Thursday, May 21, 2015


Over the past few months, Owen’s language skills have really accelerated.  He talks non-stop, from the minute he wakes up in the morning to a good hour after we put him into bed.  He’s really funny too – or at least his parents and nanny find him so!  J

He’s not so much a “Why?” kid (at least not yet).  His questions are “What’s that?” and “What are you doing?” And answering either of those questions will not get him to stop asking, especially if we are doing something new – then he wants to hear the answer over and over.

He makes his toys talk to each other too, and will often force us to hold a toy and engage in play conversation (my friend calls this kind of interaction “floorplay”). 

We’ve started toilet training, and whenever we ask Owen if he has to go to the potty, he immediately exclaims, “I cahn’t and I won’t!”  (For some reason, perhaps Peppa Pig or Thomas,, Owen says “can’t” with an English accent.)  I have taken to replying “You must and you shall!”  So it sounds a lot like a Victorian soap opera in our house.

I was putting on Owen’s jacket yesterday and it was his yellow one which he hadn’t worn in a while.  He looked down at it and said,  “Oh!  It’s Yellow Owen!”  Then later when we were outside he started to run and said, “Yellow Owen Running!”  And for the rest of the day it was all Yellow Owen this and Yellow Owen that.

After a long day of Owen care, Sean went upstairs for 15 minutes of peace and quiet before Owen’s bathtime.  When Owen asked where Daddy was, and I told him, Owen queried, “Can I go up and have some peace and quiet too?”  I told him no, that would defeat the purpose.

The other day when I went in to get Owen out of his crib in the morning:
Owen:  Mommy was that you coughing in your room?
Me:  Yes
Owen:  Oh.  That was scary!
Me: --

Friday, May 15, 2015

Our Cherry Tree

One of my favorite things about our house is the old cherry tree in the front.  It's a great tree, and at this time of year it is magnificent.  For five or more days it is a blaze of pink, and then all of a sudden it is half pink flowers, half green leaves, and then the petals fall and the leaves take over.

Here's the beginning of the pink:

And here's the middle:

Here's the tree as viewed from our second floor:

And up close:

Here's the tree with some azaleas beginning to bloom underneath:

And here is Owen enjoying the falling of the petals:

Spring fever!

Spring in Philadelphia

One of the good things about where I work in Philadelphia is that I can walk to get lunch at Whole Foods on occasion, and to get there I can take the tiny cobbled streets which are from Ben Franklin's time.  They are really narrow -- I guess just the right width for a horse and buggy -- and the row houses on either side are mostly the original houses that were there too.  At this time of year, a lot of the little streets have a canopy of pink flowers:

Actually, these two pictures are from a street that has paved over the cobbles.  The street that the house with the red door at the end is on, however, is a cobbled one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

O Mighty Huntress!

One of us has a lot to sing about!

Last Sunday, I was playing up in my bedroom with Owen, when Miss Posy Fern strutted into the room...holding a mouse!  Ugh!  Owen and I quickly made our escape and called for Sean (one funny thing is that now when Owen sees a bug in the house he'll call, "Sean!" instead of Daddy).  Sean got Posy to drop her trophy and it turned out that she had both caught and killed a poor wee mousie, despite the fact that Posy only has one fang and a couple of other teeth the size of a pinhead.  Not to mention the fact that with all her heavy breathing, she is hardly stealthy!  But catch a mouse she did and she was very, very proud.

Meanwhile, Mr. Missed Opportunity was snoozing in the sunporch while all the carnage was occurring.  Embarrassing!

I let Posy catch this one to boost her confidence:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Several Generations of Haircuts

Owen had not had a haircut since November, during which he was most upset, although came out looking quite handsome at the end.  But his hair was getting shaggy and monklike again:

So on a Sunday, we went to a nearby cuttery and Owen had professional haircut #2.  And it was amazing what a difference six months made!  Owen sat in the chair by himself, and didn't mind the yellow cape they put on, and he kept looking at himself in the mirror while the woman cut his hair, and smiling -- he liked what he saw.  He didn't like the electric clippers she used at the end of the cut to trim above his ears, but until that point he was quite a trooper.

I didn't get a picture of him in the chair, alas!, because I was holding his hand underneath his cape.  But here he is at home immediately afterwards, still enjoying the lollipop they gave him at the shop:

I was moving files from an old filing system into a new cabinet the other day, and came across this picture of me getting my haircut when I was about 2 and a half.  Owen looks like me!

And then I found this picture of my niece, Josie, getting her hair done by a pal.  There's also a resemblance!

At the very least, it works as a kind of diagram of Our Family in Bowl Cuts.

Friday, May 8, 2015


The woman who lived in our house before us was quite a gardener.  On the day we closed, she took me around the backyard and showed me some of her plants, including a large rhubarb plant and an elderberry bush.  The elderberry bush was hit hard by the ice storm of 2014, and we need to trim it way back, but it is still producing fruit, which I "let" the birds have (although I do keep reading about all the wonderful nutrients found in elderberries so maybe this year I shall try to snag some berries before the birds eat them all).

I had great plans for the rhubarb, most of which involved a wonderful recipe I have for rhubarb bread pudding, but each year the rhubarb would come and go and I would do nothing [hangs head].  But not this year!

We all went out to the yard yesterday afternoon and I had my gardening gloves with me and decided it was time to pick rhubarb!

Here is what I picked.  Not bad for what is just one plant!

Owen is photobombing my rhubarb picture:

And here is the plant after I had done the picking -- still a lot left!  Owen always called this plant "Mommy's lettuce."

And here's what I picked before I cut off the poisonous leaves.  I decided to do that outside, since Plum eats any greens he can find, and I didn't want to have to rush to the vet...

Owen was a big helper while making the rhubarb.  He got Very Mad when I took the rhubarb to cook it, but then I gave him the trimmed off ends to play with and he sat there for a good 40 minutes putting them in the cup and then the pot and stirring and whatnot.

Here's the rhubarb before I cooked it.  7 cups!  I decided I would make it into a rhubarb sauce like my mother always does, since I didn't have the ingredients for the bread pudding.

And here is the finished product, after chilling in the fridge overnight.  I had a bowl for breakfast and it was delicious!  Owen wouldn't try any...yet.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Book Reviews April 2015

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins.  There is a lot of buzz about this book being a good read, the kind that is hard to put down:  and that is true.  It’s not the most exquisitely crafted or well-written story, but one does get swept up in the plot, which moves along quickly and suspensefully.  Basically, the narrator takes the train into and out of London each day, and she pays particular attention to a house and yard near where she used to live.  One day she notices something that leads her to report the situation to the police.  The narrator herself, however, is an alcoholic who experiences frequent black-outs after which she can’t remember what she has done.  We quickly see her as an unreliable narrator – as do the police see her as an unreliable witness – but in her zest to fill in her own blank spaces, she stumbles on to many a twist and clue.  It’s enjoyable, if a bit frothy, and a good book for a plane ride, say.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.  This book was on many “best of 2014” lists, which is how it made its way onto my kindle.  It is a (very short – it takes about an hour to read) rendering of a trouble arising in a marriage, and is told from the wife’s point of view via quotations and bits and pieces, rather than a linear story.  It reminded me of the writing of Lydia Davis, only not as avant garde.  I liked it, but I wasn’t as impressed as I expected to be.  It’s very atmospheric and moving, although I ended up not being very invested in the main character’s happiness, as I think I needed to be to love the book.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.  This is the first book in a science fiction trilogy that got really good reviews last year.  All three parts were published in 2014.  Science fiction isn’t a genre I know much about, so this review will be a little out of context.  Basically when the story begins a female biologist (known as The Biologist) sets out with three other women (the Psychologist, the Anthropologist, and the Surveyor) to explore Area X, a part of the Florida coast which thirty years ago was invaded by something alien (perhaps – no one really knows what is going on), and thus closed off to the public, who were told that some environmental catastrophe had occurred.  The powers that be keep half-heartedly sending in expeditions to try to learn more about what is happening.  The biologist is part of the 12th expedition, but doesn’t know much about any of the previous expeditions (except that her husband, who was on the 11th, came back a shell of himself and then died of cancer).  The focus of the book is very narrow – the context I just explained was revealed very slowly throughout the whole book, and I often got impatient to know more about what was going on.  The majority of the action takes place in an underground tower – kind of like a reverse lighthouse – which the expedition members explore with much dread.  There are words written on the inside wall of this tower in some kind of moss/lichen, which soon infects the biologist.  And we spend A LOT of time walking down the tower with someone or other, and then running back up, although it’s a bit of a better book than I am making it out to be.  I’m waiting to see what happens in the second book, Authority.

Girl In The Band by Kim Gordon.  This is a memoir of Kim Gordon, one of the founding members of the band, Sonic Youth.  She writes a bit of her childhood and how she became interested in art and music, and then maps out what led her to move from LA to NYC, and her jobs leading up to the formation of Sonic Youth.  From that point on, she writes more of the back story of their various albums and tours, and also goes into detail about her many side projects, both musical, design, and art; and of course, she also writes about the end of her marriage to Thurston Moore, the other founding member of Sonic Youth.  It’s a good book – she’s not a writer, per se, but she does a good job of conveying how she lives her art and why, and also how she tried to balance her art and music and family life.  She comes across as being very direct and even noble – she is not a game player.  The book reminded me a lot of Patti Smith’s book, Just Kids, for the obvious reason of both being memoirs written by female musicians who were trailblazers, but also because of the intersection between art and music that both women insisted upon.  I enjoyed it.

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer.  This is the second book of the “Southern Reach” trilogy and I liked it very much.  The Southern Reach is the government bureaucracy that is in charge of “Area X”, the part of Florida that has been cut off from the rest of the country by something alien.  In this book, we follow John Rodriguez, otherwise known as Control, who has been made Director of the Southern Reach and is trying to figure out what is going on.  As he learns then so do we, so a lot of what is very vague in the first book gets flushed out a bit – although there is still much that we don’t know (and I have a feeling we won’t ever know).  John tries to piece together what has happened in all the expeditions, what we know, and what our theories are.  Meanwhile, there is some kind of transformation happening to the building itself, and to many of the people who work there.  It’s all very well done and I looked forward to reading it on the train each day.  On to book three!

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer.  I ended up really liking this trilogy.  I feared when I was halfway through the final book that there wasn’t going to be a tidy ending in which the reader becomes all-knowing – and that fear came true.  But it was all so well-orchestrated, and one of the points, I think, is that what is happening to Area X, and even what Area X is, is greater than humans can understand at this point.  So basically I was fine being one of those dumb humans.  Anyway, the whole of book three takes place in Area X, and we go back and forth from Control’s point of view, to the copy of the Biologist’s point of view, to the Director’s point of view.  I don’t want to give anything away for those who might want to read the trilogy, and I do recommend it!  VanderMeer fills a lot of the background in here, and he does a really good job of first creating this otherworldly event, and then letting his characters spiral around it, pursuing different aspects and affected differently by the traits of what is going on.  The first book was the weakest – it remained a little too vague for my tastes – but the second or third were very good and his writing excellent on the whole. 

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith.  I had read on a blog that this book was a good read, and I did find the story compelling, in that it made me want to discover what happened next.  The writing was pretty rudimentary at best, though.  The whole first three-fourths of the book were set up in tiny little chapters that ended in “suspense” practically midsentence and then picked up right where it left off on the next page.  So why stop in the first place?  Why did an editor not fix that?  Especially because the next chapter would always begin with the exact same scene with the same person speaking.  It really chopped up the book in a negative way.  My other frustration with the book is almost the whole story or plot is one person telling another person what happened – it was all very “first writing attempt” to me (which was why I was very surprised when I looked the author up afterwards and discovered he wrote a trilogy which was nominated for the Booker award.)  Anyway, the gist of this novel is that a man, Daniel, who lives in London hears from his parents who have retired to Sweden, and his father tells him his mother has had some kind of nervous breakdown and is making wild accusations.  He then hears from his mother that she is on her way to London.  He meets with his mother, who insists that they go to a secret location, and listens as she tells her somewhat paranoid-seeming tale of what has been happening in their remote town in Sweden for the past year:  a conspiracy and cover up and murder.  Daniel doesn’t know what to believe, and decides to verify a few points on his own in the last quarter of the book.  Daniel, too, has been keeping that he is gay from his parents, a fact which Smith uses in ways that seem very outdated to me.  So on the whole I was underwhelmed. 

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt.  Donna Tartt is wonderful!  Truly a treasure.  I read The Secret History when it came out in the late eighties/early nineties and just liked it (although now I think I should go back and re-read), and missed this book, her second, when it came out ten years later.  Then of course I read The Goldfinch last year and found it an excellent read, so decided I should hunt down the mysterious second novel, and am very glad I did.  It’s an odd, atmospheric, original novel that is not what it at first seems.  The plot on the surface is that a 9 year-old boy is killed in a small town in Mississippi and 12 years later his sister, who was an infant at the time of the murder, decides to figure out who did it.  Harriet is our  narrator, and she is a gem:  a smart, untrusting, bold, child who receives very little parenting from her mentally ill mother and four elderly great aunts.  It thus seems like it is going to be a mystery of sorts, but the novel is 625 pages long, and takes place over a time period of only a few weeks.  Harriet wanders around the town in the heat of the summer with her sidekick friend, Hely, and tries to unravel the events of twelve years hence, while getting sidetracked from the very beginning.  It is a very slow-paced and leisurely book, and I think that is Tartt’s talent – to stitch together a whole piece by piece, until you find yourself in the middle of it with no desire to escape.  The ending was a little abrupt for my tastes, but it is a very good book.