George Washington’s Going Home

Okay, not George Washington, but I couldn’t resist the Hamilton lyric. It me! I’m going home! And I’m not George Washington, probably.

So I’ve made a couple of vague mentions of a big, stressful family project and a major milestone. As you might have guessed, the big project was a home purchase. And the major milestone was closing. Just seven years after moving back home to northern Virginia, we are finally in possession of the keys to our forever house! Whew. I’ve been avoiding writing this blog post so as not to jinx anything (I’m very superstitious) but – with closing behind us, we are officially homeowners again and I’m feeling a weird mixture of relief, elation, excitement, and exhaustion. It’s been a roller coaster.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends and family who’ve been following along with the house-hunting saga:

How is the market? Horrible. I mean, great if you want to sell your house. Absolutely miserable if you want to buy – at least, in our area it was. We feel very blessed that we got a place, and that it didn’t take a year.

Is the house what you were looking for? Yes! It helped that we were pretty open-minded. At the beginning of our house hunt – which we started in earnest when we got home from Antarctica, although we’d been casually watching the market for about a year before then – we sat down with our realtor and talked about our priorities. Steve and I were in agreement that we really only cared about two things: we wanted a house (1) on a quiet street, and (2) in our same high school pyramid. Bonus points for the same elementary school. Beyond that, we were open to anything – any style, any condition, any size – within our budget, of course. (Our realtor told us that our expectations were “not unreasonable” and after that our rallying cry became “Go Team Expectations Are Not Unreasonable!”) We ended up finding a house on a cul-de-sac off a no-outlet road, so about as quiet as it gets, and in the same elementary-middle-high school chain. We’re absolutely thrilled.

So why now? Well, the short answer is that the lease on the house we’re currently renting is expiring and we did not want to extend it. We’re not thrilled with our current place and didn’t want to live here another year (although we could have, if it had come to that). We kind of hate our house and our street – love our actual neighbors, the people in our neighborhood are down-to-earth and delightful. But our biggest complaint for the past three years has been that we’ve been living on a street that is surprisingly busy: cars use our neighborhood as a cut-through, and we’re constantly seeing people fly up the street at 20 mph over the posted speed limit. These are drivers that don’t live in the neighborhood and neither know, nor care, that there are kids living in almost every house on the street, every single one of whom has almost been hit multiple times. Every time a car goes screaming by the house, I feel less safe. So we really, really wanted to go. We were just ready. And we couldn’t be happier to be moving to a much quieter street.

When will you move in? Towards the end of June – the house needs a lot of cosmetic updating, much of which will be easier to do before we have furniture in the space. We’ve been working on lining up contractors since we went under contract last month, and our first project has already started – YAY! We’re lucky in that the previous owner kept the boring/expensive stuff very up-to-date (the roof, windows, all the systems – all quite new and in excellent condition) but did nothing cosmetic. So we just get to make the fun decisions and enjoy a new roof that we don’t have to pay for. That’s the main reason we’re waiting about six weeks to move in – the other is that our movers were booked up until then anyway, heh.

Are you excited? We are! So excited. This has been quite a saga. We have actually been loving this house from afar and we tried to buy it off market back in March; we were shut down and then surprised when the house was listed for sale just a couple of weeks later. It was definitely meant to be. I’ve been running through the neighborhood for three years, wishing I lived on one of its quiet streets, and we couldn’t be happier to be moving into our dream neighborhood soon. And the fact that the kids will be safely enrolled in the high school pyramid that we carefully chose three years ago, with no disruption – not even a change in elementary schools – is amazing.

I’m not going to share many details about the move or the home renovation that we’re going to be doing – this isn’t a home reno or a DIY blog, for one thing, and I am notoriously private about my space, for another. (It’s a running joke with my colleagues that I hate it when people look into my house during zoom meetings.) But now you know why I’ve been too fried to read much lately – I’ve been reading real estate documents and lying awake gaming out doomsday scenarios in which the rug gets ripped out from under us and we have to scramble to find another rental. Glad to have that behind me, and now on to the fun stuff – picking paint colors!

The Week in Pages: May 22, 2023

Happy Monday… afternoon/evening, whoops! It’s been another long one, folks. I always mean to write this post first thing in the morning and it seems half the time I forget, and don’t think of it until late in the day… or Tuesday. This time, I have an excuse – I had an early morning meeting at our new house! So, for those who have noticed the vague references to a big/stressful family project and haven’t actually guessed (I always think I’m more mysterious than I actually am) – the big project is Adventures in Real Estate. We’re buying and renovating a house – last Thursday was the big closing day and it went off smoothly despite my many fears, and now we’re into the fun stuff. Today I was giving last minute instructions to the house painters and bathroom renovator as both started their work, and then I rushed home to jump into an all-day work meeting and only just came up for air. But this is a good development, we’re all very excited about it, and I’ll share (a few) more details on Wednesday.

So, as you can see, it was a slow reading week for good reason. Closing week is always stressful – I’ve been through it a few times – and I often lack the brain power for a book during those really anxious, busy weeks. And another reason: after finishing up Sinister Spring on Monday morning, I turned to The Three Musketeers, which is a doorstopper at 672 pages (my edition, anyway). As of press time, I’m about 425-ish pages in, so making good progress especially considering the hectic week, and I expect to be done with the book by the middle of this week or so. It’s good, swashbuckling, silly fun and I’m enjoying it – just finding it hard to carve out the time to sit down and get lost in d’Artagnan’s adventures with the Three Musketeers.

After this, I’m craving something shorter – a novella or some other quick read will be just what the doctor ordered. No specific book in mind, although my work book club is reading Crying in H Mart for our June meeting and I just got a notification that my library hold copy is on its way, so perhaps that? We’ll see.

Exciting stuff! Just seven years after selling our house in western New York and moving back to Virginia, we’re finally homeowners again! We couldn’t be happier with our new house – it’s in the neighborhood we wanted, on a nice quiet street, with great bones and lots of scope for us to personalize it and make it exactly what we want. We’ve already met a few of our soon-to-be new neighbors and they have all been so friendly and welcoming. Moving day can’t come soon enough!

What are you reading this week?

Antarctica and Patagonia 2023: Embarkation!

After literally years of waiting for this moment – dreaming, planning, having the rug pulled out from under me, planning some more – the Ocean Diamond was docked in the Port of Ushuaia, the gangway was down and it was time to GO TO ANTARCTICA! To be perfectly honest, I was almost afraid to believe it until the moment my feet were both on the gangway. (And even then, until we actually lifted anchor I was half afraid someone would appear at my elbow and say, “Excuse me, ma’am, there seems to be some mistake.”) But that didn’t happen – of course it didn’t – and Steve and I found ourselves on board, giddily exploring the ship as we waited to leave the harbor and strike out on our adventure.

First on the agenda was finding our cabin. We’d booked a twin window cabin and were up on the sixth deck, right by the lifeboats.

In retrospect, if I had it to do over again knowing everything I know now, I probably would have saved some money and gotten a porthole instead of a window. I figured we would want to have the window so we could keep a constant watch for whale tails, but we spent less time in our cabin than I expected. (That said, I did spot several spouts and whale tails out of this window so…)

I’ve never been on a cruise ship before (and an Antarctica cruise isn’t really like anything else…) so I found it fascinating that everything, literally everything, was bolted down. Not a surprise, just fascinating. And the expedition staff were very clear that we should secure all of our possessions in closets and drawers before going to bed at night, or things would fly around the cabin – especially while we were crossing the Drake Passage. I was very diligent about stowing everything, and even so, I had to get up in the middle of the night to reorient my suitcase, which was rolling around and smashing into the closet doors the first night. (I learned my lesson quickly – that was the first and last time I stowed my suitcase upright.)

After finding our room, we stopped by the lounge to pick up afternoon tea snacks to share, and then sat through our embarkation briefing – the first of many briefings we would attend over the next two weeks. All of the food was delicious, but the little slices of coconut cake were the star of the show.

Briefing done, we wandered around the ship some more. I really wanted to be on the stern to wave goodbye to Ushuaia. We found a spot to stand up on the seventh deck – the observation level – and checked out all the fun toys stacked up on deck six: about a dozen zodiacs and – exciting stuff here, people – the sea kayaks we’d be paddling in Antarctica!

As we stood looking out over the exciting adventure apparatus, the ship started moving almost imperceptibly at first, then picking up a little bit – the Port of Ushuaia started to recede, and we were officially underway!

Two adventurers ready to go!

The evening was devoted to exiting the Beagle Channel. We sailed past Puerto Williams, Chile (barely visible in the picture above, snuggled just below the saddle of two mountains) and passed another ship also headed south out of the Beagle. The first hours were smooth and uneventful – the Beagle Channel has its moments, but it’s nothing compared to the Drake and we lucked into quiet waters. We took advantage of the opportunity to wander around the decks some more, looking out for whales (hey, you never know) and other wildlife (someone saw a Magellanic penguin, but it wasn’t us!).

In fact, that’s largely what we did for the next two days. We lucked out with a decent crossing of the Drake – the waves were 14-18 feet at times and rolling, but I am not prone to motion sickness; Steve is but he wore Relief Bands and was fine. While I discovered that I don’t sleep much on boats, neither one of us got sick, which was fortunate because our sea days were packed with briefings – zodiac safety; gear checks with our kayak group; parka and muck boot fittings; wildlife lectures. We did find some time to test out our new Quark Expeditions parkas on the decks as we watched albatrosses and petrels swoop behind the ship.

These are two people who are ready for a big adventure!

Next week: we FINALLY arrive in Antarctica!

Classics Club Challenge: The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkein

I put The Silmarillion on my Classics Club list largely for completionist reasons – I have already read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (once each) and I own pretty editions of all the books – including this one – from The Folio Society. So it was partly in the spirit of reading books I already own, partly to finish up all of the principal works, and partly because I thought I might enjoy getting some more backstory, that I decided to give The Silmarillion a try.

The Silmarillion is the tale of the Elder Days of Middle-Earth and a war that raged for generations over a set of gems called The Silmarils. The war involves Elves, Men, Dwarfs, gods, and Sauron’s boss Morgoth as the big baddie (although to be perfectly honest, even most of the Elves don’t come off great). A Goodreads reviewer referred to The Silmarillion as being kind of like the Bible of LOTR and I think that’s right. It’s very like the Bible (or those few parts I’ve actually read, anyway…) complete with flowery language and lots of “begats.” About that flowery language, this is how it all begins:

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Iluvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

Um. Okay? I probably understood some of that, maybe. (To paraphrase the great investigative journalist Philomena Cunk, when are they going to start translating Tolkein’s books into proper English? You know, from like, ancient English? By the way – if you’re not watching “Cunk on Earth” yet, do go watch the first episode. I’ll wait.)

Anyway, as you can tell – with apologies in advance for the blasphemy I’m about to commit – I didn’t like The Silmarillion much. I actually tried to read it several months ago and put it down after five pages; when I picked it up again recently it went much faster, but that was because I was mostly skimming. It was hard to follow – especially because I’m not really a LOTR fan, have only read the trilogy and The Hobbit once each, and had basically nothing invested in the Middle-Earth origin story. Well – not basically nothing. I had nothing invested. Nothing at all. Most of the characters were unfamiliar to me, the war over the Silmarils seemed ridiculous (everyone in multiple worlds, from Gods down to dwarfs, goes to war over some jewelry? Okay then…), and because of the overblown language I found the plot next to impossible to follow. A lot of Elves died, and I really didn’t care at all. I think the reader is supposed to be very upset about some of the deaths, but – shruggyface.

If you’re a big Lord of the Rings fan and you’ve not yet read The Silmarillion, I’m sure you’ll love it. If you’re not a fan and feel no connection to that world or the books – like me – you can skip this one without FOMO.

Have you read The Silmarillion? Please tell me how wrong I am.

The Week in Pages: May 15, 2023

Hello, friends! Happy Monday – I suppose. How were your weekends? Did you have fun being celebrated (if you’re a mom) or celebrating the moms and mother figures in your life? I had a good one – a nice mix of reading time (which I used very productively) and time spent outdoors hiking and gardening.

Last week, Steve said to me: “You know you’re exhausted when you’re too tired in the evenings to even do the things you enjoy.” It’s definitely been a long and exhausting month. I’d like to say that this week should be quieter, but it won’t be. I’ve mentioned that we are working on a family project, and we have a major milestone coming up on Thursday – after which I’ll feel a lot more comfortable about it all. We’ll still be busy – there are a lot of moving pieces – but less stressed. I can’t wait. Steve and I have concert tickets for Friday night and it’s going to feel like such a celebration. (I’ll explain more next week, once we’ve cleared Thursday’s big hurdle.)

Anyway, despite being completely overwhelmed, I actually managed to get through five books last week! Most of the workweek, I spent over A Countryman’s Spring Notebook, which I adored. I took my time with it, because I wanted to really soak up Adrian Bell’s beautiful writing. Then I moved on to a string of quick reads – starting with Quidditch Through the Ages. Nugget is on a big Harry Potter kick right now (we’re still reading a chapter a night at bedtime, and are almost halfway through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and he brought this one home from the elementary school library. I took advantage of him going to bed earlier than I do and blazed through it in an evening. Very fun! (“Broomstick idiots at it again” – LOL.) Next, I picked up Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, which has been on my TBR for ages and which I borrowed from the library with the intent of finally getting to it so I can listen to two episodes of Shedunnit which contain spoilers. It was one of the best Christies I’ve read; I did not guess the killer, and it was a fitting finale for the Hercule Poirot series. Then another quick one – a re-read of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, because my team at work has decided to start a book club and this is the first selection. A classic. And finally, read over Sunday afternoon (and just finished up this morning), Sinister Spring, the latest release in Harper Collins’ special edition collections of seasonal short stories by Agatha Christie. As always, a romp – fun from the first page to the last. (Lots of jewel heists in this one!)

And now, because a stressful week clearly calls for a doorstopper – I kid, I kid – I’m turning my attention to The Three Musketeers. It’s going to take all week to power through that whopper, but it’s got to be done – July’s Classics Club deadline looms.

Lovely hike for Mother’s Day! We hit up Scott’s Run Nature Preserve and narrowly missed seeing one of my co-workers there hiking with her little guys. I hope all of the moms felt as celebrated as I did!

What are you reading this week?

Antarctica & Patagonia 2023: The End of the World

I’ve been dreaming of traveling to Antarctica for years – I’m a total whale nerd and the prospect of seeing my beloved humpback whales in some of the most remote waters on the planet… it’s the stuff dreams are made of. Back in 2018, Steve and I started discussing the prospect of making this dream trip a reality. I did a ton of research into different options – expedition providers, itineraries, best times to see our top priority wildlife, all of it – and settled on a trip with the highly rated polar travel experts, Quark Expeditions, in February 2022. That trip ended up being postponed a year due to COVID-related itinerary changes (don’t feel too sorry for Steve and me, though, because we consoled ourselves with an incredible adventure in Costa Rica). We waited patiently for another year and in February 2023, found ourselves en route to the ends of the earth, ready for our grand Antarctic adventure to finally begin.

Our ship was scheduled to sail from the port of Ushuaia, Argentina – a small city on the very tip of South America, popularly known as fin del mundo – the end of the world. It was certainly remote! Getting there was an expedition in and of itself – three flights (DC to Miami, Miami to Buenos Aires, and Buenos Aires to Ushuaia) plus an eight hour layover in between the second and third flights. We were traveling for two days straight, just to get to our embarkation point. But as our Aerolineas Argentina flight descended over the Beagle Channel into Ushuaia on the final leg, and I pressed my nose against the plane window to take in the absolutely spectacular mountains, it was all worth it.

We rolled into our hotel late in the evening on Valentine’s Day and set off looking for food (neither one of us had eaten more than a yogurt for the entirety of our layover or the final flight). Turns out, it’s just as hard to find a restaurant table in Ushuaia as it is anywhere else on Valentine’s. We eventually found a pizza joint that was able to seat us and dug into dinner at 10:00 p.m.

The next day was Embarkation Day. We slept in and headed down to the hotel dining room for a leisurely breakfast, and I nearly jumped out of my skin when I looked out the window and saw our ship, the Ocean Diamond, docked right across the street. I’m not sure I really believed that we were actually going to Antarctica until that moment.

Seeing all of the trip luggage piled up in the hotel lobby, ready to be transported to the ship, helped make it feel real, too.

The actual embarkation wasn’t scheduled until later in the evening. So after we signed our final paperwork and medical attestations, we were free to explore Ushuaia. Steve and I took the opportunity to walk around the cute downtown area (I mused that “it’s like South America, but make it Switzerland”) and grab food. We’d tried to eat dinner at a highly rated restaurant the prior day and there was no availability, so we popped in for lunch instead. I wasn’t very hungry, so I just had an empanada appetizer and coffee. Steve enjoyed perfectly cooked salmon on a bed of delicious-looking vegetables; I had some order envy and regretted my choice a tiny bit (even though my food was delicious too).

Spectacular mountains!

I was obsessed with this cute little town square and the adorable blue double-decker bus. And seriously, can’t get enough of these mountains in the background.

When in Ushuaia, it’s practically required to stop by the “fin del mundo” sign and take a picture. Until we started talking seriously about traveling to Antarctica, I can’t say that I ever imagined myself traveling here. What a cool adventure!

With a little time to spare, we even found space for an afternoon stop at an adorable cafe for some of Ushuaia’s famous hot chocolate. I can confirm that it lived up to the hype – yum.

Finally, legs agreeably tired from wandering the downtown and harbor areas and tummies happily treated to delicious Patagonian hot chocolate, we headed back to the hotel, where we jumped onto coach buses with our fellow passengers for the ride to the secured area of the port – and our long anticipated walk up the gangway on the Ocean Diamond.

Next week – exploring the ship, and embarking for Antarctica at last!

The Classics Club Challenge: Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Another book that has been on my to-be-read pile for years, Beloved is perhaps Toni Morrison’s best known work, in which the author re-imagines the life of Margaret Garner, a real-life runaway enslaved mother who killed one of her children and tried to kill the others in an effort to prevent them being recaptured and re-enslaved. The real-life Margaret Garner was arrested and imprisoned, and ultimately released after becoming a rallying point for abolitionists who pointed to her as an example of the horrific consequences of slavery.

Spoilers ahead!

In Beloved, Margaret Garner becomes Sethe Suggs. Sethe came to the Sweet Home plantation as a young girl and yearned for freedom. For the enslaved persons who worked there, Sweet Home was neither sweet nor a home, but it was at least livable – if barely – under the Garners. Sethe was a trusted companion to the owner’s wife, and the five enslaved men who lived on the plantation were allowed to carry guns and learn to read (if they wanted to – which they didn’t), and Sethe was allowed to marry one of the enslaved men. But when the owner died, and his wife brought her brother-in-law (“schoolteacher”) to help with the plantation, life at Sweet Home became intolerable. When a plan to run away goes awry, Sethe finds herself on the run by herself – having sent her three children ahead of her to her mother-in-law in Ohio – heavily pregnant and pursued. After a horrifying attack by schoolteacher’s nephews followed by a lonely and harrowing journey, Sethe arrives in Cincinnati with newborn daughter Denver to join her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and her three older children (sons Howard and Buglar, and an unnamed older baby girl). But schoolteacher catches up with Sethe – and she makes the heart-wrenching decision to kill her children and herself rather than see them all taken back to Sweet Home. She only manages to kill one of her four children – the unnamed older baby girl – and is sent to prison after schoolteacher deems her not fit to return to the plantation.

The story opens eighteen years after this tragic history. Baby Suggs has died, the boys have left, and Sethe lives alone with Denver and the ghost of the unnamed baby girl. After her release from prison, Sethe had the baby buried under a tombstone bearing the one word she could afford – “Beloved.” Now the baby ghost is Denver’s only company – until Paul D, one of the Sweet Home men (not Sethe’s husband Halle, who never made it to Ohio) moves into the house and expels the ghost. Shortly thereafter, a young woman calling herself Beloved appears out of nowhere. Sethe and Denver take her in, over Paul D’s misgivings.

Denver quickly becomes attached to Beloved, but Beloved has eyes only for Sethe. But something is off about Beloved – she came from nowhere and can explain nothing about her origins; her feet are so soft she doesn’t seem to have walked a day in her life. Eventually, Denver puts two and two together and concludes that Beloved is her dead sister, returned in the flesh – but to what end? Denver believes – hopes – it’s to provide company and relieve her loneliness.

Denver neither believed nor commented on Sethe’s speculations, and she lowered her eyes and never said a word about the cold house. She was certain that Beloved was that white dress that had knelt with her mother in the keeping room, the true-to-life presence of the baby that had kept her company most of her life. And to be looked at by her, however briefly, kept her grateful for the rest of the time when she was merely the looker.

Paul D is less accepting of Beloved. He doesn’t like her sudden appearance or her immediate adoption into the household – but it’s Sethe’s house, not his, and he has no say. Soon he finds himself involuntarily driven from the house (which he suspects has something to do with Beloved), and when a neighbor tells him what Sethe was imprisoned for eighteen years before, he leaves altogether. At first, the three women – left to their own devices – give themselves up to the enjoyment of each other. One day, Sethe finds a pair-and-a-half of ice skates, and she and her two daughters (because Sethe too has concluded that Beloved his her dead daughter come back to her) spend a sparkling day on a frozen pond.

Nobody saw them falling.

Holding hands, bracing each other, they swirled over the ice. Beloved wore the pair; Denver wore one, step-gliding over the treacherous ice. Sethe thought her two shoes would hold and anchor her. She was wrong. Two paces onto the creek, she lost her balance and landed on her behind. The girls, screaming with laughter, joined her on the ice. Sethe struggled to stand and discovered not only that she could do a split, but that it hurt. Her bones surfaced in unexpected places and so did laughter. Making a circle or a line, the three of them could not stay upright for one whole minute, but nobody saw them falling.

Each seemed to be helping the other two stay upright, yet every tumble doubled their delight. The live oak and soughing pine on the banks enclosed them and absorbed their laughter while they fought gravity for each other’s hands. Their skirts flew like wings and their skin turned pewter in the cold and dying light.

Nobody saw them falling.

The ice skating day was the end of Sethe’s brief happiness with Denver and Beloved. Soon the balance of the household is upset – Beloved is consolidated her power, growing literally larger as Sethe shrinks. Finally Denver – who has never strayed far from the house since returning from prison with her mother as an infant, who was the first to recognize and believe Beloved to be her sister, who welcomed Beloved as much-needed companionship, who always feared her mother might kill again – decides it’s up to her to save their family.

There is so much in Beloved – an unsparing look at the horrors of slavery, paired with musings on family, desperation, malicious envy, motherhood, community, redemption… In trying to think of what I would write about this book, I was overwhelmed just by the number and complexity of the themes and the richness of the text. I’m not even sure what to say – and look, I’ve written paragraphs and paragraphs just summarizing the plot. Rather than skim the surface and fail to do justice to this slim but rich narrative, I’ll just encourage you to read it right away if you haven’t already. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to Beloved, with its evocative writing and heart-wrenching, unsparing story.

Have you read any Toni Morrison?

The Week in Pages: May 8, 2023

Happy Monday… afternoon? Evening? Sorry for being late – again – with this weekly reading update. I blame Monday. It’s been the Monday-est of all Mondays around here, too. The screamiest, Monday-est of Mondays. I told one of my co-workers that I think we should just make Mondays illegal going forward. Sound like a plan?

Anyway – last week was a doozy. I had limited time and even less attention for reading, and the result was that I spent basically the entire week over Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, which is a nice quick read that I would ordinarily whip through in a couple of days. I definitely enjoyed it, but it took way longer than usual because of trying to read with a completely fried-to-a-crisp brain. I eventually did hit my stride and finished it up late on Sunday, and then – because I can’t be between reads – picked up A Countryman’s Spring Notebook, a pre-order to which I’ve been looking forward for months now. Read it a bit over coffee this morning and I’m about forty pages in and loving it every bit as much as I knew I would.

Next up, I think I’ll read Curtain – the final Poirot mystery, which I have out from the library – because I have a couple of episodes of Shedunnit that include spoilers, and I want to read the book first. And then, down to business on my final three reads for the Classics Club. Closing in on my deadline, with three doorstoppers left – encouragement welcome.

It was a big baseball weekend! Nugget played games for his regular AA Little League team on Thursday and Saturday, and on Friday night we got an email calling him up to play a game for one of the AAA teams on Sunday – subbing in for a player who had to miss the game. Not sure if he will play any more AAA games this spring, but he had a great time, scored two runs (including one on a steal of home) and rotated between second and third bases. We spent at least twelve hours at the ballpark between Thursday and Sunday, but what fun he is to watch on the diamond.

What are you reading this week?

Dakotas Road Trip 2022: Castle Trail (Badlands National Park)

With a whole day to play in Badlands National Park, we wanted to mix up the adventure and try a few different things. We did the Junior Ranger program, of course – the kids are always salty, but then they’re happy to have their badges – hit a few overlooks, and visited a dinosaur site where we thought we’d see some fossils but didn’t. And we squeezed in an extra hike, for good measure – the popular Castle Trail.

The Castle Trail, I understand, is named for the towering buttes that rise in the distance and look like fairy tale castles. You can see it! It was a good family trail for us, because it was (1) flat, (2) clearly marked, and (3) as long as we wanted it to be, but no longer – it’s a long-distance trail, and we were able to go as far as little legs were up for and then turn back on our own schedule. There’s no shade, but that doesn’t stop us – we slathered extra sunscreen over our Casper the Friendly Ghost-pale faces and hit the dust.

I’d be misleading you if I didn’t admit that there was a fair amount of grumbling and a few refusals to walk, from both kids. It’s something I’ve learned over ten years now of hiking with littles: you just have to go in with no expectations, enjoy the hike you get, and not worry about the distance. If I was trying for a specific goal or wanted to hike the entire trail, I’d have been inevitably frustrated. But the Castle Trail was nice – again – because it offered up scenery the entire time, so we were able to turn back when the parents had enough kid diplomacy, and we still got in plenty of views.

Seventeen years of marriage – there’s my wisdom. Go in with no expectations.

No, but really – the Castle Trail was a great addition to our itinerary for the day, and a fun one to combine with the Door and Window Trails I showed you last week; it offered up different scenery and a different hiking experience, but was accessible and centrally located in the park. Can’t go wrong.

And that concludes our epic Dakotas (with Wyoming interlude) road trip from summer 2022! For a somewhat last-minute strategy shift after Yellowstone flooding scuttled our originally planned (and booked!) summer trip, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience. There was so much scenery to enjoy, the kids loved the cowboy culture, glamping was hilarious – it was such a fun adventure. I can unreservedly recommend the Dakotas (although if you’re not a biker, maybe check the Sturgis dates before you book…) whether you’re traveling with anklebiters or not.

Check in with me next week for the next travel series – we’re just going to keep right on rolling! And I can promise something very different: from this hot, sunny and sandy desert, we’re heading for the continent of ICE. Yep, I’m finally caught up and ready to share some pictures from Steve’s and my incredible adventure in Antarctica!

Reading Round-Up: April 2023

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 April, 2023.

On Wings of Song: Poems About Birds, ed. J.D. McClatchy – A sweet little volume of poems all about birds felt like the very best way to welcome in April. I always enjoy the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets books, and this one was no exception – just delightful from the first page to the last.

The New York Stories of Edith Wharton, by Edith Wharton – I love reading a book in its setting, especially when a sense of place is important to the story (or stories, as the case may be). So I knew exactly what I was bringing with me on our weekend jaunt up to New York City earlier this month – an NYRB Classics collection of Edith Wharton’s short stories set in the city. (Manhattan, mostly.) I usually have some hits and misses with short story collections, and there was definitely a range here, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed every story in this collection. (And it made me want to re-read my favorite Wharton novel, The Age of Innocence.)

Horizon, by Barry Lopez – This was a project, people. I downloaded Lopez’s ultimate travel memoir on Audible, in which he meanders through a lifetime of adventuring all over the world, because he concludes with a section about Antarctica. I had some pipe dreams of listening to that part while crossing the Drake Passage – and I could have done, if I was willing to take the book out of order, but I just don’t listen to books that way, even when it’s possible. There was a great deal to chew on and think about in here, and Lopez would certainly be an engaging travel companion (my aunt-in-law gushed about taking one of his books with her canoeing the Boundary Waters, which sounded just perfect) but by the time I made it through this nearly 24-hour-long audiobook, even listening on 1.2 speed, I was just over it all.

Beloved, by Toni Morrison – Full review to come for the Classics Club, but Beloved was an astonishing read. I think I was expecting something a little more straight historical fiction (not sure why, because the other Morrison books I have read have been heavy on magical realism, as this one was) and the ghost story was an engaging surprise.

The Swan: A Biography, by Stephen Moss – Looking for something a little lighter to pick up between intense Classics Club reads, I turned to the final one (for now) of Stephen Moss’s bird biography series. While I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the others, that’s largely because I’m not as into swans for some reason – it was still a wonderful, beautifully written and engaging book.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker – This is going to be one of my highlights of the year, I expect. Full review to come for the Classics Club, but briefly – I was actually nervous about reading this, worried about the abuse section of the storyline, but it ended up being a fairly small section, uncomfortable to read in the moment but important to the plot and not gratuitous, so I got through it. The story was wonderful, the characters leapt off the page, and I absolutely loved it and can see myself reading it again and again in years to come.

The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim – I’ve read this one a few times now, always in April for obvious reasons, and it never gets old. A story of four unlikely companions who rent a crumbling Italian castle for a month away from rain and responsibilities is charming and fun to read. And perfect for spring.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck – This has been on my list for ages – I love Steinbeck’s writing and have read and re-read favorites like Cannery Row and The Grapes of Wrath. East of Eden is probably his magnum opus and a candidate for The Great American Novel. I found it absolutely astonishing. Full review to come for the Classics Club in the next few weeks.

Slightly Foxed No. 77: ‘Laughter in the Library’, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – A new issue of Slightly Foxed is always a treat, and always adds something to my TBR. This one had me excited to read the latest Slightly Foxed Edition (True to Both My Selves, by Katrin FitzHerbert – I pre-ordered my copy and it’s on my bookshelf awaiting the right time) and to pick up Trollope’s Palliser novels once I’ve finished with the Chronicles of Barchester. Even the pieces discussing books that don’t strike my fancy are still delightful and fun to read – it’s so interesting to find out what makes different readers tick.

Seed to Dust: A Gardener’s Story, by Marc Hamer – I’ve been meaning to get to this and spring felt like the perfect time (although this book covers an entire year in the garden – not just the busy spring season). Marc Hamer has lived a fascinating life – thrown out by his father after his mother died, Marc was homeless and vagrant for years before eventually meeting his wife and raising a family. In this book, he follows a year in the garden that he tends (professionally, for an elderly employer he calls Miss Cashmere) and sprinkles in reflections on his personal history, his relationships with his wife and children, and the role of nature in modern life. It’s a wonderful read. (Also, that cover is spectacular.)

Quite a wonderful April in books! Three for the Classics Club – WOW – plus some lovely nature writing, a Slightly Foxed issue, and New York City-themed Edith Wharton read in situ. Doesn’t get much better than that! I’m not sure I can even pick a highlight, but if you made me… I suppose I would note that it is always wonderful to return to “The Enchanted April” and that Edith Wharton never fails. On the agenda in May… I’m hoping to knock out one more Classics Club read, and it’s a doorstopper: “The Three Musketeers.” Beyond that, I’ll probably try to keep the reading light. We’re in the middle of a stressful family project and I’m going to be needing my best comfort books to get me through. (Nothing is wrong – quite the contrary – but Steve and I are managing a lot of moving pieces right now and I’ve been losing way too much sleep over it all. Can’t wait to be out of this phase and thinking about more fun stuff, hopefully by June.) Some convalescent reading – Agatha Christie, anyone? – will be on the May book stack for sure.

How was your April in books? What are you looking forward to reading in May?