Summertime…Reading…Challenge…

My current reading queue...

My current reading queue…

If it’s summertime, it must mean that it’s time for a library reading challenge! I remember many a childhood summer filled with assorted challenges hosted by the local library – many a trip to the library to pick up a new stack of books – many a delightful hour spent reading (or devouring) an assortment of books and subjects. I chuckled when I saw that my local library is hosting a summer reading challenge for kids AND adults – of course I signed up. The adult goal is to read 25 books – we’ll see what my summer holds. My library book stack in my spare room & my hold requests list are looking like this goal can be attained – although, as I look at the tracking website, they are only counting books until Aug. 7th – really, summer is more than 8 weeks here…

Since last diving into books on the blog, I’ve read quite a bit. Some of these are in my summer reading challenge – others are just “normal” reading progress. From my recent reads, these are the ones that are at the top of the list:

  • The Dead Don’t Dance by Charles Martin; When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin; Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin – A “new to me” author I discovered via another blog. Nice stories that have uplifting themes to them. I’ll definitely be working my way through the rest of his books. These are a nice change of pace…and maybe even a good emotion reset, when needed.
  • The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story by Brennan Manning & Greg Garrett – A modern retelling of the Prodigal Son parable. A good story of a timeless tale. Now, I think it’s time to finally read Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel that has been on my bookshelf for a couple of years.
  • The Director by David Ignatius – A new espionage thriller where “the director” referred to is a new CIA director brought in from running a successful tech company to revive a struggling agency.
  • The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman – I stumbled upon this series via another blog. It is a fun variation on the spy/thriller genre that I enjoy. A widowed grandmother in the 60′s is bored and offers herself up to the CIA to be spy.
  •  That’s Not in My American History Book (audio) by Thomas Ayres – A fun, trivia filled walk through some of the more obscure parts of American History. As I listened to the author read this book, I was taken back to my AP US History class – in addition to teaching “the basics” that we needed, Coach Walker loved this type of history. I still remember several of the lesser known history facts that he imparted to us in class 23+ years ago. In fact, some of the stories told here weren’t new to me because of Coach Walker. In my collecting of random facts, I think I have a new arsenal of American History info for the next trivia encounter. #bringonBWWtrivia

Other recent reads: The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs; The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry; A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick; Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberley McCreight; The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Recently Abandoned: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall – I started this as an audio book and just couldn’t get into it. The description sounds like a fun “kids book” read – but evidently I can’t do this as audio – I really don’t need the reader doing the girls in assorted high-pitched/whiny voices; Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – This seems to be everywhere as a “must read” these days. And yet, I just couldn’t get into it. I may come back to it at some time…but for now it is time to move on to the other books in the stack that beckon me…

As you can see from the picture above, I have lots of books at hand to keep me busy in the coming weeks. What about you? What are you reading this summer? What are your summer reading memories?

P.S. Here’s a summer reading challenge we can all do: Pages4Progress. Visit this site to log the number of pages you’ve read and dollars will be donated towards ensuring primary education is available around the globe. It just takes a few moments to share your page count and join in the every growing total.

Once again, I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for the Twitterature round-up. (And most likely adding to my to-be-read list as I check out other blogs…)

Family…History…Fun

It was a treat to host Mom & Dad here for a bit of a vacation to start July. Over the last couple of years, it seems like Mom & Dad visits have included quite long “honey-do” lists tied to moving. This time, the focus really was on fun and exploring the area. #localtourist
Amish covered bridges...this time with sunshine

Amish covered bridges…this time with sunshine

On Thursday, we were “back” to Amish Country for the day. We enjoyed wandering through some of our favorite shops and went for a lighter lunch option of delicious sandwiches at Kitchen Kettle Village instead of the full family style meal. After “introducing” Mom to a fabulous swivel rocker at one of the furniture stores, she is now contemplating it as her Christmas gift – I don’t blame her, it may be the ultimate chair. Of course, I had to show them the covered bridges that I found the last time I was over there.

Exploring Valley Forge

Exploring Valley Forge

We decided that July 4th would be a good day to explore Valley Forge National Historic Park.  Even the few bands of winds & rain from Hurricane Arthur didn’t stop us from a fun day of exploring this slice of American History. We picked up the Audio Tour CD at the Visitor’s Center and set off to explore the park. The audio tour was excellent – I’m sure that I’ll use it many times as friends & family come to visit. Along the way in the park, we stopped at some of the sites to further explore. While there were July 4th activities planned throughout the park, we didn’t experience large crowds to make us question our decision to be there on Independence Day – the way the park is laid out, it is easy to “find space” away from other visitors. Towards the end of the driving tour, the Washington Memorial Chapel is an amazing piece art that captures the revolutionary history.

A gorgeous day for a canal boat tour

A gorgeous day for a canal boat tour

On Saturday, the plan was to head north to Easton – it is a beautiful drive along the Delaware River and I needed to do some gift shopping at the Crayola Experience store. As I looked to see what else there was to do in Easton, I discovered the National Canal Museum was nearby – so our plans for the day expanded. While small, the museum was filled with history about the Pennsylvania canal system and fun interactive exhibits to help kids (& adults) understand how it all worked. After touring the museum, we enjoyed a 45 minute mule-pulled canal boat tour. The weather was perfect for this. Since the day was spectacular, after lunch we took a more extended drive along the Delaware River as we meandered home.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Happy Birthday Dad!

Dad’s birthday is early in the month, so early in the week I picked up a birthday cake from a great local bakery & we enjoyed it nightly. We also celebrated with a great Sunday brunch at the historic William Penn Inn that is nearby. When we weren’t out exploring, it was fun to just hang out at home – indeed, we are a family that can easily spend time together “just being” – reading a book or something online, doing puzzles, knitting – together in the living room.

As is always the case with family time…it was over much too quickly!

Currently…June

No doubt about it…summertime is here! As the calendar switches to July, the forecast ’round here is “full on heat wave” – ugh. As I look at ways to “beat the heat” in the coming days, here are a few of the things that filled my June days…

  • Reading…a varied selection of books is on my Kindle & nightstand…a long overdue Twitterature round-up is planned for July to briefly discuss the last couple of months of reading…these days, most of my active reads are in the paper version vs e-reads…
  • Watching…another UK business trip provided an opportunity to catch up on several recent movies: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Labor Day, The Muppets Most Wanted, 20 Feet from Stardom, Lone Survivor…being in the UK as the World Cup started meant that I’ve watched more futbol this month than ever before – including the England – Uruguay match in the hotel bar
  • Listening…no new tunes this month…but the Need to Breathe album is definitely in frequent rotation…
  • Crafting…I got behind on the Brewers Crackerjack with vacation & travel but am still knitting my way through – World Cup watching has been a good opportunity to catch up.
  • Cooking…Sunday Supper with my WI family was the cooking highlight of the month – to slip back into our routine was so comforting & relaxing for all of us. We went the easy route with the menu – boboli crusts that we topped: pizza margehrita style & bbq pork style; my “famous” spinach salad; strawberry pie. It was great fun to have C & B help me prep in the kitchen while the boys played quietly in other rooms & V took a nap on my sofa, under my Wisconsin Wanderings afghan.
  • Sipping…again, some proper pints in the UK – and I love that cider is normally on tap there!…the hot weather around here means my Tervis tumblers are in heavy use with iced tea, iced coffee & infused ice waters…
  • Noshing…family style Pennsylvania Dutch cooking & delicious Philly cheese steaks whilst hosting family vacation…lots of tasty morsels whilst in the UK – more delicious fish & chips, a tasty Indian spread, delightful mandarin sorbet, banoffee pie…loving the return of good, local, fresh produce
  • Walking…continuing to get my steps in for the Global Corporate Challenge…my Saturday in London was my high day, so far…
  • Traveling…my new suitcase stood up to the travel rigors of my most recent UK trip
  • Voting…in the ESPY awards – Mercer over Duke as the best upset of the year
  • Looking Ahead…Mom & Dad will celebrate the 4th & Dad’s birthday with me here in PA – adventures are being planned…

Linking up with Leigh Kramer for the monthly “What I’m Into” round-up. What are you into these days?

Across the Pond…Again

Last week brought my third business trip to the UK in less than 3 months. A full week of workshops outside of London was on the schedule and I planned to stay through till Sunday to enjoy a weekend in London.


The work week was busy – I was glad that on Monday evening a colleague & I had made plans to check out a nearby tavern right on the Thames. Dinner was the best fish & chips I’ve encountered during these recent travels & the setting was a nice respite from the workshops. Throughout the week, I got caught up in World Cup fever as colleagues from multiple countries were in “full on” team spirit.

On Friday afternoon, as work wrapped up a car picked me up to take me into London for some fun. Once again, I enjoyed staying at a great hotel “in the middle of it all” using points from my WI travel. Once I settled into the hotel on Friday afternoon, I walked a couple of blocks to hop on the tube to the Swiss Cottage stop. On the agenda, catching up with a friend from my book club days in Chicago. It had been several years since we had seen each other so there was much catching up to do – in addition to “life” we were also trading book recommendations back & forth.

Saturday was a “full on” tourist day. After enjoying breakfast delivered to my room (thank you concierge status!), it was time to see the city. My first stop was The British Museum. I was there for about 3 hours and yet I know I only skimmed the surface of this amazing collection of artifacts.

After the museum, I strolled down Oxford Street to do some shopping. My main shopping goal was a return to Liberty to get one of their beautiful scarves. Along the way I did a bit of other shopping to pick up treats for family. I arrived at Liberty to signs of big sales – so my plan to get one scarf ended up morphing into picking up 2 of their gorgeous scarves on sale for the price of 1. After shopping, it was back to the hotel – an iced coffee, panini & coverage of the Royal Ascot races provided a respite from the hot day.

Late in the afternoon, I hopped on the tube & headed across the river to the London Eye. It was a gorgeous day to hop into one of the carriages for a “spin around the city.”
From the London Eye, I walked along the River Walk and came across a steel drum performer with a haunting performance of Amazing Grace. A walk across the Jubilee Bridge brought me back towards my hotel. Along the way, I walked past Trafalgar Square and then turned onto Leicester Square.

My goal was dining al fresco in one of the many cafes that line the square. A table at Muriel’s Kitchen provided a lovely end to that goal. My sister texted that I needed to get a slice of banoffee pie to end the day. The restaurant didn’t serve it. Thanks to my iPhone, I googled “banoffee pie near Leicester Square” & saw mention of a cafe in the area – as I walked back towards my hotel I came across the cafe & ordered a slice “takeaway.”

On Sunday morning, the city was just starting to wake up as my car took me back to Heathrow. After being in the middle of such hustle and bustle, it was nice to see the quieter side of the city. The flight home was for catching up on movies and reading…and also for tea time just before landing. I think one or two more UK trips will be on the horizon as the year progresses – I wonder what tourist adventures await on future trips.

Family Vacation Fun

This week, I was lucky enough to host my WI family for some “PA summer fun” family vacation time. This has been a trip a long time in the making – from the first possibilities of me moving to PA we talked of them coming to visit. This was one of the first things written on my fridge calendar back in January and as the months progressed we added possible fun times to our itinerary.

Last Friday, the kids had a half day of school to end their school year. Once school was out, they piled into the van and were off… Over the river into the UP – across the Mackinac Bridge – and through the Ohio & Pennsylvania Turnpikes to “Miss Amy’s House” they came.

Text messages and phone calls on Friday & Saturday provided a glimpse into the excited van as they made their way here. By the time the kids were pounding on my front door on Saturday evening we all were more than ready for days of fun, fun, fun!

Civil War on a Sunday afternoon

Civil War on a Sunday afternoon

Sunday is for Civil War! After brunch that included an introduction to Pork Roll & Scrapple, we headed to New Jersey for the afternoon. (Add another one to the visited states list, kids!) Our goal was to see an annual Civil War reenactment – we arrived just as the battle was starting. In addition to seeing the battle, we toured the encampment and learned quite a bit about the rifles and combat methods used during the war. To recharge from the hot and sunny outing, we stopped at a drive in for ice cream & floats. After a fun afternoon “out” we returned home for our “Sunday supper” routine that began during my Marinette days – after cooking many meals in their kitchen it was fun to cook with them in mine. Supper gave way to a lazy evening enjoying just being back together.

Kitchen Kettle Village fun

Kitchen Kettle Village fun

Monday is for Amish Country! Once we were all up & fed, it was time to load into the van and head west towards Lancaster County. It is definitely a favorite day trip spot for me – so of course we would go there. As we started sharing the road with buggies, the boys were responsible for keeping count of how many we saw throughout the day. Our day was filled with shopping both at Kitchen Kettle Village and other favorite stores; sampling many tasty jams, salsa, mustards & more; tasty family style lunch at Good & Plenty Restaurant; just exploring the countryside. As rain started to move in late in the afternoon we searched out 2 covered bridges in the area – one to drive through and one to walk around.

Discovering Covered Bridges

Discovering Covered Bridges

Tuesday is for Cheese Steaks, Coloring & Baseball! I went into the office for a few hours in the morning while the kids enjoyed some splash time at their hotel pool. At lunchtime, we headed out with an itinerary to take us a bit north. First up was another local taste – delicious cheese steaks. Then, a beautiful drive along the Delaware River took us to Easton, PA and the Crayola Experience.

Channeling our inner artist

Channeling our inner artist

The Crayola Experience was a hit with all of us – we could probably have spent twice as much time there. Each of the kids has a creative streak & this was a perfect place for all of us to channel our inner artist as we worked our way through the various art stations. We named our own crayons, made markers, created digital art, colored pictures, captured “family selfies” into coloring pages and all around had a fun time.

Take us out to the ball game

Take us out to the ball game

After a couple hours in color wonder, it was time to head a bit west to see some baseball. Our seats in “The Bacon Strip” in the far right outfield made for an excellent place to cheer on the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in a minor league game. It was a beautiful night for baseball – we were lucky that rain in the area did not come to the ballpark & impact the game.

Wednesday ended up being for an unexpected early departure due to a family need back in WI. While we were all sad as they drove away from my place in the early morning hours, we were so thankful for the time that we had together here. From the fun adventures to the simple hangout times at my place and everything in between, we filled the days with many great memories!