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With the gorgeous blue skies and warm weather last weekend, and our packed schedule the rest of the month, there was no question that we would be getting out on the hiking trails at least once.  Since the entire weekend looked to be equally beautiful, we targeted Sunday for our hike.  I initially floated Fraser Preserve as a possible destination, but Sunday morning found us moving very slowly, so we scrapped that idea in favor of Lake Accotink, a new-to-us park in Springfield, Virginia.

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Strapped into the hiking backpack and ready to go!  Dad and I were in short sleeves, but we zipped the kiddos into their fleeces – although Peanut insisted on wearing a sundress with shoes and socks – no tights – which we let her get away with, since it was really quite warm already.

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First order of business was a snack.  Both kids gobbled up cheese sticks and pouches while enjoying the view of the lake.  I’d love to see the place in summer, when the park is bustling with people!  As it was, there were quite a few hikers, runners, mountain bikers and strollers out enjoying the lovely lake breeze and blue skies.

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Canoes!  I can’t wait until the kids are old enough – read: obedient enough – to get out on the water as a family.  Paddling is something I love; it’s been a passion of mine since I got my first kayak at age 15, and I wish I got to do more of it.

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Suited up and ready to hit the trails!

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Not far into our hike, what little cloud cover there had been burnt off and the glorious blue sky came out!  Not pictured: the little Pisces who was hovering around my right ear, keeping up a constant refrain of “Wanna go by water!  Wanna go by water!”

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^ The goal.  Always the goal.

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Attempted some selfies, but they turned out very squinty.  Note to self: do not forget sunglasses, even if the sky is a little overcast.

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When we had only a little hiking left to do, we let Peanut out of the backpack to run along the trail next to us.  She’d been sulking and complaining the entire time (four going on fourteen?) but perked up considerably once she got to walk.  We discussed the possibility that she is growing out of the backpack – up until recently, she never wanted to walk if there was a possibility of being carried or pushed.  I’d love to see her in little hiking boots, scampering along with her own mini backpack, so I’m encouraging her.

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Stopped to examine some quartz in the trail!  If it’s pink or sparkly, Peanut is here for it.

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Well, Accotink, thanks for a delightful, sunny, breezy hike!  This park was truly a gem, only twenty minutes from us, and we had no idea it was out there. I can already see that renewing the hiking project is a good idea – it’ll get us out of the habit of going to Great Falls every weekend, and force us to try out some new hiking spots.

Did you hit the trails this month?

Repost: Comfort Reading

With all that’s been going on in the world lately, I’ve been turning to comfort books more and more as a way to check out of reality – if even for a little while – and into a world where everything is guaranteed to come out right in the end.  Almost three years ago, on March 14, 2014, I published the following post about comfort reading, and it occurred to me that it might be a timely topic once again.  So I’m dusting it off, and presenting it here in case you missed it the first time:

Any voracious reader could probably name multiple reasons why they love to sink into a book.  There are many things I love about reading, and I’ve pondered why I read in the past.  In that post, one of the reasons I named was “escapism.”  When I hit a rough patch, as we all do from time to time, books invariably make up an important part of the process of getting through the hard times.  Just the act of reading itself is comforting.  It’s a familiar ritual for me: choose a book, curl up under a blanket, sip tea and get lost in a story.  Of course, I don’t do all of my reading on the couch at home.  I carried a book with me to the NICU every day – to read in the car, the pump room, or during downtime while Peanut snoozed in her isolette.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’d treated a book like a security blanket.  I had many rough days during which I found comfort in reaching into my tote bag, grasping the book du jour and thinking about how I’d have some time to lose myself in the pages later.

Since then, through long newborn days, planning and carrying out a move across several states, and job-hunting, I have thought a lot about comfort reading, both in terms of the practice of reading itself and in terms of the type of books I select during the dark times.  Not only is the act of reading comforting to me, in and of itself, but the choice of book can bring some added comfort, too.  I noticed that “comfort books” fell into three categories for me:

Gentle Reads

These are soft, quiet books in which it may seem as though nothing much is happening, but the beauty of the words themselves and the characters’ steady progress through the story is comforting.  In September of 2012, I slipped back into the gentle world of Fairacre, reading Storm in the Village during my pumping sessions in the NICU.  It’s not as though there was no conflict – indeed, the entire premise of the book is that an atomic energy company wants to mar the beauty of the natural landscape around Fairacre by erecting a housing estate, a terrible concept!  But Fairacre is a quiet place with familiar, well-loved characters and it made me feel better to spend some time there.

I also revisited an old favorite from my childhood.  In order to bring Peanut comfort while she was trapped in an isolette, I spent hours reading to her out loud from Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery, which was my favorite book as a young reader.  (You may notice the title and wonder if Peanut’s name is a coincidence.  It’s not.)  Of course, Peanut doesn’t understand the language or concepts in Emily of New Moon, so for her the comfort lay more in hearing my voice.  But I won’t lie and pretend that reading a childhood favorite wasn’t good for me, too.

I visited Fairacre many times during the months we were debating pulling up stakes and moving to Buffalo.  And some of the final books in the Fairacre series happened to also be my final books borrowed from my favorite library.  That’s not a coincidence: although I knew that moving to Buffalo was going to be a good thing for our family, it wasn’t easy to uproot our entire life in Virginia.  Miss Read, Miss Clare and the rest of the Fairacre village folk (yes, even the caustic Mrs. Pringle!) made the transition somewhat smoother for me.

Humor

In addition to the gentle reads, I also need a laugh when I’m feeling down.  I found that in Freddy and Fredericka, a sweet but funny and slightly inappropriate tale about a hapless Prince and Princess of Wales who are dropped from a plane over New Jersey with a mission to prove their fitness to rule by re-conquering the United States.  Much of the humor lies in word-play and silly images, both of which resonate with me as a reader.  I spent hours laughing over Freddy and Fredericka in the mothers’ lounge and on the car rides to and from the hospital when Peanut was in the NICU, and it did make me feel significantly better.

Even before the NICU days, I’ve turned to humor to get me through rough patches.  Specifically, P.G. Wodehouse’s bumbling aristocrat, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, and his brilliant valet Jeeves, have given me plenty of laughs when I was stressed out over work or travel.  Watching hapless Bertie get engaged to a string of terrifying women, only to be rescued over and over by Jeeves, is a sure cure for any anxiety.  (And you’ll certainly ponder whether you’re really under stress when you contemplate the horrors of an engagement to Lady Florence Craye.)

Cozy Mysteries

I’ve been a fan of mystery novels since I picked up my first Agatha Christie, back in middle school.  And I think they’re perfect comfort reading when you’re feeling a little bit buffeted by the world.  Sure, the premises of these books can be a bit gruesome – you’re bound to encounter a dead body, sometimes more than one, along the way – but the thing about cozy mysteries is that they’re pretty much guaranteed to end well.  You can rest assured that the sleuth – be it Miss Marple, Flavia de Luce, Maisy Dobbs, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Precious Ramotswe or one of countless others – will solve the mystery in the end.

And there are often other storylines, especially in the more recently written mysteries (Dame Agatha wasn’t big on this, but her successors often are) that focus more on the sleuths and their supporting castmates – their relationships, dreams, goals, what-have-you – than on whodunit.  Will Mma Ramotswe get together with the kindly garage owner, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni?  Will Maisy find happiness with James?  (Still waiting for the final word on this one.  C’mon Maisy, don’t be stupid!  James loves you!)  Will Flavia ever make peace with her ghastly older sisters?  You’ll have to come back for the sequels to find out, but the beauty of these series is that these stories often work out just as neatly as the mysteries our heroes and heroines solve.  Sometimes it takes awhile, but that just makes the conclusion more satisfying when it inevitably comes.  But even when the personal results aren’t quite as neat and tidy, you can at least count on a wrap-up where everything makes sense, the bad guys are caught and the good guys debrief over a cup of tea (or something stronger).  It’s nice to be able to count on that.

When you’re feeling down, do you turn to books for comfort?  Which ones?

P.S. 2017 Jac here again – check back next week for some new comfort reading recommendations – books and authors that have come onto my shelves in the last few years, or that weren’t mentioned in this post.  If you’re looking for books to block out the noise of the world, I’ve got you covered!

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Happy holiday weekend to my American readers, and happy new week to my international friends!  I hope everyone had a good weekend.  We definitely did – it was insanely unseasonably warm in D.C. – temps in the 70s all weekend – and we definitely took advantage of the heat wave.  I felt a bit guilty about being so giddy over the warm weather – that whole climate change business, and all – but if there was ever a weekend that called for nice weather, this was it.  So I tried to push aside my guilt and just enjoy it.  On Saturday, Peanut and I walked out for a play date with her little BFF from school.  Peanut and her friend had fun painting pottery and I had fun chatting with the other mom.  The rest of Saturday was devoted to house projects, since it was “productivity day.”  I’m pleased to report that I finally cleaned the pantry out, and can now find the mac ‘n cheese again.  (#priorities)  On Sunday, the weather was so gorgeous that I spent almost the entire day outside – hiking at Lake Accotink in the morning (recap coming on Friday for the 12 Months’ Hiking Project), relaxing on the porch with the winter issue of Slightly Foxed during naptime, and finally a walk down to a different playground, the waterfront, and around the downtown area after nap.  Glorious!  My office is closed today, so we’ll be enjoying more sunshine (and squeezing in a little remote work) the rest of the day.

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Reading.  I had a great reading week last week!  Finished up Emily of New Moon, my childhood favorite, for #ReadingEmily – read my thoughts on it here, plus musings on childhood classics here.  After a good dose of comfort reading in the form of a visit with Emily Starr, I turned to two classics, both of which are having a moment and both of which are distressing in their own way.  First, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (I heard he’s being recognized more and more?!?!), which I’d been meaning to read forever and which seemed like a perfect choice for Black History Month.  And then, my current read – 1984, by George Orwell – another that I’d been meaning to read for quite some time.  I read Animal Farm many years ago, but was finally inspired to kick 1984 up to the top of my TBR after it sold out on Amazon (!!!) recently.  It’s due back to the library in a couple of days, and has quite the waiting list, so I’ve got to make haste and finish it up.  Next up, I think, will be How to Be a Victorian – finally.

Watching.  We’re back to Rock the Park and watching about one episode a night.  The last few episodes haven’t been my favorite – they’re all good, of course, and beautifully shot, but I’m more interested in the episodes in which Jack and Colton visit a park that’s high on my list, or undertake an adventure that I’d like to try.  So, less scuba diving – which is something I’ve no desire to do – and more rock-climbing, please!

Listening.  Still on a podcast jag – I needed a break from long audiobooks (although I’ll get back to Middlemarch soon).  I’ve been enjoying catching back up on The Book Riot podcast, and I’m jealously hoarding three episodes of Tea or Books? that accrued while I was listening to the investment course.

Making.  Lots of productive things.  I made a clean pantry over the weekend – that was no small feat.  Other than that, really all I’ve been making has been lots and lots of work product.  I had a 50+ hour week last week – several days in a row of getting up at 4:30 and putting in two hours before the kids woke up, working nonstop all day, and then putting in more time at night.  The rest of February is looking almost as hectic.  I’d envisioned this “making” prompt as a way to tell you about great meals I’ve cooked, or knitting or photography projects I’m working on, but there’s been precious little of that.  Well, all things in their season.

Blogging.  This week, I’m planning to re-post an older post I wrote about comfort reading on Wednesday, since that seemed like something that might be sort of timely for many of my friends.  And on Friday, I’ll have a recap of our February hike at Lake Accotink in Springfield, Virginia.  Can’t wait to show you all the pictures!

Loving.  This post (“3 ways to listen to Audible audiobooks without a membership”) from Modern Mrs. Darcy.  Anne has some of the best tricks for saving on ebooks and audiobooks – I get her daily list of kindle deals in my email and have bought several of the books that she’s featured – and no one does a better job of navigating the sometimes confusing world of Amazon and Audible to find the best deals.  All of her audiobook posts are worth reading – I went back through them when I was deciding whether to get an Audible membership – but this post is the best, because Anne lets you in on the secret (or at least, it was a secret to me) that several of the companion audiobooks to classic novels are read by some of the best Audible narrators, including some celebs.  As a result of reading the post, I rushed to Amazon and snatched up the kindle version of Anne of Green Gables, all so that I could add the audio version narrated by Rachel McAdams for $1.99 – much less than even the Audible member price.  It had been on my wish list for months; thanks to Anne, I saved a bundle on an audiobook I would have bought eventually, but for much more money, and snatched up several Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell titles as well just because the companion audiobook was narrated by Juliet Stevenson, whom I adore.  If you’re even considering an Audible membership, be sure to read this and Anne’s other audiobook posts.  I have no intention of getting rid of my Audible membership at present, but I’m still getting a ton out of this post, and scoring some major deals on Audible books that I would otherwise have spent valuable credits on.

Asking.  What are you reading/watching/listening to/loving this week?

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There are books that you can read once and be done with – glad to see their covers winking at you from your Goodreads “read” shelf, but with no desire to revisit them.  There are books that you’ll come back to – once or twice, perhaps, or again and again – because they still have something to give you.  And then there are books that are so intrinsically a part of you, books that you have lived in, that you will return to their pages for the rest of your life and even when you’re not in the midst of a re-read, you are carrying their subtle influence with you.  Often, that’s a childhood book – one that was a formative influence on you when you were growing up.

Emily of New Moon is that book for me.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, my first encounter with one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s heroines was with the delightful, effervescent Anne Shirley.  I would curl up in my grandmother’s armchair, open her blue and white hardcover edition, and dive into the world of Avonlea, not to return for hours.  I’d thrill to Anne’s first sight of the Lake of Shining Waters – dash with pounding heart and pounding feet through the Haunted Wood – rage at Gilbert Blythe (“Carrots! Carrots!”) – mourn the temporary loss of Diana’s friendship after the disastrous episode of the currant wine.  The day I discovered that there were seven more books set in Anne’s world (plus the Chronicles of Avonlea short stories, but they didn’t feature Anne so they were second-tier choices) was one of the happiest days of my life.  Anne has been a good friend to me since I was very young – but eventually, knowing her story inside and out, I wanted something new and a little different.

Enter Emily.

I read Emily of New Moon, and its two sequels, Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest, anywhere and everywhere.  I still have – somewhere – my original paperback copies, tattered from dozens of reads.  Although I know that I must have read – did read – Emily in my own room, on my parents’ couch, at my grandmother’s kitchen table, and on the school bus, I recall reading Emily most intensely and contentedly while perched on a bolder on the bank of the Sacandaga Lake, where my parents have a camp.  Emily was best read there, with a fall breeze coming off the lake, ruffling the pages until dying twilight puts a stop to reading time.

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Emily Is Not Anne

While Anne and Emily have some similarities, Emily is a very different heroine.  (For a thorough Anne-to-Emily comparison, check out this post by Naomi, to whom I’m very grateful for hosting the #ReadingEmily readalong.)  One of the very few things that bothers me about the Anne books is how charmed Anne seems to be – once she arrives in Avonlea, that is – at getting people to fall in love with her.  From Gilbert Blythe to half a town full of jealous ill-wishers who fall under Anne’s spell within the first half of Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne never seems to have much difficulty in winning people over and turning enemies into friends.  Even Josie Pye, as obnoxious as she may be, winds up a part of Anne’s “set” – albeit, on the periphery.  Even as a child, I think that Anne’s ease in winning friends and admirers struck me as unrealistic and rubbed me the wrong way, rather.

Emily, although her name is Starr, does not live under the same lucky constellation that Anne enjoys.  Growing up poor but happy, raised by the loving hand of her father for the first ten years of her life, Emily thrives on very little human interaction.  She has Father – and the cats Mike and Saucy Sal – and her imaginary friends the Wind Woman and Emily-in-the-Glass – and she’s perfectly content with that lot.  (The housekeeper, Ellen, is not a sympathetic soul.  If this was an Anne book, Ellen would start out gruff but would be doling out milk and tea cakes by Chapter 4.  That’s only a slight exaggeration.)  When Douglas Starr dies of consumption, Emily has her first encounter with the cruel outside world, in the personages of the Murrays – her late mother’s much-older half-brothers and sisters.  The Murrays belittle and criticize Emily at her father’s funeral, and ultimately force her to draw lots to determine who will take her home with them, as no one wants her.  Emily, heartsick at being unwanted, is relieved to draw the name “Elizabeth Murray,” because that means she will be living at New Moon Farm with kind Aunt Laura and friendly Cousin Jimmy – oh, and stern, unlovable Aunt Elizabeth.  But Aunt Laura!  And Cousin Jimmy!

Emily doesn’t have an easier time making friends outside the world of New Moon than she did with her harsh relations.  Within the first half of the book, she is cruelly ridiculed by her teacher for writing poetry in class and feels the sting of betrayal by a false friend.  While Anne has her moments at school, she never has to contend with a Miss Brownwell or a Rhoda Stuart.  Some part of me liked – still likes – the fact that Emily was secure enough in her own self that she did not need to be loved by everyone, which I always felt Anne did.

#ReadingEmily As An Adult

I’ve re-read the Emily books several times since becoming “all grown up.”  But I haven’t picked them up in a few years.  The most recent re-read was not a complete re-read, but it was a special one – my much-loved childhood paperback in hand, perched on a hospital stool, quietly reading my favorite scenes to my preemie daughter (who is named after our dear Miss Starr – oh, and her great-grandmother, but mostly Miss Starr) in her isolette.  But that was more than four years ago now, and I was undeniably distracted and shuffling through the book for the scenes I wanted my tiny three-pound daughter to hear.  More Wind Woman, less Father dying, please.

So this month, thanks again to Naomi, was the first I’ve sat down with Emily and Ilse and Teddy and Perry and the cats and Aunts Elizabeth and Laura and Cousin Jimmy and Great-Aunt Nancy and that old witch Caroline Priest, in more than four years.  As I knew I would be, I was immediately plunged back into the world of New Moon, Blair Water and Priest Pond.  Most of the reading experience was very similar to my childhood reading of the Emily books – immersive, intense, and altogether delightful.  But there were definitely nuances that I picked up on as an adult that completely escaped me as a child (much like when I re-read Anne’s House of Dreams and sobbed through the “wee white lady” chapter that I’d breezed through as a child).

  • Dean Priest, get a hold of yourself.  I was thoroughly, thoroughly creeped out by Dean “Jarback” Priest and his references to waiting for Emily.  I think I threw up a little when Emily offered to kiss him goodbye as she was departing Great-Aunt Nancy’s house, and Dean said he wanted their first kiss to be different.  Groooooooooooooss.  Dean, you are THIRTY-FIVE YEARS OLD.  Emily is TWELVE, and she is YOUR BEST FRIEND’S CHILD.  Find a woman your own age and don’t be weird.  Do better.
  • I might be getting crotchety.  Is it a rite of passage into adulthood to start seeing the perspective of the villains in your childhood favorites?  The summer I first planted a garden, I began to sympathize with Mr. MacGregor and to be a bit reluctant to agree with my daughter when she would declare that Mr. MacGregor was “naughty.”  I mean, those rabbits were eating up his garden!  What’s he supposed to do?  Do they even know how much time and effort a garden is?  I felt the same about Lofty John in what I think of as “the affair of the poisoned apple that wasn’t actually poisoned.”  Long story short: Emily befriends an older man who happens to be the sworn enemy of the New Moon Murrays, but it’s all good!  She and her friends raid his apple orchard constantly and he lets them.  But one day she spots an apple laying around while she’s loitering in his house while he isn’t home, and swipes it.  Lofty John comes home, realizes Emily’s eaten the apple, and – to teach her a lesson – tells her the apple was laced with rat poison.  Emily flies home, white as a sheet, convinced she is going to die, and spends the next few hours writing letters to all her earthly acquaintances, telling them she’s off.  Eventually it comes out that Lofty John was just having a little fun with the traumatized Emily, and while telling a kid they’ve just eaten poison isn’t my idea of fun, I sort of sympathize with him wanting to teach her a bit of a lesson.  I mean, he’d have certainly let her take the apple – he’d been quite liberal with access to his orchard – but Emily didn’t even ask.  (Of course, his reaction to getting told off by Aunt Elizabeth after the episode was petty – but it led to Emily’s meeting Father Cassidy, who I wish was a much bigger character, so it’s all good.)
  • Someone, please, take Mrs. Kent to Charlottetown and get her drunk and find her a man.  While we’re on the subject of creepy adults, Mrs. Kent is frankly terrifying.  Jealous of anyone and anything that her son Teddy likes, she kills his pets, steals his art supplies, and only allows Emily and Ilse on the premises because Ilse’s father, Dr. Burnley, says that playing with them is good for Teddy’s health.  Mrs. Kent’s obsession with her son, and jealousy of anyone and anything that takes him from her even for a second, is profoundly unhealthy.  I can’t believe that I never noticed that as a child – I simply blew past Mrs. Kent with a “Teddy’s mom is a drag but the Tansy Patch is such a charming name for a house!”
  • Those first few chapters.  Last but certainly not least – I always cried throughout the first few chapters, as Emily adjusts to, witnesses, and mourns her father’s death.  But as an adult – they’re far more powerful than I ever realized.  For the first time, I placed myself in Douglas Starr’s shoes (who was probably about my age when he died, based on his college friendship with the 35-year-old Dean Priest).  Reading Emily as a child, I was terribly sad for her but didn’t give her father much thought in his own right.  Reading Emily as an adult, I can imagine what he must have felt, knowing that he would have to leave his beloved daughter to fend for herself in the world, that his moments with her were dwindling and that he would not see her grow up and achieve her dreams and fall in love.  (I’m getting weepy again.)  Much like when Anne loses her first baby in Anne’s House of Dreams, I was knocked flat by a tragedy that I was well aware was coming, but that I had no idea would be as moving as it ended up being.

Thank you, again, Naomi, for hosting #ReadingEmily.  What a wonderful excuse to revisit my childhood favorite!

Have you read the Emily books?  Do you identify more with Emily, or with Anne?

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I was always a bookish kid.  Much like Peanut today, I loved books even before I could read – although I only have very foggy memories of a time before reading.  My mom, an elementary school teacher, taught me to read before kindergarten, so it’s hard for me to remember lacking at least rudimentary reading skills.  As I grew older, I devoured pretty much anything and everything printed.  My tastes were pretty indiscriminate – obviously, the back of a cereal box wasn’t as great as, say, a Baby-Sitters Club book, but if it had words, I was here for it.

Despite my own tendency to read anything that crossed my path, my mom and grandmothers tried to steer me toward the better children’s literature.  Think more “Lake of Shining Waters” and less “Claudia Kishi’s room” – although I definitely still read the prevalent middle grade fiction of the day, too – a.k.a. Sweet Valley Twins and later Sweet Valley High in addition to The Baby-Sitters Club.  But my best reading memories from childhood are the books that have endured.  I have fond recollections of curling up in my grandmother’s armchair, in a sunny spot right in the window, and not looking up from Anne of Green Gables for several hours.  (She had a blue and white hardcover edition with a picture of Anne, braids blazing, sitting on the bench at White Sands Station waiting for Matthew Cuthbert to pick her up.  That was my first encounter with L.M. Montgomery, who would become the best-loved and most-read author of my growing-up years.)

The Anne books.  Later, the Emily trilogy, which was the defining reading experience of my childhood – maybe of my life.  (Wondering about my daughter’s name?  It’s not a coincidence.)  Jane of Lantern Hill, which I read so many times that my paperback copy – I still have it – is almost as tattered as my Emily books.  And the lesser-known Montgomery works – The Story Girl, The Golden Road, Kilmeny of the Orchard, The Chronicles of Avonlea, and so many more.

From time to time, I ventured off of Prince Edward Island and read other children’s and youth classics.  I spent nearly as much time in a covered wagon with Laura Ingalls as I did roaming the shores of PEI with Anne and Emily.  Little Women was a favorite, as was The Secret Garden – which was, perhaps, the only book that captured my imagination as much as the L.M. Montgomery books.  (I liked A Little Princess, as well, and read it many times.  But it couldn’t compete with The Secret Garden.)  Of course, I was a huge fan of Madeleine L’Engle and read both the Time books and the Austin Family series over and over.  And The Chronicles of Narnia until I had it practically memorized.  And of course, Winnie-the-Pooh.   Less frequent re-reads included RedwallHeidi and Hans Brinker.  But looming over all others were Anne Shirley, Emily Starr, Jane Stuart and Sara Stanley.

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I always felt good about my childhood reading.  My mom made sure that I had plenty of books at my disposal – both through birthday and Christmas gifts and through regular trips to the library.  As I got older, L.M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Frances Hodgson Burnett gave way to Jane Austen, Eudora Welty and Agatha Christie.  I think I’ve read lots of good books in my time here (and hopefully, I’ll have time for lots more).  Yet as an adult, thinking down the road to my own daughter’s middle school library, I am realizing that there were thousands of pages of children’s and youth classics that I somehow missed as I was gobbling up every Avonlea story I could get my hands on.  Most of them, I still have not read.

  • The Betsy-Tacy books, by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Somehow, as I devoured one Maud (Montgomery), I missed another (Lovelace).  I had no idea these books existed until my friend Katie mentioned them on her blog.  Since then, I’ve read the entire Betsy-Tacy series – all ten – and my only regret is that I never knew about the books as a child.  They would have been a perfect place to jump after exhausting Avonlea.
  • The Shoe books, by Noel Streatfield.  Although I loved the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” and must have watched it dozens of times (it’s still a favorite) for some reason I never picked up on Kathleen Kelly’s recommendation of “the Shoe books,” and particularly Ballet Shoes.  I still haven’t read them – must fix that.
  • I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.  I so regret missing out on I Capture the Castle in high school; I’d have loved it.  I first read it as an adult, after a work friend urged her copy into my tote bag.  What a delight.  It’s a favorite now, although I’ve yet to read anything else by Dodie Smith.  I hope to correct that omission in 2017.
  • The Swallows and Amazons books, by Arthur Ransome.  I have absolutely no excuse for missing out on Swallows and Amazons and its progeny, since my camp BFF, Sarah, loved them.  (We went to a sailing program at our camp, and these are books in which the characters have adventures on their sailboats.  How on earth did I not read them?)  They’re very high on my list for 2017.
  • The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge.  I never even heard of Elizabeth Goudge until I grew up.  My first awareness of her came after reading that The Little White Horse was one of J.K. Rowling’s favorite books.  (I’ve acquired a gorgeous edition from The Folio Society, and read it last month – what a joy.)  I’ve since discovered that Goudge also wrote books for adults, that have been described as an ideal next step after finishing all of L.M. Montgomery.  Again – how did I miss that?
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.  How many bookish kids count The Hobbit as one of their childhood reading influences?  Lots, but not me.  This is another one I never read until adulthood.  Although I loved the Narnia books, I never touched Tolkien until my thirties.  I was really missing out, wasn’t I?  (I’ve since read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, once each, and I really need to re-read them and delve further into Tolkien’s worlds.)
  • The Railway Children and Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit.  I didn’t read E. Nesbit until adulthood.  Even now, I’ve read The Railway Children (and I would have loved that book as a kid) but have yet to pick up Five Children and It, or anything else, by E. Nesbit.  I know she’s beloved by many – must get to her soon.

I’m sure there are more.  It constantly amazes me that – even as a bookish kid who constantly had my nose stuck between the covers of a book, and whose mom made a point of putting good books in my path – I somehow missed so many classics.

What childhood classics did you discover as an adult?

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This Monday came around way too fast.  I’m exhausted and I could really use another day – not to get anything done, but just to chill.  Alas, not only is a chill day not in the cards for me, but I have a super-busy week ahead at work.  Possibly the busiest since I started this job?  It certainly feels that way.  But once I get through it, I’ve got a three-day weekend to enjoy – although I’ll probably do at least a little work on the holiday Monday next week.  Well, that can all wait until then, because I still have five days to get through first.  We didn’t actually get much done this weekend.  We did the basics, but didn’t actually move the needle on any of our house projects.  Saturday morning found us back in the salon chair with a different kid – Peanut, this time, who was getting her first haircut after a small adventure with safety scissors at school.  (She needed a trim anyway.)  Then Nana and Grandad stopped by for a last bit of playtime before heading back to the frozen north (I don’t envy them their snow!).  We spent the rest of the weekend – Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday – just hanging around the house, “doing nothing in particular, and thinking nothing in particular,” as A.A. Milne would say.  Nugget and I did venture out for a walk to the library on Sunday afternoon, but other than that, we were incredibly lazy.  I read and napped during naptimes, we grazed for meals, and we spent the times that the kids were awake just hanging out and playing together.  It felt good, but I did feel a bit guilty about not being productive during naps.

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Reading.  So, I didn’t get much reading in this week – not that I’m complaining, because it was for good reason that I set books aside.  My mom was here all week and we were spending the time I would normally spend reading, on chatting and watching TV instead, and it was delightful.  I did still read during my commutes, but not in the evenings.  So – a light reading week, but that was really refreshing.  I finished We Love You, Charlie Freeman mid-week.  It was fine, but didn’t knock my socks off.  Next I read You Can’t Touch My Hair, by stand-up comedienne Phoebe Robinson, which was great.  Funny and irreverent, but also really thought-provoking and at times uncomfortable.  I’ve been intentionally seeking out books that describe or portray life experiences which are different from mine – I want to understand perspectives outside of my own, and reading is the only way to bring that about – and You Can’t Touch My Hair was a really outstanding one.  Finally, since I had a teetering stack of eleven library books to get through, I did the only logical thing and decided to re-read Emily of New Moon – my childhood favorite book – for the #ReadingEmily readalong challenge.  Because otherwise, the library stack would have been too easy!

Watching.  While my mom was in town, we spent every evening watching The Crown again on Netflix.  Mom doesn’t have Netflix, and she had seen the first two episodes of The Crown on her last visit and was instantly hooked (as I knew she would be), so we made it our mission to get through the entire season.  Once again I found myself blown away by the acting, the cinematography, the sets – everything.  After Mom headed home, we went back to our current normal routine of one short episode of Rock the Park and then books each night.  Last night, Jack and Colton were in Acadia National Park in one of the best episodes yet – making me really regret not making it to Acadia when were in Maine briefly for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding.

Listening.  I finished up the “Money Management Skills” course I was listening to from The Great Courses, via Audible.  As I said last week, it was a good listen – some parts were more useful than others, but overall it was definitely worthwhile – but I was supremely sick of it by the end.  After finishing that, I was in the mood for something a bit more bite-sized, so I went back to the podcatcher and listened to a few episodes of The Book Riot Podcast that had accumulated while I was getting my learn on.  Not sure if I’ll continue cleaning up the podcatcher or go back to Middlemarch, but my Audible library is starting to get crowded.

Making.  Nothing at all, unless you count dinners, and a fridge full of hard-boiled eggs and sliced vegetables.  I’m starting to get sick of the Whole 30.  Nine more days…

Blogging.  I’ve got a fun post coming to you on Wednesday – all about the childhood classics I somehow missed out on as a child – and I’ll have some #ReadingEmily reflections on Friday.  Check back!

Loving.  The #riotgrams challenge on Instagram.  I’ve been participating (although I’ve gotten behind a few times) and it’s such fun to see others’ posts each day.  Yesterday the prompt was “outside,” and I posted a shot of my donations pile perched on top of the stroller as Nugget and I rolled up to the library.  Which reminds me – something else I’m loving is living in a walkable neighborhood again!  We don’t know if we’re going to stay in our current neighborhood forever – we’re renting right now and we have a multi-year lease, so no plans to move as of yet but it’s on the distant horizon – but for now, I sure am enjoying being able to strap one or both kiddos into the stroller and head out for a walk to bring home library books and dinner salads.

Asking.  What are you reading/watching/making/loving this week?

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Last year, in 2016, I was on a quest to seek out and read as many diverse books – works by people of color, religious minorities, and LGBTQ+ authors – as I could find.  It was a tall order, since publishing has a way to go to catch up to many readers’ demands for more diverse material and voices, and I had my work cut out for me to find as many works as I could to reach my goal of 33% representation by “underrepresented” groups on my reading list.  Comics helped, and so did regular listening to The Book Riot Podcast and All the Books!, two podcasts produced by Book Riot, which makes a point of regularly discussing diversity in publishing and reading.  (I got a lot of recommendations from them last year, so I hope they keep them coming in 2017.)

Part of my effort included an attempt to read all books by African-American writers in February, which is Black History Month here in the United States.  I didn’t quite make that goal last year, because one of the books I read – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – was actually written by a white author, even though it was a sensitive and thoughtful discussion of an offense against the body of an African-American woman (the harvesting of cells from cancer patient Henrietta Lacks, without her knowledge or permission) and the results through history.  (Go read it, if you haven’t already.  It was an incredible and important book.)  The rest of my books last February were works by African-American authors, and I ended the month knowing that while I had (still have) much to learn about the African-American experience, I had plenty of new thoughts and ideas thanks to their words.

This February, I’m not going to be able to do all works by African-American authors for Black History Month – much as I’d like to.  The reality of library deadlines (story of my life!) won’t allow it.  But I do plan to actively seek out and read African-American works, particularly classics, this month – and continuing the rest of the year – even if it’s not 100% of my February reading.  The books on my list, to get to this month or soon, include:

  • Native Son, by Richard Wright
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (a re-read)
  • Mom & Me & Mom, by Maya Angelou
  • Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead
  • The Living is Easy, by Dorothy West
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Houston
  • Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  • Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler

And more!  That’s just a start, but it does represent some of the books that I’m most looking forward to tracking down and reading this year.  I’m thinking of reading the entire stack of Maya Angelou’s memoirs, re-reading some of her poetry, re-reading some poetry by Langston Hughes…  And of course, if you have any suggestions for me, please let me know.  I’m always on the lookout for more good reads.

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Of course, I’m always willing to reciprocate with recommendations of my own!  I spent the last year trying hard to seek out and read books by people of color and other underrepresented voices.  Most of the books I read were big and hyped – I felt as though I was barely scratching the surface of books about the African-American experience – so perhaps none of these recommendations are news at all.  But they were all excellent, so if you are looking for good Black History Month reads and haven’t checked out one or more of the following, do take a look.  (Books are in no particular order.)

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  • The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward – wide range of essays discussing contemporary African-American experience.
  • We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – short but stunning essay on intersectional feminism.
  • Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi – multi-generational, multi-continent family saga.
  • March, Books 1, 2 & 3, by Representative John Lewis – graphic memoir by Civil Rights Movement icon.

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  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates – if you haven’t heard of this, you’re living under a rock!
  • The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead – magical realism slave narrative, worth the hype.
  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – the experience of an African immigrant in contemporary America.
  • Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper – beautifully written historical YA.

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  • Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson – stunning memoir in verse.
  • Kindred, by Octavia Butler – time travel slave narrative by icon of sci-fi.
  • The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin – richly symbolic fantasy.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot – science, ethics and race.

Happy [Black History Month] Reading!