Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Reviews August 2017

Waiting For Birdy by Catherine Newman.  This is a book I would have liked to have read before having Owen.  Newman writes of being pregnant and having her second child, while also caring for her three year-old son.  Her writing is smart and funny, so I did enjoy reading it now, but it would have been very helpful advice when Owen was a newborn, as her experience with kids seems similar to mine.  She is wise and sarcastic and very funny.  I recommend it.

Mind’s Eye by Hakan Nesser.  I had this mystery sitting on my kindle for a long time – I think I found it on a list of the best Swedish mysteries, when I was sad for having finished the wonderful Asa Larsson books (so far!  I think there is another one in the works).  Anyway, this one is the first of the “Inspector Van Vetteren” mysteries, and it was a good, if not phenomenal, read.  Van Vetteren is a rather grumpy, curmudgeonly sort, who the whole time he is working on this mystery is dreaming of his upcoming vacation in warm Australia.  The book opens from the viewpoint of one of the victims of the killer, a schoolteacher who wakes up after a night of carousing to discover that he has no memory of what happened the previous night and that his wife is dead in the bathtub.  He is charged with the murder, although Van Vetteren himself doesn’t think the teacher is guilty.  We also get chapters from the unidentified killer’s point of view.  It was entertaining, although I’m not immediately running out to read more in the series.

The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw.  Being in Maine on vacation made me want to re-read this book by Linda Greenlaw about her life as a swordfish captain based in Gloucester, so when I returned home I dug it out of my shelves.  For some reason I was thinking of it as being about the perfect storm events, but it is not about that – but about a swordfishing trip she took many years later.  So once I had readjusted my expectations of the book, I quite enjoyed it.  Because of my tendency to get seasick 3 out of 5 times at sea, the seafaring life is something I enjoy from afar, and on land.  I do find the life fascinating, and Greenlaw is a good story teller.  She’s good at interspersing stories with the details and mechanics of being a sea captain on such an expedition.

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham.  This was a wonderful read!  I couldn’t put it down.  The chapters go back and forth between two women who are pregnant, Meg and Agatha.  Meg seems like she has the perfect life and perfect marriage, but all is of course not what it seems.  Meanwhile Agatha, who admires Meg, is trying to get the father of her child on board with her life choices.  Both women are due around the same time, and when Meg’s son is a few hours old, he gets abducted from the hospital.  It’s a very suspenseful read, and very skillfully written – Robotham does a great job of making each woman well-rounded and real and sympathetic.  I highly recommend!

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.  This is more or less a self-help book about an anti-diet, anti-eating-program eating program.  Tribole and Resch, both nutritionists and counselors, started writing about their way of helping their clients, which was to get rid of all dieting and all eating restrictions, and get people to re-learn their hunger cues.  Their method is basically to eat whatever you want and when you want to do so, while paying attention to why you are eating.  Ideally one should eat when hungry and not for emotional reasons, and their method tries to get people back to that point.  There are no “bad” or forbidden foods.  It was an interesting read with a lot of common sense ideas that are no longer so common.

Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller.  This is a book about bullet journaling – I’m not sure why Miller calls it dot journaling, whether for copyright issues or to take away the gun association – but it’s a how-to to start and keep a bullet journal.  I came across the concept a year ago from a few articles Miller wrote about the subject and was intrigued.  I’ve been using a bullet journal since January with mixed results; basically it has taken me six or so months to figure out how to get it to work for me.  But if you are interested in the concept of bullet journaling – which is a way of using a daily planner to get organized – then this is an excellent book to use to get started.  Miller is a funny and smart writer, and the book is a simple how-to book with good picture examples.  She has a nice, wry and straightforward writing voice.

All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda.  I was a little suspicious of this book when I started it, because it begins on day one, skips to day fourteen, and then starts going backwards day by day.  I tend to be a bit pet peevey about nonlinear story-telling, if there isn’t a reason for it.  (TV shows now use it as a crutch:  not all stories have to be jumbled up timewise, people!).  Anyway, it turns out there is an excellent reason for telling this story backwards, and by the end of it I was very impressed.  The main character, Nicolette, leaves Philadelphia to temporarily go back home to a small town in North Carolina to get her father’s house ready to sell.  Her father has dementia and is now in a nursing home, and her brother, Daniel, wants to sell the house.  Nicolette’s real reason for returning home, however, is that her father sent her a letter saying that he had seen “that girl,” Nic’s best friend from high school, Corinne, who went missing when they were both 18.  So Nicolette leaves her fiancĂ© in Philadelphia and returns home to help her brother and to figure out what is happening.  Immediately after she returns, however, another young woman goes missing.  It is well written and suspenseful, and Miranda is very good at the relationships between the characters. 


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Owen and the Mixer


I inherited a KitchenAid mixer from my grandmother, Ruth, and use it weekly.  I think she got it in the eighties (or perhaps earlier?), so it’s been a workhorse in the kitchen that has lasted quite well.  In the last year or so, coinciding with Owen’s ability and penchant for helping me in the kitchen with his whisking skills (considerable), the mixer has become a target for Owen’s sibling-less sibling rivalry.  It’s both cutely imaginative, and let’s face it, odd.

For example, If I tell Owen that I am going to start making something in the kitchen, Owen’s first question will be whether or not it is a job for him and his whisk, or a job for the mixer?  And then depending on what my answer is, what follows is either much elation or much angst.  It’s not so much that he likes to help me with his whisking – which he does – but he likes his game of one-upmanship with the mixer.  He’ll then ask me, “What does the Mixer say when it is my turn to do the mixing?”  And then of course he doesn’t rest until I respond, as the mixer, with some sort of expression of unhappiness.

Last weekend while Owen was happily whisking my cherry poppyseed cake batter, I prepared him with the possibility that it would be the mixer doing the mixing for the cupcakes, and the icing, as well as kneading the bread.  He was grumpy about this for a while, but then decided to help me and the mixer by pulling a chair up and offering words of encouragement, including many heartfelt exclamations of, “IT’S THE MIXER’S TIME TO SHINE!”  Which cracked me up.

And Owen loves when it is kneading time and we can use the mixer’s hook.  If I’m not careful, Owen will disappear with the hook and I’ll have to go retrieve it from the living room where it has become a pirate’s digits.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cooking Frenzy


I planned to take the day off to enjoy the eclipse on Monday, and this extra day seemed to set off a weekend cooking frenzy.  It started with a cherry poppy seed yogurt breakfast cake made on Friday night after work (yum, although the crumbs on top were a bit deflated), continued to the next day with my first time baking bacon in the oven and then making a bacon and onion pie (also good, if a bit white trash – it had a saltine crust [blushes]; Sean thought it needed a layer of potatoes); then on Sunday I made the cupcake part of salted caramel toffee cupcakes and then tried a new recipe for slow cooker cashew chicken (excellent! Would make again); and then the grand finale on Monday with whole wheat bread from scratch that worked well (I’ve finally learned patience when it comes to bread-baking), the icing for the cupcakes, and then I tried a new recipe for a cabbage and walnut salad with lingonberry dressing (tasty if a bit overly crunchy, and it made enough for a small cabbage-eating army, i.e. way too much).

Whew.

I’ve been going a little cooking-crazy ever since Trump won the election; I suspect it is a comfort food thing, but don’t want to delve too deeply into it, as it is exhausting enough keeping up with the news from Washington daily: one doesn’t want to read all one’s actions in light of what is happening there.

Luckily for our waistlines and food budgets, however, I really only cook on the weekends and not weeknights.  Now that Owen is five, he doesn’t necessarily want my full attention in the evenings, except when he does, which is usually right when I started some recipe that he can’t help with.  So we still rely on a lot of very simple meals on the weeknights, or more likely, meals from Trader Joe’s, which is still a godsend.

A year or so ago I satisfied my OCD by majorly organizing all my cookbooks and loose recipes, and making lists of things to try, and then extensive notes as to what we all thought.  It’s a system that has worked well, except I realized I need to make a list of things that I made that we liked and want to have again, because I tend to make something once and then forget about it.  A cheatsheet is thus planned.

As Sean will tell you, my weak point is side dishes.  I tend to focus only on the main dish and dessert and if I had my way would serve the one thing on a plate at dinnertime.  I’m not good at doing two things at once, in the kitchen, apparently.  I’m working on it!

So in a nutshell:  if you are planning on stopping by for dinner, do so on the weekend, come hungry, and please bring some sides.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Happy 5th Birthday, Owen!


Today is Owen’s birthday, but he doesn’t know it.  We’re celebrating on Saturday, so we decided to just pretend that Saturday was the day, since the anticipation is beginning to wear him down anyway.  We are also trying to get away with one more year of not having a friend party, per se, but just a small family one.  I can’t decide if we are being schmucks about this or not?  As a kid I always had friend parties, although nothing over the top.  In the early seventies one had friends over and played a few games and had cake and ice cream.  All of the parties that Owen goes to now are at a facility of some sort and not in a home.  And he is still at the age when parents stay for the parties; I admit to rather looking forward to being able to drop him off and pick him up. 

I was thinking this morning about how I didn’t really meet Owen on his birthday anyway.  They wrapped him in a towel and thrust the burrito-like package in our direction for a quick look, and then he went up to the NICU while I was sewn back together.  I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed to visit him there until 2:30 a.m. that next morning, although Sean did visit him and sent me a video.

I thought of seeing him for the first time – a large 9 pound 3 oz baby, attached to wires and monitors, and for some reason dressed in a random pair of denim overalls, which we later found out was the only thing they had in the NICU large enough to fit him.  No wonder he was angry.  This morning Owen was in the bed with me and I heard him wake up, thrash around like the bed was on fire before flinging himself against my back and kissing my shoulder.  He then said in a loud voice, “Hey Mom!  I sneaked up on you and woke you up with a kiss!”

A few days ago Owen said to me, “I can’t wait until I turn five, because it is not easy being four.”  I of course had to snicker at that, because probably four is basically as easy as it gets: you are able to communicate your wants and needs, but still have next to no responsibilities.  I remember turning five myself, and I remember, vaguely, my fifth birthday.  I received a blue dress with balloons on it from my grandparents, and I thought it was the prettiest dress I had ever seen.

Owen is very excited about his cake, and balloons, and of course the presents.  He keeps telling me, “You can have THREE pieces of my cake, Mom!”  And I usually say, “but can I have a slice for breakfast?”  And he’ll tell me no, that if I do that, he’ll have to tell Granny and Pa on me.  Fair enough.  J

Happy 5th Birthday, Owen!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Book Reviews July 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.  I am glad that I read this book, but it made me very angry.  I thought the personal aspect of the book was interesting – he’s not a bad writer, and I liked hearing how he made it to Yale Law School and beyond despite a troubled childhood.  What is so frustrating about the book, however, is how Vance distorts his current beliefs to fit into his conservative politics.  So we watch him doing extreme mental gymnastics to try to reach the conclusion that the conservatives in office right now will help his “hillbilly” community, when of course the opposite is true.  He writes of being a seventeen year-old working hard in a grocery store and doing without, and then serving the mythical food stamp-ers who come in and buy steak and fancy chocolates and cigarettes while he is hungry.  But of course he doesn’t acknowledge that earlier in that same chapter his beloved grandmother who raises him has just had multiple back and hip surgeries that were paid for by…wait for it…Medicare.  So it is okay when he uses government help, but not of course the guy buying steaks!  Arrrgh.  And then I admit it bothered me that once he finished Yale Law, he eventually started working at a hedge fund in L.A.  So much for helping his community!  Why not start a nonprofit for hillbilly help?  I mean, seriously?  If not him, and if not democrats and their policies, then who?  Jerk.

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner.  This is the new second book in the Manon Bradshaw series and it was just as good as the first, if not a little better!  Manon has returned to her old job, but since she is very pregnant, she’s assigned to a desk.  Her adopted son, Fly (from the first book) is having trouble adjusting to life in the suburbs and gets accused of a crime.  Manon is not allowed to help out with the investigation, but of course does so.  There are also chapters in the voice of another woman, Birdie, who owns a liquor store, and it is interesting how Manon’s and Birdy’s story intersect.  It was very well written and excellently mapped out.  I definitely think Steiner is as good as Tana French and Denise Mina.

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby.  I really enjoyed reading this book of essays.  Irby is very bawdy and blunt and funny, and is hilariously unapologetic about her enjoyment of junkfood and television.  She has a vicious cat named Helen Keller, a job at a veterinarian hospital, and a spot-on way of viewing the world.  The whole book is funny –even when she is writing about topics that are not – but the second half of the book in particular I enjoyed.  I frequently laughed out loud while reading it, and will definitely seek out more of her writing.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  This is an excellent, hilarious, and poignant novel and I was sad to reach its end.  Eleanor is a woman in her early thirties living in Scotland and whose interior monologue reveals how she interprets the world literally.  She has trouble understanding human niceties, yet also has a sly sense of humor, and it is hilarious to listen to her half-inward reactions to people reacting to her own bluntness.  When the book begins, Eleanor has decided that she is going to marry a local musician whom she does not know.  She sets about planning their meeting, while also working as a finance assistant at a design firm.  She “befriends” the IT guy at her workplace, Raymond, and a series of events ensue in which Raymond tries to teach Eleanor more normal human responses.  Eleanor also has trauma in her past, and slowly comes to terms with accepting what has happened to her.  It’s just so delightfully written, and I loved reading Eleanor’s responses to life’s daily idiocies.  I highly recommend this book.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Boys by Laurie A. Helgoe & Barron M. Helgoe.  This is a book about parenting boys from infancy until they leave home, assuming they do, and as such remained a bit general.  That would be my main critique.  The Helgoes have interesting and sensible advice to offer, but in this format they are forced to reign themselves in.  I’d prefer a more in-depth approach on the whole.  I was also uncomfortable on occasion with their declaration of how girls are one way and boys are another.  I think in some instances that is true, but there’s of course a danger in making that divide too pat.  In summary, however, they impart useful advice and I’m sure I will reference it in the future.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Reviews June 2017

The Danger Tree by Olivia Manning.  This is the first book of the Levant Trilogy, which follows the Balkan Trilogy and together make up The Fortunes of War.  Whew.  It more or less picks up where the last left off, which is that Harriet and Guy Pringle have been evacuated from Greece to Egypt to try to escape the war.  After a stint in Alexandria, Guy is able to get a teaching job in Cairo.  Harriet at first works for the American embassy, but then is replaced by American workers and is a bit at a loose end.  The chapters concerning the Pringles are interspersed with chapters from the viewpoint of Simon Boulderstone, a young Englishman in the army and caught up in the desert skirmishes against the Germans.  Simon’s chapters contain a lot of combat, and Manning was praised for her depiction of this aspect of the war.  Her writing is very interesting too – very pared down and excellent at capturing characters.  I do think that her own critique of her career was correct – had her books been written by men, they would have been received with much more fanfare.  It’s still a bit stressful to witness the Pringles’ marriage, as Guy’s limitations mean that he still continues to give time to everyone but Harriet, and simply doesn’t understand when she ventures to remonstrate.  I am enjoying my return to the series.

The Battle Lost And Won and The Sum Of Things by Olivia Manning.  These are the second and third books in the Levant Trilogy, but I’m going to treat them as one, since all three books really read as one – I can’t imagine reading one without the other; the context would be all skewed.  In general, the Levant was very similar to the Baltic trilogy.  Manning does a great job setting the scene of wartime Egypt for the colonialists, and she is able to do so with very little explanation, yet you pick up the gist of what is going on.  In these two books, Harriet is becoming very disillusioned with her marriage, and rightfully so.  Guy puts her last, because he sees her – albeit jovially – as part of him, with the result being that she basically never sees the guy.  She likes to work but can’t find any employment.  Guy wants to send her back to England because she is sick, but at the end of the second book, she decides not to get on the boat and instead goes to Palestine, where she eventually meets up with her friend, Angela and Angela’s companions.  We do also still follow the events of the young officer, Simon Boulderstone, who gets injured and is working hard at recovery.  They are odd books but very good.  I enjoyed them even though I find them hard to write about.  I read that she resented the success of Lawrence Durell, who she knew in Egypt, and whose Alexandria quartet was received with much more acclaim, as the work of male authors is wont to do.  And I do think her trilogies are better.

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken.  I adore Al Franken and find him hilarious, so this book did not disappoint.  It is all about his run for the senate, the month-long recount he endured, and then his time since spent as senator.  He writes here and there about Trump, although I think most of his book was completed before Trump “won”.  Despite his career in humor, Franken was always interested and involved in politics, and had a radio show for several years that discussed leftwing issues.  Having said that, he –and his staff – felt it was important to show that he was a serious candidate and a serious senator, so he tried his hardest not to be the funny senator.  His staff had a phrase – “in the car” – for jokes that he wasn’t allowed to tell.  Luckily, he saved a lot of them for this book, because they are hilarious!  I kept laughing out loud on the train as I read.  He’s very smart and very passionate about the issues and serving his Minnesota constituents.  But his wise hilarity is the reason for reading the book.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.  This was a very enjoyable read and I was sad when it was over.  It takes place in Victorian times and is about a woman named Cora Seaborne, who has just lost her husband to throat cancer when the book begins.  This doesn’t necessarily seem like a bad thing, as the little we know of her husband is that he was a sadistic psychopath.  So Cora is free now and sets out for the countryside in Essex with her autistic son, Francis, and his nanny and Cora’s companion, Martha.  Another main character is Luke Garrett, who is a surgeon who is ahead of his time.  He took care of Cora’s husband and has fallen in love with Cora.  Cora herself is a scientist, and part of the reason she heads to Essex is because of rumors that a serpent has appeared there: Cora is hoping it is a leftover dinosaur.  A naturalist, she becomes odd friends with a clergyman there, Will Ransome.  Will and Cora share an instant rapport, which also consists of them debating and arguing science vs. religion.  Will’s wife, Stella, is battling tuberculosis.  Anyway, all the characters are interesting and well-developed, and the pace of the book is excellent, interspersed as it is with letters from the characters, and constant switching back and forth to different viewpoints.  There are glorious muddy walks, socialist leanings, and interesting arguments about what a woman can and cannot do.  Cora is wonderfully forthright.

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell.  This was a very quick and entertaining thriller, and quite enjoyable on the whole.  Alice, an aspiring writer, goes to a workshop held by the famous Bo Luxton, a successful novelist.  Alice and Bo strike up a tutoring relationship which becomes something more.  All along you get presented with both points of view in chapters labeled either Bo or Alice.  Suddenly, things go awry and each woman tells a completely different version of what happened.  The reader has to decide whom to believe.  It’s a very absorbing read, and while it remains on the surface of things, Stovell does a really good job of keeping the back and forth skipping along and the truth reeling out slowly.  It is fun.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Book Reviews May 2017

The Wilder Life:  My Adventures in the Lost World of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ by Wendy McClure.  This was a fun book about the journey McClure takes when she decides to re-examine her childhood obsession with the Little House books.  She documents her travels to all the existing museums and historical sites; she attends Little House pageants out in De Smet; she churns butter; and she discusses a lot of the controversies between fact and fiction with which the Little House series is fraught.  She’s a funny writer, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously.  She writes a lot about the television series too, which I wasn’t as interested in, but it didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the book.  It is a fun read.

The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy.  This is a phenomenal book.  I’ve long been a fan of Levy’s writing in The New Yorker, but this was even better and I couldn’t put it down.  It is about her professional and personal life leading up to when she had a miscarriage at five-months pregnant in Mongolia.  She wrote about (and won awards) for this in The New Yorker, but it is about so much more than that though – it’s about choices and expectations, and coming to terms with the realization that things might not be okay.  At 43, Levy has certainly had an impressive writing career, but it’s the little things that are so good in this book.  Her writing is so on the mark and insightful and funny and brusque.  She tells stories about things that can be very run of the mill, yet she makes them fascinating.  I am hugely impressed.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.  I really like Elizabeth’s Strout’s writing, although I can see how it might not be for everyone.  The style of this book, too, ends up being all of her writing quirks in the forefront.  She writes from one person’s point of view and circuitously and goes over and over the same thing.  Those are the drawbacks.  They are outweighed by the good things, though, which primarily are that you get immediately drawn into the life of the main character and feel you know her.  She is so talented at creating an atmosphere and choosing important, yet small, revelatory details.  In this novel, Lucy is looking back to a nine-week stint she had at a hospital after a routine appendectomy.  She had an infection and was there for a long time, and her mother – her abusive mother from whom she was more or less estranged – comes to stay for five days.  Lucy grew up very poor in a small farming town in Illinois, and is now a writer living in New York City.  Her mother has basically never left the small town, so it is amazing that she flew to NYC and is there in the hospital.  As the story unfolds, you learn of Lucy’s poverty and abuse growing up, and how she was able to escape by getting a scholarship to college.  She is now married with two young daughters.  She and her mother don’t talk about the important things – or don’t do so directly.  Her mother distracts her with talk of people in the hometown, what’s happened to them and what they are doing.  There’s a really well-done moment where it is in the future and Lucy is going to a writer’s workshop and hands in to the teacher the excerpt which will become the book we are reading; the teacher loves the excerpt and points out exactly what the mother is doing when she talks about what she talks about.  It’s a meta moment in the middle of the book that works really well. 

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo.  This is a child’s chapter book which Owen inherited and I was curious about because I’ve read some of her other books.  It’s a very simple story.  I like that her writing is sparse and stripped down, although the story itself is so bare bones that one gets a bit knocked about by all that isn’t fleshed out.  A 12 year-old boy, Robert, has moved to the backwoods of Florida with his father once his mother dies.  He is miserable, and on his way to school one day comes across a tiger in a cage in the middle of the woods.  He meets Sistine, a new girl at school, whose parents have just separated and who is also miserable.  Rob and Sistine end up helping each other with what they need most, and set about figuring out how to free the tiger. 

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout.  This is basically a book of short stories, but the people in them intersect, and almost all are people that Lucy Barton’s mother mentions in My Name Is Lucy Barton (and Lucy herself appears in some).  All lived at one point in the small farming town of Amgash, Il.  Strout’s writing is wonderful, for the most part, and I will happily read any of her books.  And I liked hearing about a character in several stories and then coming across that character as the starring voice in the next.  Such a style has its drawbacks too though – you just get snippets of a character’s life, so you feel like you never quite hear as much as you want to.  Also, so much of the stories are depressing – realistically so, but still.  It was a very compelling read, but looking back on it as a whole, I’m a little more doubtful about it.

The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis.  This is a book primarily about the education of preschoolers and how we are so often failing our kids.  It was well written, persuasive, and logical.  Her point is mainly that kids are too often condescended to, and that they have a real need for play time, outdoor time, and one on one interactions with teachers/adults that aren’t proscribed by curriculum.  She goes into how the failures of our education system encroach on the preschool set.  Curriculum is becoming test oriented and doesn’t allow for the main way that children of that age learn, which is more a meandering give and take:  you have to follow where the interests and conversation of the child leads.  She also talks of how the terrible salaries of preschool teachers and caregivers mean of course that often those with the less skills end up doing the work.  Until we pay good salaries, this isn’t going to change.  It was an interesting book.  It was especially useful when Christakis would set side-by-side a lesson following some bad curriculum, versus a lesson from an experienced teacher who could use the children’s responses in her teaching, instead of corralling them back to The Leaf, or The Thanksgiving Hand Turkey.  She does also address how often children of a certain class in the U.S. are overscheduled and overwatched. 

And The Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass.  I think Julia Glass writes wonderfully and I will happily read anything she writes.  This novel begins with Kit Noonan, a man in his early forties who is having a crisis of sorts.  He is an academic without a job, and he has reached the point in his job search where he is no longer searching.  He lives with his wife, Sandra, and nine year-old twins, and his wife reaches her breaking point with Kit’s despondency.  She suggests he set about finding out the truth about the identity of his missing father; she thinks that is the root of his problems.  Kit then goes to Vermont to visit his stepfather, Jasper, a ski instructor/dog sled trainer/outdoorsman.  Kit’s mother is no longer married to Jasper, but Kit believes it is Jasper who is more likely to tell him about his past.  Jasper is a very entertaining character, and this was probably my favorite section of the book.  We then start learning about Kit’s biological family, and the viewpoint switches to them.  The third section of the book is from the viewpoint of Fenno McLeod, a character from Glass’s first novel, The Three Junes.  There is a tenuous reason why Glass would do this, although I do think it weakened the structure of the book.  I was glad enough to see Fenno again, but it puts the reader on the outside of Kit’s story looking in, and that was frustrating.  So on the whole, the novel is a bit meandering, and a bit structurally off; having said that, the writing is a treat to read and the characters are all interesting and entertaining.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan.  This is Sullivan’s fourth novel and each one has been better than the next.  This one is excellent—I couldn’t put it down.  She writes of two Irish sisters, Nora and Theresa, who travel to the U.S. from Ireland in the fifties.  Nora becomes the head of a large family in Dorchester outside Boston, and Theresa ends up becoming a nun in Vermont.  When the book begins, the sisters have not spoken for thirty years, and a death is about to bring them together.  Sullivan is excellent at moving back and forth from the past to the present.  She does so skillfully so it doesn’t feel like a gimmick.  She writes from the point of view of several of Nora’s adult children too, John, Bridget, and Brian, and the different relationships they have with their mother.  It’s a novel about family, but also about secrets, and who knows what and how both keeping a secret and revealing it can damage.  I recommend!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Owen Flotsam

Owen:  I’m ready for my breakfast, Miss Pee.
Me:  Don’t call me that Owen; it’s not nice.
Owen, earnestly:  But you said I could call you anything just as long as I don’t call you late for dinner.
Me:  ba dum bum.


Word mix ups:  we planted new lilac bushes a few weekends ago, and Owen calls them violacs.  I was going to correct him, but violacs seemed rather apropos.  Instead of “don’t mind of I do,” he’ll say:  “I don’t mind what I do.”


Owen is very into making rhymes these days, and the other day he came running to me, saying: “Mom!  I made a rhyme!  Greenest penis!”


I was talking to Sean and said to him about someone:  I think she is Armenian.  Owen promptly interrupted:   No, Dorothy is our minion!

The other day Owen said to me:  I think Dorothy needs a hearing aid.  She never listens to me or Nanny.


When we were driving home from Massachusetts after the holidays, Sean thought he had lost his new pocketknife at a rest-stop and let out a few choice words.  (He later found the knife.)  Anyway an hour or so later when we were still in the car driving, Owen mused:  “Daddy said a bad word when he lost his knife.”
Me:  That’s right, he did.
Owen:  Daddy said “stupid.”
Me, thinking:  he said a lot worse than that!

Wise words from Owen:  Sometimes, Mom, you don’t know if a cat is happy.

Owen took this picture of me with my happy cat:

Around Thanksgiving time Owen learned the history of Thanksgiving at school.  I realized he didn’t quite understand it when he started talking as if WE had taken our particular house from the Indians.  I had to do some explaining.

After finishing a slice of cake not too long ago, Owen said, “Today I fell in love with chocolate.”

 

Owen one day sitting next to a very loudly snoring Dorothy:  “I don’t like snoring.  I like to be quiet like a pig alone in its puddle.”

The issue of death has also come up often lately – mainly in regards to pets.  He knows that I had my pug, Tulip, and Sean had his cat, Kilman, and that both are no longer with us.  He still doesn’t get the sadness of death – which I suppose is a good thing on the whole, but it leads to him making comments to me such as the following.  He was pretending to talk on an old landline phone of mine and said to me, “Mom, Tulip is on the phone!  She’s not dead; she’s just living somewhere else!”  Me, thinking:  well that is just horrible!!

I spy a bulldogge:

I was between Owen and the spray of water one night and apologized for being a waterhog.  A few minutes later Owen said:  “Mom, you’re doing it again!  You’re being a wet groundhog!”

Owen's Bed


Here is a picture of Owen’s new bed!  The bedspread is my sister, Meredith’s college bedspread (and thus a million years old J), and the pillows are handmade by my sister, Martha!  The fabric pleases me – camping scenes and ogling clams – how could it not?



We put off getting a bed for him for way too long, mainly because, let’s face it, he doesn’t spend more than a few hours each night in said bed, so it didn’t seem urgent.  He was sleeping in the converted crib – basically a crib with one side removed – but eventually that got too small to contain comfortable blankets and a pillow.

The posters and artwork, such as it is, are still situated from when the dresser was where the bed is now, and we have yet to change the positioning, as you can see.  Owen is a big fan of hanging up his own artwork, and he has strong opinions as to what should go where.

I told him I will make the bed for him in the mornings until he turns five, and then it will be one of his jobs.

I have noticed now that when Owen leaves his bed and joins us in the night, then Posy will often go into Owen’s room and use his bed.  Smart kitty.  Plum also has recently discovered that there is a good view from Owen's bed.  At least someone is getting good use out of it!



Monday, May 1, 2017

Book Reviews April 2017

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Countryby Helen Russell.  This was a fun book – it’s sort of the book you’d get if Bridget Jones traveled to Denmark and lived there for a year.  Helen Russell had a successful career in the fashion magazine world in London, but left to go live in Denmark when her husband got his dream job at Lego.  She had been having a stressful time of it in London, and decides to move to Denmark and embrace exactly what makes it such a happy place.  They move in January and the book is divided by one month per chapter.  The “downside” of the book is that basically all the reasons that the Danish are happy can’t be emulated in another country—you basically need to move to Denmark (or Norway) to achieve that happiness for yourself.  Drat.  It’s interesting to see how well the social safety net works there, although Russell is also honest about the problems she encounters with the Danish way of life.  Russell is a very entertaining writer – she’s very irreverent and very funny, and very au courant.

Keep You Close by Lucie Whitehouse.  I loved this thriller and couldn’t put it down.  Rowan is a woman in her thirties living as an academic in London when she learns that a childhood friend of hers, Marianne Glass, died in a freak accident falling off the roof of her house.  Although Rowan had been estranged from Marianne for the past ten years, she goes up to Oxford for the funeral and ends up agreeing to house-sit for the family.  Marianne was an extremely successful and famous painter, and it turns out that right before she died she sent Rowan a letter.  Rowan is not convinced that the death was an accident, although she doesn’t know if it was suicide or murder.  She decides to investigate on her own.  Her search reveals more and more, but the reader also finds out some interesting information about Rowan herself, which has the potential to change everything.  It is very suspenseful and very well written.  It’s an excellent book!

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  This novel is about the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, who in real life were southern women abolitionists in Charleston in the 1800s, and a slave from their household, Handful.  The chapters switch back and forth from Sarah to Handful.  Handful was given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday, but even at that age Sarah was anti-slavery so tried all she could do to “give her back.”  She and Handful become friends, and Sarah illicitly teaches Handful to read.  Sarah ends up so out of place in Charleston that she goes to Philadelphia and becomes a Quaker.  Later Angelina joins her and they become abolitionist speakers, which they did in real life.  Meanwhile Handful and her mother meet up with Denmark Vesey and their situation becomes even more complicated.  Sarah had made a promise to Handful’s mother to try to free her, and she attempts to keep that promise.  It’s an interesting book, although I was never able to get very enthusiastic about it.

Siracusa by Delia Ephron.  This was a really good read.  Two couples go on vacation together to Italy, and while in Siracusa, disaster ensues.  Each chapter is from the viewpoint of one of the four main characters, and it is entertaining to get all the different takes on the trip.  Lizzie and Michael are writers from New York, and Finn and Taylor are living in Maine, where Finn owns a restaurant and Taylor works at the tourist bureau.  Finn and Lizzie dated once in their early twenties.  Finn and Taylor also have a daughter, Snow, who is ten and on the spectrum.  Both couples are having marriage problems:  Michael is in the midst of an affair back in New York, and Finn and Taylor have troubles because Taylor is obsessed with their daughter.  Ephron is a really funny writer – I laughed out loud frequently, even though the topics are fraught.  My one criticism would be that Taylor is too one-note and not believable.  She’s too easy to thoroughly dislike.  It’s a fun book though and I will definitely seek out more of Ephron’s novels.

Little Deaths by Emma Flint.  I didn’t enjoy this one very much.  It is about a woman in the early sixties in Queens, Ruth, whose young children, age 5 and 4, go missing and then are found dead.  The detectives believe she did it and do everything they can to convict her.  The reader knows she didn’t do it – although we don’t know who did until the end.  The majority of the story is told from the point of view of Pete, a young reporter who finagles getting assigned to this story in the hopes that it will make his career.  He starts investigating and thinks Ruth is innocent, but more so because he becomes attracted to and obsessed by her.  My problem with the book is that the main point of it seems to be to show how unfairly Ruth is treated because she is a beautiful woman who sleeps around.  This more than anything else motivates the police and detectives to try to prove her guilt, even though she isn’t guilty.  The stressful part is that we only see Ruth through the eyes of the men surrounding her, so as readers you feel rather complicit in her objectification.  Flint doesn’t help us out, because she doesn’t make Ruth really anything more than her like of losing herself in sex with men.  We really don’t know more about Ruth than what the men think they know, and that makes it frustrating to read.

 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Owen Flotsam


Owen is very into the movie, Moana, these days.  (It’s a very cute movie – I recommend it!)  He thinks the characters are named Rihanna and Molly, however, instead of Moana and Maui.  And for some reason he thinks that “Molly” is a boy’s name (he has an imaginary friend who is a boy named Molly).  So now when we are outside, he makes me be “Rihanna” and he is Molly, and I have to force him to return the heart to Tafiti.  Sometimes we can enlist Dorothy to be the lava monster, Taka, by keeping a stick just out of her reach.

I must say that I would be happy to never hear the word “butt” again.  I never remember finding butt humor very funny, even when I was young, yet now I hear nothing but butt this and butt that.  “Stupid” is another word I’m tired of hearing.  I told Owen the other day that we were going to start teaching him other insults and words for “butt” so that at least he could be bratty in a rather Shakespearian way.  We’ve started with “tuchis”.  Perhaps next will be “’swounds!”

I have a new perfume I got for Christmas called “Pale Gray Mountain, Small Black Lake.”  I was putting it on the other day and had Owen give it a sniff and told him of the landscape it was supposed to evoke.  The next day he asked me why I never wore another perfume on my shelf, and I said I didn’t really like it.  He smelled it and said, “But it smells like a bulldogge walking up a mountain!”  Hard logic to beat.


Owen:  Is Granny going to get me some more t-shirts?
Me:  You have enough t-shirts!  But she is going to buy you some shorts.
Owen:  Make sure they are shiny.
Me thinking:  I most definitely will not pass on that request!

Owen got into my bed the other night and then wouldn’t fall back to sleep.  After we chatted for a while I began to get annoyed and told him he had to go to sleep!  He said, “No, I’m not tired.  I’ll just lie here and look at the stars” and he pointed toward the light on the ceiling that is our smoke alarm.

Around St. Patrick’s day, Owen was talking about how they made leprechaun traps in school – I forget how.  A bowl of lucky charms, perhaps?!  Anyway, I asked rather absentmindedly if once you catch a leprechaun you steal its gold?  And Owen replied, horrified:  “You don’t steal gold from a leprechaun, mom!  You ask him nicely!”  I felt duly reprimanded.

I was down in the basement doing laundry on a Sunday, and Owen was sitting on the stairs chatting to me as I worked.
Owen:  Can you tell me that story about the time a tomato chased you down the basement?
Me:  I never told you a story about being chased by a tomato!
Owen:  Yes you did!  You told me there was a tomato, and you had to go down the basement!
Me:  Ohhh!  I told you that if we ever had a tornado, you should go down the basement!  Tornado with an “N”!


Owen at 8 a.m. on a Sunday:  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Me:  I don’t know!  What are you thinking?!
Owen, rubbing hands together:  That we could make a chocolate pie!
Me:

When we are playing outside, Owen will chant, “Miss me, miss me, now you’ve got to kiss me!”  And then he will stop and wait for a kiss.