By Land, By Sea, By Dirigible

Friends who have been reading my words since earlier this year (thank you!) may remember that I was so excited about my Valentine’s Day gift from Steve: a gift certificate for a hot air balloon ride. Going up in a hot air balloon has been on my bucket list since I can remember even having a bucket list, so I’ve been really looking forward to this.

I booked a ride in October, hoping for some good fall foliage, and last Saturday was the day! Steve and the kids and I drove out to Winchester to meet up with the balloon pilot and the other passengers. We all helped lay out the balloon on the grass at the launch site.

Starting to inflate! Exciting!

Before I knew it, the balloon was hovering over the basket! I climbed in quickly and almost immediately, we started rising off the ground.

Steve was armed with my new birthday camera and shooting pictures from the ground. We were literally hundreds of feet in the air when he took this picture – pretty amazing, huh?

Meanwhile, I was having the time of my life in the balloon! It was totally crazy to be up in the sky, floating in a little basket.

Totally incredible view! There was no wind, so we never made it out of downtown Winchester; just floated above the town, taking in the scene below and the mountains in the distance – gorgeous. Eventually the pilot brought us down gently on a patch of grass right in town; an impressive landing.

Such an awesome experience! Thanks again for the super cool gift, Steve – and for driving us all out there, marshaling the kids while I was off ballooning, and photographing the experience from the ground. I will totally do this again, but I think the next time, I’d like to go up during a big event like the Adirondack Balloon Festival. I’m hooked!

Have you ever gone up in a hot air balloon?

On Reading Slumps

We’re now more than seven months into the pandemic, if we’re dating it from the time kids were sent home from school and the entire country shut down. (I’m discounting the creeping sense of impending doom that started in late January.) During that time – as I’ve written about a few times – I’ve been fighting my way through an on-again-off-again reading slump.

When we were first sent home, I was under no illusions that I’d magically find all kinds of reading time. Pre-pandemic, I logged more than an hour a day of reading just during my commute alone (love that public transit). I knew that any time I would gain from not having to commute would be more than offset by the demands of parenting and educating my kids during the height of the pandemic and juggling those responsibilities with work. (Unlike many attorneys, my workload did not really slow down during the pandemic. My litigation cases pretty much ground to a halt as courts closed all over the country, but I have an active counseling practice and easily filled my time with fielding questions from clients about how to manage their workforces during these unprecedented times.)

So – I didn’t expect a lot more time in my schedule, and I didn’t end up seeing an expansion in my available reading hours – if anything, it was the opposite. But I did think that I’d continue to read as enthusiastically as ever, maybe even more so. I joked to my mom, over the phone at the beginning of the pandemic: “I have a fully stocked tea cupboard and hundreds of unread books on my shelves; I’ve been training for this my entire life.” I imagined continuing my long evenings curled up with a book; cozy read-aloud sessions with the kids (time to return to Narnia!); and yawning weekend hours filled with book time instead of aquarium and museum visits. But I didn’t find myself drawn to books during that newfound (if limited) spare time. I dutifully trudged through the last of my library check-outs from Alexandria and read a few old favorites from my own shelves, but decidedly half-heartedly.

Then there was the added stress of a move. We packed up our little townhouse in June and headed one county over, to the land of cheaper rent, bigger yards and better schools. It took a few weeks, but I finally got my books set up and organized on the bookshelves (only needed my kids to go spend a month with my parents in order to free up enough time for that task – ha!). I figured that once I was unpacked, reading would become easier; having my books displayed beautifully would inspire me to resume my old habit of tearing through books.

That’s been true to an extent. Since finally getting unpacked, I’ve read steadily but not spectacularly. A solid month of reading nothing but comics in the lead-up to our move was the break I needed to look at words marching across a page again, with something approaching enthusiasm. And I have enjoyed some cozy nights curled up in my new reading space, with a candle burning and a cup of herbal tea (weeknights) or a glass of wine (weekends), marching through my own (!!!) books. But the good reading nights are sporadic; more often I find myself scrolling through Facebook or my Washington Post app, which I am powerless to resist despite knowing that too much screen time triggers headaches for me.

The other night, the completely obvious conclusion hit me, and I think I finally figured out why I am still on-again-off-again slumping, despite my lovely “reading nook” (as Steve calls the living room) and despite the fact that the pandemic isn’t exactly news anymore.

When I read, I tend to get really immersed in my book – to the extent that I basically black out everything else that is happening around me. I don’t see anything but the page, and I don’t hear my surroundings. It’s a complete out-of-body experience. (I think that’s the case for a lot of long-form readers. We’ve trained our brains to block extraneous information so we can focus on our books. It’s a nice little trick.) The same thing happens to me when I am really in the zone with work, which is why I am able to work side-by-side with Nugget’s kindergarten class and actually be productive.

But in order for my brain to do the blacking out trick thingy, I think it needs to actually feel safe. It needs to have confidence that I am physically secure, basic human needs met, in a safe space, and not about to be attacked. And with the news cycle of the past seven months – and especially the past few weeks – being what it is, I don’t think my brain feels safe enough to turn off its surroundings anymore. It is keeping some attention in reserve for the possibility, however remote, that a lion (real or metaphorical) will come charging through the front door and I will need to bolt or be gobbled up. And if your brain is busy watching for lions, it’s not going to travel to Roman Britain or Gilead, Iowa or Victorian London or any of the other places I’ve asked it to go recently. Because: lions. (Also pandemic, election, deranged lunatic with the nuclear football, SCOTUS vacancy, etc.)

This, apparently, is a relatively common phenomenon, as this article from Book Riot explains. Some readers have seen their reading explode – that’s kind of what I thought my experience would be – and others have struggled. For me, it’s certainly been up-and-down. But I think my immersive way of reading has made it more difficult for me to focus on a book, because in some way, my brain doesn’t trust itself to just turn off to the outside world right now. It’s interesting, for sure – and not surprising when I really think about it, although it was unexpected.

How is your reading life going these days? Are you slumping too? Have you seen any lions recently?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 19, 2020)

Good Monday morning, friends. How was your week last week? More importantly, how was your weekend?

I had a long, stressful week – a two-day hearing, which required multiple days of preparation and ignoring everything that came up during the hearing, and resulted in me being totally behind on everything else by Friday. Not ideal! I definitely needed the weekend – and it was a good one. Bright and sunny all weekend, perfect weather for hiking, playing with my birthday present from Steve (a Nikon Coolpix P1000 superzoom camera, come to mama) and my Saturday afternoon adventure – that long-awaited hot air balloon expedition! It was totally epic, and I will share all the pictures with you later this week. Sunday was more low-key than Saturday. I took Big Bertha (working name for the new camera, you like it?) out for a hike but the kids’ arguing scared all the birds off so I didn’t get any good wildlife shots. In the afternoon, I made homemade cinnamon applesauce and took Peanut for a socially distanced playdate with one of her new classmates. The usual stuff, but good stuff.

Reading. So, another slow reading week, which I blame mostly on the hectic workweek, a little on pandemic slumping, and a little on the fact that it’s just not possible to fly through a Marilynne Robinson novel. I’m nearly done with my project of re-reading all of the Gilead series in order, as I’m now well into Jack, the fourth and final book that just came out this month. I think it’s definitely helpful to have the context of Home, because I have more sympathy for Jack Boughton than I otherwise would have. I’ll make it through Jack this week and then it will be time to give my reading brain a little rest, so I’m planning to turn to my Halloween books for the rest of the month, starting with a re-read of Pumpkinheads, which I love. Then – finally – a re-read of Betsy-Tacy, this time aloud to Peanut. She is now obsessed! I didn’t meet Betsy, Tacy, Tib and their friends until I was an adult, so I’m glad she will grow up knowing the Deep Valley girls.

Watching. This and that, like usual. A few episodes of Rock the Park, as always. The first 50 minutes or so of the live-action Aladdin, with the kids. Notably, not either of the election town halls (I considered tuning into Biden’s, but I’m already informed about his policy positions) and not The Way I See It – really hoping to watch that one this week. I don’t think the kids would be interested, but Steve and I both really want to see it. My parents watched, and said it was fabulous.

Listening. Mostly to my current audiobook – The Great Courses on The Art of Reading. It’s good, but I’m getting to be ready to be done. About 90 minutes to go – I made a lot of progress driving to my office three days last week (look at me go). Also dug out one of my New Pornographers CDs last week when my phone was too low on batteries to connect to the car’s Bluetooth, and remembered how much I love them, so added two albums to my digital library. I’ve been listening to my favorite songs from The Electric Version – “From Blown Speakers” and “Miss Teen Wordpower” on repeat and it’s taking me right back to law school.

Making. Ugh, not much at all. Nothing crafty or domestic – no progress on finishing unpacking (new deadline: Halloween) and not much in the way of eatables, either. Just some cinnamon applesauce – that’s it. It was just one of those weeks. Too much work, not enough margin. But I have a couple of new bread recipes bookmarked to try in the next couple of weeks.

Moving. Let’s just not talk about this.

Blogging. Musing on pandemic-induced reading slumps on Wednesday, and then sharing those hot air ballooning pictures on Friday. Check in with me then!

Loving. I am not usually one for show-offy gift ogling posts (other than the annual Christmas book haul, naturally) but the thing that is making me happiest right now is my new camera, obvi! I am abundantly blessed in a partner that indulges my hobby instead of rolling his eyes and saying “Another camera?” For months now I’ve been eyeballing the Nikon Coolpix P1000, with its crazy 3,000mm zoom lens (125x zoom power) and birdwatching mode. Best birthday present ever! It’s not going to replace my everyday workhorse dSLR, but that’s not what it’s for. I definitely have a learning curve to figure out how to use it to best advantage – especially zoomed all the way out, it’s not exactly easy to hold. But I’ve already gotten some great shots and I’m excited to learn more about the camera and improve my skills. Here are a few samples from just prowling around my yard:

And a little goldfinch from Saturday’s hike:

More to come!

Asking. What are you reading this week?

In Which I Am Emphatically Pro-Geotagging

The Great Range, snapped from a viewpoint on Big Slide Mountain, Keene Valley, New York

Warning: soapbox deployed, lengthy diatribe ahead!

I’m a member of a few different paddling interest groups on Facebook.  Kayak Mamas, Women Who Paddle, and Paddling in the Adirondacks.  I love the Paddling in the Adirondacks group for the beautiful pictures the members post, which give me an ADK fix when I’m not able to be in the region.  But lately, the group has been really annoying me.

There’s a subset of members of several of the outdoor groups I follow – Paddling in the Adirondacks being just one of them – who have been clutching their pearls especially tightly of late.  There was already a debate raging in the outdoor community about proper use.  And to a large extent, I’m sympathetic to the pearl-clutchers.  I get as angry as anyone when I see litter, graffiti, or initials carved into trees.  Enjoying an outdoor space in a way that mars it for others, or harms the environment, is selfish and irresponsible.  And as someone who lives in a tourist-heavy region, I understand the frustrations of traffic-clogged roads and out-of-towners behaving cluelessly.  (In D.C., there’s a special scorn reserved for people who stand on the left side of a Metro escalator.)

Kayaks on the beach at Jones Island State Park, Washington

But the pearl-clutching gets overdone in certain areas.  My Paddling in the Adirondacks group has a couple of bugaboos: closeup wildlife shots (don’t post a picture of a loon unless you’re prepared to include in the caption a breathless disclaimer about your long-range zoom lens); people who leave their gear scattered all over the previous night’s campsite (I agree: disgraceful; although I’m not sure it’s always downstaters or out-of-staters, ADK folx); and geotagging.

Mather Gorge, Great Falls Park, McLean, Virginia

So what exactly is geotagging?  Simply put: it’s the practice of including a location on your outdoor social media posts.  (Instagram, Facebook, and I assume other social media outlets – those are the only two I bother with – have location tagging as an option.)  Geotagging has been vilified for a few years now, but the pandemic really threw the debate into sharp relief.  As options for indoor entertainment fell away and more people hit the trails, the rivers, the mountains and the beaches, those who were “here first” (<–LOL, you were not) were incensed at the waves of newcomers, and convinced that the new people are ruining their favorite fresh air sports.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have been frustrated by people not social distancing on trails, and not wearing masks in crowded areas – even outdoors; I care enough about you (perfect stranger) to endure the mild discomfort of wearing a mask, and you should do the same for me.  But at the same time, I am on record as saying that I like to see other people on the trails – it makes me happy to see others experiencing joy in the outdoors, and I am disillusioned enough about politicians to believe that they won’t be motivated to protect a wild space unless they see it is being used and loved by their constituents.

Sunrise over Mirror Lake, Lake Placid, New York

So why chime in now?  I’m at my tipping point after one too many annoying social media posts.  Recently, scrolling Facebook, I was stopped in my tracks by a lovely picture of fall foliage over a serene Adirondack lake.  Enjoying the picture, my smile fell away when I read the smug caption: “If you know where this place is, please keep it a secret!”

I don’t know where that place is.  And I guess I never will, since the author – who I will call Smug Paddler – doesn’t want me or any other unwelcome out-of-staters sullying up his secret paddling spot.  (Another group member offered a guess and Smug Paddler, still smug, responded: “Nope – but I might check that spot out, so thanks!”  So, basically, gatekeeping is for other people.)

And that’s my main issue with the no-geotagging movement: it’s a form of gatekeeping and purity testing, and gatekeeping is inherently elitist and exclusionary.  Oh, and more than that?  It’s racist.

Bears Den Overlook, Bluemont, Virginia

At its most basic: the no-geotag gatekeeping movement is nothing more than a bunch of tone-deaf white people, blind to their own privilege, other-ing “urban” hikers and people of color to keep them from enjoying the same recreation opportunities.  It’s keeping the so-called “wrong sort” of hikers out, so that the “right sort” can have the outdoors all to themselves.  It’s the promotion of the idea that certain people are inherently less deserving of fresh air, a beautiful view, or space on the trail.  And that’s just wrong.

Melanin Base Camp says it much more eloquently than I could:

The #nogeotag movement is a form of gatekeeping, or elitism. It involves individuals—usually those unaffected by structural racism and privileged to have grown up hiking and camping—asserting their self proclaimed authority over who should and shouldn’t be allowed into certain outdoor spaces.

Most of the articles begin with a white writer reminiscing over a much beloved hot spring, a treasured swimming hole or a rustic hiking trail from childhood that has now been “ruined” by a sudden influx of selfie-taking hikers.

They never stop to consider that their childhood was privileged with outdoor experiences not available to the majority of working-class families in the United States. They never stop to consider that this is a privilege many people in the U.S. would like to experience if given the chance. Their lack of self-awareness is pretty stunning.

(By the way, give Melanin Base Camp a follow.  Their Instagram feed is stunning, inspiring, and inclusive.)  The article, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety, lays out all of the problems – and there are many – with gatekeeping and excluding “urban” hikers (read: Black and brown folx), working class families, and people who are new to the outdoors.  It’s a must-read.

In fact, there’s no proof that geotagging social media posts has any effect on overuse of outdoor spaces.  As a like-minded soul helpfully posted in the comments to the obnoxious Facebook post that put me over the edge, the REI blog’s article “Is Photography Ruining the Outdoors?” debunked that notion pretty heartily.  (Using data collected by the Adirondack Council, in a bit of poetic justice for Smug Paddler.)  There’s no evidence supporting that photography (yes, including selfies) and social media sharing are responsible for overuse or improper use of public lands.

The only persuasive argument I’ve seen made against geotagging relates to safety concerns: it’s not wise to broadcast your location to the entire internet, especially when you’re in the backwoods.  I agree.  If we’re friends on social, you’ll notice I don’t geotag all of my posts.  There are certain posts I never tag with a location: my kids’ school and summer camps, for instance.  I do geotag my hikes and paddles, but I don’t post the pictures – or tag the locations – until I’m already back home (or at least in the car, on my way home).  If I’ve posted a picture of an outdoor adventure and tagged the location – especially if it’s wilderness – I’ve already left.  That practice, and keeping my Instagram account private (meaning I have to approve anyone who wants to follow me) is how I address those appropriate concerns about safety, and I’m comfortable with the personal decisions I’ve made in that respect.

Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia

There are plenty of ways to address overuse and improper use of public lands.  The good and smart folx at Melanin Base Camp suggest several.  More funding for the National Park Service, for instance, and more funding in general for education and outreach.  (Don’t like the way new outdoor adventurers are using public lands?  Educate – politely and respectfully – don’t gatekeep or hector people.  Those of us who choose to eat plant-based can explain how you inspire people to make better choices for the planet, without being a total @$$hole about it.)

While we’re funding NPS, maybe politicians can stop using government shutdowns as a political football, so that parks don’t end up unstaffed and abused.  Those images of Joshua trees cut down and overflowing trash cans at Yosemite were awful.  Keeping people of color out of public lands isn’t going to fix that problem, though.  You know what would?  Responsible government.

Other solutions: education, outreach, permit requirements, promoting alternatives (like state, regional, and local parks, or national forests and recreation areas that don’t get as much attention as the legacy parks).  Working with stakeholders.  Including indigenous groups and First Nations communities, and respecting their cultural and spiritual connections to these places.  (The myth of wildness, which Melanin Base Camp also eloquently debunks, is extremely harmful.  Public lands have not been “wild” for millennia.  They’ve been cultivated and stewarded by indigenous communities and that history deserves recognition.)

Widewater State Park, Widewater, Virginia

Golly.  Can you tell I have some feelings about this?  Clearly that Facebook post touched a nerve.  But honestly?  I’m sick and tired of exclusionary tactics and elitism in the outdoor community.  Of course we should be responsible.  But what gives Smug Paddler the right to declare anyone unwelcome on a public lake?  People protect what they love; that’s well-known.  Doesn’t it serve everyone – and the public lands we claim to care about – if more people love the outdoors and want to protect it from the ravages of climate change?

So I’ll keep geotagging my posts and sharing my outdoor adventure finds.  And if someone finds a new favorite hiking or paddling spot because of me, I’ll be pleased – not incensed.

Where do you fall on the geotagging debate?  Debate welcome, but respectful comments only, please.

Elizabeth Von Arnim on Contentment

Living face to face with nature makes it difficult for one to be discouraged.  Moles and late frosts, both of which are here in abundance, have often grieved and disappointed me, but even these, my worst enemies, have not succeeded in making me feel discouraged.  Not once till now have I for farther in that direction than the purely negative state of not being encouraged; and whenever I reach that state I go for a brisk walk in the sunshine and come back cured.  It makes one so healthy to live in a garden, so healthy in mind as well as body, and when I say moles and late frosts are my worst enemies, it only shows how I could not now if I tried sit down and brood over my own or my neighbour’s sins, and how the breezes in my garden have blown away all those worries and vexations and bitternesses that are the lot of those who live in a crowd.  The most severe frost that ever nipped the hopes of a year is better to my thinking than having to listen to one malignant truth or lie, and I would rather have a mole busy burrowing tunnels under each of my rose trees and letting the air get at their roots than face a single greeting where no kindness is.  How can you help being happy if you are healthy and in the place you want to be?

~ Elizabeth von Arnim, The Solitary Summer

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 12, 2020)

Good morning, friends. Happy Indigenous People’s Day! And if you’re getting a day off work, I hope you’re enjoying it. I have a few things to do on that front, but am hoping to take the afternoon off, at least.

My weekend was a good one – indulgent. My birthday is tomorrow and since Tuesday birthdays are terrible, Steve declared this my “birthday weekend.” I felt very celebrated! On Saturday we spent the entire day outside, which is just what I always want to do. Two hikes – one at Riverbend Regional Park and one at Fletcher’s Cove – plus a picnic and kayaking, also at Fletcher’s Cove. We paddled farther upriver than we have before and checked out a section of rapids right before the river calms down. Sunday was gloomy on the weather front, so it was more of a relaxing day. I spent it puttering around the house. Nugget and I went to Michael’s for Halloween decorations (it was totally picked over – bummer) and both of the kids helped me bake an apple crisp, which we enjoyed for dessert after a feast of Greek food. And now I have a stressful week ahead, but at least I’m fortified by a lovely weekend.

Reading. Slow reading week – again. Partly because Marilynne Robinson needs to be read slowly (I knew this) and partly because of yet another week of crazy news cycles. I spent too much time scrolling through my Washington Post app and not enough time relaxing with my book. I read Home over the course of the week and finally finished it on Sunday morning. Needing a break from Marilynne Robinson, I spent a peaceful hour or so over The Lost Words, which was beautiful. And then, fortified by the break, I returned to Gilead and Lila. I loved Lila the first time I read it, so I’m sure I’m going to love it again this round.

Watching. This and that. The VP debate on Wednesday (“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.” And that fly!) Some Rock the Park. The first episode of The Right Stuff, the new Disney+ original series about the Mercury astronauts (which was great, but as it happens, not very kid-friendly – so that will be an adults-only show). And we’ve been attempting to watch Miracle as a family, but the dang kids keep falling asleep. Hoping to finish it up tonight – our third attempt.

Listening. Earlier in the week I was listening to my audiobook, another Great Courses series. Eventually I switched back to podcasts, specifically Sorta Awesome, and am working on catching up. I’m midway through a back episode on the subject of invisible labor, and man is it good.

Making. I was treated to takeout all weekend long, so there was no elaborate cooking this week. Unless you count the sandwich I made for the family picnic on Saturday – goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and tofurkey and vegetarian pepperoni on olive ciabatta bread. The kids hated it. So uncivilized. Oh, and on Sunday afternoon my sous chefs and I mixed up an apple crisp (recipe from King Arthur Baking) using some of the apples we picked last weekend. Some may consider it kinda sad to make your own birthday dessert, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Moving. I was a bit lazy this week – lazy and extra stressed about work (which is exactly when I should make a point of exercising – I know, I know). I made it out for two runs and one strength training session in Mommy’s Jungle Gym – better than nothing, but not as much as I wanted. And there was the epic Saturday of activity – two hikes and a long paddle. That felt good.

Blogging. Getting philosophical on you this week, so my apologies in advance. On Wednesday I have a quote about contentment from Elizabeth von Arnim to share with you, and on Friday I am dragging out my soapbox and shouting about the “no geotag movement.”

Loving. This might be the lamest ever, but this is what is improving my life right now: friends, I am the proud owner of a garage fridge. Yes, I am officially old! A few weeks ago, frustrated by my poorly designed kitchen fridge (there is no place for produce, none) I mused aloud to Steve, “Maybe we should get a garage fridge.” He was immediately on board (actually, I think the direct quote was: “That’s actually really sensible.” I tried not to get offended that he sounded surprised at me being sensible) and before I even knew it, my half baked idea had turned into a new fridge in my garage. I now have a place to hide my La Croix from greedy little hands, and overflow vegetable storage space. I am living large, friends.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

When the Book You Need Swims Up to You at the Exact Right Time

‘I know that if I made myself sit with the panic and look at spiders again – you know, like, faced my fear – eventually I’d feel fine.  But that process, well. . . It’s just so horrible.  I really don’t want to.  And it’s fine most of the time anyway.  I mean, it’s an issue in September, when they come into the house.  And I know I could never visit Australia because there are spiders everywhere.  But apart from that it’s bearable.  I can live with it.

‘You need a decent motivation to stick with fighting a phobia,’ says Mandi.  ‘I just don’t have it.  Do you?’

Most of my friends know that I have a huge, irrational, overwhelming phobia of butterflies.  Chat with me long enough and it will eventually come up.  The very thought of them fills me with revulsion and horror.  Their bodies, their wings, the flapping, the erratic movements – ugh.  I just can’t with them.  It’s a fear that dates back to a bad experience one summer when I was about Peanut’s age; I’ve hated them ever since.  At this point, I’ve accepted that this is a thing about me and it’s never going to change, and I’ve decided that I’m pretty much good with it.  I’ve gotten much better about managing it; these days, I don’t even yelp and run anymore when I spot a butterfly on a hike.  (I do walk a little faster, and sometimes I shout “GO AWAY, UGLY BUG.”)

A less well-known fact: I also have a moderate thing about fish and other marine life.  Specifically, I cannot abide the idea of them touching me.  I know what you might be thinking: But don’t you visit aquariums on the regular, when it’s not a pandemic?  And watch “Blue Planet” religiously?  Didn’t you spend five days sea kayaking just last summer?  Yes, yes to all of these things.  But I don’t touch the critters.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been thinking that this thing I have about fish – which I don’t think extends to marine mammals or sea turtles – I’d like to get over it.  I’ve basically accepted that I am always going to be repulsed by butterflies and I’m fine with that.  But I love the ocean, and I want to experience it more fully and with less fear.  Specifically, I’ve been toying with the idea of becoming scuba-certified.

English author Georgie Codd had the same idea.  She too struggled with a fear of fish; hers, far more intense than my moderate squidginess, was full-on ichthyophobia.  In Georgie’s mind, the shadows in her dining room were sharks.  The London buildings she walked past on her way to work were entwined by the tentacles of colossal squid.  Georgie had lived with her intense fear since childhood, and she did not want it to dominate her life.  So she decided to do just the very thing that I’ve been considering doing: she decided to cure herself of her fear by learning to scuba dive.  But Georgie wanted to take it one step further: not content to just dive with any fish, she set her sights on the biggest fish of all – the massive, mighty, elusive whale shark.

The truth I need to face up to is that fish do not exist to scare land mammals like myself.  For millions of years, before humans even existed, before even the existence of trees, they have sat at the top of the ocean food chain, weeding out unhealthy marine life and sustaining the overall balance of eco-systems.  Without sharks, smaller herbivore-eaters flourish, the herbivores themselves decline in number and algae growth is left unchecked, meaning less space and fewer resources for life-giving reefs.  The effect of shark intimidation in grassy areas also stops ocean herbivores overgrazing.  In turn, this prevents the collapse of habitats.  And helps the sea do what it has done for aeons: regulate the carbon dioxide released into our atmosphere.

Georgie’s journey to learn diving and to track down her leviathan takes her from the fishy metropolis of Thailand’s Richelieu Rock, to underwater caves in Mexico, to chilly Scottish waters, an island off of western Africa, and beyond.  Along the way, she meets and talks to diving experts and psychologists, learning simultaneously about diving history and culture, and the science of overcoming fears.  Many of the divers she interviews encourage her to learn as much as possible, pounding home variations on the same refrain: knowledge dispels fear.  Through her journey, Georgie discovers that this is precisely what she needs to do in order to manage her ichthyophobia and stop it from taking over her life.  Preparing for a dive on which she hopes to finally meet a whale shark, Georgie travels to Scotland to attempt to swim with the second-biggest shark, the basking shark, and has the following epiphany:

When the lecture is over I feel like I know basking sharks better than ever.  I feel like this knowledge will get me through.  Help me stay calm in the water.  I also feel horribly culpable.  The violations Luke described seem to form compelling evidence of what can happen when something living (a human, a fish, a shark) is reduced to no more than a concept (a source of income, a pest).  And isn’t that what I’ve been doing?  For years now I’ve been turning fish into something abstract and other: fear, danger, death, the unknown.  What I still haven’t done is accepted what they are.  Accepted that they are different.  Accepted that their difference is not intrinsically negative.

I’m not going to spoil the book by telling you whether Georgie succeeds in swimming with a whale shark.  And this isn’t a book review, either (although if it was, I’d be raving about it; as it is I suspect I am going to be buying multiple copies to give as gifts this holiday season).  What I want to talk about is the way that sometimes the exact book you need to read finds you, at the exact right time.

Like I said, I’ve been thinking for awhile now that this thing I have with fish, I want to get over it.  I’m not afraid of them.  I know the little ones can’t hurt me even if they wanted to, and most of the big ones won’t.  I know the statistical likelihood of an unprovoked attack by a marine animal – any marine animal – is extremely low.  So I am really not afraid.  What I am is intensely creeped out by the idea of a fish touching my bare skin.  But what if… I had no bare skin to touch?

My BFF is in the process of getting scuba-certified.  She’s completed the coursework, but was prevented from doing her final open water dive by hurricane season descending on Florida.  She plans to finish her certification this year, and she and her husband have a big trip booked for next year – to Australia, to dive the Great Barrier Reef in celebration of her fortieth birthday and their ten-year relationship.  My brother and sister-in-law also dive, and I have not even tried to swallow my jealousy while watching my sister-in-law’s serene videos of diving in a kelp forest off the Channel Islands.  I’m not a follower; I won’t do something just because someone else is doing it.  But these are people I know and love who have strapped on air tanks and jumped into the water, and I want to do it too.

I had already been thinking that scuba was something I wanted to try.  I worked out that my issue with fish is related to the idea of them brushing against my skin (shudder).  But if I was encased in a long-sleeved, long-legged wetsuit, with every possible inch of my body covered and protected against fishy affection, I think… I could be okay?

Enter COVID.  I had already been turning the idea of diving over in my mind when the pandemic hit.  As we all adjusted to, ugh, the “new normal,” I mostly stopped thinking about it.  There were too many other things to focus on – figuring out a new schedule for working from home and educating my kids, staying safe at the grocery store, you know.  But it’s stretched on for more than seven months now, and while I am still not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, I’ve started to think about what I want post-COVID life to look like.

I’ve never been a big one for sitting on the couch at home.  I like to be out, having experiences, making memories.  The pandemic has forced me to slow down and wait, and I’ve mostly avoided thinking about what we’re all missing out on right now.  But as I consider what will happen when we all emerge from our shells, the life I want is taking shape before me.  I want to travel more, be more open to new experiences.  (As the kids are getting older, I believe this is possible.)  I don’t want to be controlled by fear.

I noticed We Swim to the Shark while scrolling through a list of recommendations from a book blogger I follow, and it immediately grabbed my attention – I focused first on the absolutely stunning book jacket, before being stopped in my tracks by the subtitle: Overcoming Fear One Fish at a Time.  I clicked over to Amazon to read the description and knew immediately that I had to read it.  And right away.  It was odd; here was this idea I’d been turning over in my head for some time – overcoming my moderate fear-ish-thing about fish by learning scuba – sharpened and made urgent by pandemic-induced life musings, and here was a book about THAT EXACT THING.  Does that ever happen to you?  The exact book that I needed to read, showing up on my computer screen at the exact time that I needed to read it.  It felt like a message: do the thing.  Go live.

This time in the water, I reassure myself that the present moment is all that matters.  That and the gauge.  The breaths.  The line.  I accept that I am going into darkness.  Shining a light towards the unknown.  And while the thought of this unknown may be appalling, at least it’s a direction I can aim for.

Have you ever gotten an unmistakeable message from a book showing up, unexpectedly, just when you needed it most?

 

Dreaming of Being Footloose

As many of you know, I am a fan of the podcast The Mom Hour.  I love tuning into hosts Sarah and Meagan’s conversations about raising a family in these crazy times.  The show covers everything from school issues, to clothing and gear recommendations for all ages, to feeding a family, to listener Q&As and reassurance for moms in every stage of life.  The hosts are funny, refreshingly real, and gently validating; I’d love nothing more than to grab a cup of tea with them and let them set my parenting world to rights.

Over the summer, they ran a massive two-part episode about moving – covering the entire process from dreaming up a move to nailing all the logistical details to make it happen.  The episode was prompted because Sarah, one of the hosts, recently moved back to her hometown of Santa Barbara, CA (where I have family as well – so I’m always interested when she talks about the town).  Meagan had also moved recently, so they both had a lot of thoughts.  And one of the questions they posed to listeners was: do you dream about moving, and if so, where?

As you all know, I’ve moved a time or two in the last several years.  I could probably count the number of houses and apartments that Steve and I have occupied since we’ve been together, but not off the top of my head; I’d have to think about it.  Most recently, we moved from Alexandria – a town we love – to the exurbs, largely for the public schools.  I love living in Virginia, I am content in our area, and I don’t have any real desire to move to another geographic location.  I do fantasize regularly about buying a house in our current town – maybe a short sale or foreclosure that needs some love, and fixing it up to be exactly what I want.  That’s a realistic dream and we’re working towards it, saving as much as we can towards a down payment and planning out a long-term future of owning a home in the same school pyramid.

But while I have no plans to leave Virginia, and no real desire to do so, everyone has crazy fantasies of living somewhere else entirely.  I’m no different, and I regularly entertain visions of pulling up stakes entirely and rolling on to some completely new adventure.  For instance:

  • ColoRADo.  Back when we were planning our move away from Buffalo, we had two serious location contenders: northern Virginia (where we ended up) and Denver.  We were actively sending resumes to both D.C. and Denver, and planned to move to the first job opportunity that came along.  D.C. was enticing for obvious reasons – we knew and loved the area, and we still had a large community of friends and friendly acquaintances here.  The main benefit to Denver, aside from the outdoor adventure possibilities, was the prospect of living near my brother and his wife, who were – at the time – living in the Boulder area.  I’m glad now that Denver ended up not working out, because Dan and Danielle have since moved to western Colorado (near Utah) so if we were in Denver we wouldn’t really be local to them anymore.  We’d still be closer than we are – a four hour drive instead of an airplane ride – but not in the same metro area.  (Although in recent years I have had three different friends move to the greater Denver area, so it’s not like we would have been completely stranded and without connection.)
  • The Other Washington.  Another location we’ve actually considered – Seattle.  Again when we were planning our move out of the Buffalo area, I was contacted out of the blue with an interview request for a job in the legal department at Amazon.  At that point I hadn’t really considered moving to the west coast at all.  I took the interview and it was interesting, but ultimately not a good fit.  I had mentioned to Steve that I could see us enjoying a life in the PNW – again, we have a few friends out in Seattle – and he said he thought I’d hate the weather.  It’s true that I am not big on rain; I get chronic headaches and changes in barometric pressure seem to exacerbate them.  Layman’s terms: my head hurts when it’s wet outside.  But when we vacationed in the San Juan Islands and Seattle last summer, Steve and I both agreed that we could totally live here.  As we sat sipping local brews at the Friday Harbor Beer House, enjoying the smell of the salty air and no humidity, Steve looked around and said “Remind me again why we don’t live here?”
  • We Love New York?  I have no desire to move back to Buffalo – for many reasons, I was deeply unhappy there.  And I don’t really have any desire to live in New York at all.  But if I ever did, I’d move near my family – near Albany and Saratoga, at the eastern end of the state, a short drive from Vermont and the Adirondacks.  Growing up there, I didn’t appreciate the natural beauty, quaint towns, and cool independent businesses all around me; I certainly would now.  And the idea of jumping in the car for a short drive to paddle Lake Placid, hike in the high peaks, relax on the beach at my parents’ camp, or leaf-peep and wander picturesque villages in Vermont and Massachusetts (covered bridges! maple syrup!) is certainly attractive.  But then I remember the blistering, biting cold of January in upstate New York.  As I told my aunt recently (in response to her suggestion that I should probably just move on home RIGHT NOW), every summer I think, “It’s so beautiful here, maybe I should move back,” and then every winter I think, “NOPE.”
  • O Canada.  Back in 2015, during the Presidential primary season, I was fond of jokingly suggesting that if Trump won, I was moving to Canada.  (That was in those innocent days when we all thought he’d never make it through the primary, let alone actually end up in the White House.)  At the time, that would actually have been very doable.  We were living in Buffalo, not far from the Canadian border.  I had several co-workers who lived in Ontario and commuted over the border every day.  Setting aside the logistics of immigration, we could have moved less than an hour away from our home at the time, kept our jobs, and had a lovely life in the Niagara area.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  But I recently floated the idea again, telling Steve (not jokingly): “If Biden doesn’t win, we should seriously consider Canada.”  His response: “I’m not saying no.”  So, where in Canada would we go in this fantasy?  Well, I’ve always dreamed of living on Prince Edward Island, like Anne Shirley.  Or there’s Halifax, which I visited with my grandparents many years ago, and loved.  Or – my brother and I have discussed living that PNW life and moving our respective families to Vancouver.  (I know it’s expensive to live there, and I know it’s easier said than done to emigrate to Canada.  Don’t @ me.)
  • Americans abroad!  Definitely not going to happen these days, since every sane country has banned us.  But who hasn’t fantasized about living overseas?  When Steve and I were first married, we were friends with an older couple in our condo building (they ended up moving to Washington; see above) who had a cottage in the Cotswolds where they spent several months of the year.  Can you say “hashtag goals”?  I mean, really.  Can’t you just see me bicycling around the Cotswolds, or Yorkshire?  I’d have a blue cruiser with a woven basket and I’d always carry a bouquet of flowers, a thermos of tea, and a Jane Austen novel in it.  Oh, I have it all planned out.  And because I tend to be a practical fantasizer (<-that’s a word) my pipe dreams of living in England are often followed by unproductive thoughts such as “hey, my firm has a London office.”

None of these are going to happen.  Or, at least – if they do, I’ll be as surprised as anyone.  I’m really content where I live now (I mean, I hate my house, but I like my town; if we were to buy a little house surrounded by some big trees and settle in, I’d be perfectly happy).  But it’s fun to consider, and to picture myself living somewhere totally different.

Do you fantasize about moving?  Where to?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 5, 2020)

Goooooooood morning, friends. How were your weekends? Mine was definitely good, although I felt vaguely unsettled all weekend. The usual, right? Between a couple of projects hanging over my head, a professional change for a valued colleague (excited for her, but I’m going to miss her), and the crazy news cycle of the last week, I just had this creeping sense of lingering dread all weekend. Which was too bad, because it was a beautiful one.

We had a super social weekend planned, which was exciting. (Ah, pandemic life and all the changes it brings… pre-COVID, I’d have been stoked about a weekend curled up in my own house, without social obligations. These days, I want to see all of the people.) We started the weekend out at the apple orchard; we were supposed to go with friends, but had a hard time finding an orchard that we all wanted to hit. It ended up being just us, at an orchard we’d been to a few years ago and thought was only okay. It was still just okay, but reservations were not required, so: a win. After apple picking (big plans for applesauce and homemade maple apple dumplings; watch this space) we headed back toward our neck of the woods to meet friends at a farm market and pumpkin patch. No pumpkins for us yet – it’s a little early – but we had a nice walk and left with some decorative gourds; another win. Sunday was more socializing: we were invited to lunch at our former neighbors’ house. Zoya had a surprise for the kiddos: two-day-old kittens, in a box in her spare room! She has added “cat midwife” to her long list of talents (along with kickass photographer, ancient chicken egg excavator, and gardener extraordinaire). We ate lentils drizzled with honey (AMAZING, who’d have thunk), traded book recommendations, and got caught up on all the news from our old neighborhood. It was good to be back, if just for an afternoon.

Reading. Bit of a slow reading week, which is fitting. Marilynne Robinson will not be rushed. I read through the rest of Gilead over the course of the week, and then turned to Home and have been reading it bit by bit. Still committed to my plan of reading through the entire series – my copy of Lila, which I loved, is waiting on my bookshelf, and brand-new Jack is on my coffee table. But I’m getting just the tiniest bit anxious to be on to my Halloween themed reads.

Watching. The usual. Still working our way through one episode of Rock the Park per night, with the kids as they wind down for bedtime. Not sure what we’re going to watch as a family after we’re done – which will be soon. Oh, and like everyone else in the Horrified States of America, I watched the first Presidential debate. (Almost forgot to mention that; every day has felt like a week and I had to think a minute before I realized that was just a few days ago. Yikes.) I wasn’t actually planning to watch. I already know who I am voting for and nothing is going to change my mind. So I was all set to spend the evening with Gilead and a glass of wine, but Steve said he felt like he needed to watch. He said that it turned his stomach to think of watching Trump talk for that long, but he felt like he needed to bear witness. I couldn’t make him go through that alone, so I kept him company. Gracious Hecate, was that not awful? I don’t usually drink on weeknights, but I had to get up and pour a whisky halfway through.

Listening. This and that! A couple of hours of my current audiobook (a Great Courses series on “The Art of Reading” – really interesting) and snippets of podcasts. I’m currently halfway through the Sorta Awesome fall coziness list and loving. it. As always.

Making. Lots of this and that! Some good dinners this week – a vegan chili packed with butternut squash and kale; maple-mustard tempeh; and an escarole and white bean dish served over baked potatoes that Steve requested I add to “the regular rotation.” Outside of the kitchen: a finished roll of film, progress on setting up the sunroom, and most excitingly: progress on unpacking the bedroom! The boxes and piles of stuff have lingered in the bedroom while I worked on getting the rest of the house unpacked and the kids settled in. But it was getting stressful to try to sleep in a chaotic space, and honestly – I deserve a peaceful bedroom just as much as the little animals I live with, who throw their laundry and toys everywhere. It doesn’t actually look like much has been done, yet, but I assure you progress has been made. Specifically, I cleaned out the closet! We have a huge closet that spans the entire length of the room, and I completely emptied and reorganized it. Just knowing that part – kind of the most daunting part – is done, is making the rest of the job so much easier to face. One more day of effort ought to do it! It’s also bumming me out a bit, because now that my clothes are all organized and hung up, I’m realizing that I have absolutely nowhere to wear most of them. I have one floral blouse that is making appearances on Zoom calls, and a herringbone blazer for online court appearances, and everything else is just sitting there. Blah.

Moving. Lots of movement this week! On Monday, I ran a trail 10K (for the virtual Fountainhead Classic), and yesterday, banged out a fast (for me) 5K around my neighborhood. The 10K was crazy difficult – lots of up and down steep hills, negotiating my way over rocks, roots and streams. I was exhausted afterwards, but I’m pleased to report: no injuries, other than a rolled ankle that’s already fine. In between, there was another neighborhood run and two strength-training sessions in “Mommy’s Jungle Gym.” Feeling strong!

Blogging. I’m doing a lot of dreaming this week: on Wednesday, talking about moving pipe dreams (don’t worry, I’m not moving) and on Friday, big adventurous plans for facing and overcoming a fear after the pandemic is over – and a book that is inspiring me.

Loving. I was going to tell you all about my new fridge, but you’ll have to wait, because how could newborn kittens not be the most exciting thing I have to report? These babies were literally two days old. Zoya was there when they were born (and gave us a very detailed description of the process of midwifing a cat – she “winged it” and it sounds like it was interesting, especially for the cat). Their eyes aren’t even open yet. You guys. I soooooooo wish I could take one home, but Steve and I are both allergic (although I wore my face mask in the room with the kitties and felt surprisingly fine). I even picked out the one I want: the little one with the black, tan and white splotches. I’d name him (her?) Cappuccino – Capp for short. Well, it’s not to be. But I got to pet two-day-old kittens, so basically, I’ve peaked.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Reading Round-Up: September 2020

Reading Round-Up Header

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby.  I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book.  Here are my reads for September, 2020

The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens – I so enjoyed this comedic interlude!  The Pickwick Papers was Dickens’ first novel-length effort – published in serial form like so many other Victorian novels.  Following along with the adventures of Samuel Pickwick, Esq., and his disciples Augustus Snodgrass, Tracy Tupman and Nathaniel Winkle was good fun; I reviewed it at length here.  My only complaint was that every five to ten chapters, Dickens would pause the narrative to have some side character tell the Pickwickians a lengthy and irrelevant story; the extra stories added nothing but length and broke up the momentum of the main plot – I’d have dispensed with them.  Other than that, loved every word.

Down in the Valley: A Writer’s Landscape, by Laurie Lee – After Pickwick, I needed something MUCH shorter, and I had a new acquisition that fit the bill.  Down in the Valley reads like an oral history of Laurie Lee’s life and it turns out, that’s pretty much what it was – a collection of recollections, delivered (mostly) down at the pub, about Lee’s youth and his recollections of the landscape of his boyhood.  I blew through it in a day and it was a total delight.

One Fine Day, by Mollie Panter-Downes – Another one that had been on my “to-read” list for years, and I loved every word.  One Fine Day is a slim quotidian novel following the movements of a no-longer-young wife as she goes about her day in newly post-war England.  Laura battles overgrowth in the garden, does her marketing, visits neighbors, and muses about her marriage and the changes that have come to England with the end of World War II.  It was ruminative and beautiful.

A Memoir of Jane Austen, by J.E. Austen-Leigh – I’ve long been interested in reading Austen’s nephew’s “memoir” – really a barely-concealed family effort to control Austen’s image.  So much of the “Dear Aunt Jane” trope (that we now understand from historians’ work was pretty inaccurate) comes from Austen-Leigh’s book, so I wanted to read it to see the origination.  I was also interested in a Victorian perspective on the notoriously rowdy Georgians; Austen-Leigh was at great pains to downplay that, too.  Hilariously inaccurate, but really interesting.

We Swim to the Shark: Overcoming Fear One Fish at a Time, by Georgie Codd – I have a longer post coming about this book, but for purposes of this recap – I loved it.  I happened upon the recommendation on BookTube and immediately ordered it.  Once you get past the gorgeous, eye-catching cover, it’s a totally fascinating and absorbing read.  Georgie Codd is severely ichthyophobic – afraid of fish – as is her grandmother, Granny Codd.  Georgie decides that she doesn’t want her fear to control her life, so she learns to scuba dive with the goal of swimming with the biggest fish of all – a whale shark.  There is so much here about overcoming fears, mixed with the history and culture of the dive community, mixed with Georgie’s own personal diving experiences (my favorite parts of the book).  I loved every word and was tempted to go back to the beginning and re-read the book immediately I’d finished it; not something that happens often.

September, by Rosamunde Pilcher – Had to read this one in September, for obvious reasons.  This was only my second Pilcher – I’d read and loved The Shell Seekers – and I really enjoyed it.  I kept thinking of Jane Austen’s words – “three or four families in a country village are the very thing to work upon” or something to that effect – as I read Pilcher’s doorstopper of a novel about the Blair/Balmerino and Aird families and the characters in their orbits.  September included all of the little details that Pilcher is famous for – she is not going to tell you that someone made tea in the kitchen, she is going to tell you what kind of tea it was, and describe the kettle’s exact shade of copper, and describe the kitchen at length down to the net curtains.  And as I said to Steve, sometimes that is exactly what you want.

Mr Tibbets’s Catholic School, by Ysenda Maxtone Graham – This was a quick read, but great fun – a profile of St. Philip’s, a prestigious Catholic school in London, from its founding in the 1930s through to the 1990s.  Graham is currently a mother in the St. Philip’s system (or at least, she was when she decided to write a history of the school; I don’t know if her son has aged out at this point) and she lovingly describes the early days, in which founder and headmaster Tibbets would bump along in his private car to pick up all four pupils and drive them to school, all the way to near-present day.  I loved the concept – sixty-odd years of history through the lens of one little school – and the execution was flawless and completely delightful.  It made me wish I lived in London so I could send Nugget to St. Philip’s.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life, by Dr. Laura Markham – Hmmm.  What to say about this one?  I read Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids years ago and thought Dr. Markham might have some good tips for getting through this extended period at home.  For many months now, Peanut and Nugget have been one another’s sole playmates, which is not normal.  They’re heartily sick of each other and I can’t blame them.  So – I listened to this on audio and mostly skipped over the third part, which was about introducing a new baby to the family (I’m past that point now).  Some of the tips were helpful but others were unrealistic (does your kid complain that you work too much? just tell your boss that you’ll be leaving at 4:00 p.m. from now on, that will definitely go well!).  I’ve tried to put a few of the tips into practice with varying levels of success.  And I remembered why I stopped reading parenting books: they always make me feel like a total crap mother.

Brendon Chase, by BB – Another one for my “back to school season” reading: BB’s classic novel of wild boyhood.  Young brothers Robin, John and Harold Hensman, faced with the prospect of returning to boarding school for the Easter term, decide that instead, they will run away to the woods and be “outlaws.”  They pull off a brilliant escape and spend the next several months living rough in the woods, shooting and trapping their own dinners, befriending a local hermit, and learning every inch of their forest habitat by heart.  The chapters about the boys are interspersed, every few chapters or so, with hilarious send-ups of the villagers’ frantic reaction to their flight – especially that of the hapless police officer, Bunting.  Total delight.

Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir, by Penelope Lively – File this in the category of “not what I expected, but still fantastic” – I should have known, since it’s Penelope Lively.  What I was expecting: a relatively linear memoir starting with Lively’s childhood in Egypt and focusing on the war years and mid-century Great Britain.  What I got instead: lovely musings on aging, memory, and books, with a few references to Egypt and world events sprinkled in every so often.  The writing was beautiful, of course, and I enjoyed every word.

Gilead (Gilead #1), by Marilynne Robinson – A re-read to end the month; in anticipation of this past Tuesday’s release of Robinson’s latest novel, Jack, I thought a read-through of the entire Gilead series was in order.  I’ve read Gilead and Lila before, but somehow missed Home, and of course have not yet read Jack.  I think the first time I read Gilead, I was not quite in the right frame of mind for it – I remember liking it very much, and thinking it was an excellent book, but not really being blown away.  Not so this time.  I sunk right into the world of Rev. Ames, Boughton, Glory, and Lila and found myself swept along on the current of Robinson’s beautiful words.

Quite a September in books!  I am still really enjoying reading from my own shelves – as reflected by the fact that I enjoyed pretty much everything I picked up this month.  It would be hard to choose a highlight, but since I must (that’s the rules, which… I made up, whoops) – it’s probably Gilead, because how could Marilynne Robinson not be the high point?  But I also loved One Fine Day and Brendon Chase, and We Swim to the Shark was fabulous.  I couldn’t go wrong in September, apparently.  For October – I’m looking forward to more good reading, naturally.  Starting with the rest of the Gilead books, and then wherever fancy takes me.  I want to read Lolly Willowes in October, so expect to see that on next month’s list, and I’ll probably revisit Poems Bewitched and Haunted and Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party towards the end of the month.  I’m just really anticipating, as you can see.

What did you read in September?