Thursday, January 12, 2017

But What Does She Say?

Right now we are smack dab in the middle of a phase with Owen, in which he anthropomorphizes every single object.  Which wouldn’t be so bad, really, except that he insists that we “do” the voices of the object or animal.  Pretty much non-stop.

So for example, he’ll come downstairs after his bath and freshly ensconced in footie pajamas to pick a stuffed animal (or “pet” as he calls them) to sleep with that night.  First up:  I’m instructed to make all the animals clamor, pick me!  I do.  It’s easier, trust me.  Then as we walk upstairs, Owen clutching the lucky chosen pet, he’ll ask, “And what does the cat say once I’ve chosen her?”  And believe me, I can’t just answer:  “she’s happy,” because if I do that he’ll remonstrate, “No, but what does she saaaaaaaayyyy?”  He’s not happy unless I use exact words – although thankfully enough, we don’t have to use funny voices. 

He’s also always asking us to give a narrative of what our real pets are saying about any given topic – although I suppose this one is more our fault for giving our pets speaking voices in the first place.  Since Owen has no siblings to rival against, he likes to make sure that the animals can appreciate/envy what he has or is doing.  He’ll say, “What does Posy say about the fact that I have all these Star Wars cars and made a track from them?”  To which my inside voice replies, NOTHING!  POSY COULDN’T CARE LESS ABOUT YOUR PLASTIC OBJECTS! But to which my outside  voice has to reply, “Owen is so lucky he has all those cars!  I wish I had cars.”  And then sometimes I’ll entertain myself by making Posy say, “But I’m going to take them all when he’s at school.”  And then I get him all worried.  J

On the whole, I am glad he is imaginative, and some of the “conversations” he has with the objects can be pretty funny.  And I like that he’ll always answer right back to the voice as if he is talking to the object itself, and ignoring the ventriloquist, me.  It is also a good way of imparting information, because he will always consider what is “said” and then talk about it then or later.  Other times, however, I think, get this child a human friend, stat! 


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Reviews December 2016

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso.  This is a short nonfiction book about Manguso’s daily writing in her diary, and how she didn’t feel like something had happened in her life until she had a chance to write about it.  It’s not uninteresting, but I couldn’t help but feel that the real subject is not writing in a diary but suffering from OCD, and how she became a slave to its compulsions.  She ends up not sharing any of the diary in the book, and writes well about her decision not to do so.  To me the book got interesting when she has a son at an older age and his arrival and presence interrupts her diary writing, and she no longer has the need to write obsessively.  What she writes about having a newborn I found very compelling.  And it is a quick and interesting read overall – just not always about what it is seemingly about, if you know what I mean.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante.  I’m not sure I really have anything new to say about this, the fourth and final book of her Neapolitan novels.  I stand by what I’ve written about the first three:  they are interesting and odd and I’m still surprised they were such a popular hit.  I found them all rather Proustian in that Ferrante goes over the same ground repeatedly with nuanced variation.  I enjoyed seeing the lives of Elena and Lila unfold, and I also appreciated an extensive look at female friendship – which is the main topic of the book.  However, it is an odd friendship, to be sure, and not one I’d call typical.  They don’t confide, but play off of one another, subconsciously, often mean-spiritedly, and fascinatingly.  Each one would not have been who she was without the other, but that is not necessarily a good thing.  I’m glad I read them.

Escape Clause by John Sandford.  This is the ninth Virgil Flowers book and just as fun to read as all the others.  This one was a little different in that for once, everything goes wrong for Virgil.  He arrives just as the perpetrator successfully leaves, he doesn’t get messages in time, he does a lot of waiting for nothing that happens until he leaves.  It was a fun change from the other books, and just as entertainingly written.  Two tigers get stolen from the Minnesota zoo and Virgil is assigned to try to find them before disaster ensues.  Disaster ensues.

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner.  This novel I read and loved in graduate school years ago, but hadn’t revisited since then.  I began it with a bit of trepidation, as I’m always wary of being disappointed by novels that I used to love.  And it was still quite delightful, although I must admit to now not quite understanding the ending.  It was written in the 1920’s and is about a woman, Laura, a typical spinster of the times, who when her beloved father dies is shunted off to live with her married brother and his family in London, without anyone ever asking her what she would like to do.  Ever dutiful, Laura lives there for years, an aunt to her nieces and nephew, and the kind of woman whose needs always go second to everyone else’s.  But Lolly, as she is called by her family, has an epiphany one day while buying branches at a small shop.  The shopkeeper tells her they are from his family property in the Chilterns, and Lolly immediately buys a guide book to the Chilterns and decides she will move to a village called Great Mop.  Her family is loath to “let” her leave, but she stands her ground, and ends up in Great Mop as a lodger (her brother has lost most of her large inheritance on the stock exchange as it turns out).  It is at this point that the novel becomes a little fanciful and symbolic.  Her nephew Titus comes to visit and decides to move to Great Mop too, and Lolly is so afraid of being drawn back into secondary family life that she makes a deal with the devil and becomes a witch.  It’s fun and wonderfully written; the symbolism which was so clear to me when I read it in my late twenties is a little more slippery for me now, but that didn’t take away my enjoyment of the book.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.  This is one of the funniest novels I’ve read in a long time.  I had heard it had been number one in Sweden for a very long time, so got it on my kindle and it did not disappoint.  Backman does an excellent job with Ove’s voice.  Ove is a very exacting man who does not put up with fools gladly.  He’s logical and expects everyone else to accede to his logic.  He’s the kind of guy who has driven a saab his entire life, and can understand if you are a Volvo guy, but will not talk to you if you buy a BMW or something French.  When the book begins, Ove’s beloved wife, Sonja, has died, and Ove doesn’t see how he can carry on without her.  He continues on with his daily routines and finds himself making ties with his new (and old) neighbors in ways that he wouldn’t have thought possible.  Along the way he gets adopted by a “Cat Annoyance”.  It is all very moving and hilarious and well done.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Book Reviews November 2016

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.  This was an interesting novel, although one that was emotionally difficult to read at moments.  I’ll start with the good aspects.  Flanagan did a great job of choosing what part of his characters’ stories to tell.  He is adept at honing in on the small moments in a life and showing how they become what shape a person.  This novel is mainly about Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor who joins the army and becomes a POW in WWII; he is a captive of the Japanese and is part of the work crew assigned to clear the jungle in Burma so that a railroad can go through it.  They are doing so with no tools and a riceball a day for sustenance.  He also tells the stories of other POWs, who become important in Dorrigo’s life, and he tells Dorrigo’s backstory of his childhood in the outback and a love affair he had with his uncle’s wife.  This brings me to what I did not like, which is that he goes on in too gruesome a detail about how horrible and torturous the prisoners had it.  One can argue he had to do so to a certain extent, but I think it just went on and on a little too long.  Yes!  It was horrible.  Yes!  Things were more grotesque than we could imagine.  But after reading scene after scene with amputations with no anesthesia, and people falling into latrine pits, and starving to death, and suffering pulsating ulcers with no medicine, etc., it just has the opposite effect of desensitizing one to it all.  At one point I almost stopped reading the book because of these scenes.  I also was a little troubled by the fact that the Australians were all decent folk, while the Japanese officers were horrific sadists.  Flanagan does tell the backstory of several of the Japanese officers, as well as what happened to them after the war, but it is all a little too easily black and white.  Dorrigo survives the war, but of course is forever scarred and damaged by his experiences there.  Don’t get me wrong:  Flanagan is a talented writer and gets much right.  I think parts could have been edited, however.

Sorcerer To The Crown by Zen Cho.  I enjoyed this very strange yet delightful book!  It is half fantasy/half 19th century drawing room novel, a weird combination that ultimately worked well.  It is sometime in the 1800’s and Jeremiah has just become England’s first black Sorcerer Royal, a liaison from the magic community to the rest of England.  He was the protégé of the former Sorcerer Royal, and thus came by his position honorably, but there is a lot of prejudice towards him and dissent in the ranks.  Meanwhile, Prunella is working as a teacher/servant at a school for girls with magic talent, the point of which is to teach them how to NOT use their magic powers.  Prunella, an orphan, discovers that she has been left a very powerful magical gift from her parents, and meeting up with Jeremiah fortuitously, goes to London to work out what this gift is and how she should use it.  The book is very funny and well done – Cho wrote it at 22 or 23 or some absurdly young age, and is planning it to be the first book of a trilogy.   It is odd and fun and imaginative and excellent.  I’m looking forward to books two and three.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid.  I hated this book.  It reads like a first-time pitch at an idea for a cheap horror movie, complete with young couple driving unwittingly to their doom in the night.  If you liked those movies with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, especially the first one in which two twenty-somethings try their hand at philosophical life talk, then perhaps this is the book for you.  I could barely stand it, however.  The book is told from the point of view of an unnamed woman, who is riding with her boyfriend of a few months, Jake, to meet his parents who live in a rural area.  Jake is a scientist, and seems like a good guy, but the narrator thinks the relationship has run its course and is thinking of ending things (thus, the title).  They visit the parents, and things get creepy fast.  They leave after dinner and instead of driving home, end up at an abandoned high school in the middle of nowhere.  All sorts of typical horror movie scenes play out, badly written, and then in the last few pages Reid completely changes the scenario, and we find out that the narrator was not a real person but a figment of someone’s imagination, more or less.  Of course, there are ZERO hints that this was the case as we read.  It was all very poorly and annoyingly done, and I am very surprised that it received the excellent reviews that it did.  Don’t read it.

Every Time I Find The Meaning Of Life, They Change It by Daniel Klein.  This was a small book that I thought my parents were loaning to me this summer, although it turns out they were only showing it to me and did not mean for me to abscond with it.  Oops!  Since I had it, I figured I might as well read it, and it is entertaining enough.  Klein is a philosopher who comes across an old notebook labeled “pithies,” in which he used to write down quotes from philosophers that spoke to him in some way.  He stopped writing the book in his thirties, and now in his seventies, decides to read the quotes and discuss how he feels about them all these years later.  It’s interesting, on the whole, although probably a better book to dip into now and then, rather than read from cover to cover.

Deadline by John Sandford.  I adore John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers mysteries.  There are nine so far – this one is the eighth – and all but the seventh have been absolutely delightful.  Virgil is an agent with the BCA and lives and works in small-town Minnesota mostly.  He’s a laidback kind of guy, who loves music and fishing and women, and is whip smart.  I’m not quite sure what it is about these books that I find so appealing.  The writing is understated and generally unnoticeable, as far as turns of phrase go.  But they always have such a perfect pace and unfold in interesting ways.  People underestimate Virgil, because in many ways he appears a young slacker, but Virgil just goes calmly about his business unfurling the crimes he is presented with.  I like them so much I’m wondering if I should read the “Prey” series for which Sandford is famous.  Can anyone tell me if they are any good?  At any rate, Deadline is one of Sandford’s best Virgil Flowers mysteries.  Virgil heads to Trippton, a small town on the Mississippi to do a friend a favor helping to find and bust a dog theft ring.  While there, a journalist is killed, and Virgil is assigned the case and sets out to solve the murder.  I enjoyed every minute of it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I'm Still With Her

I decided after the election that for the most part I would give myself the gift of not reading about it.  I don’t usually go the way of sticking my head in the sand, but I couldn’t bear to fill my brain with any more Trump minutiae (and everything about Trump is so very, very small).

I have read some blog entries and comments, and then a few postmortems, and I am impressed with how eloquent people have been about their shock and despair, because in the face of my own shock and despair I have been struck dumb.

Sure, I have managed to pass on the cute things my kid said – “But what about America?” and then he suggested that to cheer Hillary up we send her a toy, or maybe a cape?  “Do you think that would help?” – but my overall state is of scrambled brain, wherein my instinct becomes a primal one of wanting to compress all the words into a howl of rage.

And perhaps in this new world, a howl of rage is good currency, or at the very least a starting point.  Because this IS a new world.  There are jackals soon to be in the white house, and their minions are riding roughshod all across the country.

As is any person with a heart and a brain, I’m bothered by so much of what Trump says and what I can thus only assume he stands for.  What bothers me most though is his ignorance about…well, about everything.  In a few short months he’ll start his job as one of the most powerful people in the world, and he’ll be learning the job from scratch.  FROM SCRATCH, people.  He knows nothing about government, or other countries, or agreements, or diplomacy, or culture, and I’d venture to say he knows very little about being a successful business man either.

He’ll be learning everything as he goes, and how is that reassuring?  It seems to me the equivalence would be if I decided to be a doctor, and then my first day of learning to be one was not in medical school but as the chief surgeon of a large hospital.  Good luck to all my patients! 

I’ve been voting for presidents for thirty years and have voted for the winner four times and the loser four times, but this loss is different. 

It’s been a week and I still walk around feeling like we have fallen through the looking glass and everything is askew.  I am heartened by all that people are beginning to do to fight back and to not let Trump’s lyrics become the song of this country, and I think we all need to join in.  In time, perhaps, we’ll even feel good enough to manage a shoulder shimmy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Book Reviews October 2016

The Timewaster Letters by Robin Cooper.  This is a little comic gem that I had put on my kindle a few years ago and then kept putting off reading.  Cooper writes funny yet seemingly serious letters to real organizations and then continues the correspondence until the other side no longer writes back (upon which he stamps “END OF CORRESPONDENCE” on the letter).  It is all mostly spoofy things, such as writing to an aerial photography association to see if they would have any interest in his picture collection of TV aerials.  When they politely write back saying he has misunderstood, and they are a group that does photography from above, then he writes back to see if they want any of his aerial photographs of aerials, etc.  It’s a short read on the whole, and strangely enough, the gag gets funnier as he goes along.  I was smirking in the beginning and sort of outright guffawing towards the end, partly because he gets in the groove and partly because you get so you know what he will say next but don’t think he actually will say it.  But then of course he does.  At some point in a correspondence, too, he will always propose a meeting, and it was funny to see how frantic the other person would become in his/her desire to NOT meet with this loon.  It’s amusing.

Penelope by Rebecca Harrington.  This was a slightly quirky first novel that my sister sent me to read.  Penelope is an odd girl who is beginning her first year at Harvard.  At first I found her oddness a bit offputting, but eventually she began to grow on me.  She’s a strangely literal person who didn’t have close friends growing up and really hopes to remedy that in college.  She has a mother who consistently gives her bad advice as to how to go about making friends, and she is thrown together with a group of unlike-minded fellow first-years, including two nightmare roommates.  The book is basically a comedy about one’s first year in college, and read as such it is relatively successful.  Penelope ends up in a horrible play, because she can’t figure out how to get out of doing it.  She gets a crush on a worldly upper-classman who uses her, and she does her best to shake off some of her dorm-mates whom she really does not like. It’s better than I’m making it out to be:  what’s good about it in particular is Harrington’s creation of Penelope as an odd bird with a good heart who is always herself in every situation.  As her classmates try on different personas and attitudes, she always states things as she sees them, and in Harrington’s hands this becomes a charming trait.  I’d be interested in seeing what she writes next.

The Trespasser by Tana French.  Tana French’s sixth novel came out at the beginning of the month and the literary world is all abuzz.  I am here to say that it is excellent, too; if you liked her previous five, you will love this one.  French is an American who has lived in Ireland for the past 26 years and her novels are all focused on the Dublin Murder Squad.  Each book focuses on a different detective as they work to solve a case (you do see detectives from previous books, although I admit to having trouble remembering which detectives I “know” and which I do not).  This book is in the first person of Detective Antoinette Conway (she and her partner Stephen Moran were in the fifth and least successful of French’s books, too).  Conway and Moran get assigned a case that looks like it will be a slam-dunk domestic murder case.  As they begin the investigation, however, the tensions from the squad keep encroaching on the case.  For example, an older detective, Breslin, is assigned to help them out, but Conway – perhaps a little paranoid – is convinced that he keeps trying to lead them down the wrong track.  The whole case is interesting, and it is also fascinating to see how Conway and Moran work together to try to get information from a witness; and at the same time they have to keep information hidden from Breslin until they work out what he is up to.  Conway is also convinced that the whole squad is trying to get her to quit, and this also adds tension to the situation.  It’s an excellent crime novel – definitely one of French’s best, and that is saying something.

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton.  This was a very surprising little gem of a novel.  It’s been on my kindle for a few years, and I no longer remember who recommended it to me – if it was you, thank you! – and I thought it delightful.  It’s short – I read it in three days of commuting – but it is simultaneously witty and weighty, and very enjoyable.  It primarily concerns three generations of women – Florence Gordon, her daughter-in-law Janine, and her granddaughter, Emily.  Florence is a feminist and scholar, and when the book begins she is 75 and finally getting the recognition she deserves (via a NY book review by Martha Nussbaum, ha!).  Florence is an outspoken curmudgeon – her interactions with people are hilarious, as she tends to say exactly what she is thinking, and what she is thinking is unexpectedly brash common sense.  She is pleased to get the recognition, but she is not going to suffer fools gladly.  Janine is a Seattle-ite psychologist who has a kind of internship position in NYC for a year.  She is enjoying being back in the city, and is beginning to have feelings toward her new boss, which is complicated since her husband, Daniel (Florence’s son), has just arrived in the city for a few months stay.  Emily is a 20 year old who is taking a break from Oberlin.  She ends up doing research work for her grandmother and wins her grudging and silent respect.  The tone of the novel is really excellently done – Morton gets it exactly right.  All the characters are likeable and interesting.  The book itself reminded me a bit of Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf herself is quoted occasionally throughout the book – although not from that novel in particular), only without the depression.  It’s as if Clarissa Dalloway had courage and opportunity as a young girl, and perhaps a Xanax or two as an older one.  I highly recommend it.

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle.  I think I might have read this book a long time ago, as it seemed very familiar to me.  I read it this time after reading somewhere that it is J. K. Rowling’s favorite novel, so was curious.  It is written in the first person voice of Paula Spencer, a woman who has had a hard past twenty years to put it mildly.  She married Charlo, who then beat her mercilessly.  When the book begins, Paula has just found out that Charlo was killed by the police in a kidnapping and robbery.  Paula had kicked him out a year hence, but in her grief she is going over all that happened in her life from her childhood on.  The best thing about the book is her very distinctive and very charming voice.  Doyle also explores memory in interesting ways – Paula is never quite sure of the validity of what she remembers.  She’ll tell about the same incident several times, and she is always trying to get one of her sisters, Carmel, to agree with her that they had a happy childhood and good parents.  Carmel very much remembers it otherwise.  It’s very well done, and also depressing.  Paula was a smart girl with endless optimism and she was turned into an old before her time beaten alcoholic.  She finally does the right thing when Charlo starts to turn on their eldest daughter, Nicola.  It is a skillful and difficult book.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton.  I am really not the best audience for this book, as I tend to be a bit skeptical of getting in touch with one’s inner warrior, and other such self-help dictums.  But GDM can certainly tell a good story and she can write.  The book is basically what happens five years ago when she discovers that her husband has been unfaithful.  At this point in time, she was a very popular blogger and author of another book, and her marriage was part of her image on which she made her living.  So she had more at stake in it then some.  She then realizes that she needs to rehabilitate herself, and dives into an exploration of all her issues, beginning with raging bulimia at age 10, alcoholism in her teens and twenties, and a general self-image problem.  It is easy to get swept into all this when you read, because as I mentioned above, she has talent.  But as I also mentioned above, I tend towards skepticism, and a lot of her story just didn’t ring “true” to me.  I feel like she exaggerates and bends a lot to make the story powerful.  This book is an Oprah pick and there is a lot written about it at the moment, so I also discovered while I was in the middle of reading the book that her marriage – which in the book she is repairing – had just ended before her book tour.  And although she tells Oprah that her journey was never about repairing the marriage, but about both she and her husband repairing themselves, to me their impending divorce does ruin a bit what is happening in the book.  At any rate, I can certainly understand why some love the book and I think it is worthy of the attention it has been receiving; it is just not my kind of thing.

Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante.  I am still slowly reading Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet.  This was the third book and I liked it better than the first two – partly, I think, because Elena and Lila are finally adults and their trials and triumphs more interesting.  It is definitely more of the same though.  Each women achieves in her own way, but each success and failure is inextricably intertwined with what the other is doing.  It’s surprising that Ferrante is able to make this interesting, and I can’t quite put my finger on why it is.  And I do also admit that at times for me it isn’t – I do get tired of Elena always getting pulled back into the goings-on of the neighborhood.  I wanted her to escape.  Ferrante gets this kind of a friendship exactly right though, and it isn’t something that you see much in literature.  I am going to read the fourth one right away now without taking a break.

Simple Matters: Living With Less and Ending Up With More by Erin Boyle.  I have mixed feelings about this book.  It is a lot like what Boyle writes about in her blog, Reading My Tea Leaves, which I enjoy.  She is a practitioner of minimalist living, and writes in book and blog about simplifying one’s surroundings and getting rid of the clutter.  She is similar to Marie Kondo but without the whimsy and charm.  There’s a part of me that is attracted to this lifestyle, but I can’t help but feel that the elephant in the very sparsely furnished room that never gets addressed is CONTROL.  Minimalists basically have control issues, and they appease them by controlling everything that comes in and goes out of their living spaces.  So whereas Boyle writes about it as an aesthetic and ethical choice – and I believe that it is both – I think it is also dishonest to not address the control aspect of what she gets out of her choices.  In a crude nutshell:  I think she and other minimalists get off on throwing things away and doing without.  I also think her lifestyle is often an aesthetic preference masked as a virtue.  She likes the whole look of endlessly neutral color, and beige linens, and everything taken out of the container they came in and decanted into mason jars, but then pats herself on the back for the morality of choosing to live like she does.  Is it hypocritical of me then to say that I think she gets a lot right?  We do have too much stuff and we can live more simply and will be happier if we do so, and Boyle’s book contains a lot of good advice about making this happen in your own life.  Just read it with a grain of salt.

Unseen by Mari Jungstedt.  This is a crime novel that I discovered on a list of best Swedish mysteries, and since I had recently finished reading the Asa Larsson books, which I love, I was hopeful I'd find a new Swedish writer I liked as well.  Jungstedt is no Larsson though.  The book was a good read -- and I think I'll read at least the next in the series -- but whereas I think Larsson is an really excellent writer, the writing in Unseen is just serviceable.  That said, it is definitely a good read with a lot of suspense.  It takes place on the island of Gotland and features Detective Anders Knutas, who remains rather an unknown quantity (not fully on purpose, I don't think).  Anyway, a woman gets murdered on the beach; they think her boyfriend did it; but then when another woman gets murdered in the same way, Knutas realizes something else is going on.  The rest of the novel is a race to figure out who is doing the killing before he kills again.  Nothing groundbreaking, but I was happy daily to return to reading it.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


I am really ready for this election to be over, assuming everything goes my way of course.  I’m really tired of the endless ads, etc., and the evidence of their pervasiveness is this:  Owen was playing with his superhero figures the other day and I heard him say:  “I am batman, and I approve this message!”  Ha!

I won’t have pictures until sometime in November, so I decided if I can’t give you photo breaks, I’ll at least give you bullets:

·         I made my third loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread last Saturday and it turned out well.  Now I’m going to move on to trying out a bread cloche I got for Christmas many years ago and forgot about.  It’s a large and heavy piece of pottery that is supposed to be good for making a peasant loaf.

·         And can I give a shout out now to King Arthur Flour?!  They are the best company.  I used their hotline the other day when I was having trouble with my bread dough, and then more recently I sent them a question in an email, because the only specific recipe I had for the bread cloche called for all white flour, which I didn’t want to use.  They got back to me within 24 hours with the proportions of wheat or rye flour I can use instead.  They have great customer service!

·         We went apple picking on Sunday and I have some cute photos which I shall have to add later.  We had to journey pretty far into the orchard to find trees with apples still on them – note to self: don’t wait until the end of October to pick your apples.  But we came home with a large box of apples and I immediately made some whole wheat apple muffins, which turned out well although I seem to be the only one in the family who is eating them.  So that is 2 apples down, about 48 to go!  I need to get my mother’s apple sauce recipe, and I think I’ll make Smitten Kitchen’s breakfast apple crisp again.

·         Owen is a Hillary supporter, of course, and Susan informed me that at Target the other day he was telling anyone who’d listen that we need to Dump the Trump.  That’s my boy!  It reminded me of the story my sister Martha tells about my nephew Henry at 5 years old lecturing 3 year-old Georgia about not shopping at Walmart because, as he screamed in her surprised face, THEY ARE MEAN TO THEIR WORKERS!  Sounds about right.

·         The weather this October has been very Jekyll/Hyde.  We had several days in the eighties last week (very odd) and now it is the low fifties (more like it).  One feels a bit battered by it all.

·         I can never get Owen to talk to me about what he did in nursery school usually.  The only time he gets very animated about it is when reporting on another kid’s transgressions.  Yesterday he told me three times that Brayden had to sit on the time-out bench for hitting the teacher.  The time out bench, in case you are wondering, is blue.  And Owen, according to Owen, has never had to sit on that bench.  Let’s keep it that way.

·         Sean and I are both completely smitten with the British TV show “The Detectorists”.  There are two seasons available on Netflix and it is a complete gem.  We both watch each episode with goofy grins on our faces.  It is so funny!  And so well-done.  I’m adding it to my list of the best TV shows ever, after Buffy, Star Trek:TNG, and Sex and the City.  How about that for an eclectic pairing?

·         I got Luisa Weiss’s (The Wednesday Chef) much anticipated new cookbook last week, Classic German Baking.  It’s a beauty, but I realized upon eagerly paging through it that I didn’t want to so much cook the items myself, as be served them all, one after the other.  Any takers?  I do plan to attempt many items, slowly.  I hadn’t realized there was a difference between European and American butter, but there is – and guess which one is better?!  Luckily, one can get Irish Kerrygold butter at Trader Joe’s, which should do the trick.  There’s also yeast differences, vanilla extract differences, and the fact that a main ingredient in some German concoctions, quark, is not readily available here.  Plus I’m not sure where to buy fresh poppy seeds, and do I really need a poppy seed grinder?  The jury is still out.

Bread, Second Attempt

I decided for my next attempt at a loaf of whole wheat bread I would try a King Arthur flour recipe that received rave reviews online.  The ingredients were a little bit odd – nonfat dry milk, instant potato flakes, orange juice, amongst others – but I trust King Arthur’s.

On Saturday then I mixed the ingredients together and set my old kitchenaid mixer to kneading, and the dough – instead of looking like a ball – looked like streusel topping.  It was very frustrating!  It would go together in a ball when I pushed it so with my hands, but the minute the dough hook started kneading it again it would return to its streusel format.  Owen came into the kitchen at this point, because he likes to share in the anger.  I roared; he roared.  I stamped my foot; he stamped his.  I called my mother and she did not answer her phone.  But then I noticed that the recipe had King Arthur’s baking hotline number printed on it!  How convenient!

I called it and talked to a nice woman who informed me that I measured the flour incorrectly – I scooped instead of spooning the flour into the cup.  Apparently when you scoop you get too much flour in, because it isn’t aerated properly.  She suggested I keep adding tablespoons of water until it came together, and then also to let it sit for thirty minutes so that the whole wheat flour can start breaking down.  I did both and it worked!

While I had her on the phone, I also asked why the recipe seemed to omit the punching down between the two risings – the best part of making bread according to my four year old.  She informed me that one now no longer punches bread dough (alas!) but just releases the air while shaping it into a loaf.

Anyway, it rose beautifully twice and cooked well, and other than having a bit of trouble getting it out of the pan (note to self:  don’t take it literally when instructions say to “lightly grease”), the loaf was quite respectable and tasted delicious.  It was so good, that Owen had a slice as a snack, and even requested it again at dinner, without even needing it to be slathered with butter!

I shall attempt it again – perhaps next Saturday so I can take advantage of the orange juice I bought for my first attempt.  If anyone is interested in trying it, it’s King Arthur Flour’s “100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread.”