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She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness.  Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother and the endeavor to make a small income go as far as possible.  And yet she was a happy woman, a woman whom no one named without goodwill.  It was her own universal goodwill and contented temper which worked such wonders.  She loved everybody, was interested in everybody’s happiness, quick-sighted to everybody’s merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbors and friends and a home that wanted for nothing.  The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to everybody and a mine of felicity to herself.

~ Emma

There is a certain variety of spinster that can be found peopling many a village in the dappled realm of imagination that is English literature.  Never flush with cash, their lives could be called simple to the point of dullness, yet they manage to live with a gentility and serenity that is almost too genteel and serene to be believed.  Spinsterhood, in Regency, Georgian, and Victorian times, was something of a dangerous occupation.  In a world where men held all the cards and all the power, women needed a man’s protection – husbands, fathers, or cousins or brothers who understood their relation of power and the responsibility that it ought to entail – in order to live even somewhat comfortably, an unnerving and perilous dynamic that female writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries routinely explored.

Jane Austen’s Miss Bates is often held up as the quintessential example.  Miss Bates is poor.  She lives with her mother, the elderly and ailing Mrs. Bates, and the two ladies manage to scrape along and make ends meet somehow.  They live for visits from niece and granddaughter Jane Fairfax, and for the companionship of their neighbors.  Yet their relatively unprivileged position makes it all too easy for Emma – inconsiderate, selfish Emma – to demean and ridicule Miss Bates.  In condescendingly mocking Miss Bates, Emma thoughtlessly embodies the heedless cruelty of Georgian society toward the relative powerless.  Fortunately, Mr. Knightley calls her on it.

It was badly done, indeed! You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour, to have you now, in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment, laugh at her, humble her–and before her niece, too–and before others, many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her.–This is not pleasant to you, Emma–and it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will,–I will tell you truths while I can.

~ “Mr. Knightley,” Emma

We have always lived genteelly, even if circumstances have compelled us to simplicity.

~ “Matty Jenkyns,” Cranford

Miss Bates stands in stark contrast to her Victorian descendent, Miss Matilda Jenkyns.  Miss Matty, as she is known to friends and compatriots, is a spinster living in reduced circumstances, which become even more reduced when a bank in which she had heavily invested goes under.  Yet Miss Matty survives because her friends rally around her.  Like Miss Bates, Miss Matty is beloved in her community.  Unlike Miss Bates, she receives nothing but respect from the young protagonist of the novel, Mary Smith.

We know far less about Mary than we do about Emma.  Although she is the narrator, she is not the focus of events in Cranford.  Elizabeth Gaskell gives very little information about Mary and her background, but it’s possible to piece together a few details – she’s a well-to-do young woman, if not as wealthy as Emma Woodhouse, her mother hailed from Cranford before marrying and leaving the town, and Matty and her sister Deborah Jenkyns are family friends with a close enough connection to host Mary for extended periods of time in their home and to receive financial advice (which Matty ignores) from Mary’s father.  Throughout the novel it’s clear that Mary, though an outsider, has great affection for Cranford in general and for Matty Jenkyns in particular.  While she may occasionally poke gentle fun at some of Miss Matty’s foibles (Miss Matty’s favorite economy – conserving candles – drives Mary batty, but she manages to play along and hide her exasperation) she never treats Miss Matty with anything less than kindness and deference.

For instance, in one scene, the Cranford ladies gather to watch a magician perform sleight-of-hand tricks.  Miss Matty is flutteringly anxious, worried that somehow the magic show might be offensive to Christianity.  She begs Mary to look discretely around the room and confirm if the clergy is present.

“‘Will you look, my dear—you are a stranger in the town, and it won’t give rise to unpleasant reports—will you just look round and see if the rector is here? If he is, I think we may conclude that this wonderful man is sanctioned by the Church, and that will be a great relief to my mind.”

~ “Matty Jenkyns,” Cranford

Mary obligingly cranes her neck around the room and verifies that yes, the rector is indeed present, sitting in the back of the room surrounded by a gaggle of schoolboys.  (Shortly thereafter, it is amusingly confirmed that the rector has agreed to take the schoolboys to the magic show as protection from what he views as the potential predations of another Cranford spinster, Miss Matty’s cousin Miss Pole.  Miss Pole, who is indeed interested in the rector but would rather die than admit it, sweeps imperiously past him and the schoolboys on her way out of the hall, ostentatiously ignoring him – much to his relief and the reader’s amusement.)

Can you see Emma Woodhouse staying with Miss Bates, accompanying her to a magic show, and agreeably spying around the room to verify that the minister is among the attendees?  I can’t.  (Nor can you picture Mr. Elton appearing at a magic show, can you?)

It is very pleasant dining with a bachelor.  I only hope it is not improper; so many pleasant things are.

~ “Matty Jenkyns,” Cranford

When disaster strikes Miss Matty, in the form of bankruptcy – she has heavily invested in the Town and County Bank, against the advice of Mary’s father, and the bank fails and ruins its investors – Mary spearheads Cranford’s efforts to take care of Miss Matty without letting her find out about it.  The Cranford ladies meet covertly and brainstorm ways to funnel cash to Miss Matty yet not damage her pride or her sense of responsibility for the bank, and Mary hits on the ingenious plan of obtaining a license for Miss Matty to sell tea and setting her up in business.  Mary’s father approves the plan and Mary herself stands guard over Miss Matty’s parlor, converted into a very discreet little tea shop – feeding Miss Matty a gentle fib about the dangers of candied almonds to prevent her from disbursing so many to the little boys of Cranford that she ruins her finances all over again.  The Cranford ladies suddenly find themselves in need of more tea than ever before and they buy up Miss Matty’s stock (ignoring her protestations that green tea is unhealthy) while Mary secretly works out a more permanent, and joyous, solution to Miss Matty’s financial woes and loneliness.

We all love Miss Matty, and I somehow think we are all of us better when she is near us.

 ~ “Mary Smith,” Cranford 

Emma learns her lesson, of course.  She’s abashed and ashamed after Mr. Knightley chastises her for her unkindness to Miss Bates, and she resolves to do better in the future – and she does.  She visits the Bates ladies, includes them in the life of the county, and doesn’t roll her eyes when Miss Bates waxes rhapsodic about Jane Fairfax.  In short, she grows up, and that is – after all – the story.  The reader is left feeling proud of Emma for showing personal growth and maturing into the role that has been reserved for her since she was born.

But Mary Smith doesn’t need to mature in order to treat Miss Matty with kindness and respect, the way Emma Woodhouse needs to mature before she recognizes her cruelty toward Miss Bates.  Mary loves Miss Matty, and it shows in every word of Cranford.  She willingly indulges Miss Matty’s eccentricities, misses Miss Matty when away from Cranford, and joyously returns to Miss Matty’s abode as if to her own home.  And Miss Matty, like Miss Bates, doesn’t lack for friends elsewhere in the village, either, as Mary’s father points out.

See, Mary, how a good innocent life makes friends all around.

~ “Mr. Smith,” Cranford

That’s true, but Mary doesn’t really need to be told.  Nor should Emma, and nor should we.

May we all inspire the same wealth of friendship as Miss Bates and Miss Matty do.

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Happy Presidents’ Day to my American friends!  I hope you’re getting a day off from work.  I’m not, although it’s self-inflicted.  My office is closed, so technically I don’t have to work, but I’m going in anyway to get ahead on billing for the week.  I’ll probably leave early, though.  Even though I knew I wasn’t (allowing myself to) enjoying a three-day weekend, I made the most of Saturday and Sunday – especially Saturday.  In the morning, we hit a local park for a long-overdue return to the trails.  More to come – with some crummy pictures, which all turned out blurry for some reason – next week.  Then in the afternoon, my BFF Rebecca came over and we headed out for a girls’ afternoon outing to “50 Shades of Rosé” at the French Embassy.  Ooh la la!  Fun to add another Embassy to my list – I’ve also attended parties, events or open houses at the British, Swedish, Canadian, Polish, Lithuanian and Greek Embassies over the years.  (And a big merci to Steve for pulling solo dad duty and facilitating some girl time.)  Anyway, if you haven’t guessed from the name, it was a wine-tasting event, hosted by Drink the District, focusing on rosé wines from all over the world.  French rosé is my absolute favorite wine, so I was especially excited about those, but the rosé vinho verde from Portugal was also a lovely surprise.  We swished, swirled, tasted, and got thoroughly soused, then came home and cooked pumpkin ravioli with sautéed kale in a creamy mascarpone sauce.  Hit the spot!  Sunday was more low-key and featured the usual neighborhood circuit – the library, fire station and playground – plus a trip to the bookstore for behavior rewards.  I squeezed in a few hours of work during afternoon naps, and we finished the weekend with a family stroll to the local soccer field for some running and kicking – ahhhh, perfect.

 

Reading.  Bit of a slow week – I can’t really explain why.  I took my time over Portrait of Elmbury, which I really enjoyed.  There were a few little moments here and there which were jarring to the modern reader, and knocked it down from five stars to four in my Goodreads ratings, but overall I found it a delight.  Then I turned to Half of a Yellow Sun, which I have out from the library.  I’m about 100 pages in – give or take; I can’t be bothered to check right now – and liking it, but I am lacking the attention span for reading much at the moment (blame the Olympics and work stress?).  Adichie is always a win for me, though, and Half of a Yellow Sun is as gorgeous as Americanah was.

Watching.  Olympics, Olympics, The Crown (Rebecca had never seen it – she accidentally watched The Royals instead, and that is NOT the same thing!), Olympics.  We’re actually starting to get a bit of Olympics fatigue, but as long as our heroic American athletes are competing and going for the gold, we will be cheering for them – we consider it no less than a patriotic duty.

Listening.  I am bouncing back and forth between series one of Home Front (WHEN are Ralph and Isabelle going to get together???) and the second season of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.  I’m getting pretty close to finishing the Chamber of Secrets discussion, so I will probably focus on that during my commutes this week, and then go back to Home Front.

Moving.  I was starting to get really frustrated with the lack of movement in my life, and while I still haven’t found a way to get back to yoga and barre or out for a run, I have decided that at least I deserve to work some more motion into my everyday life.  So I’ve been getting off the elevator two floors below my regular floor and walking up (I’d do more, but three floors below is not occupied by my firm, and I don’t know if my keycard would work – I have no interest in being locked in the stairwell on someone else’s floor) and also using my DeskCycle at least three times per day, for ten minutes each time – so that adds up to thirty minutes of stationary cycling per day.  I’ll take it.  When the weather gets warmer, I plan to start getting off the subway one stop early and walking a few extra blocks to the office.  Anything to get the steps in!  And of course, I finally made it out for a hike this weekend.  Not the best week for movement, but not the worst.

Laughing.  This weekend, apropos of nothing, Peanut informed me: “Mommy, Parents’ Night at school is when your mom and dad go to your classroom and stick their noses in your business.”

Loving.  This is the unhealthiest thing ever, but I don’t care!  It’s GIRL SCOUT COOKIE SEASON!  We currently have two boxes of Samoas on our counter (I bought them from a work colleague) and are waiting for a delivery from a neighborhood girl as well.  It’s the mooooooooost wonderful time of the yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeear!  What are your favorite flavors of Girl Scout cookies?  I love Thin Mints and Samoas, which were always my mom’s order when I was a Girl Scout, but as an adult I’ve acquired a passion for Trefoils.  I keep them for special teatime treats and refuse to share them with my family.  They can eat their weight in Thin Mints and Samoas for all I care, but the Trefoils are MINE ALL MIIIIIIIIIIIIINE.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

From the moment I found out that I was expecting Peanut, one of the things that I was most looking forward to doing with her – and any future sibling that came along, as Nugget later did – was sharing books.  I couldn’t wait to introduce her to the classic children’s books that I remembered listening to and thumbing through with my mom – books like Blueberries for SalMake Way for DucklingsGo Dog GoAngelina Ballerina and so many more.  But more than that, even, I was looking forward to sharing my favorite books for older readers.  Especially, of course, my beloved L.M. Montgomery.  As it turned out, I read Montgomery to her sooner than I expected – when she was only a few weeks old.  Perched on a chair next to her isolette, as lights flashed and alarms beeped all around us in the NICU at Fairfax Children’s Hospital, I read Emily of New Moon to her.  Together we journeyed to Blair Water and New Moon Farm, sitting in the garden with Emily, Ilse and Teddy and listening to Cousin Jimmy recite his poetry over a crackling campfire while the Wind Woman darted through the trees.

After she finally came home from the hospital, I read to her from my own books – Miss Read, mostly, but sometimes whatever I had checked out from the Fairfax County Library – and from Winnie-the-Pooh.  I knew that hearing my voice was good for her, and reading aloud was less awkward for me than pretending to make conversation with a baby.

It comes as no surprise, I’m sure, that as she got older she was rarely far from a book.  My mission to make a reader has been going very well indeed.

Now we find ourselves poised at two crossroads.  Peanut is on the cusp of a major breakthrough in her own reading abilities – she can sound out simple words, recognize sight words, and read very easy beginning readers on her own (when she wants to).  Getting to this point has been something of a battle, because while she loves books and would like nothing more than to be able to read on her own, she also is hard-wired to resist anything an adult appears to want her to do (don’t get me started on potty training; you don’t want to know how long it took) and she has stagnated a bit over her final year of pre-kindergarten, since she’s pretty much mastered the skills but the curriculum doesn’t have her moving to the next level yet.  I’m trying to work with her at home, but I have to pick my moments – if she’s hungry, tired, or interested in doing something else I just won’t be able to sell an easy reader to her.  (And who could blame her?  Reading A blue car.  A yellow car.  A red car.  A green car. and so forth… well, it’s not the most absorbing text.)

The second crossroads is – in our read-aloud time, we’re moving on to chapter books, more and more.  Peanut still asks for favorite picture books, and I’m glad to read them.  But she’s always had a long attention span for listening to stories (for instance, she has more tolerance for some of the epically long Robert McCloskey books – like One Morning in Maine and Time of Wonder – than her dad, who groans when she requests them, which happens quite often as both are favorites).  So little by little, we have been adding chapter books to the reading diet.

We started with Freckle Juice, by Judy Blume.  I had fond memories of it, and it was so short – it seemed like a good place to begin.  Most of the story went over Peanut’s head; she doesn’t have any freckles and the classroom storyline was a bit out of her experience.  But she felt like such a proud big kid with her book that was mostly words (and just a few pictures) and she started carrying it with her to school, coming home pleased as punch one day when a few of the older kids told her it was one of their favorite books, too.  It was easy to sell her on more chapter books after that, and I made a conscious effort to choose short ones with lots of pictures, to keep it fun and on her level.  The Princess in Black books have been a big hit, and so have some of the American Girl chapter books.  I took a leap of faith and pulled out Mr. Popper’s Penguins to read before we saw the show at the Kennedy Center in December, and we worked our way through it, a chapter at a time, as our bedtime reading for weeks.

Her most recent request – well, recurring request really, she begged for months – was for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I was a little unsure about that one.  The chapters are longer than what she’s been used to, and the end of the story (even the first book) is a little intense.  But I have the gorgeous illustrated edition, and she asked and asked and asked, so we jumped in.  Reactions have been a bit of a mixed bag.  Some of the chapters – especially at the beginning – have tested even Peanut’s superhuman patience for long stories.  And she waited, and waited, and waitedAND WAITED for Hermione to finally become friends with Harry and Ron.  (We’re there at last.)  I’m still not entirely sure if we will be able to actually get through the whole book – snuffing out her budding love for Harry Potter is the last thing I want to do.

But she’s taken to carrying her chapter books around and flipping through them, intently studying even the pages with no pictures.  (She says she likes looking at the words.)  And I told her that when she learned to read, she could read anything from the bookshelves at home – nothing will be off limits – and she threw her arms around my neck and screamed with joy.  And I think that’s half the battle.  The skills will come with time and patience.  The desire to read and the love of books – that’s already there, so I feel like 99% of the battle is already won.

Now is the part where I hit you up for recommendations.  What are your best tips for making the leap to chapter books?  And what are your favorite chapter books for budding readers and pre-readers with a long attention span?

 

Reflections on Project 24

Last December, I thought it would be a good idea to sign on to Simon‘s Project 24 – a commitment to buy only twenty-four books for myself all year.  (Books gifted to someone else are exempt, and books that I receive as gifts are also exempt.)  Since I try to only buy two books per month anyway, I thought this shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.  I just wouldn’t utilize any of my exceptions.  And it seemed like a good idea, since my shelves were already looking… well, there was space, but not a ton, and my little urban townhouse is a pretty good size for my neighborhood but still not exactly what you’d call spacious.  At some point, I’ll run out of room for books – especially when you consider that the kids have a considerable library of their own now, and it competes with mine for shelf space.  (This both delights and horrifies me.  I love that they’re into books.  But I’m territorial about my shelves.)

So – long story short – I went for it.  And I did it!  I only bought, for myself, twenty-four books this year.  They were:

  1. The Red House Mystery, by A.A. Milne
  2. The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge
  3. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
  4. Anne of Avonlea, by L.M. Montgomery
  5. Envelope Poems, by Emily Dickinson
  6. Mary Barton, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  8. North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. Anderby Wold, by Winifred Holtby
  10. The Land of Green Ginger, by Winifred Holtby
  11. Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome
  12. Before Lunch, by Angela Thirkell
  13. A Memoir of Jane Austen, by Edward Austen-Leigh
  14. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  15. Father Brown Stories: Volume 1, by G.K. Chesterton
  16. Father Brown Stories: Volume 2, by G.K. Chesterton
  17. After Many Years, by L.M. Montgomery
  18. Sylvia’s Lovers, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  19. Ruth, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  20. 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Washington, D.C., by Renee Sklarew & Rachel Cooper
  21. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Illustrated Edition, by J.K. Rowling
  22. The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery
  23. Portrait of Elmbury, by John Moore
  24. Brensham Village, by John Moore

And that’s it!  Kind of – read on.

Reflections on the experience, and a confession or two:

  • I didn’t cheat!  I didn’t use any of my exceptions, and I was scrupulously honest about… well… some things.  For instance?  Father Brown Stories came as a two-volume box set.  The volumes are packaged together and have an illustration that spans both spines.  I could maybe have gotten away with calling it one book purchase.  But I didn’t.  And the hiking book – well, that is a book for the whole family.  I could have argued it wasn’t “for myself” and exempted it from Project 24.  But – again! – I didn’t.
  • I cheated a little.  While I abided by the letter of the rules, if I’m being completely honest I’ll have to admit that I didn’t always abide by the spirit.  I bought kindle books that were featured on the Modern Mrs. Darcy daily ebook deals emails.  (Never more than $2.99!)  I used my feminine wiles to get Steve to buy a copy of A Gentleman in Moscow for me when it became clear I wasn’t going to be able to finish my library copy by the deadline.  And in the run-up to Christmas, I ordered several out of print books, including a boxed set of five Jeeves books (as my friend Susan said in support of this bending of the rules: “Baby, this is Jeeves.  You do what you have to do.”) and handed them to Steve with instructions to wrap them up and put them under the tree.  This is probably against Simon’s rules.  But the thing is – when you come across a rare and out-of-print book, what are you supposed to do?  Clearly, there’s only one right answer.

  • Goddess bless the library.  I wouldn’t have gotten through this year without the library.  (That’s true of every year, of course.)  It’s a lot easier to keep to a strict book-buying budget/diet when you have more books than you could ever read just a few short blocks away, all neatly shelved in the neighborhood library.  Also, who are these people who claim libraries are irrelevant and no adult uses them?  I’d go broke without the library.
  • It’s a good thing the kids’ books were exempt.  Since buying gifts for other people doesn’t count toward Project 24, I made liberal use of the allowance to buy even more books for the kids.  I buy them tons of books – all the time – anyway, but I’d be less than honest if I told you that I didn’t enjoy their books, too.  I love a beautifully-worded, sumptuously illustrated picture book just as much as the next preschooler.  Quite a few of my “ooooooh! pretty!” book purchases this year ended up being children’s books.  After all, as C.S. Lewis said: “A children’s book that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s book at all.”
  • I don’t think I saved money.  Here’s the problem with a strict book-buying diet.  When you’re only buying a very limited, very small number of books for yourself over an entire year, it’s way too easy to justify those books being big, expensive Folio Society books.  If I only shopped at used bookstores and thrift shops, maybe I could have massively trimmed my book-buying budget.  But I fell into the deep, deep trap of rationalization: “I haven’t bought any books in almost two months!  I DESERVE this $70 out-of-print Folio edition of Wives and Daughters!”  If I hadn’t been restricting myself, I probably would have bought more $8.00 BL Crime Classics paperbacks and fewer hefty Folio editions of Gaskell.  Just saying.  And on that rationale, I’m off to eat some chocolate and cruise Amazon.

Have you ever put yourself on a book-buying diet?  Did you cheat?

Sigh.  Does it have to be Monday?  Can we have another weekend first?  Ours was easygoing and low-key, matching the rainy weather outside.  I really want a do-over of Saturday – we had a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, which is never my first choice of activities.  (Being honest.)  I think the birthday honoree had a fabulous time, which is of course all that matters, but is there an adult on the planet who doesn’t leave that place with a headache?  On Sunday we mostly bummed around the house, but Peanut and I escaped during a break in the rain and headed to a friend’s house for a Wellie Wishers playdate.  The other mom and I had a lovely time chatting while the girls ignored their Wellie Wishers (which were just a convenient excuse, really) and spent their time emptying the dress-up drawers, filling the sink with bubbles and emptying a tube of toothpaste over Peanut’s head.  Good times.

  

Reading.  Such a good reading week, you guys.  I finished Thrush Green midweek and it was so delightful.  The last time I read it, I think I was too fresh from finishing Fairacre, and nothing else was going to live up to it.  On this read, I was able to approach Thrush Green anew and take it on its own merits and it was a joy.  Then I checked one off the longstanding TBR – I am Malala.  It was really powerful and just such a breathtaking reading experience.  Now I’m approaching midway through Portrait of Elmbury, my first Slightly Foxed Edition, and loving it.  There are a couple of sentences that are very jarring to the modern reader (isn’t that always the case? so frustrating) but overall, it’s lovely.

Watching.  The Olympics, of course!  I was ready – even had bibimbap for lunch on Friday.  We loved the opening ceremonies; we always do.  (Although, I have to ask, Ralph Lauren – WHY?  WHY with the work gloves, and the fringe, and just… oh, Hecate.  So, so bad.)  We were really excited to see an ADK boy take home a silver medal in luge.  Go ‘dacks!

Listening.  For about the first half of the week, I was flipping back and forth between Harry Potter and the Sacred Text and other podcasts, but midweek I switched to Audible and started listening to the first season of Home Front from BBC Radio.  So good!  I’d like to listen to it with a cup of tea in my hand while gathered around an old-timey radio in my living room.  But – well – it’s mostly Metro listening.  I suppose I could have a cup of tea if I listened to Audible at home, which I don’t.

Reminiscing.  Watching the winter Olympics always takes me back to 1998.  When the Nagano games were airing, I was an exchange student in Germany, and I watched most of the coverage with my host family auf Deutsch.  I always get a particular laugh out of my memories of watching some of the Games in a sports bar on top of the local hockey rink (after banging drums, stamping my feet and shouting my support for Adendorfer Eishockey) and giggling helplessly as my host sister’s friend Per-Ole climbed on top of the bar, raised his bier and shouted indignantly “Curling ist ein Frauensport!  Frauensport!”  Heh.

Blogging.  Bookish week coming up for you!  On Wednesday, I have some final thoughts on Project 24 (spoiler: it neither saved me any money nor taught me better habits) and on Friday, I’m chatting about starting to read chapter books with my budding bookworm.  Check in with me then!

Loving.  I mentioned it above, but just about ninety minutes into the first season I’m kind of obsessed with Home Front.  It’s a radio drama – full cast, of course – featuring several characters holding down the fort on the home front in a Kentish village during World War I.  Just a few episodes in and there’s a secret engagement, an even more secret pregnancy, an adulterous vicar, and two missing kids.  Gulp!  And the soldiers haven’t even left for the front yet.  Obsessed, I tell you.  The production is fabulous and I’m already hooked on the story.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

2017 was a great year on the trails!  Our hikes took us all around our local area, up to the Adirondacks and clear across the country to California.  As we look ahead to 2018 hiking – and I have some big plans for this year, as you know – I don’t want to forget all the fabulous trails of 2017.

JanuaryRiverbend Park, Great Falls, Virginia.

FebruaryLake Accotink Park, Fairfax, Virginia.

MarchU.S. National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.

AprilBluebell Loop Trail at Bull Run Occoquan Regional Park, Manassas, Virginia.

MayMason Neck State Park, Lorton, Virginia.

JuneFirst Landing State Park, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

JulyGiant Mountain, Keene Valley, New York.

SeptemberJoshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, California.

OctoberSky Meadows State Park, Delaplane, Virginia.

November Stony Man Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia.

December Jiminy Peak Ski Resort, Hancock, Massachusetts.

So, there we have it!  Twelve months of fresh air and trails across five different states (Virginia, Washington D.C., New York, California and Massachusetts).  Countless miles tramped, birds spotted, high fives exchanged and views enjoyed.

Here’s to another year of hiking in 2018!

Recently I was pottering around the internet, reading through discussion threads on the “Folio Society Devotees” page at LibraryThing, and I happened upon an interesting topic.  The original poster inquired: what would you read if you had six months off work (with presumably no other responsibilities) to spend entirely with your books?  And what would you read if you found out you had six months left to live?

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Two interesting hypotheticals!  The first – six months to just read – is every book lover’s fantasy, right?  (Although if I’m being honest, when I am dreaming of a reading sabbatical, it’s usually more like three years.)  I’ve had a few periods off work that averaged out to six months each – two maternity leaves, and a seven-month stint as a stay-at-home-mom – but I had other responsibilities during those times, and couldn’t just read.  I still got through quite a few books in those times, though.  I pretty much read whatever I wanted, which looked like a lot of classics, gentle fiction (i.e. Miss Read) and cozy mysteries.

But a six-month dedicated reading sabbatical would be a little different, I think.  While I’m sure I would spend at least some of it re-reading my favorites – like Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, Edith Wharton and L.M. Montgomery – I think my main focus would be tackling my TBR in a really mindful and focused way.  There are still many classics I’ve yet to read, and I’d want to devote most of my reading sabbatical to them.  I’ve barely scratched the surface of Trollope, although I’ve adored the couple of books I’ve read from among his works; I’ve not yet read any Eliot other than Middlemarch (twice); and I’ve never read any Gaskell.  So they’d probably be my focus.  I don’t think I would use that time to make a targeted study of anything in particular, nor would I plan to create an end product – like a dissertation – I’d just spend time with great works of literature I haven’t yet experienced, and for the rest of the time, I would read through my bookshelves and luxuriate in having time to really enjoy authors like E.F. Benson, E.M. Delafield, Nancy Mitford, Angela Thirkell, Dorothy Whipple, and others.  (Six months?  I could spend my whole life on this.)

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As for six months to live – well, that’s a different question.  I don’t like to ponder mortality, so I tried to avoid thinking about it at first.  But I think I have a short, and maybe surprising, answer to the question: if I suddenly found out I had six months left to live, I don’t think I’d spend much of it reading.  Seems strange – I surprised myself a little – because I do love to read; it’s one of my favorite activities.  And it would be tempting to read feverishly and check books off of my lifetime TBR while I still could.  But – I don’t think that’s what I’d do.

If I had six months to live, I think I’d want to spend it traveling.  I’d want to see as much of the world, and have as many experiences, as I could with the time left to me – riding camels in Morocco; hiking the Swiss Alps and Austrian Tyrol; spotting elephants and lions on safari; kayaking with orcas and humpback whales; visiting every American and Canadian national park; wandering through the great cathedrals of Europe; eating sole meuniere in the Normandy restaurant where Julia Child had her first French meal; walking every inch of the 600-mile South West Coast Path around Devon and Cornwall…  I’d want to rest my eyes on natural and manmade wonders – not words on a page.  (Of course, if I had six months to live, I would probably be sick, so maybe all of this adventuring wouldn’t be possible – in which case I would likely turn to old favorites and childhood classics.)

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And I’d want to spend time with my family – especially my little folks.  I’d stroke their hair, pet their soft baby cheeks, and memorize every inch of their faces.  I would want them in my arms as much as humanly possible.  I’d much rather hold them than hold a book.

Shiver.  I like the first question better!

What would you read if you had a six month sabbatical?  And if you want to answer the second question – what would you read if you had six months left to live?