Tales from the Exurbs, Vol. VI: The Invasion

They’re heeeeeeeeeeere.

Every weekday, I get an email newsletter about the gig economy and the future of work, authored by my friend Susan. I love her pithy take on the news items she selects, and there are usually a few links that interest me. She also includes a “fun thing” each day – a new development dating from the beginning of COVID; it used to just be a “Friday fun thing,” but Susan decided we all needed more fun and she bumped it up to daily. Last week, one of the “fun things” was a RECIPE FOR ROASTED CICADAS, which NO. JUST SO MUCH NO. (For the record: it’s a NO for Susan, too.)

In introducing the fun thing, Susan mentioned that one way to have a conversation with someone from D.C., without them bringing up the weather, is to mention cicadas.

If you’re not in the know (or you’re not from the D.C. area and therefore not as obsessed with cicadas as we currently are), we are in the midst of a cicada invasion. “Brood X,” as they’re known, are a cyclical bunch of cicadas that appear every seventeen years. I lived in D.C. proper seventeen years ago (seems crazy!) but I don’t remember the last cicada invasion; maybe it just wasn’t as big of a thing then? Less social media? Or maybe just not as noticeable from a Foggy Bottom apartment when you’re consumed with law school final exams?

Because I’ll tell you – it’s cicada central in the exurbs. They’re literally everywhere; the other day I took my computer out to the sunroom for a conference call, and glancing out the window I realized – to my horror – that the back of my house was encrusted with dozens of cicadas. Just walking to the car is like navigating a minefield, unless you want a crusty layer of crushed cicada on the bottom of your Birkenstocks. Which I don’t.

The male cicadas arrived last week, and the females surfaced this week – and the decibel levels are noticecable, even for me. (I grew up listening to cicadas humming in my Grandmama’s backyard on Long Island, and I barely hear them; it’s just white noise to me.)

And then there are the exoskeletons.

Ohhhhhhh, the exoskeletons. There are abandoned cicada exoskeletons clinging to every leafy plant in my yard. I don’t even want to weed my garden.

In case it’s not obvious, I’m not thrilled about this development. I don’t mind the noise, but the dive-bombing bugs and the sickening crunch every time you step on one… shudder. Is it over yet?

Have you been following the D.C. cicada chronicles? Are you as over it as I am?

The Life Library: Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Just to get one thing out of the way to begin with: all of Jane Austen’s books are on my life bookshelf. Of course. So why mention Sense and Sensibility specifically? Well – it was my first. And you never forget your first, do you?

As with so many of my formative books, my mother handed me this one. She wasn’t a Janeite, as far as I know. (Mom?) I believe the line of thinking was more along the lines of, my daughter has read basically all of Montgomery, maybe it’s time for Jane Austen. I don’t know why Sense and Sensibility, specifically – perhaps she chose it because it was Austen’s first published novel, or maybe based on the plot synopsis. It’s not Austen’s most famous (Pride and Prejudice) and I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s her best (I believe the debate raging there is Pride and Prejudice vs. Persuasion vs. Emma). Although anything Austen writes is basically perfect, so there is that.

I vaguely remember my first paperback copy of S&S, but what stands out more in my memory was my mom’s suggestion that I tell my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Stone, that I was reading my first Jane Austen, and ask her for her advice. I can’t recall if I had that conversation, although I suspect I probably did – I was a dutiful kid who generally did what she was told, and I would have viewed my mom’s suggestion as an instruction and complied. I also loved my teacher, and the opportunity to casually mention to her that I was reading a real grown-up classic and then have a discussion like a real grown-up reader would have been irresistible.

One of Jane Austen’s several residences in Bath.

Sense and Sensibility made a huge impression on me, obviously. (How could it not?) I identified with diligent, practical Elinor and rolled my eyes at whimsical, dramatic Marianne. (As an adult, I have some different opinions about the events and characters of Sense and Sensibility. I have much less tolerance for Edward Ferrars and his sticky situation, and much more sympathy for Marianne – although I still maintain that Colonel Brandon should have married Elinor.) Most valuably, Elinor Dashwood opened the door to a lifetime membership in the Janeite society; this is a society that has brought me endless hours of entertainment and many friendships, both “real life” and online – for sheer emotional riches, I don’t think any other author on my life bookshelf can compete with Jane Austen.

My fourteen-year-old self would have been delighted to know that my almost-thirty-year-old self walked in Austen’s footsteps in Bath, trailed by a non-bookish but very indulgent husband, and turned the pages of Persausion while treading the same footpath that provided the setting for Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s climactic scene. Now to plan a trip to Chawton.

Who was the first “grown-up” author you loved?

It’s MLK Day – and Inauguration Week! What Are You Reading? (January 18, 2021)

Morning, friends! It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S. (how are you honoring MLK’s legacy today?) and the start of the long-awaited Inauguration Week. I am staying home all week – no desire to repeat my experience of driving white-knuckled over the Key Bridge on January 6, and I couldn’t get to my office if I tried, since it’s in the “red zone” where all traffic other than official vehicles is banned, anyway. I plan to watch Joe Biden and Kamala Harris be sworn in from the comfort of my couch on Wednesday.

So, how were your weekends? Coming off of two weeks of nonstop work and nonstop stress, I was ready to turn my brain off for a while. I finally finished my gauntlet of depositions, filings, discovery and sundry other stressful matters at 9:30 on Friday evening, flopped down on the couch and declared myself burnt out. Two weeks into the year! I think that’s a new record. Steve and I declared Saturday “chores day.” With me being completely unavailable for two weeks, Steve was in survival mode trying to juggle work and the kids’ virtual school by himself. (It’s unmanageable with two parents. With one – yikes.) The result was that he heroically made it to the end of the gauntlet with neither kid expelled from school and the house still standing, a major achievement – but the place was trashed. We spent the day with sleeves rolled up, tackling everything that got back-burnered while I was working 65 hour weeks. Steve did another massive clean-out of the playroom, some light plumbing, a bunch of laundry, a kitchen deep clean, etc. I went from room to room in the common spaces, clearing out debris from a two week long kid tornado. We had help from one kid and active resistance from the other (names withheld to protect the guilty and the brown-nosing). By the end of the day the house was looking fantastic, and it was so satisfying. Sunday, we reserved for hiking and we drove down to Huntley Meadows, one of our favorite parks for spotting wetland birds. Unfortunately, when we got there we found it overrun with people – parking lot completely full and cars spilling into the access road – so we quickly pivoted to Plan B: Mount Vernon. We hadn’t been in months, and it turned out to be just what we all wanted. We walked the grounds, so familiar to us, checked out the animals, gazed at the river, and Peanut chattered on about Felicity Merriman from the American Girl collection. Rest of the day – simple. I ran a couple of errands, Peanut watched Felicity, an American Girl Adventure; Nugget watched Dinosaur King; Steve watched football; I read and cleaned up the woodpile. So yes, a simple weekend, but just what I was craving.

Reading. Amazingly, despite all the work last week, it was a good reading week! I finished up The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters and really enjoyed it. (Hard to believe that this 850+ page volume only represented about 5% of their correspondence!) But man alive, were they catty towards one another – I’m glad I have a brother. My sole criterion for my next read was: it had to be short. The Provincial Lady in London (American title; the original UK title was The Provincial Lady Goes Further – which does make sense, as the PL spends time in Brittany and Devonshire as well and is only in London for half the book, approx.) was a hoot. I didn’t love it quite as much as the first in the series, but I still loved it A. LOT. Finally, ended the week with Word from Wormingford – slow, seasonal, and comforting, just what I wanted. I’m a little less than halfway through as of press time, so I’ll finish tonight or tomorrow and then turn to my Inauguration reading – The Truths We Hold, by our soon-to-be Vice President, Kamala Harris.

Watching. We are still loving Big Crazy Family Adventure. The Kirkby family has just crossed the border into India on the final leg of their trip, and it has been such fun – and so fascinating – to follow along with them. We all love this show, which is really saying something; usually there is at least one family member who is just tolerating it. I’m not sure how many episodes we have left but I think we’re getting near the end; I am going to miss it when we’re done.

Listening. Bunch of podcasts, as usual. Highlights were a few episodes of Shedunnit (of course!) and The Mom Hour on storage solutions for all the STUFF that comes into our houses at the holidays. The Lego struggle is real.

Making. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of work product (hopefully some of it was good/competent). More happily, a clean house and a tidy woodpile, and a few rows on a seed stitch cowl I’m knitting, while watching hockey. (Will someone please alert the Sabres to the fact that it’s regular season hockey now, not an exhibition game? The Caps got the memo. Sheesh.)

Moving. Oooooooof. Not. moving. Multiple entire days spent on Zoom are not conducive to movement. The epic day of cleaning on Saturday was kind of a workout, though. And Sunday’s walk, and dragging tree limbs all over the yard – same. Running shoes WILL be back this week, though.

Blogging. More New Year’s content! Recap (and lament) of 2020 goals on Wednesday, and Part III of my annual reading retrospective on Friday. The ever-silly Book Superlatives! Check in with me then.

Loving. Look what I got! A Bonsai tree! One of my errands yesterday was a stop by the garden center, for a decent-looking tray to catch drips from my lemon tree, which I have moved inside for the winter. (It’s already perking up, which is good news – it was looking quite peaky out in the sunroom.) It happened that my local nursery had just gotten in a new stash of Bonsai – well, I couldn’t resist. I remember when I was a kid, my mom took in a Bonsai temporarily while her BFF was on a lengthy family vacation in Europe, and I was fascinated by the perfect little miniature tree. In my recollection, my mom’s friend’s Bonsai was like a very demanding little pet, but when I read the instructions on this one, it seemed surprisingly low maintenance. Here’s hoping I don’t kill it. Peanut has named it “Bonnie” so we’re clearly already getting attached.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Missing the Mom Tribe

The other night I was laying awake, turning over a thorny strategy problem for work when I should have been asleep, and suddenly out of nowhere I was hit with a memory from over a year ago – followed by another wave of sadness at everything the pandemic has taken from us.

Nugget’s best bud has an October birthday. He didn’t have a party this year – obviously – but in 2019 his mom (my friend Helena) threw him a farm birthday, complete with goat petting and a hayride. Nugget, who is here for anything involving vehicles, was one of the first onto the wagon; gotta secure that money spot with a good view of the tractor, right? I followed him up, and behind me came his pal A. A was as stoked as the other little guys until he saw his mom, my friend Meredith, waving from the grass. She was sitting out the hayride in order to feed A’s baby brother.

A’s lip started to tremble and I could see the tears welling up, so I patted my lap and motioned to him to come up. “Want to sit with me?” I asked him. A nodded tremulously and climbed onto my knee. Nugget immediately clambered onto my other knee. I put an arm around each of them, cuddled them close, and dropped a kiss on top of each blond mop head, and the tractor pulled out, towing us behind.

A and Nugget stayed planted in my lap for the entire hayride. When the tractor rolled back to the parking area, Meredith was waiting. A popped off my lap and rushed to his mom. Picking him up, she thanked me for holding him on the hayride.

“I enjoyed it,” I assured her. “He was very snuggly.”

She laughed. “He can be!” (I knew just what she meant. Those preschool boys are like puppies – running around wild, rolling on top of each other, roughhousing and jumping on the furniture and piling all over one another one moment, then cuddling up in your lap the next.)

I’m not sure why this memory came back so vividly the other night. But it drove home another thing that I am missing: my mom tribe. With a few exceptions, I never really connected with the other moms in Peanut’s class, especially after we moved home to Virginia. But Nugget ran in a herd with a gaggle of boys in his preschool class, and the moms ended up drawn to one another, too. We clustered together at back-to-school nights, birthday parties, Thanksgiving picnics and holiday concerts. We arranged play dates and openly shared frustrations and triumphs – and it fostered a bond of trust. I thought nothing of scooping Meredith’s little guy up and comforting him when I saw storm clouds starting to gather; she’d have done the same for me if I had to sit out a hayride and Nugget started to tear up.

There’s been so much talk about the connections we’re all missing during these long months of pandemic. The strong connections – grandparents not able to hug grandchildren, siblings missing out on family gatherings, dear friends unable to see each other for months. And the weak connections – that barista who knows just how to make your favorite morning drink, the favorite yoga instructor or peewee swim teacher, the supply room guy who always makes sure to stock your favorite snacks and pens at work. But there’s a middle level of connection, and I think I might miss that most.

I’ve had a few moments of those middle connections with the mom tribe during pandemic-times. Hiking in Rock Creek Park with my law school BFF Carly, her daughter, and Nugget. Peanut and her bestie stomping in a clear creek while my pal Rachel and I chatted as hard as we could through our face masks. Doling out marshmallows to Nugget and his best buddy as Helena and I stood around a backyard bonfire, catching up on school gossip and reminiscing about our college days (we were both at Cornell in the early 2000s and have a handful of friends in common, although we didn’t meet until our sons bonded at school). But those connections are few and far between lately, and I miss them more than I’d realized. Having those trusted friends who you can count on to pick up your baby, kiss an owie if you’re looking the other way when it happens, remember who has a nut allergy, make sure your kiddo has his goodie bag – that’s surprisingly huge. Not having that is a sort of bereavement.

Just another thing COVID has taken from us, hopefully not forever.

Do you miss those middle connections too?

Festive, Not Festivus

Let’s be real: if there was ever a year to go all-in on Festivus, it’s 2020, right? I feel like we all could get particular satisfaction out of the airing of grievances. I’ve got a lotta problems with you this year.

But, BUT, I’m trying to be positive here. Trying to overlook the fact that there’s a global pandemic, a seemingly hopelessly divided country, and – in my house, at least – so much backtalk and rudeness, and so little listening or cooperation. While we try to figure out what Christmas is going to look like this year, a look back at happier times.

It’s lucky I took so many pictures of fresh holiday wreaths on our traditional Old Town Christmas walk last year.

I am taking it on faith that Santa did, in fact, roll through Little Washington this year.

Our Christmas tree has already stopped taking on water, so I think we’ll definitely be back at the cut-your-own farm next year. It’s not pressing the easy button if your roadside stand tree becomes a fire hazard by mid-December.

Squeezing into a little room with hundreds of strangers was not in the cards this year, but maybe next year we’ll be back at the U.S. Botanic Garden’s holiday trains display. Hopefully without getting stomach bugs, like we did two – or was it three? – years ago. Come to think of it, maybe this is a holiday tradition that should stay in the past.

Join the Dark Side. We have eggnog.

This is the first time in four years that we have skipped our girls’ theatre date for Christmas. I miss this tradition. Next year I’m pulling out all the stops and taking Peanut to the fanciest Nutcracker performance in town. Unless I have to spend all of my money sending her to military school, which is a distinct possibility at this point.

Onward to our socially distanced, bubble-centric holiday, with hopes for a merrier Christmas in 2021.

Are you also missing pre-pandemic holiday traditions this year? How young is too young for military school?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 14, 2020)

Late post this morning – sorry. Last week was a doozy, the weekend was a doozy, and this week ahead is looking like a doozy. (In other news, I am submitting my application to the Guinness Book of World Records for most over-use of the word “doozy.”) On Saturday, I had big plans to get stuff done around the house. We were staying home all day because we were expecting our new dishwasher delivery after a month of eating off paper plates and hand-washing everything. I spent the morning folding and putting away laundry, cleaning out the linen closet, and organizing the guest bedroom storage situation in anticipation of delivery of some new closet organizers I am expecting today. I felt productive, which was the good news, but the bad news was we were totally ghosted by the dishwasher delivery people. No dishwasher, no call. Steve reached them this morning and they were mildly apologetic but won’t be delivering until Thursday – six days after they were supposed to come, and that’s if they don’t no-call-no-show us again – and no plans to make it right with us. To say I’m unhappy about this would be an understatement.

Anyway, since Saturday didn’t turn out like I expected – ending the day with a completely clean house, including kitchen – Sunday wasn’t the relaxing day I had planned either. I had some work to do, so I powered through that. We did manage to get out for a hike in one of our favorite bird-watching spots over in Leesburg, and saw MORE Eastern Bluebirds and a new-to-me (as yet unidentified, though) kind of sparrow. It was nice to get fresh air and move my feet after a long week of work and house frustration.

Reading. It might have been a slightly lousy week in general, but it was a good – and very festive – reading week. And also very symmetrical, apparently: two commonplace selections; two collections of holiday-themed short stories; and two mysteries. Well, one of the mysteries is also a collection of holiday-themed short stories, but you get my drift. Christmas spirit is in short supply around here, so I’m taking it wherever I can get it, and my reading evenings with a flickering candle and the lighted Christmas tree are keeping me going these days.

Watching. It was actually a very good watching week as well. We’ve been gradually making our way through the recent seasons of Rick Steves’ Europe as a family, and they are both lovely and sad-making, since we can’t travel anywhere right now (stoopid pandemic). On Sunday, Steve and I cuddled up on the couch and watched Rick Steves’ European Christmas (my request) while the kids engaged in some kind of ultimate fighting championship in the playroom. They did take breaks to come out and tell us they hate us, so that was not the best. I also spent a relaxing hour or so catching up on Miranda Mills’ festive content on YouTube.

Listening. Made my way through a few back episodes of Tea or Books? on my podcatcher while folding laundry and sorting through guest room detritus. The usual.

Making. Piles of work product, progress on Christmas shopping (but not wrapping), mailed-out Christmas cards, a clean linen closet, the beginnings of plans for next spring’s garden. (Do hollyhocks bloom the first year? The internet can’t make up its mind.)

Moving. Oof. It was not a good week. Other than accompanying Nugget on a kids’ run on Monday, nothing. 55-hour workweeks are not conducive to taking care of me. This is a recurring problem, clearly.

Blogging. Sharing some festive pictures from past holiday seasons on Wednesday, since Advent fun is thin on the ground this year. And musing on missing my mom tribe on Friday. Check in with me if you’d like, and I promise happier content next week. This is just where I am right now.

Loving. My Provencal pottery ornaments, which I bought in Gigondas back in 2010, have been missing for years. Every time I’ve decorated my tree in recent Christmases, I’ve lamented their loss. But guess what turned up in this most recent move? I’m delighted to have them back, and of all the ornaments on my tree, they are giving me the most joy – reminding me of a time when Steve and I were able to travel and stock up on experiences and memories. And they are also giving me hope, that I will find myself back in France someday.

Asking. What are you reading this week?

Grateful, 2020 Edition

Happy Friday, friends! And to my American readers – Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you had a wonderful day yesterday and enjoyed some delicious food, some time with family (whether in person with your bubble or over Zoom or FaceTime) and have a relaxing weekend ahead. We stayed home in Virginia; while we would have loved to visit my parents, my dad is recovering from rotator cuff surgery and it didn’t seem wise to subject him to two kids who occasionally forget themselves and jump on people. There was some talk of Steve’s mom coming up from Florida to spend the holiday with us, but that didn’t work out either. So it was just us, bubbling together, but we made it a nice day and, weather permitting, we’ll get out for some of our customary Thanksgiving weekend hiking over the next few days.

Often around Thanksgiving, I look back at the year that is almost ended and consider my blessings. Some years, that’s easier than other years. I have had some Thanksgivings where I was just where I wanted to be – no complaints at all! – and others where I was struggling to find the good. 2020 being what it is, this is going to be a hard year to cultivate gratitude – I think that’s true for most of us. But I am trying to flex that gratitude muscle and remind myself of my many blessings, even in 2020. Such as:

  • My health, and my family’s health. Our little bubble has made it this far without getting COVID-19 (that we know of), and so have my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, and Steve’s mom. We have been careful, but we are also very lucky.
  • Our home. As much as I complain about the band-aid colored walls, dated lighting fixtures, and nearly-exploding appliances, we have a roof over our head in a top-notch public school system. Speaking of which…
  • The kids’ school. We have had a roller coaster ride over the past few years and it feels like such a relief to be in a good public school district. So far, kindergarten and second grade seem to be going well, but even if things take a turn, at least we’re not paying through the nose for it.
  • Related: virtual school. While it breaks my heart every day to see Nugget pop off of the dining room chair and stand next to the table to recite the Pledge of Allegiance over his headphones, we are blessed to be able to keep the kids home and safe this year. (But please, Goddess, they need to go back next year.)
  • Remote work. While I have my up days and down days when it comes to productivity (not to mention just how I am feeling about working from home every day) I am lucky to have a job that allows me the flexibility of working at my dining room table. In talking with several lawyer friends during this time, I have said over and over that the pandemic has shown people as they truly are, and it turns out that my colleagues are kind, supportive people who have my back. I had to make a few job moves to get to this place, so I’m not taking that for granted.
  • Food on the table. From Thanksgiving dinner to my weekly elaborate Sunday night family meals to simple thrown-together breakfasts. I always say this, but I feel it especially keenly this year when I encountered empty store shelves for the first time in my life. Having pasta and sauce in the pantry, flour in the freezer, and veg in the crisper – not to mention toilet paper and hand soap in the bathrooms; I know those aren’t food – has never felt more precarious than it does this year, and I am glad for a pantry stocked against future lockdowns.
  • Anticipation for the future. It feels like I should knock wood, but Steve and I have made plans to take a dream trip together in 2022. (Hopefully Americans will be welcome in other countries by then…) We found a trip that allows risk-free booking (i.e. will permit us to cancel and rebook for a future trip if COVID-19 messes with our plans through 2022) and we put a substantial deposit down – seeing as we didn’t spend any money on a vacation in 2020. This won’t be our next trip; it’s more than a year away. But it’s something to anticipate, even if that feels a bit dangerous right now, and that’s huge. When we booked the trip, Steve and I looked at each other and at the same time (slight wording variations) both blurted out how happy we were to have something to look forward to again.
  • Little things like candles, tea in handmade mugs, Dogfish Head SeaQuench ale, issues of Adirondack Life, Balega and Smartwool socks – all those tiny comforts that make life just a little more enjoyable on a daily basis.
  • My running shoes, and all the routes I’ve pounded out in my new neighborhood and on the local rail trail. Sometimes it feels indulgent to tie on my Brooks, shut the door against whatever chaos is going on in the house, and just run. But it’s one of the things that I have committed to doing for myself this year, and it makes me so happy.
  • Tea. Always. Also LaCroix.
  • My kickass new camera – the best birthday present ever, THANK YOU STEVE! – which has allowed me to capture bird and wildlife photos I wouldn’t have dreamed possible. I love photography, and my new camera is bringing me so much joy.
  • Books! Of course! My subscription to Slightly Foxed, and those beautifully crafted little clothbound hardcover Slightly Foxed Editions. Gorgeous Folio Society hardbacks. Fun paperbacks from British Library Crime Classics and Persephone Books. A whole bookshelf full of these delights to wade through of an evening – by candlelight, see above.
  • Daily visits from my avian friends – multiple species of woodpecker; Carolina wrens and chickadees; tufted titmice; white-breasted nuthatches; goldfinches and house finches; cardinals and blue jays that pop by my feeders multiple times a day (I can barely keep them in birdseed!). I like to hide behind my car with my camera and paparazzi them.

I know it’s 2020, but what are you grateful for?

Reading Round-Up: October 2020

Reading Round-Up Header

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby.  I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book.  Here are my reads for October, 2020…

Gilead (Gilead #1), by Marilynne Robinson – One of the most beloved modern American classics, and a re-read for me – Gilead was just as lovely as ever. Written as a letter from an elderly, dying minister to his young son, Robinson’s best-known and most acclaimed work is ruminative, sad, lovely, and powerful. I decided to re-read the entire Gilead series in anticipation of the fourth novel’s release this month, and it was an incredibly worthwhile project.

Home (Gilead #2), by Marilynne Robinson – A new-to-me stop on my read-through of the Gilead series; Home focuses on the Boughton household. Rev. Boughton is a life-long friend of Rev. Ames, the narrator and main character of Gilead. Home finds Rev. Boughton nearing the end of his life and attended by two of his eight children – Glory, the youngest of the family, and prodigal son Jack. Both have returned home to escape troubles in their lives outside of the family, and they circle warily around one another before forming an unshakeable bond. My patience for Jack ebbs and flows, but I loved Glory.

The Lost Words, by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – Needing a quick breather from Marilynne Robinson (who is a wonderful writer, to be sure, but who needs a lot of focused mental power) I dipped into this beautifully illustrated volume of poems focusing on a collection of “lost words” from nature that are slipping from the consciousness of today’s children. The poems were powerful and the accompanying art was breathtaking.

Lila (Gilead #3), by Marilynne Robinson – Back to the world of Gilead and my favorite character from the series – Lila, the much-younger wife of Rev. Ames. This third installment focuses on Lila’s life before and after she met Rev. Ames, and it’s spellbinding as ever. And goes to show the benefits to re-reading; when I first read Lila I thought it was a wonderful story, but I was missing the love story aspect of it – it seemed to me that she married the Reverend more for shelter than love (which, understandable, since Lila never had a reliable roof over her head). I still think that the need for safety – physical and emotional – was what principally motivated Lila to marry Rev. Ames, but the underlying love was more apparent to me on my second read-through.

Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy #1), by Maud Hart Lovelace – Another re-read (this is the month for re-reads, apparently), and actually – this time – a read-aloud. It was past time for Peanut to meet Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, so I pulled out The Betsy-Tacy Treasury and started reading the first book earlier this month. As expected, Peanut loved it and is now obsessed – she even made “Betsy” and “Tacy” paper dolls and an egg carton “piano box” for them. Success!

Jack (Gilead #4), by Marilynne Robinson – Four volumes of Gilead books, in one month – whew! Jack is the new release, much anticipated by all Robinson fans (including me). I liked it, but it won’t displace Lila as my favorite of the series. Jack focuses on the titular character’s interracial romance with Black schoolteacher Della Miles in 1950s St. Louis. It was beautifully written, of course, as expected. But I have to say – I felt like I was missing Della’s perspective. It was clear why Jack was drawn to Della – she was beautiful, smart, kind, shared his love of poetry, etc. But I don’t quite get what Della saw in Jack (an alcoholic who can’t hold a job and continually embarrassed her by showing up drunk on her doorstep) that would induce her to sacrifice so much – her job, her reputation, and her family – to be with him. But this is something that has always confused me about Jack – why his family (and wife, apparently) are willing to constantly forgive him for his repeated transgressions. I feel like this would have been a more compelling story if Jack was less of a ne’er-do-well (Teddy Boughton making an interracial marriage – which was illegal at the time, to America’s shame – would have been a more interesting story arc) and/or if Della had gotten more airtime so that the reader wasn’t left asking, Jack, really? Why, Della?

Pumpkinheads, by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks – Another re-read! 2019’s most adorable graphic novel, Pumpkinheads, is going to be a Halloween tradition for me. I love watching Deja and Josie dart through the pumpkin patch where they work, in search of seasonal snacks and true love. And even though this year I knew how things worked out for them, I still enjoyed the (hay)ride!

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller – Somehow I missed this one in high school (my AP English class read Death of a Salesman instead), but I’ve corrected it now! The Crucible is Arthur Miller’s acclaimed play about the Salem witch trials – written at the height of McCarthyism. I really enjoyed this read – I’m fascinated by Salem, but I also found a great deal that spoke to our current political moment.

Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner – Laura “Lolly” Willowes is one of the many “surplus women” of the early 20th century. At age 28, bereaved of her father, she is shunted off, along with some furniture, to her brother’s London home to become something of an unpaid companion to her sister-in-law and nieces. After twenty years of this dissatisfying life, Laura finally rebels, moves to the country, and becomes a witch – like ya do. I’ve been wanting to read this classic novel of a woman claiming space for herself, and Halloween was just the time for it!

The Lost Spells, by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – I read MacFarlane and Morris’s first collaboration, The Lost Words, earlier in the month. The Lost Spells was just as gorgeous and mesmerizing (except the moth poem, which I obviously DID NOT APPROVE). The burnished colors of the artwork and the nature themes of the poetry felt like the perfect combination for fall.

Poems Bewitched & Haunted, ed. John Hollander – A re-read (this was the third time I’ve spun through this collection, always around Halloween) and still a favorite! I love this collection of poetry on topics witchy and weird.

Hallowe’en Party, by Agatha Christie – Another re-read for Halloween – this is one of my favorite entries in the Hercule Poirot oeuvre. A young girl boasts that she saw a murder committed; hours later she is dead, drowned in a bobbing-for-apples game at an “eleven-plus” Halloween party. Ariadne Oliver, mystery writer, calls in her old friend Poirot to solve a crime that ends up connected to several other murders, buried in the past. I really enjoy this one – and knowing the murderer in advance doesn’t take anything away from the fun of re-reading!

Whew! What a month of reading. I wrote earlier this month that I still felt like I was in a reading slump – thanks, pandemic, election, and… just… all of it. But it doesn’t look like a slump, at least not going by this list. As for highlights, I definitely had the most fun later in the month, once I picked up the stack of books I’d set aside for Halloween reading. I loved Pumpkinheads last year, and this year it was just as much fun. Getting to some of the classics I’ve been meaning to try – The Crucible and Lolly Willowes, in particular – was also wonderful. I’m feeling energized and excited to read right now (hope that holds up through this election week and beyond…) and looking forward to more autumnal reading in November.

How was your October in books?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (October 12, 2020)

Good morning, friends. Happy Indigenous People’s Day! And if you’re getting a day off work, I hope you’re enjoying it. I have a few things to do on that front, but am hoping to take the afternoon off, at least.

My weekend was a good one – indulgent. My birthday is tomorrow and since Tuesday birthdays are terrible, Steve declared this my “birthday weekend.” I felt very celebrated! On Saturday we spent the entire day outside, which is just what I always want to do. Two hikes – one at Riverbend Regional Park and one at Fletcher’s Cove – plus a picnic and kayaking, also at Fletcher’s Cove. We paddled farther upriver than we have before and checked out a section of rapids right before the river calms down. Sunday was gloomy on the weather front, so it was more of a relaxing day. I spent it puttering around the house. Nugget and I went to Michael’s for Halloween decorations (it was totally picked over – bummer) and both of the kids helped me bake an apple crisp, which we enjoyed for dessert after a feast of Greek food. And now I have a stressful week ahead, but at least I’m fortified by a lovely weekend.

Reading. Slow reading week – again. Partly because Marilynne Robinson needs to be read slowly (I knew this) and partly because of yet another week of crazy news cycles. I spent too much time scrolling through my Washington Post app and not enough time relaxing with my book. I read Home over the course of the week and finally finished it on Sunday morning. Needing a break from Marilynne Robinson, I spent a peaceful hour or so over The Lost Words, which was beautiful. And then, fortified by the break, I returned to Gilead and Lila. I loved Lila the first time I read it, so I’m sure I’m going to love it again this round.

Watching. This and that. The VP debate on Wednesday (“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.” And that fly!) Some Rock the Park. The first episode of The Right Stuff, the new Disney+ original series about the Mercury astronauts (which was great, but as it happens, not very kid-friendly – so that will be an adults-only show). And we’ve been attempting to watch Miracle as a family, but the dang kids keep falling asleep. Hoping to finish it up tonight – our third attempt.

Listening. Earlier in the week I was listening to my audiobook, another Great Courses series. Eventually I switched back to podcasts, specifically Sorta Awesome, and am working on catching up. I’m midway through a back episode on the subject of invisible labor, and man is it good.

Making. I was treated to takeout all weekend long, so there was no elaborate cooking this week. Unless you count the sandwich I made for the family picnic on Saturday – goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and tofurkey and vegetarian pepperoni on olive ciabatta bread. The kids hated it. So uncivilized. Oh, and on Sunday afternoon my sous chefs and I mixed up an apple crisp (recipe from King Arthur Baking) using some of the apples we picked last weekend. Some may consider it kinda sad to make your own birthday dessert, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Moving. I was a bit lazy this week – lazy and extra stressed about work (which is exactly when I should make a point of exercising – I know, I know). I made it out for two runs and one strength training session in Mommy’s Jungle Gym – better than nothing, but not as much as I wanted. And there was the epic Saturday of activity – two hikes and a long paddle. That felt good.

Blogging. Getting philosophical on you this week, so my apologies in advance. On Wednesday I have a quote about contentment from Elizabeth von Arnim to share with you, and on Friday I am dragging out my soapbox and shouting about the “no geotag movement.”

Loving. This might be the lamest ever, but this is what is improving my life right now: friends, I am the proud owner of a garage fridge. Yes, I am officially old! A few weeks ago, frustrated by my poorly designed kitchen fridge (there is no place for produce, none) I mused aloud to Steve, “Maybe we should get a garage fridge.” He was immediately on board (actually, I think the direct quote was: “That’s actually really sensible.” I tried not to get offended that he sounded surprised at me being sensible) and before I even knew it, my half baked idea had turned into a new fridge in my garage. I now have a place to hide my La Croix from greedy little hands, and overflow vegetable storage space. I am living large, friends.

Asking. What are you reading this week?