2019 book list

So it would seem that this blog has become a place where, if nothing else, I at least keep up with an annual list both of birthday gratitudes and books (mostly novels) read.  You'd think at the very least I could also finally share some of our huge summer road trip and maybe some highlights from the homeschooling year, but what can I say? Instagram makes it so very easy, maybe that's what. Still, I'd like to try a bit more. If for no other reason because I like having this somewhat lengthier and certainly longer-curated chronicle of our days and lives. It always make me so happy to look back through the blog archives.  So as I guess I keep saying, we'll see.

For now though, here's my book list from 2019.  Listed in order read with favorites starred.  As you'll see, once I got to Where the Crawdads Sing, I decided one star wasn't enough so I gave it two.  Turns out I very much liked several books last year, so a few more earned that extra fancy double asterisk.

*A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles

Simple Things, Erin Boyle

Still Me, Jojo Moyes (she's one of my favorite authors, and this was good- she never lets me down, but it wasn't a favorite.  I'm *somewhat* patiently awaiting my library hold copy of Giver of Stars)

*Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling

Wednesday's Children, Kathryn Michaels

Britt-Marie was Here, Frederik Backman

*Us Against You, Frederik Backman (really really like his writing, pretty much always)

*Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, JK Rowling

You Were Made for This, Michelle Sacks

Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver (I love her, but I found myself only truly interested in one of the stories being told here- the one from the 1880s-and not so into the modern day story)

Warlight, Michael Ondaatje

Sugar Land, Tammy Lynne Stoner

Victory Garden, Rhys Bowen

*We Hope for Better Things, Erin Bartels

Notes on a Nervous Planet, Matt Haig

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted, Robert Hillman

*Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

**Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens (I mean, wow. Totally worth all the attention, I'd say)

*The Girl He Used to Know, Tracey Garvis Graves

Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons

*Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly

**East of Eden, John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath is in my top ten, probably top five. This didn't edge that out, but my gosh I just love his honest and raw and salty and real writing. So much.)

**Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling (my fave HP. well, maybe tied with book 3...)

The Songs of the Humpback Whale, Jodi Picoult (Maybe not the best choice for a first read of hers, as it left me feeling unresolved and a little pissed and therefore not keen to give her another try. But please tell me if I'm wrong and there's a particular gem out there of hers.)

The Body Lies, Jo Baker

Lost Roses, Martha Hall Kelly (really good, but I didn't love it as much as Lilac Girls)

All the Flowers in Paris, Sarah Jio (so close to wanting to give this a *)

In Another Time, Jillian Cantor

*The Winter People,  Jennifer McMahon (creepy! totally different for me but I liked it!)

*The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (There were a few things I didn't like about the book but overall I was just so moved by it, by certain characters and parts of it, that it must get a star. I mean it guts you, for sure, as most of you probably know because you've probably already read it. Ooph)

Rules For Visiting, Jessica Francis Kane

Last Ones Left Alive, Sarah Davis Goff  (bizarre and apocalyptic- made me want to start training hard core in case I need to fight off monsters or zombies or something, so there's that...)

*Call Your Daughter Home, Deb Spera (so, so good. historical fiction telling the stories of women struggling in the depression era south)

History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund

*The Wolf Border, Sarah Hall

Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout (I mean, it was really good- I know a lot of folks love Olive. I'm looking forward to the sequel but it wasn't a big standout for me of the year.)

**Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates (I don't really know what to say, but I loved it. There were times it felt a little hard for me to come to terms with magical-realism-meets-the-horror-of-slavery, as though that was a too-light handling of it, but I just thought the writing was so beautiful. One of those books where I'd find myself reading lines aloud because I loved them so much.)

*The Testaments, Margaret Atwood

**City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert (mmmmm so good)

Widow of Rose House, Diana Biller

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All, Laura Ruby (technically still reading, so we'll have to see about stars, but so far so good!)

And there you have it! Happy reading in 2020! I've already got a list going for the year and have a few holds at the library, but I'm always, always looking for recommendations.  What were your favorite reads last year?

Lists from previous years:



39 years, 39 things

Well hello.  It's been a good long while since I've spent any time in this space.  I'm spending way less time with my (big) camera these days, less time on the computer.  And it shows here.  I've got over a thousand photos on my phone and a few hundred on my camera from our epic 7 week road trip this summer, and I hope to share some of that here, soon.  If nothing else, I know I want to continue using this space as a photo journal of our days, an easy and visual way to catalog and honor the highlights from our little world.

For right now, though, I'm here to compose and share my annual birthday gratitude list~ something I several years ago and always look forward to.  A way to mindfully notice the things (and people) in my life that I am most grateful for.  The things (and people) that I want more of in the world, that I say a resounding 'YES!' to.

So without further ado,  my 39 things:

*slow, easy mornings

*my morning tea

*plants (this is an understatement and a bit vague.... I've got my favorites of course- tulsi, calendula, maple, oak, ferns, mint, lemon verbena, larkspur and peony, and so on.)


*hearing the train whistle as it wraps around the valley, especially at night

*the neighborhood screech owls calling to one another at night as the weather cools

*that magic dancing liquid light of early morning and late afternoon

*the way she still, for now, fits so well in my lap and in my arms

*our incredible summer road trip- 50 days, 11,000 miles (!), the three of us in our van camping and exploring our way all across this big and beautiful country.  What an immense gift.

*the time and space and energy to farm our little yard as much as we can with flowers and vegetables and herbs and fruit, and the therapy and meditative satisfaction I get from doing so

*our sweet Ollie cat

*that we are able to homeschool, and for the freedom and time and space and flexibility that doing so affords us as a family


*books. particularly novels. particularly, (it would seem from my favorites) historical fiction and magical realism that isn't too fantastic.

*my slippers

*listening to her practice the piano, and music in general

*my job(s) that I love- teaching after school art, part-time seasonal farm work, a bit of writing...

*salty ocean air

*waterfalls (the best church there is, in my opinion)

*bubbly and tasty and fizzy homemade kombucha

*all the fermented foods

*the community of women that come together to make magic twice a year at my swaps

*the great good luck of having been born in a time and a place with clean water and good medicine and public sanitation, where I am safe, secure, and not in the midst of famine or civil war or immediate danger

*the amazing generation of young and ingenuitive climate activists fighting and stirring folks up in a great effort to address the very real and very clear and dire state of things on a global ecological scale

*and their peers who are fighting for common sense gun laws, teenagers who are tired of seeing their classmates murdered; trying to shout loudly enough over the lobbyists to have legislators and everyone acknowledge that the public at large have no need (or right) to possess weapons of war and that bulletproof backpacks is a pretty awful and ridiculous solution


*the forest

*having been among the giant sequoias with my loves this summer

*the tidal pools behind the sea stacks along the shore at Olympic National Park

*all the southern Utah back roads

*the US National Forest Service's dispersed camping opportunities

*my main squeeze, for everything.

*my family~ that which I was born into, married into, and the friends who have become family

*The big and bittersweet honor of watching my girl as she very slowly crests her little-girlhood and starts to turn toward adolescence.  There is much little girl about her yet, but I can sense we are on the cusp of big things.  I've seen that for a long while now.

*the way I accept more about myself as each year passes

*that particular hike in North Cascades NP, the most beautiful hike of my life so far

*our woodstove


*good food

Ah.  I enjoyed that.  I never peek at previous lists before making these, though obviously there's always sure to be a good bit of overlap from year to year.  Below I'll link the lists from previous years, in case you've got any interest in checking them out.


37 (so many good photos in this one- food, farm, camping, total solar eclipse, birthday campout, the sea, our trip up to the Adirondacks....)

36 (this one has links to all the previous years as well)

cheers from here~


to the sea

Living a solid 4.5-5 hours from the sea, we don't get there so often.  Once a year for sure, twice if we really work to make it happen.  I mean, I always want to be near the sea, but, well....... sometimes even 4.5-5 hours feels unrealistic in the scope of everything else life brings our way.  This was the third year in a row (here are photos from our first trip) we've gone camping to the beach with a group of friends in the spring.  This year we landed back at Edisto Beach State Park in SC.  So, so good.  5 days of zero driving and loads of biking, plenty of time exploring the beach and looking for treasures from the sea.  5 days of her running wild with friends and plenty of connecting between the adults, too.  Seafood and campfires, shenanigans and live oak climbing, trying out some of our new camping gear we've purchased for the big trip this summer..... Just so good, all of it.  I've said it many times before and I will again and again- that salty ocean air is one of my favorite medicines ever.

I'm still finding sand in my pockets and seashells tucked away here and there.


spring things

Apple blossoms, beginning of season bonfires, flowers growing, blooming, bursting.  Exuberant, lusty birdsong.  A sudden goodbye to a sweet hen.  Repotted houseplants happily spreading and thriving in the windowsill alongside recently collected beach treasures. Plans being made, now in full force, for our upcoming summer road trip....... Ah, spring.

I aim to write in this space more regularly for a bit.  I'm loving instagram but sometimes feel like there's so much more to say, and I don't quite want to let go of this way of chronicling our days. Hoping to soon write posts summing up our homeschool year, trip plans, garden doings, and so on.  We shall see.

cheers from here~


2018 book list

Well, it would certainly seem that I'm still in that weird "instagram at my blog" stage, but I can't not share a beginning of the year post on my previous year's reading list.  Below are my reads (generally fiction, I tend not to keep track of the nonfiction as much) from last year, in order of them being read, with the ones I enjoyed the most starred. I'd love to hear from you what your favorite reads of the year (or ever) were and which books you're looking forward to reading.  Happy New Year to everyone, and happy reading in 2019!

*The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Kindred- Octavia E. Butler
*The Indigo Girl
*Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
*Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince
*Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The Power
Dirt Road
All the Pretty Horses
Claire of the Sea Light
*Little Fires Everywhere
Swimming Between Worlds
Atomic City Girls
How to be a Feminist
Leopard at the Door
*The Great Alone
The Last Letter From Your Lover
A Beautiful Young Woman
Winter Garden
Plain Language
Home for Unwanted Girls
Big Stone Gap
Big Cherry Holler
Milk Glass Moon
Back to Big Stone Gap
SLOW: Simple Living for a Frantic World
The Woman in Cabin 10
The Color Purple
Moon of the Crusted Snow
*The Hate You Give
*A Gentleman in Moscow

With Claire:

Swallows and Amazons
The Hobbit
The Curious Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Here's my 2017 book list post, which has that year's list as well as links to the lists from 2013, 2014, 2105, and 2016. 


Our (mindful, minimal) Advent

(all photos in this post are from years past)

When my daughter was just shy of three I decided on the eve of December to put together a simple little advent calendar for her.  It was the first year I felt she was really of an age to get into the anticipation and celebration of the season, and I wanted a simple way to pull more from the short and darkening days as we approached the winter solstice and Christmas.  Parenthood certainly amplified the seemingly light-speed passing of time, so I welcomed most anything that helped remind me to put on the brakes, slow down, and be in the moment.

When I say 'on the eve of December' I literally mean that I was sitting in the hall just outside her door quite late at night on November 30th cutting and fastening and decorating and hanging little colorful paper pockets numbered 1 through 24.  I'd seen all sorts of ideas about ways to put together a simple little calendar- from small packages strung from a branch to paper stars stitched shut with a little trinket inside to toilet paper tubes filled with treats and sealed over with tissue paper to wee little gnomes carrying scrolls of paper- ideas aplenty abounded on the inter webs, each one as lovely as the next.  Drawn as I was personally to the brown kraft paper and twigs look, I ended up going with brightly colored paper hoping to catch her two year old fancy.

Well, it worked.  That first year I often tucked a small treat inside the pocket- a candy cane maybe, or a new ornament.  A gift of a book or some other such thing with the paper pocket from that day clipped to it.  Those little capsule things that 'grow' into animal-shaped sponges when placed in warm water.  Treasures.  More often than not though, what was tucked inside the pocket was a note with a suggestion for something we could do together.  Sometimes service or community oriented, often a small way to mindfully yet meaningfully celebrate the season together.  In the mornings she would wake and we'd hear her run over to the calendar and reach her little toddler fingers into the pocket for the slip of paper for that day and come pitter-patter-stomping into our room for us to read it to her.  And a sweet and simple (and certainly a favorite) holiday tradition of ours was born.

At the end of each December day there comes the second part of our advent calendar tradition- my favorite part, the part that has the magic and the staying power for me as a mama looking back over the years.  Beginning that first year, when she was still so little, I'd ask her to tell me something that she was grateful for, thankful for, something that made her happy.  And then I'd write it on the back of the slip of paper and clip the paper atop the pocket from that day (which made it easier for her younger self to find which day came next).  Over the years (6!) since I first made this humble little advent calendar, I've kept all of those little slips of paper and I am not sure I have the words to describe how very much I love looking back over the gratitudes on the backs of those little slips of paper.  From that first year :"the cheepy sounds the birds make", and "gorillas".  From the past few years there have been all sorts of favorites ranging from "warm, snuggly mama" to "Ollie" (our handsome grey feline), "the land, the planet", "the air we breathe", "our good, happy life "our town, and our walk to town today" and so on.  They don't look like much, just colorful little scraps, sometimes bent up and crushed a bit.  But they're like magic to this mama's heart.

The things I write daily for the calendar- they aren't grand gestures.  Sure, there are a few pretty special ones each year like going to the Nutcracker and getting our tree and things like that.  But so many of those slips are filled with the simplest of suggestions for things that, honestly, we often do anyway.  They're just dressed up a bit for the advent calendar, is all.  Drawn from a little colorful pocket, they become special and are promoted to an almost ritual-like status. The joy that she gleans from these simplest of things shows me that, simply by being mindful and deliberate in how we go about our days, we can elevate our experiences and enjoy them even more- even if only because we decide that we will.  There is power in that, I think.  Power, and peace and hope.

Here are some of my favorite advent calendar suggestions:

*cut paper snowflakes
*set up our advent spiral
*make swags, garland, wreaths (bring some to neighbors and friends)
*string pinecones and orange slices for decorations
*bake cookies (deliver some to the library, to friends, to family)
*bring a box of groceries or other needed items to the local food pantry (truly, straight up money is probably the most helpful there as they can likely stretch it further than we can in purchasing)
*make treats for the birds (we often do this on the solstice)
*hike to 'Gary's Tree' and add a decoration, bring hot cocoa and a book with us (this is a random tree just off the path on one of our favorite local trails that folks have been decorating for years)
*go to the town Christmas parade
*get our tree
*decorate it (of course)
*hot cocoa with breakfast
*library trip for wintry books
*walk to town for hot cocoa
*candlelit solstice dinner
*crafting with friends (making cards, bird treats, ornaments, anything!)
*visiting with friends and family
*go see The Nutcracker
*plant narcissus bulbs
*watch a movie together
*make gifts for friends
*caroling party at a dear friend's house

There are endless options, really.  You can make just about anything feel special and meaningful with a little bit of time and intention.  And the added magic of pulling it out of a taped together pocket of bright construction paper, of course.

Cheers to you and yours this holiday season!

Here are links to some holiday posts from years past:
Winter 2016
Thanksgiving to Advent, 2015
Joy and Cheer 2014 
Advent Activities 2014 


hello, november.

So, here we are, in November.  October was of course, as October tends to be, quite lovely.  What with all the misty mornings and startlingly blue afternoon skies, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the amassing of pumpkins and other gourds, and that amazing juxtaposition of primary-colored leaves against a contrasting primary-colored sky.  The sudden onset of slipper wearing and fire-stoking.  The marked increase in hot tea consumption....

The changing of the leaves came to us a bit late here in Western NC and we are only right now in the thick of it here in down.  Just past peak, I'd say.  The hickories have gone from bright mustard to golden brown, the sourwoods vary widely from one location to another.  The sugar maples (few and far between here as compared to up north) are wearing their brilliant glow-orange attire, their more common red maple cousins ranging from bright red to deep scarlet.  We have an abundance of oak trees around, especially white oaks.  They will don their rusty-brown and tannin-rich leaves for weeks and weeks to come, slowly dropping them down to cover this little part of the world quite thoroughly.

It's been a while since I've spent time in this place, hmm?  And I'd even made a 'commitment' of sorts to write more, to show up here more often and unspool the thoughts in my mind and sort through them with intention fairly regularly.  To do so with words.  Well, it's a real thing, it seems, that "Instagram ate my blog" bit.  As quiet as I've been here, I've been sharing daily on Instagram.  About parenting and gardening and looking for land.  About voting and tea drinking and my love of living in a train town.  About herbs and inspiration, and rather a lot about the glorious cosmos flowers in my garden this year. Something about the ease of sharing a photo and a few words from my phone (!) just makes me so much less likely to sit myself down in front of the computer for time enough to put together something more.  Having only recently joined the ranks of smartphone users and Instagram account holding,  I've been a bit swept up in the convenience and beauty of that world.  I've not put anything else on my phone- my email, Facebook..... none of it.  I call, I text, I peek at the beautiful worlds of the various farmers and homesteaders, friends, and national parks that I follow... I check the weather.  That's about it.  Podcasts will be the next step, I suspect (recommendations welcome). Baby steps.

Fall has been good to us.  We've gotten into our homeschool rhythm after the lazy days of summer, and third grade has been quite fun so far (more to come on that soon, I hope).  The garden is mostly quiet now, aside from a couple beds of greens and the flowers that won't give up even after a few light frosts.  That would be the cosmos, the marigolds, some texas sage, and a few holdout coneflowers, zinnias, and larkspurs.  The garlic is tucked in for the winter, I've cleared away a fair amount of the things that needed clearing out and away.  There is something about the fall gardening chores that feel so solid and comforting to me.  So tidy and hopeful.  We're giving thanks for all that was this season before, but also looking ahead to another season of growth and sustenance that we trust will come after a bit of a hibernation.  A hibernation that, as I age, I've come to really enjoy sinking into.

There's a fire in the wood stove now about as often as there isn't.  More snuggling with Ollie on the couch, more quilts on the beds.  Definitely more tea drinking.

Happy November, all.