A Comprehensive List of Dog Names For My Next Dog

Not that one dog isn't enough but I do fantasize about having a whole herd of pups roaming around my (also) theoretical farm in Vermont. Here are the names I've got in mind:

Sherlock Holmes
Dr. Watson

Thats' all for now.

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2015 Farm Report

This is officially the summer of tomatoes here at Highclere. I haven't taken pictures of the garden since mid spring but here's what everything looked like then. Green and tidy and full of hope. Now everything is enormous and spotty and rather overwhelming. The dreaded tomato blight is back but since I know it's game now I'm not as distraught as I was last summer. We're getting tons of tomatoes and I think I finally came up with a good strategy in planting lots of cherry and grape tomato varieties that are easier to snack on than the enormous heirloom varieties I planted last summer... not that those didn't have their own charm.

This year I sweet talked Prince Michael into building me just one more raised garden bed, which I filled with tomatoes, obviously. Much to Mikes Chagrin that extra space meant I could also I also plant pumpkins and cantaloupes and I'm thrilled to say those are coming along nicely! I think that might be the first time I've ever typed out the word cantaloupe and, did anyone know that's how cantaloupe is spelled? What's that u doing in there. Also of interest... purple string beans! I never get enough to really do much with so I just eat them straight off the plants. I also in my ambitious early spring planting planted lots of lemon cucumber seeds that grew wildly (visualize it climbing up trees) but never fruited. I'll need to do a little research on what went wrong there.

My blueberry bushes and raspberry plants also seem to be having great summers but only the birds are reaping the rewards since I haven't worked myself up to do bird netting yet. It doesn't much seem in the spirit of sharing but perhaps next summer I'll reclaim at least the blueberries for myself. The big thing I want to remember for next summer is black eyed susans! Every year I mean to plant those and then somehow forget in my tomato buying haste. Also pictured below are two of my favorite farm hands, Zoe and her new friend Huck. And that's all from the mid-July farm report...

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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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