No one woke me up when September ended!

But seriously, that Green Day song has been the bane of my birthday for YEARS now. Oddly enough, no one mentioned it this year. This was finally the year I was allowed to sleep through September ending. Wild. So, what’s been happening?

Well, for starters we have a new and furry family member in our house! Her name is Ophelia and she’s the prettiest kitty in Colchester. (Significant Otter will argue the prettiest ever.) She spent the first week in our house hiding behind the sofa, and the next two only hanging out with us when we were sitting. Nowadays, she goes where she pleases and loves hanging out with us. This does lead to some comedic moments, like this morning when she accidentally fell in the laundry basket and nearly destroyed it getting out. However, she came out unscathed and came to purr on M’s legs whilst he tried to sleep a little longer.

I’ve also been on a bit of a museum binge (Surprising, I know.) recently and been to some new ones. My colleague managed to score some tickets to the Bart’s Pathology Museum, which is only open a few times a year. It’s a room filled with jars of human bits and skeletal remains. Basically, it’s disgusting and fascinating in the same go, and each jar has a little blurb of information on it, so you could easily spend a lot longer than your allocated hour there. It was originally used by the university as a teaching collection, but now the room is only ever used for exams. M says he’s sat some there and was wholly unimpressed. I loved it. Unsurprisingly, they don’t let you take close up photos of the specimens, but you can take room-wide shots. The room itself is cool just for its architecture.

Next was a staff field trip to our satellite museum in Tring. Someone described it to us before going as a Dead Zoo, and that’s actually a pretty apt description. Not in a terrible way, but I wouldn’t go if you have issues with taxidermy. It’s a small museum, but absolutely stuffed to the gills with specimens, and really helpful and friendly staff. Tring is a bit out of the way, but it’s definitely worth a stop. We got a fascinating backstage tour of the collections, and saw more eggs and bird remains in one room than I’ve probably ever seen alive in one area. They’ve got one of the best and most diverse collections for each, so if you’re researching birds, you’ll likely end up in the little town of Tring.

After a museum binge, I had two different work trips through September. First was the ToScA 2017 meeting, in which I had to give a talk on my work with the blue whale. It was only slightly terrifying, and I think it ended up okay. Over the three days, I met a load of interesting new people, learned some new tips and tricks in the tomography world, heard some cool new work going on, and got to have dinner on the HMS Warrior – the first ironclad ship built in 1860!

Towards the end of the month, I got to fly on one of the few uncanceled RyanAir flights up to Edinburgh to attend a Standing Up for Science workshop. While there, I learned all about working with the media as a scientist and how best to get work across to someone who will inherently not know what the topic is on. It was a really handy course, and I met even more cool people in varied fields with some fascinating works. It was a good month for meeting people! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to wander Edinburgh as I’d hoped, and was on the last flight of the evening home for a weekend with the family.

Towards the end of September of course, is my birthday! I was working late on the actual day, but the Saturday morning M and I had a nice lie in and then wandered over to the nearby village of Coggeshall. It was such a cool place, with over 300 listed buildings and two National Trust sites. I spent the day blissfully looking at old things, and my beloved M came along for the ride, enjoying a scone with me in the garden of the Paycocke’s House and a pint of beer at the medieval pubs I had earmarked. We ended the adventures with dinner at one of the pubs, which had a steak so good that I think we would both gladly go back the 13 miles to have it again. The weather behaved, my gifts from everyone were fabulous, and it was all in all a really good day.

Sunday morning began October, and with it my Sober October challenge. I’ve signed up to be sober for the entire month in order to raise money for the cancer support charity Macmillan. It’s a great cause and a good reason to give up alcohol for the month. I suspect by the end of it I will be a bit healthier and Macmillan will have a bit more to put towards helping people whilst they fight cancer. I’ll be taking donations all month, alongside of sorry looking photos of me in pubs with friends and a soft drink in my hand, so if you feel charitable, donate a pint’s worth to the cause. 🙂

And most recently, there was the car wreck outside of the Natural History Museum that had everyone in a tizzy. Turned out to be just a really bad taxi driver, and nobody had serious injuries. I wasn’t even at work when it happened as it was on a Saturday, and got woken up from a nap with my phone blowing up to ask if I’m okay. Grumpy yes, but okay. Honestly though, don’t let these things put you off coming to London. It’s a wild city with so much to offer. And if you want to see us here at the NHM, we’ve still got the Whales exhibition open where you can stand next to a flipper for a sense of perspective – and the ice rink will be opening soon!

All in all, it’s turning into a fine autumnal season. I’m looking forward to seeing what October will hold. 🙂

 

— Kate

Hidden Places: Castle Combe

Still lurking about in the Cotswolds, may I direct you to visit the little village of Castle Combe? This one is about 5 miles northwest of Chippenham, and is located in two parts. There is the narrow valley of the Bybrook River, where most of the chocolate box cottages live, and an Upper Castle Combe on higher ground where a modern motor racing circuit can be found. For today, we’ll be walking down into the lower portion.

If you’re coming in hopes of a castle, I’m afraid it’s long gone now. However, the 14th century market cross still stands, as well as two of the old village water pumps. In the same area you can also see some old stone steps near the cross that were used by horse riders to mount and dismount.

The village reached its economic height in the 15th century whilst under the guidance of Millicent, wife of Sir Stephen Le Scrope, and then Sir John Fastolf, who was the lord of the manor for nearly 50 years afterwards. The wool industry brought a lot of wealth across England, and did so in this village as well. In this case, Sir John Fastolf made a killing by supplying wool for Henry V’s war in France. Because of this business boom, most of the buildings that you can still see today are from the 15th century, with a few older buildings such as the Church of St Andrew built in the 13th century.

Castle Combe was once used for filming the musical rendition of Doctor Doolittle in 1967, and the residents became so irritated with the producers mucking about with their village that they attempted to sabotage the entire thing. Between the locals and the constant rain, the production had a rough go of it. It appears that filming shied away from the village for a few decades, but most recently it’s been seen in the movie War Horse and in an episode of Downton Abbey.

If you want to visit today, there’s a car park at the top of the hill. Be sure to bring your umbrella though, as it’s a decent enough walk and you’ll regret it otherwise. (We managed it!)  There’s a lovely inn you can stay in if you’d like a quiet weekend, and a couple of pubs to visit – of course. Apparently there used to be a little local museum, but my sources tell me that it’s been shut for a few years now. Pity! Regardless, it’s a lovely day trip, and I intend to go back sometime when we have more than a few minutes gap between rain showers.

 

— Kate

 

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

First major museum field trip! We were given a section at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival alongside a good handful of colleagues from around the museum. Our demonstrations were on 3D surface scanning and creating 3D images and prints within the Natural History Museum. But first, I had to get there.

Had a bit of a hiccup Wednesday evening. I had already intended on doing half a day in the office and then heading back up to Chelmsford on the train so M and I could drive down. Unfortunately, either I straight up lost my season ticket holder or someone nicked it. Regardless, I ended up halfway to Liverpool Street Station via the District Line before I realised what had happened. Apparently if you come up to the station staff at the barrier gates with a concerned look on your face and tell them you’ve lost your Oyster card, they’re really pretty helpful. Greater Anglia, not so much. The lady at the desk was lovely enough, but unlike TfL they won’t just replace your lost/stolen card. Even though it’s a SmartPass and all the details are saved in the system that prove it’s me. They were kind enough to freeze the card and let me buy a single ticket home. Ugh.

Thankfully, the monthly passes were both set to expire before I got back from travelling anyway, so that wasn’t too awful. Even better, my manager is a saint and let me work from home for the half day. Probably for the best, as we were definitely not packed the night before in any useful amounts. Eventually, the significant otter left the hospital and we packed up the car to drive the 4.5 hours to Lyme Regis.

The drive was gloriously uneventful and we made it in around 10 pm. Everyone else was already at the cottage and set up, so we all caught up and then headed to bed. It was due to be a busy day the next day.

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The view from our cottage room Friday morning.

The next morning was our schools day. Constant streams of small children in washes of different coloured uniforms poured through the doors. Most had the level of excitement and attention you’d expect at that age, but some were genuinely thrilled by the prospect of 3D and microscopes. It’s a beautiful moment to watch the beginnings of a small scientist. 🙂

M had of course come down with me, but obviously wasn’t part of the museum so enjoyed a nice lie in and a wander around the town while the rest of us were up at the Fossil Festival location. At lunchtime I got a break and he and I wandered around together and enjoyed the distinct lack of rain (It’s either full on or off at the English coast. I’m convinced there’s no in between.). This year, the Fossil Festival was being held across the town rather than in one location, so we went to see what other groups were doing, between strolling the beach and eating chips cautiously. (Seriously, the seagulls were downright predatory if you weren’t careful.)

It was a trip to the pub after the event wrapped up for the night and a game of skittles, then a slog up the 14% incline of a hill back to our cottage. (Views like that don’t come for nothing!) The next day was our busiest day of the weekend, and we went out in full force. We scanned objects from fossils to children’s wellies, and showed 3D images from microscopic to full size. The public engagement and honest excitement and interest was fantastic. We guessed from rough estimates that we had probably 230 people come and chat with us.

There was a brief lull around lunchtime, probably due to the lovely weather and hungry children. That was quickly rectified though with an inflatable T. rex costume and a walk down the pier. People seem to want to know where a dinosaur and giggling museum staff are headed. Who would have guessed?

Before we all set off for another trip to another pub for food, it was mandatory for me to go see the grave of Mary Anning. You see, Mary Anning was one of the pioneers in fossil collecting and helped to change the views on what prehistoric life even was. Of course, she was ignored in her own time, despite her accomplishments, and didn’t even get a grave to herself. Instead, she is buried with her brother. Still, she was a really interesting lady that you should read into if you have a free moment. She is the “she sells seashells on the seashore” inspiration behind the tongue twister!

The evening was spent roving the town with my colleagues and M, eventually ending up at a party held at the house of a local fossil collector. I’m still not entirely sure how so many people ended up in such as small area, but it was a riot of a time. Because I am an old lady, M and I bowed out around midnight for home. Most of the rest of the crew didn’t come home until gone 2ish, from what I was told. And who says scientists are boring?

IMG_4488The final day dawned and we all managed to arrive in mostly one piece. Our scanning did get a bit silly as the day went on, but the public seemed to rather enjoy it. I mean really, who doesn’t like a pork pie – digital or real? (Okay okay, maybe just me. But it was good fun!)

It was throwing down sheets of drizzle all day, so having a nice walk at break time was a bit out of the question. At that point though, I was too tired and cold to want more than caffeine and dry shoes. Lesson learned for next year – prepare to get by on a lot less sleep than usual.

At the end of it all though, we all cleared up the location and headed out for one last night on the town with the NHM crew. It was a lovely bonding moment for all of us, and I can see why people come back again and again to do it. I think I may need the year to recover, but it’d be good fun to go back again next time! Now hang on until next week and I’ll tell you about how we got in the car and drove straight for the coasts of the other end of the country.

— Kate

Christmas 2016

Christmas snuck up much quicker this year. Suppose it helps being employed! However, M and I were quite pleased to have all the presents wrapped and accounted for BEFORE Christmas Eve. We were even packed up and ready to travel before strictly necessary. It was wild.

There were also all the Christmas parties in the world to go to during December. At least it felt like it. (Not a complain by the way!) So maybe that’s what made it feel like it was coming up so quickly. So many opportunities to wear my reindeer antler headband. Looking back, I can see why my jeans were so tight by New Year’s.

The husband had work until Christmas Eve, so we left the evening of and headed out to Tetbury. It was nothing short of miraculous that we managed to get our luggage, all the presents, and ourselves into the Little Red Mini, but it was accomplished!

It did make for a bit of a laugh when we finally arrived at the in-laws around midnight and added our presents to the pile. Seems everyone was feeling extra festive this year. After we got everything in the house, we snuck up to bed to get a few hours sleep before the youngest in the family woke up to Christmas magic. We almost made it until 7 am.

Gift opening took less time this year than last, but it was mostly due to a new opening system. That and everyone looked like they could use a nap before Christmas dinner. Post-present, post-nap, we all got dressed up nicely and came down for the Christmas feast. All the traditional foods were served, including the ever misunderstood Brussels sprouts.

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In case you wondered what they looked like in the wild.

Dinner concluded, the annual Christmas game began. It goes as thus – wrapped presents appear on the table. Everyone picks a number out of a bowl. Depending on the year, the person with the highest or lowest seems to go first. They pick a present, but don’t open it. The numbers go around with everyone picking a present in order. Then they’re all opened and the real game starts.

Unlike other varieties of this game that you will see, the family rule is that it continues until everyone is happy with their gift and no one else swaps for an entire round. This makes what could otherwise be a 20 minute game into a two hour event. Keep in mind, these are not high ticket items, but you’d be amazed the bargaining power of a cat head timer or a pack of wooden spoons. Bargaining and pleaded was completed, and we all headed to the living room for the evening.

The next day was Boxing Day. Tradition in this house is to do a cold cut spread, and this year it was EPIC. Keep in mind, there were twelve adults present, but there were still bits to nibble on the next morning.

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After two days in the house, M and I really needed to go for a walk, so we took a joy ride over to Cirencester and wandered the town. He ended up being dragged into the Corinium Museum to satisfy my never ending need to see old things along the way, but handled it admirably.

We did have a time frame to stick to though, as we were due at his aunt and uncle’s house for the belated Boxing Day party and (this year) murder mystery dinner!

After Boxing Day festivities, it all went quiet in the Cotswolds as we relished in that limbo period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Most of the family headed out to Manchester to celebrate the youngest’s birthday, but we stayed behind as M had to be back at work too soon to allow it.

He did however plan to meet up with his friend from Leeds, who was currently in the area visiting his family. He went out to pick him up from the nearby town and I hung around the house, figuring I’d give them some male bonding time. Little did we know just how long they’d be gone.

I never quite got the same story out of both of them, but from what I gather, they were about 3 miles away from the house with groceries in the back of the car when suddenly M either overcorrected or just didn’t see it, but managed to hit a pothole. I only wish I could see this pothole, because the damage it did not only shredded the tyre, but upset the wheel too.

So the boys got to sit on the side of the road for about 2 hours as one AA van came out and agreed that the tyre couldn’t be reinflated, then a tow truck followed along to get them back. When they got to the street, the truck couldn’t go down it, so they had to take the poor limping Mini off the back of it and slowly drive it to his parents’ house.

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The poor car. 😦

The next morning, we got to call every tyre place in the region to find someone who could not only replace a tyre, but also a wheel. In Christmas holidays.

Miraculously, one was found that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, and we headed out only a day later than intended. It’s not a holiday without something happening now is it? 😛

Thankfully, the journey home was uneventful and the overall festive period was much enjoyed!

 

— Kate

Trip to Padstow (Autumn 2016)

‘Twas the night before half term and all through the house…

What are we kidding? There are probably children stampeding across the house because they’re about to have a week of holiday off school.

M and I do not have any children, so this isn’t the case in our own home per se, but we do have a young nephew for whom it matters. In order for the whole clan to get together outside of Christmas, it’s easiest to do so on school holidays. Plans were made, and it was decided that we’d all go down to Padstow together.

5:45 AM rolled around on a Saturday morning and we were up and out the door from Chelmsford. We needed to meet the familial caravan of cars in the Cotswolds, which is why we were awake at such unholy hours.

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A visual interpretation of the mood felt at that moment.

We drove straight through towards Reading where Mat wanted to get some breakfast. He swears it was because it was the first service station that was far enough from the M25 around London to avoid traffic. I suspect it may have been because I was reading all the roadsigns for cities and towns and spouting off information about Anglo-Saxon battles and medieval history and he needed to distract me.

We arrived with time to spare and took a nap whilst the rest of the family gathered their belongings together and prepared to drive down tiny Cornish country roads. Before you guffaw and think it’s no big deal, you really need to google Cornish roads. Unless you’ve lived out there, it’s terrifying. Not only are they narrow and windy with blind turns, but the hedges are hiding the fact that stone walls lie underneath them. No easy brush with a bush in Cornwall, so drive carefully!

We arrived after some of the clan at our cottage for the week. If you want something in the middle of it all, I’d recommend the Sail Loft. However, it is quite literally above a shop in the middle of the main pedestrian way, so be prepared to have some folks think you’re opening a shop door and try to follow you in the flat!

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Looking away from the harbour, right up the street from our rental.

After everyone arrived and settled in, we all went out to dinner at Rick Stein’s Fish & Chips. It’s still just as phenomenal as I remembered it being! After driving over four hours to get there, we called it a night after food and headed home.

The next day was Sunday, so of course we needed to go to a pub for a proper Sunday roast. Continuing our Rick Stein’s trend, we all headed over to his pub in the nearby village of St Merryn, The Cornish Arms. The food took a bit to arrive, but there was more than enough of it once it was there. On the way out I took a moment to dash across the country lane and get a few photos of the church across the road. There’s been a church there since before the Norman conquest, but the current building is post-conquest, at around 1260. I only had a few moments before my ride wanted to leave, but it made for a lovely scene.

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After lunch it was decided that an educational lobster tour was what was needed, so a portion of us headed over to see the National Lobster Hatchery. I was excited, as this was closed last time we were there.

The hatchery has been open for 16 years and exists as a charity with focus on conservation, research, and education on the European lobster. Inside, we got to see the life cycle of a lobster, as well as current live examples in each stage. We even got to meet Anna, the blue lobster! This was all very exciting for the wee one in our group, who left with a plastic lobster grabbing claw and a host of new facts about lobsters to tell the rest of the group.

Being an educational facility, they offered Adopt a Lobster programmes. It did say they’d ship your certificate internationally, so I adopted one for my mom’s classroom of primary school kids. Apparently they were over the moon about it and my mom had to give them lobster updates on a weekly basis for awhile. Best £5 purchase of the trip!

It was a relaxed day afterwards with much mulling about and sampling of the pubs around the harbour. Ended up at home in a few rounds of card games, then suddenly it was morning again and we were off to St. Austell to tour the brewery.

St Austell Brewery isn’t really a microbrewery, but I don’t think you’ll find them much outside of the UK. It’s a shame as the brews are phenomenal. You’ll find at least one variety at every pub in the area, and even back in Chelmsford we’ve been able to find at least some of their major labels. The brewery was founded in 1851 and has been running (with some modernisation) ever since. Their main beer is Tribute Ale, which accounts for about 80% of their sales. The fantastic part is that Tribute was originally made as a one off batch to commemorate the 1999 solar eclipse and was then called Daylight Robbery. It turned out to be so wildly popular that they renamed it and have permanently produced it since. They continue the tradition of special brews all the time, so who knows what might come out of Cornwall next? In honour of all our new knowledge, we of course headed to a pub when we got back to Padstow.

It absolutely dumped rain in torrents all day, so most of the rest of the day was laid back. The next morning however, the rains had abated and the sun was shining beautifully. The weather just seems to do this in Cornwall – pelting rain or glorious sun, no in between. We all took the chance and got on the ferry over across the harbour to Rock, where we all had a stroll through the beachy sand and shrubs. Our shortest member of the group even braved a quick swim in the cold Atlantic waters.

The rain clouds then started forming overhead, so we all made our way back to the ferry and back to Padstow for another relaxed afternoon.

Deciding that relaxed days are no way to spend a holiday, we took that Wednesday as a chance to drive out to Tintagel Castle, along more of those exciting roads I mentioned earlier.

The castle is a medieval fortification built by the 1st Earl of Cornwall in the 13th century. However, the island outcropping has evidence of settlement as far back as the Romano-British period. The site actually started as a tourist destination first in the 19th century, with archaeological excavations happening afterwards. In the 1930s these continuing excavations found the earlier Romano-British evidence in the form of a small high status settlement.

This place has a long association with the legends of King Arthur. It was in the 12th century that the first mention of Tintagel as Arthur’s birthplace appears in the work by Geoffrey of Monmouth. In his story Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon, was disguised by Merlin’s sorcery to look like Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, the husband of Igraine, Arthur’s mother.

What all of this doesn’t tell you is just how sheer the cliff is and how much climbing of stairs and hills you will do to get to these ruins. It’s breathtaking (in more than one way) and totally worth the trip, but wear good shoes and pack something to drink. There’s a reason this island was such a great fortification site.

And with this we pretty much reached the end of our holidays. We spent one more day enjoying the food and views of Padstow, then headed back to the busy East of England.

Pros of travelling in half term: Get to see the whole family at once and spend time together.

Cons of travelling in half term: The entirety of England also travels to spend time with their families at the exact same time as you. A predicted 3.5 hour journey turned into a 5 hour one.

When it was all said and done though, it was a lovely get together in a gorgeous spot, and there was even some great news by the end of it! Stay tuned until next post to find out more on that. 😉

 

— Kate

 

 

New Car! (Autumn 2016)

Whilst M has been legal to drive since this last summer (Hooray for passing the driving test!), we’d been so busy that he hadn’t been able to actually acquire a car to use with said licence. That was rectified at the beginning of October when he bought his mum’s old car. We are now the proud caretakers of a fabulously British little red Mini!

M’s travel time to work was reduced, and we could now drive out to Sainsbury’s for our groceries on a bi-weekly basis rather than relying on a big grocery delivery once a week and sporadic runs to the nearby Tesco.

This also means it’s so much easier to get to see friends and relatives across the country, of which you will see in later posts!

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The Little Red Mini will become a solid companion over the next few months, with a few good stories revolving around it as well. 🙂

 

— Kate

Back to America, Part Two (Summer 2016)

So we left off with the husband and I travelling back up to Salt Lake City and civilisation in general last post. That will be short lived. But first, we get to see my parents again! Mom and Dad came to rescue us from the airport and take us back to theirs’. (After a quick stop for lunch and a venture around the nearby Super Target of course.)

Man, going back to my parents’ house felt like no time had passed at all, but in the same vein I was coming back after a year gone and now with a husband in tow. Still, all changes were good changes, and it was fantastic to see everyone again! We passed on offerings of Percy Pigs and Jaffa cakes, and Dad made some delicious chicken enchiladas for dinner. We capped off the night by hanging out in the new pseudo-pub my parents have built in their basement. Seriously, it’s awesome.

The next afternoon M’s parents arrived in town to see the sights before we all came back to my parents’ for the big party in a few days time. When in the region, you absolutely have to go and see Yellowstone National Park, so that’s what we planned to do. Tuesday morning we all piled in a car and headed up to Wyoming/Montana.

The first day was a mosey about the western side of the park, following the river and the hot springs at the edge of the caldera. We ended the day by driving to Cooke City, Montana and having dinner on the Main Street before heading to our rental cabin for the evening to relax and play some card games. By the end of the night, you could start to see visible withdrawal symptoms from the internet and phone service from M.

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The next morning we went in with more focus on what to see, only to be further stalled by the copious amount of bison on the roads. The attitude towards seeing bison in the wild changed vastly from the beginning to the end of this journey. They are majestic creatures though, even if they insist on standing in the middle of the road.

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We continued our waterways trend, but this time went to the famed Yellowstone Canyon, for which the park is named. The walls of the canyon have a distinct yellow hue to them. M and I separated from the pack and wandered down a trail on the side of the canyon, which looking back on it now may not have actually been an official trail. It was nice enough though until we found the way barred by fallen trees. From there we turned around and had to get back to the vehicle in order to see our next point – Old Faithful!

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Old Faithful is indeed pretty faithful, but its timing has changed due to earthquakes in the area over the years. Since 2000, it erupts about every 45 minutes to 2 hours. The nearby Old Faithful Inn has signs posted outdoors with approximate times for the day. The geyser isn’t the tallest in the park, but its eruptions can shoot  3,700-8,400 US gallons of hot water up to 106-185 feet in the air for about 2-5 minutes.

The Old Faithful Inn is an attraction unto itself once you’ve witnessed the geyser go off. It’s the largest log hotel in the world and has a massive stone fireplace in the main hall. It was originally constructed in 1903-1904 and was advertised for having electric lights and steam heat. It offers all that and paid wifi these days, which I witnessed M seriously considering at the time. We distracted him with ice cream cones from the shop off the lobby and headed back to the cabin. Slowly. Through a herd of bison. Dinner, you will be glad to hear, had free wifi included.

Thursday we popped into a Main Street cafe for breakfast and then drove into the Mammoth Hot Springs area. We admired the features of the massive buildup from slow geyser growth, as well as a moose roaming the village. Feeling quite enough outdoors for the time being and needing to get home to help Mom finish setting up for the party, we headed back after a quick lunch stop.

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And now, you must wait in further suspense to hear what this epic party was all about – unless of course you were there. In which case, shhh. I’ll tell it next week!

 

— Kate