January 1, 2017
Dear Friends and Family –
Well, here it is in all of its mundanity (that is a legit word, isn’t it?).
A little late, and unfortunately not any better for it. I had hoped some last minute inspiration would strike and render this effort something more than a dull recitation of the year’s events, but the muse proved elusive. Also, to make things worse, you’re getting it in raw unedited form. I’m recovering from what I thought was going to be a minor outpatient experience but turned into something slightly more complicated so I haven’t had the mental energy to chop this down to a reasonable size. Feel free to skip through the worst bits of navel gazing (pun intended!)
At any rate, herewith my year – what it lacks in literary value, it makes up for in verbosity….
The year seemed to get off to a great start with a poolside brunch at Matt & Chad’s Palm Beach manse. I had high hopes for the year considering 2015 had been so shitty to me. And a fair amount of real estate activity and mild weather seemed to indicate a change in my luck. But that luck changed toward the end of the month with the “Snowzilla” storm on the 22-23rd. We had 30 inches of snow dumped on us in 36 hours. I spent most of it inside enjoying the show and only occasionally going out every few hours to knock snow off the yew hedges (so they didn’t bend or break). What I should have been doing instead was plowing the driveway every few hours. But since they had forecast gale force winds, I thought, “what’s the point?” “Besides, warmer temps should melt it in a few days.” I was more worried about the power going out. But the power didn’t go out and the snow stopped late Saturday evening, and Sunday morning I woke up to a winter wonderland and the realization that I was stuck. 4 foot drifts over my driveway meant that even the tractor couldn’t go anywhere. I could barely move it 2 feet in any directly. Stupidly I left the car up by the house instead of down by the road (a half mile away) because my hybrid car comes in handy when the power goes out to recharge the phone, etc. So there I sat and sat some more. Meanwhile Keith has wisely chosen to stay at the condo in Alexandria so he could get to work. The rest of the world recovered fairly nicely in a day or so, but I couldn’t get out of my driveway because the snow drifts refused to melt and my tractor was just not up to the job. I did not see single human being from Thursday January 21st, until Friday January 29th. I trudged back and forth to the barn and single-handedly rock and rolled 500 lb round bales of hay to the sheep, but by the end of the week, I was running out of food and patience, and going a bit stir crazy with cabin fever. All week long my tractor still got stuck in the snow despite mild temps in the 40s and 50s. Finally neighbor Brian Adams came to the rescue and plowed out the front of our drive so our neighbors Jim and Char could get out to the world, and Keith could park at their house and finally make the trek in. Brian’s big boy tractor made me feel pretty inadequate. He accomplished in 20 minutes what I had tried to do all week. My ego and my finances forbade me from asking him to plow the additional half mile up to my house, so it wasn’t until February 1st that I was able to dig myself out fully.
After January’s blizzard, February was pretty tolerable weather-wise. But not much happened. We had a few dinner parties and wine tastings that were fun. Keith left for a week’s visit in California and the day after he left I got food poisoning (so I know it wasn’t him trying to poison me). Not sure what the cause was, but it not the most pleasant way to lose a few pounds. What was fairly pleasant though was this year’s shearing day. I pleaded illness as a reason not to do much of the heavy lifting of putting sheep in front of the shearer and made Jeremy do it all (To be truthful, most years I make Jeremy take the brunt of this, but this year at least I had an excuse not to feel guilty). Also we had a Cornell grad student there taking measurements for his study on sheep genetics. So he was dragooned into helping as well. By the way, our shearer is famous too! So aside from an upset tummy, February was pretty uneventful.
Clichéd perhaps, but true – what a difference a year makes. After last year’s lambing nightmare, this year’s lambing season was a total cakewalk. The easiest in 18 years. March was a mild and well-behaved spring month with absolutely no problems/disasters/events causing me to doubt my sanity. I didn’t have to help at a single lambing and every ewe did her job well. The really nice crop of bouncy lambs helped me restore my faith in farming. I was actually enjoying things to the point that I stopped thinking about selling the farm and started planning for the future again.
Part of that change in mood came from a turn-around in local real estate. Several new farm listings and lots of showings of even some bigger properties – so who knows? Perhaps I will become solvent again after all… Otherwise life was good, I turned another year older and Keith made me the best (absolutely the best!) Wiener schnitzel ever to celebrate (apparently there’s a secret to the breading that only he knows). We also both took sleep tests to see whose snoring was more unbearable. Unfortunately I kinda won that dubious distinction.
It was also during this month that Keith decided to add significantly to his work load. He’d been studying wine for a while and was slowly racking up degrees and certificates (with honors no less!), but now he was going for the big one, “Certified” Sommelier. I wasn’t sure what the difference was between all the degrees. “Aren’t you already a ‘certified’ sommelier?” I asked. “NO!” was the emphatic reply. “That’s just a ‘sommelier!’ “This is the next level up. Very few pass this exam. And after that is ‘advanced’ and very, very few pass that one. Then comes ‘master.’ ” Now that one I knew, as we had seen a movie about the wine geeks studying almost as hard as Keith to become one of the 200 or so people in the world to have that title. I hoped he didn’t want to go that far. Still, this one was bad enough and he only had until August to study for it. “Also,” he offered tentatively, “I think I need some practical experience to help me pass the exam.” I was immediately suspicious, “Like what?” A pause and then “Well….” The next thing I know, he’s got a job at the Inn at Little Washington working as a bartender Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Now those just happen to be the only nights we see each other all week. While Keith’s Amtraking up and down the East Coast during the week he stays in our condo in Alexandria and I tend the farm. On weekends he comes out to the farm while I run around all weekend showing clients lovely country properties that I hope they will buy. The only time we have together are those three nights. And now he was asking me to give up those too. “I think you’re doing this just so you can avoid seeing me altogether!” I said in jest… but.. was there a second’s hesitation before he denied this?
At any rate, for those that don’t know, the Inn at Little Washington is a little restaurant around the corner from my office. It also happens to be about as la-ti-da as you can get in the food world outside of France. It is consistently voted the best hotel/restaurant in the country and this year was awarded 2 Michelin stars. So it’s not too shabby. And because of that, it was clear that they weren’t going to hire Keith on a part-time basis to be on the wine team of one of the best wine cellars in the country. But still, it would give him the work experience and exposure he needed to become certified (though trust me, I was beginning to think he was certifiable already). So we settled into a new routine where Keith would leave the farm around 3 pm before I’d get back home and then he’d come home around 2 am and sometimes wake me up to tell me about his shift. Not much of a life for either of us. Long hours for him and interrupted sleep for me. But still, this was a year of regrouping, saving money, and rebuilding, so I really couldn’t complain. No free weekends meant no chance of spending money.
April’s mellow spring weather usually fills me with a sense of impending dread. To me, greening pastures filled with frolicking lambs signal a long summer of mowing, haymaking, weighing and worming lambs, and just general hard physical labor under the hot summer sun. But yet, after the easiest lambing ever (80 lambs without one assist!) and chicks hatching weekly, and other signs of spring fecundity, it was hard not to feel a sense of optimism. It was clear I was getting a second wind and rediscovering the joy that farming life had once given me. Though the month was mild and mellow, the first weekend for the annual ODH races was a bit brisk and even included a few flurries in a.m. That kept attendance down this year, but unfortunately not at our tailgate spot. Lots of guests stayed til the bitter end, leaving me a bit cold and tired on the clean-up side of things.
And despite slowly regaining my appetite for farming, I was still flirting with the idea to sell out and downsize to a more affordable life. After last year’s financial disaster it was still very much in the back of my mind. I’d go back and forth on the pros and cons of a snug country cottage on a few acres with space for me to garden and putter, versus running this ongoing combination money pit / gulag. The debate moved from realm of theory to cold hard reality in April with the appearance of two potential buyers for Touchstone Farm. The odd thing was, when confronted with the very actual possibility of leaving….. I choked. “What was I doing?” I knew long ago when planting trees, plotting landscapes, and clearing brush, I had been doing so more for the enjoyment of those who came after me, than myself, but was I really ready to give up seeing some of those very trees I planted 20 years ago grow over the next 20 years as well? No, I was not! The thought of giving it all up just now seemed way too premature a decision to make. Luckily neither deal worked out (due to a reluctant seller), but the experience strengthened my resolve to stay, come what may.
Visits from young farmers wanting to find out more about sheep and shepherding helped further. I actually was energized into cleaning up the farm for our turn in hosting the League of Country Gentlemen’s 103rd annual cocktail competition. It turned out fairly well (click here if you want to see some photos), but while I thought I was being clever putting the various teams’ stations some distance from each other (the better to sober up the judges between cocktails), some of the guests weren’t happy with the hikes they had to take to get from drink to drink. It was at events like this that I really missed Keith. His decision to work at the Inn on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights meant that I never saw him. Luckily while Keith was working long hours, I was able to do the same. Real estate activity was coming back more and more, and I was happy to spend the time with buyers looking for their own little money pits as well.
Additional work and farm chores meant that had less time to get lost in the super high speed internet I had been trialing for AT&T. But the AT&T folks hadn’t forgotten me. They asked to stop by this month with some FCC officials and see how my system worked. I envisioned them looking at me browse the web, stream movies and music, and gush enthusiastically. So I spent hours cleaning up the upstairs to show them how I gorged on their product, but they were not interested in that. They never even got upstairs to see my computer, they only wanted to see the outside hardware and look at my modem – which, of course, was in the messy and uncleaned garage! Still they let me know they would continue the trial until July at the very least, so I continued to binge….
Between showing farms to others and binge-ing on Netflix, I was fairly lax in starting the kitchen garden, and had only about half the beds planted by the end of the month. My grandfather would have shaken his head at my gardening sloth. He was an organic gardener decades before it became fashionable and had a huge vegetable garden planted out by this time every year.
Apparently Virginia signed up for an exchange program with Ireland this month and no one told me. I’m pretty sure Ireland had a good time, but we got stuck with non-stop rain. While it was nice to look at all the lush greenery, I think Ireland can keep its weather. It was a record-breaking 16 consecutive days of rain before it decided to rain just every other day. It also made planting the kitchen garden a bit difficult and mowing and spraying fencelines impossible. With daily baths, however, the sheep were never cleaner… Still, between raindrops, I managed to get the garden planted and Keith continued to work night and day. New goslings arrived to join our rather depleted goose flock and grew quickly. Towards the end of the month it dried out a bit, which meant non-stop mowing, mowing, mowing. That’s all I did when it wasn’t raining.
The most interesting moment in May was when I agreed to be a delegate at the Virginia’s 5th district Republican congressional convention. The 5th district is a gerrymandered monstrosity that is relatively long and narrow and hugs the Blue Ridge mountains from Northern VA to the North Carolina border. It is longer than the state of New Jersey. Now, I had given up on Republican party politics a decade or so when the Republican party went off the deep end. Which left me horribly unprepared for the crazy of it all now. It turns out there is no bottom to the deep end – it keeps going lower and lower in a bottomless pit of stupid. It’s not your grandfather’s Republican party any more – it’s Idiocracy folks! Truly! I don’t think I’m naive, but I did expect to find at least one other adult in the room besides my friend Joe Whited (who was running for Congress). And in truth, there was one other adult in the room, outgoing Congressman Bob Hurt. But after a few minutes in that den of stupid, I could totally understand why Hurt wanted to retire. What I couldn’t understand is why a sane person like Joe would want to be part of such a crew of foaming-at-the-mouth (expletive deleted)s. It breaks my heart to see what the party of Lincoln has become. Needless to say, Joe did not win the primary. His old school Republican supporters looked so out of place as they stood amongst the screaming rabble who made sure that the candidate who dismissed the NRA as “not conservative enough” won. Sigh. America will never be ‘great’ again.
June started with a very moving memorial service for Will Hopkins who had left us late last year. An amazing gathering of his Nashville song-writing colleagues and old friends to pay tribute to the man.
I had been dreading June as that’s when the farm’s summer workload really kicks into high gear. Even though I was digging myself out of last year’s financial hole, I still wasn’t in a position to hire any help, so hay-making and general farm work was still entirely on me. Yet, somehow this year, it seemed to be more manageable and I certainly was more relaxed about it – enough to have a dinner party just a few hours after a day spent making hay. Since it was nearly the summer solstice I gave my dinner guests the ‘chore’ of wandering the farm in the gathering dusk and each taking 10 atmospheric photos that best captured the concept of the gloaming. It made for a fun evening trying to choose the best.
Keith continued his weekend work for the Inn at Little Washington. This meant that I never saw him – unless I wanted to stay up til 2 am when he got home on Friday and Saturday nights. But he had agreed to take one weekend off toward the end of the month so we could visit his sister Barbara and brother-in-law Brian in Richmond for the weekend. I was really looking forward to that break. So were Barbara and Brian. In fact, the day before we were scheduled to arrive, Brian dashed out to get a few more ingredients for some special drinks he promised us. No sooner had he left the house than his car was hit by a truck driver who ran a red light. He was sent to the hospital by helicopter. The police at the scene weren’t sure he was going to make it. We went to Richmond the next day and it wasn’t pretty. Poor Barbara. She was really stoic and we were all on edge, but in between hospital visits we got to visit with family and see a bit of Richmond (note: as of publication date Brian is fully recovered. He’s minus a spleen and some other bits and has some very impressive scars, but he’s okay.) Also in June the Queen saw fit to knight old friend Roger Scruton in a long overdue honor. So now I know three “Sirs” and one Lord. How posh is that? At the end of the month my niece Riley came all the way from Idaho to check out her new home for the next four years. She’s been accepted at American University and got a great scholarship based on her filmwork. I’m sure she’ll do really well. Kinda alarming to think it was 38 years ago that I started university there.
Not much happened in July. It was hot and muggy they way Julys are meant to be. Future Olympian Will Zuschlag came to stay with us for a couple of weeks while he trained nearby with the US Olympic Equestrian Team before they headed off to Rio. It was good to have him around, but since they worked him like a dog, I had no opportunity to do likewise. Instead I just fed him and gave him a place to sleep. The highlight of the month was Matt & Scott’s wedding in Upstate New York mid month. We’re still not financially recovered enough for a ‘real’ vacation – so this mini one fit the bill perfectly. It was a long drive up to the Finger Lakes, but we then had a good time touring around the various wineries. New York may beat Virginia on overall wine production, but it’s clear to my biased palate that we trump them on quality. They do have a few good riesling producers, and according to Keith (who should know), Herman J. Wiemer is the best. After a day of wine tasting we headed over to Hamilton College’s Little Pub for a fun out-of-towner evening for Matt & Scott’s guests. What a picture perfect campus on a picture perfect day. Then the the next day we went to lunch at Meadowood Farm in Cazenovia owned by our friends (and my bosses) Marc and Tom. It was great to see their sheep dairy operation, try their wonderful cheese and finally see the beautiful home they restored. Then back to Hamilton College that afternoon for a gorgeous wedding in the college chapel. It was one of those perfect American summer evenings that only happen in the Northeast and upper Midwest. I took a break from the dance floor to retrieve my jacket and looked over the moonlit campus and then back at the glow of lights on the terrace where the reception was being held and just watched good friends and Matt & Scott’s families enjoying the music and dancing, and I just knew it was a ‘moment’ that would last a long time in my mind (and it still has).
We were gone only four days, but realized that we had missed the farm’s 20th anniversary while we were away. Hard to believe I’ve had this place for that long and still don’t have a house. But when I look at old photos I guess I can see that it’s changed a bit over the years. Towards the end of the month there were a few settlements on couple of nice real estate deals I’ve been working on for a long, long time, so I guess it was a pretty good month overall.
It was the busiest and most family-filled August I’ve had in years! Ton’s o’ fun and tons of work. Keith had the first week of month off to study for his big Sommelier Exam. This was a huge deal and he was intent on studying and having ‘blind tastings” at least twice a day (don’t worry, he’d spit out the wine after tasting – but do worry in that it involved opening 4 bottles of wine twice a day and having all those open bottles of wine in the house!). Meanwhile I actually got a slew of new buyers looking for country properties that kept me busy, in addition to setting up for family visits. But as Keith’s exam loomed, he got gloomier and gloomier. It was totally a case of the nerves. His secret strength is that not only does he have a really good nose for wine, but he has an incredible ‘taste memory’ so that he can remember the taste of wines he’s had months or years before. Normally he panics ’cause he doesn’t know all the minutia he’d be tested on, but this time, he knew every wine region in the world, had practiced his champagne service on me and everyone of our nearby friends until I never wanted to see another champagne bucket again in my life. But… those blind tastings….normally his ace in the hole, were throwing him off. Wines that were simple and easy to identify he was missing entirely! Once he missed one easy one, he was so rattled that he started second guessing himself and really started doubting his abilities. It was painful to watch, given how truly talented he is. So on the exam day, Saturday the 9th, he fully expected to fail. Most people do fail, and most people actually expect to fail their first time. The trouble is everyone knew that he was taking his exam and everyone was rooting for him and he was feeling awful that he was going to be letting them down. Not the least was the thought of the huge expense (and stress) involved in taking it again next year. So we were both on pins and needles the day of the exam. He texted and called me in between exam components. While he felt pretty good about the written exam, he was convinced when talking to the other examinees that he had failed the blind tasting, and he felt he had totally frozen up during the service portion of the test when he couldn’t even recommend a single brand of beer to one of the examiners masquerading as a “customer” who didn’t want any wine with his dinner. He was glum and I tried to be consoling. So imagine my surprise when he called me a half hour later to let me know he had passed! He still had a bit of shock in his voice, but I could also hear the giddy excitement in it as well. I was so proud of him! Of course, he was in DC and he went out to celebrate with his fellow students (the ones that passed) and they apparently had a rip-roaring time.
I on the other hand, was greeting my brother Wayne and nephew Luka who had just arrived on the farm for a week’s worth of hard labor. Wayne was feeling guilty about dumping his kids on me for 2 weeks later in the month, so he offered his (expensive) talents as an architect and (expensive) talents as a builder for free. So I played on his guilt and jumped at the chance to take advantage of his kind offer. They arrived right when Keith was taking his exam, in a car crammed full of equipment. I had spent the week before assembling all the building materials (well at least most of them). Our intent was have 2 garden pavilions framed out and covered and roofed in by the end of the week. This would have been possible had it not been 105 degrees with heat index every day and if we had 2 or 3 more able bodied men to help us. As it was, Wayne and poor Luka worked from sun up to sun down in the heat, measuring, cutting, nailing, screwing and assembling two perfect architectural gems at the base of our orchard and kitchen garden. These buildings had been planned 20 years ago and indeed the foundations for these were poured 20 years ago when I first built the little garage that I still live in. So you can imagine my joy at 20 years of delayed gratification being satisfied. Wayne’s design was everything I could have wanted. But construction never goes as smoothly as anticipated. We needed more wood; and because he’s a perfectionist things needed to be redone or torn out and redone, etc, etc. All during a massive heat wave. I tried to help as much as I could, but I had a farm to run and real estate to attend to, and Wayne took a slightly dim view of my carpentry skills, so I was relegated to fairly minor tasks in the process. Still between the 3 of us, we did an incredible amount of work, even if we didn’t finish entirely.
Once Wayne and Luka left, I had less than a week to clean up construction debris and organize the farm, house, and my life before my sister Jen appeared with her brood from Germany. They were finishing up their summer visit to the States. Uncle Gunter was already back at work in Germany when his wife and kids came for a visit. It was great to see them and catch up with young Henry who was only a little baby the last time Keith and I had seen him. We had a great visit by just ‘visiting.’ Aunt Beth arrived with Riley and Grandma Sandie for a day on their way to Philly and then AU for Riley’s college. When Jen and her kids left on the 20th it gave me a few days to clean up and organize again before Luka returned with his sister Leah on the 23rd for a two week visit before school started. And, of course, the moment they arrived the weather turned beastly hot again. What to do with 2 teenagers in the middle of nowhere when it’s hot and muggy and oppressive outside? I’ll say thank God for WiFi and leave it at that. I wasn’t entirely a neglectful uncle. I did make them do farm work (which they did with surprising cheerfulness) but I did feel guilty that we didn’t have more fun things to do. Still we managed a cool hike on a hot day at White Oak Canyon, and a tour of Monticello, UVA and Charlottesville, participate in a birthday croquet tournament, and a trip to DC to visit with their cousin Riley at AU. All in all a successful stay and I got to know them a lot better.
Luka and Leah stayed on the farm until the 5th and then headed home to Chicago for the start of the school year. No matter how old you are, somehow deep in your gut you know that Labor Day really is the beginning of the year. Still, I’m glad they had to go back to school and not me! While their parents were playing new age hippies in the Nevada desert, Leah, Luka, and I had our own version of Burning Man right here on Hammock Hill. It may have lacked the high tech visuals of the bigger version, but we burned a man, just the same. The rest of the month was a blur of post-summer high season real estate work, the annual Taste of Rappahannock and a very nice sheep meeting of the Virginia Clun Forest Sheep breeders. What a great group of folks. We really made some progress in our group and advancing the breed locally, and I think that we secured a good future for this rare breed. Even more locally, I sorted through my own lambs this year and was very pleased with the quality. I was able to send some really good stock up to Maine and a few other places as well as keep a couple for myself. It made me even more committed to staying on and farming for another twenty years or so – though a new film about fellow Clun Forest breeder Peter Dunning in VT made me realize that I’m not alone in my love/hate relationship with the farm.
All good things must come to an end, and only when they do, do you truly realize how wonderful they are. AT&T finally pulled the plug on my experimental internet technology. I shouldn’t complain as what was promised as a three month trial lasted nearly a year. But still, I was hoping they’d just forget about me and leave it all in place. Instead at noon on October 3rd, the music stopped streaming, Netflix was unavailable, not to mention ZDF. No e-mails either (wait, that might be a plus). It was like being plunged back into a previous century. Now I’m back to a world of metered usage, buffering, and outages. Ugh!
My nephew Will continues to dazzle the equestrian world with his prowess, but when he came to compete in Virginia this month, his horse decided to stub his toe or something right before the event. Tim & Todd made it official with a glamorous country wedding so now my peer group is all legally hitched (save one). Keith’s latest wine achievement was Rhône Master. Where will it stop? Due to my constant badgering he finally agreed to quit work at the Inn this month so we’d have more time together. The Inn, however, had other ideas and immediately offered him a position on the wine team to back-stop their Sommelier and do wine pairings. As this is a dream job for anybody in the industry and something that people spend years climbing the corporate ladder to achieve, I’d be a real heel if I said he couldn’t accept. So I reluctantly agreed to let him take the job. Fortunately for me, Keith also realized that he can’t work 24/7, so he’s only working Saturday nights and special occasions. I’m so immensely proud of him and his achievements and now we get to spend a little more time together again.
The best bit about the month was my brother Wayne returning for a week to ‘finish’ building the garden outbuildings. He didn’t finish (in part due to my lack of help), but he made great progress and it was really fun to spend some time with him again and celebrate his birthday. Also niece Riley had the weekend off from college so all three uncles took her to Avon Hall for Bill and Drew’s housewarming party at that historic home. Avon Hall is in very good hands indeed and under their stewardship will once again become the community gem that it was meant to be. On the last Saturday of the month I squeezed into my old lederhosen (and promptly burst a button or two) for not one, but two Oktoberfests followed by neighbor John Henry’s always amazing Halloween party. Actual Halloween was once again postcard perfect as the town of Little Washington invited trick-or-treaters to wander the streets. I always stock up on extra butterfingers that I conveniently have left over after the day, but this year the little buggers cleaned me out entirely.
November was a quiet month, and if truth be told, one of my favorites. There’s something that soothes my Germanic soul in tidying up the farm for the winter. Cleaning up and mulching garden beds, and even more satisfying, the last mowing of each paddock, gives me not only the sense of accomplishment, but also the nice little reminder that I don’t have to do it again for a whole six months! The sheep also like the cooler and crisper days as much as I do, and the farm as a whole is just more muted. I should probably not admit this, but I even have music playlists that are filed under ‘November.’ These tend to be slightly new-agey and Celtic-y, but they suit the shorter days, crackling fires, and a sip of bourbon in the evening after a day outside.
Another end of season ritual in November is the gathering of the flock from their five different breeding groups at the far corners of the farm and running them all up to the barn to separate the ewes from the rams and put them in their winter quarters. This year we decided to have a “Harvest Home” sort of event and invite a few friends to help run the sheep up to the barn. It’s not much in the way of work, but having strangers around always makes the sheep pay attention and go where they’re supposed to, so it’s more relaxing for me to have some strange ‘sheepdogs’ that frighten my sheep into behaving. It was a very pleasant afternoon of herding and visiting and a bonfire dinner afterwards.
Eric Meyer turned 50 years old and invited us to a very chic birthday party at Daniel Boulud’s in City Center. Since my niece Riley and some of her friends were doing a downtown monument tour the same night, we met up and gave them a quickie tour by car that included the new Trump hotel. It was a few days before the election and the hotel was empty but for a few gawkers like us. Keith unfortunately had to work on the rails on Thanksgiving so I rode along with him to Boston ($5 tickets are one of perks of being an Amtrak spouse) where we had a really wonderful dinner at the Beehive. Dinner was great, but the place was packed, and I’m not sure I like the idea of people eating Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant at 8:30 pm, but apparently that’s a thing these days.
Once the farm was battened down for winter, I had plenty of time to confront the mess that had accumulated inside over the summer months. Careful readers of these letters will realize that we live in a small, cramped garage/apartment awaiting the day that our fortunes will change so we can build a house. In the meantime, much of our life happens where cars are meant to be kept. In the space carved out to store my books we created a ‘dining room’ with a plywood dining table and folding chairs. It works, but only if you get your guests a little tipsy first and then serve by candlelight so they can’t see that they’re eating amongst lawnmowers and pruning shears. This place is always a pile of boxes and stuff that we have nowhere else to put. At the end of the month I decided it all had to be cleared out. This was met with fierce approval from Keith until I started questioning the need to have 20 different types of wine glasses and decanters. At any rate, I started in on the mess. But what to do with stuff we no longer (or never) wanted? Well, I know it’s late in life, but I discovered eBay. The problem with eBay is everyone else in the world is intent on offloading their junk as well. And it is very cleverly designed to suck you in to the bargains available. So while I was figuring out how much I should charge for weather vanes, old modems, and other detritus floating around here, I was beguiled by all sorts of bargains on offer. Things were too cheap not to buy! And the dopamine release of winning an auction at a good price! And don’t ask me how or why, but one of my obsessions became transferware. What a time sink! I seem to have bought more stuff than I’ve sold, but at least it was a major motivational force to clean up the garage and polish the silver.
After all the cleaning, polishing, and bargain hunting last month, it became apparent that we needed to have a dinner party as soon as possible, if only to let others know that our garage had once been clean. Keith was eager to play sommelier and invite some local foodie celebrities and so he rootled around in the freezer and pulled out some lamb shanks and voilà! I have to say, it was a complete success and the first time we ever pulled off a dinner without running late, dropping the main course, smashing glasses, or any sort of stress. Made me want to do it again (almost!).
The rest of the month was the usual – the town’s Christmas parade, office Christmas Party, and Christmas day with Keith’s family in Richmond. All events were reassuringly perfect and great fun. Unfortunately December was also the month that I needed a bit of retooling and repairs. I’d been suffering a bit of pain in my jaw that my dentist said must be sinus issues and the ENT doctor said must be dental. I think they both thought I was making it up as the CAT scan and X-rays showed nothing out of line. But a very whiny patient made them investigate further and realize it was both. So some oral surgery on the 9th extracted a wisdom tooth that was affecting my sinuses. Seems to have done the trick. Also at the end of the month I finally had an umbilical hernia repaired. My doctor had discovered this over a year ago and dismissed it as minor and “besides, you’re old and fat anyway..” This year he changed his tune and said it should be taken care of. The surgeon immediately agreed but said I should schedule it for a time when I didn’t need to do any heavy lifting. Since lifting stuff is part of my daily farm routine, we compromised and scheduled it for a time after all lambs had left for slaughter. Which meant after Christmas. Fine, I thought, I can take a few days to sit around and write my holiday letter and then back be in the saddle. Um, not so fast. I thought this was going to be just a stitch or two in his office and then out 20 minutes later. Nope. It was the full Monty. Hospital. Recovery. Pain. Bed rest. Oh, and no physical exertion for the next six weeks. I felt I duped. “You could have at least done some liposuction while you were in there!” I fumed. At any rate, I now have a very solid abdominal wall that I’m told will heal in time, but right now it looks like…. well, I won’t tell you what it looks like, but I frankly would rather have the old hernia me back. It’s taking me longer to bounce back than I thought I would. Hence the delay in this letter and the total lack of filter in writing it.
And that’s been the year. Sorry for the rambling verbosity. As years go, 2016 wasn’t so bad for us – farm life was relatively pain-free and Keith piled on the achievements, and we’ve (almost) put the financial disasters of 2015 behind us. Let’s hope we can continue the rebuilding in 2017 and help create a world where everyone can pursue their own happiness.
I’m glad you’re all part of my journey,