It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 12, 2021)

Good morning. Tap tap. Is anyone awake? Good, me neither. So, how were your weekends? Ours was jam-packed and mostly spent outdoors, which is just how I like ’em. On Saturday, we were up early for a backyard coffee date with our good friends – Nugget’s best buddy, D, and his family. They were taking family pictures in a park nearby, and the timing worked perfectly to get in a quick playdate before they headed to their photo shoot and we shoved off for the first tee-ball game of the season. Nugget’s team, the Royals, took on the baby Nationals, and it was hilarious. No one knew the rules, the batter was more surprised by a hit than anyone, and the handful of kids who were actually dialed into the action (a group that included team “ringer” Nugget) ended up piled on top of each other like puppies every time somebody actually hit the ball. We spent the afternoon lolling about at home. Nugget practiced tossing and catching his baseball using his new bounce-back net and strike zone (it’s possible Steve is even more excited about Little League than Nugget is) and I read outdoors.

Sunday was another outside day. In the morning, we drove to Bull Run to witness the annual bluebell spectacle. (Pictures coming soon!) I think we hit it just right this year – it was glorious. And we made it all the way to the Civil War battlefield this time, which was cool to see; Steve and I hiked the battlefield years ago, before kids, but haven’t been in that part of the park since. In the afternoon, we took the rugrats to a local elementary school to ride bikes; they’re learning to pedal without training wheels. Nugget, who has not yet met a sport that he didn’t pick up immediately, has already got it all figured out; Peanut is taking more time to build her confidence, but she’ll get there (please Artemis). Nugget was so reluctant to leave the school that I had to sunscreen him up at home and then take him right back out for more biking – he looped the little mini bike path for two hours. It was the kind of weekend I love – one filled with sunshine, fresh air and friends, and collapsing on the couch with a good book at the end.

Reading. Speaking of good books – I’m really leaning into National Poetry Month, as you can see. Didn’t I tell you my pace would pick up once our houseguests left? (Also, several of these volumes – especially the Candlestick Press ones – are very short, but still.) I finished The Iliad by mid-week and then blazed through Ten Poems about Walking, William Wordsworth (a selection by Seamus Heaney, for the Faber Nature Poets series – more about this coming soon), and Ten Poems for Spring, before turning back to ancient Greece and The Odyssey. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this new-ish translation by Emily Wilson; I’m about halfway through at press time and I can confirm, it’s fabulous. (And I’m enjoying it much more than The Iliad.)

Watching. Ancient Greece (or ancient Greece-adjacent) watching, too. I convinced Steve and the kids to watch Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief on Friday and Saturday. We all loved it, and the kids have been chattering away about Greek heroes and monsters all weekend, which is too fun. On a more grown-up note, I watched a few episodes from Miranda Mills’ YouTube channel and Steve and I knocked back another episode of The Crown on Sunday night. Good times.

Listening. Not too much – just about an hour of All Creatures Great and Small. More to come this week, since I have to drive into the office at least twice.

Making. Not much this week. A few dinners – chicken escarole, which has been in the weekly rotation for awhile; lemon-pepper shrimp with roasted broccoli and mashed potatoes on Sunday evening. That’s about it. No fun baking to report, no gardening.

Moving. Ugh, let’s just not discuss this. Does panicking over career choices count? Definitely got my heart rate up this week.

Blogging. Another dispatch from the exurbs on Wednesday, and another poem on Friday – pretty standard stuff, but I hope you like both.

Loving. I look forward to this glory of Virginia bluebells all year long, and it never disappoints. Seeing the woods carpeted with ethereal blue blossoms is always such a joy and privilege. Steve and the kids enjoy it as much as I do, which makes it extra fun. Someday I hope to share the bluebell fun with my parents, or with friends – in the meantime, this is definitely good enough for me!

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Poetry Friday: Lines Written in Early Spring

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul which through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure: —
But the least motion which they made,
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

~ William Wordsworth

Reading Round-Up: March, 2021

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 March, 2021.

Few Eggs and No Oranges: the Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-45, by Vere Hodgson – I’ve had this World War II diary on my TBR for ages – it’s a daunting size, but I finally decided to pick it up. Hodgson’s voice shines through and her meticulous recording of life in London during World War II made for fascinating reading. Whether she’s musing that the city has been “a bit Blitzy” or chronicling the antics of her office cat, she’s an engaging diarist, and this volume really brings her experience to life.

Black Narcissus, by Rumer Godden – I’ll be honest, I picked up this book for two reasons – one, that cover (gorgeous!) and two, because nuns in the Himalaya. Black Narcissus follows a small convent as it tries to establish in the “House of Women,” an eerie mountaintop palace formerly occupied by the local prince’s harem. The house works its unnerving magic on each of the nuns in different ways, leading to tragedy. This was an absorbing and atmospheric read – highly recommended.

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton – I think the general consensus is that The House of Mirth is Edith Wharton’s masterpiece, and I won’t disagree – although I still love The Age of Innocence best. Without saying much here, because I am going to post a full review for my Classics Club challenge, it was beautiful and heartbreaking.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, by Julia Strachey – I decided to read this slim volume in March because it takes place on March 5 (another Bloomsbury quotidian novel!). Although I didn’t read it on the date, I did blaze through over the course of one afternoon. It was beautifully written in the experimental Bloomsbury style (the author knew Virginia Woolf, and Woolf was a fan of her work) and, while not destined to be an all-time favorite, was a very good read.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, by Erik Larson – I like “dad books” and I cannot lie. (Sorry.) I’ve been looking forward to the latest Erik Larson since the subject was announced, but moved out of my old library system just before my number was called on the holds queue there, and I had to start from scratch in my new county. Worth the wait, though! I loved this look at Churchill through the lens of his family and close friends – especially his daughter Mary and daughter-in-law Pamela.

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread, by Michiko Kakutani – An impulse-add at the library, but how could this not be great? Michiko Kakutani is a former Chief Book Critic for The New York Times, and I have always had great respect for her literary judgment. Her tastes are as wide and catholic as you would expect for someone in that role, and I got so many wonderful recommendations from this.

A Morbid Taste for Bones (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1), by Ellis Peters – I first “discovered” Brother Cadfael through a short story in one of my anthologies of Christmas-themed mysteries, and was keen to check out the novel-length version. I loved this! A Morbid Taste for Bones introduces the Welsh monk and his medieval abbey in Shrewsbury, England, describing a journey to Wales to retrieve the relics of a saint for the ambitious prior’s glory and the all-too-human murder that follows. It was a total delight and I loved the historical setting, the strong female characters and the engaging mystery. I did figure out the “whodunit,” but I don’t hold that against a mystery novel – I often guess the culprit and am in it more for the journey than the denouement. I’ll definitely continue with Brother Cadfael.

Mango and Mimosa, by Suzanne St. Albans – It has been a few months since I dipped into my Slightly Foxed stash. Mango and Mimosa is a childhood memoir by a French Duchess who seems to have lived a remarkably adventurous life with her eccentric family. Suzanne’s family – hermit Papa, social butterfly Mamma, strict Swiss nanny Marie, brother John and sisters Anne and Christine – split their time between Provence and their estate of Assam Java in what is now Malaysia. Suzanne records all the details of their unconventional life, from scorpions dropping out of the thatch in the “night nursery” at Assam Java to the odd local characters in Provence. It was a total delight and the perfect way to end the month and welcome in spring.

Well, it WAS a month! Bit of a light month in terms of pure numbers, especially when you consider that March is one of the longest months of the year. There were a few working nights and some family stuff that accounts for that. But what I may be lacking in numbers, I can make up for in quality! Everything this month was good – it’s almost hard to choose highlights. I guess I had WWII on the brain, because I suppose the high points of the month were the new (-ish, it came out in 2020) Erik Larson and the Vere Hodgson diaries, both of which focused on the Blitz. Perhaps as the pandemic stretches on and on, I’ve been looking for parallels with another lengthy ordeal, although the differences are obvious. Anyway. The House of Mirth was wonderful as well, and Mango and Mimosa was a delightful way to close out the month – all good, really.

How was your March in books?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 5, 2021)

Good morning! Happy Easter to my friends who celebrated this weekend, and Chag Sameach to those of you who are celebrating Passover. We had a red letter weekend, for sure. My parents have been here visiting since Wednesday afternoon, which has been fun for all of us – my mom has been cleaning like a tornado in the kids’ rooms and the playroom (will it last? ha) and my dad has been outside getting Nugget in shape for tee-ball, which starts today. My parents are on their way home now, but it has been a good visit. And the weekend was the best part.

I started the weekend off on a high note, with some incredible news on Friday afternoon. More to come about that soon, I promise! It was good enough that I put a bottle of my fanciest California sparkling wine in the fridge and we had a family toast with dinner to celebrate. (Apologies for being vague. I’ll spill the beans soon, because I’m too excited to keep it in – but there are people who need to be told in person first. And no, it’s not a baby. Obviously – wine.) Anyway! I had a smile on my face all weekend. On Saturday, we hung out together at the house in the morning, then fed the kids an early lunch and shoved off for a bike ride – my parents taught the kids to ride their bikes without training wheels – and then to Old Town for the afternoon. In the evening, my parents ran interference while Steve and I put the kids’ big Easter present together in the yard; read on. I wrapped up the evening by pulling together the Easter Bunny’s offerings, then collapsed on the couch.

On Sunday morning, the kids woke up to their baskets and their big present, then my dad went off to church while the rest of the family stayed home and watched the kids enjoy their Easter morning. (Steve and I are still patiently waiting for our vaccines; my mom is vaccinated but didn’t want to be in a crowd of people at church.) When my dad got home, we had a family brunch and then hiked at Rust Nature Preserve before coming home to a traditional Polish cold Easter supper. I was on my feet and smiling almost all weekend, outdoors for hours on end, I’m exhausted now, and it was great.

Reading. Rather a slow reading week. I read at my usual pace early on and finished Mango and Mimosa on Tuesday, but then two things happened: (1) I picked up The Iliad, which is many things but is not a quick read; and (2) my mom arrived and we spent several evenings in a row sitting on my couch chatting over our boxed wine. (We are classy people!) So – at press time, I’m about halfway through The Iliad. I’m enjoying it very much, and I do expect to pick up the pace now that my parents are headed home. No regrets, though! I’d much rather talk to my houseguests than bury my face in a book during the limited time we have to spend with them.

Watching. We finished up our journey through Narnia over the last week, and then Peanut convinced Steve and my parents that we should start it over again on Sunday. Because The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is an Easter allegory. (Apparently she was actually listening to me when I explained that?!?!) Oh, and I watched The Holderness Family’s “Vaccination Day” Frozen parody about eleventy-seven million times. (I texted the link to my friend Helena. Her response: “DID YOU GET AN APPOINTMENT?!?!?!?!?” I replied: “No, but I need to talk about this video with someone.”)

Listening. More of All Creatures Great and Small (four hours down, eleven to go!). And the kids requested “tunes” as we were driving to and from hiking and Old Town this weekend, so everyone got to listen to my R.E.M. live album. Hey-o.

Moving. While I keep saying that I am going to hit the weights again, it was another functional fitness week. Lots of cleaning the house to prepare for guests, and then running after Nugget on his bike, chasing the kids through Old Town, and hiking at Rust – all good stuff, but informal. Oh, and there was this week’s making, which was a workout:

Making. The kiddos’ big Easter present – a climbing dome! I’ve been wanting to get them something big and cool for the backyard (and let’s face it: they don’t need more junk to pile in the playroom corners). I narrowed it down to the climbing dome or a giant sprinkler, and the dome won out because they can use it all year long. I ordered it online and Steve and I spent several hours in the side yard on Saturday night, assembling it so it would be ready for them to discover on Easter morning. There was a lot of running back and forth, propping up the structure as it came together, and dashing around screwing on handholds – trying to beat the sunset. On Sunday morning, Steve groaned, “I feel like I just moved houses yesterday.” It was a big project. The red and blue colors remind me of Spider-Man, and I deserve a medal for not quoting Into the Spider-Verse excessively as we assembled the thing. (“We’re a little team! Me, the teacher, who can still do it. You, the student, who can do it… just not as good. I’m proud of us! Is there something you want to say to me?”) Oh, yeah, and in addition to the climbing dome, I made: an Easter basket assembly; Cadbury egg fudge (that was supposed to be a project with the kids, but once again the Little Red Hen ended up doing it all alone with no helpers); smoked salmon egg casserole for brunch; and a big decision about the future, nbd.

Blogging. March reading round-up for you on Wednesday, and another poem on Friday. Of course! It’s National Poetry Month, what can I do? I don’t make the rules.

Loving. You guys, I’m so excited. I signed Nugget up for tee-ball! I had tried but ran into difficulties with the website, so I emailed the league organizers and luckily they had space for him. His first practice is this afternoon, and his first game is on Saturday. All my baseball mom dreams are coming true! Go Nats! Hold me.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Poetry Friday: O sweet spontaneous

O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
the
doting

fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched
and
poked

thee
,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
thy

beauty how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
gods
(but
true

to the incomparable
couch of death thy
rhythmic
lover

thou answerest

them only with

spring)

~ e.e. cummings

Can’t have National Poetry Month without my very favorite poet, e.e. cummings!

Themed Reads: Armchair Adventurers

Well, we have now passed an important, and unpleasant, anniversary: we’re more than a year into pandemic-altered life. COVID-19, of course, has been going on for well over a year already. But it was March 13 (a Friday, appropriately) that life flipped upside down for most of us. Kids were sent home from school and in many cases – including mine – are still learning virtually. Loved ones have been unable to hug one another, work lives are dramatically different, the incidentals of daily life have been completely altered. And travel has been off the table for a long time now.

I’ve written about this before – and I don’t want to seem insensible of my blessings. I am fortunate that everyone in my family is healthy, and my husband and I both have jobs that allow us to work from home, so we’re still employed. And we have the resources available to keep our kids home from school until we make the decision, as a family, that it is safe to send them back – knowing in the meantime that they are getting a high quality education from caring teachers over their little laptops. But there are big and little things that contribute to mental health, too. I miss studio classes at Radiance Yoga and barre3; browsing the shelves at the library; even going to the grocery store (I enjoy cooking, and I like browsing the produce displays and spice racks for inspiration). And I really miss travel. I miss taking in new scenes, tasting different foods, the exhilaration and adventure of the new and untried. Traveling has always been a part of my identity, and something that brought me joy and enriched my life – and we did none in 2020. Steve and I are planning a major bucket-list trip for early 2022, and will probably try to take a family trip over the summer, too. Until then, I’m left scratching the adventure travel itch with… what else? Books.

One of my favorite books of 2020 was Roald Dahl’s memoir, Going Solo. It’s actually the second part of a two-volume memoir, but totally works as a stand-alone. (I didn’t read the first volume, Boy. Reading about Dahl’s school years and the real-life horribles that inspired such characters as Miss Trunchbull or Augustus Gloop didn’t appeal.) Going Solo opens as a young Roald Dahl is departing England for Dar-es-Salaam and his very first job, with Shell Oil. He stays with Shell until World War II breaks out, then leaves his job to join the Royal Air Force. While the first half of the book, in which Dahl and his compatriots bump along rural African roads on calls for Shell, was my favorite (especially the opening chapter and the “Simba” chapter), there’s no shortage of adventure and travel throughout the book.

Another 2020 read, The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery collects letters and photographs capturing Agatha Christie‘s publicity tour for the British Empire Exhibition in 1922. Christie had just published her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and between a burgeoning writing career and a young daughter at home, she was worried that she’d never have the chance to travel again – or at least, not when she was young enough to enjoy it. So when her then-husband Archie Christie became attached to the British Empire Exhibition (he was in charge of finances – seems like a big job!) the couple was invited to take part in a world tour to promote the project. Christie jumped at the opportunity, which took her to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada, and more. The letters she sent home and the photographs she captured – compiled in a gorgeous hardcover edition by her grandson Mathew Prichard – make it clear: she had the time of her life. For bang-for-your-armchair-travel-buck, it’s hard to beat The Grand Tour.

Years ago – long before 2020, that miserable year – I read Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman. I should revisit it, because my memories of the book are hazy, although I do recall really enjoying it and finding the story captivating. Bly and Bisland – two intrepid journalists – both embark on a trip around the world, leaving on the same day but heading on different routes. The initial idea is to beat fictional Phileas Fogg, who embarked on a global circumnavigation in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days – but the project soon turns into a race against each other. Would Bly come in under eighty days? Would Bisland? Who would finish first? I should definitely revisit this one, because I can’t even recall who “wins” the race; I do remember my impression being that having convinced their respective employers to let them off work and fund a round-the-world adventure tour, both women were winners in my book.

What books are scratching your travel itch right now?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 29, 2021)

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Morning, friends. How were your weekends? Ours was pretty decent, if I do say so myself. After working basically all of last weekend, followed by a stressful week, I felt like I was due a good couple of days off. And I got them – it was a good mix of family fun, book time, and productivity. On Saturday, we woke up to bluebird skies and 70 degrees, so an outdoor day was clearly called for. Started with a neighborhood walk, and then after lunch, a hiking double-header – first Rust Nature Preserve in Leesburg, followed by Beaverdam Reservoir in Ashburn. Y’all. I thought it would be too early in the season for paddling envy, but it seemed like everyone in NoVA had their kayaks and SUPs out on the reservoir. I was green, and itching to get my new SUP out on the water for a test paddle. Steve and I spent most of the hike debating when we can get our first kayak outing of the season in, too.

Sunday was basically opposite to Saturday in terms of weather – grey, rainy, and mucky. Perfect for getting things done around the house, which was needed since several weeks of long workdays had left the place looking worse for wear. I ran to the grocery store pickup and to Target (for wine and Easter basket materials, the essentials), then came home and tornadoed around the house. I cleaned out the fridge; organized the coffee cupboard; went through Nugget’s school materials and tossed a bunch of outdated handouts; did laundry; cleaned the living room and foyer areas; packed up winter clothes and accessories; and worked on a side project. Tiring, but satisfying.

Reading. Despite a busy and stressful workweek, I managed to get some quality reading time in. The days between Monday and Saturday were pretty much evenly divided between Ex Libris (Michiko Kakutani’s wonderful book of recommendations) and A Morbid Taste for Bones (first in a new-to-me murder mystery series starring a sleuthing medieval monk, Brother Cadfael). I loved both, and will definitely be continuing with Brother Cadfael. On Saturday night, I switched gears and went back to my own shelves – taking a break on the library stack for the moment – to pick up Mango and Mimosa, a wonderful memoir of an adventurously eccentric interwar childhood. Duchess St. Albans was my company on Sunday night, and excellent company she was.

Watching. It was a whole week of Narnia! We finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, worked our way through Prince Caspian over several nights, and are (as of press time on this post) half an hour from the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. We’re all loving it – some of us too much. Peanut has started leaving notes “from Her Majesty’s Secret Police” taped to the walls, and whenever a door is closed she bangs on it and shouts “Open up in the name of the Queen!” Someone needs to explain to her that the White Witch is not the hero.

Listening. Several hours of All Creatures Great and Small over the course of the week, and still loving it. My favorite parts are the sections featuring the tumultuous household of Jim, Siegfried and Tristan.

Making. Lots of work product, as usual. And progress toward a clean house! I have a few items left on my checklist, but overall it’s looking pretty good around here. Oh, and Nugget and I planted sunflower seeds this weekend, so hopefully I’ll soon be able to say I’ve made some seedlings.

Moving. Sigh. Just the hiking and walking, again. I can feel the lack of strength training – I always have more energy when I’m mixing up the workouts. Maybe next week? I know, that’s what I say every week. Blame pandemic working from home while supervising virtual kindergarten.

Blogging. Themed reads this week, and it’s another one for those of you with cabin fever. And then Friday will be April, which is National Poetry Month, so you know what that means – it’s e.e. cummings day!

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Loving. A couple of weeks ago, our little miniature backyard frog pond was a symphony of ribbits and croaks. Well – now we know why. Behold, a floppity jillion tadpoles! (Take my word for it: there were more than I could count, all clustered around the edges of the pond. I noticed them on Saturday when I tried to clean up some of the detritus that the kids have been dropping into the pond all winter – when I couldn’t get one of the sticks in the pond to shift (don’t worry, I was using another stick, not my hands) I realized why; it was surrounded by hundreds of green jelly frog eggs, and swimming all around the eggs – tadpoles! The kids and I spent a good hour sitting by the pond, staring mesmerized at the tadpoles. I can’t wait to watch this gang turn into frogs this summer.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

The Life Library: Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

I don’t remember how old I was, exactly, when I first met Anne Shirley – eight, maybe? – but I do remember exactly where I was: curled up in an armchair in the corner of my grandmother’s living room, with her flowing white drapes pooling on the floor behind my chair. I had always loved to read, for as long as I can remember, but was often resistant to Grandmother’s attempts to press books into my hands. Partly, this was because I wanted to play with the interesting knick-knacks in her house; partly it may have been her choices of books like Ben-Hur and Hiawatha, which didn’t interest me much.

Enter Anne. It was a sunny day, and I think I wanted to play outside. Grandmother handed me her copy of Anne of Green Gables, directed me to the armchair, and told me to read one chapter (or maybe two?) and then I could play. I stayed in the chair for hours.

As the years went on, even after acquiring my own copies of the Anne books, I always gravitated to Grandmother’s copy whenever I was at her house. It was this version:

And from that first experience, body in Grandmother’s armchair but spirit riding alongside Anne and Matthew through the White Way of Delight, obsession grew. It’s not a new story, is it? Bookish girl encounters Anne Shirley, acquires religious devotion to Maud, blazes through entire series and onward until all she has left is The Doctor’s Sweetheart.

Well-trodden footpath though it may be, Anne of Green Gables, and the L.M. Montgomery bibliography I powered through after that first encounter, gave me so many durable gifts. Anne is the childhood classic that has proven most enduring into my bookish adulthood. It was the first really beautifully written novel that I also found deeply engaging, and it has stood the test of time and held up to my adult tastes better than other classics I read around the same time – Heidi, for instance, or Hans Brinker or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. L.M. Montgomery sparked my love for beautiful nature writing; a common complaint about Anne, Emily, and the lesser-known Montgomery works is too many sunsets, too many stars sparkling over snowfall, too many rapturous descriptions of gardens. I say, bring them all on – it’s a short step, not even a leap, from Maud’s nature writing to the really beautiful works being written today. And nature writing aside, Anne Shirley and Emily Starr and even Jane Stuart and Sara Stanley all pass the Bechdel test, and they showcase different types of families and profile loving and committed friendships and relationships. All of which explain why I still revisit them all regularly as an adult – and why my daughter is named after a Montgomery heroine.

When I was thirteen and a committed Anne-fan, I went to Prince Edward Island with my other grandmother. Grandmama and Grandpapa took my brother and me along on a bus trip from Boston to P.E.I. and back, with stops in Maine (for Acadia National Park and a lobster bake); Halifax, Nova Scotia; and New Brunswick.

There was plenty to love about that trip. I enjoyed it all, but the highlight was Green Gables: standing in “Anne’s bedroom” with the pretty “sprigged” wallpaper, dreaming up for myself what it would be like to wake up in that welcoming space and lean out the window to greet the day (and the Snow Queen). Close second, the uniquely beautiful P.E.I. nature; I could imagine Anne, Emily, Sara, and friends wandering these shores, the fragrances of lupine and salt mingling to create that special island magic.

On my life bookshelf, Anne of Green Gables has to take the first spot.

What is your most enduring childhood favorite?

Virtual School 2021: How It Started, How It’s Going

You know what I realized? Back in September – or was it August? – I mulled over school choices during this weird pandemic year, and landed on the conclusion that (1) all of the options were equally bad but in different ways, and (2) the least-bad option for our family would be to elect the fully virtual track provided by our local public schools, and do some homeschool activities for extra enrichment. And that was the last I said about it, so it’s time for an update.

Tech support.

How it started: Back when we first decided on the option we were going to choose, Steve and I decided that instead of dividing up the day – as we did early in the pandemic, with me wrangling both kids in the morning and Steve taking over in the afternoon – we would divide up the kids. Neither one of them was interested in wearing headphones during class, so having them both in the same room together would have been unworkable. We decided that Steve would take primary responsibility for Peanut and I would have Nugget; the hope was that with only one kid to worry about, we’d both be able to juggle kid needs and work.

“I want to look handsome for the first day of school.”

How it’s going: It’s… going. Honestly, staring down the barrel of a full year of virtual school with no childcare was daunting. In some ways, it’s been easier than I expected; in other ways, it’s been so much harder.

  • Both kids have adapted to the technology as I had hoped they would, which does make it easier for Steve and me to work side-by-side with them during the days. At the same time, there are still a lot of technical issues – some on our end, some not – and we are interrupted multiple times a day to provide tech (and emotional) support to our respective charges, which makes it hard to get into a work flow. I often don’t get through my work to-do list during the day and have to make up time in the evenings – even now, in March.
  • I was very worried about Nugget’s experience – more so than Peanut’s, really. I suspected that once Peanut got used to the technology she would appreciate the flexibility and the time at home next to Daddy, and she has. But Nugget is such a social little dude – it’s overdone, I know, but my real concern was with his mental health in not getting the social interaction he was used to from junior kindergarten in Alexandria. He does consider the other kids in his class to be his “friends,” but it’s not the same.
  • The quality of the academics the kids are getting from the public school teachers has been outstanding. I know that experiences vary by district – we intentionally moved into one of the top school pyramids in one of the highest-rated school districts in our state, and we are reaping the benefits of that. I’ve chatted with moms in other local school districts and have heard some serious complaints about the instruction; one friend told me that her children are getting twenty minutes a day of YouTube videos and that’s it. I am really grateful to be where we are, because both of the kids are sponging up world-class instruction.
  • Related: their teachers are so different. Peanut’s teacher is quiet and serene, but has the gift of capturing and holding the entire class’s attention. Nugget’s teacher is the most energetic, chipper person I’ve ever seen on a screen: “HI KIDS! WELCOME TO KINDERGARTEN! SPARKLE PONY RAINBOW! HERE’S A MATH SONG FROM MR. JACK HARTMAN!”
  • I had a long conversation with Nugget’s teacher at the beginning of the second quarter, and what was most notable was that she picked up on certain of Nugget’s little personality traits – his joy in sharing facts he knows, his love of animals, his preference for non-fiction books – that his junior kindergarten teachers had commented upon last school year. I was relieved to see both that virtual school hadn’t really changed him or dragged him down, and that his teacher was attuned enough to her kiddos to discover these things about Nugget even through a screen. It made me feel better – like he was in a good place, where he is appreciated for the precious little person he is.
Literally moved his workstation one day to be closer to the birds.

What I have not done is any of those independent enrichment activities I so ambitiously planned for the year. The nature journals and Wild Math curricula I bought the kids are gathering dust. But to be honest, we haven’t needed them. The kids are happy to read their books – Nugget, much like his sister before him, had a literacy explosion this year – and run around in the backyard with the neighbor kid. They’re heartily sick of each other, but they haven’t burned the house down or gotten themselves expelled.

Cutest, neediest officemate I have ever had.

Work has been… interesting. I’m privileged in that I have the ability to work from home and coworkers who are unfailingly supportive and understanding, even when my kids interrupt conference calls or stick their little faces into a Zoom meeting. That said, working next to a kindergartener, even with all the technology and support in the world, is – well, it’s not impossible, but it’s far from easy. Every few minutes I have to jump up from my computer to track down scissors or glue, find a worksheet, fix a Google Classroom issue (usually Nugget opening the same meeting in three screens simultaneously), fill a water bottle, or track down a missing kid after a screen break. It’s incredibly difficult to get into a flow and actually focus on work, and even when I have five uninterrupted minutes to work, I’m so mentally and physically exhausted that I find it hard to concentrate. (Somehow I’m managing – I posted 200 hours above my firm’s requirement in 2020 and got a universally glowing performance review, so I must be doing something right – but it’s at the expense of… something, not quite sure what.) I miss my standing desk, my double monitors, my quiet office, my friendly colleagues – and the sushi place down the street from my building. When September rolls around and the kids are (hopefully, please Athena) back at school, I don’t know if I’ll go back to five days a week in the office, but I’ll be really glad to get back.

Papers, papers everywhere.

The other surprising challenge – I have been honestly taken aback by just how stressed out I have been by the constant mess around the kids’ workstations. (Especially Nugget’s, because I spend more time there.) I am a naturally tidy person and I prefer to work in a very neat space, but I thought that after almost nine years of parenting, I had gotten sort of used to living in a mess (never liking it, though). But the mess has gotten me down much more than I expected it to. I feel calmer and more capable of facilitating remote learning and everything that goes with it when Nugget’s learning space (and my workspace right next to him) are clean, there are no dust bunnies under the dining room table, and all of the papers have a home and are actually in their home. Recently, I started making a point of tidying up his desk on Friday afternoons after he is released for the weekend, and on Sunday evening before the week (because he often hops into the reading software, plays with the toys in his break basket, or uses his school supplies for art projects over the weekend) – and that has helped, but I think I need to amp it up and get into a routine of cleaning the desk up every day. It’s just out of my peripheral view when I sit on the living room couch to read at night, and it’s a distraction.

We’re sliding downhill toward the end of the year now. I’ve given up on the idea of homeschool activities or “enrichment” time (who was I kidding? also, why didn’t you guys tell me?) and I’m really looking forward to getting back to an in-person routine – although now I’m starting to worry about what that will look like. In the meantime, I am trying to be grateful for the world-class education the kids are getting over their screens, the caring teachers, and the fact that I have a job that supports me working from home during this time. But I’ll still be glad when it’s over.

If you have kids in school, are they in-person or virtual these days? How’s it going?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (March 22, 2021)

Yawwwwwwwn. G’morning. How were your weekends? Bit of a blah one over here, although the weather was spectacular. I ended up working for big chunks of both Saturday and Sunday – just one of those things. On Sunday I had to visit a client site, which is unusual but not unheard of for a weekend day, and on Saturday I was busily trying to make headway on a few other things. I don’t mind working on the weekends – especially when, as this weekend, I have things that I really need to get done. (Steve once had a job in which he often had to work weekends just because some unnamed person above him in the food chain would decide “I feel like I want people working this weekend” – and that, I never appreciated. Fortunately, that’s never been my experience.) What frustrated about this working weekend was that, as frantically as I hacked away at my stack of work, it didn’t shrink any and I’m still behind the eight ball this week. But at least I came home from my Sunday work to an adorable welcome home note in the driveway!

All the work I had didn’t leave much time for fun, but we did manage to get to Riverbend Regional Park for a Saturday morning hike, where we got a fabulous view of one of the nesting eagles and saw a wood duck! (Pictures to come as soon as I get them off my camera.) And on Sunday morning, in between bouts of work, I joined Steve and the kids for a ramble through the neighborhood park. No exciting wildlife sightings this time, although we’ve seen herons, bluebirds, hawks, and foxes there in the past. And somehow in the midst of all of this, I even managed to finish the book I was reading. So – not the best weekend, but could certainly have been worse.

Reading. Last week was a slow one in terms of books – not the fault of the books, but just a pile of work, it happens. Between several working evenings and a couple of long evening phone calls with different people, my reading time was curtailed and The Splendid and the Vile moved more slowly than it would have if I’d had more time and attention available to me. Don’t let that put you off the book, though! The fault was with the reader (or the reader’s schedule), not the book itself – it’s wonderful. I finally finished it up on Sunday evening and turned to another library book: Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread, by retired NYT book critic Michiko Kakutani. I’m about a third of the way in as of press time on this post and really enjoying Kakutani’s thoughtful commentary on her recommendations, most of which I have not read yet. My TBR is taking a beating.

Watching. All over the place this week. A few episodes of The Crown – we’re going at a pace of one or two a week, trying to savor. A NatGeo miniseries called Kingdom of the White Wolf, which Steve chose and we all enjoyed. The first episode of Waffles and Mochi. I wanted to watch that because two adorable puppets learning to cook with Michelle Obama is what the world needs – the first episode was cute, but Steve wasn’t really into it, so the parents dropped off that one and the kids have continued to binge the series on their own time. And, finally, Nugget discovered The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on Disney+ so obviously it had to happen. We’re still an hour from the end (it’s a long movie, fam) but we’ll finish it tonight, probably.

Listening. I started the week with podcasts – Another Mother Runner and The Mom Hour, specifically – but found myself craving an audiobook, so midweek I switched over to my newest Audible acquisition, All Creatures Great and Small. I have never read it before, but am loving it so far (about two hours into a 15-hour book).

Making. Piles of work product – that’s about it.

Moving. Oof. It was another one of those weeks in which work was just too busy, and between trying to keep my head above water in the “office” and parenting, I just didn’t make anything happen beyond those two hikes I mentioned above. All week I craved a long solo walk through the neighborhood, or a good head-clearing run, or some quality time in my little makeshift home gym – but mental gymnastics were the biggest workout I got. I have another busy week ahead of me, but I’m hoping to get at least some time to myself. Hope springs eternal.

Blogging. An update on virtual school for you on Wednesday, and the promised first post in my new “Life Library” series on Friday. Check in with me then!

Loving. This may have been completely obvious to everyone except for me – probably was, but do me a solid and don’t tell me if you already had this down. Recently I was re-reading this post by Miranda Mills, on evening routines to reduce stress. I read it back when she first wrote it, but something jumped out at me afresh this time – Miranda says that rather than waiting until she might be too tired, she does her nighttime skincare routine early in the evening, shortly after getting home from her (then) job. Y’all, this blew my mind. It literally never occurred to me (stupid, I know) to do my evening skincare routine any earlier than immediately before bed, and the result was that I almost never actually did it. I’ve mostly gotten away with this tendency to flake on myself, thanks to a combination of good skin genes and rarely wearing makeup (<–personal laziness). But as I’ve gotten older, I have been wanting to prioritize my skincare but was struggling to get into a routine. Miranda’s suggestion to get it out of the way early was completely earth-shattering and I decided to put it into practice and see what happened. So for the past few weeks, I have been doing my evening skincare routine right after I put the kids to bed, before I settle in for the night with my book. I don’t say this lightly, but – it’s been life-changing. My face looks brighter and healthier, and it’s been such a nice way to transition out of mom-and-employee mode and into self-care mode.

Asking. What are you reading this week?