Shenandoah 2021: Hawksbill Mountain

Hawksbill Mountain is Shenandoah’s highest point, but not its most difficult hike. We planned to combine it with a few other hikes for an active but doable-for-kids day. The morning dawned cloudy and misty, so the views from the summit weren’t going to be the best ever, but we figured it would still be beautiful (spoiler: it was). Off we go through the woods…

The kids were hoping for more scrambles (like on the accidental portion of our Bearfence hike) but Steve and I were on our game this time. Scramble up this tiny rock, kids.

After what felt like a very short walk, we were approaching the summit of Hawksbill! That went fast.

Let’s go get that summit, team!

Arrived at the top of Shenandoah – views for days, even with the cloud cover and mist.

I’d love to come up here on a sunny, clear day to see how the view changes – but this misty, magical morning at the highest point in Shenandoah was plenty beautiful.

Next week: from the highest summit in Shenandoah to… the second highest summit in Shenandoah.

Reading Round-Up: November 2021

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for November, 2021.

Paper Girls Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughn – The first volume of this new-to-me comic by Brian K. Vaughn (of Saga fame) opens early in the morning on the day after Halloween, in 1988 – so, naturally, I was saving it to read on November 1st. There are aliens, time travel, and a kick@$$ paper-delivery girl gang – good stuff all around. I can’t wait to read the next volume.

Murder by Matchlight, by E.C.R. Lorac – It’s a dark night during the Blitz. Bruce Mallaig, disappointed by his fiancee’s inability to meet him for dinner, strolls through Regents Park in the dark and witnesses the moment before a murder. Chief Inspector Macdonald doesn’t have much to go on – the briefest flare of light during the striking of a match, and an unidentified corpse – but it’s enough. This was my first E.C.R. Lorac (I’d read Crossed Skis, by the same author but written under a different pseudonym, and loved it) and it was a delight. I’ll definitely be working my way through all of the Loracs that the BL Crime Classics imprint has brought out – quite a few of which are already on my shelves, waiting.

Slightly Foxed No. 71: Jocelin’s Folly (Autumn 2021), ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – A new issue of Slightly Foxed is always a treat, and this one was no different. Rachel Kelly’s beautiful essay about working through grief and depression with the help of poetry was by far the best item in the journal this season, but I also loved Clarissa Burden on Josephine Tey’s Inspector Alan Grant – really, it was all wonderful, as always.

Meet Mr Mulliner, by P.G. Wodehouse – I listened to this standalone collection of linked short stories over Audible, and it was a delight from the first word to the last. I’m not sure I’ve ever departed from Wodehouse’s two famous series – the Jeeves books and the Blandings Castle series – and it was such fun. I particularly enjoyed the two stories featuring Augustine Mulliner, but they were all great. If my family was as fascinating as Mr Mulliner’s family, you can bet I’d take up residence in a pub and spin tales about them too.

Blitz Writing, by Inez Holden – This volume collects two different works: a novella (Night Shift) and a memoir (It Was Different at the Time) by Inez Holden. The gorgeous writing reminded me a bit of Virginia Woolf, although it feels like a disservice to Holden to compare her to anyone (even the greats). The vivid description of a night of bombardment, toward the end of Night Shift, was particularly breathtaking.

The Sittaford Mystery, by Agatha Christie – Another Audible listen, and another standalone from an author better known for series – on a snowy December night, a group of acquaintances gathers around a table for a seance. The table reports that another of their acquaintances, Captain Trevelyan, is dead – murdered. Captain Narracott, tasked with ferreting out the criminal, promptly arrests the dead man’s eldest nephew, James Pearson – but Jim’s intrepid fiancee, Emily Trefusis, is convinced that Jim had nothing to do with the crime and is determined to catch the real killer and clear her beloved’s name. It took me a bit to get into this one – unusual for Christie. Everyone involved seemed completely inept and idiotic, Inspector Narracott most of all. It wasn’t until Emily appeared that things got good. (Her first appearance on the page takes place when she walks in on Jim’s arrest. He wails that he didn’t kill his uncle. “Of course you didn’t, darling,” Emily reassures him. “You haven’t got the guts.” And then I thought – thank goodness! Finally, someone with some sense.) Emily is a fabulous character and I only wish that Christie had written more mysteries featuring her as the sleuth.

Framley Parsonage (Chronicles of Barsetshire #4), by Anthony Trollope – I won’t say much here, because I’m going to write up a full review for The Classics Club, but – of course – I loved this installment in the Chronicles of Barsetshire. There’s so much going on – the novel mainly revolves around the social-climbing Vicar of Framley and the distressing scrape he finds himself in, but there’s a major side plot involving a love story between the Vicar’s sister Lucy and the young squire, which is a delight to watch unfold. And our friends Dr Thorne, Frank and Mary Gresham, and the fabulous Miss Dunstable all pop in for a hello, too. Framley Parsonage isn’t my favorite Barset novel so far (Dr Thorne still holds the top spot on the pedestal) but it was, of course, wonderful.

Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto – This poignant, heart-wrenching novella tells the story of Mikage and Yuichi, two lost souls trying to navigate loss and grief – both needing each other, but each unwilling to drag the other into their own despair. Both have lost their entire families and are alone in the world, but for one another; Mikage cooks her way out of grief and into an understanding of her deeper feelings for Yuichi. The translation from the original Japanese text is gorgeous, and I wanted to gather them both up for hugs.

Not bad for a month that included a weeklong trip to Colorado (and no reading at all, other than on the plane). Everything I read this month was wonderful, lucky me – it’s almost impossible to pick a highlight. Still, if I have to (I know I don’t have to) Trollope always takes top spot anytime he appears in a monthly booklist. But there was also P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, so good company. And “Kitchen” was a marvelous, if devastating, read on which to end the month. For December, I have big holiday reading plans, as usual, and another trip – plenty of reading time in the car.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 29, 2021)

Happy Monday, friends! How were your Thanksgiving weekends? Ours took us clear across the country – on Thursday the 18th, we flew out to western Colorado to spend the holiday, and the week prior, with my brother and sister-in-law and their menagerie. We don’t see them nearly enough, and it was so good to have all of that focused time together. We stayed up past midnight, twice, drinking wine and talking about fun and serious stuff just as hard as we could. We ate incredible meals and tramped around western Colorado and the national parks near Moab, Utah, and it was perfect. (Lots of stories coming, but not until after I finish up Shenandoah and Seattle.) Flight logistics dictated that our family head home on Black Friday, so we reluctantly said goodbye to Dan, Danielle, Ollie and Marlin (the dogs) and Pancho (the cat). As sad as we were to leave, it was probably a good idea to give the kids the weekend to decompress and get back on Eastern time after all that exhausting fun; we made it a low-key weekend. Saturday was devoted entirely to bumming around the house, cleaning out and restocking the fridge, and getting ready for another busy week (including a business trip for me, it never rains but it pours). On Sunday, we made time for a little more fun – swim class, of course, and a very short hike on our favorite trail, just to get our hiking legs back after the flight. A little cooking and a cozy couch evening on the couch – perfect way to end a weekend and set myself up for a long week of work.

Reading. Some reading week – it was light, but all over the place. I had to set Framley Parsonage aside for a week, rather than carting a heavy doorstopping hardback to Colorado, so spent the flights over a different doorstopper instead – Romola, on my kindle. I’m about a third of the way through, thanks to plane reading, but set it aside to return to Framley when we got home. I finished Framley Parsonage on Saturday night, and spent Sunday over Banana Yoshimoto’s classic Kitchen. (Nice slim fast read – just what the doctor ordered.) I’m off on a business trip – more flights – so I’ll be charging up the kindle and returning to Romola with an eye to finishing it up this week.

Watching. Not much – I was too busy talking and catching up with Dan and Danielle all week. On Saturday, I did spend a few hours watching some of Miranda‘s Christmas videos on YouTube – trying to break through a post-travel grinchy mood and get in the holiday spirit. It’s starting to work, I think.

Listening. Mmmm, not much. I started In the Crypt with a Candlestick, a fun mystery by Daisy Waugh, on Audible – but I’m not into it yet. Other than that, just one episode of my favorite podcast, Shedunnit, on Josephine Tey. (So good.)

Making. It was actually a creative weekend, who’d’a thunk? In addition to a cleaned and restocked fridge (just in time for me to turn around and head back to the airport), I made: progress on Christmas knitting; gluten-free and almost-Paleo banana bread and mini muffins with sous chef Nugget; the beginnings of Christmas cards for mailing; more that I can’t think of right now because someone is whining in my ear.

Moving. It was a hiking week, for sure! Dan and Danielle showed us so many of their favorite spots – from a fun hike in Colorado National Monument, practically in their backyard, to iconic hikes in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks outside of Moab – and more. Plenty of stories and pictures coming soon; stay tuned.

Blogging. November’s reading roundup is coming for you on Wednesday, and on Friday – back to Shenandoah on a warm summer weekend. It’s cold here, so looking through my pictures from Labor Day is warming me right up.

Loving. A bittersweet one. I can’t tell you how much I loved spending the last week with Dan and Danielle. Steve and I love them both so much and we don’t see them nearly enough – and it had been way too long since the kids saw their uncle and aunt. It was an incredible week, full of beautiful vistas and the joy of being together, but that made it all the sadder to leave. I like to joke that I’m an emotionless stone, but there were some tears. Fortunately we’ll be seeing them again soon – and we all agreed that we need to make a point of getting together, whether on visits to each other’s homes or meeting up in some other location for a family getaway – at least once a year. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that time together is precious and we will never let work schedules and everyday responsibilities (oh, and a pandemic) interfere with our family time for so long again.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Shenandoah 2021: Story of the Forest Trail

Another old favorite – we almost never miss the Story of the Forest trail, no matter how quick the visit to Shenandoah. This time, we stopped by the Big Meadows visitor center so the kiddos could take their Junior Ranger oath of office, then immediately struck off for one of our favorite easy, kid-friendly hikes in the park.

The trail dips downhill a ways, then meanders over gently rolling hills – nothing difficult about it at all – for a little under two miles. It’s a lovely hike for kids, since there are plenty of natural elements to keep them engaged (including a Poohsticks bridge) and you can make it as long or as short as you like.

It’s a classic wooded trail; I think quite a few park visitors skip Story of the Forest because it doesn’t boast sweeping vistas (like Hawksbill) or strenuous scrambles (like Old Rag) or roaring waterfalls (like Dark Hollow) – just a peaceful path through a verdant forest. But there’s plenty to see if you drop your eyes to the forest floor itself – like bright green eruptions of ferns, my favorite.

And forest friends, like a sweet doe and her speckled fawns. All together now: awwwwww.

I just love their quiet grace.

Spotted just off the trail: an air quality monitoring station. Unbeknownst to many park visitors, Shenandoah struggles with air quality problems thanks to surrounding industry. Air quality monitoring stations in the park perform important work to ensure that our wild space stays healthy for us all.

Just a beautiful, peaceful walk in the woods – can’t top that.

Next week: we climb to the highest point in the park.

Themed Reads: A Little Blitzy

It’s no secret that I love a good World War II book – home front, travel, memoir, history, contemporaneous or historical fiction – I’ll take it all, and more, please. There’s a whole subset of World War II books set in London during the Blitz, of course, and it makes sense: when and where else was the indominable spirit of a nation more courageously on display? The material for writers is endless, and exemplified by Vere Hodgson’s diaries, in which she would downplay a night of heavy, horrific bombardment as “a little blitzy.” Here are three different examples.

First, the aforementioned Vere Hodgson, whose Blitz diary was published (and republished by Persephone Books) as Few Eggs and No Oranges. This is a doorstopper, but well worth the time. Hodgson records daily life in London, with all its challenges, from the early years through the end of the war. The office cat in the charity where she worked gets plenty of coverage, to bring some levity to the pages describing incendiary bombs and tragic destruction.

Handheld Classics brings us two Blitz books for the price of one – a novella, Night Shift, about factory workers in wartime London, and It Was Different At The Time, Holden’s Blitz memoir – combined into one volume, Blitz Writing. Holden’s very modern voice reminded me of Virginia Woolf a little bit, and the characters in both the novella and the memoir are so very lifelike. The description of a night’s bombing at the end of Night Shift is absolutely terrifying.

Finally, for something a little bit fun, E.C.R. Lorac brings us a mystery with a strong sense of time and place. Murder by Matchlight begins with a young man strolling through Regents Park on a deeply black night in London during the Blitz. All of the lights are out – it’s blackout, after all – and the only light is the momentary flare of a match. In that moment, a terrifying face looms up, and seconds later, a murder is committed. That is all Inspector Macdonald has to go on, and it’s not much. The mystery and characters are engaging, and there is a firefighting scene so vivid that you can hear the bombs whistling and feel the heat of the flames.

Of course, there’s more to World War II literature than the Blitz, and when I was considering the books I’ve read so far, most of them actually don’t focus on this particular horror. But there are quite a few Blitz books, for all that, and many of them are now classics for good reason.

Have you read any books set during the Blitz? Any recommendations for me?

Gratitude

As we’re coming up on another pandemic Thanksgiving, I’m feeling surprisingly full of gratitude. It has been a hard year – in the world, a raging pandemic and an unrelenting news cycle won’t exactly let us be. And personally, two deaths in the family (one somewhat expected but never really expected, and one completely out of the blue) have brought plenty of sadness. But there’s also plenty to be thankful for – including the fact that the kids are now half-vaxxed, none of my family members have been sick with COVID-19, still, and we will be together this holiday season. And there’s been a great deal of sweetness this year, and I finally feel that I am in the place I want to be. Geographically – home in my beloved Virginia for five years now, after three cold and lonely years in New York – and professionally.

Professionally has been the biggest change, for the better, for me this year. At the beginning of 2021, I thought I was in a decent place with my career. I liked my law firm colleagues, found the work interesting, and appreciated the flexibility that my job offered during the pandemic. If this was the end of the line for me, I felt pretty good about that. The only thing I didn’t like was dealing with strident personalities outside of my firm, but I figured that was a small-ish thing in the grand scheme of all that I liked about my job. Now on the other side, after changing courses to the career I’ve wanted for ten years, I realize how deeply, desperately unhappy I was in law firm life – I just didn’t know it at the time. I look back at pictures from last winter, deep in a stressful project, and I look haunted.

I can feel the contrast now. My new colleagues are just as nice as my old ones, and the work is just as interesting, but I am finally at peace. And I can see it in my own eyes.

Aside from the health of my immediate family members, this is what I am most grateful for this year – daily peace, finally.

There are smaller things, too. Travel, over the summer and fall – and coming up in the next few months. It’s good to go places again, to see new sights and feel different trails under my feet.

And I can’t forget the deep gratitude for the chance to spend every day with my best friend.

All things considered, 2021 has been okay. I have a lot to be thankful for, and that’s a nice place to be at Thanksgiving. I’ll keep hoping for better days ahead, for all of us – starting with an end to the pandemic. But in the meantime, I am grateful.

What are you thankful for this season?

Shenandoah 2021: Big Meadows

It would be hard for me to pick a favorite spot in Shenandoah National Park – I love every inch of the place. But if pressed, I might say that I love Big Meadows just a tiny bit more than the rest – maybe. (Then again, maybe not. It would be a wrench to have to choose; I’m glad I actually don’t.) I don’t think we ever come to Shenandoah without at least a quick pause at Big Meadows, and ideally, a nice leg-stretching hike.

Off we go!

I was thinking a lot of my grandmother, who had a great fondness for meadows. She would have so loved the expansive views and the lavish goldenrod flowers.

Bees buzzing everywhere! Go, little pollinators, go!

Don’t mind me, I’m just over here playing with my macro settings. #photographynerd

The sun was baking down and the meadow was blisteringly hot. (We were glad to have our hats and approximately a gallon each of sunscreen.)

Such a gorgeous afternoon hike – there’s no end to the little herd paths and spurs branching out every which way in Big Meadows, and there’s always more to see, whether you stretch up and gaze at the mountains off in the distance or crouch down to inspect a bee or a wildflower at close range. I just love it.

Next week: Another old favorite, and some new friends.

Fall Colors at Green Spring Gardens

Last weekend, Peanut had a Brownie meeting at Green Spring Gardens – a beautiful park not far from our old haunts in Alexandria. We’d been there once before – for a children’s beekeeping event organized by the park – and always meant to go back. Funny we should find ourselves driving down there after moving away from Alexandria, but it turned out it wasn’t that far away. I brought my new mirrorless camera, fully tricked out with a lens that isn’t even released to traditional retail yet (I got it direct from Nikon) and planned to drop Peanut off with her troop and then take a photography walk around the gardens.

That wasn’t to be. Peanut was having a mommymommymommy kind of day and I couldn’t leave. But it turned out the other moms were pretty much all sticking around too; we stood together in a clump discussing the kids’ COVID-19 vaccines, upcoming holiday plans, sports schedules and the like.

While Peanut worked on her letterboxing “log book,” I did sneak off to photograph the Children’s Garden, at least. We had wind in the forecast and I suspected – and was confirmed by the park employee who was leading the Brownie event – that this was probably the last weekend of fall colors before all of the leaves would be on the ground for the duration.

As the temperature started dropping, I rushed off to the car to pick up Peanut’s heavy coat. On the way back, without breaking a stride, I managed to get a few more snaps of the gardens in their fall glory.

When I got back to the Brownies, they were nearly done with their projects, and almost ready to go on a walk to search for the Green Spring Gardens’ letterbox and stamp their new logbooks. All the moms (and one dad) came too.

The girls found the Green Spring letterbox by a beautiful pond, and lined up to stamp their logbooks. What a fun event! I think we’ll definitely be seeking out other letterboxes in our area so Peanut can get more stamps in her “passport.”

As for me – I got my fall color pictures after all! Still getting to know my new camera, but I think they came out well, and I can’t wait to experiment more on other photography walks.

How is the foliage where you live? Still going strong, or is the season pretty much over?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (November 15, 2021)

Yawn. Morning, friends. How were your weekends? Mine was wonderful, but tiring – I could use another day. I haven’t said that many times since starting my new job, but it’s definitely true this time: we were on the go all weekend, and I need a day to recover from all the rushing around. It was a very kid-centric weekend, which was nice – fulfilling. On Saturday, we were up and out the door early for Nugget’s final soccer game of the season. He has loved playing this fall, and I’m thinking of finding him an indoor league to play this winter, although I haven’t decided yet. Both kids also take swimming, and I am thinking of signing them up for indoor ski lessons (yes, that’s a thing!), and I don’t want to overschedule us. So the jury’s still out on indoor soccer. Anyway – the weekend. The game was a total blast (and much warmer than last weekend’s!) and after the game, the coach passed out donuts and trophies. Each kid got his trophy individually and the coach had prepared individual remarks for everyone – it was the sweetest. I tried to video Nugget’s, but screwed up and somehow pressed stop right away, but the gist was – “soccer lover” Nugget came to every game with the biggest smile, worked hard and learned so many new skills, and never, ever, got tired. Sounds about right! After soccer, we rushed home for a quick lunch, and then Peanut and I were back out the door for a Brownie activity at Green Spring Gardens, a beautiful park near our old house. The girls learned about letterboxing, made their own letterboxing log books, and then took a group walk to locate the park’s letterbox. Fun!

Still with me? Saturday was exhausting, and we moved slowly on Sunday morning. I had big plans to go for a long run, but ended up crashed on the couch with my earbuds in, listening to my audiobook. Not a bad way to start Sunday. By late morning, I had zero motivation but had to get off the couch and get the kids to swimming – same old story. But we had fun afternoon plans – a meetup with my law school BFF, Carly, and her husband and kiddos. Carly had her eye on a new-to-us playground near the National Cathedral; it was gorgeous. The kids had a ball running around, trying out the “flying fox” zipline and a steep, fast slide – and more – and Carly and I caught up on the past several months. There’s nothing like a few hours spent with a friend who gets it. We shared joys and vented frustrations, and it was good to talk and listen and be in a safe space with a friend who understands my struggles (and won’t judge) and knows that I understand hers (and won’t judge). It was needed.

Reading. So, I have an achievement to share! Last week (or the week before?) I hit my Goodreads goal for the year. I always set a goal of 104 books (sounds random, but it’s not, it’s two books per week) and I’m now sitting at 106. To celebrate, I obviously decided to read a gigantically long book. After finishing Blitz Writing midweek, accordingly, I turned to the next book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire, Framley Parsonage. I’ve been rationing these, because I love them so much. Framley Parsonage is wonderful – I’m reading it slowly and at press time am a little more than halfway through – although I think I still love Doctor Thorne the best. But Framley has the benefit of several beloved old friends appearing – the Grantlys, Greshams, Proudies, Miss Dunstable, and even Mr Harding all make appearances. So fun! And then around the margins, I’ve been listening to The Sittaford Mystery on Audible; I’m about two-thirds done and forming all kinds of suspicions.

Watching. Speaking of suspicions, the whole family is getting into Miss Marple. Steve won’t admit it, but he’s hooked. We’re working on A Murder is Announced right now. When not solving crimes, we’ve watched another episode or two of The Great British Bake-Off, and several episodes of a Pokemon cartoon (the kids got their first COVID-19 vaccine doses, and we let them pick).

Listening. As noted above, audiobook time. And lots of music, especially when driving the kids places, because they are rudely intolerant of Agatha Christie. Who are these little cretins I am raising?

Making. Progress on Christmas knitting – I made a big error in the infinity scarf, but I fixed it and I hope (???) it looks even cooler now. Please don’t tell me if it doesn’t, lucky or possibly unlucky recipient.

Moving. A little of this and a little of that – a couple of runs (I’m getting my feet back) in the cold, and some walking with my audiobook, and some yoga. Good stuff all, just need more of it.

Blogging. Well, the plan is to have pictures of fall colors at Green Spring Gardens for you on Wednesday; I took my camera and had a lovely time snapping away. But I have to upload and edit them, so we’ll see. And then on Friday, more Shenandoah. The travel posts may continue for many weeks to come and I’m not even mad about it.

Loving. It was so much fun to play in the shadow of the National Cathedral on Sunday! It’s been awhile since I have been up this way, and I forgot how much I love the neighborhood. The National Cathedral reminds me of something I’d have seen in Europe; it’s so beautiful. Peanut asked what a Cathedral “looks like inside,” so I explained it was like “an extra big and glorious and amazing church.” She nodded, said “That’s what I thought,” and went about her business – but I think we will need to make another trip out here soon, and go poke around. It’s been too long since I stepped inside.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Shenandoah 2021: Bearfence Mountain

Apparently, spending Labor Day weekend in Shenandoah is our thing – at least, for the last two years it has been. In 2020, we drove out for the day, but in 2021 we decided to make a weekend of it; it was so much fun that I can absolutely see it becoming a tradition. We bunked up at Skylands, a park concessions facility right in the central district of the park, surrounded by some of the best hikes for miles – perfect location. After rolling in on Friday afternoon and spending the first night exploring our surroundings, we woke up on Saturday morning ready to go.

Our first hike – of about seven we planned – was Bearfence Mountain. Although we’ve been to Shenandoah quite a few times before, we’d never hit this one before. The trail included a segment of the famed Appalachian Trail! So cool.

In researching our hikes for the weekend, I planned a mix of repeats and new ground, and I also targeted hikes that – while they may include a more “advanced” route, had an alternate route that would be suitable for the kiddos. Steve downloaded the maps into his phone, and following his directions we quickly came up against – scrambles. They started out relatively easy, but they got intense quickly.

The kids did a fabulous job following directions and climbing safely, but I started to get more and more anxious as the scrambles got more intense.

Eventually, we came up against this monster – the route to the summit. You can’t see from this picture, but there’s a sheer dropoff of a few dozen feet, at least. Although the kids had been game, I just wasn’t comfortable with them scaling this beast. Down we went.

After a huddle, we realized what had gone wrong – the map downloaded was the “more advanced” route to the summit, and while the kids had done wonderfully well with it (and wanted to continue) it was never the route I’d intended them to take. We carefully picked our way down the scrambles to the spot where the trail had split off, then we started to climb again, this time up the more “family friendly” route.

Much better.

Eventually, our circuitous route finally deposited us at our goal – the summit! Views for miles.

These boots are made for walkin’.

It was a bit more roundabout of a hike than we’d intended – but that’s fine. More time in the woods is always good, right? It is in my book.

Next week: an old favorite hike, with summer colors.