Thursday, June 12, 2014

Four Years of Marriage

Song of the Day: Ferry, JBM

London Stuff: This summer, sit on what you're reading.

Papo: How do you stay motivated to keep up with the blog?
Me: Well, frankly, it's always a rough draft; I just upload the pics on a Friday and bang out the post. I don't worry about revisions, so it doesn't take more than two hours at a time. Besides, it's a fun. 

The above interaction haunts me. I had the update completed (including apologies for missing my regular Friday deadline) by the end of the day Sunday, but when I went to hit 'Publish', the site froze, crashed, and deleted everything. You can imagine my frustration. Alas, with deflated sails, I'm returning to try and expeditiously re-type the entire darned thing. I'm not optimistic that it'll have the same amount of content (which may be a relief to some of you):

I'll begin by saying that I'm not certain I'll be able to keep to my regular Friday deadline during the coming weeks/months. Visitor Season is in full swing, which always presents a challenge for updating the blog. My goal is to have a new post by each Monday, but we'll be either out of town or hosting guests for the next forty-five days. Afterward, we've got a pesky transatlantic move, so, yea, the blog posts will be earned victories should they happen. I'm conditioning myself to see the updates as a workshop in devotion.

Side note: I missed last Friday's deadline as well. In case you didn't check, there is a (massive) post underneath this one about Papo and Nancy's visit and Owen and Celia's wedding. I encourage you to check it out - lots of good pictures.


Last weekend, Kenz and I celebrated our first Saturday night alone in two weeks by going to see Kevin Spacey star the one man show, Clarence Darrow. It seemed like an appropriate bookend to our time here in London: one of the first shows we saw here was Spacey starring in Richard III and Darrow will be one of the last. I was childish with excitement. The Old Vic has reconfigured its house for this season, providing theatre in the round, which (in my opinion) allows for a much more intimate experience between performer and audience. Kenz and I lucked out with some pretty baller seats, spending nearly two hours about ten feet away from Spacey as he yawped, sweated, and poured his heart out for an adoring crowd. 

We arrived early and hung out in the Pit Bar among lots of well-dressed Londoners.

Each show is sold out. This was the line for returned tickets at 9am the next morning. 

A few random photos:

Lost farmer? Nope, just a sidewalk sprayer.

Truck drivers must hate their London routes.

Ping pong in public parks

Solo car: the only way to guarantee complete stereo control. 

Ragna prepares for her degree show exhibit.


Carlos and I have been camp friends for nearly fifteen years. He got married last weekend (congrats!) and the two of them had a 48-hour window in London before embarking on a Parisian honeymoon. They were gracious enough to share time with us during their first evening in town. The four of us got together for some pub food before going to see Billy Elliot. It was Kenz's first time meeting Carlos and my first time meeting Christy. We had a great time catching up on everything under the sun during dinner. Kenz and I admired their ambition in staying out for dinner and a show after having just gone through the gauntlet of a wedding celebration and flying across the ocean. They finished dinner with some espresso, naturally.

Carlos and Christy, lauding the Miami Heat for making the NBA Finals.

We were stoked to finally take in a West End staple that has eluded us for three years.

I don't know how they're still awake. 

The two of them are great company and if it hadn't been their honeymoon, Kenz and I would've likely shoehorned ourselves into their plans for the next day.


Kenz and I have developed a tradition of swapping wedding anniversary celebratory plans. This was her year; she chose 'glamping'. Glamping, you ask? Well, yes. It's camping with amenities. We'll get there. 

Both of us were quite excited - the idea of two nights and three days with nothing to do but read, eat, and sleep seemed too good to be true. She had just finished the work for her degree show, I'd just finished editing a book on a tight deadline, and the two of us had spent the previous three weeks with little sleep (work, visitors, wedding). 

We took a train to York out of King's Cross Station.

Kenz kicked it off with a celebratory pasty.

Harry Potter fans waiting to get their picture taken at platform 9 and 3/4.

I was nearly sleepwalking by Wednesday.

We arrived at Jollydays in the late afternoon and were met with a helpful young man wearing wellies and a suit. He introduced us to the tea room, told us about the 'honesty book' (wherein you log all 'purchases' you've made while there - they don't staff the reception area all day - and pay when checking out), gave us kindling, and told us he'd bring our dinner pots by later that evening. Off we went to find our 'tent'. 

Regular readers will remember that the two of us went camping in Wales some time back. Since 'wilderness camping' is illegal in the UK, Kenz decided to lean into it. Heck, if you can't find a private place to hike to and spend the night, you may as well embrace the fact that you're going to be sharing a campsite with numerous other vacationers. 

Kenz had a permagrin the entire time. 

Rhododendrons were in bloom everywhere.

Front room, wood stove, bathroom, kitchen, and a bedroom with a bigger bed than we have in our flat!

I can starfish!

We milled around the tent, checked out nooks and crannies, unpacked a little, and then took to the porch. We were here to relax, after all. We'd get to walking around and doing some activities the next day. For now, all we cared about was getting into our books.

Glamping is confusing for the mind. You're faced with a context of camping, a situation that includes the amenities of a hotel, but a reality wherein the amenities aren't, exactly, up to hotel standards. You'll spend one minute exhaling a sigh of relief to hear nothing but birdsong and the next complaining about the lack of electricity in the bathroom. It was a new, fun, set of disconfirmed expectations.

Our dinner (and breakfast) baskets arrived, as promised, and we took to cooking for the evening. The campsite coordinates meat and veg from local farmers and York is apparently known for its asparagus. We had it both nights, along with lots of other yummy foodstuffs. 

Kenz heated up my stew inside while I got the charcoal grill fired up for her fish.

Corn on the cob and asparagus to boot!

She so hype!

I took to eating my stew out of the pan.

Kenz got a cheese plate for dessert.

Yea, that charcoal cheddar was pretty awesome. 

Despite the fact that it was early June, the evenings drew cold. Like, 40 degrees cold. Without insulation, the two of us took to the wood stove inside. Of course, that was after we'd lost natural reading light on the porch. The great thing about making it through a British winter is the British summer, where you can read by natural light until 9:30pm.

It was cold enough to sleep underneath four extra blankets. 


The next morning was a lazy fry-up, coffee, and some final preparations for the day's activity: falconry. That's right; Kenz had booked us three hours with Amy of Feathers and Flight Historical Falconry. Neither of us knew just exactly what to expect other than the fact that we'd be picked up at 10:45. 

Kenz was steady lighting candles. 

Despite a (lovingly made) hot breakfast, she opted for bread, butter, and honey.

Still warming by the fire.
I was too excited for the day to remember and get an establishing shot of Amy. Nervous and excited, really. I had no idea what it was going to be like to handle birds of prey. I don't think Kenz did, either. She could barely contain herself. It had been like Christmas Eve the night before - any opportunity to handle an animal and she's in.

Amy took us to her house for the afternoon, something she later told us she doesn't often do. Apparently there's an actual underground-stolen-bird-of-prey-market and she gets uneasy showing folks where she keeps her flock. Proof was in the pudding, too, because the birds all live in the garden behind the garden, hidden by a hedge. Kenz and I exchanged is this The Secret Garden looks as we crouched through the manicured shrubbery, following her into an enchanted back yard full of birds, a work shed, and an actual garden that looks like it could feed a family of four. We were immediately introduced to the birds:

Pharaoh, the Eagle Owl

Shira, the Kestrel

Duke, the Lanner Falcon

Mary, the Merlin

Jakk, Harris Hawk

Cato, Harris Hawk

And Flynn, the Barn Owl

Amy was as ready to lecture as I was to ask questions. And she was as ready to show as Kenz was to learn via hands-on experience. Again, neither of us knew, exactly, what to expect, so the first hour was like the two of us testing the ice. I'd reluctantly ask a question and Amy would go down an awesomely in-depth explanation. Kenz would ask to touch something and Amy would put it in her hands and encourage her to play with it.

Discussing Barn Owls

Hoods for the road.

The work shed

Preparing each bird's food.

Keeping a log of each bird's weight is quite important; it's done each day. 

We eventually reached the point where we'd been through the shed and seen all the toys. It was time to see some of these birds take flight. Amy started with Shira, the Kestrel, because she'd been singing for her food all morning.

Weighing in

I didn't quite expect to be so hands-on with the birds. I figured we'd get to have 'the best one' land on our arm once or twice at the end of the day. That's not quite how it happened. Amy would take each bird out, weigh them, get either a leash or radar tracking anklet on them, and walk them to another secret garden (really, a secret field, equipped with several perches for the birds). We'd follow her and watch the entire process. Then, she'd set the bird loose, it would fly to the perch of its choice, hang out for a second as Amy pulled out some food and set it on her outstretched arm. The bird would return, grab the food and eat it while perched on Amy's arm, and then return to the perch. More food, return flight, rinse, repeat until the food runs out.

Thing is, Amy started putting the food in our hands after each bird's first or second flight! It threw me for a loop. She'd just be standing there, as the bird is flying back and forth, putting bits of cut up chicken and mouse on our gloved hands, all while talking to us about each bird's species, flight style, hunting style, etc. - on and on - until there was no more food and it was time to take each one back inside. Half my mind was racing about the fact that this wild animal was ripping baby chicken flesh out of my fingers as the other half was trying, desperately, to pay attention to what Amy was saying.

Kenz was floating with excitement.

We eventually grew into the practice, shed our nerves, and began asking several thousand questions per minute. I think Kenz and I both learned a considerable amount, but I'll keep the blog to tidbits.

She only weighs about 4oz.

Headed back into the secret garden.

Amy keeps moult feathers in order to hand-repair any broken feathers the birds may get during day-to-day life.

The radar tracker

Cato weighing in.

Of course I asked how the tracker works because I asked a question about everything I saw. 

Mary weighing in.

Falcons hunt differently than hawks and owls; they swoop and catch. As a result, Amy has food on a lure, which she swings around and around, allowing Mary and Duke to circle overhead, eventually dive-bombing and catching the food. She'll then drop some more food by the lure - enough for the rest of the meal.

Mary is a second-hand bird for Amy, though, and has spent the past few years in retirement (just making babies, not hunting). Consequently, Amy is having to re-train Mary to catch the lure, which takes a fair amount of time. The two of them are at the point where Amy holds out the lure and Mary flies to it once she's stopped swinging it.

Afterward, it was time for Pharaoh, the Eagle Owl. I got a good chuckle hearing Amy talk about owls:

Everybody loves them - these are the favorites, usually - and everyone wants to see them fly. Now, don't get me wrong - I love Pharaoh and Flynn - but owls are...slow. Most of their head is eye - there's not much room for brain. And they're lazy. It takes me about three times as long to train an owl as it does a hawk or falcon. 

After having spent the first part of the day with Shira, Cato, and Mary, we could definitely tell the difference in personality and temperament with Pharaoh. It was hilarious. It was like moving from a formal dinner party to a tailgate. Pharaoh's here to party, y'all.

Weighing in

You can often tell what time of day an owl hunts by the color of its eyes: yellow usually means they're a daytime hunter (diurnal), orange for dusk and dawn (crepuscular), and black for night (nocturnal). 'Ol Pharaoh is crepuscular. 

When we brought him back to his cage, Amy told Kenz to get the tennis ball.

He loves his tennis ball. He'll grab it and walk around the cage half the day with it. Then, he'll forget it for an hour or two, rediscover it, and hobble around with it, again, just as excited as when I throw it to him. 

I know it's not good practice to anthropomorphize animals - and this isn't even anthropomorphization, but Pharaoh hobbling around his cage with a tennis ball sure did make him seem like an eager dog.

I couldn't get a great picture of him with the ball, but he's got it there, under his feathers.

Next was Flynn - and this time, Amy had Kenz do everything on her own. She talked her through each step of the process as I stood back, relieved, only responsible for taking pictures.

Opening the gate

Getting the anklets secured

Putting new, flight-specific, anklets on

Weighing in

The face of pure joy

Time to fly!

Barn owl selfie

By this point, the wind had picked up so much that Amy grew weary of flying the last two birds. She decided to give the wind a few minutes and took us back to the house - part stalling measure, part awesome surprise:

Amy is currently raising a baby Saker Falcon named Khan. At three weeks old, this lil thing can't walk on its talons yet (resorting to his haunches instead), can't fly, can't do much of anything other than eat, sleep, and poop. Like raising any other baby, Amy keeps him/her (don't know yet) close, warm, and well-fed.

Time to eat!

She explained how rapidly Khan will be growing and changing in the next few weeks, how she has to feed him/her a specific way in order to create an imprint between the two of them (without Khan thinking her hands are connected with food), and answered all our questions about what it's like to have a baby falcon in the house.

This isn't the first bird she's raised and she often does it for others. I could tell this wasn't her first rodeo when I noticed that the carpet had been covered in plastic. There's no litter box for a bird of prey.

After mealtime, Amy warmed up a beanbag full of rice and had Khan sit on it in Kenz's lap. Both Kenz and Khan melted from the warmth and amount of adorbz.

Like any other baby, lil Khan was ready for a nap within ten minutes of eating.
Unfortunately, the wind hadn't died down so we wound up feeding Duke and Jakk inside the work shed. Of course, it wasn't all that disappointing; Kenz and I hadn't expected to have done as much as we did thus far - it was all gravy by this point.

Duke gets lunch.

Posing for the camera.

Hand-raised by Amy, Duke is so gentle that a glove isn't necessary for perching.

Time for Jakk's lunch

Jack 'mantled' more than any other bird.

Mantling is a way for the bird to hide its food from jealous eyes. 

Amy showed us one of his new tail feathers coming in.

All in all, it was quite a successful afternoon. We must've been good guests, because we spent nearly four hours, relaxed, at Amy's house. It felt like twenty minutes.

As she was dropping us off back at Jollydays, Amy dropped one last surprise on us: handmade glove keychains! Kenz took the red one, naturally.


Back at the crib, the two of us got back to doing what we were there to do: sitting, reading, and building fires. 

More firewood!

Dinner prep

Veggies and halloumi for Kenz

A pot of chicken for me

Dessert, this time, was some absurdly yum cake.

We opted for an after dinner stroll (rather than falling into a cake-induced coma). I don't think either of us had any idea just how large this piece of land was until we got to walking. We were gone for nearly two hours without ever having to retrace our steps (and even left a few trails unexplored).

Woodstore 9-10ish - 4-5ish. Please make sure you have enough wood before staff leave for the evening.

The diversity of trees out here was surprising, impressive. My favorite was this field of birches.

Jollydays was preparing for a wedding in the upcoming weekend. We stumbled upon the tent that would host the ceremony.

We eventually returned to the tent to read while there was still some light. Afterward, Kenz played with the fire to her heart's content and learned how to use a lantern for the first time.

She marched back and forth, in front of the window, making old crone faces. 

Both of us went to bed in agreement that two nights was too short a trip. 


The next morning, Kenz said goodbye by eating the other two pieces of cake from the night before as I cleaned out the rest of the breakfast basket. 

She promptly fell into a sugar coma once we got on the train back to London.

It's fitting I should finish this blog post on our actual anniversary. I started to re-write it on Sunday, but since we've got guests now (and I've been juggling work commitments on top of that), I'm only just now getting around to completing it. The scene is quite similar to other days, really. I'm typing away at the computer with a cup of coffee and my headphones on as Kenz cuts a log upstairs. I'll try to wake her in a few minutes. She'll grimace, roll over, and go back to sleep. I'll try again half an hour after that. And again. And again, until she's too annoyed to stay in bed.

I could eulogize about our four years of blissful marriage, but I'll spare you. In sum, the real anniversary gift is that she chose to share her life with me. For that, I continue to be grateful.

That's it for this week. Since this is going up on a Thursday, have a great weekend, thanks for reading, and check back on the 20th for another update.