strickland

Karoline lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and three children ages nine, six, and one-and-a-half. She homeschools her two oldest daughters, teaches piano lessons, and reads when she should probably be cooking. Some of her favorite reading includes English Renaissance and Romantic poetry, Charlotte Mason, agricultural memoirs, golden age detective stories, and everything C. S. Lewis ever wrote.

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

Watch my Homeschool Conversation with Karoline Strickland

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Amy Sloan: Hello everyone. I am so excited today to be talking with my longtime friend, Karoline Strickland. Karoline lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and three children ages nine, six, and one-and-a-half. She homeschools her two oldest daughters, teaches piano lessons, and reads when she should probably be cooking. Some of her favorite reading includes English Renaissance and Romantic poetry, Charlotte Mason, agricultural memoirs, golden age detective stories, and everything C. S. Lewis ever wrote.

You can see from in there, why I’m friends with Karoline, but before I let Karoline say hello, I just wanted to share a little backstory of how I’ve known Karoline. She is the oldest friend guest on the podcast so far. She and I were both homeschooled back in the day. The funny story is, although we lived in the same area, we had never met in person, but we were both taking online classes from Wes Callihan, previous podcast guest. We happened to show up to the same local private school that was allowing us to take the PSAT together.

I just remember in one of the breaks, Karoline came over to me being like, “Are you Amy Simmons?” I was like, “Yes.” “I’m Karoline.” It was just an amazing time to connect with a real life friend, and we’ve been friends ever since. Karoline was a bridesmaid of mine and I’m just really thankful for her. I’ve learned a lot from you over the years. I’m so excited to get an excuse to talk to you.

Getting started homeschooling

Karoline, would you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family and how you got started homeschooling?

Karoline Strickland: Yes, sure. I grew up in the Raleigh area. I still live in the Raleigh area. I met my husband in college. As you mentioned in your intro, yes I have three children.

Well, I was homeschooled, but I never intended a homeschool my children, and it went the way of most grand plans for my life. Here I am homeschooling my two oldest children. My oldest daughter actually attended a local university model school for a couple years, but then in the middle of the second year she came to me and she said, “Mama it just makes me so sad to think of you and my little sister having fun at home all day, and I wish I could be with you.”

Of course at that moment, I was like, “Oh honey, absolutely. We can do that. You can come home.” I think by then too, just having seen her go through kindergarten and first grade, I had a little more confidence and I had started evolving a little bit more of my priorities in education. That’s how I stumbled in homeschooling.

Amy: I think it’s really helpful to hear that, because sometimes people make the assumption that because I was homeschooled, that I have it all figured out and somehow it’s easy for me. While there are things that are probably easier — I never thought inside the box. I guess doing things my own way is probably more natural to me than fitting into someone else’s model — it’s still your own unique children are totally different. Your family is different from your family of origin, and it’s still a learning curve of just figuring out what it’s going to look in your own family.

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

How Karoline’s approach to home education has changed over the years

That being said, how has your approach to education grown and changed over the years?

Karoline: I think it’s really funny to look back. As you ask that question, I’m just thinking, that’s a funny question, too, for me to think about. Because I thought I was pretty laid back. I was just like read a lot of good books, learn to be diligent and self disciplined, and have a reasonably orderly progress through the obvious stuff.

Eventually you’re going to probably need more specialization, maybe some extra things as you move into high school, or your child has really unique individual interests.

It was while my child was in school I think I started realizing what a mismatch there was between the way I just thought education worked, and the way it was more prevalent. It was the moment when I discovered that sometimes in first grade, children may be asked to do thematic analysis of a one paragraph story. That I discovered I had deep, strong feelings about educational philosophy that I had never really recognized or identified and I was shocked by that, and just how strong that feeling was. At that point I realized there was probably just a lot of vocabulary I needed to learn, a lot more digging that I needed to do. I started just looking at my own reading a little differently. Just going, “Why do I have such a deep commitment to doing things this way and not another way.”

As I started thinking about that and listening and digging deeper, I gravitated pretty quickly and pretty naturally towards the Charlotte Mason community, which is actually, I found, very robust. When I first heard it, I would usually hear it in the context of, “Oh, we do Charlotte Mason, and we take nature walks and do nature journals,” but there’s a lot more to it than that. I was just so struck by it. I loved the way that her philosophy evolves so naturally, but so deeply from who God made us to be and who he is. That’s the journey I’m on.

Amy: I think that there’s nothing like parenting and seeing that actual child in front of you, and then seeing someone else idea for that child. All of a sudden you realize, “I think my opinions might be stronger than I realized.” [laughs].

Discovering and exploring alongside our children

Well, as you made this transition from the university model school, you brought your oldest daughter back home, and now you’re homeschooling both of your daughters. What have been some of your favorite parts about homeschooling?

Karoline: I think that has to be just as I mentioned, I’m on a journey with this educational philosophy myself. Just having the chance to be in that seat of being a discoverer and explorer alongside my child is so exciting. I think hands down, that has to be the best part.

Amy: We’re still learning and growing alongside our children. Even if we had a homeschool background, there’s still so much to be learned. I think that’s part of why I called my whole site Humility and Doxology is that idea of education as repentance is one part of it. Then the teaching as repentance is something I’m realizing now from this adult, the mom side of things, that so much of my job as teacher, my job as mom is my own repentance and humility. Coming alongside my children with that same attitude of I’m a learner, there’s a lot left to learn for me.

Challenges of homeschooling

How about some of the challenges of homeschooling, and how have you sought to overcome those?

Karoline: Well at this moment I have an 18-month-old, so the past two years have just been challenging by default. We’ve just hit the stage where my toddler has dropped his morning nap and I realized this somewhat recently. I was like, “Why is it so hard?” And then I realized, this is the first time– Because of the age gaps between my children, this is the first time I’ve been trying to actually do somewhat formal school days while having an active toddler in the background. I cannot in any way, say I have a magic solution to that. I’m sure many moms would love to hear that I had come up with the one wonderful way to make that easy, but I am still working on that.

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I’ve realized it’s not just hard for me, it’s hard for my children too. I have one child in particular who really thrives with a lot of structure and stability and very consistent days. That’s just really not what any part of our daily reality looks like right now. I just had to realize this isn’t hard for me only, this isn’t just hard my toddler having to give up momma time, or trying to understand why I can’t play outside with him all day. This is also hard for my school-aged children.

I just really needed a lot of extra gentleness and understanding. I’m also just trying to let go of some expectations and some attitudes I’ve had for myself. Just realized things may need to change.

They may not always change in the way that I wish they would. I may not be able to hold on to all my darlings, all my special educational priorities. Sometimes I might just have to say this isn’t what love looks right here.

Amy: I love that, “this isn’t what love looks like right here,” because if we’re motivated by appropriate and well-ordered loves for our children and our families and the callings that God has given to us, we can lay aside an idolatry. A disordered love for something that might be a good thing, like an educational ideal, or like a goal that we have. It might be a good thing. It’s not that the thing itself is wrong, but when it becomes the thing that we must have to be happy, then that really destroys relationships, and it even destroys the thing itself. We can no longer have that bit of educational, darling, as you said, and it won’t actually work out very well for us.

Karoline: Yes, so true.

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

Starting an In-Person Book Club

Amy: The reason especially why I wanted to talk to you– Well, I don’t know if that’s exactly true. The reason that I used to coerce you to be on my podcast with me, is to talk about book clubs for adult women, especially in this context for my primary audience, for homeschool moms, and specifically thinking about in-person book clubs. Because as long as I can remember, I have loved to read books in parallel, and make suggestions of book titles. I’ve always come to you for deep conversations and deep contemplations, and so it’s really exciting to get to chat with you specifically about this topic. I just wanted to first ask how your book club started and why it started? If you had some initial visions and goals for the book club when it began? And then over the years, how things may have shifted or changed?

Karoline: Sure. When I start thinking about my initial impetus or vision for this, I think that I have to say, this has probably just been like my dream since I knew what books were. Basically, since I was like five or six-years-old. Which by the way, I informed my mom when she was trying to teach me to read, that I had thought about it, and I had decided I did not want to learn how to read. I thought that this was a perfectly acceptable option for me to share with my mother. [laughs]

Once I had overcome that initial hurdle, and I started reading and had discovered that this was a whole new life and a whole new world. I think I was always just looking for somebody or somebodies to share this with. I was an English major in college. Honestly, that was a very intense, stressful, busy time of life, so I didn’t really get to savor. I think in the back of my mind, it was always there. It’s just like this dream.

What if I could just get together with friends who love books, and we could just read the same books and talk about them together and just enjoy this wonderful thing together?

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

When this reading group began, I was at a transition point in my own life. This is back in August of 2012, that’s almost exactly 10 years ago. I was six months pregnant with my first child. I had just quit my almost full-time piano teaching job, and my husband and I had bought a house, our very first house and we were moving across the county. It’s just like all the new things, like how many transitions can you pack into the same six or seven months of life. I had stopped doing a lot of things, and I was wondering, “Well, I feel like I need to start doing some things.” Of course, this had always been simmering in the background.

I had also heard frequently from my friends, especially my married friends who had young children, that it’s very hard, especially if you really love having a rich, active intellectual reading literary life. It can be very hard when all the different poles of just day-to-day adult life come on you, to keep prioritizing that. Especially having small children, you’re just necessary, and every minute has so many demands on it. It’s really hard to justify to yourself, I’m taking time to do this thing.

I had also heard from my friends, it’s very hard to initiate something new at this stage in life. It’s an energy, it’s effort, it’s thought, and even if you know it’s good for you to start something new, it’s just very hard. I had taken away from this, that I should be very purposeful and intentional about picking a few priorities and starting them before my baby was born. Then just having that outside structure to keep moving me along directions I knew I should go, which I think can be especially difficult when you don’t have a tangible something to show for it. You can’t say “Hey, look, I read this book,” in the same way that you can say “Hey, I made the beds.” “I did the laundry.” “I prepared a three-course meal.”

That’s where it’s started, in just my mind. I sat down one day, and I just thought, “Okay, I’m going to write an email, and I’m going to see if I can find anybody who wants to do this with me.”

Amy: How many people were there when it first began? And were they all moms? What did that look like?

Karoline: Oh, let’s see. It was quite a range, it was quite a variety. I think they were probably 7, 8-ish people at the first planning meeting, which surprised me. I was honestly prepared for like maybe just one response. I was really taken aback by the enthusiasm that came at me. We had married and unmarried, and not so many mothers with young children represented, we got students. It was quite a range.

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

Amy: I think I wanted to ask that question specifically, because I think a lot of times when I hear moms online, they’re moaning how they wish they had an in-person book club. They’re envisioning a bunch of other people like them in the club. Club is maybe a loaded term, but in the reading discussion group. I think it’s really helpful to realize and to remember that it’s actually really great to have a wide variety of people involved, because you get different perspectives, and you don’t have to wait until you find a bunch of other people in your exact same stage of life.

Karoline: Honestly, they were– I mean, for the longest time, we had more single women represented than married women. It was a wonderful way to stay connected with them and give us something to bond over. Also, just realistically, it was probably easier to come out on a weekday night and meet together when you aren’t having to arrange childcare. We had many weddings over the years, because of that. We’ve been through a lot of babies and a lot of weddings in our group.

Amy: In 2012, I had just had my fourth child at the beginning of that year, and for people who don’t know, the Raleigh area is a bit of sprawl. Karoline and I actually live on opposite sides of town, about an hour apart. Because of the nature of things going on with my life and my husband’s life, at that time, I was so sad not to be able to participate in person, when the book discussion group first began.

You guys were always so generous and kind, you let me join the Facebook group anyway. I was like the stalker. I was the lurker who was like the wannabe book club member for a long time. When I finally had children old enough that I could just say, “Even if John is not home from work, I can still go to the book discussion this month.” That was such a huge step in my parenting journey. It’s been really fun to be able to join you guys in person the past couple of years.

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

How do you choose which books to read in book club?

Some of the questions I’m asking, I know I might know some of the answers to them, at least as they are now. I still just want to ask more generally on behalf of listeners, so that you can give the answer because it may have changed over time, and I obviously only have a window into the more recent years. One of the questions I wanted to ask is just how do you choose the titles you’re going to read? Maybe you should explain how your specific reading group operates, like how many books you read, and how that discussion works?

Karoline: Well, at the very first planning meeting back in August of 2012, I had a few like rock-solid commitments that I cared about for this group. One of them was meeting in person, for example. Past that I was willing to be very open. We figured out a lot of stuff in that first meeting that actually has stayed very consistent. What continues to amaze me is everybody came in with three or four suggestions this first planning meeting, and just pitched each book to the room. We had a lot of suggestions, and we were just in love with many of them we couldn’t decide.

We ended up finally narrowing it down to two, and we just couldn’t narrow it down any further. We said, “You know what? We can do this. We’re going to do two books each month.” Here we are 10 years later and we still read two books a month. I keep asking I was like, “Is this too much? Should we change?” It’s not like written into the charter or anything that we have to do two books a month. Every time I ask that, the members are like, “No, no we love it. Let’s keep doing two books per month,” so we do that.

We still have the same model. We plan our reading probably six to eight months out. We do it in chunks. Everybody just brings in a list of suggestions and we just start throwing all these titles around the room.

I think one of the things that’s the most fun about it, is that we aren’t just looking for like a title, we are looking for a pair of titles. A combination that just really sing on its own.

We just start what about this? What about that? What if these two books would illumine each other? What if these two books would contrast with each other? What if these two books mention each other, or talk to each other in a very direct and explicit way? We really honestly just throw everything around until something just sounds right to us and then it goes on to the big list.

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

Thematic book club traditions

Amy: Then are there particular themes that you follow year by year? Or is it just different any given month?

Karoline: We have a few traditions that have evolved over the years. We have murder mystery October. We usually read in January something that’s a little bit practical and non-fiction. In the summers, this is a little more of a recent development, we’ve started picking one very long book that would just be overwhelming to get through in a single month and spreading it over two or three summer months. That allows us to get through like the 1200 page novels. We’ve done Anna Karenina over a summer, and Middlemarch we’ve read over a summer.

It’s actually one of our favorite things now I think to do it, because we get to tackle something that’s so different than anything we can realistically accomplish in a single month and lets us read these very long intimidating books. Then we break it up, we’ll read half or a third, and then we have that stopping point. Get to this point, you get some motivation to get to that point. Then we get to talk about it together and encourage each other onwards. Then we come back the next month and read the next section or finish out the book.

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Amy: It makes it more manageable, but also more motivating because you’re going to have a meeting to come and discuss and it makes you accomplish something that maybe would have seemed too intimidating otherwise.

Karoline: Never underestimate the motivation of like that outside structure, and having people who are doing it with you.

Amy: Exactly. Have there been any particular titles or pairings that you have especially loved?

Karoline: There’s one that will forever live in my memory as probably the craziest pairing we ever did, and that was our first year. When we decided to read The Brothers Karamazov, and pair it with another book. Which was, I believe that was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was our first year, so I think maybe we were a little overachiever in our mode that year. That definitely stands out as one of those, wow, we really did that.

Let’s see, a little more recently. We had a pairing between Susanna Clark’s Piranesi, and C. S Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. Those are two books where there is actually direct allusion from one to another. That was really just a fascinating contrast, because they’re both very steeped in literary tradition and they’re talking to each other and to the tradition, but they’re so very different. One is very sophisticated, postmodern, reflective, contemplative kind of novel and the other is a children’s book.

Amy: It’s really been fun to see how sometimes we can find themes that are talking to each other, find the way that the books relate to one another that maybe we didn’t even quite realize when we initially made the pairing. I think that’s always fun. As I’m reading, I’m always looking for connections. Sometimes consciously, and sometimes I won’t even be thinking about it and I’ll be like, “Oh that makes me think of the other book this month.”

How much preparation goes into book club?

How much preparation do you do specifically or how much preparation do other members do? If somebody comes and hasn’t read the book do they get kicked out?

Karoline: In that very first email, I said please come, don’t feel if you join this group that you must read every single page every month, please come anyway even if you haven’t. We are a self-professed No Guilt reading group. The vast majority of the time we really do try to do all the reading. We come even if we don’t. I’ll put my hand up and say there are definitely times when I have not done the reading, or I come within 20 pages at the end.

As far as preparation goes I think that’s really the vital preparation, is to read the books because that’s where all the discussion comes from. That’s what it’s all about. Anything past that extra research, or looking around at context is just the icing on top.

Some month there’ll be member that just really connects with some aspect of an author or a book, and might just do a lot of digging and we get this flurry of links or podcasts or just, “Hey look what I found out,” or, “Hey did y’all know?” And that’s really exciting. We don’t have any formal book discussion questions that we all have to like work through and write down answers for anything like that. It’s pretty organic.

Amy: We’re not sitting using the book discussion guides from the back of the book from the library?

Karoline: No not at all

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

Tips for facilitating book club discussion

Amy: That being said, I can imagine someone listening and being well then how do what to talk about? Somebody has to get the conversation started, or if it seems to solve another question thrown into the group. Do you have any tips or recommendations for how to facilitate a discussion in a book discussion group?

Karoline: I make an effort a couple days before the meeting (and I’ll freely admit this happens sometimes and sometimes doesn’t) just do a high speed review of the reading. Because by the end of the month 30 days can feel like years ago if there’s been a lot going on. I just try to refresh and go, “Okay, now that I’ve reached the end what are some of the things that have just been jumping out at me through the reading? What am I seeing the author do here?” I might try to go do a little bit of digging and just double check the author, the author’s context, just set a little bit of set a little bit of the context for the book. Just to make sure we got somewhere to start from to accurately understand what this book is doing.

Then I have a few jumping off questions. Sometimes written down sometimes just floating around my mind somewhere. I’ll try to get in the ball rolling with a question or two. I’ll tell you most of the time, we all get our cup of tea and we sit down and somebody just starts talking about the book. Just, “What did you all think?” Or, “How did–,” Or, “Here’s what I saw.” A lot of the times it’s not a lot of work to get the discussion going.

Then as far as questions throughout, because sometimes there will be that moment where we all just pause and go, “This is just so big. Where do we approach that? There’s so many things we could pull on.” I’ll try to have something ready to jump in with based on my own reading, or maybe just picking up on something that somebody else has said and just say, “Can you pull out some more?” “Can you tell us where you were going, or what you were hearing from the book when you made that comment?” I don’t have a super formal system by any means. We are really very directly engaged with the books.

I would say most of the time it’s not hard to get a conversation going in a room full of people about books that we’ve all read. Especially when you’ve all read it, you’ve committed the time to it. You might love it, you might hate it, but at that point you have an emotional connection with that book. At that moment, there’s usually a lot you feel like you can say.

Amy: Whether you loved it or not, you definitely probably have something you want to say about it. Actually sometimes when you don’t like it, it’s even more exciting to talk about it.

Karoline: Oh yes. I love it when one person says what on earth was going on here? And the other person says, “Oh I loved this.” Then were like, “Oh this is going to be fun.”

Amy: Oh yes. You do such a good job with that, being able to facilitate. Not at all making it feel like the dictator in the room, but definitely the person who we look to as the leader and just a really gracious facilitator, so you do an excellent job with that.

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

Value of having an in-person book club

Well one of the things you mentioned at that first meeting, one of your primary goals or vision for this reading group was you wanted it to be in person. Right now there is such a plethora of online book discussion groups available, which is a good thing, you can find so many things to participate in online.

Certainly, as an online content creator, I would never want to be hypocritical and try to speak down about the internet. I’m very thankful for the resources we have here. What specific value do you see in prioritizing in person book club that makes it worth the effort? Because it is. It’s a sacrifice of of time, and effort, and driving, and coordinating schedules. What do you see is really the value in this in person type of book discussion group?

Karoline: I think that’s a great question, and probably on our minds a lot after we’ve spent several years doing so much over Zoom and online. I fully concur, there’s so many great opportunities online. I am so indebted to online opportunities, the online classes myself, so I’m not slamming that by any means. We probably all just have a new appreciation right now for the preciousness of face-to-face. I’ve noticed over the years how often that phrase comes up in the Bible, ” face-to-face.” God spoke to Moses face-to-face as a man speaks to his friend. The kind of ultimate picture that Paul holds up to us in Corinthians is one day we will see God face-to-face.

That’s really just the summit of relationship in a way, just to be able to know somebody face-to-face. I knew after so many years of reading with people online, that that was not unreal but was incomplete. The kind of new dimension that I was longing for and I just was hungry for all those years, was the face-to-face meeting and sharing our love for these books together. I also think there’s a lot to be said for just the local community, the fact that these are–. You and I live on opposite sides of the county, it’s hard sometimes to think of each other as local, but we are still local enough that when we were looking at houses last year, we moved last year.

There were moments when I would see a house and I would look at it, and say this looks very promising, then I would look at it and I would say, “No that’s too far away from my reading group members to come to.” I would look at my husband to say, “No we can’t consider that house.” It was maybe very slightly tongue in cheek, but not at the same time. There’s just that commitment to just having that shared local presence together and knowing that we can meet each other for lunch, we can go on trips together. We can swap books, we can ride together. That’s just a whole new dimension in the knowing and the reality, even though it means we have to drive long distances for many of us, not all of us, or clean bathrooms. It’s absolutely absolutely worth it.

Amy: I think there are those things that are not strictly related to the book discussion itself that you get in an in person situation. You hug one another. You sit beside each other drinking cups of tea, talking about the tea the other person has chosen. The baby or the toddler comes in and makes noise, or needs his or her mama. Those are the things that are some like intangible, you can’t be like, “Oh that’s part of what makes a good book discussion group,” but that’s part of what knits your hearts together and makes you that community in a way that you don’t get–.

You don’t get the same way online, because we can type a few sentences, go deal with the interruption come back and create this beautiful paragraph. Whereas sometimes in an in-person group you’re like wow that just sounded really unintelligent what I just said. It’s just much more like, wow, you know the real me warts and all and you still love me most of the time.

Karoline: There’s no backspace, there’s no edit button.

Homeschool Conversations podcast Reading with Friends Hosting a Book Club In Real Life with Karoline Strickland

Karoline’s tips for starting your own book club

Amy: Exactly. Oh man. Some of us need that more than others. I was wondering if you were talking to someone and wanting to give advice for starting their own in person local book discussion group. What would you tell this person, maybe finding people, setting up a format, a frequency on how many books. Setting up a healthy tone, and just environment, culture in the community, or anything else you might think of. I would love to hear your tips there.

Karoline: Oh yes, there’s a lot there. I will just talk without trying to anyway sound like an expert. These are thoughts that come to mind.

I’m always so conscious, just every month, that I didn’t create this group and I didn’t bring this particular group of ladies together, and that really is the Lord’s work. I think we just all have to acknowledge there’s a limit to how much we control, and just you mentioned the word humility, that humility really has to just sink into our bones.

Sometimes things don’t go quite the way that we planned, and that’s not because we could have done anything different.

Sometimes things go wonderfully and it’s not because we are just such amazing people, that we can create the circumstances that make something just take off.

That’s not to discourage hard work and planning by any means. Just to say I’m very very deeply convinced that this is a gift that’s been given to me.

Past that, I would just say be honest with yourself from the very beginning about what your priorities are. Then just be really flexible with what is secondary, because any group that comes together there’s going to be unique needs or unique situations and you may have to adapt to serve each other in that way. Just knowing what’s your hill to die on, and what is secondary that you can be flexible about I think is really important.

I suggest this with my fellow homeschool moms, don’t try– Well okay, I don’t want to say don’t try. I would just say, really consider whether what you want is to have the mid-morning meeting when you have children running around and you’re trying to have a discussion, is that what you want. Or do you really want to be women talking together about books and about literature and just getting to put some of those day to day mom cares and concerns off to the side.

I really, really recommend just carving out a time when you realistically think you can get childcare. Your husband can watch, your family member can watch your children, and you’re just free to be with other adult women or men and women, whatever your book group looks like. I think that is so precious and so refreshing especially when you’re in the trenches of homeschooling and taking care of needy small children.

Then one other practical thing that I have found seems to be really valuable, is we plan out our calendar several months in advance. Sometimes as much as six months out, but I would say always three to six months out. We do our very very best to find a date that works for everybody, even if that means occasionally having a weird night.

We are fairly consistent with Fridays, but sometimes we’ve even done Saturday mornings or Tuesday nights just to accommodate schedules. Then once those dates are on the calendar we really really try to protect them, because if you want something to be special and precious you, you have to treat it that way and really protect it that way. I think that’s very important, just to come to your commitment, to your reading group willing to protect that time.

Amy: Those are really great tips. I’m so thankful for the welcoming attitude for people who have come in new. There have been people who have come since I’ve been a part, and the connection with past members and just the true comradery and fellowship as a group has been something I’ve been very thankful for. We joke, because there’s the memes that go around, and we’re like, “Oh don’t you wish you had a group of friends who would go on a trip with you, and you could sit around, and read books, and talk about them?” We’re like, “Yes, that’s all we do.” I feel very fortunate to-

Karoline: We don’t have to wish.

Amy: Have people who are willing to do Reader’s Theater Hamlet with me and stuff. I found my people, I’m very thankful.

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What Karoline is reading lately

Oh, Karoline, here at the end, I’m going to ask you the questions I’m asking all of my guests this season. The first one, appropriately enough since we’re talking about book discussion, is, what are you reading lately?

Karoline: Well, strangely enough, Amy, I’ve been reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, specifically, Inferno and Purgatory. Alongside that, I’ve been reading A Beginner’s Guide to Dante’s Divine Comedy by Jason Baxter, which has been some nice hand-holding, and encouragement and context along the way of reading this. That’s my most recent read.

Amy: A little behind the curtains. We’re recording this on a book club day, so I can’t wait to go over to Karoline’s house tonight and hear all of her thoughts about these books. Well, she tempted me with that guide to the Beginner’s Guide to Dante and I purchased it and I have been loving it. We’ll save that thought for tonight. [laughs]

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Karoline’s best tip for helping the homeschool day run smoothly

Karoline, the final question is, what is your best tip for helping the homeschool day run smoothly?

Karoline: Being in the trenches with a toddler right now, means that that’s been my big area where I’m trying to figure out how to keep things smooth. Realistically, taking the toddler outside in the morning has been a big help to smooth days. That’s my most recent discovery.

Amy: I think filling up those toddlers with that time. First off, I have found that it took me a little bit of time to figure that out, multiple children in. Focusing on that youngest one first thing, instead of being like, “Just wait, just wait, just wait,” seems to help things run a little bit more smoothly. I wish I had figured that out earlier.

Karoline, thank you so much for coming and chatting with me. I’m really thankful for you. I’m thankful for our book discussion group. I am excited to hear what moms might listen to this episode and maybe start their own local book discussion group. You’ll have to come back and let us know if you do that and what books you guys discussed.

Karoline, where can people find you on the internet? I know, I didn’t have to tell you, I generally ask that at the end, but if you want, I can just not ask you that question. [laughs]

Karoline: Oh, no, I don’t have really an online presence. I have an Instagram profile and a Facebook page. If for some reason you just want to ask for a book lists, or ask for some titles to get started with, or some idea, I’m of course, happy to get your message, but that’s about as formal as I get on the internet.

Amy: You can always go over to the show notes for this episode and leave a comment or a question there, or if you need a book recommendation, and Karoline or I or both of us would love to be able to reply to your questions in the comments over there too. I’ll make sure Karoline sees anything you leave. Thanks so much, Karoline. I will talk to you tonight.

Karoline: Sounds good.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

Homeschool Conversations Video Interviews Podcast Amy Sloan
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