Sunday, December 17, 2023

Read in November 2023

 With these 7 books, I am now at 95 books read for the year - with the rest of December to go! I think I will definitely reach my goal of 100, but I'm so temptingly close to an all-time record that I am picking up the shortest books I can find to pad my numbers. I know, it's is silly, this is my personal reading and who cares how many books I read? Next year I'm hoping to focus on quality over quantity, finally diving into some long books and trying to complete the backlist of my favorite authors. I know I am not the only type-A reader out there!

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard
This has been on my list for over 15 years, and I finally bought a used copy so I could read it. I was expecting a multi-generational family saga with notes of Downton Abbey. But alas. In over 500 pages nothing happens. People have conversations, children play elaborate games. There is some conflict, but none of it ever gets resolved! There are several more books in the series and I can only hope that there is some plot or resolution, but I will not be sticking around to find out.

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin
I struggle to describe this book. An atheist lesbian somehow gets a job as the receptionist in a Catholic Church. Her life is kind of a mess, she's depressed, but it's also really funny? There are heavy topics addressed in this book, but they are handled with the perfect type of humor that still allows them to be taken seriously without being overly heavy. I enjoyed this book, and if you read this description and were intrigued, you probably would to. If you react with a hard "nope", then definitely skip it.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
I found this book on the take-one-leave-one shelf at work, and in an incredible feat of reading, finished it and took it back the same week! (Usually books come home to sit on my shelves for years.) How to describe this book... Jason is kidnapped and wakes up in an underground facility, in a world where his life is no longer his life. What results is a sci-fi/thriller mash-up. It's very fast paced and easy to read (lots of sentences as paragraphs). Overall I thought this was a fun book and will make you think about all the little things that have brought you to the life you're living.

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown
Wow. Everyone knows the story of the Donner party, right? At least the cannibalism part. But how did they end up stranded in the snowy mountains? Brown explains the series of unfortunate events and decisions which brought them to their terrible situation. The story of the group who set out on foot to find rescue truly was harrowing. If you're looking for adventure and a nonfiction account that reads like fiction, this book is excellent. If you are stressed out by such things, particularly details, then steer far away.

Vanishing Edge by Claire Kells
This is the first in a series featuring Felicity Harland, new on the job as a special agent for the National Park Service. (This is a real thing - my husband worked with them at one point so we expressed much incredulity about what was happening in this book. Being flown around in helicopters?? Spending all your time hiking around the wilderness with your dog? Solely investigating a double murder with literally no other agents? Suspend your disbelief.) Overall this is pretty much what you'd expect with this genre, with a touch of romance thrown in. It was a good palate cleanser. There are two more in the series, and I plan to read them as well.

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez
I've seen so many good reviews of this book that even though I don't read much romance, I checked out the audiobook. What a good time! The writing was funny, and the story was more believable than many others in this genre. I liked how the main characters were interested in each other from the start; no dumb fake-dating set ups here. I will definitely be checking out more by Abby Jimenez.

The Last Ranger by Peter Heller
What, two park ranger books in one month? Yes! I love Peter Heller's writing, and the fact that this book is set in Yellowstone (were we lived for a summer) had me so excited. In the end I found to to be fine; the descriptions of nature are great as always, but the plot was just "meh" and the mystery not all that captivating.

Monday, December 11, 2023

And the Garden Goes to Sleep

In November we had our first proper frosts, finally ending gardening season. I already miss the flowers, but I won't deny that this period of rest is very much needed. Our season is so long: I start seeds in February, start planting in March, harvest tulips in April and then go straight through October. I am not a fan of winter, with the sicknesses and cold and dark. However, it does go quite quickly when I think about how I only really have two months "off."

Revisiting these pictures already makes November seem so long ago, today, with our first snow on the ground. After the frost killed off the remaining plants, I cut down all the dead foliage, planted the tulips, and commenced dahlia digging. A lot of gardeners have been overwintering their dahlias in our zone 7a area, but I wanted to dig mine up to divide and cull the ones that were not performing. I also bought a dozen clumps from another nearby farmer, which meant I spent many hours digging, washing, dividing, and wrapping tubers for storage. I probably have several hundred tubers now, and room for 100 plants. I'm happy for the extra insurance! If I end up with extra in the spring, I'll be able to pot them up and hopefully sell the plants.

My pace of knitting has slowed down over the years. After producing some twenty-plus years of knits, I and everyone I know is fairly well stocked. I have a drawer full of socks and certainly don't need any more; they are just one of my favorite things to knit. Lately I have been focusing on making short socks that are wearable in warmer months. This pattern is Brambleberries by This Handmade Life. I love how they turned out... but, I committed my most-common knitting error. They are slightly too small. I blocked them out as much as I could and hope to get some use out of them.

You may ask, why not just unpick them and add some more length? After knitting at least 50 pairs of socks in my lifetime, I don't care enough to do this. I'll just move on to the next ones! Yes, I do have two daughters to potentially give them to but one of them already has feet bigger than mine

The yarn is Knitpicks Stroll, not my favorite, but I have a lot of it from many, many years ago. I don't have a massive yarn stash yet I could probably knit from it for many years to come!

Last month I mentioned I had signed up for a pottery class. I have two more classes to go of the five-week series. This is a communal studio, not glamorous or even that tidy, but oh, I love being there! It takes me right back to my college days. Although I was an art history major, I was required to take two art classes. I remember showing up at the art building at all hours to work on projects, along with my fellow students who were keeping similarly odd schedules, unencumbered by adult responsibilities.

After my first class, I quickly realized that I don't yet have the skills to envision what I want to make and then create it. This has resulted in an assortment of random pots with no specific function. As long as they are round and don't fall apart, that is good enough for me! I still have several steps to go before they are complete, so I'll share the finished products in my next post. 

Is there something you have always wanted to do but haven't found the time for? I highly suggest going for it - because we only live once, right?

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Read in October 2023


October was quite a month, resulting in much less reading than usual. All of these books are on the shorter side, too. Now that we're halfway into November, I can also say that I've been in comfort-read mood, with light romances and easy mysteries stocking my nightstand. I am here for it!

What do you use to track your reading? I've been a Goodreads user since it started over 15 years ago. But this year, the way that book ratings and reviews are put front and center has been bothering me. You can't avoid the rating, and on each book page you'll typically see a "this was the best book ever" review right along side a 1-star "this book was OK but the writer is a liberal" review. Plus, the whole thing is owned by Amazon and I'd rather not give them all my data. So, I've imported my library into Storygraph and will stop updating Goodreads at the end of the year. If you're on Storygraph and want to friend me, let me know in the comments. I'm having a great experience with this new site so far.

Code Gray: Death, Life, and Uncertainty in the ER by Farzon A. Nahvi: While Farzon shares a few fascinating cases from the ER, this book is more about the emotions and decision making that goes on behind the scenes. As the title says, there is a lot of gray area where physicians have to go against training or policy in order to provide the best care. It is also great insight into what's going on while you're getting annoyed waiting for your turn!

The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman: Hands down, the best cozy mystery series out there. I didn't think that the mystery in this book was as strong as in the others, but there is a plot about one of the main characters that totally made me cry. Osman writes with such kindness and sensitivity. He writes in the acknowledgements that he's starting a new series, so there won't be a Thursday Murder Club book next year - so sad! But I will definitely read anything else he writes.

My Favorite Things by Maira Kalman: My favorite type of book: handwritten! Kalman curated a museum exhibition of her favorite unique objects, and this book is the companion to that. I love how Kalman is doing something different in a sea of sameness.

The River by Peter Heller: Two college friends are on a canoe trip in Canada when they witness a crime - what follows is harrowing experience in the wilderness while they fight to survive. Heller is one of the best when it comes to creating a sense of place. I enjoy reading his books purely to be transported into nature, even if he does write about fishing, a lot.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: I've owned a copy of this book for over 15 years, so who knows why I was finally moved to pick it up and finally read it. I'm sorry it took me so long! The magical realism oddly makes sense here, and the story seems almost like a fairy tale. Overall it was a fun read. The structure of the book is really clever, with each chapter focusing on a recipe. (Admittedly - there is some cringey stuff in here, like the main character being only 17 - which isn't revealed until halfway through - and a scene that seems very much like rape but is not treated as such. It was published in 1989 and it shows.)

How Can I Help You? by Laura Sims: Librarian Margo is hiding a murderous past. When a new research librarian joins the staff, she begins to suspect that Margo is not who she says she is. While this book was creepy (kind of like Joe Goldberg in "You"), there wasn't too much thriller. It was kind of slow-paced and there wasn't too much to the plot. It was a quick listen but not memorable.

Falling by T.J. Newman: Is everyone reading this book right now? I can see why! It's a fast-paced thriller about a pilot whose family is kidnapped, and he must make a choice: crash the plane or his family is killed. While listening to this book, I could see the movie play out in my head. You know from the beginning that the plane full of people is going to make it (because what kind of disappointment would that be otherwise), but it was fun to see how the good guys make it out on top.

Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma by Claire Dederer: There are so many artists who have since been revealed to have done questionable, horrible, and even criminal things: Picasso, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, even JK Rowling. So can we separate the art from the artist? Should we? Dederer does not answer this question outright, preferring each reader to come to their own conclusion, but she provides lots to think about. She is a film critic, and that shows in the book through long digressions into film theory that frankly I found boring. But, the book did make me think about how to approach such artists, and I agree with her stance that there is no answer other than for each person to come to their own conclusion about what makes them feel comfortable.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Golden Light and a Trip to Glenstone

Isn't the light this time of year glorious? I try to get out more than usual during the fall, soaking up the colors, light, and temperatures as much as possible. The other week I took a trip to Glenstone, a rather unique local art museum that combines art galleries with a gorgeous landscape. There are many site-specific sculptures and art works along a meandering trail through hills and forest. While I'm not the biggest fan of modern art, the peaceful atmosphere makes frequent trips here worth the effort. (I last visited in November 2022, in the rain.)

This concrete bunker is hidden in the woods, and is the newest addition to the museum. Inside, there are four large rusty cylinders made of steel. That's it. I no longer attempt to ascribe meaning to contemporary art, but rather focus on the experience. The temperature plummeted upon entering, and because I was the only visitor, I heard nothing but dry leaves scraping across the concrete floor. 

I meandered through all the outdoor paths before coming to the museum itself. I usually visit the museum first, but the day was extremely warm and I wanted to walk around outside while the morning coolness still lingered. The architecture of the museum is the highlight; it's such a calm, light-filled space. While I usually enjoy experiencing the art, even if it's not to my taste, this time I left somewhat grumpy. I only noted two women artists represented in the whole museum. The museum can do what they want in terms of what they collect and display, but they risk ostracizing a large segment of the population. A few days later I got an email survey about my experience which showed they were very much aware of these problems based on the questions they asked.

A few months ago a new park and playground opened up near our house. I noticed the start of a trail but always wondered where it led. During lunch one workday on a beautiful, bright and warm day I headed over to explore.

And: the trail goes in a circle! I was convinced it connected to the regional park trails nearby, so imagine my surprise when I ended back at my car a little over a mile later. I applaud their efforts but in the end I didn't find it exciting to walk back and forth in a field. The trees were quite amazing this day, though.

Flower season has ended. While I'll miss the blooms, I am very much looking forward to having more free time in the evenings. The first few nights I felt aimless as I wandered around the house looking for things to do. A routine will emerge soon, particularly with the time change and early dark nights. I still have some big chores to do, mainly the digging up, dividing and storing of my 100+ dahlia plants. It's still too warm to do this, particularly because I will store the tubers in my basement. Conventional guidance is to store them between 40-50 degrees all winter, but I don't just happen to have a root cellar like other flower farmers seem to have. So, they will be stored around 60-65 degrees which worked ok last winter. 

I find winter difficult, like a lot of people. Learning a lesson from last year, I signed up for a pottery class to keep myself occupied, and I start in 2 weeks! Leaving the house and having projects is key for me to not get run down by the cold, gray weather. What keeps you going through the colder months?

Monday, October 23, 2023

Read in September 2023


September was full of fabulous reads and two duds. Read on to find out which is which! 

The Postcard by Anne Berest: This was an engaging, well-written novel that takes place during WWII with the author's own family as the inspiration. The characters are real people and you can even see pictures of them online, which made the whole story even more heartbreaking. The story is structured in an interesting way - I recommend this one to everyone!

Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want To Come: One Introvert's Year of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan: Unlike Yes Man, this book actually involved saying yes to opportunities. As an introvert, some of the things that Pan does are downright terrifying: stand-up comedy! Improv! Networking! She learns and grows along the way, which makes for the best type of memoir. If you are an extrovert you may not totally get this one, but read it to see how the other half lives.

My Murder by Katie Williams: In the future, those who have died can be cloned exactly and be given their life back. The main character of this book is a young victim of a serial killer who starts to question the circumstances of her murder. The premise of the book was clever and there is a twist I was not expecting.

The Whispered Word by Ellery Adams: I read the first book in this series and liked it enough to pick up this one, but was disappointed. It's like the author heard "cozy mystery" and then went over the top with the cozy to the point where it became ridiculous. Everyone is always eating "comfort scones" and sipping hot drinks from mugs with witty sayings. The main character is "bibilotherapist" which is not even a real thing; at one point she assists a man with a hording disorder by "prescribing" him a Marie Kondo book. Eye-roll.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby: This is a memoir by a former magazine editor who, after suffering a stroke, is "locked in" to a completely paralyzed body. His mind is intact, and the only way he can communicate is by blinking one eye. The situation is horrifying. Even if you've seen the movie made of this book, I suggest reading the book because it's beautiful (and they also changed the story for the movie.)

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer: I love a good adventure memoir, and this one is a classic of the genre. Krakauer was a part of a deadly expedition to Mt. Everest in 1996. I did find the book a little hard to follow though because of the barrage of names and locations. I never was 100% sure who a person was or exactly what happened. Also, stay away from these mountains, everyone!

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff: If you've seen the show Bad Sisters, this is the book version that takes place in India. Everyone thinks that Geeta murdered her husband, and her friends start asking her for help getting rid of their abusive husbands. The topic is heavy but this book is oddly funny. The characters have the best lines! A great read.

Tell Everyone on This Train I Love Them by Maeve Higgins: I checked out this audiobook purely because it was in the humor section and from the cover, it seemed that would be the case. This book was not humor. I'm not even sure what it was, not really a memoir either. It was mostly just an Irish lady trying to explain police shootings and American politics to Americans. She seems to be very down on this country but also wants to become a citizen? This book doesn't add anything new to these discussions.

The Memory of Animals by Claire Fuller: A global pandemic (sound familiar?) is raging and a group of test subjects have assembled at a hospital to test the newly-created vaccine. Before the test can really get underway, the pandemic spirals out of control, killing almost the entire population. The small group of survivors is left at the hospital. There's also some weird stuff about an octopus and a machine where you can relive memories. I love Claire Fuller so I really liked this book; but if you are not a fan of her work, then this book might be too much.

After Work: A History of the Home and the Fight for Free Time by Helen Hester and Nick Smicek: Fair warning on this one, this book is written like assigned writing in grad school. Almost every sentence is cryptic in an academic way and that sort of annoyed me. The focus is on how even with advances in technology, we still are burdened with so much work outside of work: child raising, cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc. The reasons for this were the most interesting part of the book. It has a lot to do with rising expectations and the movement of tasks from specialists onto individuals. (For example, you used to have a few sets of clothes, and sent them out to be laundered; or your job was in a laundry. Now, everyone has way more clothes that need to be washed frequently, and we do them ourselves in our own homes.) The solutions outlined in the last chapter sounded amazing, but completely discount that people are PEOPLE and honestly, will eventually ruin everything.

Friday, October 6, 2023

September Update

After a hot, dry, humid, and busy summer, things started to let up a bit in September. The second half of the month brought cooler weather, and the lessening of gardening chores meant there was more free time for exploring. We had the most amazing rainbow in the backyard, a full arch! It didn't last long but we all ran outside to enjoy it while it was there. 

The light is changing. Cora sat on the couch long enough for me to take this photo, but don't let it fool you, within a minute she was back setting up horse jumps all over the floor. We got a new couch! After the previous one being abused for 14 years, I did a ton of research and found my dream couch. It's a beautiful color (more forest green than how it looks in the picture) and it's high enough off the ground that cat toys and dust can't hide away for years underneath it.

So far the cat has stayed away from scratching it - he just scratches the carpet instead, but that's fine, because the carpet was 10% of the price of the couch. I've always thought of rugs as disposable in our house, because eventually they become so ruined by cat claws, spills, and scissors-wielding children that they need to be replaced. This is not the season of life for wall-to-wall carpeting.

I love working from home so much. I have a beautiful home office with lots of light, and cozy bookshelves, plants and candles. I have an adjustable desk and can move around during meetings while wearing comfy pants. I get super grumpy on the days I have to go into the actual office, which is dark, gray, and cold. I come home exhausted and headachy. Ugh! Ideally I'd have a fully remote job, but after 13 years with the same company, it's hard to walk away from the benefits and responsibility I've earned over the years. If anyone has ideas for making office life better, let me know!

Inspired by Karen I deadheaded my marigolds and made this garland. It was so pretty! Unfortunately it lasted less than 24 hours, and I found all the flowers lying in a pile on the ground. I didn't use thick enough thread, so I'll have to try again with better supplies.

I dry as many extra flowers as I can throughout the year. There are so many beautiful crafts you can do with them, but you know... time. I sell them as dried bouquets and they do pretty well. These flowers are from last year and still going strong. Most of the dried flowers sold in craft stores have been dyed or otherwise chemically preserved.

The kids and I went to the local community fair, which we do almost every year because it's close by and free. I didn't enter any knitting this year because I haven't finished many projects. It's Mary's life goal to win a blue ribbon though, so she got all kinds of ideas about what she wants to make for next year. Because it's a small local fair, the competition is not... fierce. As long as she can follow through, she has a good chance of getting that ribbon. Also: miniature horses!

We also went to an RV show. Now, we have no intention of buying an RV. The ones that can fit 4 people are too big and expensive, and I do not want a house-on-wheels to maintain. They are basically playhouses, so the kids LOVED them. They pretended that they lived in one and cooked fake dinner. If you haven't seen an RV lately, they are NICE. Some of them have multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, and SECOND FLOORS. Inexplicably they seem to all be designed in a "farmhouse" style. Oh, and the most expensive one we saw cost $230,000!!!!

Motivated by my relatively quick finish of my last quilt, I continued on to working on my last remaining quilt in progress. This one is made up of t-shirts, and if you can't zoom in to see, most are at least 20 years old. I have another t-shirt quilt that I made of even older shirts (circa 1996) that I've used for so long that it's literally falling apart. I had to completely replace the binding a few years ago. This one should be equally cuddly. I don't have any scraps big enough to do the sashing and backing, so I had to order some fabric, along with batting. I am trying to whittle down my fabric collection as my tastes have changed over the years and I want to make room for the new. A big scrap quilt is likely needed to finally use everything up.

At the end of the month I had my real vacation: a relaxing trip with my friends to what we have started calling the "craft cabin" (although it's a different rental house every year). This year we went to the mountains in Virginia. The view from our balcony was stunning, if cloudy most of the time. The quiet and birdsong made me fall in love with this place - I will definitely be back to this area. 

I could stare at this view all day. It was wet outside the majority of the time, but I made sure to sit outside as much as possible. And the fall weather made it seem extra cozy inside.

We made candles! It was fairly easy and I plan to keep an eye out for interesting containers at thrift stores to fill with wax.

The house was marketed as "ski-in", which obviously we couldn't do, but that meant we were a walkable distance to the ski slopes. The resort runs the lift for mountain bikers, but it was closed that day, leading to a very quiet and lovely walk. Can you see the brown mountain bike trails crisscrossing the slope? Going down one of these must be terrifying. Most of the runs require full-face helmets and displayed all sort of concerning warnings. (This is also why I don't ski!)

I hope everyone is having a lovely fall. I find that transitional seasons give me the most energy, meaning lots of projects planned for the future; but who knows when they will actually get done. The fun is the planning! Wishing you all beautiful weather and fabulous reads!

Friday, September 22, 2023

Read in August 2023

I read 8 books in August, some better than others, which is what always happens! 

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths is another installment of the Ruth Galloway series. This may be my favorite mystery series of all, so I was super bummed to hear that the final book in the series has been published. There are only 8 more for me to enjoy! (I did skip one book so far because the subject matter had to do with harm coming to children, and I try to avoid that.) In this book, a WWII plane is dug up, with the pilot still inside. Except: that pilot was supposed to have disappeared over the ocean. Of course, we get to visit with all our favorite characters, which is really the point of this series. I highly recommend it; it's got cozy vibes without being silly.
Yes Man by Danny Wallace had been on my TBR for almost 15 years! I couldn't figure out a way to get the book through the library or any free app, so I finally just bought a copy. The concept was so appealing to me: Wallace vows to say yes to every opportunity that comes his way, in an effort to have more experiences. But, that's not actually his experiment. Instead, he says yes to any question he's asked. This results in him saying yes to things that he doesn't want to say yes to (for example, his ex-girlfriend asks if he minds if she starts dating someone, and he says yes - even though he doesn't mind in reality.) He also says yes to junk mail, spam email, and advertising. Funny at first, the joke got old quickly. He has some interesting adventures, but in the end the book wasn't what I was expecting.

The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim has some of the greatest lines every written. It begins:
Last night after dinner, when we were in the garden, I said, "I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life. I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow. Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick. I shall spend the months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests. I shall watch the things that happen in my garden, and see where I have made mistakes. On wet days I will go into the thickest parts of the forests, where the pine needles are everlastingly dry, and when the sun shines I'll lie on the heath and see how the broom flares against the clouds. I shall be perpetually happy, because there will be no one to worry me. Out there on the plain there is silence, and where there is silence I have discovered there is peace."
The main character spends time in her garden, observing nature. It's a beautiful book... and then. Eventually you realize that this woman is very rich, and the reason she is able to sit alone in her garden for an entire summer is because she has staff taking care of her children, cleaning, and cooking all her meals. A section of this book is devoted to her sharing her opinions of the poorer townspeople and how they are uncivilized and do everything wrong. So odd! But it was written in 1899, and I could never quite figure out if it was supposed to be satire, or just a reflection of the opinions of the times.

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe is about the Sackler family and their role in the opioid epidemic. I knew a little bit about Purdue Pharma going in but WOW was this eye-opening. This book is long but very readable, you will learn so much, and be so angry when you finish it. The Sacklers 100% knew what they were doing in pushing opioids, and straight-up didn't care when it became known that they were addictive. Terrifying.

When I had Covid I was looking for a short book to listen to, and so I checked out Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. I enjoyed her previous novella (short story?) Foster, and this one is similar in its quiet tone. Set in the mid 1980s, it focuses on a coal delivery man who makes a shocking discovery at a convent. I liked Foster more than this book, however it was still a worthwhile read.

Unraveling by Peggy Orenstein: A memoir about shearing a sheep, spinning the wool, and knitting a sweater? YES PLEASE. As a pandemic project, Orenstein decides to knit a sweater from wool that she processes through every step. Shearing a sheep seems so hard! This was a quick read and a good reminder about all of the unseen labor that goes into everything we wear and use.

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang: The protagonist of this book is the most annoying person you will ever meet, and you will want to slap her constantly. After her "friend", the famous writer Athena Liu dies in front of her, June steals Athena's manuscript for the book she just finished and passes it off as her own. There are a lot of fun bookish memes that pop up, as well as the more serious topic of who gets to write about certain cultures. Kuang constructs this book in such a clever way. You'll be annoyed the whole time, but you'll also be forced to ask yourself some hard questions.

Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris: I am a sucker for any adventure memoir. This is the third long-distance biking book I have read, and unfortunately, the worst. I had a couple issues with this memoir. The first is that the author continually refers to herself as an "explorer." She's a white woman biking on established roads throughout Asia, where people have lived for thousands of years. Maybe in a personal context she is exploring the world, but she's certainly not An Explorer. The second issue I had was that this book is so full of tangents that there is very little content about actually biking the silk road. Why was I reading 3 pages about the first flight in North Carolina?? In contrast, the best biking book I've read so far is Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage, so pick that one up instead.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Things in August

There seems to be a great societal debate about what constitutes "fall". I'm of the belief that weather dictates fall; if it's 97 degrees in September, as it has been, it is not fall, I don't care how many pumpkin spice flavored items the store puts out. There are also people for whom fall is merely a state of mind, the end of August being fair game for spooky and autumn decor. Which type are you?

Let's travel back to August, a quintessential summer month. The first week was spent at a lake in Virginia with my entire family: 8 adults and 7 kids from 2-9 years old. All of the kids cried at least twice, as so happens when the cousins live off marshmallows and exhaust themselves playing. They did have a great time running around in a pack and swimming in the lake; as per usual, the adults continued to cook, clean, do laundry, and break up fights just like at home.

No one complained about being cold. Because this lake is HOT. Now is when I tell you that's used for cooling a nuclear power plant, but that's fine. Right? The water is nearly 90 degrees, which is just a little cooler than a hot tub. You had to get out of the water to cool off. I love kayaking almost more than anything, and I was able to escape a few times out on to the water. Other than that, we stayed at the rental house most of the time, due to the impossibility of wrangling that many people.

After vacation #1, we came back home for a week, then packed up and left again for vacation #2. Now that the kids are a little older, we took the risk of driving 8+ hours to western Massachusetts (the Berkshires area.) I just love New England, with the beautiful scenery, history, and architecture. The girls were surprisingly cool with all the old houses we visited. The first house we visited was Naumkeag, which definitely had the best gardens. And that view!

They had several cut flower gardens, which I examined closely. Their zinnias looked great; I definitely need to grow some lime colored ones next year.

Our rental house was on a lake! I spent as much time as possible on the screened porch looking at this soothing view. Although - photos lie. There is a highway on the other side of the hill, and it was quite loud with traffic day and night. Otherwise, this might have been my perfect lake spot. The lake was fairly small which meant no motorboat traffic. I even went kayaking a few times and was the only person on the water. {Sidenote: My dream lake is in the woods, free from motorized boats and annoying neighbors, and quiet. If you know this place, let me know! I have yet to find it.}

The mornings were consistently misty and rainy, but the view remained beautiful.

The quaint and quirky house was built in 1925. It was so charming and cozy on the inside. My favorite part of vacations is getting to stay in different and unique houses, and this one did not disappoint. If only we could have transported it away from the road!

We also visited a mansion called Ventfort Hall. Despite its imposing presence, only portions of the interior have been restored. There were no gardens at all! Eventually this will be an amazing place to visit, so check it out in about 10 years.

My main reason for wanting to visit the area was to see Edith Wharton's home, the Mount. Wharton is one of my favorite classic authors, and because of her interest in interior and garden design, I've wanted to visit for years. The house did not disappoint! Of the homes we visited, this one was the most well-preserved and presented. There were ample signs explaining the history of the home and about Wharton's life.

The gardens were smaller than I had imagined, but still very well done. We even lucked out with a blue sky when we visited.

The lake house came with kayaks and a paddleboat, which were a hit. After one try, the kids refused to swim in the lake that was filled with vegetation, so the boats were used every day. Mary completed her first solo kayak outing!

Our final destination of the vacation was to the Hancock Shaker Village. Oh, I loved it! Don't get me wrong, I prefer to live in an era with antibiotics, but the idea of making your own living and creating your own buildings, food, baskets, textiles, and tools is completely fascinating. 

Particularly dangerous for me was weaving on this loom. Mary even tried it out. Why dangerous? Have you met a fiber enthusiast? I might be a prolific knitter and already own two spinning wheels, but that hasn't stopped me researching looms. There is very likely one in the cards for me.

At this point I should mention that I had been starting to feel sick with a sore throat. I was tired and hot while walking around the buildings, more so than the temperature would cause. So yes, my friends, it turns out I caught Covid on this vacation. Whomp whomp. I managed to escape its claws for over 3 years, but it finally caught me. It was miserable riding back in the car for 9 hours the next day, with only gas station toilet paper to blow my nose with. Luckily, no one else got sick despite being trapped in the car with me for an entire day.

The flowers continued to bloom, but took a hit from the super dry summer and heat. I had a wonderful friend come water a few times while we were gone to ensure their survival. I'm going to take some time this winter to really think about how much work I can afford (time-wise) to put into my flower business. I was incredibly busy this summer, often working at least an hour in the evenings after working a full day at my job and attending to children. 

And then, just like that, summer was over. BOTH kids are in elementary school this year. I won't lie, leaving the daycare that we have been going to for over 9 years was emotional. Some of the same teachers and staff helped raise both girls, and we'll miss them. On the bright side, I've gained an hour and a half of time back every day because I don't have to drop off and pick up, and we don't don't have that large bill every week.

The fact that this point is coming halfway in September shows how the month is going. With back to school and everyone scheduling work meetings after labor day, I haven't had a spare minute! My job is very meetings based (unfortunately) and it's not uncommon to have blocks of 3 hours with no break. But, I do have a short trip coming up that I am very much looking forward to. I hope you are all back in the swing of things!