2020 Goals: Recap and Lament

All right. Before I can turn my attention to 2021, I always feel compelled to look back on the previous year’s goals, take stock, and see how it all shook out. See where things went well; see where things went unexpectedly (which is pretty much everything in 2020, right?). What worked; what didn’t. All that jazz.

In looking back over my 2020 goals, it was a bit of a mixed bag. Some goals were upended by the pandemic, of course. Others were not impacted at all. Here’s the final result:

  • Get back on the running trails, and rediscover my love for my old sport. Done! The way 2020 shook out, there was very little that I could do to chase adventure and achievement – other than running. But run I did. Between two virtual race series put on by Another Mother Runner, and a number of other virtual races hosted by local running stores in my area, I kept myself busy on the roads and the trails. I definitely feel more inspired and energized about running than I have in a long while, and I am mulling over some more goals (pandemic permitting, of course) for 2021.
  • Buy nothing new for three months.  This doesn’t include food, toiletries, other consumables, gifts or things for the kiddos – but as for myself, I’d like to be a more conscious member of the circular economy. Done! From January through March, I bought nothing for myself that wasn’t strictly necessary – so other than food and toiletries, nothing at all. It was a really interesting and rewarding experience, and one that I would like to repeat sooner than later. I’m not really a big shopper – other than for books, heh – but I think it’s so helpful to take a step back periodically, and be more mindful about consumption.
  • Go up in a hot air balloon. Done! This was one of the few adventure-type plans I made for 2020 that actually came to fruition. It was such a cool experience and I’d definitely like to do it again.
  • Hydrate, eat the rainbow, move, and generally stop putting everyone else’s well-being before my own. Done – I think. This one has been hard. When I wrote the goal I couldn’t possibly have imagined that by the end of the year I’d be juggling my regular full-time job with being tech and emotional support for a five-year-old doing his kindergarten year on the computer. My resolve to care for myself has definitely been tested this year; I think that’s been a common experience as 2020 has placed demands on working parents (and especially mothers) that we never saw coming, and that we still don’t fully have a handle on. But I have been great about hydrating (I’ve always been a big water person, so that’s not exactly a heavy lift) and I am very vegetable-forward in my eating habits, which helps. And I have made a superhuman effort to claim exercise time for myself no matter what else has been going on. I’m a work in progress, as always.
  • Continue to build my bread-baking skills, and experiment with new bread recipes. Done! Who knew that bread-baking would explode in popularity this year? I’ve mostly worked on perfecting my sourdough sandwich bread – but later in the year I did branch out to trying new recipes, like this pane bianco. I have had great luck with the recipes from King Arthur Baking, and thanks to The Great British Bake-Off I now know what a well-kneaded, well-risen dough should actually look like. All of which compounds success and makes me want to keep at it.
  • Do another twelve months’ hiking project on the blog. Can I call this one partially done? I did start off well, but then fell off the wagon when it came to writing and posting recaps. But we hiked consistently all year; it was one of the few weekend activities left to us during the pandemic.
  • Finally finish that purge of all the junk we have been moving from house to house for the last decade.  I’m over it. Calling this done! Over the summer, Steve hired a dumpster and we filled it to the brim and then some. Look at us go! I still have some items in storage and a few things I need to find homes for in the new house, but we have majorly minimized and it feels wonderful.
  • Related: give away, donate, or discard 2,020 items, and pick up 2,020 pieces of trash in my neighborhood. Half done. Thanks in large part to our moving-related purge, I managed to jettison 2,810 individual items. (And actually, the total was probably higher; Steve and I worked together on the purge project and I know he tossed things like boxes of DVDs or knick-knacks before I was able to get an accurate count – so I just estimated and I think I almost always low-balled.) I did not complete the trash pick-up; I was doing great and on track to exceed my goal, but then COVID hit and I decided I wasn’t comfortable picking up people’s discarded cups and cigarette butts – even with gloves on, which I always wear for trash-picking – and that I was going to lay off my trash-picking until after the pandemic.
  • Read what I want to read, and not feel pressured to keep up with buzzy new releases. Definitely done! I wrote here about making the decision to hold off (for now, not forever) on getting a library card in my new town. Instead, I’ve been enjoying cozy nights reading books from my own shelves. It turns out that I really like my own taste in books! 🙂
  • Finish a big family memory-keeping project I’ve been planning for years, in time for Christmas 2020. Well… I did actually finish a major memory-keeping project, just not the one I had in mind. I have been meaning to create a family cookbook using my grandmother’s recipes – but I’m way behind on that project. What I did do was finally finish creating Shutterfly yearbooks going back to Steve’s and my wedding in 2005. That was a huge and very time-consuming project, and it is so satisfying to see them all stacked neatly on my shelf, and to flip through them and reminisce.
  • Travel, have adventures, push boundaries, and get outside my comfort zone regularly.  (How’s that for specific?) Well. I was really hoping for more… obviously. My thinking behind this totally vague goal was: the kids are getting older, no one naps in my house anymore, and we can start to do more adventurous things – both in our local area and further afield. We did get up to some adventures. I went up in a hot air balloon, as you know. We got in some cool hikes in Shenandoah National Park. And we did a lot of kayaking, including (unintentionally) in some Class 1-2 rapids. That was definitely outside my comfort zone, although kayaking generally occupies pretty much the very center of my comfort zone. But the travel and the farther-flung adventures didn’t happen, obviously. I would like to say that I’m hoping for a better year in 2021, but if 2020 has taught me anything it’s to have zero expectations.

So, there we have it – actually not a bad tally considering how badly off the rails this year went. I’m struggling a bit to come up with goals for 2021; more to come on that, soon.

If you set goals for 2020, how’d they go?

It’s MLK Day – and Inauguration Week! What Are You Reading? (January 18, 2021)

Morning, friends! It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S. (how are you honoring MLK’s legacy today?) and the start of the long-awaited Inauguration Week. I am staying home all week – no desire to repeat my experience of driving white-knuckled over the Key Bridge on January 6, and I couldn’t get to my office if I tried, since it’s in the “red zone” where all traffic other than official vehicles is banned, anyway. I plan to watch Joe Biden and Kamala Harris be sworn in from the comfort of my couch on Wednesday.

So, how were your weekends? Coming off of two weeks of nonstop work and nonstop stress, I was ready to turn my brain off for a while. I finally finished my gauntlet of depositions, filings, discovery and sundry other stressful matters at 9:30 on Friday evening, flopped down on the couch and declared myself burnt out. Two weeks into the year! I think that’s a new record. Steve and I declared Saturday “chores day.” With me being completely unavailable for two weeks, Steve was in survival mode trying to juggle work and the kids’ virtual school by himself. (It’s unmanageable with two parents. With one – yikes.) The result was that he heroically made it to the end of the gauntlet with neither kid expelled from school and the house still standing, a major achievement – but the place was trashed. We spent the day with sleeves rolled up, tackling everything that got back-burnered while I was working 65 hour weeks. Steve did another massive clean-out of the playroom, some light plumbing, a bunch of laundry, a kitchen deep clean, etc. I went from room to room in the common spaces, clearing out debris from a two week long kid tornado. We had help from one kid and active resistance from the other (names withheld to protect the guilty and the brown-nosing). By the end of the day the house was looking fantastic, and it was so satisfying. Sunday, we reserved for hiking and we drove down to Huntley Meadows, one of our favorite parks for spotting wetland birds. Unfortunately, when we got there we found it overrun with people – parking lot completely full and cars spilling into the access road – so we quickly pivoted to Plan B: Mount Vernon. We hadn’t been in months, and it turned out to be just what we all wanted. We walked the grounds, so familiar to us, checked out the animals, gazed at the river, and Peanut chattered on about Felicity Merriman from the American Girl collection. Rest of the day – simple. I ran a couple of errands, Peanut watched Felicity, an American Girl Adventure; Nugget watched Dinosaur King; Steve watched football; I read and cleaned up the woodpile. So yes, a simple weekend, but just what I was craving.

Reading. Amazingly, despite all the work last week, it was a good reading week! I finished up The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters and really enjoyed it. (Hard to believe that this 850+ page volume only represented about 5% of their correspondence!) But man alive, were they catty towards one another – I’m glad I have a brother. My sole criterion for my next read was: it had to be short. The Provincial Lady in London (American title; the original UK title was The Provincial Lady Goes Further – which does make sense, as the PL spends time in Brittany and Devonshire as well and is only in London for half the book, approx.) was a hoot. I didn’t love it quite as much as the first in the series, but I still loved it A. LOT. Finally, ended the week with Word from Wormingford – slow, seasonal, and comforting, just what I wanted. I’m a little less than halfway through as of press time, so I’ll finish tonight or tomorrow and then turn to my Inauguration reading – The Truths We Hold, by our soon-to-be Vice President, Kamala Harris.

Watching. We are still loving Big Crazy Family Adventure. The Kirkby family has just crossed the border into India on the final leg of their trip, and it has been such fun – and so fascinating – to follow along with them. We all love this show, which is really saying something; usually there is at least one family member who is just tolerating it. I’m not sure how many episodes we have left but I think we’re getting near the end; I am going to miss it when we’re done.

Listening. Bunch of podcasts, as usual. Highlights were a few episodes of Shedunnit (of course!) and The Mom Hour on storage solutions for all the STUFF that comes into our houses at the holidays. The Lego struggle is real.

Making. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of work product (hopefully some of it was good/competent). More happily, a clean house and a tidy woodpile, and a few rows on a seed stitch cowl I’m knitting, while watching hockey. (Will someone please alert the Sabres to the fact that it’s regular season hockey now, not an exhibition game? The Caps got the memo. Sheesh.)

Moving. Oooooooof. Not. moving. Multiple entire days spent on Zoom are not conducive to movement. The epic day of cleaning on Saturday was kind of a workout, though. And Sunday’s walk, and dragging tree limbs all over the yard – same. Running shoes WILL be back this week, though.

Blogging. More New Year’s content! Recap (and lament) of 2020 goals on Wednesday, and Part III of my annual reading retrospective on Friday. The ever-silly Book Superlatives! Check in with me then.

Loving. Look what I got! A Bonsai tree! One of my errands yesterday was a stop by the garden center, for a decent-looking tray to catch drips from my lemon tree, which I have moved inside for the winter. (It’s already perking up, which is good news – it was looking quite peaky out in the sunroom.) It happened that my local nursery had just gotten in a new stash of Bonsai – well, I couldn’t resist. I remember when I was a kid, my mom took in a Bonsai temporarily while her BFF was on a lengthy family vacation in Europe, and I was fascinated by the perfect little miniature tree. In my recollection, my mom’s friend’s Bonsai was like a very demanding little pet, but when I read the instructions on this one, it seemed surprisingly low maintenance. Here’s hoping I don’t kill it. Peanut has named it “Bonnie” so we’re clearly already getting attached.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

2020 in Books, Part II: Top Ten

Yipes! This is always one of the hardest posts of the year for me to write. Even in 2020, I read so many wonderful books – how am I supposed to choose a top ten? (And don’t tell me I don’t have to choose. What am I supposed to do, just not write a top ten post for the year? Unthinkable.)

If you’d asked me back in May if I thought I’d be struggling to come up with ten favorite books of the year, I’d have found that very plausible – but not for the same reason. All spring, I struggled with a reading slump, brought on by pandemic anxiety and the shifting foundations of the world we’ve all suddenly found ourselves living in. I had figured I’d turn to books for comfort, as is my usual practice, but I couldn’t bring myself to focus; it was odd. I didn’t watch television, either. Mostly, I just stared into space. But happily, the reading slump seems to have worked its way out and now I find myself sitting here, in December, pandemic anxiety still a-raging, but at least I’m struggling to name ten favorite books because of an embarrassment of riches.

Enough said. Let’s try. And for something new, a ranking.

10. Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo. Read in the earliest days of the pandemic, and I didn’t think I was going to like it (I’d read that the writing style was experimental, which largely dooms a book for me). I loved it. It was raw, and real, and like poetry.

9. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. One I’d been meaning to get to for years, I finally found time to meet Miss Pettigrew and join her on her adventures, and what I was missing! Miss Pettigrew was indominable, her friends sparkling, and the whole thing was a joy.

8. We Swim to the Shark, by Georgie Codd. Sometimes you read a book that is just what you need in the moment, and that that was We Swim to the Shark for me. I loved every moment, but especially the evocative descriptions of diving.

7. Wigs on the Green, by Nancy Mitford. Nancy always delivers, right? This book was funny and a little uncomfortable – classic Mitford. The author held it back from publication herself, because it poked fun a little too sharply at some of her family members. I’m glad it’s in the world now.

6. The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rugen, by Elizabeth von Arnim. 2020 was a year of reading Elizabeth von Arnim for me, and The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rugen very closely beat out Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther for space on this list. Elizabeth goes on a “solo” vacation (of course, as a German baroness, her “solo” vacation includes a maid, a driver, and unfortunately, a tagalong cousin) and it’s equal parts beautiful nature writing and hilarious scrapes.

5. Life Among the Savages, by Shirley Jackson. I’ve only know of Shirley Jackson as the writer of such terrifying horrors as We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, so I figured she was not for me. Not so! This was laugh-out-loud funny. I read it before the pandemic, and scared people on the Metro by cackling the entire time.

4. The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple. Every Whipple I’ve read has been wonderful, but The Priory is my favorite. My heart goes with sweet Christine as she fights for her marriage and her home.

3. Going Solo, by Roald Dahl. Like most of us, I’ve got extreme cabin fever at this point. Roald Dahl helps alleviate that. From the moment he gets on the boat and encounters the eccentricities of the “typical” British expat, he’s funny and engaging. Slightly Foxed published both his memoirs; I had no desire to read Boy, but snapped up Going Solo and it was balm for the wanderlusting spirit this year.

2. Persuasion, by Jane Austen. In any other year, Jane would have to occupy the top spot (even if it feels like cheating to give that honor to a re-read). Persuasion is arguably her best novel, and it had been too long since I visited with Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Perhaps it’s a testament to 2020 that, while the last time I read it I found it a bit of a downer, this time, every page was a delight.

  1. To War with Whitaker, by Hermione, Countess Ranfurly. Some years bring you a new treasure, and whatever else 2020 was, it delivered on that front. I read To War with Whitaker back in April and have been enthusiastically recommending it ever since. It is funny, moving, fascinating, and a total joy. I love it and will re-read it a thousand times.

What were your favorite books of 2020?

Christmas Book Haul 2020

As y’all know, I’m not big on gift-bragging type of blog posts, but I can’t resist sharing my Christmas book haul each year. My family members always deliver; I am fortunate. They came through this year, and since I still haven’t gotten a library card in my new town (not so new anymore; how have we been living here for six months already, just about?) I anticipate that I’ll be getting to the books in this stack sooner than I have been accustomed to do. In fact, I’ve already blitzed through one of them!

Here are the details.

From Steve:

  • At Large and At Small and Rereadings, both by Anne Fadiman. I read Fadiman’s collection of essays about the reading life, Ex Libris, last spring and loved it. Can’t wait to get to these – and how nice they’ll look in my growing “books about books” section!
  • Crossed Skis, by Carol Carnac. A new addition to my British Library Crime Classics shelf! Evil lurks at a ski resort. I can’t wait.
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure, both by Thomas Hardy. I’ve had my eye on these two Penguin Clothbound Classics for ages now. They’re so pretty.
  • Sanditon, by Jane Austen. How did I not know that Penguin Clothbound Classics published an edition of Austen’s final, unfinished work (bundled together as it often is with The Watsons and Lady Susan)? I already own Sanditon, but I am so excited to have completed my Clothbound Classics collection of Jane’s works. The only problem: fitting them on my Austen shelf. I’ll figure it out, though.
  • The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, by Martin Edwards. Edwards is the voice in golden age crime these days. In addition to being a crime writer in his own right and President of the current iteration of the Detection Club, Edwards is the series consultant to the British Library Crime Classics. I am so excited to read his history of the genre.
  • Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie, by Anne Martinetti and Guillame Lebeau. I’ve been eyeing this graphic novel-style biography of Agatha Christie forever, it seems. Christie’s life was even more fascinating than her novels – I can’t wait to read this.
  • The Moment of Tenderness, by Madeleine L’Engle. I’m not a short-story aficionado in general, but a trove of newly discovered stories from the span of L’Engle’s career is certainly a treasure, and I look forward to digging in.

From others:

  • Death on the Nile and The Mysterious Affair at Styles, both by Agatha Christie, from my parents. I dearly love to curl up with a golden age mystery, especially on a frigid winter’s night, and of all the queens of crime, my heart belongs to Christie. My mom fed my addiction this year and I’ve already finished Death on the Nile. (Once again, I figured out the whodunit, but not the how.)
  • The Truths We Hold, by Kamala Harris, from my parents. I think I’m going to save this one for Inauguration Week.
  • Birdmania: A Remarkable Passion for Birds, by Bernd Brunner, from my brother and sister-in-law. After the many, many lengthy phone conversations and text exchanges that I’ve had with both Dan and Danielle, comparing feeder notes and birding expeditions, I should have guessed that I’d unwrap a bird-themed book on Christmas morning. I flipped through this a little and it looks so good!

I also received Pocket RBG Wisdom and The RBG Workout, which my dad insisted on giving me – unpictured here because they were packed in a different bag after our visit to my parents’ house for New Year’s. Both look like a lot of fun and I will be flipping through each very soon.

And that does for me! I’m a lucky bookworm indeed. At this rate, it will probably be another year before I find the time to register for a new library card. I’ve got no shortage of reading material right here, thanks to my generous family.

Did you unwrap any books on Christmas morning?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 11, 2021)

Well. Another week. I’ll be honest, after last week I’m mostly just happy to still live in a democracy. (I know, it’s actually a republic. Don’t @ me.) If you’re a DC friend, I hope that you and yours are all safe and well. Last week was… not a good week. Remember how I mentioned I was staring down a gauntlet of two very challenging, long and stressful workweeks? Although I’ve mostly been working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic, I have certain tasks that are so difficult to do at home that it is really not practicable to attempt them outside of the office – and that was all of last week. So I was in my office in downtown DC, about six blocks from the White House, when everything went to hell and a mob of insurrectionists stormed into the Capitol. I ended up suspending the deposition I was taking, rushing to my car, and getting the H*E*L*L out of the city as quickly as I could. My regular route home goes past the Lincoln Memorial, but I had a feeling I didn’t want to drive in that direction, so I rerouted myself through Georgetown and breathed a big sigh of relief when I crossed the Key Bridge and got back to Virginia. When I moved here in 2003, I sort of assumed that at some point I’d find myself uncomfortably close to some frightening situation – that’s the price you pay to live in the DC area, and I love it here – that day was Wednesday. Needless to say, I’m working from home until well after the Inauguration, which isn’t great – I have more work that is hard to do from home this week, and I’m not very happy about losing access to my office. I know that in the grand scheme of things there are others with much bigger problems, but it makes me angry that I have to keep rearranging my life to accommodate a bunch of sociopaths who have completely disassociated themselves from reality. Some of us are just trying to live our lives here.

Any way, all that’s to say: I’m exhausted. Despite being completely freaked out by Wednesday’s events, I had to push them out of mind and focus on work for the rest of the week, and I will have to do the same thing this week (and without access to my office). I was so drained by Friday night that I spent all of Saturday just bumming around the house and vegging, which is very unlike me – especially on a beautiful day. Sunday was a little better. The weather was still gorgeous, and we went on a family hike in the morning, then in the afternoon I spent almost three hours in the garden: weeding, collecting branches that have blown down in some of our recent storms, and burning yard waste in my fire pit. It was a pretty simple weekend and I could use another couple of days – but two was better than none. Five days to go until a three-day weekend.

Reading. Didn’t I say that an 850-page nonfiction book was an odd choice for two weeks of work craziness? I suppose it is. Obviously, I’m still working my way through The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. I’m up to the 1970s now and utterly fascinated – and enjoying myself immensely, despite Unity and Diana’s reprehensible politics. Debo is still my favorite; I just wish she would write more about Chatsworth. I expect I’ll finish up early this week and then I’ll have to decide what’s next; at the moment I have nothing in particular on deck, but plenty of good material to choose from on my shelves.

Watching. I’d been suggesting we buy the first season of Big Crazy Family Adventure on Prime Video – it was less than $5.00 – and we finally did, and it’s great! A Travel Channel docuseries following a family (two parents, a seven-year-old and a three-year-old) that spends six months traveling from their hometown in British Columbia to a remote monastery in India, without getting on a plane once, it’s such a good show. So far we have watched the Kirkby family all the way to Beijing – three-year-old Taj is the family favorite. I love how the family throws themselves into new experiences, and it’s good for Peanut and Nugget to see two kids even younger than they are (respectively) taking on new experiences.

Listening. Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts. The usuals. Some Mom Hour, some Shedunnit. Nothing out of the ordinary, but all enjoyable.

Making. Other than a roast dinner last night and a pile of work product, nothing. I’m still in survival mode for another week.

Moving. Again, other than the hike and gardening yesterday, nothing – see above re: survival mode. I just need to get through this week and then I can get a bit of balance back. It will not come as a surprise to anyone to know that I do not thrive when all of my margins are taken away from me. I need more of a balance, or things go really awry.

Blogging. Another bookish week – that’s good, at least. Belatedly, I’m sharing my Christmas book haul with you on Wednesday (it’s good!) and then Part II of my 2020 reading retrospective on Friday. Check in with me then!

Loving. I thought about dispensing with this category this week, since there’s precious little to love right now. My house is trashed, my country is falling apart, and I’m staring down another hellish workweek. But I always write something here, so: ice water. I drink several glasses every day, and it’s one of the best things ever. What can I say, I’m a simple girl with simple tastes. But in the middle of everything else falling apart, it does feel nice to do something good for me.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

2020 in Books, Part I: By the Numbers

2020 was an odd and terrible year in so many respects; we all know this already. With respect to reading, I thought early on that it was going to be a bust. Between a busy start to the year (preparing for a federal jury trial that ended up indefinitely postponed) and then the upending of everything that we all thought we knew, starting in March, it was weird and stressful and I spent a lot of the year staring at the wall or doomscrolling through my phone – not reading. Yet somehow in there I still managed to pile up the pages. There were weeks when I barely touched a book and weeks when I ripped through six books. And really no telling what the short-term reading future held – let alone the long-term. Here’s how it all shook out – get ready for a monster post:

Totals. According to Goodreads, I read 124 books in 2020, for a total of 31,363 pages. Actually pretty consistent with recent years. I always set a reading goal of 104 books – a pace of two per week – and in the past couple of years I’ve been exceeding that goal by about twenty books. So: right on the money.

Again according to Goodreads, the shortest book I read was Wonders and Absurdities 2019, Philip Rhys Evans’ commonplace selections for last year (I loaded it to Goodreads, so you’ll have to take my word for it that’s the title), which clocked in at a slim 24 pages. The longest book I read was The Pickwick Papers (which I reviewed for The Classics Club), a doorstopper at a whopping 944 pages.

Let’s break it down. I love this nerdy navel-gazing tradition of looking back over a year’s worth of reading. Here we go.

Pretty standard breakdown between fiction, non-fiction and poetry. A lot of bookish friends have reported reading more non-fiction than usual in 2020 – to the extent we’ve all been reading at all – but that doesn’t seem to hold true for me. This breakdown – majority fiction, but a healthy dose of non-fiction and a handful of poetry titles – is pretty much run-of-the-mill for me in any year.

Fiction genres this year contained some of the expected and some of the unexpected. Expected: I favored classics, which I always do, even more heavily than usual. Makes sense that in a year containing so much uncertainty, I was drawn to old favorites and new discoveries that have nonetheless stood the test of time. (Contributing to this was the fact that I moved mid-year and still have not gotten a library card in my new system – partly avoiding public places unless necessary, and partly because I’ve been enjoying reading from my own shelves, which are almost all classics.) Mysteries played a big role in my 2020 reading as well, which also makes sense in a stressful year; that neat resolution at the end of a cozy mystery sure is enticing. Unexpected: 20 sci-fi and fantasy titles! Whoa – that’s highly unusual for me. But I can explain that one too: it’s almost all Lumberjanes. Remember that binge over the summer? I knew that would skew my totals at the end of the year, and it did.

As for non-fiction genres, I think this was pretty predictable. Memoirs and books about books make up the lion’s share of my non-fiction reads this year, which is about standard for me. One parenting book: also standard, I tend to avoid those. There was less social science (which includes history) than usual, which also makes sense, in a year that was stressful enough as it is. The other thing that surprises me on this graph is: only four books about gardens and nature. I love nature writing as it is, and I moved to the exurbs this year, and it was a year for comfort reading – all of which should have meant a higher total. Wonder how 2021 will shake out in that respect.

Nothing too unusual in the format of the books I read. As always, it was almost all physical books. There was that comics binge over the summer, accounting for the larger total there, and the usual smattering of journals, ebooks, and a couple of audiobooks.

Here’s one that’s flipped on its head! Source of books was very unusual this year. I’m a self-proclaimed library junkie, and usually my yearly totals are overwhelmingly sourced from the library – this even though I have a carefully curated collection of books on my own shelves that I am really keen on reading. But this year, other than a handful that were borrowed from friends and sourced from the library, I read almost entirely from my own shelves. The reason for this was largely the pandemic. When everything shut down in mid-March, I had a short stack from the Alexandria library. I read my way through that, returned them, and that was pretty much it. I didn’t utilize the curbside pickup option – just felt like one more thing to figure out and I didn’t have the wherewithal. Then in June we moved houses – just one county over, but that meant a new library system, and again, figuring out the logistics of going and getting a library card in my new county, during a pandemic, just felt like too much. Plus by that point I was really enjoying my own shelves; it turns out I really like my own taste in books. Who knew?

Here’s one I’ve never tracked before – first-time reads versus re-reads. Given my past predilections for using the library, I think I probably read more first-time reads in past years, but I can’t confirm that since I don’t have the data. It will be interesting to track this in future years and see how it changes (or doesn’t).

Getting a little more into the weeds, when it came to authors’ sex or gender, I was weighted in favor of women as usual. There was a respectable minority of men and a handful of “various” – journals and short-story collections with both male and female contributors. Finally, five of the Lumberjanes trade paperbacks I read over the summer had an author who uses all gender pronouns; I have noted this as non-binary on my pie chart, although the author has noted that they are not using a particular gender label at this time. Hopefully I’ll read more gender non-binary authors in 2021.

One last graph. Setting was pretty standard for me this year – majority Great Britain (of those, two books set in Scotland and the rest in England) and USA. A handful of books set in continental Europe, one each in Asia and Canada – none entirely in Africa, I must do better in 2021, although one of the “various” category was set in a few locations between Africa, the Middle East, and continental Europe – and a bunch in either fictional worlds or in multiple settings (none of which were really dominant). I’m giving myself a pass on diversity of settings in 2020. It was a stressful year; I just wanted to close my eyes and think of England, apparently.

Whew! This one is always a behemoth, but fun to write. It was a terrible year in many respects, but actually rather a good one for reading – at least for me. Next year, I predict more of the same, on the book front at least. More reading from my own shelves (I’ll probably hold off on that library card until COVID numbers in my area go down substantially and I feel more comfortable going out to public places). More comfort reading – more classics, more mysteries, more nature, more re-reads. More England, certainly.

How was your 2020 in books?

Reading Round-Up: December 2020

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 December, 2020.

The Folio Book of Christmas Crime Stories, by Various Authors – This was a fun way to kick off the Christmas season! As with any short story collection, there were hits and misses for me, but overall it was a delight. Highlights included Agatha Christie’s “The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding” and Ellis Peters’ “The Price of Light.”

Village Christmas: And Other Notes on the English Year, by Laurie Lee – Contrary to what the title and cover might lead you to believe, this book is mostly not about Christmas. The caroling and winter scenes from Cider with Rosie appear at the beginning, but then Lee pivots to other topics, which are loosely organized by season (although not always related to the season in which he places them). Although mostly not Christmassy, this collection of essays and short pieces was enjoyable. I particularly liked the beautifully written portrait of the Lake District; the fascinating history of the Lords of Berkeley Castle; and all of the essays about Lee’s childhood village of Slad.

Slightly Foxed No. 68: Ring Out, Wild Bells!, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – An issue of Slightly Foxed is always a winner. The editors’ letter at the beginning is a treat, and the essays always leave me with a bursting TBR list. I particularly enjoyed a piece about pipe-smoking (who knew?) and the final essay, on writers’ superstitions.

Christmas at Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories, by Anthony Trollope – Just a little treat to scratch the Trollope itch between Victorian doorstoppers. This pretty little volume is part of the Penguin Christmas Classics collection, and it is vintage Trollope. The titular story – “Christmas at Thompson Hall” is a hoot, involving a case of mistaken identity and a mustard poultice. But the other stories are cracking good reads, too.

Wonders and Absurdities 2019, by Philip Rhys Evans – Having enjoyed the selections from Evans’ annual commonplace book, A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book, I was excited when he started publishing his annual volumes through Slightly Foxed. This was a classic: it only took about 20 minutes to read, but I was giggling madly the whole time, and after a few snippets I had to run out of the room to read them aloud to Steve. That is a mark of a good commonplace book.

Portrait of a Murderer, by Anne Meredith – A bit of a darker one for Christmas – probably as dark as a Christmas mystery gets, in fact. Adrian Gray meets a violent death on Christmas Eve (or very early on Christmas morning) at the hands of one of his children. The problem is, quite a few of his children have a motive, and several had the opportunity. This isn’t a traditional whodunit; the reader learns early on the identity of the murderer, and then the book shifts to a fascinating, if unsettling, psychological portrait of the killer’s thoughts in the aftermath of the crime. I found it really engaging, but not sure I’ll be ready to re-read it very soon.

Christmas Crackers: Being Ten Commonplace Selections, 1970-79, by John Julius Norwich – Norwich is famed as a father of the practice of keeping commonplace books and publishing them (while it’s a longstanding tradition, I think he was one of the first to make his selections commercially available. This compilation of his selections from the 1970s was mostly evergreen, but there was a little bit of timely material that made reading it like opening a fun time capsule.

Round the Christmas Fire: Stories, by various authors – How could I resist a selection of stories from Nancy Mitford, P.G. Wodehouse, Stella Gibbons and more? Mitford’s offering was the Christmas Day chapter from Christmas Pudding, a book I read a few Christmases ago (or was it just last Christmas? 2020 has been a decade) and loved; and Wodehouse’s selection, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, was my favorite of the book.

Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, ed. Martin Edwards – I decided on this one because Caroline Crampton noted on Instagram that it’s one of her favorites, as it features Dorothy L. Sayers’ short story The Necklace of Pearls. That was my favorite story of the bunch, as well, although there were a few other gems in there.

The Twelve Birds of Christmas, by Stephen Moss – I’d waited patiently for this one for nearly a month and when it finally arrived, I inhaled it. Moss reimagines the classic Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas as actually being ALL about birds, and he presents a compelling case for each of the “days” referring to a different bird (i.e. “twelve drummers drumming” is about woodpeckers). Being a bird nerd, I loved every word of this.

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Correspondence, by John Julius Norwich – I am making a tradition out of reading this on Christmas Eve, by the light of the Christmas tree! It’s a very short read – only takes about ten minutes – but hilarious, and Quentin Blake’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment.

An Englishman’s Commonplace Book, by Roger Hudson – Another one I read straight through on Christmas Eve; this is Slightly Foxed‘s new commonplace offering for 2020. I found it a good read, although not funny. Since one of the things I liked best about Philip Rhys Evans’ A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book is the humor, I didn’t like this one quite as much. Still good, though!

A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book, by Philip Rhys Evans – Perhaps it was coming off of An Englishman’s Commonplace Book, but this was even funnier than I remembered from last year. Every page had something on it that tickled me. A nice way to wind down a crummy year: laughter.

Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher – One final Christmas read to wrap up the year. I enjoyed this, although not as much as September, which I read earlier in the year. There was plenty of detail about scenery, house decoration, and food – which is why I read Pilcher, let’s be honest. But not quite as much as in September, and I found the premise a little off-putting (in particular, the relationship between the two main characters, Oscar and Elfrida, just rang a little jarring to me). My other Pilcher pet peeve was in full display: thirty is not over the hill, and sixty is not elderly, Rosamunde. For Pete’s sake. But I don’t want to create the impression that I didn’t like Winter Solstice – I did, especially the descriptions of the sparkling cold Scottish landscape.

What a month to end a year of reading! Fourteen books, and you’d never know from this that I struggled with a pandemic-induced reading slump, on and off, throughout the year. I made a point of reading Christmas books this month – clearly – and ended up wallowing in twinkle lights for the entirety of December. There were some definite highlights, though. I think my favorite book of the month – probably not a surprise – was The Twelve Birds of Christmas. Revisiting A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book is a highlight of every Christmas season, too, and it’s always a treat to read a new issue of The Slightly Foxed Quarterly. Good stuff all around! And now on to 2021 reading, and hopefully a better year in all respects.

How was your final month of 2020 reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (January 4, 2021)

Morning, all. How were your New Year’s celebrations? Anyone else stay up until midnight? I did – couldn’t believe it. We actually snuck out of town for a New Year’s visit to my parents in upstate New York; we had been turning the idea of making the trip over and over in our minds for weeks, balancing the general recommendation to stay put against the considerations that we wouldn’t have to fly, the kids missed their grandparents, and my parents have been cautious throughout the pandemic. It was a low-key visit; both Steve and I had a lot of work to do to wrap up the year so we mostly sat at the dining room table, plugging away, while the kids raced cars and did art projects with my parents. We did escape for a socially distanced driveway hang with one family member, and a couple of short hikes – including the above ramble through the Pine Bush. Neither of the kids felt like coming along, so my parents ended up babysitting and Steve and I made it a day date – fun! We discussed needing to do more of those in 2021.

We drove back to Virginia on Saturday after breakfast and gained ourselves a day to regroup and get organized before the new week. I have a gauntlet of two extremely busy workweeks ahead – I’m dreading them – and it was good to have some time to grocery shop, meal prep, and get ahead on some work. I honestly don’t know how I am going to find enough hours in the day to get it all done, but the advance prep will help.

Reading. With all of the work and family time last week, I didn’t get all that much reading done – at least, not all that much novel-reading. I spent most of the week working my way through a stack of back issues of Adirondack Life, which I wanted to leave for my parents. But I did make a little time for reading one of my Christmas books – Death on the Nile, thanks Mom! – and finished it in the car on the way home on Saturday. After that I turned to The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, which I had downloaded to my kindle before the trip. An 850-ish page non-fiction book seems like a strange choice for what will probably be a 65-hour workweek, but I swear there’s a method to my madness. I figure I’ll dip in and out, reading a letter here and a letter there whenever I have time to escape into the Mitfords’ madcap world. The collection starts in the 1920s; so far, I’m around the late 1930s and reaffirming what I already knew: Debo is definitely my favorite.

Watching. Whenever we’re at my parents’ house, we always watch Jeopardy – my dad and I competing for most answers shouted out before the contestants on the screen ring their buzzer. It was bittersweet this time, as the show approaches Alex Trebek’s final episodes. (Seriously, 2020. You were the worst.) On Saturday and Sunday nights, once we were home, we squeezed in a few episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe and grumbled about not being able to travel.

Listening. Not much – a couple of podcasts here and there while packing my clothes and the kids’ clothes and trundling to the garden center and the grocery store curbside pickup line on Sunday. The highlight: Lia Leendertz (author of The Almanac series) has a new podcast about the seasons; the first episode (“January”) is live and to say that I’m excited would be an understatement.

Moving. Erp. Busy week last week, busy two weeks ahead – movement fell by the wayside and I can feel it in my sore back and neck. A couple of hikes, that’s it. I’d say that I will make a point of doing better this week ahead, but to be honest, I’m going to be in survival mode until January 15. Any movement I manage to get in will be gravy.

Making. A lot of work product, a partially-unpacked suitcase, and a big pot of stew and bags of sliced veggies and romaine lettuce for the week ahead (because failing to plan is planning to fail, right?).

Blogging. I might be dreading the work week ahead, but I do have a good week of blogging – and by good, I mean bookish. December reading recap coming atcha on Wednesday, and Part I of my traditional three-part reading retrospective on the year just ended, on deck for Friday. Check in with me then!

Loving. Would it be a cop-out to say my leggings again? Yes? Then let me think. Well – I really loved the new Lia Leendertz podcast I mentioned up above. I already said it was a highlight, so won’t say too much. I listened to it while driving to the grocery store to pick up my curbside order, and it was like sixteen minutes of The Almanac, read by Leendertz in her gentle voice. Although I was driving on a heavily traveled road outside of D.C., I felt like I was wandering the fields and hedgerows of rural England. It was bliss.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Hello, 2021!

Good morning, world! Good morning, 2021. To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t sure you were actually going to get here.

What do you have in store for us? A COVID-19 vaccine? A peaceful transition of power? A hug from my grandmother? A return to in-person school? Travel?

Friends, I hope that you had a wonderful New Year’s Eve, celebrating with your bubble. If you’re a drinker, I hope it included some really excellent champagne or cocktails or champagne cocktails or whatever your preferred concoction. I hope you are able to take some time this weekend to rest and recharge for what lies ahead. And I hope that whatever it is, 2021 is filled with joy, prosperity, and health for us all.

Cheers to hoping, cheers to all of you!

2020: A Look Back (Braces Self)

I almost didn’t write this post. Because do I really want to look back on this year that has felt like a decade, and not in a good way? To be honest, I’m not totally sure I do. But I always do this post, and while this year didn’t go to plan for anybody, I do want to pause to reflect on the unexpected sources of joy and growth that we drew upon to get through this year.

January. We rang in the new year on a hopeful note. Spent New Year’s Day hiking in Old Chatham, New York, then warming up at my high school BFF’s house. Home in Virginia, we also squeezed in a hike at Great Falls – one of our favorite parks. The falls were roaring that day! Later in the month, I spent a week in New Orleans at a litigation training conference. Didn’t get much time to explore – the conference kept us busy – but I did make it out to the French Quarter with a new friend, and had beignets twice. Unbeknownst to me, this was basically the only travel I’d do in 2020.

February. Work kept me super busy in February. I was preparing for a federal jury trial that was scheduled for mid-March, and was logging 14+ hour days, staying in the office until 11:00 p.m. most nights, and working through the weekends, to get through all of the pretrial work. Not many highlights that month – no hikes, no weekend fun at all – but I did get to celebrate with friends at my work wife Connie’s baby shower.

March. Forever known as “the month the world shut down.” Or, our world, anyway. My trial was indefinitely postponed, Nugget’s birthday party (scheduled for the end of the month) was cancelled, and we all headed home to sit and wait out the uncertainty. (Which we are still waiting out.) The kids got an “extended spring break” while their school figured out what to do (basically nothing – one Zoom session a week and a bag of worksheets; tuition dollars vey well spent). We all wondered what this new life boded for the summer and beyond.

April. As our time at home stretched on, new routines started to take shape. The kids and I began each morning with a long walk, often to a middle school soccer field where they could run around, then muddled through my amateur efforts at homeschooling them until lunchtime. Steve took over in the afternoons and I hopped on my work computer and fielded client questions about how to manage their workforces in these weird times. I grasped a bit of sanity via my running shoes and signed up for a training and virtual racing program from Another Mother Runner.

May. More of the same. Still home, still basically locked down. We walked the neighborhood. We homeschooled. We hiked on the weekends – when we could. It seemed like everyone and their mom had suddenly discovered our favorite hobby, and the trails were alarmingly crowded, but we found a few hidden gems. We also started gradually moving things over to our new house, one county over, in preparation for a June move.

June. This month was all about packing and moving. Our truck rolled out of Alexandria mid-month and we prepared to start a new chapter out in the exurbs. The move was bittersweet – away from so many of our favorite places and people. No more walking to the library and the farmers’ market; no more back patio hangout sessions with the best neighbors ever. But a lot of good things in our new town, and we looked forward to learning them all.

July. Steve and I got a long break this month, because the kids went up to New York to spend a month with my parents. We missed them, but it was also really needed – on all sides. We needed a break from the kids and they needed a break from us, and my parents really missed them. Steve and I spent our time “off” from parenting pretty much the way we always do – hiking and kayaking – but without breaking up fights or doling out snacks. Refreshing! And we also did a massive purge of a bunch of stuff we’d been moving from house to house and never using – Steve rented a dumpster and we filled it to the brim. The kind of project we could never do with the kids around.

August. As the calendar turned to August, Steve and I drove up to my parents’ house to pick up the kids. From there, we were supposed to go on to Cape Cod for a summer vacation, but had to cancel last-minute because of COVID-19 travel advisories. So instead, we quarantined in my parents’ house for a week, then drove back home to Virginia, disappointed and disheartened, but glad to be reunited with the kiddos. We tried to make a staycation work, but the weather was crummy and I ended up just working the whole time – and with that, our vacation hopes for 2020 evaporated. I tried to look on the bright side – we were (and remain) healthy, our families are healthy, and we kept our jobs despite the imploding economy – but I wasn’t in the best place. Just very frustrated that irresponsible government and willful blindness and intransigence by half the population had stolen half the year from us, with no end in sight. We were responsible and careful and rearranged our lives to stay home and keep our communities safe, and we felt like we were being punished; it felt very unfair.

September. The year from hell continued into September, as we stared down the barrel of a very different school year. The kids headed “back” to school – to second grade and kindergarten, respectively – but not in the usual sense. We elected virtual schooling for them as the best of all the bad options, and the whole family transitioned, again, into a new routine for our days – Nugget on his computer next to me, Peanut working side-by-side with Steve. Running kept me sane, and I banged out a few virtual 5K races and a trail 10K.

October. Feeling more and more frustrated with having put our lives on hold for so many months and given up so much to subsidize others’ bad behavior, I decided that I was not going to have my favorite month taken away from me. I finally booked that hot air balloon ride – a Valentine’s Day gift from Steve, right before the world went to hell – and we hit the pumpkin patch and took a walk around Old Town to check out the Halloween decorations. It wasn’t much, but it was something. The kids had fun contactless trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, dressed as Batgirl and the Mandalorian, respectively.

November. It was a low-key month; I swallowed my disappointment at not traveling for Thanksgiving and we threw ourselves into local fun. Met up with friends for a hike in Rock Creek Park; ran several virtual races – including Nugget’s first kids’ mile – and celebrated Thanksgiving with a prepared foods feast at home after our dishwasher spontaneously combusted. Good times.

December. The end of an absurd year, but I can’t bring myself to join the voices shouting “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, 2020!” To be honest, I’m too afraid of what 2021 might have in store. We finished out the year the same as we’ve been living since March. Another month of muddling through distance learning, tramping along the trails at Riverbend Park, watching the birds from the kitchen and sunroom windows, and collapsing on the couch at the end of the days. There was one snow, which was fun; the rugrats pulled out the sled and went screaming down the backyard hill with the neighbor kid. I continued to drive the struggle bus. We celebrated a quiet Christmas at home with our little bubble, and looked ahead to hopefully better things down the road.

And so ends the WORST YEAR EVER. I do hope 2021 holds better things in store, although at this rate I’m not especially optimistic. But here we go: New Year’s is just around the corner. Bring on the cocktails.