Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Maine 2016

I am back from our lovely two-week vacation visiting my parents in Maine, and to make the transition harder, I have come down with a miserable cold.  Alas and o woe!  But I wanted to include a few photos of what we were up to for two weeks, besides enjoying the incredible view and wishing we could live there.

Owen was up to a lot of berrypicking!  In addition to the cultivated blueberry bushes my parents have in their garden, the rest of their property – not to be outdone – decided to bedeck itself with wild blackberries.  Owen and his Granny went out pretty much daily to pick these berries, both blue and black.  I’d say that was Owen’s favorite part of the trip – being able to make a beeline run to the berry bushes to pick a fresh snack.  Now if only we could get him to eat blueberries at home!

Since we don’t live close to my parents, it is important to me that Owen have time in the summer to get to know his grandparents and vice versa.  My parents were very nice in also spending time with Owen and allowing Sean and I to escape for a walk with a beautiful view that was not accompanying by the refrain of “Carry you me!” that Owen tends to “sing” while on a walk.  Owen did all sorts of chores with his Granny, and artwork, and playing ball outside, and even had a few playdough sessions with his Grandfather.

We took Owen on his first canoe ride, which he enjoyed very much, although we probably could have cut it a bit shorter than we did.  It was a turtle-packed ride, and we even came across six turtles sharing a log in a line with each turtle resting its head on the back of the one in front.

We went to L.L. Bean, ate our weight in lobster, and even went out the five of us to Pemaquid Lobster Pound for dinner one night.  Owen had a grilled cheese.

Owen at L. L. Bean, or as he calls it:
the store with the Giant Boot!

We went swimming often at the beach – cold, but lovely! – and would go to another beach to find some seaglass.  Sean has the best method of finding sea glass, and I was surprised that Owen too was quite good (and quite proud) at spotting a few blue bits here and there.

Sean brought his banjo and got a lot of banjo practicing in, not to mention some good stickers for his banjo case.

Needless to say we are already ready for next year’s visit!

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Owen:  I think we should move.
Me:  Well, we’d have to get new jobs first.
Owen:  Like shucking corn?
Me: --

 We’ve told Owen stories about our previous pets, my Tulip and Sean’s cat, Kilman.  Of course Owen then wants to meet these pets, so I’ve told him that they had long lives and then died, and then because I am sappy that way, I tell him that they are waiting for us across the rainbow bridge.  Owen finds this very curious and will ask why we can’t go get them.  And then every once in a while he will blurt out, like he did in the car the other day, “Kilman’s dead!  He’s waiting for you on the rainbow bridge!”  Sean enjoyed having this pointed out to him.  J

I realized that I set the scene for a lot of my stories with a “Before you were born and when I lived in an apartment…”  Because now Owen’s stories to me will begin, “Before you were born I lived in a cottage with an ephelant (or some other animal).  He’s dead now, but we used to do such and such.”

I gave Owen two hardboiled eggs for him to peel for me for breakfast the other day.  In the meantime I was getting the pets’ breakfasts and meds ready.  He gave me the first egg peppered here and there with bits of shell.  Then he set to peeling the second.  After a minute or two I heard him mutter something about finding the golden treasure, and then when I looked he handed me the yolk on his outstretched palm.  The white was scattered in bits with the shell.  Oh well!  I ate the golden treasure on its own.

Owen was reading an alphabet book to himself and had reached Q.  There was a picture of a queen, so Owen said, “Q is for queen and…. (Here he paused and thought a bit) …croissant!”  I didn’t correct him.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Happy Birthday, Owen!

We celebrated Owen’s 4th birthday a day early on Sunday.  I can’t believe he is 4!  Four is a child instead of a toddler.  He’s getting taller and leaner too, and losing the baby pudginess.  I was thinking of how I will miss the feelings of physical ownership that is part of babydom:  he no longer seems completely mine to grab and hug at random; I have to take his feelings into account.  (Although it seems all I have to do is pour myself a cup of coffee and then he is right there wanting to use me as his own personal jungle gym.)

We figured this was perhaps our last year where a family party would suffice, so decided to take advantage of that fact and be very low-key.  We went and got balloons and plates and napkins from our local party store on Saturday, and then on Sunday went to the bakery to pick up Owen’s batman cake.  He wanted a batman cake with roses, and this is the result:

He told several people at the bakery that he was turning 4, but he used to be 3 and next year he’d be 5.  Owen wanted to “set the table” himself, and this is the result of that:

I think he needs a few more table-setting lessons from his Granny!

Sean’s parents and sister Susan – Owen’s beloved Nanny – came over at 2 for cake and presents.  Owen received a batcave and a pirate ship:


And he got a super-Owen costume from Martha and family.  He was proud of it:

Here Super Owen is watching a new Toy Story DVD:

His gift to us was that he was very pleasant all day!  Happy Birthday, Owen!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Ooze and Blood, In That Order

Owen's superhero narrative when he plays often involves the villains (or billains, as he calls them) making ooze, which they then use for nefarious purposes.  So when I saw a recipe online for ooze, I thought it would be a good thunderstormy Sunday project.

We mixed elmers glue with water, and then added a mixture of borax (I still don't quite understand what this is, but they sell it at Target) and water.  We added some blue food coloring (not enough, as it turns out), and mixed our ooze in a bowl.  Once it had formed, I was dispatched by Owen to get some of his superhero figures and he sat there and played with them and the ooze in the bowl for a good hour or so.

It lasts for a while too, I'm told, if you keep it in a ziploc baggie.  And the texture, oozy though it is, surprisingly is such that it leads to no mess.

And from ooze we go to blood.  I finally got around to making an appointment at LabCorp for Owen bright and early last week at 7:15, for his two-year old required bloodwork.  Yes, this is two years late, but in my defense, he had bloodwork done at age 22 months, with healthy results, but since it was two months early it doesn't register on vaccine forms.  Anyway, Owen was rather curious about the project, until the moment when the needle went into his arm, poor baby.  He had one phlebotomist holding down the needle arm, and me holding down the other arm while he sat on my lap, but this still left both of his legs free to kick the phlebotomist who was doing the hurting.

I apologized profusely.  Owen was a little worried that he had kicked and kept bringing it up throughout the rest of the day:  "I kicked the nurse."  So I told him not to worry, that his Aunt Martha always kicks the dentist--it's reflexive; she can't help it.  Or so she says!

I rushed off to work after the appointment, and Nanny took Owen for his reward donut at a local bakery.  She sent pictures, and the reward donut looks an awful lot like a cupcake to me!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Book Reviews July 2016

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy:  Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott.  I was thinking this book was fiction when I started it, but it is not.  However, Abbott writes about the four women as if she is privy to their thoughts, so it’s a nonfiction book with a very fiction feel to it.  Basically she switches between the lives of four women, two on the side of the abolitionists and two confederates.  At first I was frustrated with the two women she chose on the confederate side; but then I figured that of course it would be impossible to find confederate women with very admirable views – an intellectual disconnect goes with the territory.  So I was never too pleased when the switch was made to Rose Greenhow, the confederate spy in Washington society, or Belle Boyd, the annoying 17 year-old who fancied herself a great spy.  She was not, although she certainly did do some damage.  On the other side were Elizabeth Van Lew, a Richmond doyenne who worked hard for the unionists and at great personal cost, and Emma Edmonds, a Canadian who dressed up as a man and joined the union army.  Emma as Frank Thompson was a nurse and a spy, often dressing as a man dressing as a woman and crossing enemy lines.  I do feel like I learned a lot about the war and women’s role in it, and was surprised often (especially that when Rose Greenhow went to jail, her 7 year old daughter, little Rose, went with her).   It’s an interesting enough book and a fast read.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey.  This was an excellent first novel and I really enjoyed it.  The narrator is an old woman named Maud, who is in the throes of alzheimers and cannot remember much from one minute to the next.  When the novel begins, she is currently still living in her home, but with her adult daughter checking in on her frequently, and aids coming daily.  She will eat a whole loaf of bread toasted, because after each slice she doesn’t remember that she already ate.  Maud has a friend, Elizabeth, and from time to time Maud remembers that Elizabeth seems to be missing and that she doesn’t know what happened to her.  So she will set out to her house, armed with little notes that remind her of things that seem important.  As we find out clues about Elizabeth and what Maud learns, we also get flashbacks to post-war London when Maud’s beloved older sister Sukey went missing.  Maud and her parents suspect that Sukey’s husband Frank has murdered her, but since it is post-war chaos and lots of people aren’t where they should be, the police are not able to devote much time to the search.  There are thus two mysteries being solved – Elizabeth’s and Sukey’s – and Healey does a really good job of letting each unfold slowly, while making Maud both hilarious, yet keeping her dignity as well.  I recommend it.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  I began this novel at the same time that the train commute in Philadelphia was thrown into chaos, so I admit to being a bit distracted while reading it, as I was usually doing so standing up in a packed crowd.  And on the whole I enjoyed the book, although I do think parts of it were too easy and manipulated.  I mainly had a problem with the characters, who veer toward caricature and don’t have much to them except their role in the story.  They didn’t seem real people to me.  It’s a gothic tale, more or less.  The narrator, Margaret Lea, is a young woman who, of course, works in an old bookstore owned by her father.  She’s a solitary thing, and is haunted by the death of a once-conjoined twin, who she never knew but for whom she found a birth certificate.  She’s never talked to her parents about her missing sister.  Anyway, in a nutshell, Margaret is out of the blue contacted by a famous novelist, Vida Winter, who wants her to be her biographer.  Ms. Winter is known for never telling the truth, having a long history of regaling journalists with tall tales about her past.  Margaret agrees to write Ms. Winter’s story, as long as she can prove that she is not being manipulated and lied to.  The rest of the book consists of Margaret’s narration of Ms. Winter’s life story, and then her own trips and researches as she tries to figure out the truth of what is being told.  It’s a story with many twists and turns and patches of inclement weather – rain on the moors, etc.  It’s entertaining, but not hugely skillfully written.

Around and Into The Unknown by Hillary Savoie.  This was more like a long essay than a book; it can be read in about an hour.  I came across Hillary Savoie’s blog, The Cute Syndrome, and found she had published this on Amazon in which she describes her daughter’s story in more detail.  Esme, now 6, was born with unknown health issues.  Each time the doctors think they have discovered which rare syndrome she suffers from, they would do cutting edge genetic tests only to realize they were wrong.  Savoie writes well about what it is like to have a sick child whose illness is unknown.  She is thus without a specific “community” that can be so helpful; she has nothing to compare her child’s progress to and she does not know Esme’s prognosis.  At the same time, she makes it clear that Esme is Esme – a happy child who continues on her own journey and has an impact on the people she meets.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousnessby Sy Montgomery.  This is an excellent nonfiction book – it turns out that I knew almost nothing about octopuses and that there is indeed a ton of fascinating things about them to know, beginning with you don’t say pi but puses.  I had no idea that octopuses were so smart, yet indeed they are so smart and so conscious that their abilities might even be beyond our comprehension (primarily in that it could be that their arms have separate intelligence).  The other main thing about them which I was ignorant of is that they can change colors and patterns in such detail that it puts a chameleon to shame, and this camouflage is thought out – octopuses decide on a hunting or hiding strategy and then become the color or pattern best suited to the circumstances.  Montgomery’s writing is delightful (I was pleased to see she has other books for both adults and children).  She sets out to learn about octopuses and befriends three at the Boston Aquarium.  She works with the keepers there, along with some octopus volunteers, and interacts with Octavia, Kali, and Karma.  When she first puts her arms in (or near) the tanks, the octopuses will taste her with their suckers, and then they develop a relationship.  She does a good job of writing about octopuses, will also pondering the question of consciousness that inevitably arises when interacting with octopuses.  How much do they know?  Scarily, much.  She learned how to scuba dive because of her octopus interest, and the chapters in which she goes on octopus dives were not as interesting to me as the other chapters.  But all in all this is a fascinating book – and I admit it shook the foundations of my world a bit.

Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe.  This new novel by Nina Stibbe is a continuation of sorts of her first novel, Man at the Helm.  Once again, the narrator is the delightful Lizzie Vogel, in this book a teenager, who gets a job at a nursing home down the street.  Her home life, rocky in the first book, has become rather stable – her mother is marrying her stepfather and she has a new baby brother – and Lizzie becomes swept up in the world of Paradise Lodge, to the point where she keeps choosing working there over attending school.  As with the first novel, the best part of this one is Lizzie herself – she is a wonderful and hilarious creation, with an odd blunt way of seeing the world that I found completely charming.  It’s a comedic novel, with the antics of the Paradise Lodge residents and workers providing much excellent fodder for Lizzie’s wry and earnest observations.  I will read anything else Nina Stibbe may care to write, and I hope there are more Lizzie books in the future.