Thursday, April 26, 2012

my first trip London!

I was home from my Easter weekend trip to Victoria for just a few days before leaving on the longest trip of my life so far - my first trip abroad to London, England!  My husband needed to go there for work, as he has several people there who report to him, and so I went along for the ride and got to play while he was working during the week.

We spent the day on Sunday with his best friend from high school and her family, wandering about the east side of London.  Much of our day was spent walking along the towpath next to one of the canals, which had all kinds of interesting things to see including a floating bookshop.

We also visited a small harbor museum, had a proper Sunday supper at their favorite pub, wandered through a flower/plant market with lots of "proper cockney accents," and went to high tea at the Four Seasons hotel - which even had a gluten-free version for Chris!  We wrapped up the day with a ferry ride down the river to Waterloo, including passing under the Tower bridge where I took one of my favorite pictures from the trip.

On Monday I was on my own, so armed with my trusty Oyster card to ride the Underground, I headed off to the day's sights - St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.  I climbed all the way to the top of the Golden Gallery at St. Paul's, which is nearly 600 steps from the cathedral floor, and took some wonderful pictures.  One of my favorites is the one below, taken with the fisheye lens attachment I got for my iPhone camera - the weather couldn't have been much better for my visit that day!

Of the two cathedrals, I much preferred St. Paul's to Westminster.  Both are absolutely stunning buildings and both had wonderful tourist/visitor support with self-guided tours, but it was St. Paul's that really stood out to me as being true to its origins and much more "holy" in some ways.  Westminster has been much more the "royalty's cathedral" and as such there are tombs and memorials stuffed everywhere in the building, so much so that it's almost too crowded to walk around in some areas, and that really made the ambiance a bit spoilt for me.  I much preferred the flat plaque memorials in the cloisters, especially the section for scientists (and Edmund Halley, whose memorial is in the shape of a comet!), as that seems like a more appropriate location for such things.

After visiting the two cathedrals, I wandered over to Piccadilly and ended up on Carnaby Street, which is stuffed full of shops both local and international.  There were a few too many American stores for my taste, which I did not visit just on principle, but I found the most whimsical and fun shoe store I've ever seen - Irregular Choice.

I ended up taking home a pair of shoes that I fell in love with, which have little rosettes and trim made of measuring tape plus clear lucite short heels - they're wonderful, and something I can wear.  I was amused by many of the other shoes there, but none were quite able to fit in with my possible uses for them, sadly - I just don't wear crazy clothes or heels.

On Tuesday, I took a tour through Golden Tours that took me to the city of Bath, the village of Ludlow, and then to a sunset after-hours and up close tour of Stonehenge.  Despite storms in London, the sun was out for our time spent in Bath, where the restored Roman Baths are available for touring.  I only had a bit over an hour to go through the tour, and I wish I'd had a bit more time, but it was quite enjoyable nonetheless - and I did drink a bit of the water, and left a coin in the wishing well while I was there.  Before I got on the bus to continue the tour, I bought a tasty beef pasty from a Cornish pasty shop, and then got a very disappointing milkshake from a cookie shop - apparently the British don't make their milkshakes the way Americans do!

Much of our day was spent driving through the rainstorms around southern England, which gave rise to a beautiful rainbow that developed from a short double bow into a full arc over the course of our trip in the morning.

The village of Ludlow was very nice, although again I wish I'd had more than an hour to explore around the village and to see the abbey.  I found and bought a hand-spun and hand-knit hat from local wool, and found some of the most beautiful wool capes that I seriously considered buying.  Both the village and the abbey have been used for some of the filming of Harry Potter in addition to other shows, and the grounds are absolutely lovely.

Finally, we made it to Stonehenge, which was visible from a pretty good distance away and which was deserted now that it was after closing time.  With a quick go-over of the rules (don't touch anything!) and a bit more on the history and theories of the site, our guide turned us loose and we had about an hour to walk around the stones and enjoy the time there.  The weather was cold, sunny, and windy while we were there, which gave me opportunities for some very neat pictures.

Back of one of the standing stones that still has its lintel stone in place.  The sun is setting behind the stone on the left.

Overall view of Stonehenge.

Closeup view of some of the lichen growing on the stones - that's why you're not supposed to touch them, as much of this lichen is very rare and some only grows on these stones.  It was pretty neat to see it, very different from other lichens I've seen.

The setting sun provided plenty of opportunity for shadows and interesting shots - I am particularly proud of this one.  Yes, I'm wearing my new hat for this picture!

That's plenty of stuff for one blog post, I think - I will stop off there at the end of the day Tuesday, and leave the rest for my next post!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

UFLI Qualifiers and a goodbye

Last weekend I took Ezri went up to Victoria Island with my friends Ben and Deborah for the UFLI NW Qualifier tournament.  They are about to move to Boston, and their new team captain Sue flew out to Seattle to come with us along with her borderjack Stingray, so we had quite a fast team.  Another person from JCJ came along as well, running her green dog Zach in singles competition on both days, and he did absolutely fabulously!

I had three goals going into the tournament this weekend:
1) Get Ezri to run consistently under 4.0 seconds again
2) Break 8.0 with the pairs team Ignition Sequence (Ezri and her sister Indigo)
3) Break 16.0 with our team

Amazingly, we achieved all of these goals within the first half of racing on Saturday.  Ezri busted out with the 3.8's and 3.9's in start, running 3.87 several times throughout the weekend and not running above 4.1 (even in the pack) until late in the day on Sunday.  Seeing as her personal best is a 3.83 and she has barely run below 4.0 since last summer, I'm pretty thrilled!  She was a little more tired and had less motivation on Sunday when she ran singles, so her best recorded singles time was a 3.96.  However, she and Indigo ran flawlessly in their pairs races, and I even got two perfect starts along the way, with all clean runs under 8.0 and their best time a 7.86.

 Ezri is very focused on the box - this photo taken on Sunday while she ran in singles.

The team ran wonderfully on both days, with the addition of a friend's dog on Saturday while we ran in the qualifier.  We had two different lineups run a 15.65 (once each day), with Ezri running start dog both times, and we had quite a few 15.8's and 15.9's in addition to a plethora of low 16's.  I even got another perfect start on Sunday to make the hat trick for the weekend!  Canine Mutiny is now all set to go to UFLI Nationals in August, with a current seed time of 15.65 which will put them in Division One competition.  They have a 3.7 border collie who will take over where Ezri was running, so hopefully they will be quite competitive!

E-pen wall covered in tugs, leashes, and our First Place Division 2 qualifier ribbon.

We even managed to set one last Jet City Jumpers flyball record, with Pax / Ezri / Indigo / Goose running a 16.08 on Saturday afternoon.  I'm really going to miss my friends and racing with their dogs - it was certainly one hell of an experience to run on a team that was consistently breaking 16 for a whole weekend.  That's something the region up here has never seen, at least not with local clubs/dogs competing, as the current fastest club time is a 15.99 that was run last July.

Once we were done racing on Sunday, Ezri and Indigo were more than happy to climb into their crate for the trip back to the house where we were staying.  Pax sat out the last half of the day, so the other four dogs ran 15 heats without a break (3 races of 5/5), plus Ezri and a dog on another club decided to compete intensely and they both false-started a lot in the last two races due to that competition.

Ezri was very, very tired but wouldn't settle completely until I was showered and ready for bed - then she completely passed out and I don't think she moved until Monday morning!


Our friends' house has a short walk and a steep flight of steps up to a reservoir above their neighborhood, which provided a great place to swim after we arrived on Friday afternoon.

On Monday morning before we left, we went to a nearby state park and took a short trail walk so that Sue could see some of the incredible trees that we have in this part of the country.  This one had originally fallen across the trail and had been cut in half, and the hollowed-out halves made for great photo opportunities for the dogs!


This tree was very artistic, as the new tree was growing out of the old rotten trunk of the original tree.  I quite liked how the roots wrapped around the trunk in curves, it is very graceful.

Finally, we saw some trillium in bloom - a rare occurrence, given that the plant is uncommon even around here.  There were of course many other lovely sights, including a stream and some time spent watching a pair of bald eagles, but this will do for now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

spring at least, one would hope so...

The weather seems to have finally started a shift away from cold and wet and towards a drier, warmer space - it was 67F on my ride home from work on Monday, and over 50F when I rode to work yesterday morning.  Of course, now a new storm has wandered our way and it was about 36F on my way in today, but I will firmly cling to hope that we are finally moving towards spring.  After all, we've had less rain than the weather forecasters have called for over the past few days, so maybe we're getting there!

Curzon continues to be his own awesome self, completely oblivious to any surgery, pain, or rehab that happened just mere weeks ago.  The photo above was taken last week at eight weeks post-op, and really there's nothing more to say beyond "it's like it never happened."  His mentality, behavior, mannerisms, and even his fur (well, almost) are just as they were before that fateful day when I found a lump on his rib.  Right now I think he's frustrated with us because we're being cautious about his return to flyball, as even though he'll be competing at the May 5/6 tournament we haven't let him hit the flyball box yet.  That will come this weekend, however, as he did more jumping drills last week as well as some wall work and passed both with flying colors.

Chris has been gone on a business trip for a while, and while he's been away I've been having one of the dogs sleep with me at night on a blanket on his side of the bed.  I need to wash the duvet anyway, so I figure it's fair enough.  I'm sleeping much better since I started doing that, as I know that whichever of the two dogs who sleep with me (Curzon on weekdays, Ezri on the weekend) will wake up and alert me if something happens.  I'm a very deep sleeper, so I think I was subconsciously keeping myself almost-awake the night or two that I slept without one of the dogs, which meant the next day was pretty rough.  I took the 9 weeks post-op picture above on the blanket that Curzon's been sleeping on - he makes funny faces when I try to take pictures of him before breakfast.

Last Sunday, April 1, was the day we've chosen as Jadzia's birthday - and this year that marked her tenth birthday.  Despite aging and developing a few extra special border collie tics, namely anxiety and possibly a touch of dementia already, Jadzia is still a lovely dog to have around the house and a wonderful pet.  She is the reason we ended up playing flyball and with Curzon and Ezri, so no matter what I will always be grateful to her for bringing me down this road.  Happy 10th birthday, babydoll - Jadzia HIC CGC NDD-R TFE-II FGDCh50k.

On Saturday I took Curzon and Ezri to the nearby dog pool, where they get to jump into the water and swim for their tennis balls.  Curzon was much happier to be here this time, instead of the boring old therapy pool where I make him swim in circles without much jumping!

With Chris gone, I've been having quite a few gluten-filled meals since I don't have to worry about cooking for him as well.  This is the most adorable chicken pot pie I bought from the farmers' market last weekend, which I baked for dinner last night.  It is delicious, and is full of all kinds of things, plus it has a tiny chicken cutout in the crust - what's not to like?  I'm looking forward to having the rest of it for dinner tonight.

On Saturday my friend Michael came over and we cooked dinner together, with him choosing and making a recipe of pork chops in a red wine and garlic reduction and me making mashed potatoes and asparagus to go along with it.  The pork chops were absolutely delightful...yum...I will have to make them again for Chris to enjoy at some point.

This weekend I am traveling with Ezri and friends to Victoria island for a UFLI flyball tournament.  This will be the last time I get to run with Ezri's sister Indigo, so it will be both fun and sad for me.  I'm really looking forward to it, however, despite the way-too-early start we have to make on Friday to make the ferry from Anacortes!