These are the days

 Life is feeling pretty great these days. I'm delighted by the warm weather and feeling extra thankful for our beautiful house now that I'm getting to spend lots of time in the garden (full farm report still to come). It's also been a treat to have Mike around more now that his work schedule has leveled out a bit. We recently took advantage of this by taking a little day trip to Piscataway Park which has a little colonial farm with heritage breed animals and some trails along the water. Zoe was a big fan of the chickens and the cows but I am all about their gigantic pigs. One day when I have a farm, I'll also have pigs and it will be spectacular.

I'm gearing up for my second semester of nursing prereq classes and feeling only mildly sorry for myself that I'm going to be cooped up in a classroom during the fun summer months. Pretty soon I'll know all there is to know about the human body. kidding. But it does feel like my teacher expects me to know everything about the human body. Eeeek!

In other news Mike and I are in the early phases of preparing to remodel our kitchen. And by this I mean to pay someone to remodel our kitchen. Obviously. We're not going to let our precious free time go to something as ridiculous as chores.

And that's the update for this blessedly warm final week of May!

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In January sister Kerry and I spent 4 very relaxing days in Tulum, Mexico. This is one of those trendy travel spots that I'd seen listed on blogs and in the NY Times and because winter is hard, and flights to nearby Cancun were quite cheap we planned a trip! Tulum is supposed to be a more eco- friendly, hippy dippy, yoga centric, foodie destination then spring break mecca Cancun which is about ninety minutes to it's north. Sidebar: In a strange parenting decision Mother Courtney had taken Kerry and I to Cancun when we were in middle school. I really enjoyed myself and only vaguely noticed that everyone around me was 19 and drunk. In any case, it was pretty clear that since Kerry and I are mature ladies in our 30s (!) that Cancun was not the right spot for us... so Tulum it was.

Since we got cheap, direct flights to Cancun we felt like there was room in the budget to rent a car, but we really agonized over whether or not it made sense to do so. Kerry and I love little road trips so this was a tough decision but in the end we decided to skip the rental car since there seemed like there would be enough to occupy us in Tulum. In the end I think this was the right decision since there's no real need to drive anywhere in Tulum and almost everyone is biking around which feels more festive and vacationy. I think if we were going to spend more time in the Yucantan penninsula then renting a car would have definitely been worthwhile, but for 4 days we were happy to just noodle around Tulum.

Tulum has two main areas, a small town which is a few miles from the beach, and then the beach stip which is essentially a single long road down the beach. On the beach side of the road are all the hotels/ cabanas/resorts which are all fairly small, and on the jungle side are all the restaurants and shops. The accommodations in Tulum range from camping all the way up to posh resorts, but I think the majority are eco cabanas since there are strict environmental regulations in Tulum. We stayed in two places - Zamas and Cabanas Las Lunas which were both a little rustic but very charming. We biked a couple of times to the town which I thought was charming in a sort of dilapidated way but I was happy we opted to stay in the more expensive, but more special beach area of Tulum.

 The one activity we did in our 4 days there was to walk to the Tulum ruins which are pretty stunning but nowhere near as impressive as Chichen Itza which we had seen on the previously mentioned middle school trip. Other than that we didn't really do anything. Except eat. If we are counting eating then we did a lot. Also! We did a lot of bike riding, especially sister Kerry. I spent more time reading Elizabeth Gaskell books on the beach. To each his own is what I say. When we were in Tulum it was warm, but not hot, so I actually didn't go in the water at all and in the evenings I was wearing jeans and long sleeves. I think if I were going to plan another trip I would try to go slightly later in the winter so that I would be able to really soak up the heat.

I think one of the main tourist draws of Tulum is that it's supposed to be a bit of a foodie destination. I had even heard of uber trendy, jungle to table restaurant Hartwood and I was so determined to go after all the mighty praise in the NYTimes. But when we got there 1.5 hours before opening and the line was full of chain smoking backpackers I just couldn't bring myself to wait. I don't know if that was a bad decision but really, I just couldn't. But we did find lots of food we really liked, and I would highly recommend El Tabano, Zamas, Restarare, and the Maya Tulum restaurant for anyone planning a trip. We also went to a great popsicle shop in the pueblo. 

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Tidying Up

Guys, I'm obsessed with this book and I'd like to discuss.

I don't know if I'm alone in this but I spend really a lot of time thinking about my relationship to stuff. I wonder constantly if I have too much stuff, or maybe the wrong kind of stuff. I worry that too much of my time is spent moving things around, organizing things, washing things, buying and returning things, and then of course looking for more things.

I feel guilty constantly about the things I do buy but I'm also occasionally ashamed of myself for the things I don't have (professional wardrobe, living room furniture, a functional umbrella). I agonize over most purchases, even pretty small ones, but I also hate shopping so sometimes I buy something I don't love just to put myself out of my shopping misery. I hate the idea of having something just to have it but I also want to acknowledge that some things are wonderful and really worth having (moccasins in winter! A raincoat!) I actually did agonize over buying a rain coat for probably two years and then it took me a further two years to treat myself to some waterproof shoes which, let it be said, are a real game changer. Also I feel more British having a pair of Wellies. Obviously.

I think then my struggle is this, even though I don't shop much, I have a tremendously hard time getting rid of things which means I still have more STUFF than I want to have. This is primarily because I hate to be wasteful but also because I can be a bit sentimental about my possessions. For instance,  I have kept basically every purse I've bought in the past 12 years. In most cases this is because there is nothing wrong with the purse exactly so I feel bad discarding it, but in other cases this is because the purse is now so truly ridiculous that it seems like I should save it forever as a little reminder of just how bad my fashion sense was in college (so very bad). And of course if something can't be given to goodwill or recycled in another way then forget about it because sending things off to a landfill has always felt nearly impossible to me.

Enter the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I saw this book recommended everywhere and decided to give it a read because it sounded just silly enough to be a self help book which would actually appeal to me. You can read a NY Times article about the book here if you're not already familiar but basically Marie Kondo, the author, says in order have a tidy space you should pare down and then put everything in it's designated place. But really the emphasis is on purging. What I love about the book is that she's suggesting something really simple: Only keep the things you love and get rid of the rest, but the way she talks about the process has helped me part with so many things I'd previously been unable to get rid of. The idea is you go through all of your stuff category by category (books, clothes, household items, etc.) and hold each individual thing to see what sparks joy. If it doesn't then you get rid of it. So obviously this is a little silly but I LOVE it!

While I'm not following her system exactly, I feel like I've gotten a lot out of the book because I'm getting rid of so much stuff. Where the book really succeeds for me at least is that it teaches you how to part with things without feeling guilty. Here's how it works: You thank the thing for it's service and then say goodbye. Voila! Even if you never wore a sweater that you paid good money for, you're still allowed to get rid of it without any guilt. Even if it was a thoughtful gift someone brought you from vacation, or a book you've been meaning to read forever you're still allowed to get rid of it. You just thank it and send it on its way.  So liberating right? I've been purging left and right and feeling so productive because of it. She also says in the book to throw out all of your buttons because you'll never use them, and to get rid of all paperwork because there is nothing more annoying that paper. So right on both counts. So that's what's new at Highclere these days. Mike and Kerry are making lots of jokes about what sparks joy and I'm trying to talk them into getting rid of all of their possessions.

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Hello Friends! Here we are again in the depths of winter. It's been so dreadfully cold lately that I've started to question whether I really belong in Vermont. I asked Mike today if there was somewhere comparable to Vermont in a warmer climate. Surely there must be?

A little life recap:

The holidays were lovely. Mike tried to talk me into a Charlie Brown sized tree this year which I rejected with only a very mild tantrum. So now we have a big beautiful tree which takes up half our living room. Not reasonable, but very festive! Our family ordered Chinese food for Christmas dinner this year and I'm pretty sure it's my new favorite way to celebrate Christmas. No cooking, no cleaning and lots of delicious food already packed into tupperware for leftovers. Voila!

In pop culture news, Mike and I spent much of November and December binge watching all 4 seasons of Homeland which we'd never see before. Season 4 almost gave me a heart attack but I enjoyed every minute of it. During these weeks of intensive Homeland viewing I decided to 1) quit my job and 2) go to work for the CIA. I actually looked at the CIA employment site to see what skills I have that they need: none! Also I'm 99.9 % kidding about working for the CIA but I do sometimes tell Mike to call me Carrie Matheson. He doesn't find it creepy at all.

I think this year I've really got a winning strategy for getting through the winter. Kerry and I are going to Tulum, Mexico for 4 nights later this month (!!) and Mike and I are going to Thailand & Vietnam for two and a half weeks in mid -February (!!!!!!!). Spending time each day researching and planning these trips is doing a wonder for my mood. It's so nice having something fun to look forward to and to know I will have a little break from the frozen tundra that is DC these days.

What else, I've let Zoe get just a touch plumpy and now I'm too embarrassed to take her to the vet. Eeek! I keep telling her it's natural to put on a few lbs in the winter but that the diet starts tomorrow. Basically Zoe and I are on the tomorrow diet which means the diet never actually starts. It's a pretty good system I think.

And that's all for this super cold and dreary Tuesday!

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4 years!

This week I am taking an extra moment to think about all of the things I’m grateful for. At the very top of that list is my main squeeze Zoe who we adopted 4 years ago last week (!!) Now I know in this photo she looks like she wants nothing to do with me but trust me when I say this little lady and I are the best of pals. And while I am very grateful for the silly, bed-stealing, playmate that Zoe is now, I am also ever so grateful for how far she has come in the past few years since our first admittedly shaky year together. I’m not trying to air Zoe’s dirty laundry per se, but this is the only place I write things down and I’d very much like to remember our little journey together.

I mentioned it briefly here and if you were in touch with me on a regular basis 4 years ago then you would know that the first year with Zoe I was consumed with her care. This was partially my fault since I’m naturally dog obsessed and prone to worry, but I’d like to lay a fair bit of the blame on the challenges Zoe brought to the table as well. There were the nagging health issues which required so many visits to the vet that I started to worry they would think I suffered from a rare dog centered form of Munchausen Syndrome. And it would be hard to forget the disaster that was housetraining. Heavens to Betsy she really gave us a run for our money in the housetraining arena. We thought we were adopting a housetrained dog and instead Zoe would ONLY pee in the house. Hugely funny in hindsight but exhausting and a little overwhelming at the time. And there was her limitless supply of energy. Every day was a battle to try to tire Zoe out - a battle I probably won 2 times that first year leaving Zoe with the other 363 victories. I remember walking her over 2 hours every day, taking her hiking at 5:45 am before work, and taking her to the dog park multiple times per day and STILL she wanted to play, needed to play, could. not. sit. still. Those things alone were enough. More than enough really. But there were also the behavioral problems that I cringe to remember.

Zoe’s always been a sweet, albeit somewhat timid dog, but that first year we watched her anxiety really get the better of her. She began to growl at other dogs, then children, then people in wheelchairs, and people wearing orange… and so on and so forth. Seeing other dogs on our walk, an inevitability because of our dog filled neighborhood, was something so stressful for Zoe and eventually for me that our walks became more of something to endure than something to enjoy. It got so bad that she would start growling the moment she stepped one little paw out the front door. A pre-emptive attack if you will.

It will surprise approximately nobody that I was hugely distressed by the seemingly ever worsening behavioral issues and that I frantically signed up every dog trainer in the DC area to come to our house and help with her training. When that failed I started dragging Zoe (and Mike) to Rockville for a reactive dog class once a week (reactive being a really nice way for saying aggressive). When that still didn’t make our loveable pup manageable I sent Zoe to doggy boot camp in Virginia for 5 weeks. Lord I feel so crazy even writing this all down but I 1) now see a lot of humor in this and 2) want to remember that first crazy year forever.

When I picked Zoe up front boot camp I received reports that she was the dog trying to rouse the other dogs in the middle of the night to play. She was the wrestle monster of the group if you will. I was ELATED to find how much more manageable Zoe was after boot camp, in part because of her training, but probably more so from mine. This is not to say she wasn’t still crazy but she was so much more manageable. Not long after, we moved to Highclere and put Zoe on Prozac (which sounds so silly but helped a lot) and I can now say she is a 97% easy dog. People I had conversations with during that first year are understandably confused when they meet her gentle little self padding quietly around our house asking for belly rubs from anyone who appears willing. 

So here we are today with arguably the best looking dog east of the Mississippi who will probably never win any contests for best behaved dogs but who is so so much better than she was. Happy 4 year adoption day Zoe!

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On this glorious trip to Ireland, we rented a car and drove around the Irish countryside. All of our nights were planned in advance but each day we had nothing to do but really get from point A to point B. Road trips aren't generally my thing (I get so bored in the car) but driving around Ireland could hardly be boring. The scenery almost can't be believed, and the driving itself is quite an adventure.

The first thing I'd like to discuss is how I ended up driving a BMW SUV around the country. There's a substantial difference in price points for renting an automatic vs. a manual but I sagely decided to rent the automatic because I knew driving in Ireland would pose enough challenges without throwing gear shifting into the mix. So I reserved a small, but expensive automatic for our 10 days in the country. When we arrived though the car rental place was fresh out of automatics. The agent asked me a few times if I would mind just taking a manual and I assured her that I most certainly would. So we waited while she called probably every rental car establishment in Dublin to try to track down an automatic. And when she did we ended up with such a monster of a car, not at all what I would have picked for narrow roads. I called her (the car, not the rental car agent) the beast and complained about her the whole trip and then felt inexplicably sad to be parted from her at the end of the trip. What a trusty steed she turned out to be after all.

One of the highlights of Ireland for me is the food. On this trip, as in my last trip the food was consistently excellent. The food at pubs was almost always exceptional. All over that country I indulged in lovely soups and rich chowders, hearty brown bread.... and butter, so much butter! My but those Irish know what to do with dairy products. After indulging in Irish butter which I enthusiastically and unabashedly slathered on everything whilst there, I now feel a bit depressed about your run of the mill American butter.

In case any of you are wondering about the weather, let me just tell you that Ireland is very cold in May. Because we Petersen's are optimists (cough poor planners, cough), none of us had packed appropriately for the weather. This meant that at pretty much all times you could find us wearing 5 layers and looking dapper. kdding about the dapper part. Mike and I had gone to Ireland a few years ago in February and the weather had been decidedly decent for winter. I seem to recall that most days we had temps in the 50s and plenty of sunshine. So I assumed (so so foolishly) that by planning a trip for May we’d be looking at maybe upper 60s? Perhaps some low 70s? You're probably wondering, as I am, why I wouldn't have looked into this before planning the trip? Would that I had, because then I would have known what I know now, which is that cold weather in May is quite the norm… and unfortunately so is lots of rain. Weather wise then this trip posed some challenges. Still Ireland for me is magical irrespective of the weather. 

Also weather related and also of note, we saw an abundance of rainbows. Our enthusiasm for said rainbows could be said to have an inverse correlation with how long we had been in the country.When the first rainbow of the trip was sighted I would say we were all pretty excited. A rainbow over the Irish country side is a real treat. Halfway through the trip though the rainbows were almost expected and were considered something of a reminder of all the blessed rain we'd encountered. By the end of the trip I would say there was little to no interest in rainbows. Kerry may or may not have been cursing rainbows on day 10.


On day 1 we drove from Dublin to Derry and arrived in rush hour traffic (planning fail). The drive into the city was a formidable one but Kerry and MoCo were such good cheerleaders to my rather nervous self that we made it in one piece, albeit in need of a beer. The next day we were amazingly lucky to get a tour of the city from a friend of a friend of MoCo's who happened to be a pretty important lady, as well as an all around lovely person. We learned so much about Derry's fraught history and about the challenges that still exist there today....and then we went to a really fun trad session at a local pub.


After 2 nights in Derry we drove south to Westport. That drive, like most of the drives, looked pretty short on a map when planning the trip but because the roads are narrow and windy they actually end up taking all day. This is also in part because the Petersen's cannot pass up a fun detour, say to a woolen mill to look at toy sheep and blankets. When we finally did get to Westport we found a lovely, somewhat upscale feeling small town  with lots of pubs and little shops.  Westport was chosen almost exclusively as a destination on this trip so that we could see a trad session at Matt Malloys Pub (he's the flautist of the chieftans) and to a lesser extent because it was in between Derry and Doolin (our next stop). The trad session was excellent and we really enjoyed the little time we did spend in the town.


Be still my heart. Connemara, as you can see, is a pretty spectacular place. We took a scenic drive through the area on our way to Dingle and that I believe, is one of the best decisions we made on this trip. These are small winding roads which feature stunning views and the occasional sheep wandering on by. There also aren't that many cars around (maybe everyone else knew Ireland was cold in May?) so it doesn't feel overly touristy at all.We stopped for lunch at Kylemore Abbey which I think is on some British movie or tv show? The food there was again, excellent. On my next trip I'd love to stay in Connemara for a night or two. We passed by some pretty swanky looking places that I think would suit me just fine.

Doolin was the fan favorite for us on this trip. It's billed as the traditional music capital of the country but as it happens it's one of the only places where we didn't see a trad session. I really wish I would have budgeted two nights for Doolin because even though it's almost too small to be a town, the scenery is so beautiful that I think we could have all been happy just poking around the area for at least a couple of days. Aside from the draw of the music, Doolin is also really close to the Cliffs of Moher (Kerry walked there with a tour group) and the Burren. This means that even off season there are a fair number of toursits there but I actually thought it was really fun being somewhere so special with lots of other people who were also so obviously thrilled to be there. 


Dingle is another real gem. Unfortunately we had our worst weather of the trip in Dingle so we weren't able to bike around the pennisula as we'd hoped to do, but we did catch a couple of trad sessions and I did buy a rather large bunny painting that I then toted around with us for the rest of the trip. I also may or may not have tried to rescue a stray dog there and then felt really bummed out when I couldn't find said stray again. Single tear Wellie. I hope you found a nice home!



After Doolin we started journeying back east across the country towards Dublin. We spent one night in Adare which is in Limerick Country and is yet another charming little town. We had planned our trip so that we could do high tea on Mothers Day at the Adare Manor and it worked out perfectly. The weather cooperated and the grounds were beautiful. I love the indulgence of high tea and it was pretty great doing it in a sweet old country house steeped in history.We were also staying in a pretty cute little B&B in Adare that I would definitely recommend/stay at again.

We stopped here on our way east and boy did we enjoy ourselves at the cafe! I know guys I actually can't stop talking about how much I enjoyed the food in Ireland. But seriously the food at the castle cafe was was even amazing. 


We did a quick stop here at the request of Mother Courtney, the only religious history nerd amongst us. Hi Mom! 

Trim was the last place we stayed on our trip and where we had the best weather. The actual town of Trim is pretty lackluster especially in comparison to all of the other places we'd stayed. BUT Trim does have this sweet castle going for it and it's close to the Dublin airport and also close to a bunch of historical sites (Brú na Bóinne being the most famous). I probably wouldn't go back to Trim unless I had an early flight out of Dublin and wanted to be nearby but it worked out well enough for us on this trip.


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