America Now: Reflections on Independence Day 2020

“That’s the paradox of this Fourth of July. It is an awful time to be an American. It is a great time to look forward to a New America.”

~ John Blake, via this piece

I’ve been thinking a lot about this Fourth of July.  Independence Day has been my favorite holiday for a long time.  It hits my sweet spots – family, summer, outdoor fun on the water or the trails – with some classic Americana thrown in for good measure.  It’s less commercial than Christmas, less of a food frenzy than Thanksgiving.  I’ve got good memories of sparklers and fireworks at the lake growing up, and I love taking a day of togetherness to usher in the high summer season.

So the Fourth of July is more about grilling in the backyard to me, and less about waving a flag.  But this year I felt a little complicated and guilty about loving this holiday.  In the midst of a pandemic and a reckoning with our long hushed-up history of systemic racism, and no leadership, I almost don’t want to admit that I still love this holiday.

I thought a lot more about America this year than I usually do.  And here’s what I came up with: this country is a big, imperfect, unfinished, sometimes clumsy, experiment.  That’s always been true, but it’s never been more clear.  We’re polarized, and there isn’t much we can all agree on right now – which seems crazy.  There are concepts that seem really basic to me: Black lives matter, love is love, science is real, wildlife deserves protection, people should be paid fairly for their work, wearing a mask is an easy thing to do to protect my neighbors, etc.  But there’s still polarization and clearly, we have a lot to work through as a country.

While it doesn’t feel like there is much to celebrate this Fourth of July, I am celebrating anyway.  I’m celebrating big ideas.  This place has always been full of them – from the Founding Fathers, as I was reminded while watching Hamilton on Friday night (“the story of America then, told by America now”), to the proponents of the Green New Deal.  (Love it or hate it, it’s a big idea.)  Big problems require big solutions, and if Americans are good at anything, it is thinking big.

I am not trying to minimize the pain of the BIPOC community, who don’t feel truly free, or the First Nations and indigenous people who have to watch Americans recreate on their ancestral lands.  Or anyone who feels marginalized – and there are a lot of people who feel that way and for good reason.  But I am choosing to place my hope in big ideas, and to celebrate – maybe not the America now, but the America that can be if we hold up the tradition of thinking big.

Happy (belated) Fourth, and keep thinking big.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (July 6, 2020)

Morning, friends.  How were your holiday weekends?  We were pretty low-key around here.  Steve was tied up last week in depositions and was actually out of town for a few days – don’t worry, he was a very good boy, he wore his mask and was careful to socially distance – so by the weekend, I was pretty fried from spending most of the week on solo parenting duty while working.  He’s still super-busy; I’m in a lull for the moment, but my workload is set to come roaring back after this week, so basically, we’re just swimming as frantically as we can to try to keep from going completely underwater.

Anyway, the weekend was pretty nice.  There was some social time, which was a treat after being starved for human interaction for so long.  On Thursday the kids and I drove back to Alexandria and hung out at my dear Zoya’s house for awhile.  The kids played JENGA while Zoya and I talked as hard as we could about the neighborhood birds, Sir Smokes-a-lot (the most reviled resident of Zoya’s street), my new garden, her family – every subject we could squeeze into an hour-long visit.  She fed the kids Persian crackers and sparkling water, and then Nugget smashed an object that turned out to be an ancient fertilized chicken egg that Zoya found while digging by the side of the road and – as I said to Steve, of course she brought it home and put it on her windowsill, because Zoya’s gotta Zoy.  And then on Friday we had a fun family outing to Great Falls Park to visit with Peanut’s bestie and her dad.  They brought a picnic blanket, snacks and a big purple kickball; we contributed blueberry cornmeal mini-muffins fresh out of the oven.  I missed BFF’s mom (my pal Rachel), who had to work – boo.  But the girls had a grand time throwing the kickball to each other and “gossiping” – seriously, are they seven or twenty-seven? – while the dads compared “quarantine hair” from a safe distance of six feet away from each other and Nugget and I spotted a hawk, a Great Blue heron, and a bunch of vultures.

On Saturday, we headed out for a family hike at Seneca Regional Park.  We tried a different trail this time and hiked down to the Potomac – there were a lot of cars in the parking lot, but we barely saw a soul on the trails, since this is such a big park.  No owls this time; I guess they were scared away by the kids’ constant loud bickering.  (I feel ya, owls.)  We had a grilled dinner, of course, and that was it – pretty laid-back Independence Day.  Sunday was an around-the-house kind of day.  I made a run to Target to pick up a few more things that have popped up on the “buy for the house” list, fiddled with my bird feeder setup, and did a few organizing projects around the house.  I was tired and droopy all day – it’s been hard to fall asleep and stay asleep lately and I’m a little ragged.  Not looking forward to another full workweek of juggling my job and my feral lockdown children.

Reading.  Are you tired of seeing these Lumberjanes covers yet?  I’ll probably read something else this week, now that my books are unpacked (if not organized).  But I figured that I’ve come this far so I may as well get through all of the comics.  I finished volume 13, Indoor Recess, midweek, and volume 14, X Marks the Spot, over the weekend, then started on some of the bonus material – Campfire Songs.  Still so much fun, although I miss the sharp art and even sharper wit of Noelle Stevenson.

Watching.  Hamilton, of course!  Like everyone else in America, or almost.  And! It! Was! So! AMAZING!  We’ve been waiting for months for the film to be released and it exceeded every expectation.  So incredible.  I have no words that haven’t already been said, so I’ll stop there.  Nugget fell asleep during Helpless but Peanut made it all the way to Your Obedient Servant (and, I guiltily admit, Steve and I finished it after she went to bed).  On Saturday night we watched the 2004 version of The Phantom of the Opera.  Nugget conked out early again – during The Music of the Night – but Peanut watched the whole thing and then was so hype that she didn’t fall asleep until midnight.  Whoops.  Other than our musical theatre bender, watching was limited this week.  Since Steve was out of town, we didn’t watch Continent 7 at all, and as a family we only squeezed in one episode of Rock the Park.

Listening.  Lots of music this week.  The kids are binging the soundtrack to The Phantom of the Opera, which I think is cool.  (It’s been my favorite musical since middle school, because I’m basic like that, and I’ve seen it performed onstage five times – three times on Broadway, once at the Kennedy Center, and once at Shea’s in Buffalo.)  Steve and I have gotten into a heated debate over the Phantom – I say that he’s complicated, Steve says he’s a sociopathic murderer.  Maybe we’re both kind of right?

Moving.  Oof.  It was not a good week for movement.  Other than gardening and unpacking and general life stuff, I didn’t get out for a run or do any barre or even yoga.  Blah.  Perhaps that’s why I feel so grumpy and out of sorts.

Making.  I am feeling pretty pleased with myself: while Steve was out of town on business I spent one evening setting up the kids’ playroom.  They didn’t deserve all that work, since they had both been giant jerks all day, but it ended up buying me some peace and good behavior the next day, so #worthit.  But the best part: I had a Charley Harper playhouse that I bought from Crate & Kids ages ago – back when it was still The Land of Nod – and had been hauling around in a box, unassembled, from house to house for years.  Obviously, since it was 10:00 p.m. and Steve was away on business, I decided the time was right to tackle that beast.  So I ripped into the box, pulled out the instructions, and read: “This playhouse requires two adults to safely put together.”  I said: “Eff that, how do single moms do it then?” and rolled up my sleeves – and an hour later, I had a playhouse.  I had to stand on a few of the connectors to get enough force on them, but I DID IT.  And the kids have been playing in there all week, so – success!

Blogging.  I have some thoughts about Fourth of July 2020 for you on Wednesday, and then – I don’t know what, on Friday.  I don’t have anything planned, let alone drafted.  So I guess we will all be surprised, or maybe I’ll take Friday off.  Who knows!

Loving.  This is so ridiculously sad, you guys, but – I am seriously loving my master bath right now.  First of all, it has been years – since January 2016 – that I have had a connected en suite bath.  So that alone: game changer.  But on Sunday I took about thirty minutes and organized all of the bath and body stuff that I had thrown across the counter while I was unpacking, and now it’s all clean and fresh, and all of my products are within reach.  You guys?  It’s seriously amazing what one organized, clean, kid-free space does for my mental health.  I want to hide in there all day, just looking happily at the sparkling countertop and the little basket of skincare products.  In fact, I think I’m going to go hide in there now.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

Garden Chronicles 2020: Moving Month (June, 2020)

Well!  How about a garden post?  I’m sure you know the old, worn-out phrase: the early bird catches the worm.  What I’m wondering is: what does the late bird catch?

For the past few years, we’ve actually started our garden a little too soon.  Between the kids and me, everyone just gets too excited and we’re at the garden center, sniffing around the still-mostly-bare herb and veg tables as soon as the temperature is above freezing.  (Well, not quite that soon, since we’ve known winters here that don’t really ever dip below freezing.  But you know what I mean.)

This year was completely different.  Of course the kids started clamoring to plant by mid-March – as usual.  But I held off and held off and held off, because I knew that we were moving.  We looked at the house that we would end up leasing in mid-March, and signed the lease by early April, with a planned move date for mid-June.  I just didn’t see anything good coming out of trying to establish a garden in Old Town, only to have to move it.  Plus, I knew that this was waiting for me:

That is a jungle, friends.  (Can you spot the tiny photobomber?)

Steve and I decided that the front and side yards would be his responsibility, and the back would be my domain.  Of course, the back is what needs the most work.  But I like a challenge!  And oh, what a challenge.

Here’s what I’m up against:

  • The back patio is ever-so-slightly slanted.  Just enough to be noticeable.  Why???  I’m not sure if it’s that whoever installed it didn’t do a good job leveling, or if it was level to begin with but with erosion and settling it’s become sloped, but either way – it’s weird.  (To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have signed the lease if I had realized how oddly slanted the patio is.)  It would be much better if this was just lawn, but it is what it is.
  • The space between the backyard and patio is an overgrown weedapalooza.  There are some irises and some lilies that I’m pretty sure were planted intentionally (maybe?), a bunch of pink and white flowers that might be weeds, but at least they’re pretty, and then a lot of junk.
  • The sunniest spot – best for a vegetable garden – is the side yard.  But I’m not 100% sure that it’s “ours” – so to speak.  I asked for a map of the property boundary but never got one.  And it’s one of the only spots with actual nice grass, which I’m certainly not going to tear up to install raised garden beds.
  • The space in between the patio and the neighbors’ yards is a total overgrown mess.  I was chatting with my neighbor to the back, and she mentioned that most of the houses in the neighborhood are rentals – including hers, mine, and the neighbors’ to our right – and as a result, no one has bothered to maintain the yards much.  (I might give it a go, but I’m more concerned with my own backyard right now.)

All right, so as ridiculous as all of this sounds, we’ve actually made a lot of progress.  Steve trimmed and de-vined the bushes in the front of the house and on the side, and between the two of us we dug up the worst weed offenders from the wild area just behind the house (those horrible, evil things that start out looking like dandelions but quickly grow to the size of small trees – oh, and they’re covered with spines and irritating sap, so you can’t actually touch them).  We had them in Old Town too, but I always got to them before they got too crazy.

Steve hauled my planter collection around back and I got a few things into the pots – it will be a small garden this year, but I’ve got two baby tomato plants and some basil, plus a pot of mixed herbs and some very leggy mint that made the trip from Old Town (not optimistic on that one).  I’ll be happy to get pretty much anything this year – the main goal is going to be getting the place a bit cleaned up.

Here’s hoping this spot is sunny enough for these little plant babies.  Fingers crossed…

I briefly considered ripping up that back area entirely, since it does get some decent sun, and planting either a vegetable patch or a fern garden in there.  But at the end of the day, this place is a rental, so I don’t want to do anything permanent.  I am happy to spend some time and energy making it look nice, but I’m not inclined to lay out a lot of money improving someone else’s property.  (Side note: I am so over renting.  I’m sick of landlords, sick of feeling constrained in what I can do with a place, sick of living in something that doesn’t really feel mine.  But it just makes more sense to rent for a few years, save a bunch more money, and have a decent amount socked away so that we can make a down payment on a house and still have a good nest egg left over.  I know we’re doing the smart thing, but it doesn’t make it fun.)

Rental notwithstanding, I do have a lot of ideas for portable, non-permanent things I can do to liven up the space.  My assistant gardener is very eager to help.

(He probably spent half an hour “driving the tractor” – a.k.a pulling our yard wagon – in loops around the house.  Little boys, I’ll tell ya.)

So, to tie this disjointed, rambling post together, I have two main goals for this garden over the next few years:

  1. Cultivate a productive container garden; and
  2. Create a welcoming environment for birds.

Nugget and I are big bird nerds, as many of you know, and one of the things I was most looking forward to in moving out to the exurbs was the opportunity to up my bird feeder game.  In the city, I got a bunch of house sparrows and not much else – there was a gang of European starlings behind the house, but they never came to the feeder, and every so often we would get a cardinal or two.  Out here, I’ve already seen:

  • Barred owl;
  • Red-tailed hawk;
  • Wild turkey;
  • Tons of cardinals;
  • A blue jay;
  • And a bunch of robins and little greyish brown birds that I haven’t identified yet.

I have plans to set up feeder stations in the front and back yards and to combine a few different feeders to attract the widest variety of birds.  Nugget and I are stoked to add a bunch of new sightings to our life lists, and I’ve been researching bird baths, squirrel-proofing, and methods for attracting everything from tiny songbirds to majestic owls.  Turning this backyard jungle into a haven for birds is going to be my biggest outdoor project for the next few years – I can’t wait to (literally) dig in!

Are you into bird-watching?  If you are, what’s your best tip for creating a backyard bird paradise?

Reading Round-Up: June 2020

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I 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, 2020

Well, this is a new one – literally all I read in June was Lumberjanes.  That’s it.  Nothing else AT ALL.  I cruised through ten volumes of the collected trade paperbacks, and in a month that was nothing short of globally and personally turbulent, it was what I needed to read.  Between the ongoing pandemic, heartbreaking reckonings with our nation’s history of systemic racism, and on the personal side a house move, two kids who are at each other’s throats constantly, and a crazy workload – I just don’t have the attention span for anything more.

So, impressions – other than this being the respite my brain needed, I did really enjoy this monthlong lumber-binge.  The quality of both the writing and the art is a little variable – Noelle Stevenson left the team partway through the fifth volume, and neither the art nor the story is as good without her.  But every collection was fun, enjoyable, and made me smile.  There are mermaids, time shenanigans, Greek mythological monsters, and roller-skating sasquatches.  So how can you go wrong?  I preferred the issues in which the art was a little sharper and less cartoony, but all in all, this series is solid from the first page to the last.

And that’s all I have to say for myself this month!  My focus was elsewhere, but the heavy classics and Victorian doorstoppers will be there for me when I’m ready.  In the meantime, Lumberjanes made for a welcome escape when I was mentally exhausted from the slog of trying to be both a working parent AND an American in this heartbreaking time.

What did you read in June?  Any recommendations for good escape reads for me?  Nothing too mentally taxing, please – I’m not up for it yet.  But I’m working on getting there.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 29, 2020)

Gooooooood Monday morning, friends.  I’ll be honest – I’m kind of dreading this week.  Last week was a doozy at work – I had a huge brief to finalize and file, which always takes longer than you expect it to (seriously, how am I still surprised by that, after thirteen years of practicing law?) and as a result, I’m behind on everything else.  Plus Steve is largely out of commission with a big work project of his own, meaning that I’m on the spot for parenting this week.  (Only fair, since he ran interference for me last week when I was underwater – but it does mean that my usual post-brief-catchup-week is not going to happen, at least not the way it would under normal office circumstances.)

Anyway, the weekend was well-earned and mostly, really good.  After last weekend was devoted to moving, unpacking, and cleaning up around our old place, we felt that we’d earned some trail time.  So on Saturday morning we drove out to Riverbend Park, a nearby regional park, and checked out a new-to-us trail.  We’d been to Riverbend Park before, but not to this part, and it was fun to explore something new.  It was a roller coaster of a hike, though.  The major highlight was seeing a roosting barred owl.  As we were hiking along, I spotted the tiniest movement out of the corner of my eye.  I looked up into the trees and, as luck would have it, my eye immediately fell on an absolutely stunning owl.  I quickly pointed it out to Steve and the kids and we all watched in awe as it took off from its perch and sailed silently overhead and down toward the Potomac.  Wildlife highlight of the year!  But lest you think the hike was too amazing, Peanut got a rock in her shoe and had a massive meltdown that culminated in her cracking me hard across the elbow with her hiking pole.  I will tell you, it hurt.  I wasn’t happy with her, and she knew it, because she acted like a giant jerk for the rest of the day.  Not cool, Peanut.  Not cool.

Anyway, I tried to focus on the awesome owl sighting and not on my throbbing elbow.  The rest of the day was pretty low-key, I guess, although it felt adventurous.  In the afternoon, I headed out to the garden center, followed by Home Depot and – can you handle it? – Target.  I had a long list of house and garden purchases to make, and I checked most of them off my list.  The Target run wasn’t cheap, but it didn’t hurt too badly when I considered the fact that this was my first Target trip in over four months.  We spent the rest of Saturday working around the house – me on unpacking and Steve on yardwork.

On Sunday I was out the door early, to run another virtual race on a local rail trail.  I had sneakers on the pavement by 8:30 and it was only in the mid-seventies, but it was muggy and by the time I was finished, I was dripping with sweat. Then as I drove home, a red-tailed hawk swept across the road right in front of my car and settled in a tree – seriously incredible.  Seriously, the birds out here. Who knew?  I spent the rest of the day at home, gardening with Nugget and doing more unpacking, while Steve worked and Peanut colored and watched a Cinderella marathon on Disney+.  Pretty chill day at home, resting up for another busy workweek.

Reading.  Another light week around here, and still all-Lumberjanes.  My attention even for comics is at an all-time low, and it took most of the week to get through Volume 11, Time After Crime.  I finally finished it on Sunday evening and turned to the next volume, Jackalope Springs Eternal.  (I did read a lot of FiveThirtyEight, so there’s that.  I rarely give it a mention, but I’m addicted and have been reading it daily for years.)  Hoping that my reading mojo will come back once I have my bookshelves set up and looking pretty – progress has been made, but I still have a ways to go.

Watching.  Lots of the usual, but it’s the usual because I like it, so I enjoyed myself.  The kids have been banned from Floor is Lava after Steve caught Peanut saying a rude word that she confessed to learning on the show, so I had a refreshingly lava-less week.  Instead, we watched all of our family favorites – Blue Planet IIRock the Park, and Continent 7 (I started it over so that Steve could watch with me and now we’re both hooked).  Nugget is on a Wild Kratts jag, so I have seen a lot of creature-venturing out of the corner of my eye, too.

Listening.  Same – the usual.  Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts.  Mostly the Another Mother Runner podcast right now, since I’m on a bender.  (The episode on “pandemic endurance techniques” was great!)  Also listened to a few other favorites – finished up an episode of The Mom Hour on quarantine cooking, listened to Dr. Scarlet Smash and Dr. Cracken McCrack wax drunkenly rhapsodic about plankton on The Marine Conservation Happy Hour, and – the highlight – did my virtual race on Sunday to the tune of an episode of The Marine Mammal Science Podcast about living and working in Antarctica.  (Ultimate dream!  I don’t think they allow lawyers at Scott Base, but maybe McMurdo would take me?)

Moving.  Not the best week, but not the worst.  Crazy work deadlines had my butt glued to my dining room chair most of the week, but I made it out for a fun hike – see above – on Saturday, and a virtual 5K on Sunday.  Plus a decent amount of gardening over the weekend.  I need to get back in a rhythm, but this was a good start.

Making.  About the same as last week – I made progress on unpacking; still not done but getting closer every day.  And lots and lots and lots of work product – it was a busy week.  Nothing too exciting in the kitchen – except that I did make “foil dinners” on Sunday night; anyone else eat those at summer camp?  That was my favorite camp meal.  Steve and the kids were highly skeptical.  They came out okay, but with room for improvement.  I will continue to refine my foil dinner technique and report back.

Blogging.  June’s reading recap on Wednesday (spoiler alert: it is all Lumberjanes) and a garden post (!!!) on Friday.  I’m going to show you some glimpses of the jungle I have taken over, and you’ll all break out into hives, it’s going to be great.  Check in with me then.

Loving.  So, as many of you already know, I am a huge bird nerd – and so is Nugget.  We maintained a feeder in our little front yard in Old Town Alexandria, but I have big dreams (Steve would say they are delusions of grandeur) about seriously upping my feeder game now that we’re living in the exurbs.  Nugget and I are working on creating a welcoming paradise for our neighborhood birds (including the owl that I heard hooting in my side yard a few days ago!) and I’ve recently discovered my new favorite bird-feeding and bird-watching resource: Bird Watching HQ.  You guys.  It’s a fabulous site.  Not going to replace the Cornell Bird ID or the Audubon app for identifications, but it’s the best resource I’ve found for getting started feeding backyard birds.  Everything you want to know about squirrel-proofing, starling-proofing, bird baths, attracting songbirds, seasonal changes – and more – is right there.  I love how thoughtful the articles are, and especially that they’re written by an amateur birder, who just geeks out about feeders.  I can’t wait to start applying all of Scott’s knowledge and attracting more visitors to my new yard.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

Virtually Unstoppable

I’ve often lamented, in recent years, that when life got really busy – too busy, really – running took a backseat or even dropped off the agenda completely.  In a life that was packed with constant rushing – rushing to pack lunches and get two dawdling kids out the door to school each morning; rushing to work; rushing to meetings; rushing home; rushing to cram in all of the little life things that have to get done in order to make the days happen – in all that rushing, running just felt impossible.  It was one more thing to think about and plan for, or maybe wake up early for.  It was just… not doable.  Okay, I could have made it work if it was important enough to me; I recognize that.  And I also knew objectively that if I took that time for myself I would be happier and would have more energy and patience for the day-to-day slog.  There are a lot of excuses, and certainly the clamoring demands of clients, colleagues, school administrators and kids were louder and more insistent than the little voice in my head that said “You’re important, too.”  But ultimately I chose not to prioritize myself.

Enter COVID-19.  The last “normal” day, at least in our family, was Friday, March 13 – pretty appropriate, huh?  The kids came home from school that day loaded up with their distance learning packets “just in case” and we prepared for what we figured would be a few weeks of hunkering down at home through the tail end of winter and early spring.  Those first couple of weeks were focused on figuring out how to make this social distancing thing work for our family – balancing parents’ work schedules with kiddo needs.  Then on March 23, the Governor announced that all Virginia schools would be closed through the end of the school year – and suddenly, we were confronted with a surreal situation that was going to stretch much, much longer.

I wouldn’t say the routine got easier, but somewhere in there, I started feeling an itch to run again.  Part of it was needing to feel like I had something reserved for me, and with a reading slump (pandemic-induced, and ongoing) books weren’t fitting the bill.  I pulled out my running shoes and started hitting the bike path a few times a week, running a neighborhood loop that kept me close to home.  The running itself didn’t feel great – comebacks never do – but it felt wonderful to be carving out a time and space for myself.

After a few weeks of casually running, I opened up my inbox to an email from Another Mother Runner, one of my favorite running-focused online spaces, advertising a virtual race series, complete with training program, coaching, and a private Facebook community in which participants could exchange messages and encouragement.  Like everything AMR stands for, the program was flexible, designed to fit into a mom’s busy life, and promised a warm and welcoming atmosphere.  I knew instantly that it was what I needed.  I signed up right then and there.

And it has been exactly what I needed.  There’s been a lot of conversation in the private Facebook group about the training plan.  Some of the participants abandoned it quickly, preferring to run by feel – many of them felt even more overwhelmed by the training plan; to them it was yet another thing that “had” to be done in days that already felt too burdensome.  Others – and I fall into this second group – have found the training plan to be a lifeline.  Each morning, I pull up the calendar to see what I am doing, and it’s a decision I don’t have to make.  It’s one thing that is simple.  If it says intervals, I do intervals.  If it says cross-training, I do barre.  The training plan, and the virtual races, have given me something solid to hang onto when the foundations of the world are shifting.

I’m not a very good self-motivated runner.  Every so often, I’ll head out on the trails just for the joy of the experience, the fresh air, the movement and the peace.  But that’s rare.  To stick to a training plan long-term, I need to be working toward something – which is why, when I was running consistently, I kept up a steady schedule of races from local 5Ks to half marathons.  Training for races fell by the wayside after Nugget came along, which is a huge part of why running fell by the wayside.  I need the motivation of knowing there is a start line and – even more important – a finish line, ideally with a shiny medal I can hang on my wall to remind me of my achievement.  Everyone is motivated by something; as I told my neighbor Zoya (motivated by ice cream), I am motivated by shiny things.

Clearly, the future of running races is pretty up in the air at the moment.  I’m hoping things will start up again in the fall; if they do, now that I am back in my running shoes I have a goal for next fall.  (Summer isn’t a big race season in DC anyway – too hot.  Once spring races are over here, things quiet down substantially until the weather begins to cool off.)  Enter: virtual races.

Virtual races are nothing new for me!  I even ran a virtual half marathon, on packed snow and in sub-zero temperatures, back in 2014.  (What was I thinking?)  So it seemed like a no-brainer to sign up, not only for the AMR virtual race series, but for a virtual 5K (“Rock Your Block”) hosted by Potomac River Running, a local chain of running stories in the DC area.

It was already warming up when I headed out at around 9:00 in the morning; note to self – get out the door earlier next time.  I wore the race shirt and stuck the bib on with my DC flag racedots, and people shouted encouragement at me all along the bike path.  It wasn’t quite the same scene as a race with thousands of other runners and spectators, and bands and bananas at the finish line, but it was plenty good enough for me to remember how good it feels to chase my own goals for a change.  And after all, I don’t really need spectators and finish line bananas, as long as I get something shiny.

(If you couldn’t tell, I’ve quit being embarrassed about liking race bling and am leaning into it hardcore.)  This is a hard time for everybody.  We’re all coping in our own ways.  If you’d asked me back in March whether I thought it was likely that the thing that would hold my sanity together would be running virtual races, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy – but here we are, in June, and my key rack is sagging with the weight of medals from virtual running events.  I’m waiting to see if a local trail race that I’m tentatively registered for ends up going forward in September; I hope it does.  But I kind of already feel like I’ve won.  I have running back, and I had no idea how much I needed that.

What are you doing to stay sane in these uncertain times?

Watching The Season Change, With Elizabeth

The sight of the first pale flowers starring the copses; an anemone held up against the blue sky with the sun shining through it towards you; the first fall of snow in the autumn, the first thaw of snow in the spring; the blustering, busy winds blowing the winter away and scurrying the dead, untidy leaves into the corners; the hot smell of pines – just like blackberries – when the sun is on them; the first February evening that is fine enough to show how the days are lengthening, with its pale yellow strip of sky behind the black trees whose branches are pearled with raindrops; the swift pang of realization that the winter is gone and the spring is coming; the smell of the young larches a few weeks later; the bunch of cowslips that you kiss and kiss again because it is so perfect, because it is so divinely sweet, because of all the kisses in the world there is none other so exquisite – who that has felt the joy of these things would exchange them, even if in return he were to gain the whole world, with all its chimney-pots, and bricks, and dust, and dreariness?  And we know that the gain of a world never yet made up for the loss of a soul.

It’s official!  Winter and spring are behind us, Midsummer was this weekend, and we’re into my favorite half of the year.  I find things to enjoy in every season, but summer and fall have my heart.  And I love the above words by Elizabeth von Arnim, whose German garden hosted so many turnings of the earth and changings of the seasons, with all the joys and wonders that follow.

Happy summer!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (June 22, 2020)

Good Monday morning, friends.  Happy (belated) Juneteenth and (belated) Midsummer.  We’re heading into my favorite part of the year – summer and fall.  Last week was a doozy, as moving week always is.  I was slammed at work, trying to finish drafting a brief for a client while our packing crew ran around the house packing up on Wednesday, and then our moving truck rolled out of Alexandria on Thursday.  (Worth saying: the goddess is clearly looking out for me, because this move would have been impossible if the kids were also underfoot, but last weekend our beloved babysitter, “Telly” – Nugget’s former nanny – texted me to say that the family she currently works for was going to be on vacation, and would I like her to watch the kids?  So while Steve and I were running around all week, the kids were over in Fairfax enjoying some Telly time.  It was one less thing on our plates and it made such a difference.)  Anywoot!  The rest of the weekend was devoted to unpacking on the back end.  We had Friday off for Juneteenth, of which I was vaguely aware as an important date for the Black community, and I spent the day reading up on the origins of the holiday while unpacking.  The rest of the weekend we were unpacking machines.  Steve made a few trips over to the old place to clean up, move the rest of our food, and do some touch-ups.  Father’s Day was pretty blah this year – sorry, Steve.  We did get takeout sushi, so that was a fun treat to celebrate an all-star dad who sacrificed the rest of his day to unpacking and yardwork.

Reading.  Very slow reading week, and still all Lumberjanes, all the time.  Between a full week of work, and moving, I didn’t have the energy for a book – or this week, it turns out, even a comic.  Just one of those weeks.  Hopefully when I get my books unpacked and my shelves all filled, I’ll feel more inspired to get back to my book devouring habits.

Watching.  It was an interrupted week of watching, because we didn’t have internet for a few days.  But once we got Netflix back, the kids discovered a new-to-them Netflix game show, the absolutely ridiculous Floor Is Lava.  If you haven’t watched it, it’s an obstacle course show in which teams of three have to try to make their way through a series of elements without falling into a field of “lava” (actually what appears to be water with reddish food coloring).  They’re obsessed, and all day they’re either playing “Floor is Lava” – jumping like squirrels around the furniture – watching the show, or chanting “FIL! FIL!” until we turn it on.  They also watch the same episodes over and over even though they know who wins, which drives Steve crazy.  So I’ve seen a lot of Floor Is Lava over the past few days, as you can imagine.  Other than that, the only watching this crazy week was one episode of Blue Planet II and an old Rock the Park.  Pretty standard stuff.

Listening.  Just a little bit of listening time – I could really use a pair of wireless earbuds for unpacking – a few episodes of the Another Mother Runner podcast while driving back and forth between our old place and the new house on Thursday.  The episode on “Race and Running” was really thoughtfully and sensitively prepared and presented, and I was so impressed by the conversation, so that was the highlight.

Making.  Lots and lots and lots of empty boxes.  And some work product.  But mostly, the empty boxes.  I decided to try out rental reusable boxes for this move – to save money, create a little less waste, and motivate myself to unpack (because the box rental company is coming at 10:00 this morning to pick them up, so they HAD to be empty).  I tornadoed through 65 reusable boxes over the weekend and am pleased to report that they are all empty and waiting for pickup.  (We do have some cardboard, but much less than we would have otherwise.)

Moving.   No formal exercise last week, sadly.  It was just one of those weeks, for obvious reasons.  Any time I wasn’t working, I was running around doing moving tasks – either hauling things or unpacking and organizing.  The good news is, I was super active.  The bad news is, I was supposed to run a virtual 10K on this coming weekend and there’s no way I’m ready – I’ll have to do the 5K option instead.

Blogging.  I have a post celebrating the change of seasons on Wednesday, and then I’m talking about running during quarantine on Friday.  Check in with me then!

Loving.  I wrote about this up above, so I won’t spend too many words, but I am so stoked about the reusable boxes I rented for this move.  I used Bungo Box, but I expect there are different companies offering the same service in pretty much any location.  The “green” aspect of reusable boxes was what initially attracted me, but when I started looking into it I realized we’d also save a good chunk of cash, too.  And knowing that I had a deadline to unpack them meant there was no chance the boxes would sit in my house for months without me finding the time to unpack them.  It just wasn’t an option to avoid them.  On the flip side, I can tell you that it’s been a great experience.  They were dropped off – fully sanitized, which is key these days – on our doorstep a couple of days before the move, and will be picked up from our new house this morning.  Super convenient, planet- and wallet-friendly – what’s not to love?  This is not our last move (hopefully it’s our second to last, and the next move will be into our dream house) and I will definitely, definitely rent reusable boxes again.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

Themed Reads: Tent Panels

It’s late June, which is well past the time by which my kids’ summer camp would ordinarily have started – but alas, no camp this year.  Instead of tie-dyeing t-shirts with their friends and indulging in “Ice Cream Wednesday” and “Free Swim Friday” every week, they’re knocking around Camp Corona, a.k.a. the house.  Although we are planning a backyard camp-out sometime this summer (or maybe more than one) the traditional camp experience is not to be this year.  Which is sad!  I have fond memories from my own camp days, and my kids have absolutely loved the camp they’ve attended for the past few years.

If you’re in the same position, confronting a campless summer – and that’s most of us, right? whether we’re parents or just working adults with a tragic lack of summer camp fun in our lives – maybe I can help.  If we can’t go back to summer camp in person (either because of the pandemic or because, you know, we’re grown-ups) we can indulge in a little bit of nostalgia via comics and graphic novels, quite a few of which seem to be set at summer camps.  It’s not surprising, right?  Between the natural settings – which make for excellent art – and the potential for drama and shenanigans whenever a bunch of kids are thrown together, it’s a no-brainer.  Here are three that I’ve enjoyed…

First of all, no summer-camp-comics booklist would be complete without Lumberjanes.  The BOOM Studios comic series has been going strong for years and has expanded to include graphic novels, a YA/middle grade novel series, a crossover with Gotham Academy and a few fun standalones (like a summer camp songbook!).  The series focuses on five friends – Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley – and their adventures punching mythical monsters and dodging their rule-abiding counselor, Jen (who does loosen up) during very eventful summers at Miss Quinzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types.  It’s a wonderful, affirming, welcoming series – the characters come in all shapes and sizes, skin colors, sexual orientations and gender identities, and they love and support each other fiercely while also arm-wrestling statues and punching giant river monsters.  In the first two volumes alone there are anagrams, the Fibonacci sequence, Greek gods, ancient monsters, capture the flag, velociraptors, and pop culture references galore.  I want to go to Lumberjanes camp…

If you’re looking for a more realistic graphic novel take on the summer camp experience, Honor Girl is an incredible memoir exploring friendship and deeper feelings during one eventful summer.  The author, Maggie Thrash, writes of her experience developing feelings for one of her counselors at an all-girls camp in Appalachia, and it’s a sensitive and moving read.  There are hikes, late nights, and lots of suspense – will Maggie summon the courage to share her feelings, and will they be reciprocated?  And if they are, how will her very conservative camp react?  I read this several years ago, when I was just getting into graphic novels and memoirs, and I couldn’t put it down – between the gorgeous panels of artwork and the beautiful coming-of-age story and awakening, it was absolutely wonderful.

For another fitting-in-at-camp reading experience – albeit one tailored to a younger audience – Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared is a total delight.  Vera is a young girl growing up in suburbia, but very much on the outside looking in.  Her family, headed by a single mother, lives paycheck-to-paycheck, always just one step ahead of financial disaster, and clinging to their Russian heritage for comfort and connection – which doesn’t help Vera fit in with the wealthy, spoiled girls in her class.  Vera craves two things – a (loosely disguised) American Girl doll, and the chance to go to summer camp.  The doll is never going to happen, but Vera’s mother scrimps and saves to send Vera and her brother to a summer camp for the children of Russian immigrants.  Vera is overjoyed, thinking this is a place where she can finally fit in.  But camp has quite a few surprises in store.  I expected to love this – after all, I first heard of it through Colin Meloy‘s Instagram stories, so, of course – and I did love it.  Vera’s good heart and sweet soul shine through, and you can’t help but feel confident that they’ll win her true friendship in the end.

My summers at Camp Little Notch in the Adirondacks were not nearly as eventful as Lumberjanes camp, but camp was still a formative experience for me!  To this day, I sing campfire songs to my kids as I put them to bed at night, and I dream of taking Steve and the kids there for one of their family camp weekends.  This summer is not to be – maybe next year? – so in the meantime, I’m shopping for tents at REI and backyard fire pits at Lowe’s, reviewing my Little Notch songbook so that we can sing along while we toast s’mores in the backyard, and reading my Lumberjanes.

Do you relive your summer camp experiences through graphic novels?  Am I missing any good ones?

Goodbye to the Yellow-and-White Kitchen

I have always wanted a white kitchen.  Airy painted cabinets, cheery bright walls, warm hardwood floors.  For the past four years, that’s what I’ve had.

When we moved into this house, we knew it was temporary – but we looked forward to it, all the same.  We were excited about the prospect of walking to our favorite restaurants again, of living close to the library and the playground, of wandering down to the waterfront and feeling the breeze off the Potomac.  Inside the house, though, I was most excited about the kitchen.

I signed the lease for this place on my living room couch, with direct line-of-sight into the tiny apartment kitchen in the temp townhouse in which we’d been camping out for six months before we moved home to NoVA.  It was a miserable little shoebox of a kitchen.  I tried to make the best of it, whipping up my homemade vegetable-and-bean soups with determination.  But the kitchen was so small that if one person was cooking and one person was doing the dishes, we would literally step on each other.  And more than that – it was dark, cramped, and inefficiently designed.  No matter how much I chanted “Anna Thomas wrote Love Soup in a kitchen smaller than this!” I couldn’t enjoy cooking there.  And forget baking.

This kitchen, by contrast, is like sunshine.  The high ceilings and white cabinets make it feel spacious and bright, and the walls are a happy yellow.  (We won’t talk about the mauve accent walls.  If I owned the place, I’d paint them immediately.)

In this kitchen, I have…

Finally conquered my fear of baking yeast breads.

Burnished my pastry skills.

Cooked Thanksgiving dinners for my family – multiple times – assisted by my adorable sous chef.

Speaking of my sous chef – I’ve baked many a pie, cake, banana loaf, and batch of cookies with her.

And kneaded loaf after loaf of sourdough with my other sous chef.

I’ve whipped up gallons upon gallons of homemade vegetable soup and filled glass containers with sliced veggies and fruit.  And I’ve stood at the window in the early morning dark, using all this bounty to pack school and desk lunches with a steaming mug of black tea next to me, and my sweet neighbors’ silhouettes moving around their warmly lit kitchen, behind filmy white curtains, going about their mornings right next door – a comforting view.  Less fun, I have sat at the kitchen table late into the night and before sunrise of a morning, clicking away at my laptop computer, churning out legal briefs.

I’ve supervised pumpkin decorating and carving.

And wiped up many spills.

After countless cups of tea, loaves of bread and batches of soup, it’s time to move on.  We are ready.  Ready for (a little) more space, a spare bedroom to host family, and better public schools.  Ready to save on rent money and school tuition and put those dollars into our retirement accounts instead.  Ready to sleep uninterrupted by sirens and car alarms (except for the ones emanating from Nugget’s toy box at 5:00 a.m.).  My new kitchen will be black-and-white – slightly smaller and darker, but with a breakfast nook so that we don’t fall over each other when we’re sitting down to family meals – and I’m already dreaming of the memories I’ll make and the dough I’ll knead on the black granite countertops.  I’ve been measuring the space, deciding where my cookbook collection will go, and hauling trunkloads of appliances and lunch-packing supplies every weekend for the past month.  I’m ready.

But all that said – I am going to miss this yellow and white kitchen, and I will take with me all the memories I have made here.