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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Breakfast Hit and Miss

Back in my childfree days when my commute to work was a ten minute walk, and my morning routine included time enough to talk to Martha on the phone while I enjoyed my coffee, I often would make steel cut oats for breakfast.  But then things changed, as things are wont to do, and I had Owen and a commute that included catching a train, and there was much less time for breakfast in general, let alone cooking it for thirty minutes on the stove.  I don’t like instant oatmeal though, or even quick oatmeal—too gloppy -- so I’ve long been on a quest for another healthy breakfast.  One gets tired of yogurt.

I’ll begin with the miss first.  I read a lot of food blogs and every time I would read about overnight oats (sometimes called Swiss Oatmeal?), it would seem like a great idea to me.  Oatmeal that you make the night before by mixing it with yogurt and milk and a few other ingredients and letting it sit overnight to be all ready the next morning with no further preparation necessary?  Count me in.  So over the past few years I’ve tried about six overnight oats recipe and each has been more horrible than the next.  It turns out I don’t want to find yogurt in my oatmeal, and the whole cold mushy mix (no matter if it is served in a twee jar layered with fruit and nuts) is horrid.  A few weeks ago I hopefully tried a slightly different recipe and when I pronounced it inedible the next day, I decided enough with overnight oats.

But then I decided to jump on the chia pudding train!  Chia seeds are easy to procure these days (Trader Joes even has them), and are filled with Good Nutrients (I read), and of course, they had me at “pudding”.  I’m a big fan of desserts masquerading as breakfast or vice versa, so I gave them a try.  And at first my attempt was a failure – whatever I tried always ended up runny, like a seeded beverage.  Ick.  But I kept trying, and I tinkered, and finally found the right proportion of ingredients, which are:

·         1 can of whole coconut milk (has to be whole fat; I tried the low fat kind and it doesn’t work)
·         ½ cup of chia seeds
·         1 tsp vanilla
·         ¼ cup of maple syrup.

Just whisk those four ingredients together the night before and then the next day – voila!  A nice thick, healthy breakfast pudding, with four servings.  Of course, I’ve been eating it for about two months now and am ready for a change – but I do recommend it.

Owen wants nothing to do with the chia pudding...yet.
Here he is eating "space chocolate" in his rocket ship.

Friday, April 22, 2016


Tulips are my favorite flower, followed closely by blue hydrangeas.  We’ve planted a hydrangea bush each summer we’ve been at this house, so last fall I finally got my act together and ordered some tulip bulbs.  Sean also bought a bag of surprise tulips at Lowes, along with a little bulb planter tool, and one nice day in October I planted about sixty bulbs somewhat willy nilly in our front yard garden beds.

I might have mentioned in entries past about how I am not a natural gardener.  I cannot look at a plant, like my father does, and know what it needs—more water, sun, trimming, what have you.  I have no plant instinct.  In the almost four years we’ve been at our house, I have practiced my weeding, and have worked up some skills at taking horrible predator vines off of plants and trees, but I’m still on the very beginner side of beginner gardening.  I realized this winter that there is another way that my temperament doesn’t match up well with gardening, and that is because I have become, in my old age, a worrier.  And so what did I do when we had a strangely warm December that caused the bulbs to start growing?  I worried! I worried all through January as they inched higher, and February as they inched higher still.  And then I worried in early April during our freak snowstorm.

And then I kept seeing rabbits in our front yard and started worrying that they’d eat the flower heads.  (They didn’t with the tulips, but might have done with the daffodils?)  At any rate, despite my worrying, the tulips look lovely, if a bit in need of some weeding:

Our backyard woodchuck was late in reappearing after her hibernation.  I didn’t see her until April, and then the second time she appeared, Dorothy, all primed to chase cats from our yard, forgot that she is friends with the woodchuck and chased her back under the shed with her bulldogge fangs a millimeter from the woodchuck’s derriere.  Sigh.  I haven’t seen the woodchuck since, although I did give her a few apples as a peace offering.  She likes them cut into quarters and left outside of her main hole.  I’m hoping she does not hold a grudge.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Heroes For Days

For the past month, Owen’s vast collection of Thomas trains have remained in their basket, while his toys of choice are his large (Avenger?) superheroes and the small ones with big feet (for easy standing on surfaces).  He plays with them for hours per day, and the play usually involves groups of them fighting with other groups.  He always wants us to play with him too, although I like to annoy him by having my assigned superhero (usually the Hulk) request that everyone sit down and talk about their feelings.

Sometimes his affection towards his heroes coincides with his affection for his toy kitchen and foods, and then we get a moment like this one below, where all of the heroes are having a picnic (note one has a delicata squash on his lap).

Sean has also brought home a few large boxes from work so that he and Owen can build a rocket ship and go on missions.  I often come down to the living room to see this scenario: 

Poor Dorothy is assigned the role of Space Monkey, who attacks the ship and gets battled.  When the ship is quiet, it will attract a smaller space explorer, like so:

Ground control to Major Tom!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Recent Owenisms

When it was still winter, I would have to urge Owen to go outside in the cold with me for some exercise.  Apparently he was listening to what I said, since one day when we asked if Sean wanted to come and Sean said no, Owen said to him:  “You don’t want to turn into a blob, Dad!”  And:  “don’t you want roses in your cheeks?”

We were on a walk one day with Owen in the stroller and were talking politics. 
Owen: What are you talking about, guys? 
Me: Government and money.
Owen: The Government?  Are those the bad guys?
Me: --

Owen can be a bit of a klutz these days (let’s face it, he comes by it naturally, since I myself can barely go through a doorway without hitting one side of it).  When he hurts himself, he doesn’t want us to kiss the hurt or anything like that.  No, he wants us to scold the object that hurt him.  He’ll say, Mommy!  Tell that bush not to hurt OwenMartinGares!  And then when I do, he’ll prompt:  Tell it, “Owen is my little buddy!”  And I do.

One of his favorite outside games is to play “Shiver Me Timbers” on the back deck.  He pretends that he’s a pirate and the back deck is his pirate ship.  Dorothy, who is often lying in the grass chewing a stick, is the shark that might attack the ship and steal the treasure.  This was fine until one day I went in for water and came back out to see Owen chasing Dorothy with his large plastic bat, trying to smash the shark.  Sigh.

I was getting Owen ready for his bath one night and gave him a little pat on the butt in the direction of the bathroom.  Owen started lecturing me:  “The teacher says, keep your hands to yourself, Mom!  Keep your hands to yourself!  Unless you are going to hug and then you can use your hands.”  Well alrighty then; good to know.

I have a book which I read to Owen on occasion about a little boy raven named Edgar who always is telling his parents, “Nevermore!”  Sometimes I wonder if Owen is paying attention to my reading, as more often than not while I am doing so, he is jumping on the bed and/or bouncing around his room.  But I know some things sink in, because when he gets mad now he will bellow at us, “NEVER!!!” in the same tone I use to have Edgar say, “Nevermore!” 

I’ve always said that I’d like to raise Owen to be a chivalrous feminist, and I’d say we are headed in the right direction, as he is very protective of his mother.  He likes to chatter (nonstop) about how Dorothy is a guard dog, and he, Owen, is my guard boy.  Sometimes Dorothy’s a watchdog and Owen a watchboy.  This pleases me until he starts talking about punching burglars in the face and then I feel we have to tone things down a notch.

We were reading a book about an astronaut and I said to Owen (always trying to push the Jean-Luc Picard lifestyle on the boy), maybe one day you will be an astronaut and go to the moon.  And Owen replied, “Can Mommy and Daddy come too?”  I said sure, why not.  And then he said, “Can dogs go to the moon?  Can we bring Dorothy?” 

He is VERY into action figures right now – mainly the Avengers and other superheroes.  I admit to not being able to keep track of who is who.  He also has some old green army men, and the other day he asked Sean to help him find a certain one, “the one with the thumb”.  Sean had no idea what he meant by that, and offered him a few different ones, all of which were turned down by Owen.  Owen explained further, “No, I want the one with the thumb sticking out!”  And finally, Sean realized that the one he wanted was holding and pointing a gun.  Ha!  He let him think that it was the man’s thumb.  Peace out!  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Book Reviews March 2016

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  This is the fourth Kate Morton novel I’ve read, and there definitely is a pattern to her books, but hey, I guess it’s an if it’s not broke, don’t fix it kind of thing.  Her books always switch around in time and there are generally three intersecting story lines progressing at each date.  I’ve also noticed that there are often grandparent/grandchild relationships with the mother in between a deadbeat or missing link or otherwise out of the picture.  Anyway, the main story in this one is of a four year old child who, in 1911, is discovered having arrived in Australia on a boat by herself from England.  A dock worker adopts her into his family, and all is well until she turns 21 and he tells her the truth about her origins.  This woman, Nell, then is changed by this information, and at one point in the 1970’s goes to England to try to discover who she is.  The main storyline, however, concerns Nell’s granddaughter, Cassandra, who when Nell dies discovers that Nell has left her a ramshackle cottage on the coast of Cornwall, England.  Cassandra travels to England and begins to put all the pieces together.  It’s a really fun read and interesting, and as in all her novels, everything fits. 

Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea by Guy Delisle.  This is a graphics travel memoir written by Guy Delisle, a cartoonist.  I read his Burma book and really enjoyed it, and then my friend, Elisabeth, recommended this one to me when I was excited by Barbara Demick’s Nothing To Envy.  And this is a delightful book – if you like reading graphics memoirs, then you will love Guy Delisle.  It’s an interesting way of learning about a place, and his commentary is amusing.  I also really like his drawing style and the way he draws himself in particular.  In this book he is in Pyongyang for a couple of months for a cartoon job – apparently cartoon companies often hire North Koreans to work on their films because, of course, it’s cheap labor.  As a foreigner, Delisle, who is  French Canadian (the book is translated into English), has a guide/interpreter with him at all times.  There are certain places the guide has to take him to see, and of course many others he has to prevent him from seeing.  The majority of the time he is either in his hotel or in the building where the work is taking place.  He insists on walking between the two, much to the dismay of his guide, who doesn’t understand why you’d walk if you can drive.  There are no lights on at night, because the electricity grid is so bad, and the food increases in variety only when there are more tour groups at the hotel.  And all of this is much better than I’m conveying because the drawings are so spot-on and entertaining.  Try Delisle – you will enjoy him.

The Spoilt City by Olivia Manning.  This is the second book in Manning’s Balkan Trilogy and it was just as good as the first.  Her technique is really interesting in that she tells the story – including the whole lead up to German occupation in Romania – through her characters.  And her characters are such a fascinating, motley crew!  It’s definitely comedic –her characters are funny, yet very nuanced and believable:  we all know people like Manning’s creations, much though we might prefer not to.  Once again her focus is on Guy and Harriet Pringle.  As the situation in Bucharest gets worse and worse for the English, Guy keeps trying to help his students and do the right thing, while Harriet, the more practical of the two, sees that soon they will have to leave.  Through the Pringles we see Inchcape refusing to cede British defeat, Professor Pinkrose who arrives in the midst of war to give a lecture on Chaucer, various British legation workers, Prince Yakimov, as usual waiting for “m’remittance”, etc.  It’s an excellent book and I see that the quiet fuss over Manning is well deserved. 

Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  A colleague of mine recommended this to me after her 11 year-old son had to read it for school (and all the 5th grade parents had to read it as well).  I’m not up on my children’s lit, so hadn’t heard of it, although I’ve since found out that two of my nieces read and loved it.  It’s very good!  It is about a 5th grade boy, Auggie Pullman, who has major facial deformities and has been homeschooled until now.  His parents decide that it is time for him to attend school, and the book documents his first year at a private school in NYC.  Each chapter is in the voice of a different character, so we get not only Auggie’s point of view (he has the most chapters), but his friends and sister’s.  It’s a really well-done look at bullying, but also what happens if you stand up to it right from the get-go.  Auggie has his tormenters, but he also has new friends like Summer and Jack, who are mostly on his side from day one.  It seemed realistic to me, not clich├ęd, and was very well written.

The 6:41 To Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel.  This is an interesting book that is more a novella or a long short story than novel.  Cecile and Philippe are two 47 year-olds who had a fling that ended badly when they were 20.  Life has continued, as life does, and Cecile, who was unceremoniously dumped by Philippe, has gone on to find success with her own business.  She looks better than she did at 20, has a husband and a grown daughter, and has just visited her parents in a suburb outside of Paris.  She is on the 6:41 a.m. train back to Paris, when she realizes that the man who is sitting next to her is Philippe.  Philippe has not had as good a past 27 years as Cecile.  His looks have faded, he is divorced, and he ended up working his entire career as a TV salesman.  The book is structured so that the chapters alternate between Cecile’s and Philippe’s thoughts.  We hear about the incident that occurred when they were twenty, the effect (if any) it had on them, as well as their current statuses and positives and negatives.  They each recognize one another immediately, but it takes almost the whole trip before they begin to interact.  It remained a small moment in actuality, although perhaps one with greater repercussions psychologically, but I do admit to hoping for a bit more of a confrontation and splash.

Friends and Heroes by Olivia Manning.  What I liked at first about this third book is that the focus was on what Harriet is figuring out about her husband’s character and drive.  However, halfway through the book, this also became what I didn’t like about it so much, for as Harriet realizes that her husband, although a good man, might not be good for her, the reader starts to feel as trapped in the marriage as does Harriet.  It becomes clear that although Guy is admirable in many ways, he is also limited in how he can feel what he feels for her.  And then to make matters worse, Athens, where Harriet and Guy are living after having escaped from Bucharest as the Nazis marched in, is about to be over-run itself.  Even more than the first two books then, this one is about a city on the brink of occupation and desolation.  There isn’t much work to be had, and certainly no food.  The characters – many the same from the first two books – tend to wander around and worry.  We meet a great new character, Allan Frewen with his dog, Diocletian, and there’s also a hilarious sequence regarding two teachers who worked for Guy in Romania, Toby Lush and Dubedat.  I was just beginning to formulate how they reminded me of Rosencranz and Guildenstern, when another character in the book started calling them that.  On the whole, I did really enjoy Manning’s trilogy, and do plan to go on and read the second trilogy, known as the Levant.  She’s a really good writer – she reminds me of how Virginia Woolf might have written had she lived abroad.

Tiny Beautiful Things:  Advice on Love and Life by Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed.  The author of Torch and Wild, Cheryl Strayed is a woman brimming with wisdom and a gift for phrasing.  She has lived a lot of life in forty-five years, and is adept at sharing her lessons.  She wrote an advice column for many years on a website, and this book is a collection of these advice columns.  People would write to her as “Dear Sugar” about relationships and life and jobs and trials, and Sugar would respond with wit and accuracy.  Reading the book, I don’t think there was even one response she got wrong, and her writing is superb.  It’s not complicated stuff – it’s along the lines of “Real change happens on the level of the gesture.  It’s one person doing one thing differently than he or she did before.” – but it is smart and compassionate and helpful.  I enjoyed the book.

Missoula:  Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer.  I will read anything Jon Krakauer writes, even a book on the preponderance of rape in a Montana university town.  It’s not a topic I would normally gravitate towards, but he makes everything interesting, even if it is hard to read.  Basically, Missoula, Montana, home of the Griz football team, was in the news for the number of rapes and physical assaults reported by women and involving the football team.  Soon, the Department of Justice got involved, because upon investigation, they were disturbed by the amount of rapes reported which were not prosecuted.  Surprisingly, this ended up being an interesting topic and a good read.  The rapes were hard to read about, but Krakauer writes a lot of how the majority of rapes are not done by a stranger hopping out of a bush at night with a knife, but instead are committed by men the victim knows and were with by consent.  He also explored why a rape victim will also behave the exact opposite from how one would expect her to behave – that is, not screaming, not fighting, not running.  Of course, this inaction –although perfectly explainable – is then used against her when she tries to prosecute.  Krakauer also went into detail about a university’s responsibility when a rape is reported, versus the police’s responsibility.  He believes that both courses of retribution should be followed simultaneously.  He follows a few cases in particular, one which ends in a conviction and one which does not.