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Ready or not, it’s summer!  Longtime readers may recall that summer and fall are pretty much neck-and-neck for my favorite season, so while I’m never jumping with joy at the passage of time, I’m usually at my most chipper when the calendar changes from spring to summer.  Let’s get the fun underway!  With Memorial Day Weekend behind us, summer is officially upon us and it’s time to take one last look at the old spring list before turning attention to sunshine and sand and messing about in boats.  Here’s how the spring shook out.

  • Take the kids to see the cherry blossoms in bloom by the Potomac.  We didn’t actually do this, but I’m going to call it done, because we made it out for several other local flower events – including tulip picking on Easter Sunday and a hike through the Virginia Bluebells on another weekend.  I’d have loved to get them to the cherry blossoms too, but they definitely experienced the glory of spring flowers in northern Virginia.

  • Plant a container garden with Peanut.  (I want to grow tomatoes, herbs and salad greens.  She wants to grow roses.  We’ll probably grow both.)  Check!  Patio garden is underway, things are actually growing, and I’ve only snorted cayenne pepper once.  (#blackthumb #teachablemoment)

  • Get our back patio set up and start grilling and eating outdoors regularly.  This is half done.  The back patio is set up – complete with container garden, sand box, grill and dining table – and we’ve been hanging out and enjoying it plenty.  But we haven’t gotten the grill cleaned up just yet.  It’s on the agenda, and soon, because I refuse to go another warm season without regular al fresco dinners.

  • Re-read Anne of Green Gables (my beautiful new Folio Society edition!).  Done!  This one’s not difficult – I’m always glad to visit with Anne, and especially when I get to do so through the vehicle of a beautiful new clothbound hardcover from Folio Society.  Yes, please!
  • Take at least one adults-only hike – either the Billy Goat Trail in Maryland, or possibly an Adirondack hike?  Didn’t happen, but I have high hopes for the summer!
  • Spring cleaning!  Get the house in order and feeling fresh.  Well, this was never going to get completely done, but I’m crossing it off because we did get the house in order.  The living spaces are all unpacked – finally! – and I’ve deep-cleaned the front porch and done a ton of airing out the house and dusting away the winter.
  • Do another Whole 30 (I’ve already started this).  Done!  I wasn’t as disciplined as I usually am, but it was still a good thing to do.  I’d love to squeeze one more round in before summer wedding season – we’ll see.

  • Go rock-climbing.  Done!  I took a belay certification course at Earth Treks Crystal City in March and had a wonderful time.  I’ve decided to push off the actual test until I have more time to practice the knots, but I’m hoping to get back to the gym for some bouldering in the meantime.  It’s hard to make the time, but I’m always happy when I go.

  • Finally unpack and organize my books.  Done!  Reunited and it feels so GOOD!  It was a family effort, but Steve got my books out from the dusty corner of the basement where the movers inexplicably decided they belonged (grrrrr) and I spent a weekend sorting through them, making a huge pile for donation to the library (since completed) and organizing and shelving the keepers.  I am like that hearts-for-eyes emoji every time I look at my shelves now.
  • Take a weekend getaway somewhere – Chincoteague, maybe?  Or Annapolis?  Or Little Washington again?  Didn’t happen.  A busy spring at work, coupled with a lot of travel on the agenda for summer and fall, had us sticking closer to home.  We’ll make up for it the rest of the year!

All-in-all, I’m really pleased with the way the spring went.  Considering how busy things were at work, and how stressed out we were about some outside-work situations, I’m impressed that we were able to do anything.  We stuck close to home for the most part – the travel that I was hoping for didn’t happen – but around the house and our home base in NoVA, we got a lot done and had a delightful time with all of it.  Spring is usually one of our crazier seasons, between heavy workloads and – in recent years – wrapping up the school year.  So I’m looking forward to a nice long summer full of fun and adventure.

How was your spring?

 

Happy new week, friends.  How was everyone’s weekend?  Mine was a bit of a roller coaster.  Steve has been gone since Thursday for a boys’ weekend (a very looooooooong weekend) so it’s been me all alone, juggling school and nanny drop-offs and pick-ups, running to and from work, and managing the kids without another adult to help (or sympathize) in the evenings and all weekend.  We had a fun Saturday – I might be insane, but I took them to the zoo, and they had a blast.  We visited all of our friends – lions, tigers, great apes, pandas, elephants, seals and sea lions, you name it – and they had a fabulous time running around in the splash pad near the pinnipeds, now that the water is on for the season (yay!).  To pay me back for that fun day, the universe thought it would be amusing to throw me a curve, and I spent Sunday going insane at home, trying to care for a sick preschooler and a toddler who was climbing the walls.  My strategy with Nugget is to keep him on the go as much as possible; it’s the only way he can get his energy out in a small living space without driving everyone else nuts.  On a normal weekend, if Peanut was under the weather I’d leave her home with Steve and take Nugget out to the playground or the pool to work off his antsies.  But since I was all alone, he couldn’t go out and he had to be a little bit patient, and, well, he’s two.  I did a lot of deep breathing.  Anyway, Steve is getting home today and we sure will be glad to have his help around the house again.

   

Reading.  With all that going on, you’ll not be surprised to hear it has been a slow reading week.  I finished A Traveller in Time on the last day of May, and it was a lot of fun.  (You know I have a weakness for time travel books!)  Over the weekend I also finished Hope in the Dark, which I’ve been reading on my phone in fits and starts for a couple of months now.  Reading on my phone gives me terrible headaches, so I rarely do it, but it happened that iBooks had the best price on Hope, and my library didn’t have a copy.  I never enjoy books I read on my phone as much as books I read in other formats – physical book or kindle – probably because I have to read them in such tiny, choppy reading sessions thanks to my headaches.  Anyway, I finished it.  The rest of my reading time this week, which hasn’t exactly been ample, has been devoted to Commonwealth.  It’s due back to the library tomorrow and has a months-long waiting list (I know, because I waited months for it) so I have to churn it out.  I’m close to being done; one more evening should set me up.  So I think I’ll get it returned on time.  Whew.

Listening.  Since I’ve been car-commuting for a few days, and have had headaches which kept me from reading on the metro other days, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with my earbuds.  I’m listening to Alyssa Mastromonaco’s memoir of her time in the White House, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, on Audible.  The audiobook is read by the author and has been fascinating.  Although I live in northern Virginia and work in Washington, D.C., I’m about as far from a political insider as you can get.  Mastromonaco’s memoir – so far – has been unspeakably cool.

Watching.  Before Steve left for Texas, he and I finished up the 2015 season of The Great British Baking Show and moved on to the first episode of the 2016 season.  We’re still totally obsessed.  But I’m kind of ready to be done with the Netflix seasons, so I can go back to reading every evening.  I haven’t turned the TV on in the last five days – I never watch it if Steve isn’t home – and it’s been nice to spend time reading and chatting on the phone to friends.

Moving.  It’s been another dud of a week, with the exception of Saturday.  Spending the morning dragging a large wagon with sixty combined pounds of child riding inside is challenging on flat terrain, and the National Zoo has hills, man.  It’s a serious workout.  With gorillas.

Blogging.  I am big into my seasonal lists this week – wrapping up spring on Wednesday, and sharing my summer list on Friday.  Spoiler: I actually checked off most of the items from my spring list.  I’m delighted!

Reflecting.  Like the rest of the world, I was saddened and horrified by the events in London.  I always find myself silent after world tragedies – afraid that anything I say will seem trite, or like politicizing a horrible event.  I just can’t find the right words.  But I am sending thoughts and prayers and hugs to a city that I love dearly – a city that has survived the worst time and time again and today is vibrant and teeming with life and joy.  London, you are loved and the world stands with you.

Asking.  What are you reading?

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 May, 2017

A Field Guide to Awkward Silences, by Alexandra Petri – Petri (“pea-try, like a vegetable that’s making an effort”) is a political humor and satire columnist for The Washington Post, a Congressman’s kid, a long-time Washingtonian, and seriously one of the funniest women alive.  She’s justifiably famous inside the Beltway and deserves to be better known outside.  Her book, A Field Guide to Awkward Silences, is her memoir of all the embarrassing things she’s done in less than 30 years on the planet – from winning an international pun championship to losing at Final Jeopardy with the question “Who is that dude?” – and it’s brilliant.

Barchester Towers (Chronicles of Barsetshire #2), by Anthony Trollope – Finally, after several times putting it aside in favor of pressing library deadlines, I was able to sit down with Barchester Towers and actually finish it.  As I knew I would, I loved it.  The continuation of the stories of Dr Grantly, Mr Harding, Eleanor and other old friends from The Warden – sprinkled in with wonderful new characters like the Proudies, the Stanhopes, and the Thornes – especially eccentric Miss Thorne! – was such a joy to read.  Many moments of humor and delight, coupled with a really engaging narrative, made for the perfect reading experience.  Loved, loved, loved, and can’t wait to pick up Doctor Thorne.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas – Well, The Hate U Give was pretty much the opposite of Barchester Towers, except that it was also a stunning reading experience.  Starr Carter is a sixteen-year-old girl who witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer.  Starr’s journey in coming to terms with her role as “the witness,” her devastation when a white friend suggests that the victim had it coming, her horror at the media and justice system’s treatment of her friend, and her gradual awakening into an activist role, makes for a gut-wrenching but absolutely necessary read.  Worth every bit of the hype.

Mother-Daughter Book Camp (Mother-Daughter Book Club #7), by Heather Vogel Frederick – I needed something a lot lighter after The Hate U Give, and a return to the Mother-Daughter Book Club seemed in order.  Frederick had previously said that book 6 would be the last book in the series, and I’m so glad she rethought that.  Mother-Daughter Book Camp is a wonderful and fitting end to a great reading journey.  Emma, Jess, Megan, Cassidy and Becca are off for a summer working as camp counselors before leaving for college, and the book club is reconvened as a perfect antidote to the homesickness some of their little campers feel.  We get to find out where each book clubber is headed for college, and to read one more book – Understood Betsy – in their company.  It was such a fun read, and a perfect send-off for the girls.

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang – So, this was an interesting read (although I was a bit too tired while reading it to keep up with all of the science of rest and the brain, which might have been a little bit ironic) but I don’t know how relevant it really was to my life.  Pang discusses the role that active and purposeful rest played in the careers of some of the most illustrious figures of the modern age – from Charles Darwin to famous composers to wildly successful entrepreneurs – and concludes that a morning routine of focused work, followed by an afternoon of focused rest (napping and walking around in nature while thinking deep thoughts) is the ideal formula for success and inspiration.  With sabbaticals every now and again, for an extra jolt of rest.  That’s true, I’m sure, but try telling that to your average law firm employer.  Interesting read, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to actually apply it and still meet my billable hour requirement.  No rest for the wicked, I guess!

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables #1), by L. M. Montgomery – It seemed like as good a time as any to revisit this childhood favorite.  After I watched (and balked at) the first episode of Anne With an E, I needed both a palate cleanser and a reminder of the book I really loved.  Plus, my spring list included a prompt to re-read Anne via my beautiful new Folio Society edition – no time like the present.  I love the Anne books, as you all know – so I don’t need to tell you about why they’re great.  But I can tell you (and I know this is a bit controversial) I thought the Folio Society editions were just lovely.  The “cartoonish” illustrations didn’t bother me one whit; I appreciated the riot of color and the great joy in the story that the artist portrayed.  Glad I took the plunge on the Anne collection from Folio (and I hope they continue on with all seven).

How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life, by Ruth Goodman – After reading and enjoying Goodman’s How to Be a Victorian, I immediately placed a library hold on How to Be a Tudor.  One really wants to be prepared for involuntary time-travel into any era, amiriteHow to Be a Tudor follows the same format as Victorian – starting with waking up, Goodman takes the reader through every moment of a typical Tudor day, discoursing along the way on everything from the best bed materials to how to lace a kirtle to what might be on the lunch table to why pop culture’s representations of Tudor dancing are off-base.  As expected, it was a bit of a dense read but good fun all around.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles – Towles’ sophomore novel follows Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced by the Bolshevik to house arrest in the grand Metropol hotel, over the tumultuous decades in the middle of the twentieth century in Moscow.  Count Rostov, an “unrepentant aristocrat,” is forced to live in a small attic room and confined to the hotel for decades.  In his new role, he meets an extraordinary cast of characters, takes a job as a waiter, becomes paramour to a famous actress and raises a young girl.  This was another one, like Barchester Towers, that I had to keep laying aside in favor of library deadlines, but when I finally had some breathing space I was able to finish it and just loved it.  The world of the Metropol is gorgeous and evocative, Count Rostov is a wonderful character, and I was truly moved by the lovely writing.

A Traveller in Time, by Alison Uttley – Another lovely edition of a children’s classic, brought out by the Folio Society!  Somehow, even though I love children’s classics and I love time travel books, this sweet story of a young country-house guest who finds herself transported back to Elizabethan times and involved in the Babington Plot (to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and place Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne – although, being a children’s novel, A Traveller in Time glosses over the assassination part of the plot and focuses pretty much exclusively on the liberation part) had passed me by up until now.  I read it slowly and allowed myself to be really deeply drawn into the beautifully-sketched period details – both in young Penelope’s home time period and in the Elizabethan period she repeatedly visits.  It was a delight and a joy – although laced throughout with foreboding, because of course both Penelope and the reader know that the Babington Plot is not going to work out for the plotters.  I can’t wait to share it with my little readers in a few years.

Some May!  It was a long month so it makes sense that I have a long list here.  But it was a great reading month; looking back over the list, I don’t see anything on here that I disliked.  A Gentleman in Moscow and Barchester Towers were probably the highlights, although A Traveller in Time was delightful, too, and Anne of Green Gables is always a good idea.  Next month, I have a pretty relaxed library schedule, so I hope to have even more time to read some of the books I’ve got in such pretty editions waiting on my shelves.  It’s summertime and the reading is easy – right?

What was the best thing you read in May?

Switching up the order of posts just a bit – I know that on Monday I told you that I’d have my May reading round-up for you today, and Memorial Day recap on Friday, but there’s one more day in May and I think I’m going to finish a book this evening.  So we’ll do the books on Friday, and instead talk long weekend fun today.  Prepare for a photo bomb!

We had a really nice one!  Unlike last year, we didn’t travel anywhere.  Instead, we opted to stick close to home and find ourselves some local fun.  Saturday morning found us heading out bright and early for Exploration Days, a toddler event at a lavender farm out in Loudoun County.

Exploration Days is an event led by April Schmidt of Nurturing Growth, a family health and wellness organization.  The event welcomed kids ages two to five (with their parents in tow!) to explore Seven Oaks Lavender Farm and learn about some of the plants and insects the call the farm home.

April handed out magnifying glasses to each of the kids and began the tour with the herb garden (which smelled incredible).

Nugget didn’t totally get the magnifying glass concept, but Peanut was way into it.  She spent several minutes looking through her “gold” magnifying class at a swallowtail caterpillar.

April also encouraged the kids to smell some of the herbs – including lemon balm and mint – growing in the raised beds.  Nugget enjoys smelling things, so he liked that part.  Then she led the group (it was just us and one other little girl with her mom) over to a blanket and taught everyone a song about the five senses.

Next, we headed out into the farm, while April continued to point out more interesting plants and insects!  Most of the lavender wasn’t in bloom yet – just one varietal was starting to purple – but the farm is opening officially for the season this weekend, so I think we may give it a week and then head back out there to do some lavender picking.

Even without lavender, the kids enjoyed exploring and running around the fields.  And there were other flowers in bloom!  How gorgeous are these red flowers?  #frontyardgoals.

Next, we sat down at long tables and the kids got the chance to decorate popsicle sticks to use as markers for their own little seeds, which they got to pot and take home.  Nugget had fun decorating the marker (while I hovered over him and repeatedly shouted “Not on the table!”) but he was sort of done with it once it came time to actually plant the seeds.

He dug in the potting mix while Steve helped Peanut fill up her little purple pot, and then April ended up planting a bean for him.

April even kindly added a trip to see the “tractor” (it was a lawn mower, I think?) on to the program, since Nugget talked about tractors the entire time.  He liked the tractor.  He liked the sand box even more, with its fleet of trucks.

They even had activities for Steve!  While Nugget dug in the sand box and Peanut played in the play house with the other little girl, Dad – okay, and Mom – fed the bunnies in the bunny pen.

GAHHHHHH THEY WERE SO CUTE.

(Don’t worry about these bunnies, by the way.  They’re just there for entertainment purposes, and at the end of the season they’ll go home with various farm visitors as pets.  Not food.)

Such a fun morning on the farm!  Thanks to April and Nurturing Growth for the event – we had a great time.  It’s actually rare to see an event that not only welcomes toddlers and preschoolers, but is actually designed for them.  April was fun and engaging with the little ones, didn’t bat an eye when someone (Nugget!) wandered off in the middle of her song, and knew when to cut it off and move on to the next activity before attention spans ran out.  Clearly, she’s got lots of experience with this demographic!  As parents who like to get our kids out and teach them about the world, but find it hard to find weekend events for little ones as young as ours are, we really appreciated April and everything that she arranged for the kids through Exploration Days.

Moving right along!  No weekend is complete without a trip to our favorite playground.  Sunday morning found us on the swings.

And the slide.

And the… steering wheel.

Then Daddy and Peanut joined us, and we made our way down to the river to check out Jones Point, a small NPS-managed park in Old Town (nestled right under the I-395 overpass).

When we moved away, Jones Point was just starting to come back into popularity.  The government did a big refurbishing effort and it’s now beautiful, but even though we live so close, it hadn’t occurred to us to check it out until one of the other dads at Peanut’s school mentioned to Steve that their family had been hanging out at Jones Point a lot recently.

The park occupies a green space down by the river, and there is also a big open area under the 395 overpasses.  It’s quieter than you would expect, and actually really cool to see the big bridges from underneath.  I was sort of skeptical about whether it would seem nice or not, but it did.

Although the overpass area was cool (and would be a great – safe – place to teach a kid to ride a bike, as several families were doing) we didn’t linger there.  Instead, we checked out the map and made our way to our first destination – the playground.  (Yep, second playground of the day.)

Peanut enjoyed it – she’s starting to get really good at climbing, thanks to the playground at school. Not that long ago, Steve or I would have been hovering underneath her, ready to catch her if she got tired and slipped off.  Not anymore!  She totally had it covered.  But this particular playground didn’t really have any equipment that was appropriate for Nugget, or that he could use.  He wandered around looking for something to do, made a run for it a couple of times, and then we left to look for something the whole family could enjoy together.

Like the Jones Point lighthouse.  When Steve suggested visiting Jones Point, I said, “That’s where the lighthouse is, right?”  He didn’t know what I was talking about, but – I was right!

The historic lighthouse is down by the river – and I think it would be really cool to see it from the water, and all lit up.  But seeing it from land, by day, was nice too.

We wandered down to get a closer look and check out the views of National Harbor.

So pretty!  From there, we headed off on a very short hike through the wooded area of Jones Point, and checked out the historic D.C., Maryland and Virginia boundary markers.  Jones Point was such a pretty park, with lots of fun different areas to enjoy.  I predict we’ll be spending a fair amount of time there this summer.

Not many pictures from Memorial Day itself, but – look who we spent it with!  Zan and Paul were in town.  Yay!  Zan joined us late morning, and Paul for lunch.  While we waited for Paul, the kids dragged Zan to their favorite playground and insisted she accompany them onto all the equipment.  She was a good sport!  From there we headed off to check out a Mexican restaurant for lunch, which was good, but not anything really special.  The company was really special, though!  We walked home, put the kids down for nap, and then spent a couple more hours chatting with Zan and Paul out on our back patio while the babies were asleep.  It was such a fun lunch/afternoon with friends that we don’t see nearly enough!

Zan and Paul left to go to a cookout with other friends just as our kids were waking up, so we headed out for more fun, since the weather was so gorgeous.  We tried the playground again, but there was a toy-snatching incident (Nugget’s favorite school bus was grabbed by another kid and I had to chase the kid all over the playground to get it back – his adult didn’t lift a finger to solve the problem, which annoyed me) so I took Nugget home early.  We met up with Dad and Peanut and headed down to the waterfront for some art appreciation (dinosaur and kitty paintings!) and dinner.

All in all, a fun and relaxing Memorial Day weekend with a good mix of kid activities and grown-up friend time.  Can’t beat that!

How was your Memorial Day weekend?

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?

Well, it’s time for a garden update and I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that the garden seems to be doing reasonably well – or at least, some of it does.  We’ve had a lot of rain recently and it’s making a big difference.

The bad news: to the extent the garden is thriving, it doesn’t seem to be to my credit, and if I decide to get involved with the care of a plant I seem to kill it.  Steve says that if I go against every single one of my natural instincts, I might still have a garden by the end of the season.  How’s that for a vote of confidence?

Flashback:

When I last left you, we’d gotten plants into three pots (which we moved from New York, much to Steve’s chagrin – they are heavy – because I love their colors).  Peanut and I planted lettuces in the big pot, beans in the medium pot and rosemary in the small pot.  We’d jumped the gun just a bit on buying our plants and hit the garden centers before many edibles were ready, with the result being that I had to buy something to avoid a preschooler meltdown.

Fast-forward a few weeks later.  Things were doing reasonably well, and the garden centers had more tomatoes and herbs, so I decided it was time to roll up my sleeves and really dig in.  (#gardenpun).  I visited Lowes and picked up a couple more pots, which I am hoping are big enough for tomatoes.  (Some quick internet research indicated that tomato plants need a fairly large pot for their root systems.)

And that’s when I made my first mess.  I decided to move some plants into pots that were more appropriately sized for them – planting things in the wrong-sized pots was a planning fail to begin with, but see above – I just had to go with it and buy the plants too early, to avoid a preschooler tantrum, and things ended up in poorly sized plants as a result.  Yeah, I suppose I could have put more thought into it in the first place and then I wouldn’t have had these problems.  Well – whatever.

It started out okay.  I moved the rosemary into the medium-sized pot and added some newly acquired parsley and thyme, and planted mint in the small pot (so it could be alone).  But in order to do so, I had to move the beans, and that’s where things started to fall apart.  I tried to untangle the bean plant from the trellis (which was too small) and I ended up killing the poor thing – look how sad it is after I replanted it in the barrel and tried transferring it to the Ultimate Tomato Cage.  Whoops.

Other failures of this iteration of the garden – the lettuce bolted, and someone ate all of the leaves off my purple Thai basil and tormented the poor thing until it gave up the ghost.  I was blaming squirrels (read on) but Steve mentioned he’s also seen some black birds lurking around my pots.  Sounds like I might need a scarecrow.

On to Act III of this little play.  I made yet another trip to the garden center after the weather had warmed up a bit, and picked up more tomatoes and herbs.  I grabbed some more mint to add to my mint pot (now I have a mix of chocolate mint and julep mint in there – yum) and another basil plant to plop in my tomato pots.  The herbs are looking decently well.  We’ve had a ton of rain recently and they’re loving it.

Also looking well – my original tomatoes!  The plants have shot up and I’ve even spotted a few yellow blossoms.  For awhile, the leaves were looking a little brown and sad, but all the recent rain has really helped.  And the beans that Peanut brought home from school, which Steve planted and then I moved.  Why am I so trigger-happy when it comes to moving plants around?  No wonder I have a black thumb.  I need to learn to leave well enough alone.  Thankfully, the beans seem to be happy enough in their new pot, which they’re sharing with some more tomatoes I picked up from the garden center last weekend.  I wanted lettuce, but the garden center was pretty much out, and the few plants they had left looked sort of sad to me.  So I decided – this is going to be a tomato and herb garden this year.  Farmers’ market lettuce for everyone!

A few more tomato plants – I spy lots more yellow blossoms and a few little green fruits!  I totally cheated and bought a couple of plants that already had fruits.  Hey, I’m trying to set myself up for success here.  I bought Rapunzel, Fantastico, and Green Zebra tomatoes in addition to the cherry variety I was already growing.  It’s going to be all tomatoes, all the time this year. 

Bringing me to my second “don’t be like me” tip.  So, remember how I said I thought I was having a squirrel problem?  We do have a lot of squirrels in our neighborhood, and they’re hardcore, bold urban squirrels with no respect for people’s property.  So I googled “how to repel squirrels from garden” and came up with a few tips, including – cayenne pepper.  Apparently, they don’t like the smell.  (Of course, the same website also said they don’t like the smell of mint, and something was digging up my mint plants.  In thinking about it – maybe Steve is right, and the problem is crows, not squirrels.)  Anyway, I decided to give cayenne a try, and on Tuesday morning before I left for a business trip, I traipsed out my back door in my slippers with a jar of cayenne in hand, which I proceeded to sprinkle all over the soil.  It definitely looked intimidating.  Then I thought to myself, “This cayenne is pretty old.  I wonder if it’s potent enough to repel the squirrels.”  I leaned down, took a whiff, and… HOLY $(@*$&%(#(#& IT IS POTENT ENOUGH TO REPEL SQUIRRELS OH GOD #@@)%*@#&$.

Gardening pro tip!  Snorting cayenne pepper hurts like a mofo!  Don’t do it!

And if you don’t know, now you know.

Last thing – while I’m telling you about all this other garden equipment I’ve been acquiring – plants, pots, cayenne pepper… there was one item that has proven to be absolutely necessary.  If I didn’t want that happy little dude to dig up my plants, fling soil around the patio and dump handfuls of gravel over my most delicate herbs – all of which was happening – some sort of distraction was needed.  Enter the sandbox!  I’d been meaning to get one for awhile but was hung up on finding the best safe sand.  I finally found an acceptable option (Sandtastik, for my mom friends who might be in the market) and as for the box itself – well, clearly I had to go for the Fisher Price turtle.  Can’t beat a classic, amirite?  Both kids love it, and more importantly, so far, the sandbox seems to be fulfilling its purpose of distracting Nugget and keeping him out of the garden.  Of course, now every surface in the house and on the patio is covered with a layer of sand.  You can’t win them all.

Gardening friends: have you planted yet?  How’s it going?  Have you also snorted cayenne pepper in an effort to repel squirrels?

Starting off a new year, I’m always full of plans and goals – some involving books, some involving the (less important) rest of life.  Often, I set a number of books I’d like to read – usually 100, since I’ve found that’s where I naturally fall when left to my own devices.  (Sometimes my total is in the high nineties, some times a little over one hundred.)  I might occasionally add a goal to read a certain number of classics, since I love them – they’re my comfort reading – but can tend to get distracted by new releases.

Goal #1 – Read Diversely

Last year, I set a goal of reading at least 33% books by diverse authors – people of color, LGBT authors, Muslims, and other underrepresented groups.  I ended up with just a hair over 40% and was very happy with my result.  This year, I set the goal of 33% again and, as of the time of this posting, was hovering around 39%, which I think is quite good, considering I haven’t been as diligent about it this year as I was last year.

Last year, I built myself a nice cushion in February – Black History Month – by declaring that I would only read books by African or African-American authors.  I had a wonderful month of reading and it helped put me over the top at the end of the year.  This year, I wasn’t able to do that, thanks to library deadlines resulting from some overeager hold-placing.  (Oops.)  But I seem to be doing okay anyway!

My total was also helped last year by listening to the All the Books! podcast.  Liberty and Rebecca are great about recommending diverse books and I checked out quite a few books by people of color on their recommendation.  I’ve since stopped listening to the podcast, mainly because my podcatcher is full already, and I want to have some time for audiobooks, so I’ve trimmed my subscriptions down to just my very favorites.  But if I get to fall and my diverse books percentage isn’t good, I may add them back into my rotation.

Favorite diverse books of the year (so far): The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas; Code Talker, by Chester Nez; March: Book 3, by Representative John Lewis; and In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, by Diane Guerrero.

Goal #2: Project 24

Did I mention I was trying to do Project 24 this year?  (I think I did – but to be perfectly honest, I can’t be bothered to go back and check my old posts.)  Anyway, for the uninitiated, Project 24 is the brainchild of Simon from Stuck in a Book (who also happens to host my favorite podcast, Tea or Books?).  The idea is to buy only twenty-four books in a calendar year – so, a pace working out to two per month.  This may sound like a lot of books still, but I assure you, for the ardent bibliophile, it is not.

Two books per month is the pace I try to hold to every year, but as you know, I have quite a few exceptions.  This year, however, I am not using my exceptions – I am strictly and diligently holding to twenty-four books for the year, and feeling quite disciplined and pleased with myself.

Of course, the truth of the matter is, this project is backfiring on me just a little.  Restricting myself from buying books when I want them, unless it’s a new calendar month, is allowing me to make excuses for buying fancy Folio Society hardcovers when I do purchase a book.  It’s entirely possible that Project 24 may not end up saving me money.  But I’ll have to wait for the end of the year to make that judgment.

So, what have I bought?

  • The Red House Mystery, by A.A. Milne (Folio Society)
  • The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge (Folio Society)
  • Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery (Folio Society)
  • Anne of Avonlea, by L.M. Montgomery (Folio Society)
  • Envelope Poems, by Emily Dickinson (The Gorgeous Nothings)
  • Mary Barton, by Elizabeth Gaskell (Folio Society)
  • Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell (Folio Society)
  • North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell (Folio Society)
  • Anderby Wold, by Winifred Holtby (Virago)
  • The Land of Green Ginger, by Winifred Holtby (Virago)

So, as you can see – ten books by May, right on track.  And all but three of them are Folio Society products.  (If I ever get loose in the Folio Society bookshop – look out, world.  It’s a good thing the shop is in London.)

For the rest of the year – I have my eye on completing the Elizabeth Gaskell set (three down, two – Sylvia’s Lovers and Ruth – to go), and on the Folio Once and Future King.  All three are no longer available from the publisher, so I’ve been stalking AbeBooks.  I’d also love to add some of the Furrowed Middlebrow books to my shelves, the gorgeous Mary McCarthy and Sarah Orne Jewett compilations from Library of America, some Persephone Classics, and some more Trollope.  So I suppose I’ll have some decisions to make…

Have you set any bookish goals for 2017?  How are they going?