Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays from Château Sutton-Goar!

2014 was a big year here at the Château as Andy turned 50 in July and celebrated by running a marathon in June.  While this disqualifies him as a professional party-planner, it was his longest run ever and involved several months of training.  And blisters.

Because there should also be fun associated with a birthday, we had friends over for a big birthday bash in July, and in August went to Victoria, British Columbia for a week.  We had originally planned to take a train trip across Canada, but decided that once the novelty of the train wore off, it was really going to be a week of mostly sitting.  Victoria, on the other hand, is a city built for walking and with some newly acquired mobility(Toni, not Andy), we did just that.  This was our first trip together that involved staying in one place for the entire week, so we found a nice family-owned hotel with a kitchenette facing the beach, which I thought would give us a nice place to go walking every morning before setting off.  It turned out that we were (once we figured out the shorter version) just a mile from downtown anyway, so going for a morning walk before setting out walking seemed a bit redundant and, frankly, tiring. Eventually we discovered that we could get downtown through Beacon Hill Park, which was simply amazing.  We went everywhere—Butchart Gardens, the Empress Hotel, Chinatown, Market Square, the Parliament building, Craigdarroch Castle, Miniature World—even finding the lesser-known events like an evening ghost walk, street performers, and a water taxi tour—though in all honesty that turned out to be way more taxi than tour.  The big highlight of the trip was sea kayaking (Victoria Waterfront Tours), though the cooler temperatures and a week without kitty wake-up service are not to be sneered at.

As a birthday present to himself, Andy acquired a 5-string fretless bass, and with finishing his electric mandolin, we are firmly in the lead again in the instrument arms race among our friends.  Being fretless, the bass took a bit of getting used to, but he practices music most nights, so he's getting comfortable with it and really likes having the extra string.  Or, as I should say since this IS a Christmas letter, is doing brilliantly and will be talent-scouted by a major record company any day now.  'Tis the season, after all..........

My back problems continued to dominate life much of the year, as the core-strengthening exercises the physical therapist gave me worked so well that it straightened my hip out more than it was to begin with.  40+ years of walking a certain way is a rather difficult habit for muscles to break, but I'm working on it.  The good news is that this year was much less painful and we've been able to even do a few things that involve sitting, such as spending Thanksgiving with my parents at the ranch and going to shows again.  To celebrate, my mother took us to see “Wicked” when it came through town, and Andy and I splurged on season tickets to Broadway in Boise.  While the first show, “Flashdance,” made it all too obvious why the show has never made it TO Broadway, “Jersey Boys” was great fun and a terrific show.  In January we see “Camelot,” then “Book of Mormon” next summer.   I'll have to do the core exercises and other physical therapy the rest of my life, but as much of it is muscle-building and stability anyway, that's fine.  It's just nice to be getting a normal life back.  Or as “normal” as ours has ever been.

The garden (ahem...meaning “me”) got off to a slow start, then one bed got struck by fungus and most of the rest got crippled by the heat.  It turned out that while realigning my back, I couldn't pull weeds anyway, so except for cucumbers and peppers, the garden and I pretty much ignored each other most of the summer and completely during what is normally known as “canning season.”  I almost didn't know what to do with myself with the extra time—except for everything that has piled up in the last 4 years.  There's always that. I also started experimenting with new recipes, sorting and cleaning up our back room (optimistically referred to as my “office” though “junk room” would be more appropriate), entertaining more, walking as many days in a row as my back can take, and figuring out where I put everything when I was in a hurry to unpack the house 8 years ago.  It's like my own little scavenger hunt, but Andy is excited about the space I'm clearing up in the garage.  I haven't yet told him that it means more room for holiday decoration boxes.  I just let him dream..................

Things I have learned this year:
  • My smart phone's auto-correct, while generally up on pop culture references, has never heard of the Bionic Man, but is aware of the lesser-known Bubonic Man, presumably a rather short-lived superhero of the Middle Ages.
  • There are many, many options for massaging chair inserts, including “shiatsu,” which roughly translates to “beating one's kidneys into submission.”
  • Once one has experienced an “English tea,” one can understand the jokes about English dentistry
  • Being supportive of a spouse's hobby or enabling is a very fine line—probably depending on who gets to carry the bags the mile back to the hotel.
  • Mulching does indeed help plants—the weeds in the garden loved it
  • “Taking a break from the garden” and the garden getting attacked by fungus work well together
  • An electric mandolin looks very much like a baby electric guitar—but in a very manly sort of way, of course
  • Even a zipper I'm not happy with is going to function, and if someone is close enough to my backside to see the errors, I probably have bigger issues than whether my seams are straight
  • If one works hard enough at it, one can even get butter into hot cereal recipes, though “why” remains a bit of a mystery
  • I consider myself an optimist, but after 20+ years, it's time to admit that nothing is going to make me reread my copies of Dante's Inferno or anything by James Joyce.
  • When one hasn't seen something since one moved in 8 years ago, it's a bit easier to admit that whatever it is really isn't necessary in life
  • I am sure I have learned things without huge amounts of frustration and swearing, but they probably weren't craft-related
  • Some people consider hobbies as things that are "fun" and "relaxing."  For their own protection, I will avoid these foolish people when I have just inserted a zipper into anything or had to rip back mohair yarn
  • Before ordering several woodworking kits of the same thing to all be finished in one year, the intelligent thing to do would be to order ONE and see how one's spouse survives the process before ordering more.....
  • A “New Recipe Dinner Club” is much easier than a book club.  One can always talk about books, but one doesn't have to pretend that the evening is about anything but socializing and eating. 
  • My ophthalmologist, who is about 12, has started using phrases like “at your age” and upgraded me to bifocals.  He doesn't get a Christmas card.
  • After being in the house 8 years, I finally have a desk again.  I never knew how excited I could be about drawers.
  • This year our neighborhood joined, which is a nice way to find our which neighbors grew too much zucchini, which are paranoid, which need to get out a bit more, and which ones are why we built a fence in the first place.
  • It might be best for marital harmony if the spouse who likes to knit sweaters is NOT the spouse in charge of the thermostat.
  • There is a temperature point where our cat Theo stops waking Andy up at 5:00 AM to go out and starts waking me up at 5:00 for a cuddle.  There does not, however, appear to be any temperature that means we can both sleep in—not even with Theo's anti-stress drugs.  Go figure.
  • I visit the physical therapist regularly, who pushes on my sore spots until I whimper, then I hand over my money and go home.  It's a lot like a playground bully but with insurance involved. 

Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a healthy 2015,

Toni and Andy

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jersey Boys!

To celebrate my new ability to sit for longer periods of time, Andy and I got season tickets to the Broadway in Boise series this year.  The title is a bit of a misnomer as the first show was "Flashdance," which has never and WILL never make it to Broadway because it really isn't that good, but Saturday afternoon we saw Jersey Boys, which made it all worthwhile.  

is possibly the best sign I've ever seen at a show.  Other states might have accents, but to my knowledge, I don't believe any other state has had its accent classified as a "special effect."

I don't know if it counts as "date night" if it's a matinee, but we spiffed up for it anyway,
 and we even (sort of) took a "selfie!" 
(Seriously, there are no "small" technology achievements when one is over 40)

The show was wonderful.  Really, the entire center was packed and you could feel the excitement and the "buzz" as the show went on.  I only vaguely knew who the Four Seasons were and couldn't have named a single song of theirs, but everyone recognized almost every song and the performers were flawless.  

Not bad for a "date afternoon."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Theo has discovered the heating pads

Theo has been a very determined sidekick ever since we got him, and has been quite a loyal little fellow through all the back problems, but THIS week he figured out that the heating pads are REALLY nice and warm. I think we might have taken a turn from "sidekick" toward "usurper. "

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dear World of Cooking Catalogs:

Dear World of Cooking Catalogs:

The holiday season has begun.  I know this because I have begun receiving at least two holiday-shopping catalogs every day, which is somewhat impressive in a world increasingly dependent on internet sales.  I appreciate the attention a physical catalog gives, and I'll admit--I love looking through the pages.  How else would I know that there is a $5000 espresso machine for designed for home use?  In general, I don't think I'm the sort of person who should go near anything that complicated before getting caffeine, so a $5000 machine as the source of caffeine probably isn't going to work for me, but it's nice to know I have the option.  And a combination toaster oven AND toaster?  In my limited world of existence, I always thought a toaster oven existed to REPLACE a toaster--so glad we've cleared that up.  All I have ever asked of my toasters is to produce toast something short of black & charred and to not fling the toast to the floor.  (The counter I can live with)

As much as I enjoy our time together, I feel there is something I must confess:  I have not now--nor do I ever intend--to make a bundt cake of any sort.  I know, I am not the person you thought I was.  Obviously, customers of the sort you are looking for not only make bundt cakes, they like options.  There's the blossom,

 the "Jubilee,"
the "stained glass"

the rose,

the castle,
 or the gingerbread house:
 or the trees:

Truly, I appreciate the creativity--and the storage space--of other customers, but I make maybe one cake a year, and when I do, the odds of all the ingredients in the right amounts ending up IN the cake as directed is enough of a challenge for me.  We won't even DISCUSS how often I can't get a cake to come out of a normal, flat cake pan.  If my natural cake incompetence is enhanced by a pan that needs to actually BE nonstick and/or that is really, REALLY difficult to clean, I will be a lost woman indeed.

I realize I am not the customer you thought I was and I will understand if you need to move on to a more fulfilling consumer relationship.

Best regards,

 Toni and the bundt-less household

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lesson Learned..........

A smart woman talks with her physical therapist about how to shovel snow safely. An even smarter woman would have asked for a note excusing her from shoveling.........

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Thoughts

*  I think it's time to go through my sock drawer and arrange some second marriages for the sock singles.

 *  Election day seems to be the official transition from "We want your money and your vote" to "We want your money" emails. 

*  The vet who gave me the drugs I'm supposed to get Theo to take twice a day has changed their sign outside to read, "You can't out-stubborn a cat."  Coincidence???  I think not.

* I'm not sure how narcissism was diagnosed before social media, but Facebook must have sped the process up immensely. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Random Sunday Thoughts

*  It's amazing how much less annoying "We want your money" junk mail is compared to the "we want your vote"mail

*  If one likes to bake cookies but doesn't want to keep them around so gives them to everyone ELSE to eat, is that really the spirit of giving or is this just a master plan to get to eat cookie dough?

*   This year our neighborhood joined which is a nice way to find our which neighbors grew too much zucchini, which are paranoid, which need to get out a bit more, and which ones are why we built a fence in the first place.

*  The difference in response to when Ebola first struck in Africa in 1976 killing 151 people and 1 person dying in America this year is a bit embarrassing if one is trying to insist that racism no longer exists in the US....

*  Election season always explains why so many people failed Logic 101 in college

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Autocorrect--Keeping Life Interesting

(tonight, via text messaging)

Andy:  Greg said Frank is in town, and will bring him along to your body party, if you would like.

Toni:  I didn't know it was a body party.  Toning or burying?

Andy:  Which goes best with pizza?

Toni:  Probably burying, since I think pizza is Sicilian...............

Friday, August 29, 2014

Victoria, B.C. - Day 3


It was a good thing we called it an early night, because we decided to visit Craigdarroch Castle the next day, which would mean 5 miles of walking just to get there and back.  On the way, we happened to be near the Empress Hotel and stopped to ask about their tours.  As it happened, there was one starting within half an hour, so while it seemed a little odd to pay to tour a hotel, we decided to give it a try.  We had discussed having the legendary tea at the Empress, but at $60 a person for a beverage I don't even particularly like, we'd been hemming and hawing, and decided to wait until we saw the place. 

The hotel is lovely, 
 and has some beautiful furniture,
and the tour guides are in costume and aside from it being a tad warm with the humidity, we really enjoyed ourselves.  We opted to skip the tea as I'd already made reservations for tea at Butchart gardens later in the week, and instead wandered off in the direction of the castle, finding a lovely antique bookstore on the way,
where we were saved by the humidity and the idea of carrying books all the way to the castle and back from my spending too much time and money here.

The castle is on a pretty decent incline, so we stopped to rest outside for a bit and catch our breath,
 and to check out the neighbor's lawn. 
One of the things I really appreciated about Victoria is that since it was dry, lawns were brown.  Victoria gets only slightly more rain than we do, but Idahoans are maniacs about green lawns in a desert state in spite of water shortages, but Victoria is very laid back about this.  If it's dry, things will be dry.  Far more sensible approach in my opinion.

Craigdarroch Castle is an interesting place.  Built in the "conspicuous wealth" era of the industrial age, it was built to proclaim to the world that Robert Dunsmuir was the richest man in Victoria,
in spite of the fact that he died before it was completed and never lived there.  The woodwork is amazing,

 as were the antiques.
 The knitter in me particularly enjoyed this:
which is a hands-free reading chair complete with light (candle). 

The castle is a popular tourist spot, and initially our visit was plagued with one of those uncontrolled children that makes one long to have birth control doled out like candy as soon as puberty strikes, who was accompanied by a mother that didn't seem at all bothered by her little demon screaming and jumping on roped-off furniture.  To avoid the pair, we stopped to talk to a volunteer, which turned out to be a wonderful chance as the tour map with the itty-bitty 6-point print was pretty useless, and the signs were fairly repetitive.  One of the challenges the restoration process faced was that there was only one photograph (or perhaps two) ever found of the inside of the house when the family lived there, so the efforts to restore it were really interesting.  And, like so many large houses too expensive for future owners to maintain, it had been altered for institutional use--first as a hospital after World War 1, then as a college--you can still see the names of the bright sparks who carved their initials into the lovely woodwork--then turned into school administration offices when everything was painted that ghastly institutional green.  Our new friend clearly loved the castle and his volunteer work, and we had a great time with him. 

Waiting also gave us time to play on an actual Steinway piano,
left over from the era when the castle housed a music academy, and then to hear a young girl sit down and play something lovely.  Believe me, she was worth the wait.

 After all the stairs, we sat down on a bench for a bit to enjoy the view

and sympathize with a man and his son who were roundly chastised by the wife/mother for them being lazy--until we saw that they had a car parked right outside the entrance and were only tired from walking IN the castle--not to it.   
We could kind of see her point after that.

After hiking back down into town and making it an even LONGER walk because I had seen an advertisement for a Polish restaurant that I wanted to try (Boise not generally being overrun with nonchain restaurants and rather limited ethnically), only to discover it wasn't open on Mondays.  Luckily, we found the India Bistro, which was so wonderful that we recommended it to other tourists later in our visit. 

The day had been really warm--uncomfortably so in buildings--so when we found ourselves passing the heavily advertised Miniature World which proclaimed itself air-conditioned, we decided it was worth a try. 

The interesting thing about Miniature World is that it is so heavily advertised that we expected it to be as tacky as Ripley's Believe it or Not or any of those sad little attractions that never live up to expectations.  Luckily,
most of it was really quite fabulous.  There were a few sets that weren't as well done, and like most of the things in Victoria, we found it spectacularly lacking in information on how it was started, who built most of the miniatures, how they were built, or anything else, but there is a little information here that shows the man who started it all.  He built a fully functioning miniature lumber mill, though unfortunately the fire martial won't let it be operated even behind the glass.  But one can see a video of it actually working.

 Andy is posing here with a Dickens Village,
though I forget which one. 

By this point it was dark and late and things were closing up, so it was time to walk the mile back to the hotel.  Did I mention it wasn't too difficult to fall asleep each night?

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-...