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Fabulous Four

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Guess who turned FOUR YEARS OLD this past weekend?

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I can’t believe it’s been four years since we welcomed our crazy little nut into the world (two months early, but who’s counting?).  One thing I can say: it’s been an adventure.

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At four years old, Peanut is still a tiny package with an oversized personality.  Some things just don’t change.  Other things that haven’t changed: she still loves PINK, sea lions, books, macaroni and cheese, and all things fancy.

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New discoveries this year include Disney (current obsession is The Little Mermaid, but we’ve also been through jags including FrozenTinker Bell, and Sofia the First); mermaids in general; the Little House series (by virtue of the My First Little House picture books); and so much more.

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Of course, I’d be remiss if I wrote an entire fourth birthday tribute to Peanut and didn’t mention Blackie.  Blackie is the newest addition to our family – Peanut’s sweet black and white dog.  Blackie loves to play tennis ball, is sooooooo soft, and periodically has puppies.  Blackie sometimes needs to be reprimanded for not listening, but she is getting better.

Blackie is invisible.  But don’t tell Peanut that.

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Peanut at four is an amazing big sister.  While she has her moments, I’m constantly impressed by how patient and gentle she is with her baby brother.  He’s going through a particularly exuberant phase and his kisses are extremely toothy.  Peanut puts up with getting tackled, drooled on, kissed aggressively, and having her hair pulled, and rarely loses her cool.  Nugget, for his part, is madly in love with her.  No surprise there!  She’s the best.

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Happy FOURTH birthday to the sweetest, coolest little girl in the world.  Mommy and Daddy love you like WHOA!

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Happy Monday, and happy FOURTH birthday, Peanut!  I can’t believe my little nut is four years old (as of yesterday) – pinch me!  We had a great day.  Had to jettison our original plan to take her to the National Zoo, because the weather was a little gloomy (although in retrospect, we could have gone in the morning – the skies didn’t open up until afternoon) so we went to Plan B – the Udvar-Hazy Center.  We love going out to the Air and Space Museum near Dulles and checking out all the cool aircraft and spacecraft they have their – the Enola Gay, Concorde, the space shuttle Discovery, and so many more!  Peanut and Nugget both enjoyed the heck out of the morning, and so did we.  We’re settling back into life in northern Virginia and loving it, revisiting all of our favorite places and spaces.  One of these days we’ll get around to unpacking – for now, we’re just soaking it all in.

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As for reading, I’m cruising merrily along through my summer reading list, thanks to a return to commuting on public transportation.  The Metro has been giving me about an hour a day (that’s thirty minutes each way, and not a bad commute at all!) of solid reading – and I can squeeze in even more after Nugget goes to bed, unless I unpack as I should be doing.  I wanted to read a few Angela Thirkells this summer, and I have – after I wrapped up Wild Strawberries on vacation, I moved on to August Folly (perfect August reading, right?) and liked it very much, other than the fact that reading it made me play the song “Stacy’s Mom” in my head on repeat, and if you’ve read August Folly, you know why.  Then I moved on to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was… fine, I guess.  I love Harry Potter, so any Potter is better than no Potter, but this felt… forced.  And unfamiliar.  I’ll probably blog about it after I’ve had a chance to organize my thoughts.  A somewhat disappointing return to the Potterverse had me craving more Thirkell, so I read Summer Half, which I think might be my favorite one yet.  After I blew through the story of Colin Keith’s short-lived career as a teacher, I decided to cross an item off my summer list and picked up Cider with Rosie.  I’m not far into it yet, but I’m enjoying it mightily.

Up next, after I finish Cider with Rosie… I’m not sure what I’m going to read.  More Thirkell, maybe, or perhaps I will work on one of the three other books I have currently on the go (The WitchesThe Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, and The Light Years) or something else entirely.  After all this time spent in Thirkell’s Barsetshire, I’m craving a trip to Trollope’s version – so perhaps The Warden?  I’ll have to see what mood strikes me.

On the blog: on Wednesday, a tribute to my FOUR-year-old nut, and on Friday, a vacation post.  ‘Tis the season!

What have you been reading lately, my friends?

Around

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Whoops.  Sorry, friends.  I didn’t intentionally take almost two weeks off from writing, but it’s been beyond crazy around here. Think I’m kidding?  A quick recap of the last two weeks:

  • Arrived in northern Virginia, babies and suitcases – and nothing else – in hand.
  • Made a floppity jillion trips to Target for all kinds of moving-related essentials.  Discovered that hanging shower organizers are an unexpectedly contentious topic in our household.
  • Became overwhelmed by logistical details of arranging two separate forms of child care.
  • Supervised moving day when our truck finally arrived four days after we did.  Maintained admirable degree of equanimity over a long day of fielding criticism from the movers about the amount of stuff we have (I know we need to purge, and I don’t need to hear it for the umpteenth time) and about our life and career choices (did you know that women should stay home until children are at least five years old?).  Only snapped after fourteen hours of this, when the movers decided that they weren’t going to bring our wardrobe upstairs.  Now living out of a makeshift cardboard dresser and retrieving socks from the living room.
  • Became a boiling cauldron of rage upon discovering that the movers disregarded my instructions all day and put almost every piece of furniture… not where I wanted it to go.
  • Ignored boxes and left for vacation in Virginia Beach the very next day.
  • Spent a blissful week at the beach with my best friend, Rebecca, and her boyfriend.  On the agenda: lots of digging in sand and splashing in salty water, boat rides, looking for mermaids, eating fish tacos, and a backyard campfire on the final night.  It was all perfect.
  • Came home and was instantly enraged by the fact that the furniture did not magically reconfigure itself into logical positions in my absence.
  • Celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary with a trip to REI for another child carrier backpack.
  • Welcomed my cousin Jocelyn for a two week visit (she’s watching the kids as part of our bridge childcare plan).
  • Took our first hike at Great Falls since moving back.  Daydreamed about hiking Shenandoah this fall… maybe?
  • Started my new job!  A few days in, I’m really enjoying the job itself and my great new coworkers.  Can’t wait to get more involved and start taking some of the heat off of my busier colleagues.

I promise regular content resuming next week, including a return to Monday reading posts and a brief series recapping our trip to Virginia Beach.  (I was planning just one big post, but I have too many pictures – sorry, folks!)  I’ve missed writing here – just haven’t had the head space to plan and draft posts.  But I have a lot of ideas for the next few weeks and into fall.  It’s good to be back.

What have you been up to lately?

diverse kidlit

In 2016, I set a goal to read more diversely both to myself and aloud to my kids.  As this year has unfolded, celebrating our differences has become more important than ever.  2016 has brought unspeakable tragedies born out of hate and ignorance – and the best way I know to fight those evils is to read books celebrating love and diversity.  This month’s diverse kidlit choice is Marvelous Cornelius, by Phil Bildner.

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Marvelous Cornelius is the story of a real man – a street sweeper who was beloved in his New Orleans neighborhoods, who poured his heart into cleaning up the city after Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.

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The book begins with a beautiful and apt quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – “…go out and sweep streets like Michaelangelo painted pictures…”

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Cornelius and his truck are familiar sights around New Orleans.  Each morning, he makes his rounds and collects the trash, leaving the streets sparkling.

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And he does his job with such infectious joy that all the neighbors in the city can’t help but feel happy when they see him coming.

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But then, one day – the storm comes.

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After the storm, even Cornelius finds it hard to smile.  He weeps for the devastation of his beloved city.

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But Cornelius doesn’t weep for long before he’s back on his feet and ready to tend to his New Orleans streets again.  “For his spirit and will were waterproof.”

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Cornelius inspires his neighbors to pitch in and clean up the city, and soon everyone is lending a hand.

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Marvelous Cornelius is a testament to the will of a city to rise again, shown through the lens of one magnificent character – and the best part is, it’s based on a true story.  Cornelius was a real man and a real inspiration (although, sadly, he passed away shortly after the hurricane and only saw the beginnings of the recovery effort).

It’s kind of a strange feeling to read books acquainting my kids with real events that I remember.  To them, this is history, but to me, these were current events at one time.  I did not experience Hurricane Katrina myself, but I remember watching the news coverage with horror, and I remember the group of Tulane Law students that my law school in Washington, D.C. took in for the semester.

In any event, aside from feeling old, I love reading Marvelous Cornelius to Peanut.  (Not so much Nugget – he’s a page-grabber.)  Together we point out the neighbors as they clean up and look for Cornelius’s truck as it rolls down the New Orleans streets.  For now, she loves the colors and the exuberant illustrations, and she likes to shout “Hootie hootie hoooooo!” along with me – but she’s also learning lessons about being a good neighbor, caring for your neighborhood, and coming together to help others.  Marvelous Cornelius seems like he was a true inspiration, and I’m so glad that we all get to know his story now.

What diverse books are you reading this month?

Reading Round-Up Header

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby.  I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book.  Here are my reads for July, 2016

the romanovsThe Romanovs: 1613-1918, by Simon Sebag Montefiore – I was clamoring to read this doorstopper of a new release even before it came out – because I’m always down for a new Romanov biography.  (And it seems like lately there’s been one ever year?  Keep ’em coming, I say.)  Montefiore’s contribution is truly epic and ambitious, profiling twenty Romanov Tsars and Tsarinas from Michael I (who ascended the throne in 1613 as the first Romanov ruler) to Michael II (the younger brother of Tsar Nicholas II, who ruled for all of one day after his elder brother abdicated and who was one of the first Romanovs to be murdered by the Bolsheviks).  At more than 600 densely-packed pages, this book was an effort, but it was fascinating and thorough.

the mother tongueThe Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way, by Bill Bryson – I actually started this (one of Bryson’s first books) on audio, but returned it to Audible when I decided that I didn’t like it enough to keep it in my audio library.  It was interesting, but not as funny as Bryson’s travelogues, and since I was expecting to be laughing throughout, I was slightly disappointed.  But I was still really interested in the subject matter, so I borrowed a copy from the library to finish after I returned the audiobook.  It was an interesting and very thorough exploration of the English language, and I picked up a lot of cool facts; just wish that it had delivered more laughs.  (Word of warning if you do listen on audio: at one point, the “N” word is used.  It’s not gratuitous, but it is jarring, and I wish I’d had some warning, because I often listen to audiobooks with my kids in the car.)

high risingHigh Rising (Barsetshire #1), by Angela Thirkell – High Rising introduces us to Thirkell’s Barsetshire and to the villages of High Rising and Low Rising, through the eyes of author Laura Morland, who makes her living by writing “good bad books” and is popularly considered to be the alter ego of Thirkell herself.  Laura and her young train-obsessed son, Tony, descend upon Laura’s cottage at High Rising for the Christmas holidays and periodically thereafter, where Laura works on her next book, Tony roams the train depot, and several of the characters band together to arrange marriages and save their friend and another local author from a social-climbing secretary (the horrors!).  Thirkell’s books are like comfort food – not taxing, perfect for curling up with over a cup of tea on a dark evening.  My one caution: they are very much of their time, and there are several stereotypical comments about a Jewish character that did not age well at all.  I’ve heard this warning about Thirkell – that she’s delightful comfort reading (albeit of uneven quality) but that every so often language creeps in that is extremely jarring to the modern reader.  I don’t think it’s something to throw out her books over – I’ve had the same concern about other classics, like The Scarlet Pimpernel – but it’s definitely a problem with an otherwise enjoyable read.

badass librariansThe Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, by Joshua Hammer – When Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb occupied Timbuktu, they didn’t reckon on Abdel Kader Haidara.  Haidara was a longtime Timbuktu resident who had been instrumental in collecting and preserving hundreds of thousands of ancient, priceless African manuscripts; the libraries of the city were filled with treasure thanks to him.  Although the terrorists pledged that they would not destroy Timbuktu’s treasured manuscripts, Haidara knew they would not keep their word as they worked their path of destruction through Mali’s traditional values of tolerance and literacy.  Gathering his network of cousins, neighbors, fellow librarians and concerned citizens, Haidara oversaw a massive heist in which 300,000 priceless manuscripts were smuggled out of Timbuktu’s libraries and into safe hiding spots until the terrorists were defeated by French forces.  This was a fascinating true story, and Haidara deserves a place in history as a hero and champion of knowledge.

jane prudenceJane and Prudence, by Barbara Pym – Although I didn’t love Pym’s most acclaimed work, Excellent Women, I fell hard and fast for Jane and Prudence.  Jane is a clergyman’s wife who has recently taken up residence in a rural parish.  Prudence is Jane’s former student, now younger friend, who is living the single life and going from love affair to love affair in London.  When Jane decides it’s time for Prudence to marry, she makes the worst possible choice for her friend – but really, is Jane’s taste in Prudence’s boyfriends any worse than Prudence’s own?  This was a charming read – I loved flighty, affable Jane and rooted for Prudence to find happiness, whatever her personal definition may be.  And now Pym is officially rescued for me, and I’ll be seeking out more of her books.

homegoingHomegoing, by Yaa Gyasi – I was nervous about this one.  I knew it was going to be intense, and I was also worried that it wouldn’t live up to the hype it has been getting.  Well, it was intense, but it did live up to the hype.  Homegoing is the story of a dynasty, starting with Maame and her two daughters, born in the 1800s in Ghana.  Effia, the elder, is married off to a white British colonial officer and lives in luxury in the Cape Castle.  Esi, the younger – of whom Effia is unaware – is captured by slavers, imprisoned in the dungeons of the same castle where her sister is living, and ultimately shipped to America.  The story follows both Effia’s and Esi’s descendants down through the generations, reading like a series of interconnected short stories and touching upon African wars, the Civil Rights struggle in America, and many other themes.  It’s upsetting (particularly Ness’s story) but well worth reading.  This is one of the important fiction debuts of the year, and I can’t wait to see what Yaa Gyasi will do next.

belgraviaBelgravia, by Julian Fellowes – After Homegoing, I needed to read something light and not taxing, and Belgravia fit the bill.  In 1815, the Duchess of Devonshire hosts a ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo.  The events of that night will change the destiny of two families.  Twenty-five years later, as the titled aristocracy has to come to terms with the proximity of the nouveau riches, secrets buried since the Duchess’s ball will begin to trickle out.  So, this was classic Julian Fellowes upstairs-downstairs drama.  It was completely predictable – I guessed every single twist chapters ahead of time – completely far-fetched, and excellent fun.  I just wish that I’d read it when it was first released – in eleven installments, via an app, like a modern-day Dickens novel.  What a cool concept!  I hope he does that again, and I will be more on top of things next time.

murder is bad mannersMurder is Bad Manners (Wells and Wong #1), by Robin Stevens – This recent American release of a YA detective series got some rave reviews on the bookish internet, but I confess I didn’t like it.  I found the boarding school narrative a little blah, the murder was not shocking, and the characters bugged me.  As one Goodreads reviewer lamented (and I agreed after reading), Daisy Wells is a bully and Hazel Wong’s self-loathing was depressing.  I usually try to give a mystery series a couple of books, because in my experience it sometimes takes awhile to get going, but I’m probably not going to continue with this one.

murder at the vicarageThe Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple #1), by Agatha Christie – The cure for a disappointing mystery novel is Agatha.  Always Agatha.  I bought my favorite mystery novel of all time on audio and had a blast listening to it on my commutes over the second half of the month.  The murder of generally despised Colonel Protheroe is just as mystifying, the herrings just as red and the solution just as ingenious as ever.  I dearly love brilliant, unassuming Jane Marple.

That ought to do it for me for July.  What a month of reading!  Don’t ask me to explain how I squeezed all these books into a month otherwise filled with packing, closing out projects at work, and reading all the political convention coverage – because I can’t.  But it was a good one.  I started off with some fascinating non-fiction, worked my way through a classic novel and a couple of big debuts, and finished up with two cozy mysteries.  Can’t ask for more than that…

What was the best thing you read in July?

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Hello from Virginia! We are here on the other side and settling in as best we can without Internet or furniture. I’m writing this post on my phone – so it’s going to be brief! Our moving truck arrived in Buffalo on Thursday and we spent the day frantically finishing our packing and cleaning our apartment from top to bottom before rolling out ourselves on Friday morning. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of driving, figuring out logistics of all sorts, and making multiple Target runs (4 in 36 hours!) which hasn’t left me with much reading time.

No pictures this week, but conjure up that pretty Angela Thirkell, Wild Strawberries, because I’m still reading that. I’m enjoying it, but having a hard time squeezing it in. I’m also reading Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Light Years, on my kindle, and Middlemarch on audio. I thought I would make a lot of progress on that last, during our long drive down here, but it turns out that Nugget is not a fan. 16-month-olds don’t like George Eliot – who knew? Not me.

Up next this week, I’ve got a reading round-up for July coming, and my August diverse kidlit pick. Check back!

What are you reading this week?

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I’m writing this post from the couch in my apartment in Williamsville – one of the last posts I will draft and schedule here.  By the time it publishes, our family will be on our way to our new life in northern Virginia.  I am, of course, overjoyed to be going home to the place I’ve longed to be for the past three years.  But any move is a little bittersweet, and saying goodbye to Buffalo is not easy.  There are so many places and people that we’ve taken into our hearts, and I’m going to miss them.

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I’m going to miss sunny summer Saturdays spent roaming the Williamsville farmers’ market and then plopping down in the big sandbox in Island Park.

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I’m going to miss browsing the shelves at Monkey See, Monkey Do, the most beautiful children’s bookstore I’ve ever seen – and a place that will remain very dear to my heart as the venue for Nugget’s first birthday party.

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I’m going to miss picture-perfect East Aurora, where our family has enjoyed more neighborhood strolls than I can count.  When we were deciding where to make our permanent home, this was the place that we imagined ourselves living had we chosen to stay in New York.

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I’m going to miss Letchworth State Park.  Although I’m partial to the Adirondack Park as my favorite state park in New York, Letchworth is truly spectacular.  I’ve loved rambling through the gorge on hot summer days and amidst blazing fall colors.

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Closer to home, I’m going to miss Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve.  We fell in love with this little slice of wild paradise in the midst of suburban Cheektowaga.  When it comes to sunlight dancing on lily ponds, there’s nowhere quite like it.

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I’m going to miss the rolling farmland beauty of the southtowns.  Picking apples at Stonehill Orchards, and berries at Awald’s Berry Patch, have become beloved family traditions.

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I’m going to miss the bustling downtown Buffalo, especially on festival days.  Summer won’t feel quite the same if we miss out on Taste of Buffalo.

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I’m going to miss Knox Farm, which is my very favorite park in WNY.  The cheerfully chirruping birds, the picturesque red barn, and the shady hiking trails – all are impressed on my heart.

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I’m going to miss the Botanical Gardens – especially the koi pond, also known as toddler paradise.  We’ve spent some happy winter afternoons thawing out in the sun-baked greenhouses and watching the fish swim lazily through their pond (still Peanut’s favorite ecosystem).

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I’m going to miss Tifft Nature Preserve – site of countless family hikes in every season – green heron viewings – friends’ birthdays.  Tifft is now part of the fabric of our family.  Maybe one day we’ll even hike it without getting lost.

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I’m going to miss Canalside.  It’s been the epicenter of so much fun – the starting line for the Color Run, the Biggest Loser Half Marathon, and the Skyride – and one of our very favorite family spots.

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I’m going to miss Central Library.  One I started working downtown, I was here at least weekly – picking up holds, returning finished books, reading or chatting with friends over salads at Fables Cafe.  It will be strange not to drive by this big white box full of books every weekday, and even stranger to think that I’ve ordered my last cup of coffee from the friendly cafe staff.  (Also – look at little Peanut!)

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I’ll miss my in-laws’ comfy deck, and the fun of reading books out there or chatting with my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law over tea or kombucha.

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Almost more than anything else, I’ll miss Westminster Early Childhood Programs.  As hard as it is to leave my kids every morning, I always knew that when I left them there I was leaving them in the hands of teachers who loved them like their own.  Over the two years that we’ve been a part of WECP, the school has come to feel like family to me.  The friends we’ve made through Peanut’s class will be friends forever, the teachers will be following our kids as they grow up far away, and the school itself will be part of my heart forever.

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But the hardest goodbye will be the goodbye we have to say to friends that we have come to love like family in our three years here.  Peanut’s BFF, N, from school, and her sweet family; and, more than anyone else, Zan and Paul.  When we were cold and lonely, these people welcomed us into their hearts and made Buffalo a home for us.  While I know we’ll see them – Zan and Paul, in particular – I’m incredibly sad that they’ll no longer be just a short drive away.

It’s never easy to say goodbye, even when you know you’re going home.  The past three years have been so special for us, and we’ll hold these places and these people in our hearts forever.

*Title from the R.E.M. song.

 

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