I usually try to get this post up by the end of June, but here it is mid-July and I’m just now getting around to sharing my ten favorite books of the first half of 2017.  Blame summer!  There’s just so much to do and so much to share – but, slowly but surely, I’m catching up all around and ready to talk reading for the first half of the year.  I’ve read some great books this year – as always.  It’s been a big comfort reading year for me, as I knew it would be.  So, without any more preface, my ten favorites (so far, and as always these are books read in 2017 but not necessarily published this year) from the first half of the year:

Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope – The second volume in Trollope’s celebrated Barchester series returns us to our old friends Eleanor and Mr Harding.  The cataclysmic waves that reverberate through Barchester after the Bishop dies and a new Bishop with a completely different philosophy takes over are riveting.  Wonderful new characters – Mrs Proudie, the Thornes, the Stanhopes and more – enter the world and it’s just a delight all around.  I laughed out loud in nearly every chapter and enjoyed every second of this book – probably my favorite of the year so far.

The Making of a Marchioness, by Frances Hodgson Burnett – A romance between two decidedly unromantic characters – what could be better?  Emily Fox-Seeton, a gentlewoman in reduced circumstances, unwittingly and unintentionally charms one of the most eligible aristocratic bachelors in all of England.  The proposal – over a fish bucket! – is an absolute gem.


Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly – If you had no idea that black women worked at NASA in huge numbers (as “computers” – mathematicians) and that they were responsible for the calculations that kept WWII planes in the air and brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon and back home, then you are just like me.  This was a fascinating book that deserves all the attention it got.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I want to!

Northbridge Rectory, by Angela Thirkell – I mistakenly skipped a couple of novels in the series and ended up in the middle of WWII, and it turns out it’s totally true what Thirkell bloggers say – the WWII books are the best.  This one follows Verena Villars, wife of Vicar Gregory Villars, and a surrounding cast of neighbors, friends and billeted officers.  It was delightful and I was truly sorry when it ended.


Greenery Street, by Denis MacKail – A rare novel indeed, Greenery Street tells the story of a happy marriage.  Ian and Felicity Foster tie the knot and set up their first home in Greenery Street, where they tackle all of the common travails of newlywed-hood: Money Concerns; Family Drama; Rude Neighbors; and Problems With The Servants.  (What, you haven’t had that last one? Ha!)  It’s a joy and a hoot.


The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas – Starr Carter, aged sixteen, is on her way home from a party with her oldest friend Khalil when they are stopped by the police.  Moments later, Khalil is dead – a victim of police shooting – and Starr’s life is changed forever.  Starr deals with her legal limbo as “the witness”; her grief over losing her friend; and the different reactions of others in her neighborhood and school communities.  It’s a powerful, heart-rending read.


Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood – Atwood’s contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare Project follows a washed-up old theatre director who takes his revenge on the former underling who betrayed him in the most Atwood-Shakespearean way possible: with a psychedelic and terrifying production of The Tempest, performed by a local correctional facility’s inmates.  Like ya do.


The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge – Maria, orphaned but not alone, arrives at Moonacre Manor to live and claim her birthright.  On her first moonlit drive in, she sees a magical white horse.  Maria discovers that Moonacre is a lovely, magical place but with a tinge of old sadness, and she sets about correcting a generations-old mistake and righting the wrongs of the past.  Lovely and charming.


A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles – Count Alexander Rostov is in his thirties when he is found to be an unrepentant aristocrat and sentenced by the Bolshevik to a lifetime of imprisonment in the grand hotel he calls home.  Count Rostov’s sphere of movement is limited but he comes into contact with fascinating and wonderful characters from every walk of life, while Soviet history takes place right outside his window.  I just adored Count Rostov and every other resident of the Metropol.

Emily Climbs, by L.M. Montgomery – A re-read of my favorite installment from my favorite series, Emily Climbs follows Emily Starr as she leaves New Moon to attend high school in Shrewsbury.  Like with any good L.M. Montgomery novel, there are parties and social events, a healthy dose of academic competition, and a whole lot of gorgeous descriptive writing.


Ten!  It was a good first half of 2017 – at least where books are concerned!  (Don’t get me started about the news.)  I read some good ones and it was tough to whittle them down to ten favorites.  I can already tell that it’s going to be hard to choose a top ten at the end of the year…

What books stood out for you in the first half of the year?

Hey, y’all – how were your weekends?  Ours was too short, especially after the first five-day workweek back after a couple of short ones in a row.  I did a lot of running around and not enough chilling (although there was some chilling).  On Saturday morning I got up at an ungodly hour and squeezed in about four hours of work between the pre-sunrise hours and a little time Steve bought me by taking the kids out for the week’s grocery run.  I got enough done that I was able to power down for the rest of the weekend, which was a relief.  Once they got back from the store, I was out again almost immediately – off to a friend’s baby shower.  I got home from the shower just as naps were ending and we walked over to the library for awhile.  I ended Saturday evening basically passed out – after getting up at 4:30 a.m. to work, 9:30 p.m. is basically my limit.  Since Saturday was full of work, errands and social events, I wanted Sunday to be earmarked for just fun.  In the morning, we checked out a new family activity – kayaking on the Potomac!  As my friends know, I love kayaking but have never been able to find a way to make it work with my little duffers.  But I think I finally hit on the solution – we found a boathouse that will let the kids duff (ride along without paddling) in single kayaks, and it happens to be on a particularly peaceful stretch of the Potomac.  We were out for about an hour, which is Nugget’s sweet spot – then we headed home for lunch and naps.  I finished two books (my home book and my commuting book) while the kids snoozed, and we ended the weekend with a chill Sunday evening – a walk to check out a new-to-us Mexican restaurant, then bubble baths for the kiddos and a couch night for Mom and Dad.  Sunday was a great day – wish every day could be that warm, sunny, and packed with fun.


Reading.  Kind of a slow reading week, because I can’t seem to stay awake at night.  (Not pregnant.)  But on Sunday I finally finished Three Men in a Boat, which was absolutely hilarious – although warning, there is one offensive word that is jarring to the modern reader; other than that, it’s a perfect book.  I also finished Jane of Lantern Hill, which I’d been reading on the Metro (not wanting to take my big, beautiful hardcover copy of Three Men in a Boat a-commuting).  I picked up The Age of Orphans, which I have out from the library, shortly before naps ended.  I’m not far into it yet, but I’m intrigued.

Watching.  Not much TV this week – just a couple of episodes of National Parks Exploration Series.  They’re fun to zone out to and look at pretty scenery.  (And good for getting excited for a few national park visits coming up in the next few months!)  The major viewing in our house wasn’t so much for the parents this week, as for the kids, who have discovered the joys of watching The Lion King songs on YouTube.  They haven’t seen the movie yet – we’re waiting for the digitally remastered version.

Listening.  More podcasts this week.  I’m working through my podcatcher a bit and have been enjoying catching up with The Book Riot Podcast and The Home Hour in particular.  And because I only had about 36 hours of downloaded audio in my podcatcher, and only a few hundred in Audible, I clearly needed another podcast, so I let myself be talked into subscribing to Annotated.  Haven’t listened yet, though.

Moving.  Since I took last week off from my Monday reading posts, I’ve been doing a lot of moving – a few hikes (including climbing a mountain), two kayaking excursions, and lots of kiddo-chasing.  All weekend warrior stuff, so I really need to make more time during the week.

Blogging.  I have a good week coming up for you here on the blog!  My top ten favorite reads of 2017 (the first half) on Wednesday, and a big hiking recap on Friday.  Check in with me then!

Loving.  I recently stumbled across KidFriendlyDC, and I am hooked.  I have them to thank for clueing me in to Fletcher’s Cove, and now we have a great family-friendly kayaking spot to frequent!  And they’re also to blame for the ballooning of my list of activities to do in the area.  So great to have another good source for fun ideas!

Asking. What are you reading this week?

As I mentioned last week, in addition to our sunny two days spent on the lake, we also squeezed in a couple of hikes.  We had a major adventure planned for Sunday, but as a warm-up and for some good friend time, we also made plans to hit the trails on Saturday.  My friend Christine is moving to Denver soon, so I knew that this trip was probably going to be the last (easy) opportunity to hang out.  Of course, maybe I’ll touch base with her on a future visit to my Colorado-dwelling brother and SIL, but we’re in Albany more often than we’re in the Boulder/Denver area.  So I suggested that we meet for a hike before she rolls out and told her to pick the spot – since she’s moving.  After some discussion, she settled on Grafton Lakes State Park.

I have fond childhood memories of the beach at Grafton, and the kiddos were chomping at the bit to go swimming.  (We dressed them in their bathing suits before leaving the house, which really ratcheted up the hype.)  But first thing’s first – a hike was in order.

We headed for the trail around the lake.  It started out fairly easy, and we trotted along comfortably, chatting about Chris’s upcoming move, her job search in Denver, and our Adirondack plans for the next day.  (Chris is a 46r – a hiker who has summited all 46 Adirondack high peaks – and she offered great advice for our trip into the peaks region the next morning.)

The trail started out very easy and pleasant, albeit a little bit muddy (which boded ill for the next day’s hiking, but we didn’t really give it much thought – not that we would have changed our plans anyway).

Spotted a cute little canoe!

Then the trail started to get a bit more challenging – with a lot of rocks, roots and massive mud puddles.  I put the iPhone away for most of it, not wanting to drop it into six inches of mud or onto a big rock.  But Nugget gave me a lovely head massage (at least until it turned into aggressive hair-pulling).

The lake was about 2.5 miles around.  About halfway through, we stopped at a little beach to regroup and sip on our water bottles.

Hi Steve!

And obviously, any stop is an opportunity for selfies.  Hi, Chris!

Eventually we made it around the entire circumference of the lake, and everyone fancied a nice refreshing swim.  Steve and Chris stood around talking while I chased after Nugget.  Hmmmmm…

Each of the lifeguard chairs had a pile of sand in front of it, that was clearly put there just for Nugget’s enjoyment.  Obviously.

As was the lifesaving dinghy.

And the rescue kayak.  Moana songs were sung.

We finally made our way back to Dad and the little mermaid.

What a fun day!  The hike was a great warm-up for the Adirondacks, and the kids had a blast splashing in the lake (which was cool but surprisingly not cold).  And of course, I was getting all kinds of chills watching my kids play in the same state park lake that I splashed in on school trips as a kid.  Full circle, you guys.  Full circle.

Thanks for a great hike, Grafton!  And best of luck in Denver, Chris – hopefully we’ll see you out there one of these days!

What’s your favorite childhood state park memory?

I can’t believe that 2017 is (more than) halfway over.  It’s certainly been an eventful year in the world – overwhelming, actually.  When I travel out of town, people invariably ask me, “What’s it like in D.C. right now?”  I usually reply that it’s exhausting.  Honestly, we’ve become so on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop, that I think most of the city is just burnt out.  On a more personal note, I’m feeling burnt out, as well, from the daily grind of parenting and lawyering, day in and day out.  I’ve been coping with the first half of 2017 the way I cope with everything else in life – by diving into comfort reads wherever possible, and hitting the trails on weekends.  What I have not been doing is focusing much attention on the goals I set at the beginning of the year.

Get with the program.  At the beginning of the year, I told you all my intention to get and stay super-organized.  I do think that the more I have a handle on the routines of daily living, the easier daily living will be.  The problem is that getting a handle on those routines initially requires a process of trial and error, and I think I’m still in that process.  We made a financial decision that will have the ancillary effect of making my mornings a bit easier (while saving us money – yay!) and some other unexpected but welcomed shakeups are already providing some relief.  But I have a lot more work to do on this, if only I could find the time and energy to do that work.

Make room for me.  I’m sorry to report that I’m pretty much failing at this one.  Other than evenings with a book (when I don’t have to work) and the occasional sneak-off-for-a-workout-during-nap, I’m still so overwhelmed with my responsibilities as a parent and an attorney that I don’t know which end is up most of the time.  My main complaint is not having enough time to work out.  I am not good at “putting Mom first” even though I know that I can take better care of my family (and my clients, for that matter) when I take care of me.  The things that don’t take much time – like drinking lots of water – I am baller at.  The other stuff is still falling by the wayside.

Get my confidence back.  Another one that – tied to the above – is not going super-great.  I do a decent job of eating healthfully (most of the time) but workouts just seem impossible to schedule.  I know all of the conventional wisdom – you have to exercise for you; put it on the schedule and treat it like any other important meeting – blah blah.  It’s just not as easy as those platitudes make it sound.

Trust in abundance.  I think I am actually doing a decent job of this!  I’ve been consistently donating things all year long – whether to Goodwill, or by passing baby hand-me-downs along to friends – and every time I open up a little more space in my home, it feels even better.  I’m also making an effort to use up the stuff that I have rather than “saving” it until it goes bad.  We’re drinking our nice California wine instead of continuing to store it in boxes and never even look at the bottles.  I’m working on cooking through the pantry and fridge more consistently (this is a process).  And I’m weirdly most proud of the fact that I’ve gathered up all of my bath and body products in one spot in the bathroom – right down to hotel toiletries that I’ve snagged on trips – and am diligently using them up before I buy anything new for myself.  There might be a more metaphysical component to this goal that I’ll think about in the second half of the year, but for now I’m pretty much focused on minimizing clutter and saving my pennies.

Revive the 12 Months’ Hiking Project.  This goal was my gift to myself – an easy goal to achieve, because I love hiking and I love exploring new trails.  June was actually a bit of a challenge; it was such a busy month that I squeaked in just under the wire.  But we never let a month go by without hiking at least once, and our kids are growing up on the trails.  I’m even more excited that this is a project I’ll be able to keep going for quite some time, since the DC/MD/VA area is rich with hiking opportunities.

Things To Do This Year

  • Use my dSLR camera more (like, lots more).  And along the same lines, improve my photography skills – particularly outdoor photography.  This hasn’t happened – still relying on my iPhone for almost all of my pictures.  I’m determined to dust off the dSLR before our big summer vacation, though.

  • Plant another container garden with Peanut – and try not to kill it this time.  In progress – and things are actually growing!  This surprises me daily.  We’re definitely learning some good lessons this year, but we’ve eaten six little red tomatoes and four green beans, which already makes this the biggest success we’ve ever had.
  • Hang a birdfeeder and start learning to identify our neighborhood birds.  (Do we have neighborhood birds?)  In progress!  Bird feeder is up and the birds have finally discovered it after a few weeks of ignoring it.  I haven’t gotten any good pictures yet, but I hope that soon we will start identifying the birds as they come to the feeder.
  • Get back to the yoga studio, and take up barre3.
  • Run a longer distance race (I’m already registered!).  I was planning to run the GW Parkway Classic in April, but I ended up not running.  I just wasn’t properly trained for it.  Something this fall might be possible, but I think it’s more likely that I will just be a 5K and 10K runner until Nugget is a little bigger.


  • Spend more time in Barsetshire (both Trollope’s version and Thirkell’s version).  Check and check!  I’ve read several more Thirkells, and finally made time for Barchester Towers, all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed.  I wish Barsetshire was real…
  • Bag another ADK peak.  (I’m thinking Giant of the Valley, but haven’t made up my mind…)  Stay tuned…
  • Clean out our basement until we aren’t storing anything except holiday decorations and furniture.  I was hoping this would be a winter project, but it took so long to get the living areas of the house habitable (and they have an annoying habit of not staying that way…) that it hasn’t happened yet.  Soon, I hope.  I can’t wait to get some stuff out of the basement and have more space to move around in there.  It would be so nice to have a pleasant path to the laundry machines and even – dare I hope – a little workout corner.

  • Read diversely again – at least 33% underrepresented voices.  I am trying, although I’ve fallen off the wagon a little bit (with all of the stress lately – personal and political – I’m craving mid-century British middlebrow more than anything else, and that’s not a particularly diverse area of fiction).  I’ve read some really wonderful books by authors of color this year, and hope to add plenty more before the year is done.
  • Incorporate memory-keeping into new areas of my home.  Working on this.  I love being surrounded by stuff that means something to me (the flip side of minimizing – the stuff you keep has real emotional value) and over the course of the year I’ve added a handmade pillow with Outer Banks landmarks, as well as a little candle screen in the shape of Mount Vernon – both places that have great personal meaning for me.  What I have not done is print and swap out family photos, so that’s next on the agenda.
  • Travel.  Someplace amazing.  Maybe a few someplaces.  I’m just returned from back-to-back weekend getaways (first to Virginia Beach, and then to upstate New York and the Adirondacks for an extended Fourth of July visit).  Both trips were wonderful and refreshing!  Now we’re on to a stretch of quite a few weeks and weekends spent at home, which is fine by me, before our big trip later in the summer.

One Little Word

Just a few little words about my word for the year, gather.  At the beginning of the year, I didn’t know what it was going to mean, but it seemed fitting for a full year spent back in the place where so many of our friends live.  And it’s been wonderful so far.  In the spirit of gathering together with family and friends we love, we have:

  • Had a zoo playdate with my dear friend Carly and her family.
  • Hosted a raucous party for Nugget’s second birthday.  (There were seven kids there, including Nugget and Peanut, and it was chaotic and delightful.)
  • Met up with a new school friend of Peanut’s for many playdates, including excursions to parks and paint-your-own studios, and a Moana-viewing brunch party in my living room.
  • Sent Peanut off to multiple birthday parties and a “just because” movie night at a friend’s house.  She has her own social life now!  Hold me.
  • Been lucky enough to get another visit from Zan and Paul – who are moving back to D.C. this fall!
  • Visited Rebecca and Eric for a weekend on Virginia Beach, just a few weekends ago.  The next time we see them will be for THEIR WEDDING!

We have even more gathering in our future.  There are friends here that we haven’t even had time to see yet, since moving back almost a year ago now, and I hope to correct those omissions as soon as possible – although summer is busy for everyone, so I may have to wait a bit longer.  We also have planned trips on which we will see my parents (multiple times), dear Albany friends, and my brother and sister-in-law.

Actively seeking out people and opportunities to socialize is not something that comes naturally to me.  I am a homebody and an introvert, and my first impulse is usually to decline invitations.  But the fact is – after I’ve actually done the socializing, I’m always glad that I did.  I never come home thinking, “I wish I hadn’t agreed to meet so-and-so for lunch,” or “I should have never agreed to that playdate.”  We moved back to D.C. because we missed being surrounded by so many people we loved, and I definitely don’t think we have squandered that opportunity.

Did you set goals or intentions for 2017?  How’s it going?


So, this weekend sped by – as usual – and I’m staring down the barrel of my first full five-day workweek in about three weeks.  Yikes.  I’ll bet a lot of my friends are in the same position, so let’s all be strong for each other, right?  Somehow, even though last week was only two (work)days long, I really felt like I needed a weekend.  They’re always needed, aren’t they?  Anywho, I should have spent Saturday doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, knocking out some house projects and gearing up for the week ahead.  Instead, I went to the splash pad – ’tis the season!  It had been awhile since Peanut had a play date with her school BFF, S.  They’re both enrolled in different camps this summer and won’t be in the same class next year, so S’s mom and I have been trying to schedule some time for the girls to have a good catch-up session.  They had a fabulous time prancing around and splashing on the splash pad, then playing on the playground and carousel.  Sunday was also a no-go for house chores, for very good reason – last Christmas I gave Steve an “experience gift” of driving a Porsche supercar around a racetrack, and this weekend was the experience.  So on Sunday morning we packed a picnic lunch and all piled in the car to drive out to West Virginia (another state for the kids! I was the only one excited about this!) for Steve’s racing experience.  As you can see from the picture, he had a fantastic time.  I could tell he had fun, because he complained about how slow the BMW was all the way home.


Reading.  This is definitely the slowest reading season for me – while summer means beach reads and long light evenings with a book for many, for me it is the season for doing and not for sitting.  (Not to mention, with two little ones running around, my time at the pool and beach is spent chasing them and not lazing about with a book – someday those days will be back, but they’re gone for now, and I’m actually totally okay with that.)  So even though I was away for a long weekend, I didn’t finish a single book over the Fourth.  It wasn’t until a couple of days after I got home that I polished off The Brandons, the seventh volume in Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series.  (They’re getting better and better – it’s true what the rest of the bookish internet says!)  Then I went back to my library stack and read the latest Maisie Dobbs, In This Grave Hour, which was excellent.  I returned it to the library yesterday – it was due back this coming Wednesday, so I’m patting myself on the back for getting it back before fines started racking up – and picked up my new, and gorgeous, Folio Society edition of Three Men in a Boat.  (The picture above is not the edition I have, and does it no justice.)  It’s hilarious, and I’m cracking up at every other sentence; it’s also a perfect summer read.

Watching.  Not much on the watching front, because I’m not much of a one for turning on the TV on summer nights either.  We did start watching a new documentary series about the national parks (not the Ken Burns – I’ve already watched that) but so far, we’ve only watched the first episode, on Glacier National Park.  More to come soon, I hope.

Listening.  I’ve been trying to catch up with my overloaded podcatcher and have been working my way through a few episodes of The Book Riot Podcast that had accrued.  I also finally listened to the “Politics of Being Southern” episode of From The Front Porch, and it was as good as I’d heard it would be.  (Is NoVA the South?  True Southerners would say that it’s not, but I was raised to consider everything below the Mason-Dixon Line to be The South – capitols required – plus Southern Living does feature D.C. and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, and certain parts of NoVA have a very Southern feeling, which is good enough for me.)

Moving.  Lots to report here!  As you know from last week, I was away for the Fourth of July weekend and I packed plenty of activity in.  In addition to sailing, kayaking and chasing the kids around, I hit up two hikes, and one was a major hike up an Adirondack high peak!  The weekend was a lot of fun, but it also inspired me to make more time for formal exercise; it’s something I enjoy, and I think it’s really time I started making an effort to do things for myself again.  Recaps of my hiking adventures coming on Friday and next Friday, respectively, so stay tuned.

Loving.  This is such a simple thing, but I bought the kids cheap Cat & Jack sunhats from Target this summer and I seriously adore them.  Peanut has a floppy-brimmed white hat, and Nugget has a little navy blue bucket hat.  They’re inexpensive, so I don’t care if they get wrecked (and as a matter of fact, Peanut is already on hat #2, having lost the first one at camp) and they’re the stinking cutest things ever.  Plus they actually – willingly! – wear them, which is a huge perk.  Bless your heart, Target.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

I sit typing this post early in the morning, while the kids are asleep, the sky is dark and rain is pouring down outside – it’s definitely back to reality for me.  But as I ease back into schedules, routines and to-do lists, I’ll be hanging onto the memories of a sun-drenched weekend with family and friends, up in upstate New York.

We arrived at my parents’ house outside of Albany on the Thursday before the Fourth.  The original plan had been to travel on Friday, but Steve had a work deadline that meant he would need to be at his computer all day on Friday and couldn’t spend seven hours driving.  So rather than miss out on plans we had already made, we pushed our travel day up and extended our trip.  Steve and I both fired up our computers and got to work on Thursday, while the kids settled right down to the business of vacation.


They discovered Nana’s garden hose and shenanigans obviously happened as a result.

Someone was still loving on his belly button…

Friday was more of the same – work for the parents; fun for the kids.  The grandparents took them to a small local amusement park and playground for the morning while Steve and I typed away at our computers.  Our weekend started in earnest at 5:00 on Friday afternoon, when we all headed over to the home of some family friends for a cookout.  It was my favorite group of “framily” – friends who are like family to us – my parents’ closest friends, who hosted, and my high school best friend and her family.  Love them all so much!  All the kids had a blast playing (in the super-not-babyproofed house!) and the adults ate delicious food, drank rosé, and got all caught up.  We heard all the details about upcoming weddings and trips to Disney, and shared what we’ve been up to in D.C.  I took plenty of pictures (of course!) but won’t share them here – they’re destined for my private family album.

Saturday and Sunday were set aside for hiking and we had fun and exciting hikes both days.  Both hikes deserve their own posts, so I’ll save those details for later this month and skip right to Monday.  For the Fourth of July, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than the lake!

I tell Steve I have one requirement, and only one requirement, for the Fourth – spend it near water.  I don’t need a cookout, fireworks, funny sunglasses or anything else, as long as there’s water.  In Buffalo we usually went to Canalside, which was fun, but never quite satisfying because we never actually got on the water – just stood and looked longingly at Buffalo Harbor Kayak.  The lake is a different story.

For those who don’t know, my parents, aunt and uncle all have adjoining lakefront properties on one of the Adirondack lakes.  I’ve been coming here since before I can remember, and it’s like a second home.  These days I try to make the trip at least once a year – it’s not easy to get here, living so far away as D.C. (or Buffalo, for that matter).  Last weekend was probably our only trip to the lake for the year.  Happy to be here!

My cousin Jocelyn came, too, and brought her dog Max – much to Peanut’s delight and Nugget’s concern.  My grandmother was there as well, and our family friends – what a reunion!

Peanut did some fishing for landsharks with her new fishing rod (note: she is wearing my hat).  Nugget has one too, which will be important later.

Obviously, if it’s at all possible to sail, we sail!  My dad made sure the boat was in the water in time for our visit, and we had a fabulously windy day on Monday, so a sail was clearly in order.  The crew included our friend Michael, my cousin Jocelyn, my dad, Steve and me and the kids.  Don’t worry – we’ve fit more than that on the boat.

Family boat selfie!  Only half of Mom’s face, but Peanut is actually looking at the camera and smiling.  IT’S AN INDEPENDENCE DAY MIRACLE.

The kids settled in and enjoyed a boat snack, which clearly had to be Pirate’s Booty.

Jocelyn sat in my favorite spot.

And the wind really picked up!  We sailed on the jib for a little while because it was actually a very breezy day and we didn’t want to keel too much with the littles on board.  Eventually we decided to raise the main, too, and we really started moving then.

I think certain people really enjoyed their first sail.  Of course, neither one of them can quite hang.  So this inevitably happened:


What a great sail, though.  I was so glad that I got out on the boat at least once this season.  When I was growing up, we sailed almost every weekend – summer doesn’t feel quite the same without that wind and water.


Back on shore, Nugget woke up (grouchy) and after he recovered from the shock of his boat nap ending, he had some fun waving a mini American flag around.

And we enjoyed drinks and happy hour, courtesy of our family friend Denise (who is an incredible cook).  I think I may have single-handedly eaten a third of the shrimp salad on endive leaves.  Oh, yeah, and Peanut took credit for the food.  She flung her arms wide and declared, “ENJOY this FEAST I have prepared!  I gardened the green parts myself!”  Ha!  A cookout followed, but I was too busy eating to snap pictures.

End of a beautiful day on the water.  What more could you ask for?

On the Fourth itself, we were obviously back at the lake.  I was trying to herd everyone out the door immediately after breakfast, but it actually ended up being closer to lunch.  Oh, well!  We got there eventually and immediately got down to the business of having fun.  Nugget stuck his feet in the lake.


And then he did some fishing of his own.  And by fishing, I mean attacking bubbles with his BB-8 fishing rod.  No shame, you guys.

The lake is still pretty chilly, so we inflated a baby pool and my mom and I took turns hauling buckets of water up from the lake to fill it.  Nugget was READY to go in that empty pool.

I made the kids promise to give me my annual Fourth of July gift: a cute picture of them looking at the camera and smiling.  They did promise, but then they tried to flake on me.  Oh, no…

Nugget, look over here.

Getting closer…

Called it good.  They both look kind of insane, but what can you do?  They are insane.

We had a much calmer day on the Fourth, so instead of sailing, I checked off the last thing on my Fourth of July to-do list: kayaking.

I am an avid kayaker, and I used to be out on the water paddling my little red kayak all the time.  Like with many other things, kids changed that for me and I haven’t been able to get out much recently.  My parents have had custody of my kayak for years and I am glad they’ve been enjoying it, but I sure do miss it.  When I saw how calm the water was, I immediately asked my dad to launch my kayak.

That’s what I’m talking about.

I paddled down to the end of our bay and then circled back to see about picking up a passenger.  Nugget had burst into tears when he saw me drifting off, so I thought he may like to join me for a little while.

(Note: I think that before taking young kids out in any boat, including a kayak, you need to know the kid and know yourself.  I am an experienced kayaker and Nugget is a good listener, and I felt comfortable with the idea of having him out on the water with me.  So did Steve, obviously.  I wouldn’t take either of the kids out in a canoe, where they’d have more room to roam and stand up, but with twenty years of paddling experience I felt that Nugget was perfectly safe on my lap.  But I actually did a ton of research about the appropriate age to introduce a kid to a kayak before letting him in there with me!)

Someone else wanted a turn, too!  Funnily enough, I was more nervous about having Peanut on the kayak than I was about Nugget.  Nugget at two is actually a better listener than Peanut at almost-five, and while I trust my own abilities, I wasn’t entirely sure I trusted her to follow my directions and not goof off.  We did have a talk about not leaning over the side (I don’t care if Moana does it) but after that, she was really good.  I ended up giving both kids two rides, and I’m so glad to know that they can go paddling with me now!  I don’t know if it will be an option in D.C. (the water on the Potomac can be a little rough, and I don’t know if I can take them out in a rental) but at least we’ve done it once and established that it’s possible.

Back on shore, Nugget wanted to play “Maui.”

He also asked to go SUPing.  (He was very particular about the paddles – only wanted to use the SUP paddle on the SUP, and insisted on holding the kayak paddle while sitting in the kayak.)

We finished the day with an early cookout and drove back to my parents’ house as the sun was setting, knowing we had an early day the next day – and by 4:30 the following morning, we were on the road back to D.C.  It was a warm, sunny, happy weekend and I know we’re all going to cherish the memories we made for a long time.

Happy (belated) Independence Day!  How did you spend your Fourth?


Reading Round-Up Header

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 June, 2017

Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit – Solnit wrote Hope in the Dark back in the 2000s, in response to the Bush Administration and its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and she recently updated it and made it available at a reduced price for those who need a dose in 2017, which I call very decent of her.  Making the case for hope even when sanity and community seem to have fled the world, Solnit works her way through the recent history of the global social justice movement, explaining how so much more has been achieved than we realize, and how the journey is a victory in and of itself.  Solnit argues against making the perfect the enemy of the good and holds up examples of successes as reasons to celebrate – reminding readers that while, yes, the goal is a perfectly just society, and of course we’re nowhere near it, we’ve achieved great things already.  The book is a perfect antidote to the storms raging in our political landscape right now.  It took months to read because I downloaded it to my phone (and reading for more than a few minutes on my phone gives me headaches) but it was well worth it and I am sure I will come back to this slim but comforting book.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett – Patchett’s latest novel was hotly anticipated and widely acclaimed.  The book opens when Bert Cousins shows up uninvited at a Christening party for little Franny Keating, kisses Franny’s mother, and sets in motion the dissolution of two marriages and the combining of the Keating and Cousins families.  Franny and her sister Caroline grow up spending their summers in Virginia with their mother and Bert, and they bond with Bert’s children over a mutual dislike of their parents – then one day, tragedy strikes.  Years later, grown-up Franny begins an affair with an elderly author.  When she tells him about her life, he decides that it should be a book… and Franny loses control of the narrative.  So – I liked, but did not love, Commonwealth.  None of the characters were particularly likeable, and I found it hard to care what happened to them.  I appreciated the skill with which the novel was written, but it didn’t really do anything for me.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? And Other Questions You Need Answers To When You Work In The White House, by Alyssa Mastromonaco – I’d been eyeing Mastromonaco’s memoir of her years in the Obama White House and was planning to check it out of the library when I realized that the audiobook was read by the author and used an Audible credit to grab it.  I started listening immediately and loved it.  Mastromonaco is chatty and engaging, and her memoir of her career is fascinating.  She has worked for Bernie Sanders, John Kerry’s Presidential campaign, and of course for President Obama.  Mastromonaco doesn’t tell her life story in chronological order, but instead shares her stories in chapters organized around traits and values that she believes helped her succeed in her working life.  Of course she was right at the center of things for many years, and she delivers plenty of fascinating insider details about the Kerry campaign and the Obama campaign and White House, which she intersperses with terrific career and professional advice.  The audio production was wonderful as well.  I think this is a memoir I’ll definitely listen to over again.

Greenery Street, by Denis Mackail – When we meet Ian and Felicity Foster, they are a young couple planning their marriage, looking for their first home and plotting out their new life together – which makes them perfect candidates for Greenery Street.  Greenery Street, almost a character in and of itself, is a small side street in London that makes it a specialty to lure young married couples to set up housekeeping there.  The street is charming, lined with houses that are just the right size for a couple starting out in life (and a few servants, of course).  But every couple who sets up housekeeping on Greenery Street has their departure preordained; the moment the word “nursery” creeps into conversation, the house will begin to seem small and Greenery Street will be expelling the new family – on to a bigger home for them and on to a new young couple for the street.  Greenery Street follows Ian and Felicity through their first year of marriage, before they too add a baby and depart from the street, and it is simply a joy to read.  Funny, engaging, and simply delightful – we sympathize with Ian and Felicity through Family Drama, Rude Neighbors, Money Worries, and Problems With The Servants (that last being the most hilarious).  We learn what Ian and Felicity read, what they eat, and how obsessed they are with their dog.  Nothing much happens, and I could have stayed in the Greenery Street world happily for months.  (There are two sequels, Tales from Greenery Street and Ian and Felicity, but they’re next to impossible to find – so here’s my official request that Persephone publishes the whole series and not just the first!)

Northbridge Rectory (Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire #10) – Oops.  For some reason I thought Northbridge Rectory was next up in Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series and ended up skipping from six to ten.  Luckily, these are books that can be read out of order.  I loved Northbridge Rectory (and got a huge kick out of the fact that I was reading Greenery Street at the same time – which was written by Thirkell’s brother Denis Mackail).  Northbridge Rectory follows the inhabitants of the village of Northbridge for several months during one WWII autumn and Christmas season.  The Rectory is the focal point and we get to know Verena Villars, the Rector’s wife, particularly well.  Mrs. Villars is responsible for supporting her husband in his ministry as well as hosting a group of billeted officers – one of whom is quietly in love with her.  (She has no idea and would be astonished if she knew.)  We watch, along with Mrs. Villars, as the village prepares for war and the rest of the residents of Northbridge find themselves in and out of all sorts of matters of the heart.  It was a delightful read and I can see why the WWII novels are some of Thirkell’s most popular.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan – I’d heard so much about this debut novel and it didn’t disappoint.  Defying the Vicar’s order that the church choir be disbanded since all of the men are off at war, the women of Chilbury reorganize themselves as the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir.  The book follows several of them for one summer – sweet Mrs. Tilling; scheming Miss Paltry; wild Venetia Winthrop; and more – as they navigate the new wartime reality of their lives.  There are squabbles over loves, there are tragic losses, and there is a lot of singing.  The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was a lovely and ringing testament to the power of community to help us through the darkest times.  I couldn’t put it down, and ended up finishing it in two days – much to my disappointment, because I’d have liked to spend a lot more time with the choir.

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders – This was one that I felt compelled to read because of all the buzz it was getting.  Young Willie Lincoln has died of typhoid and been interred at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Georgetown.  On the night of Willie’s funeral, his father, President Lincoln, pays a visit to the cemetery and holds his son’s body.  The result – a battle for Willie’s soul – is told via a cacophony of voices, as excerpts from both real and imagined historical accounts of Lincoln’s life and presidency as well as in a structure reminiscent of a play, with the players being the other shades who are present with Willie in the cemetery on the night of the President’s visit.  Well – I certainly appreciated the wildly creative nature of Lincoln in the Bardo, and I cried buckets while reading it.  I can understand the buzz and hype and I don’t think they’re misplaced.  For me, though, I am at a stage where I really want comfort reading, and Lincoln in the Bardo is very much not comfort reading (especially if you have children).  I couldn’t put it down, and I thought it was astonishingly well-done, but it gave me nightmares.

A bit of a slow June – seven books, including one audiobook.  That seems to be par for the course in the summertime.  But there were certainly some gems amongst the handful this month – Greenery Street, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, and Northbridge Rectory were all delights.  (I’d probably rank Northbridge Rectory the highest if you absolutely made me pick a favorite this month, but please don’t make me.)  Next month will probably be more of the same type of reading – I’m on a major comfort zone reading jag, and not even mad about it – but I’m hoping to post a better number for you, since we’re not going out of town again for awhile.  (Not that my weekends won’t be packed with activity, because they always are.)  Check back!

What was the best thing you read in June?