Monday, February 12, 2018

Star Wars Valentines

Owen is all about Star Wars right now, so when I saw Star Wars valentines in the store a couple of weeks ago, I bought them without examining them too closely.  Yesterday we got them out so that he could address them to his friends, and I realized that they didn’t have envelopes, and the spot where he had to write the names was a relatively small circle. 

I talked him into not attempting to write his classmates’ names (they are up to letter Q in pre-K so he can mostly write A-Q, but a) not small and b) if he forgets how a letter goes he tends to just make it up with a few extra squiggles), and to just concentrate on writing O-W-E-N in the small “from” circle allotted.

Luckily we had a lot of extras so there was room for error.  He can write a respectable OWEN when he is in the mood, but this was the first time he had to write twenty Owens in a row.  He did a good job, despite all my nagging (he doesn’t yet understand that he really has to write the four letters in a particular order, and thus didn’t understand why O-E-N with a W fit in randomly underneath or on top or on the side might be a little cryptic to a beginning reader; he also likes to experiment with new ways of “holding” the pen.  Sigh.)

Here are some of the outtakes that didn't make the cut:

And then since we had extra, he wanted to write a valentine to his favorite cat, Posy.  He brought it upstairs and put it on her main bed on the sink, so that she could find it next time she settled there:


I’m sure Posy was pleased.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

January 2018 Book Reviews

The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths.  My friend recommended Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway mysteries to me (thanks, Judith!) and I very much enjoyed the first two.  In fact, when I finished the first I went right on to the second, and was tempted to move on to the third as well; I’m going to see if my library has the rest.  Ruth is an archaeologist who specializes in bones and lives on the edge of a salt marsh in which she had her first successful dig.  She’s an academic who teaches at the nearby university in Norfolk.  In the first book, she is contacted by a detective, Harry Nelson, who has found some child’s bones in the saltmarsh and thinks they might be those of a child who went missing a few years ago.  When Ruth examines the bones, however, they are from the iron age – her area of expertise.  She and Nelson become friends of a sort, and she gets involved in his investigations, often sharing in his discoveries and in the danger.  They are quick reads – there’s not a huge amount of detail, but they are interesting and fun, and Ruth is refreshing.  She’s single and chubby and is happy to spend an evening with her books, her wine, and her cats.  It was also interesting to hear what Ruth explains about the iron age and the accompanying myths and ways of the area.

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry.  This was a moody and sad read, yet was hard to put down.  The book begins with Nora taking the train out to the English countryside to visit her sister, Rachel, with whom she is very close.  When she gets there, she discovers Rachel’s gruesomely murdered body.  She stays in the town in a state of shock and works with the police to try to figure out who killed Rachel.  Soon some of the police begin to treat Nora herself as a suspect.  It’s a really moving exploration of grief and jealousy and the complex relationship between siblings.  I highly recommend it.

Shrill by Lindy West.  Lindy West started writing editorials for the New York Times a few months ago, and I’ve been very much enjoying what she has to say, so I thought I’d read her book of essays.  She is wonderful at conveying her viewpoint:  her arguments are always really impressive and clear and biting and funny.  I found that I’m more interested in her political topics than I am in the topics of this book, however, which were basically fat acceptance/pride, and misogyny in comedy.  The essays were also biographical, and that aspect I enjoyed.  She is appealingly witty.

The Dry by Jane Harper.  This was a good read; it’s a thriller/mystery that takes place somewhere in the country outside of Melbourne, Australia.  Aaron Falk returns to his hometown when his childhood best friend is thought to have killed his wife and son and then himself.  His friend’s parents don’t believe that he did this, and since Aaron works as a policeman with an expert in financial matters – and Luke, the friend, was having financial difficulties – his parents think Aaron might be able to discover the truth.  Aaron starts working off the record with the local policeman, who also suspects something is amiss.  There’s a lot of going back and forth from the past to the present.  It’s a very backwoods place, and Aaron and his father were driven out of the town due to the death of a friend of his when he was a teen, so a lot of people are upset that he is back.  It’s interesting, suspenseful, and well-conceived.

Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo.  I thought I had read this before, and was re-reading it so that I could go on to read the newer Everybody’s Fool, but as it turns out, this was my first time reading it.  I had gotten it mixed up with either Bridge of Sighs or Empire Falls.  At any rate, it’s a very “old-school” kind of novel about a small town in upstate New York that has fallen on hard times (in the eighties).  The main character is Sully, who was played by Paul Newman in the movie (which my sister tells me I saw with her, but I also have no memory of.  I think I need to start taking some gingko biloba).  Sully is a charismatic man in his sixties who lives hand to mouth and is both lovable and highly exasperating.  He rents some rooms from the elderly Beryl Peoples, a retired 8thgrade teacher, with an acerbic wit.  It’s a very long book that takes place only over two or so weeks.  Sully goes about his days and we meet everyone he comes across.  I looked forward to reading my daily 25 or so pages and joining Sully in his world.  Now I’m on to Everybody’s Fool.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Book Reviews December 2017

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers.  This was an interesting novel and I really like Dave Eggers’s writing—he has such an unique turn of phrase, and he is always very wry and funny.  It’s not a happy novel, and I did spend an inordinate amount of time hoping for the narrator to find happiness – even if doing so would have made no sense to the story.  It’s about Josie, who is having a crisis of sorts.  She’s a dentist but she got sued by a patient who had cancer she thought Josie should have detected, so she ends up selling her practice, and taking her two young children on an adventure in a camper van in Alaska.  She is fleeing from suburbia, definitely, and the materialism that is so often attached to it.  She isn’t sure, however, what she is fleeing to.  The book then consists of the adventures that Josie and her children, Paul and Ana have.  Although they are nominally in Alaska, they really could be in any kind of semi-wilderness: the novel doesn’t strike me as being very specific to place.  And often one wants Josie to snap out of it and be a better parent to her clearly very worried son.  But on the whole I found it unusual and interesting and funny.  Josie’s quest is an important one, and although she is disorganized and klutzy in its execution, she is on track by dint of being on a trek.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  This book was recommended to me by my niece and I enjoyed it.  It was made into a movie, too, and I can see how a movie would be good.  It reads as a comedy, mostly, although the topics are serious.  Madame Michel is the main character, but the chapters switch back and forth from her point of view, to a 12 year old girl, Paloma.  Madame Michel is the  concierge in an apartment building in Paris.  She is a self-taught intellectual, but pretends to be stupid so people will leave her alone.  One day a new tenant moves into the building, a wealthy Japanese man, and when he makes a reference to War &  Peace, Madame Michel mistakenly responds.  She tries to then cover up her intelligence, but Mr. Ozu is on to her, and sets about trying to catch her out.  Meanwhile, Paloma is a smart, quirky girl who has decided that on her next birthday she shall commit suicide and burn the place down, because people are phony and this phoniness is unbearable.  Soon Paloma and Mr. Ozu join forces and befriend Madame Michel.  It is all very funny and well-observed. 

Plot 29: A Love Affair With Land by Allan Jenkins.  This is a very interesting, poignant, and well done memoir by Allan Jenkins who writes for The Guardian and is a foodie (I think he has a cookbook).  He has a garden plot in London and started to write about a year of his gardening life, and ended up writing about his childhood and the search for his biological parents.  His childhood is a mix of nice and very grim:  he spent most of the first five years in a home or in foster care, as his mother wouldn’t care for him.  He and his older brother, Christopher, are finally taken in by a childless couple in the countryside, but they end up never officially adopting the kids and then trying to get rid of both in their midteens.  He is reunited with various family members over the years and makes some very interesting discoveries as to who his parents were and what was going on with them.  This is all interspersed with his gardening on the plot and at a house in Denmark.  His memoir parts aren’t written linearly, necessarily, and sometimes I found his reluctance to explicitly state the details frustrating.  But it was an often fascinating book and a good mix of subject.

Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood.  This memoir made it to the New York Times 10 best books of 2017 list and it is really worth reading.  Lockwood is a poet and an infamous tweeter, and in her early thirties when she and her husband go to live with her parents after suffering a physical and financial setback.  Her parents are cheerily crazy – her father became a catholic priest after he was married, and went on to have five children while working full-time as a priest.  To say he is a “character” is to put it mildly.  Lockwood treats him kindly; more power to her.  The book is ostensibly about her father, but really about her childhood.  Both are interesting, but it is her writing that is the real draw.  She has an amazing and very funny way of putting things, and whereas most good books have a good paragraph here and there, with Lockwood it is really amazing sentence after amazing sentence.  Although it’s hard to not get annoyed at her while reading, it’s a phenomenal book.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman.  I really enjoyed reading Backman's A Man Called Ove, but when I had glanced at this book, it looked too similar to Ove, so I passed on it for a while.   But then I kept hearing how enjoyable it was, so I read Britt-Marie:  and it IS similar to Ove in concept, in that you have a main character who is kind of on the spectrum and set in his/her ways, and the book is what happens when those odd, yet logical, ways meet contemporary norms.  It's a fun read though.  When the novel begins, Britt-Marie has left her husband, and gotten a job for the first time at age 63.  She's a woman with great cleaning ability, yet not a lot of social graces.  This job is really her first contact with the world outside of her flat since childhood.  Britt-Marie gets a job at a recreational center in Borg, a nowhere town on a highway.  It turns out that its down-and-out citizens are just what Britt-Marie needs and vice versa.  It's lighter than Ove and a bit more grasping at straws, but if you liked Ove, you will like this book.

Bon Appetempt: A Coming of Age Story by Amelia Morris.  This is a food-oriented memoir with recipes at the end of chapters, and was an entertaining and interesting read.  Morris grows up shuttling between her parents' in Pittsburgh and Saegertown, PA and is an intense kid.  She and her husband, a high school friend, go to live in LA and try to break into the industry.  While doing so, she starts learning how to cook, and eventually chronicling her efforts in her blog, Bon Appetempt.  I came across her blog about a year ago, which is what lead me to the book -- although she no longer updates it frequently.  When she does, however, it -- like this memoir -- is worth reading.  She's a funny writer with a good ear for the important takeaway.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Let's Hope It's A Good One

Owen's writing is improving and his interest in the alphabet increasing, but he still has trouble with some letters, including mixing up his M's and W's.  It's hard to know when to write down up down up, and when to write up down up down!

Here is an art project he brought home from school with his name carefully lettered:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Is Nigh Approaching

We have been busy this December doing Christmas-y things.

We put up our tree a couple of weeks ago, and Owen was great putting all the ornaments on the bottom half of the tree.  He did have a tendency to put as many ornaments as would fit on one branch; I just figured I could move them later, but when I did, he noticed and objected!  He had three Star Wars ornaments on one branch and told me they had to stay there so they could be friends on the branch.  Well, okay then.

Here is a festive picture of Posy, having inserted herself in the Christmas tablescape:

Owen had his Christmas show yesterday, and sang for the first time in it!  When he remembered, that is.  Some of the time he did the hand motions, and jingled the bells, but never all three at once.  He was very excited to wear the red and green plaid shirt his Granny sent him:

And this picture is a bit dark here, but here is he proudly walking down with his class to perform in the front:

He is very excited for Christmas, but has oddly gained a kind of patience that he definitely didn't have last year.  We were able to put wrapped presents under the tree without them making him go crazy in anticipation.

Sometimes Sean will sing "I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus," though and Owen will turn to me in consternation and say, "You didn't, did you, Mom?"

Today I started baking some Christmas cookies, but Owen wasn't as interested in helping as in years' past.  He was too busy playing with his new Hess truck!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Book Reviews November 2017

Deep Freeze by John Sandford.  I really enjoy Sandford’s Virgil Flowers mysteries, and this most recent one was excellent.  It is Virgil at his best.  He gets called to solve a murder in Trippton, Minnesota, and in the midst of snow and negative-degree weather and many surprising turns, he slowly figures out the case.  The class of ’92 is getting ready for a reunion, and after a planning meeting a woman at the meeting, who also runs the town’s bank, is murdered.  The reader knows from the first chapter who did it, and so we just get to watch Virgil figure it out.  Virgil, as ever, is patient and calm and funny and doesn’t take himself too seriously, and it is a delightful read.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslitt.  I did not enjoy reading this book.  My main problem with it was that all the characters actively annoyed me for various reasons.  I certainly don’t need to like a character to like a book, but the only plot was really the characters, and if you can’t root for any of them, or in my case, if you actively wanted them to shut up, then it makes for a book whose ending is welcome.  The chapters switched viewpoints between five members of a family:  the father is an Englishman living in America and who is suffering from very serious mental illness.  The mother starts off interesting and stoic, but for most of the book she is just trying to help her son, Michael, who inherited the mental illness from his father. Michael is often manic in his chapters, which also tended toward the run-on stream of consciousness style.  He seemed realistic, but it was hard to read his chapters.  The youngest son, Alec, was a jerk, and Celia, the middle daughter, escaped to her own life in California, but basically that wasn’t far enough.  Michael also becomes addicted to the psychiatric medicines he is prescribed, and his addiction propels most of the events of the book.  Perhaps it would’ve been interesting for me if I liked the characters, but again:  I did not.

Good As Gone by Amy Gentry.  This was a fun, suspenseful read.  Gentry takes the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping – a younger sister seeing her older sister kidnapped out of her bedroom – and runs with it.  When the book begins, Julie, the kidnapped daughter has reappeared eight years later.  Her parents and sister, all in their own ways broken by the kidnapping, are ecstatic, but doubts begin to surface as to whether it is actually Julie or not.  We also get Julie’s experiences, chapter by chapter, going backwards for the past years.  It’s an interesting way to structure the book and it works.  It was hard to put the book down.

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker.  I loved this book.  Parker is an excellent writer and it was such a good idea to write a memoir like this.  The whole book is written as letters to the men in her life, but the “in her life” part is very all-encompassing, from obvious figures like her father, and grandfather, and lovers, and son, to more random ones like a taxi driver, and the oyster-picker who picked the oysters for her father’s last meal, and to the man that will one day fall in love with her daughter.  It was an interesting approach and her writing was beautiful – poetic and funny, and achieving the right balance of reveal.  I was surprised at how good it was and sad when it ended.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.  I did not really enjoy this book.  For me, it was too lacking in nuance, and I felt like I was being hit over the head with Picoult’s points for 500 pages.  It read like an adult version of the kid’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day.  The story is about Ruth, a labor and delivery nurse of twenty years’ standing, who has a newborn patient whose parents are white supremacists.  They do not want Ruth to touch their child, so when Ruth is the only nurse around when the baby goes into distress, she is not sure what to do.  Turk & Brittany, the white supremacist parents later sue Ruth for murder, and the hospital, despite Ruth’s years of excellent service, throws her to the wolves.  The book switches between Ruth, Turk, and Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy, a white liberal who is not aware how hard Ruth has it on a daily basis.  But this is the part that we get hit over the head with:  Ruth has to confront racism every day.  Picoult seems to think that her readers are going to be surprised by this notion, and in order to make her point, she shows non-stop how racism is everywhere.  She does not do this with any sophistication or, as I said above, nuance, and the result is a very tiresome read (although the court scenes move quickly).

Fast Falls The Night by Julia Keller.  I read the first two novels in the “Bell Elkins” series a few years ago and enjoyed them, and then recently saw that Keller had published a new one, so got it and read it without realizing that it was actually number six in the series (and that several of the middle numbers were divided between two or more books).  So I read 6 after 1 and 2, and didn’t realize this until I had finished 6.  I could tell there were references to things that I didn’t know, but it didn’t interfere with my mild, pleasant enjoyment of this book.  I think I will mosey to the library to get the middle volumes, but not with any sense of urgency.  Bell Elkins is confronted with an astonishing amount of overdoses and works hard with the sheriff and deputies to try to get the word out that there is a tainted batch of heroin in the town.  She runs into people’s prejudice against drug addicts and interfering in their self-destruction, etc.  Bell’s sister, Shirley, is in this book, and she keeps trying to reveal a secret to Bell.  Basically if you want a nice little crime drama that takes place in the mountains of West Virginia and involves a small town’s depressing battle with heroin, then this is the book for you. 

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson.  I loved this perfect, strange little novel.  I’ve always heard of Shirley Jackson but this is the first book of hers that I read – thanks to my sister, Martha, for the recommendation and loan of it.  It’s a gothic tale about two sisters, Constance and Mary Katherine, who live with their senile Uncle Julian in a large country house outside of a village.  When the book begins, Mary Katherine is doing one of her twice weekly trips into the village for food and library books, and is hoping to do so unnoticed by the villagers, who when they do notice her, are unkind.  We soon learn that Merricat’s (as she is called by her sister) family was murdered by arsenic in their sugar, and Constance was accused and acquitted of the murder, yet the villagers still think she is guilty.  So the three of them live a secluded life, with Constance cooking and gardening, and Merricat, an eccentric 18 year-old, perhaps on the spectrum, going on long adventures in the woods with her cat, Jonas.  It’s perfectly written and perfectly structured: as the reader you slowly learn the truth of what is going on, while becoming completely on the side of the sisters.  It’s odd and funny and sad and full of tension, and extremely well-done.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Owen Flotsam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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