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Five For Friday

It’s been awhile since I did a brain dump on here – or have I ever? – but today seems like as good of a day as any, and there are lots of things that I’d like to tell you, but that aren’t major enough to warrant their own post.  Here we go…

  1. I just realized that it’s vacation season.  I was talking to a co-worker who said that she was “in vacation mode” for her fourth of July travel, and I replied, “Yeah, but that’s not for, like, a month,” and was shocked to hear that it’s only a little more than two weeks away.  Seriously, where is the summer going?
  2. There will be a bigger update next week, but I’m surprised every single day that my garden is actually growing.  It hasn’t been without its hiccups (aphids – ugh) but I have a few little green beans, lots of tiny tomatoes and buds, and one red tomato already.
  3. Nugget has developed an intense fear/hatred of “fluff.”  In his little mind, “fluff” is not only actual fluff – dust bunnies or bits of fluff from the dryer clinging to his clothes – but also stray pieces of hair, dirt, crumbs, you name it.  (Hair “fluff” is a particular problem, because Peanut has long hair and both she and I shed regularly.  And if his nanny’s ponytail gets in his face, he admonishes her, “Kelly, your fluff!”)  He comes running up to me or to Steve at least twenty times a day, crying, “Get the fluff!  GET THE FLUUUUUFF!” and we have to then find whatever piece of “fluff” is bothering him and eradicate it.  On Wednesday night, he even had to be convinced to sit down in the bathtub – usually he sits immediately and starts splashing happily.  When I asked him what was wrong he pointed at the tub and said, in real distress, “There’s a fluff down there!”  Poor little guy (also it’s kind of funny).  But he has to learn to live in a fluffy world.
  4. I have a new hobby: shopping for white tulle dresses and for toddler bowtie-and-suspenders sets.  Did I tell you that Peanut is going to be a flower girl in September?  She’s beyond excited – she talks about her dress and her “flower headband” constantly, and every time we walk down King Street, we have to stop and look in the window of the bridal boutique and speculate about Aunt Rebecca’s dress.   (Well, I know what it looks like, but I’m not going to spoil Peanut’s fun.)  At four-and-a-half, she’s plenty old enough to know exactly what’s going on when a wedding takes place (and she’s already been to two weddings – her Uncle Dan and Aunt Danielle’s, and my college friend Betsy’s) and to actually be in the wedding is a major thrill.
  5. Steve couldn’t believe this when I told him, but I have no books checked out from the library right now – not even any picture books for the kids.  I’m down to Inbox Zero and loving it.  It’s been so long since I’ve seen many of my own books that I am enjoying having the freedom to read from my own shelves without library deadlines bearing down on me.  But that’s about to change, because I just got a notice that Lincoln in the Bardo is waiting for me on the holds shelf.

There you have it – five random things that were bumping around in my brain.  What’s been on your mind lately?  Do you also hate fluff?

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Ready or not, it’s summer!  Longtime readers may recall that summer and fall are pretty much neck-and-neck for my favorite season, so while I’m never jumping with joy at the passage of time, I’m usually at my most chipper when the calendar changes from spring to summer.  Let’s get the fun underway!  With Memorial Day Weekend behind us, summer is officially upon us and it’s time to take one last look at the old spring list before turning attention to sunshine and sand and messing about in boats.  Here’s how the spring shook out.

  • Take the kids to see the cherry blossoms in bloom by the Potomac.  We didn’t actually do this, but I’m going to call it done, because we made it out for several other local flower events – including tulip picking on Easter Sunday and a hike through the Virginia Bluebells on another weekend.  I’d have loved to get them to the cherry blossoms too, but they definitely experienced the glory of spring flowers in northern Virginia.

  • Plant a container garden with Peanut.  (I want to grow tomatoes, herbs and salad greens.  She wants to grow roses.  We’ll probably grow both.)  Check!  Patio garden is underway, things are actually growing, and I’ve only snorted cayenne pepper once.  (#blackthumb #teachablemoment)

  • Get our back patio set up and start grilling and eating outdoors regularly.  This is half done.  The back patio is set up – complete with container garden, sand box, grill and dining table – and we’ve been hanging out and enjoying it plenty.  But we haven’t gotten the grill cleaned up just yet.  It’s on the agenda, and soon, because I refuse to go another warm season without regular al fresco dinners.

  • Re-read Anne of Green Gables (my beautiful new Folio Society edition!).  Done!  This one’s not difficult – I’m always glad to visit with Anne, and especially when I get to do so through the vehicle of a beautiful new clothbound hardcover from Folio Society.  Yes, please!
  • Take at least one adults-only hike – either the Billy Goat Trail in Maryland, or possibly an Adirondack hike?  Didn’t happen, but I have high hopes for the summer!
  • Spring cleaning!  Get the house in order and feeling fresh.  Well, this was never going to get completely done, but I’m crossing it off because we did get the house in order.  The living spaces are all unpacked – finally! – and I’ve deep-cleaned the front porch and done a ton of airing out the house and dusting away the winter.
  • Do another Whole 30 (I’ve already started this).  Done!  I wasn’t as disciplined as I usually am, but it was still a good thing to do.  I’d love to squeeze one more round in before summer wedding season – we’ll see.

  • Go rock-climbing.  Done!  I took a belay certification course at Earth Treks Crystal City in March and had a wonderful time.  I’ve decided to push off the actual test until I have more time to practice the knots, but I’m hoping to get back to the gym for some bouldering in the meantime.  It’s hard to make the time, but I’m always happy when I go.

  • Finally unpack and organize my books.  Done!  Reunited and it feels so GOOD!  It was a family effort, but Steve got my books out from the dusty corner of the basement where the movers inexplicably decided they belonged (grrrrr) and I spent a weekend sorting through them, making a huge pile for donation to the library (since completed) and organizing and shelving the keepers.  I am like that hearts-for-eyes emoji every time I look at my shelves now.
  • Take a weekend getaway somewhere – Chincoteague, maybe?  Or Annapolis?  Or Little Washington again?  Didn’t happen.  A busy spring at work, coupled with a lot of travel on the agenda for summer and fall, had us sticking closer to home.  We’ll make up for it the rest of the year!

All-in-all, I’m really pleased with the way the spring went.  Considering how busy things were at work, and how stressed out we were about some outside-work situations, I’m impressed that we were able to do anything.  We stuck close to home for the most part – the travel that I was hoping for didn’t happen – but around the house and our home base in NoVA, we got a lot done and had a delightful time with all of it.  Spring is usually one of our crazier seasons, between heavy workloads and – in recent years – wrapping up the school year.  So I’m looking forward to a nice long summer full of fun and adventure.

How was your spring?

 

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Happy new week, friends.  How was everyone’s weekend?  Mine was a bit of a roller coaster.  Steve has been gone since Thursday for a boys’ weekend (a very looooooooong weekend) so it’s been me all alone, juggling school and nanny drop-offs and pick-ups, running to and from work, and managing the kids without another adult to help (or sympathize) in the evenings and all weekend.  We had a fun Saturday – I might be insane, but I took them to the zoo, and they had a blast.  We visited all of our friends – lions, tigers, great apes, pandas, elephants, seals and sea lions, you name it – and they had a fabulous time running around in the splash pad near the pinnipeds, now that the water is on for the season (yay!).  To pay me back for that fun day, the universe thought it would be amusing to throw me a curve, and I spent Sunday going insane at home, trying to care for a sick preschooler and a toddler who was climbing the walls.  My strategy with Nugget is to keep him on the go as much as possible; it’s the only way he can get his energy out in a small living space without driving everyone else nuts.  On a normal weekend, if Peanut was under the weather I’d leave her home with Steve and take Nugget out to the playground or the pool to work off his antsies.  But since I was all alone, he couldn’t go out and he had to be a little bit patient, and, well, he’s two.  I did a lot of deep breathing.  Anyway, Steve is getting home today and we sure will be glad to have his help around the house again.

   

Reading.  With all that going on, you’ll not be surprised to hear it has been a slow reading week.  I finished A Traveller in Time on the last day of May, and it was a lot of fun.  (You know I have a weakness for time travel books!)  Over the weekend I also finished Hope in the Dark, which I’ve been reading on my phone in fits and starts for a couple of months now.  Reading on my phone gives me terrible headaches, so I rarely do it, but it happened that iBooks had the best price on Hope, and my library didn’t have a copy.  I never enjoy books I read on my phone as much as books I read in other formats – physical book or kindle – probably because I have to read them in such tiny, choppy reading sessions thanks to my headaches.  Anyway, I finished it.  The rest of my reading time this week, which hasn’t exactly been ample, has been devoted to Commonwealth.  It’s due back to the library tomorrow and has a months-long waiting list (I know, because I waited months for it) so I have to churn it out.  I’m close to being done; one more evening should set me up.  So I think I’ll get it returned on time.  Whew.

Listening.  Since I’ve been car-commuting for a few days, and have had headaches which kept me from reading on the metro other days, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with my earbuds.  I’m listening to Alyssa Mastromonaco’s memoir of her time in the White House, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, on Audible.  The audiobook is read by the author and has been fascinating.  Although I live in northern Virginia and work in Washington, D.C., I’m about as far from a political insider as you can get.  Mastromonaco’s memoir – so far – has been unspeakably cool.

Watching.  Before Steve left for Texas, he and I finished up the 2015 season of The Great British Baking Show and moved on to the first episode of the 2016 season.  We’re still totally obsessed.  But I’m kind of ready to be done with the Netflix seasons, so I can go back to reading every evening.  I haven’t turned the TV on in the last five days – I never watch it if Steve isn’t home – and it’s been nice to spend time reading and chatting on the phone to friends.

Moving.  It’s been another dud of a week, with the exception of Saturday.  Spending the morning dragging a large wagon with sixty combined pounds of child riding inside is challenging on flat terrain, and the National Zoo has hills, man.  It’s a serious workout.  With gorillas.

Blogging.  I am big into my seasonal lists this week – wrapping up spring on Wednesday, and sharing my summer list on Friday.  Spoiler: I actually checked off most of the items from my spring list.  I’m delighted!

Reflecting.  Like the rest of the world, I was saddened and horrified by the events in London.  I always find myself silent after world tragedies – afraid that anything I say will seem trite, or like politicizing a horrible event.  I just can’t find the right words.  But I am sending thoughts and prayers and hugs to a city that I love dearly – a city that has survived the worst time and time again and today is vibrant and teeming with life and joy.  London, you are loved and the world stands with you.

Asking.  What are you reading?

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The Tired Thirties

I look at this picture and think two things.  First, what a sweet moment with my baby.  And second, I look EXHAUSTED.

Recently, I’ve been reading A Circle of Quiet, the first of Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals, and early on in the book I came across a few pages that spoke exactly to my life right now.  Writing about the “tired thirties,” L’Engle laments:

I was always tired.  So was Hugh.  During the decade between thirty and forty, most couples are raising small children, and we were no exception.  Hugh was struggling to support his growing family in the strange world outside the theatre.  And there was I, absolutely stuck in bucology, with the washing machine freezing at least once a week, the kitchen never above 55* when the wind blew from the northwest, not able to write until after my little ones were in bed, by which time I was so tired that I often quite literally fell asleep with my head on the typewriter.

The various pressures of twentieth-century living have made it almost impossible for the young mother with pre-school aged children to have any solitude.  During the long drag of years before our youngest child went to school, my love for my family and my need to write were in acute conflict.  The problem was really that I put two things first.  My husband and children came first.  So did my writing.  Bump.

Bump, indeed.  For the last five years, I’ve been hustling more, and on less sleep, than at any other time in my life.  Two pregnancies; two babies.  (One in the NICU, the other didn’t sleep.)  Five homes.  Three jobs, plus a stint as a stay-at-home-mom.  (That was the sanest, happiest, most rested period of my thirties thus far.)  I’ve been through a stretch of time for the first eighteen months of Nugget’s life when I never got unbroken sleep for an entire night – not once; was usually up three or more times; and – for awhile at least – averaged four hours or less of sleep per night.  It’s no exaggeration to say that I was debilitatingly tired during that time; I was so tired that I felt nauseous many days.  Even now, six months after we finally sleep-trained Nugget, I still don’t feel caught up on rest from that period.

And somewhere in there, I have to practice law.  I’m not an artist like L’Engle, and I don’t feel called to write like she probably did.  But my family depends on my income and my job is demanding, so – bump.  I’m going through a particularly busy and stressful time at work – these times come around now and again – and while I know I am doing everything I can right now, there is a part of me that wonders whether it is enough.  I try to give my complete attention to the kids when I am with them, and complete attention to my job when I am doing it, and sometimes that’s impossible.  Nugget wakes up early from weekend naps and wants Mommy’s arms and only Mommy’s arms, but I was in the middle of writing a brief and why is he up early?  Peanut’s school calls a conference in the middle of a week when I have every working hour budgeted and then some.  I have to be a mother to preschool-aged children, and also a lawyer, and the constant hustle on both parts is just wearing me down.

There’s nothing to do by this point but hang on tight and keep trudging on in the hopes that when dawn breaks and I am somehow rested again – if that day ever comes – that I will have managed to hang onto both my career and my relationship with my kids.  At the moment I don’t feel like I do anything well, and stuff for just me – well, that’s almost not even worth bothering with.  I squeeze reading into my commutes, I sneak out when I can to go rock climbing while the kids nap, and I hope that someday I’ll have more time for myself and less guilt about it.

I’m not saying I dislike where I am.  I enjoy having a career and contributing to the family income and solving interesting puzzles at work.  And motherhood has fulfilled a deep and cherished, and very long-held, desire of my heart – more so than I could even have imagined it would.  So I hang on tight.  I hope that I will get more comfortable at work.  I look forward to the day when I feel completely rested again.  I am grateful every time someone extends me a little bit of grace that shows me they remember what it was like in the Tired Thirties.  I snatch time for myself – a book here, a run there – when I can, when the kids don’t need me.  I remind myself of the sweet moments when it all just seems too hard.

Bump.

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So we’re halfway through winter as of tomorrow, and therefore the wise Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy has suggested that we all share what is saving our lives lately.  As Anne says, most of us know what’s killing us, and can articulate it, but how often do we stop and give thanks for the things – little or big – that are saving us?  I love this question and its call to gratitude, so here’s what’s saving my life lately:

  • Sunny walks around Old Town with the kids bundled into the double stroller.  It’s all about getting fresh air, and a chill breeze coming off the Potomac feels lovely when you’ve been cooped up in an office and on commuter trains all week.
  • Tea, always, and tea-adjacent fellowship.  Several of my colleagues, I’ve recently discovered, are tea enthusiasts, and we’ve been stash-diving into each other’s desk drawers.  It’s fun to work with fellow tea drinkers again.
  • Rock the Park.  If you’ve been reading my Monday posts, you have probably seen Rock the Park appear in the “watching” category week after week.  It’s such a great show – I love the hosts and the infectious joy they take in wilderness and adventures – and beautifully shot.  At the end of a long day, nothing feels as inviting as twenty minutes of watching Colton and Jack hike through beautiful mountains or splash down another stretch of whitewater.
  • My earbuds.  I chip away at my podcatcher and my audiobooks, little by little, while waiting for the Metro or walking to and from my office.  The minutes and blocks fly by when spent in the company of George Eliot or the Sorta Awesome gang.
  • Trail time.  Whether we’re out for hike in one of the many wooded areas near our house (we’re so lucky) or on paved trails at the National Zoo, there’s nothing like getting out in nature, feeling the sun and the breeze and seeing a few animals, to recharge my perpetually near-drained batteries.
  • Instagram.  It’s my favorite social media outlet and I’ve built a feed that is truly delightful – equal parts #bookstagram, natural wonders, and my friends’ adventures.  My moments of checking in on Instagram are true exhales.
  • My soft grey Hanna Anderssen bathrobe, and my red LL Bean rainboots.  Both Christmas gifts, both keeping me warm (the robe in the mornings as I stumble half asleep into the kitchen to start lunch prep, and the boots as I slosh through the city to and from work on all the rainy days we’ve been having lately).
  • Comfort reads like The Little White Horse and The Making of a Marchioness, both of which I mentioned on Monday.  My Folio and Persephone shelves still have more riches I’ve yet to touch, and I’ll be spending more time in Barsetshire this winter, too.  The crummier things get, the more I want to read the classics.
  • Smiles and giggles from my kiddos as we hang out and play together.  I try to maximize every moment I can with them, since I am so busy during the week.  I cherish our family dinners, bedtime stories, and little weekend adventures.
  • My handsome guy.  I feel so lucky to be married to my best friend and true partner.  We’re on the same page about so many of the toughest issues in marriage, and lately I have been more grateful than ever that we are able to work together toward our shared goals in a productive and loving way.  He’s the best.

What’s saving your life lately?

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

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

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

Historical Documents

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

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

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

News Coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamiltunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course,

Tomorrow there’ll be more of us.

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

Books, Always

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2017 Goals

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

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

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

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

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

Things to Do this Year

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

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

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One Word

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

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

Gather.

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

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

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

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What dreams and plans are on your 2017 agenda?

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