What I’ve Been Listening To: Winter 2023 Edition

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?


What I’ve Been Watching: Winter 2023 Edition

Winter is a time for cozying up with a cup of tea and a blanket and something good to watch – right? I think that’s the general consensus. As longtime readers know, I’m more of a book person than a screen person, but I still like a good show or movie. Here’s what I’ve been watching this season.

First, a re-watch. Steve and I are on our second time through Continent 7: Antarctica on Disney+ and loving it just as much as the first time. It’s a documentary show that follows several groups of scientists and support personnel through a season’s worth of science projects all around Antarctica. Naturally my favorite parts are the parts that feature Dr. Ari Friedlander, who is studying whales (YES) off the Antarctic Peninsula (where I’m going) but the whole show is just great.

Another Antarctica-themed re-watch – naturally, we had to devote a night to Disneynature: Penguins. I love Steve the Adelie penguin and his family – we all cackle throughout this charming film.

Sticking with the classics and moving right along, this is our third year watching Winterwatch, for which the 2023 season is now available on Britbox! I can’t get enough of the BBC presenter team, with their cheerful banter, friendly competition, enthusiastic love of all things wildlife and science, and hope for the future. This show is beautifully filmed and engagingly presented and I’m so glad we can watch it on this side of the Pond.

Here’s something I’ve had on my list to watch for awhile – Bonnie Wright’s YouTube channel, GoGently. Or, as the kids like to say, “Mom’s watching Ginny Weasley clean out her closet without magic again.” Bonnie Wright is better known as the actress who played Ginny in the Harry Potter movies, and she has since grown up, moved to California, and started a new life as a director and producer and environmental activist. I love her gentle tips for simple but effective ways to clean up the Earth, and it’s fun to get a peek into her daily California life, too. (I love where I live, but every so often I consider California…)

Finally, Steve and I have been carving out some living room date nights after the kids are in bed, to catch up on The Crown. We’re up to the 1990s now and it’s a lot of fun, although we’re still not sure we can get behind Imelda Staunton. She may very well be a delightful person, and she’s certainly a phenomenal actress. But at least once an episode, we each shout “Umbridge! No!” at the TV.

That’s a lot of watching! Don’t worry, I am still doing plenty of reading too. How about you? What have you been watching lately?


Tap, tap. Is this thing on?

To quote Taylor Swift: “It’s me. Hi.”

It’s January 6 – Twelfth Night – and I feel like I am only just now poking my head out of the holiday cave and blinking in the January sunlight. That’s despite working all week (January in the office took off like a rocket) and despite the fact that I mostly worked a regular schedule between Christmas and New Year’s and only took off a day and a half to go skiing. I do have big plans to get to my fun January content starting next week, including my bookish look-back posts about 2022, which are some of my favorite posts of the year to write. And I have a Christmas book haul to show you, of course, and lots more travel content for the foreseeable future Fridays. So all of that’s to come.

In the meantime, some snapshots in words of the mess and chaos and fun and overwhelm of the past few weeks.

  • I am home after four days in upstate New York visiting family and skiing with the anklebiters.
  • I am hopeful that we will be able to ski together as a family this season, because Peanut – the hold-out – did well and had fun when we went to Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts with my parents on the Friday before New Year’s.
  • I am wearing a new pair of my favorite pants from LL Bean, which my mom gave me for Christmas (a black pair, to go with the navy and army green pairs I already had…) and they’re SO comfortable.
  • I am also wearing my glasses nonstop because I am OUT of contact lenses and not going to the eye doctor until next week.
  • I am planning to take the Christmas tree down this weekend and I have big ideas, that are probably delusions, about culling the ornaments that we never actually use.
  • I am also planning, gleefully, a big clutter clearing for 2023, because my neighborhood just got a Buy Nothing group.
  • I am reading one of my new books, opened on Christmas morning – The Windsor Diaries, by Alathea Fitzalan Howard – and it is transporting me straight to Windsor in the 1940s every time I pick it up.
  • I am glaring at a huge pile of packages in my foyer and wondering why we still have so many packages arriving when Christmas is over, and also who is going to open all these boxes and break them down. Most of the packages are for Steve. But one is a cordless reading lamp that I ordered before Christmas and I have big plans to set it up this weekend and for it to become my new best friend.
  • I am also glaring at the situation in my kitchen, which includes a pile of dirty dishes (keeping it real) and a completely broken fridge. The fridge guy was supposed to come and pronounce it dead yesterday so that we could get a new one (yet another thing I will not miss about renting: the bureaucracy and red tape around every broken appliance, and there have been a lot of them in this dump of a house) but he was a no-call-no-show. Great.
  • I am panicking a little over the state of my inbox, which is frankly frightening.
  • I am anticipating Saturday spent cleaning the house and re-potting some plants, and Sunday on the mountain.

What is your January looking like so far?

What I’ve Been Listening To: Fall 2022

As the mercury drops, I’m remembering more and more how perfectly winter hats hold earbuds in ears – a nice little side benefit to knitwear. Here’s a selection of some of my fall listening highlights:

Lovely War, by Julie Berry. Still really enjoying my routine of switching between listening to an audiobook, then catching up on my podcatcher – I listened to Lovely War on long neighborhood walks and commutes between October and November. It’s a bit of a tome and the audiobook was nearly 12 hours, even on 1.1 speed (over 13 if you listened on regular speed, but I’ve found 1.1 sounds more conversational to me and keeps my listening pace where I like it). I really enjoyed it, but did bog down occasionally and have to take breaks for more bite-sized content via Apple Podcasts.

Podcasts – always. Speaking of which, that long audiobook gave me plenty of time to stack up a whole library’s worth of recent episodes in my podcatcher. Since wrapping up Lovely War I’ve been gradually working my way through these, and also sprinkling in some back holiday content from The Mom Hour, my favorite parenting podcast (actually the only parenting podcast I can bear to listen to).

Music – especially ’90s jams. The kids – especially Nugget – prefer to listen to music in the car and will complain if I put on a podcast or audiobook, so we’re always scrolling through my iTunes library. Recently, Nugget got the beginnings of his R.E.M. education. But more than anything else, lately, I’ve been listening to ’90s music – I think it’s the Peloton causing this blast from the past. I did a few “90s rock rides” and found myself shouting “I love this song!” and singing along to the Red Hot Chili Peppers way more than I would have expected. Especially when Robin Arzon is choosing the playlist, I just can’t get enough. It’s like having the best part of high school back, without all the drama.

The sounds of nature. A few weeks ago, the kids were miraculously quiet for a couple of moments on a hike and we got to actually hear the forest around us – the whistling of wind in the trees, the soft rushing of the Potomac river on its banks just a few feet away, the scurrying of a small animal in the underbrush. It was such an unexpected joy – like our own little Autumnwatch mindful moment – that Nugget was inspired to play a game of “I hear with my little ear” all the way back to the car and we walked along listening to the sounds of the woods and whispering our observations to each other. It was, unsurprisingly, lovely.

What are you listening to this fall?

What I’ve Been Watching: Fall 2022 Edition

Still liking my streamlined and pared-down Monday posts, so still looking at a quarterly catch-up to show you what other media I’ve been into lately. It’s hard to believe that it’s already the end of November – Thanksgiving tomorrow! – because I feel like summer just fizzled out yesterday. But here we are, staring down another holiday season. As life gets busier, television and movies tend to be the first thing to go – I’ll prioritize reading when time is limited – but I did manage to watch some good stuff despite an especially hectic fall.

Hamilton at the Kennedy Center. Highlight no. 1 of fall viewing was Hamilton, performed live by the Philip Tour company at the Kennedy Center in D.C. This was the third time I’ve seen the show live – once on Broadway, and another time at the Kennedy Center – and it was as wonderful as ever. Something I really enjoyed this time around: seeing the actors put their own spin on lines I know so well from the soundtrack, the original Broadway cast on Disney+, and other performances. For instance, in the song “Non-Stop,” when Hamilton sings the line “Burr, you’re a better lawyer than me,” Leslie Odom Jr. has sung his response “Okay…” in a manner suggesting that he’s skeptical of where Hamilton is going with this. This time, the actor playing Aaron Burr sang the line “Okay!” as if to say “Finally, you acknowledge that I’m better!” It was a little thing, but fun to look out for those little differences in tone and to spot the different actors bringing their own interpretations to these much-loved characters. In case you can’t tell, I had a great time.

Nugget, sports-ing. Highlight no. 2 of fall viewing – this is a highlight in any season, really – was Nugget, tearing it up on sports fields and race courses and swimming pools. He’s gotten into sports in a big way lately and he’s a shockingly good athlete (no idea where he gets that from). This fall, he played pre-travel soccer, leveled up twice in his swim lessons (and is on the final class level before he graduates from Goldfish Swim School and has to decide whether he wants to join their swim team or bid goodbye to his Saturdays in the pool) and ran his first in-person running race (the Marine Corps Marathon Kids’ Run). We don’t push him to do any of these things – he is genuinely enjoying himself. It’s so cool to see him come into his own and experience the excitement and joy of reaching his goals. I’m a proud sports mom.

Andor. Family viewing lately has been the most recent Star Wars series to drop on Disney+ – Andor. I really liked the character of Cassian Andor in Rogue One, so it’s been fun to watch his backstory. We’ve been watching the series as a family (or at least, Steve and Nugget and I have been watching; Peanut drifts in and out and often reads during family TV time, which is fine with me) and just finished it up recently. I liked it much better than The Book of Boba Fett, but not nearly as much as The Mandalorian, which is still the gold standard of TV in my house.

The Pale Horse. After listening to Agatha Christie’s weird and chilling tale of murder by supernatural… or maybe ordinary… means, I wanted to watch the recent television adaptation with Steve. Turns out it was nothing like the book.

The Great British Baking Show. Whew! That’s a lot of intense television viewing – more so than usual, and as someone who gets stressed out during cake decorating shows, it’s been a lot of heart-pounding. We’ve been sprinkling in the latest season of The Great British Baking Show – every weekend when a new episode drops – to calm down and get some restful viewing in too. We all just love this show and can’t get enough of it.

What are you watching this season?

Little Luxuries: Fall 2022 Edition

The other day, I was doing a Peloton ride with my friend Amanda, and the instructor – Robin, for those of y’all who are fellow Peloton-ers – said “The only thing gettting lit in my house after 9:00pm is a pumpkin spice candle!” As my friend Katie is fond of quoting, “You don’t find candles lit in frenetic houses.” Well, my house is definitely frenetic, and there is not much candle-lighting going on by the time I finally crash on the couch, later and later every evening. But I’m still finding little joys… the cozy season is definitely upon us, y’all. And it struck me that it’s been a minute since I shared the little luxuries that are making every day a little nicer and happier.

First, there’s that Peloton – not sure if it qualifies as a “little” luxury, considering it weighs as much as a baby elephant. But the ability it gives me to squeeze in movement even during the busiest workweek is definitely a luxury. I got it back in the spring, and as you can see based on this entry in Nugget’s “my mother’s favorite things” book which I received for Mother’s Day, I’ve been loving it since the moment it arrived in my house.

I’m not the only one who is enjoying it, unfortunately. The kids have adopted it and think it’s their new ride (wrong, kids, the Peloton is Mommy’s toy).

Related – in a busy week, the opportunity to get out, feel trail dirt under my boots, and breathe in fresh air definitely feels like a luxury. I get in neighborhood walks and runs as often as I can, but between a busy job and weekends that are getting more and more packed with kiddo sports, trail time is definitely a luxury, and one I’m trying to protect by making sure we carve out time for family hikes at least once a week. Views like this are a lovely bonus.

Another luxury, and one I enjoy anytime throughout the year – date nights with Steve. A couple of weeks ago we went out to a delicious Italian dinner in a historic mansion in our small town, then drove into D.C. to see Hamilton at the Kennedy Center. Third time we’ve seen it live, and it never gets old.

Those are some big luxuries, actually. A smaller one – delicious applies, which we picked at the beginning of the month and which we’ve been eating out of hand ever since. I was planning to reserve some of these for a pie, but we’re actually almost done with this half bushel – insane! They were just so good this year – crisp and sweet. I’ve been putting them into the kids’ lunches and snacks every day, and reserving a few for myself too.

And with the falling mercury has also come cravings for tea again. Recently, I dug out my electric kettle – a Christmas gift from my parents, years ago – and plugged it in. Only regret was: why didn’t I get this back out long ago? I used to keep it in my office and it has been sitting next to my home office desk since I cleaned out my desk after leaving my law firm in 2021. Now it’s out and being pressed into service multiple times a day; Steve has gotten into drinking tea recently too and has his own stash, while I’ve been drinking my way through a big basket of loose leaf tea that, to be honest, isn’t getting any younger. It’s been a good time to rediscover one of my favorite little luxuries, as I’ve been trying to cut back on the amount of coffee I was drinking; now I’m down to one cup of coffee in the morning – generally while I dash around making breakfasts, school lunches and snacks – and then I switch to black tea if I want more of a perk, and green or tisanes in the afternoon. It was surprisingly easy to cut down to just the morning coffee when I made the connection that it’s the hot beverage that appeals to me, and it doesn’t have to be caffeinated; hands curl around a teaming mug of herbal tea just as happily.

Lastly, this is another year-round luxury, but there’s nothing like a beautiful book – like a gorgeous Folio Society edition of Elizabeth Gaskell – and a cozy blanket. This soft woven throw from Tribe & True is my favorite for cuddling up with all year, but especially in the fall and winter.

What little luxuries are you enjoying this fall?

What I’ve Been Listening To: Summer 2022 Edition

Continuing the catch-ups on the other media front: it’s been a decent summer of listening. Recently, I read an article about whether thirty- and forty-somethings are moving away from listening to music (it was shared by Modern Mrs. Darcy if you’d like to go look – in her weekly links roundup). The article definitely held true for me; I’ve certainly moved more towards podcasts and some audiobooks, and really only listen to new music when the Decemberists drop a new album.

So, on the subject of the Decemberists, definitely my highlight of summer listening was their concert at Wolf Trap last week. These days, there are not very many bands that I would bend over backwards to see live – in fact, they’re probably it. I’ve seen them twice now: in the spring of 2018, at the Anthem in Washington, D.C., and last week at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia. They were supposed to visit Wolf Trap on tour in 2020, but that tour was cancelled – for obvious reasons, like everything else in 2020. This tour, appropriately called the “Arise from the Bunkers Tour,” was the replacement. And it was worth the wait! Since they’re not promoting a new album this time, they played selections from all across their back catalogue, and it was incredible. I pregamed by listening to the old albums for a few days leading up to the concert, and then got the joy of hearing so many favorites from over the years. They opened their set with “The Infanta,” which was actually the first Decemberists song I ever heard – back in 2003, when I first heard about them. I still remember pressing play on that track and then listening, enthralled, thinking: this is like nothing I’ve ever heard before, who ARE these guys? I was captivated from the first, and hearing the opening riff and then the lines “Here she comes in her palanquin // on the back of an elephant” live was a thrill. And then they moved directly into my absolute favorite, “Calamity Song,” from their 2011 album “The King is Dead.” There were more favorites to come – namely “Rusalka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes” and the tour closer, “Sons and Daughters” – but even just the first two songs would have made the evening for me. It was a perfect night.

That’s pretty much it on the music front. I listened to R.E.M. a little bit, because I always do, and went through my summer playlist a few times (including playing Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” on my parents’ boat because why not), but most of the summer was devoted to podcasts and audiobooks, like every season. Especially podcasts. I’m on my way to being finally current, after purging my queue of episodes and shows that just weren’t doing anything for me. I’m now down to just the podcasts that I still enjoy regularly listening to, and I’ve worked my way through almost my entire backlist.

The strategy has been this: I’ll listen through the “latest episodes” section in my podcatcher, and when that’s cleared out, I go into one show and listen episode by episode until I’ve either completely cleaned it out, or cleared everything except for episodes that I am holding for some reason or another. Basically I treat it like an audiobook – and every so often I’ll sprinkle an audiobook in, too, instead of listening to the back catalogue of a show. And then I go back into the “latest episodes” section – which will have restocked by then – and start the whole process over. With this method I’ve made it through the following audio content this summer:

  • The Mom Hour – My favorite parenting podcast. I had over sixty unplayed episodes this spring and am now down to just eight, all of which are seasonal (Halloween, fall, and holiday-themed). I’m saving those to listen to around the holidays they discuss.
  • Read-Aloud Revival – I’ve been listening to this podcast about reading aloud and cultivating a love of books in kids since I first started listening to podcasts back in 2015. I think my days of listening to this might be drawing to a close, but in the meantime I’m down to two unplayed episodes, both of which are Christmas themed – so I’m saving them, like I’m saving the holiday episodes of The Mom Hour. (Worth noting: I don’t play every episode of every podcast; if I know I’m not interested in an episode – like the Read-Aloud Revival episodes on homeschooling, since I don’t homeschool – I mark it as played so it will disappear from my queue.)
  • Tea or Books? – I’m usually fairly close to current on this bookish podcast, because I love it and always listen to new episodes close to when they drop. I had about four stacked up, though, so I listened to those over a few delightful neighborhood walks.
  • The 46 of 46 Podcast – Somehow I had piled up a big stack of unplayed episodes. I usually only listen to about half of these, and that’s about where I landed this time around. I’m completely current now.
  • A Caribbean Mystery, by Agatha Christie – I took a break from my “listen to podcasts like audiobooks” scheme to listen to an actual audiobook while on my way to Roatan in July. Finished it up while overlooking the actual Caribbean, which felt very apropos.
  • Shedunnit – This might be my favorite podcast in my library. I had a big stack of episodes thanks to a habit I have of saving up treats long past the point by which I should have enjoyed them. In this case, that was okay, though – post-vacation errands and commuting were much more fun with several hours’ worth of Shedunnit to keep me company. I’m now down to just the episodes that contain spoilers for books I’ve not yet read (but intend to read soon).
  • Going Solo, by Roald Dahl – With only one podcast left to clear out back episodes (The Slightly Foxed Podcast, unpictured above) I decided to treat myself to another audiobook. I’d initially planned to listen to Mr Mulliner Speaking, by P.G. Wodehouse, but couldn’t get the file to play. But Going Solo was a very satisfying substitute, especially because Dan Stevens – who played the wonderful and perfect Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey – reads it. I usually listen to audiobooks on 1.1 speed, but I slowed this one down to 1.0 to have more Dan Stevens time. Don’t hate, appreciate.

So overall, I think, a pretty productive season on the listening front! My clutter-hating brain is very stoked about a clean podcatcher – almost there. It’s the little things, right?

What’s in your earbuds this summer?

What I’ve Been Watching: Summer 2022 Edition

With moving away from recapping every weekend and toward just talking about reading week by week – a change I still like – one side effect has been that I haven’t been sharing what I’ve been watching, listening to, making, etc. on a weekly basis. Which is a bit of a bummer, although not enough of a bummer to convince me to go back to the old format. So I thought I’d catch up seasonally instead, since I do watch and listen to some good stuff, and it’s fun to share and get recommendations. This isn’t an exhaustive list (and I’m leaving out some of the more kid-focused viewing, like “The Adventures of Tip and Oh,” which the kids and Steve are obsessively watching right now), but here’s a cross-section of what I’ve been watching over the summer of 2022 (with listening to come next week).

By far, the viewing highlight of the season has been James May: Our Man in Japan and James May: Our Man in Italy, on PrimeTV. For context, for years now, Steve has been a fan of Top Gear, the long-running show for (and about) car aficionados – he watched it first on BBC and later on Netflix (I think?) when the show transitioned over. Top Gear has never been my jam. Cars do nothing for me (other than get me from point A to point B) and I found the main host of the show off-putting. James May is another of the original three Top Gear hosts, and was always the one I could best tolerate watching. So when we were surfing around our streaming apps, looking for a non-European focused travel show to watch, and happened on James May: Our Man in Japan, it seemed like the stars aligning – a television personality Steve really likes, and a show on a subject that interested us both. You guys. It was absolutely HILARIOUS. Informative and beautifully filmed, yes, but also – HILARIOUS. Between all of the bonkers tour guides, James’ misadventures with language and physical comedy – the snowball fight! – and some seriously ridiculous robot shenanigans, we were laughing until we cried in almost every episode. As the episodes ticked down to the end of the series, we were bereft – until we discovered there was a new series dropping: James May: Our Man in Italy. We’re down to the final episode of that one, which we’re planning to watch with pasta and wine on Saturday night, and then I really don’t know what we’ll do with ourselves.

Not a new viewing experience, but a repeat – and a repeat we’ve repeated over and over – Penguins is my favorite Disneynature film (closely followed by the wonderful Dolphin Reef). Recently I actually got to decide what we were going to watch – a very rare treat – and given our postponed trip to Antarctica is now, finally, actually on the horizon… a visit with Steve and Adeline was just what I wanted. I’m happy to report that the jokes are as funny as ever, no matter how many times you watch this.

I’m not a big YouTube person – never have been – but there are a few channels that I like and follow. As a family, we follow Rock the Park and we re-watched a few episodes to prepare for our Dakotas and Wyoming road trip this month. (Many Jack and Colton references were made at Devils Tower, Custer State Park, and Badlands!) And on my own, I’m always up-to-date on Miranda Mills‘ channel for the best bookish chat (and just generally lovely, relaxing viewing) that I can find. Steve and the kids have no interest, but that’s fine – it’s nice having something just for me. 🙂

Finally, still on the agenda for this month is a re-watch of Chris and Meg’s Wild Summer, in which BBC nature presenters Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin go on an epic road trip around the U.K. in a fully electric campervan. Chris is Meg’s stepdad, and they have a cute, bantering relationship that is fun to watch on the BBC Springwatch suite of programs. Steve and I tried to watch Chris and Meg’s Wild Summer a few months ago – and we did technically watch every episode – but the kids were so wild and distracting (jumping on the couch, playing loudly right behind us, bickering, punching each other…) that we barely retained any of it. We’re keen to see what we missed and planning to watch after bedtime this round.

What have you been watching this summer? Any recommendations for me?

Reflections on 10,000 Steps a Day for One Year

On June 6, 2021, I was walking up the hill to my house after rambling for a few miles around my neighborhood, and my Garmin watched buzzed on my wrist. I looked down at a message congratulating me for reaching my step goal (10,000 steps on the day) three days in a row – and winning the “3-day Goal Getter” badge. There’s not much that motivates me more than a badge – or a sticker, or a gold star. So, curious, I clicked on the badge icon in my Garmin Connect app. What’s this now? There was also a 7-day Goal Getter badge, a 30-day Goal Getter badge, and a 60-day Goal Getter badge. The 60-day badge was worth a whopping four points on the Garmin leaderboards (and if there’s anything that motivates me almost as much as a badge, it would be beating my former co-worker, Jose, on the Garmin leaderboards). Walking the last few steps up my driveway, I decided my new mission would be to keep my streak going long enough to capture the 60-day Goal Getter badge.

The first week, it rained almost every day. I made good use of my treadmill, walking my last few thousand steps in the evenings after the kids were tucked away in bed, listening to a podcast or watching my favorite YouTube channel (Miranda Mills). The steps ticked away and I was feeling pleased with myself as I widened the gap between me and Jose. (Peace and blessings, Jose, but you’re going down!) And then one evening, as I settled into a comfortable stride, the treadmill bucked – or felt like it bucked – and I went flying off the back. A moment’s exploration revealed that the belt was torn (I’d had the treadmill for over a decade and used it to train for several half marathons, so I guess this was bound to happen at some point). Y’all, do you know what’s expensive? Replacing a worn treadmill belt. It’s almost as much as a new treadmill. And considering that my treadmill, which was older than my firstborn, has been distinctly rickety for a few years – hey, it’s been well loved – it seemed like replacing the belt just wasn’t worth it. But I didn’t really want to bring a big new piece of exercise equipment into the house when we’re planning to move soon. So I needed a new plan – a plan that didn’t involve the treadmill – to keep my brand new 10,000 steps-per-day streak going.

New plan: lots and lots (and lots) of neighborhood walks; runs on my favorite section of the local bike path; local hiking; and when necessary, marching in place in the kitchen. I’m not proud. Sixty days came and went, and the badges stacked up (you can’t repeat the 3-, 7-, or 30-day Goal Getter badges, but you can repeat the 60-day Goal Getter badge up to 250 times) – and so did the points. And along the way, I decided that I really liked my 10,000 steps-per-day streak, and that I’d keep it going as long as I could. My new goal became a yearlong streak.

In a year, my feet carried me through miles and miles (and miles… and miles…) around my neighborhood and bike path and local parks – and up mountains, several of them, at my home NPS park, Shenandoah.

And they took me farther afield, to spectacular places – pebbly beaches and mossy rainforests in the Pacific Northwest; on runs around the Space Needle and down the Alaskan Way seawall on work trips to Seattle; to American icons in Colorado and Utah – including the spectacular Delicate Arch – and on wildlife rich hikes around four national parks in Costa Rica.

Along the way, I racked up lessons along with the steps.

  • All steps count, even the ugly ones. Even walking loops around my living room couch. Even marching in place in my kitchen, or in the family room while watching TV. Like I said above, I’m not proud.
  • A safe place to walk would be a nice perk. My street is a pass-through between two busier roads (or what passes for busier roads in my little exurb) and there’s a blind corner where I’ve seen my life flash before my eyes a few too many times as cars blew through the (clearly visible) stop sign and careened around the corner at ten or fifteen miles above the speed limit. On my grumpier days, I have been known to shout things like “Slow down!” or “This is a residential street!” Related: I can’t wait to move. Onto a nice, quiet cul-de-sac, please.
  • Walking works, but a run will knock those steps out faster. Obviously. And if your neighborhood isn’t great for running (see above) find your local bike path access point. Finding my favorite spot to hop on the W&OD trail (easy, free parking plus decent scenery equals winning) was a game changer for weekday runs.
  • Once in the habit, it feels weird – not a good weird – to not take 10,000 steps a day. If I get to evening without hitting my step goal, I feel twitchy and stiff until I get some movement in.
  • A walk doesn’t actually take that much time, and a run takes even less (that’s bang for the buck) but it’s worth the time. And I usually have time for it. There are very few work tasks that can’t wait for me to get back from a walk or run that I’ve planned. Responding to an email in an hour – not ten minutes – is actually fine.
  • Related: I have to plan for the walk or run, or it might not happen. I do have the time but often I need to affirmatively claim it for myself (and block it on my calendar). A little planning works wonders.
  • Beautiful scenery – like national parks – and good company is nice, but a neighborhood walk with one of my favorite podcasts in my ears is delightful too.

Do you count steps?

Spring Survival

The internet abounds in winter survival posts, with strategies from the small (enjoy a new tea!) to the large (take a vacation somewhere warm!).  I know, because I’ve read many of them.  But the thing is – for me, anyway – surviving winter isn’t really a problem.  I like winter.  I could do without the dry skin and driveway ice, but beyond that, winter and I are good.  I love a crisp, bright winter sunrise – the warmth of a pile of in-progress knitting in my lap – hiking a crunchy frozen trail – roasting a tray full of winter veg.  And now that Nugget has gotten into skiing, snowy mountain days are back on the menu and I couldn’t be happier about that.

So winter survival isn’t really an issue.  But spring survival – that’s a whole other thing.  As Kelly Gordon (of the Love Well Blog and Sorta Awesome podcast) says, “Spring is my fourth favorite season.”  I just don’t feel the raptures that Anne Shirley feels when contemplating the advent of flowering trees and meadows.  Buds and blooms look like a giant sneeze-fest to me.  No, thank you, I hate it.  Wake me up when it’s paddleboarding season.

But like it or not, we all have a few months of spring to endure before summer dawns.  So I made a list of survival strategies.

  1. Get ahead of spring allergies, and stay ahead.  A few years ago, I replaced my Claritin with Allegra and found that it was a huge improvement for me (possibly I’d just used Claritin for so many years that my body got used to it and needed the shakeup, or maybe Allegra is just a better formula for me – either way, it was an upgrade).  But I still have to be on top of allergies; I have to start the Allegra regimen before I think I need to, and I have to remember to take it every damn day until the oak trees are really and truly done pollinating.  (Oak trees are my personal hell.)  This year I’m considering doing one better and talking to my PCP about getting allergy shots.  Maybe.  Can’t hurt to ask her about it.
  2. Switch up my exercise routine.  I like running outdoors (and I can’t run indoors right now anyway – I wore out the tread on my treadmill and it tore) but on high pollen days it’s just not going to be an option for me.  So I’m planning to think ahead by compiling a queue of Barre3 online and Peloton classes I want to try on those days when the air quality is just too poor for me to go outdoors.
  3. Plan spring activities so that I have something to look forward to doing on the weekends.  Another Mount Vernon day is in order; I love to ogle the baby animals and stroll through the riotous blooming flower gardens at the height of spring.
  4. Resume Saturday morning farmers’ market visits, and page through cookbooks to find new recipes to try with all those spring veg.
  5. Play around in my garden – in inexpensive and/or impermanent ways.  I’ve mentioned on here before that as our current place is a rental, I don’t want to pour a lot of money into the garden or make permanent improvements.  But nothing is stopping me from scattering a packet of inexpensive wildflower seed around the yard, or from stocking up on nice planters that I can take with me when we buy the forever house (hopefully next year).
  6. Read springy books!  I do love reading seasonally – even in the spring – and I have a stack awaiting me for April already, including Green Shades, an anthology of garden writing collected by Elizabeth Jane Howard; The Morville Year; Illyrian Spring; Onward and Upward in the Garden; and Monty Don’s latest.  I might revisit The Enchanted April, too, and pull out some Beverly Nichols if I have time.  There’s nothing like a good book to revive the spirits.
  7. Spring clean on a theme.  My house is pretty clean already, thanks to regular deep-cleansing sessions, but the garage needs help.  Steve and I have our eye on a special project this spring: emptying the shelving that was already in place when we moved in (tossing the gummy paint cans and broken appliances) and repurposing it to store all of our outdoor gear in an organized fashion.  I’m already looking forward to not rushing around looking for life jackets on the first kayaking morning of the season.
  8. Remind myself regularly – and as frequently as necessary – that this is just a season, I will breathe through my nose again, and my beloved summer is right around the corner.

What do you do to get through sneeze season?