The Rabbits are Back!

Must be Spring. It is in the 70’s this weekend and the rabbits are out in full force this morning. The only thing left are the migratory birds and the lightening bugs. But the lightening bugs are really more of a summer thing. I am back in full swing at the Pottery School and will work my first shift at the Guild Gallery next Friday. I really should be putting the ribbon on Michelle’s and Julies Birthday Presents, but wanted everyone to let everyone know that the bunnies are out and probably doing their bunny-making thing. Some type of bulb has come up in our front yard. I will have to have Michelle tell me what they are next time they are here. Looks like one bunch might be Crocus and the other Daffodils. No wonder we couldn’t pound the outdoor Christmas Decorations into the ground. It was full of frozen bulbs!

 

We have turned off the heat for the weekend and have opened the house to freshen the indoors. I am baking bread and up to Thanksgiving on my scrap book. What is left is manageable and I will keep going with 2009 to get current for this year.

 

That is it for today – Hope everyone has a great weekend. Love, Mema

Spring is Coming!

We saw our first Ground Hog today and I had to call Michelle to tell her the news. She is so patient with me. I love her laugh and wonderful encouragement. We are celebrating the March Birthdays on Sunday in Winchester and it should be a very fun day. Michelle has also "suffered" through all of my garden and tomatoe questions with a lot of patience as her schedule has never allowed her to do any of this type of gardening even if she had a desire to do it. She probably has concerns regarding the pethera of wildlife that are resident to my backyard in the summer, but she has been a very good sport so far. I am also looking forward to a day with the boys and some more Wii Bowling and Tennis.
 
The deer is still with us and is camping out in our backyard today. With 5 yards to choose from, we are not always the preferred location. The squirrels are starting to be out in force and the next thing to show up will probably be the rabbits and seasonal birds. I will get my feeders out next week to be ready as I think the Hummingbirds hit MD in April.
 
We are going to spend a day at the Inner Harbor with the Slocums on Monday (unless we change our minds after they arrive) which should be a very fun day. I switched days off to be with them before they are involved with the grant inspection in Gaithersburg on Tuesday.
 
The economy continues to cause concerns in the background of our lives. I am so thankful for my Civilian position and that everyone in the family is still "okay". I hope that continues to be the case everyday. Salaries have been frozen but the benefits of working for the government seem to be very good at this point in time.
 

TGIT

Tomorrow is my Friday and after a frustrating week of trying to get caught up after 2 weeks vacation and In-Processing as a Government Employee. I am hoping that next week will allow me to catch up with my work a little better. I still have benefits to enroll in and a lot of training to do. The benefits need to be done ASAP so that the coverage starts right away. The training can go a little longer. I should find out this weekend if either of us caught Shannon’s Las Vegas cold. So far, so good.
 
I am really looking forward to the Slocum’s visit this weekend. They will be with us Saturday and Sunday evening. This is the first Saturday in Frederick but I don’t know when they will be here or what they will want to see. I would like to show them the Potter’s Guild Gallery while it is open late.
 
Sunday we are going to celebrate all of the March Birthdays at a resturant in Winchester. It will be nice to catch up with Wes and Julie and find out how their trip to Mexico was. It will also be fun to have the Slocum’s there to add to the festivities and visit.
 
I am looking forward to sleeping in Friday morning because I still haven’t totally made the time change transistion. I probably should get to bed now as 6:00 comes really early. I have noticed a real change in the sunrise and sunset times – it seems like overnight the days get significantly longer.
 
We have a Fort Detrick deer living in out back yard. The doe (we think, although Jim is still hoping that it grows antlers) got out of the base and ended up on the backyard side of the fences that are on either side of the road that surrounds the base. She has been jumping the short fences between properties so she has many backyards to graze from but she obviously would like to be back on the base. I hope she finds her way back before growing season – she won’t mix with the tomatoe seeds Jim started indoors today. We are going to try eggplant and bell peppers in containers in addition. Those are supposed to be the easiest to grow in this region according to Southern Living Magazine.
 
We should have good pictures from this weekend and I will post them next week.
 
Mema

It Snowed Last Night

We missed the storm last night. We woke to a light dusting of snow this morning that is already melted from the street. But it is pretty even though it seems too late in the season, probably because of the warm weather in San Dielgo. Shannon said that it was 80 degrees in Wildomar yesterday. I am up early. It is my last day of vacation and I am very sad that I have to return to work on Monday. The upshot is that I will visiting Winchester today and that is very fun always. I am looking forward to visiting with Alex and Christopher. Perhaps we can play Wii tennis or bowling. I find that I enjoy the interactive games much more than the video type.
 
I am still working on scrapbooking and was able to get all of the photos that Jenessa sent for Christmas cropped and put on pages. I loved the little spiral book presentation but realized that we wouldn’t look at the pictures unless they were in our annual album, so I did the old fashioned cropping and layout. I am spoiled by my electronic application where I can crop and enlarge or reduce the photo size in one fell swoop.
 
We continue to have internet issues with Verizon. They decided that leamanpottery.com was spam and they were filtering our e-mail. Jan must have wondered about our conversation yesterday as I had not read the e-mail about their visit. She had requested warmer spring weather for next weekend – given the snow last night, I’m not sure that we are going to be able to oblige. I did get the last few pictures downloaded from my camera yesterday after a bit of irritation from our connections and poor wiring in the house. Most of the outlets won’t hold the plug in the socket and we are never sure when the plug is going to fall out on it’s own accord.
 
Onto scrapbooking – I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel for 2008 and not much has happened for 2009 so I should be able to get current within the next couple of weeks. Then I will finish expanding Torsten’s beadspread to fit the new bedroom set and start re-throwing the pieces that didn’t glaze well on Chalice’s dish set. Ugh. Good practice, but also a disappointment to have to start over.
 

Jan and Kim are Coming!

I just got off of the phone with Jan and Kim has a grant visit scheduled in DC next weekend. They are going to stay with us on Saturday and Sunday evening!! I am so excited to have such good friends visit us for the weekend. It is first Saturday Night in Frederick and I think we will "sight-see" downtown in the evening. Hopefully we can visit something that instrests all of us while they are here. I will have to do some research to see what is available this time of year.
 
I was able to pick up some more of Chalice’s Dishes only to find that a large portion of the pieces had glaze flaws. I suspect the recycled clay but we are going to take some of the worst pieces to Bill Van Gilder to see what he thinks may be the problem. I was going to go to the studio today and got up late and there is just too much to do here at home to make it pleasurable for me to go. I am going to get caught up and unpacked so that I can spend tomorrow with the boys in Winchester finishing the clay project for their Mom’s Birthday. I also want to talk to Michelle about putting in a vegetable garden at their house and see if it is a project she wants to do or not. We will probably still be in the rental this summer and pehaps I can use an idea from Southern Living and do a garden in galvinized water containers and take them with us if Jim does find work and we decide to move. It is too cold to start anything outside right now but it appears that we can start some plants indoors to plant in April.
 
Here are some pictures of our day at the zoo last Wednesday. Torsten didn’t walk at all – he ran through the zoo and ate an entire soft-serve including the cone all on his own. He is sure growing up!
 
 
 
 
 
 

Home!

It was really good to get home last night. And it was a very early morning this morning when the alarm went off at 7:00. I am really glad that I have a couple of days to get adjusted to the time again. I was able to pick up a few things from my pottery studio before I left yesterday and I am really looking forward to using my "old" tools. There were some reference books that I wanted to bring to Frederick also but did not have the time to sort through the boxes for those. I think that we have started to seriously consider selling the remaining belongings in San Diego and replacing them here on the East Coast with different furniture. We have had really good luck with Craigs List and we do not expect to need a lot of furniture for the next house. The same may hold true for the pottery supplies. We may be better off to sell them used and replace here with used or new. I think I see a project management project coming Jim’s way to determine the best approach. We also need to research what to do with the handful of antiques that we have. Shannon and I were talking about how being removed from furniture and stuff for a period of time or even just moving a piece of furniture out of the house changes the attachment to it. The things that seemed so important to hold onto just don’t elicite the same emotional response now.
 
I did not get any scrapbooking done on the plane. Both flights were completely full and it was just too cramped. I ended up reading and sleeping instead. It was pouring rain in Chicago and my carry-on got really wet in the rain being transferred. Unlike San Diego, my luggage was waiting for me by the time I got to luggage pick-up at Dulles. I have to contact Wes today to find out about their house hunting efforts. I assume that he would have called if they had gotten the townhouse that they put an offer on day before last. I hope that they don’t get too discouraged in the efforts to find a place at the right price for their budget.
 
On to the rest of the day – I want to see what was fired while I was gone and figure out what I am going to throw tonight! 
 
 

Philadelphia Weekend

We enjoyed our weekend in Philadelphia. I attended a GCP course on Saturday and Jim visited the Benjamin Franklin Institute while it rained from the hurricane all day. Friday night we went on a walking tour of the boat houses near the Philadelphia Art Museum and I think we enjoyed that most of all. The weather was typically warm and humid but lovely by the time we walked back to the hotel. It was raining so hard on Saturday that it wasn’t hard to go to my all day class and Jim stayed dry viewing the Pirate exhibit being featured at the Ben Franklin Institute. He is looking forward to maybe taking Grandchildren there as there were lots of interactive exhibits of inventions and machines for "kids" of all ages. We stayed inside for Saturday evening and watched a movie on HBO after getting drenched walking a block and a half to get dinner. Sunday dawned clear, cool and bright and we were able to do a morning in the historic part of town that included a walking tour, breakfast and the tour of the inside of Independance Hall. In just a few hours we were saturated with history and felt satisfied that our weekend had been very profitable. We enjoyed Cheese Steak sandwiches and will do the fresh made ice-cream on a return trip, hopefully with kids.

Angel Island Excursion

Angel Island was a fun day in spite of the heat. It will be hot again today for China Town with Jared and Joel, but the weather will be 15 degrees cooler tomorrow for our visit to the Cannery and Ghirardelli Square for sundaes. Monday will be in the high sixties for the retirement party and should be a lot of fun. We ate at "The Stinking Rose" after our day on Angel Island and enjoyed the garlic Italian dishes and the awesome tiramisu. I think it was the best we have ever had. Yesterday we packed all day with only a small break to eat a crab sandwich at "The Dead Fish" restaurant. This morning we are packing again and then will head for China town once Jim picks up the boys from the airport.

Start of Italy Journal

Saturday:

We finished packing and called for a taxi to pick us up from the Condo at 11:00 to take us to BART. We rode BART to SFO and got off at terminal 3. Jim thought that our flight was from Terminal 1 but we never left Terminal 3 which is the international terminal. The next thing I knew we were checking in our baggage at Air France. I suggested to Jim that Air France flew to Europe, not the States and he informed me that they also flew to New Zealand. We had a hamburger for lunch and then headed for the gate, which turned out to be to Paris! I was informed that Paris would not be our final destination. The flight was lovely, good food, movies but long – 9 hours to get to Paris.

 

We got to sleep on the plane so we were not entirely gone when we arrived in Paris at 3AM our time on Sunday.

 

Sunday:

We arrived in Paris at 11:25. We changed flights and it wasn’t until we got to the gate that I read the sign and found out that we were headed for Florence, Italy! We were going to spend 2 weeks in Italy with our first 5 days in the Tuscany region.

 

We arrived in Florence at 3:20 pm tired but very excited. We rented a diesel Ford Fusion, loaded our luggage and took off for Villa Basilewsky in Cutigliano. Our first purchase was a Coca-Cola Light at the Airport for 2€ ($3.80) in order to get money for the autostrada. Most of the 4 lane and larger highways in Italy are toll roads and we learned as time when by to use the smaller, two lane highways to save the toll and to see more of the countryside. We missed one of the turn-offs but recovered easily and headed up the mountain to Cutigliano. After driving through several small, ancient villages, we reached the hotel, checked-in and went down for dinner at 8:30. The meal was fabulous and consisted of the typical 3 courses: salami and cheese antipasto, 2 soups that we shared, and beef steak from a local breed of beef. We couldn’t get a glass of wine and had to purchase a bottle. Thinking that we wouldn’t drink a whole bottle the waiter suggested that we drink ½ and then he would save the other half for dinner the next night that we had dinner. We ended up drinking the whole bottle and then were offered a cake made by the receptionist from Germany. It was a chocolate layered cake with chocolate cake on the bottom, layered bananas covered with a clear glaze, a cream layer topped with a hard chocolate shell. It was delicious and we got to meet the creator and thank her for her efforts. Giovanni then served us an after dinner wine on the house that was like a Muscat or Granello. During dinner Giovanni explained that the hotel was originally the summer home of a Russian princess (probably a Countess) and was given to the waiter that worked at the villa when she died. The villa was converted to a very nice hotel and is busiest during the ski season. There are 2 lifts nearby. Giovanni seemed to be at work all day and all night. He told us about things to see and checked with us every evening to see how our day had been and find out what things he might be able to offer near our destination for the next day’s sightseeing. We headed for bed and I had some trouble getting to sleep as it was now about 3:00 pm San Francisco-time. Benadryl is a wonderful thing.

 

Monday:

We had a wonderful breakfast at the hotel with some interesting selections. My favorite was the yogurts and the crusty breads with cheeses and hams. We had cappuccino and juice and then headed for the train to ride into Florence for the day. The train ride was fun. We found out when we were almost there that we were sitting across from a Scottish couple that were on holiday. The train station was crowded and not so clean, maybe like a bus station at home, but much larger. Jim had worked with the hotel staff to find a walking tour of Florence and we started with the Cathedral right across from the train station. It was as magnificence as one can imagine from the slides and photos from a Renaissance Art History class. I was not disappointed and the day only got better the more we walked. The Dome was a completely different era, earlier than the Renaissance, and we climbed 469 steps to the top on circular stone stair ways only wide enough to accommodate a single small person. Thanks goodness they had an up and a down side. The view of Florence from the top was breath-taking and, of course, could not be captured with digital pictures even though we tried. We never tired of the narrow streets, multi-story ancient buildings and shuttered windows decorated with window boxes of colored geraniums. Because we were on foot, we were able to wander down side streets to peek at the residential sections as well as the business areas around the squares and plazas. We had a cold sandwich from a small shop in the city that was not that great. I was grateful for the pain medication that I brought along as the day of walking and all of the stairs would have been very uncomfortable without them. We returned to the hotel in the dark and were happy to crawl into bed.

 

Tuesday:

Cappuccino started the day again for the both of us. Jim had set aside his self proclaimed caffeine abstinence for the trip as we were getting up in what was the middle of the night at home. I had tried without success to get a macchiato as the coffee was so strong, but something got lost in the translation. We headed out again with the promise to Giovanni to return at 9:00 for dinner. Since we seemed to be the only patrons for the week, it seemed awkward for them to have a full staff for dinner just because we were there. We headed north and the views of Tuscany where incredible. Our destination turned out to be the winery of some very good Chianti Classico that Sal and Jim had bought from Sharon and Sal’s favorite Italian restaurant in Gilroy before Christmas last year. With the difficulties of following the road signs in Italy, we were late for the tour but made it in time for the wine tasting. After the tasting we were told that we could join the 3:00 pm tour but not the tasting part because the tour was full. In the mean time it was suggested that we eat at the Osteria at the winery for lunch. The meal was fabulous, 3 courses again as well as a bottle of wine. The appetizer was a rabbit loaf wrapped in a pastry crust that was delicious. We had a noodle and fish sauce first course and we can’t remember what we had for the main course. Crème Brule and chocolate gelato with a hard chocolate shell made up dessert. I was wondering how we were going to repeat the whole meal thing again at 9:00 because even with sharing 1 meal between the two of us, I was stuffed.

 

We finished just in time for the tour which was interesting and then Jim decided to go look at the outside of the castle Brolio even though we had been told that there were no tours because it was still a residence for the Count Brolio and his family. Turns out that a 5€ admission fee allowed you to walk the grounds and view the castle chapel. The chapel was decorated as beautifully as either of the cathedrals we saw in Florence the day before. It was only after I got closer to the Nave that I realized that what I thought were frescos on the walls were actually mosaics. The detail in the colors was beyond belief. Underneath the chapel was the family mausoleum with family members dating back to the early 1800’s and plenty of space for more crypts to be filled. The rest of the grounds where fascinating. The castle was built during two different eras. The older was made of granite blocks and the newer was made of red brick. The castle walls were thick enough to allow a walking path on the parameter. A formal garden was still in good repair (probably from the admission fees) both inside and outside the enormous walls. Beyond the gardens were the grape vineyards and Tuscany as far as the eye could see. It was like being in a medieval wonderland. You could go into the corners of the wall and look out through the viewing slits just as they must have done centuries ago to keep the castle secure. Jim met a couple from Annapolis, VA that was just as taken with the venue as we were. When we move to VA we will look them up.

 

We left just in time to return to the villa for our 9:00 dinner date and again missed seeing the scenery on the way back up the mountains. We decided to share a dinner again because of the large lunch and enjoyed another 3 course meal. The spinach raviolis with meat sauce were like nothing we have had in the States with a serving of the special after dinner wine that we received on Sunday night, on the house, of course. This evening we had adjusted to the time change enough to have no trouble falling asleep in the equivalent of the middle of the day at home.

 

Saturday:

Venice! We left with Sarah and Justin in the morning drove to Castia and caught the train for the 1 hour ride to Venice. From there we walked through the town to St. Marks Square. I still have no idea how the city was built and will have to research how they did the underwater construction without diving gear or cranes. We opted not to take an €80 ($120) gondola ride because the streets were very little different from the canal view. The shops, residences, squares, watering troughs, and Madonna shrines were of constant amazement, even by the end of the day.

 

Meals:

Pastries and Lattes for Breakfast at the train station

Fresh wine – vintage yesterday

Cannole (sweet bread not pastry)

Calazone for a very late lunch

Dinner at the Spaghetti House: Quatro Fremagio, gnocci with duck and cream sauce, meat sampler plate, 2 different types of dessert drinks, Lemon Scorpino and a berry/cream grappa that was to die for.