Saturday, 17 September 2016

It's gourd to be back

Unlike in my homeland, around here you're safe from being assaulted by Christmas carols in the shops in September.  Because why skip over some heartwarming family holidays/commercial opportunities?  Halloween and Thanksgiving keep the Yuletide spirit at bay, which is all to the good if - like me - you think Scrooge should have stuck to his principles.

That said, it's not even the autumnal equinox and already pumpkins are everywhere.  I ordered my first PSL in Starbucks a couple of weeks ago, and Safeway is already chock full of pumpkin spice [insert any product here].  I'm even thinking of dyeing my hair to match this season's trend.  With several weeks to Halloween, pumpkin fatigue is a real threat.

But not in the Davies household!  Today we went to the "preview weekend" at the East Coast's premiere pumpkin producer: Cox Farms.  We visited more than once last year, but as Hannah has spent twelve months complaining about the bits we didn't get to see we were compelled to return for a full 10am-6pm day, to get our money's worth.

The place is something of a local institution, shown by the number of fellow passengers on the hayride who knew exactly what was coming next.  "Oh, the aliens have got lightsabers this year," was a typical comment.  But repetition did not diminish enjoyment, as Pete was joined by Charlie, Izzie and Virginia on every slide, swing, and climbing frame, a hundred times each, until there was total toddler collapse.

So the opening salvo of squashes has been successfully navigated, and I have no doubt that, as the holiday season progresses, we will be back.  Especially on the last day, when every pumpkin of any size is $5 and I have to find some way of topping last year's Thanksgiving centerpiece.  Thank the Great Pumpkin for my early wake-up call.

The pumpkin...

...and the spice.

Aliens have crash-landed on the farm again, just like last year!  What are the chances?

The lake is still occupied too.

Around the farm sit tractors, taunting "is your tetanus shot up-to-date?"  This is a Fordson, possibly a 1917 Model F, probably priceless with a lick of paint.

Ah, the famous wave slide.

And the half-buried motorcycle.

They also have animals on the farm.

Oh, and ultra-violet rooms dotted around.  It's hard to really give a flavour of this place...


Jack acts as a launch engine for Charlie.

Tracey and Virginia follow.

Then it became apparent that the adults could just stand half-way up and let the kids run themselves ragged.

Into the Cornundrum.

More blacklight rooms.  This one was a tunnel that spins around.  What exactly are they growing on this farm?

Little pumpkins.

Rope swing.

A second hayride, this time with even more hay.

There was a time when selfies were cool.  Not for today's kids.

Autumn ice lolly.

Too soon?  Obviously not.

And the best thing about pumpkins.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Hitting the canvas

At some point in history, someone said: "Hey!  Let's leave behind these safe, comfortable houses we've just invented and spend time in a tent like our pre-evolutionary ancestors!  For fun!"  The name of this individual is not recorded, presumably because his friends dropped him into a very deep, very dark hole, but his influence lives on and was keenly felt this weekend when we went camping.

Now, camping in the USA is much easier than in the UK.  Most tents here aren't even waterproof, because who would go out when water is falling from the sky?  We chose Pohick Bay to visit, together with Tracey and Virginia, because it had air-conditioned showers, and mini-golf, and a marina.  Which almost made up for having to leave behind the essentials of life like wi-fi and espresso machines.

The only real discomfort was having to sleep in 95F heat.  It has never been 95F at night in the UK, and the experience was like trying to doze in warm soup.  I even removed my socks in bed!  There were the bugs too - spiders and ants, some the size of small cats, roaming around as if they owned the place and constantly threatening to drag the old and infirm away.

In the end no harm was done, beyond several cuts and bruises to Pete that had his teachers asking me exactly what we'd got up to this weekend.  My enthusiasm for camping was actually somewhat revived, which is nice given how far back my scouting days now are.  Do they still do "father and son" camps?  Would anyone object if I took my espresso machine?

Before we pitched our tents we paddled out into Pohick Bay.

Hannah looking epic in her kayak.

Us looking less epic on our pedalo.

Some people on the campsite put up the tents.  Others...

...lazed around.

Kids can entertain each other when they're older!  This is amazing.

Virginia the pirate.

A round of golf before dinner.

One of Europe's wildcards in this year's Ryder Cup.

Dinner time!

Give a child a glowstick and they won't stop moving.

Time for smores!  Over the gas, because we didn't really need a fire given the weather.


Father and son camp.

Next morning.  Don't worry, we didn't make them sleep in here.

A discussion about breakfast.

And the result!  Camping's not too bad, is it?

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Group hug

It's at difficult times that you value the support and wisdom your friends offer.  I called Vince.  "Pete's at school!  I don't know what to do with my life!" I told him.  "Let's go for a beer," he said.

Long ago, in the mists of Berkeley, there was only one location decent folks went to enjoy a cold beer or five at lunchtime - The Hotsy Totsy.  Everybody who was anybody ended up there at some point, and the main draw (apart from the tasteful pictures of crying clowns and $3 beer) was the shuffleboard table.  Could we possibly find a similar venue out here, so far from the beloved Left Coast?

Somewhat unfeasibly, the Marriott Hotel in Tyson's Corner claimed to have a shuffleboard table.  I arranged to meet Vince there, and while shuffleboard should never be played before sundown they did have a nice table set off in a little atrium giving uninterrupted views of flight crews alighting from their buses from Dulles airport.  The place had about as much character as a hotel lobby because...well, but the food was good and the table demonstrated none of the "character" of the Hotsy's somewhat abused surface.

The outcome of the game is not important.  What is important is time spent with a good, wise friend while I'm trying to find my way in the world.  "Loser!" shouted Vince as he sped away, waving the traditional Yorktown Cup trophy out of his car window.  But what he was really saying was "I'll always be here for you."  Weren't you.

The precision, the balance, the smell of stale beer.

You can choose your friends...unless you live 3,000 miles from home, then you just have to put up with whoever's nearest.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Seven days, one weak

The vacation finished strongly, with a Labor Day trip to Oxon Hill Farm - a national park that highlights agricultural practices of years gone by (although there were several distinctly modern tractors parked up - perhaps they're all 2015 models).  Normally there's some chicken wrangling but Mr Foxey visited the chickens last week and they are now...well, ex-chickens.  We met Tracey and Virginia in this rustic idyll before scooting off to the nearby National Harbor, which is a nice big urban shopping mall.  They're building a massive MGM casino here too, which will keep my Dad happy when he visits.

And then Tuesday morning arrived, with the emotional overload of going to school inevitably acted out in an upset tummy, tears and tantrums.  Pete was very understanding but eventually lost patience with me, because my crying was "embarrassing him in front of his friends".  Kids these days.

So here I am for the first time in three-and-a-half years with free time, possibly having to achieve something with my life!  The depths of this existential crisis cannot be overstated.  I think I can even get a work permit and look for a job (Starbucks is always hiring).  Or maybe I can finally write that great American novel I've been toying with for years - agents can get in touch at the usual address.  Either way this all needs some serious reflection, possibly an attempt to "find myself" in a far-away, exotic location.  Excuse me while I just ask this gin and tonic for some advice.

American pastoral.

Pete grinds the corn.

And then in walks a tall dark stranger.

On the wagon ride.  Tractor rather than horse-drawn.

Pete and Virginia line up with the animals...

...but machines are much more fun.

Checking out the cow.

And then sitting on one, at Ben & Jerry's!

Friday, 2 September 2016

I've been expecting you, Commander...

When Hannah promoted me from Deputy Domestic Adviser to Executive Home Assistant it was done with little fanfare, ceremony, or pay rise.  Thankfully the military does these things a little more honourably, as Pete and I discovered when we attended Jack's promotion today.  Many moons ago we'd been privileged to go to Vince's promotion - would the navy outdo the army in such things?

It started well when the location was announced as the Naval Observatory.  Not just a fine and historic setting but also the official residence of the Vice President!  Then it started to go badly when we got to the gate and I was informed that, due to my foreign status, I needed a escort.  OK, I thought.  I guess it'll be nice to parade in with a military entourage befitting my rank (Corporal, school cadet force).  But no, I just had to wait for Amanda to turn up and vouch for me.  If all they needed was a US citizen I should have shown them Pete.

Once inside we mingled with the great and good of the navy, perusing the display cabinets that included the medals won for discovering the moons of Mars and several displays about time.  It seems that time is important for navigation or something, and the Observatory sets it for GPS everywhere.  Yes, your phone can tell you where to go because Jack allows it!  I thought the only time that mattered aboard ship was when the sun was above the yardarm and you could enjoy the first rum of the day, but no.

Jack's brother, a battalion officer himself, conducted the ceremony, which included unpinning of previous rank (Lieutenant Commander) and pinning on of new one (Commander - like James Bond).  Then there were drinks - of course - in the Observatory lobby, and then more drinks in an Irish pub in town.  I stumbled away before more drinks at their house began.

So congratulations Jack!  With Murnanes and Muckers in the military I can sleep soundly in my bed at night.  I think.  Anyway, Jack's next post might be here in DC still, or in Mississippi, or in Hawaii.  Perhaps I'll put in a call to the Secretary of Defense to make sure they send him to the right place.  Cheap holidays and lava flows anyone?

Jack takes his new authority for a spin...with mixed results.

The rather fine setting.

There are some very important people here.  Besides me.

Big brother Mike flew in to make sure his little brother behaved.

Afterwards, Pete grabbed the chance to catch up on astronomical research.

Some naval equipment.  I believe they have newer ones.

OK, now this is a job I could do!  Just add a "Wasting" to the end of that title.

Um...Canadian beer gets in unhindered but a Brit needs to be escorted?!

The most powerful person in the room wasn't actually wearing a uniform.  Yet (help us!)