A Road Trip in a “Cozy House”

My husband, my two-year-old daughter and I had an adventure for the month of March.  We took a road trip across the U.S.

This is the path we traveled
This is our dream-come-true RV trailer

For many years we wanted an RV of some sort, but we couldn’t figure out how to afford what we really wanted.  We finally realized we didn’t need a motorized RV as long as a small trailer had all the amenities we wanted.  We also needed something we could tow with our Subaru, so it had to be light.  This was the first year they made these cute little “Tabs” with bathrooms in them, so it was perfect for us.  It has heating and A/C, a stove, refrigerator and sink, a toilet and shower, a bed and a table.  It even has a TV and DVD/CD player built in!  Even though we spent almost a month in it, we really didn’t feel too confined by it.  We couldn’t “hang out” in it, but we could eat and sleep and spend the rest of the time driving or enjoying the outdoors or visiting with friends.

During the winter we went up to the RV show at the Big E in Massachusetts.  When we stepped into this trailer, my daughter climbed on the couch and said “Cozy house!”.  So that’s what we decided to name it.  Everyone seems to love this little thing because it is so cute.  At every gas station someone came up to us and wanted to check it out.  We were giving many tours throughout our trip.

We had never camped in an RV before, and we had to learn a lot.  We didn’t know how the hookups worked, but it turned out to be fairly self-explanatory.  At one RV park we drove away while still being plugged into the electricity!  A man beeped at us on the road to let us know we were driving with our cable dragging along the road behind us!  Suffice it to say we made a leaving checklist to avoid more accidents!

Woodall’s Campground Directory was invaluable in planning our trip.  The only downside of this book is that it is huge.  It worked the best for me before the trip, planning out where to stay at RV Parks.   I needed to find RV parks that were open all year round since we were traveling in March.  It is organized well and lists all the important facts about the different parks.

RV Vacations for Dummies  To be honest, I really don’t like the name of this series because I feel like I am calling myself a “dummy” to check it out, which doesn’t seem very nice.  But there are some really helpful tips in this book, including help understanding the different types of campgrounds and safety concerns.  It also has some fun ideas for future trips!

My favorite destination on our adventure was Zion National Monument.  I had wanted to see it for many years and since we were going to be nearby to visit some friends we got the chance to go!  It is so beautiful and it felt like paradise to me.

My husband and daughter “canyoneering” in Zion
My daughter and me, amongst the sage in Zion
My daughter hiking in Zion. I thought this tree was so beautiful.

For more pictures and information on Zion, check out these materials:

Frommer’s Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks  We stayed in Hurricane (pronounced “Hurricun” by the locals) which is called “The Gateway to the Parks”.  It was a tiny town but it truly was in the center of these beautiful parks, as well as amazing state parks.  Our friend is a canyoneer and he took  us on some awesome hikes, but you’ll want a guide like this book because the parks are huge and dangerous.  Our friend told us many stories of people who got in over their heads and needed to be rescued because they didn’t realize  how difficult some of these hikes can be.

Wild River: The Colorado We watched this documentary soon after we came back from our trip and were excited to see places we had seen in person!  This has beautiful views of Zion and other gorgeous places out West.

The first interesting experience I had on this trip was at one of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie.  As we approached we thought this white was the foam from the waves, but then we realized it was ice.  It was constantly crackling and tinkling with the water moving underneath.  It was very beautiful.

Icy topping on Lake Erie. My daughter was nervous about all the strange noises. She thought there was a scary creature under the ice.

Land of the Inland Seas  If you’d like to learn more about the Great Lakes and Lake Erie, this book is all about the history, weather and beauty of the Great Lakes.  I’ve seen several of them from different places and they are amazing, like little oceans, just as the title suggests.

Another really intense experience I had was going over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia.  It is an unusual 17 mile long bridge-tunnel, meaning that as you are about a third of the way across, the bridge turns into a tunnel and goes underneath the ocean so that big ships can cross over, as you can see here.  I couldn’t get a good picture, but when we were on it, all I could see on the horizon in every direction was ocean!  There’s even a restaurant in the middle of the bridge in case you want to stay.

One of the big ships waiting in line to cross over the tunnel portion of the bridge

Fodor’s Virginia and Maryland.  For more information on Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel check this out.  You can find out more  history and other fun things to do in this quieter area of East Virginia.

My husband and I had done cross-country road trips twice, but never with a toddler, so that was  a unique challenge.  Our little girl is a great traveler.  She enjoyed the scenery like we did.  We made sure to not push our luck by over-taxing her though.  Every day we drove our longest stints during her nap and other times we stopped often to play.  What we found most helpful were…. PLAYGROUNDS!  I never realized how important and helpful playgrounds were until now.  She enjoyed every one thoroughly!

We tried to stay at RV Parks that had playgrounds. I think this one was the last stay of our trip, in Delaware.

There were also long stretches of road where there were no towns or playgrounds for many miles.  In those cases we got out and ran!

I think this was in Northern Arizona, near the four corners monument.

Our daughter had a little bag of toys and books as well to keep her busy.  Her favorite book on the trip was Fox in Socks.  I also love reading this one because of all the tongue twisting.

A few times we had to drive in the dark and that wasn’t fun for her, so those times we seat-belted my laptop in the back seat and put a video on.  She loved:

Elmo’s Potty Time Elmo and the other Sesame Street characters sing many fun songs about potty training.  I actually thought this was extremely well done and it has been inspiring to my daughter as well!  She feels very proud of herself that she’s learning to use the toilet.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Families, a Visit to the Pediatrician As you may know from one of my previous blogs, I love Mister Rogers.  My daughter also found this interesting and she loved the “train” (trolley).  I love the gentle pace of all of the episodes. We have a few more at OWL as well.

Baby Einstein’s Baby Newton I liked this because it has quiet music and fun pictures.  My daughter likes the tiger and she liked learning the different shapes.  She also liked the Baby Monet.

All snuggled up in the morning while we made breakfast and got ready to travel again.

She also made up a little game to play when she got bored.  She would hold  up both of her hands and my husband would hold one hand behind him while I reached over and held her other hand and we’d sing songs together.  She would say “Daddy do it.  Mommy do it too.” And she’d wait if we didn’t sing along.  We sang ABCs hundreds of times this way!

We got a little silly and took some weird pictures too.  Here are some of my favorites:

I like how you can see three different views of the sky
Shadow of Subaru and Cozy House driving. I thought it looked like a lion about to pounce on our car. This was near the sand dunes in southern Colorado.

One thing I noticed that has changed about me, since doing trips like this when I was younger, is that now I don’t get bored, or hardly at all.  I just enjoyed the conversation with my husband, the scenery and the new experiences.  Taking our toddler on a really long road trip like this seemed a daunting challenge at first, but when we got home I felt like we had really conquered America.

One more beautiful picture my husband took while he was on a mountain bike ride in southern Colorado. The tree was burnt by a fire.

letterJ Jesse Lee Harmon has been the bookkeeper at OWL since 2004.

As I move out west I want to share that my years at OWL have been the best working experience of my life.  I am honored to have had the privilege of working at my favorite library, with such a wonderful staff and the best director ever, Ann Marie.  Thank you and I wish you all the best, always.

A Lifetime of Learning

I was home-schooled until the 3rd grade.  My mother was the best teacher I ever had.  Teaching came naturally to her, perhaps because her mother was a teacher (my grandmother taught at Litchfield High School in the 1940s and 50s).  My mother taught me to follow my own curiosity and teach myself whatever I wanted to learn.  Even when I attended public school, self-education was highly encouraged in my home.  This experience of self-education was one of the best gifts my parents gave me because it helped me have confidence in my own ability to find answers.

Of course the library was and is the best place to expand our minds.  This is one reason libraries have been known as “the people’s university”.  One section of the library has become a mini-university to me.  In the southeast corner of the newer building Ann Marie has developed quite a collection of the Great Courses audiobooks and DVDs.


What works the best for me is to pick one course, keep it in my car, and listen to it whenever I’m driving.  Even if it’s a short trip up the road I still learn little by little.  These courses are so well done that I have listened to the same one more than once, and even waited and replayed some of them for my husband while he was in the car.

The DVDs work well too because they are broken up into small sections so we watch one class per night, and they are surprisingly entertaining.  Our favorite DVD was Understanding the Universe, with Professor Alexei V. Filippenko. We call him “our friend Alex” because over the length of time that we took his class we grew to love him.  He is a great teacher in that he really helps you to understand what there is to know about the Universe in an entertaining way.  This course is comprised of 96 lectures on 16 disks, from what you can see with the naked eye to what we know about distant galaxies.  It takes quite some time to get through it all, but it is very absorbing.


The Teaching Company has very high standards for the professors that they choose to teach their college-level courses.  The credentials of the professors are absolutely outstanding.  They are award-winning experts in their field of study.  Here is the link to their website, if you would like to find out more information about them:  The Great Courses

I have highlighted below a few that I found particularly interesting, but there are many different subjects to choose from:

Exploring the Roots of Religion:  Professor John R. Hale takes you through 36 lectures, detailing the archaelogical sites from the Neanderthals to the Dead Sea Scrolls.  He takes you to numerous ancient places and paints a picture of what life was like for our ancestors, and shows what we have collectively carried to our present day religions and faiths.

Origins of Life:  Robert M. Hazen, Ph.D. teaches 24 lectures on experiments and theories about where life came from.  He explains his studies of high-pressure organic synthesis as well as fossils and minerals, and ties it all together to create meaningful stories of our evolution.

Philosophy as a Guide to Living: Professor Stephen A. Erickson explains the philosophical thoughts of the past three hundred years, exploring all the questions and the attempts to answer the great question of the meaning of life.  His 24 lectures cover many great thinkers from Kant to Schopenhauer to Nietzsche to Camus.

The History of Ancient Egypt:  Robert Brier, Ph.D. was the first person (in 2000 years) to mummify a human cadaver.  Here he teaches 48 lectures on Egyptology, spanning the 3 kingdoms and 3000 years of Egyptian history.

How to Listen to and Understand Great Music:  Professor Robert Greenberg  teaches 48 lectures on the history and evolution of Western music in the religious and secular world.  He also teaches about composition and appreciation of the beauty of music.

Come browse our mini-university of the Great Courses.  OWL is the place to enjoy a lifetime of learning!

letterJ Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper at OWL and is currently singing the ABCs

Happiness in a Baby Book

I recently measured the happiness levels of my daily activities.  This is a practice I learned from Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar.  I had been enlightened by this book a couple of years ago.  Since becoming a mother my daily life has drastically changed so I wanted to re-test myself.  Tal Ben-Shahar helps you measure the pleasure and meaning that you get from everything in your life, from the mundane to the special.  It  helped me understand the happiness I gain from unexpected sources such as doing laundry, washing dishes or writing blogs… ;)    

This time around I had a new activity that topped my happiness chart–reading books with my 21-month-old daughter (well, not exactly a  new activity since  I have been doing it from birth).  My father recently gave me my baby birth record which I didn’t even know existed.  In it there was a chart of baby Jesse’s favorite activities:

As you can see, under favorite games and toys my mother simply wrote “books”.

Some of my best memories of childhood were curling up with my mother, reading books.  I must be passing my favorite babyhood pastime on to my daughter as well.

The other morning my 17-month-old niece was over to play.  Little cousin looked interested in one of our books so I sat her on my lap and began to read to her.  Suddenly my daughter became very concerned and started to pace back and forth, acting upset.  It took me a minute to realize that she was jealous.  Then, she was not content to sit next to us, she wanted to be the one on mommy’s lap with her cousin sitting beside.  It was special to me to realize that since I have not seen her act this way about other activities, our reading time must be sacred to her.

What is so sweet about reading books together that both of us love it so much?

We snuggle up together on the couch.

We read calm, happy books about nature  , family or cars   .

It is interactive.  I speak in a gentle voice and my daughter turns the pages, points at things and talks to me about them.  Sometimes we keep going back to the page with all the pretty butterflies…

Basically we decide to put life on pause and we meditate together on the simple concepts of life–the beauty of life.

It’s amazing the comfort and bond a book can foster and this bond and love of books enhances each of our lives.

I can recommend books that explain why reading to your children is essential for their development (see below).  But if you really want to know the truth, we just do it because we love it!

Here are some of our favorite books to cuddle with and remind us how special life and love is:

Goodnight Moon  by Margaret Wise Brown.  Of course this is everyone’s favorite baby book because the little bunny has many of the same things as us–a bed, a light, a moon out the window.  This is our special bedtime book along with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. & John Archambault.  Another favorite that we love so much I nick-named my daughter after it!  (Her nick-name is Chickee, sometimes “Chickee Boom Boom”).  This was also the first book that she knew what was coming next and said “Oh no!” along with me as I read it, when all the letters are about to fall out of the coconut tree.

Mama Mama by Jean Marzollo.   A sweet book that reminds mommies that all the little things we do every day are really important.  The book has pictures of jungle animal mamas cleaning, feeding, carrying and taking care of their babies.

What is Green?  by Kate Endle.  My daughter loves books about colors as she is learning different colors.  This book has pretty little cut-out pictures of everyday objects, grouped by color.

Animal Babies by Charles Reasoner.  It seems that every baby learns animal sounds as part of their first vocabulary.  This is our favorite but there are many books like this and we love them all.

…And of course many more.  My daughter loves to poke through the basket in the children’s room at OWL for new selections!

Further reading materials on the science behind reading to children:

Straight Talk About Reading:  How Parents Can Make a Difference During the Early Years by Susan L. Hall & Louisa C. Moats.  The authors say that reading to your children raises their self-esteem, builds their vocabulary and develops their background knowledge about a variety of topics, among many other things.

For Reading Out Loud!  A Guide to Sharing Books with Children by Margaret Mary Kimmel & Elizabeth Segel.  One thing I thought was sweet and interesting about this book was that it compares reading with babies to breast-feeding!  Both have physical and emotional closeness, attentiveness to the child and the fulfillment of a child’s needs.

Growing a Reader from Birth:  Your Child’s Path from Language to Literacy by Dr. Diane McGuinness.  She outlines the different stages children go through as they experience language and books.   

Baby & Toddler Play:  170+ fun activities to help your child learn through play by Wendy S. Masi & Roni Cohen Leiderman and the Gymboree Corporation Staff.  This book has lots of fun games to play with your child at their different stages of development.  It even has interesting books you can make yourself, like a book of different textures.   The authors also mention a study that showed reading to babies improves their receptive vocabularies so much that 18-month-olds who had been frequently read to as babies had vocabularies that had increased 40% since babyhood, whereas the non-reading 18-month-olds’ vocabularies had only increased 16%. Wow!

As I have been learning to be a mother, my friends who are well-seasoned mothers have taught me that my baby’s moods are often mirrors of my own.  When I’m getting stressed out and notice that the household mood is getting cranky, one of the best things I have found to do is to take our respite and reboot ourselves, snuggled up in the corner of the couch, with our little happy books about the moon, butterflies, tractors, and all the other fun things in life.


Jesse and Chickee are drawing with crayons on their window-panes–  pictures of Christmas trees and snowflakes!

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah is one of my favorite actresses.  Not only is she funny & sassy, she also seems to be a genuinely good person.  I love the way she carries herself with confident grace.  She has had a lot of obstacles to overcome in life to be who she is today, a strong and generous woman.  I think she is inspiring and a good role model for young women. 

One of the things I love about Queen Latifah is that she fights airbrushing and photoshopping.  She says that flaws-and-all is special and better than perfect.  Her new book Put on Your Crown  is part memoir and part inspiration for young girls and women to build their self-confidence.  She talks about her own imperfections being part of what she loves about herself.  “For the most part, I’ve been fortunate that photographers have not gone crazy and digitized my image beyond recognition.  But I have had issues with the scar on my forehead.  Sometimes I have to fight to make sure they leave it alone.  I got that scar when I was 3 years old playing tag with my brother… that scar reminds me of my childhood and the fun times I had with my brother.  It’s part of who I am.  I love that scar!”  She is a beautiful woman, inside and out, which is why I think she is special. 

She stars in lots of fun movies.  Here are some you can borrow from OWL:

Last Holiday (2006) This is one of my favorite movies.  Georgia Byrd, a shy salesclerk, finds out she has a month to live so she sets out on a dream vacation.  She travels to a European resort spa and eats delicious food, wears fancy dresses and enjoys life to the fullest. 

Just Wright (2010).  Leslie Wright is a physical therapist who is chosen to work with NBA All-Star Scott McKnight.  She starts to fall in love with him but her childhood friend Morgan steals him away. 

Mad Money (2008).  Three women employees of the Federal Reserve Bank plot to steal cash that is being destroyed.  Family problems start to arise that the women have to confront before they can make their plan work.   

Chicago (2002) This is a musical where Queen Latifah plays Matron Mama Norton, the corrupt prison warden.  She performs the songs “When You’re Good to Mama” and “Class”. 

Beauty Shop (2005)  A funny film where Gina opens a beauty shop with a bunch of sassy hair-stylists and clients who all speak their minds!   

Stranger than Fiction (2006):  In this film, Queen Latifah plays Penny, the assistant to the author whose stories start to become reality as she writes them. 

Valentine’s Day (2010):  Several couples’ relationships are tested in this romantic movie.  Queen Latifah plays Paula Thomas, a supporting role, who provides some comic relief. 

Secret Life of Bees (2008): In this film (based on the book Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd) Queen Latifah plays August Boatright, one of the sisters who takes Lily in as their foster daughter. 

We also have two of her CDs:

The Dana Owens Album (her given name) is a collection of cover songs that she sings beautifully. 

I love the song How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side) on her album Trav’lin’ Light.  This album has more songs written by her.  Its bluesy/gospel feel is really fun!

I will leave you with another quote from Queen Latifah on beauty:

“I wish every woman would learn to love herself and embrace what she was given naturally, even her small imperfections.  The point is to be healthy, feel good in your own skin, and play up your best assets.  Whether you’re short or tall, thick or thin, the beauty comes from how you carry yourself, how you care for your appearance, and the inner glow that confidence brings.”

 Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at OWL.

Shobhan Bantwal, Indian Romance Author

Shobhan Bantwal says she always heard that you should write what you know, and she knows Indian culture.  She calls her novels “Bollywood in a Book”.  What I like about her writing is that she mentions many little details about Indian food and clothing, houses and customs.  For some reason I’m always drawn to authors who pepper their writing with these home-life details.  There are many authors who write about Indian culture, but Shobhan is unique in that she has a fun lightness to her writing that I haven’t found in other Indian literature.  Perhaps it’s because she likes to read other light romance authors like Nora RobertsDorothy Garlock, Mary Monroe & Jayne Ann Krentz.   

Shobhan was raised in a conservative Hindu family in Southwestern India.  She came to the U.S. in an arranged marriage.  Though she writes about the injustices of dowries and arranged marriages, she does have a happy relationship with her husband of 30 years.  She only started writing in her fifties, due to what she called a “menopausal epiphany” where she says the creative part of her brain went into overdrive.   

I also love the book covers of her novels.  They are pretty, intriguing and very Desi

The Dowry Bride:  In this novel she takes you right into the action where a young woman is running away when she discovers that her mother-in-law is planning to murder her.  She hides out in her cousin-in-law’s apartment until she can figure out what to do.

The Unexpected Son :  An Indian-American woman receives a letter in the mail claiming she has a son in India who needs help.  She tries to find out the mystery of this story, when she had believed for 25 years that she had birthed a stillborn son.   

The Sari Shop Widow: A young widow in New Jersey owns a boutique in Little India called Silk & Sapphires that is in danger of going out of business.  Her grouchy rich uncle comes to save the day bringing along with him a mysterious stranger. 

The Forbidden Daughter: This novel takes place in contemporary India when an expecting couple find out on an ultrasound that they will be having a baby girl.  Some of the extended family is unhappy that they aren’t producing a male heir, and suggest the unthinkable.

She has a new book The Full Moon Bride coming out in July which the library will be purchasing.  It is about an Indian-American who was raised in New Jersey and has a career as a lawyer, but still decides to accept an offer of a traditional arranged marriage…


If you’d like to know more about Shobhan Bantwal or try her tasty recipes in her Spice Corner, please check out her website: www.shobhanbantwal.com

Just for fun I’ll add a few romantic comedies about Indian culture:

Bend it Like Beckham (2003) is a movie about a young Indian girl that is in love with playing soccer even though her parents want her to be more traditional.  We see an Indian wedding and other aspects of Indian culture. 

Monsoon Wedding (2002) is all about an arranged marriage, a big Indian wedding, and all the family drama that goes along with it.  Many different love story lines are interwoven throughout the film.  There are also beautiful colors, songs and scenery that really give you a feel for India. 

Outsourced (2008) is a film about a Vice President of an American company that sells phone-order products is sent to India to oversee the changeover to outsourcing.  The movie explores his feelings about this as well as his blooming romance with one of the Indian phone operators. 

 Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at OWL and is currently humming along to Putumayo’s India CD!

4 Tips for Airplane Sickness/Anxiety

"Qantas never crashed"

Despite my intense fear of flying, I have traveled thirty-one times by airplane in my young life.  After my first few terrible experiences with motion sickness, flying quickly became my most-hated experience in life.  For a few years I just refused to fly.  But then, feeling like I was going to miss out on some fun experiences, I decided to find a way to make it through the ordeal.  If you are like me, here is my very first piece of advice:

1.  Take Dymenhydrinate (Dramamine).  I tried every natural option (homeopathic, ginger, seabands, etc.) before I went to the hard stuff.  Dymenhydrinate completely eliminates my nausea.  I used to wonder if the anxiety of flying was affecting my stomach, but it isn’t.  The first time I tried Dymenhydrinate I went through very rough turbulence and was clinging to my arm rests in panic but in the back of my mind I thought “Hmm!  No nausea!”  The only side effect it seems to have is making me slightly sleepy.  I am one who tries to avoid medication at all costs, but sometimes it’s worth it, if you really need it.  And, I think, once or twice a year isn’t going to kill me. 

p.s. Meclizine (Bonine) may work for some people, but I tried it and it made me feel drunk for a full day, plus I still had nausea!   

That doesn’t take care of the anxiety of flying, the cramped cabin, the non-fresh air, etc.  But here are the other “drugs” on my flying checklist:

2.  Bring something (or someone) that makes you laugh.  My best flight ever was when I traveled with my sister Rachel (who is the funniest comedian I know) sitting next to me pretending to be an obnoxious person constantly beeping the attendant.  I laughed my way through take-off without feeling a hint of anxiety. 

I’ve found that the best thing is to listen to comedians because they are attempting to make you laugh every minute.  Even if I don’t think everything they say is funny, once I start the giggles it’s hard to stop them.    Here are some items I’ve brought along to keep me laughing: 

Ray Romano:  I didn’t know anything about this comedian but I blindly tried this on a plane ride to Arizona and it kept me laughing out loud the whole time.  He jokes a lot about relationships.  We have Ray Romano Live at Carnegie Hall.    

Jim Gaffigan:  I think this guy is hilarious!  Much of his humor is about food and overreating.  We have Doing My Time.  We also have two of his stand-up DVDs if you bring along your laptop on the plane:  King Baby and Beyond the Pale.    

Chris Rock:  He does a lot of political and cultural commentary that is really funny.  I recommend  Never Scared.  and  Cheese & Crackers: Greatest Bits. 

Jerry Seinfeld: How can you not love Jerry?  He has a pretty family-friendly social commentary in I’m Telling You for the Last Time.   

Bill Cosby:  The King of Comedy, I’m sure you all agree.  Sometimes stand-up is so contemporary that after a few years it seems very dated.  Bill Cosby somehow transcends time (for the most part).  We have lots to choose from:

Note:  These are all only for adults.  Some of the comedians are slightly more family-friendly than others, but none are, what I would call, completely “clean”. 

3.  Try to get a seat right above the wings.  My grandfather-in-law is a retired pilot and he says this is the best place to sit to avoid the worst of the turbulence.  The wings are sort of the plane’s center of “gravity” where the pilot is controlling the movement, so the front and back of the plane are going to be moving up and down more than the middle. 

4.  Be as comfortable as possible:  comfy clothes, water (you’ll have to buy it after the checkpoint, they’ll confiscate anything in a bottle), snacks and chewing gum (cabin pressure is better than it used to be, but I still get a little popping in my ears).  

And, just for fun, check out a couple of these movies about fear of flying:

The quote I put on the airplane picture is from Rain Man (1988) where Dustin Hoffman’s character refuses to get on the plane.  This is how I feel in the airport too! 

In The Terminal (2004) Viktor (Tom Hanks) is stuck at JFK Airport for days due to red tape in both his home country and the U.S. 

Of course, the ridiculous & hilarious Airplane (1980).  Beware:  a few scenes are definitely not family-friendly! 

The Father Ted (1995) series is a hilarious britcom about three priests on Craggy Island in Ireland.  One episode has an airplane full of priests and it gets quite silly.  Note:  this is the same director as the IT Crowd, a staff favorite which we have highlighted in a few different blogs.

In French Kiss (1995) Meg Ryan’s character has a fear of flying and the only cure she finds is getting angry at the man sitting next to her. 

“Ladies & Gentlemen, the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign…”  

 Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at OWL and is currently humming the song Airplane by the Indigo Girls.

Daniel Pinkwater Warms up your Winter

Daniel Pinkwater's self-portrait

When I was little my mother would read aloud to me and my siblings every day.  She picked a lot of fun books which I think is one of the reasons all of us developed a love of reading.  I remember when she first read us a book by Daniel Pinkwater called Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars.  It is a unique story that is funny and somewhat suspenseful.  His books are different because they are what I would term mellow science fiction.  The characters are rooted in reality but little magical things happen that you almost wouldn’t notice if they happened in real life, except that Pinkwater points them out to you.  By the time the really weird stuff starts happening you’re already hooked.     

I read an interview with author/ illustrator Daniel Pinkwater in which he describes how he writes, and I’d like to share it with you.  It is from fatso.com:  

“I once got stranded on some rocks alongside the Hudson River. On the Jersey side of the Hudson River, there are these 450 foot cliffs, and I was hiking. I saw a sign that said ‘Danger! Do not proceed any further.’ But the sign looked old. I decided it was some old danger, so I proceeded further, and I found myself encountering a rock slide that I had to traverse. It looked quite easy, but as I got into it, I realized that the shore curved away and it got into a really complicated bit of mountaineering where there were boulders as big as houses that I had to haul my fat body over…  As I finally came off this tortuous rock slide, I was in an area of trees and greensward. It was like a Disney movie; all the little animals came right up to me. I had spent all the aggression that was in me and the animals – chipmunks and squirrels and birds and things, said, ‘Here’s a chance to look at a human close up. He’s not going to hurt us.’  They were all gathered around my feet. I felt like Snow White or something. Each step I took, they’d move over and hop along with me. It was eerie. I contend that you can do this as a writer. And it’s safer. Which is why I don’t outline. The pleasure for me is to be all the way out there.” 

I like this description of his work, because these kinds of bizarre science-fiction-like things happen to his characters as well, but you can almost believe that it’s real.  

I’ve listed below some of my favorites, but we have many more of his books at OWL.  I believe these appeal to all ages and are great for family read-alouds.  Unless otherwise noted, these books are all for independent readers about age 9+.     

Browse the list below, and see if the titles don’t warm you up a little inside.  Enjoy!   

Blue Moose  A tale quite fitting for the winter season.  A man who lives in very cold country befriends a moose who helps him run his restaurant.   

Fat Men from Space William’s tooth starts receiving radio signals that suspiciously seem to be coming from outer space. 

The Hoboken Chicken Emergency Arthur befriends a very large chicken who causes a panic in Hoboken. 

Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars Nerdy Leonard meets a new friend who teaches him about mind control. 

Lizard Music Victor is left alone at home for two weeks and discovers a secret community of lizards from space.  

Jolly Roger: A Dog of Hoboken A sailor gives Jolly Roger to “The Kid” and they go have fun in Hoboken. 

Aunt Lulu A librarian in Alaska takes books to the gold miners every week on a sled with her team of huskies.  (independent readers ages 4+)

Borgel Melvin takes a roadtrip with his strange relative in a 1937 Dorbzeldge sedan that turns into a time machine. 

At the Hotel Larry, Young Larry, Ice Cream Larry  Pinkwater has written several picture books about Larry, a big polar bear who saved a man’s life in Bayonne.  The man repaid him by letting him live in his big hotel.  (independent readers ages 4+)

Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper & library assistant at OWL and practices Klugarsh Mind Control.  

The Versatility of a Uke

One day this past summer I was walking down a street in Vermont when I saw a folk musical instrument store.  I went inside and impulsively bought my first ukulele.  It is now my instrument of choice, mainly because of its size, though I do also like the nice tropical twang it has.  It is very comfortable to play and also very portable.  I can even play it while riding shotgun in the car!  Now I bring it almost everywhere.  


I’ve often wondered if there is something in the collective unconscious which gave us this desire for a lute-like instrument.  There are so many different types of stringed instruments that have evolved from different cultures.  Ukuleles originated in Hawaii, evolved from instruments introduced by the Portuguese.  Although they were once associated only with Hawaiian music, ukuleles are quite versatile and can be used in many different musical genres.  I created an OWL Ukulele Collection here for you to enjoy if you’d like to check out the different uses for this beautiful instrument.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ the last DJ.  Tom Petty & Scott Thurston play the uke on this rockin’ CD by one of my very favorite bands. 

Colbie Caillat’s Coco.  This is a beautiful album of folk-rocky music.  Jason Reeves plays ukulele on the song Tied Down

Bluegrass Goes to Town.  A collection of pop songs played in a bluegrass style.  Jack Clement plays ukulele on Piece of My Heart.

Carly Simon’s Reflections.  A folky collection of songs with Jimmy Ryan playing ukulele on Love of My Life.

Van Morrison’s Keep it Simple.  A folk-rock album where Morrison plays ukulele on That’s Entrainment, Keep it Simple and Behind the Ritual.

Carrie Newcomer’s The Geography of Light.  Chris Wagoner & Mary Gaines play ukulele on this Folk CD.

Anne Price’s Hearth & Fire.  Evy Mayer plays ukulele on Rivers of Texas on this very folky compilation. 

And I have to add my favorite movie of all time, Some Like it Hot where Marilyn Monroe plays ukulele on the song Running Wild (jazz) in her “all-girl” band with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.  One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) is thanking Jack Lemmon’s character “Daphne” for getting her out of a jam:

“If it wasn’t for you, they’d have kicked me off the train.  I’d be out in the middle of nowhere, sitting on my ukulele.” 

Daphne (Jack Lemmon in drag) says “Oh, it’s freezing outside!  I mean, when I think about you… and your poor ukulele!”

  Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at OWL and is hummin’ & strummin’ her ukey…

Anya Seton, My New Favorite Author


A month ago a lovely Litchfield lady introduced me to my new favorite author, Anya Seton.  The first book I read was The Hearth and Eagle and I was instantly transfixed by Seton’s writing.  I was so engrossed in this book that I was even thinking about the story during work and wondering what was going to happen next.  The reason she is my new favorite author is because she was a gifted storyteller and she put so much hard work into her historical research.  The pace of her writing feels like real life but is also suspenseful, almost like she is a tour guide on a time machine. 

Anya Seton’s extraordinary amount of research is what sets her apart from other historical romance authors, and is one of the main reasons why she won international acclaim.  She actually did not like to be placed in the historical romance genre, preferring the term “biographical novel”.   Margaret Moser wrote an article about Anya Seton for The Austin Chronicle saying, “Don’t judge Anya Seton’s reissued biofics by their romance and bad covers”.  I couldn’t agree more.  Moser quotes Anya Seton describing the nature of her writing, “My own works are very, very different in approach.  I have a passion for facts, for dates, for places.  I love to recreate the past and to do so with all the accuracy possible.  This means an enormous amount of research, which is no hardship because I love it.” 

Anya Seton has an interesting life story of her own.  She was born in 1904 in the United States and was partially raised in Connecticut and partially in England.  She was named Ann at birth but when she was five she was given the name Anutika by a Sioux Chief who was visiting the family.  Later her name was shortened to Anya.  She did not write her first novel until she was 37 years old. 

In almost every novel she writes an intriguing, short Author’s Note which shows her extensive research and the historical significance of the book.  

The Hearth and Eagle, pub. 1948:  This novel takes place in the 1800s, in Marbledale, Massachusetts, with a story-within-a-story about the 1600s.  Seton tells us of Mark and Phoebe Honeywood who emigrated from England in the 1600s.  They built a house made of pine boards which turned into a tavern that survived many storms throughout the years.  But this is a story about Hesper Honeywood, a descendant of Phoebe who lived in the 1800s.  There is romance, suspense, adventure… truly a beautiful book. 

Foxfire, pub. 1950:  This is a story of Arizona in the 1930s.  Perhaps I found it even more interesting because I lived in both Connecticut and Arizona myself, just like the heroine of the novel.  A girl from a wealthy family in Connecticut who lost their fortune in the 1929 stock market crash marries a Native American man from Arizona.  They live in a mining town in Arizona, in poor conditions that she is not used to.  Another great story of suspense with attempted murder, an adventure to find a lost city, and a sweet love story about her marriage. 

The Mistletoe and The Sword, pub. 1956:  This story takes place in 60 C.E. when Rome is invading England.  A Roman soldier falls in love with an English foster princess.  This story was reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings with Druids, battles and magic!   

Avalon, pub. 1965:  This intriguing story takes place in the turn of the millenium, the 990s and 1000s.  This is the life story of the Lady Merewyn, who had been raised to believe that she was descended from King Arthur but was actually the daughter of a Viking.  It’s also the story of the only man who knows her secret.  It takes place in England, Iceland, Greenland and even the New World.  As in many of her novels, historically famous people are minor characters.  In this story some of the famous ones are Erik the Red, Leif the Lucky and Queen Emma. 

Smouldering Fires, pub. 1975:  This is a different type of biographical novel, a young adult novel set in more modern times than her other books.  A young girl discovers she has psychic powers to see the past.  She is hypnotized by her high school teacher because he is so intrigued by her gift.  This eery story takes place in Greenwich, Connecticut where Seton lived for many years.  She said that she did the same amount of research as her other historical novels and ended up learning much about her own home town. 

I read her first three novels after I had read some of her others, and while these are good books, they do not seem to have the same strength and suspense of her other writings, in my opinion.  I do think they are interesting and worth reading, all the same. 

My Theodosia, pub. 1941: I am actually reading this novel as we speak.  It is a story of the daughter of Aaron Burr, and much of Aaron Burr’s story is told from Theodosia’s perspective.  But this is Seton’s version of what really happened with the mystery of Theodosia’s life and love.   

Dragonwyck, pub. 1944:  This novel takes place in the 1840s.  It is about Miranda, a country girl who is sent to Dragonwyck, a mansion on the Hudson River, to tutor her cousin’s daughter.  This is one of her darker novels, as there is murder and ghosts, but it is also a redemptive love story. 

The Turquoise, pub. 1946:  This is a semi-fictional life story of a woman named Fey, from Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It takes place in the mid-1800s in New Mexico and New York, and her travels and romance in between.  What I liked best in this novel was her descriptions of New York City in the 1860s.  This was the first time I felt like I had an accurate picture of what the city was like during that time.

I have enjoyed her novels so much that I believe I’ll be sad when I finish all of them.  I do think that many of her novels would be worth reading a second time.  Here are the last of her books which I haven’t read yet but are next on my list:     

Katherine, pub. 1954:  A friend of mine remembered that this book was required reading for her in high school.  I wish that Anya Seton’s stories still were!  This is the story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster.  It takes place in the 1300s and pieces together many previously unknown facts about Katherine’s life. 

The Winthrop Woman, pub. 1958:  Seton did an extensive amount of research into this reconstruction of the life of Elizabeth Winthrop, who she believed was wrongly remembered in history. 

Devil Water, pub. 1962:  This is the true story of Charles Radcliffe and his daughter Jenny.  It takes place in the 1700s in England and America during the Jacobite rebellion of 1715.  It is compared to The Winthrop Woman in it’s rich historical detail and powerful storytelling. 

Green Darkness, pub. 1972: This is the story of a present day woman haunted by her past life 400 years ago as a servant in 16th-century England.  It is a mystical suspense and is one of Anya Seton’s books that is most recommended by her fans. 


Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper/library assistant at OWL and thinks every season is reading season… summer is for reading on the beach and winter is for reading snuggled up under blankets with a cup of hot Sleepytime tea!

Rebecca Nurse, a Victim of the Salem Witch Trials

We recently found out that my husband is a descendant of Rebecca Nurse, one of the wrongly accused during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.  Two weeks ago we visited her homestead in Danvers, MA and the Witch Trials Memorial Site in Salem.  It was very unsettling to be there, similar to feelings I have had at other memorial sites for wars or other horrible events in human history.  The only positive thing I can say is that I left with a sense of renewed personal responsibility for society, and a hope that all of humanity will learn from these stories and eventually learn to live in peace. 

Rebecca Nurse was one of the 20 who were executed in 1692.  There were also over 100 who were accused of using witchcraft to cause harm, many of them jailed and some died in prison.  Rebecca herself was 71 years old when she was arrested from her bedroom and taken to prison.  Two of her sisters, Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyce were jailed for trying to defend her.  During her trial 40 members of the community came forward to testify on her behalf (their names are inscribed on a stone at her gravesite).  The jury found her innocent but mass hysteria pressured the judge and jury to reconsider and they ended up convicting her.  She was hanged with four other women on July 19, 1692.  It was against the law for the executed to have a proper burial, but her family secretly removed her body and buried her in an unmarked grave in the family cemetery, down a little dirt road behind the house.  Then, in 1885, the Nurse family erected this memorial to Rebecca, near her unmarked grave.     

In Salem there is a memorial to the 20 who were executed.  There is a stone bench for each one with their name inscribed.  In the front of the memorial is a collage of stones imprinted with the quotes of their innocent pleas.    

Rebecca Nurse is mentioned in all of the following books about the Salem Witch Trials. 

The Salem Witchcraft Trials by Karen Zeinert:  This is a children’s book but it gives a very good outline of what happened in Salem in 1692.  One interesting thing in the book is a map of the Salem area which shows how the accusers were on the West side and the accused were on the East side, matching some longtime quarrels over taxes and ministers.   

The Witches of Early America by Sally Smith Booth.  Booth tells the history of witch-hunting in Colonial Times and how the suspicion and superstition came to a head in Salem, but others were killed and persecuted in other places. 

A Delusion of Satan:  The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials by Frances Hill.  The title is from a quote from Ann Putnam, one of the young girls who had “fits” and started the accusations.  In 1706 she made a public statement mentioning Rebecca Nurse and her two sisters and apologizing, calling it a “great delusion of Satan” that caused her actions.  Hill explains the events of 1692 from a modern psychological perspective.    

Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies by Elaine G. Breslaw.  Tituba was the slave of the family of young girls who started the witch-hunting hysteria.  Breslaw pieces together historical data to tell us who Tituba really was. 

A Fever in Salem: a New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials by Laurie Winn Carlson.  Carlson makes the compelling case that the cause of the “fits” the young accusers experienced was encephalitis or another organic explanation. 

Witchcraft at Salem by Chadwick Hansen. Hansen focuses on the responsibility of the towns-people for the events of 1692 and points out how they created what they were afraid of. 

The following four novels are about witch-hunting in England and/or America in the 1600s. 

Witch Child by Celia Rees is a novel about a young pagan woman who flees to America during the witch hunts in England in the mid-1600s, only to find persecution here as well, from the same man who killed her grandmother.  

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare is an award-winning children’s novel about the mass hysteria of the colonies in the 17th century.  The townspeople become suspicious of this young headstrong girl especially when she makes friends with a supposed witch who lives in the woods. 

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe is a novel set in modern times about a college student who finds clues leading her on a search for an ancient physick book which was hidden in the time of the Salem Witch Trials.   

Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt is a suspenseful novel about a family who is caught in peril as they are tormented during the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt.

Jesse Lee Harmon is the bookkeeper & library assistant at OWL.