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Oof.  Monday is back with a vengeance, huh?  After last weekend’s epic drive-a-thon, I really needed a relaxing weekend at home – and that didn’t quite work out.  Saturday was fun – we spent the morning at Apollo on the Move, a special one-day event at the Udvar-Hazy Center (an outpost of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum) in which the restoration hangar was thrown open to the public and we got to file past the actual Apollo 11 command module being restored.  That was amazing, and the sort of thing that you can often only see if you live here – just one of the many reasons I am grateful to live in the D.C. area.  After seeing Apollo 11 (so cool!) we spent the rest of the morning wandering around the hangar – we’ve been to Udvar-Hazy many times, but it never gets old.  The rest of the weekend was downhill from there.  Steve started to feel under the weather on Saturday afternoon, which meant I was the only whole parent and I juggled both kids the rest of the weekend – a job which included holding Nugget from 3:30 a.m. onwards on Sunday morning (he’s teething, and I didn’t want him to wake Dad).  Needless to say, I was a total zombie – a cranky one – all day on Sunday, and I sort of feel like I missed out on half my weekend.  I wanted to get a presentation written over the weekend, and that didn’t happen because I was so exhausted.  So – not the best, but I suppose it could have been worse.

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Reading.  It’s been a pretty good week in books.  Mid-week or so, I finally finished up How to Be a Victorian, which I really enjoyed even though it ended up taking me a week.  I would have liked to jump to some gentle fiction, but library deadlines were breathing down my neck, so I picked up Code Talker, a WWII memoir by one of the original 29 Navajo code talkers.  It was a breathtaking memoir and I learned a ton about a topic in which I’d long been interested.  Next up, still fighting the current of library deadlines, I picked up my current read – The Hopefuls – which I placed on hold months ago after my friend Katie recommended it to me.  I’m not quite halfway through, and really enjoying it.  One of my pet peeves is when people who don’t live in D.C. write “D.C. books” and get the city totally wrong.  The Hopefuls is the perfect antidote to that – you can tell the author lives here (in fact, she teaches writing at the George Washington University, where I went to law school).

Watching.  Still watching Finding Dory every day (and I still haven’t seen the entire movie straight through).  I’m not sick of it yet – making it perhaps the longest-running Disney-thon that hasn’t annoyed me, which I credit to the jokes thoughtfully strewn throughout just for the parents.  (“Guys!  I found help!  Sigourney Weaver’s here and she’s gonna tell us where we are!”)  The other interesting watch of the week was the Minimalism documentary, which I’ve been meaning to check out for awhile and which I really loved.  I’ve been trying to curate my home and life and it was definitely inspiring.

Listening.  Back to Middlemarch after cleaning up my podcatcher again.  I’ve been ruthlessly culling podcasts – unsubscribing to shows that just aren’t doing it for me anymore, and unashamedly deleting single episodes that don’t interest me.  I’m down to 12 hours and change to go in Middlemarch – which sounds like a long time, but considering the book is 35 hours long, it’s real progress.

Making.  Homemade applesauce for the kiddos – one of my favorite ways to use up apples that are just a little long in the tooth.  The whole family loves it – there’s something extra-special about homemade applesauce, easy as it is.

Blogging.  I have a family-centered week coming up for you – a recap of the Apollo on the Move event, since it was so cool, coming on Wednesday, and on Friday, an extra-special post dedicated to someone who is about to turn TWO YEARS OLD.  (Hold me.)

Loving.  This may be old news for some, and it sort of is for me, but I hadn’t really grasped the meaning.  I subscribe to the Slightly Foxed quarterly, and it’s always the BEST day when I come home and see the new issue in my mailbox.  I was vaguely aware that as a print subscriber, I had access to the digital archives, but I hadn’t really made any move to read through.  Last week I decided to check out the archives during a free moment, and I discovered – there’s an APP for that!  Seriously, who knew?  I downloaded the app and now I have twelve years of Slightly Foxed essays right on my phone, waiting for me to read them ALL.  This is a game-changer, people.  I’ve started a new wish list on Amazon, just for book recommendations from the fox.

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

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Last Friday, I re-posted an old post, from 2014, with some musings on comfort reading.  In that post, I told you that there were three main categories of comfort reading for me – gentle reads (which includes childhood favorites, all of which were pretty gentle in my case); funny books; and cozy mysteries (knowing that everything will come out right in the end is key).  Since 2014, I’ve definitely needed to dip into comfort reading occasionally – I’ve battled homesickness that increased daily until I actually moved home, dealt with a lot of stress at work, lost family members, sold a home and spent six months living in a really blah apartment.  Life has been far from a parade of horribles, but there’ve been ups and downs in my last few years, as is true for anyone.  I’ve definitely dipped into all three categories, and I have some recommendations.

Gentle Reading

Mid-century British middlebrow; beloved old classics; childhood favorites.  It’s rare that a month goes by in which I don’t read one of these.  Some new favorites from the past two years:

  • The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge – on my list for ages, and a delight from the first sentence to the last.
  • The Making of a Marchioness, by Frances Hodgson Burnett – who knew that FHB wrote adult novels?
  • Visits to Barsetshire – both Anthony Trollope’s version and Angela Thirkell’s version.  (I jumped out of my seat when Guy and Phoebe drove to Plumstead Episcopi in Pomfret Towers.)
  • Speaking of visits, visits to the Fairyland of Catherynne M. Valente’s imagination.
  • E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady – I still haven’t read the sequels, but have no doubt I will soon; the Provincial Lady is a hoot.
  • A month spent in Italy with the ladies of The Enchanted April.
  • Jane Austen’s Love and Freindship – read it and weep (with laughter) at her poor spelling and the fact that most of her characters are drunk most of the time.
  • Henrietta’s War and Henrietta Sees it Through, two epistolary novels that I absolutely adored and keep recommending to people, because more people need to be acquainted with the charming Henrietta and her delightful friends.

Funny Books

  • Celebrity funnylady memoirs – my mom gives me one every Christmas.  She’s gifted me with – and I’ve enjoyed the heck out of – Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.
  • All-ages comics that are packed with smart jokes – like Lumberjanes – and one-volume graphic novels like The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (the madcap George Eliot chapter is not to be missed).
  • William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – how can you possibly go wrong with a series that mashes up Star Wars with Shakespeare?  I’ve only read Volume IV, “Verily, a New Hope,” but more are on my list.

Cozy Mysteries

I’ve kept up with my favorite sleuths – Maisie Dobbs, Precious Ramotswe, etc. – as new adventures come out, but I’ve also met some wonderful new-to-me characters in the past few years.  In no particular order:

  • Maggie Hope, who I just met in January and already adore.  I have Princess Elizabeth’s Spy on my library stack and will be getting back to Maggie and her friends soon.
  • Lady Georgianna Rannoch!  I had just met her, and left her out of my list, when I originally published “Comfort Reading.”  We’re great friends now.
  • Amelia Peabody, Egyptologist and all-around badass Victorian lady.  I wrote about falling in love with Amelia and then discovering that my grandmama was a fan here.

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Looking at my list above, it seems I have more to suggest in the “gentle reading” category than elsewhere – which makes sense, because that’s where I usually go first when I need a pick-me-up.  There simply isn’t anything like curling up with a cup of tea, a soft blanket, and a book that makes you feel wrapped in peace.  While laughing until your sides hurt certainly has a place, and there’s much to be said for hanging on every page of a mystery in the secure knowledge that – unlike real life – things are guaranteed to come out right and be neatly wrapped up in the end, for me at least, those calming gentle reads are the best medicine.  Expect to see plenty more of them around these parts in the next few years – I have a feeling that I’ll be plunging into Barsetshire quite a lot.

What’s your comfort 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 February, 2017

pomfret-towersPomfret Towers (Barsetshire #6), by Angela Thirkell – Continuing with my recent binge on comfort books, I had to include a visit to Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire.  (I’d have liked to squeeze in Trollope’s version of the county, too, but no time.)  In this installment, Lord Pomfret – one of the region’s preeminent aristocrats – is giving a weekend party at Pomfret Towers, in honor of his wife’s temporary return to England (Lady Pomfret is usually in Italy for her health).  Among the invited guests are Guy Barton, son of a prominent and wealthy local architect, and Guy’s painfully shy sister Alice.  Alice is the focal point of the story, and her blossoming under the kind attentions of her hosts – even the gruff and proudly rude Lord Pomfret seems to adore her – is a delight to witness.  Also present are Mrs. Rivers, a popular and prolific – if tone-deaf and obnoxious – romance writer and her two children, self-centered artist Julian and freewheeling Phoebe; Guy and Alice’s friends Roddy and Sally Wicklow; and Mr. Foster, Lord Pomfret’s likely heir.  Lady Pomfret and Mrs. Rivers both attempt to “matchmake” for Mr. Foster, Alice fancies herself in love with Julian, Guy and Phoebe share a mutual attraction, and everyone eats lots of delicious food and has a delightful time.  Loved it.

mom-me-momMom & Me & Mom, by Maya Angelou – Having read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school, I somehow only recently discovered that Maya Angelou wrote a stack of other memoirs.  Mom & Me & Mom was one, and it was powerful and joyful.  Opening in Angelou’s early childhood, during which she was raised by her grandmother, Angelou discusses returning to her mother’s side at age 13 and spending her adolescence in San Francisco, living with a mother she barely knew.  Angelou’s relationship with her mother, whom she calls “Lady,” is – of course – the focal point of the book, and it’s beautiful to watch her love for, and trust in, Lady blossom and grow over time.  Lady, for her part, explains that she is a terrible mother to young children but a great one to young (and not-so-young) adults, and that does seem to be the case.  From a foundation of mistrust and resentment, a beautiful mother-daughter relationship blooms.

we-love-you-charlieWe Love You, Charlie Freeman, by Kaitlyn Greenidge – The Freeman family is proud and honored to have been selected as part of an experiment at the Toneybee Institute, a scientific foundation studying the communication of apes and other primates.  The Freemans will leave their home, move into the institute, and live in an apartment there with Charlie, a young chimp who was abandoned by his mother.  The purpose of the experiment is for the Freemans – who all speak sign language – to teach Charlie to sign, and to fold him into their family and overcome his feelings of abandonment, first by his mother and then by various institute staff as they turn over in the normal course of business.  Soon the stress of the experiment begins to overwhelm the family, who all deal with their emotions in various – mostly unhealthy – ways, and what was a close family starts to unravel.  Against this backdrop, teenaged daughter Charlotte – the main protagonist – discovers some unsettling facts about the early history of the Toneybee and its racist beginnings.  The novel, on the surface about the undoing of a family, is an interesting allegory about – as the jacket copy describes it – America’s failure to find a language in which to talk about race.  So, I liked this.  It was well-written and thoughtful.  I found it hard to connect to the plot, though, and couldn’t love it – that’s probably my own thing, since this book is getting raves from everyone else.  “Undoing of a family” stories aren’t really my jam, and that ultimately couldn’t overcome my interest in reading a story about the language of conversations about race – but it’s a book very worth reading, and I do recommend it.

you-cant-touch-my-hairYou Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, by Phoebe Robinson – Robinson is a stand-up comedienne, a podcast maven, an all-around hilarious lady, and a black woman.  In this memoir, she describes her experiences and encounters with race during her childhood and young adulthood – and she folds quite a lot of thought-provoking introspection and wisdom in with some truly hilarious material.  Whether describing the hours she spent sitting on the kitchen chair while her mother took pains over her with a hot comb so Robinson wouldn’t “go to school looking like Frederick Douglass,” or recounting awkward encounters with tone-deaf white people’s unconscious racism, Robinson is real, and thoughtful, and smart – as well as funny.  I’ve long been a fan of stand-up as a way to tell truths about our current society, where we need to go and how we need to get there – in a light-hearted but intelligent way, and Robinson seems like a comic that I’d really love.  You Can’t Touch My Hair was an uncomfortable read at times, but should be required reading as it takes on big issues and pulls no punches while doing so.

emily-of-new-moonEmily of New Moon (Emily #1), by Lucy Maud Montgomery – I won’t get too into detail here, as you’ve already read my thoughts about re-reading my childhood favorite book here.  Suffice it to say, I’d been long looking for an excuse to dive back into Emily Byrd Starr’s world of Blair Water, PEI, and I’m beyond grateful to Naomi for providing the perfect opportunity with her #ReadingEmily event.  The Emily books are, for the most part, darker than their better-known cousins, the Anne of Green Gables series, but I love them all the more for it.  Emily is a strong, confident character, touched by deep tragedy but never abandoning her love of wild beauty or her writing ambitions.  She begins the story bereft, losing her beloved Father, but gradually time heals her wounds and she grows into herself, nurtured by kind Aunt Laura, understanding Cousin Jimmy, and even strict Aunt Elizabeth at New Moon Farm.  #ReadingEmily is continuing in March with the next book in the trilogy, Emily Climbs, and I will certainly be continuing on as well – now that I’ve been back to Emily’s world for the first time in five years, I’m remembering how much I have always loved it there.

frederick-douglassNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, by Frederick Douglass – I’d been meaning to read this classic for awhile, and had been eyeing it as a perfect pick for Black History Month, when a certain tone-deaf and evidently uneducated world leader (#notmypresident) referenced Douglass in a manner that suggested he had no idea who Douglass actually was.  (Has been doing a very good job?  Getting recognized more and more?  Are you KIDDING ME?)  Since reading is apparently how I #resist, my first stop on the internet, after reading that embarrassment, was my library website to put Douglass’s memoir on hold.  It came in shortly thereafter, and I blazed through the slim but incredibly powerful volume.  As expected, it’s far from an easy read – the events it recounts are nothing short of horrifying.  Douglass’s powerful voice comes across in a ringing attack on the very system of slavery – I can only imagine how astonishing he must have been as a speaker.  If I was to create a list of books that I think should be required reading for all Americans, this would have to be on it.

19841984, by George Orwell – Another one I added to my library holds after seeing it in the news, dystopian novel 1984 started trending – actually selling out on Amazon – thanks to Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and their “alternative facts,” which seemed right out of the regime of Big Brother.  Orwell’s classic focuses on Winston Smith, a 39-year-old bureaucrat in the superstate of Oceana.  Winston works at the Ministry of Truth, which is concerned with “rectifying” publications so that they reflect the desired standpoints of the ruling elite – whatever those happen to be at the moment – and in the process, obliterating history and memory.  Big Brother, the unseen leader of the regime, is always watching through mandatory “telescreens,” which are everywhere.  Love, sensuality, memory, and any questioning of authority are prohibited acts of “thoughtcrime.”  I read Orwell’s other well-known dystopia, Animal Farm, in high school, but had never made it to 1984, so I jumped on the bandwagon with everyone else and read it this month.  It was distressing, upsetting, engaging and frighteningly relevant to today’s political climate.

Seven books in February is darn decent, I think, especially when you consider the grueling work schedule with which I’ve been contending all month.  I’m pleased that four of those books were written by African-American authors – a good showing for Black History Month, which I always like to observe in my reading!  The other reading highlight of the month was having an excuse to dust off Emily of New Moon for Naomi’s #ReadingEmily event.  The event is continuing in March and April, so expect to see Emily Climbs on here next month – along with lots more library goodness, because my willpower in the face of library holds continues as poor as ever.

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Heavy sigh.  Hi, guys.  How was everyone’s weekend?  Ours was… grueling.  We had a family wedding to attend in New England, so we spent most of the weekend in the car – and I do mean most of the weekend.  Eight hours up to my parents’ house on Friday to drop off the kids, who were not invited to the wedding.  Six and a half hours in the car on Saturday (three hours to the wedding, and three-and-a-half back to my parents, thanks to a scary thunderstorm we hit).  And then another six hours home from Albany on Sunday.  So that’s a total of 26.5 hours in the car over the past three days, and we’re all feeling it.  My neck and back are screaming at me, and the kids are nuts.  I felt horrible for them – two extremely long car rides in the span of three days was way too much to ask of them, especially considering they weren’t invited to the wedding.  Peanut was a champ, but Nugget was a basket case in the car, and I couldn’t blame the poor guy.  Still, after hours of listening to him bawling in the back seat, we are all a bit frazzled and on edge.  I’m relieved to have that long trip behind me and glad to be home.

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Reading.  With all that trucking to and fro, I didn’t get much reading done over the weekend.  Nor during the week, either – it was another crazy-busy one on the work front.  I’m looking forward to my schedule evening out.  It would be nice to be busier than I was in January, but not quite as busy as I have been in February.  Anyway, I finished 1984 last Monday, and it was eerie and chilling and felt very prescient.  Then I started How to Be a Victorian, which I am really enjoying but which has been slow going.  That’s not the fault of the book, which is fabulous, but just my crazy work schedule last week and then the travel over the weekend.  I’m looking forward to having a bit more downtime in which to finish it up this week – I hope.

Watching.  Two things come to mind from this week – in addition to Rock the Park, of course (we’ve just started season 3, so we’re nearly caught up).  On Sunday night I watched the Oscars, which I really enjoy, but can never make it through.  I got to supporting actress, decided it was time for bed, and then got an email and ended up working into the night – sometimes that’s how it goes.  The other thing I’ve been watching a lot this week is Finding Dory – the kids are obsessed.  I’m not quite to the point of being sick of it yet – the Sigourney Weaver jokes are hilarious – but I’m getting close.

Listening.  Would you all run away and never visit me again if I said I listened to Nugget screaming for hours in his car seat over the weekend?  You would?  Okay, well then I’ll tell you the other things we listened to – Hamilton, disc one, on repeat, because that’s what it took to keep him even remotely happy – especially “Frow My Shot” and “Dayada” (You’ll Be Back).  And we started listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on audio during the car ride to and from the wedding, but didn’t get far into it.

Making.  Nothing.  Should I drop this category?  I have been thinking I need to pick up my knitting again.  I’ve been really keyed up over a couple of stressful things, and it would be nice to make some stitches.

Blogging.  I have a bookish week coming up for you –  my February reading round-up on Wednesday, and that list of new favorite comfort reads I promised last week.  Get yourselves some big cups of tea!

Loving.  It was so chill of my parents to watch the babies while we trucked to a wedding.  Thanks, you guys!  Peanut and Nugget loved their “sleepover with Nana and Grandad.”  I’d say let’s do it again soon, but as I’m never getting in the car ever again, that doesn’t seem likely to come to pass.  But seriously, thanks.

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

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With the gorgeous blue skies and warm weather last weekend, and our packed schedule the rest of the month, there was no question that we would be getting out on the hiking trails at least once.  Since the entire weekend looked to be equally beautiful, we targeted Sunday for our hike.  I initially floated Fraser Preserve as a possible destination, but Sunday morning found us moving very slowly, so we scrapped that idea in favor of Lake Accotink, a new-to-us park in Springfield, Virginia.

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Strapped into the hiking backpack and ready to go!  Dad and I were in short sleeves, but we zipped the kiddos into their fleeces – although Peanut insisted on wearing a sundress with shoes and socks – no tights – which we let her get away with, since it was really quite warm already.

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First order of business was a snack.  Both kids gobbled up cheese sticks and pouches while enjoying the view of the lake.  I’d love to see the place in summer, when the park is bustling with people!  As it was, there were quite a few hikers, runners, mountain bikers and strollers out enjoying the lovely lake breeze and blue skies.

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Canoes!  I can’t wait until the kids are old enough – read: obedient enough – to get out on the water as a family.  Paddling is something I love; it’s been a passion of mine since I got my first kayak at age 15, and I wish I got to do more of it.

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Suited up and ready to hit the trails!

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Not far into our hike, what little cloud cover there had been burnt off and the glorious blue sky came out!  Not pictured: the little Pisces who was hovering around my right ear, keeping up a constant refrain of “Wanna go by water!  Wanna go by water!”

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^ The goal.  Always the goal.

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Attempted some selfies, but they turned out very squinty.  Note to self: do not forget sunglasses, even if the sky is a little overcast.

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When we had only a little hiking left to do, we let Peanut out of the backpack to run along the trail next to us.  She’d been sulking and complaining the entire time (four going on fourteen?) but perked up considerably once she got to walk.  We discussed the possibility that she is growing out of the backpack – up until recently, she never wanted to walk if there was a possibility of being carried or pushed.  I’d love to see her in little hiking boots, scampering along with her own mini backpack, so I’m encouraging her.

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Stopped to examine some quartz in the trail!  If it’s pink or sparkly, Peanut is here for it.

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Well, Accotink, thanks for a delightful, sunny, breezy hike!  This park was truly a gem, only twenty minutes from us, and we had no idea it was out there. I can already see that renewing the hiking project is a good idea – it’ll get us out of the habit of going to Great Falls every weekend, and force us to try out some new hiking spots.

Did you hit the trails this month?

Repost: Comfort Reading

With all that’s been going on in the world lately, I’ve been turning to comfort books more and more as a way to check out of reality – if even for a little while – and into a world where everything is guaranteed to come out right in the end.  Almost three years ago, on March 14, 2014, I published the following post about comfort reading, and it occurred to me that it might be a timely topic once again.  So I’m dusting it off, and presenting it here in case you missed it the first time:

Any voracious reader could probably name multiple reasons why they love to sink into a book.  There are many things I love about reading, and I’ve pondered why I read in the past.  In that post, one of the reasons I named was “escapism.”  When I hit a rough patch, as we all do from time to time, books invariably make up an important part of the process of getting through the hard times.  Just the act of reading itself is comforting.  It’s a familiar ritual for me: choose a book, curl up under a blanket, sip tea and get lost in a story.  Of course, I don’t do all of my reading on the couch at home.  I carried a book with me to the NICU every day – to read in the car, the pump room, or during downtime while Peanut snoozed in her isolette.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’d treated a book like a security blanket.  I had many rough days during which I found comfort in reaching into my tote bag, grasping the book du jour and thinking about how I’d have some time to lose myself in the pages later.

Since then, through long newborn days, planning and carrying out a move across several states, and job-hunting, I have thought a lot about comfort reading, both in terms of the practice of reading itself and in terms of the type of books I select during the dark times.  Not only is the act of reading comforting to me, in and of itself, but the choice of book can bring some added comfort, too.  I noticed that “comfort books” fell into three categories for me:

Gentle Reads

These are soft, quiet books in which it may seem as though nothing much is happening, but the beauty of the words themselves and the characters’ steady progress through the story is comforting.  In September of 2012, I slipped back into the gentle world of Fairacre, reading Storm in the Village during my pumping sessions in the NICU.  It’s not as though there was no conflict – indeed, the entire premise of the book is that an atomic energy company wants to mar the beauty of the natural landscape around Fairacre by erecting a housing estate, a terrible concept!  But Fairacre is a quiet place with familiar, well-loved characters and it made me feel better to spend some time there.

I also revisited an old favorite from my childhood.  In order to bring Peanut comfort while she was trapped in an isolette, I spent hours reading to her out loud from Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery, which was my favorite book as a young reader.  (You may notice the title and wonder if Peanut’s name is a coincidence.  It’s not.)  Of course, Peanut doesn’t understand the language or concepts in Emily of New Moon, so for her the comfort lay more in hearing my voice.  But I won’t lie and pretend that reading a childhood favorite wasn’t good for me, too.

I visited Fairacre many times during the months we were debating pulling up stakes and moving to Buffalo.  And some of the final books in the Fairacre series happened to also be my final books borrowed from my favorite library.  That’s not a coincidence: although I knew that moving to Buffalo was going to be a good thing for our family, it wasn’t easy to uproot our entire life in Virginia.  Miss Read, Miss Clare and the rest of the Fairacre village folk (yes, even the caustic Mrs. Pringle!) made the transition somewhat smoother for me.

Humor

In addition to the gentle reads, I also need a laugh when I’m feeling down.  I found that in Freddy and Fredericka, a sweet but funny and slightly inappropriate tale about a hapless Prince and Princess of Wales who are dropped from a plane over New Jersey with a mission to prove their fitness to rule by re-conquering the United States.  Much of the humor lies in word-play and silly images, both of which resonate with me as a reader.  I spent hours laughing over Freddy and Fredericka in the mothers’ lounge and on the car rides to and from the hospital when Peanut was in the NICU, and it did make me feel significantly better.

Even before the NICU days, I’ve turned to humor to get me through rough patches.  Specifically, P.G. Wodehouse’s bumbling aristocrat, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, and his brilliant valet Jeeves, have given me plenty of laughs when I was stressed out over work or travel.  Watching hapless Bertie get engaged to a string of terrifying women, only to be rescued over and over by Jeeves, is a sure cure for any anxiety.  (And you’ll certainly ponder whether you’re really under stress when you contemplate the horrors of an engagement to Lady Florence Craye.)

Cozy Mysteries

I’ve been a fan of mystery novels since I picked up my first Agatha Christie, back in middle school.  And I think they’re perfect comfort reading when you’re feeling a little bit buffeted by the world.  Sure, the premises of these books can be a bit gruesome – you’re bound to encounter a dead body, sometimes more than one, along the way – but the thing about cozy mysteries is that they’re pretty much guaranteed to end well.  You can rest assured that the sleuth – be it Miss Marple, Flavia de Luce, Maisy Dobbs, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Precious Ramotswe or one of countless others – will solve the mystery in the end.

And there are often other storylines, especially in the more recently written mysteries (Dame Agatha wasn’t big on this, but her successors often are) that focus more on the sleuths and their supporting castmates – their relationships, dreams, goals, what-have-you – than on whodunit.  Will Mma Ramotswe get together with the kindly garage owner, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni?  Will Maisy find happiness with James?  (Still waiting for the final word on this one.  C’mon Maisy, don’t be stupid!  James loves you!)  Will Flavia ever make peace with her ghastly older sisters?  You’ll have to come back for the sequels to find out, but the beauty of these series is that these stories often work out just as neatly as the mysteries our heroes and heroines solve.  Sometimes it takes awhile, but that just makes the conclusion more satisfying when it inevitably comes.  But even when the personal results aren’t quite as neat and tidy, you can at least count on a wrap-up where everything makes sense, the bad guys are caught and the good guys debrief over a cup of tea (or something stronger).  It’s nice to be able to count on that.

When you’re feeling down, do you turn to books for comfort?  Which ones?

P.S. 2017 Jac here again – check back next week for some new comfort reading recommendations – books and authors that have come onto my shelves in the last few years, or that weren’t mentioned in this post.  If you’re looking for books to block out the noise of the world, I’ve got you covered!

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Happy holiday weekend to my American readers, and happy new week to my international friends!  I hope everyone had a good weekend.  We definitely did – it was insanely unseasonably warm in D.C. – temps in the 70s all weekend – and we definitely took advantage of the heat wave.  I felt a bit guilty about being so giddy over the warm weather – that whole climate change business, and all – but if there was ever a weekend that called for nice weather, this was it.  So I tried to push aside my guilt and just enjoy it.  On Saturday, Peanut and I walked out for a play date with her little BFF from school.  Peanut and her friend had fun painting pottery and I had fun chatting with the other mom.  The rest of Saturday was devoted to house projects, since it was “productivity day.”  I’m pleased to report that I finally cleaned the pantry out, and can now find the mac ‘n cheese again.  (#priorities)  On Sunday, the weather was so gorgeous that I spent almost the entire day outside – hiking at Lake Accotink in the morning (recap coming on Friday for the 12 Months’ Hiking Project), relaxing on the porch with the winter issue of Slightly Foxed during naptime, and finally a walk down to a different playground, the waterfront, and around the downtown area after nap.  Glorious!  My office is closed today, so we’ll be enjoying more sunshine (and squeezing in a little remote work) the rest of the day.

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Reading.  I had a great reading week last week!  Finished up Emily of New Moon, my childhood favorite, for #ReadingEmily – read my thoughts on it here, plus musings on childhood classics here.  After a good dose of comfort reading in the form of a visit with Emily Starr, I turned to two classics, both of which are having a moment and both of which are distressing in their own way.  First, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (I heard he’s being recognized more and more?!?!), which I’d been meaning to read forever and which seemed like a perfect choice for Black History Month.  And then, my current read – 1984, by George Orwell – another that I’d been meaning to read for quite some time.  I read Animal Farm many years ago, but was finally inspired to kick 1984 up to the top of my TBR after it sold out on Amazon (!!!) recently.  It’s due back to the library in a couple of days, and has quite the waiting list, so I’ve got to make haste and finish it up.  Next up, I think, will be How to Be a Victorian – finally.

Watching.  We’re back to Rock the Park and watching about one episode a night.  The last few episodes haven’t been my favorite – they’re all good, of course, and beautifully shot, but I’m more interested in the episodes in which Jack and Colton visit a park that’s high on my list, or undertake an adventure that I’d like to try.  So, less scuba diving – which is something I’ve no desire to do – and more rock-climbing, please!

Listening.  Still on a podcast jag – I needed a break from long audiobooks (although I’ll get back to Middlemarch soon).  I’ve been enjoying catching back up on The Book Riot podcast, and I’m jealously hoarding three episodes of Tea or Books? that accrued while I was listening to the investment course.

Making.  Lots of productive things.  I made a clean pantry over the weekend – that was no small feat.  Other than that, really all I’ve been making has been lots and lots of work product.  I had a 50+ hour week last week – several days in a row of getting up at 4:30 and putting in two hours before the kids woke up, working nonstop all day, and then putting in more time at night.  The rest of February is looking almost as hectic.  I’d envisioned this “making” prompt as a way to tell you about great meals I’ve cooked, or knitting or photography projects I’m working on, but there’s been precious little of that.  Well, all things in their season.

Blogging.  This week, I’m planning to re-post an older post I wrote about comfort reading on Wednesday, since that seemed like something that might be sort of timely for many of my friends.  And on Friday, I’ll have a recap of our February hike at Lake Accotink in Springfield, Virginia.  Can’t wait to show you all the pictures!

Loving.  This post (“3 ways to listen to Audible audiobooks without a membership”) from Modern Mrs. Darcy.  Anne has some of the best tricks for saving on ebooks and audiobooks – I get her daily list of kindle deals in my email and have bought several of the books that she’s featured – and no one does a better job of navigating the sometimes confusing world of Amazon and Audible to find the best deals.  All of her audiobook posts are worth reading – I went back through them when I was deciding whether to get an Audible membership – but this post is the best, because Anne lets you in on the secret (or at least, it was a secret to me) that several of the companion audiobooks to classic novels are read by some of the best Audible narrators, including some celebs.  As a result of reading the post, I rushed to Amazon and snatched up the kindle version of Anne of Green Gables, all so that I could add the audio version narrated by Rachel McAdams for $1.99 – much less than even the Audible member price.  It had been on my wish list for months; thanks to Anne, I saved a bundle on an audiobook I would have bought eventually, but for much more money, and snatched up several Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell titles as well just because the companion audiobook was narrated by Juliet Stevenson, whom I adore.  If you’re even considering an Audible membership, be sure to read this and Anne’s other audiobook posts.  I have no intention of getting rid of my Audible membership at present, but I’m still getting a ton out of this post, and scoring some major deals on Audible books that I would otherwise have spent valuable credits on.

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