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?

Gratitude

As we’re coming up on another pandemic Thanksgiving, I’m feeling surprisingly full of gratitude. It has been a hard year – in the world, a raging pandemic and an unrelenting news cycle won’t exactly let us be. And personally, two deaths in the family (one somewhat expected but never really expected, and one completely out of the blue) have brought plenty of sadness. But there’s also plenty to be thankful for – including the fact that the kids are now half-vaxxed, none of my family members have been sick with COVID-19, still, and we will be together this holiday season. And there’s been a great deal of sweetness this year, and I finally feel that I am in the place I want to be. Geographically – home in my beloved Virginia for five years now, after three cold and lonely years in New York – and professionally.

Professionally has been the biggest change, for the better, for me this year. At the beginning of 2021, I thought I was in a decent place with my career. I liked my law firm colleagues, found the work interesting, and appreciated the flexibility that my job offered during the pandemic. If this was the end of the line for me, I felt pretty good about that. The only thing I didn’t like was dealing with strident personalities outside of my firm, but I figured that was a small-ish thing in the grand scheme of all that I liked about my job. Now on the other side, after changing courses to the career I’ve wanted for ten years, I realize how deeply, desperately unhappy I was in law firm life – I just didn’t know it at the time. I look back at pictures from last winter, deep in a stressful project, and I look haunted.

I can feel the contrast now. My new colleagues are just as nice as my old ones, and the work is just as interesting, but I am finally at peace. And I can see it in my own eyes.

Aside from the health of my immediate family members, this is what I am most grateful for this year – daily peace, finally.

There are smaller things, too. Travel, over the summer and fall – and coming up in the next few months. It’s good to go places again, to see new sights and feel different trails under my feet.

And I can’t forget the deep gratitude for the chance to spend every day with my best friend.

All things considered, 2021 has been okay. I have a lot to be thankful for, and that’s a nice place to be at Thanksgiving. I’ll keep hoping for better days ahead, for all of us – starting with an end to the pandemic. But in the meantime, I am grateful.

What are you thankful for this season?

Remembering

Stopping by this space for a rare Saturday post because I, like many others, have been spending the day remembering and reflecting on 9/11 and the twenty years that have passed since that searing day. My kids are still too little to ask about where Daddy and Mommy were on the day – by the 25th anniversary I’m sure we will have shared our memories with them. My experience has always felt so insignificant to me in comparison to the tragedy that unfolded far from where I sat glued to the TV in horror, so I’ve never bothered to write it down before. But neither will I forget it.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday – we all know that – and I was a junior at Cornell. Only back on campus a few weeks; I had extra blonde in my hair from the summer sun, and I was dating a new guy. We had kissed ten days before, on September 1, 2001, for the first time – late at night, on the bridge over the gorge separating the main Cornell campus from Collegetown. I didn’t know where the relationship was going; I wasn’t even thinking of it as a relationship, just something new and exciting.

I didn’t have any classes until the afternoon on Tuesdays, so I was taking advantage and sleeping in – something I almost never did; I was a morning person even in college. The first memory I have of that day is the sun streaming into my room in the sorority house and my roommate – my little sis, Betsy – rushing in and shaking me half awake.

“You have to wake up!” she cried. “There was a bomb – six thousand people were killed -“

She rushed out of the room and in my half-awake, sleep-addled state, I tried to process what she had said. “That’s clearly impossible,” said my mostly-unconscious brain, “I’m obviously dreaming, what an awful dream.” And I rolled over and fell asleep again, for another twenty minutes or so.

When I woke up, the house was silent – but not unnervingly so; I assumed everyone was at class. I sat down at my computer and started looking at AOL Instant Messenger auto-messages. My friend Maria had an auto-message up; she was a junior at GW that I knew from my summer internship. I looked at her auto-message first and I still remember every word. “Okay, this is more than scary. I can see smoke from here. Brie,” (her roommate) “call me when you get back.”

Huh?

I scrolled through more auto-messages and everyone seemed to be in a state of shock and panic about – something. My stomach sank as I remembered Betsy rushing into our room and it occurred to me for the first time that I actually might not have been dreaming.

I walked downstairs in a daze – all the way down, underground to the basement-level TV room. When I opened the door, half of my sorority was there, crammed onto couches, sprawled on the floor, sitting in each other’s laps. Girls from New York City were taking it in turns to climb the stairs and try to call their parents from the house phone (almost none of us had a cell phone), but no one was getting through. The rest of us sat in silence, clutching coffee from the machine in the kitchen, watching the coverage on a loop.

By mid-morning, the boy I was dating had arrived and made a space for himself in the TV room. We sat side-by-side and he put his arm around me as we both watched in disbelief. I was wondering about my uncle, who was an NYPD detective trained in emergency response. I figured he was probably there. (He was, and he broke his arm climbing through rubble, but came away otherwise unharmed – physically, anyway. When I went upstairs at lunchtime, I had a message from his son, my cousin: “All my dad’s friends are dead. cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry cry” They weren’t all – but some.)

Memories get sketchier by the afternoon. Classes were cancelled, but when I ventured out a few days later to a labor history class, students were standing huddled in groups, crying on the quad. One of my friends told me not to read anything into the fact that my new guy had come over to watch the news with me. I knew she was hurting because her boyfriend had not come over, had spent the day watching news coverage with another girl. So I simply said, “I won’t.” (It honestly hadn’t occurred to me to read anything into that at all; it was such a new thing and I hadn’t even named it. A month later, he would refer to himself as my boyfriend. “Oh,” I thought, “That’s what we are.” His name was Steve.)

Campus changed, like everything else. People hung giant American flags in their rooms; professors made space for reflecting and grieving in class. My sisters from New York looked visibly relieved when they made contact with their parents. It got colder; eventually, Thanksgiving came.

So – that’s where I was.

Things I’m Loving Lately: Summer 2021 Edition

I recently realized that it has been (literally) months since I read through my Feedly – where blogs collect on my phone – and as I was scrolling through the ninety-some posts that had piled up there in that time, I saw that Modern Mrs. Darcy recently did one of her periodic posts on the things she is loving in the current season. And it occurred to me that (1) I haven’t done one of those in awhile; and (2) it would be a good topic for this otherwise unplanned week. So here we go: a few things I am loving in summer of 2021.

My paddleboard! This is the biggest one for me. My board (it’s an NRS Thrive 9.1 iSUP) and paddle (Werner Zen 85) were Christmas gifts from Steve, and I waited more or less patiently (okay, less) until the weather warmed up enough for me to get out on the lake. I’ve been going out as much as possible since early May – mostly in a small local reservoir, but once on the Chesapeake Bay. Lately I have to sneak out of the house because if Nugget sees me leaving with the paddleboard, he wants to come and ride along… but he has a kayak of his very own coming soon, so I’ll be getting my board back to myself and still be able to get out on the water with my paddling buddy.

My desk. Another big one – ya girl has her own workstation! When we all went home for the pandemic I thought – like many – that the WFH life was going to be short-lived, and I didn’t bother to set up a desk. I worked from the kitchen table from March until June 2020, and then moved into the dining room when we moved houses. A year of working from my dining room table was aggressively unpleasant – the chairs are comfortable for a meal, but not for 10+ hours a day, five or more days a week, for an entire year, and the workstation made it impossible to eat family meals. I recently learned that my boss has planned for me to continue working from home for the foreseeable future, so it was time to get a real desk. It’s nothing special – just an IKEA desk and a chair from Home Depot – but the difference it has made to my work life to actually have a dedicated workstation has been incredible. The best part has been my standing desk converter; I had one at my old law firm, and it has been the thing I’ve missed more than anything over the last year of working remotely. This standing desk converter was inexpensive, it’s super sturdy and easy to use, and I’m now back to standing for most of my workday. As I told my boss (during a 1:1 webconference that was mostly just me picking up and tilting my laptop awkwardly so she could see the converter and watch me raise and lower it) I LOVE it and my only regret is not buying it a year ago.

My Birkenstocks. Here’s something smaller but still significant to me – while I am doing all that standing at my desk, 98% of the time I’m wearing these – my Birks. After I wore out my old Mayaris, I decided to switch it up and went with the classic Arizona model. (The color is “Earth red” or something – I wanted a nice warm brown but these were on sale, so. They’re growing on me.) I’ve been pretty much living in Birkenstocks the past few years and I’m not even mad about it. Is it the 1990s again? Maybe.

Summer running shoes. While we’re on the subject of shoes, when I’m not in my Birks I’m probably in running shoes. I like to alternate between pairs (my excuse is that it helps prevent injuries; I hope that’s true, but I also like matching my shoes to my outfit, a little bit). For most of my summer runs, I’ve mostly been wearing Hoka Cliftons (LOVE THEM) and Brooks Launch – I recently got this limited edition #BraveLikeGabe pair. On top of looking really cool, part of the proceeds go to rare cancer research. Okay, enough about shoes.

Grain-free granola. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of granola. I am sensitive to grains (even gluten-free grains) and I try to avoid them for the most part because I just feel better when I do, and I also don’t eat much sugar (just not a sweet tooth, and don’t need it). So granola is pretty low on my list of breakfast foods, but that could change. I have a few different flavors of grain-free granola in my pantry right now, and it’s been nice to mix it up and sprinkle these on my morning yogurt for crunch. I have two bags of Nature’s Path, which are good, but this Paleonola is my new favorite – all real food, no grains (of course) and lower in sugar – and carbs – than most store-bought granola options, so not overly sweet. Yum.

Pure Placid candles. I love this local Lake Placid business, which makes heavenly-smelling candles, home products, lotions and shower gels inspired by the Adirondacks. Lately I’ve been burning the Mount Marcy candle, and every time I light it, Steve comes sniffing into the room and says “That’s the best-smelling candle I’ve ever smelled, will you get me one for my desk?” I’m almost down to the bottom of the jar now, so I’m going to have to pick up a few more when I’m in the Adirondacks later this summer.

Adventure Annie. Finally, one last biggie to wrap this post up – I am loving weekend mornings spent shredding the gnar on my new mountain bike. After a year of trying without success to buy a mountain bike so I could ride with Nugget, I stumbled on the very bike I’d been eyeing online – now named Annie – a Specialized Rockhopper, size XS. (The bike shop employee who fitted me said “You’re almost too tall for the XS” and endeared himself to me forever.) I was desperate enough to not be too picky about the color, but as luck would have it, this colorway (“gloss blaze/ice papaya” – looks like that’s no longer on the website, sorry guys) was my favorite of the options. Meant to be?

What are you loving for summer 2021?

Tales from the Exurbs, Vol. VIII: Lord Chuckingham

The other day, Steve rushed into the house and excitedly announced that we had a “new neighbor.” Since we’ve barely met any of our existing neighbors, I wasn’t sure why the fanfare – but then he pulled his phone out and showed me a video of a rather beefy fellow eyeing him suspiciously and then disappearing under our shed.

The kids were thrilled, obviously. Our very own neighbor groundhog! Can life get better? Seriously, can it? Over dinner, we had a ferocious family debate about what to name him. Peanut and I plumped for “Phil,” after his famous relation, but Steve said we were being “speciesist” and that not all groundhogs are named Phil. Eventually, after some truly skillful advocacy, Steve persuaded us all to agree to his choice of names.

Meet Lord Chuckingham. Because he’s dignified. See it?

After dinner, Steve suggested that we should all go look out the sunroom window, because Lord Chuckingham might be hanging out by his palace gates. Low and behold – he was, and I snapped a few pictures through the sunroom window (including that first one, above). Then Steve suggested I might be able to sneak outside and get some better snaps without scaring His Lordship, if I was super quiet. It was worth a try, so I rushed out the front door, crept around the side of the garage, laid down in the grass and army crawled into the middle of the yard for a clear shot.

Almost there. What I do to get good pictures for you guys, I mean, really.

Your Lordship! Welcome to the neighborhood!

He wasn’t sure what to think of me. (Worth noting; I was all the way across the yard – about 75 feet away, or more – when I took this picture. Kudos, again, to the P1000 and its sick zoom lens.)

He decided to crouch down and hide, but continued to keep an eye on me. I read this signal as “go away” so I carefully and quietly crept out of the yard and back in the house. A few minutes later, he disappeared under the shed and we haven’t seen him since; it’s been scorching hot outside so I assume he’s staying cool in his burrow (smart groundhog).

Welcome to the neighborhood, Lord Chuckingham!

Post-Pandemic Planning, Part 3 – Audacious Adventures

Of my three categories of post-pandemic hopes and dreams (little everyday things; in-betweeners; and big crazy bucket listing dreams), this is the easiest list to fill. If anything, the challenge is reining it in. Now, I’m not trying to rein it in to a manageable level. This is a bucket list. These ideas are inherently unmanageable – that’s the charm of them. But I could go on for days, spinning fantasies about all of the wild and crazy things I want to do. Most of them are related to travel, and there’s a bit of adventure baked in here and there, and some Practical Adult-Style Life Goals just for good measure. So, to quote the Founding Father who really embodies the spirit of hip-hop, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton: “Le’s go.”

  • Visit the most forbidding and remote continent: Antarctica. Do the Polar Plunge in the honest-to-goodness Southern Ocean, hike on the Antarctic Peninsula, and paddle a kayak through shards of sea ice. Bonus points for whales.
  • Closer to home, knock off forty-two more high peaks to become an Adirondack 46er.
  • Visit all of the National Parks in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Hike the Inca Trail.
  • Pack raft from Colorado to Utah. (Note to self: see if my brother wants to come; I’ll bet he would.)
  • Run a marathon. (Wineglass, if I can get in. And I would love to run Marine Corps someday – my hometown marathon.)
  • Go on an African safari, or maybe more than one – because I don’t know if I can squeeze everything I want to do and see into one trip. I want to paddle the Okavango in Botswana, see elephants and lions, sleep under the stars in Zambia, meet mountain gorillas in Rwanda, look out over the Zambezi and Victoria Falls, climb Kilimanjaro, and taste wine in South Africa. So… that’s at least four trips. Or five?
  • Thru-hike the Tour de Mont Blanc in France, Switzerland, and Italy, and also the South West Coast Path in England.
  • Related: take part in a Mass Trespass.
  • Buy my forever house and renovate it to be exactly what I want.
  • Take a hiking trip to the Swiss and Austrian Alps. (We’ve already decided: this is the destination the next time we make it to Europe.)
  • Stomp on grapes in Tuscany.
  • Climb the ladder at my current job. For the first time in ages, I feel like I am just where I want to be, and now all I want to do is learn, grow, and work my way into more responsibility. It feels wonderful to be excited about my career again!
  • Dive with sea turtles in Hawaii (after I get that scuba certification I talked about last week…)
  • Kayak the Gorges du Verdon. Oh, and sleep in a French chateau!
  • Hike the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains.
  • Visit northern Africa – ride a camel in Morocco and take a Nile cruise (and try not to think too much about Agatha Christie).
  • See the Japanese Alps ablaze with color in October.
  • Swim under a waterfall at Havasupai.
  • Write a mystery novel.

Just twenty things! That’s not too many, right? Fortunately I have a willing adventure buddy in Steve; so far he’s been up for pretty much every crazy idea I’ve tossed his way. (He’d balk at climbing the Stairway to Heaven in Austria, so that might be a girlfriends’ getaway. I bet my sister-in-law would go with me.) On a fun note, a couple of these wild and crazy ideas are in the works – albeit in very early stages. Now I’d better toddle off and check my vacation leave balance.

What wild and crazy things do you plan to get up to once we can travel again?

Post-Pandemic Planning, Part 2 – The In-Between Stuff

When I started thinking about a post-pandemic bucket list, I didn’t realize that this would be the hardest category to brainstorm, fill, and write. It’s easy enough to come up with a list of the little things I’ve been missing over the past year (library visits, mornings wandering the farmers’ market) and I always have a lengthy list of giant, audacious goals, mostly related to travel. But what’s in the middle?

It starts with defining the middle, I suppose. After a year in which just going to the grocery store was an adventure, any travel at all seems like it belongs on the “big” list. But there are categories of domestic travel that don’t take the kind of planning, saving, and audacity that some of the other trips I’m dreaming of would require. And there are local adventures – like when I went hot-air ballooning last October – and things I’d like to do that are bigger than just going to the library, but don’t involve passports or require me to have the organizational skills of a D-Day commander. So that’s the general idea here. Things like:

  • Get scuba-certified (there are some local dive shops that do pool training before you head out to the open water).
  • Have Thanksgiving at my brother’s house (in Colorado) again.
  • Do some business travel – I need to get up north to visit my HR clients soon, and some of my teammates (who are spread out around the country) are talking about coordinating planning on a trip to corporate headquarters so we can see each other in person.
  • Attend my cousin Jocelyn’s wedding – finally! The big reception has been postponed for a year; Jocelyn and her husband Jason didn’t want to wait to be married, so they had a small outdoor ceremony last year during the height of COVID, which we watched on Facebook – but the big party is happening this summer and we’re so excited to celebrate. Peanut will be a flower girl again, and Nugget will do his first stint as a ring bearer, and I can’t wait to see that cuteness and to celebrate with family. Every bride deserves her day, of course, but Jocelyn is a nurse and has spent countless hours caring for others during a global pandemic; if anyone deserves a magical and perfect wedding day, it’s her.
  • Get back to running local races in person again, and train for and run another local half marathon. Maybe the D.C. Rock ‘n Roll half?
  • Finally meet some people in our new town – I made a start on mom friends, but could use some more running/biking buddies. (Nugget is a fun guy, but it’s pretty stressful to take your heart’s treasure mountain biking.)
  • Do some more exploring in the Blue Ridge. I want to check out Carvin’s Cove, Smith Mountain Lake, Roanoke…
  • Related: spend a weekend at Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park.
  • Get enrolled at the local rec center and start swimming regularly.
  • Knock off another high peak (or two) and some of the shorter Adirondack hikes I’ve been wanting to get to – like Mount Jo and Blueberry Cobbles.
  • Go whitewater rafting – maybe on the Upper Hudson, or maybe the New River in West Virginia?

So, there it is – a list of things that I want to do, that are not small but not huge, either. The sort of things that you look forward to from weekend to weekend – or maybe a little bit longer – in between farmers’ market mornings and epic adventures. I think that was the basic idea. Everything on this list is calling to me, so I suppose that’s right.

What are your middle-of-the-road adventures coming up?