Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Owen Flotsam

Me:  When you are 18, you get to vote; and when you are 21, you can have a beer.
Owen:  But what happens when I’m 26?

Owen likes to help brush the cats.  Posy loves it, but Plum is not so sure.  I’ve told Owen he has to be careful and not brush near Plum’s “family jewels,” as this makes Plum angry.  The other day I was brushing Plum and Owen warned me not to go near “the people’s genitals.”

Owen’s teacher last year made a silhouette of Owen and framed it for mother’s day.  I have it on my bedroom wall and Owen refers to it as “Mystery Me”.

Owen:  I was a little angry in school today, Mom, but I can’t tell you about it because it would take all night.
Me:  Try!

When we were visiting my parents this summer:
Granny:  Owen, you can do so much more this year than last.
Owen:  But I can’t put the star on top of the Christmas tree.

We had told Owen on our way to Maine this summer that he had to follow Granny & Pa’s rules, since we were staying in their house.  My mother and Owen were playing in the living room on our second day there and my mom had to tell Dorothy to stop scratching her behind on the carpet.  Owen queried:  “Granny, is that a rule?”  (Yes, and a pretty fair one!)

Owen:  I’m going to be a scientist when I grow up.  Dad says he’s going to be a pizza scientist.

Owen to himself as he plays:  I’m doing what I want, me-style.

Owen:  Why does my pasta taste cold and smell hot?

On our way to the pharmacy to pick up some meds for Owen.
Owen:  Is the pharmacy inside or outside?
Me:  Inside!  It’s a store.
Owen:  Oh.  I thought since it was a farm it might be outside.
Thus ensued a conversation about the difference between a farm and a pharmacy….

Owen:  I’d like this muffin better if it had icing and was called a cupcake.

I was getting dressed to go to a wedding and put on a pair of black heels, which I don’t wear much anymore.  Owen said, “Nice shoes, mom, but heels are supposed to be red.”

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Land Shark!

Owen was a shark for Halloween this year.  He started off wanting to be a million different Pokemon characters, and then decided he wanted to be a blob fish.  We couldn’t find a blob fish costume though, and I wasn’t feeling crafty enough to make one.  Martha suggested a shark, and when I told Owen that idea he loved it, so I ordered a cheap amazon costume right away.  I’ve had good luck with cheap amazon costumes in years past; this one wasn’t quite as sturdy as the others, but he looked very cute in it.  I didn’t remember to get any good pictures before we went trick or treating, but Susan sent me a few pictures of him getting into character at his school parade:

And then here are two blurry ones when we were out trick or treating:

I took him out this year while Sean stayed on our porch and gave out candy to the kids who stopped by.  It was my first time taking Owen around and it was much more fun than I had expected, mainly because Owen was so filled with excitement and wonder at the activity.  You dress up!  And then knock on doors and get candy!  Mind blown.  Plus the night was nice with the moon shining and tons of kids and parents out and about:  it was very carnivalesque. 

I had coached Owen to say “trick or treat!” and then “thank you!” and he did very well.  People laughed at his costume.  One woman waiting at the curb warned him that her son up at the door had a scary mask on, and Owen replied, “Well, you know, a shark is very scary too.”  One man asked him if he was a land shark and Owen told him it was just a costume.  And another jokester asked him if he wanted toilet paper or tooth paste, to which Owen said, “What the what the what the?”  Besides the bucket of candy (which he really is not that interested in eating, oddly enough), he was most excited about seeing a teenager at one house cuddling a bearded dragon.  When I erroneously called it a lizard, Owen corrected me and then went on to discuss bearded dragon facts with the owner.

I’ll put in a plug for Dorothy too and say that she was very well-behaved.  She is really a calm dog.  She would have liked to have been out on the porch greeting all the trick-or-treaters, but when that wasn’t allowed, she just curled up in her bed inside and had a snooze.  It was the cats who sat by the door peeking out.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book Reviews October 2017

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman.  I usually really love Allegra Goodman’s fiction but I had a hard time getting in to this book.  I liked her characters as always, and her writing, but the book was mostly about gaming, and I didn’t at all enjoy the descriptions of the gaming itself.  I’ve never played a video game, really, so to me the game scenes were akin to hearing in detail about someone’s dream:  rather endless and boring.  But there was a lot that was good in the book:  it is about Nina, a young inner-city teacher who is trying to get her students engrossed in Shakespeare, while being evaluated herself.  She meets Collin at Grendel’s in Cambridge, and after they start dating and she realizes how talented an artist he is (his medium is chalk), she gets him a job in her father’s world-famous game company.  The chapters also concentrate on twins, Diana and Aidan:  Diana is a student in Nina’s class, and Aidan is a gamer who tends more towards cutting class.  Goodman tries to make a parallel between classical mythologies and the story lines of the games, I think, making Diana a runner and another character, Daphne, chased by everyone (and at one point while gaming she actually turns into a tree).  So the book is clever, the characters well created, and a lot of it is interesting and a good read.  I’m just not the right audience for the gaming subject.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss.  I wanted to like this book – as I could appreciate a lot of what she was trying to do in it, and was impressed with its whole structure and meta moments – but ultimately I could not.  Krauss is a wonderful writer in many ways, but I do not like Kafka, and I think you have to like Kafka to like this book.  It contains two narrative lines – one story line in every other chapter is about Jules Epstein, an aging lawyer who when the book begins has decided to give away his vast fortune for reasons that aren’t quite clear to him.  He has just gotten divorced, and isn’t very close to his adult children, and ends up in Tel Aviv trying to buy a memorial forest for his long-dead parents.  Meanwhile in the other chapters we get a character named “Nicole,” who is divorcing her husband, and leaves her young sons for a trip to Tel Aviv to try to get over her writer’s block.  While there, in part researching Kafka and the notion that perhaps he didn’t die but emigrated to Tel Aviv and lived there anonymously, she starts having her own Kafka-esque experience, ending up in a tiny woods cottage with an old typewriter where Kafka himself allegedly lived and wrote.  The story of Epstein was excellent, and until Nicole veered into the Kafka-esque, I very much enjoyed her chapters too, but to me the Kafka-stunt that happens to the character Nicole ruined the book.  It made me not care what happened to either of them, as well as disdain their angst.

Lost In The Forest by Sue Miller.  I don’t remember how this book ended up on my kindle, and I don’t think I have read anything else by Sue Miller, but I enjoyed this.  It’s a quiet book about a family living in the late eighties in wine country in California.  When the book begins, Mark and Eva have been divorced for many years and are sharing the raising of their two daughters, Emily and Daisy.  Mark is picking them up from Eva’s when he finds out that Eva’s second husband and the father of her son has just been killed in a car accident.  The point of view switches from Mark to Eva to Daisy over the next few years.  Eva tries to deal with her grief while flirting with the idea of getting back together with Mark, which Mark wants to happen.  Daisy becomes a very prickly and hard to like adolescent who gets preyed upon by a family friend.  It is all much less dramatic than I’m making it out to be, and quite well done on the whole.  The realizations are everyday realizations and handled with intelligence and thoughtfulness.  It was quietly good.

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore.  This was an interesting kind of biography of the life of Ben Franklin’s sister, Jane.  She was close to her brother, and wrote letters to him all her life, yet of course most of her letters to him we don’t still have: just the reverse.  It is fascinating to see their different circumstances – he of course escapes to Philadelphia and a career, while Jane marries at 15, has 12 kids, 10 of whom die in childhood, and has to deal with a deadbeat husband and insane sons.  She’s clearly a smart and thoughtful woman – albeit one who cannot spell – and followed Ben Franklin’s every career move and published book and article while never hesitating to speak her mind to him.  It is very much a “Judith Shakespeare” study of a brother and sister and raised many interesting issues while also remaining true to Jane’s personal story, as much as it can be discerned today. 

The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown.  I did not love this book, although I seem to be in the minority, as everyone else I know who read it did.  I found the history fascinating, as well as the individual stories of the boys from Washington who win Olympic gold in crew in Hitler’s Berlin.  My problem was that I did not enjoy the descriptions of the many crew races themselves – and I’d say those descriptions were more than half of the book.  I also do not think Brown is a particularly adept writer, as he tended to be a bit repetitive in his phrasing.  I thought using the crew team was an interesting way to create a slice of life study of a very particular era – the crew team had all suffered through the depression in different ways and their families had different strategies for getting by.  Brown parallels the making of the team with the events happening in Germany leading up to the Olympics, and this was provocative reading (although I didn’t necessarily agree with his portrayal of Leni Riefenstahl).  Those endless race scenes though!  Argh!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.  I really liked this novel and was sad when it ended.  I described it to my work colleagues and couldn’t make it sound interesting, but trust me!  It is a very good book.  It is basically about Anna, a young girl in NYC who starts to work in the Navy Yard during WWII and eventually becomes a diver repairing boats from under the water.  The chapters switch back and forth between Anna (first as a child and then as an adult), her father Ed Kerrigan, and Dexter Styles, a gangster who crosses paths with both Anna and Ed.  Egan makes all three characters believable and well-rounded and compelling, even when their actions are egregious.  Ed works for Dexter Styles briefly, and then runs into problems; Anna as an adult later seeks out Styles to see if she can find out any additional information about her father.  She also has to work hard to convince her bosses that she can dive, as a woman, and do that kind of work.  It’s a well-done historical novel and a great story to boot.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Posy Wants Cream, Preferably Whipped & Sweetened

I have created a monster, and this is she:

Posy has always had a sweet fang:  she loves licking icing off a finger, and it is absolutely impossible to open the freezer and scoop ice cream into a bowl without her suddenly appearing by your side to help eat it.  She has never once tried anything savory as an extra– not cat treats, and not even tuna water.

So about a month ago I had a can of whipped cream in the fridge, which I don’t usually do, since I prefer the homemade kind.  But I had gotten it to eat with a salted caramel sauce on ice cream, and since Posy was there for the ice cream, I gave her a squirt of the whipped cream in her own dish.

That was a mistake.

She literally did not leave the kitchen for about 48 hours after eating the cream.  She slept on the mat by the sink, and whenever anyone came in the kitchen she would start begging for cream.  Here’s a pic.

Owen gave her artwork to keep her company:

This meant that every time I cooked or prepared a meal, I had a five pound fluff ball begging at my feet and trying to trip me up.  So did I make her go cold turkey?  No, no I did not.  Like a good enabler, I gave her a little puff of whipped cream each day, thus further entrenching her addiction.

It turns out Posy is STUBBORN, and Posy Does. Not. Give. Up.  She’s basically become a kitchen cat, except when she gets too exhausted and simply is forced to waddle away and find a better place to get some shut-eye.

And I keep buying the cream now!  So she can have her daily squirt!  How can one resist this face?

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Boo at the Zoo

We hadn’t been to the zoo in perhaps a year – long enough at any rate so that Owen was claiming that he had never been to the zoo, despite all the pictures we have to prove it.  So with a lot of sun on the roster for Saturday, we headed out early to the zoo and arrived – for the third time, second time unplanned – at Boo at the Zoo, the annual event in which zoo patrons wear costumes and can stop at trick or treating tables for candy.  Owen was not wearing his costume, but he didn’t seem to mind, and in fact wanted nothing to do with the trick or treat tables, despite the fact that they were clearly manned by cheery folk handing out candy.  I’ll chalk it up to a temporary lapse in judgment.

When we go to the zoo, we always arrive about ten minutes before it opens, because that is how we roll, try as we might to NOT be early.  Of course, since the zoo is a huge attraction for the stroller brigade – many of whom get up at 5 and nap in the early afternoons – it tends to be crowded from the get-go.  The neat thing about our trip this time was that Owen had his heart set on seeing the sloths, so instead of following the main path, we veered off to the left in search of the small mammal house.  When we got there, we had the whole place to ourselves!  It was great!  The sloths don’t have cages because they are too slow to escape, so you can stand right in front of them.  One sloth was sleeping in, but the other one was heading slowly towards his breakfast.  You can see him in the shadows right behind Owen.

And across from the sloth was an aardvark frantically searching for her breakfast.  The keeper was in the aardvark’s area fixing a ramp, and the aardvark was sure that her breakfast was there somewhere, she just hadn’t found it yet.  An aardvark is a very strange looking animal – it has the body of a swollen bulldog with a long thin head and nose only about two inches wide.  I regaled (some might say annoyed) the keeper with questions about the aardvark, and discovered that they have the intelligence of a dog.  Who knew?!

We then continued our reverse route and enjoyed a good forty or so minutes of solitude in front of the polar bear and the otters and the hippos and the giraffes before finally meeting up with some strollers going hither to our thither.  We made sure to visit my favorite gorillas and did see the year-old baby who was having fun with his people audience.

Owen ended up with a stuffed sloth as well, which he’s been carrying around ever since.  He is obsessed with the Wild Kratts PBS TV show – an excellent show for animal facts – and will tell anyone who will listen that “a sloth might be slow, but he isn’t boring!”


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fruit Ninja

To say that Owen is not very adventurous when it comes to food is putting it mildly.  At five years old, he still eats about seven things.  (How crazy does this drive me?  Very, very crazy.)  But one thing he does love is fruit.  And he is willing to give any fruit a try, because doing so has generally had the positive result of adding something else to his like list.  A month or so ago I was in the grocery store and near that odd section between the fruits and vegetables that has fruits that aren’t common in this country.  Owen and I stopped to peruse and we decided to get a dragon fruit.  We brought it home, looked up “how to cut dragon fruit” on YouTube, and then Owen proceeded to snarf down the whole dragon fruit with moans of ecstasy.

Feeling emboldened, we then went on in successive weeks to try:  star fruit (delicious! Although we added a tiny sprinkling of sugar, like we do to our blackberries); passion fruit (I liked it!  Owen thought it looked too much like a sneeze, but he did try two substantial bites); dragon fruit with white insides instead of magenta (good!); pepino melon (on YouTube they said this would taste like a cross between a cucumber and a honeydew; it did; bleck); pomegranate (not only did he love it but he wanted to bring the seeds in a baggie for a snack on our walk); and horned melon (very odd looking on the inside – basically all wet green seeds – but it did taste exactly like the YouTube video promised, like a banana and a kiwi; Owen ate it with a spoon and relatively with gusto). 

Next up is a mango, which Owen actually had a lot of as a toddler but doesn’t remember.  We’ve told him often that he is like my father, who is also a fruit lover, and one day Owen had me text Pa to ask him if there was any fruit he did NOT like.  It turns out Pa is not a big fan of mangoes, which he found to be too sweet and too sticky.  So Owen already plans to try this mango with a fork, so as not to get any of the sticky on his hands.  He still has an open mind about it though, and is very impatiently waiting for the mango to ripen.

Of course I am hoping that his trying fruit will transfer over to trying other foods.  It hasn’t yet, but a girl can hope.  In the meantime, I am keeping my eye out for an ugli fruit; apparently right now is not the season.

Owen looking melancholy with a bowl of horned melon.
See what I did there?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

September 2017 Book Reviews

Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin.  I liked this mystery so much that upon completion I immediately started reading the second in the series.  It’s one of four books known as the Oland Quartet, since all take place on the island of Oland off the coast of Sweden.  This one was about the disappearance twenty years in the past of a 5 year-old boy, Jens Davidsson.  His mother, Julia, returns to Oland to help her aging father, a retired fisherman, Gerlof.  Gerlof has been trying to solve the mystery of his lost grandson, and the more he discovers, the more he and Julia get caught up in a series of murders and crimes on the island.  The writing is excellent, as are the characters, and it was a treat to follow along with Gerlof’s simple unraveling of several long-past events.  It was all very well done.

The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin.  This also takes place on Oland, and shares a few of the characters from the first book, although they do not play a central role.  A young family has moved to the mansion by the lighthouse on Oland and has started to renovate it, when a tragic death occurs.  Most of the police treat the death as an accident, but Tilda Davidsson, a new policewoman on the island and Gerlof’s niece, has her suspicions.  The chapters alternate between Tilda, to the family at Eel Point, and to a group of thugs who are burgling the summer houses on the island.  It was a good read too; my only criticism was that the Eel Point part of the story contains a lot of ghosts and spirits, which somewhat work in the story and somewhat do not.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne.  This was an excellent and suspenseful read that was hard to put down.  In a nutshell, it is about a woman Helena, who was raised out in the wild marshland in Michigan by her parents and didn’t discover until age 12 that her father had kidnapped her mother as a teenager and was holding her hostage.  When the book begins, Helena is an adult with children of her own, and her father has just escaped from prison.  Helena decides to use her excellent hunting and tracking skills – learned from her father – to find him before he wreaks more havoc.  The book switches from the present back to Helena’s childhood in the marsh and is really fascinatingly done.

What Happened by Hillary Clinton.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this at first – I thought it would be too painful – but it wasn’t and I am very glad I did.  It was really interesting to re-live the campaign from Hillary’s point of view, and see what her reasoning was for certain decisions.  The book is certainly infuriating, in that once again you see how hard the press worked to make Hillary into everyone else’s criticisms of her, but she is a very funny writer, and of course so intelligent that I read the whole  thing quickly and wished I had bought a physical copy instead of a kindle copy so that I could more easily go back and peruse.  If you are or were a Hillary supporter, I recommend the book.

How To Not Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn.  I have always admired the writing of Jancee Dunn, and although the title made me snort a bit, I was curious to see what she had to say.  And she did not disappoint.  It is basically a relationship book and primarily about communication, and as such I found it extremely helpful, and definitely one of the best of its kind that I have read.  Well, actually, I don’t think I have read any relationship books, but I was very impressed at the usefulness of her advice, and wish I had heard a lot of it years previously.  She is as funny and as down to earth as ever, and the book is a mixture of her own experience, combined with the consultation of experts ranging from marriage counselors to organizers.  It tends towards the gist of how men and women hear things differently and communicate differently, and is basically all about being forthright and direct.  I thought it both wise and entertaining.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina.  Denise Mina is one of my favorite mystery writers and is known for her Scottish noir.  She tends to write series, but this book was a stand-alone and about a true story:  a serial killer named Peter Manuel who was charged and convicted of killing at least eight people in the 1950’s.  It’s an interesting and quick read:  Mina uses court transcripts, but then also gets into the heads of her characters and creates back stories.  The writing is sparse, and she alternates between the trial itself and a night Peter Manuel and another suspect, William Watt, spent on the town a few days before Peter’s arrest.  There is nothing cheery about this book, but it is nonetheless a good read.