Quick Lit: December 2015

This month gave me less reading time than I thought it would, and much of my planned reading was replaced with nursing care.  Nevertheless, I have some gems to tell you about.


The Best of Connie Willis (Connie Willis)

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If you’ve read my book reviews in the past, you know I am a huge Connie Willis fan.  This book had two new-to-me stories and many of my favorites, including “Even the Queen” and “All Seat on the Ground.”  I have several copies of “Even the Queen” but tend to lend them out, so it’s been a long time since I’ve read it.  (It was time.)

Willis’ stories span the gamut from hilarious to thought provoking to deeply touching.  This collection was a perfect hospital companion.

The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)

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I couldn’t put this book down.  The Power of Habit covers the cue-routine-reward cycle that defines habit, how we can change our habits as individuals, how habit can be exploited to build willpower, and how corporations exploit our habits for their benefit.  I found his research on Starbucks and Target as fascinating as his analysis of AA and a US Army major’s experiment in Kufa, Iraq.  I have several pages of notes I will be using in my own life, and I am hopeful this book will make me more helpful to my patients.  Highly recommended.

Make It Stick (Peter C. Brown)

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I picked this book off the “just returned” shelf at the library and have been making notes left and right. There are many theories about learning, and as a home schooler I feel so much pressure to “teach toward their learning styles” and avoid over-testing.  This little book goes through the evidence on both.  Surprise!  The studies refute much of the conventional wisdom about how we learn, including the benefits of learning that feels hard, and the benefits of frequent no-stakes testing.

As I read, I kept hearing Charlotte Mason in my head.  She wrote over 100 years ago and yet much of the modern research backs up what she found in her own experience. From Make It Stick: Rather than drilling a task over and over, we should interleave it with other subjects.  Or, as Charlotte Mason said: intersperse short lessons on a variety of topics instead of drilling one until mastery is achieved.  From Make It Stick: Practicing retrieval after a first reading is more effective at promoting recall than cramming or rereading.  Or, from Miss Mason: require a narration immediately to teach the habit of attention, and the reading will stay with the student.

Highly recommended, whether you teach others or are a life-long learner yourself.

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

Book Review: Teaching Your Child the Language of Social Success

Teaching Your Child the Language of Social SuccessT
Teaching Your Child the Language of Social Success was the recommendation of a friend who worked for years in the public schools. I was confessing feeling at sea with how to teach non-verbal cues to my kids, and he recommended this book. I ordered it, devoured it… and then was too nervous to start teaching it.
What if my kids don’t get it?
What if I can’t teach them social skills?

Isn’t this our biggest fear, that we won’t be able to give them some critical skill, and they will be left drifting from low-paid job to low-paid job, living in a cardboard box and drinking away their solitary hours in despair?

Up until now, piano was the hardest thing to teach my kids.  Why?  Because I can’t remember not playing piano.  I don’t remember not knowing middle C or the musical alphabet.  Thus, trying to teach my kids was frustrating.  Why didn’t they get it?  This is C…  It didn’t take me long to outsource our piano lessons.  After years, we’ve turned it into a hybrid: she teaches some lessons. When she travels, I take over. I monitor their practicing.

I can’t remember not being able to read, either, but I do remember some of the word games my dad played with us every night as he read to us.  To teach my children to read, I checked out a gazillion books and began with their step-wise approach to reading. I had to shelve the panic in my heart at the thought, “What if I can’t teach them to read?”

Now I’m back in the same situation.  My kid doesn’t get the idea of personal space.  Or doesn’t hear the volume of her voice.  How am I supposed to teach that?

Duke, Nowicki and Martin’s Teaching Your Child the Language of Social Success breaks the lessons about these non-verbal cues into manageable chunks.  Explains them.  Offers exercises to teach them.  It’s not a boxed curriculum, like Math-U-See, that has all the manipulatives in one package paid for in 10 easy installments.  It leaves the mechanics of teaching this up to me, but it has given me a place to start.

We started with personal space.  Three weeks ago, I explained what personal space was.  I talked about it in the context of our family (where there is none) to church and the grocery store and with friends.  We watched these two clips, from The Big Bang Theory and Seinfeld. I found this vlog of Good Mythical Morning, in which they talk about and demonstrate personal space.  (We watched only the first part of GMM episode about personal space in the context of airplanes, elevators, grocery store lines, in the break room at work, and with friends.  We skipped on a date and with your space.)

Today we went to the mall.  (When Moriah told someone we were going to the mall, she felt compelled to say, “We went once before with our grandparents.”)  We bought food and sat at a table in the food court to watch people.  The only child who gave me some push-back was the one who needed the lesson the most.  Everyone else thought it a fine way to spend our daily “family reading time.” Reading people, not books.

Next up: paralanguage. (Their definition: “All those aspects of sound which communicate emotion and are used either independently or with words” p. 5.) Paralanguage includes whistling, humming, tone, intensity and loudness of voice.  That shouldn’t take us more than a few years to pick up.

I can’t promise you results, but this is the first book I’ve read that broke down the “magic” of social interaction into teachable skills.  For that, I’m grateful.

Book Recommendations

When Daddy Prays Psalm 23 The Beatitudes From Slavery to Civil Rights The Lord's prayer

Are you familiar with Tim Ladwig?  He illustrates beautiful books– Psalm Twenty-Three and The Lord’s Prayer are two I read regularly both at home and in our Sunday school class.  Searching for his books led me to Nikki Grimes’ When Daddy Prays, a book about all the prayers a dad prays for his child, and back to Carole Boston Weatherford, whose Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom is one of our favorites.  In my most recent search, I found Weatherford’s book Freedom on the Menu, which I bought and am excited to read with the kids.

Weatherford’s book, The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights is a gorgeous book.  It tells the story of a painful (and ongoing) part of our country’s history in a way that is accessible to children.  Every time we read this book, the kids ask me more questions about race in America.  I don’t have answers to all their questions, and knowing that, I often don’t avoid discussing race and current events with them.  This book helped start (and continue) our discussion.


Twitterature: May 2014

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Forgiveness (Lauren Hillenbrand)

Amazing!  This book kept me up nights both reading and imagining.  Both the research and the storytelling are impeccable.

Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)

Another WWII story, this one set in Europe, but YA.  I hate to say “another” though, because this book is a stand-alone thriller that has me rethinking my life goals. (Don’t worry, I’m not planning on becoming a WWII pilot.)

The Mermaids of Bodega Bay (Mary Birk)

This mystery/thriller unfolds from many points of view.  Birk manages to portray many characters with a few strokes, and though I hadn’t met these people before, I felt like I knew them.  She had me fooled almost till the end (which is rare).

Shadows (Robin McKinley)

I was a little disappointed in this new book from one of my favorite authors, who is a master world-builder. The world never fully had me.

Expedition to the Pole (Annie Dillard)

This is my all-time favorite essay (I have it in Teaching a Stone to Talk and in The Annie Dillard Reader.)  I revisit it periodically, and it never ceases to speak to me.  This read-though has me thinking about the hindrances I hold dear, and what they cost me.

Ever After (Elswyth Thane)

Set at the turn of the 19th->20th centuries and in the Spanish-American War, this book has it all: history, love, adventure… The third in the Williamsburg series.

The Foundling (Georgette Heyer)

This is a Regency romp, similar to her Charity Girl, which I find funnier.

Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey 1), Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey 2), and Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey 6) (my continuing Dorothy Sayers jag)

Reading these is like watching someone learn to paint– not their first strokes, but watching them find their style.  Like the Van Gogh exhibit at the DAM last year: you followed along, painting by painting, as he became who we think of as Van Gogh.  I’m not saying our image of him is who he really was, but it’s who he wanted us to see.  Sayers makes a similar transformation in these books.

What are you reading?

For more Twitterature, check out Anne.
twitterature monthly reading linkup short reviews

Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter

I am such a creature of the world that it’s hard for me to think of Easter as a season.  Like Christmas, the commercial lead-in of chocolate bunnies and dyed-egg wreaths lasts so long that once the decorations go on clearance on that Monday, I’m ready to pack it all away.


Not this year.  This year, I need every reminder that Christ is risen.  I need the Alleluia on my mantle.  I need to soak in the reality that Jesus has conquered the tomb—his, my friend’s, and even mine. (I haven’t bought an urn for myself, but I’ll confess that death has been on my mind.)

If you, like me, struggle to know what it would look like to celebrate a season of Easter, you will enjoy Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter.  To quote Lindsay Marshall’s chapter on Easter, “In short, it is roughly six weeks of unbridled, unfettered, unfiltered joy: praise and thanksgiving to our mighty Savior, and ecstatic celebration of the hope we have in His victory over death.”

My friend’s recent funeral was a union of many parts of his life: Michigan youth camp, inner-city health ministry, and trainer of physicians in Afghanistan.  We were all there, celebrating Christ’s victory together.  That’s Easter to me.

Twitterature: April 2014

April was a good month for reading. A bad month for housework. Or cooking. But good for reading. Here are a few short reviews of what I’ve been reading:

Dept. of Speculation (Jenny Offill)
The story of a woman, a man, a colicky baby, and a marriage. This book was funny enough that Sam and I took turns reading each other quotes. Funny and tragic. I still wish I could be an art monster.

Promised (Caragh O’Brien)
This conclusion to the Birthmarked Trilogy left me a little flat- it didn’t capture me the way the first two did.

The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)
I howled (in a good way, not a pass-me-the-Kleenex or a creepy werewolf way) all the way through it. I wrote a slightly longer review here.

D.A. (Connie Willis and J.K. Potter)
This novella about a high school senior who doesn’t want to become an astronaut cracked me up. Wish it had been longer.

Uncharted Territory (Connie Willis)
An older Connie Willis Sci Fi love story did what Willis does best: took my assumptions and used them against me. Loved it.

The Merchant of Venice (William Shakespeare)
What a weird play. I still can’t figure out exactly WHY Antonio was so sad in the beginning. And why was Shakespeare so into cross dressing?

What are you reading?

For more Twitterature, check out Anne.
twitterature monthly reading linkup short reviews

Book Review: The Rosie Project and Bellwether

What a blast! The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion captured me from page one. The protagonist’s voice is distinctive and thoroughly consistent with his personality. Don, a professor of genetics, is looking for a wife. He has a bad first date, so he designs a pre-date questionnaire designed to eliminate all potential conflicts. Then, he meets Rosie, who eliminates herself from contention as a possible life partner by Question #1. Their friendship grows slowly through Rosie’s own project, the Father Project.

While Rosie and Don are the focus of the story, I loved that the secondary characters grew and changed. In the end, this was a satisfying, funny novel that I couldn’t put down.

If you like The Rosie Project, don’t miss Connie Willis’s Bellwether. Bellwether shares the quirky humor and science of The Rosie Project. Of course, Bellwether has the added bonus of taking place in my hometown. Willis pokes fun at everything from the intelligence of sheep and scientific grants to food fads. I liked this book so much I read it to my friend on a road trip for 8 hours. (Last book I did that with: The Princess Bride.)


Book review: A Song in the Night by Bob Massie

This memoir from Bob Massie is powerful, moving, and told without sentimentality. He has lived a remarkable life, and much of it—both his life in the world and his internal life—is recorded here. In his five decades he has done remarkable things, including working for the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Massie is concerned about justice. He has degrees in history, business and divinity. Justice and economics are intimately connected to his faith. So frequently, we separate the two. Working through this separation in my own life slowed down my reading of this book, but I am grateful for the perspective I’ve gained from reading it. Now I have to go put that into action.

Sam had the opportunity to hear Mr. Massie speak at a medical conference, and though Massie’s story has medical aspects to it, the primary narrative is one of hope. Of the power of the individual. Of persistence.

I don’t want to spoil any of it for you, because it’s worth the read.

Short Reviews

Inspired by Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Twitterature, I’m sharing a few brief “reviews” of what’s been on my reading list lately.

twitterature monthly reading linkup short reviews

A Song in the Night by Bob Massie

A memoir by a great thinker and Christian activist. I can’t read much at a time, because it makes me think hard about my own choices and assumptions.

Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith by Kara Powell and Chap Clark

The idea in this book is that we need to teach children to live faith as a day-to-day walk over real terrain. We do this by being real with them about our own faith.

The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

These short stories are psychological mysteries. Each one is a nugget of truth, disguised as a piece of candy. Delicious.

Striding Folly by Dorothy Sayers

I just can’t get enough of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  I wish the stories were longer, but I enjoyed every minute.

Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker

This book- more manifesto than how-to- is an inspiration to reduce the STUFF that gets in the way of what is important in life: relationships, character, love and creativity.

Dawn’s Early Light by Elswyth Thane

An old favorite of mine, Thane’s account of the Revolution makes the people and time come alive for me.

What’s on your bedside table right now?

Daybook: Chinese New Year

Happy New Year! Welcome to the Year of the Horse, which I hope is a sign that the Broncos will win the Super Bowl. (Cause it’s not the Year of the Seagull.)


Outside my window: Snow.  I know that’s the case  for everywhere else in the country because the weatherwoman said so and she is always right.

Look at the lovely bird prints I found when I was shoveling.  A bird must have been hopping around on the new snow in the driveway before I pulled the car in, because I found them under the car.

What I’m hearing: SweetP’s tap dancing.  Shuffle-step-ballchange.  Shuffle-step-ball-change.

In the kitchen: tonight is roasted potatoes, peppers and kielbasa.  And a fruit salad and whatever vegetables are in the fridge that haven’t gone mushy. Lunch was whatever we could scrounge in the leftover department.  Good eats around here, I tell you.

In other news, in six days I get to start filling ginormous refrigerator with food and random condiments.  I’m sure this is the only time it will be free of fingerprints.

Even bigger than the refrigerator are the washer and dryer you see there in the laundry room.  They are so big that the builder has to take out the door frame and door and replace them with ones 4 inches narrower. Whoops on my part. But won’t I have a lot of clean laundry?

In the school room: Tuesday was a snow day, because we went skiing. Or rather, we tried to go skiing.  Everyone was wearing snow clothes. Skis and boots and helmets and lunches and children were all in car.  We made it to within 5 miles of the resort, and there was a whiteout. Like, blizzard.  The only thing I could see was the line of cars coming down from the ski area. We made it to the parking lot and were able to see that two of the beginner lifts were closed.  Long story short, we drove home with SweetP crying, “But we did all this work! But we did all this work!”  The day was not a complete bust, but there was no schoolwork, per se, happening.  Anyway, after all that you can see why today had to include math and science and writing and reading and history and music.

Around the house: still packing boxes.  What I need are three huge boxes for wind chimes and snow shoes and assorted large sundries that don’t fit in the twenty sturdy-but-small boxes I have.

On my reading table: we just read this lovely picture book about the Chinese New Year.  Like many books I enjoy, it describes a universal event (the New Year) through the lens of an individual family. The story of this child in this place was what was important, but through it, we learned about the bigger world.

And for whatever reason, we brought home a pile of Strega Nona books.  This one on gardening was new to us.

The books I am reading include Angel with a Bullet (Grant), Tasting the Sky (Barakat), and A Song in the Night (Massie). A very eclectic collection, but so far I’m enjoying all three.

Grateful for: a walk in the snow. Bird song, even in winter. Renee’s gift of child care yesterday.  Wendy and Jack’s prayers for me last week.


Shelves in the closet (happy thought indeed).
Praying for: Lori. Mandy. Amy. Betsy. No snow next Thursday.