Reading List 2018

Last January, I vowed to read one new-to-me book a month as one of my New Years Resolutions.  I definitely ended up reading more than 12 new books last year, but only a few were from the list I wrote out in January.

My reading list changes depending on the mood I’m in, so not all the books I wanted to read last January made the cut by the end of the year.  But, if anyone has read any of those books I posted last year and thinks I should I roll some over on to this year’s list, let me know!

Although I didn’t read all the books I initially set out to read, I did read a ton of excellent ones.  In fact, 2017 was a bit of a year for me in terms of book-buying; it was no-holds-barred book-buying extravaganza most months and to be honest we’ve run out of room on the bookshelves in the house and have started using the window sills (and paying forward books I know I won’t re-read).

I think I’m trying to make up for lost time – when my kids were little, I barely ever had a chance, or the mental capacity, to read books that were anything other than fluffy brain vacations. 

Now, though, I can read all day on a Sunday and it’s not neglectful parenting cause the kids are big enough to generally take care of themselves.  It’s lovely.

Here’s (most of) what I read in 2017*:

Good Omens, Names for the Sea, A Woman’s Work, All the Light We Cannot See, The Descent of Man, Girls & Sex, The Handmaid’s Tale, Cooked, Night, 1984, Timeline, Unabrow, We Should All Be Feminists, Curmudgucation, A Parent’s Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century, Hillbilly Elegy, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Witch.

It was a good year for reading.

I’ve got a list of books for 2018 that is slightly different from last year’s list; I’m different after another trip around the sun, thus the books on my list are as well. 

On New Year’s Day I read The Giver by Lois Lowry, which I loved.  Such a thoughtful, thought-inducing book.  More Lois Lowry books are on my list, as well as a few titles by Reinhold Niebuhr, Rod Chernow (Hamilton, obviously, because I am obsessed with the musical, and also Grant, who I find a really intriguing character in history), and some core history books that I feel I skimmed through the first time I read them in high school (if I even read them at all), like the Federalist Papers and Common Sense by Thomas Paine.

I try to balance my heavy works with slightly lighter ones, so I also have a few less history-laden titles on the list, including Planting Dandelions by one of my favorite writer/bloggers, Crazy Rich Asians on the recommendation of a friend, and both Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West and Who Thought This Was a Good Idea by Alyssa Mastromonaco because I always need more stories from strong women in my life.

And last, when I’m stressed or in a funk, poetry is my recent go-to pick-me-up.  I want to get some e.e. cummings and Walt Whitman books of poetry to have around to flip through when I need to get out of my own head because they’re my faves right now.

What are you reading? What do you recommend?

*the links are affiliate links, so if you click on one and purchase the book, Little Nesting Doll gets a small commission

Alpine Road Trip, Part Two

Usually, Matt and I plan a trip to the minute; both of us are Type A planners and having no itinerary for a trip is not an option.  We plan in “down time” (of course we do) and pad all our timetables with at least 20 minutes on each end because we’re not new and we travel with four kids.  But it’s a rare thing to not have a plan at all for a full afternoon on a trip with Matt and I.

Thank the gods for small blessings, though.

During our tour of Neuchwanstein Castle, we realized that not far from us was a town called Tegelberg, where a cable car would take us up the mountain for some really cool views and an alpine coaster (which we loved in Chamonix!).  We cabbed it from Neuchwanstein over to Tegelberg and it was one of the most amazing things we’ve done in all our travels yet!

We took the cable car up the mountain (not nearly as steep or dramatic as the one to Aiguille du Midi, but really amazing anyway).  At the base of the mountain it had been warmish – probably in the low 50s.  At the top, though, there was snow everywhere and we had somehow crossed a threshold into an alpine wonderland.

Looking in one direction we could see green fields surrounding this huge, calm lake, and then when you turned to look in the other direction, it was just snow-capped mountains and evergreens.  The contrast was astounding.

We had lunch at the cafe at the top of the mountain – more wiener schnitzel and fries, and some good German beer – and took a walk around.  There were lots of hiking trails heading up into the mountains, but unfortunately none of us was dressed for a wintery, snow-covered path and we had to skip the hike.  We did see two para-gliders take off though.  They just ran off the edge of the mountain and floated away.  It looked so serene; I’d never considered trying that, but now that I’ve seen it, I think I’d like to give it a go one day.

We took another cable car ride back to the bottom of the mountain and we all had a round on the alpine coaster.  So interesting to see how my children react differently to being in charge of their own speed on this sort of thing – it’s funny to see who the daredevils are and who is more cautious. (And it’s not who you’d expect.)

The next day we got back in the van and headed to Stuttgart.  Matt had work there for a few days, so his parents and the kids and I did some touring on our own.  On the first day, we visited the Mercedes Benz Museum, which was in walking distance from our hotel.  Although I am not really a car person by any stretch of the imagination, this was one of the best museums I’ve visited!

The museum was certainly centered around the cars, but it traced the evolution from the very earliest horseless carriages up to the present day, and tied the automobiles into what was happening across Germany and around the world at the time they were made. 

We each had an audio tour which had three listening options: a more technical one for the car fanatics, a general one related to the history of the time, and a children’s one that simplified everything and told a few stories about the cars and the time periods in which they were built.  It was a fantastic learning experience and the actual cars were pretty amazing too.

One of the funny highlights of our time in Stuttgart was that our hotel room had a sauna in it, which the kids loved!  They’d never been in one before, and they couldn’t stay in very long, but they loved using it and now we all want one in our house!

We were also lucky enough while we were in Stuttgart to have dinner two nights at friends’ houses; Matt has work colleagues based there who hosted us two nights in a row and it was really great to take a break from restaurants, hang out with friends, and just let the kids play.  Plus, both nights we had great views of the city and some stunning sunsets!

We had one more stop on our road trip – Colmar, France – and I loved it so much it’s getting it’s own post!  Coming soon.  (Part one of the Alpine Road Trip!)

Winter Break Fun

There are really and truly few things I enjoy more than spending time with my children.  But they have been on school break since December 15th and we still have five days left before they go back and hoooo, boy am I ready for them to be at school all day for a few weeks.

My kids, at ages 13, 11, 9 & 7, are pretty self-sufficient in terms of entertaining themselves.  Because there are four of them, they always have someone to play with. But having four kids in the house all day, every day ALSO means they always have someone to annoy and argue with.  Always.  Like, every hour of the day.  Which makes me abso-freaking-lutely insane and despite the fact that I know I should let them solve their disputes themselves, I end up mediating and then losing my patience and shouting at them to stop bickering over and over.

The kids get up before me most days on school break and make their own breakfasts.  Five years ago I could only dream of the day that would happen, and make no mistake, I appreciate it.  But they eat like locusts.  We’re going through food at a rate so alarming, I am almost afraid someone is hoarding it in a cupboard upstairs somewhere.  And although they are reasonably okay at cleaning up after themselves after making a meal…actually, no.  Not true.  They’re generally rubbish at cleaning up and I end up reminding them kindly and patiently several times a day and then screaming and yelling like a lunatic to just put the bread away already, goddammit.

Luckily it’s not as cold here in England in winter as it was in D.C. (or is on most of the east coast of the U.S. right now) so the kids can still play outside for a few hours almost every day.  But it IS wet and rainy and that means it’s muddy and I don’t mind them playing in mud and getting dirty until it’s time to do laundry and I discover that they’ve actually worn three different pair of warm-ups and two different pair of socks each in a single day because they kept getting wet and dirty and then changing and leaving their dirty, wet clothes on the floor.  Then I give long lectures on making unnecessary work for other people when you could just wear one outfit a day or two AT MOST and not go back out once you’ve already changed into clean dry clothes.  And then I spend twenty minutes teaching people how to do their own laundry.  And then we all spend an hour every other day folding and putting away clean clothes while I threaten the lives of the children if they don’t stop changing outfits multiples times a day.

So.  Winter break has been fun.  Lots of fun.  Lots of movies and baking and cooking and board games and reading and laughing and good times. 

But my goodness, I’m ready for the fun to end.

New Beginnings

A year in time is both vast and tiny. I can’t say the past twelve months were entirely good, but neither were they fully bad.  No year is ever all one thing, so to try to sum one up with weak generalities is futile.  That doesn’t mean I won’t try, though.

Truth be told, I love any excuse to analyze what we’ve done and plan ahead for what we’ll do.  And there’s nothing quite as effective at making you reflect on the past than the future looming ahead with blinking neon lights to mark the passage of time. 

I’ve been angrier in 2017 than I remember being at any other time in my life.  I’ve been filled to the brim with rage at the state of the world and the state of my country and the willingness of everyday people to let bad things happen.  But I’ve also been engaged and excited and hopeful and it’s made me remember that it’s important to look at the world outside my own home and interact with it and that it’s my job as a human to be involved in humanity.  I’m grateful for the lesson even if I don’t love the way it was delivered.

It was a year in which I found an old version of myself buried inside and let her out.  She argues more and is less likely to be quiet just to keep the peace than the me that developed over the last decade of contentment and motherhood, but she’s more authentic. 

It was a year in which I remembered priorities I had forgotten.

I’ve watched my children grow and change too.  They also have a new perspective on the larger world and politics and their role in it all.  I don’t regret that for a minute. In fact, I’m grateful for it, because their future involvement in the world around them is being shaped right now and I doubt this is a lesson they’ll forget.  We’ll all move into 2018 with a newfound sense of the importance of being a participant. 

So, while in many ways 2017 was just an awful, terrible, horrible year (politically, globally), it was also a year with beauty and happiness and adventure and love (personally). 

We spent another year in England – our last full calendar year here.  We settled ever more into our lives here, but, strangely, always with an eye on the fact that it couldn’t be permanent.  As we’ve made more and more friends and connections within England, we’ve also said goodbye to American friends we made here who have gone back to different corners of the U.S., their own English adventures over.  Those goodbyes only served to highlight the truth that this is some sort of crazy three year vacation we’re on and that the end is, sadly, nigh.

As ever though, we’ve worked to ensure that our grand adventure is not wasted, although I think the pace of our travels has slowed as our involvement in our local life has increased.  We skied in the French Alps, trekked across Ireland with my parents and Austria & Germany with Matt’s, explored Normandy, and lounged on the beaches of Menorca.  We traveled back to the U.S. twice in six weeks in August/September and visited friends and family that we miss and saw my baby sister get married.

We’re looking ahead to a year of even bigger changes.  We’ll move back to America in the summer, but not to the house my kids all know as home.  Not even to the same state. Instead we’re heading to Massachusetts, to where I grew up.  We’re starting anew again as a family, but for me, I’m heading well and truly home.  No matter how sad I feel at the thought of saying goodbye to the adventures we had in England and to the life we built from scratch in Virginia, none of that overrides the joy I feel when I think about going home. 

My biggest challenge in 2018, I think will be to give the first six months it’s fair share of attention.  My tendency to live in the future is one I’m already trying to overcome; I want to be present and enjoy our last few months in England, but my brain keeps skipping ahead. The football and hockey and cricket matches and the school play and the day-to-day will help me, I’m sure.  The kids see six months as a lifetime away, so I’m trying to look at the days from their point of view.

My resolution then for 2018 is to try to enjoy each day and week as it comes instead of looking too far ahead. 

The new year is, as always, just a symbol – there’s no real difference in the turning over of the clock on December 31st than there is any other day of the year.  But symbolism is important.  I need that kick in the pants to wake me up, to force me to examine what is important and to help me determine where I should focus my attention.

I hope you’re saying goodbye to 2017 with some sense of peace and happiness and looking ahead to 2018 with more of the same.

Happy New Year!

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