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Hello and happy Monday, friends!  After the weekend I’ve had, I’m actually sort of glad to be heading back into the office.  It all began as I was slumped in a seat riding backwards on the Metro, heading home on Friday, and my text messages beeped (interrupting The Book Riot Podcast‘s holiday recommendation show, to add insult to injury) with a text from Steve: “We’re at defcon 3 with Peanut.”  (Except – he used her name.  But you get my drift.)  It was all downhill from there and the rest of the weekend was a spiraling mess of timeouts.  Nugget contributed several meltdowns of his own, too, including a truly epic one on Sunday night.  So – I’m looking forward to a quiet day of reading through internal workplace investigation reports.  It wasn’t all bad, though.  On Saturday, it snowed (!!!!!) – before Christmas, which is a huge treat around here, since it almost never happens.  We spent a cozy morning playing trucks inside (and having tantrums, but you can’t win them all) and then went out for a lovely snowy walk around our neighborhood so we could all blow off some steam.  On Sunday, we had plans to hike at Shenandoah National Park, but Skyline Drive was closed, which meant that – for all intents and purposes – the park was basically closed, too.  So we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast before heading out to Little Washington for the annual Christmas parade.  Opened by Redcoats, as usual, and featuring the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the local marching band, the mayor, the fire engine, a raucous-looking lunch club, and a farm for miniature horses, among other delights.  I whispered to Steve that I was pretty sure we’d found Virginia’s equivalent of Stars Hollow, and he laughed and agreed.  I love my urban neighborhood, but I sure wouldn’t mind living in a small town with as much personality as Washington has.

  

Reading.  Bit of a light week.  Earlier in the week, I finished Rich People Problems, the third in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.  It was a lot of fun, and a satisfying conclusion to the series.  Then I turned my attention back to The Shell Seekers, which I’d set aside to read Rich People Problems, and to Christmas at Thrush Green, which I’m reading on my phone.  Kinda hate reading on my phone, but I have reached my quota of twenty-four books for the year (and then some – I’ve handed one airmail box to Steve and will probably be handing him another one with instructions to wrap and put them under the tree, and thanks for the present!) so I couldn’t buy a physical copy.  I’m looking forward to adding the Thrush Green books to my library over the course of next year, though, when I will not be restricting myself to twenty-four.  The freedom to come on January 1st…

Watching.  One of the reasons that it was a light reading week was – season two of The Crown dropped on Friday!  So, clearly, everything had to be set aside.  The costumes and jewelry and sets are amazing, as expected, but three episodes in I am gritting my teeth at all of Phillip’s whinging.  Sincerely hope he shuts up in season three, because I can’t take much more of his “poor little rich boy in a gilded cage” nonsense.  Not sure why the showrunners thought this would be a compelling storyline for the A-plot of the season, when there were so many interesting things happening in the world and they had two fascinating and strong royal women to feature (more Margaret and less Phillip, I say!) but I’m still watching, so there you have it.

Listening.  Catching up on holiday podcasts!  I’m almost done with the two-part holiday recommendation show, which is one of my favorite parts of The Book Riot Podcast‘s year.  And then I have a slew of holiday-themed episodes of The Mom HourThe Home Hour and Sorta Awesome waiting for me.  It’s the most wonderful time of the podcasting year, apparently!

Moving.  Another slow week.  This week, I’m going to be back at yoga on Tuesday and Friday, and hopefully back at Barre as well.  I’ve let work stress and home shenanigans derail my me-time, but I plan to be back on the train.  I really need to have that time to do something for myself, especially during the holiday season.

Blogging.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!  I have a super-mistletoe-bedecked week coming up for you.  On Wednesday, I’ll show you the kids’ Advent books (always one of my favorite posts of the year) and on Friday, I’m recapping some of the holiday activities we’ve done so far this season – so as to avoid dumping a massive photobomb on you all after Christmas.  Check in with me then!

Loving.  So, I don’t live in the PNW, never have, and never say never but probably never will, and I’ve not even visited (yet) but I can’t help loving the cozy sweatshirts from Wish You Were Northwest.  I don’t have anything PNW-themed, because that would be silly, but I love my soft and warm “Coffee, Mountains & Cabins” and “Clear Skies Wool Socks Can’t Lose” sweatshirts, which look just as appropriate in the Adirondacks and the Blue Ridge.  Seriously, though – they’re soft, they’re warm, they fit perfectly.  Everything I’m looking for in a sweatshirt!

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

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The Winter List 2018

(I think that’s the first time I have typed “2018” at the top of a blog post – yikes, are we really doing that?)

Anyway – it’s time!  Time to think ahead to the holidays, which are just around the corner, and then to the winter months stretching ahead of them, to set intentions and make plans.  This month, I’d like to…

  • Learn to bake bread.  (I think I say this every winter.  Maybe this time, it’ll happen.)
  • Read some Trollope.
  • Hike my favorite trail (Difficult Run) at Great Falls, and help the kids earn their Junior Ranger badges.
  • Clean all remaining books out of the basement, and make a big donation run to the library.
  • Bake with Peanut almost every weekend.
  • Decide on a summer vacation destination, and start planning.
  • Read my way through all of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves books, in order.
  • Take the kids to play at Badlands.
  • Start training for the GW Parkway Classic.
  • Do a major toy purge!

There – ten things, and I think a very doable list.  I am not feeling particularly ambitious.  I just want to enjoy my weekends and make some headway on a few projects.  Not too much to ask, right?

What’s on your winter agenda?

Well, we are full-swing into the holiday season now, so I suppose it’s time to say goodbye to my favorite season.  (Although there are still some orange and yellow leaves on the trees around here, and apple cider will be in the grocery stores all winter, so I can have a little bit more fall – right?)  We always try to make the most of the season, and I think we did a pretty good job of that this year.  There are some activities that have become fall “musts” for us – apple-picking, for one, and visits to the pumpkin patch – but we also leave ourselves plenty of room for new experiences.

  • The big one: give a heartfelt Maid of Honor toast at Rebecca’s wedding (while wrangling my little flower girl) in Florida and then dance the night away.  Done!  Well, not the part about the toast – it was a really relaxed wedding and I didn’t end up needing to do that, which was kind of a relief.  It was such a joy to be Rebecca’s MOH, and words can’t convey how much I appreciated her including Peanut in the wedding, too.  Rebecca really loves her “niecelette” and it shows.  Peanut was over the moon at getting not only to see her auntie as a bride, but getting to be a part of her special day!  All the feelings.

  • The other big one: spend a weekend in New York City and see Hamilton on Broadway!  Done – yay!  This was such an awesome trip.  Steve and I snuck off for just twenty-four hours, stayed in the Library Hotel (I’ve been wanting to stay there for years) and had a fabulous night out at Hamilton, which was an incredible show.

  • Take the kids apple and pumpkin-picking.  Done!  We went apple-picking back in September and managed to hit the orchard during prime apple season – imagine that!  No baked goods resulting, but we ate our apples out of hand for weeks afterwards and they were delicious.  And we had fun checking out a new-to-us farm for pumpkin picking on Halloween weekend, and came home with a trunk full of gorgeous gourds.

  • Read lots of books from diverse voices.  Done!  I can always improve on this, but I made a point of focusing on diverse books this season, and read over 50% books by writers of color in November.

  • Walk to the farmers’ market and do some seasonal baking with Peanut.  Done!  We took plenty of strolls to the farmers’ market, and I’m going to count our fun in the kitchen on Thanksgiving as seasonal baking.  (Hey, stuffing is baked.)

  • Run the Dulles Day on the Runway 5K and the Marine Corps Marathon 10K.  Done!  It felt so good to get back in my running shoes.  I pushed the stroller for 3.1 miles at the Dulles Day on the Runway 5K – my first stroller race, although I’ve done lots of stroller running – and had a wonderful time running through the streets of D.C. at the MCM10K.  I even squeezed in one more race – a five mile turkey trot through the neighborhood next door to mine on Thanksgiving morning.
  • Spend some time in Fairacre.
  • Help my bestie  MOVE TO D.C.  I’m going to say this is in progress and done-ish.  Rebecca’s job start date was postponed, but she’ll be moving here shortly after New Year’s and starting in early January.  I’m already helping, though.  I’ve provided input on neighborhoods, apartment buildings, and commuting routes, and can’t wait to dig in and help her actually unpack and set up house!  She won’t be living walking distance from me as we’d hoped, but she found a nice apartment in one of my old neighborhoods, and we’ll be a heck of a lot closer than when she lived in Virginia Beach and Africa!

  • Take the kids to a children’s Halloween party.  Done!  I probably won’t have this on the list next year.  Peanut and her BFF, S, who has attended the party with us for the past two years, seem to be growing out of it.  (Nugget is still the right age but he was in a MOOD this year, which made it tough on everyone.)  It’s a great event for the little ones, and we’re glad that we got to go two years in a row!
  • Finally start cleaning out and organizing the basement.

  • Take a weekend trip to Shenandoah National Park and help the kids earn Junior Ranger badges.  Hmmmmm – half done.  We did go to Shenandoah National Park over Thanksgiving weekend, and climbed Stony Man Mountain, which was gorgeous.  But Shenandoah’s Junior Ranger program starts at age 7, so clearly that wasn’t going to happen.  (It’s hard enough to convince Peanut to go along with age-appropriate activities.  You should have heard the caterwauling before she finally caved at Joshua Tree.)  This winter, we’ll do the program at Great Falls instead.
  • Get an early start on my 2017 family yearbook (instead of waiting until January this year!).  Done – only because I said a start.  I have most of the pictures I’ve taken in 2017 uploaded onto Shutterfly, but the yearbook itself is in a rough shape.  Plenty of time to work on it over cold winter evenings to come.  Uploading the pictures is the biggest pain.
  • Play at Badlands on a bad-weather day.

Yay, fall!  I think I did a surprising amount this season – well, maybe not surprising, because I always pack a lot of activity into fall; it is my favorite season, after all.  The highlight, of course, came right at the beginning – Rebecca’s wedding!  We all had so much fun traveling together to Florida and it meant so much to us to share in her special day – especially for Peanut.  Peanut loves weddings and brides, and it was clear that she felt so special and so loved by her Aunt Rebecca, who so obviously cherishes her.  Rebecca already had a special place in my heart, but “make my girl happy” is a surefire way to ensure that I’ll love you forever.  Anyway, enough gushing over my fabulous and kind BFF.  The other highlight of the season was finally seeing Hamilton on Broadway after listening to the soundtrack on almost a daily basis for the past two years.  Seeing the show performed live was everything I hoped for – and more.  The rest of the season was great, too!  We squeezed in our must-dos – apple- and pumpkin-picking, the children’s Halloween party at Lee-Fendall House, trick-or-treating in Old Town.  And we enjoyed some new experiences, too – trick-or-treating at Mount Vernon, the Alexandria Turkey Trot, and sharing Shenandoah with my parents.  I’m never ready to say goodbye to fall, but I can feel peaceful about it if I’ve done the season justice, and I think that this year, I definitely did.

What was on your fall agenda?  Did you get it all done?

Happy new week, my friends!  I hope everyone had a relaxing and restful weekend.  I didn’t, since I never do, but I hope you did!  We are deep into the festive season around here, but Steve is also still not feeling well, so we have cut down on our holiday activities, since there’s only so much I want to wrangle both kids for.  Peanut is (finally) growing out of the loooooong running-away phase, but she still tears around like a maniac and then falls down and gets hurt, and Nugget is a constant flight risk.  Playing a man-to-man defense is pretty much the only way to do anything in public with them and have it be enjoyable, and when the defense is down a man – well.  On Saturday, we had plans to attend the Scottish Walk (which is the big holiday parade in our town) with some friends, but Steve didn’t feel well enough to go.  I didn’t want to disappoint our friends, or Peanut – who knew that she had plans with her BFF, S – so I decided to take the kids myself.  S’s family parked at our house and we walked to the parade together (I love living in a walkable neighborhood!) and we had a great time.  The parade, obviously, has a Scottish theme, so there were lots of kilts and bagpipes.  There were also vintage cars, Miss Virginia, the local high school ROTC, and even our Congressman walking with his wife and wearing a red sash that said “CONGRESSMAN.”  (I’d have recognized him without the sash.  I spend a lot of time thanking his office for his sane and sensible votes, especially on climate issues.  My Congressman is THE ACTUAL BEST.)  Anyway, the best part of the parade was Clan Ramsey, which dressed up as characters from Star Wars.  There were stormtroopers and Imperial officers in kilts (!!!), R2-D2 in a kilt (!!!!!!!!) and even Darth Vader in a Santa hat.  (Nugget, predictably, shouted “HEY, IT’S MY BUDDY!” at Lord Vader.)  After the parade, our friends came back to our house for cocoa, and then headed off for their afternoon plans – and that was pretty much the end of the excitement for our weekend.  I spent both Saturday’s and Sunday’s naptimes working, and Sunday morning at the grocery store.  We ended the weekend as we almost always do – making our library/playground/firehouse circuit – but just me and the kids.  Actually, that was kind of exciting.  I picked up the new Andy Weir book, Artemis, from the library, and the firefighters have a brand new truck.

Reading.  Another busy week!  Last week, I finished Crazy Rich Asians, the second in Kevin Kwan’s hilarious Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.  Looking to balance library deadlines, I didn’t jump right to Rich People Problems (the third) but picked up What Happened instead, and finished it on Sunday evening.  This is going to sound weird, but What Happened was delightful.  Yes, it was super sad – of course – and maddening, because Secretary Clinton would have been such a fantastic President.  I’d have loved to see that massive infrastructure and jobs initiative she was planning come to fruition – but instead we are stuck with a destructive misogynistic megalomaniac that 3 million fewer people voted for.  But the book was still delightful, because Hillary’s writing voice is so frank and friendly (I remember that from Living History too) and now that she can say anything she wants, she’s also kind of salty, which I love.  Her writing about her family – especially Chelsea and the grandkids – brought tears to my eyes.  Anyway, I knew I was going to need to take a breath after What Happened, so I started two books on Sunday – Christmas at Thrush Green, for the #MissReadalong that just started up on Instagram – on my kindle app, and Rich People Problems from my library stack.  I am only about 30 pages in and already there has been a familial kidnapping from an elite private school, and a Singapore Airlines jet with 440 passengers has been rerouted by the Secret Service so that a passenger can be whisked off the plane to attend to a VVIP patient.  And Nick and Rachel have ordered dinner.

Watching.  Last night, I said (breathlessly, in between spasms of laughing) to Steve that I think Parks & Recreation might be even more fun on re-runs.  I think that’s true.  Knowing as much as I now know about the characters and what lies in store for them, I was laughing even harder at Ron and Leslie’s battles with the library (“The library is the worst group of people ever assembled in history. They’re mean, conniving, rude, and extremely well-read, which makes them dangerous.”) and at the team’s “camel” entry to the City Hall mural contest.  We have an ongoing joke that Peanut is going to turn into April Ludgate – the film footage of knee surgeries attached to April’s mural entry is totally something Peanut would do.

Listening.  After finishing the first season of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text I decided to take a little break and try to catch up with the rest of the podworld.  My podcatcher is still looking out of control, but I’ve made some headway and listened to all of the holiday gift guides on there – the Read-Aloud Revival gift guide for young readers was particularly good, and I also got some good ideas from The Mom Hour‘s episode on gifting for babies and toddlers.  I’m looking forward to The Home Hour on favorite Christmas traditions next.

Moving.  Well, last week wasn’t a very good week for movement.  I had a super busy week at work, and exercise classes kind of fell off the agenda.  I’ve got another busy week coming up this week, but I need to figure out a way to cement workouts in the routine.  Often, between the day-to-day of a busy job and parenting (especially when Steve is not feeling up for much kid-wrangling) workouts are the first thing to go, but that’s not really fair to me.

Blogging.  Lists galore this week!  I will have the wrap-up post for my fall list on Wednesday, and my winter list coming on Friday – check in with me then, and do let me know what’s on your winter lists, so I can borrow your ideas.  Haha!

Loving.  I sat down with my calendar the other day and tried to map out all of the holiday activities I want to do and there are SO MANY.  We live in one of the top holiday towns in the country (no joke, US News ranks holiday towns, and last year we were in the top ten) with multiple parades, beautiful classic decorations, and activities almost every weekend.  It’s not actually possible to do everything I’m planning, but it’s so much fun to try – and in January, I know I’ll be glad I made the effort.  I just love the holiday spirit around here, and I love experiencing all the delights of the season – not just Christmas morning – through Peanut’s and Nugget’s little eyes.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

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 November, 2017

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer – I picked up Dark Money on the recommendation of a coworker, and it was fascinating and truly eye-opening.  As a person who follows the news, I was aware of the Koch brothers and their political machine, but I had no idea how extensive the shadowy “Kochtopus” actually is, nor was I aware of many of the other wealthy families and individuals who have been quietly driving American politics.  Mayer’s reporting is excellent, and she shines sunlight into quite a few dark corners that – if I was missing them, I think most people are missing them.  I was particularly appalled to read about Ed Gillespie’s role in the gerrymandering that has taken place over the past decade – so that felt quite timely, since we were in the final days of the Virginia gubernatorial election when I was reading this.  After learning about Gillespie’s activities on behalf of the radical right-wing, I was even more relieved that Dr. Northam will be my next governor.

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng – Having just read Everything I Never Told You last month, I was particularly excited to get my hands on Ng’s new book.  Little Fires Everywhere, like its predecessor, takes place in suburban Ohio, opens dramatically, and presents a family saga as a page-turner.  When we first meet the Richardson family, their house is burning to the ground – the fire set by the youngest daughter, Izzy Richardson.  Izzy built “little fires everywhere” – setting up a campfire on each of her siblings’ beds “like a demented Girl Scout.”  The story then rewinds several months, and the reader learns how Izzy got to the point of setting her house on fire and running away.  It’s a twisting narrative of friendship, race, family and art, as Izzy and her siblings fall in with a mother and daughter who are newcomers to the town, and the entire community is shaken by a legal dispute over an adoption.  As with Everything I Never Told You, I blazed through Little Fires Everywhere, reading breathlessly and – at times – tearfully.  Ng is really a masterful writer – I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Coronation Summer, by Angela Thirkell – Not one of Thirkell’s Barsetshire books, Coronation Summer is a standalone novel about a young woman who, accompanied by family and friends, travels to London to join in the festivities surrounding Queen Victoria’s coronation.  It’s a very funny novel – particularly when it comes to the relationship between Fanny, the main character and narrator, and her best friend Emily, who is traveling with her.  Fanny likes Emily but doesn’t have much respect for her, and she drops snarky little asides about Emily, her speech and behavior, onto almost every page.  They’re rude in the most hilarious way.  Of course, Fanny’s satirical eye falls on almost everyone in her traveling group at some point.  Meanwhile, the reader is treated to an ongoing parade of activities – operas, concerts, parties, club breakfasts, melodramatic reveals of love poems hidden in books – the works.  And of course, Queen Victoria herself is spotted in a carriage.  It’s all good fun and utterly engrossing.

The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, by Maya Angelou – I’ve read a few of Angelou’s poems before – the more well-known ones, like Phenomenal Woman, Still I Rise, and On the Pulse of Morning – but had felt more drawn to her memoirs, especially the classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  So I’d never before sat down with her poetry and read her works one after the other.  On their own, they’re gorgeous, but read as a collection, they’re absolutely breathtaking.  I paged through this collection reading one poem after the next, and found myself awed, humbled, moved, and deeply sorry that the experience ended so quickly – a couple of days is clearly not enough time to spend with Angelou.  While every poem was meticulously crafted and beautifully moving, I think I still have the same favorite, and even the same favorite lines: You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.

The Origin of Others, by Toni Morrison – I was in the middle of another book and had intended to finish it first, but after checking The Origin of Others out of the library, I couldn’t wait and had to dive right in.  This is a collection of lectures Morrison gave at Harvard University, speaking about race and “otherness” in literature and life.  Of course, it’s completely brilliant.  (And has the added benefit of being introduced by another writer I deeply admire, Ta-Nehisi Coates.)  Morrison tackles big topics such as the construction of the “other” and who it benefits to have a class of “others” or “strangers,” discusses the real historical events behind her most acclaimed novel, Beloved (which, to my detriment, I have not yet read – but I’m going to correct that soon), and sprinkles in bits of memoir and reflection on her own interesting life.  Coates, meanwhile, ties Morrison’s not-overtly-political lectures into current events, which gives an important perspective.  I read The Origin of Others in a couple of sittings over one morning – it’s a short book, but full of wonder – and was moved and inspired by every well-chosen word.

The Flight of the Maidens, by Jane Gardam – Three friends (Hetty, Una, and Lieselotte) learn that they have received prestigious state scholarships to attend universities.  Hetty is off to London to study literature, while Una and Lieselotte are bound for Cambridge and, respectively, physics and modern languages.  The Flight of the Maidens follows each of them as they go their separate ways over their last summer at home and the rest of the world adjusts to peacetime after years of World War II.  Hetty, who is nominally the main character, heads off to the Lake District to stay at a B&B and make some headway on her reading list; Una explores her budding womanhood with her Communist boyfriend, Ray, in a series of youth hostels; and Lieselotte – a Jewish refugee who has been living with Quakers in Yorkshire for seven years – doesn’t fly the coop so much as finds herself snatched away and “adopted” first by an elderly London couple and then by an eccentric American aunt.  So – I enjoyed this, but not as much as I’d expected to.  It was beautifully written, but I wasn’t engaged.  I expect that’s mostly a function of feeling like I had to read it (thanks to a library deadline) – so it seemed like work.  But I didn’t really enjoy any of the characters, with the possible exception of Lieselotte – everyone else just bugged me.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Like many, I was avidly anticipating the new Ta-Nehisi Coates, and he didn’t disappoint.  We Were Eight Years in Power is a look at the issues and conversations that were going on during the eight years of the Obama presidency (please come back!) via eight of Coates’ essays published in The Atlantic.  Each of the essays is prefaced with a short piece Coates wrote from the perspective of 2017, which read almost like blog posts.  I loved the essays – I’d actually read the last three: The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration; My President Was Black; and The First White President – in The Atlantic, so I was familiar with them already, but they greatly reward re-reading.  The best part, though, was the introduction Coates wrote for each piece.  He looks at each of his essays with a critical eye and is quite straightforward about what portions of each essay work well (in his opinion) and what he thinks could have been improved or stood the test of time.  It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the self-critical thought process of one of the major writers of our day.  Dare I say – I think I liked We Were Eight Years in Power even better than Between the World and Me.  (Don’t @ me!  Just read them both!)

The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery – There is an ever-dwindling handful of L.M. Montgomery books I have not yet read, and The Blue Castle was, until recently, among them.  I have been trying to parcel them out so they last me awhile, but I knew there would never be a better opportunity than when Naomi and Sarah announced their #ReadingValancy readalong event for November.  So I burned one of my precious twenty-four book credits (how I’ve been thinking of Project 24) on a beautiful Sourcebooks paperback, and then I inhaled it.  You can read my thoughts at length in my rambling readalong post here, but – suffice to say – I LOVED every word.  Valancy is a charming heroine, and her rise from colorless and cowering spinster to happy, fulfilled person and wife was a delight from the first page to the last.  I loved following her journey, desperately hoped for a happy ending for her, and eagerly (as always) drank in LMM’s beautiful descriptive nature writing.  The fall and winter scenes, in particular, were delicious – I can perfectly understand why Sarah and Naomi wanted to read The Blue Castle in November.  It was bewitching.

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3), by N.K. Jemisin – The final installment of the story of Essun, Nassun, and the war between Earth and humanity, orogene and “still,” stone-eater and comm-dweller, is equal parts confusing and satisfying.  I am not normally a reader who insists on all installments in a series being published before I will read the series, but I can see the merit in that position, especially with a series like The Broken Earth Trilogy.  The books start out confusing, since the world is so complex and foreign and the terminology so unrecognizable, and reading them with long gaps in between doesn’t help.  I did read all three this year, I know, but it’s been months since I read the second book, The Obelisk Gate, and other than rough outlines, I’d pretty much forgotten what happened in it (and don’t ask me any questions at all about The Fifth Season, the opening installment, because I dunno).  I spent most of the book scratching my head and trying to remember who was who and what had come before in the narrative, and with a story as complicated and confusing as this trilogy, that really put me behind.  I did enjoy it, and did think that the ending was satisfying (won’t spoil it!) but a word of advice – these are all out now, so if you want to read the series, start from the beginning and read them in close succession.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater – I don’t think I mentioned reading this during my Monday reading posts, because it wasn’t my regular Metro- and post-bedtime-reading – it was so much better!  Mr. Popper’s Penguins was the first long chapter book that I read aloud to Peanut!  We have been working our way through it slowly, one chapter at a time, for about two months – reading a chapter most but not all evenings.  I chose it for a few reasons – (1) I hadn’t read it myself and thought it would be fun to experience something new along with Peanut; (2) the chapters are fairly short; and (3) Peanut and I have tickets to see the play version at the Kennedy Center in a couple of weeks.  The story was utterly charming and we had so much fun reading together and laughing at the penguins’ silly antics.  (And oh, that poor, forbearing Mrs. Popper…)  I loved the whole experience of reading a chapter book aloud to Peanut – that was something I’d been dreaming of and looking forward to since before she was born – and this was a perfect first readaloud.

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians #2), by Kevin Kwan – I had sort of forgotten about Crazy Rich Asians, but with the publication of the third and final book in the trilogy and the announcement of the cast for the movie, I decided to revisit Rachel Chu, Nick Young, Astrid Leong, Kitty Pong, and the whole crew.  China Rich Girlfriend picks up a few years after Crazy Rich Asians ends.  It is virtually the eve of Nick and Rachel’s wedding, and Nick has not spoken to his mother since he and Rachel left Singapore, nor forgiven her for the way she treated Rachel.  Astrid has patched things up with her estranged husband, Michael, who has made it big and finally hit his first billion – but the money has changed him, and not in a good way.  Kitty, meanwhile, has thrown over Alistair Cheng and married a reclusive billionaire, but is finding it hard to break into high society in Hong Kong.  The plot is pretty thin, and the name-dropping of luxury brands is as obscene as it was in the first book, but GOLLY these are such good fun – and pure fantasy wish fulfillment for those of us who will never fly in our own private jets.  I’m rooting so hard for Nick, Rachel and Astrid, and even starting to have some sympathy for Kitty (who is a LOT of fun to read) as she stumbles through society (getting the better of everyone in the end, I might add!).  I have Rich People Problems, the third in the trilogy, on my library stack and I can’t wait.

What a November!  Eleven books – I think it must have been a long month.  Anyway, lots of good stuff here.  I had a gloriously fabulous time revisiting the Asian jet set in China Rich Girlfriend and poking around Victorian London in Coronation Summer, but I think the highlight of the month had to be The Blue Castle.  I just loved every moment spent with Valancy – my only wish is that there could have been more.  I know I’ll be coming back to that one again and again.  I’m also really pleased with the diversity of my reading in November – six out of eleven books, more than 50%, from writers of color.  Some Toni Morrison, some Ta-Nehisi Coates, some Celeste Ng, some Kevin Kwan – and more.  I’ve worked so hard to make sure that diverse voices are finding their way onto my reading list and making that commitment has truly enriched my reading life.  Now – onward to December!  I have a great pile of what I expect to be fabulous books to close out the reading year.  

What’s the best thing you read in November?

 

I can’t believe that Friday will be December, and this hiking year is almost at an end!  We’ve had some amazing experiences on the trail this year, and November’s hike was no different.  What with Steve being a little under the weather, we haven’t been able to get on the trails as much this month as we’d have liked to, so by Thanksgiving weekend, I was really craving a good hike.  With my parents being in town for Thanksgiving, I also wanted to do something a little special with them.  Once it became clear that our plans to escape to the mountains for a couple of days after Thanksgiving were going to work out, I started researching the best family-friendly (read: kid-friendly) hikes at Shenandoah National Park, and Stony Man Mountain immediately jumped out as the hike to do.

There are two ways to hike Stony Man.  The main trail, which hits only Stony Man Mountain, is a 1.6 mile out and back with 340 feet of elevation gain – basically, the easiest possible way you could ever expect to climb a mountain.  There’s also a longer, and a little more challenging, trail called the Passamaquoddy Loop, which covers Little Stony Man as well.  That would normally be our choice, but with Steve still recovering and the babies not getting any easier to carry, we opted for the shorter trail this time.

Someone would have liked to hike on his own two feet, I think.  Soon, little man!  (Really – soon.  Mommy isn’t going to be able to schlep you forever.)  He was also desperate for a hiking pole of his own – that’s Nana’s, collapsed all the way down.  Too funny!

The trail was beautifully maintained all the way up.  My parents are used to hiking on Adirondack boulders, so I think they enjoyed the groomed trails in Shenandoah.  There were still plenty of opportunities for bouldering.  My dad is part mountain goat!  (I’d have been up there with him, but I was carrying 36 pounds of my heart’s most precious treasure on my back.)

Even with the relatively gentle incline, I was still feeling it.  This is one densely-packed little boy!

But even so, it seemed like no time at all before we reached the summit.  The final “push” to the peak was anything but – just a flat, gentle trail through the woods to the overlook (we’d already done all of our climbing).

Looking forward to that view!

Breathtaking!  The valley floor with the long mountain ridge in the background was absolutely stunning to behold – and there were two peregrine falcons swooping through the skies.  I think my parents were definitely not disappointed with this one.

Nana is a bird!

Just off to the left, the mountains reach back and back and back in shaded layers of azure, cerulean and sky – our Blue Ridge.

Summit snaps!

It was a lovely day on the summit.  The sun was warm and there was no breeze to speak of, so we were comfortable lingering, taking pictures, and goggling at the view.  (My dad was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t take the kids out of the backpacks to pose for pictures with the grandparents, but that was one thing I wasn’t comfortable with – the dropoff after the boulders was pretty steep.  Next time they come, I promised, we would take them to Great Falls – the kids can run around there.)  We spent about twenty minutes at the summit, just soaking in the payoff of a wonderful hike.

Another wonderful national park experience!  We love having Shenandoah in our backyard, and we hope to get there a lot more in 2018 – and it was fun to take my parents there for the first time.  We all share a love for the national parks and for hiking, so a family visit to Shenandoah was long overdue.  Can’t wait to see where our family adventures take us in 2018!

What’s your favorite national park?

Happy Monday… evening… to you, my friends!  Sorry this post is coming so late in the day.  I usually try to have it up in the morning, but things have been moving at a whirlwind pace over here.  So – let’s catch up!  For my American friends – did you have a lovely Thanksgiving?  I hope so!  We sure did.  My parents arrived on Tuesday and just left this morning, and I was hardly at my computer (other than for work, of course) between then and now.  I put in a full day at the office on Wednesday, but came home ready to have a wonderful weekend full of family time.  As you already know, we had a fabulous Thanksgiving.  On Friday, we hung around, enjoyed family time and decorated the house for Christmas.  The kids loved decorating the Christmas tree – maybe a little too much.  Nugget is completely obsessed with his vintage fire truck ornament, and I’m sort of afraid he’s going to snap it (it’s the 2016 White House ornament, so not exactly replaceable – much like the 2016 occupant of the White House… please come back, President Obama!).  I also found some of my prized (breakable) ornaments hung near the bottom of the tree, and fortunately was able to rescue and move them before anything too destructive happened.

On Saturday, we all loaded up and drove out to Little Washington – for non-locals, that’s Washington, Virginia, a tiny town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains near the entrance to Shenandoah National Park, which also happens to house one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world, the Inn at Little Washington.  Steve’s mom had very generously given us a gift certificate to the Inn last Christmas, and we finally got the opportunity to use it.  The meal was just as splendid as we expected, and will definitely rank among the top dining experiences of our lives.  After dinner, we even got the special treat of being escorted back to the kitchen, and having the privilege of meeting Chef Patrick O’Connell, the famous chef-owner of the Inn.  Chef was a gracious and kind host, and the kitchen – every inch of which was hand-sourced by Chef himself, on his travels around the world – was amazing to see.  We worked off the incredible meal on Sunday, hiking with my parents and the kids to one of the highest overlook points in Shenandoah National Park – more on that to come on Wednesday.  It was a wonderful weekend!  And now I’m back to reality.  I can already tell this week is going to be off-the-charts in terms of the stress level.  Well – at least I have the memories of an amazing meal and a gorgeous hike.

  

Reading.  It’s been a bit of a slow reading week around my parts.  That’s to be expected with all of the socializing and family time I’ve been enjoying for the past few days.  But I did manage to finish The Stone Sky – which was good, but I was confused throughout most of the book.  It would’ve helped to read the trilogy in closer succession, I think; reading the books as they were released, I’d pretty much forgotten everything that happened in the first two books and spent way too much time puzzling over questions like wait, who is Ykka again? and what the heck did Nassun do to Jija?  Anyway.  Next I picked up The Shell Seekers and I am loving it, but also wanting to take my time and savor it – which is fine, because I discovered that I have to leapfrog China Rich Girlfriend due to library deadlines.  So I’ll be starting that as soon as I press “publish” on this post.

Watching.  The usual.  Lots and lots of Curious George – especially A Very Monkey Christmas – and Star Wars.  George and Vader are the big celebrities in my house.  I tried to get the kids to watch my favorite Christmas movie of all time – A Muppet Family Christmas – but it was a non-starter.  Booooooo.

Listening.  Not as much earbud time as I usually get in over the course of a week, because I had two fewer days of commuting (<–no complaints).  But I’m almost done with the first “book” of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text – just eight minutes to go in the final regular chapter episode, plus the wrap-up episode!  I am still loving, loving, LOVING this podcast.

Moving.  Not a bad week of movement.  It was lacking on the yoga front, but I was really craving some cardio, and I squeezed that in with a five-mile turkey trot on Thanksgiving Day, and a 1.6 mile hike up and down Stony Man Mountain on Sunday.  Moving my legs felt good.  Must keep it up.

Blogging.  I have a great week of content for you!  On Wednesday I’ll be sharing pictures from Stony Man Mountain, which will count for our November hike, and on Friday, I’ve got my November reading round-up post coming to you.  Check in with me then!

Loving.  Waking up to this morning’s news that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are engaged was such a delight!  They look so happy and in love, and I was smiling all day thinking about the royal wedding (Peanut is excited!) and – whenever I got a break – reading news coverage.  The proposal?  LOVE.  Prince Harry dropped to one knee as Meghan was “attempting to” roast a chicken.  Can we get a collective awwwww?  And Harry saying that Meghan and Princess Diana would have been “best friends” and “thick as thieves” brought a tear to my eye.  I love the British royal family and I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT.

Asking.  What are you reading?