Thursday, December 28, 2017

Let's Hope It's A Good One

Owen's writing is improving and his interest in the alphabet increasing, but he still has trouble with some letters, including mixing up his M's and W's.  It's hard to know when to write down up down up, and when to write up down up down!

Here is an art project he brought home from school with his name carefully lettered:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Is Nigh Approaching

We have been busy this December doing Christmas-y things.

We put up our tree a couple of weeks ago, and Owen was great putting all the ornaments on the bottom half of the tree.  He did have a tendency to put as many ornaments as would fit on one branch; I just figured I could move them later, but when I did, he noticed and objected!  He had three Star Wars ornaments on one branch and told me they had to stay there so they could be friends on the branch.  Well, okay then.

Here is a festive picture of Posy, having inserted herself in the Christmas tablescape:

Owen had his Christmas show yesterday, and sang for the first time in it!  When he remembered, that is.  Some of the time he did the hand motions, and jingled the bells, but never all three at once.  He was very excited to wear the red and green plaid shirt his Granny sent him:

And this picture is a bit dark here, but here is he proudly walking down with his class to perform in the front:

He is very excited for Christmas, but has oddly gained a kind of patience that he definitely didn't have last year.  We were able to put wrapped presents under the tree without them making him go crazy in anticipation.

Sometimes Sean will sing "I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus," though and Owen will turn to me in consternation and say, "You didn't, did you, Mom?"

Today I started baking some Christmas cookies, but Owen wasn't as interested in helping as in years' past.  He was too busy playing with his new Hess truck!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Book Reviews November 2017

Deep Freeze by John Sandford.  I really enjoy Sandford’s Virgil Flowers mysteries, and this most recent one was excellent.  It is Virgil at his best.  He gets called to solve a murder in Trippton, Minnesota, and in the midst of snow and negative-degree weather and many surprising turns, he slowly figures out the case.  The class of ’92 is getting ready for a reunion, and after a planning meeting a woman at the meeting, who also runs the town’s bank, is murdered.  The reader knows from the first chapter who did it, and so we just get to watch Virgil figure it out.  Virgil, as ever, is patient and calm and funny and doesn’t take himself too seriously, and it is a delightful read.

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslitt.  I did not enjoy reading this book.  My main problem with it was that all the characters actively annoyed me for various reasons.  I certainly don’t need to like a character to like a book, but the only plot was really the characters, and if you can’t root for any of them, or in my case, if you actively wanted them to shut up, then it makes for a book whose ending is welcome.  The chapters switched viewpoints between five members of a family:  the father is an Englishman living in America and who is suffering from very serious mental illness.  The mother starts off interesting and stoic, but for most of the book she is just trying to help her son, Michael, who inherited the mental illness from his father. Michael is often manic in his chapters, which also tended toward the run-on stream of consciousness style.  He seemed realistic, but it was hard to read his chapters.  The youngest son, Alec, was a jerk, and Celia, the middle daughter, escaped to her own life in California, but basically that wasn’t far enough.  Michael also becomes addicted to the psychiatric medicines he is prescribed, and his addiction propels most of the events of the book.  Perhaps it would’ve been interesting for me if I liked the characters, but again:  I did not.

Good As Gone by Amy Gentry.  This was a fun, suspenseful read.  Gentry takes the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping – a younger sister seeing her older sister kidnapped out of her bedroom – and runs with it.  When the book begins, Julie, the kidnapped daughter has reappeared eight years later.  Her parents and sister, all in their own ways broken by the kidnapping, are ecstatic, but doubts begin to surface as to whether it is actually Julie or not.  We also get Julie’s experiences, chapter by chapter, going backwards for the past years.  It’s an interesting way to structure the book and it works.  It was hard to put the book down.

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker.  I loved this book.  Parker is an excellent writer and it was such a good idea to write a memoir like this.  The whole book is written as letters to the men in her life, but the “in her life” part is very all-encompassing, from obvious figures like her father, and grandfather, and lovers, and son, to more random ones like a taxi driver, and the oyster-picker who picked the oysters for her father’s last meal, and to the man that will one day fall in love with her daughter.  It was an interesting approach and her writing was beautiful – poetic and funny, and achieving the right balance of reveal.  I was surprised at how good it was and sad when it ended.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.  I did not really enjoy this book.  For me, it was too lacking in nuance, and I felt like I was being hit over the head with Picoult’s points for 500 pages.  It read like an adult version of the kid’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day.  The story is about Ruth, a labor and delivery nurse of twenty years’ standing, who has a newborn patient whose parents are white supremacists.  They do not want Ruth to touch their child, so when Ruth is the only nurse around when the baby goes into distress, she is not sure what to do.  Turk & Brittany, the white supremacist parents later sue Ruth for murder, and the hospital, despite Ruth’s years of excellent service, throws her to the wolves.  The book switches between Ruth, Turk, and Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy, a white liberal who is not aware how hard Ruth has it on a daily basis.  But this is the part that we get hit over the head with:  Ruth has to confront racism every day.  Picoult seems to think that her readers are going to be surprised by this notion, and in order to make her point, she shows non-stop how racism is everywhere.  She does not do this with any sophistication or, as I said above, nuance, and the result is a very tiresome read (although the court scenes move quickly).

Fast Falls The Night by Julia Keller.  I read the first two novels in the “Bell Elkins” series a few years ago and enjoyed them, and then recently saw that Keller had published a new one, so got it and read it without realizing that it was actually number six in the series (and that several of the middle numbers were divided between two or more books).  So I read 6 after 1 and 2, and didn’t realize this until I had finished 6.  I could tell there were references to things that I didn’t know, but it didn’t interfere with my mild, pleasant enjoyment of this book.  I think I will mosey to the library to get the middle volumes, but not with any sense of urgency.  Bell Elkins is confronted with an astonishing amount of overdoses and works hard with the sheriff and deputies to try to get the word out that there is a tainted batch of heroin in the town.  She runs into people’s prejudice against drug addicts and interfering in their self-destruction, etc.  Bell’s sister, Shirley, is in this book, and she keeps trying to reveal a secret to Bell.  Basically if you want a nice little crime drama that takes place in the mountains of West Virginia and involves a small town’s depressing battle with heroin, then this is the book for you. 

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson.  I loved this perfect, strange little novel.  I’ve always heard of Shirley Jackson but this is the first book of hers that I read – thanks to my sister, Martha, for the recommendation and loan of it.  It’s a gothic tale about two sisters, Constance and Mary Katherine, who live with their senile Uncle Julian in a large country house outside of a village.  When the book begins, Mary Katherine is doing one of her twice weekly trips into the village for food and library books, and is hoping to do so unnoticed by the villagers, who when they do notice her, are unkind.  We soon learn that Merricat’s (as she is called by her sister) family was murdered by arsenic in their sugar, and Constance was accused and acquitted of the murder, yet the villagers still think she is guilty.  So the three of them live a secluded life, with Constance cooking and gardening, and Merricat, an eccentric 18 year-old, perhaps on the spectrum, going on long adventures in the woods with her cat, Jonas.  It’s perfectly written and perfectly structured: as the reader you slowly learn the truth of what is going on, while becoming completely on the side of the sisters.  It’s odd and funny and sad and full of tension, and extremely well-done.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Owen Flotsam

Me:  When you are 18, you get to vote; and when you are 21, you can have a beer.
Owen:  But what happens when I’m 26?

Owen likes to help brush the cats.  Posy loves it, but Plum is not so sure.  I’ve told Owen he has to be careful and not brush near Plum’s “family jewels,” as this makes Plum angry.  The other day I was brushing Plum and Owen warned me not to go near “the people’s genitals.”

Owen’s teacher last year made a silhouette of Owen and framed it for mother’s day.  I have it on my bedroom wall and Owen refers to it as “Mystery Me”.

Owen:  I was a little angry in school today, Mom, but I can’t tell you about it because it would take all night.
Me:  Try!

When we were visiting my parents this summer:
Granny:  Owen, you can do so much more this year than last.
Owen:  But I can’t put the star on top of the Christmas tree.

We had told Owen on our way to Maine this summer that he had to follow Granny & Pa’s rules, since we were staying in their house.  My mother and Owen were playing in the living room on our second day there and my mom had to tell Dorothy to stop scratching her behind on the carpet.  Owen queried:  “Granny, is that a rule?”  (Yes, and a pretty fair one!)

Owen:  I’m going to be a scientist when I grow up.  Dad says he’s going to be a pizza scientist.

Owen to himself as he plays:  I’m doing what I want, me-style.

Owen:  Why does my pasta taste cold and smell hot?

On our way to the pharmacy to pick up some meds for Owen.
Owen:  Is the pharmacy inside or outside?
Me:  Inside!  It’s a store.
Owen:  Oh.  I thought since it was a farm it might be outside.
Thus ensued a conversation about the difference between a farm and a pharmacy….

Owen:  I’d like this muffin better if it had icing and was called a cupcake.

I was getting dressed to go to a wedding and put on a pair of black heels, which I don’t wear much anymore.  Owen said, “Nice shoes, mom, but heels are supposed to be red.”

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Land Shark!

Owen was a shark for Halloween this year.  He started off wanting to be a million different Pokemon characters, and then decided he wanted to be a blob fish.  We couldn’t find a blob fish costume though, and I wasn’t feeling crafty enough to make one.  Martha suggested a shark, and when I told Owen that idea he loved it, so I ordered a cheap amazon costume right away.  I’ve had good luck with cheap amazon costumes in years past; this one wasn’t quite as sturdy as the others, but he looked very cute in it.  I didn’t remember to get any good pictures before we went trick or treating, but Susan sent me a few pictures of him getting into character at his school parade:

And then here are two blurry ones when we were out trick or treating:

I took him out this year while Sean stayed on our porch and gave out candy to the kids who stopped by.  It was my first time taking Owen around and it was much more fun than I had expected, mainly because Owen was so filled with excitement and wonder at the activity.  You dress up!  And then knock on doors and get candy!  Mind blown.  Plus the night was nice with the moon shining and tons of kids and parents out and about:  it was very carnivalesque. 

I had coached Owen to say “trick or treat!” and then “thank you!” and he did very well.  People laughed at his costume.  One woman waiting at the curb warned him that her son up at the door had a scary mask on, and Owen replied, “Well, you know, a shark is very scary too.”  One man asked him if he was a land shark and Owen told him it was just a costume.  And another jokester asked him if he wanted toilet paper or tooth paste, to which Owen said, “What the what the what the?”  Besides the bucket of candy (which he really is not that interested in eating, oddly enough), he was most excited about seeing a teenager at one house cuddling a bearded dragon.  When I erroneously called it a lizard, Owen corrected me and then went on to discuss bearded dragon facts with the owner.

I’ll put in a plug for Dorothy too and say that she was very well-behaved.  She is really a calm dog.  She would have liked to have been out on the porch greeting all the trick-or-treaters, but when that wasn’t allowed, she just curled up in her bed inside and had a snooze.  It was the cats who sat by the door peeking out.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book Reviews October 2017

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman.  I usually really love Allegra Goodman’s fiction but I had a hard time getting in to this book.  I liked her characters as always, and her writing, but the book was mostly about gaming, and I didn’t at all enjoy the descriptions of the gaming itself.  I’ve never played a video game, really, so to me the game scenes were akin to hearing in detail about someone’s dream:  rather endless and boring.  But there was a lot that was good in the book:  it is about Nina, a young inner-city teacher who is trying to get her students engrossed in Shakespeare, while being evaluated herself.  She meets Collin at Grendel’s in Cambridge, and after they start dating and she realizes how talented an artist he is (his medium is chalk), she gets him a job in her father’s world-famous game company.  The chapters also concentrate on twins, Diana and Aidan:  Diana is a student in Nina’s class, and Aidan is a gamer who tends more towards cutting class.  Goodman tries to make a parallel between classical mythologies and the story lines of the games, I think, making Diana a runner and another character, Daphne, chased by everyone (and at one point while gaming she actually turns into a tree).  So the book is clever, the characters well created, and a lot of it is interesting and a good read.  I’m just not the right audience for the gaming subject.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss.  I wanted to like this book – as I could appreciate a lot of what she was trying to do in it, and was impressed with its whole structure and meta moments – but ultimately I could not.  Krauss is a wonderful writer in many ways, but I do not like Kafka, and I think you have to like Kafka to like this book.  It contains two narrative lines – one story line in every other chapter is about Jules Epstein, an aging lawyer who when the book begins has decided to give away his vast fortune for reasons that aren’t quite clear to him.  He has just gotten divorced, and isn’t very close to his adult children, and ends up in Tel Aviv trying to buy a memorial forest for his long-dead parents.  Meanwhile in the other chapters we get a character named “Nicole,” who is divorcing her husband, and leaves her young sons for a trip to Tel Aviv to try to get over her writer’s block.  While there, in part researching Kafka and the notion that perhaps he didn’t die but emigrated to Tel Aviv and lived there anonymously, she starts having her own Kafka-esque experience, ending up in a tiny woods cottage with an old typewriter where Kafka himself allegedly lived and wrote.  The story of Epstein was excellent, and until Nicole veered into the Kafka-esque, I very much enjoyed her chapters too, but to me the Kafka-stunt that happens to the character Nicole ruined the book.  It made me not care what happened to either of them, as well as disdain their angst.

Lost In The Forest by Sue Miller.  I don’t remember how this book ended up on my kindle, and I don’t think I have read anything else by Sue Miller, but I enjoyed this.  It’s a quiet book about a family living in the late eighties in wine country in California.  When the book begins, Mark and Eva have been divorced for many years and are sharing the raising of their two daughters, Emily and Daisy.  Mark is picking them up from Eva’s when he finds out that Eva’s second husband and the father of her son has just been killed in a car accident.  The point of view switches from Mark to Eva to Daisy over the next few years.  Eva tries to deal with her grief while flirting with the idea of getting back together with Mark, which Mark wants to happen.  Daisy becomes a very prickly and hard to like adolescent who gets preyed upon by a family friend.  It is all much less dramatic than I’m making it out to be, and quite well done on the whole.  The realizations are everyday realizations and handled with intelligence and thoughtfulness.  It was quietly good.

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore.  This was an interesting kind of biography of the life of Ben Franklin’s sister, Jane.  She was close to her brother, and wrote letters to him all her life, yet of course most of her letters to him we don’t still have: just the reverse.  It is fascinating to see their different circumstances – he of course escapes to Philadelphia and a career, while Jane marries at 15, has 12 kids, 10 of whom die in childhood, and has to deal with a deadbeat husband and insane sons.  She’s clearly a smart and thoughtful woman – albeit one who cannot spell – and followed Ben Franklin’s every career move and published book and article while never hesitating to speak her mind to him.  It is very much a “Judith Shakespeare” study of a brother and sister and raised many interesting issues while also remaining true to Jane’s personal story, as much as it can be discerned today. 

The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown.  I did not love this book, although I seem to be in the minority, as everyone else I know who read it did.  I found the history fascinating, as well as the individual stories of the boys from Washington who win Olympic gold in crew in Hitler’s Berlin.  My problem was that I did not enjoy the descriptions of the many crew races themselves – and I’d say those descriptions were more than half of the book.  I also do not think Brown is a particularly adept writer, as he tended to be a bit repetitive in his phrasing.  I thought using the crew team was an interesting way to create a slice of life study of a very particular era – the crew team had all suffered through the depression in different ways and their families had different strategies for getting by.  Brown parallels the making of the team with the events happening in Germany leading up to the Olympics, and this was provocative reading (although I didn’t necessarily agree with his portrayal of Leni Riefenstahl).  Those endless race scenes though!  Argh!

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.  I really liked this novel and was sad when it ended.  I described it to my work colleagues and couldn’t make it sound interesting, but trust me!  It is a very good book.  It is basically about Anna, a young girl in NYC who starts to work in the Navy Yard during WWII and eventually becomes a diver repairing boats from under the water.  The chapters switch back and forth between Anna (first as a child and then as an adult), her father Ed Kerrigan, and Dexter Styles, a gangster who crosses paths with both Anna and Ed.  Egan makes all three characters believable and well-rounded and compelling, even when their actions are egregious.  Ed works for Dexter Styles briefly, and then runs into problems; Anna as an adult later seeks out Styles to see if she can find out any additional information about her father.  She also has to work hard to convince her bosses that she can dive, as a woman, and do that kind of work.  It’s a well-done historical novel and a great story to boot.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Posy Wants Cream, Preferably Whipped & Sweetened

I have created a monster, and this is she:

Posy has always had a sweet fang:  she loves licking icing off a finger, and it is absolutely impossible to open the freezer and scoop ice cream into a bowl without her suddenly appearing by your side to help eat it.  She has never once tried anything savory as an extra– not cat treats, and not even tuna water.

So about a month ago I had a can of whipped cream in the fridge, which I don’t usually do, since I prefer the homemade kind.  But I had gotten it to eat with a salted caramel sauce on ice cream, and since Posy was there for the ice cream, I gave her a squirt of the whipped cream in her own dish.

That was a mistake.

She literally did not leave the kitchen for about 48 hours after eating the cream.  She slept on the mat by the sink, and whenever anyone came in the kitchen she would start begging for cream.  Here’s a pic.

Owen gave her artwork to keep her company:

This meant that every time I cooked or prepared a meal, I had a five pound fluff ball begging at my feet and trying to trip me up.  So did I make her go cold turkey?  No, no I did not.  Like a good enabler, I gave her a little puff of whipped cream each day, thus further entrenching her addiction.

It turns out Posy is STUBBORN, and Posy Does. Not. Give. Up.  She’s basically become a kitchen cat, except when she gets too exhausted and simply is forced to waddle away and find a better place to get some shut-eye.

And I keep buying the cream now!  So she can have her daily squirt!  How can one resist this face?

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Boo at the Zoo

We hadn’t been to the zoo in perhaps a year – long enough at any rate so that Owen was claiming that he had never been to the zoo, despite all the pictures we have to prove it.  So with a lot of sun on the roster for Saturday, we headed out early to the zoo and arrived – for the third time, second time unplanned – at Boo at the Zoo, the annual event in which zoo patrons wear costumes and can stop at trick or treating tables for candy.  Owen was not wearing his costume, but he didn’t seem to mind, and in fact wanted nothing to do with the trick or treat tables, despite the fact that they were clearly manned by cheery folk handing out candy.  I’ll chalk it up to a temporary lapse in judgment.

When we go to the zoo, we always arrive about ten minutes before it opens, because that is how we roll, try as we might to NOT be early.  Of course, since the zoo is a huge attraction for the stroller brigade – many of whom get up at 5 and nap in the early afternoons – it tends to be crowded from the get-go.  The neat thing about our trip this time was that Owen had his heart set on seeing the sloths, so instead of following the main path, we veered off to the left in search of the small mammal house.  When we got there, we had the whole place to ourselves!  It was great!  The sloths don’t have cages because they are too slow to escape, so you can stand right in front of them.  One sloth was sleeping in, but the other one was heading slowly towards his breakfast.  You can see him in the shadows right behind Owen.

And across from the sloth was an aardvark frantically searching for her breakfast.  The keeper was in the aardvark’s area fixing a ramp, and the aardvark was sure that her breakfast was there somewhere, she just hadn’t found it yet.  An aardvark is a very strange looking animal – it has the body of a swollen bulldog with a long thin head and nose only about two inches wide.  I regaled (some might say annoyed) the keeper with questions about the aardvark, and discovered that they have the intelligence of a dog.  Who knew?!

We then continued our reverse route and enjoyed a good forty or so minutes of solitude in front of the polar bear and the otters and the hippos and the giraffes before finally meeting up with some strollers going hither to our thither.  We made sure to visit my favorite gorillas and did see the year-old baby who was having fun with his people audience.

Owen ended up with a stuffed sloth as well, which he’s been carrying around ever since.  He is obsessed with the Wild Kratts PBS TV show – an excellent show for animal facts – and will tell anyone who will listen that “a sloth might be slow, but he isn’t boring!”


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fruit Ninja

To say that Owen is not very adventurous when it comes to food is putting it mildly.  At five years old, he still eats about seven things.  (How crazy does this drive me?  Very, very crazy.)  But one thing he does love is fruit.  And he is willing to give any fruit a try, because doing so has generally had the positive result of adding something else to his like list.  A month or so ago I was in the grocery store and near that odd section between the fruits and vegetables that has fruits that aren’t common in this country.  Owen and I stopped to peruse and we decided to get a dragon fruit.  We brought it home, looked up “how to cut dragon fruit” on YouTube, and then Owen proceeded to snarf down the whole dragon fruit with moans of ecstasy.

Feeling emboldened, we then went on in successive weeks to try:  star fruit (delicious! Although we added a tiny sprinkling of sugar, like we do to our blackberries); passion fruit (I liked it!  Owen thought it looked too much like a sneeze, but he did try two substantial bites); dragon fruit with white insides instead of magenta (good!); pepino melon (on YouTube they said this would taste like a cross between a cucumber and a honeydew; it did; bleck); pomegranate (not only did he love it but he wanted to bring the seeds in a baggie for a snack on our walk); and horned melon (very odd looking on the inside – basically all wet green seeds – but it did taste exactly like the YouTube video promised, like a banana and a kiwi; Owen ate it with a spoon and relatively with gusto). 

Next up is a mango, which Owen actually had a lot of as a toddler but doesn’t remember.  We’ve told him often that he is like my father, who is also a fruit lover, and one day Owen had me text Pa to ask him if there was any fruit he did NOT like.  It turns out Pa is not a big fan of mangoes, which he found to be too sweet and too sticky.  So Owen already plans to try this mango with a fork, so as not to get any of the sticky on his hands.  He still has an open mind about it though, and is very impatiently waiting for the mango to ripen.

Of course I am hoping that his trying fruit will transfer over to trying other foods.  It hasn’t yet, but a girl can hope.  In the meantime, I am keeping my eye out for an ugli fruit; apparently right now is not the season.

Owen looking melancholy with a bowl of horned melon.
See what I did there?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

September 2017 Book Reviews

Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin.  I liked this mystery so much that upon completion I immediately started reading the second in the series.  It’s one of four books known as the Oland Quartet, since all take place on the island of Oland off the coast of Sweden.  This one was about the disappearance twenty years in the past of a 5 year-old boy, Jens Davidsson.  His mother, Julia, returns to Oland to help her aging father, a retired fisherman, Gerlof.  Gerlof has been trying to solve the mystery of his lost grandson, and the more he discovers, the more he and Julia get caught up in a series of murders and crimes on the island.  The writing is excellent, as are the characters, and it was a treat to follow along with Gerlof’s simple unraveling of several long-past events.  It was all very well done.

The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin.  This also takes place on Oland, and shares a few of the characters from the first book, although they do not play a central role.  A young family has moved to the mansion by the lighthouse on Oland and has started to renovate it, when a tragic death occurs.  Most of the police treat the death as an accident, but Tilda Davidsson, a new policewoman on the island and Gerlof’s niece, has her suspicions.  The chapters alternate between Tilda, to the family at Eel Point, and to a group of thugs who are burgling the summer houses on the island.  It was a good read too; my only criticism was that the Eel Point part of the story contains a lot of ghosts and spirits, which somewhat work in the story and somewhat do not.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne.  This was an excellent and suspenseful read that was hard to put down.  In a nutshell, it is about a woman Helena, who was raised out in the wild marshland in Michigan by her parents and didn’t discover until age 12 that her father had kidnapped her mother as a teenager and was holding her hostage.  When the book begins, Helena is an adult with children of her own, and her father has just escaped from prison.  Helena decides to use her excellent hunting and tracking skills – learned from her father – to find him before he wreaks more havoc.  The book switches from the present back to Helena’s childhood in the marsh and is really fascinatingly done.

What Happened by Hillary Clinton.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this at first – I thought it would be too painful – but it wasn’t and I am very glad I did.  It was really interesting to re-live the campaign from Hillary’s point of view, and see what her reasoning was for certain decisions.  The book is certainly infuriating, in that once again you see how hard the press worked to make Hillary into everyone else’s criticisms of her, but she is a very funny writer, and of course so intelligent that I read the whole  thing quickly and wished I had bought a physical copy instead of a kindle copy so that I could more easily go back and peruse.  If you are or were a Hillary supporter, I recommend the book.

How To Not Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn.  I have always admired the writing of Jancee Dunn, and although the title made me snort a bit, I was curious to see what she had to say.  And she did not disappoint.  It is basically a relationship book and primarily about communication, and as such I found it extremely helpful, and definitely one of the best of its kind that I have read.  Well, actually, I don’t think I have read any relationship books, but I was very impressed at the usefulness of her advice, and wish I had heard a lot of it years previously.  She is as funny and as down to earth as ever, and the book is a mixture of her own experience, combined with the consultation of experts ranging from marriage counselors to organizers.  It tends towards the gist of how men and women hear things differently and communicate differently, and is basically all about being forthright and direct.  I thought it both wise and entertaining.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina.  Denise Mina is one of my favorite mystery writers and is known for her Scottish noir.  She tends to write series, but this book was a stand-alone and about a true story:  a serial killer named Peter Manuel who was charged and convicted of killing at least eight people in the 1950’s.  It’s an interesting and quick read:  Mina uses court transcripts, but then also gets into the heads of her characters and creates back stories.  The writing is sparse, and she alternates between the trial itself and a night Peter Manuel and another suspect, William Watt, spent on the town a few days before Peter’s arrest.  There is nothing cheery about this book, but it is nonetheless a good read.

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).


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!