Quick Lit: October

It’s been awhile since my last Quick Lit review.

The Martian (Andy Weir)

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For whatever reason, I tend to avoid books that are greatly hyped. However, when two good friends, both scientists, recommended this book to me, I had to read it. And from page one, when Mark Watley, the botanist and engineer of NASA’s Mars mission is stranded there, I was hooked.

While the science is fascinating, The Martian is full of suspense and adventure, humor and humanity. I loved that none of Mark’s mishaps- except the initial stranding on Mars- was because of a freak accident. Mark’s disasters are consequences of his own decisions, and in that way, I identified with Mark’s struggles, even though (thankfully) I will never be trying to survive on Mars by storing my own urine.

Go read it now.

The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco* (Laura DiSilverio)

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This cozy, the first of DiSilverio’s new series about a book group, was entertaining and clever. I enjoyed the characters, the hint of romance, and the setting in a quaint Colorado town.

DiSilverio has a keen sense of human nature and frailty, and both shone through this mystery that will keep you guessing without keeping you up at night.

Timeline (Michael Crichton)

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Crichton writes an intriguing story. This 1999 novel focuses on a group of archeologists and historians excavating a fourteenth century French castle.   The quantum science was more interesting to me than the characters, and at the end, I had a vague sense that I’d read this before. Apparently it was also made into a movie in 2003, but it fell right in a three year period where I did nothing but nurse babies and change diapers, so I’m sure I haven’t seen the movie.

A good vacation read, but nothing to write home about.  If you’re looking for good time travel fiction, I recommend Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear, or The Doomsday Book.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Marie Kondo)

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Another vacation read, albeit an odd one. This slim tome is part how-to, part philosophy, and while it was heavy on the animism of our possessions, I appreciated her main idea: keep only what is bringing you joy. If you’re holding onto something that doesn’t give you joy, you are either holding onto the past, or afraid of the future. It did inspire me to come home and purge lots of my belongings, without the guilt that the process has brought me in the past.

The Reckoning Stones* (Laura DiSilverio)

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Iris is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and her scars barely cover gaping emotional wounds. When her rapist comes out of a twenty-three year coma, she is compelled to confront him.   Are secrets kept this long better left alone, or does the truth make us free?

The back jacket made me nervous to read this book, but DiSilverio walked a careful line here, painting simultaneously a religious community that has been complicit in terrible abuse, and people within it of genuine faith. I enjoyed this one very much and have circled back multiple times to ponder DiSilverio’s questions and characters. The Reckoning Stones is neither easy nor comfortable, but well worth the read.

Command Authority (Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney)

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I don’t generally read co-authored books, but I have enjoyed the Jack Ryan books, and this one was on the bookshelf at our vacation rental. The interesting piece in the story was the play between Jack Ryan, Sr., and his son, Jack, Jr. Don’t ever think your past won’t affect your future…

It was a good vacation read: fast paced, suspenseful, and light on the deep questions. Really, the perfect antidote to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette (Jeanne Birdsall)

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I read this aloud to the children, who consistently begged for more. (How can I not love that?!) In this installment of the Penderwick chronicles, Rosalind goes on vacation with a friend while the younger three girls go to Maine with Aunt Claire. This leaves a reluctant Skye as the OAP (oldest available Penderwick), while she, Jane and Batty have a full complement of ordinary and wonderful adventures on their vacation.

Skye’s fulfillment of the OAP duties has been a topic of family conversation here all month. My kids have started to ask themselves how they take responsibility for our family’s well-being and happiness. The kids have already put the next Penderwick adventure on hold at the library.

*Occasionally I receive author’s copies of books to review, but the opinions here are 100% my own.

My previous Quick Lit reviews can be found here: May, April, March, February, January, December 2014.  For more Quick Lit, check out Modern Mrs Darcy.

Something is Better than Nothing

One of my good friends in high school taught me the motto “Go big or go home.”

For many years, this motto encouraged me to be bold. To think outside the box. Not to let my fear of failure keep me from trying big things. “Go big or go home!” nudged me to try out for the Jazz Band. To dance like no one was looking. To sing in the Wieboldt Arch. To say Yes to my husband.

But lately, in these days of simultaneously working on many projects and being pulled in many directions, I need a new motto.

I’m going to go with “Something is Better than Nothing.” It’s not big and brassy. Definitely not bold. But SIBTN is what these days call for.

When Something is Better than Nothing, the ten minutes of yoga I can squeeze in before breakfast gets me through the day.

When Something is Better than Nothing, wiping the sticky spots off of the floor counts as mopping.

When Something is Better than Nothing, I go for a two-mile run instead of no run at all.

When Something is Better than Nothing, fifteen minutes of snuggles with my daughter means a lot.

When Something is Better than Nothing, I can write a short note to a friend, instead of a three-page letter.

When Something is Better than Nothing, a whole bunch of little gestures add up to a full life. And I am so grateful for the many facets of this life.
from a recent trip to the art museum

What’s your motto these days? Are you needing the boldness of “Go Big or Go Home” or the encouragement of “Something is Better than Nothing”?

phfr: Matilda date

Last week we had tickets to see Matilda, the musical.  Jonah was sick and chose to stay home in bed, so we gave his extra ticket to our seven year-old friend, who rushed over from church to make it in time for the matinée.

Pretty: After the play, we had dinner on the 16th Street Mall, where there are chess boards and a charming but out-of-tune piano for anyone to play.  So we did.


Happy:  After dinner, we had Spring Fling Cake at The Market. (The girls had ice cream.)


Funny: Two Matildas, one Supermodel.
Real: the play is hilarious and scary at the same time (just like the book). Unfortunately, the actors were really hard to understand.  We missed at least half of the dialogue.  We purchased the CD so we could listen to it some more and I’m enjoying it, but I’m sad we couldn’t understand it at the time.  And poor Jonah is listening to it with us and is completely lost, even having read the book.  Bummer.

Podcasts: my favorites

I’m very late to the podcast party, but over the past few months I have found a few favorites.

I like to listen to podcasts while I run… sometimes it’s like a friend is running along with me.
I saw this beauty last week on a walk with an actual (as opposed to radio) friend.

I have downloaded some podcasts related to my interests and found them as dull as paint drying, but these are my favorites:

Another Mother Runner.  Sarah and Dimity chat about all things running.  It’s just like going on a run with your girlfriends.

Radiolab.  I found Radiolab driving home from work, but it seemed to move around the NPR schedule quite a lot, and I couldn’t ever be sure of catching it.  Jad and Robert are fantastic storytellers and share my love of science and history.  And, well, anything.  Heavily edited, often so good I play them for the kids.

Happier with  Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth talk about how to make small changes to all aspects of life to make you happier.

What are your favorites?

phfr: beginning of fall

Pretty: the roses are super happy again.  I think I need to make some time today to sit on the porch swing and enjoy them.


Happy: I made it out for three miles today.  It was cool enough to keep my long-sleeved shirt on the whole time.  I love running in the fall.  (No photo of that: roses instead.)


Funny: This came up on my news feed the other night.  I can’t tell if it’s serious or not.  What do you think?


(If it’s real, then it’s not actually so funny…)

Real: I’m off to call Orthopedics. After he limped around the house with me yelling at him to stop acting ridiculous (hashtag don’t be the child of a doctor if you can help it), I took a look at his foot and realized he’d broken it. But the X-ray didn’t look bad, and I’m hoping this recovery will be quick.


SQT: the kitchen laboratory

One: This is a photo of my daughters mummifying a chicken.


It’s the third time I’ve done this.  First, we did it when Jonah was 5 and we’d just begun our study of ancients history.  He has no recollection of it.  My recollection was very hazy until I realized that I’ve made the exact same mistake 3 times now.

What I should have done was mummify a Cornish hen, because the chickens they sell in the grocery store these days are enormous and a) require an incredible quantity of salt and spices to suck all the liquid out and b) don’t fit in standard freezer bags.  Which means I lasted 4 days before I couldn’t take the smell and had to throw the rotting carcass away.

Two: this is Jonah doing AP biology lab #1.

After watching me freak out for several weeks, my kind husband tentatively asked, “You seem really stressed out. Would it help you if I took over the laboratory portion of AP biology?”


He didn’t have to offer twice.  And let’s be clear: of the two of us, he’s much better qualified than I am.

Three: Did I mention I hate having stuff all over my counters?  My fantasy kitchen is spare and bare with empty counters and wide expanses of space.  But alas, we have to eat, so my counters are covered with food.  Right now I’m trying to figure out what to do with the many lovely tomatoes we received from our CSA over the past two weeks.  (I’ve been eating them every day, but I’m the only one in the family who will.)

Four: In the past week, Moriah has done two osmosis experiments with eggs.  The first culminated in egg all over the counter and floor before I could take a photo.  The second, um… culminated in egg all over the counter and floor before I could take a photo.

Five: This is her other experiment: sodium bicarbonate crystals.

She begged and begged and I said no and said no… until I realized I was telling my child she couldn’t do science because I wanted a clean counter.

Maybe I’m not actually cut out for this home school gig after all.

Six: Amongst the bag of tomatoes (what, you don’t keep your tomatoes in Athleta bags?) and Sculpey creations (that’s a giraffe eating from a tree) and rice is a bag of moldy cheese.  On Monday I took all the moldy cheeses (last count: 5 types) out of the fridge so we could look at the different molds under the microscope… but we haven’t gotten to it yet.


Seven: the other experiment is to see how long I leave that bottle of fake “Original  syrup” we inherited from a pancake breakfast on the counter before I can’t take it any more and throw it away.

Wait- I have an idea!  We could do an egg-osmosis experiment to see which direction the fluids run through the permeable membrane if we soak an egg in corn syrup…

We’ll see if I can capture a photo before it explodes.

For more Seven Quick Takes, check out This Ain’t the Lyceum.