I've been growing some peculiar tomatoes in my garden. These are not the first nor, looking at the green ones still to ripen, will they be the last. Officially they are San Marino Roma toms, excellent for paste and for oven roasting, but they look like they glommed onto regular round tomatoes to make little tomato weebles.
Just another one of the things I love about my vegetable garden; things aren't perfect and there are always surprises.
Which is in direct contrast to dog shows, where the dogs are meant to be perfect and there are rarely surprises. We were at a show with Meggan today and I just want to say bravo to the owner/breeder handlers.
Last year was not a very good year for writing. Come to think of it, last year wasn't very good for very much. Toby spent the better part of the year commuting to the UK, which meant that I spent the better part of the year keeping things together on the home front. Then, when it was all over and Toby came back home, we decided to take advantage of all those frequent flier miles, hotel points, and rapidly aging vacation days and fly to the southern hemisphere a lot via places that were not necessarily on the way.
The furry children did ok given that they were stuck with me for the longest time and only saw Fun Daddy on the weekends, when he wasn't so much fun as jetlagged. Meggan continued to gain confidence in the ring and got lovely blue ribbons at lots of different places. Tywyn, having completed his Canine Good Citizen training last summer, got the year off. But he will return to the canine books soon with some rally and obedience work. We can't have his pesky little sister getting all the pretty ribbons can we? Both puppies got into swimming. Meggan of course LOVES swimming to the point where getting her by a body of water without needing to get in it is nearly impossible. George continued to be peculiar and developed a small biting habit following a close call with our friend Callum's foot on the stairs. Emily remains adorable.
Of course we decided to throw the usual round of house destruction and reconstruction into the mix. 2007 brought one very serious project - the creation of a master suite where there was none. Where our past efforts have largely been cosmetic, this one involved a jack hammer and the slab. The dissipation of nervous energy was well worth it in the end with 3 separate rooms becoming one giant nest, complete with the most divine closet a girl could ask for. The before and after sequences, complete with the usual round of bad taste photos need to be witnessed in full. Wood paneling, crackle logs, owls, and now weird murals on cinder blocks under the stairs - and I don't believe I've seen everything yet.
Then, as I said earlier, we abandoned ship and headed south. First to New Zealand for a week's frolicking in hot mud. Well mostly we looked at hot mud, it was very therapeutic, but we did play in the water at the hot water beach. On the way back from Auckland we stopped in Sydney for one of the best things we've ever done. The weekend we were in Sydney just happened to be the closest weekend to my parents' 40th wedding anniversary. Toby and I plotted with my dad to get my mother to Sydney for the weekend without knowing that she would be meeting us for dinner. I still marvel at the fact that my dad kept his end of the deceit going for nigh on 6 months, even down to concocting a story about how he'd won this trip and that they had to take it on a specific weekend. I, on the other hand, not being able to lie to my mother, had to stop calling for fear of letting something slip. In the end it was the Hilton Sydney who let something slip, but it was still a hoot. We had a lovely dinner at Tetsuya's which Toby would have enjoyed if he hadn't fallen asleep.
We were hardly back home long enough to change suitcases when we were back on long haul flights for Christmas in Australia with my mum and dad. We took the round about routing: IAD-JFK-LHR-HKG-MEL-PER-MEL-HKG-NRT-LHR-JFK-IAD and then our bags decided that they weren't done so they spent three days in Raleigh. The trip, as expected was marvelous. We went to Stonehenge on the way over, had Sunday Roast Lunch at a lovely pub near Woodhenge, drank lots of champagne, experienced the joys of fully flat beds on a plane, and arrived in Australia well rested and ready for a jolly good holiday. Best part of the holiday was teaching Toby how to crab in the estuary at my parents' house. This was something I really should have checked before we got married, but thankfully he passed the catching test with flying colours, although he's not so keen on cleaning his supper. But he'll do.
After we had eaten our fill of crabs it was time to go and destroy the seafood reserves of another country so we headed from Perth to Tokyo via Melbourne and Hong Kong. We left Melbourne at 11:59pm on New Year's Eve and got to see fireworks from the plane as we took off. Hong Kong was just a transit point this time, but was notable for the Cathay Pacific flight where the flight crew refused to serve me food because of my nut allergy and made a report to pass on to British Airways for our flight from Tokyo back to London. Neither Toby nor I believed that their report would make it anywhere near BA, since getting airlines to document allergies is basically impossible at the best of times, let alone trying to coordinate across partner airlines on flights more than a week a part. But somehow, they did. For 11 hours on the BA flight from NRT-LHR I was FORCED to eat only lobster. Poor me.
Tokyo was as brilliant as always and we were very well taken care of by our friends Ono-san and Jason. Ono-san took us a wonderful trip to Kyoto and invited us to his family's home to celebrate the New Year. We also did our first proper solo adventures in Japan this trip and even managed to navigate the subway unaccompanied. And, in my long-standing mission to try McDonald's in every country I visit, discovered that the Japanese 'beef' patties are in fact pork. Toby had far loftier in-country goals...On the last morning we were in Japan he made me get up very early to witness the tuna auction at Tsukiji market. While I whined a little about the cold and freaked out a little at some of the sea creatures trying to crawl out of buckets, it was a phenomenal experience and one that I would repeat in an instant. Especially the part where we had sushi for breakfast!
But that my dear friends, brings us well into 2008. Which is the subject of another post.
Twas but weeks before Christmas, and all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even my spouse. The poor thing was dozing off in a chair, Just thankful not to be in a plane in the air
'k this has to stop. There's no way I can sustain a whole family update in verse. It's been a pretty regular year in the Eastern Office - we haven't advanced the cause of world peace beyond the adoption of another spaniel, nor have we adopted children from dire poverty. The spaniel was in a *very* cushy situation, but we still haven’t had time to write novels after work, although I must say we both made some mighty fine contributions on cuteoverload.com (me) and corner carvers (him).
So, how can our year be summed up? Overall, we're up one family member for the year, having added Meggan Piper, Riverside's Myfanwy Malona, to our brood of furry children. Emily as you'll read below is lovely, George continues to disapprove, Tywyn is almost a Good Citizen, and Meggan at 15 weeks is responsible for us canceling our satellite tv so that we can sit and watch her do the impolitely termed 'spaz' dance. Picture a little puppy so happy that she bends in two and bounces a few feet and twirls in a circle. It's worth a trip to Virginia.
For the rest, I'll use standard family metrics:
Cars sold: 3, and he's trying really hard to get that all important 4th sale in before New Year's Eve.
Cars bought: 2, one for him and one for me. On the car front 2006 was most notable because we finally realized that 2 people cannot drive 3 cars at once, no matter how long their legs are.
Cool Car Experiences: 1 (I don't count putting the old Miata on cinder blocks as anything more than a desperate attempt to fit into the neighbourhood). This year Toby got to participate in the 24 Hours of Lemons. Not only are there now videos of his driving prowess on YouTube, but he got a whole paragraph in the San Francisco Chronicle. My favourite line: "Consider Toby, (he even has the right name for a race driver), who had flown in from Virginia and was doing his best to get his 1979 Chevy Caprice (a former police car) into the winner's circle. Asked if he was getting a bit anxious about the various ills plaguing his car, Toby just sat there and finally said, "If you get upset, you're missing the point." Scuderia Limoncello finished in 7th place; as well as being very respectable, it’s also a miracle.
Miles flown: Over 130,000. Recently, Toby's become a regular on the Dulles to Heathrow flight. Remember when it was just San Jose to Los Angeles? Being bought by the British means meeting a whole new flight crew.
Hotel Points: Enough that we could sell the house and move to a fine hotel. Sometimes it’s tempting - new towels every day, someone to make the bed, convenient airport access.
New and Fascinating Talents: Deck and stair building. Who knew, Toby's a genius with a hammer, nails, and pressure treated lumber. The deck is gorgeous. He did good.
Bizarre Accidents Resulting in Disproportionate Injury: 1. Not so very long ago, Tywyn decided to escape from our back garden in pursuit of something "very interesting". In going to rescue him from his misadventure (not that he really wanted that) I walked through a giant patch of poison ivy. Because I had no clue what I had walked through at the time, I managed to spread it to both legs and my arms. My extremities, as well as being blistered and really quite itchy, swelled like a ball of dough on a warm stove. This adventure with Tywyn was also notable because I ended up with both dogs in our neighbour's 15 acre field in my pyjamas and my ladybird shoes with little hope of getting back over our fence. I love that people throw paint cans over the fence as a method of disposal. If you stack them they make an excellent, albeit shaky, ladder.
Number of Visits to the Vet: Let's just say that I no longer need to use a surname when I call. In this respect, I love Emily the best and strongly advocate the adoption of street kitties for their hardy constitutions and complete disinterest in experiencing the outdoors and its attendant billable hour dangers.
Miles flown: Enough to get to the next holiday destination and not a mile further. We had some lovely getaways, including the San Juan Islands, Chicago, and Sedona and the Grand Canyon.
Number of Room Renovations Survived: 7 - everything upstairs, with the exception of the kitchen, is now complete. Please refer to pictures in the 2005 archives for a visual reminder of the horror that was our house. 2007 will see the kitchen destroyed and rebuilt as well as the creation of a master suite downstairs, and the removal of the wood paneling from the romper room. My dad doesn't know this yet, but when he's here for Christmas he's getting a sledge hammer and a saws-all and being sent to the basement.
The other big news that affected both of us was a change for Counterpane, Toby’s long-standing (and my somewhat-more-recent) employer. In October the company was purchased by British Telecom, so we are now BT employees. It was something of a relief to see Counterpane finally experience some notion of closure, although really the main challenges are only just beginning as we figure out how to incorporate a 100-person company into an enormous multinational enterprise.
Plans for next year are in the same general spirit, though probably without the further adoption of furry children. Various trips planned for work and pleasure, and Christmas ’07 will find us back in Australia. While going slowly for various reasons, we are warming to Virginia’s charms, although the Maryland shore offers illicit temptations in the form of constant access to crab cakes and places for the dogs to go swimming. There’s also a housing development that’s just started construction quite close to where we are now, and we’re paying attention to how that goes since by the time the location we would like will becomes available, we’ll probably be ready to move again. And that’s some of our interesting stories for the year. We'd love to hear more from everyone and we'll be happy to spin a few more yarns from the family trove.
Our best wishes for the holiday season and for 2007, and we hope to see all of you sooner rather than later.
No picture today but a little story about this weekend's gardening efforts. This may seem like an odd weekend to start gardening since overnight temperatures here were in the -15C range, but I'm quite convinced that spring is going to be here before too much long. Given that I know nothing about the weather patterns out here, I'm taking my cue from nature; the daffodils and tulips are pushing their way through the leaf mulch and the Bluebirds have been hanging out on top of the nesting box so that's good enough for me. Strangely it wasn't too bad being outside, I found that so long as I wore two pairs of gardening gloves, two jumpers, my coat, a scarf and a hat the cold didn't bother me at all.
The garden project, like the house project, starts with the removal of tacky and tasteless relics of the former owners. And, just like the house, there have been some real gems. We got rid of the playset and Wendy House (picture in August posts) for real live money at the beginning of winter and that dramatically improved the tenor of the garden. But there were, of course, more items that needed to be gone. The first was the plastic arbor (picture also in August posts) it would squeak in the wind and white plastic sticks out like a sore thumb in the garden.
The second set of items that needed to be removed were random concrete articles. We found pavers buried under leaves, bricks buried under leaves, pavers tossed to the back of the lot in the hopes that they would decompose and disappear, but our absolute favourites were the massively over engineered washing line anchors. We knew that there was one right next to the stairs to the backgarden. Up until the big windstorm in the middle of January I had used it to hang the bird feeders so the cats could count Chicakdees and participate in the Backyard Bird Study. But then there was this windstorm, which snapped the old metal pole off at the base, leaving a lovely rusted and jagged edge poking up just above the soil. So, while I pulled the arbor out, Toby started to excavate. One spade, two people, two crowbars and several bricks later we finally got the thing out - it was anchored by two composite/concrete circles both about 8" thick and 12" across. Elated, we loaded it into the trailer and got ready to go to the dump, but then Toby said "If it's a washing line anchor, won't there be another end?" So we walked in a straight line from the first one to the odd patch of dirt where nothing grows five feet away and started to dig. It didn't take long before the spade went "clink" and Toby began to use colourful language. This one was much worse, it's metally nub was anchored by a foot long/deep cone of concrete composite in solid clay. We did get it out eventually, but up until that moment I had no idea you could actually sweat when the temperature's below zero.
I was feeling a great sense of accomplishment after we dropped the debris off at the dump...until this morning. Tywyn and I decided to do some more gardening this morning and since Toby's speaking at a conference today, we chose to rake leaves and see what exactly's growing in the mysterious beds at the back of the garden. Plus Tywyn gets plum puppy-happy when there are piles of leaves to run through at full tilt. So, we were both happy - me discovering daffodils and Tywyn running through my leaf piles - until I felt my rake hit something solid in the big corner bed. I raked some more and scrapped off a layer of debris only to discover more concrete pavers. These ones are special though, some one actually took the time to 'faux-bois' them so they're meant to look like tree stumps, albeit very, very flat tree stumps. For the time being they are still in the ground, I don't want to deny Toby the thrill of seeing them in situ.
Today was Tywyn's first snow day. He was a little apprehensive at first but soon got the hang of snow-ploughing and skidding. There's about 4" as of 11pm so when he went out for his final walk this evening it was very much a case of puppy has no legs. My favourite part of today was getting Tywyn to fetch snowballs!
I've been awful about posting pictures since we came back from Italy in October. This little thing has been a little bit of a distraction. Tywyn (Welsh for cute puppy and pronounced Tao-in) and his 5 siblings were born October 2nd, just before we went away. Once we were back and as soon as they were old enough to receive company, we spent rather a lot of time at the breeder's house getting to know the schnuppers. It was hard to pick just one, but Tywyn seemed perfect for our house and for George and Emily. I arrived back from a weekend trip to Toronto to find Toby and Tywyn waiting for me at DCA - then Toby hopped on a plane to New Hampshire and left me at home with this small snuffling creature that wasn't a cat. We survived that first week, barely, and I'm slowly learning the ways of "The Beast" as Georege and Emmy have named him. We're most of the way through potty training and heading to puppy classes over the next few weeks to try and instill a few manners in his very smooth brain.
On our fourth day at the Vatican, Toby told me that I was in for surprise. Do you mean the surprise where the line goes all the way back down around the circle and across the other side? Or the surprise where it starts to rain as soon as we've taken our place in the line? No silly, it's the surprise that I can act like a German tourist and queue-hop with the best of them to make full use of my time. The lines were so long and it was our last full day in Rome, we decided to throw caution to the wind and risk being struck by thunderbolts to get to the top of the Cupola. If you go back to the first Rome photo of St. Peter's in the gloaming and look for the very top of the dome, Toby and I stood there.
While nothing funny had happened on the way to the Forum earlier in the day, funny things did happen on the way up the Cupola. Like walking through the Papal tombs not once but twice because we couldn't find sufficient decoy tourists to distract the guards so we could join the Cupola line at its smallest point. I am, however, very glad to have seen the tombs, with the exception of Paul VI, who creeps me out even in death. Finally, on our third go around some lovely tourist asked the Queue Guard some very involved question, which distracted him long enough that we could hop into the last section of the line to the Cupola. Since the rest of the line was made up of French teenagers, pre-riot, there were no protests, objections, or flaming projectiles.
The thrill of acting like German tourists wore off after step 467. The vague sense that the walls were closing in came around step 1349, and sheer terror set in about 4 steps from the top when we had to grab on to a greasy rope in order to make it through the last twisty tunnel before . Yep, that's quite the vista point.