Monday, May 31, 2010

Week 22 - Gardening Is Done

This week has got to take the cake for getting better with each passing day.

I started the week off in a fog of jet lag and lingering cold symptoms. I arrived to my new office Monday and faced a day of unpacking and slogging through 2 weeks of email, which wasn't all bad because I wasn't up for much more. Tuesday I was some better but still dragging. I spent most of that day culling files that I should have gotten rid of before I moved them twice. With the help of a frappe coffee mid afternoon, I made it through the day but didn't have enough energy to brave the pool (I had also forgotten both my ID and my new suit at home so figured the swim gods were against me anyway.) I went to bed early that night and woke up Wednesday finally feeling normal again. Yay!

With my office all organized and my mind no longer in a fog, I was able to get some actual work done and then go to the pool for the first time in almost 3 weeks. Having made it through my trip without knee problems, it was now time to stop babying the knee and get some serious exercise in the pool. So on Wednesday, decked out in my new red suit, I didn't modify my moves at all and lived to tell. Then Thursday we had a new instructor who really put us through the paces and my heart rate was soaring. It felt great! Combine the exercise with sleeping better, thanks in part to the gorgeous air coming in my windows, and I felt like a new woman ready to tackle my garden over the long weekend.

I only wish the painting were going as well. My painter is making progress every day but at what feels like a snail's pace. By the end of the day Friday, all the ceilings and walls in the front of the house were done but none of the trim, which meant I still couldn't put a single room back in order. At this point, I’ve just let it go since worrying about when it will be done won’t get me anywhere. And I need to concentrate on my gardening anyway.

For a long time, my goal has been to get all my gardening done by May 31st, so I started the weekend with a long to do list. Saturday was hotter than Hades and muggy too but I forced myself outside and prepped the beds in the veggie garden, which required pulling the sea of weeds that had sprouted since it was tilled and turning it over by hand. I worked all morning and into the early afternoon when I took a break from the heat and retreated to the basement, which was cooler than the house. I headed back out in the late afternoon and finished up. Step one done.

Since Anne Marie was home alone for the weekend and Sunday was her birthday, I called her and invited her to Andy’s in Fremont for supper. She was hungry and willing so I grabbed a quick shower to cool off and picked her up. We split everything so had lots of yummy food to share – tomato Florentine soup, pesto linguine, grilled salmon salad and Italian cream cake to finish it off. What a nice finish to a productive day!

Sunday dawned overcast and much cooler. Yay! I spent most of the day inside, going through papers, neatizing the kitchen and cooking. Just before dinner, I headed outside to plant my veggie garden. Step two done.

That left Monday as container day. I had stopped Friday evening to buy a few annuals but was determined to have fewer containers (I normally have 25-30 all over the yard) so planned to mostly use the plants I’d wintered over. Sheesh, I wintered over a lot of geraniums and lantana! I planted from lunch until I lost my shade at 3:00 and then went out again later and planted until after 7:00. The good news is all containers are done and I made my May 31st deadline. Now if the painter would just finish some trim so I can unpack at least one room. I live in hope.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Week 21 - England and Home

We started Monday with a fun workshop where we combined knitting with fabric, matching the colors in the knitting to the fabric. I made a hat I’ll never wear but was inspired and made lots of notes of things to try at home. We had the rest of the day free and I considered going to Stonehenge with a few of the others but decided against it so I could explore Bath some more. It was also our last chance to shop because the next 2 days were full. So Andrea and I hit the streets. We had a bath bun at Sally Lunn’s (should have skipped that!), hit a grocery store so I could stock up on muesli and biscuits (cookies) to bring home and checked out a few more Bath sights. We went back to the hotel exhausted and I wished we’d picked up sandwiches for supper but we hadn’t so had to head out again for noodles at Wagamama. We then watched TV until bedtime. It was a nice day.

There had been a bug going through the group, starting with the California crew and, unfortunately, hitting Andrea on Tuesday. So she stayed at the hotel in bed all day and the rest of us headed to Stroud for their textile festival. We started at the museum with a presentation by a weaver then were dropped downtown to explore. We found a wonderful café for lunch and decided immediately that we do some shopping and then go back for tea before we had to meet up at the bus. I found a beautiful woodcut print at the Made in Stroud shop that I had to have so bought it and had them wrap it in bubble wrap so I could put it in my luggage. From Stroud we went to Malmesbury to tour the abbey gardens – yet another gorgeous English garden with an amazing foot high fence of espaliered dwarf apples trees that I just have to try at home. No wonder I love England so much! – and then had dinner at the Old Bell.

Wednesday was our last day and we started it with a workshop on braiding, which Philip had said wasn’t knit related but he’d booked it because the presenter was fabulous. I had low expectations but ended up loving it. We used threads and yarns to make all different kinds of trims by twisting them. It was magic! After class we did some shopping at a small pedestrian street near the hotel then were on the bus again going to Frome, a small town with a fun yarn shop and good place for lunch. Then it was on to the medieval village of Lacock. We split into two groups – one went to the museum and the rest of us opted to sit in the sun at the tea shop garden and enjoy some relaxation. When the museum group joined us later, we went to our farewell dinner at the Sign of the Angel in Lacock. Since the bus was leaving for the airport at 7:00, I packed that night, loading all my heavy stuff (books and breakables mostly) into my carry on in hopes that my checked suitcase wouldn’t be more than 50 pounds, which would cost me $50.

It was hard to believe the trip was over! I had been concerned with losing interest in the knitting part and just being away for so long but I worried for nothing. All the knitting was fun, the time flew by and it was already time to leave the new friends I’d made. Most of us were on the same flight to Newark, which was uneventful. I watched 2 movies and read a bit so it wasn’t bad at all. But it was going to be a LONG day because we had an 8 hour layover in Newark.

Andrea still wasn’t up to par so decided to stay at the airport rather than head out with Dottie, Thomas and me. The fact that we were going to an abandoned asylum to photograph it may have played a part in her decision too. Tee hee! We drove directly to Morris Plains to photograph the Kirkbride there. It is not a pretty one but we were able to walk all around it and even could put our cameras through open windows to take some interior shots so it was great. I was fading by the time we were done so we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts for an iced coffee – YUM! From there we drove to Bud Lake Diner where I had a burger, which felt like the most normal food I’d eaten in weeks. Then it was back to the airport to reunite with Andrea and take the final flight home.

It was a dinky plane and I had to put my carry on under the seat in front of me and so had nowhere to put my feet. I was miserably uncomfortable and fidgeted for the whole flight. I could have loved to grab some sleep but the two bozos sitting in front of us were busy yucking it up and making so much noise I didn’t sleep a wink. Anne Marie and three of her kids picked us up and I got home ~12:30, having been up at that point for 26 hours straight.

I was excited to see my house because I had arranged to have the entire inside painted while I was gone. I opened the door, looked inside and saw – nothing! The painter had only finished part of the back room and nothing else. She left a note but I was pretty upset. I took Anne Marie’s advice though and just took a shower and went to bed. I fell asleep almost immediately but unfortunately woke up 4 hours later (damn birds!) at 5:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. After watching the Survivor final first thing, I did manage to unpack and start some laundry but that was about it for the day, except stewing about the lack of progress the painter had made and hating the color of the one room she did get mostly done. I counted the hours until 8:30, the point at which I figured I could go to bed and sleep all night. I put in ear plugs to be sure the birds wouldn’t wake me up again and slept for blissful 8 hours, awaking feeling like a new woman.

I had a Friends meeting at the library Saturday morning, did some food shopping and errands afterwards and then headed home to get productive. I didn’t get a ton done but managed to finish the laundry, slog through papers and mail, catch up on some TV I missed, make some phone calls and write this. I ended the day Sunday with pizza and the Lost finale. Tomorrow it’s back to reality and my new office. I had a wonderful vacation and am looking forward to a big dose of normal life.

Week 20 - Headed to England

I would say the flight was uneventful but we left late and then had to fly way north over Greenland to get around the ash cloud. So, we arrived 2 hours late, which was just late enough to have missed the tour bus. There were 4 of us on the flight (Ann & Liz from Washington, who Andrea knew from previous trips – we’d hang out for the rest of the trip) and after a fiasco with an unmanned information desk and no one knowing anything, we found a cab that had been hired to take us to the first stop on the tour. It was great to be in England again and I spent the ride gazing out the window, loving the scenery. We arrived at Cold Harbor Mill just in time to grab lunch, visit the yarn shop and get back on the big bus with the rest of the tour. From there we went to Dartington Hall, which would be home for the next 5 days.

Dartington was magical! It was built in the 1300’s, had four wings built around a huge courtyard and was surrounded by gorgeous gardens. Andrea and I settled into our small but quaint room, where I unpacked (why not? We’d be there 5 days!) and we met up with the group at 5:30 for Jean Moss’ (the knitting designer who planned the trip) lecture followed by a dinner so fantastic that we took pictures of the food. I was determined to try new things so started with a venison appetizer, which was fabulous. Once dinner was over, we fell into bed exhausted but looking forward to the rest of the trip.

After a yummy English breakfast, we had our first workshop – Shadow Knitting taught by Jean. I had been worried that I wouldn’t be a good enough knitter but there were all levels of knitters and I did just fine. Afterwards we hitched a ride with a local who had gone to the workshop to the Cider Press Center – an arts center on the edge of the estate that had shops and restaurants. We had planned to grab lunch but were having so much fun shopping that we ran out of time so walked back to the hall just in time for a tour of the Dartington gardens, which of course I loved. Then it was time for show and share, which was a great way to get to know everyone and see their knitting. I went first with my pathetic train wreck socks, knowing they’d be the lamest thing there. They were. The others had some amazing stuff to share and it was inspiring. We had another fantastic dinner – 3 courses over 2 hours that didn’t start until 7:30 – and headed to bed right afterwards because the next day was going to be a full one.

At 9:00, we left for Bovey Tracey – a cute town with a nice yarn shop and shopping area. We checked out a few shops and I started my stocking stuffer shopping – yay! I found a great bakery and bought some goodies then Ann, Liz, Andrea and I stopped for tea until it was time to rendezvous at the bus. We then headed to Widecombe-in-the-Moor, a quaint village on Dartmoor (my favorite place on Earth) for lunch in a pub. The village had it all – ponies roaming the lanes, herds of sheep, an ancient pub covered with wisteria, a gorgeous old church…you name it. From there we headed to Plymouth for a cruise up the River Dart to Totnes – the town closest to Dartington. Unfortunately the weather turned just as we were starting out. It started raining and it was windy on the river. It was miserable! We huddled under the awning, getting colder with every passing minute. The captain pushed the engines to the limit so we could finish early and get out of the wet. We found a cozy pub, complete with a nice fire, and I had my first half pint of cider of the trip. Yum! We sat knitting until it was time to leave for dinner, considerably warmer than when we arrived at the pub.

We drove to Riverford Field Kitchen (the restaurant at a local organic farm) for supper. This was, bar none, the best meal I’ve ever eaten! The food was fresh, seasonal, organic and in ridiculous quantities (it could have fed three times as many people) and I tried everything. There were at least six starters and even more mains. Then they invited us up to the counter to pick our desserts. I tried to write down what we’d had when we got back but I know I missed some. It was all amazing.

Jean did another workshop Thursday morning – Japanese short rows, which was fun. Then we had the afternoon free and I had arranged to have a rental car delivered at 1:15. I was headed to Meavy – the village on the west side of Dartmoor where I spent Christmas with the Chittendens in 1981. Andrea and Ann came along as guides and to keep reminding me to stay left. Considering that the only other time I drove in England I returned the rental with 2 dented fenders, I was happy for the help. I drove slowly and did OK, just hitting the curb on the left a couple of times before I got used to it. We went to Sheepstor first, which was Fr. Chittenden’s other parish and is a tiny town out on the middle of the moors. A local gave us directions to Meavy via the scenic route around Burrator Reservoir. We got the full moor effect – a pony and her foal, sheep and gorgeous vistas. Then Meavy. We went to the pub to try and get lunch but got there too late. We checked out the church and then headed to the next town to try and find lunch. We were too late for the café so Ann and Andrea ended up grabbing a sandwich at the market and eating it in the car. We then headed across the moor towards Dartington for another gourmet meal.

Friday morning was another workshop – British Isles Afghans by Martin Story (a British designer who works for the yarn company Rowan.) We had fun designing our own afghan blocks and he gave us tons of free yarn. Afterwards the four of us jumped in the car and drove it back to Totnes. I drove up to the auto shop that I’d rented it from, proud to be returning it unscathed. But the guy had a strange look on his face and informed me that I was missing a hubcap. I was dumbstruck! It was on the passenger’s side and I had no idea I’d lost it, although we later recalled a bump after I hit the curb once that must have been when I lost it. Long story short, it cost me 58 pounds to pay for the replacement and an alignment. I guess I should have paid the extra 35 pounds so I wouldn’t have a deductible, which I had skipped since it was as much as the rental fee. Oh well, it’s just money.

We had fun in Totnes, starting with tea at an adorable tea shop called Grey’s. Then we shopped our way down the high street and checked out the church. When we were ready to leave, we walked up to the bus stop to check out that vs. a taxi and the Dartington Hall bus drove up and stopped right in front of us. So we headed back and I had just enough time before dinner to take my last walk in the garden. After dinner we had an evening of music that I wasn’t looking forward to but ended up enjoying. Then it was back to pack because we’d be leaving first thing in the morning. It was hard to believe the trip was half over.

While we were packing, Andrea realized her camera was missing. We tore the room apart, even moving furniture, finally deciding it must have fallen out of her pocket on the bus. So after breakfast, we went to the office and they had it listed as found on the bus and had the number of the woman who had it. They called a few taxi companies and found one that could pick it up and deliver it to Dartington. We were only delayed leaving by five minutes and it only cost Andrea 15 pounds. Much better than losing her pics and having to buy a new camera.

We were headed for Bath but started the day stopping in Wells, which had a nice yarn shop, a gorgeous cathedral and a nice market. I had my only ploughman’s lunch of the trip in a pub there. From Wells we went to Peto Gardens at Ilford Manor – a gorgeous Italianate garden in a beautiful valley. I was in my element, trading plant info with Jean and taking tons of pictures. We had time to grab tea and cake in their tea shop before boarding the bus for the final leg to Bath.

The hotel in Bath was interesting. It is the hottest hotel in Bath (movie stars stay there) and was made from 3 terraced houses that we joined together. But since the street in on a hill, the floors didn’t match up so there was a warren of hallways with lounges around every turn and stairs, usually just 2 or 3 at a time, everywhere. Our room was on the third floor but our bathroom was on the second. We had an entire staircase inside our room to get down to our bathroom. Odd but it was a very nicely appointed room and had a wonderful shower.

Sunday was a rainy day English style, meaning it was misty and didn’t even merit an umbrella by US standards. We had a walking tour first thing, which was great because it oriented us to the city and the guide was full of info. We went to the Fashion Museum afterwards but it was kind of a bust. I did find a pin of an enormous orange button though so it wasn’t a total bust. Then we had the afternoon free. We ate lunch at Jamie’s Italian – one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants. The food was delicious – fresh and super yummy. We did some shopping and walked around some more. Then it was back to the hotel for a lecture and dinner.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Week 19 - Ready to Go

This week was all about getting ready for my trip. Now here it is 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and my to do list is pretty much done. At times this week, I thought I’d crack before I got to this point.

Packing wasn’t the issue. I can pack like a pro and had a mental list of what I would bring ages ago. It was all the prep work for painting, which I had thought wouldn’t take long. Take down a few pictures, take down the curtains – easy! Well, not as easy as it sounds.

The woman who lived here before me must have been a vampire because every window had 4 layers of protection from the sunlight – blinds, sheers, drapes and valances. I kept it simple withjust blinds and put up valances to hide all the curtain hardware. Since I’m finally having the woodwork painted white, this was my chance to take everything down so Elizabeth (the painter) could spackle the holes and I could start over from scratch. Do you know how long it takes to remove curtain hardware with just a screwdriver? A LONG time! Each bracket had at least 2 screws and she used LONG ones to make sure those suckers stayed up.

After spending all Wednesday night working and still only having 2 rooms done, I started stressing. I didn’t sleep well and woke up feeling awful. Dizzy, shaky and tired. I spent some time on WebMD, fighting the hypochondriac tendencies I inherited from my mother but still looking up heart attack signs in woman. I ended up going home just after lunch and even stopped at the clinic on the way home for a blood pressure check (the wait was too long thought so I left.) After lying down for 2 hours (with interruptions from a neighbor and a door-to-door salesman – sheesh!), I felt no better.

Only when I stopped to think about it rationally did I realize I was just plain old stressed. I only had 2 more days and lots more to do. What was my solution? Hmmm….. So I did something I hate to do – I picked up the phone and called Nancy to ask for help. As soon as she agreed to come over Saturday morning, I felt like a new woman. I still felt crappy physically but my symptoms started to ebb. By the end of the evening, I was doing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. Life was good!

I went to work Friday feeling great. I had a few things to finish up and had to pack my office. Because not only will I be returning to a freshly painted albeit discombobulated house, but our new office furniture will come in while I’m gone so I’ll be coming back to my new office, back upstairs on the fourth floor. The best part is I’ll have a window again – yay!

I did more on Friday night and realized when I got up on Saturday that I really didn’t need Nancy’s help but decided not to call and cancel. One of my concerns has been my knee going out while I’m away so I figured if all Nancy did was the stuff that required getting up and down the step stool or stairs, that’d still be helpful. So she did exactly that and in less than 2 hours we had everything done. The plants I had all over the house were outside in a wading pool (for ease of watering), the art was all in the basement and the breakables that might fall when the furniture gets moved were packed up. So we went to the Wigwam for lunch, ran a few errands and I was back home by early afternoon.

I had a few things left on my list – packing, mowing, setting up extra litter boxes, and a ton of little things. I worked steadily on and off all day and saw that it was 9:00 when I finally stopped. I sat down to email last minute instructions to the painter and Lorri, who will check on the cats and water plants on the weekend. I went to bed just after 10:00, looking forward to a good night’s sleep since everything was done so I had nothing to worry about. Yeah, right.

I had trouble falling asleep and was awake many times over the night so am bleary eyed while typing this. But as I said to Lorri, if nothing dies while I’m gone, I’ll have done my job. The sun is coming up and in 2 hours I’ll be on my way to the airport. My sister is going to drive to Newark and whisk us away for a early supper at a diner (you gotta love Jersey diners!) so our 5-1/2 hour layover won’t be so bad. I’ve packed stretchy pants and a t-shirt to change into before the overnight flight and have some old ambien to take so I can sleep on the flight. We have a full day scheduled for Monday, complete with a lecture before a late dinner (what were the tour people thinking?) so I’m hoping I won’t be too exhausted. Since I can’t charge the battery, I’m not bringing my laptop so it’d doubtful I’ll be blogging next weekend. But I have an 8 gig memory card in my camera(borrowed from my friend Anne) so when I do, they’ll be lots of pics to go with my post. Until then, take care everyone and know I’m having a blast in jolly old England.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Week 18 - A Fresh Finish

It was a pretty uneventful week. I spent most nights chipping away at my pre-trip to do list.

Friday was a lonely day. Dale had the day off so I was all alone in my windowless office. Going out at lunch only made it worse because it was absolutely gorgeous out. I was midway through an endless afternoon when I got an IM from my boss, who was leaving early to prep for her 50th birthday party after work. She asked if I was willing to leave early too to bake some cookies at her house. Needless to say, I was all over that! I beat her home and had the cookies in the oven before she walked in the door.

The party was fun and I left at 8:30 to head to Menard’s to buy the paint. I’m having my entire house painted while I’m in England. Every surface – woodwork, walls and ceilings. I’m VERY excited. I had picked out all my colors so headed to the paint desk for $350(!) worth of paint, leaving with my car full with a weekend of getting more done ahead of me.

I had a productive day on Saturday, getting chores done and doing some cooking for the coming week. But by the end of the day, I was feeling lonely and having trouble settling into anything. I got up on Sunday and made strawberry pancakes then read the paper as usual. When Lorri called shortly after lunch to suggest a trip to a nursery, I jumped at the chance. My intention was to not buy any plants until after I get back but I couldn’t resist and bought a few, that Lorri will have to take care of while I’m gone, thank you very much. : )

Lorri had brought me some asparagus from her garden and when I mentioned that I wanted to make some pasta with it but needed fresh tarragon, she took me by her house to pick some from her garden. We wandered around her garden and then did the same at mine when she dropped me home. As soon as she left, I made the pasta, which was out of this world and super easy with only a few ingredients. It tasted so fresh, most likely because the major ingredients were right out of the garden. Even if you’re buying the ingredients, try this recipe for sure. You won’t be sorry. A week from now I’ll be over the Atlantic. So much to do!