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Well – it’s here.  I sort of didn’t believe this day would actually come – but of course, I knew that it had to.  And now it’s here.  Inauguration Day.  Eight years ago, I was on the Mall for President Obama’s first inauguration.  It was one of my dad’s “bucket list” items to attend a Presidential inauguration, and the historic nature of President Obama’s was appealing.  So – we went; Steve, my dad, and I.  We spent the night in the West End apartment of a friend who had (probably wisely) decamped to another state for the weekend, so that we wouldn’t have to fight the Metro on our way in.  And we walked down to the Mall early on Inauguration Day morning.  The crowds were intense and we ended up probably a half mile back from the Capitol steps – all the way down the grass at the Smithsonian Museum of American History (which felt fitting, after all).  The cold was intense, too.  I spent most of the day hopping up and down, trying to stay warm in my warmest ski parka, while my dad waited in interminable hot chocolate lines.  But at the end of the day, we’d seen Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th President of the United States and we walked home beaming.

This year – I have no desire to fight the crowds and attend the inauguration.  I don’t even plan to turn on the television.  My office is closed, as are pretty much all offices in downtown D.C., and I’m planning to spend the day in front of my computer, working from home, and ignore the fact that something huge and upsetting is going on just across the river.  I’ll take refuge in work and then, if I get through my to-do list, I’ll open a book and turn to my lifelong comfort – words.

We all have our ways of coping in times of national (and personal) stress.  Steve likes to take out his frustrations in a video game.  I know people who pound it out at the gym or who pour themselves into knitting, baking, running, or innumerable other pastimes when they’re stressed.  For me, salvation and clear-headedness are found mostly in two places: on the hiking trails, and between the covers of a book.  And since Election Day, I’ve taken particular comfort in my old friend – words – when the going got tough.

Historical Documents

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On Election Day, I left the house and walked to my polling place (living in a walkable neighborhood again after a few years is such a delight).  I cast my ballot, exchanged a few jokes and pleasantries with the Hillary campaign folks gathered just over the “no campaigning line” on my way out, and walked to the Metro to head into the office.  As I walked to the train, the enormity and historical significance of this election overwhelmed me and I started to cry.  I really believed that my candidate was going to win (she did pretty much sweep my little liberal Northern Virginia bubble, and I was proud, later, that it was our votes in the D.C. suburbs that delivered Virginia to her).  But I still felt all weird and shaky for some reason.  So when I got to work, I grabbed a cup of coffee from the kitchenette and fired up my work computer to read the only thing that I thought was going to comfort me in that moment – the Declaration of Sentiments.

 We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…

In college I visited Seneca Falls, site of the historic signing of the Declaration of Sentiments and the birthplace of the women’s rights movement (now a national historic park).  I can’t wait to take Peanut there someday, and show her this important place to her heritage.  And on Election Day 2016, as I read articles about women in Rochester waiting in long lines to leave their “I Voted” stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s grave, the Declaration of Sentiments seemed like the words I needed to have in my head.  I left the document open on my computer screen all day.

News Coverage

Of course, we all know how Election Day turned out.  Everyone coped differently.  Some avoided all news coverage; I found myself sucking down article after article on The Washington Post and The Atlantic‘s websites.  I know, I know.  Reading those publications wasn’t going to do much to explain to me How This Could Possibly Happen In America.  But I wasn’t looking for those kinds of answers just then.  I was looking for comfort, remember?  They delivered that comfort, weirdly, amongst the doom and gloom.

Alexandra Petri, the hilarious voice behind the ComPost blog (and one of my favorite satirical writers) wrote:

You go to Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged shack on the edge of the forest. “Please,” you say. “Take anything you want. I will make any trade. My free press? My bodily autonomy? My voice? My right to a place at the table?”

Baba Yaga looks at you, confused. “You must trade something you still have.”

(From “The Five Stages of Trump Grief,” November 11, 2016).

And Garrison Keillor, that giant of the intellectual community (and D.C. darling) gave us these words in the Post, which were shared and shared and shared in my Facebook feed and which I must have read a dozen times if I read them once:

We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear.  The government is in Republican hands.  Let them deal with him.  Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses.

(From “Trump Voters Will Not Like What Happens Next,” November 9, 2016.)  Keillor’s words were the only thing that made me smile on November 9th.  All of his plans sound great – well, except for maybe meditating, which is something I’ve never been able to get the hang of doing.  But reading Jane Austen, raising heirloom tomatoes, tasting artisan beer and traveling?  Sign me up.

In the days after the election, I devoured satire, along with social justice reading lists, calls to action, hand-wringing blog posts, and articles that began to take apart the question that historians will study for years – how on Earth…?

Hamiltunes

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(Busted.  That’s The Secret Garden playbill she’s reading, not Hamilton.  We’re not taking her with us when we see the show on Broadway in October.  Oh, yeah, did I tell you we finally got tickets?!)

I stay and work with Hamilton.  We write essays against slavery.  And every day’s a test of our camaraderie and bravery.

(John Laurens as portrayed by Anthony Ramos in Hamilton.)

It’s not exactly a change to say that we are listening to Hamilton a lot in our house.  The whole family loves the soundtrack – from Steve, who now knows it well enough to know when to adjust the volume (for instance, before just about every Hercules Mulligan line except for “Yo, I’m a tailor’s apprentice, and I got y’all knuckleheads in loco parentis.”) down to Nugget, who has recently started to bust out with “Frow my shot! Shot!” at the cutest possible moments.  Of course Peanut is a huge fan of the Schuyler Sisters – especially Angelica – and she requests “Wait For It,” her favorite song, every morning on the way to school.

Hamilton, as just about everyone knows at this point, is truly a musical for our times.  In telling the story of the American Revolution through hip-hop, rap, salsa, jazz, and so many other styles of song, Hamilton also speaks volumes about the current state of our great experiment.  The cast has been outspoken throughout the election process, using their fame to reach millions of people with their message of inclusivity and diversity.  And of course, the music is awesome.

I think your pants look hot.  Laurens, I like you a lot.

As I’ve been listening on an almost daily basis after the election, a few lines have jumped out as particularly poignant or relevant.  They’re usually delivered by one of my favorite characters in the show – John Laurens.  I have a soft spot for Washington, of course.  But Laurens was a historical figure about whom I didn’t know much, and Anthony Ramos’ portrayal of Hamilton’s best friend and fellow aide-de-camp to Washington is one of the best in the show, I think.  Laurens – an ardent abolitionist – also has some of the most thought-provoking lines for our time.

Rise up.
When you’re living on your knees, you
Rise up.
Tell your brother that he’s gotta
Rise up.
Tell your sister that she’s gotta
Rise up.
When are these Colonies gonna
Rise up?

And of course,

Tomorrow there’ll be more of us.

Yes, there will.  To quote Hamilton – “Laurens, do not throw away your shot.”

Books, Always

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Eventually I had to take a step back from news coverage.  I didn’t totally eliminate it – I’m still checking my preferred news sites every day – but I couldn’t immerse myself in it anymore.  I’m always reading a book, so it’s not really news that I read books after the election.

The first book I requested from the library after the election was The Audacity of Hope, President Obama’s manual for change written while he was a U.S. Senator.  (I did really enjoy his bio on the back flap.  “Barack Obama is the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois.”  I was all, NOT ANYMORE!!!!)  I was craving the thoughtful words of a sane person and The Audacity of Hope fit the bill nicely, although it did cause me to shake my head a number of times and think, these are such good ideas.  How many more amazing things President Obama could have accomplished if only Congress hadn’t obstructed him every step of the way.  I agreed with basically everything President Obama wrote – except that I can’t “acknowledge that the recreational hunter feels the same way about his guns” as I feel about my library books.  Sorry, Mr. President, but nobody feels as strongly about anything as I do about my library books.  (I’m kidding!  Or am I?)

I’ve also continued to try to challenge my shelves with books by people of color.  Most recently, I finished The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s slave escape novel with elements of magical realism, and In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, Diane Guerrero’s memoir of coming home at age fourteen to find her undocumented immigrant parents had been seized for deportation and that she was on her own.  Both were absolutely harrowing, and both felt necessary for the week leading into the inauguration.  Then, craving inspiration, I turned to March: Book 3, the final installment in the graphic memoir by Civil Rights icon, Representative John Lewis.  In the months between the election and today, I’ve read plenty of varied things, but filling my head with the necessary and important words of writers who challenge what we’ve just elected has felt like something that I had to do.

I also know plenty of people who have turned to comfort reading.  Although that wasn’t what I did after the election, I probably will after the inauguration.  Some good escapism is going to feel very necessary going forward.  I predict I’ll be spending plenty of time in Barsetshire – both Trollope’s and Thirkell’s – and between the covers of my Persephone, British Library Crime Classics, and Folio Society books.  I’ll still be trying to challenge myself and read different perspectives over the course of the year, but the upcoming months are – I suspect – going to test us in new ways, and I’ll be turning to old friends for comfort.

Do you take refuge in words during times of national stress?  Any recommendations for either comfort reading or social justice reading that I should check out?

*Title from the Hamilton line, delivered by Anthony Ramos (playing John Laurens) in the song “Stay Alive.”

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Well, here we are marking yet another shift on the calendar.  Although 2016 was a lousy year in many ways (and I’m not minimizing that at all!) I did have a darn decent year in reading.  There were some major bookish highlights (there always are!) and no real low points to speak of (nothing I hated, no reading slumps).  Rather than stretch this out into two posts, as I used to do, I’m curtailing the New Year’s content this year and giving you just one big monster of a post (to be followed by Book Superlatives, because I can’t not do those.)  Before I dive into the details, there were a few over-arching themes I noticed in my reading life this year:

  • I continued to be a heavy library user (read on!) and 2016 also marked the transition to a new library system.  When I started the year, we were living in Buffalo and I was making good use of the Buffalo and Erie County library system.  In July, we moved back to the Washington, D.C. area and I immediately got myself an Alexandria library card and started giving it a workout.
  • 2016 also saw me returning – very slowly – to audiobooks.  Back in 2013, when I was driving myself to work in D.C., I used to listen to audiobooks quite frequently – always on CDs that I checked out of the Fairfax County library system.  In 2016, I took the plunge and joined Audible.  I’ve only listened to a couple of selections, and only completed one book.  (My first download was a full-cast dramatization of all six of Jane Austen’s novels.  I listened to that in its entirety but didn’t count it as a book in my tallies.)  I listened to The Murder at the Vicarage via Audible, got about halfway through Middlemarch (35 hours!) and downloaded a few more.  I’m hoping to have more listening time in 2017 as I’ve ruthlessly culled my podcast subscriptions to just a few that I really, really enjoy.
  • I continued to read and enjoy exploring in the world of comics!  In 2016 I read through the entire trade oeuvres of Saga and Ms. Marvel and made good progress on Fables.  I found quite a few comics under the Christmas tree, so I can’t wait to dig into even more in the coming year.

Okay, enough with the preamble.  Let’s talk statistics, shall we?

By the Numbers

Starting with the basics: I read 101 books in 2016!  That’s one more than my official Goodreads goal of 100, but three fewer than my sort-of not-really would-be-nice goal of 104 (two per week).  Still, in a year during which I moved twice, had two kids ages four and under at home, spent several months traveling for job interviews, and finally started a new job, I think 101 is darn good.

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My longest book was The Romanovs: 1613-1918, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, which clocked in at a doorstopping 745 pages.  My shortest book was almost 700 fewer pages, but packed just as large of a punch – We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, was a slim 49 pages and every single word in those 49 pages was thoughtful, well-reasoned and persuasive.

Pass the Pie, Please

At the end of the year, I love to sit down and look back on who, what, where and how I read.  Combing through my end-of-year statistics and creating the charts is time-consuming, but it’s always worth doing (for me, at least) – both as a record for myself and as a way to inform my reading goals, if I’m making any, for the upcoming year.

Fiction/Non-Fiction

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Starting with one of the easiest!  I’ve always been a big fiction reader, and 2016 was no exception.  Of the 101 books I read last year, 77 were fiction.  Even for me, that’s a lot.  There’s not much to say about this one.  I’m comfortable with my general practice of reading whatever I please (or whatever is popping up in my library holds queue) and if that means I’m reading mostly fiction, I’m A-Okay with it.

Format of Book

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2016 was notable because I expanded my book formats a fair amount.  I’m usually at or close to 100% paper books, and in 2016 I was much more varied.  A few thoughts:

  • I still read mostly paper books – 73 out of 100 were either paperbacks or hardbacks.
  • In 2015, I started reading comics.  Last year, when I reviewed my reading stats for 2015, I considered “comics” a genre – even though I knew it was really a format.  This year, I’ve corrected that error.  And I note that of the 101 books I read, 19 were in the form of comics.  I am a trade paperback reader, so these are all collections of between four and six issues.
  • I also started reading ebooks again.  Last spring, I realized that I could download classics for free, via iBooks, and read them on my phone, and I read several books that way.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered that reading books on my phone gives me migraines – oops.  Fortunately, around the same time, I got a (free!) kindle paperwhite – so the book downloading continued and I got some use out of my kindle.  Only eight books out of 101, but a good start!
  • Finally, in 2016 I joined Audible and rekindled my love affair with listening to books.  Back in 2013, when I was commuting by car but Steve and I had stopped carpooling, I listened to audiobooks – on CDs, checked out of the Fairfax County library system – on my commute.  I got out of the habit when we moved to Buffalo, but picked it back up again last year.  So, why only one audiobook on there, when I’ve been an Audible member for months?  Well, my first download was a full-cast dramatization of all six Jane Austen novels, which I didn’t count as a “book” in my totals.  Then I listened to – and did complete – Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage, so that’s the one audiobook you see.  My next choice was Middlemarch (after I returned a couple of audiobooks after listening to about half the content because I didn’t care for them and didn’t want to own them) and it’s taking awhile.  It’s 35 hours long and it turns out that Nugget doesn’t like George Eliot.  I know, he’s crazy.  Finally, podcasts took up an inordinate amount of my earbud time last year, which also held my audiobook stats down.  I’ve recently gone through a ruthless purge of my podcatcher, so I’m hoping that will mean more time on Audible in 2017.

Source of Book

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Anyone surprised to see the giant slice of this pie chart devoted to the library?  I’m a heavy public library user, and 74 out of 101 books is actually pretty low for me.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  First, and foremost, I moved library systems mid-year, so there was a chunk of a few weeks when I was between libraries and had no choice but to read my own books.  (I was also on vacation at the time, and most of my paper books were packed away, so I relied heavily on my kindle during that time.)  Second, I did venture into new territory, reading several ebooks on my phone (three, to be precise) and on my kindle (five).  And then there was that one lonely audiobook.  I’m always talking a big game about reading more from my own shelves, but – I’ve got to be honest – I don’t see these proportions changing much in coming years.  I just love my public library way too much.

Fiction Genres

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Diving a bit more into the weeds, I went through my list and broke both fiction and non-fiction down into genres.  Above you can see my fiction chart.  First – a word about methodology.  These genre assignments are totally subjective; they’re just my gut reactions about which books belong where.  If you looked at my list, you might break it down completely differently.  But this list represents my best estimation of the fiction genres I read this year.

  • Holy cats!  Get a load of that sci-fi/fantasy category!  I’ve never been a big SF/F genre reader, but I guess this year that genre really pulled me in.  The reason?  Comics.  I classified Saga and Ms. Marvel as science fiction, and Fables as fantasy.  That, right there, covers almost the entire 24 books (although there were a few others – Kindred, the N.K. Jemisins, The Invasion of the Tearling…).  Upon reflecting, I thought perhaps I should have actually broken the genre out into separate categories for science fiction and fantasy – but I didn’t.  Oh, well.  Maybe next year, although to be honest I think this year will be an outlier in the SF/F genre.
  • Classics and literary fiction are always heavy hitters for me.  I was delighted to have read so many classics this year – 17 of them!  Mid-century British middlebrow helped the numbers out a fair amount.  Barbara Pym, E.M. Delafield, Dorothy Whipple, Angela Thirkell – more, please!  And 2016 will stand out for classics as the year I first read Trollope.  I’m now an unabashedly enthusiastic Trollope fangirl.
  • Lots of genre this year.  I’m always surprised not to see more mysteries on the list, but seven is respectable.  And nine historical fiction novels!  (Plus one of the books I classified as short stories – A Tyranny of Petticoats – could have fit in the hi-fi genre, too.  See what I mean about it being subjective?)

Non-Fiction Genres

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Pretty typical grouping here.  I can always be counted on for a big chunk of history and current events, and memoir – as usual – was my other big category.  New this year – essays!  I can’t believe I read four books of essays.  Hope to keep that up in 2017.  And I’d love to read more nature writing, as well.

Settings

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I’m always interested to see where I’m reading.  Again, a quick word on methodology – this isn’t an exact science.  I classified Fables, for instance, as being set in a “fictional world,” even though most of the action takes place in Fabletown, a magic secret apartment building in Manhattan – because the plot revolves around the Fables’ exile from their (fictional) fairy-tale world, the Homelands.  Wherever possible, I did try to assign a setting, and I picked the setting that seemed most important to the plot or the characters’ identity, even where it wasn’t where the bulk of the action took place.  You might have classified things differently, but these are the settings that seemed right to me, and well, it’s my chart.

  • This chart covers both fiction and non-fiction, which is why there’s a category for “no setting.”  The books in that category were mostly parenting and organizational manuals.
  • As usual, the vast majority of my reading “took place” in the United Kingdom and the United States – 62 out of 101 books in those two categories alone.  Even in a year when I was making a conscious effort to read diversely, I seem to gravitate toward familiar geographical settings.  Something to be aware of (I was already aware).
  • Curious about the one book that took place on “the High Seas”?  It was Every Man for Himself, Beryl Bainbridge’s modern classic that takes place on the Titanic.  Shiver.

Diverse Voices

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I’m prouder of this pie chart than any other.  Back in January, I set a goal to read at least 33% of my books from diverse voices – whether that meant racial diversity or other underrepresented groups (Muslims, LGBT folks).  At the end of the year, I found that 41 out of my 101 books were from underrepresented voices – that’s 40.5%!  I am pleased, delighted, proud, and galvanized to keep that trend going into 2017.  Some thoughts:

  • Comics really helped my total.  I counted not only writers, but illustrators, as in my opinion they drive the creative process of generating a comic just as much as the writers do.  As a result, I was able to count all six volumes of Saga toward my diverse voices totals.  And G. Willow Wilson (Muslim), writer of the five volumes of Ms. Marvel that I read, helped the total too.
  • Without comics, I’m not sure I would have met my goal of 33% representation – as hard as I was trying.  I tend to gravitate toward classics, and there are not many classic works by writers of color – because of historic and institutionalized racism.  I know that there are well-documented and serious problems with representation in comics (especially by women) and I do not want to minimize that at all.  But the fact is, it’s easier to read diverse voices when reading comics, because you can pick up a series like Ms. Marvel and knock off five volumes in five days.  (I know, because I did that.)
  • Getting to 40.5% representation took hard, sincere and determined work on my part.  I’m not saying that to congratulate myself; rather, I’m trying to point out a major flaw in publishing and advertising institutions.  I was constantly on the lookout for books by writers of color, making notes during podcasts and scanning internet lists for more titles to seek out.  Had I not made it a priority to find these books and chase them down, they would not have found me.  This is a problem with the system.
  • In addition to the 41 books represented in the chart, two of the “non-diverse” books were actually well-written and thoughtful examinations of topics affecting people of color.  Both The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu (about a group of heroic African librarians who saved thousands of priceless manuscripts from al Qaeda) and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (about an African-American cancer patient whose cells were harvested from her without her knowledge and used to create billions of dollars in scientific advances) were written by white writers.  Both were good, important, worthwhile books, but I didn’t count them as “diverse,” because although they touched on that experience they were not written from within the communities on which they focused.

Diversity in My Booklist

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Last pie chart!  Diving just a bit more into the weeds, a quick look at the different voices who made up that 41 number I’m so proud of.

  • No big surprise – almost half of my 41 diverse titles were by African and African Diaspora authors.  (A quick note on terminology: I did some research on the proper terms to use here and there is no universal agreement.  I settled on African Diaspora because that is the term used by the African Union to identify people of African descent who live outside of the continent, wherever they happen to live.  The African Diaspora in my booklist is mostly African-American, although there was one author resident in Europe – the U.K., specifically.  If I give offense by use of the term, please accept my apology and know that it is unintentional – the result of my best efforts to find the right terminology – and if you know of a more appropriate phrase or term, I always want to learn.)
  • I wish there had been more LGBTQ+ representation.  (There’s more than it looks like, because one author got placed in the “multiple” category for being both LGBT and Asian.)  There would have been, had I found the time for a Lumberjanes re-read.  In 2017!

Top Ten: Favorite Books Of The Year

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Still with me?  I have one last item for you.  I usually break this out into a separate post, but, well, the New Year’s content is already stretching into the third week in January.  Quite frankly, I don’t want to spend the entire month on 2016 recaps and 2017 plans, so I’m combining what usually makes up two posts into one big monster (as noted above).  So, without further preamble, and in no particular order, my ten favorite books of 2016:

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  • To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey.
  • Love Wins, by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell.
  • Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple.

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  • Hamilton: The Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.
  • March: Book Two, by Representative John Lewis.
  • The Warden, by Anthony Trollope.

the immortal life of henrietta lacks we-should-all-be-feminists cider with rosie summer before the war

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.
  • We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
  • Cider with Rosie, by Laurie Lee.
  • The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson.

Tough choices, as always!  It was a great year in reading.  If you’ve made it this far, fist bumps to you.  And now – onward and upward!

What was the best thing you read in 2016?

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Happy holiday weekend to my American friends!  I feel like we’ve been getting a ton of time off lately – not that I’m complaining.  I’m going to try to squeeze some work in today, just to stay ahead of the curve, and we’ll probably hit the trail for a hike later – I think it’s supposed to be reasonably nice.  The first two days of the weekend were unusually low-key.  Steve and I are trying out a new weekend routine: we spend Saturdays with sleeves rolled up, getting projects done around the house, and Sundays are reserved for family fun.  (Although we would swap if Saturday weather was better or if there was a specific scheduled event we wanted to do.)  This was the first weekend of trying out the new arrangement and it felt great to have a buddy helping me get things done around the house.  In the morning, Nugget and I went to Wegmans while Peanut and Steve went to Lowe’s.  Naptime was all about getting the Christmas tree down (finally!) – I took down and carefully packed up each ornament, while Steve broke down the tree itself.  After nap, Steve fixed a couple of small fixture issues while I kept an eye on the kids and worked on my big project for the weekend – cleaning out and organizing both of Nugget’s closets.  (He has his clothes and diaper station refills in one closet, and the other is the kids’ shared toy closet – in a small townhouse, you make your space work to the max!)  By the end of the day, we were exhausted, but we had two perfectly clean and organized closets, a nice breathable space where the Christmas tree used to be, and I even found time to hang up Nugget’s wall letters.  (Still looking for the rest of his wall art.)  The only problem with the work-one-day-play-the-other arrangement?  By Sunday we were so beat that a family walk to the pizzeria for lunch was all we could manage.  Oh, well, we’ll figure it out.

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Reading.  Really productive reading week!  I finished up The Underground Railroad early in the week, and can confirm that it deserves every bit of the hype.  Definitely not an easy read, but stunning and worthwhile.  Then, because I guess I hadn’t had enough of harrowing reads (??) I turned to In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, actress Diane Guerrero’s memoir of growing up the daughter of undocumented immigrants and coming home from school one day, at age 14, to find that they had been deported and she was all alone in America.  I cried throughout most of the book – what a powerful story.  Moved on to Today Will Be Different, the newest book from Maria Semple, who wrote one of my all-time favorite books, Where’d You Go, Bernadette.  I’ll say more in my monthly round-up, but meh.  I was disappointed.  Finally, and currently, I’m midway through March: Book 3, Representative John Lewis’s three part graphic memoir of his time as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement.  It’s shaping up to be a powerful conclusion and just as much of a wow read as the first two volumes.

Watching.  We’re still on a total Rock the Park kick.  Just finished watching Season 1 on Netflix, and have moved over to Hulu for Season 2.  We now feel that we are friends with the hosts, and spend the entire episodes commenting, deep thoughts like “I think Jack’s been hitting the gym.” (Steve) and “Awwwww, Colton finally got to see a manatee!” (me).  The show is absolutely exploding our travel list, too.

Listening.  I have a personal victory to report – a clean podcatcher!  Finished up all of my podcasts and was able to pop back in on my Audible app with a clean conscience.  (Don’t ask me to explain why I feel the need to be caught up on podcasts in order to listen to an audiobook, because I don’t know.  It probably has something to do with the way podcasts pile up if you don’t stay on top of them, but that’s about as much as I want to parse it.)  Anyway, Nugget and I listened to Middlemarch on the way to and from Wegmans (and I tuned in while putting the groceries away and un-decorating the tree, for two solid hours of listening on Saturday).  It’s hilarious to listen to anything with Nugget, because he repeats everything like a little echo.  So the whole way to and from the store, Juliet Stevenson’s narration was punctuated with little exclamations from the back seat, like “Indeed, Aunt!” and “Foreign travel!”  Everyone should listen to George Eliot audiobooks with a toddler.  It’s the only way to roll.

Making.  Progress on home projects, as described above.  Christmas decorations broken down and in storage; front porch flag ordered (it’s not an American flag – I thought I’d mix it up a bit – but I’m also not going to tell; you’ll have to wait and see!); two clean and organized kids’ rooms (and they’re going to STAY THAT WAY); and nine boxes on their way to Goodwill today.  I feel GOOD.

Loving.  Some of my favorite podcasts make a point of shouting out favorite things or events or happenings each week.  For instance, on Sorta Awesome, the hosts begin every episode with “Awesome of the Week.”  And Tea and Tattle‘s Miranda and Sophie open their show with “Jump for Joys.”  So I thought I’d do the same.  Last week I was loving… a freak warm spell!  65 degrees in January – are you kidding me?  I remember those weird warm weeks happening from time to time when I lived down here a few years ago.  I should probably be more concerned about the weird weather, but I was just enjoying the super-mild winter way too much – especially after three years of frigid Buffalo temps.  I feel like I should make my first “loving” something better than the weather, but – whatever.  It really was all anyone could talk about in D.C. last week.

Asking.  What are you reading/watching/listening to/making/loving this week?

 

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And now, and now, and now HURRAY for the new year!  My longtime readers and real-life friends know that I am a sucker for a clean slate and that nothing inspires me more than a new beginning.  And – I say this every year – while I know that I don’t need a new calendar page to make positive changes in my life, I can’t help but get a charge from the thought of all those days stretching ahead of me.  Days that I get to fill – pages that I get to write – with laughter, adventure, learning, fun, and good work that matters to me and others.  It’s an exciting thought.

I always start the year raring to go, chock full of plans and ambitions, and 2017 is no exception.  I’m more excited than ever to chase my dreams, and I love – love – the place from which I’m starting the new year.  When the calendar page turned from 2015 to 2016, I was full of uncertainty.  I had chosen the word “home” as my word for the year (well, really, it chose me) and while I was open to any road that word meant to take me down, in my heart I was yearning to move back to D.C.  But at the time – it was just yearning.  We were selling our house in preparation for an out of state move, but we didn’t know if the move would take us south to Virginia or west to Colorado  or if our dream of leaving New York (again) would work out at all.  I was feeling hopeless – worried that I would never find a new professional home in D.C. after I gave up my dream job to move to Buffalo three years before.  And even more pressing, we would be closing on our house at the beginning of February and we had nowhere to go after several options fell through one after another (which was a real estate theme for us in Buffalo).

You know how that story ended.  After doing a lot of legwork and a lot of secret travel in the first half of the year, I got a job offer in June and we moved back to the D.C. area at the end of July – hurray!  I start this year with – amazingly – no plans to move.  We have a multi-year lease and I am sincerely hoping that I’ve found my forever firm.  Steve and I are finally where we want to be professionally, and now we get to exhale.  Which means that the theme of 2017 is going to be settling into our new life and figuring out how to live it best.  It’s with that in mind that I’ve set my goals for the year.

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2017 Goals

Get with the program!  In 2017, I want to experiment and figure out the systems that work best for me.  Everything’s fair game – from morning routine to how to organize the kids’ closets, to meal planning and prep.  My new job is going to keep me on the go, and having two young kids – one in school, one with a nanny – who both need lunches, outfits, and to be herded through their days as well, adds an extra level of stress (and fun).  The only way I’m going to make it through these first few years on the job and with the kids in D.C. is going to be by harnessing the power of routines and getting (and staying) really, really, really organized.

Make room for me.  At the same time, I don’t want to get so caught up in the mechanics of the everyday that I lose sight of someone important – me.  I’ve been putting myself last for years now, and while I don’t expect Mom to jump to the head of my priority list (hello, unrealistic) this year I would like to take back a little ground for myself.  Once upon a time, I poured energy into my passions – running, hiking, traveling, reading, learning – and while I have very different priorities these days (including two really cute priorities) I have been craving a little bit of myself back.  I’m setting some plans in motion – some running, some travel – and will tell you all about them soon.  The kids, Steve, and work are always going to have their demands and that’s to be expected; I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But I hope that when I review my goals at the end of the year, I will find that I took some time and space for myself, too.  Just a little.

Get my confidence back.  A holdover from last year – as I was saying above, I didn’t make much time for myself at all last year.  Not much time for running or doing yoga, not much time for prepping healthy meals, not much time for hiking.  This year, I want to work on getting back to that version of me who is joyful, energetic and full of life.  I know she’s in there, and with a little work she’ll be back, better than ever, and ready to bag some peaks.

Trust in abundance.  This has never been my strong suit.  I’ve never been a packrat, but I’ve always been someone who felt comforted by a fully-stocked pantry and bookshelves.  Especially in the past few years – after you’ve been snowed into your house for a week, you really do see the benefits to having reserves.  But I’d like to let go of that and make some strides toward a more minimalist existence this year.  We have a smaller house now than we’ve ever lived in with kids (this was intentional) and I don’t want stuff crashing down on my head every time I open a cabinet door.  If we run out of spaghetti, we’ll buy more.  There will always be more spaghetti.  This year I hope to let go of the need to be fully-stocked and trust in the fact that I have everything I need, and access to even more.  Along these lines, I want to work on trimming the amount of resources we dedicate to our stuff and place more emphasis on experiences and memories.

Revive the 12 Months’ Hiking Project.  YES!  I’m bringing back my favorite family project (and blog series) of all time.  Steve and I absolutely loved hiking in a different place every month in 2015, but we didn’t feel that the project would work for 2016 after we exhausted most of the family-friendly hikes in WNY in the first year.  But now we’re in a different part of the country – in a region that has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to hiking trails.  Expect to see us out there a lot this year – and not just in D.C., Virginia and Maryland.  We have some travel plans in the works and if they pan out, we’ll be hiking in some truly awesome places this year.

Things to Do this Year

In addition to my goals, I dream up smaller projects and to-dos for myself (and I’m usually more excited about these than anything else).  I doubt this whole list will become a reality, but I sure hope most of it does.  In 2017, I’d like to…

  • Use my dSLR camera more (like, lots more).  And along the same lines, improve my photography skills – particularly outdoor photography.
  • Plant another container garden with Peanut – and try not to kill it this time.
  • Hang a birdfeeder and start learning to identify our neighborhood birds.  (Do we have neighborhood birds?)
  • Get back to the yoga studio, and take up barre3.
  • Run a longer distance race (I’m already registered!).
  • Spend more time in Barsetshire (both Trollope’s version and Thirkell’s version).
  • Bag another ADK peak.  (I’m thinking Giant of the Valley, but haven’t made up my mind…)
  • Clean out our basement until we aren’t storing anything except holiday decorations and furniture.
  • Read diversely again – at least 33% underrepresented voices.
  • Incorporate memory-keeping into new areas of my home.
  • Travel.  Someplace amazing.  Maybe a few someplaces.

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One Word

Last but not least – choosing a word.  It was actually hard this year.  For weeks at the end of the year, I was waffling between “breathe” and “be” – but neither felt right.  I knew I wanted my word to speak to multiple areas of my life and to anchor me in a long-anticipated year of no major life changes.  But the word just didn’t come, and didn’t come, and didn’t come.

One afternoon, early in January, I was driving into the city to visit with my friend Carly, who recently welcomed a new baby.  My trunk and passenger seat were both stuffed to the brim with hand-me-downs for the little guy – everything I hadn’t given to my friend Michelle for her baby boy, I’d been stockpiling for Carly.  As I drove, between half-listening to Sorta Awesome and anxiously watching the D.C. traffic around me, I was running through possible words in my head.  Sanctuary?  Sweet?  Family?  Joyful?  Reach?  Stay?  Peace?  And then a word suggested itself.

Gather.

Hmmmm.  Now that’s interesting.  I wasn’t immediately sold.  It wasn’t like 2016, when home burst into my life in a frenzy of certainty and urgency.  Gather was much more of a whisper.  But I sort of liked it.  It had a ring, a sound about it that appealed to me.  And it seemed appropriate that it quietly suggested itself to me as I was on my way to see Carly, one of my oldest and closest D.C. friends and the person I missed the most when I left three years ago.  Who opened her home to me and let me crash in her guest room while I was interviewing for jobs.  Whose new son I was on my way to snuggle for the first time (and sniff his head, and kiss his little toes, and tell him that Aunt Jaclyn loves him).  Gather is a word that is about community, and people, and Carly and her family are my people.

I started thinking about what gather could mean if I chose it (or it chose me) as my 2017 word.  It could mean renewing contact with so many people I haven’t seen yet since moving back here.  (And as much as we love Great Falls, it’s not the reason we moved back to Virginia.  Our friends are.)  It could mean seeking out new communities – at work, at church (maybe I’ll finally join a group!), at school, in the neighborhood.  It could mean taking the initiative and starting that knitting group my neighborhood Facebook community is always talking about.  It could also mean bringing the memories that mean the most to us – of our travel, and time with family like my brother and his wife – to the forefront of our home; gathering those cherished moments and mementos up and using them to create a place that holds meaning in every corner.  Or it could mean so many other things I haven’t even considered yet.

I didn’t decide right then and there, in the car.  But gather was on my mind as I rocked, shushed and patted Carly’s son until he fell asleep in my arms, as I listened to her relate her birth story, as I proudly displayed the travel bassinette I’d set aside especially for her, and as we made plans to get both of our families together for a playdate in the next couple of weeks.  I thought about it as I drove home, and over the next few days, and the more I considered it, the more right it sounded.  So, gather.  I have no hopes for where it will take me – no plans – no schemes.  I’m just open to it, ready and willing to absorb the lessons the word has in store for this year.

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What dreams and plans are on your 2017 agenda?

Checking In On 2016 Goals

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Well, the old year is gone – good riddance – and the new year is slowly settling over us.  I was definitely glad to see the end of 2016 from a global citizen perspective.  (Although I have to agree with Kerry that anyone who thinks 2017 is going to be less stressful than 2016, from that global perspective, is in for a rude awakening.)  But from a personal perspective, 2016 was decently good to me.  Not perfect, but good.  I started the year stressed and unhappy where I was (location-wise and job-wise) and I was able to make a major life change midway through the year – moving back to D.C. – that solved those issues for me.  I felt very blessed that such a move was an option for my family, and we are very glad to be home.  D.C. isn’t a perfect city, but it’s my place, where my people are.

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Resolution Recap

The move was the biggest deal of 2016 for me.  It was sort of the fulcrum point, the pivot from which everything swung.  Everything leading up to July was getting ready for this major change, and everything after that was adjusting to being home again and soaking it all in, and starting to put in place the systems for making this new life work for our family.  Because of that singular purpose and focus, I didn’t actually spend much time or energy on my other resolutions.  Yet when I look back on them, I at least made progress on several points.

  • Get my confidence back.  This, I can’t say was one of the areas where I made progress.  With the day to day challenges of raising two kids while working as an attorney, my own personal well-being took too much of a backseat this year.  I ran a few 5K races, but I was undertrained for them, I relied too much on convenience food and eating out, and I was abysmal at coping with stress.  I’ll be revisiting this goal in 2017 with hopes for more success now that I am not job searching, secretly flying to D.C. multiple times per month, looking for child care and arranging a multiple part, multiple state move.
  • Be a good memory keeper.  I think I can say that I have done this.  I always have more memory-keeping projects in mind than I have time for, but in 2016 I created my 2015 family yearbook, Nugget’s baby yearbook, and several other projects using my photographs.  And I posted a lot about our family adventures here on the blog.  I love the process of organizing and preserving family memories, so it’s not hard to stick to this goal.
  • Challenge my bookshelves.  I definitely did this.  Although I did not finish Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, and I did not read as many classics as I wanted to, I well exceeded my goal of 33% representation by diverse voices in my 2016 reading.  I haven’t crunched the numbers yet, so I don’t know exactly how it finished out, but I made diversity a major focus of my reading this year.  I’ll have more to say on that when I post my look back at the books of 2016, but – briefly, for purposes of this post – it was wonderful.  Having the benefit of so many different perspectives and worldviews challenged my own thought process, crystallized my thinking on a number of important issues, and gave me even more satisfaction than I expected.
  • Embrace slow.  I started the year not really knowing what this goal meant, and I’m ending it still not knowing what it meant.  In some ways, I feel like I have really succeeded, but in other ways I think I was a giant failure.  Long, leisurely afternoons of knitting and listening to audiobooks, mornings with a cup of steaming hot tea and a good book, dawdling walks along the river, evenings of cooking big pots of homemade soup in my kitchen while music plays in the background – this has not happened.  But to be fair, I didn’t think it would.  What has happened?  Lots of weekend mornings where I sit with my coffee while my kids play together (finally!).  A slow-paced beach vacation with zero pressure to sightsee.  A string of hot weekend mornings sitting in the grass while the kiddos dug with trucks in the sandbox at our local park, last summer.  Weekly walks to the library – both in Buffalo and in Alexandria – to return books and pick up holds (instead of flying past on my way to or from work, like I used to do).  Another sun-drenched morning spent at the berry patch with good friends, not actually picking berries.  Many, many evenings of ignoring the dishes piled in the sink and the boxes still to be unpacked and instead curling up with a book.  In the end, what this goal looked like was giving myself a little grace, permission to exhale, and a moment in the sun.
  • Write something off blog.  Heh.  Didn’t do it.  Not even a little bit.

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2016 Word: HOME

Last January, I wrote:

We’re preparing to (yet again) move at the end of this month, and as of the writing of this blog post we don’t know where we’re going.  (We should probably get on that.)  But aside from just the mere shell of a house, we really need to find a home.  I haven’t felt at home – really, truly, at home, at peace, at rest – since the moment I pulled out of my driveway in Virginia and turned my car northwards.  I don’t know what to do with, or about, that, but it’s the truth.  I still feel like a Virginian stranded above the Mason-Dixon line.  I’m constantly homesick for Old Dominion.  And the fact is – I need to sort out what “home” means to me, and find some way to be at peace no matter where we live.

A few months ago, I told you all about how my 2016 word of the year, home, chose me.  I remember the exact spot in the parking garage where I was when it popped unbidden into my head – and I knew exactly what that word was telling me.  Move to Virginia.

I did just that.

I’d thought it was a perfect word for the year, and for where I needed to go, even if the move didn’t happen.  In December of 2015, things were still very much up in the air as to whether we would stay in Buffalo and change the things that weren’t working for us; or move home to northern Virginia; or take on a brand-new adventure and move to Denver.  We were actively exploring all three possibilities.  And I knew that whatever we decided on – that was it.   The last big move.  We were choosing a home for our family.  I wanted my word to guide that process, at least for me.

And it did.  I started the year packing my life into boxes, most of which were destined for storage.  We moved into a rather bleak apartment complex (a relief, after having several lodging options fall through at the last minute, leaving us with no lease just three weeks before our sale closed).  Even knowing that the living situation was only temporary, it was easy to get a bit beaten down by an apartment that wouldn’t stay tidy and wasn’t where we wanted to be.  I kept my word, “home,” in mind each day as I turned my key and tripped over the piles of shoes that were always spilling down the stairs just inside the door, whispering the mantra, thank you, apartment, for sheltering my family while we figure out where our future is.  And then the call came through, and I knew that my word would, in fact, carry me home.

I also wanted my word to do something smaller.  No matter where we ended up, I wanted a constant reminder that it is my responsibility to create the sanctuary I crave – I can’t put that on anyone else.  Whether that means hanging special family photos; filling my kitchen with the smells of Earl Grey brewing; lining my shelves with the books that have been good friends to me; creating sweet play spaces for my children; or anything else that I want – it’s up to me.  I hoped my word, home, would keep me focused on the goal I always have to create a place of rest for myself and my family.  I didn’t do quite as well on this point – I’m still living with boxes, although I am gradually chipping away at the unpacking remaining to be done.  I’ll carry this focus into 2017 with me.

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As the sun goes down on 2016 and rises on 2017, I want to know – how did last year go in your life?

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Well, here we are at the start of the ride again!  How was your weekend?  We had a good one over here – not a lot of fun, per se, but we checked a few items off of our to-do lists, which always feels nice.  On Friday I worked from home because we had an appointment in the morning, and I got a surprising amount of work done.  I usually find the office less distracting and preferable for work, but I guess last week was the exception.  The weekend was devoted to chores, errands, and more chores and errands (and squeezing in a bit more lawyer work – I got up early on Sunday morning and churned out a project while the rest of the house slept, and then greeted them all with breakfast cooking and extreme smug).  Nugget and I made a massive Target run on Saturday while Steve and Peanut worked at home on assembling Peanut’s new bookshelf, and then I got home and blew through her room like a tornado of cleaning.  I love how it turned out – the room looks so much lighter and brighter with the new white shelf than it did with the old pallet shelf (which we inherited from the previous tenants of our townhouse).  And, bonus, the new shelf is a lot sturdier – in that it doesn’t appear likely to fall down at any given moment.  We didn’t get through the entire to-do list – our Christmas tree is still up and we desperately need to make a Goodwill run, but the kids’ rooms are clean for once, and that alone feels like a huge victory.  Every single item I check off the (miles long) to-do list brings me closer to the day when I can sit outside with a cup of tea and a book for an entire nap and feel zero guilt about it.  Won’t that be nice?

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Reading.  Pretty productive reading week.  I’m not necessarily trying to read as many books this year as I did last year, but you’d hardly know that from my pace lately.  I finished The Wangs vs. the World on Wednesday and Mr. Churchill’s Secretary on Friday.  (The first in a new-to-me mystery series, and I really enjoyed it.)  Now fortified with light reads, I’m working my way through The Underground Railroad, one of the big buzz books of 2016.  It’s pretty brutal and extremely hard to read, but I have a feeling that I will be glad I read it; it’s certainly a Very Important Book That People Should Read.

Watching.  Still totally obsessed with Rock the Park.  Steve and I are watching an episode or two a night (they’re only twenty minutes long, so it’s not a huge time commitment).  We just finished watching the episode in which the hosts visit Joshua Tree National Park – which is one of the places on our list to (hopefully) visit this year.  So I was particularly excited to see that episode, and it got me pumped to visit the park myself.  (Jack and Colton did some rock climbing in that episode, which I’d love to do but probably won’t.  I took rock climbing in college and really loved it, but Steve is not a huge fan of heights.)

Listening.  Currently in my earbuds is the first 2017 episode of Sorta Awesome – “Is tech taking over your life?”  Ummmmm, YES.  Other great recent listens included the latest episode of Tea or Books, in which Simon and Rachel debated “lists: yes or no?” and two R.C. Sherriff novels – Greengates and The Fortnight in September.  I have The Fortnight in September and have been itching to read it; they made me even itchier.  And of course, Hamiltunes – always Hamiltunes.  Nugget now sings along with “My Shot,” and it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever heard.

Making.  Gigantic piles of toys in my upstairs hallway.  Part of the weekend project involved a massive purging of the toys in Peanut’s room.  She helped me choose which books from her shelf should go to Nugget’s room (of course, anyone is welcome to read any book they find, no matter what room it’s in – house rules!).  But the toys are a bit trickier.  I’ve kept all of her favorite toys in her room and I think she’s really going to prefer having less stuff, once she gets used to it – this way, she can actually find her best lovies and favorite puzzles without having to dig through piles of junk.  (I’m also hoping this means fewer trips up to her room to locate a beloved stuffed friend in the midst of a tantrum.  If the room is always clean, we’ll always know where Corduroy is…)  But with all the excess piled in the hallway, of course she wants it ALL back in her room.  The next thing I’ve got to make for this project is… some decisions about where the cleared-out toys are going to go.

Blogging.  It’s New Year’s!  (Well, okay, that was last week.  But I’m just getting around to posting my resolution recaps and my goals for next year.  It’s going to be a very New Yearsy kind of week around here.  As always, I have high hopes for a great year ahead – so check back!

Asking.  What’s the best thing you read last week?

2016: Year in Review

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And now it’s 2017!  I think we were pretty much all ready to see the back of 2016.  Has there ever been a year in which more things went wrong, from a state-of-the-world perspective?  Globally speaking, I found 2016 as ridiculously absurd as most people, so good riddance.  But from a personal and family perspective, we actually had a pretty good year – filled with lots of laughter and fun, with big and small adventures all folded around a major, and very welcomed, life change.  Here’s a look.

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The biggest event in January was concluding the sale of our house in Elma, and moving into temporary housing in Williamsville, New York.  The move was phase one of our plan to leave the Buffalo area – a goal we were already working on at the end of 2015, although we just murmured vague things like “we’re looking for a better fit” when asked about our home sale.  We weren’t ready to share our ultimate plan at that point.  Most of the month was consumed with packing and moving, so we didn’t do much adventuring.  But I did finish recapping 2015 fun and posted Part I of my 2015 reading year in review.

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In February, we settled into our new temporary living situation. and I made two stealthy trips to D.C. to interview for a job.  That job didn’t work out, but getting interviews so quickly did boost my confidence and convince me that we had a chance of making our dream of moving home come true.  Those trips – planning and preparing for them, making them, and keeping them quiet – consumed my entire month and between that and work drama back in Buffalo, I had very little energy for anything else.  So we didn’t get out much in February, although I did post Part II of my 2015 reading year in review, and my 2015 Book Superlatives.

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March was all about celebrating Nugget as he turned one year old!  We threw him a storytelling birthday party with a nature theme at a local children’s bookstore, and it was so much fun.  I think he felt very celebrated and very loved.  Around the main event of the month, we squeezed in a few hikes – since the weather was unseasonably warm – making it to Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve and to Tillman Road Wildlife Management Area.  We also visited a working sugar shack as part of New York’s Maple Days.

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In April, I made another stealthy trip to D.C. to do my first interview for the job I would end up taking.  Around that, I fit in fun both bookish and outdoorsy.  We took a family hike to Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and spotted dozens of red-winged blackbirds.  We also went back to Times Beach Nature Preserve and Canalside for family playtime.  And I – as always – celebrated National Poetry Month, this time with a fun twist!  I posted two big roundups of my favorite poetry books for kids, one post for the classics, and one for newer favorites.

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In May, I continued to be all over the place.  I made another secretive interview trip to D.C. – the most stressful one yet, involving bumping into a colleague on the way there, and a nearly-missed connection in Detroit (sprinting in heels to catch the last plane of the night) on the way back.  I liked my end of month travel better – a trip across New York State to visit my parents and spend some time at the lake for Memorial Day!  We also hit up the summit of Mount Greylock and had lunch in Williamstown, Massachusetts – such a fun trip.  Closer to home, we had some fun adventures – a Mother’s Day weekend that included hikes at Tifft Nature Preserve and a 5K race in Ellicottville, New York; a family walk through Reinstein Woods; and a hike at Akron Falls, a park we’d not yet explored.

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In early June, I got the exciting news that I had a job offer in D.C., and our move was officially underway!  We still kept it under wraps, in case things fell through.  Two days after getting the exciting call from my new firm, I packed up and drove across the state to Lake George for an education law conference.  In between conference sessions and workshops, I managed to spend almost a full day with my college friend Seth – hiking, kayaking, eating delicious crab legs and drinking wine.  Back in Buffalo, we celebrated Father’s Day with another 5K (for me!) and a family hike.

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July was a blast, as we squeezed as much Buffalo fun in as we could before moving at the end of the month.  Starting with a fun Fourth of July weekend that included playground time, Canalside, berry picking and a family retirement party.  The next weekend, we were out and about again with a special treat for Nugget – Touch A Truck!  I mused on my favorite books of the first half of the year and on my personal tendency to cram as much fun into summer as possible.  Meanwhile, I dedicated the rest of the month to wrapping up work projects and lining up childcare (a school for Peanut; a nanny for Nugget) in northern Virginia.  We closed out the month by throwing an early fourth birthday party for Peanut, so that she could celebrate with her friends, after which I promptly threw my back out putting Nugget in the crib, and then our moving truck rolled out two days later and we officially said goodbye to New York State.

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August was about resting and reflecting on this big life change that we had brought about.  It was a long journey – eighteen months from the time we first started talking about moving, before Nugget was even born, to turning the key at our new place in Virginia.  And even though we had a house crammed full of boxes and a lot of unpacking and organizing to do, we decided to spend our final week of freedom before I started my new job visiting my friend Rebecca in Virginia Beach.  We spent pretty much the entire week barefoot and covered in sand and it was exactly what we needed.  When we got home, D.C. life started in earnest.  I started work at my new firm.  My cousin Jocelyn came down to watch the kids for two weeks as part of our cobbled-together bridge childcare plan (before the school year started and the nanny was available) and we did our best to induce her to move south – with hikes at Great Falls, visits to the D.C. monuments, and a morning at the Udvar-Hazy Center, not to mention two cute kids.  We also celebrated Peanut’s fourth birthday – can’t believe what a big kid she is!

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In September, we continued to enjoy being back in northern Virginia and able to visit all of our favorite spots again – including Lake Burke (pictured above), which was one of our regular haunts when we lived here before.  Most of the rest of the month was quiet – filled with settling in.  Nugget got his first haircut and I was a soggy mess.  I reflected on the summer that just ended.  And – the best part of September – my dear Buffalo friend Zan came for a visit.  All in all, September was busy – filled with back to school events and birthday parties – but also quiet, if that makes sense.  It was a lot of the business of living, which was exactly what I wanted after three years of homesickness.

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If September seemed quiet, October was packed with local fun.  We celebrated Columbus Day weekend with a trip to Little Washington for a few days, where we tasted wine, explored the adorable town, and hiked in Shenandoah National Park.  Back in the D.C. suburbs, we drove out to Loudoun County two weekends in a row for apple picking and then pumpkin picking; had a playdate with a new school friend at a children’s Halloween party hosted by a local historic mansion; and finally went Trick-or-Treating (with our mermaid and fire truck) in Old Town – a month-long funfest that I recapped in one big monster of a post.

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November was… it happened.  The month started well, with a visit to the Will & Jane exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library.  Then the election happened, and I – like pretty much everyone else I know – was absolutely stunned.  I said everything I needed to say in this post, so no more.  We finished the month with a trip up to my parents’ house for a family funeral and Thanksgiving.  (For the first time since switching from food blogging, I didn’t recap a holiday.  I just didn’t feel like it.  It was good to see family, and the kids had a great time.  That was enough.)

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After the dumpster fire that was November, we made December all about family fun.  Another visit to Little Washington (for their Christmas parade!), walks to the waterfront to see the holiday boat parade of lights and the waterskiing Santa, and last but not least, Christmas itself.  It was wonderful to celebrate as Virginians again, and looking back on the year I was so grateful that the move home happened as I’d hoped it would.

And now, onward!  Next week, I’ll be reviewing how I did on my 2016 goals and plans (spoiler alert: pretty bad) and setting some new intentions and a word for 2017 – which I can’t tease, because I still don’t know what it will be.  It feels particularly good, this year, to have a fresh start.  Can’t wait to see what 2017 brings to our family (even if I’m a little scared for the world).