Sunday, July 31, 2016

Cars, Boats, Next Year a Train

Our traveling schedule to Block Island was a little complicated.  This is partly because we only have one family car, and partly because I didn’t particularly want to drive it myself with Owen a-hollering in the back and then navigate the ferry by my lonesome.  So Sean passed us like a baton to Martha after we had sandwiches at Rein’s Deli on the border between Connecticut and Massachusetts.  In exchange, Martha passed him six of his favorite beers, Maine Beer’s Peeper, which we cannot get in our neck of the woods.  Martha then drove us to her home outside of Boston, where we spent the night, only to rise early the next morning and get back in the car and drive to Rhode Island to catch the ferry.

Now 3 out of 4 times I am on a boat, I am completely fine.  Unfortunately for me, this turned out to be the proverbial fourth time.  And I had cockily decided I didn’t need a Dramamine.  Well, Neptune showed me, and although there was nary a cloud in the sky, the sea was choppy, and as I stood in the bow with Owen, who had never had so much fun in his life, and we climbed up a wave and plunged down a wave, climbed up a wave, and plunged down a wave, I began to feel very very sick.

I was glad that I was with Martha and her kids, because it is hard to watch and entertain a child when seasick.  Where we were standing, there was a little square cut out down low, which Owen used as a window to watch the froth of the waves.  He loved it.  Let’s just say that after we docked at BI, it was about 20 minutes longer before I could move. 

On the way back on Sunday, it was just going to be Owen and me on a ferry to New London, and I was a little nervous I’d get sick again and have to entertain Owen while keeping track of two suitcases, a purse, and Owen’s carseat.  But this ferry was a fast one that skimmed the surface of the water, which was glassily calm.  We sat inside, and the inside looked like an airplane, with rows of seats and the Red Sox playing on large televisions.  Owen sat on my lap and I distracted us both with stories of superheroes.

Owen would make requests like, tell me a story about Batman and Thor getting captured in a cave, and I would follow the prompt, and slip in a lot of moments in which the superheroes ate cake and talked about their feelings.  Anyway, it all went well.  Sean met us at the dock and then we spent three hours inching through Connecticut at a snail’s pace, cursing all the while, before finally heading towards the Tappan Zee bridge at a normal speed.  The moral of this story is that Dramamine is my friend.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Island Pug

Another fun thing for me about visiting Block Island was that I got to spend time with my furry niece, Pippa Middleton Pug.  She is a picture-perfect little gal, much smaller than my Tulip, but with pug attitude.  She has a bark that sounds like a sneeze, a scream she saves for enclosed spaces such as the car, and a gift for mischief.  But she is also affectionate and friendly, and she put up with a lot of cuddles from Owen.

Owen thinks all pugs are named Pippa Middleton (despite the many pictures in our house of his late sister, Tulip).  I predict this might cause some confusion in the future.  J

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Owen and His Cousins

During our stay on Block Island, Martha’s children were very nice to Owen.  I’m sure it can’t always be ideal having an almost 4 year-old cousin talk to you non-stop, but Henry, Georgia, and Josie were very gracious.

It was also nice for me to have a break from playing superheroes.  Georgia and Josie both spent several hours playing with Owen, and I appreciated it!  Here are a few pictures of the superhero activities, and Owen playing superheroes using the crevasses of Martha’s driftwood table:

Josie was also nice enough to let Owen show her how to do yoga:

Between you and me, Josie did not need the tips she received from Mr. Owen!

I also got a few giggles at one point when the kids were talking about school and Owen joined in saying he had two teachers, Mrs. Bruno and Mrs. Stutz.  I don’t often get to see him with other kids, no matter what their ages, so it is fun for me to see him interact as the person he is becoming.  And I didn’t remind him that those two teachers were not going to be his teachers next year!  That is a sensitive topic in our house.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Visit To Block Island

At long last, Owen and I were able to make the trip to visit my sister, Martha, and her family at their house on Block Island.  I had seen pictures and heard stories, but this was my first time at the house.  And our consensus is that a person could get used to this.

The view from her front porch was spectacular, the porch furniture comfy, the company good, and the cocktails delicious.  What more could a girl want?

We had great weather while there and were able to go to two different beaches.  One was the beach by their house, which you reach by going down 142 steps.  I counted the first time I went back up them while carrying Owen.  That was my workout for the day.  We had an evening picnic on the beach on Friday night, and here is a picture I took when I forgot my flip flops and had to go all the way back down to get them.  The tiny speck you see is Martha, Owen, and Josie waiting for me to begin my second ascent.

Other than the first time up, Owen did the stairs by himself the rest of the time, although I did walk in front of him on the way down in case he tripped.

Before this, Owen had only been to Maine beaches, so this was his first experience with stronger waves.  He loved playing in the shallows on his own, and I did take him in past the breakers when we went to the second beach on Saturday.  In general he doesn’t like water on his face, and I had to shield him with my back a few times, but he laughed throughout.  He also enjoyed finding a crab and some hermit crabs and a pink starfish with Henry.

Owen had a good time running around the yard:

And eating outside on the porch.  Here we were all eating at a different table closer to the view, but Owen thought the first table he reached upon exiting the kitchen was good enough for him:

We also both enjoyed having a bedroom with an ocean view.  It is quite nice to lie in bed and, if one leaves one’s glasses on for a moment, see and hear the ocean from the window.

We look forward to making yearly visits to the island! 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Reviews June 2016

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill.  This is a YA novel with a premise similar to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s set in a future when girls are created in a laboratory for the sole use of men.  The girls are raised in an institution – where the novel takes place – and when they are 17 will be picked to be either companions (a wife who gives birth to sons and is terminated at age 40), concubines, or chastities (nuns who teach the girls).  They are picked by the 17 year old boys in their district, and have no say in the outcome.  The girls are raised to look pretty and are ranked several times a day via social media.  In fact, a good portion of the book, besides being a critique of gender roles, is a critique of social media and how nothing happens these days if it isn’t recorded on social media.  It would be a great book to teach to highschool or junior high-age kids, and it was more or less an interesting read.  The main character is frieda (women don’t get their names capitalized), who is coming of age and trying to be chosen as a companion.  Her best friend, isabel, is acting strangely, and frieda is desperately trying to remain in good terms with the queen bee mean girl, megan.  Of course, there is no way for a girl to win in this society, and the reader watches as things get worse and worse for frieda.  My criticisms are that it went on a bit too long – you see what is going to happen to frieda long before she does, and then have to cover a lot of ground to get her there; and it is also frustrating that frieda doesn’t find out more information from her former bestie, isabel, since isabel clearly knows more about what is going on than any of the other girls in the school.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Asa Larsson.  This is the fourth book in her Rebecka Martinsson series and it is even better than the first three.  I’ve said this all before in the earlier reviews, so won’t go into too much detail, but these books are truly wonderful.  Larsson is a great story-teller, her characters are fascinating, and even the evil ones are three-dimensional and nuanced.  In this book, one of the narrators is a dead woman, and she is given the chance to speak just enough to keep things interesting.  Once again, Rebecka is working on a case that gets her into trouble.  However, in this novel, unlike the first three, it is Rebecka who is happy and stable and Anna-Maria Mella, the detective, who is having problems.  It’s all quite under-stated and magnificent.  Read it!

Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  This is a mostly interesting examination of the difficulties introverts face here in the US, where the characteristics of extroverts are prized.  She spends a significant amount of the book on workplace issues, which was not as interesting to me as daily life issues.  But she does reveal many surprising results from studies which show how ineffective open-style office layouts are (as opposed to more traditional layouts where privacy is possible), and also how ineffective group brainstorming is (in contrast to what is usually thought, most people – extroverts included – come up with the good ideas on their own).  One CEO even initiated “no talk Thursdays” and devoted the day to work and contemplation and found it was the most productive day of the week for all involved.  Cain examines how introverts are often undervalued in schools, how certain Asian cultures have trouble in the US because talking is valued over listening, and even how the stock market crash of 2008 occurred in part because extroverts and risk-takers had taken over the financial institutions.  She definitely made interesting points in each chapter, although sometimes you had to wait for them.  And her writing style was such that I had no trouble putting the book down.  On the whole, however, it was an interesting topic and she explored it in depth.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante.  This is the second book in the Naples quartet and follows Elena and Lila on their very different paths as teenagers.  When the book begins Lila is newly married to Stefano Carracci as a 16 year old, and spends her first week of married life getting beaten up by him.  Elena is in high school continuing her hard studying and doing extremely well.  She struggles, as before, to reconcile her life in school with her life in “the neighborhood” where most girls don’t attend school beyond elementary.  Lila has money now, but hates Stefano and is unhappy with her marriage and with the pressure to have a child.  Elena and Lila have important encounters every now and then, and then spend a rather tormented summer together at the beach, but live quite separate lives.  This description of the book is misleading though, as it is not at all a story about teenagers at a beach or in love.  It’s meaty, albeit very slow paced, and the curious and intriguing part is the underlying theme of how Elena and Lila’s initial friendship as very young children becomes the core of their lives in odd ways.  Ferrante keeps returning to this; no matter what they do, they are drawn into the orbit of the other, and each continually responds to what the other has and they do not.  I’m still surprised in some ways that this quartet has been so popular, as the writing and theme is very unusual and not what it appears to be.  I keep coming up with the unhelpful description of:  it is strange.  And so I shall read on, wanting Elena and Lila to thrive.

The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson.  This is another wonderful Rebecka Martinsson mystery from Asa Larsson.  It’s the last so far, although I certainly hope she is working on and almost completed with the next.  There are five, and each one has been better than the next, and the first was excellent.  Rebecka is still living and working in Kiruna, but this time when a murder occurs in the area, she is taken off the case and replaced by the bumbling prosecutor from the first book, Von Post.  Not pleased by this, Rebecka takes the seven weeks of leave that’s owed to her (oh Scandinavian time off!  May it someday be the same in the USA!), and not quite on purpose sets out to solve the case on her own—or at least the parts of it that Von Post won’t look into.  It’s all wonderful as per usual – there’s a lot of Krister, the police officer who handles the police dogs, and of course Anna Maria Mella and Stalnacke are there doing their excellent detective work.  It’s another truly magnificent novel and I was sad when I reached the end. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  I had avoided reading this book on purpose for a while.  I had read the two articles he published before he died and was both impressed and moved by them.  However, dying and leaving a child behind is a particular nightmare of mine at the moment, so I didn’t think I would read the book just yet.  But then the book was everywhere, and everyone loved it, and my friend offered to lend it to me so I decided I’d read it.  And it is good and tragically sad and everything you’d expect.  Paul Kalanithi was just completing his residency in neurosurgery (having multiple degrees in literature and medicine), when he realized he had lung cancer.  So a lot of the book is from the vantage point of a doctor who becomes a patient, and how it feels to be on that side of the relationship.  He also looks quite directly at death and dying and coming face to face with one’s own mortality much sooner than expected.  It’s terribly sad.  In the midst of his diagnosis, he and his wife, Lucy, also a doctor, decide to have a child, and he is able to spend 8 months with his daughter.  He’s an interesting writer and it is worth reading, although I was more impressed with the first part – in which he writes of his life up to the point of diagnosis, and what brought him to go to medical school.  He’s obviously a caring man, but I found it fascinating that his pursuit of a medical career was really from a philosophical vantage point:  he was interested in how much personhood and personality reside in the brain, and how for every operation he would perform, there would be a weighing of life and death and personality and mental acuity, and what changes can be made while keeping life worth living.  It is tragic that he ran out of time, and the book reveals just what a unique individual was lost.