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Confession: I’m a total sucker for Facebook clickbait about fun things to do in northern Virginia.  I follow a bunch of NoVA tourism accounts and I can reliably be counted on to click every link that begins with a sentence like “7 THINGS EVERY VIRGINIAN MUST DO AT LEAST ONCE” or “TOP 10 BEST VIRGINIA TOWNS FOR SUMMER ADVENTURE.”  You get the picture.  Well, I guess it’s not clickbait if it actually leads to an amazing hike, right?  Because when the headline “VIRGINIA’S SECRET GARDEN TRAIL” popped up at me over the winter, obviously I clicked on it – and discovered a hidden gem.

Tucked away in Centreville, Virginia is Bull Run Regional Park.  And tucked away in Bull Run Regional Park is the Bluebell Loop Trail, which most of the year is just a nice pleasant meander through the woods, but which becomes a riot of color and glory for a couple of weeks in early to mid-April, when the bluebells are blooming.  Which they are.  Right now.  So – here’s your PSA: if you are local to D.C., drop everything and go do this hike right now.  I’ll wait.

I did extensive research to determine which weekend would be the best for viewing the bluebells at their most glorious, and determined that last weekend seemed like the choice.  A quick call over to the park confirmed the decision – a ranger informed me that the bluebells were blooming by Wednesday and would be at peak over the weekend.  Thanks – we’ll see you then!

Peanut wanted to walk, and she actually did most of the trail on foot – good girl!  And even better, she was very well-behaved and did not pick a single flower, which I know was just killing her.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The trail picks up with a little jaunt over a boardwalk – no bluebells in sight just yet.  We were pretty sure that we were going the right way, though, thanks to the excellent signage.  We enjoyed listening to frogsong in the wetlands, and Nugget pointed out several logs that he was convinced were alligators.

And then – all of a sudden, out of nowhere – bluebells!

They were literally everywhere you looked.  The entire forest floor was carpeted in bluebells, bluebells as far as the eye could see.  We all stopped in our tracks and just gaped.

I assure you, these pictures do absolutely no justice to the pure, unadulterated glory of this trail.  I’ve never seen anything like it – even the hill by my parents’ camp, which is carpeted in periwinkles in the summer, couldn’t compete.  I’m convinced there is a corner of Heaven that looks just. like. this.

Peanut was in her element.  She absolutely loves flowers.  She pranced down the trail shouting “FLOWER PETALS, this is beautiful!” while Nugget repeated “FLOWER PETALS!” from the backpack like a little echo.

I was very proud that she didn’t pick a single one, though.  We practice “leave no trace” on our hikes – leave nothing but footprints; take nothing but photographs – and I knew that was going to be a challenge this time.  Peanut has a case of sticky fingers when it comes to flowers.  It’s sweet, because she wants to pick them for me, but we can’t encourage it.  After she came home with a big bouquet of stolen daffodils from the school garden (but really, who let her in there unsupervised?) we had to talk to her about making sure she asks permission before picking a bouquet for Mommy, as much as Mommy loves flowers too.

But she was a good girl, and she had an absolute ball.

So did someone else.  Little dude was pretty good about not clamoring to be let out of the backpack – I think it helped that we kept up a pretty good clip, and that there was so much to see – lots of birds, dogs, and of course all the flowers.

I couldn’t stop snapping pictures.  I knew that my photos were a very poor shadow of what was actually all around me, but I couldn’t help myself.

Seriously – what a gorgeous hike.  As we walked along, eyes popping out of our heads at the beauty all around us, I told Steve that I thought this was the best hike we’ve done all year.  He replied, “It’s one of the best hikes we’ve done ever.”  I agreed – some hikes, you just know when your boots hit the trail, are hikes for the ages. Hall Ranch  in Lyons; Bear Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park; the Adirondack high peaks; pretty much every Great Falls hike ever – and the Bluebell Trail.

We made it back to the car drunk on spring beauty.  Some of us were so overcome that we had to eat our zippers.  (Not naming names, but…)

Bull Run, thank you for a perfect morning.  We’ll be back before long, because this is certainly a park to experience in all seasons.  But next spring – and every spring, as long as we live here – will find us on the Bluebell Loop Trail, because glory like this must be savored and savored again.

What’s your quintessential spring hike?

Don’t tell me it’s really Monday already.  No, don’t.  I can’t heeeeeeeeeear you – la la la!  Okay, fine.  I admit it.  It’s really Monday and I still need a weekend.  Last week was insane – and I know I keep saying that, but last week seemed worse than usual.  I billed 59.25 hours by Friday and I was so exhausted and loopy enough that I seriously thought about tacking on another 0.75 just to make it an even 60.  Law firm life is making me weird.  On top of it being busy, it was a really frenetic week, involving a couple of very high profile, very high stress, very rush projects and some family nonsense that was distracting me from work right when I could least afford to be distracted.  All that’s to say – by Friday I was seriously ready for a break.  And even though I could certainly have come up with work tasks to do this weekend, I didn’t – I figured I’d billed plenty last week (ha!) and I needed to let my mind relax as much as possible, to get some stuff done around the house (I made a lot of progress on unpacking the bedroom – almost there!), and mostly – to enjoy some time with my little family.  So that’s what we did.  Saturday found us at Mount Vernon checking out all that spring brings to the farm – which is a LOT.  I have a post coming at you next week, but a little preview: PIGLETS.  You’re intrigued, aren’t you?  Sunday brought another adventure – our April hike, which was one of the most gorgeous hikes we’ve ever done – sneak preview above.  I’ll have a big recap for you on Wednesday; I’m doing things a little out of order, but this one deserves to be bumped to the head of the posting line.  I won’t say more, except this: local friends, GET THEE TO THE BLUEBELL TRAIL RIGHT FREAKING NOW.

  

Reading.  What with that whole 60 hour workweek and personal stress and all, I had a bit of a mini reading slump last week.  (And because every time I say I’m in a reading slump, five people ask me if I’m pregnant: I’m not.)  I finished A Circle of Quiet on Monday, which was beautiful, moving and thought-provoking – and then I wandered aimlessly though my book stacks for the next few days, picking things up and putting them down.  I finally committed to The Princess Diarist, because (1) it was a two-week library book; and (2) I was curious about “Carrison.”  Then picked up Does Jesus Really Love Me?, with all the good intentions to finish it before the library deadline (which is Wednesday; I’m about halfway though it so wish me luck).  After I finish it, I’m not sure what I’m going to read next – I have a few books on the go, so will probably go back to one of those.  Or maybe Emily’s Quest.

Listening.  A bit of a slumpy week for listening, too.  The best thing I listened to was music – I know, you’re all falling out of your chairs right now.  I treated myself to a double CD compilation of cello and piano sonatas played by Jacqueline du Pre and Daniel Barenboim – it had been on my Amazon wish list FOREVER.  I have several other CDs with du Pre, but none that included Barenboim.  Anyway, so lovely.  Aside from that, I cleaned up my podcatcher – nothing earth-shattering there – and listened to a bit more of The Once and Future King, but found I was having trouble concentrating on anything because my brain was just fried.  I’ll go back to it soon.

Watching.  Actually, nothing.  Last week I worked every night after the kids’ bedtimes, so there were no shows.  And I was too exhausted for TV over the weekend – I just needed to let my mind breathe.

Moving.  No running this week – when was I going to fit that in?  I think I’m going to have to make my peace with not running the Parkway Classic.  At this point, I can’t train to run ten miles.  Maybe I’ll see about dropping down to the 5K.  I did get in two nice walks – around Mount Vernon on Saturday, and our bluebell hike on Sunday (which I really can’t wait to tell you all about) so at least I did something.

Blogging.  April hike recap coming at you on Wednesday – it was such a good one, you guys – and another Robert Frost poem on Friday.  Check back!

Loving.  At some point last week – between running around like a crazy person and working from sunup to sundown – I found THE BEST blog.  It’s called NOVAdventuring, and it’s exactly what I have been looking for – a clearinghouse of the best family-friendly activities and adventures in northern Virginia and the greater D.C. area.  I’ve already bookmarked several posts for summer fun and am slowly working my way through the archives in search of more ideas.  I suspect that quite a few of our spring and summer excursions are going to owe their inspiration to this blog.

Asking.  What are you up to this week?

Happy National Poetry Month, my friends!  This is one of my favorite ways to welcome spring, and each year I focus on a different poet and spend a month with their words.  This year, instead of discovering a new-to-me poet, I’m craving some time with an old favorite – my first favorite, in fact – the first poet I read in school, whose bright and soft words about nature influenced my tastes and showed me what spoke to me at a formative time in my reading life: Robert Frost.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

in the rain-
darkness,     the sunset
being sheathed I sit and
think of you

the holy
city which is your face
your little cheeks the streets
of smiles

your eyes half-
thrush
half-angel and your drowsy
lips where float flowers of kiss

and
there is the sweet shy pirouette
your hair
and then

your dancesong
soul.     rarely-beloved
a single star is
uttered,and i

think
of you

~e.e. cummings

Gooooooooood Monday morning, my friends!  Weekends good?  Ours was, but I could really use another day.  I’m working on a big, complicated, slightly oddball work project and ended up putting in time on it on both Saturday and Sunday.  I’d have liked a weekend to decompress and turn off the work brain – I’ve been going pretty much nonstop for two months now – well, maybe next weekend.  (Actually, we’re targeting next weekend for our spring cleaning.  So here’s hoping I don’t end up bringing work home.)  I squeezed the work in while the kids were asleep – waking up early and working during naptime – and when they were awake, we were either out playing or running errands.  Nugget and I took a lovely long walk on Saturday afternoon while Peanut enjoyed an extended nap (must be nice) and saw several fire trucks, which never gets old.  On Sunday morning, Peanut’s BFF and her parents came over for a Moana viewing – I made popcorn and tropical fruit salad, plus a frittata for the grownups.  The kiddos had a fabulous time (and I think all the grownups did too).  And now it’s Monday – here we go again.

 

Reading.  Kind of a slow reading week – I didn’t actually finish anything in print.  That’s partly due to continued Metro woes, partly to more driving around (another client visit last week) and partly to my own mental fatigue from working crazy hours for two months straight (and through a couple of stressful situations).  I have really been enjoying Barchester Towers, and am SO glad I finally tossed the library books aside and went for it.  When I wasn’t in Barchester last week, I made some good progress on A Circle of Quiet, but I’m still reading it slowly because I want to give it my full attention and not miss a word.  I’ll probably go back to the library stack once I finish at least one of those two, but I am trying hard not to check too many books out of the library.  I really want to read more from my own shelves.

Listening.  Again, hand-in-hand with the light reading week goes a heavy listening week – thanks to crowded trains and one long driving day.  I made it through my podcatcher and back to Audible in just a few days; that never happens.  Listened to the entire audiobook of The Body in the Library over just a few days.  Next up, I’ve started The Once and Future King, which is 33 hours long, so expect to see more mentions of that in coming weeks.

Watching.  More Moana.  We watched snippets of the movie over the course of the week, and of course had our matinee party with our friends on Sunday – too much fun.  Peanut has taken to “sailing” on her bed (which is now a “canoe”).  Other than Moana, I haven’t had time for much television, but I did watch half of North and South on Netflix on Friday before the show disappeared, and liked it so much (Richard Armitage!!!!!) that I ordered the DVD from Amazon.  So I’ll finish that at some point over the course of this week.

Moving.  I decided to jettison the “making” category, because I kept writing “work product” – let’s be honest, no one wants to hear me gripe that much (sorry, y’all).  But I always try to keep moving.  Of course I was short on time this week, so all I managed was a few walks with Nugget – but they were nice long walks around the neighborhood and down to the river.  Next week, hoping I manage to squeeze in some running.  If I’m going to run the Parkway Classic at the end of the month, it’s now or never!

Blogging.  All poetry, all the time this month!  I’ve got an e.e. cummings poem for you on Wednesday – it wouldn’t be National Poetry Month without him – and then I’ll tell you who I’ve picked as my poet to read this month on Friday.  Hint: an old favorite!

Asking.  What’s up with you this week?

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 March, 2017

How to Be A Victorian, by Ruth Goodman – I’ve been feeling more sparks of interest in the Victorians than I usually do, and this fascinating and fun non-fiction look into a Victorian day definitely hit the spot.  I love histories that focus on the quotidian, like Jane Austen’s England or The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, and this was a good example.  Starting with rising from bed and working all the way through every ritual of the day, Goodman gives attention to every social class and walk of life, and leaves no large issue or trivial matter undiscussed.  History nerds, don’t miss this one.

Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir of One of the Original Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez – Another historical non-fiction pick.  I’ve been fascinated by the Navajo Code Talkers and their role in winning World War II for a long time, and even more so after visiting the International Spy Museum and hearing the code for myself.  It’s such a fascinating, thrilling story and I loved reading Nez’s life story and about his war experiences.  I was amazed at how readily he and the other Code Talkers volunteered, and how deeply they cherished their country, even after the U.S. government had put them and their families through terrible tragedies.  (Nez witnessed the massacring of his family’s livestock, which wiped out generations of wealth and became one of the great tragedies of the Navajo people.)  Truly, they are American heroes.

The Hopefuls, by Jennifer Close – It’s 2009, Barack Obama has just become President of the United States, and Beth has just moved to Washington, D.C. from New York with her husband Matt, a native Marylander who has taken a job in the White House Counsel’s office.  Beth struggles to find her way inside the Beltway but feels a fish out of water – until she and Matt meet Jimmy and Ashleigh.  Jimmy works for the White House, too, and Ashleigh and Beth become fast friends.  But as Jimmy rises through the political ranks, jealousies threaten the friendship in several ways.  So – I liked this.  One of my pet peeves is D.C. novels that get D.C. details wrong – this didn’t do that.  You can tell that the author lives in D.C. and actually knows the city.  (In fact, she teaches writing at GW, where I went to law school.)  But the characters sort of frustrated me.  Jimmy seemed like a slimeball, Matt got obsessed with work (and a little bit with Jimmy), and Beth just seemed very passive.  I felt sorriest for Ashleigh.  I could tell (spoiler alert) that something was going to happen between Jimmy and Beth when the author started painting Ashleigh as an insipid gossip, which seemed clearly designed to turn the reader to Beth’s side.  That line doesn’t really work on me; I just ended the book feeling that Ashleigh was the only adult in the room – and that certainly wasn’t how I started it.

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang – After reading Yang’s Boxers and Saints duology, and loving it, I was very interested to pick up more of his work.  American Born Chinese follows three characters – the Monkey King, Jin, and Danny – until their stories intersect in a bit of magical realism… or maybe just magic.  It was a fun and quick read, and I can imagine that Yang’s work must mean a lot to young readers from Asian-American families, looking for representation in literature and graphic novels.

Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly – Until Hidden Figures came out, I, like most people – I believe – had never heard the story of the black women who worked as “computers” at NASA’s Langley facility, or of their amazing contributions to the World War II victory and to the fledgling space program.  It was a fascinating history of a group of unsung heroes – heroines, as a matter of fact – and their fights to be recognized as equals in the workplace, to be given the proper accolades for their work, and to advance on the career ladder as white men simply expected to do.  It was wonderful, I loved every second, and now I want to see the movie.

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy (Maggie Hope #2), by Susan Elia MacNeal – Maggie Hope, erstwhile secretary to Mr. Churchill, has basically flunked out of spy school because she’s physically wimpy.  Not to worry, because MI-5 has a special job for her (which won’t require her to run or jump over fences or climb walls).  Maggie is placed at Windsor Castle where she is posing as maths tutor to young Princess Elizabeth, after the spy agency receives intelligence that she might be the target of a kidnapping plot.  I am really enjoying this series and watching Maggie grow in her skills and confidence.

Middlemarch, by George Eliot – I have been listening to the audiobook version of Middlemarch, on and off, since last summer – and I finally finished it!  I read the print version a few years ago and was blown away by George Eliot’s intricate world and her breathing characters, and all that shines through on audio as well – thanks in no small part to Juliet Stevenson’s perfect narration.  Stevenson really amplified all the best things about the book; I found Mr Brooke a comic delight, Mary Garth an absolute joy, Dorothea a heroine, and Celia surprisingly funny.  At 35 hours, the audiobook was a major commitment, but as with the print version I found I sunk into it and looked forward to my listening sessions as a return to what is now a beloved place.

Emily Climbs (Emily #2), by L.M. Montgomery – I’m still loving contributing to the #ReadingEmily hashtag on Twitter, and reading several new blogs I’ve found through the best readalong ever (thanks again, Naomi, for hosting!).  You can read my thoughts on the second installment in Emily’s adventures here, and I also share the short sentence that made more of an impression on me than anything else I’ve ever read, and that has been a guiding force in my life since childhood.  L.M. Montgomery was my favorite author when I was a young reader, and she still holds a top place in my heart and on my bookshelves.  (For some great discussion, I urge you to check out the #ReadingEmily hashtag on Twitter, and read the fabulous blog posts the ladies are sharing over there.  This post is too long for a linkfest, but be assured – they’re all well worth your time!)

Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I picked this very slim volume up for the Book Riot Challenge of 2017 (read a book with a Central or South American setting, by a Central or South American author) and I found it engaging and well-written, but not quite up to the standard of One Hundred Years of Solitude.  It probably still isn’t, but I revised my opinion when I read some critical commentary suggesting that it was an allegory of Jesus and the Passion – I’m a bit dense about religious themes in literature; I can follow them if someone tells me they’re there, but I rarely spot them myself – and after I discovered that, I appreciated the story much more.  At only 120 pages, it’s a very short time commitment and definitely worth the read.

The More of Less, by Joshua Becker – As part of my ongoing effort to right-size my life (a very slow process indeed) I have been seeking out writings from self-identified minimalists, and Becker is a great example.  I read his book, Simplify, to start off the year, and have made my way through his blog archives.  The More of Less, I listened to on audio, read by the author, and I found it useful and enjoyable.  Becker shares more practical tips than he does in Simplify or on his blog, and I found the book to be a good mix of those tips, more general inspiration, and Becker’s own minimalist story.  I think I’m going to have to chart my own minimalist path, but I do like Becker’s laid-back approach and his realistic acknowledgement of the challenges of being a minimalist with kids in the house.

Well, that was quite the busy March.  I was on the go rather a lot for work – hence the two audiobooks; that’s a bit unusual for me – so I’m really very pleased to have finished ten books over the course of the month.  Emily Climbs, Hidden Figures and Middlemarch were probably the highlights, although I really enjoyed everything that I read in March.  Looking ahead to April, I’ve got four books on the go at the moment, so certainly there’s no sign of slowing down.  I’ve been craving more classics, so I think that’s where I’ll be focusing my attention for a little while.

What was the best thing you read in March?

A March hike that is really more of a walk is apparently a tradition with this project.  When we did it last in 2015, Nugget had just joined us on the outside and our “hike” was pushing a stroller around paved roads.  This time, we just struck out on finding anything more challenging than mulch – but we had fun and we moved our legs in nature, so I’m saying it counts!

Our main purpose in picking the National Arboretum was to hit up Saturday’s native plants sale.  I had the idea that I might be able to pick something up for my garden.  What I learned was – and all you master gardeners, don’t laugh at me – native plants does not mean edible plants.  Other than a blueberry bush (that I wanted, but Steve reasonably pointed out would probably outgrow our patio space) there was nothing.  Oh, well.

They were still pretty!

After the plant sale, we hit the National Herb Garden for some inspiration, and then made our way around the rose garden as well.  Nothing in bloom, really, other than a few early season flowers (the blizzard two weeks ago really messed up our spring).

Peanut insisted on being let down to smell everything in the perfume garden.  This point is pretty much when Nugget started clamoring to be released from the backpack, too.

After a slight detour to check out the daffodils and a flowering tree, we headed for the original Capitol columns.  Hands down the coolest sight in the Arboretum.

Bad back-lighting alert!

All the world’s a stage for Peanut, but certain places and spaces give more scope for her full range of dramatic expression.  Dramatic dancing and belting out pop songs commenced.

I attempted some artistic photography and failed miserably.

And all the while, the little dude was whining and complaining in my ear, kicking me and pulling my hair.  He thought it a spectacular injustice that his sister was running around treating the columns as her own personal Broadway stage, while he was still trapped in a backpack.

So this had to happen.  I didn’t mind, really – he weighs almost as much as Peanut, so I was starting to think it a bit unfair that Steve was getting in a nice easy walk with an empty backpack while I was hauling about thirty pounds.

Plus – they were ADORABLE.  I did have to pick Nugget up when a Meetup group for greyhounds and their parents came down the path.  Peanut had a ball greeting all the dogs (some of whom were taller than she is!) and charming the folks while Nugget was whimpering in my arms.  (He loves the idea of dogs but takes awhile to warm up to the reality, especially when it’s greyhound-sized.)

All in all – a lovely walk in the sunshine!  Not exactly the most challenging hike we’ve ever done, but there’s something to be said for a nice easy day on a paved trail, enjoying blossoming trees and blue skies.