December 31, 2013
Dear Family & Friends –
Fair warning! This year’s letter is all about one event; preparing for that event; leading up to that event; experiencing that event; and endless post-event reminiscing. The level of self-absorbtion in these annual scribblings is already legendary, but this year I have taken it to a whole new level. So if you are already repelled by the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter meme of “this is to let you know how fabulous I am, but you are not invited to my awesome” then you might want to just stop reading right here, ’cause it’s laid on pretty thick this year! If, however, you feel adequately inured to such narcissistic displays (or all to readily indulge in them yourself) then, herewith my year……….
Still recovering from New Year’s festivities we loaded up the farm truck with some of our absolutely best sheep and drove them to their new home at Beach Plum Farm in Cape May, NJ. The farm, along with pretty much everything else in Cape May is owned by our good friend Curtis and his partner Will. While there they treated us to a fun evening in one of their restaurants, sign-along nightcaps in one of their hotel bars, and then brunch the next day in yet another of their joints. If only all of our sheep deliveries could be so much fun.
Each January, while all our friends are out being super fabulous at chic ski resorts in the Alps or sunning in exclusive enclaves in the Caribbean, we sit at home and darn socks in front of the fire, consumed with envy at the lifestyles of the rich and famous that are out of our reach. Keith and I usually never get to have a winter vacation for three quite legitimate reasons; 1) we can’t afford it; 2) we’ve got heavily pregnant sheep that need attention; and 3) we can’t afford it. But this year our lambing season was pushed back a whole month. And suddenly invitations were once out of reach, seemed, well, reachable. So the next thing you know, we’re in a mountainside villa on the island of St. Barths, with a Mini Cooper convertible parked outside, and a passel of old friends living right next door, ready to celebrate Dudley Cannada’s milestone birthday. My image of the island has always been a sorta louche place filled with shady French characters and billionaire Russian oligarchs with ostentatious yachts. In this regard, it did not disappoint. But, it was actually quite nice, with great beaches and great food and fun times. I might even go back in another 10 years or so. Back in VA it snowed just in time for brother Wayne and his family’s visit for the 2nd Obama inaguration. We had a great time sledding and catching up with them.
February was cold and Februarish. Nothing too exciting happened. It seemed odd to have all this extra free time before lambing started. We visited Keith’s family and took in the Chihuly exhibit in Richmond, but spent most of our free time laying the groundwork for our wedding in October. Aside from figuring out various logistics, the main push was to get our our ‘Save the Date’ out early enough to give guests no excuse not to attend. Keith took a leap of faith when I told him I’d surprise him with the finished product. He was a bit nervous about what that meant, but you can see if you are as happy as he is with the results by clicking here!
The tempestuous month of March gave us a run for the money – literally. Lion/lamb/lion nonsense all month, concluding with 7 inches of snow and wind at the very end. The storm knocked down the shed roof on our smaller barn and smooshed all of our new haymaking equipment. The farm insurance informed us that snow damage was not included in our policy. However, lucky for us, wind damage was, so the barn itself was covered, but (yikes!) not the equipment. In the midst of all this, our late lambing season started. There is something to be said for delaying lambing until mid March. It was much more concentrated all at once – 90+ lambs within 2 weeks and then some stragglers over the next two weeks for a total of 108. And, as if we didn’t already have enough on our plates, we bought more acreage to add to the farm and did a land swap with neighbors to straighten out our borders. We now have a beautiful new woodland paddock with 3 more streams and lots more work. Only one remaining parcel to acquire and then the farm is complete.
The saddest day of the year was losing Keith’s mother, Maxine Miller, aged 90, after a mercifully short illness. She was a class act all around, I will always treasure the sense of family and the love and devotion she inspired in her children.
April was a quiet respite from the sturm und drang of March. Our annual tailgate picnic at the Old Dominion Hounds point-to-point races set the stage for a really lovely spring. The usual April chores of planting the kitchen garden, putting lambs on fresh green pasture, and urging city folks to buy country properties were all made easier by the mellow weather. Our new acreage was ‘cleared’ if that is right word for it, by a monster machine that chewed up everything in its path and turned it all into small little wood chips. Trees, brush, vines, and everything else disappeared in the space of hours. Amazing. What would have taken several weeks to clear by conventional methods was cleaned up within 2 days with this beast. Pretty cool. Of course, now we need to keep it open and clear until we can fence it for grazing. While the farm was all blooming and Spring-y we started getting some feedback from the wedding ‘save the date.’ The notes and e-mails saying “we’re coming!” made it seem real for the first time – which was both gratifying and frightening in equal measure. How were we going to pull it off? Wait, what if they all say yes?? At least we had something to wear. In the middle of the month Keith’s style maven Tim Watkins alerted us to the fact that his tailor from Hong Kong would be in town for 24 hours to take measurements for new suits and shirts. We were a bit dubious when he told us his tailor’s name – Fat Tsao. But, we met with Mr. Fat in a hotel room stacked to the ceilings with fabric swatches and style books and the price seemed right for a bespoke suit. Chosing the cut of the suit was no problem at all. Color was another matter. Pouring through book after book, we surprised ourselves by both picking the same shockingly bright blue Italian wool fabric and daring the other to approve. Towards the end of the month we had a surprise visit from our friend Jürgen from Frankfurt. He arrived just in time for our neighbor’s garden party, and he said he’d come back in October for the wedding!
So May started blooming away as May does. Everything was growing nicely, and we started the expansion of the kitchen garden in anticipation of it playing a role in our wedding festivities. And of course, right on schedule, every piece of farm equipment fell apart at the same time – the bush-hog, the zero-turn mower, and the gator. Times like that make me long for a small little condo with a tiny little balcony, and the only piece of equipment I have to worry about is a coffee maker! This year we postponed shearing (due to our late lambing) and hired a new shearer from Pennsylvania. She was very, very good, and very, very fast! 92 sheep in 4.5 hours. Pretty outstanding – we’re definitely booking her for a repeat visit in 2014. Toward the end of the month our friend Rick Avery visited from Sonoma. He said he’d be back, with hubby in tow, for our October nuptials, which made us even more nervous. It was his incredible wedding at the old mission church in Sonoma in July of 2009 that showed us how it was done properly. The pressure was on! Towards the end of the month the 17 year Cicada brood hatched out. The last time they arrived I had just bought the farm. Will we still be farming when they return 17 years from now??
June was mild and rainy, which was just what the garden and lambs ordered, and they both grew extravagantly. Unfortunately all the rain meant that we couldn’t make any hay the entire month. We had a great visit with Keith’s old friends and fellow band member from the LA punk scene, Steve “Billy Bones” Fortuna and his gorgeous wife Christina. It was fun to walk into a club and see all the staff kowtow to one of their idols. Mid month I was able to get Keith’s siblings out to the farm for a small surprise birthday dinner for Keith to help him enjoy his last year in his 40s.
Wedding planning also kicked into high gear with my constant fussing over invitation and website designs, and the signing of a contract on the barn renovation. A really great way to up your stress levels is to order wedding invites ahead of a pending Supreme Court decision. And while the Supremes didn’t do what I had hoped, they at least did what was expected, and expanded equality for some, but not all Americans. I’m grateful, and yet………. (and I’m constantly counseled to be patient in this regard)…… I can’t help feel that justice delayed is still justice denied. Still, one can hope that in another year or two, what was four states at this time last year, is now 18 states, will finally be a round 50. At the end of the month, just as the barn renovation started with a bang – and my computer ended with a bang! Right when I needed it most to complete the wedding website and keep track of invites, etc, not to mention everything else my life, the hard drive died spectacularly.
July usually lingers and lingers, in a seemingly endless fugue of hot steamy humidity. But this year the month was only two weeks long at most. I don’t know how it got so abbreviated, but for the few day it lasted the weather was actually nice too! Certainly part of the reason the month zipped by so quickly was that I was absorbed in repairs, renovations, and rebuilding. The gator died, the local cell tower got zapped, and so did our TV receiver, and on-going computer disasters meant that rebuilding files from last month’s computer meltdown took forever (computer tip: do not use Carbonite as your on-line back-up service – it took 2 months!!! to rebuild all my files stored with them). Despite all this, wedding invites were sent out on time, the barn repair continued apace, and progress was made. I was also able to take a quick day trip to Lexington, VA to see my nephew Will Zuschlag win the East Coast Pony Club ‘jump off’ championships. Will is an amazing horseman, and everywhere he went during the whole competition, he had a gaggle of groupies following him. Not bad for a 15 year old!
August was delightful – weather wise. No rain and mild temps. Barn renovation delays and cost over-runs were driving me crazy, but it finally got finished at the end of the month and I was pleased with the results. I spent much of August painting the new siding and battens. In real time it took forever, but you can see the entire renovation completed here in just 30 seconds! Here’s the front side. And here’s the back side. In between painting the barn, and tidying up the farm, and finally restoring all my computer files, we still had time to freak out over what needed to be done for the wedding and have no idea how to get it done and how to pay for it. Despite all this we fit in a quick overnight trip to Boston to see our Super Lawyer and my old housemate to organize our wills.
September was a crazy, crazy month. The weather was perfect – too perfect, in fact. It never rained! The barn was finished and we rushed to clean up all the construction debris, repair and repaint 5 miles of board fencing, AND re-seed and plant grass on all the bare spots around the farm. We planted and seeded everywhere. But no rain – not a drop! Since we wanted everything to be perfect for the wedding, we then had to haul garden hoses everywhere as well. Constant watering of kitchen garden and newly seeded grass. Keith, Alan and farm hand Jeremy (especially Jeremy) worked non-stop to put the farm in shape for the big event in October. The pasture was drying up before our eyes. The sheep were hungry, there were a million and one wedding details to deal with, and a kitchen garden to complete. An absolute nightmare of worried sleepless nights and nonstop activity during the day. The only break was Donn & Jay’s glamorous 1920’s style wedding at their nearby farm. It was a tough act to follow! Click here for a short video of Keith bustin’ a move.
By early October, the farm was ready, but we were not. We had spent so much time on making the farm presentable, we had entirely neglected until the very last minute all the menus, welcome bags, wedding programs, favors, and various other little bridezilla-ish details that, frankly, in the end no one but me would notice. Still, that didn’t stop me fretting and waking up at 3 am to try and complete them. We were still frantically watering grass as everything was as dry as a California desert. But no matter, everything was mowed, trimmed and manicured within an inch of its life. The kitchen garden and Orchard (intended sites for our cocktail wedding reception before the dinner at the barn) were as set up and ready as they’d ever be.
So here, in excruciating detail, is the run up to the big event….. warning…. massive over-sharing ahead…….
The week of the wedding arrived and we were nowhere near ready with the details. Still, I figured, who needs sleep?? We can just crank out the printer 24/7 right before the wedding and still have quality time with some of our oldest and best friends who we haven’t seen in ages.
One of the first to respond to our ‘save the date’ were my old Marburg University friends Hans & Beate (there is, in fact, a photo of me with Beate at their wedding years ago is in our save the date montage). They had never been to the States before, but as Hans wrote to us, “if not now, then when?” So I was very excited to see them after many years, and have them meet Keith. But, of course they come to visit Washington right in the middle of the infamous Government Shutdown and every tourist attraction was closed! And of course, the moment they arrived in Virginia it decided to rain. Nevertheless we had a wonderful dinner with them at the nearby Inn at Little Washington that Wednesday night. While the rain may have spoiled the beautiful fall countryside for our visitors, we were thrilled that it was going to wash away all the dust, and help green up the pastures and everything else for the wedding on Saturday. After a volupuous meal with them, we worked furiously into the wee hours trying to make headway on all the wedding stuff. Meanwhile the heavens opened up and poured and poured. On Thursday things were fairly sodden. The weather forecast called for more rain and potential drying off by the weekend, so we weren’t too awfully worried ……until later that afternoon, when the toilet trailer arrived and promptly got stuck in a pasture a good eighth of a mile from barn, unable to make it any further on the wet grass and soft ground. Later in the day weather reports started openly wondering if the conditions were right for a ‘perfect storm’ of stalled weather. The remnants of Tropical Storm Karen were moving up from the south, while a weather system that wreaked havoc on the Dakotas was moving east. Meanwhile to the north and east of us two high pressure systems wouldn’t let either storm system pass through. Weather geeks were delighted at the potential for this very rare occurrance. We, needless to say, were not. It rained and rained, and rained some more all day Thursday. All the catering equipment, tables, chairs, lighting, flowers, dance floor, in short – the entire set-up necessary to transform our bare shell of a barn into a wedding wonderland started arriving in the rain. Trucks that were supposed to drive around through pastures to the back of the barn were unable to do so, so everything had to be loaded and unloaded from massive trailer trucks in the narrow fenced-in drive in the front where our guests would arrive. Our newly planted and lovely lush grass very quickly turned into a churning mass of mud. And still it rained. Thursday night we had a wonderful dinner that Keith cooked for his dear friends Kayce and James Harding and Danielle Chatt from LA. We had a great time drinking champagne, eating amazing steaks, and sampling rare vintages from Keith’s cellar while we sat amidst a pile of wedding paraphernalia that had yet to be assembled. Despite an overdose of wine and champagne, these amazing people pitched in to help sort things out and assemble the various crafty things needed for the weddding. Who knew that Kayce and Danielle were the Martha Stewarts of LA? But the real surprise was James. The man is a craft assembly line maestro! So, despite the late hour and heady wines, they worked away all night helping us with various bits and pieces. And still it rained.
By Friday it was official – we had a rare quadruple set of stalled weather systems – each one holding the other in place – right over our farm. It rained, and it rained, and then it rained some more. We had more rain from Wednesday to Friday morning than we had had in the entire previous two months. We had more trucks arriving later in the day to set up for the cocktail party in the kitchen garden and orchard. It was clear by then that there would be no end in sight to the rain, and we’d have to scrap all our carefully laid plans for cocktails in the gardens, and a stroll down manicured woodland trails to the reception at the barn. Instead everything (cocktail bars, all the outdoor seating, etc) would have to be crammed in the barn where the dinner would be held. That meant even more shouting and screaming in the rain as truck drivers and workers utterly destroyed what little remaining grass we had along the driveway. By Friday night everything was set however, and there was nothing to do but hope that things would not be so wet that the parking crew could not park guests cars in the pond paddock opposite the barn.
While it poured on Friday night we had a quick wedding rehearsal – or at least tried to anyway – my sister got a flat tire in her rental car and had to return it and was late, Keith’s sister also got a flat tire and was stuck waiting for AAA and missed the rehearsal altogether, and my brother got a flat tire in his car too. But somehow we got things organized at the church and dashed through the raindrops to Glen Gordon Manor for a wonderful rehearsal dinner and a really fantastic cocktail party for 100 out-of-town guests. Keith and I have known Dayn and Nancy Smith since they moved to Glen Gordon (well, I actually sold them the place). We’ve eaten dinner there on numerous occasions, and each time we’re wowed anew with Dayn’s skill in the kitchen, and Nancy’s absolutely unflappable graciousness. That Friday night was no exception. Picture if you will, a warm and inviting country inn on a rainy autumnal evening. Slightly formal, but cozy in candlelight, fires blazing in every fireplace, soft music, and beautiful surroundings. Then try to imagine a dinner of the absolutely best of the best of local ingredients that are timed exactly to the mid-October harvest season. Then ramp up your imagination 100-fold and you might have an inkling of the incredible dinner Dayn prepared for us. You can see the menu here. It was perfect.
After dinner, various out of town guests started arriving and were greeted with cocktails and canapes. Aside from the stormy weather outside, you could not imagine a better evening of total strangers mixing and mingling and having a great time. Of course, since Keith and I knew almost everyone there, we had even more than a great time – we had a phenomenal time. If that evening alone had been the end of our wedding weekend, we’d have been well satisfied indeed. Good food, good friends, conviviality in a warm and inviting setting. What more in life could you ask for? Dayn and Nancy’s boys were soon ganged up with various nieces and nephews from both families to wage a ‘nerf war’ and weave in and out among the grown-ups who remained oblivious to the carnage happening at such close quarters. The closest I can come to describing the feeling was the Christmas Party scene from Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. It was heaven. But of course we still had so much work yet to do, and less than 14 hours to do it in. We got home and I worked til 2:30 am and was overwhelmed by what still needed completing the next day. No way would we make it in time.
Saturday at 6 am I started working on the wedding programs and finalizing photos for the place settings. At 7 am various people started arriving to set up the barn with flowers and finalize the lighting and table settings. At 9 am, a miraculous vision appeared – James, Kayce and Danielle came flying to the rescue and immediately started an assembly line to set up wedding programs, menus, and other items that needed to be printed and distributed to the right places and help with 10,000 other odds and ends that needed to be finalized in the last several hours. Those three were lifesavers indeed! Keith and I scurried in the rain between the barn and the house trying to make sure things were set in the right place. There was so much mud around the barn that we had to scramble to figure out footing for guests to reach the toilets (which were finally put into place by hauling the trailer with our tractor and digging huge ruts into our fields) and at the swamped area that was supposed to have been our catering tent. The video crew arrived, intending to get sentimental shots of Keith and Alan getting prepared for their big day. “Are you nuts??” I screamed at them. “We’ve got a total disaster on our hands! Go shoot footage of the sheep in the rain instead.” Keith came up with the brilliant idea of using flowers meant to surround the outside seating areas and old barn siding to create a mud-free path to the trailers and catering area. He and Jeremy laid down boards that they scavanged from various wood piles as wooden sidewalks to keep guest’s feet out of the mud when reaching the toilet trailer.
We had told guests to start arriving at the church at 3:30 pm for the 4 pm service. It’s a small church that seats 150 people. We had 170 coming, so it was going to be a very tight fit. Our ushers, stalwart nephews all, were waiting for us to arrive with the wedding programs. Guests were pouring into the church. But, no grooms, and no programs in sight…..
Meanwhile we were dashing around trying to shower, get dressed, get all the stuff in the car that needed to be taken to the church, but hair was wilting in the humidity, cufflinks were not going through cuffholes, and ties were stubbornly not being tied at the right length. Eventually, we got everything in the car and pulled up to the church yelling and screaming in a Keystone Kops comedy routine, trying to unload everything and not be seen by the crowd milling outside the church. Somehow (and I honestly don’t know how) everything got in the right place and everyone got settled in – and despite the world’s worst rain soaked bad hair day – we got married.
Most everyone says about their wedding day, “It went by in a blur. I can’t remember anything, it went by so quickly.” For us, or at least for me, it was exactly the opposite. There was a muted slow-motion dreamlike feel to it all. Part of this had to be the sleep deprivation of the past week, and part of it had to be the massive weight off our shoulders now that everything was done that could be done. All was in place – despite the weather, and there was no use bemoaning all the things and wonderful sights that guests would not get to experience because of the last minute weather fiasco. There was nothing for it but to just go through with everything on auto pilot. And so, I remember vividly being escorted down the aisle by my sister. I remember the vows, I remember the faces in the church with surprising clarity, despite the dreamlike quality of it all.
To me, the best part of the ceremony was when it was over and the church bells pealed and there was a momentary break in the rain so that all the guests remained gathered outside the church and we really got to revel in all the well wishes of friends and family. An incredible feeling. There were some great surprises too! An aged friend recovering from a broken hip made it to the church in his walker just to be there for us. And Roger Scruton, flying from the UK to Tennessee made a detour to get to the Church in time for the service but had to dash to the airport immediately after. In all, it was was the thrill of a lifetime to see so many friends and family from all over the world in one place and to be there to support us. Words cannot capture the gratitude both of us felt to all who were there for us.
Click on the photo below to watch a short video of our wedding day – be sure to watch it in FULL SCREEN!
Surprisingly the reception at the Barn went off without a hitch. No one could tell that a month earlier it had been full of hay and sheep poop. Despite the pouring rain outside, the guests felt warm and dry inside, enjoying Claire’s wonderful food and listening to some moving speeches from Rebecca, Kayce, and Heike. After dinner everyone got into the barn-dance spirit with an hour or so of the Virginia Reel and other traditional country dances, followed by a lantern release in the drizzle and then some high spirited dancing to favorite pop tunes and oldies. The standouts here were the old NY-DC crowd, who can still cut the rug when they all get together, even in their 50s! and all the nieces and nephews whose stage-stomping moves were the delight of everyone. Will Forrest, Christian Skov, and Michael Lai all showed us some brilliant solo moves which put us all to shame!
But wait….we’re not done yet! There’s more! We’re getting the raw video footage of the day and will have the ceremony, speeches and dancing all compiled in a ‘director’s cut’ version that we’re sure to bore you with anytime you visit us in the next six months or so. In the meantime, if you want to gorge yourself on the KandA wedding experience, the best way to do so is to click on these links here:
After the weekend, there was such a decompression of stress, tension, and lack of sleep, that I didn’t feel like doing anything for a long time. Just sitting there was enough…. Of course I obsessively checked Facebook every few hours for any mention of our wedding. After a few days of such postings, people of course had moved on to other aspects of their lives, but I found myself reacting, “hey wait a minute, who cares about your dog or your new little niece, get back to discussing our wedding!”
While I had a hard time focussing on work or the farm, slowly and surely, the barn got cleared out. Flowers were distributed, sheep chutes and other barn equipment put back in place. Things started drying out. The beautiful and mellow October fall weather that we’re famous for came back. The farm looked amazing. Everything was perfect – finally! Why couldn’t we have gotten married a week later??? Sure enough, Joe & Will’s wedding at the end of the month had all the October splendor that we missed in ours.
Most of November was spent still being a lazy slug after the wedding. I really didn’t do much of anything. The farm was slowly set up for winter. Early in the month Maxine Miller’s interment in Arlington National next to her husband was a beautiful quiet and touching service. Keith got some Mandarin and Wood Ducks as a wedding present and now he dotes on them as much as he does his swans. Thanksgiving was spent in a cozy circle of old friends in Washington, DC. On a post-Thanksgiving trip to Richmond to visit Keith’s family we made a few detours to look at a couple of jackasses.
In December we took a trip to Boston to see our lawyer and finally sign our wills, so now we can die in peace. We also got to see a galley proof of his new book, which I can highly recommend. We tootled around Cambridge and caught up with our old neighbors John & Sarah who are now burnishing their Boston accents. Following their recommendation we took a side trip to the Harvard Natural History Museum and were very glad we did. Who knew a community college could collect such stuff? As usual we ate and drank too much all month long. We had a bang-up time at Brian & Dwight’s wedding just before Christmas. Unfortunately Keith had to work over the Christmas holiday, so we met up with family at Bob & Doris Schmidt’s for a fun German-style Christmas dinner, and now we’re gearing up to usher in the New Year in style.
So that’s been my 2013.
Life is extra-ordinarily good.
Over the past year or so, I developed an annoying habit of asking people, especially newly married people, if they felt any different after they were married. Almost always they would stop and reflect a bit, and then say, ‘yeah, I actually do feel different. I feel ‘married’.” Sometimes I thought they said so just because that clearly was the response I was seeking, but just as often I think people stopped and truly thought about it for the first time, and were themselves surprised to find, that yes indeed, they did feel different. I, of course, tend to over-think everything in life, so I’ve been running this through my mind from the very moment I said “I do.” Here’s what I’ve found. On the surface everything is the same, but underneath is a new quiet and anchoring sense of connection that radiates happiness at a constant low level thrum.
So, here’s to all the connections that are part of your life, including the one that binds us together! Ponder that for a moment, watch this short video of people greeting loved ones at the airport, and then go hug someone special!
Happy New Year!