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Ahhhh – Thanksgiving!  That quintessential celebration of parades, mashed potatoes, Detroit Lions football, and family squabbling.  We’re celebrating with my folks, as usual, and anticipating a quiet and peaceful holiday.  But if you’re already gritting your teeth in anticipation of a shouting match over the pumpkin pie, here are three stories of family drama, featuring a spectrum of heroes and heroines from passive to feisty.

The Blue Castle, by L. M. Montgomery – Valancy Sterling is the heroine we all need.  Twenty-nine, unmarried, living under the thumb of her domineering mother and a slew of disapproving relatives, Valancy’s entire grim existence changes when she receives a diagnosis of a terminal heart condition.  Determined not to waste any more time of the year-odd remaining to her, Valancy decides she is going to say what she’s thinking and please herself for the first time in her life.  Her staid, stiff relatives are shockedshocked I tell you, when Valancy’s wit and snark comes out for the first time at a family dinner.  They react in true Ron Burgundy stunned style – Baxter, I’m not even mad, that’s amazing – and the shocks keep coming as Valancy takes herself off to keep house for a local ne’er-do-well and his disgraced daughter, then pulls the biggest surprise of all.  The Blue Castle is required reading for anyone who has ever wanted to lob a grenade right into the middle of the Thanksgiving table.

The Code of the Woosters, by P.G. Wodehouse – If you have ever had a domineering aunt, Bertie Wooster’s plight will be so real it hurts.  Really hurts, because Bertie has not one, but two, of those estimable relatives.  Aunt Agatha is sternly proper and upright, constantly despairing of Bertie’s flighty nature, embarrassing friends, and apparent failure to close the deal with any of the upper class young women she selects for his bride.  Aunt Dahlia seems better, at first, but she can’t seem to help herself enlisting Bertie in her schemes – of revenge against people who have slighted her, to keep her cook Anatole in good spirits, or for funding for her self-published magazine Milady’s Boudoir.  This despite having no great opinion of Bertie’s mental faculties.  In The Code of the Woosters it’s Aunt Dahlia who is the bane of Bertie’s existence – sending him into deep undercover to steal a cow-creamer.  Fortunately, Bertie has the incomparable Jeeves at his side, and all will be set to rights.  Are you intrigued?  Of course.  And look at it this way – when your aunts and uncles are driving you crazy over the Thanksgiving table, at least you can be thankful that none of them have ever manipulated you into committing petty larceny, probably.

 Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell – Families are complicated, right?  And it only gets more complicated when you start adding step-parents and step-siblings into the mix, as the widower Doctor Gibson discovers when he decides – in a panic after his daughter attracts a suitor for the first time in her life – that what young Molly needs most is a mother to guide her.  He doesn’t bother to ask young Molly what she thinks of this plan (or to let her in on the secret crush that he intercepts) and he doesn’t make the best choice of a second wife, either.  Hyacinth Clare Kirkpatrick, former governess to the local earl’s daughters, is self-centered and a bit ridiculous.  Really, the only benefit to the new Mrs. Gibson is that she comes with a daughter, Cynthia, who proves to be a built-in pal for Molly.  Cynthia is beautiful and high-spirited, and she tends to suck up all the local male attention, but Molly adores her and Cynthia’s great redeeming characteristic is that she adores Molly, too.  Of course she introduces all sorts of complications, but it’s a Victorian novel, so what else can you expect?

There you have it – three stories of feisty families to make you grateful that you don’t have a raft of stick-in-the-mud cousins, an aunt with criminal leanings, or a stepmother who schemes to marry your stepsister off to the local squire’s son.  Unless you do have one or all of these family situations, in which case my advice is: bourbon.

It’s probably fairly obvious, but I’ve been trying to transition this space into more of a book-focused blog, and less of a family-and-life-potpourri.  I’ve got a number of reasons for this, which maybe I’ll go into at some point, but in the meantime – I’ve been scouting around for more, and different, ways to feature books and reading (two of my favorite subjects) here.  Recently I happened upon the archives of NPR’s “Three Books” series, which seems to have ended around 2013 from what I can tell, and it recalled to me something similar that Book Riot used to do (or might still do?).  And it also recalled to me the monthly “Seasonal Reads” episodes that I’ve been enjoying via the From the Front Porch podcast.  All of which inspired me to put my own spin on the idea and tackle themed book flights here.

So – meet “Themed Reads,” a new blog series.  Each month I’ll feature mini reviews of three books, all on the same theme, from my library.  And if you have any ideas, or want to co-host and make this a more formal endeavor, do reach out.

 Check in on Friday for the first Themed Reads post – three books about feisty families, to get you all riled up in time for Thanksgiving!

 

Well – here we go again.  Another round.  I always feel like it’s only been a second since I sat down to write the last Monday post, and another one is upon me.  Last week was busy, and the weekend was busy, and next week will be busy – and I’m burnt out.  I’m hoping that all this running around will mean I can actually take a real break between Christmas and New Year’s.  We’ll see.  Anyway – not much to report about the weekend.  Both Saturday and Sunday I got up early – before 5:00 a.m. – to work, and I still didn’t get through everything I needed to do.  I probably should have bit the bullet and gone into the office all weekend, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  So instead, I watched the kids’ swim lessons on Saturday, then took Nugget out to run errands (our usual library and market circuit).  On Sunday, I snuck off for brunch with my friend Vanessa, then came home to plug away at more work in the afternoon.  Probably because I am really burnt out and exhausted after my marathon October – and because stress over one of the cases that had me working so many hours in October still has not let up – I was slower than usual.  Really should have kept working on Sunday evening, but I was just too tired, and wound up on the couch with my book.  I’ll be up against it this week, that’s for sure, but I’m only human.

Reading.  The fact that I only read one book all week – and didn’t even finish it – should tell you all you need to know about where my expected November reprieve has gone.  Granted, Wives and Daughters is a Victorian chunkster; they’re not exactly quick reads.  And I got through almost the entire 650-odd pages over the course of the week, reading fifty pages here, eighty pages there of an evening.  (My copy is a big Folio Society hardcover – gorgeous, but not exactly Metro material, both because it’s too heavy and because I don’t want it to get dirty or nicked, as tends to happen to the books I commute with.)  I am absolutely loving it – so far, I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve read by Elizabeth Gaskell, but Wives and Daughters is my favorite.  And I expect I’ll finish it tonight, and be on to my next read, which will be The Shadow King, since I’m contending with a library deadline.  Even with my diligence, that’s probably going to be overdue when I return it – I have book club this week and am, fingers crossed, wrapping up a major project at work.  But at least I’ll be toting The Shadow King on the Metro, which does wonders for reading progress during the week.

Watching.  It feels weird to not be watching baseball playoffs, but I got quite a bit of time back this week.  Steve and I watched one episode of The Great British Bake-Off (I refuse to say “Baking Show”) but we’re still well behind.  It’s kind of nice to watch them slowly and savor them, though.  And on Sunday, we had a family movie night and watched Rogue One – Nugget’s choice.  I thought it was a little dark for him (although I confess to loving it and to finding Jyn Erso alarmingly relatable) but he had a grand time.

Listening.  I’m pleased to report that I made good use of my commuting time, even if it wasn’t for reading, and finished up The Great Courses: History of Medieval England from the Romans to the Wars of the Roses (or something, I can’t remember the exact title, but that’s the time period it covers).  All nineteen hours, done!  And it’s a mark of how good the series was, that I was sad when it ended.  Since wrapping up my audiobook, I’ve just listened to a podcast here and a podcast there.  My co-worker Anne insisted that I listen to an episode of The Daily on the Kentucky governor’s race and how the possible impeachment of the Orange Pretender factored into the result, so that we could discuss it.  I listened obligingly, reported to her office, and we proceeded to get really depressed together.  Good times.

Making.  While I’m still busy and burnt out and pretty unhappy about it all, things must be looking up, because I did actually make a couple of things this week – beyond work product, that is.  On Sunday, I had a sudden urge to bake what I call a “family cake” – just a quick, tossed together, informal and rustic-looking tea cake.  I started with a Dorie Greenspan recipe and added ground almonds, coconut, and dried sour cherries, and it came out pretty well.  I thought it was a little too sweet (despite cutting the sugar in the recipe by nearly half) but Steve disagreed and polished off half the cake by himself.  I’m leaving him one more slice and taking the rest to the office today.  And for Sunday dinner I made one of my favorite meals – bolognese.  Impossible burger ground and six dollar Sangiovese for the win!  (I know, I know, you should never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink.  Don’t worry, friends.  I also had two glasses of the six dollar Sangiovese and it was completely decent.)  Photographic evidence above.

Blogging.  I have a treat in store for you this week – a new blog series that I’ve decided to make a regular thing.  I’m introducing it on Wednesday, and the first official post will be Friday.  Check in with me then!

Loving.  Important announcement, you guys!  It is CRANBERRY GINGER SHANDY season again!  I really like Leinenkugel shandies – the summer shandy is absolutely respectably, the grapefruit shandy is superior, but the seasonal cranberry ginger shandy is the BEST.  (Do not talk to me about pumpkin spice shandy.  Rebecca.  Do NOT.)  I only have it between November and the end of January – sometimes it’s in stores into February, but at that point I think it’s only right to move on to grapefruit shandy.  I’ve been on a big sour beer kick for a year now, but I will never abandon the beloved cranberry ginger shandy.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

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 October, 2019

Pumpkinheads: A Graphic Novel, by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks – I was saving this one for October, and I gulped it down in one day and loved every second.  Would Josiah talk to the Fudge Shoppe Girl?  Would Deja get her snacks?  I had to know.  It was a delight from the first page to the last – sweet, charming, and cozy.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis – Our new tradition, to start off the school year, was family storytime.  Every evening we’ve all been piling onto the couch together and reading our way through classic children’s novels.  First up was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, because Steve and I both loved it as kids.  I’m pleased to report that the magic holds.  There’s not much to say about Narnia that hasn’t already been said, but on this read-through I was especially enchanted by the homespun details and the beautiful descriptive language.

Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft, ed. Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe – Spotswood and Sharpe continue to knock it out of the park whenever they collaborate on a short story collection.  As you all know, short stories are generally not my jam, but I do really enjoy these girl-forward, diverse and queer-positive collections.  The historical fiction stories were winners for me in this collection – I preferred them to the ones set in present day, although each story had its merits.

The Eagle of the Ninth (Roman Britain #1), by Rosemary Sutcliff – Sometimes you pick up a book and you know within the first paragraph that it’s going to be one of your highlights of the year.  The Eagle of the Ninth was that for me.  I found it so utterly captivating that I couldn’t put it down, and my only complaint was – I wish it was longer!  I could have accompanied Marcus and Esca on a dozen more adventures and not gotten bored.

Washington Square, by Henry James – Having never read any Henry James before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – but Washington Square was approachable and readable.  I enjoyed sinking into Gilded Age New York again (kept expecting to meet Edith Wharton’s characters in the streets and drawing rooms) and appreciated James’ dry wit and wonderful writing.  By the end I wanted to slap all of the characters, but I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what the author intended.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden – I saw this one on #bookstagram and knew immediately that it would be right up my street – and it was.  Other than the butterfly and moth illustrations (shudder) I loved pouring over Holden’s beautiful artwork and reading her diary entries from a year of wandering the fields and hedgerows of England and Scotland.

Slightly Foxed No. 63: Adrift on Tides of War, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – In a particularly busy week, the only reading material that held my attention was the current issue of Slightly Foxed, but it was a good one.  Even if I am not interested in the particular book that a given essayist is reviewing, I love the warm writing and sparkling literary commentary.  Also, I need to read Noel Streatfield.  It’s really beyond time.

The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott – Sally, Irina and Olga were my companions throughout a stressful week of business travel, and they were good ones.  I loved their courage and fire, and it was particularly fun to read about Washington, D.C. in the 1950s.  (Prescott had clearly done her homework – the characters’ bus routes through the city all made sense, and there were shouts to D.C. institutions like the Hay-Adams Hotel and Hecht’s department store that told me she had either lived here or researched thoroughly.  Since one of my bookish pet peeves is incorrect details about D.C., I appreciated Prescott’s accuracy.)  I probably could have done without the third of the book that focused on Olga, even though she was a wonderful character – I just loved Sally and Irina, and their Cold War D.C. haunts, more.

Sula, by Toni Morrison – My first Morrison fiction (I’ve read some of her essays) was a good one.  I found Sula easy to follow and absorbing, if depressing.  Morrison created such a rich world with her words; we are so privileged to have them in the world.

The Blue Castle, by L. M. Montgomery – My book club’s read for this month (my selection!) was a re-read for me, and I loved it just as much the second time as the first.  I found myself delighting in Valancy’s wit and mischief (“Say damn.  You’ll feel better.”) and in her relatives’ shocked, stumbling reactions to her transformation.  And, as always, the nature writing spoke directly to my heart.

Poems Bewitched and Haunted, ed. John Hollander – Another re-read to close out the month and to celebrate Halloween – of course!  I love the Everyman’s Library poetry collections, and this one is such fun.  By turns spooky, wistful, and playful – I blew through it and just wished I was reading it outside, under a brooding sky and a gnarled tree with golden leaves.  That’s really the only thing that could improve the reading experience.

Eleven titles strikes me as pretty darn good for a month in which I worked about fourteen hours a day, every day.  What the list doesn’t show when presented this way is that the books were mostly front-loaded toward the beginning of the month; after my birthday, I was much slower in turning pages.  There are also a few easy ones on there – a graphic novel, a journal, and two re-reads – but hey, I’ll take whatever I can get.  It’s hard to choose highlights, because I had so many wonderful reading experiences this month.  Pumpkinheads was a delight from start to finish, and The Eagle of the Ninth took my breath away.  L. M. Montgomery is always a winner, and always a good choice for comfort reading, which I needed this month.  And I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to 1950s D.C.  It really was hard to go wrong this month!  For November, I’m looking ahead to cozy nights with a blanket, peppermint tea, and my favorite classics.  Catch you on the flip side!

What did you read last month?

November Is For Self-Care

After an incredibly hectic and busy October, I’m looking ahead to a (slightly) quieter month ahead.  I do still have a lot on my plate at work, but it’s mostly writing, which is much more my jam – quieter, more deliberative.  And I am hoping that means that I can get a little bit of balance back.  After the month I just wrapped up, my life is in a bit of a shambles.  The house is trashed, the fridge looks insane, there are to-be-wrapped gifts scattered all over the dining room and a mile-long list of errands that I need to run.  I need to re-calibrate, take care of the life stuff that needs taking care, and get a little more time back for me.  To that end, my November agenda includes:

  • Hitting the gym at least twice a week, and running at least twice a week.  I’ve missed movement.
  • Cooking up a big batch of veggie stew, and not including any pasta.  I always forget how soggy and gross noodles get when I toss them in my homemade soups.
  • Getting a (sorely needed) haircut, and making an appointment with my dentist.
  • Prioritizing time with the kiddos.  I don’t like missing bedtime!
  • Related: family dinners.
  • Hopping back on the decluttering bus.  It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted anything to Buy Nothing.
  • Putting in a morning of organizing my calendar and files at work and at home.  It’s just easier to keep track of everything when those things are up-to-date.
  • Hiking at least twice.  I need regular nature time or I don’t feel like me.
  • Lighting candles.  I love their flickering glow.
  • Spending Thanksgiving with family and friends.
  • Baking bread again.  Having my hands in dough is good for my soul.
  • Getting a massage, because I think I deserve it.

Yes, October was a long and stressful month.  I’m glad it’s behind me, and when I get a little distance and the fog clears from my brain, I know I will be proud of the work I did.  I’m just really ready to feel somewhat balanced again.

How do you self-care?

Well, here we go – another new week.  These weekends are just flying by, and before I’ve even gotten to relax, another Monday is dawning.  Last week wrapped up my horrible busy October at work – I’m still busy, but it’s a tiny bit more manageable.  I celebrated the end of the worst work month ever with a fun Halloween last Thursday; my parents were in town from upstate New York to witness the fun in Old Town.  Our witch and bat had a grand time trick-or-treating and showing off the festive fun to their grandparents, and we even managed to get everyone shuffled off to bed after a minimum of chocolate.  My parents stayed through the kids’ swim lesson on Saturday, then were back off home, because my dad had a meeting that he couldn’t miss on Sunday.  Their visit was too short, but we’ll see them again for Thanksgiving in a few weeks.  After they left, we put on our red and headed to downtown D.C. to celebrate the Nationals and their championship!  I’d never seen a sports championship parade before – it was certainly a sight to behold.  Nugget and I snuck through the crowd and were lucky enough to find a tiny unoccupied spot right at the front, and we had a fantastic view of the players and the World Series trophy.  What a fun experience!  (And, as I said to Steve, now that I’ve seen one – I can watch the next championship parade on TV.)  Sunday was a pretty laid-back day.  The kids were up at the crack of dawn (thank you, Daylight Savings Time) but they played relatively well and didn’t wake Mom and Dad up before new 6:30, so that was a win.  Nugget was my Sunday buddy, as usual – I took him to the playground to run off his energy, and then out for a birthday party in the afternoon.  He ran around and bodyslammed his buddies, and I ate pizza with the moms and discussed all the new curse words the kids have recently learned.  Never a dull moment.

Reading.  Pretty average reading week.  I spent most of the week over Plague Land, which I liked, but didn’t love.  I may continue with the series, but I need a break.  Over the course of Sunday morning (during cartoon time and at the playground) I read a back issue of Slightly Foxed, and it was clearly a good one, because several of the featured titles found their way into my Abebooks cart.  Ended the weekend re-committing to Wives and Daughters, which I am enjoying, but which is hard to tote around town and to work with me – Folio Society hardcovers are beautiful, but not especially portable.

Watching.  One last week of baseball!  I stayed up until midnight on Tuesday and Wednesday, watching the final two games of the World Series – long after Steve had gone to bed.  And of course the best thing I watched was the Commissioner’s Trophy making its way down Constitution Avenue atop a Big Bus.  Go Nats!

Listening.  A little of this, a little of that.  Some music – show tunes, probably – and some more of my Audible Great Courses “History of Medieval England” audiobook course.  I’ve got a little over six hours left.  Home stretch!

Making.  Nothing, much.  Lots of work product, as usual.  Chatter with the other moms at the playground and this weekend’s birthday party.  Plans for baking bread and cooking up veggie stew – but no actual bread and no actual stew.  A lot of complaints about the disaster zone that the house has become (So! Many! Toys! Everywhere!) but very little progress in actually cleaning it up.  I’m just so exhausted.

Blogging.  I need a turn and more balance in November, so Wednesday’s post contains some musings about how I’m hoping to focus on self-care this month.  On Friday, I’ve got October’s reading recap for you – lots of highlights from a good month of reading.  (At least October was good for something.)  Check in with me then!

Loving.  One more time – I have loved the journey the Nationals took us all on this baseball season and postseason.  As I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, I’ve been following the Nats – mostly casually, but always enthusiastically – since they returned to D.C. in 2005, when I was in law school.  I have fond memories of watching them lose spectacularly at the old RFK Stadium, beers in hand, with college friends.  I’m definitely not going to multiple games every season – who has the time, let alone the spare babysitter cash? – but I do love the team, and this team has had something special about them all season.  It was a joy to watch them catch fire this summer, and the ride through the postseason was so much fun.  As they say – bumpy roads lead to beautiful places, and the Nats definitely wound up in a beautiful place.  It’s been fun to cheer along this summer and fall.  Now re-sign Rendon, please!  Let’s go Nats!

Asking.  What are you reading this month?

Halloween 2019

Happy November!  It’s no secret that I’m glad it’s here – while I’m still busy at work, at least my crazy October is over.  We all have months where it’s especially hectic, but it made me really sad that my turn happened to fall in October, which is my favorite month.  A lot of the fall fun that I was hoping for didn’t happen – no apple-picking, no pumpkin patch – and that was largely because of my work schedule, complicated by fall colds for the kiddos.  So I was really looking forward to Halloween, even more than I usually do, because it meant my ridiculous month would be behind me – finally.

Halloween started as they always have in recent years – with the adorable costume parade and class festivities at the kids’ school.  Only the early childhood hallway actually parades, so this was the first year I only had one in costume and walking.  My parents were in town to see the fun this year – yay! – so I met them at the school and we watched Nugget and his buddies strut through the school hallways.  Then my parents headed off to do their own thing, while I hung around to help first with the junior kindergarten class party, and then with Peanut’s class “pumpkin day.”  (Which involved estimating and then taking size measurements and then counting the seeds in a few pumpkins that the parents had donated to the class.)

While I’d have loved to stay at the school all day, I eventually had to drift off back to my computer and do some work.  I picked the kids up promptly at the end of the school day – no aftercare for them – and we headed home to get ready for trick-or-treating.

Ever since we moved back to NoVA, we’ve been celebrating Halloween on a particular street in Old Town.  The street closes to traffic and becomes a big, wild block party.  The residents go all out – dressed to the nines in their costumes, and with elaborate decorations on every house.

The scene was as happening as it always is, and the kids were extra excited this year, because they finally got to share it with their grandparents.

They were really into going from house to house and collecting candy this year.  I followed along behind, snapping pictures of all the over-the-top decorations (as I always do).

Spiders were big this year – literally and figuratively.

Skeletons, too.

While most of the houses went all-in on crazy Halloween kitsch, a few were more understated.

The kids made out like little bandits.  This was their biggest haul ever – they hit every house and more than half filled their (large) treat bags.

This Halloween was especially fun, because everyone was in the mood to celebrate our World Series-winning Nationals!  I spotted nods to the Nats all over town.

This dinosaur with a Nats flag was the hero we all needed.

Also this guy with a “City of Champions” sign taped to his Washington Capitals jersey, with recent championships recited on it.  I appreciated that he was celebrating D.C. women’s sports, like the Mystics, too!

The Bryce Harper skeleton made me feel very seen.

Our family pumpkin celebrated the Nats too, of course.  (Victory parade tomorrow!)

Happy Halloween!  I hope you had a fun, safe night with lots of treats and not too many tricks.