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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 July, 2017

The Brandons (Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire #7), by Angela Thirkell – Funny to go back to the series in order after accidentally reading Northbridge Rectory outside its proper place, and to find myself in another story in which a younger male character fancies himself in love with an older woman who is blissfully ignorant of her effect on the younger generation.  (Coincidence, or is this a thing with Thirkell?  August Folly had a similar plot.)  Anyway, I loved meeting the Brandon family – flirtatious Mrs Brandon and her adult or near-adult children Francis and Delia.  Delia is one of my favorite Thirkell creations ever (she’s Lydia Keith, without being irritating – and unsurprisingly Lydia is a friend of Delia’s and makes an appearance).  I also loved seeing Mrs Morland and Tony again.  Such a fun romp!

In This Grave Hour (Maisie Dobbs #13), by Jacqueline Winspear – I’ve been waiting and waiting for the Maisie Dobbs series to work itself up to World War II, and while there have been hints of the coming conflict since book #8, In This Grave Hour finds Britain officially at war.  Maisie’s friends and family are preparing for the next war – Priscilla and Billy worrying about sending their sons to fight, Sandra preparing to welcome a baby into an uncertain world, Frankie and Brenda taking in young refugee Londoners – and meanwhile, an old acquaintance requests Maisie’s help in unraveling the murder of a Belgian refugee from World War I (now “the last war”) who had settled permanently in England.  Before Maisie has time to do much digging, another former Belgian refugee is murdered.  So while Maisie’s circle is turning their attention to the next conflict, Maisie herself continues to work on making sense of the last one.

Jane of Lantern Hill, by L.M. Montgomery – Although it’s one of my favorite summer books, I hadn’t read Jane of Lantern Hill in many seasons.  One of Montgomery’s lesser-known heroines, Jane is a Torontonian who lives unhappily with her mother and grandmother in a big, opulent, dismal house.  One day she discovers that her father, who she had always believed dead, is actually alive and living on Prince Edward Island.  Not long after, Jane’s mother receives a letter from her estranged husband, summoning Jane for the summer.  Jane reluctantly goes, but it’s not long before she falls in love first with “Dad” himself, and then with Prince Edward Island.  Over two summers on P.E.I., Jane grows from an awkward and miserably unhappy child into a confident young woman.  But while Jane is capable of fixing up a house and cooking anything Dad wants to eat, is she capable of mending her parents’ broken relationship?  You’ll have to read this joyful book and find out.

Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome – I’d never heard of this book, and only vaguely heard of the unfortunately named author, until The Folio Society reprinted it as part of their May collection.  One glance and I knew it was a book in the grand Wodehouse style (although it actually predated my friend P.G., who was almost certainly influenced by it) and I had to have it.  J. and his two friends Harris and George, along with their incorrigible dog Montmorency, embark on a rowing vacation up the Thames.  Along the way, J. treats the reader to his musings on everything from English history (oh those unfortunate souls who found themselves running into Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn “spooning all over England”) to the trick behind getting a kettle to boil in a boat (act like you don’t want tea) and everything in between.  Aside from one offensive word that was very jarring to this modern reader, it’s a perfect book.

The Age of Orphans (The Age of Orphans #1), by Laleh Khadivi – A young Kurdish boy witnesses the massacre of his village’s entire menfolk during his first battle with the forces of the new Shah of Iran.  As is the policy with all battle-made orphans, the boy is conscripted into the Iranian army and given a name – Reza Khourdi.  (Reza for the Shah, and Khourdi after his tribe.)  Reza grows to manhood in the army, rises through the ranks and marries a well-off Tehrani woman.  However, his proficiency is noticed and he receives a plum assignment to return to the region of his birth and assist in putting down Kurdish rebellions.  As Reza sees more and more of himself in the Kurds, his marriage and family – and his own identity – feel the strain.  I thought this was a gorgeously written book, although parts of it were very brutal.  (Always in a way that served the story, but it’s hard to read.)

Queen Lucia (Mapp & Lucia #1) – Lucia is the doyenne and cultural ruler over her little kingdom – a small English village called Riseholme.  With her husband Peppino and faithful subordinate Georgie by her side, Lucia aims to set the standard for all art, culture and entertaining in the area.  But when a young, beautiful and talented opera singer moves to town, Lucia has a revolt on her hands.  Georgie switches allegiances to Olga, the opera singer, and another local resident watches with relish as it appears Lucia is going to fall from her throne.  So, I liked – but didn’t love – this.  Lucia irritated me (as I think she was supposed to) although less so after one scene in which she is thoroughly embarrassed and exposed as (gasp!) unable to speak fluent Italian.  I was also vaguely uncomfortable with Mrs Quantock and Lucia’s battle over “the Guru” – although I can’t put my finger on why, and I loved the image of Lucia dressing in goddess robes and teaching yoga.  I’m invested in the characters now, so I will definitely continue on with the series – hopefully the next book is even better.

Slow month – only six books in July.  For a relatively long month, that’s pretty surprising, even in the summer.  I (more or less) enjoyed everything I read, but Three Men in a Boat and The Brandons had to be the highlights.  It’s always nice to visit with Maisie Dobbs, too, and to pay a call on P.E.I.  No duds this month, just not much in the way of reading time or inclination.  I’m expecting more of the same in August, but do check back in…

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Well, it’s been about a month since the last update, so it’s time to go back to the garden and share progress.  As you can see, things are definitely growing.  This is the most successful garden I’ve ever had – tomatoes and herbs galore.  But this year is about learning, and I have so! many! questions!

Question.  What the heck is going on with the tomato plants?  I’m getting a pretty consistent flow of ripening tomatoes and I harvest them every few days to keep ahead of the squirrels.  But the foliage itself is really patchy.  I still can’t decide if it’s verticillium wilt or if it’s just the sun burning out the leaves.

Like I said, the tomatoes themselves are growing.  But the leaves are not nearly as lush as I was expecting and a lot of them are brown.  I’m pruning almost as many leaves as I am harvesting tomatoes.  It’s very strange, and I also wonder if I’m getting as many tomatoes as I would if the leaves were all big, bright and healthy.

That said, I am getting tomatoes.  This is still the best my tomato plants have ever done.  I’ve never had them actually fruit before!  (Except for one year in Elma, when the rabbits ate my entire paltry crop as soon as it ripened and I never got any.)

Enough about the tomatoes.  (Although if anyone knows what the deal is with the crispy brown leaves, please do lay it on me.)

Question.  What am I going to do with all of these herbs?  The basil went nuts after I transplanted it and I now have a pesto factory on my hands.

The mint is finally growing, too, and I have to harvest and use some of it before it bolts.  I was expecting this from the mint, but not from the basil.  Seriously!  Recipes, please!  Especially for mint – worst case scenario, I can make and freeze ten pounds of pesto.  But what am I going to do with all of these mint leaves?

The other herbs are getting after it, too.  The parsley isn’t looking quite as robust as I’d expected, given that I once had a parsley plant survive the Buffalo winter outdoors.  But I definitely have enough parsley for all the tabbouleh I’d ever want.  And as for the rosemary and thyme, well, they’re off to Scarborough Fair.

It’s all very exciting, but now I have to figure out some recipes.  Gotta use this homegrown produce!

Question.  Why will my son eat tomatoes outside, right off the vine or out of the colander, but won’t touch a vegetable indoors?

He was shoving them in his mouth by the handful, saying, “Mmm-MMMMM!  Mmm-MMMMM!  Mmm-MMMMM!”

Well – there’s nothing like a vine-ripened tomato, just picked and still warm from the sun.

How are your gardens growing this year?  Does anyone know what’s up with my tomato plants?

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Happy Memorial Day to my American friends, and happy new week to my friends around the world!  If you’re celebrating today, I hope that you have lovely and relaxing holiday weekend plans.  Maybe including grilling?  We need to get a new propane tank and get our grill cleaned up, so we won’t be doing any grilling today.  But we have been having a fun weekend – lots of time spent outside, which is just as I like it.  On Saturday, we drove out to Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in Catlett, Virginia, for “Exploration Days” – a special event for the two-to-five set.  And yesterday, we spent the morning exploring Jones Point, a small NPS-managed park down by the waterfront in Old Town.  When we moved away, the park was going through a big clean-up and refurbishment effort, and we were excited to see the results.  It’s gorgeous and so much fun now, and I predict that we’ll be spending a lot of time there this summer – especially because it’s walking distance from our house.  Today, we have special plans – spending the late morning, lunch hour and early afternoon with our dear Buffalo friends Zan and Paul, who are in town – hurray!  Zan and Paul have tons of friends in this area (they lived here for many years) so we are always grateful when they squeeze us in on their visits, since they have so many people to see.  I’m looking forward to a good catch-up session with Zan, and Peanut is hoping that Zan will take her to the playground.  Haha!

  

Reading.  Pretty productive reading week, amazingly enough.  I am totally burnt out and completely stressed at work, but I managed to finish two books and start another.  It took me a week, but I made it through How to Be a Tudor, and I am now prepared in case of involuntary time travel (read on).  Then, with library deadline pressure relieved, I finally got back to – and finished – A Gentleman in Moscow, which I absolutely loved.  Finally, I picked up another book from my shelves: A Traveller in Time, one of my gorgeous Folio Society editions, about a young girl who abruptly and accidentally travels back to Elizabethan times and finds herself caught up in the famous Babington Plot.  Loving it!  Of course, you know that time travel novels are my weakness.

Listening.  I worked my way through a couple of podcast episodes, but nothing that really got me excited, then downloaded Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, Alyssa Mastromonaco’s memoir of working in the Obama White House, with my May credit from Audible.  I’m about half an hour in, and really enjoying it.

Watching.  Last night, I dreamed about making potato canapes, which means that I probably have been watching too many episodes of The Great British Baking Show.  From that, you can tell that’s all we have been watching – and I think it’s time for a break.

Moving.  Aside from several long walks, not much moving last week.  I tried to start the Hundred Pushup Challenge, but haven’t been able to make it past the baseline test.  You’re supposed to do as many good-form pushups as you can, to find out where your baseline is – well, every time I try, I get to eight good-form pushups and then someone sits on my back and I end up face-planting into the rug.

Blogging.  May reading round-up coming on Wednesday, and Memorial Day Weekend fun on Friday.  It’s gonna be a good one – check back!

Loving.  The best part of last week was meeting my long-time blogging friend, Amal, for dinner out in Philadelphia.  Amal and I have been regular commenters on each other’s blogs, and Twitter pals, since 2012 – so almost five years now!  When I had a business trip to Philadelphia that was going to keep me overnight, of course the first thing I did was see if she was free for dinner.  We had a wonderful evening, chatting as hard and fast as we could.  The conversation started the minute we spotted each other, and continued for hours, and the whole evening was such a delight.  I wasn’t thrilled about having to take the business trip (the work part was really super stressful), but at least it gave me a great excuse to finally meet up with a lovely friend!

Asking.  What are you reading this holiday weekend?

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We’ve been having our customary weird spring weather – stretches of hot and sunny, broken up by other stretches of grey and gloomy.  Most of May has been chilly and rainy, so I was very glad to see sunshine and blue skies on Sunday morning – a perfect day for the hike that was my Mother’s Day wish!  We briefly considered Sky Meadows, but decided it was too much of a haul – I was glad, as it turned out, because I had to squeeze a work call into Sunday morning and we didn’t end up getting out the door until after ten as a result.  Sticking close to home worked much better.

Steve and I had hiked Mason Neck State Park back in 2010 or 2011 – well before kids appeared on the scene.  I remember liking the park, but for whatever reason it didn’t get on our regular hiking rotation.  They’ve done a lot of trail work since our last hike there, and it’s not as far as I remembered (about a 35 minute drive – not bad at all) so we will definitely be back!

First stop was a little offshoot trail near the water.  My small Pisces is always clamoring to get as close to the water as possible (there’s a line where the sky meets the sea and it calls meeeeeeee) so we checked out the spur, mainly for him.

He was pleased.  I think he’d have liked to swim, though.  Another time, little fish.  Another time.

Back off the spur trail, we headed for the main event – the Bayview Trail.  On our way, we passed these cool bird feeders.  There were a few folks out birding with their long-lens cameras.  I made a note to bring my big camera next time we hit this park – I guess it’s a good spot!  We saw an osprey feeding within five minutes of starting our hike – auspicious, indeed!

Gush alert!  I love the Chesapeake area, and I am so grateful that my kids get to grow up in such a beautiful place.  Virginia has everything!  Beaches, mountains, lakes, cities…

Headed for the trailhead, I made another mental note – looks like you can rent kayaks and take them out on the water here!  Very good to know.  I made a comment about Peanut being old enough to sit in a child’s seat and go out paddling with Mommy, and she proceeded to break my heart into a million pieces by saying she DOES NOT WANT to kayak.  Sigh.

The Bayview Trailhead is just over this boardwalk!  I love wetlands, and Mason Neck has a huge network of boardwalks – such fun.  They also had something else…

Turtles!  We saw this family sunning themselves on a log, which totally made Nugget’s day.  He loved spotting them (but he also thought that some of the logs were alligators).

And then we were onto the Bayview Trail loop, enjoying a constant rotation of beautiful sights – the Potomac to one side of us, gorgeous flowering bushes to the other, and woods all around.

Stopped for a drink of water.  Sure, little buddy, I’m happy to let you use my head as a table.  #motherhood

Periodically, there were little offshoot trails leading down to sandy beach areas.  Egged on by our little water-lover, we checked out every. single. one.

After a little bit of a walk through the woods, we found ourselves entering the big wetlands area – serenaded by the songs of bullfrogs as we went along.

I looked for frogs on the lilypads – sadly, they were all hiding.  We had fun checking out the wetlands area, which was absolutely bursting with life.  Nugget said he saw more turtles.  I didn’t see any, but the little guy is insanely sharp-eyed, so we tend not to doubt his word.  Although he did also claim to see several more alligators, so…

^One of the new boardwalks.  The park had really expanded and revamped its trail network since the last time we were there, and it was a pleasure to hike.  They clearly paid a ton of attention to the hiking experience, and with great effect.  It’s easy to see why Virginia state parks are considered some of the best in the country!

More kayaks!  I wished that I could’ve gotten out on the water.  Maybe next time!  If I’m really lucky, I’ll even be able to convince Peanut to join me.  I think almost-five is old enough to take a short paddle, if only she didn’t act like the very idea was repulsive to her.  (Four going on fifteen…)

As we headed for the car, there was one last treat in store – a few brightly colored birds at the bird feeders!  I crept as close as I could get to the feeder, intent on capturing a picture of the brightest red cardinal I’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately, Nugget chose that moment to shout “BIRDIE!” at the top of his lungs, and scared the cardinal away.  But the goldfinch was made of sterner stuff.

What a fun morning hiking Mason Neck with my little family!  I sure am glad to be an outdoor mom.

Have you done any fun hikes recently?

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Spring Pools

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods—
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

Robert Frost

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Hellooooooooooo, Monday!  It’s going to be a busy week around here (what else is new?) so I’m trying to psych myself up for it.  I have five days’ worth of work to do and only three days in which to do it, because I’ve got a client visit on Monday and a very brief business trip on Thursday.  Part of me wishes I could fast-forward to next weekend, when I will hopefully be hiking at the National Arboretum and picking up the plants for Peanut’s and my container garden.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves… there are five days to power through before then.

We had a pretty productive weekend, and you can see the results above!  I had big plans to get lots done around the house – grocery shopping, food prep, and then a marathon cleaning-out of the bedroom, which is the only room that is not completely unpacked at this point.  But I switched gears on Saturday morning when Steve decided (after seven months of my constant pestering) to clear a path to MY BOOKS and bring them up from the basement.  (Before you get all up in arms, yes, I am sure I could have made that happen for myself if I wanted to badly enough, and no I do not need a man to do anything for me.  But it turned out my books were not where I thought they were – well, some of them were, and those, I had already brought upstairs and shelved myself – and it took him less than an hour, when all was said and done, while it would have taken me the better part of a day or even longer.  So put that in your pipe and smoke it.)  Anyway, with that kind husbandly act, my weekend agenda veered away from cleaning out the bedroom, and straight to organizing and shelving my entire collection of books.  WAHOO!  It did take all weekend, since I had to squeeze the bookshelf project in between regular weekend chores, kid-wrangling, afternoon walks, and a run into the city to pick up my laptop (which I’d forgotten in my office, and which I needed to take to my client visit today).  But the time was totally worth it, and I’m completely enamored of the final result.  And as I said to Steve – there’s even room for more books.  (He rolled his eyes hard at that.)

  

Reading.  Sort of a slow reading week.  Metro woes continue, so my commute reading is a bit curtailed.  I finished Princess Elizabeth’s Spy on Monday – I love this series! How had I never gotten around to Maggie Hope before? – and then spent a few days picking at Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead.  It’s incredibly well-written (of course) and very funny and engaging, but I was just not in the right frame of mind, so after several evenings of mindlessly scrolling through my phone, I admitted that I just didn’t want to read it at the moment, and back to the library it went.  I expect I’ll check it out again later in the year, and read it then.  Book abandonment issues accepted, I turned to the book I really wanted to read – Emily Climbs, for part two of Naomi’s Reading Emily event.  (Blog post coming on Wednesday!)  I finished Emily Climbs on Sunday night and was as delighted with it as ever.  (I think it’s my favorite of the series.  Shhhhh, don’t tell Emily of New Moon or Emily’s Quest that I said that.)  Finally, I grabbed – and have just started – A Gentleman in Moscow, which is due back to the library on Wednesday, so I’d better get cracking.

Watching.  We’re almost caught up with Rock the Park now!  Just a few episodes to go.  I hear that Jack and Colton’s Great Falls episode recently aired, so I’m insisting we power through to get to it!  But we’ve only got a couple more days before we’ll be watching in real time, so we’ve started discussing what we’re going to watch next.  There’s another national parks show that looks like fun, but I think first we’re going to return to, and finish, Grantchester.

Listening.  You guys!  Exciting news!  I finished Middlemarch – all 35-plus hours of it!  A couple of 90-minute drives last week (two client visits – I feel like I’ve been out of the office more than I’ve been in) helped immensely.  I really, really enjoyed the audio production.  Juliet Stevenson’s narration is fabulous, and she brings George Eliot’s rich world to life like no other narrator likely could.  I loved reading the print version, and I’m sure I will return to that format, but the audio was such a joy.  And now I’m back to podcasts for a little while, but I’ve somehow managed to stay on top of my podcatcher, so I only have a few.  My client visits this week will yield me a clean podcatcher, no doubt, so I’ll have to decide what audiobook to “pick up” next.  I’m thinking of the Rachel McAdams narration of Anne of Green Gables, which I have in my Audible library…

Making.  Bookshelves.  Stocked.  With.  Books.  I actually spent a lot of time trying out different arrangements until I hit on something that was pleasing to the eye and showed off my books to their best advantage, since they deserve no less after patiently waiting for over a year in boxes.  I’m still so delighted with the final product, I can’t stop staring at my shelves.

Blogging.  Bookish week around here!  On Wednesday, as I teased above, I’ll have my March post on Emily Climbs, for the Emily readalong.  And on Friday, some thoughts about living without my books for more than a year, about shelf purges, and about curating my library to be exactly what I want.  I can’t promise coherent thought on that one, but there are lots of pretty library pictures in it.

Loving.  I’m a broken record, but the bookshelves have been the theme of the weekend.  I am loving, loving, being reunited with my books.  It really is like seeing old friends, who I’d missed so very much, show me their shining faces again.  Steve thinks I’m crazy, and it’s very possible that I am, but there’s nothing like a tidy bookshelf with all your favorites lined up just so.  It lifts a girl’s spirits like nothing else.

Asking.  What are you reading/making/watching/loving this week?

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Who’s up for a beach trip?  When we sat down to discuss logistics for our move from Buffalo to Washington, DC, I threw out an idea, not expecting it to come to much – what are the odds we can squeeze a vacation into this schedule?  Steve initially thought I was nuts, but here’s the thing – I was too busy closing out my cases to take any time off before my last day at my previous job, and I knew that starting a new job, I wouldn’t be able to take a vacation for awhile.  So if we wanted to get a vacation into our 2016, it pretty much had to happen during my two weeks of “funemployment” – the time we’d budgeted for our move.

The plan was: roll into NoVA, dump our stuff, and roll out to Virginia Beach immediately thereafter.  (We briefly considered Chincoteague, Smith Mountain Lake, and the Outer Banks, but VAB won out when my BFF, Rebecca, told me that her work schedule had changed and she would be in town after all on the week that we were looking to vacation.)  Rebecca lives in Virginia Beach, and we’d been wanting to visit her for years.  Destination chosen, we browbeat our movers into prioritizing our delivery so we could get to the beach as soon as possible.  After an incredibly stressful moving day, we piled into the car the very next morning and rolled out to the beach.

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And were we ever happy to get there!

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I actually hadn’t been to VAB since I was about Peanut’s age.  (Maybe younger?  My mother would know.)  I have vague memories of camping with my parents on the beach for a week, and of eating she crab soup.  And that’s about it.  But I’d stalked VAB on TripAdvisor enough to know that it was a good destination for little kids.

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Our first act upon arriving at Rebecca’s house was to throw on bathing suits, load our stuff in her beach cart, and walk to her local beach.  (Seriously, how lucky is Rebecca to have this beautiful waterfront just a few blocks away?)

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At first, Nugget wasn’t too sure about this.  But soon, Pisces that he is, he was splashing and playing harder than anyone else in the waves.

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Peanut, meanwhile, picked up right where she left off after our trip to the Outer Banks last year: total beach bum.  I was worried that she might have some of her old fear of the water, but I shouldn’t have been concerned at all.

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After a very stressful summer – between closing my files and finishing up at my old job, and then the move, I felt as though I’d been wound tighter than a Swiss watch for months – it felt fantastic to collapse into the sand and watch my babies running, playing and splashing with their aunt.  And to know that we had an entire week of beach fun ahead of us – annnnnd, exhale.

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More to come!

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