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.


crow magic

Dropping in ever so quickly to share this photo from back in the summer of me, holding a crow head that I found one morning in my driveway.  I love crows.  I think they are smart and amazing and magical.  Who knows what the story was behind this poor girl (or fella?).  I said a little prayer (or my version of one, anyway) and buried the head in the garden. 

I am planning to spend more time in this space soon to write about our homeschooling year thus far and what's going on in the garden (and in my head), but for now, just this.


thirty eight

Every year on my birthday, for about the last decade, I've composed a list of things that I am grateful for.  Things I say a big 'YES!' to, things I want more of in my world.  A list of things equaling the number of years old that I am.  I aim not to think on any of it too much, but rather create a list of what first comes to mind, and surely the list includes thing big and things small.  I don't look back on previous lists until after writing the new one, but of course there are lots of repeats year to year.  And so, as today I complete my 38th trip around the sun and say hello to my 39th year on this amazing spinning orb of blue and green and other colors, I hereby present my annual gratitude list:

:: my daughter, for being such a wise teacher and a powerful mirror

:: my love- for all of the things

:: slippers

:: fire

:: birdsong in the mornings, cricket serenade at night

:: my garden

:: two jobs I enjoy immensely

:: my healthy, strong, and generally in-good-working-condition body

:: the excitement and anticipation of looking forward to our big trip next summer

:: Pandora (I know there are other options, but I'm sticking with it) - favorite stations being St. Paul & the Broken Bones and Van Morrison and Billie Holiday (and others). And while we're on music let me just add Rising Appalachia to the list.

:: listening to her practice the piano- particularly certain chord progressions, 'Let it Be', and John Denver's 'Country Roads'

:: the silky smooth and forever loyal & loving (and vocal) Ollie cat- the handsomest little grey lion that ever was

:: the option to homeschool, and the time I therefore get to spend with my brave and growing girl

:: all the same, that blissful 5 days solo recently (!)

:: tea.  preferably strong and black with a drizzle of honey and coconut milk

:: sunshine on my shoulders

:: soft, grey days

:: my favorite plants (and all the other plants as well)

:: yoga

:: salty ocean air, and the opportunity, typically, to visit it at least a couple times a year

:: living in a walkable town

:: (yet dreaming of finding that right patch of land)

:: kindness

:: honesty

:: books. BOOKS!

:: so......um, yeah..........Poldark. (the BBC show- the newer, current version) What can I say? I just really, really care about the plight of the 18th century Cornish copper miners.  That and the scenery is amazing. *ahem*

:: creative outlets, and the occasional (too occasional, so....working on that) tendency to get lost in them

:: a good, dry, hard cider

:: my friends~ they are lovely and dependable and true and good

:: the biannual handmade/homegrown swap gatherings that I host, and the amazing community of women who are a part of that

:: big dreams

:: laundry on a clothesline

:: waking to an empty kitchen sink and a clean counter

:: a sizable herbal tea stash from our very own garden

:: my family- the ones who created me, raised me, grew up beside me..... those who became family through marriage, and the close friends who have practically become siblings.

:: the great good luck of finding myself in a time and a place with resources enough to live the life I want to live

:: our local library

:: community

because it's fun to look back, here's last year's list 

(I just peeked- it was a good list- and there are loads of photos from the year.  no loads of photos this year. maybe soon, but right now I'm off to have some dessert)


around here :: flying solo

My people recently went north without me for five days (!), and all I have to show for it is this photo that I took one morning of flowers and tea dappled in sunlight just as I was starting some yoga on the porch.  Reason being, I have finally succumbed to the siren song of the smartphone (took me a few minutes to climb on board) and I am both amazed at what good photos my iPhone takes and also, I now totally understand what folks have meant these last several years when lamenting that Instagram 'ate their blog'.  Now I see.  Instagram is indeed a pretty place to spend some time, and a most convenient place to share snippets with your people.  So, that's where I've been doing just that.  I do want to share a bit in this space as well though, as I love the idea of having this chronicle of our days and hope to someday come back to reread all the bits and pieces of our days as a young(ish) family of three.  Et cetera.

So.  Five days.  Solo.  Not something that happens often in my world.  This would make the third time I've had the house to myself for an extended period of time since entering the wild world of motherhood about 8 and three-quarters years ago.  So, how did I choose to fill my five days?

Well, there was no homeschooling, obviously.  So instead I filled the weekday mornings before teaching afterschool art class with time spent in the garden, doing yoga, reading, getting a massage.... those sorts of things.  One of my strengths is that I am good at self care.  Yes indeed.  I have a loner streak a mile wide and while I adore and love my people, I also know that I thrive when given ample time to myself to fill my cup in whatever way I need at the time.  There was a solo dinner out.  Sushi and sake and such.  A long walk to and around town.  On the equinox I cooked myself a special dinner made with all local ingredients and went ahead with our traditional beginning-of-a-new-season bonfire.  I watched a movie.  I cleaned.  I had girlfriends over for a little ladies' night.  And on the morning of the day that they were driving their long way home to me, I tackled a long hike that I've wanted to try for years.  I drove a few miles up the road to the trailhead and hiked up a mountain and along the ridge, down another mountain, and looped back to my car.  It was about 9.5 miles all together and it was great.  That was yesterday morning, and despite the yoga class I took shortly after the hike and the time spent in the sauna, I am most definitely feeling it.  In all the good, best ways.

So there's that.  That's what I've been up to.  And I know there is a way I can get the photos from my phone on here, and I know I can connect all the things to make it all sync and whatnot, but......well....... I'm slow to come around when it comes to these things.  All in due time.  In the meantime, feel free to come hang out with me on Instagram if you so desire.  My Instagram 'handle' is amanda.w.riley.

happy autumn, folks.


around here :: fleeting summer days

A bit of juicing, a bit of elderberry medicine-making, a bit of silliness in the form of bathroom mirror selfies....  some art-making and bike-riding and kraut-making.  Asian pear butter, pickles, hot sauce, salsa.  Got the garlic trimmed and cleaned for storage.  Loads of veggies, and happy dolls finding a new perch in her bedroom window.  (I love that she still loves her dolls and I so hope that love lasts a good bit longer).

Much as I love autumn and her general crispness and startlingly blue skies, I find myself hanging on this year, just a bit, to these fleeting late summer days.  The crickets are so loud at night, practically screaming of summer's impending end, but the sunshine stills falls heavy and pleasant on my shoulders.  I am loving the cooler nights and mornings that often necessitate a sweater, and I see the light changing its game in a way that day-to-day seems to be sneaky and slight but when taken by the week is actually quite startling.  And so, I am both basking in the midday sun and enjoying the barefoot-ness of this time of year, and happily awaiting the increase in hot tea drinking and sweater-wearing.  It's a good time of year.  My favorite.