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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?



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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.  

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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!

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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?

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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?

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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 September, 2017

Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians #1), by Kevin Kwan – I really enjoyed this fun romp through the highest of high Singaporean society.  Rachel Chu, all-but “ABC” (American-Born Chinese) little knows what she is getting into when she accepts her boyfriend’s invitation to spend the summer with his “traditional” Singaporean family and be his date to his best friend’s wedding.  It turns out that the wedding is the biggest society event in the country and that Nick is heir to a massive fortune and the most eligible bachelor in Asia.  As Rachel navigates the treacherous waters of Nick’s disapproving family and the legions of women who will do anything to snatch Nick away from her, Nick’s cousin Astrid is dealing with her own private heartache – oh, and Nick’s mother Eleanor and her Bible study group are determined to get rid of Rachel once and for all.  Great literature this is not – but good fun it is, and I am anxiously awaiting the movie.

It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis – I had been waiting and waiting – months, in fact – to cycle to the top of the library wait list and take home Sinclair Lewis’s eerily prescient classic.  In It Can’t Happen Here, Lewis illustrates, with terrifying specificity, how Fascism could take hold in America and what the consequences could be.  The book was written in 1935, when Fascism was on the rise in Europe but most Americans were blissfully ignorant of the fact, and was Lewis’s wake-up call to a sleeping public.  But after the 2016 election and everything that has happened since, it seems all too frighteningly real.  Lewis paints in shuddering strokes the picture of an American politician who rides into power on a tide of Populist resentment and then proceeds to grab power from left to right until he has created a dictatorship and Fascist kleptocracy with himself as the center and primary beneficiary.  Sound familiar?

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel – This was another one that had been on my list for awhile.  Fun Home is Bechdel’s memoir of growing up in a funeral home, her relationship with her father, and her coming out as a lesbian.  It’s really engagingly written and drawn, and a fascinating glimpse into another life.  (I also know that Bechdel’s work has helped a lot of people on their coming-out journeys, and I think that is really something to celebrate and admire.  She has lent her voice and her cartooning skills, and used her platform, in such an admirable way.)  I found Bechdel herself to be an engaging and lovable figure in the memoir, and was completely fascinated by her relationships with her parents, and her father in particular.  (I also loved the little glimpses into the library of her dad, who was an English teacher and avid reader, and the connection that Bechdel’s own enjoyment of reading gave them – complex and tenuous as that connection may have been.)

The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, The Porcupine Year, Chickadee, Makoons (Birchbark House #1-5), by Louise Erdrich – Somehow, I only just learned of the Birchbark House books, thanks to a social media post.  Someone in my Twitter (or Facebook?) feed wished for a Native American series akin to the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and another user piped up, “There is one – the Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich.”  I immediately dashed (well, cyber-dashed) to my library’s website and reserved the entire series, and I spent about a week and a half tearing through them, laughing and crying and making mental notes about how to make pemmican and preserve seeds (useful information, I think).  I laughed a lot, and cried a lot, too.  The books follow the life of Omakayas, a young Ojibwe woman, from girlhood through adulthood and motherhood.  Omakayas means “Little Frog,” and she was so named because “her first step was a hop.”  Adopted as a baby, Omakayas grows up as a treasured daughter, granddaughter, sister and friend.  Her life is not without hardship – her family is torn apart by smallpox in the first book (a scene in which I cried floods while reading and floods more while telling a work friend – our firm librarian; hi, Susan! – about the book) but is not without its joys, either.  Had these books been published when I was a young reader, I know I would have devoured them.  As it is – I devoured them.

So – eight books this month, and seven of the eight were from diverse or underrepresented groups (Asian, Native American, and LGBT+) – and all fantastic.  It’s hard to pick a highlight, since I pretty much loved everything I read this month.  But It Can’t Happen Here is an incredibly important classic that I’d been wanting to read for a very long time, and the Birchbark House books were absolutely marvelous.  Another great month of reading!  I’m so glad I am a reader.  Books bring joy to me every single day.

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Happy Labor Day, friends!  If you’re American, I hope that you’re having a great holiday weekend (if you get Monday off – I do, yay!) and for my friends around the world, I hope you’re having a wonderful start to your weeks.  Funny story about Labor Day: when I was in college, this holiday was the holiday for my major.  I majored in Industrial and Labor Relations and we got the day off when everyone else had to attend classes, but there were events all day long.  We had trade union leaders and organizers who would come to speak to us, and a big picnic where we all ate coleslaw and sang solidarity songs.  It was good times.  These days, Labor Day is more about the end of high summer, looking back on golden days of fun and gearing up for the busy back-to-school season ahead.  I usually find myself really conflicted at this time, because I love summer and fall almost equally (fall barely edges out summer into the top spot) and I’m always finding this particular seasonal change a little bittersweet.  But this year, for whatever reason, I feel like I’ve had my fill of summer fun – we really lived it up – and I’m pretty unreservedly excited about fall.  Bring on the puffy vests and pumpkin spice; I am ready!  And just in time, too, because we had a weirdly cool weekend.  I think we’ll have a few more weeks of hot temps, but at least for Saturday and Sunday, it was chilly enough for flannel shirts and cups of tea in the evening.  Of course, that didn’t last even the whole three-day weekend; by the time our Sunday-evening walk rolled around, I’d traded my flannel in for a bike race t-shirt, and today is supposed to be pretty hot and sunny.  We have a fun activity planned for the day, which I’ll tell you about soon, but for now, a look back at last week.

Reading.  Very, very little to report this week.  I’ve slowly continued making my way through Mollie Panter-Downes’ London War Notes, and it’s a really lovely read.  Ponderous and haunting, but with little bits of humor sprinkled in – like Mollie’s wry recounting of the PR machine’s effort to get the British public on board with the Soviet Union after they became unlikely allies, which was finally achieved by the newspapers noting that the USSR Ambassador’s wife is a keen gardener who avidly tends her rose garden. A rose garden is the way to the British heart.

Listening.  The parade of podcasts continues.  I really need to get back to Audible, but I’ve been making such good progress toward an empty podcatcher that I kind of can’t stop won’t stop.  The best, clearly, was the “Sorry/Not Sorry” episode of Sorta Awesome.  I laughed so hard that I was almost sobbing, and the people on the metro probably thought I was a complete loony tune.  But metro people, you just don’t understand.  Sorry, not sorry!

Watching.  Saturday night couch dates continue!  It was my turn to pick this week, and after I hemmed and hawed and gave serious consideration to Captain Ron (it’s a thing and if you haven’t watched it you just won’t get it) we watched Wonder Woman.  Finally!  I’ve been dying to see it and was really bummed I missed it in the theaters.  Also, I totally called who Ares was, and between that and knowing that the Indominus Rex was still in the cage in Jurassic World, I’m feeling pretty pleased with my movie intuition these days.

Moving.  Kind of a slow week, because early in the week I was starting a Whole 30 (never a good time to also be doing a lot of activity – all my energy goes toward managing the metro queasies) and still coming off of Pacific time.  (It’s been a slow transition.)  But at the end of the week I bit the bullet and set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. power yoga, and it was so nice to be back on the mat.  Saturday I made it to my vinyasa class, and on Sunday we hiked at Piscataway Park (pictures coming).  Looking forward to a good week of yoga and hopefully a run or two.

Loving.  My front porch!  I did a quick little makeover for fall and I’m delighted with it.  Picked up a cutesy little pumpkin sign for the front door at Michaels (yes, I am That Lady, apparently) and two little pots of mums, which I plopped right into two ceramic planters I already had.  I love the color combination of the orange mums against the blue and green pots – I tend to be drawn more toward neutral colors that can be found in nature, and greens, blues and oranges are my favorites.  I also checked a lingering porch task off and bought a shepherd’s hook for the front yard so I could move the bird feeder off the porch.  Surprising only me, the birds have been a little bit… disrespectful… of my space (while eating the food I so generously provide every day).  I was the only one who didn’t see that coming, apparently – anyway, the feeder is now over to the side of my front walk and I like the new spot much better.  I have a better view of the feeder from my favorite chair, and it’s just all-around more pleasant.  Looking forward to some long evenings sitting out on the porch watching the birds this fall.

Blogging.  Some good summer content coming your way this week – a wrap-up of my summer list on Wednesday, and another California recap on Friday, this one doubling as my August contribution to my 12 Months of Trails project.  It’s a good one, so do stop by!

Asking.  What are you reading this Labor Day weekend?

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