It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 20, 2021)

Well! Good morning. So that busy weekend that didn’t materialize last weekend, that I predicted would come in force this weekend? It did. In force. I’m not even sure I can remember everything we did, let alone summarize it all in one to three efficient paragraphs, but I’ll try. We kicked off the weekend with the first soccer practice of the season, after sitting out last week on the sick list. Nugget dove right into soccer as if he hadn’t had a week’s break since camp, and was proclaimed “a baller” by the coach. We got home late – this will be the story of Friday for the next few months – and treated ourselves to Peruvian chicken to celebrate the end of a loooooong week.

On Saturday, we were up early and out the door for Nugget’s first game – Honduras (his team) vs. Australia. I’m pretty sure no one kept score, which was a good thing because if they had we’d have gotten absolutely shellacked. But it was adorable, and Nugget had a fabulous time, which is what matters. No sooner did we arrive home from Saturday soccer than Peanut and I were out the door again – for a stop at the local office supply store to print her requisite forms for Brownies (the girl behind the desk, seeing that we were printing Girl Scout forms, asked us to please promise to come around at cookie time – this is why I love supporting my neighborhood businesses), and then off to Peanut’s Brownie investiture ceremony and first badge activity: a painting class at a local historic mill and museum. She came home with orange paint-encrusted fingers, proudly clutching a baggie with her investiture patch and her first badge. Then – after a morning dedicated to kiddo activities, Steve and I insisted on family time. We gathered the whole crew up again (grousing at not getting to spend the – beautiful, sunny – afternoon watching cartoons) and rolled off to Seneca Regional Park to challenge ourselves with a slightly longer loop than usual. Once they got over their dismay at being torn from the TV, the kids were surprisingly good, and a few miles of river and woodland views were very good for the soul, indeed.

Still with me? If not, I don’t blame you. I was apparently tired after this day of monumental activity too, because I sacked out at 9:30 on Saturday night (party animal) and slept until almost 8:30 on Sunday morning – nearly eleven hours! Guess I needed it. Anyway, I rolled out of bed and immediately laid out adorable outfits for the kids to wear apple-picking, which is what we’d decided to do on Sunday morning before their midday swim lessons. So it was my turn to be dismayed when Steve glumly announced that the orchard I’d intended for us to visit – the only one that doesn’t require advance reservations – was out of everything except Red Delicious. As we all know, Red Delicious is not delicious. (This is a fact, not an opinion.) So we postponed apple-picking until next weekend, reluctantly, and after I’d wrestled both kids into their cute orchard themed outfits, they refused to change and ended up hiking (our Plan B) in a gingham shirt and apple-print dress, respectively. And now everyone knows what they’ll be wearing next weekend. Follow me for more elementary school fashion tips! Anyway – we squeezed in a quick hike at our local fave, Riverbend Regional Park, then tooled off to swimming. And after all that, I felt like I’d earned a lazy afternoon at home, so that’s what I gave myself. I went for a walk, did some work, made Whole30-compliant golumpki for Sunday dinner, and read on the couch for hours. It was good.

Reading. ‘Twas another busy one! After spending most of the week over my re-read of Gwen Raverat’s delightful Period Piece, I blazed through three books between Friday and Sunday: first, Agatha Christie’s debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, followed by the slim but entertaining The House Party, a social history of upper-class “week-end” entertainment in the interwar years in Great Britain (mostly in England, but a dash of Scotland for good measure). And then polished off Business as Usual in a day and loved every word – another contender for the year’s top-ten list. I finished off the weekend by diving into Robert Graves’ doorstopping The Greek Myths (off my Classics Club list) and I do hope I’m sufficiently recovered from James A. Michener for the epic task ahead.

Watching. It’s been an all-over-the-place sort of watching week. We spent three nights over The Lizzie McGuire Movie – I had a hunch Peanut would love it, and I was right. Around Lizzie we tucked some Rock the Park (studying up for some travel we have coming up this fall!) and a “grown-ups movie night” featuring an episode of The Crown, because we’re well behind and need to finish this season before the next one drops. Oh, and I’m still working my way through Miranda Mills’ YouTube channel while washing dishes, and enjoying it so much that I often find myself cleaning unnecessarily just to watch another episode.

Listening. I have to tell you, listening to music in the car with kids is a complicated business. Nugget requested “tunes” on the way home from swimming. I asked what he wanted to listen to, and he said “Classical” so I obliged with Holst’s The Planets. But apparently by “Classical” he meant “something with singing” so I suggested Charlotte Church as the only classical music I happened to have downloaded that also involved singing. Dramatic gagging ensued. (What’s their problem with Charlotte Church, I ask you?) Then Nugget clarified that when he requested classical music “with singing” he meant The Decemberists. I started to quibble – The Decemberists are rock, after all – but decided it wasn’t worth it, and we listened to Your Ghost four times in a row. You see what I mean? Complicated business. Anyway, other than negotiating kiddo music choices, I’m pleased to report that I knocked another hour off my audiobook (All Creatures Great and Small) and listened to several bookish podcast episodes while walking around my neighborhood.

Making. Lots of cooking this week, as always with a Whole30, but the highlight was definitely Sunday evening’s Paleo golumpki. (Turkey instead of beef/pork; cauliflower rice instead of white rice; and tomato puree with almond milk whisked in instead of Campbell’s soup – and it tastes unnervingly like my grandmother’s.)

Moving. Bit of a lazy week, this one was. Just one run and two hikes, plus daily neighborhood walks – usually after the kids board the school bus. Sometimes I see them barreling along through the neighborhood if I time the walk just right.

Blogging. It’s going to be a good week! I have September’s Themed Reads coming for you on Wednesday, and continuing with Adirondack recaps on Friday. Check in with me then!

Loving. I recently found a new-to-me social media follow – @nattieupnorth on Instagram – and I can’t recommend her highly enough. If you’re an outdoorsy type and you’re around social, do check her out; she posts beautiful photos and stories about life in Minnesota (I’ve never been, but would love to go). I found her through YouTube, actually: her justifiably popular video about how she, one tiny person, hoists a 90-pound fishing kayak onto her car without help. Clearly a force to be reckoned with! I’ve been loving following her posts; they’re bringing so much extra beauty to my days.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

ADK 2021: Hiking Phelps Mountain, Adirondack High Peak #5

As we planned our week of mostly-working-but-also-some-fun in the Adirondacks, Steve suggested that we bang out another high peak; I was skeptical that we’d be able to fit it in around work, but still willing to listen. As we looked over our list of “peaks to get to, soon,” Phelps stuck out to both of us; the hike up was relatively short, we could knock it out in a morning if we skipped Tabletop (the neighboring high peak, often paired with Phelps), and the views were supposed to be great. Looking over the weather for the week, Steve suggested that we go for it on Monday, which looked to be the best weather day. Having nothing urgently pressing until Monday afternoon, I agreed, and we set our alarms for zero dark thirty.

We arrived at the Loj with plenty of parking spaces still available – a good omen. After a few minutes of chatting with one of the local park stewards, we set off on the first – flat! – portion of the hike, through the woods to Marcy Dam.

I hiked along at a fast clip (about the same speed as a neighborhood walk, which is lightning for an Adirondack hike) and marveled at how easy it felt so far. Figuring it wouldn’t last, I made up my mind to enjoy the gently rolling groomed trails while I could.

The first (easy!) portion of the hike flew by, and before I knew it we were standing in the middle of a stunning vista at Marcy Dam. I couldn’t get enough of this view.

After Marcy Dam, the trail begins both to climb and to look more like an Adirondack trail. Saw that coming a mile away – no, I mean literally.

Stream crossing? Let’s do it.

A little more than a mile from the summit, the trail began to really climb – as we knew was coming. The intel on Phelps was that it’s a relatively moderate, gentle hike until you get to the last mile, and then it wallops you. Well, no stopping now.

Still all smiles, though!

The last mile was an Adirondack mile, to be sure – scrambling up creekbeds, grasping at tree branches, heaving over boulders, and gaining about a thousand feet of elevation in the final third of a mile. No pictures, because my mind was completely focused on the job. But eventually, we pushed over the final boulder and found ourselves on a windswept summit ledge.

High peak summit number 5, in the books!

And even more beautiful than I’d expected.

We kicked back and enjoyed the view for awhile.

And posed for summit selfies, because we’re nerds.

It was just so hard to even think about saying goodbye to this view.

We did stop to find the spot where the summit marker was once planted – no longer.

Eventually, reluctantly, we turned our backs on the summit and started the descent; work and conference calls beckoned.

We did stop at Marcy Dam so that Steve could try out his Grayl filter bottle (a very generous Christmas gift from his Mom). The water was delicious.

I wished we’d had time for Tabletop – not only to tick off another high peak, but because I didn’t want to leave the woods. But Steve was dealing with a hiking boot problem (his ankle boots were nowhere near as grippy as the sneaker-style boot of the same model, go figure) and he was sliding perilously across the Adirondack granite; he even broke a hiking pole. And we did each have several hours worth of work to do. So it was back to reality for us – but with the memory of a beautiful day in the woods and on another windswept peak. As we drove back to Lake Placid, we started planning our next peaks – for the next trip.

Next week: a perfectly Placid paddle.

One Second Everyday: Summer 2021

I always have big plans to capture an entire year in a One Second Everyday video – haven’t been able to make that enough a part of my routine yet to actually do an entire year’s worth of video, but maybe in 2022. In the meantime, I’ll settle for a video of my favorite season (well, favorite tied with fall).

Enjoy!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 13, 2021)

Mornin’ all. How were your weekends? This was supposed to be the first busy weekend of the fall – but that will come next weekend, as it turns out. Nugget’s first soccer practice and game were scheduled for Friday and Saturday respectively but… womp, womp… he failed his health screening, thanks to his proximity to his sister and her gross cold and ear infection. He was patient zero and gave her the bugs originally, so I guess fair’s fair – but he was understandably bummed. We were a bit frustrated at the restrictiveness and rigidity of the soccer league when it came to the health screening – safety first, we totally get that, but between Peanut and Nugget they had four negative COVID tests this week, and both were cleared to attend school by the pediatrician, but Nugget was still scratched by the league safety committee. To be honest, it seemed a bit hard knocks that what the pediatrician considered healthy enough to attend school somehow wasn’t healthy enough to play soccer outside – but them’s the breaks. He’ll play next weekend, and I am hoping that other families are as conscientious and honest as we were, because the list of symptoms that the soccer league considers disqualifying (including being in contact with someone with a headache – thank goodness I don’t work in law firms anymore) is so extensive that I’m legit concerned that the league is either going to have (1) a bunch of teams that have to forfeit games due to having NO players; or (2) lots of lying parents. But the league made a decision and we respected it.

Anyway, you’d think no soccer practice and no game would have freed up oodles of time, but we still did a bit of running around. On Friday, my team at work had a virtual murder mystery to start the weekend; we all dialed into zoom, several people had drinks (not me – Whole30, round floppity jillion) and we solved a murder, #nobigdeal. I’m pleased to report that my team WON and I WAS CAPTAIN. You guys can start calling me Young Miss Marple. So – after I singlehandedly caught a killer (okay that’s not what happened) we quickly fed the kiddos and rushed off to their school for the first PTO event of the year – an outdoor screening of The Incredibles 2. It was a blast, although I stood in line for more than half an hour to get the kiddos popcorn. We set up camp chairs, chatted with neighbors and friends, and made it half an hour into the film before everyone got cold and we packed it in for the night. That was the big event of the weekend, as it turned out – other than a hike on Saturday (Nugget got to use his new kidizoom camera) and swim lessons on Sunday, it was a quiet couple of days. I read a lot, did some work on Sunday afternoon, took a long ramble around the neighborhood – the usual good stuff. And now it’s off on another week.

Reading. Hello! I’m sure you must be wondering, so just to be clear: yes, I did other things this week – my job, for one, and putting dinners on the table, and taking the kiddos to activities, and making coffee, and walking. It just happens that I also have my reading mojo back, yippee, and that these are all pretty short books. So – to sum up quickly: I finished The Hour of Land on Tuesday, and it was wonderful to the last. For something completely different, I turned to the summer issue of Slightly Foxed (trying to knock it out before the fall issue arrived, which it did a few days later). That’s always a quick read, and then I moved on to another quick read – Maggie Smith’s slim volume of new poems, Goldenrod. Enjoyed, then snatched a September title off my stack of Girls Gone By paperbacks – Crooked Sixpence, which was good fun. By this point I was on a vintage book roll, so I finally turned to a World War II home front memoir I’ve been saving – Spam Tomorrow, by Verily Anderson. It was absolutely wonderful and will definitely be a contender for my top-ten list at the end of the year. Finally! Finished Sunday off by starting a re-read of Period Piece, which I read a few years ago and loved. It’s been a good reading week indeed.

Watching. Well – not much as you can see; I’ve been reading of an evening and not wandering down to the TV room at all. I did join Steve and the kiddos for “family TV time” and “family movie night” as I always do; Peanut has been choosing lately and we all watched “Home” (a Netflix original about a little alien who learns big life lessons, starring Rihanna, J.Lo and Steve Martin, because why not) and “Leap” (another Netflix cartoon I didn’t like as much). I’ve also been catching up on Miranda Mills’ YouTube channel while washing dishes of an evening; it’s made me actually look forward to loading the dishwasher, so basically it’s a miracle show.

Listening. The usual suspects – podcasts, namely The Mom Hour (loved the episode on breakfasts) and Tea or Books? – always winners both.

Making. Lots of food prep this week! I’m a week into a Whole30 – needed a nutritional reset after a summer of moving a lot but not paying much attention to eating – and that always entails lots of chopping, sauteeing, roasting, braising – basically, my entire kitchen toolbox comes out to play and I’m not even mad about it. The highlight was a chicken and kale stew that I made earlier in the week and finished off on Friday.

Moving. It was a busy week at work and movement fell a bit by the wayside. I still got in my 10,000 steps a day – I’m on a streak since early June and not letting up now. The highlight, though, was sneaking off for a pre-work paddle on the Potomac with my friend Dorothy. I’ve known Dorothy for years through my college alumni club – we both served on the Board of Directors for a few years, and were co-Vice Presidents for Programming, and we’ve kept in touch over Facebook but it’d been ages since we got together in person. Dorothy texted me in August to ask if I would teach her to kayak – obviously, I immediately said (there’s not much to teach but) of course I would. It’s all part of my plan to snag myself another paddling buddy. (Clearly I love paddling with Steve, but sometimes you just want to hit the river with a girlfriend, know what I mean? And yes – that is Steve’s life jacket and paddle; I loaned them to Dorothy, wasn’t that generous of me?) It wasn’t much of a workout, but we had a fabulous time chatting all the way to Chain Bridge and back, and at the end we agreed to make this a standing date until the boathouses close and then switch to hiking. Three cheers for active outdoorsy girlfriends!

Blogging. Continuing with summer catch-up all week! On Wednesday I’m showing off my shiny, newly-finished One Second Everyday video full of summer fun, and on Friday, it’s back to the Adirondacks for some peak-bagging. Check in with me then!

Loving. When we were shopping around for a new hometown in the spring of 2020, I read an article about the exurb hamlet where we ended up. The article painted an idyllic portrait of big yards (and often unreasonably big houses to go along with them, but let’s focus on the yards); neighbors gathering at the local coffee shop for Saturday morning vintage car shows; Fourth of July parades; and outdoor movies on the village green all summer long. After four years of city living (and before that, three years of cold loneliness in western New York) that warmth was just what I wanted. We had to wait for it – for obvious reasons, most of the local town activities were cancelled during our first summer here (and our second, too). But this weekend I finally got a taste of what I moved for (along with outdoor space, cheaper rent and better schools, of course). The PTO at the kiddos’ elementary school hosted its first event of the year – a movie night, discussed above. I thought it was a virtual event and that we’d all watch The Incredibles 2 at home on Disney+… so you can imagine my surprise when Steve told me no, it’s a real event, with tickets and popcorn and everything. We rolled up to the school as the sun was setting and the PTO volunteers were inflating the big outdoor movie screen. We staked out a spot, set up our camp chairs, and not seconds later were attacked with hugs by the mother of one of Nugget’s tee-ball teammates (and kindergarten classmates). (“I’m a touchy person,” she said, rubbing my arm, “I hope you don’t mind!”) She introduced us to her in-laws, nieces and nephews before the whole bunch of them wandered off to find some ground that wasn’t already taken. And I turned around to see two neighbors – and new bus stop friends – waving. Steve and I wandered to their blanket (the kids had long since decamped for the playground and basketball court with a clump of friends) and we chatted about the block party they’re planning – the last one was a dud, apparently, and they have their minds set on redemption. And then it got dark, and we snuggled in to watch the movie under my favorite orange shawl, and I oozed with gratitude for this little town and these warm people, and finally getting to experience the charm that we moved here for.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Remembering

Stopping by this space for a rare Saturday post because I, like many others, have been spending the day remembering and reflecting on 9/11 and the twenty years that have passed since that searing day. My kids are still too little to ask about where Daddy and Mommy were on the day – by the 25th anniversary I’m sure we will have shared our memories with them. My experience has always felt so insignificant to me in comparison to the tragedy that unfolded far from where I sat glued to the TV in horror, so I’ve never bothered to write it down before. But neither will I forget it.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday – we all know that – and I was a junior at Cornell. Only back on campus a few weeks; I had extra blonde in my hair from the summer sun, and I was dating a new guy. We had kissed ten days before, on September 1, 2001, for the first time – late at night, on the bridge over the gorge separating the main Cornell campus from Collegetown. I didn’t know where the relationship was going; I wasn’t even thinking of it as a relationship, just something new and exciting.

I didn’t have any classes until the afternoon on Tuesdays, so I was taking advantage and sleeping in – something I almost never did; I was a morning person even in college. The first memory I have of that day is the sun streaming into my room in the sorority house and my roommate – my little sis, Betsy – rushing in and shaking me half awake.

“You have to wake up!” she cried. “There was a bomb – six thousand people were killed -“

She rushed out of the room and in my half-awake, sleep-addled state, I tried to process what she had said. “That’s clearly impossible,” said my mostly-unconscious brain, “I’m obviously dreaming, what an awful dream.” And I rolled over and fell asleep again, for another twenty minutes or so.

When I woke up, the house was silent – but not unnervingly so; I assumed everyone was at class. I sat down at my computer and started looking at AOL Instant Messenger auto-messages. My friend Maria had an auto-message up; she was a junior at GW that I knew from my summer internship. I looked at her auto-message first and I still remember every word. “Okay, this is more than scary. I can see smoke from here. Brie,” (her roommate) “call me when you get back.”

Huh?

I scrolled through more auto-messages and everyone seemed to be in a state of shock and panic about – something. My stomach sank as I remembered Betsy rushing into our room and it occurred to me for the first time that I actually might not have been dreaming.

I walked downstairs in a daze – all the way down, underground to the basement-level TV room. When I opened the door, half of my sorority was there, crammed onto couches, sprawled on the floor, sitting in each other’s laps. Girls from New York City were taking it in turns to climb the stairs and try to call their parents from the house phone (almost none of us had a cell phone), but no one was getting through. The rest of us sat in silence, clutching coffee from the machine in the kitchen, watching the coverage on a loop.

By mid-morning, the boy I was dating had arrived and made a space for himself in the TV room. We sat side-by-side and he put his arm around me as we both watched in disbelief. I was wondering about my uncle, who was an NYPD detective trained in emergency response. I figured he was probably there. (He was, and he broke his arm climbing through rubble, but came away otherwise unharmed – physically, anyway. When I went upstairs at lunchtime, I had a message from his son, my cousin: “All my dad’s friends are dead. cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry” They weren’t all – but some.)

Memories get sketchier by the afternoon. Classes were cancelled, but when I ventured out a few days later to a labor history class, students were standing huddled in groups, crying on the quad. One of my friends told me not to read anything into the fact that my new guy had come over to watch the news with me. I knew she was hurting because her boyfriend had not come over, had spent the day watching news coverage with another girl. So I simply said, “I won’t.” (It honestly hadn’t occurred to me to read anything into that at all; it was such a new thing and I hadn’t even named it. A month later, he would refer to himself as my boyfriend. “Oh,” I thought, “That’s what we are.” His name was Steve.)

Campus changed, like everything else. People hung giant American flags in their rooms; professors made space for reflecting and grieving in class. My sisters from New York looked visibly relieved when they made contact with their parents. It got colder; eventually, Thanksgiving came.

So – that’s where I was.

ADK 2021: Kayaking Schroon Lake

As I’ve mentioned a few times, Steve and I didn’t plan a real vacation for summer 2021. I’m still getting my feet under me in a new job, and it didn’t seem like a good idea – plus I’m saving vacation time again for the first time since my days in the federal government. (Law firms don’t do “vacation time” – you just take your vacations when you can, if you can.) But my parents wanted a week with the kids, to ply them with soft serve ice cream and trips to the dollar store, so Steve and I were told to make ourselves scarce. We shrugged, booked a hotel room on Mirror Lake in the Village of Lake Placid, and drove north for a week of working in a different location and squeezing adventures in around business hours.

As we mapped out our week, I tossed out the idea of stopping somewhere on the way up to Lake Placid and getting our new kayaks wet. We could drive straight to LP and drop in there, I suggested, but we’d definitely be paddling there at least once over the course of the week and wouldn’t it be fun to pop off somewhere else and explore a different lake? Consulting a map, I noted that Schroon Lake was right on the way, with a boat launch conveniently just off the highway – and neither of us had ever paddled there before, so it’d be a new adventure. Steve was down.

We rolled into the Schroon Lake boat launch and tackled the intimidating task of getting 17-foot touring kayaks off our car for the first time; they’d been hanging out on the roof since we rolled out of Lake George, but it was time. It was a bit of a comedy of errors, and we were both drenched in sweat by the time we got them off the car and onto the grass – but we did it! (Insert strong-arm emoji here.) A once-over from the Schroon Lake boat steward, and we were on our way.

We started paddling tentatively, then picked up speed as we cruised past beaches, boathouses, and swimmers cannon-balling off floating docks. As I pulled up next to Steve, he looked at me, grinned, and suggested: “Should we do a blue water crossing?” Obviously.

We turned our bows away from shore and paddled to the opposite side of the bay, pausing to navigate speedboat and pontoon boat wakes and to surf a few small breakers along the way.

A very special island, indeed!

We were absolutely giddy to be out cruising the Adirondack waters in the touring kayaks we’d dreamed of for over a year. And something else occurred to me – “Do you realize,” I called to Steve, “that every time we leave the kids with my parents, it’s to go kayaking?” The San Juan Islands in 2019; cruising the Potomac in 2020; now we were planning a week of Adirondack lakes (and a big kayaking adventure in 2022, pandemic permitting).

Look, we just really love kayaking!

All in all – a successful first outing for the ‘yaks (the demo day didn’t count!) and the beginning of a gorgeous week of paddling and hiking in one of our favorite places in the world. What’s not to love? We had big plans for the kayaks, and big plans for our hiking boots too – stay tuned.

Next week: an epic Adirondack hiking day!

In Which I Read Michener, Eventually!

There is a distinct thread running through my childhood memories, and it is this: both of my grandmothers were major bookworms. My maternal grandmother, who I called Grandmama, had wide-ranging and catholic tastes, and liked nothing better than to stretch out on a lounge chair in her Long Island backyard, with a glass of lemonade (or wine) and a mystery novel or memoir with which to while away the afternoon. Grandmama had small bookshelves all over her house, and I used to saunter past each one, running my finger along the spines of the Harry Potter novels lined up by the front door or the travel books in the guest bedroom. She was a hardcore Anglophile and I definitely inherited my love of English literature from her.

My other grandmother, who I alternately called Grandma or Grandmother (she preferred Grandmother, but I too often forgot) was just as much of a bookworm, although her reading tastes were different. Grandmother introduced me to Anne Shirley, still a beloved bookish friend, but in general her preferences skewed toward meaty non-fiction (especially about the American Revolution) and historical novels – the longer, the better, and there was no such thing as too much detail. She loved it all. Grandmother kept most of her books on a tall, skinny shelf in the hallway between her two impeccably decorated guest bedrooms. And while I meandered past the shelf plenty, always on the hunt for something to read, I invariably came away with her blue and white copy of Anne of Green Gables in my hands. It was the most appealing thing on her shelf. (In my twenties, I discovered an 1890 edition of one of my favorite books – Jane Eyre – but it wasn’t on the shelf; it was on a sunroom table. Grandmother pressed it into my hands and it’s still one of my most treasured possessions.)

James A. Michener was one of Grandmother’s favorite authors. She had a line of his books – I remember Alaska and Hawaii for sure, those doorstoppers – and they always caught my eye, if for no other reason than they were just so extravagantly long. (I wonder if she ever read Poland? Being such a Michener fan, and so proud of her Polish heritage, I find it hard to believe that she would have missed that one, but I don’t recall her ever mentioning it, nor do I remember seeing her pull it out of her bag at the lake or spotting it on her shelf. It must have been there, though.) Anyway, Michener’s ability to churn out thousand-page novels at an apparently lightspeed clip fascinated me; as a young reader I subscribed wholeheartedly to C.S. Lewis’s views on long books. But for whatever reason, I never gave any of them a try.

A year or so ago, though, Chesapeake was on major discount on the kindle store. (I tend to buy ridiculously long books for my kindle; it’s a holdover from my days of commuting on Metro, when long books were only an option if stored digitally.) It seemed like a golden opportunity to finally try out one of Grandmother’s favorite authors, on my home turf. I downloaded the book and then saved it for the right time – pulling it out while relaxing in a camp chair on the side of a marsh (while camping in Chincoteague) seemed like the perfect fit. So I started Chesapeake on the Fourth of July, while the Assateague Island lighthouse blinked at me from across the marshy bay.

And I read. And read. And read. And read and read and read and read and read. The fourth of July turned to the fourth of August and I wasn’t even halfway through the book. It was engaging – following four Eastern Shore families (the Steeds, Paxmores, Turlocks and Caters) through the centuries. Chesapeake presented a broad tapestry of the entire sweep of American history from the first settlers during Elizabethan times, all the way to the environmentalists of the 1970s. And in order to do that – it was so. damn. long.

Not to say I didn’t enjoy it; I did. It was – as I said – engaging and interesting. I never really bogged down in it; every chapter held my attention, and some held my fancy. (The one from the perspective of migrating geese!) But it was just so long. Just so long. I like a long book; the longer the better, usually. But I found myself craving something shorter – anything shorter, really. I took a few breaks to read through library books before their return deadlines, but I kept coming back to Chesapeake, and each time I returned to the pages, I was more and more fatigued. And more than a little sad that my beloved grandmother’s favorite author had defeated me.

All this to say – I did finish, eventually! As July turned to August, I recommitted to the read and forbid myself any other books until I finally completed this journey. (Which in retrospect isn’t the best way to read, but it does work sometimes.) In the end, it was an odd reading experience. I found something to like on every page. Every chapter was interesting. And by the end, I was heartily sick of it all – turning with gratitude to Stella Gibbons’ The Swiss Summer, which my Grandmama would have loved.

I expect I will read Michener again – someday. I’m intrigued by Hawaii. But I’m going to need a very long break and a string of very short books before I pick up that one.

Have you ever read James A. Michener?

It’s Labor Day! What Are You Reading? (September 6, 2021)

Good… afternoon! I promise that these Monday afternoon posts are going to stop – very soon – and I’ll get back on a regular schedule. I’ve been trying to eke out every last drop of summer fun and blogging just sometimes falls by the wayside. You know how it is. This being Labor Day weekend, we obviously needed one last hurrah before turning our attention to fall and fall things (although the anklebiters have been back in school for two weeks already…). So on Friday afternoon we rolled out of town and headed for the mountains – Shenandoah National Park, specifically. Shenandoah is one of our happy places, and I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been there by now. This time, we planned to stay overnight, right in the park – at Skyland, one of the lodges on Skyline Drive. It was a perfect base of operations for an epic weekend – we banged out seven hikes over three days, and I’ve got posts coming on all of them after I wrap up recapping Steve’s and my trip up to the Adirondacks last month. (Travel recaps will be continuing for awhile, guys…) I’m not even sure I could pick a highlight of the weekend; we climbed multiple mountains, challenged ourselves in new ways, and unplugged for three days straight. It was glorious.

Reading. It was a lovely bookish week! I finished up The Adventurous Summer on Tuesday – the last day of August. With time for one more summer read before Labor Day, I decided on Where Stands a Winged Sentry: Margaret Kennedy’s memoir of the summer 1940, when all of England was expecting a Nazi invasion every day. It was fascinating, gorgeously written, and evocative – I flew through it. Finally, a weekend in my favorite National Park deserves some special reading – The Hour of Land, by Terry Tempest Williams, which I’ve been saving for just such a trip. I’m about 100 pages from the end and battling the twin impulses to fly through it and also slow down so I can savor every word.

Watching. The kids haven’t been on a movie jag in ages – maybe even a couple of years – but right now they’re BIG on the Lego Movie, so I’ve watched that several times this week out of the corner of my eye. As funny as that movie is (it’s really hilarious) what I’ve enjoyed more is watching the wind whoosh through the treetops at the summits of Shenandoah’s beautiful mountains, and watching the kids stretch their wings and become stronger hikers over the weekend.

Listening. I had to think back on this, because while I’ve also listened to the Lego Movie several times (in the car to and from Shenandoah) I never listen to music or podcasts on family trips. But there was a bit of The Mom Hour while running errands last week.

Making. Menu plans for the upcoming few weeks – I’m craving a nutritional reset, so starting another Whole30 tomorrow. And fun adventure plans for the fall; I finally decided what I’m doing for my birthday. Stay tuned!

Moving. Alllllll the hiking! Seven hikes – including several mountains. And earlier in the week, a couple of runs. I’ve been going to the bus stop in my running gear and taking off pretty much as soon as the kids climb aboard. They said they’ve seen me through the bus windows a few times.

Blogging. Musing on Michener on Wednesday, and continuing Adirondack travel recaps on Friday. Check in with me then!

Loving. It was so wonderful to get away, into the mountains, and unplug for a bit. With the school year already underway and fall activities revving up – Girl Scouts has already begun; soccer and swimming both start next weekend – I really needed a couple of days away from it all, to gather my forces. Shenandoah was full of gifts, as it always is: maybe the best was this moment, above, on the trail to Mary’s Rock this morning. The fog was rolling up the mountain and brewing into a cloud, and the sun’s rays cut through the mist in a hundred points of light. We were the only ones on this section of the trail, and all four of us were mesmerized.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Hiking Thacher State Park, August 2021

Although we didn’t plan a “real” vacation for 2021 – I’m too new to my job, and saving vacation time for a big adventure this winter (hopefully it happens…) – Steve and I still looked forward to our trip to upstate New York for months. We headed up at the end of July for my cousin Jocelyn’s wedding, and planned to stick around for a few weeks, mostly working and letting the kiddos enjoy grandparent time, but also folding in adventures here and there. On the Sunday after the wedding, we found ourselves unexpectedly free (we’d planned to drive out to Old Forge, in the western Adirondacks, to try to get a kayak for Steve – but he serendipitously found exactly what he’d wanted in Lake George the day before). We thought we’d go up to the Sacandaga, the Adirondack lake where my parents, aunts and uncles all have camps – but the weather was looking iffy. So instead, we stuck closer to Albany and hiked one of our favorite spots: John Boyd Thacher State Park.

When we pulled up in the parking lot, fat raindrops were splashing down on our windshields. The hike we had in mind had some exposure and some slick spots, so we reluctantly decided we’d just check out the overlook and then go on home. But as we gazed out over the hills and valleys around Albany, the rain stopped and the cloud cover lifted, a little, just enough for us to decide to hike after all.

The whole family hit the trail together! Parents, kids, grandparents.

With all the rain that upstate New York has had this summer, my parents haven’t been able to get out for many adventures. The upshot is that Thacher State Park had waterfalls. Entire rivers were tumbling down over the limestone escarpments.

When I was a kid, my parents went off to Hawaii and left my brother and me with our grandparents. (They did this several times – sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with friends. I was always openly jealous.) Their pictures snapped from behind a waterfall captured my imagination when they came home. I wanted to see what the world looked like from behind a waterfall, too. Turns out I didn’t have to travel too far…

So cool! We’ve done this hike a few times now and never saw waterfalls. It opened up a completely different experience of a well-worn path.

We saw evidence of the wet summer everywhere – in the bright green lichens, moss, and tiny plants growing on the rocks, and in the small rivulets pouring over the limestone and trickling through the little caves dotted all along the trail. I knew my parents hadn’t especially enjoyed all the rain – but this new lease on the park sure was pretty.

The waterfalls were the star of the show, though. Oh! And we also counted twelve little orange newts along the trail. Sharp-eyed Nugget spotted most of them.

It wasn’t the longest hike ever, but it was a feast for the eyes and senses and a new view of an old favorite. How can you go wrong?

Next week: getting our new kayaks out for the first time! Stay tuned.

Reading Round-Up: August 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 August, 2021.

Chesapeake, by James A. Michener – I first picked up this doorstopper (metaphorically; I read it on my kindle) back in early July, while camping in Chincoteague, and have been picking at it for two months. It’s engaging and well-written, but almost comically long. The novel follows the life of the Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay from the 1500s to 1978, through the stories of a few local families over the generations. I enjoyed it and never found it to be really a slog, but it just took me forever. I’ve got a blog post percolating about the experience of reading Michener, so watch for that.

The Swiss Summer, by Stella Gibbons – Needing a major reading refresher after that doorstopper, Chesapeake, I turned to one of the books I really hoped to get to this summer – Stella Gibbons’ The Swiss Summer, recently reprinted by Dean Street Press. I have enjoyed every single Dean Street Press title I’ve picked up, and this one was no different. Lucy Cottrell, wealthy and beloved by her husband but childless, is looking for a change of pace and finds it when she is invited to join Freda Blandish, companion to the aristocratic Lady Daeglish, at the latter’s Swiss chalet for a summer of cataloguing the library. Lucy’s plans for a peaceful summer of books and Alpine flowers are shattered when the chalet is invaded by half a dozen noisy guests. Shenanigans and romance ensue. It was a total delight and just what I needed.

A Month in the Country, by J. L. Carr – Another one from my summer reading list – I’ve been meaning to get to Carr’s slim novel for years and it absolutely lived up to the hype. Tom Birkin, broken in body (from the trenches of World War I) and spirit (from a failed marriage) plods into the northern village of Oxgodby with a commission to uncover what is believed to be a medieval masterpiece under centuries of limewash on the church wall. As the painting gradually reveals itself, Tom begins to shed his layers of heartache and come back to the world. This book was absolutely gorgeous.

Summer: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons (Seasonal Quartet #2), ed. Melissa Harrison – I’ve loved each of the Melissa Harrison seasonal anthologies (having read Winter and Spring in their respective seasons). This one was just as much of a delight – mingling poetry, excerpts from classic novels and nature volumes, and modern writing on the season commissioned specifically for this anthology. It was all lovely, but my favorite piece was an essay by a twelve-year-old birding enthusiast on being taken by his dad to view a rare specimen – totally charming.

The Adventurous Summer, by Mabel Esther Allan – I’ve recently gotten into collecting the classic children’s novels reprinted by Girls Gone By Press and I’ve accumulated quite a stack. This is one of the most recent reprints, and was a delight. Nick and Sorrel are Londoners who come to stay with their aunt and uncle in the Cotswolds while their parents are in America (touring with the father’s orchestra). Although disgruntled about the plan at first, they quickly make friends and dive into country life. I flew through this in two days and couldn’t put it down – couldn’t wait to see what the Adventure Club friends would do next. Such a fun way to wrap up the season!

Well! Five books may not look like much, but I got my reading mojo back in a big way. After spending more than six weeks plodding my way through Chesapeake, I slammed four books in the last week-and-a-half of the month, and enjoyed each one thoroughly. I’m not even sure I could pick a highlight from among the latter four. They were all absolutely wonderful. I guess the real highlight of the reading month is starting to get excited about books again. I always go through a bit of a dry spell in summer – that’s normal – but I’m looking forward to some long reading evenings and weekends in the colder months that are looming around the corner.

What did you read in August?