Good Monday morning to you all – how were your weekends? Any crazy St. Patrick’s Day antics?
Last week was a slow reading week around these parts – slower than I’d hoped for, to be honest. I’m still making my way through Great Expectations in print and Horizon on audio – no changes to report, except that I’m about halfway through both. Audiobook time has been limited by (1) only commuting one day last week, which is the usual for now; and (2) being slammed with work projects and not getting out for as many neighborhood walks as I usually do. I’ve been listening a bit here and there while doing things like washing dishes and making beds, but I’m also not so enthralled by the book that I am turning it on at every opportunity. It’s good, but I think I’m just burnt out on polar travel literature right now – but being halfway through, I feel like I need to press on and see it all the way to the end.
As for print reading, that’s been hampered by time constraints, too. Between a couple of evenings of working late, and other evenings of needing to get things done around the house – or just being too zoned-out to focus on a book – I’ve been picking up Pip’s adventures at 9:30pm, which is too late for me to start reading and get through a meaningful amount of pages in an evening. I did curl up with Great Expectations for a few hours on Saturday morning, but barely touched in on Sunday. The bottom line being: I’m about halfway through, or a little more. Hoping to finish it up this week, which really shouldn’t be a chore because I am really enjoying it. It’s all about time and energy in the evenings, and I’m hoping to have more of both this week. I am thinking, though, of reading something slim and quick before going on to the next Classics Club doorstopper. A palate cleanser might be just the thing.
No pictures from the weekend! The only time I took my camera out was to snap pictures of Peanut and her fellow Girl Scouts enjoying Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: The Ballet this weekend, and as you can I’m sure appreciate, I won’t be sharing those since they all include kids that aren’t mine (and Peanut’s face, too – about a year ago, I stopped posting pictures of my own kids’ faces on here, as may or may not be obvious). Anyway, the girls had a fabulous time at the ballet, and that was kind of the only notable thing I did over the weekend. The rest of it was the usual – a run on Saturday, a long walk with Nugget on Sunday, plenty of book time on Saturday as detailed above, etc. A weekend of the usual and not-at-all-notable actually felt kind of good after traveling to the end of the world and back in the last month.
It will come as no surprise that Theodore Roosevelt National Park is chock full of TR history. (Fun fact: he hated being called Teddy. I also hate being nicknamed, so I felt that.) You don’t have to go far into the park to find places to walk in Roosevelt’s footsteps, either. You can do it just steps from the South Unit park entrance – right behind the visitors’ center, where Roosevelt’s tiny Maltese Cross Cabin is situated. (This isn’t the original spot; the cabin has been moved.)
The anklebiters are no strangers to Presidential residences. We have an annual family membership at Mount Vernon, after all. But the Maltese Cross Cabin is a little more snug than President Washington’s grand mansion.
I loved the rich, knotty, grainy wood of the cabin’s exterior.
And the interior! So cool to think TR touched these very walls.
We checked out his desk and letter-writing spot and joked that he must have sat there to answer Uncle Dan’s fan mail. (Theodore Roosevelt is my brother’s favorite president. I like him too, but my favorite president is a bit more recent. President Obama forever!)
The table all laid out for a hearty meal after a tough day of galloping around the badlands on horseback…
And check out that stove! And the teapot – and waffle iron! How cool.
I will say that as cozy and inviting as the kitchen appeared, the bedroom – not so much. That bed looks uncomfortable, no?
We didn’t spend much time here – it would have been hard to do so; you could see everything there was to see in the span of five minutes. But what a fun little stop, a good way to stretch our legs before we headed out on another long drive, and a nice glimpse into the life of everyone’s favorite Rough Rider.
Next week: it’s time to head back south, but we have one more hike in TRNP on the way!
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 February, 2023.
Scott’s Last Expedition, by Captain Robert Falcon Scott – This one has been on my shelf for years, waiting for its day. I finally picked up Captain Scott’s diaries detailing his doomed final expedition to the South Pole shortly before leaving for my own trip to Antarctica (which, thankfully – and as expected – went much better than Scott’s). I bogged down in quite a few places (especially the endless descriptions of weather conditions, which were certainly top of mind for Scott but which didn’t exactly hold the attention) and spent a fair amount of time lamenting Scott’s poor decision-making – especially those bad decisions that led directly to his death and the deaths of the rest of the members of his Polar Party. But it was an interesting and important read on the history of polar exploration.
Three Letters from the Andes, by Patrick Leigh Fermor – As I thought, this book focused entirely on Peru – so not the part of the Andes I was destined to see at the southern tip of Argentina. But as with everything written by Fermor, it was a beautiful and evocative read. And Peru is quite high on Steve’s and my list of countries to visit soon (with the kids) so I’m sure I will be revisiting this slim but lovely volume.
Object Lessons: Whale Song, by Margret Grebowicz – An interesting, again slim, look at the sounds whales make, their communication, and what those phenomena mean to human culture. This left me with a lot of food for though, especially about the tendency to anthropomorphize cetaceans.
A Nature Poem for Every Winter Evening, ed. Jane McMorland Hunter – I really enjoyed Jane McMorland Hunter’s selections in A Nature Poem for Every Night of the Year, which I read a few years ago, and was delighted that she is now curating seasonal selections (in pretty hardcovers that are a bit easier to hold and read than the giant doorstopper omnibus, too). I bookmarked quite a few poems to revisit, and this volume contained some old and some new favorites. I have the spring volume sitting on my coffee table and can’t wait to dive in.
Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, by Sara Wheeler – One thing about polar literature, and the literature of Antarctica especially, is that it’s very heavily male-dominated. Looking for a woman’s voice to take on my Antarctic journey, I found Sara Wheeler’s memoir of her time spent “on the ice” – a memoir the great Beryl Bainbridge describes as “essential” – and Wheeler was the perfect company for the long flights and days on the Drake Passage. I loved her description of her initial preconceptions of Antarctica as “the place where men with frozen beards competed to see how dead they could get” and her wise and funny observations of her companions at McMurdo Station and the other research stations and camps she visited over multiple trips to the icy continent. Funnily enough, Steve and I hit it off with another couple in our kayak group while on our trip, and they were both reading Terra Incognita too. We all agreed – it’s a wonderful read.
Well! This is a short list – only five books – as I was too busy having the adventure of a lifetime in Antarctica to do much reading. (Even during the long at-sea days on the Drake, I spent most of my time watching albatrosses swoop behind the ship and looking for whale spouts on the horizon.) But it was a good month of reading in that everything I did manage to read was interesting and enjoyable (or some combination!). Terra Incognita was the highlight of the month, for sure. Now that I’m home, I’m taking a break from ice and men with frozen beards and turning my attention to some springier reading. I’m definitely feeling the pull to my shelves again – I never read much when I am traveling – and looking forward to a longer booklist for March.
Happy Monday! It’s been – what, a month? – well, some time since I last recapped my week’s reading for you. Traveling will do that – and as expected, I didn’t read much while on my adventure to Antarctica, so you haven’t missed anything really. It took me a whole week of being home and in a routine again to get back into the swing of reading, but I think the page-turning mojo is back.
I started the week still mentally in Antarctica, this time with Sir Ernest Shackleton and friends. I’d read so much about the disastrous Scott Expedition before my trip that I really wanted to get in at least one book about Shackleton’s last journey to Antarctica, too. But after three weeks of traveling and a month of reading polar exploration literature almost exclusively, I was pretty checked out of this one and it was a bit of a slog for me to get through it. I was relieved to close the book – for now, there are more Antarctica books I want to read but I need a break – on polar explorers for awhile and start some spring reading. Last Mother’s Day, Steve gave me Monty Don’s beautiful American Gardens, and while I had flipped through it some, I hadn’t made time to sit down and actually read it cover to cover and look at all of the pictures. So that was a lovely way to welcome in spring (much nicer than turning the clocks forward). And at the same time, I picked up Great Expectations, which has been on my to-read list for years. It’s also on my Classics Club Challenge list, which has a deadline of July 23, 2023. I’m almost done with the challenge – only eight books left, but some of them are loooooooong, so – as one of my favorite co-workers likes to say – “I’ve gotta giddyup.” I’m about 80 pages in as of press time, and really enjoying it. Pip has just met Estella and I’m looking forward to watching their relationship evolve.
After Great Expectations, I think I’ll probably keep plugging away at my remaining Classics Club books. I have copies of both The Three Musketeers and The Silmarillion, so possibly one of them? Time will tell.
Guess who turned eight on Saturday and is now eligible for go-kart racing?
The more time I spent researching things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the more must-dos I came up with. It seems this park is just jam-packed with iconic hiking trails – including the Petrified Forest Loop Trail, a ten (or maybe more?) mile loop that passes through expanses of prairie and a valley full of petrified tree stumps. Doing the full loop trail was not on the agenda this time – our small hikers are good for a maximum of four miles at a time – but according to the trail reports I was reading, the really cool petrified wood was located approximately 1.5 miles into the longer hike. Now, a three-mile out-and-back… that we could do.
The trail begins on the prairie. There are broad steppes in every direction – we saw a few wild horses grazing atop one of the buttes.
The trail reports cautioned that the prairie part of the hike was a little boring, but you had to press through it to get to the cool petrified wood. I disagreed – I didn’t think the prairie was boring at all. I kept thinking of Laura Ingalls Wilder in On the Banks of Plum Creek, describing the prairie as being full of little rounded hills, dips and hollows – it’s so much more than just a stretch of flat grass.
At least one person in our group did find the prairie section boring, though. Hiking is not Peanut’s favorite activity. I told her to channel her inner Laura Ingalls. That meant nothing to her, because she has not read the Little House books. (She did read the My First Little House series years ago, when she was a preschooler and kindergartner – but it had been a minute.)
Eventually, we reached a trail junction. Our research had indicated that we could take either the North or the South trail and end up at the petrified wood, but the South was a bit faster – so we went that way.
Just as Steve was starting to wonder out loud when we’d be seeing the petrified wood, I spotted some unusually shaped boulders immediately ahead of us. “I’m pretty sure… now,” I replied.
We walked over a little lip in the trail and then started to scuttle down the bare rock face into a valley that was dotted, unmistakably, with petrified tree stumps. It does not get cooler.
We wandered around the petrified forest for almost an hour, taking our time poking into every nook and cranny, examining every piece of petrified wood, and calling each other over to share in all the cool finds.
What a cool hike this was! I’ve found that when hiking with anklebiters, it does help to have a goal. The goal doesn’t need to be a petrified forest – it can be something as simple as a snack picnic at a good turnaround point. But it’s nice to occasionally be able to deliver something with real WOW factor, and the Petrified Forest Loop certainly had that. The kids were suitably impressed. And as we hiked back to the car (scanning for wild horses – saw some – and bison – another strikeout) I started mulling over a trip to Petrified Forest National Park, which I imagine is… like this, but on a grander scale. I can’t say that was high on my list of national parks to visit before, but after this hike it certainly moved up the ladder a few spots.
Have you ever found petrified wood on a hike?
Next week, we check out another one of TR’s Dakota residences. This one has walls!
Helloooooooo! Did you miss me? Or did you (hopefully) not even notice I was gone? Steve and I spent the last three weeks traveling through Antarctica, with a few days in the Tierra del Fuego region of Argentina on the back end. There were whales, penguins, seals and sea lions galore – stunning blue glaciers and towering icebergs – brash ice to paddle our kayaks through – big rolling waves on the Drake Passage – new friends with whom to share the experience. It was absolutely epic, and I have a ton of pictures to sort through and stories to type up and share with you – so more coming very soon!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is comprised of three separate units: the South Unit, the North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Staying in charming Medora, we spent most of our time in the nearby South Unit. The North Unit was a long drive away, so we quickly decided it wasn’t going to happen on this trip – maybe another time. But we did want to check out another part of the park, so on our second full day in North Dakota, we piled in our rental car and drive two hours to this small park unit.
Side note: the front grill and hood of our rental car became a grasshopper graveyard. Peanut was horrified and disgusted. Nugget was fascinated.
Elkhorn Ranch is famous as the Dakota badlands home of Theodore Roosevelt. While TR had a few different homesteads in the area – including the Maltese Cross Cabin (to be featured in a future post – keep reading!) – Elkhorn Ranch was his primary, and most-loved, home in North Dakota.
For no good reason that I can think of, I was under the impression that this hike led to an actual preserved ranch homestead that we could check out – like the Maltese Cross Cabin – or at least some interesting Old West ruins. But the ranch buildings are no longer standing, and the most a visitor can see is the suggestion of a floorplan. Not sure if it’s not really publicized that the ranch is no longer there, or my poor reading comprehension – the latter, probably. But note to would-be visitors: this is a lovely hike and the views at the end are rewarding, but there’s no ranch house anymore.
About those views…
The hike culminates in a beautiful meadow surrounded by quintessential North Dakota badlands buttes. Just stunning – and the aroma, I can’t even tell you. Let’s just say if you ever get the chance to stand in a meadow surrounded by sage and breathe in, do it.
Worth every minute of that long drive.
Next week: we channel Laura Ingalls, hike the North Dakota prairie, and find some really cool petrified wood.
For a long time, I didn’t listen to much of anything. The occasional book on CD, podcasts on my commute – that was it. Times have changed and, thanks to Steve setting up my Spotify and linking it to my Echo devices, I now have infinite music. And since I haven’t cut back on audiobooks – quite the contrary – listening time is creeping up and I’m really enjoying that.
First of all, I’m still on my kick of alternating between listening to an audiobook and then catching up on the latest episodes in my (now mostly cleared of back content) podcatcher. It’s a nice way to squeeze in extra reading, and over the past few months I’ve eked out several books this way, namely:
The Christmas Hirelings, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen, by Rhys Bowen
Christmas Days, by Jeannette Winterson
Dinner with Edward, by Isabel Vincent
Smallbone Deceased, by Michael Gilbert
Horizon, by Barry Lopez
And as mentioned above, Steve set up my Spotify account (apparently I’ve had one for ages?) and linked it to my Echo devices, so now I can play any music I want in any room of the house (or my car). After years of professing that I’m just not that much of a music person (except for the Decemberists, of course), I am remembering how much fun it can be to get sucked into a good song or album. Nugget and I have been going down a major R.E.M. rabbit hole on our way to the ski mountain every weekend, and I recently discovered a “90s Road Trip” playlist that turned my car into a time machine. If you haven’t driven home from the grocery store belting out “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” then you haven’t lived.
Sticking with the music theme, I have also been binging on The New Pornographers. Along with The Decemberists, these folks were the soundtrack to my life in law school days. They’re touring this spring (!!!) and playing the 9:30 Club in D.C. (!!!!!) and I’ve! Got! Tickets! (!!!!!!!) so clearly I need to prepare. Although they’re dropping a new album and I expect that will make up most of their songs. It’s not out yet, so – much, much more New Pornographers listening ahead.
Something else that’s coming my way and something else for which I’ve got tickets – Six the Musical! Are the kids tired of me walking around the house chanting “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded… LIVE!” yet? Yes. Yes, they are. Too bad! My friend Amanda and I have a girls’ night planned when the U.S. tour comes to Baltimore, and we are ready for our crowning glory.
So much music here! What a fun season of listening it’s been. I’m sure this will balance out eventually but for now I am really enjoying reliving the 1990s and remixing Tudor history. What are you listening to lately?
It’s amazing to think that Things Fall Apart is a debut novel – because it’s perfect. Perfectly formed and crafted, perfectly compact – just perfect.
When the novel opens, Okonkwo is a young man in Umuofia, a region in southeastern Nigeria. Already gaining prominence as a local wrestling champion, Okonkwo is determined to forge his own legacy and shake off the shame he feels at being the son of a ne’er-do-well father. The novel’s first section showcases Okonkwo’s determined progress from nobody to rich farmer and respected village leader. He’s a complicated character – engaging and interesting, but also brutal and misogynistic at times. (That made for an interesting dilemma to ponder while reading: Okonkwo is not an especially likeable character, but how much of my response to his behavior was directly tied to my 2020s western worldview? I try to approach each book as a learning experience and to question why I respond to certain characters in certain ways.)
As Okonkwo grows to manhood, he piles success on top of success. The reader watches as he clears hurdles, navigates setbacks – like crop losses – and comes back stronger than ever. It seems there is no challenge to which Okonkwo is not equal.
Enter white missionaries. By the end of the first section of the book, there are whisperings that white settlers have started to inflitrate the land. Okonkwo is unconcerned – at first.
But stories were already gaining ground that the white man had not only brought a religion but also a government. It was said that they had built a place of judgment in Umuofia to protect the followers of their religion. It was even said that they had hanged one man who killed a missionary.
Although such stories were now often told they looked like fairy-tales in Mbanta and did not as yet affect the relationship between the new church and the clan. There was no question of killing a missionary here, for Mr. Kiaga, despite his madness, was quite harmless. As for his converts, no one could kill them without having to flee from the clan, for in spite of their worthlessness they still belonged to the clan. And so nobody gave serious thought to the stories about the white man’s government or the consequences of killing the Christians. If they became more troublesome than they already were they would simply be driven out of the clan.
Eventually, white missionaries arrive in Okonkwo’s village and build a church. Soon, the village is divided between those who – like Okonkwo – value and continue to follow the old traditions, and those who are interested in the newly introduced Christian religion and want to see what it’s all about. Tensions rise as the village becomes more and more fractured, and when a local funeral leads to a tragic accident, Okonkwo and his family are exiled for seven years to Mbanta, his mother’s village. At first deeply depressed at the idea of leaving behind the village and all he has built there – because his farm and all his crops will be claimed by other villagers the second he departs – Okonkwo finds companionship and validation among his extended family in Mbanta. Soon he is prosperous again and is able to influence his family members to resist the colonizing newcomers and cherish their Igbo traditions, as his uncle reflects in a speech honoring Okonkwo at a family feast.
“If I say that we did not expect such a big feast I will be suggesting that we did not know how openhanded our son, Okwonko, is. We all know him, and we expected a big feast. But it turned out to be even bigger than we expected. Thank you. May all you took out return again tenfold. It is good in these days when the younger generation consider themselves wiser than their sires to see a man doing things in the grand, old way. A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so. You may ask why I am saying all this. I say it because I fear from the younger generation. for you people.” He waved his arm where most of the young men sat. “As for me, I have only a short while to live, and so have Uchendu and Unachukwu and Emefo. But I fear for you young people because you do not understand how strong is the bond of kinship. You do not know what it is to speak with one voice. And what is the result? An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brothers. He can curse the gods of his fathers and his ancestors, like a hunter’s dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his master. I fear for you, I fear for the clan.” He turned again to Okonkwo and said, “Thank you for calling us together.”
After his seven years of exile are over, Okonkwo returns to his village to find it changed beyond recognition. The white missionaries have invaded every aspect of village life and only a few villagers seem to still hold true to their traditions. When a Christian convert unmasks a village elder during a religious ceremony – a deeply evil act – Okonkwo and a few other villagers reach the limit of their endurance and call for war against the colonizers. I won’t share more of the plot, because you really should seek this book out to read for yourself – but I will say, as anyone who has read anything about the history of colonization in Africa can guess – things don’t go well for Okonkwo.
“Does the white man understand our custom about land?
“How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad, and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
I’ve had Things Fall Apart on my to-be-read list for ages, and I’m so glad I finally got to it. It was a slim volume and a fast read – I think I read it in one or two sittings – but packed full of beautiful writing and difficult concepts to consider. As we in western countries engage more and more with our own legacy of colonialism and erasure, this should be required reading. I’m sure I will revisit it, since there was so much to turn over and consider here; this is a book that will reward multiple re-readings for years to come.
When planning our time in Medora, I wanted to find something for us to do that didn’t involve hiking – both as a change of pace and as a treat for Peanut, who was coming off a summer of musical theatre camp. Surfing around the travel internet, I found dozens of recommendations of The Medora Musical, a rollicking song and dance show that tells the story of the Dakota Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt’s life. It sounded fun and a little bonkers, so I booked us four seats. As we walked into the outdoor amphitheatre, I was stunned by the elaborate set, the Hollywood sign-style “MEDORA” in the hills behind the stage, and the amped crowd. Clearly, this was the place to be on a Saturday night in Medora.
We sat down, I provided popcorn in response to Nugget’s clamoring (he is a popcorn fiend) and we prepared for a wild experience. The dancers and singers delivered bigtime.
The western town scene moved around. There were horses ridden down from the hills and across the stage. There were explosions. There was a random basketball interlude.
The climactic scene featured a rider on horseback galloping down from behind the MEDORA sign, waving an American flag. I kid you not. It was absolutely wild.
I can’t recommend The Medora Musical highly enough. One of the TripAdvisor reviews I read noted that it was “not Broadway” but was of a quality equivalent to “the best regional productions.” That seemed about right to me; it was a higher-budget production than I was expecting – with the movable set, the horses, the many costume changes – and the kids loved it. (Steve and I enjoyed ourselves too.) I had just told them we were going to a “musical show” without more details – since I didn’t really know what it was all about, myself – and everyone was blown away.
What a fun night! I’m reliving it now, looking at these pictures, and grinning.Next week, we drive to a different unit of the park for a fun hike – check back then!