Tuesday, December 27, 2011

So, What Did We Do?

Christmas--as it is wont to do every year--has come and gone.  The planning, shopping, wrapping, shipping, decorating, baking, visiting have all been accomplished.  And Flartus was not very present in Blogland, was she?  Why?  'Cause she was eyeballs deep in living a wonderful, fun and relaxing Christmas holiday.  I hardly took any pictures of it all.

As I touch base with friends, family and coworkers, I've been particularly aware of people sharing what gifts they received for the holiday, and asking me what Miss Chef and I had given each other.  Several times I had to stop and think about it, because I was truly focused on the best gift of the year: the three days off that Miss Chef and I had together.  As in, at the same time.  With no major projects, trips or to-do lists to take up our time.  Just three days of doing what we wanted, when we felt like it.

To recap briefly, we had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner at our favorite restaurant; a quiet Christmas morning at home--including phone calls to distant family--and a very fun evening with good friends over another truly fabulous Miss Chef Christmas dinner (duck breast, mushroom risotto, sautéed veggies, and an orange-infused olive oil cake, for the droolers among you).  Boxing day was mostly at home, though we were fantastically lucky to be able to pick up a "new" hand-me-down living room set from those same friends.  (Who says cooks are poorly paid for their labors, lol?)

As a result, I felt only the slightest desire to sit down and blog about my Christmas.  But I thought it was about time to share a belated "Merry Christmas" and/or and early "Happy New Year" with my blog buddies, so I've been pondering what I could share with you all in the absence of my usual pictures.  At the same time, a belated Christmas card in my mailbox reminded me today that my "real-life" friends and family never received any cards from me this year, something which I've half a mind to remedy...

So, in the spirit of killing two birds with one stone, I invite you to share in an ad hoc, ad lib Holiday Newsletter, in which I review all the fabulous events of 2011 here in Flartopia--complete with (mostly) previously unposted pictures!

In January, I invited my father to write a guest post about his experience undergoing a heart transplant--and you all responded so warmly that it warmed the cockles of my mother's heart (and mine too, of course).  

Also, it snowed.

February brought the results of Rosie's DNA test, revealing a complicated mix that makes the chances of finding another Rosie quite slim indeed.  Another reason to appreciate her all the more.  

February also began months of a new obsessiveness for me: it was in that month that I bought plane tickets for London and made the first steps in renting an apartment in Paris, for our trip in June/July!

March was rough...I was working long hours, fighting off the dregs of winter and frustrated with another computer crash.  True to form, though, March finally left like a lamb, with me reveling in another hopeful spring.

Of course, there was always our Big Trip to London and Paris to continue focusing on obsessing over...

In April, we began a months-long love affair with the US National Whitewater Center, taking full advantage of our year-long memberships to enjoy hiking, kayaking and the occasional whitewater rafting adventure.

We also made our first memorable trip of the year: a weekend in Charleston.  Miss Chef was attending a conference for culinary educators, and I spent a day and a half becoming rather familiar with the sidewalks of the historic district.

(I also considered this a bit of a warm-up for The Big Trip.)

May found me out on the Catawba River in a kayak again, up for more adventures...

...and trolling TripAdvisor for London pub and Paris café recommendations.

Finally, June rolled around and we were OFF!

London was a learning experience for both of us, and we only scratched the surface.  I knew Paris much better, and had a pretty clear idea what Miss Chef and I wanted to and could do.  Still, our visit to Giverny was eye-opening, and for me was the highlight of that week.

For anyone who wants to know, this is my favorite photo from the whole trip.

It wasn't until August that I got my head out of the clouds and realized I was back in Charlotte.   That and the month that followed were fairly quiet, though we did continue to enjoy our USNWC memberships.

"Enjoy" sometimes being a relative term...

October was, of course, our surprise anniversary trip to Flat Rock, on the eastern slopes of the Appalachians.

November brought me an unrequited love.

Which brings us back to December...and a familiar face who returned for the holidays.

Yes, Smoky the cat is back for a visit!  After a day of hesitation and hissing, she's happy as ever, running laps through the house and launching soft-paw attacks from her couch fort.

Well, until we got that new living room set...which, having bigger and puffier pillows, is apparently better suited for napping.

She's still a pretty small cat; this picture's a bit misleading.

Oh look, Miss Chef is home!  Time for me to enjoy another rare evening with her.  Hope you all are heading into the new year with warm hearts and happy minds.  Thanks for sticking around for another year in Flartopia!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Change of Scenery

My last two vacation days--hoarded carefully after that big splurge on our Big Trip this summer--are dedicated to time with family.  I'm visiting my parents at their home on Jekyll Island.  No white Christmases here.  In fact, the bradford pear trees are acting like it's barely October!

We've got other exciting events, besides the impending holidays.  Rosie is with me, and today this old dog learned some new tricks.  Today was Rosie's first trip to the beach.

First she had to learn about water that moves.

Yes, that was Rosie's very first encounter with the ocean.  As you can see, she was a bit nervous about it at first, but not skittish at all.  As we walked along for the first while, she preferred to head upland to the dunes for sniffing.

After she'd had some time to get used to the idea, she had no problem heading to the water's edge--but only if there were something worthwhile there, like intriguing shells or skittering sanderlings.  Otherwise, the dry sand was her preferred environment. You'd never know she's got lab in her!

Regardless, you know I had to stop and snap a few photos of Rosie's first beachwalk.

Then, of course, I got distracted by the beach itself.

Did you notice Rosie's tail?

There are tons of dead trees waiting to become driftwood...

...shadows and sand...

...and some surprisingly sensuous curves!

I love the equilibrium of the branches and exposed roots of this tree.

There's a very different environment back from the beach, one of live oaks draped with Spanish moss.  It's much more pleasant at 60 degrees than at 90 degrees and 98% gnat swarms.

Unfortunately for you, it's difficult to capture the effects of the light coming through the moss-draped limbs.  It's much less glare-y in person  All these are straight-out-of-camera, since I'm on my folks' computer; if I have time when I get home I might try to adjust the contrast.

And then just before we turned down the street into my parents' neighborhood, a bonus shot!

We are in a butterfly migration zone (betcha didn't know there was such a thing, did you?  Except Rebecca, of course.)  Normally you can see tons of butterflies coming through in March and November.  This seems very late to be seeing so many.  Climate change?  Anyway, I don't know what kind of butterfly this is, but I can tell you it's sitting on a lantana flower.

Hope you all are enjoying a calm, stress-free weekend before the holidays wash over us.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Random Rambling

I have no pictures today, and I'm not sure what I've got to offer in the way of words.  Pardon me for the lack of theme, but I'm truly using this as a journal this week!

So what's been going on in Flartopia? Hmmm...


I did some holiday baking last weekend--snickerdoodles and chocolate cherry kisses (cherry-infused shortbread cookies with a chocolate kiss in the middle).  Since we certainly don't need three or four dozen cookies in a house with two people (and a snack-stealing dog), I brought them in to the office as a Christmas gift for everyone.  They were definitely appreciated!  And there were even a few left to take home to Miss Chef.


There are two positions opening up in our small ~30 person office, so half the office seems to be applying for one or the other.  While this kind of change-up is always stressful for me, I've found it rather entertaining to watch the heads-together whispered conversations in the corners of our cubicle farm.  And yes, I've been participating in some of them myself.  Hey, why should I miss out on all the fun!


Tuesday morning Miss Chef called me at work in a state of nervousness over Rosie.  Miss Chef had gone to the gym, and on her return found Rosie limping rather severely.  She could tell the dog had been up on the guest room bed, so we suppose she jumped down in a panic when Miss Chef came in, somehow landing wrong.  Miss Chef wrapped the joint (rear knee), but had to leave for work.  She's never really lived with a dog before, so she wasn't sure how bad an injury this might be or how to handle it.

To make a long story short, Rosie is fine.  After talking to our vet, and having a neighbor check on her, I came home to find her not limping at all, except for the first few steps after her potty squat.  She's not a terribly active dog anyway, so I just avoided her usual walks until Friday, to let her rest.  Today she seems sound as ever.  The vet even called back the next day to check on her--how awesome is that?


The other half of the story is that on the previous day, Rosie had eaten two boxes of Kraft mac 'n' cheese!  I had bought six of them to send to my brother's family in London--we had taken some over during our visit in June, and the kids snarfed them up in about two days.  Anyway, I had foolishly left these gifts in a box at dog level, and Rosie took full advantage.

The first problem was that we found the remnants of two boxes--eaten--and a third one stuffed into the couch for safekeeping.  (It cracks us both up when she does that!)  There were two more left in the box...which leaves a last one unaccounted for.  We still haven't found it!

The second problem was that we knew this carb overload would cause Rosie massive digestive issues--as it turned out, on the same day she hurt her leg.  Poor thing, what a bad day she had!

Having learned from experience, I made sure to prepare the area where Rosie has "accidented" before (dog towels laid over cut-open garbage bags).  After arriving home on Tuesday and reassuring myself that Rosie's leg was ok, I went in to find three messy accidents, each one neatly deposited right on target.

I think Rosie was a little confused by my telling her she was a good girl.


This week coming up is the last of the quarter.  I have a review lesson on Monday, and Wednesday is the second half of the final exam.  The first half of the final was last Wednesday--the students each have an assigned time slot to sit down with me for five minutes of conversation in French.  Or, more like five minutes of hemming and hawing to try to remember what "pourquoi" means.  *sigh*


To finish up, I'll share with you a quote.  I came across it while reading reviews on amazon.com for Jon Katz' latest book, which is about grieving for pets.  (If you want to know more about Mr. Katz, visit www.bedlamfarm.com.  He's a bit of a controversial figure in dog lover/rescue circles, so don't consider this a full endorsement.)  Anyway, the reviewer said this came from a child, and I think it's a lovely way to think of the short time we're allowed with our pets:

'"People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life - like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long."


Happy weekend, everybody!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Holiday Snaps

Miss Chef pointed out to me earlier today that I hadn’t posted anything new since Thanksgiving.  “I’ve been sick,” I told her.  But the real truth is, I haven’t been inspired by anything.  New new donkey sightings.  Few Rosie walks.  And the whole Thanksgiving holiday wiped me out, so no deep, philosophical musings.

So all you get today is what I’ve found in my camera.  This first one isn’t very holiday-y at all (unless you’ve been doing some baking, in which case I say, “Send me some!”)  I finally ended up with a single grocery-store egg and a single local egg in a bowl together.  I don’t have to tell you which is which, do I?



That was for the buttermilk pancakes I made while my parents were visiting.  That was the same day that Miss Chef and I went and bought our Christmas tree.  I suppose it’s not very environmentally friendly to chop down a living tree every year, but I’m not sure which is worse, that or buying a petroleum based artificial one.  Tradition wins out here.

We also bought a real wreath, which I decorated with berries from our otherwise annoying nandina plants.

xmas 01


After this picture, I realized that the storm door couldn’t close all the way with this fat shrub in the way.  More importantly, the door hid the wreath, so now it’s strung up outside the storm door.

I had to wait until the next day for Miss Chef to help me put the lights up on the tree.  My parents offered to help, but Miss Chef and I have developed a method to passing the lights back and forth around the tree.  It eliminates a lot of potential fractiousness, which seems to be the theme of Christmas lights.  I did allow them to help with the ornaments, though!

xmas 02

We went with a blue, silver and white theme this year.  Looks like we could use some more blue ornaments.  Not that I really want any more ornaments to lug in and out of the storage closet!

It wasn’t until yesterday that I had a chance to set up the train and Christmastown underneath the tree.  Here’s a shot of Main Street, leading to the farm at the end of the block.



The old farmhouse has seen better times…I half expect Dorothy to come wandering out in a daze.  Looks like Uncle Henry got himself a new truck, though.



A shot of the barnyard.  The cows don’t seem to mind the caboose rolling by.



For the first time since moving in, we finally got some lights on the outside of the house!  Not many, but enough to shout our defiance in the face of the longest nights of the year.  Here’s to light and hope, and the cycles of life that start forever anew.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving As We Go








Miss Chef is trying a new approach she read about: roast for an hour breast-side down, then flip.   A few more hours to go.




Afternoon…Lucille is the name the farmer gave our turkey (we ask him every year when we pick it up, and he makes up a name on the spot.)  She looks beautiful, doesn’t she?


A little weight-loss routine…




…and the main course is ready.



Sides included a super-yummy cornbread stuffing with chestnuts and local sausage.  That’s the green bean casserole to the left.



Our hostess made a pretty medley of roasted root vegetables.



Of course, there was a lot more…I didn’t get the two styles of mashed potatoes, or the rolls from our local bakery with herbed butter, or the sautéed shredded brussels sprouts with cranberries.  Uh oh, I think I’m getting hungry again!


Good thing there was a plethora of pies to top us all off.


I hope you all had cozy, laughter-filled Thanksgivings with your loved ones.  Enjoy those late-night turkey and cranberry sammidges, y’all!