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!