Quick Lit: Castles, Lost Creatures & a Canary in a Coal Mine

Real quick-like, here are summaries of a few books I’ve read lately (I went on another reading bender).  I’m linking up with Jenna for Five Favorites and with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.


So, quickly here, in no particular order:

1. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead: About a ballet dancer, her son, her husband, and her former lover.  I didn’t really like any of the characters (except possibly one, and things don’t turn out so well for him). Somehow, though, the author kept me interested in them, at least until about 2/3 of the way through. Just as I was losing interest, a surprise twist at the end hooked me back in. I like the way the author describes certain experiences and relationships in one generation being echoed in the next. Worth reading.

2. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett:  I kept hearing about this author.  The descriptions of her novels didn’t draw me in, but I started one anyway, and I’m glad I did.  A captivating tale about–I think–the power of beauty through music.  One Goodreads reviewer remarked the book could have been titled, The Lighter Side of Stockholm Syndrome.  This is true.

3. Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl: On its jacket, this book is billed as “a book as frothy and fizzy and light as a champagne cocktail- think I Capture the Castle meets Pride and Prejudice!”  This drives me nuts because Pride and Prejudice is not frothy, frizzy, or light.  Neither is I Capture the Castle. But, this book is pretty similar to Georgette Heyer’s regency romances, which are sort of Jane Austen lite.  This book is sort of Georgette Heyer lite.  I liked it.

4. Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke:  This is such a charming picture book.  The illustrations are detailed and lively.  I can’t wait to give my girls the (autographed!) copy I bought for them for Christmas.


5. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Marie Semple:  I already wrote a little bit about this slightly wacky, chick-lit style whodunit here.  I’ve since had one more thought about why I like this book: one character is a stereotypical hypocritical, backstabbing, judgmental, proselytizing “Christian.”  The book even mentions that her middle name is “Faith.”  So, you expect her to be the bad guy throughout the book.  I read a theater review by Terry Teachout recently, which hits the nail on the head:

Christianity is the great blind spot of American theater [and, I would posit, most modern literature].  Most Americans believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the existence of heaven and hell–but in most American plays, these beliefs are treated either as proofs of invincible ignorance or as signs of blackhearted villainy.

The Christian character has a change of heart and becomes a good person later in the book.  It’s after she goes through a 12-step program, so maybe she left Christianity in favor of “being spiritual” and “calling on a higher power.”  Maybe.  But.  The book doesn’t specify.  Anyway, it was nice to see a book written from a secular perspective have a card-carrying Christian this is neither invincibly ignorant nor a black-hearted villain.

Also read recently (but not favorites):

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham: There’s nothing worthwhile about reading this book except that Dunham is a canary in our cultural coalmine.  As her t.v. character put it, “I think I may be the voice of my generation. . .  Or at least, a voice of a generation.”  She may in fact be the voice of her generation, and if so, we’re in deep sh*t.  Dude.

Mindless Eating:Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink: Some interesting studies, but the tips the author gives aren’t especially original.  I’m looking for a way to lose weight with no exercise of willpower whatsoever.  Can’t someone help a girl out?  Somebody??


Okay, back to you Ann and Jenna.


If I were born 100 years earlier, I would have been a nun.

. . . and what contraception, the vocations crisis, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Fifty Shades of Gray all have to do with each other.  Read all about it at The Mirror.

Actually, I just looked it up and Virginia Woolf was born almost exactly 100 years earlier than I.  You’ll have to read the article to see why that’s significant.  (If at all; I think it is.)

Sometimes I have those bursts of mania brilliance where everything is alll connected.

Lucky for you, this time I wrote it down. ;-)


Reluctant homeschooling

. . . having been home-schooled myself


"ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.  Now I know my ABCs.  Next time won't you sing with me."

“ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. Now I know my ABCs. Next time won’t you sing with me.”

Girl 1 goes to a marvelous little Catholic Montessori program.  The only downside to it is that it technically is a “tutoring center” and not a school.  Her program only meets three days  week.

I knew that I’d need to do something the other two days eventually.  For now, she’s just kindergarten age, and I hoped that it would be enough for Pat to go over her phonics readers with her in the evenings.


She’s so eager to learn.  She writes words and sentences on her own initiative.  She tries to write in cursive, making up her own style.

At the same time, she’s been acting up in school lately.  And even during good weeks, her unfocused self only gets so much done at school.  Mostly she draws and paints and socializes and goofs off.  So I’m thinking she needs some supplementation at home sooner rather than later.


I was homeschooled K-12, and I feel like “Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt.”  I literally got a tee-shirt.    Still it just seemed like the right thing to do to bust out a few worksheets a few weeks ago.  A Friday morning in mid-November is as good a time as any to start homeschooling, right?

I held her hand over the pencil and traced the cursive letter “a” with her . . . for about five seconds until she shook me off.  It was funny how it brought back memories of when my mom taught me how to write in cursive (except that I think I was a more docile student).  A real déjà vu moment.


We only got through maybe 20 minutes of actual work.  She did a few easy preschool-type shape-matching worksheets too, just for fun.  Then a really long snack.  Then some outside play time.  Then Peter and the Wolf on YouTube while I made lunch.

I  remember my mom playing Peter and the Wolf for me on our record player when I was about four.  I was really scared of it.  I think my mom turned it off.  Girl 1 was scared too.  I don’t know what I was thinking. Peter and the Wolf just seems like the homeschooler-ish thing to put on.

After lunch we read some Little House and the Big Woods, then I put the girls down for “quiet” time.  Girl 2 yelled the whole hour.  Then another snack, then a trip to the library, where we happened to catch a children’s group Suzuki lesson.  Then dinner.  Then Pat read Girl 1’s phonics reader with her and put both girls to bed.  (Okay, and there was some movie-watching here and there throughout the day too.)

The whole day was like an out-of-body experience, especially since our days generally have no structure.   (My life is like Jenny’s life, minus the part where her life gets better.) I usually go around in a sleep-deprived haze, trying to keep the girls amused and not screaming, and trying half-heartedly to empty the dishwasher and brush my teeth before dinner.  Adding any school work into the day seemed completely impossible.

But, in start contrast to my prior apathy, I find myself a bit excited about homeschooling.  A big part is that it might help put some structure in our life.

I wrote another post about how loving your child, for some people, might mean giving up your dreams of homeschooling.  For me, it might mean giving up my dream of not homeschooling.  Girl 1 has a strong will, a short attention and probably ADHD.  Her sister is no shrinking violet either.   I have extremely limited emotional reserves, I doubt that we’ll homeschool full-time for any significant period.

But–for today–we did it!  Only 20 minutes of real work, but we did it! Because that’s what we needed to do.  And it felt good.


(**Update, several week later, we are still at it.  Some days are better than others.  The novelty has worn off for Girl 1.  Girl 2 is excited to do “home-goo wook” because she gets to chew gum.  We still only get a few minutes of serious work each time.  But we’re doing it!)

Some shopping successes

Mossimo Supply Co. Printed Skinny Pant and Puma Caroline wedge

Classy little girl dresses for $4, man repeller fail, and clown shoes . . . .


1. I was thrilled to find these at Wally World the other day.  They rang up at four bucks–four bucks!!–at my local store.  They’re $5 something online.  The cute prints are quickly being sold out online, but there are some sizes left in this print.  And it’s worth a check at your local store.


Faded Glory Girls’ Elbow Length Sleeve Dress




It’s what all the cool kids are wearing.


2. After another stressful Monday, I took a solitary evening prowl through the Target clearance rack.  I found these, which what I thought were a prime example of a man repeller.  (They were $10 at my store; very thin material but they had me at “elastic waist.”)

Mossimo Supply Co. Printed Skinny Pant and Puma Caroline wedge

I wear them today and Pat says, “Wow!  Great pants!”  Curses!  Foiled again.

3. I like them with my Puma Caroline wedge sneakers.  (Order a full size up.)  The more restrained color options were sold out in my size.  I’ll probably look back at this year as the year I wore clown bowling shoes, but for now I don’t care.

4. Hmm, that’s about it.  No, no wait!  I bought a can opener at Williams Sonoma and it’s the bomb.  Just a basic, standard, non-fancy can opener.  It’s $10 but made in the USA and worth every penny.  Beat the pants off the $3 Walmart store brand model I bought that lasted about two uses.

5. Check back with Jenna for more of this week’s Favorites!

Mother-daughter themes, homeschooling, and cliches

What I’ve been into in November


I read Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple, on Christy’s recommendation.  I enjoyed it.  What I really liked

was the way it portrayed the love between Bernadette and her daughter.  Bernadette is slightly crazy, but she does right by her daughter, and that love pulls them through.  That’s kind of my fantasy during the rough patches, the times when I feel like I’m a complete mess and don’t do much of anything but, darnit, I do my best by my little girls.  Hopefully they’ll understand that.

A striking contrast is Sickened: A Munchausen by Proxy Childhood, by Julie Gregory.  Truly horrific.  I don’t know why I read it, except, I suppose, I saw it on the library shelf and was about MBP after watching The Sixth Sense.  What I’m still pondering is whether the author is a reliable narrator.  Clearly there are many generations of abuse in her family, and at a certain point it seems that a victims’ unmet psychological needs become more real to them than reality.  Sobering.

On the advice of Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy, I watched Pieces of April on the eve of Thanksgiving.  It’s billed as a story about a wayward daughter trying to make peace with her dying mother and rest of her family by hosting them for Thanksgiving.  Upon further reflection, I think the movie is really about how the mother is the terrible one in the family.  And she tries in her own limited way to make amends before she dies.  A good reflection on the power of words and how they can destroy relationships.  But the movie has a lot of funny parts and a happy, not-too-sappy ending.

Rounding out the mother-daughter round-up, I’m watching Gilmore Girls, for the first time ever, on Netflix.  I’m not inclined to like it because I get so annoyed with fast-talking, snarky characters who are always being ironic and having drama (except when they’re incredibly funny, as in Juno).  But I’ve heard so much about GG for so long that I’m giving it a try.

Update: I made it through the pilot and am starting episode two.  Possibly a good show to watch while blogging?

In other news, I’ve started doing home school work with the girls two days a week.   That’s going better than I expected; more on that later.

And laundry.  It’s so cliché to be a mommy blogger (or mom-with-a-blog) and kvetch about laundry.  But my goodness, it piles up.  And lately I’ve decided I don’t care about folding it and putting it away.  I wash; I dry; it piles up.  I’m not even trying to make it a priority any more.  The result was that Pat spent a good chunk of his Thanksgiving time off folding laundry.  Christmas isn’t looking too good for him either.

Happy Advent y’all!  I’m linking up with Leigh for her What I’m Into link-up.

Satan hates community.

Thoughts on waging spiritual warfare with a pizza box and a chicken.

It happened again today  last week.  I committed to bringing a meal to another family and all hell broke loose.

The mom to whom I was bringing a meal mentioned that a stomach bug was going around the community.  She really hoped they didn’t catch it, because her kids were just getting over a different bug and that had made them seriously ill for a week.

I stood at the kitchen counter, hand in midair to measure out Dijon mustard for a favorite easy, delicious chicken dish.  It was mid-afternoon, and Girl 1 had a friend visiting (from a different family).  If the girls amused themselves well enough, I figured I might even be able to make brownies once I got the chicken in the oven.  Then Girl 1’s visiting playmate rushed into the kitchen, hand cupped to her mouth.

She had just thrown up.

I cleaned up thoroughly, but I couldn’t shake the fear that a few of the stomach bug viruses might cling to the pans I planned to bring.  Abandoning my cooking, I went to the grocery store and picked up a rotisserie chicken and some sides.

It occurred to me: so often when I try to make a meal for someone, everything goes wrong.  There was that time I set off a fire in the oven and the fire extinguisher coated the kitchen in powdery chemicals.  I clearly couldn’t cook that night, so I had pizza delivered to the family instead.

Then on a recent Monday morning, I tried making a meal for another family and Murphy came to visit.  Everything that could go wrong did.  I brought the family a rotisserie chicken.

And now today.  And so many other minor meal-making mishaps I can’t recall now.

Am I crazy, or is Satan out to get me?  More specifically, is he out to prevent us from doing works of mercy?

I attended a CCD program for eight years that used insipid curricula.   The only thing I learned from CCD was that we were supposed to be a community and do nice things for each other.  In my mind I demoted these concepts as not really important, at least not as important as the difficult, divisive issues that the CCD books skirted around: sin, the Real Presence, sexual morality, and the like.

But what if it really is important that we build community and practice acts of service?  I’m beginning to think Satan thinks it’s important.  I belong to an exceptional, dynamic parish community, and sometimes it seems really clear that the devil is trying to tear it down.

It’s possible, even probable, that I’m blowing my bad luck way out of proportion.  But I don’t care.  My little theory motivates me to keep bringing meals, even if they rarely turn out the way I want them to.  And I like to imagine myself fighting spiritual warfare with a pizza box for a shield in my left hand, brandishing a rotisserie drumstick in my right.

En garde!


What I wore Sunday, what I brought in my purse, what I thought in my head

I’ve been meaning to get back to the What I Wore Sunday link-up for a while now.  So here’s what I wore to Mass today:


The dress is by Aryeh, but I found it at Goodwill.  Nice to have a warm sweaterdress (or tunic) this time of year.

And here’s what I found in my purse mid-Mass: a sandwich baggie full of bacon, ’cause you never know.  The sad thing is I can’t remember when I put it in my purse or exactly why.


Someone wasn’t happy until she got her own photo shoot:

Nov 23 2014

Also, here are some crafts the girls and I made Saturday.  I can’t believe I made crafts.  I’m so not the type.  But my kids are and, like the song says,

Love, love changes everything/ brings you glory/ brings you shame/

Love makes fools of everyone: all the rules we make are broken.

love will never ever let you be the same.

I was feeling quite poignant with the construction paper, googly eyes and glue.  (I checked out this book at the library and it had some good Thanksgiving ideas.)

IMG_7597 IMG_7598

By the time I started on this guy, Girl 1 was like, “Um, that’s enough turkeys, Mom.”  Girl can’t wait for Christmas.


In other news, recently I read Simcha Fisher’s A Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, which I recommend.  I liked her description of finding God’s will for our lives:

. . . Oh blip.  My Kindle’s dead, and I can’t find the quote on the internet.

Anyway, she wrote something about how life isn’t a maze where you get to a box at the end labeled “God’s Will” and you open it up to find either, “Good job” or “You failed.”   Instead, it’s like a parent trying to dress a toddler, where there a few different shirts to choose from and the parent [God] says, “Okay, let’s find a way to make this work.”

It’s kind of out-there, right?  Is this orthodox?  Is this heresy?

So, in Magnificat this morning I read this quote from Pope Benedict XVI:

God does not have a fixed plan that he must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even of turning [man’s] wrong ways into right ways. . . . The feast of Christ the King is . . . a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight on crooked lines.

Pretty nifty huh?

Happy Sunday evening, and best wishes for a good Thanksgiving week!

Everything I ever needed to know about style I learned from my kindergartener.

Before having kids, I swore to myself I would not let my daughters dress themselves.  My mother did, and I cringe when I look back at photos and see my clothing choices from my youth.  (“How could you let us go out like that?” is a frequent refrain when my siblings and parents and I look at photo albums together.)  Then I met my firstborn, who has had a mind of her own ever since she popped out. . . . Read more at The Mirror.

Guess who?


A Book that blew my mind

Plus a few others

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs: This book blew my mind and changed how I look at our society.  What effect does it have that many (most?) African-Americans are products of rape that occurred generations ago?  What are the spiritual ramifications of that?

Like many conservative-leaning people, I puzzle over why race is still an issue in this country.  (Please don’t verbally stone me here, I know this is sensitive, contentious topic.)  I’m not a racist; you’re not a racist (I don’t think).  What’s the big deal?  I tend to attribute racial inequality to the breakdown of the black family, which I attribute to the sexual revolution, the welfare state, and certain aspects of the civil rights movement gone wrong.

I still think that but . . . for hundreds of years black people in our country never had a chance to have a normal family life.  Rape was an inevitable fact of life for many (most?) black women.  At least that’s the picture this book paints, and I’m inclined to believe it.  White slaveholders impregnated their slaves, fully intending to use and sell their own children as chattel, enriching themselves by adding more slaves to their stock.  How could we possibly be over that in 150 years?

So, I took a reading break after that little pick-me-up, but in the last two months I also managed to read

My Life In France, by Julia Child: This is charming.  I wrote a few more thoughts here.

The Soul of A Lion: A biography of Dietrich Von Hildebrand by his wife, Alice Von Hildebrand.  Von Hildebrand was both an influential Catholic philosopher and a brave opponent of Nazism during World War II.  I’m glad to have read about him, although the book could have been written better.

I’m hereby acknowledging that I’m Not Going To Finish a few books:

Kisses From Katie,  by Katie J. Davis and Beth Clark: How terrible is it that I wrote a blog post about this book before finishing it?  Katie’s is an amazing, inspiring story, but it isn’t written very well.  Read about Felicity White’s concept of how the book should have been written; she would title it In Uganda They Call Me Mommy.  I like it.

Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend: This book has a lot of important concepts, but by 75% of the way through it got repetitive.  (A few more thoughts on applying it to parenting here.)

Boundaries With Kids: I didn’t get very far here.  Again, great ideas but repetitive of the first book and of other parenting books I’ve read.

A few others are going on the To Finish Eventually shelf:

Shirt of Flame by Heather King, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman, and The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis:  Someday, someday, starting with the latter.

What have you been reading?  What have you shelved?

I haven’t stayed within 140 characters per book; nonetheless, I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature.  Happy weekend!


My “Forever” Menu Plan

WordPress tells me I’ve written many more posts tagged “menu plan” than “movies.”  My, how times change.


Last winter I came up with a “forever” menu plan and grocery list: a list of recipes I could make every week, with a corresponding grocery list.

Forever menu

Forever grocery list

It worked for a while, then I fell off the wagon big time.  We joined a CSA over the summer and what we ate varied based on what vegetables we got each week.  Aaaaaaand we also ate a lot of fast food and convenience foods.  And we made last-minute trips to the grocery store several times a week.

I’m ready to get back into meal planning again (and we all know blogging about it makes it real).  I’m starting with my forever menu plan, with a few additions.  It gets old, but it’s something.

Our menu is pretty beef-centric, because we buy a hundred pounds of beef at a time from a local farmer-friend.  I throw some chicken and sausage into the mix for variety, and some tuna because fish is nutritious and stuff.

So here it is:

Main meal:

  1. Pot roast with potatoes and carrots
  2. “Bare minimum mode” chicken, carrots, and potatoes, with salad or a frozen veggie,
  3. Steak with sautéed mushrooms and onions, with baked potatoes on the side, with salad or a frozen veggie,
  4. Crock-pot chicken with black beans, corn, and Rotel tomatoes, served over rice,
  5. Tuna mac & cheese (kind of like Jenna’s recipe, but with macaroni and peas instead of egg noodles and broccoli, and with some cheddar in the sauce)
  6. Chili with rice and cheese
  7. Omelettes

Some extras:

  1. Beef stew
  2. Chicken and dumplings (from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook)
  3. Sausage with potatoes and apples (or with bell peppers and banana peppers)
  4. Man-pleasing chicken
  5. Pasta and meat sauce


  1. Oatmeal
  2. Cold cereal (just stocked up at the discount grocery store)
  3. Scrambled eggs & bacon (occasionally)
  4. Apples and peanut butter

Secondary meal:

  1. Leftovers
  2. Peanut butter and nutella sandwiches
  3. Rice cakes with peanut butter


  1. Fruit
  2. Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, sliced bell peppers (the girls eat a lot if I set out a tray while I’m fixing their meal)
  3. Gold fish crackers
  4. Pretzels
  5. Fruit cups
  6. Cashews

Shopping list (I think this includes everything for all the recipes above, but I might be missing a few things):


  • Apples
  • Other fruit
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Baby carrots
  • Lettuce for salad
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Bell peppers


  • Individually frozen chicken breasts or thighs
  • [ Beef : chuck roast, stew beef, ground beef, steaks]
  • Pre-cooked sausage (kielbasa or similar)
  • Bacon

Pantry items:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Rice
  • Raisins
  • Smucker’s creamy peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Sandwich bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Cold cereal
  • Salad dressing
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Canned tuna
  • Jarred banana peppers
  • Rotel tomatoes or salsa
  • Canned black beans
  • Canned kidney beans
  • Canned mushrooms
  • Canned corn
  • Chicken or beef broth (unless I make it myself)
  • Mustard
  • Maple syrup
  • Elbow macaroni
  • Grated parmesan (sorry Jenny)
  • Rice cakes
  • Flour, oil, spices, etc. as needed
  • Snack foods


  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Block cheese
  • Shredded cheddar
  • Cream cheese
  • Milk
  • Half & half

Frozen food:

  • Peas
  • green beans
  • broccoli
  • edamame
  • Bell pepper
  • diced onion

Happy eating!  I’m linking up with Nell for Week Eats and with Org Junkie for Menu Plan Monday.