Thursday, October 29, 2015


We don’t have leaves yet to rake, but we’ve been doing a lot of work outside, especially because the weather has been so nice and the mosquitoes are finally on the wane.  Owen’s back to playing on the porch, and doing things in the yard with sticks, most of which cause me to constantly chorus “Gently!”

A few Sundays ago I also planted tulip bulbs for the first time!  I had three bags of different kinds and I’m hoping that I planted at least a small proportion of them correctly.  We shall see come spring!

This next picture sequence occurred when I found a few of the weed vines attacking some of our lilacs and hydrangeas.  I told Owen, and he stood for awhile and spoke of the incident, troubled:

Susan told me about the following exchange she had with Owen during the day, when while playing with play-doh she cracked one of his plastic cups:

Susan:  Oh no!  I broke your teacup!
Owen:  And I sat here and watched it happen!
Susan:  I’m so sorry, Owen.
Owen:  I forgive you, Nanny.

Owen learned how to play the harmonica the other day and he is actually quite good.  He plays with vigor and flourish and performs little marches and dance moves while he plays.  He likes to go up in the attic and play while Sean plays his guitar up there, and Owen enjoys being bossy about the playing -- telling Sean to play quietly or loudly, or to continue or to stop.

Tomorrow he has his Halloween parade at school and we shall see how it goes!  I hope to get a few pictures!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

An Apple Picnic

Like everyone else in fall fruit mode, this past weekend we went to a nearby farm to pick apples!  This was the first time picking apples for both Sean and Owen, and both enjoyed the experience.  It took us awhile to find the apple row approved of by me, as I am a very apple-picky picker, and did not want to arrive home with a crate of macintosh apples, or the equivalent.  After a tiny bit of trudging, however, we found the rows marked Stayman Winesaps (my mother’s favorite apple!), and got to work.

Both Sean and I were rather amazed and dismayed at the amount of apples that end up lying and rotting under the trees!  But perhaps on a farm they eventually get used for something?  Or maybe they fertilize the trees themselves?  At any rate, the trees were chock full of apples, both on the branches and on the ground underneath, and Owen had a very good time picking apples and putting them into the crate for Sean to carry.

He gets the word “picking” and “picnic” mixed up, so as he walked down the rows of trees he kept talking about how we were on an apple picnic – but then we tested out a granny smith so made his words come true.

We then headed over to the pumpkin festival side of the farm, where we sampled some cider donuts, ignored the funnel cakes and deep-fried everything, and Owen got to experience his first pony ride.  He was a brave and willing cowboy.  Owen and I also went on a little train ride:

And an added bonus:  Owen, who no longer naps, fell asleep in the car on the way home!  So although we made a wrong turn and ended up going the long way, all was well, because Owen slept and then woke up happy.

Now we have a crate of apples, and a lot of plans of what to do with them.  I’m going to try some apple granola, and a recipe I’ve wanted to try for years – Rosie’s apple caramel casserole, and Sean has plans to make his first ever pie.  It turns out that someone else likes apples as well:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Owen, Dorothy, Plum, Posy

Owen adores all our pets, but these days his adoration can be a bit rough – more so than when he was a baby or young toddler.  He loves to call all our pets “A Good Girl!”, said in a weird crooning voice that he copies from us, and Plum, too, is A Good Girl – poor alpha-male Plum.  All of our pets are very good with him – sometimes too good in the face of his rough love, so we are making sure we keep an eye on all the pet lovin’ that occurs.

Owen loves to brush Posy with me, and Posy loves that too, although I have to work to get Owen not to brush Posy’s face.

Plum likes Owen the best, and will often walk up to him and claim him with a rubbing, brushing against a leg, turning around and brushing against the other leg.  Plum will also swipe Owen if need be, but generally only if he is very provoked.  Owen doesn’t hold a grudge:  he’ll just talk for a while about how Plum was feeling grumpy.

We are also trying to watch Owen and Dorothy’s interactions more, because he tends to touch her face.  And sometimes his touch tends to be more of a bonk.  The other day Owen and I took Dorothy for a walk, with Owen holding the end of the leash and me with a firm grasp on the middle.  This was a first for Owen, since because of her knee issues, Dorothy hadn’t been allowed to go on a walk in a long time.  We passed a lot of people going down our street, and Owen told everyone proudly, “We’re walking our dog!”  Then Dorothy pooped, and after I picked it up, we had the following exchange:

Owen:  That poop is dee-gustin!
Me:  Well, it’s not so bad.
Owen:  It’s dee-gustin!
Me:  Well, it’s okay – everybody poops.
Owen:  Everybody poops on the street!
Me: --

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Wrath Galore

I am still finding age 3 to be a bit of a trial.  There’s so much fighting!  And anger!  Seriously, Owen will get angry at me five times within fifteen minutes, and each time there is a bit of spitting/raspberry blowing (which is hard not to laugh at), and hitting (ditto), and hair-pulling (not as funny).  And then he’ll get stuck in fight mode and start fighting no matter what my response is – that is, even if I agree with him, he gets mad at me and tells me to Go To Work.  By Yourself.  He’ll also say, “You’re not my friend!” and “I don’t like you anymore!”  Oh woe!  He mostly can get re-directed away from his disappointments, but in addition to being 3, he’s also a stubborn fellow, so sometimes it is hard to get him off-topic. 

He likes to make piles of his toys, and woe be it to the person who tries to clean up the piles before he is done, which is basically never.  He will clean up his own mess if he’s in the mood, although it is more fun for him to deconstruct said pile and re-build it in another room.

When his anger reaches a critical peak, he’ll tip over into regret and start crying for semi-real and ask for “a Mom Hug” (no longer a Mommy Hug!).  Then he’ll tell me, “I sorry” a few times, while we hug, and then in a few minutes it will start all over again.

I suppose on the flip side of 3 are the loving moments, and the hilarious things he says, and excuses he’ll come up with (when I started to clean up one of his piles the other day he told me I couldn’t because it was “for Daddy’s birthday” (which happens to be in January; nice try, kid)).  He’s very imaginative, and he’s started asking the equivalent of “why” questions, although his tend to be, “What are bears for?”  “What do bugs do?” 

I’m very fond of the little fellow, of course, but it will be nice to make it to the other side of this period of wrath!

After I wrote the above, I had two housebound weekends in which all went quite well, for the most part.  But basically when I think of 3, I think of the nursery rhyme:  “And when she was good, she was very, very good.  And when she was bad, she was horrid.”  That is 3 in a nutshell.  I’ll be at my wit’s end, and then Owen will say (his new favorite phrase):  “I love you with all my heart.”  (I don’t know where he heard this phrase – perhaps a book?)  He will then follow it up with a list of what he loves to do with me, which always starts with:  “I love to make chocolate with you!... I love to make cookies with you!....  I love to play trains with you!....”  etc.  It is very sweet.  (I don’t think we’ve ever “made chocolate”, for the record, but all lists of love items start with chocolate.)  It is always tempest, followed by the eye of the storm, followed by tempest.  And hurricane season ends at age 4, right?  Right?!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pumpkin Cookies!

Last Saturday Sean had to work again and had to take our only car with him.  Owen and I were more or less stuck in the house because of Hurricane Joaquin, so I turned to food to keep us entertained.  I purchased a pumpkin cookie-cutter, and then let Owen choose a few other cookie-cutters from the eclectic collection I inherited from my Aunt Elsie:  for the record, Owen chose a dachshund, an airplane, and a hammer.

I made the dough the night before, and then Owen and I rolled the dough, cut it with the cookie cutters, and baked the cookies.  This mostly proceeded apace – although I got peevish at first when the dough was too sticky, and then Owen kept using the hammer cookie-cutter as, well, a hammer, and hammering the dough with it.  But once we made it past these hurdles, we made three cookie sheets of large cookies.

And then we made a lovely glaze and dyed it orange and iced the cookies.  Owen was in charge of the sprinkles, and he was very, very pleased to have the task of not only throwing tiny balls on to cookies, but being encouraged to do so.  He chortled with glee:

Later in the day, we got out our Halloween decorations and decorated the mantle.

Susan and Owen on Tuesday turned one of our pumpkins into a bat:

We are getting ready for the holiday!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

September 2015 Book Reviews

The Speechwriter:  A Brief Education in Politics by Barton Swaim.  This book had me laughing out loud on the train for several days.  Swaim was the speechwriter for Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina who disappeared a few years ago claiming to be hiking on the Appalachian trail, only to have ended up in Brazil with his mistress.  He became infamous for this, as well as the bizarre non-apologetic apology press conferences he held once caught, and then went on to run for and win a SC State Representative contest.  The man has problems, and the mistress was the least of it.  He was a crazy dictator to work for, and Swaim’s descriptions of trying to guess what he wanted in his speeches, and to guess what was making him unhappy with the speeches, are truly funny.  Sanford treats all his employees (all young, because he refused to pay real salaries) as non-entities; he seemed to know nothing about any of them on a personal level.  There’s a hilarious scene where Swaim is riding in a car with him, and Sanford keeps tossing discarded items in his face from the front seat – not out of animosity, in particular, but just because once he was done talking to Swaim about an upcoming speech, it was as if Swaim was no longer there.  I enjoyed this book very much until perhaps the last chapter, in which Swaim tries to justify why he worked for Sanford pre-crisis.  At the end of a book in which Sanford is rightly portrayed as a buffoon (not necessarily a stupid buffoon, but his intelligence makes his buffoonery all the more inexcusable), Swaim tries to claim Sanford as a righteous pragmatist who was right about most issues – and fails in his justification for remaining beholden to such a horrible boss.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  This book is a gem:  all the fuss it’s been getting for the past year is deserved.  It is about two teenagers, Werner Pfenig, and Marie-Laure LeBlanc, whose lives intersect for a few hours in occupied St. Malo during WWII.  It becomes clear early on that their fates are intertwined, but the majority of the novel is getting the two from childhood to that point.  Werner is an orphan and a kind of radio/engineer prodigy, whose talents get claimed by the third reich.  Marie-Laure is blind with a father who works as a locksmith in the “key pound” of a museum in Paris.  When the Germans invade France, he is sent out of the city with a valuable diamond – or a replica of it – to keep safe.  The diamond has a history of saving its owner while cursing all who are close to its owner.  The story moves steadily on, and most of it is utterly delightful.  Doerr is very talented at striking the right pace and providing the exact right amount of detail.  It’s charming without being twee, and disturbing without being wretched.  It’s an excellent novel.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  I did not like this book at all: it was a slog to read.  It’s about a young twentysomething, Clay, who gets a job in a very strange bookstore in San Francisco.  Most of the books available there are not for sale, and are for the exclusive use of a kind of secret brotherhood dedicated to uncoding the 16th century tome of Manutius, a man who allegedly discovered the key to immortality.  Sloan aims for whimsical and slightly grown-up Harry Potter-dom, but his writing is dreadful (at one point the two characters “crack open” a piece of falafel, and at another point, when Clay is trying to disguise a new book for an old one, he realizes the new one isn’t dusty, so picks up some dust from the shelf and “sprinkles” it on to the new book.  With his fingers.  Does dust sprinkle?!), he’s often sexist, and the whole google connection was tiresome (because he is twentysomething, and because he has a crush on a google exec, Clay uses the google super-computers to try to solve the code).  The book got a lot of really good reviews, which amaze me.  Although there are elements of the story that were interesting, the book was dreadful from start to finish.  Seriously.  Don’t read this.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen.  I’ve been a big fan of Franzen’s novels since Strong Motion in 1992, and think he is a one of the best writers out there today.  He can write about anything and make it interesting, and this skill of his is still going strong.  I didn’t, however, think Purity was a great book, as a whole, although I did enjoy reading it.  I’ll begin with the problems, which are that a lot of it seemed exercise-y to me and without the urgency that a truly superb novel contains all throughout.  That is, I feel like he mapped out the novel and then would sit down to write the backstory of this character, and then write the story of that character, and then fit them together.  I was happy each night to read this backstory, but there was a missing element somewhere.  The parts all fit into the whole, but for me they didn’t really come together, beyond how they fit into the plot.  Alchemy was missing.  He did a good job with the main character, Pip Tyler, who is quirky and smart and haphazard and always does the unexpected.  His portrayal of Anabel, however, was unsettling, and not in the way that it was meant.  He definitely is “mean” to Anabel, and almost makes her a caricature because of emphasizing her horrible faults, yet at the same time he forgives Tom for joining in with Anabel for so long.  A woman character is certainly allowed to be horrible, but there was something in the way he created her which made me uncomfortable, and uncomfortable at Franzen’s expense, not mine as a reader.  In general, his writing is so relaxed and interesting and smart, though, and I was happy to follow along and see where the book would take me next. 

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny.  This is Penny’s 13th Chief Inspector Gamache mystery, and I had originally planned not to read it.  I mostly enjoyed the first twelve, but almost all of the books take place in the same small town of Three Pines in between Quebec and the border, and with the same cast of characters, and it seemed to me to be mostly played out.  But then I saw some good reviews and was feeling warm and fuzzy towards the books and decided I would Continue.  And it IS a fairly good mystery, although I also think my original instincts were correct – that I’m done with the series.  One of the problems I’ve had with all of the books is that I feel like Penny likes her characters a little more than the reader can – especially Armand Gamache.  He’s smart and interesting and flawed, but at some point his portrayal becomes a kind of hero worship or crush, and it gets to be too much.  Yes, we know, he loves his wife!  He likes poetry and good food at the bistro!  He’s smarter than his enemies give him credit for being!  At least there is not a lot of Clara in this book, a character who only ever is mentioned as being messy to the point of always having food in her hair.  Yes, in her hair.  Because it is so hard to not spill food in one’s hair and then leave it there, sigh.  Anyway, this mystery begins when a young boy is killed and a huge missile launcher is discovered – both in Three Pines.  Gamache, who now lives there and is retired, still joins in with his former subordinates to help solve the case.  It has a faster pace than some of her books, and doesn’t rely as much on the inside characters, so in that sense it is a success.  And if you enjoy her mysteries, this one is a good one.  I think it is time, however, to move on.