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Tree Trimmings, 2018

Recently, someone asked me whether my tree was “designy or personal.”  The answer is – personal; definitely personal.  Back when Steve and I were newlyweds, I had the idea to make our tree coordinated and – I guess “designy” would be the right word.  It was, for maybe a year or so, but it fell by the wayside fairly quickly.  Today it’s a hodgepodge of kid-created ornaments, things picked up during our travels, and reminders of where we live.  But that conversation reminded me that it’s been years since I took you on a tour of our Christmas tree.  So how ’bout we do that?

This old favorite might look familiar – it’s the lighthouse from Block Island.  My brother lived on the island for more than two years and he gave this to me one Christmas.

More old favorites – Mount Vernon as a gingerbread house and two teapots in the Washingtons’ china patterns.  We bought these before we moved to New York for three years, to remind us of Old Dominion.

We have political statements on the tree, too.  No Stamp Act!

 

And there are other nods to George and Martha, too.

Still on the Virginia theme, I bought this handmade clay ornament at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.  It looks (a little) like our house here.

In recent years, we’ve fallen in love with Little Washington, the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We missed this year’s Little Washington Christmas parade, but at least we have this nod to the famous Inn at Little Washington on our tree.

Speaking of the Shenandoah Valley, a couple of years ago we decided to start collecting ornaments from every national park we visit.  One of the first to be added to the new collection, of course, was an ornament from Nugget’s happy placeShenandoah National Park.

We also have this one, from Joshua Tree National Park.  I’d love to get back there someday and camp in the park.  The night sky over the desert must be incredible.

 

We have other ornaments picked up from our travels, too – like these handmade pottery ornaments from the Outer Banks – the Hatteras Light and a great blue heron.

 
 

And the Adirondacks.  A loon and a red canoe (couldn’t find a kayak) to commemorate paddling on Mirror Lake this past summer.  (We’ll have to add a kayak after our trip to the San Juans this coming summer.)

And no tree would be complete without a nod to Cornell, too.  This happy snowman is ready to take the Big Red straight to the Frozen Four!

Travel isn’t the only thing we celebrate on our tree, though.  Miss Austen graces a branch.

And we have some seals in winter knitwear, because Peanut has a longstanding love affair with pinnipeds.  (I’m trying to convert her to Team Cetacean, though.)

 

Speaking of Peanut, we have some familiar faces on our tree, too.  Miss Peanut and Mr. Nugget doing their favorite things – picking flowers and hiking, respectively.

 

And, finally, no tree is complete – at least, not in a house with young children – without some kid-made ornaments.  The gold handprint on the left is courtesy of Peanut, and the little fingerprint snowmen in the right are Nugget’s work, both from their time at Westminster Early Childhood Programs back in Buffalo.

What special holiday decorating traditions do you have?

 

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The Fall List 2018: Recap

FINALLY!  A season packed full of fun, with every.single.item crossed off my seasonal to-do list.  After the Summer of Torrential Rains, I really needed a few months of good weekend weather.  We were sorely in need of family time and we made sure to pack the autumn season full of it.

  • Pick apples at Butler’s Orchard (and maybe some raspberries too?).  Done!  Well – not at Butler’s, because it was closed on the day we wanted to go.  And not berries – we were too late in the season.  But the kids and I drove out to Bluemont with some friends on Columbus Day and enjoyed a day of apple picking at Great Country Farms, followed by a hike to Bears Den Overlook – a lovely way to play hooky from work.

  • Hike Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park – moving this one over from the summer list.  Done!  I cashed in my birthday rights for a day trip out to Luray, and we had a picnic (hot soup in the chilly fall air) and hiked Big Meadows and the Story of the Forest Trail.  Big Meadows was absolutely magical!

  • Roll up my sleeves and do some fall baking with Peanut.  Calling this done, even though Peanut only helped with taste-testing this time (ha!).  I had fun whipping up a cranberry-apple spice cake with maple buttercream and candied cranberries to take to the neighbors’ house for Thanksgiving dessert.  And there’ve been several batches of sourdough bread, sourdough rolls, and spiced apple cornbread – yum.

  • Catch up on the 52 Hike Challenge before it gets really cold.  Done!  Well – I’m calling it done.  The next hike I do will be hike 52 – wahoo!  (I’m saving it for something special.)  I have loved spending so much time on the trails this year.

  

  • Read cozy mysteries – as many as possible.  Calling this done.  I have had a great year of reading, now that it’s almost over, and there’s no season like fall for curling up with a blanket, a big cup of tea and a cozy mystery.  I visited with Lady Georgianna and Hercule Poirot, two of my favorite sleuths, and had fun experiencing a different kind of mystery novel in The Floating Admiral.

  • Run the Wonder Woman virtual 5K (and maybe the Alexandria Turkey Trot).  Done!  Not the Turkey Trot – I was too busy cooking all day – but I did manage to squeeze in 3.1 miles on the Potomac Yards trail for the Wonder Woman virtual 5K run.  I made the plans to do the run “with” my fellow Wonder Woman fan, Katie – she got it done sooner than I did, but I made it happen eventually!

  • Volunteer in Peanut’s classroom.  Done!  I made a goal that I would be more present and visible at school this year, especially for Peanut – Nugget is such an easygoing, happy-go-lucky guy that he doesn’t really need me at school, but Peanut does.  It’s been a commitment, but I have been around a lot more in Peanut’s class and I think it’s been helpful.  I am a class mom, so I helped to lead Back to School Night for the kindergarten parents, co-hosted the class Halloween party (and was in charge of the Halloween art project – superhero pumpkins!), chaperoned a field trip to a nearby Colonial farm, and helped serve muffins and open applesauce cups during the Togetherness Feast before Thanksgiving.
  • Get back into Barre3.  I could have done better with this, but I’m calling it done.  Getting to class has proven too hard to fit in, but I signed up for Barre3 Online and have done some workouts from the comfort of my bedroom.  Hoping to keep this going over the winter – I really do enjoy Barre3, I just don’t enjoy the fact that my kids are already awake before I have to leave for the 5:45 a.m. class.

  • Pumpkin picking, of course!  This is an easy one to put on the list, because it’s guaranteed to happen.  We went back to Wegmeyer Farms this year and the kids had fun choosing their pumpkins and snacking on apple cider donuts.  The best!

  • Take the kids trick-or-treating (they already have their costumes!) at Mount Vernon and in the neighborhood again.  Another easy one, because Halloween is coming whether I’m on my game or not!  We actually didn’t make it to the Mount Vernon trick-or-treating this year, but the neighborhood block party was bumping as usual.

How about that for a seasonal list?!  It was a great fall.  In addition to all of the fun above, I changed jobs and we hosted my parents for Thanksgiving.  We really did need this bright and happy season, and I feel a bit more human again after a summer that left us all pretty emotionally banged up.  Here’s hoping we can keep this momentum going and get more joy and more family bonding in over the winter.

 

First of all – love and light to my friends who are celebrating Hanukkah this week!  I hope your holiday has been full of joy, family, and miracles both big and small.  Around here, we are deep in preparations for Christmas and the busiest season is busier than ever.  I was out of town for two days last week – in Philadelphia for a client visit with a group of my new coworkers.  The visit went well, we got in some good coworker bonding, and I was even able to squeeze in a quick breakfast with my lovely friend A.M.B.  Also, I have to say – Philly was in the holiday spirit in a big way.  It’s nice to know of an option for a festive seasonal getaway that’s closer than New York.  Anyway – the rest of the weekend was a bit of a dud.  On Saturday we shoved off early and drove to Baltimore to deliver on a promise to take the kids back to the National Aquarium.  When we got there, we discovered it was “dollar days” and admission was $1.00 instead of $40.00 – and the line wound ALL THE WAY AROUND THE BUILDING.  (It’s not a small building.)  I stood in line, huddled in a biting wind, for twenty minutes before we threw in the towel, bought the kids consolation prizes at the giant Barnes & Noble, and drove back home.  Womp, womp.  On Saturday night, Steve and I went out to my firm’s holiday party – which turned out to be a fun night, and it was nice to introduce Steve to my new colleagues.  Our regular babysitter, Bre, was unavailable so we hired the children’s librarian from our local library branch to watch the kids.  She’s sweet and patient and she did a great job, but the kids (Nugget especially) didn’t let her forget that she was NOT BRE, OKAY.  On Sunday, we just bummed around the house.  I worked on some Christmas presents, ran a couple of errands, watched The Incredibles ii with Nugget (who’s fighting off an icky cold) snuggled up on my lap, and did a marathon batch cooking in the afternoon.  Cozy, but I’m looking forward to doing something more festive next weekend.

 

Reading.  I spent this reading week in South America, as it turns out.  Most of the week was devoted to The Lost City of Z, which was my book club book for December.  Of course, I got halfway through the book before I realized that I was going to be in Philadelphia on book club night.  But as it turned out, everybody cancelled, so the host called off the meeting and we’ll be discussing The Lost City of Z in January instead.  I’m glad not to miss the discussion, because I really enjoyed the book.  I finished it on the train on the way home from Philly and then turned to The House of the Spirits, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages.  It’s slow going, but I’m really liking it – and I think I may have finally found a magical realism novel I can get behind.

Watching.  With the exception of The Incredibles ii a few times, I haven’t watched any TV this week.  I do really enjoy The Incredibles ii, though – especially the scene in which Jack-Jack wrestles the raccoon.  That slays me every time.

Listening.  This and that – lots of podcasts.  The metro work went on all of last week, so I spent quite a few metro rides squished between people and unable to reach my book – bad for my well-being, but good for listening time.  I went through both of the holiday recommendation shows from The Book Riot Podcast, and a bunch of back episodes of other podcasts too.

Moving.  Sadly, not as much as I wanted to.  I was hoping to squeeze in a sightseeing run to the Liberty Bell while I was in Philly, but it didn’t work out.  I did take two walks around the neighborhood of my hotel, though.  Hoping to fit in more fitness this coming week.

Making.  FOOD!  Lots and lots of food.  Sunday afternoon’s batch cooking includes: pasta e fagioli; red lentil dal; sliced snack veggies; gardein taco “meat”; diced fresh mango; steamed tricolor cauliflower and broccoli; roasted tempeh; roasted tofu; plain chickpeas; steamed einkorn; dry-roasted mushrooms; white bean and sundried tomato dip; raw grain-free granola; and cornmeal breakfast cake with chocolate chips (a concession to the kids).  All in all, less than three hours of work, and this will probably get me through two weeks of lunches and dinners.

No one is allowed to complain that there’s nothing to eat.

Blogging.  I have some fun stuff to share with you this week!  My fall list, recapped, on Wednesday – spoiler alert: it was a busy season – and a tour of my Christmas tree, since it’s been awhile, on Friday.  Check in with me then!

Loving.  The gift guides on treehugger.com are great this year!  I’ve been perusing this year’s selections – gifts for your favorite zero-waster and vegan (those cross-body bags! gorgeous) – and past years’ offerings as well, like 2017’s gift guide for the outdoorsy type and 2015’s green gifts for kids and gifts that give back to wildlife.  I paid extra-close attention to the vegan gift guide, because about a year ago, I quit purchasing any non-vegan fashion or beauty products.  I’m phasing out the leather accessories and non-vegan beauty products I own now – using them until they wear out or run out – and when it’s time to replace items, I’ve been buying cruelty-free products exclusively.  Several of the items from the vegan gift guide might just make it onto my wish list this season!  Do go check all of the gift guides out, and while you’re there, take a look at this article about seven problems facing the ocean and what we can do about them.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

Busted – that’s the Potomac River.  But rivers feed into oceans, so you get the idea!

As the holiday shopping season heats up, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of gift ideas that do double duty – hopefully, delighting the recipient and supporting environmental conservation through either their low planetary impact or their direct contribution to earth-friendly causes.  Here are some of my favorites…

Creative Conservation

  • Upcycled sunnies.  I’ve got a thing for great design, and I especially love great design that makes creative use of materials, so I’m predictably obsessed with Norton Point sunglasses.  They’re polarized, completely UV-blocking, and made from recycled ocean plastic!  I have a pair – “The Tide” – and was waxing poetic about them to my BFF, Rebecca, who said “I have a hard time imagining you wearing garbage on your face.”  But I assure you – they don’t look like garbage; they get more compliments than any of my other pairs of sunglasses.  I can’t get enough of them, and I’m hoping they come out with more designs soon!  (I love “The Whitecap Swell,” but I have a very similar-looking pair from goodr, and can’t justify spending the money for almost the same exact look.)
  • Jenga for ocean nerds.  I first spotted this Jenga game, made from recycled plastic fishing nets, in the National Aquarium gift shop, and I thought it was such a cool idea.  If we ever decide to add Jenga to our game closet, this is definitely the version I’m going for.
  • 4Ocean bracelets.  I looked at 4Ocean’s products for a long time before pulling the trigger and buying the whale bracelet, and I LOVE it.  The basic gist is that for every bracelet that is purchased, 4Ocean will pull a pound of trash from the ocean – and the bracelets themselves are made of recycled materials (glass beads and a string made from plastic water bottles) pulled from the beaches and waterways.  You can even get a subscription and receive additional bracelets – with corresponding good feelings – throughout the year.  I think these look especially cute stacked, so I’d love to add to my collection at some point.
  • A wetsuit yoga mat?!  If I didn’t already have a yoga mat that I love, I’d be so into this one, made from recycled wetsuits.

  • A recycled recycling truck.  Nugget has a fleet of vehicles – trucks, cars, buses, helicopters and airplanes, and even a submarine and a ferry boat – from Green Toys.  (He doesn’t actually have the recycling truck, but I love how meta that idea is.)  The products are made from recycled milk jugs, the packaging is all cardstock and recyclable, and with no small parts to choke on, they’re suitable for the youngest kids.  Ours have done bathtub and sandbox duty, driven over the tough terrain at the beach and playground, and served as snuggle buddies at night.  Yes – I’m serious.  Nugget went through a phase when he was about a year and a half old, in which he wouldn’t be caught dead with a stuffed friend and would instead fall asleep cuddled up with his Green Toys fire truck.

Low Impact Gifts

  • Experiences.  My high school BFF, Jenn, gifted our family tickets to the National Aquarium in Baltimore last Christmas.  We saved the tickets for a rainy spring day and enjoyed every minute of our aquarium visit.  The National Aquarium is on the pricey side (especially in an area where many museums, zoos and other experiences are free) so having the tickets bought and paid for took some of the heat off of our wallets and encouraged us to go.  And bonus – the tickets were delivered by email and my phone was scanned at the entrance, so the carbon footprint of the gift was literally nada.  The year before, my very generous mother-in-law gave us a gift certificate to the Inn at Little Washington – the dinner of a lifetime, and almost no packaging.  (I have an experience gift planned for Steve this year, and I think he’s going to love it.)

  • Memberships.  We’re big on memberships in my family.  I’ve gifted Steve with an annual membership to the Buffalo Museum of Science when we lived on the tundra, and down in DC we renew our Mount Vernon membership, our Friends of the National Zoo subscription, and our America the Beautiful pass every year.  As with experiences, memberships are a great low-impact option – very little packaging, just a tiny membership card, and an entire year’s worth of enjoyment.
  • Support local businesses.  I’m a busy working mom, so I’ll be relying on Amazon to help me stock under the tree for Christmas morning, but I really love shopping locally.  Given where I live, I am spoiled by the opportunity to walk out my front door and have dozens of fabulous local businesses to support within just a few blocks.  We try to shop at our neighborhood children’s bookstore for every birthday party, and I’ve given plenty of handmade gifts purchased from the neighborhood farmers’ market (which includes craftspeople), the shops along King Street, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center (a favorite, because I can support local artists within walking distance of my house!).  The earth-friendly bonus to supporting my neighbors: less packaging, I can use my own bag, and I don’t have to burn any gas, whether my own or FedEx’s.
  • Gifts from your travels.  I won’t be doing this in 2018, because I wasn’t on the ball enough when we visited the Adirondacks, but in other years I’ve thought ahead and picked up holiday gifts while on vacation.  I’m there anyway, so it’s not burning any additional fuel, and I get the fun of including in my adventures those family and friends who weren’t on the vacation with me.

  • Make it yourself.  Once again, I probably won’t be doing this in 2018, but once upon a long time ago I had some spare time and I did an entirely handmade Christmas – I crocheted scarves for the women in my family, made homemade soaps and bath teas for my mom, and gave extended family members homemade rosemary and lemon-infused olive oil.  The gifts were a hit!  This year, I may try having the kids make something for their grandparents, but they’re not always in the mood to be cooperative, so we’ll see how that goes.  But in my experience, gifts from the kitchen are usually a hit – one year, I’d love to do preserved lemon in pretty glass jars for everyone – and they’re as low impact as farmers’ market ingredients and some of your time and love.
  • Green their laundry.  Lately I’ve been really focused on microfibers and microplastics.  I’d love to find the Guppyfriend under my tree – it would give me so much peace of mind to know that if my laundry is shedding microfibers, that I’m catching them and keeping them out of the Potomac and the Chesapeake.

Gifts that Give Back

  • Adopt an endangered animal.  Fun story: when Steve and I were on our second date, I told him about my friend Nicole, who had an adopted whale, and how much I had always wanted one.  A couple of months later, for my birthday, he surprised me with my very own humpback whale, a calf named Ember.  (Cue the collective awwwww.)  Years later, I added an orca to the family: J-51 Nova of the southern resident population.  Later I adopted L-119 Joy, also a southern resident orca, for Peanut’s class, and Steve and the kids adopted me J-26 Mike as a birthday gift.  The money for the adoption goes toward research and conservation efforts, and if you choose to adopt an orca through The Whale Museum, you can even choose an environmentally-friendly paperless subscription.
  • Donations.  I love gifting (and receiving!) donations to a good cause.  For the past few years, I’ve done donations to educational causes for Peanut’s teacher gifts – last year she gave three “a year of school for a Syrian boy” donations, one for each of her teachers.  For me, I set up a birthday fundraiser through Facebook, with proceeds going to The Center for Whale Research, the leading research and conservation organization dedicated to protecting my beloved SRKWs.  As with many experiences and endangered animal adoptions, donations can be paperless for the lowest impact possible, and there are so many great causes to support.
  • Reveal techie goods.  I’m obsessed with my Bluetooth earbuds from Reveal Shop.  For every purchase of their – beautifully-designed, cruelty-free and affordable – products, Reveal plants a tree.  I’m seriously considering adding this bamboo Bluetooth speaker and smartphone charger to my Christmas list this year.
  • Glassybaby for everyone.  I couldn’t make a sustainable/low-impact gift list without including glassybaby.  I’ve been collecting them for years.  In addition to their handmade uniqueness and gorgeous glow-from-within look, glassybaby is committed to giving back to causes including environmental and wildlife conservation – for every single glassybaby purchased, the company donates a portion of its proceeds to charity.  I love that they’re on a mission to make the world better, one light at a time.  (Note: glassybaby is based in the Pacific Northwest, so if you’re not local to one of their shops, this is a gift with a little bit of a carbon footprint.  But I think the company’s commitment to charitable giving makes it worth it nonetheless.)

What are your favorite eco-friendly gifts?

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, 2018

  

Hallowe’en Party, by Agatha Christie – A fun one to read on Halloween (and for a day or so after, as it turned out).  Ariadne Oliver, the celebrated mystery writer, is at a children’s Hallowe’en party when one of the party guests is found murdered.  Mrs. Oliver knows that her friend Hercule Poirot can unravel the mystery – but will he solve it in time to prevent the murderer striking again?  Agatha Christie always delivers, and this was a blast.

The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes and Other Dauntless Girls (A Tyranny of Petticoats #2), ed. Jessica Spotswood – I loved the first entry into this series, and The Radical Element delivered exactly the same joys.  There were stories of a young Mexican-American woman using magic to pass as white in 1920s Hollywood, a Jewish girl willing to risk everything to learn about her faith, a gay teenager who runs away with the circus, and more.  Every story was heartfelt and beautiful.

I Should Have Honor: A Memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan, by Khalida Brohi – This was a stirring and powerful memoir by a still-young woman who has risked her life over and over again to empower women and girls and to fight the custom of honor killing in Pakistan.  I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

  

The Shooting Party, by Isabel Colegate – I read this for the fall Tea and Tattle book club – to be honest, I was sold when Miranda explained that it inspired Julian Fellowes in creating Downton Abbey and Gosford Park.  I could see it, too: the same upstairs/downstairs dramas and complex characters.  The Shooting Party was a slim but lovely read, about an eventful gathering of a group of aristocrats for a shooting party at a great house on the eve of World War I.

Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay, by Phoebe Robinson – Meh.  So, I really enjoyed Robinson’s first collection of essays, You Can’t Touch My Hair (And Other Things I Still Have To Explain), but Everything’s Trash felt like more of the same.  I kept thinking to myself: I feel like I’ve already read this.  And there was a weird braggy interlude in the middle about how she met Bono twice and he made her a piece of original artwork.

My So-Called Bollywood Life, by Nisha Sharma – I was excited to read this YA novel about a young girl navigating high school with the help of her favorite Bollywood movies, but it was kind of a let-down.  The central storyline revolved around a prophecy that the main character had received as a baby, about marrying someone with a name that starts with “R” who would give her a silver bracelet, so her entire family was super committed to making sure she married her boyfriend Raj, who gave her a silver bracelet because he felt like he had to after hearing so much about the prophecy. And then there was a love triangle, which is my least favorite YA trope ever.  It just wasn’t for me.

  

The House By The Lake: One House, Five Families, and A Hundred Years of German History, by Thomas Harding – I loved this.  I can never pass up a history told through an interesting lens or with an unusual hook, and The House by the Lake sure delivered.  The book begins with Harding visiting a ramshackle, falling-down cottage on the shores of Gross Glienecke Lake – just outside of Berlin – that once belonged to his great-grandparents.  Seeking to save the cottage from being razed by the government, he weaves together the house’s fascinating history, from his Jewish great-grandparents, who were forced to leave the house and its contents behind when they fled for England at the beginning of World War II, through the families who either summered or lived there year-round under the brutal East German regime until the fall of the Berlin Wall, and all the way to present day.  Harding’s quest to prove the cottage’s historic significance seems quixotic at first, even to his family, but his zest for the mission eventually wins him the support of the local historical society – but will it be enough?  You’ll have to read it and find out.

Four Seasons in Rome, by Anthony Doerr – Several years ago, Anthony Doerr received a fellowship to live in Rome and work at an American writers’ collective in the city for a year.  He moved his wife and their six-month-old twin boys to the ancient city and they attempted to learn Italian and live as Romans while he worked on a novel about World War II.  Unsurprisingly, the book writing does not go well – Doerr spends most of the year nauseatingly exhausted from parenting (been there) and disoriented from the foreignness of Rome – which is fascinating when you know with 20-20 hindsight that the book that was going so badly at the time eventually turned out to be the stunningly beautiful All The Light We Cannot See.  This memoir was beautiful too – Doerr is an incredibly evocative writer.

Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner – I’ve been meaning to read this since about 2007, when a friend with excellent literary taste told me that Stegner was her favorite writer.  (This friend was from Utah originally and had made it her mission to read all the literature of the American West.)  Angle of Repose is widely regarded as Stegner’s masterpiece, although it’s not without controversy – part of the book includes letters from the main character, who was inspired by a real historical figure, and Stegner lifted whole letters from that actual figure after her family was kind enough to share them with him for research purposes, and published them in the book.  (Whoops.)  Anyway, if you’re reading between the lines, you’ve probably guessed that I didn’t love this.  Liked it, but didn’t love it.  I found the central plot – the marriage of the narrator’s grandparents – to be hard to believe; they were just too different and I understand that divorce wasn’t a “thing” in Victorian times, but meh.  I just couldn’t buy into the central relationship because I didn’t find it believable that they were in love in the first place. I was disappointed, because I loved Crossing to Safety (another Stegner) so much – but Angle of Repose fell a little flat for me.

Autumn (Seasonal Quartet #1) by Ali Smith – I wanted to read this book (hailed as the “first Brexit novel”) after seeing it all over my Instagram feed.  It makes for gorgeous photographs, but I didn’t love the book.  Ali Smith is a genius, no doubt, and I was suitably impressed by the things she did with language.  The problem was that I couldn’t lose myself in the story (of an elderly man and his devoted young neighbor) because I was constantly aware that Ali Smith was Doing Impressive Things With Language.

Belonging: A German Reckons With Home and History, by Nora Krug – Soooooooo so so so so good.  I absolutely loved this graphic and pictorial family history.  Nora Krug, like many Germans of the younger generation, has grown up under the shadow of World War II.  Finally, after moving to America and marrying a Jewish man, Krug feels brave enough to confront her family history and ask the question about her grandparents that she’s never been able to get satisfactorily answered: were they Nazis?  Krug delves into her family history, and the history of the towns in which they lived, and the result is half-scrapbook, half-graphic memoir – and totally fascinating.

Slightly Foxed No. 59: Manhattan Moments, ed. Gail Pirkis – Just in time for the special 60th issue to arrive on my doorstep, I finished this fall’s Slightly Foxed.  It was full of literary delights, as usual.

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, by Florence Williams – Another one I’ve had on my TBR for awhile; I liked, but didn’t love, The Nature Fix.  It was interesting, if a bit more focused on neuroscience than I was expecting – I’d have liked a little psychology or nature writing to mix it up.  The one thing that really bothered me was the author’s near-constant ragging on DC.  I get it: DC isn’t for everyone, and she moved from Colorado, which is just a different world for someone who likes outdoor adventure (I know, my brother lives there).  But one or two complaints about DC (the noise, the air quality, the lack of access to trails, blah, blah, blah – it’s not actually that bad here) would have sufficed to make her point.  Complaints in every chapter got tiresome.

WOW, what a busy reading month November was!  Part of that was because I changed jobs – I had three days of “funemployment” between gigs, plus ramp-down and ramp-up time on either side of that, when work wasn’t keeping me crazy busy.  That time coincided with some disgustingly awful weather, so instead of hiking as I had planned to do with my “funemployment” I spent two entire days on the couch, reading.  It was pretty blissful.  As for enjoyment, I was all over the place.  Belonging was the clear highlight, but I also loved The House By the LakeThe Shooting Party, and Four Seasons in Rome, and a new Slightly Foxed quarterly is never unwelcome.  There were some duds, too, but even with those I was enjoying the act of reading, itself, so no regrets.  Here’s hoping for a strong finish to the year!

Happy Monday!  How was your weekend?  We had a low-key one, for the most part.  Saturday was the big festive day in our neighborhood – the annual Scottish Christmas parade was in the morning and the holiday boat parade of lights took place after sunset.  We attended… neither of them.  Whoops!  Next year, maybe.  On Saturday morning, I took Nugget to a friend’s house for a play date.  He and his buddy had the best time careening around the house playing Ghostbusters while his buddy’s mom and I drank coffee and traded childbirth and NICU war stories, like ya do.  On Sunday morning, we loaded up the ol’ four-wheel drive sleigh (with apologies to the Griswolds) and drove out to Middleburg to cut down our own Christmas tree.  I’ve had artificial trees practically since I can remember (and even wrote this post about them) so this was A Very Big Deal.  We hiked through misty fields, the kids asked to take every.single.tree home, and when Steve found the one we ended up with, obviously I said “She’s a beaut, Clark!”  I felt like a murderer while Steve was chopping it down and I can neither confirm nor deny the rumors of second-guessing and guilty tears, but eventually I got over it and we drove home very gingerly with our family’s first “real” tree tied on top of the car.  We had friends over in the afternoon – a law school friend of mine and a law school friend of Steve’s, who are now married to one another, long and lovely story – and then rolled up our sleeves and decorated the tree (which is substantially bigger than we realized at the farm, oops).  I spent Saturday evening curled up on the couch enjoying the soft white lights and all of our special, meaningful ornaments – not a bad way to wrap up the weekend.

  

Reading.  Bit of a slow reading week, although you wouldn’t know it from the three covers above.  I finished The Nature Fix early in the week and spent most of the rest of the week, up until yesterday morning, on Alif the Unseen.  It was good, and a quick read, but so much of my reading time is tied to getting a seat on the Metro and the commuting this past week has been miserable.  (There’s work being done on the yellow line, which is good and necessary, but it’s ruining the blue line.  I hope they finish soon.)  I’ve been generally able to read on the train in the mornings, but in the evenings I’m lucky if I get six inches of space to call my own, let alone a seat.  Anyway, I finally finished Alif on Sunday morning and am now reading my book club book for the month, The Lost City of Z.  The meeting’s Wednesday, so I’m cutting it fine – good thing it’s such a good, exciting book.

Watching.  Steve has standing plans with the guys on Tuesdays, so that’s become my night to watch whatever I want.  Since I don’t know how to get to saved shows on the digital guide (go ahead and laugh) I couldn’t watch The Great American Read this week.  So I took the opportunity to watch the new adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.  It was definitely different from the book, which I mostly didn’t mind (Aunt Beast gets to stay as I’ve imagined her) but I didn’t love the way Mrs. Whatsit was written.  Reese Witherspoon gave a fabulous performance, but the character was written with a mean streak that just wasn’t at all true to the book, and not a good change.  The book version of Mrs. Whatsit is such a loving, constant presence for Meg, cherishing her for who she is and gently guiding her to self-acceptance; the movie version just seemed irritated by Meg the whole time – it made me sad.  Other than that, I really liked it.

Listening.  A slow reading week makes for a full listening week.  I blew through podcast after podcast while I was scrunched up against the door of the Metro train on my way home every night.  The highlight was the Sorta Awesome ladies discussing A Wrinkle in Time, which was a back episode I’d been saving until I finally saw the movie.

Moving.  Not much – I had my first busy week at my new job and everything else took a backseat to juggling a few longer assignments.  I have some travel coming up this week, so I’ll try to find a way to be active on my trip.  Is it weird that I rather enjoy a hotel gym?

Making.  Lists, and checking them twice.  Everyone wants to know what to get Steve and the kids for Christmas.  Steve is no help – he straight-up refuses to make a wish list for himself, so it’s left to me to shop around and think of suggestions to offer people.  I’ve been spending most evenings after the kids go to bed, working on his wish list.  (I’m easy: here’s my Amazon wish list with 200 books on it, and also camping gear.)

Blogging.  November reading recap on Wednesday – another busy month of books! – and a fun ocean-friendly shopping guide I enjoyed putting together on Friday.  Check in with me then!

Loving.  Sometimes it seems that every weekend I have a play date or a birthday party for one of the kids.  Their social calendars are so full it would take a four-star general to manage them competently, but I’m doing my best.  I’ve joked that Peanut has a knack for finding the kids with the coolest moms, and it seems Nugget has the same gift.  His friend D’s parents are so cool that I barely noticed three hours pass on Saturday morning.  D’s mom said that her mother-in-law made the point that kids probably gravitate to other kids who have been raised the same way or who come from families with similar philosophies, and that may be why they seem to choose friends with whose parents we get along so well.  I don’t know, but I hope to see a lot more of D’s family, and I sure am glad he and Nugget found each other.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

It’s pretty much become a tradition that we celebrate birthdays on the trails.  I think that in the past year, every single member of the family has had a birthday hike, and November was Steve’s turn.  With all the choices in the world – well, all the choices in northern Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the close-in Maryland suburbs, anyway – he picked Widewater State Park, a brand new addition to the Virginia state park system (as in, Governor Northam officially opened it eight days before we put boots on the trail).

So on the Saturday before Steve’s birthday, we found ourselves driving down to Stafford to check out the new park.  The visitors’ center and the trail signs all smelled of new wood – mmmmmm.

Locals have been hiking around Widewater for ages now, but the park itself is still fairly bare-bones.  Many more things are planned – including a souped-up canoe and kayak launch (we will be back) and additional hiking trails.  There’s only one fairly short loop trail at the moment, but it was lovely and we felt very in the know, being some of the first visitors to a new state park.

The water views are always the best part, right?

I mean, look at that.

Eventually, the trail skipped across the road and continued through a stand of trees and by a pond – nothing particularly dramatic or earth-shattering, but lovely and peaceful all the same.  Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

Happy birthday, handsome!  I hope you enjoyed your celebratory hike.  I sure am glad you’re my permanent trail buddy.