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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Witching Hours

If you were to stop by our house for a visit these days, I would recommend that you NOT come between the hours of 5:00 – 7:00 pm.  The witching hours, as my sister, Martha, calls them, are when my normally kind, imaginative, helpful child becomes a brat of monstrous temperament.  Daily, he is almost always very unpleasant to be around then.  I’ve tried different approaches – I’ve tried ignoring him unless he is annoying a pet (this is my go-to witching hour attitude, as it gets the best results); I’ve tried distracting him with a better activity--peppy suggestions such as, Let’s go play upstairs! (sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t); I’ve tried getting angry (this doesn’t work well; Owen seems to get angrier himself in proportion to my anger); and I’ve tried time outs (which do not work at all with Owen.  How is it that the time out is so popular with parents?  How do they get their child to sit still and reflect?  Owen becomes a dervish in a time out and gets so ragey, that by the end of it, he is about 200 times angrier and apt to misbehave than he was when he earned the time out in the first place.  So ixnay on the time outs from here on in.)

I’m hoping it is just a last ditch vestige of the threenager, and that once he turns four the witching hours will change to a time during which we can dine peacefully and talk of things like books and future plans.  Ha.  I’d settle for two hours in which he isn’t flinging toys recklessly at my head, or whining, or hitting, or pinching.

Owen:  When I grow up I’m going to put lipstick on and go to work!
Me:  Well you might!  Or you could put on chapstick!
Owen:  And I’ll put shaving cream on my beard!
Me:  --

Owen:  Daddy shares all his food with me.  And mommy shares her water.
Me:  That sounds about right.

Owen, upon seeing Sean wear shorts for the first time this spring:  Dad, [wringing hands] why are your legs sticking out of your pants?!

Owen:  Mom, what are you doing?
Me:  I’m thinking.
Owen:  Oh.  Are you thinking about Lady Gaga?
Me:  --

I mentioned in a previous entry how Owen likes for me to tell certain stories about our pets over and over.  There is one I tell about the time I was living in my Philadelphia apartment and had a blue cupcake on a plate.  I turned around to get some milk, and Posy faceplanted into my cupcake, so that when I turned around, her face, whiskers, etc., were covered in blue.  Now when I tell this story to Owen, he adds, “And then Owen came in with many cupcakes!  A blue one all her own for Posy!  And chocolate cupcakes for Owen and Mommy!”  One time Sean was sitting with us, and added:  “And then Dad came in with even more cupcakes!”  But this made Owen angry!  (We have a lot of oedipal feelings in our household these days).  Owen said indignantly, “You weren’t there, Dad.  You were away…eating an onion.”  Ouch!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tell It Again, Mom

If you were to spend any time in my house these days, you would likely hear me tell, over and over and upon request, a very boring story about Dorothy being noisy in the night.  For some reason, this very quotidian story fascinates Owen, and I can’t quite figure out why.  In a nutshell, Dorothy jumps off my bed, goes and drinks water forever and loudly, and then comes back to the bed, upon which I have to get up and help her back on.  This is a nightly occurrence in general, but one night she jumped off, drank, and then needed help getting back on three times, and so after the third time I kicked her out of the bedroom.  But as the “story,” such as it were, has been told, Owen has added on his own coda, in which he, Owen, came in with a sign on which he had written “BE QUIET, DOROTHY!” and taped it to my door.  So that when Dorothy returned to attempt to get back on the bed, as she did multiple times throughout the rest of the night, she was able, according to Owen, to read the sign and understand why she was denied entry.

Is it that he is the hero of the story that makes it appeal to Owen?  Or that he was able to explain something to Dorothy? Or that it is a joint story-telling effort with Owen picking up the tale at the time that Dorothy is heading glumly downstairs by herself?  I’m really not sure.  He likes to hear other stories about the pets, his favorites being When Plum Ate My Vitamin C, When Norman (my childhood dog) Played With a Grape Instead of Eating It, and When Posy Faceplanted Into A Blue Cupcake And Then Pretended She Hadn’t.  These are all stories he requests multiple times per week.

The other day Owen and I were eating and I bit my tongue and said ouch, and then had to explain to Owen what happened.  The next morning Owen said, “tell me the story of when your tooth got too excited and bit your mouth.”  Okay, although I think he just told the story himself better than I could have done!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Book Reviews April 2016

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  I’ve heard so many good things about Elena Ferrante’s quartet of novels, of which My Brilliant Friend is the first.  Having said that, however, I realized while reading that I didn’t know any specifics about why the novels are thought to be so good; all I really knew was that Ferrante never makes any kind of author appearance, and all of Europe is abuzz over just who she might be.  (That is, is she really a literature professor or is “Elena Ferrante” the nom de plume of someone famous.  Speculation abounds).  I enjoyed the book, although I was not blown away by it.  If I understand it correctly, the quartet is about a friendship between two women, and this first book is about their childhood growing up in a slum in Naples.  The narrator, Elena Greco, excels in school, and is driven to do better by the innate talent of her classmate and eventual friend, Lila.  Education is not the norm for either Lena’s or Lila’s family, but Lena’s family enables her to continue on to middle and then high school (unheard of for that area) because of a teacher’s intercession.  Lila is not able to continue on after elementary school, although for awhile she works hard to educate herself by reading almost every book in the library.  Lila is smart and odd and ferocious, and Lena is drawn to her, although she does see her good and bad qualities.  The book is about how their paths veer and how each is envious of what the other has.  It’s also about a friendship and luck.  It was interesting and I look forward to reading the next three; I don’t quite see what the fuss is all about yet.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.  I just finished this book on the train today and am still struck speechless by it.  It’s a long novel and wonderfully written.  The writing drew me in so much that I would just barely remember to get off at the right train stop, and once I did I really didn’t know where I was or what I should be doing.  It would take me a few minutes to regroup.  It starts out being the story of four male friends who meet in college, and then she follows two of them in particular through the next almost forty years of their lives.  The main character, Jude St. Francis, is a man who had probably the worst imaginable childhood possible.  He is very scarred by his first fifteen years, mentally, emotionally, and physically, and Yanagihara focuses on how he struggles to believe himself worthy of a fulfilling life, despite his life’s beginnings.  The novel is really a love story about Jude – between him and his partner, between him and his friends, and between him and his father figure, Harold.  It is often a hard book to read – Jude self-mutilates – but there is something so magnetic about her writing that I couldn’t wait until I could open the book again.  I have a few small complaints – the organization is a little haphazard for one.  At first it seems like it is going to be about the four friends equally, but then it ends up being mainly Jude’s story.  Also, at some point through the 700 page book you realize that it is always going to be about the present, but then with bits of Jude’s past story doled out here and there, and sometimes that got a little annoying.  I’m also still working out what I think about how she presents Jude’s abuse.  There’s been a lot of controversy about this book, some of which concerns the constant victimization of Jude, and what this says about the victim culture of today.  And then Jude and his friends all end up so successful and with such money, that the book has been criticized as a kind of rich city lifestyle porn.  Both are valid criticisms, but I think the book goes beyond that and is a really impressive achievement.  It is epic.  I can't stop thinking about it.

How To Cook a Moose by Kate Christensen.  This is the kind of nonfiction I like best:  a mixture of memoir and food writing with recipes.  A new Mainer, Christensen concentrates in this book on her adventures with Maine food and the people who grow and make it.  She’s a good writer and enthusiastic and I enjoyed reading the book.  That being said, I don’t think I could find someone who I have less in common with culinarily than Christensen.  What she likes to eat, I do not; what I like to eat, she never does (she even wrote a sentence in her book that caused me to gasp in horror:  she doesn’t like sweets and desserts and never eats them.  Ever.  Except for the occasional donut.)  So I think there is not one recipe that she included that I would ever attempt to make, and that is generally the fun of culinary memoirs—you find good recipes and know the context for them.  Her comfort food tends to be very spicy red sauces on pasta.  Her writing also is without a sense of humor and tends to be very earnest.  I find her nonfiction to be very pleasant and interesting; she just isn’t my kindred spirit.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan.  This first novel was a very entertaining read.  I began it with a bit of skepticism, as it seemed t might be a little lighter than I like, and it was relatively light, but also funny and well-done.  Alice is a mother of three in New Jersey and has to find a full-time job, since her husband was recently downsized at his big law firm.  She gets a job at a huge corporation that is planning on opening up virtual reading rooms; this company is a nightmare of corporate speak and acronyms and twentysomethings forcing Alice to be enthusiastic and join in the groupspeak and be available at all times.  Alice is a good sport about it at first, since she is happy to be back at work, but tensions escalate both at home and at the office.  It reminded me of a Liane Moriarty novel, only based in NJ instead of Australia. I recommend it.

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write by Sarah Ruhl.  The word that came to mind while I was reading these essays is delightful.  As an essayist, Ruhl has a great voice—she is funny and wry and very thought-provoking.  I do not know much about theater and drama issues, but she’s so good an essayist that that didn’t matter.  These essays are about plays and the theater and the audience, but also about being a working mother in general and a working playwright mother at that.  It was an enjoyable read and I hope she writes more.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Kid Birthday Party

Spring seems to be the season for birthday parties, as Owen keeps coming home from school with party invitations tucked into his backpack. This is our first time on the kid party circuit, and I admit to finding the experience strange.  Especially when the experience involves teenagers dressed as superheroes dancing in a basement. 

He did have a party at a nice playground near us that we hadn’t been to before, and indeed didn’t know was there.  So now we have a closer playground to visit, which is a plus!  This playground had a tricycle feature too: 

Owen’s birthday is in August, when people are generally dispersed, so I’m thinking that will get us out of having to have a kid party for him for another year or two.  We are birthday party scrooges.  Bah, humbug.

For the first party we went to I made the mistake of trying to involve Owen in the wrapping of the gift.  Rookie error!  Owen of course was very upset to see the cool toy that was not for him and became absolutely hysterical, poor fellow.  I think he was even more unprepared for this by the fact that he’s an only child, so all toys in our house are generally for him.  We need to practice Sharing.  However, I learned my lesson, and wrapped the second birthday present the following week on the floor of my closet with the door closed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Polka Dot Accent Wall

For my birthday this year, I asked Sean to paint our master bedroom.  We didn’t paint it when we moved in, and I had reached the point where I could no longer handle seeing the horrible powdery green-blue color it was.  I usually like a lot of color in a room, but the two windows in the bedroom are filled with the leaves of one large tree, which lends the room its greenery, so I thought I would try to have it be white.  But since I like color, I also thought I’d try circles on one wall.

Here are the results:

I like it!  Sean thinks it looks a little bit like the outside of some of the crazy daycare centers we pass in the city, and I do think the colors are perhaps a tiny bit more circus than I was going for, but it pleases me on the whole.

And it pleases Posy.