Wednesday, December 20, 2006

2006 Christmas Letter

2006 – The Year of the Thank You Notes

Before we begin, I first apologize to those of you who have used the entire “S” section of their address books trying to keep up with me over the years. It is probably easiest to just move me to “X” and be done with it, really, or switch to a Rolodex.

This year’s update:

Occupation: selling business telephone systems for DataTel

Work number: (208) 401-2110 (direct phone & fax)

Spouse: (yes, you read that correctly) Andy

Stepson: David

Full name: Toni L. Sutton (nope, no changes)

Don’t try this at home

Andy & I got engaged on January 11, got married on September 23, and in the time between we sold 2 houses, bought one, moved, and planned a wedding. It’s amazing what you will do when you’re in love and can exist on minimal sleep.


Having read WAY too many fairytales when I was a child, I still struggle with the idea of being a “stepparent,” let alone a “stepmother.” The very word still sends shivers down my spine. Luckily, David pretty much views me as a large child who plays Legos and TinkerToys, but whose PlayStation skills could use some work. On Saturdays we play trains, do puppet shows (including a disco remake of Jack and the Beanstalk), make pancakes, play Jumping Monkeys, and lots of other things I’m not ready to publicly admit to doing. It seems that my inner child isn’t very far below the surface after all.

Two engineers

Andy is an engineer. David is destined to be an engineer. At the age of 5 he showed me his favorite electronics circuits and explained resisters, LED lights, and three-way switches to me. This spring he explained to his kindergarten class how plumbing works. I am more of a liberal arts person, so it’s still hard for me to understand that electronics make sense to anyone, let alone a small child. Sometimes I feel a bit outnumbered in our house, but ALL electronics work in our home, and I never have/get to change a light bulb again. My friends want to know when they can start hiring him as a contractor.

Masters of the universe

This fall I lost Catanova, the opinionated cat I adopted in college, to brain cancer. I had him for just over 16 years, and still find myself looking for him when I come home. To keep Callisto company, we adopted Theo in August, and as of December she still can’t stand him, but she has at least quit biting me in sheer appreciation. No matter how hard you try, I think it’s impossible to pick friends for cats. The fact that Theo likes to pounce on Callisto’s head regularly probably has something to do with it as well.

This year I learned….

© enough whining gets you a new tent

© gas stove or not, an open flame is an open flame

© crafting will expand to take up whatever amount of room is allotted to it

© when you live with another person, a lot of what you do is rather embarrassing and hard to explain

© no matter how much you have promised to not invade it, having a half-full closet across the hall from yours is a serious temptation

© it is possible to develop carpal tunnel syndrome from addressing invitations

© it’s much easier to plan an event when it doesn’t have to make money, and frankly has no hope of doing so.

© if a couple has two houses, it’s best to sell both and buy one together. That way neither of you knows where anything is.

© if he receives sweaters, your husband is not as likely to complain if he sits on a knitting needle now and then.

© if you aren’t sure where a box should go, have the professional movers take it upstairs anyway

© my optimism will always run at least twice as fast as my ability to keep up when it comes to new projects. Fortunately, Andy finds this endearing.

© New Yorkers are very friendly people who are always ready to give you directions whether they know how to get there or not

© if one of your cats is jealous of the attention you give to a new kitten, she may feel compelled to present you with live birds & mice in your bedroom in the middle of the night

© live birds & mice in your room in the middle of the night fall into the category “things to leave to your husband.”

© sorting laundry into “things Andy is allowed to wash” and “things Andy is not allowed to wash” makes life easier for everyone

© some of us are closer to our “inner child” than others

© that makers of king-sized beds didn’t go that extra 3-inches to make a perfectly square mattress just to be perverse

© humor a man’s decorating ideas before vetoing them

© some of us are just destined to be pale, and we are prone to having passport photos rejected for being too washed out

© mentioning once or twice that you can’t eat red pepper may not be enough proof for some people. An evening of pain & antacids is more convincing

© there really is no good way to explain decorative pillows on a bed

© when you marry a very proactive man, be careful what you joke about

© if you want a small turkey, don’t shop the day before Thanksgiving

© some cats like the taste of mascara and eye makeup, especially at 3:00 in the morning

© be careful what sort of precedent you set for your annual Christmas letter.

It has been quite a year, to say the least. I hope you have all had a lovely year as well, and may 2007 be full of adventure, happiness, and new experiences for all of us.

2005 Christmas Letter

Season’s Greetings

Some people are known for their great contributions to society like libraries or foundations. Others are known for curing terrible diseases or displaying great courage in times of crisis. I am known for my Christmas letter. We take what we can get.

As many of you know, every year I like to try at least one new thing. Perhaps it’s my inexhaustible tendency to say, “How hard can it possibly be?” Or perhaps it’s that I am just a slow learner and haven’t noticed how often those words have gotten me into trouble. Regardless, the Christmas letter would be lost without this fatally optimistic tendency of mine.

Joining the information age: For those of you who have lost their scorecards, I now sell business telephone systems for DataTel Communications in Meridian. (I am not even on a fundraising board anymore, so you do not have to screen my calls any longer—unless of course it’s for personal reasons) When one is selling technology, I feel one should embrace it, or at least give it a reassuring hug now and then. So, I cancelled my residential home phone service and ordered broadband service for internet. The result? No one can find me now except spammers and pop-up ads, but they can do so really quickly. So, time for Toni’s annual contact information update:

Work phone: 401-2110

Work fax: same number—how cool is that?

Camping in the rain: Until this year, the only camping I have done as an adult has been catered. This summer I went camping in the rain in a leaky tent without so much as an air mattress. The evening of being one with nature was followed by an early morning flat-water kayak to see wildlife that had the sense to sleep in, coffee the consistency of mud, and deep fried bread dough for breakfast. For those of you slyly smiling—of course there was a man involved. Why would I think up such an activity on my own? Actually, I’m planning to return next year, as the group we went with had a Dutch oven cooking contest, and the food produced by 60 people trying to outdo each other is well worth a little rain and no sleep—although the air mattress is nonnegotiable.

Riding on a train: Apart from subways and “light rail,” I had never been on a train, since during my lifetime taking Amtrak was considered less of a transportation option and more of a death-wish. So this summer I went with some friends on the Thunder Mountain Line’s wine tasting train ride. For those of you who might be interested in trying it, I may suggest that you stick with the white wines. Not that the red wines are bad, but the train jerks a lot, and white wine stains are less noticeable.

Halloween costumes One day the aforementioned man (who would probably prefer to remain anonymous throughout the entire letter but whom we’ll call “Andy”) and I were chatting and he suggested having a Halloween party. Having A) consumed too much caffeine, B) forgotten how much work it was 4 years ago when I had one, or C) wishing to retaliate for aforementioned camping trip, I suggested we host a Murder Mystery party for Halloween. It was probably due to option A, because I went on to volunteer to make our costumes. I had learned (and I use the word loosely) to sew last year and was honestly feeling a little too smug about my Martha Stewart abilities. Yet again I uttered those fatal words that have always gotten me in over my head—How hard can it be? Well NOW I have the answer. INCREDIBLY. Costumes are after all outfits that you would never normally be seen in, composed of fabrics that you would never make normal clothes out of and which have no purpose than to make you look different than you would normally ever appear. At what other time in my life would a strange net-type fabric with red bats ever seem like a good idea for anything other than perhaps to catch fish that have been taking hallucinogens? I spent the entire month of October either at work or in the sewing room swearing that there is such a thing as being overly optimistic. The Murder Mystery party itself was great fun—we had 14 participants, all of whom dressed up and thoroughly played up their parts. For a small “consideration” I have not published the pictures.

This year I learned:

  • If you have access to a line truck, moving a piano isn’t too difficult
  • Once they know you’re seeing someone, men aren’t as quick to come to your rescue
  • In Idaho, “perennial” and “annual” are only suggestions that plants may choose to disregard
  • Those in outside sales were not meant to host “soup night” every single month
  • Once you’ve been in a book club long enough, reading books is purely optional
  • Shrubs can die from neglect—unless they’re junipers.
  • It doesn’t matter when you plant them—leeks choose for themselves when they’re going to grow
  • Flat-water kayaking is almost exactly like sea-kayaking, but without the whales
  • If they are throwing a surprise party for you, your friends will avoid you for the month leading up to your birthday, leaving you to celebrate your birthday with a bunch of people you’re no longer speaking to.
  • As soon as you find a job you really enjoy, everyone else wants to hire you.
  • White couches with a black cat is a really bad idea
  • Do not buy Russian cookbooks. If it’s based on famine, it isn’t “cuisine.”
  • Handing out toys instead of candy for Halloween makes you the coolest adult on the block
  • The first time an English major finds herself having a conversation about routers, cabling, and VoIP, it’s shocking.
  • No matter how many things you fix on a house, there’s always something else that breaks.
  • Naan is too much work to make at home. Indian restaurants exist for a reason.
  • Dressing up as a clown and taking candy around to businesses requires a great deal of courage and caffeine—not necessarily in that order.

I hope 2005 has been a great year for you as well. May 2006 be full of happiness and adventure for all of you!

Best wishes,


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's starting....

December 17 and the sewing room looks like it has been struck by yarn & fabric terrorists. This year I PROMISED myself I would not make gifts—we have had such a busy year and I have made so many things and I have so many things still in progress….Then it started.
“One little gift won’t hurt…”

There it was, the fateful words….For the same unknown reason that women believe that cookie crumbs have no calories, having absolved myself of making gifts for people, I have become an absolute maniac about making gifts. As I write, one gift that I wasn’t going to make this year is in the embroidery machine, another gift I wasn’t going to make has been shipped off to New Jersey, and a “just in case” gift hat is drying on a bottle of Lysol wipes (none of our bowls are really the size of a human head—a serious flaw in housewares to a knitter). Still, I was under control until the baby sweater problem. When one of my friends asked if I had any extra baby sweaters she could buy for a friend’s soon to be new daughter, I was thrilled and promptly scurried (and yes, it was an actual scurry) out to the garage to raid my “baby gift” tub. Not only did I have one available for the right size & sex, I had several that would work and would be season appropriate. With babies, not only does one need to know the sex, but the due date, because only a mother who knits would put a sweater on a baby in the summer. Perfect—I even have options for her.

YOU KNOW….said that little voice in the back of my mind that doesn’t always use the best grammar and uses too many ellipses, there aren’t any boy 6-month-old sweaters, and there aren’t any 18-month old sweaters, and really, shouldn’t there be a few more hats “just in case.....?” Never mind that hats don’t take very long & even the most obtuse get some warning before a baby is born. Being the overachiever that I am, I sorted through yarn bins & patterns, and cast on….two new baby sweaters. Did I mention the overachiever part? Granted, one was because it doesn’t take very long to make—thereby soothing my now nagging fear that all my friends are about to burst into childbearing with only a few week’s notice (never mind the biological impossibilities implied). The other one is out of sheer curiosity. It’s called the “surprise” sweater because the entire time you are making it, it bears no resemblance at ALL to any article of clothing known to mankind. I think it should be called the “blind faith” sweater, because row after row of amorphous pink blob, I am going on, believing that this thing will someday have arms & fit a human baby. I don’t even know what size it will be, because the author of this book writes like I knit—“do this until you think it looks right, add a few of this, finish when you think it’s done.” That’s all fine and dandy for scarves or hats, or even normal sweaters because I know what I’m trying to achieve. I have no idea what part of the sweater I am currently working on, so I can’t tell if it looks right or not. Quite frankly, it looks a lot like the first Barbie blanket I made—oddly shaped and lacking in any real “itemness.” When this thing is finished, one sews 2 seams and Hey Presto, it is supposed to be a sweater. If it works, maybe I’ll try it on the old Barbie blanket—maybe it’s really a hat.

Originally posted May 7, 2006 on our wedding website

As our wedding website so helpfully points out, we are 138 days away from the wedding. One house is sold, things are packed (usually whatever we happen to be looking for at the time), and we are finding out what it is like to live together.

Two cooks, one kitchen
I always swore that if I ever went out with a man who could cook. I would marry him. Well, Andy does and I am. We've revived my "recipe of the week" experiment from a couple years ago, and have been eating really well for the last month. Which has led to...

The couple who exercises together had better have separate alarms
In one of those "We're in love so all activities together are good" moments, we decided to start exercising in the mornings. At 5:00. Aside from the fact that nothing is fun at 5:00 in the morning, the exercise portion isn't bad. It's the alarm clock. Because our power keeps flickering & knocking out all electric clocks, Andy bought a new one from Costco that resets itself automatically AND keeps the preset alarms. So far, so good. However, we now sleep with the blinds drawn so that the light from the display doesn't interfere with the nearby airport. That's just on the low setting. It's a bit like sleeping in Las Vegas but without the Elvis impersonators. The second problem with the clock is that we frankly can't operate it. It goes off repeatedly, or not at all, and after turning off the alarm without waking me up Andy was fired as Prime Wakerupper. So now we're sleeping in a bizarre blue neon tint and I'm back to using my cell phone as an alarm clock.

Initially, with combining two houses, we thought it would be difficult to find things to register for. Luckily, our possessions decided to rescue us from this dilemma by chearfully breaking. Now instead of surplus items, we are sans blender and we can't even manage toast without the risk of repeating Toni's "English Muffin Flambe" incident.

The Dress
Trying on wedding dresses is unlike anything else in life. I foolishly thought that I, a 35-year-old businesswoman, was capable of dressing myself. Nope, not in bridal world. All of a sudden I needed someone to explain how to even get into the 10 pounds of clothing that goes UNDER the dress. Forget putting the dress on--that required another person's help altogether.
As a salesperson, I must give credit to David's Bridal. Yesterday I decided on a dress, so then the "upselling" began. OF COURSE you need a tiarra. Unless you are part of the royal family, I don't see any "of course" about it. OF COURSE you need a veil. Why exactly? If I'm spending a huge amount of money on a dress that I will only wear once in my life, why is it a given that I would spend $100 for a scrap of material to cover it up? It is truly an experience, and while my feminist side is simply appalled, the salesperson in me is grudgingly impressed.

Living with two engineers Engineers are not made, they are born.
Thanks to Andy's six-year-old son, David, I now know the difference between two-way and three-way switches, what GFCI means & does, and what resistors do. A few weeks ago he set up a computer network in our house. I don't think it's just that David knows things I don't know--I think he qualifies as a seriously bright child. I showed him how to embroider something with my sewing machine, thinking he might like to decorate the apron I got for him, which would be the liberal arts person's response. The engineering response was to go construct a sewing machine with Tinker Toys, then to explain how it worked without missing anything. At the age of 5 he was not only constructing electrical circuits from a kit designed for 8-year-olds, he was reading the instructions. Andy isn't even as much of an engineer as David is. David had to correct him that it is GFCI and not GFIC. Andy looked it up and sure enough, David was right. Personally, my money would have been on David to begin with. I was a bit nervous about becoming a stepmom, but now on Saturdays we play Simon Says on walks, make pancakes into all sorts of interesting shapes, play with Legos and Tinker Toys, and this weekend we made up dances & had a band going in the living room. Can't beat that. :)

Achieving the Perfect Tan for the Wedding

A few weeks ago in a VERY loving conversation, the man I am going to spend the rest of my life with pointed out that I look like Casper the Friendly Ghost's twin sister in photos, and suggested I might want to consider getting a tan to bring me to the skin coloring of Caucasians who DON'T glow in the dark for the wedding photos. He does have a point--in any pictures involving flashes I look slightly paler than death, and am so pale normally that doctors regularly insist on testing me for anemia (and those who know my great fear of having blood taken can guess what THIS does to my alabaster complexion....and my vertical hold). So Friday night my brave MS of Honor and I (without the aid of alcohol) ventured into a tanning salon. In the past I have had some success with self-tanning lotions, but have always been afraid to use it on my face after a very nasty episode of wearing long sleeves in 100+ weather to cover my new striped appearance, so tanning lotions were out. I have always been a little leary of tanning beds, which has now been seriously reinforced by my experiences with Andy's toaster oven. So, aside from trying to give myself skin cancer, the only option remaining was to go get sprayed (ala Ross in "Friends"). Getting painted by a machine was daunting enough--it turns out that our tans were to be applied by a human--a man, to make it even more unnervinging. Call me old-fashioned, but I think the only man who needs to be that close to me while I'm in a swimming suit is Andy, or possibly a lifeguard if I have come close to drowning.

The process must be similar to what it feels like to be a backyard fence. The spray is sticky, somewhat cold, and tinted brown so one can see immediate results. I would have forgone the immediate results to have not spent the rest of the evening leaving brown smudges on everything. Granted, when I walked out of the studio, I looked great. As the evening wore on, however, I started looking stranger & stranger as the brown tint wore off & the "permanent" tan hadn't quite taken effect. I looked a bit like a Guernsey cow, to be honest. To give the dye time to "stick," you can't shower for 8-10 hours after being stained, so the sticky brown smudging experience was destined to last the entire evening. For the first time in my life, I actually watched paint dry.

So, the results? Supposedly the "tan" can last for up to two weeks, although that might be referring to the part that has caused my toenails to look like I have jaundice. With people like me who have incredibly dry skin, I'd give it 5 days at the outside. Still, it is sort of fun to have the first really good tan I've had since the sun went from being healthy to the instrument of skin cancer delivery. Out of sheer perverse curiosity, sometime later this summer I'll have to attempt the automated booth shellacing for comparison. Sue has wisely declined to be part of the further tanning adventures....Maybe I'll bring along part of our fence for company!

Men v. Women

I think the real difference between men and women really boils down to what instructions they choose to read. Recently I was taking towels out of the washer & transferring them to the dryer and I noticed the washer was set for hot water.

“Love of my life, did you just wash these in hot water?” I asked.

“I always wash towels in hot water,” was the reply.


“I don’t know. Should I not do that?”

“Uh, no,” I replied, finally understanding the multiple shades of blue that abound in the linen closet.

Now, being female, I could be simply amazed that my loving fiancé, a very bright man, had never read the laundry tags when doing laundry. However, I do the same thing with my car.

“Have you ever changed the timing belt on your car?” my loved one asked me one day.

“Would that be done in a ‘tune up’ scenario or does one have to ask for this service?” (I always find impeccable grammar helps when I am about to have my gross ignorance of a topic revealed.)

“No, you have to ask for it, usually at 75,000 miles.” Need I mention that my car is considerably past this landmark?

“Oh.” Now I do not like being given random unsolicited advice anymore than anyone else does, but when the man I love, who seems to be able to fix everything, thinks I need a new timing belt, I am more than happy to believe him. While he was wondering how I could drive a car without ever reading the lovely instruction manual the car obviously came with, I went happily off to call the mechanic. The call from the mechanic after he looked at my car:

“You wanted your timing belt replaced?”
“Was there a problem?”
No, my fiancĂ© told me I should probably have it done.” I think mechanics probably find it easier to believe women when they know there is a man involved somewhere in the background.
“The belt has been replaced pretty recently and there isn’t anything wrong with it.”
“Oh.” Now that was just odd. Was there a “Random Acts of Car Repair” movement that I was unaware of? No one drives me car except me. Suddenly I had a flash of illumination: “Would the timing belt have been replaced if the front of my car had been destroyed in an accident?”


Had I been a man, I’m sure I would probably have either known where the timing belt was or have paid attention to the suggested maintenance schedule that I vaguely remember might be in the instruction manual. Instead, I read laundry labels on my clothes and know what “permanent press” means in textile lingo. I look great, but my car engine is a mess. I have no doubt where to find the information—I just don’t feel I need to know. I also have no doubt that the love of my life knows that laundry items generally come with tags suggesting their future care—but he’s probably busy reading car repair manuals. On behalf of his clothes & my car, it’s a really good thing we’re getting married.

Fall! Finally!

Even without extremely hot summers, I've always loved fall.  A little coolness in the air, leaves starting to turn, sweaters coming out-...