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2017 Resolutions Recap

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Well, here we are at the end of another year.  2017 has not been an easy one – not from the global perspective, and not from the personal perspective either, actually.  Much of the year has felt like a long uphill slog, and I’m not entirely sure when I’ll get to the payoff – such is life with small children and a demanding job.  But I’m doing my best – at work, in parenting, and as a family member, I’m doing my best.  As I look back over the year that is ending, that is what stands out.

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Major Goals

Get with the program.  At the beginning of the year, I expressed the opinion that success in all of the things that I have to juggle would depend on getting and staying organized.  I wanted to devote some significant thought to routines and to creating for myself a personal program that would help me keep up with everything I have to do.  That didn’t really happen – or at least, not quite to the extent I’d hoped for.  I still feel like I’m surviving, instead of thriving.  Such is life with small children.  But I am trying.

Make room for me.  I’m happy to report that, while I thought I was failing at this goal back in July, I have done a better job with this in the latter half of the year.  I joined a yoga studio and have been going to classes there a few times per week, and I finally checked out barre3 as I’d been wanting to do.  I’ve also been making a point to read while the kids play, instead of mindlessly scrolling my phone – far better that they should see me with a book in my hand (and of course, I put the book down to read to them or play with them).  It’s still hard for me to carve out time for myself while the kids are awake, but I’m working on it.  The older and more independent they get, of course, the easier it will be.

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Get my confidence back.  Hasn’t really happened.  I did get back to my running shoes and ran a few races this year – a couple of 5Ks, a five-miler and a 10K, not bad – did a couple of Whole30s and got into the group fitness scene.  But I’m still not where I want to be.  I’d like to be more toned, feel stronger, and just have more confidence than I do.  This will be a continued focus in 2018.

Trust in abundance.  I have made a point of working on this, this year, and I think it’s going well.  This goal has meant both small and big actions on my part.  On the small side, I have been working on using up what I have – cooking through our pantry and using up bath and body products – because I want more breathing space in my home, and those things will always be available to me.  And of course, I have been using my library and gifting through my buy-nothing group.  More metaphysically, I have been trying to trust in the abundance all around me – the abundance of family love, of resources, and of time – all of which seem scarce sometimes.  Some days, I am good at this, and some days, not so much.

Revive the 12 Months’ Hiking Project.  With our December hike on the books, I can call this one – DONE!  This is an easy goal to commit to, and an easy goal to achieve, because Steve and I both love hiking so much that it takes no motivation at all to get us on the trails.  In fact, if we go too long between hikes, we both start to get antsy and need some outdoors time.  The only thing about this goal that can be a challenge is finding new places to hike each month.  (And that’s why I was only able to do this one year in Buffalo – I ran out of trails!)  This year, we managed a good combination of hikes close to home (like Riverbend Park), hikes a little farther afield (such as Shenandoah), and hikes in other states while traveling for vacation (Giant Mountain; Joshua Tree National Park).  We also didn’t only hike twelve times – there were plenty of days on the trail that I recapped for you here but didn’t include in my hiking project (either because I already had a hike for the month, or because it wasn’t a new-to-me trail and so didn’t count) and plenty of hikes that I didn’t blog at all.  We just love hiking and nature so much – they’ll always be part of our lives.

Things To Do This Year

  • Use my dSLR camera more (like, lots more). And along the same lines, improve my photography skills – particularly outdoor photography.  I did use my dSLR camera more, toting it along to the sunflower field and around California.  Would love to use it even more than that; it’s always a goal.

  • Plant another container garden with Peanut – and try not to kill it this time.  Done!  We planted our garden last spring and kept it alive(ish) until the first frost.  I’m nowhere near my friend Jenny, whose extensive garden is a thing of beauty, but I tried, I learned stuff, I had fun with the kids and I rarely bought herbs or cherry tomatoes all year.  A few of my heartier herbs are still going strong, and I’m going to try to keep them alive through the winter.
  • Hang a birdfeeder and start learning to identify our neighborhood birds. (Do we have neighborhood birds?)  We did hang the birdfeeder and are now the most popular hangout spot for the neighborhood birds.  It’s a lot of fun to watch them!  We get a lot of sparrows (I think?) and the occasional cardinal – as you can see, the learning to identify part is taking longer.  Googling “little brown birds northern Virginia” isn’t actually all that informative.
  • Get back to the yoga studio, and take up barre3.  I definitely did this, and I am so glad that I did.  Even if I did get attached to a particular yoga instructor, only to have her move to Africa (I swear it had nothing to do with me!).  I’m definitely in the habit of carving out a few mornings a week for yoga, and I’m working on getting there with barre3 – I did find a class I really like at a time I can go, so it’s just a matter of making myself do it, and it still seems to be the first thing that drops off the agenda on busy weeks.

  • Run a longer distance race (I’m already registered!).  The race I had in mind was the George Washington Parkway Classic (a 10-miler) and I didn’t end up running that.  But I did run the MCM 10K in October, and after several years of running only 5Ks, if that, I think a 10K is a good distance to aspire to.  And I ran a five-mile turkey trot on Thanksgiving morning, as well.  I think I’m finally starting to get my running legs back and I’m so happy.

 

  • Spend more time in Barsetshire (both Trollope’s version and Thirkell’s version).  Check and check!  I read Barchester Towers this year – the second in Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire, and quite a fewThirkells.  I have more to read in 2018 and I’m looking forward to them with great anticipation.

  • Bag another ADK peak. (I’m thinking Giant of the Valley, but haven’t made up my mind…)  Giant it was!  Steve and I had such a great time on the mountain in July.  We both agreed that although it’s supposed to be a “more challenging” mountain (they’re all challenging) we both preferred Giant to Cascade.  We liked the trails better, and it was more scenic – especially the Giant’s Washbowl halfway up, and the better views on the way to the peak.
  • Clean out our basement until we aren’t storing anything except holiday decorations and furniture.  Well, this didn’t happen at all.  Maybe in 2018?

  • Read diversely again – at least 33% underrepresented voices.  I haven’t done my final tallies for this year, since we still have another week to go, so I can’t say for sure, but I expect to not only meet, but exceed this goal again this year.  Making the effort to read diversely has been really personally rewarding and I am hoping it’s also making me a better citizen of the world.
  • Incorporate memory-keeping into new areas of my home.  Well, I tried, although life is so busy that it’s hard to put much thought into a goal like this.  I added new memories to my Christmas tree, with ornaments I collected at the national parks we visited this year (although the ornament I bought at Channel Islands seems to have vanished – grrrrrr; it’ll turn up as soon as I take the tree down and pack away the decorations) and photo ornaments I made using pictures of the kids.  I also hung up my grandmother’s paintings, putting some in rooms that I wouldn’t normally consider for them (I have a big one in the kitchen).  Other things I wanted to do – a shell jar to display our collection; framing the kids’ Christening outfits – didn’t happen.

  • Travel. Someplace amazing. Maybe a few someplaces.  Done!  Didn’t get to travel as much as I’d have liked to, but that’s the case every year.  (I could travel eight months out of the year and still think it wasn’t enough.)  We made it up to the mountains over the Fourth of July; to California for a fabulous family vacation with my parents, brother and SIL, and aunt, uncle and cousin; to New York City to see Hamilton in October; and out to Little Washington with my parents for a quick getaway after Thanksgiving.  I haven’t turned my attention to 2018 travel yet, but I’m sure it will be another year of wonderful experiences.

One Word

I have to be honest, I completely forgot about my word in the second half of the year.  But it sure didn’t forget about me.  The word I chose – or, to be more accurate, the word that chose me – was gather.  At the beginning of my first year back home in D.C. after three long, cold, and lonely years away, I really wanted to be with people again.  Steve and I spent a lot of time feeling isolated and cut off when we lived in Buffalo – as my friend Zan has eloquently mused, it’s not easy to make friends there.  And so one of the main reasons we moved home was that our people are here.

In some ways, gather has worked out just as I had hoped it would.  There are two new baby boys in the world, and I’ve held them and rocked them and covered their sweet little man faces with auntie kisses.  I have hosted birthday parties with old friends, met former colleagues for lunches around town, and joyfully wandered zoo paths and trails with people as dear to me as family.

There have also been pleasant surprises that my word has brought to my life – surprises I should, perhaps, have anticipated – but I didn’t.  Peanut started a new school, which has meant new friends for me, and we’ve forged close bonds with a few families.  She has a talent for finding the kids with the coolest moms, and we’re having the best time as a result.  We’ve filled the past year with playdates – picking blueberries, riding carousels, jumping in bounce houses (just the kids!) and watching parades.  There’s so much more good to come – we’re planning to camp this coming summer with Peanut’s BFF, S, who has the coolest parents, and we have playdates in the works with new friends.  I’ve made friends at work and through my Buy Nothing group, and – it’s just surprising.  I moved home because I wanted to be with my old friends, and I didn’t realize how many new friends would be in my life in such a short time.  It’s been a 180 degree flip from Buffalo – where I was lonely and bored – to home again, with so many old and new friends that I almost feel over-social.

Another aspect of gather that I wanted was to gather my home around me and create a sanctuary, a safe space from the craziness of life outside.  I think that’s happened, too.  We’re unpacked – although the basement is still horrifying – and just living, for the first time in three years.  We’re not going anywhere; we’re not looking ahead to the next move.  There will be another move, at some point.  But I’m not thinking about it.  I’m not worried or anticipating it.  I’m just shoring up the borders of my current space, gathering the walls and setting my burden down a bit.  I know – that doesn’t make much sense.  It makes sense in my head, though, and that’s the best I can tell you.  I needed some time to sit and exhale and be, and this year has provided that.  We’re starting to look ahead to the end of our lease – it’s still more than a year and a half away, but time is flying – and I think we might renew, rather than jumping into the market again.  I just don’t feel ready.  I’ve gathered these borders around me and my family, and I’m not ready to drop them yet.

Gather was the right word for 2017.  It was the right word for the first full year back at home, back where we belonged and among the friends that love us and support us and want us near them.  I don’t have a word for 2018 yet.  It’s a big undertaking, choosing a word – or allowing myself to be chosen.  I have a few possibilities and I want to sit with them, but I expect that if I do end up with another word of the year, it will happen the way my previous words have happened – like home, hitting me like a bolt of lightening as I dodged icy puddles in a parking garage, or gather, touching my shoulder and saying here I am and this year you will feel loved again as I drove across the Potomac on my way to hold a friend’s baby boy.  Something will come again, I think.  Or it won’t, and that will be okay, too.

Did you make resolutions for 2017?  How’d they go?

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Reading Round-Up Header

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby.  I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book.  Here are my reads for December, 2017

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton – I knew immediately that I was going to want to read this.  While I still feel raw sadness over the election, I also believe that the first-person narrative by the first woman ever to be nominated for President by a major political party is an important historical document and a story that needed telling.  I also think that those who want Hillary to “be quiet” and “go away” are indulging in short-sighted misogyny.  (Does the same angry dismissiveness dog Mitt Romney and John McCain whenever they speak out about politics?  Of course not.)  What Happened was wrenching, but it was thoughtful, meticulously crafted, and quietly brilliant – in short, it was very Hillary.  It made me cry, but I loved it.

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians #3), by Kevin Kwan – Needing something light and frothy in the extreme after the sobfest gut-punch that was What Happened, I turned to the final chapter in the saga of Nick Young, Rachel Chu, Astrid Leong and the whole gang.  Nick and Astrid’s beloved grandmother, Shang Su Yi, is on her deathbed and the entire family has come out of the woodwork to jockey for position in case she changes her will at the last minute.  Nick doesn’t care about his inheritance, but he travels to Singapore at Rachel’s urging so that his grandmother doesn’t pass away before they have healed their rift, only to find when he gets there that his grasping cousin, Eddie – hoping to inherit the estate in Nick’s place – has barred him from the house.  Rich People Problems is as full of twists, drama and designer label name-dropping as its predecessors, and it was so much fun.

Slightly Foxed No. 56: Making the Best of Ited. Gail Pikris – I have been a Slightly Foxed subscriber for a little over a year now, but somehow I just discovered that when you sit down and read an issue cover to cover, it counts as a book on Goodreads.  (Who knew?)  I figure if it counts there, it should count here, too – and a 96-page volume of personal essays about books (which is what every Slightly Foxed issue is) should be considered a book in any event.  So – the latest issue!  I read a few essays at a time and loved them all, as usual, but my favorite was the essay about the Chalet School books, which I am planning to read – at least some – in 2018.

The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher – My mom couldn’t believe I hadn’t read this before, because my grandmama had a copy and had loved Pilcher.  It took awhile – other library deadlines kept interfering in November – but I very much enjoyed the story of Penelope Keeling and her useless children.  (The kids really were the worst, which diminished Rebecca’s enjoyment of the book after I recommended it to her, I am sorry to report.)  I just adored it for its atmospheric setting and lush writing.  No detail was spared – and I didn’t want any details spared.  I wanted to know absolutely everything about what Penelope made Danus for lunch and how the wine was when she and Richard went on their date and what she grows in her garden and how she decorates her kitchen and solarium and, I mean, tell me all of the things.  I am only sorry that it had to end.

Slightly Foxed No. 1: Kindred Spirits, ed. Gail Pikris – I’m on a roll!  I’d been wanting to go back and read through the back issues (which I have been collecting, little by little, for the past two years) and I really enjoyed this first issue of the journal.  The essay Ex Libris starts the volume off strong, and I loved the short bits describing woodcut bookplates (since wood-cutting is one of my favorite art forms).

Christmas at Thrush Green, by Miss Read – There is a 2018 #MissReadalong going on over on Instagram, and they actually began in 2017 with Christmas at Thrush Green.  I don’t know that it was the best place to begin, because it was assumed that the reader knew most of the characters and was familiar with their stories and how they met their spouses, and for the most part, I wasn’t.  (I read Thrush Green, the first in the series, a couple of years ago but don’t remember much about it.)  But it was a quiet, comforting, warm and cozy way to spend a few evenings reading by the light of my Christmas tree, and for that, totally worth it.  I’ll probably revisit it next December and I’ll bet I enjoy it even more then, after I’ve read through the series as I am planning to do.

London War Notes, by Mollie Panter-Downes – This collection of Panter-Downes’ “Letters from London” to The New Yorker between 1939 and 1945 had been lingering on my “currently-reading” shelf for way too long, thanks to intervening library deadlines.  It’s no reflection on the book, which is heart-rending and utterly captivating.  Panter-Downes writes with equal parts pathos and humor about the experiences of living through the Blitz, rationing, and long periods of waiting with bated breath for news of an ally or updates from the front.  She, and her fellow Londoners, are stoic and determined, but also set on finding enjoyment and laughter where they can.  If nonfiction about World War II can be delightful, this is.

Christmas at High Rising, by Angela Thirkell – A quick collection of short stories featuring the Morlands and their friends at High Rising, this was the work of an evening and was delightful.  Tony Morland goes ice-skating and falls in and out of a crush on a French girl, everyone goes to the pantomime, Tony rides a horse – in short, it’s all the High Rising drama you could wish.  My only complaint was that despite the title, there was nothing particularly Christmassy about it.  There is a story that focuses on Valentine’s Day, a story about Tony’s summer holidays, but only one Christmas story that was not even set in Barsetshire.  I think I’d read that somewhere but forgotten.  Calling the book Holidays in High Rising would have been more accurate and I’d have been less disappointed then.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, by Agatha Christie – Here’s a book that is definitely about Christmas!  Poirot is called in to investigate a murder that takes place on Christmas Eve in an old English manor house.  Yes, please!  The victim, Simeon Lee, is the much-hated squire of the county.  He’s a well-known womanizer who delights in setting his children against one another, and – as always – there are no shortage of possible killers with both motive and opportunity.  (I love the cozy mysteries where the victim is so vile that you need not feel guilty for enjoying the story.)  Naturally, Poirot unravels the mystery, and the solution is quite surprising.  I enjoyed myself immensely in reading this on Christmas itself and for a couple of days after.

Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich – Having loved Erdrich’s Birchbark House series for children, I wanted to try one of her adult novels and figured I’d start with her new release.  She is clearly a breathtaking writer, but Future Home of the Living God fell flat for me (which from what I hear was a common experience).  The story focuses on a pregnant woman who is on the run after evolution mysteriously stops and the government begins seizing all pregnant women and, later, women of childbearing age.  It’s an interesting premise, but I felt like I was reading The Handmaid’s Tale again (with a couple of slight differences) and was also frustrated that there wasn’t more exposition of the apocalyptic event.  I’m perfectly willing to suspend disbelief while reading – especially dystopias and fantasies – but you need to tell me what I am suspending disbelief about, or at least give me a hint.  I’m going to try one of Edrich’s really highly acclaimed novels, like The Round House and LaRose, and I suspect I’ll like those better.

That does it for me for 2017!  Ten books (including two Slightly Foxed quarterlies) in December – a respectable finish to the year, I think.  I finished a couple that had been lingering on the shelf, and ended up enjoying both (The Shell Seekers and London War Notes) probably the most of anything I read this month.  The Christmas books were a highlight of the month, naturally, and What Happened was hard to read but so worth it.  And that’s the end of a year in reading!  I think I’m going to come in somewhere around 101 books for the year, but I haven’t done my official count yet – soon.  It’s been a good year and I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store.

What was the best book you read in December?

It’s 2018!

Happy New Year, my friends! I hope you all had a safe and festive night last night and maybe some mimosas this morning. This is just a quick wave hello for the new year, via my phone, from somewhere in New Jersey. We’re heading home from five days at my parents’ house in upstate New York, which we filled with family and friend visits and even some skiing in western Massachusetts. I’ll be back on Wednesday with my December reading round-up, so for now – toss one back for me!

2017: A Year in Review

Well!  What a year it’s been.  Laying aside the state of the world – which is completely horrifying – for us personally, it wasn’t too bad.  Our first full year back at home in northern Virginia, and we packed it full of friends, family, and lots and lots of fun.  Highlights of the year included trips to California (for a dear friend’s wedding and a family reunion on my mom’s side) and Florida (for another dear friend’s wedding, in which Peanut and I both participated as Maid of Honor and flower girl, respectively), and our fabulous friends Zan and Paul’s return home to the D.C. area.  But beyond those top three things, there was so much joy and fun in every month.

In January… we spent a quiet month recovering from the holidays and chipping away at lots of chores and tasks around the house.  I shared my two-part reading retrospective for 2016 and spent a lot of time thinking about how to deal with the new national reality we found ourselves in after the Inauguration.  We did make it out to the zoo once, meeting up with my friend Carly and her family, and we hit the trails at Riverbend Park – Steve’s favorite Great Falls trail.

In February… there was some unseasonably warm weather – like, in the 70*s!  We felt a bit guilty about enjoying it (because: climate change) but we made the most of it, hopping from playground to playground and spending a beautiful sunny morning on the trail at Lake Accotink Park in Fairfax County.  Later in the month, we had to drive up north for a wedding.  It was a looooooooong and pretty painful drive, but we were able to squeeze in a visit to my parents, which brightened us up!

In March… we celebrated TWO YEARS of Nugget!  Seriously, how is he two?  (Actually, how is he almost three?  I’m about to start planning his third birthday party.  What is that about?)  Having a March baby is so much fun – before Nugget came along, March was my least favorite month of the year, because it always seemed so long and blah.  But now March is all about my sweet little boy and all the joy and fun he brings to our world.  In addition to celebrating our favorite small guy, we started our patio garden for the season, watched the restoration of the Apollo 11 command module out at Dulles, and explored the trails at the National Arboretum.

In April… we did All The Spring Things.  Our hike for the month was the Bluebell Trail at Bull Run Regional Park, and it was a magical fairyland of blue blooms to which my camera did no justice at all.  We also visited the baby animals at Mount Vernon, where the gardens were a riot of color, and we spent a morning out in Haymarket, gathering up armloads of the brightest tulips ever at Burnside Farms.  Spring has always been my fourth favorite season, because it’s bleak and cold in New York, and my allergies run wild in Virginia.  But in 2017, for some reason, my allergies really weren’t bad (even though the pollen was as prevalent as ever) and I was able to enjoy the season for the first time ever.  I can see why people love it.

In May… we kept up the spring fun.  Almost every Saturday morning found us walking to the farmers’ market and coming home with a big bouquet of fresh flowers from my favorite vendor, who always presents Peanut with a rose and often tells me to grab another bouquet for free (love him).  We could feel summer’s approach in gradually hotter temperatures, and we cooled off on the trails.  On Mother’s Day I requested a hike at Mason Neck State Park, which was gorgeous and wonderful, and I mused about raising kids on the hiking trail.  We spent our weekends bouncing between the waterfront and the garden center.  Peanut and I marveled at the green sprouts shooting up in our little patio garden, and I had a painful incident with some cayenne pepper in an attempt to repulse squirrels right before I left for an overnight business trip to Philadelphia.  Whoops.  We finished the month with a Memorial Day weekend packed end-to-end with fun – including a visit to a lavender farm and exploring Jones Point Park for the first time.

In June… summer began in earnest.  The big event of the month was a weekend visit to my best friend, Rebecca, in Virginia Beach; we also squeezed in our June hike that same weekend – just under the wire – at First Landing State Park.  Those visits to the beach are moments of true peace.  Peanut enjoyed playing mermaids with Aunt Rebecca (who loves merfolk as much as her niecelette does), and Nugget had a blast driving the golf cart, cheering Uncle Eric in the tuna fishing competition, and wandering around with his hand buried in his belly button all weekend (what a weirdo).  My other travel for the month was a business trip to Chicago (for an all-hands meeting of my practice group at our firm’s headquarters), but I squeezed in a little fun while I was there, in the form of a sightseeing run around Chicago’s biggest tourist attractions.  We spent Father’s Day enjoying a recent discovery – the splash pad – and put in some quality time at the neighborhood pool, which opened mid-month.  And I celebrated the beginning of summer in the best way I know – by talking about BOOKS.

In July… we basically lived outside.  We started off strong with a Fourth of July visit to my parents in Albany, which was everything a weekend should be.  We enjoyed a cookout with some of our dearest friends, a hike at Grafton Lakes State Park with Christine, two days of fun at the lake (kayaking, sailing, blowing bubbles, pretending to fish, and splashing in the baby pool) and – to top it all off, quite literally – a climb up our third Adirondack high peak, Giant Mountain.  Back home in D.C., we still didn’t go inside, like, at all.  We continued to tend our garden and splash at the pool and splash pad; spent a morning picking blueberries with Peanut’s friend C and her mom; and cruised the mighty Potomac in kayaks.  July was everything I love about summer – long, hot days, starry nights, and a life lived out-of-doors.

In August… our adventures took us clear across the country!  We packed up the little ones and jetted off to California for the wedding of a dear friend in Huntington Beach, followed by a family reunion two hours up the coast in Santa Barbara.  It was an epic trip – one for the ages.  We hiked in Joshua Tree National Park, Channel Islands National Park, and Carpinteria Nature Preserve; kayaked the sea caves at Channel Islands National Park; and enjoyed an incredible day out whale-watching with my parents.  We also celebrated twelve years of marriage, five years of Peanut, and one year back home in northern Virginia.  We bid goodbye to August, and hello to September, from the sunflower fields at Burnside Farms.  A busy month, indeed.

In September… we turned our attention to fall and fall things.  Peanut headed back to school, and Nugget to another year with his nanny (we adore her, and are already breaking out in cold sweats about his leaving her and starting preschool next year).  We dove right into fall fun at the apple orchard, hiked at Piscataway Park, and continued to tend our garden all through September.  The best part of the month was the last weekend, when we headed down to Florida for a wedding on the beach!  My best friend, Rebecca, married her longtime love in a beautiful sunset ceremony, and Peanut and I were proud to be by her side as flower girl and Maid (not Matron!) of Honor, respectively.

In October… we were in The Room Where It Happens!  My mom flew down to D.C. for a weekend so that Steve and I could slip away for one night to see Hamilton on Broadway!  The show was every bit as spectacular as you’d think – more, even – and we also squeezed in visits to the NYPL and Morgan Library, and a night at the Library Hotel.  Lucky us!  It was a Hamilton-heavy month for us, because Peanut and Nugget dressed as Eliza and Alexander Hamilton for Halloween – and most of the rest of our weekends were devoted to carting our miniature Treasury Secretary and his Mrs. around to various children’s Halloween parties.  We also trick-or-treated – and Peanut visited her first haunted house, hosted by our Senator, Mark Warner – and picked pumpkins out in Loudoun County.  I celebrated my birthday on the trails at Sky Meadows, and we hosted my parents and friends for a flying weekend visit that included a swing by the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum (of course!) and wine touring.  October, you were good to us.

In November… we ended up on top of a mountain!  My parents came down for Thanksgiving, and after spending a cozy day at home on the day itself, and decorating our Christmas tree on the Friday after, we all headed out for a weekend in Little Washington.  The main purpose of the weekend was for Steve and me to use a gift certificate to the Inn at Little Washington that his sweet and generous mom had given us the previous Christmas – we did, and it was one of the most fabulous meals we’d ever tasted.  The next day, we worked it off with a climb up Stony Man Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, and drank in the views from on top of the world.  We also celebrated Steve’s 40th birthday with a trip to the Kennedy Center to see The Book of Mormon, and I participated in Naomi and Sarah‘s readalong of The Blue Castle, musing on the power of names in LMM’s work.

In December… we have been feeling festive!  We started the season with the Scottish Walk – Old Town’s answer to the Christmas parade – a trip out to Little Washington for the annual Christmas parade there, and a snowy walk around Old Town after we got a surprise dusting.  We did lots of Advent reading, Peanut made her first visit to the Kennedy Center to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and we celebrated Christmas by watching the big guy in red fly down the Potomac on waterskis, then opening presents the following morning – Santa was good to those little rugrats.  And now we are warm and cozy, getting ready to ring in the new year with our family around us, and feeling grateful for the blessings of friendship and love that we enjoy every day.

Happy New Year, friends!  I hope you’re ringing it in somewhere fabulous, and I wish you a happy, healthy and joyful 2018!

Christmas 2017

Merry everything, my friends!  If you were celebrating this weekend, I hope that you enjoyed a lovely, warm and cozy Christmas with your family – and maybe a white Christmas, if that sort of thing blows your hair back.  (We didn’t have one – the picture above is from a couple of weeks ago – but my parents did.  The kids were jealous when they showed us their snow via FaceTime!)

A Pre-Christmas Kennedy Center Treat

To give you the full picture of our Christmas, I have to rewind to Saturday.  Old friends may recall that last year, I took Peanut to see The Secret Garden at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C.  We had such a fun time on our little mother-daughter outing that I decided to make it a tradition.  (Steve is jealous and has said he wants to get the whole family in on the theatre action when Nugget is old enough.  We’ll see.)  This fall I scouted around the performances at all of our major local theatres and there was a clear winner – Mr. Popper’s Penguins at the Kennedy Center!

Miss Peanut was all dolled up for her first trip to the Kennedy Center.  I made the mistake of playing Hamilton, disc one, in the car on the way to the show, and as we walked through the garage she announced: “Ohhhhhh, I am SO excited to see Hamilton!”  Oops.  A bag full of wooden ballerina figurines made for a welcome distraction.  (Hamilton is coming to the Kennedy Center in 2018, and now we are thinking that instead of making it a date night, we might need to bring our budding theatre geek along.)

Mr. Popper’s Penguins was in the Family Theatre, which I’d never seen before.  We wandered around looking for about ten minutes, then finally found our way to our seats.

Ready for an adventure in Stillwater!

There was a cute little playbill insert with facts about the show, penguins, and Antarctic exploration.

Peanut loved the show.  She was cracking up at the penguin puppets, laughing and applauding throughout the performance.  A definite hit!  After last year’s show was a bit beyond her, I was glad to see her have so much fun this year.  Now I’m more determined than ever to make a Christmas theatre production part of our family’s holiday traditions.

Christmas Eve with Friends

The fun continued on Sunday, with back-to-back social engagements.  A few weeks ago, Zan texted to ask if we’d like to get together for another football Sunday, either on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.  Since New Year’s Eve doesn’t work for us, schedule-wise, I responded that we’d love to see them on Christmas Eve.  Plans were laid for Zan to bring lunch (a generous gesture that I really appreciate!) and we would provide the TV, drinks and appetizers.  As we were finalizing our football plans, our day suddenly got noisier, cuter and more complicated when I realized that it would be my last opportunity to hang out with my law school BFF, Carly, before she and her family moved to Asia for two years for her husband’s job.  Carly and I quickly planned a morning playdate, and I was thinking that we’d be bidding them goodbye as we were welcoming Zan and Paul over.  But Zan mentioned wanting to see the waterskiing Santa down by the Old Town waterfront.  Since the waterskiing Santa was one of our favorite activities last Christmas, I immediately said we’d love to do that, and Carly liked the idea too.  A friend date mashup!

Carly and I took the kids to the playground first – she has a three-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy – and then met up with Zan, ate a quick lunch and headed down to the waterfront to catch Santa and friends cavorting on the river.

Just as we walked up to the river, the festivities began!  The Grinch on a jetski, elves in a skiff and Cindy Lou Who on a tube, and the main event – Santa and the reindeer on waterskis!

Our little pod was wildly impressed.

(Even Peanut enjoyed herself, although she was just as belligerent as ever when the camera came out.)  Eventually we rounded up our gaggle of children, negotiated meet and greet sessions with a polar bear, a panda, and Rudolph on our way off the dock, and went our separate ways.  I hugged Carly as hard as I could, to squeeze two years of hugs into this one goodbye.  And then Zan and I brought my own kids back for a cozy afternoon at home.

Eventually Zan and Paul headed off to church, and Steve and I tucked the kids in for an early bedtime.  When we were sure they were safely asleep (Peanut) or contained (Nugget) we got to work.  Errrrrr… I mean… Santa came!

I made sure to stay hydrated, which is very important.  After rewarding ourselves for a job well done, we turned in early, expecting a very early wakeup in the morning.

Christmas Morning

The early wakeup came at 6:00 when Peanut crawled into bed with us.  I was really worried that she would go downstairs and start ripping into the presents, but I needn’t have feared.  She was a good, patient girl, cuddling between us until 6:45 when her brother woke up.  He’s still little enough that he didn’t really understand what was going to be waiting downstairs on Christmas morning – but 6:45 is sleeping in for him.  He’s usually up between 5:30 and 6:00, but often earlier.  Sleeping until 6:45, even with his sister’s feet buried in my kidneys, was a nice Christmas gift.

Eventually we found our way downstairs and the kids tore into their stockings.  Santa was very good to them!  They got some necessities – sleeping bags for camping; some school uniform shirts and headbands, and rain boots, for Peanut; snowpants and snow boots for Nugget – but they also got a lot of fun stuff.  Peanut received a doll bed that is an exact miniature replica of her big girl bed; a mermaid tail blanket; a Melinda the Mermaid doll that was very hard to find; and a sweet fairy cottage with its inhabitants from her Grandma – among other things.  Nugget’s loot included a space shuttle adventure cape; a volcano play set with six little fabric dinosaurs and two palm trees; a ferry boat and submarine for the bath; and a beautiful wooden fire station play set from Grandma.

Mom and Dad did pretty well, too!  Steve got camping gear, books and his favorite socks, and I received three new attachments for my GoPro and a huge stack of books.  Santa made sure that everyone enjoyed all of their favorite things for Christmas!

If you celebrated this past weekend, I hope Santa was as good to you as he was to us!  Of course, the best gift is being home as a family, and surrounded by our friends.  Here’s to more happy memories in 2018!

Merry Christmas to all of my friends in the blogosphere!  How did you celebrate?

It’s Christmas!

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king:
Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
A child, a child, shivers in the cold,
Let us bring him silver and gold.
Let us bring him silver and gold.

If you’re celebrating today, have a warm and wonderful Christmas!  And on Earth, peace.

Advent Activities 2017

Silver bells, silver bells, it’s Christmas time in the city…

It’s one of my favorite times of the year, and there is no better place to celebrate the season than my beloved hometown.  Alexandria – and specifically, Old Town – has made it onto “best holiday towns” and “best Christmas towns” lists of such august publications as USA Today and Country Living, because we KNOW how to do this season.  Multiple parades, gorgeous traditional decorations, and Santa waterskiing down the Potomac on Christmas Eve to cap it all off – right?!  There are so many events in Old Town, D.C. and the surrounding countryside that it’s legitimately impossible to do everything, not that we don’t try every year.

The Scottish Walk

This year’s season kicked off with a tree-trimming party with my parents on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but we really got things underway the following weekend at the Scottish Walk.  For the past few years, there have been two parades in the same day in Old Town – the Scottish Walk during the day, and the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights at dusk.  Maybe one of these years we’ll make it to both, but that’s a lot, even for us.  Last year we hit the boat parade; this year, to mix it up, we checked out the Scottish Walk.  We had planned to go with our friends Jimmy and Rachel and their daughter, who is Peanut’s BFF, but Steve wasn’t feeling well.  Not wanting to disappoint the crew, I bundled the kids into their stroller myself, and we set off for the parade minus one adult.

Jimmy, apparently, is a parade connoisseur.   Also he and Nugget liked the same cars.

The parade was a ton of fun.  We saw our Congressman, Miss Virginia, some marching bands, antique cars, and–

Darth Vader!  Nugget shouted, “HEY, IT’S MY BUDDY!” when he saw the Dark Lord walking down the street all decked out in his holiday finery.  Don’t you love the candy cane-striped lightsaber?

It wasn’t just Vader.  The whole gang was there – looking appropriately Scottish in their kilts.  Chewbacca…

Stormtroopers…

Even R2-D2 got in on the kilt action!  I’m guessing he’s carrying spare robot parts in his sporran?

A Snowy Walk in the OT

The following weekend – it snowed!  Before-Christmas snow is a pretty rare occurrence in northern Virginia, so clearly we made the most of it with a walk and some playtime in the park by the river.

The kids were over the moon.  And Mom much appreciated the opportunity to make a list of outgrown winter gear to be replaced – before Christmas.  I think both kids will get another season out of their coats, but Peanut’s hat now perches on top of her head like a pillbox, and Nugget’s mittens are a travesty.  I can tell you that Santa made good use of the early warning.

Being a little taken by surprise – and lacking in the mitten, snowpant and boot department – didn’t stop us from running around and having fun in the snow!

We tacked the walk onto the back end of a Christmas tradition that Steve and I have had since we first moved to Alexandria in 2010 (after five years in the comparatively less holiday-obsessed Arlington).  We used to spend a day wandering the streets of Old Town hand-in-hand and checking out the beautiful Christmas decorations on all of the houses, then have something boozy to drink before heading home.  We skipped the boozy drink part this year, but it was fun to rekindle one of our favorite traditions from the pre-baby days, this time with our little sidekicks.

Snow made it all the more festive.

We started at our favorite place – the fire station!  They had a nod to the season with a little lit sled and reindeer on top of the garage.  So cute.  Smile, boys!

The thing that makes an Old Town Christmas so magical is the history.  People definitely go all out with their decorations, but the whole neighborhood is so historic – it predated the United States of America, after all – that people who live here are committed to maintaining its character.  At the holidays, they do so with lots and lots of decorations, but everything is very understated and traditional.  There’s plenty of fresh greenery and candles in the windows, lots of lovely wreaths, and the occasional strand of twinkling fairy lights.  Taken altogether, the effect is spectacular.

We walked and played in the snow until the sun started to go down, and then headed home by way of King Street, which was lit up like a fairyland.

And stopped to say hi to the big tree on Market Square.

Spectacular!

Christmas in Little Washington

The next day found us bundled into the car, driving out to the mountains for our second parade of the season.  Last year, we attended Christmas in Little Washington, and it was so much fun we knew it had to be a holiday must-do.  We had hoped to squeeze in a hike at Shenandoah National Park before the festivities got underway, but thanks to the snow, Skyline Drive – the main park road and necessary to reach the trail we were planning to explore – was closed.  So no Shenandoah for us.  Instead we slept in (sort of) and had a leisurely breakfast at home before driving out to our favorite mountain town.

Our first order of business was lunch!  We had packed food for the kids, and Steve and I picked up sandwiches from a vendor for ourselves, and enjoyed an al fresco meal in the snow.  Of course, it was a complete circus.  What meal isn’t, these days?

Then we wandered around town looking at the greenery.  The Inn was looking gorgeous, as usual.  Can’t believe that just a few weeks ago, we were actually eating dinner there, thanks to the world’s most generous mother-in-law!

We (and our wet boots and loud children) didn’t go inside this time.

But we did find a magical frozen fountain.

It wasn’t long before the parade began!  We staked out the same spot we’d claimed last year and watched Rappahannock’s finest march by.  Redcoats opened the parade, as usual.  (Steve leaned over to me and whispered, “We’re supposed to boo, right?”)

Checking out the parade route on the map.

There was a tinsel-bedecked tractor…

And another tractor festooned with wreaths and bows…

The sherriff…

Lots of animals (in addition to the Lil Sebastians – which is what I must call all miniature horses, everywhere – there was a posse of riders on regular-sized horseback escorting a tumble-down pile of puppies)…

Nugget’s buddy, Rappahannock 1…

And Santa and the Missus!  I have to admit, I liked their last year’s ride (a vintage green pickup truck) better.  But it’s always a treat to see them.

A Visit to Aladdin the Christmas Camel

Another holiday must-do is a drive down to Mount Vernon to visit with Aladdin, the Christmas Camel.  The short backstory is that George Washington used to procure a camel to entertain his stepchildren, and later his grandchildren, ever year at Christmas.  The estate keeps up that fun tradition and for as long as we have been visiting at the holidays – and this is another tradition that predates children – the camel has been Aladdin.  We saw Aladdin when he was just a baby, for his very first Mount Vernon season, and have come back every year since then (with the exception of our three years in New York, of course).

He’s gotten pretty gigantic!  This year, the estate took the precaution of an extra fence, which I can only imagine is intended to serve as a buffer between Aladdin – who is a very chill guy – and overly inquisitive children.  Not that we know any of those.

After saying hello to our friend Aladdin, we checked out the other fun around the estate.  They had some big cauldrons set up for a cooking demonstration later.

The kids raced around and played tag with a new friend, then we bid Aladdin adieu and wandered off to check out the other creatures on the estate.

Sheep are always a hit.

Walked down to the little beach.  Peanut asked to go swimming.  Ummmmm… NO.

Wandered around the “George Washington: Pioneer Farmer” site for a little bit and then headed back up the dirt road, hoping for a bit more time to spend with Aladdin before we had to go home for lunch.

Unfortunately, someone didn’t want to ride in the double stroller, and he also didn’t want to walk fast (or at all).  He alternated between squatting down by the side of the road and digging in the dirt, and asking for “uppy.”

I finally convinced him to keep up by giving him a “hiking stick.”  Should’ve known from the beginning – if there’s anything the kid loves, it’s hiking.  My nature boy!  He declared that he was “in Shenandoah.”  Oh, yeah – all outdoor spaces are “Shenandoah.”  (And I do mean all outdoor spaces – earlier this week, his nanny took him on the metro to check out a new play space, and he pointed out the trees speeding by in the very suburban neighborhood and informed his [very tolerant] nanny that they were in Shenandoah.  Ha!)

Such a fun morning in one of our favorite places!  We come to Mount Vernon all year round, because we love it so much, but it’s especially magical at Christmastime.  Like all of northern Virginia, really.

We have many more fun activities planned before this Christmas season comes to a close – I’ll have the rest to share with you after Christmas!  Happy holidays to all of my friends, no matter what you celebrate.  And if you’re a Christmas family, like us–

What are your favorite Advent traditions?