Saturday, July 30, 2016

Island Pug

Another fun thing for me about visiting Block Island was that I got to spend time with my furry niece, Pippa Middleton Pug.  She is a picture-perfect little gal, much smaller than my Tulip, but with pug attitude.  She has a bark that sounds like a sneeze, a scream she saves for enclosed spaces such as the car, and a gift for mischief.  But she is also affectionate and friendly, and she put up with a lot of cuddles from Owen.

Owen thinks all pugs are named Pippa Middleton (despite the many pictures in our house of his late sister, Tulip).  I predict this might cause some confusion in the future.  J

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Owen and His Cousins

During our stay on Block Island, Martha’s children were very nice to Owen.  I’m sure it can’t always be ideal having an almost 4 year-old cousin talk to you non-stop, but Henry, Georgia, and Josie were very gracious.

It was also nice for me to have a break from playing superheroes.  Georgia and Josie both spent several hours playing with Owen, and I appreciated it!  Here are a few pictures of the superhero activities, and Owen playing superheroes using the crevasses of Martha’s driftwood table:

Josie was also nice enough to let Owen show her how to do yoga:

Between you and me, Josie did not need the tips she received from Mr. Owen!

I also got a few giggles at one point when the kids were talking about school and Owen joined in saying he had two teachers, Mrs. Bruno and Mrs. Stutz.  I don’t often get to see him with other kids, no matter what their ages, so it is fun for me to see him interact as the person he is becoming.  And I didn’t remind him that those two teachers were not going to be his teachers next year!  That is a sensitive topic in our house.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Visit To Block Island

At long last, Owen and I were able to make the trip to visit my sister, Martha, and her family at their house on Block Island.  I had seen pictures and heard stories, but this was my first time at the house.  And our consensus is that a person could get used to this.

The view from her front porch was spectacular, the porch furniture comfy, the company good, and the cocktails delicious.  What more could a girl want?

We had great weather while there and were able to go to two different beaches.  One was the beach by their house, which you reach by going down 142 steps.  I counted the first time I went back up them while carrying Owen.  That was my workout for the day.  We had an evening picnic on the beach on Friday night, and here is a picture I took when I forgot my flip flops and had to go all the way back down to get them.  The tiny speck you see is Martha, Owen, and Josie waiting for me to begin my second ascent.

Other than the first time up, Owen did the stairs by himself the rest of the time, although I did walk in front of him on the way down in case he tripped.

Before this, Owen had only been to Maine beaches, so this was his first experience with stronger waves.  He loved playing in the shallows on his own, and I did take him in past the breakers when we went to the second beach on Saturday.  In general he doesn’t like water on his face, and I had to shield him with my back a few times, but he laughed throughout.  He also enjoyed finding a crab and some hermit crabs and a pink starfish with Henry.

Owen had a good time running around the yard:

And eating outside on the porch.  Here we were all eating at a different table closer to the view, but Owen thought the first table he reached upon exiting the kitchen was good enough for him:

We also both enjoyed having a bedroom with an ocean view.  It is quite nice to lie in bed and, if one leaves one’s glasses on for a moment, see and hear the ocean from the window.

We look forward to making yearly visits to the island! 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Reviews June 2016

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill.  This is a YA novel with a premise similar to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s set in a future when girls are created in a laboratory for the sole use of men.  The girls are raised in an institution – where the novel takes place – and when they are 17 will be picked to be either companions (a wife who gives birth to sons and is terminated at age 40), concubines, or chastities (nuns who teach the girls).  They are picked by the 17 year old boys in their district, and have no say in the outcome.  The girls are raised to look pretty and are ranked several times a day via social media.  In fact, a good portion of the book, besides being a critique of gender roles, is a critique of social media and how nothing happens these days if it isn’t recorded on social media.  It would be a great book to teach to highschool or junior high-age kids, and it was more or less an interesting read.  The main character is frieda (women don’t get their names capitalized), who is coming of age and trying to be chosen as a companion.  Her best friend, isabel, is acting strangely, and frieda is desperately trying to remain in good terms with the queen bee mean girl, megan.  Of course, there is no way for a girl to win in this society, and the reader watches as things get worse and worse for frieda.  My criticisms are that it went on a bit too long – you see what is going to happen to frieda long before she does, and then have to cover a lot of ground to get her there; and it is also frustrating that frieda doesn’t find out more information from her former bestie, isabel, since isabel clearly knows more about what is going on than any of the other girls in the school.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson.  This is the fourth book in her Rebecka Martinsson series and it is even better than the first three.  I’ve said this all before in the earlier reviews, so won’t go into too much detail, but these books are truly wonderful.  Larsson is a great story-teller, her characters are fascinating, and even the evil ones are three-dimensional and nuanced.  In this book, one of the narrators is a dead woman, and she is given the chance to speak just enough to keep things interesting.  Once again, Rebecka is working on a case that gets her into trouble.  However, in this novel, unlike the first three, it is Rebecka who is happy and stable and Anna-Maria Mella, the detective, who is having problems.  It’s all quite under-stated and magnificent.  Read it!

Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  This is a mostly interesting examination of the difficulties introverts face here in the US, where the characteristics of extroverts are prized.  She spends a significant amount of the book on workplace issues, which was not as interesting to me as daily life issues.  But she does reveal many surprising results from studies which show how ineffective open-style office layouts are (as opposed to more traditional layouts where privacy is possible), and also how ineffective group brainstorming is (in contrast to what is usually thought, most people – extroverts included – come up with the good ideas on their own).  One CEO even initiated “no talk Thursdays” and devoted the day to work and contemplation and found it was the most productive day of the week for all involved.  Cain examines how introverts are often undervalued in schools, how certain Asian cultures have trouble in the US because talking is valued over listening, and even how the stock market crash of 2008 occurred in part because extroverts and risk-takers had taken over the financial institutions.  She definitely made interesting points in each chapter, although sometimes you had to wait for them.  And her writing style was such that I had no trouble putting the book down.  On the whole, however, it was an interesting topic and she explored it in depth.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante.  This is the second book in the Naples quartet and follows Elena and Lila on their very different paths as teenagers.  When the book begins Lila is newly married to Stefano Carracci as a 16 year old, and spends her first week of married life getting beaten up by him.  Elena is in high school continuing her hard studying and doing extremely well.  She struggles, as before, to reconcile her life in school with her life in “the neighborhood” where most girls don’t attend school beyond elementary.  Lila has money now, but hates Stefano and is unhappy with her marriage and with the pressure to have a child.  Elena and Lila have important encounters every now and then, and then spend a rather tormented summer together at the beach, but live quite separate lives.  This description of the book is misleading though, as it is not at all a story about teenagers at a beach or in love.  It’s meaty, albeit very slow paced, and the curious and intriguing part is the underlying theme of how Elena and Lila’s initial friendship as very young children becomes the core of their lives in odd ways.  Ferrante keeps returning to this; no matter what they do, they are drawn into the orbit of the other, and each continually responds to what the other has and they do not.  I’m still surprised in some ways that this quartet has been so popular, as the writing and theme is very unusual and not what it appears to be.  I keep coming up with the unhelpful description of:  it is strange.  And so I shall read on, wanting Elena and Lila to thrive.

The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson.  This is another wonderful Rebecka Martinsson mystery from Asa Larsson.  It’s the last so far, although I certainly hope she is working on and almost completed with the next.  There are five, and each one has been better than the next, and the first was excellent.  Rebecka is still living and working in Kiruna, but this time when a murder occurs in the area, she is taken off the case and replaced by the bumbling prosecutor from the first book, Von Post.  Not pleased by this, Rebecka takes the seven weeks of leave that’s owed to her (oh Scandinavian time off!  May it someday be the same in the USA!), and not quite on purpose sets out to solve the case on her own—or at least the parts of it that Von Post won’t look into.  It’s all wonderful as per usual – there’s a lot of Krister, the police officer who handles the police dogs, and of course Anna Maria Mella and Stalnacke are there doing their excellent detective work.  It’s another truly magnificent novel and I was sad when I reached the end. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  I had avoided reading this book on purpose for a while.  I had read the two articles he published before he died and was both impressed and moved by them.  However, dying and leaving a child behind is a particular nightmare of mine at the moment, so I didn’t think I would read the book just yet.  But then the book was everywhere, and everyone loved it, and my friend offered to lend it to me so I decided I’d read it.  And it is good and tragically sad and everything you’d expect.  Paul Kalanithi was just completing his residency in neurosurgery (having multiple degrees in literature and medicine), when he realized he had lung cancer.  So a lot of the book is from the vantage point of a doctor who becomes a patient, and how it feels to be on that side of the relationship.  He also looks quite directly at death and dying and coming face to face with one’s own mortality much sooner than expected.  It’s terribly sad.  In the midst of his diagnosis, he and his wife, Lucy, also a doctor, decide to have a child, and he is able to spend 8 months with his daughter.  He’s an interesting writer and it is worth reading, although I was more impressed with the first part – in which he writes of his life up to the point of diagnosis, and what brought him to go to medical school.  He’s obviously a caring man, but I found it fascinating that his pursuit of a medical career was really from a philosophical vantage point:  he was interested in how much personhood and personality reside in the brain, and how for every operation he would perform, there would be a weighing of life and death and personality and mental acuity, and what changes can be made while keeping life worth living.  It is tragic that he ran out of time, and the book reveals just what a unique individual was lost.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Beginning of Summer

Owen finished up his last days in his “3-Day 3’s” nursery school class at the beginning of June, and we attended a “closing ceremony” which was similar to the Christmas performance – all the kids sang songs on risers in the front of the church.  Owen did not sing.  He happily went up with his class and got into place on the risers (towards the front; he’s short), and then did not open his mouth once for the twelve or so songs.  Nor did he do any of the many hand movements.  When I congratulated him afterwards, he informed me that “I didn’t sing.”  I said no, you didn’t, but maybe you will next time.  And he certainly was not the only boy not singing, although it seemed like most of the girls did.  Why is that, I wonder?  I wouldn’t say I was the performing sort as a child, but I did love to sing, and furthermore, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that NOT singing was an option. 

But so be it!  School is out for the summer and Owen is pleased about that.  Even though he enjoyed nursery school very much, he often didn’t seem to enjoy waking up and finding out it was a school day.  And three weeks later he is still asking me if he has to go to school today and then being very pleased when I say no.  The boy is a homebody at the moment, apparently, and very much enjoys his one-on-one time with his beloved Nanny.

Owen’s class of kids got on very well, and so a lot of the parents and caregivers email the entire class if they are going to the park or some other local activity so that others can meet up there as well.  Yesterday they went to a new splash pad in the area, and from all accounts had a lot of fun.  Here is Owen at the splash pad and with his favorite friend, Sheldon:

Last weekend was the Abington Hospital June Fete, and Owen was at a prime age to enjoy it.  We got there soon after it opened on Saturday morning at 11, and spent several hours enjoying all the rides.  Owen loves the rides and once again didn’t mind going on them by himself.  Sean and I noticed, too, that he was very chatty with his various seat mates; we wondered what he could be saying:

I went on a few rides with him, including the merry-go-round, which, for the record, goes much faster than the one in our local mall.

They had no food trucks there this year, which seemed to me like a missed opportunity, since the food trucks in this area are excellent.  So we just had the choice of carnival fare (and then a tent that was making omelettes.  Omelettes?  In the 90 degree sun in the middle of the day?  Is that not odd?), and happily shared a funnel cake.

And that is what we have been doing lately:  we spend the majority of our weekend out on the front porch enjoying the breezes and lining superheroes up in a row; and then we do some gardening and some errand running.  And Plum cries at the window to come out on the front porch, while Posy scratches at the door.  Neither are allowed out, of course, unless I am holding them tightly.  But they still try mightily to expand their domain.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


We were all outside doing weeding in the garden in the backyard, and after a few minutes Owen lost interest and went to play.  He was standing in the very back of the yard and called out to me:
Owen:  Mom!  There are weeds back here!
Me:  Well pull them out!
Owen, after a pause:  But that’s not my job!
Me, muttering:  It can be.

Owen came into my bed in the middle of the night and snuggled close.  All of a sudden he said with terror in his voice:
Owen:  Mommy!  There’s something furry on the pillow!
Me:  That’s my HAIR, Owen.  Now go to sleep.

Posy was not making her usual VERY LOUD meows the other night:
Me:  I think Posy has a frog in her throat.
Owen, excited:  A frog?!  How did it get there?
Me:  No, it’s just an expression, not an actual frog.  It means that she is a little hoarse.
Owen:  A horse?!
Me, struggling:  Let’s just say that Posy has temporarily lost her meow.

Sean and Owen are always playing a rocket game ship in which they blast off and explore some region of outer space.  The other day this happened:
Sean:  Owen, can you go over there and get me a piece of lego?
Owen, setting off across the room:  Okay!
Owen, halfway there, and turning around suspiciously:  Wait, why?
Sean, nonchalantly:  Oh, I just need it.
Owen:  Okay, but don’t blast off without me.
Sean, a minute later:  3!...2!...1!
And Owen hurtles across the room and dives headfirst on the couch, their ship, so as not to be left behind. 
Now all Sean has to do is say, from somewhere in the house, 3!...2!...1!..., and Owen is off like a shot.

Me:  I need a shower.
Owen:  Yes, you don’t smell like a flower anymore.

All of a sudden I realize it is a little quiet and I’m not sure what Owen is doing.
Me:  Owen?!
Owen:  I’m in the bathroom.
Me:  Are you pooping?
Owen:  No, I’m just thinking on the toilet.

Owen and I were going over the alphabet and what words start with what letters.  I pointed to an “O” and reminded him that:
Me:  Owen starts with an “O”.
Owen:  Yes, and so does Target.
Me:  [wondering how to explain that the Target “O” is their bulls-eye logo.  Gave up.]

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Book Reviews May 2016

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.  This was the last book of Morton’s that I had yet to read, and it was a bit disappointing.  It’s her usual format, so I won’t waste time talking about that.  I think the problem was that the characters weren’t fleshed out enough.  There are three sisters who live in a castle, and when the main character, Edie Burchill, meets them, they are elderly, but we also see them young in many chapters.  Their crucial actions didn’t ring true to me though:  I don’t believe that they would act the way they did.  There’s also a crazy father who has written a best-selling children’s fable, The Mud Man, and then Edie’s mother, to me the most interesting and sad character in the book, who stayed in the castle for a few years during the war as a 10 year-old evacuee.  It was entertaining enough but not well done.  I’d rate it along with The House at Riverton as one of her lesser books.

Bridget Jones:  Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding.  I had no intention of reading this novel, so mad was I that she killed off the Colin Firth character.  It seemed, as of course it was, just a cheap way of getting another novel out of Bridget.  But then Martha read it and said it was enjoyable and so she loaned it to me and I had a go.  And it was rather fun to spend time with Bridget again on the whole, although one really only needs to read the first book and call it a day.  In this one, Mark Darcy has died from a land mine, and a few years have passed.  Bridget is raising their two young children, Billy and Mabel, on her own (financially quite comfortable).  She doesn’t have to work, so spends her time mothering, and working on a screenplay—a re-write of Hedda Gabler.  Her friends convince her to start dating again, and the book consists of her dating misadventures.  I’d say too much of the book was in twitter format, but then again, I don’t tweet, so perhaps I’m just immune to its charms.  If you are missing Bridget, it’s a fun enough read; Fielding is witty and good at writing slapstick.

The Black Path by Asa Larsson.  This is the third “Rebecka Martinsson” mystery and it was as good as the first two, if not better.  I really love Larsson’s writing, and I can’t really parse why I think it is so good.  It’s spare—not for her the coffee-making detail of The Dragon Tattoo – but she manages to write the perfect amount of description and character development.  In this one, Rebecka has stayed up north in Kiruna after her second trauma; it took a while for her to recover, and then she was convinced to work there as a prosecutor, instead of returning to her big law firm in Stockholm.  We also once again spend a lot of time with the wonderful Anna Maria Mella and Sven-Erik Stalnicke, the police duo.  Anna Maria Mella is a delightful character:  she’s smart, and has good instinct, and a good work/life balance.  A murder occurs in an ice house in Kiruna and Anna Maria starts to solve it, and gets Rebecka to help with some of the corporate twists and turns.  It is suspenseful and interesting and extremely well done.  Larsson is really adept at having multiple threads and storylines continually veer apart and come together; she’s able to keep the intrigue going without leaving the reader feeling manipulated.  It’s excellent!

One and Only:  The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler.  This was an interesting look at the stereotypes of being an only child – that only children are self-centered and/or awkward around their peers, etc.  Sandler, herself an only child who mostly enjoyed being one, first locates and pinpoints the original studies done in the fifties of the negatives associated with being an only child.  Such studies generally started with a thesis that it was bad to just have one child, and then supported that thesis even if the stats did not.  And the stats did and do not:  there is no discernable difference between only children and children with siblings when it comes to social skills.  The main difference between only children and siblings is that only children tend to be more successful and happier in later life.  When Sandler researched and wrote her book, she had a daughter who was around 4 or 5, and was in the process of deciding whether or not to have more kids.  So many people told her that she needed to have another kid “for her daughter,” and this made her want to investigate the notion.  She interviews only children, and did come across some who hated not having siblings; however, most of these people had unhappy childhoods or were in odd situations to begin with.  It was an interesting read.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub.  The Vacationers would be a good vacation read, unsurprisingly enough.  It’s a light, relatively entertaining novel about a family who goes to spend two weeks in Mallorca and once there deals with all the many underlying tensions that confront them.  The parents, Jim and Franny are trying to decide what to do after Jim had an affair with an intern only a few years older than their daughter; their son, Bobby, is there with his older girlfriend, with whom he – and certainly his family – do not have much in common.  Sylvia, the daughter, is about to embark on her college career at Brown and is ripe for an affair with a young Spanish man.  And then there are two family friends along for the vacation, a married couple, Charles and Lawrence, who have been trying to adopt a baby for several years and might just be about to get their wish.  It’s a fun enough read – each of the 14 days has its own chapter –and on the whole seems like it would be a good film.  I was underwhelmed but amused.

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas.  I found this novel very moving.  It is about three-generations of an Irish-American family, and begins by concentrating on Eileen Tumulty’s childhood in Queens with alcoholic parents.  Eileen has drive and wants a better a life for herself, although she feels that as a woman her options are limited, so becomes a nurse.  She meets and marries Ed Leary, from a similar background, who is a scientist who studies the brain, yet remains teaching at a community college in the Bronx to help students from poor backgrounds.  They have a son, Connell.  In midlife, things begin to go wrong with Ed, and the reader figures it out long before Ed and Eileen do – that Ed has early-onset Alzheimers.  He is in the full throes of it by his early fifties, and the novel shows how Eileen deals with it, and her rigorous care of Ed, and then how Connell backs away.  I think Thomas gets Ed just right; Eileen doesn’t always ring true to me.  I don’t think he was able to make her as human as she should have been—she wants to do the right thing and help Ed keep his dignity, but Thomas isn’t able to really portray her in the depth that the novel deserves.  I also didn’t like Connell so much and was always a little exasperated when I got to a Connell chapter.  But perhaps that is me—I find it hard to muster much enthusiasm for teenage boys.  It’s a sad book but also very well done.  And towards the end Connell finds a letter from his father which will turn you to mush.  It is a novel that is well worth reading.

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman.  I came late to Lippman, and I’ve never read her much-praised “Tess Monaghan” mysteries, although I have vague plans to do so.  I’ve read her last seven or so mysteries that aren’t part of that series, and she was really the writer who made me realize that a good mystery is a good novel.  She is a really good writer, and her mysteries are all over the place scenario-wise; well, most take place in Maryland, but you never know what kind of person she is going to create, and all are so realistic and interesting.  In this one, the main voice is that of Lu Bryant, a newly elected state’s attorney who is presented with her first murder of this job.  The chapters are interspersed with the present day and her work on the case, to first-person chapters of Lu growing up in a single-parent household with her father and brother.  Eventually the past and the present intersect, and Lu has to figure out what to do with the collision of personal and professional.  There are several incidents in her past which become relevant to this investigation, and my one criticism of the book is that at times I had trouble keeping them straight—but that is in part because Lu, who was 8 years younger than her brother, didn’t understand things that are clear to the reader.  It’s a layered mystery and a good read.