It’s Monday… and I’m on a plane!

Hey, friends! I have a confession to make – for the last week I have been off on a crazy adventure, kayaking the Salish Sea. We saw orcas, porpoises, and so much other incredible wildlife, paddled 60 nautical miles in five days, and left with a bunch of new friends. Today is a travel day, and I’m headed back to DC and reality – sigh. I’ll have a regular Monday post for you next week and good stuff coming on Wednesday and Friday, so do check in with me then.

Catch ya on the flip side!

Reading Round-Up: March 2019

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 March, 2019

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War, by Lynne Olson – Somehow, despite loving popular history, I hadn’t read any Lynne Olson before last month.  I’m glad to have corrected that error now and can’t wait to read more.  Last Hope Island was fascinating and engaging.  Beginning with heart-in-throat depictions of the rescues of the ruling families and government dignitaries of occupied Europe – King Haakon of Norway, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and more – and continuing on to describe the role of the BBC, Britain’s warring intelligence agencies, and the daring of the nascent resistance movements left in the occupied countries, it was the most well-researched page-turner I’ve ever read.  (Well, maybe tied with Erik Larson’s Dead Wake).  The discussions of the intelligence failures, betrayals, and lack of support for and collaboration with the governments in exile made me heartsick; I said to Steve “This book is proof that there is a God, because without divine intervention I really don’t see how the Allies win that war.”

Old New York: Four Novellas, by Edith Wharton – I’ve been on a bit of a Wharton kick lately, and I loved these four novellas – especially the last one, New Year’s Day (the 1870s installment).  Each of the four novellas covers one decade – the 1840s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s (although the 1860s story mostly takes place in the 1890s, confusingly).  I especially loved The Old Maid, in which two women conspire to hide a secret, and the aforementioned New Year’s Day, which was a heartbreaking story of a woman caught in what seems to be an affair.  I won’t say more, because you should read it!  It’s a slim volume but every page was a delight.  Fully reviewed here.

The Joy of the Snow, by Elizabeth Goudge – After loving The Little White Horse, I’ve been meaning to read more Goudge, and I thought her memoir would be a good place to begin.  It was.  Goudge describes her childhood and girlhood in lyrical prose – as with The Little White Horse, she is at her best when describing houses.  The Ely house, with its passage to the Cathedral green!  The garden at Devon!  The sweet country cottage in Oxford!  I enjoyed the rest of the book – despite Goudge’s well-documented tendency to get a little preachy from time to time; I mostly skimmed those sections – but the houses were the highlight.

Slightly Foxed No. 61: The Paris Effect, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – Although I am trying to make my way through an epic library stack right now, I am powerless to resist a new Slightly Foxed when it arrives at just the right moment, and this one did.  The best issues of Foxed – for me at least – combine books I’ve read, books I’ve been meaning to read, and books I haven’t heard of before but now have to track down; this issue was a perfect example of that alchemy.  I’m now itching to get my hands on Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals and In Pursuit of Spring, and to read the Nancy Mitford novels I already have on my shelves.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie – As I mentioned here, I’ve spent years wondering whether I had already read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or not.  It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, but now at least I know I’ve read it once – last month.  One of Christie’s earliest novels and also one of her best known, it features a surprise ending that totally changed the mystery writing landscape at the time it was published.  (Well, it wasn’t entirely a surprise for me, because I actually figured out whodunit – although I didn’t know what the motive was until Poirot revealed all.)  Anyway, I absolutely loved it – the clues sprinkled liberally around, the little Poirot-isms, the narrator’s busybody sister… it was a delight from the first page to the last.

Three Men on the Bummel (Three Men #2), by Jerome K. Jerome – I’ll have a full review (for the Classics Club) coming to you next week, but just as a teaser in the meantime – J., Harris, and George are back and scheming up another epic Victorian vacation, this time a bicycling trip through the Black Forest.  Times have changed a bit since the friends went up the Thames – George is still a bachelor, but J. and Harris are both married and encumbered with several children, so their plans are complicated by the need to convince their wives to free them for a few weeks.  But they find a way and the reader is treated to a number of delightful and hilarious scenes.  Three Men on the Bummel doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, Three Men in a Boat, but it was good fun all the same.

Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days that Changed Her Life, by Lucy Worsley – It’s terrible of me to borrow this Worsley from the library when I have Jane Austen at Home sitting on my borrowed-from-a-friend shelf, waiting to be read so I can return it to my dear Susan.  But I read this first anyway.  (Sorry, Susan!)  And while I’m sorry for being such a terrible bookish friend, I’m not sorry for reading Queen Victoria, because it was fascinating and totally enjoyable – not to mention a really neat and different way to approach biography.  Worsley follows the Queen through the prism of a day here, a day there, and we get to be present at all the important moments of her life, from her parents’ marriage before she is even on the scene, to her deathbed.  I have always been fascinated by Victoria and the age named after her, and I loved this.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown – I guess I was on an “experimental royal biography” kick, or else hampered by library deadlines (maybe a little of both) because I turned next to another royal biography, written in a different sort of style.  This one didn’t work as well for me.  It might be that Princess Margaret has never been my love language, or that this biography was a bit too experimental.  I liked the “glimpses” that consisted of actual quotes from the press or Palace announcements, or that read as more traditional biographical essays (and I did a tiny cheer every time James Lees-Milne turned up to thumb his nose at royalty) but the fictional stories about Margaret married to Pablo Picasso or one of her other admirers read as a little off, and I really hated the dream sequences where the author described his own nightmares about Margaret invading his study and looking at all his notes for his biography of Her Royal Highness.  Not information I needed.

The Glass Ocean, by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White – I was intrigued by this both from the team-writing perspective (I am currently working on a team-writing project, although it’s going very slowly – my fault entirely, and my writing partner is being very patient) and because the story sounded cool.  Williams, Willig and White portray three women who are connected through history.  One is a present-day popular history writer who finds something potentially alarming in a trunk belonging to an ancestor who died on Lusitania.  The others are two Lusitania passengers – one the wife of a wealthy industrialist and one a conwoman and forger.  So this was fine, and it read quickly, but it didn’t entirely work for me and I felt a bit blah at the end.  But I’m interested in anything to do with Lusitania, so I did enjoy the descriptions of life aboard the ship.

Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, by David Litt – I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, and especially since it spent the last couple of months sitting on my library stack, but other things kept pushing it down the list.  Finally I ran out of renewals, so it was time.  I loved it.  Litt had me laughing and reading passages aloud to Steve throughout the book, and he was such a breath of fresh air and just what I needed to read as my town collapses into a pit of angst over the Mueller report.  I especially loved Litt’s anecdote about falling out of a closet half-dressed on Air Force One, and his musings about how much less stressful his life would be if only he was Bo, the Obamas’ dog, instead of a speechwriter.

Whew!  Busy month there.  March is such a long month that I actually thought I had finished Thanks, Obama on April 1st and was shocked to look at my calendar and realize it was STILL March.  Anyway – it was a good month of reading!  I was busy with a lot of life stuff, including throwing Nugget a fourth birthday party, hosting family in town for said birthday party, and traveling on business – plus the usual whirl of play dates, library runs, and other kids’ birthday parties – but I managed to squeeze in some excellent reading around all of that.  I’m not even sure I can pick highlights, because I enjoyed so much of what I read this month.  Edith Wharton and Agatha Christie are always wonderful, and I loved the biography of Queen Victoria that I read, and a month where I get to read a new “Slightly Foxed” is a great month.  And now to April.  I’ve managed to chip away at my library stack, but I still have a lot to get through, and I am craving some time with the classics on my own shelves.  So many books, so little time!

Tree Trimmings, 2018

Recently, someone asked me whether my tree was “designy or personal.”  The answer is – personal; definitely personal.  Back when Steve and I were newlyweds, I had the idea to make our tree coordinated and – I guess “designy” would be the right word.  It was, for maybe a year or so, but it fell by the wayside fairly quickly.  Today it’s a hodgepodge of kid-created ornaments, things picked up during our travels, and reminders of where we live.  But that conversation reminded me that it’s been years since I took you on a tour of our Christmas tree.  So how ’bout we do that?

This old favorite might look familiar – it’s the lighthouse from Block Island.  My brother lived on the island for more than two years and he gave this to me one Christmas.

More old favorites – Mount Vernon as a gingerbread house and two teapots in the Washingtons’ china patterns.  We bought these before we moved to New York for three years, to remind us of Old Dominion.

We have political statements on the tree, too.  No Stamp Act!


And there are other nods to George and Martha, too.

Still on the Virginia theme, I bought this handmade clay ornament at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.  It looks (a little) like our house here.

In recent years, we’ve fallen in love with Little Washington, the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We missed this year’s Little Washington Christmas parade, but at least we have this nod to the famous Inn at Little Washington on our tree.

Speaking of the Shenandoah Valley, a couple of years ago we decided to start collecting ornaments from every national park we visit.  One of the first to be added to the new collection, of course, was an ornament from Nugget’s happy placeShenandoah National Park.

We also have this one, from Joshua Tree National Park.  I’d love to get back there someday and camp in the park.  The night sky over the desert must be incredible.


We have other ornaments picked up from our travels, too – like these handmade pottery ornaments from the Outer Banks – the Hatteras Light and a great blue heron.


And the Adirondacks.  A loon and a red canoe (couldn’t find a kayak) to commemorate paddling on Mirror Lake this past summer.  (We’ll have to add a kayak after our trip to the San Juans this coming summer.)

And no tree would be complete without a nod to Cornell, too.  This happy snowman is ready to take the Big Red straight to the Frozen Four!

Travel isn’t the only thing we celebrate on our tree, though.  Miss Austen graces a branch.

And we have some seals in winter knitwear, because Peanut has a longstanding love affair with pinnipeds.  (I’m trying to convert her to Team Cetacean, though.)


Speaking of Peanut, we have some familiar faces on our tree, too.  Miss Peanut and Mr. Nugget doing their favorite things – picking flowers and hiking, respectively.


And, finally, no tree is complete – at least, not in a house with young children – without some kid-made ornaments.  The gold handprint on the left is courtesy of Peanut, and the little fingerprint snowmen in the right are Nugget’s work, both from their time at Westminster Early Childhood Programs back in Buffalo.

What special holiday decorating traditions do you have?


12 Months of Trails: Mason Neck State Park in May, 2018

In my family, anytime we have an occasion to celebrate – a birthday, milestone, just a nice-weather day – we hike.  That’s just what we do!  So naturally, when Steve asked me how I wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day, I said that I wanted to hike – somewhere with water views, not too far away, but far enough to feel like I’d gotten away from it all.  My favorite Virginia state park checks all of those boxes and then some, so that’s where we headed – Mason Neck State Park.

The kids were hoping to spot some turtles, and so was I!  Our first stop was our usual haunt – the Bay View Trail.  But it was overrun with bees (oops!) so we beat a hasty retreat and headed for the Beach Trail instead.  Much better.


I love the boardwalk opening up from under an archway of green.  It’s so nice to see leaves again!  What was the deal with that winter?  And hard to believe that just about a month ago, we were hiking here with Rebecca and Brandy and we were all bundled up in winter coats and hats.

Winter?  What is winter?  It was sunny, gorgeous, and hot overlooking the little beach.  I loved it.

There you are, turtles!

As I mentioned on Monday, I had a mom milestone – the first time I told off a kid that wasn’t my own.  Some boys were shooting a nerf gun at the turtles and when one of them gleefully shouted “If that turtle comes back I’m going to shoot it!” I turned to him and snapped “You’d just better not.”  And – wow.  Apparently I scare some kids.  Just not my own kids.

Back up to the picnic area and play fields, we stopped by the birdhouses to check out the feathered friends.  There were two absolutely stunning goldfinches eating out of one of the feeders, but sadly – no pictures.  They were shy.  But this luminescent blue-feathered bird was happy to show off.

(Anyone know what kind of bird this is?  Amal?)

The park was hopping, because there was some kind of festival going on – lots of tents featuring different area wildlife refuges and outdoor suppliers – including REI!  And there was a demonstration tent where a volunteer was leading a lecture on birds of prey, featuring some very special guests.  Peanut loves raptors and owls and she was transfixed.  Nugget made it through about ten minutes before I had to bustle him off to the playground, but Peanut (and Steve) stayed to the bitter end of the educational program, and Peanut declared that she wants to be a falconer when she grows up.  (Who doesn’t?)

Happy Mother’s Day to all of my friends!  I hope that you had a lovely day celebrating the women in your life, and that someone celebrated you, too – we all nurture someone, after all.  

It’s 2018!

Happy New Year, my friends! I hope you all had a safe and festive night last night and maybe some mimosas this morning. This is just a quick wave hello for the new year, via my phone, from somewhere in New Jersey. We’re heading home from five days at my parents’ house in upstate New York, which we filled with family and friend visits and even some skiing in western Massachusetts. I’ll be back on Wednesday with my December reading round-up, so for now – toss one back for me!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (December 11, 2017)

Hello and happy Monday, friends!  After the weekend I’ve had, I’m actually sort of glad to be heading back into the office.  It all began as I was slumped in a seat riding backwards on the Metro, heading home on Friday, and my text messages beeped (interrupting The Book Riot Podcast‘s holiday recommendation show, to add insult to injury) with a text from Steve: “We’re at defcon 3 with Peanut.”  (Except – he used her name.  But you get my drift.)  It was all downhill from there and the rest of the weekend was a spiraling mess of timeouts.  Nugget contributed several meltdowns of his own, too, including a truly epic one on Sunday night.  So – I’m looking forward to a quiet day of reading through internal workplace investigation reports.  It wasn’t all bad, though.  On Saturday, it snowed (!!!!!) – before Christmas, which is a huge treat around here, since it almost never happens.  We spent a cozy morning playing trucks inside (and having tantrums, but you can’t win them all) and then went out for a lovely snowy walk around our neighborhood so we could all blow off some steam.  On Sunday, we had plans to hike at Shenandoah National Park, but Skyline Drive was closed, which meant that – for all intents and purposes – the park was basically closed, too.  So we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast before heading out to Little Washington for the annual Christmas parade.  Opened by Redcoats, as usual, and featuring the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the local marching band, the mayor, the fire engine, a raucous-looking lunch club, and a farm for miniature horses, among other delights.  I whispered to Steve that I was pretty sure we’d found Virginia’s equivalent of Stars Hollow, and he laughed and agreed.  I love my urban neighborhood, but I sure wouldn’t mind living in a small town with as much personality as Washington has.


Reading.  Bit of a light week.  Earlier in the week, I finished Rich People Problems, the third in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.  It was a lot of fun, and a satisfying conclusion to the series.  Then I turned my attention back to The Shell Seekers, which I’d set aside to read Rich People Problems, and to Christmas at Thrush Green, which I’m reading on my phone.  Kinda hate reading on my phone, but I have reached my quota of twenty-four books for the year (and then some – I’ve handed one airmail box to Steve and will probably be handing him another one with instructions to wrap and put them under the tree, and thanks for the present!) so I couldn’t buy a physical copy.  I’m looking forward to adding the Thrush Green books to my library over the course of next year, though, when I will not be restricting myself to twenty-four.  The freedom to come on January 1st…

Watching.  One of the reasons that it was a light reading week was – season two of The Crown dropped on Friday!  So, clearly, everything had to be set aside.  The costumes and jewelry and sets are amazing, as expected, but three episodes in I am gritting my teeth at all of Phillip’s whinging.  Sincerely hope he shuts up in season three, because I can’t take much more of his “poor little rich boy in a gilded cage” nonsense.  Not sure why the showrunners thought this would be a compelling storyline for the A-plot of the season, when there were so many interesting things happening in the world and they had two fascinating and strong royal women to feature (more Margaret and less Phillip, I say!) but I’m still watching, so there you have it.

Listening.  Catching up on holiday podcasts!  I’m almost done with the two-part holiday recommendation show, which is one of my favorite parts of The Book Riot Podcast‘s year.  And then I have a slew of holiday-themed episodes of The Mom HourThe Home Hour and Sorta Awesome waiting for me.  It’s the most wonderful time of the podcasting year, apparently!

Moving.  Another slow week.  This week, I’m going to be back at yoga on Tuesday and Friday, and hopefully back at Barre as well.  I’ve let work stress and home shenanigans derail my me-time, but I plan to be back on the train.  I really need to have that time to do something for myself, especially during the holiday season.

Blogging.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!  I have a super-mistletoe-bedecked week coming up for you.  On Wednesday, I’ll show you the kids’ Advent books (always one of my favorite posts of the year) and on Friday, I’m recapping some of the holiday activities we’ve done so far this season – so as to avoid dumping a massive photobomb on you all after Christmas.  Check in with me then!

Loving.  So, I don’t live in the PNW, never have, and never say never but probably never will, and I’ve not even visited (yet) but I can’t help loving the cozy sweatshirts from Wish You Were Northwest.  I don’t have anything PNW-themed, because that would be silly, but I love my soft and warm “Coffee, Mountains & Cabins” and “Clear Skies Wool Socks Can’t Lose” sweatshirts, which look just as appropriate in the Adirondacks and the Blue Ridge.  Seriously, though – they’re soft, they’re warm, they fit perfectly.  Everything I’m looking for in a sweatshirt!

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

Marine Corps Marathon 10K 2017

Whew!  It’s been awhile since I put up a race recap, hasn’t it?  I can’t even remember the last time.  The past year or two, it’s been hard to run and train for races – I’m sure I make lots of excuses, but there it is.  I don’t love being away from Nugget for long stretches, even now – I figure there’ll be plenty of time for half marathons (and maybe longer races?) when he’s older.  And between job-hunting, planning a move, and then trying to get used to a new job (I’ve been at my current job for over a year, and I still feel like I’m learning the ropes) something had to give, and it’s been running.  But I miss the feeling of accomplishment that I used to get from training for and running races, so I have very gradually been dipping my toes back into the local running scene.  I’m not doing anything too crazy right now, which was why my “big” race of the year was a 10K – but what a 10K!


The day before the MCM10K, I drove over to National Harbor to pick up my packet.  It was a total zoo, but somehow I made it in and out with my bib and mock-turtleneck (#RockTheMock).  Loud singing along to The Book of Mormon soundtrack on the way there and back was a big help.  Back at home, I laid out my “flat runner” – we’d gotten a heat advisory email from the race organizers, so I planned accordingly with a tank top that weighs less than a sheet of tissue paper.


Race morning dawned clear and sunny.  It was actually a little bit brisk, and I was chilly as I waited at the start line, but I knew I’d be glad I had the lightweight tank on later (spoiler alert: I was).  Eventually, the gun sounded and we were off!  I got chills as I ran under the “Marine Corps Marathon” starting arch.  Maybe someday I’ll run through this arch on my way to 26.2.


The full marathon course starts over by Iwo Jima, but the 10K starts on the National Mall – which is very nice, because the scenery begins immediately.  We ran past a line of Smithsonian museums, and before long, I could see the Capitol over my left shoulder.  (I hummed “dark as a tomb where it happens” as I ran past.)


Rounded the corner, and headed down past the Smithsonian Castle and toward the Washington Monument.  I have really missed running local races around these streets.  It’s SO nice to be home.


Hello, George!  I put my camera away and before I knew it, we were crossing the bridge into Arlington.  I didn’t get too excited at that point, because most of the 10K is run in Arlington.  We still had a long way to go.


A good portion of the race (10K and I think marathon, too) is run on highways in full sun – hence the heat advisory and the warning to dress appropriately for the weather.  I was glad that I made the apparel choices I had – I was always comfortable and didn’t really feel like I was baking in the sun (I did hear later that a few people were taken off the course in ambulances due to the heat, so it was no joke).  There was also a fair amount of shade on the 10K course, which provided relief, and even when we were in full sun we could count on cool scenery – like the Pentagon.


I could tell we were getting close to the end when I ran through this row of American and Marine flags, and I started to get a little misty-eyed.  I made sure to thank every Marine I saw on the course for their service – others were doing so, as well.


Soon we found ourselves running past the marathon starting corrals – all empty.  It was surreal to see the corrals silent, with all the runners gone.  Maybe someday I’ll be standing in one, ready to race the full.


And before I knew it – the end!  The last little bit of the course was an evil, heinous – extremely steep – uphill, so no pictures from that part.  I went through the finishers’ corrals, collected my medal, and found my cheering squad – Steve, the kids, and my mom.  It was hot, exhausting, and completely exhilarating and inspiring.

Are you a runner?  What’s your favorite race?