The Lott Year in Review 2004

Happy New Year! Once again, we were having way too much fun before Christmas to send out cards. We always love hearing from you all, though! For the first Lott Year in Review in a while, please enjoy our Q&A format (we wanted to call it a FAQ, but none of you knew to ask these questions).

1. So, how come we haven't heard from you for five years??

A fair question! If you're wondering why there's such a big gap between our last update and this one, I've got one word for you: parties!

In 1999, we decided to throw our first annual Christmas party at the loft. Now, this may not sound like a big deal, but that's because you haven't seen one of Heather's major parties. The theme was "Snowfall Party," so everything had to be themed around snow...including the tree decorations. Michael still has nightmares about shopping for ornaments at Garden Ridge at 2am Thanksgiving weekend. We hand-made about fifty invitations...they were hand-cut snowflakes, hand lettered, and each vellum envelope had a teaspoon of snow "flakes" inside. Then, of course, there was the food, which Heather made enough of for fifty guests, and the party activities...all snow-themed. Guests had fun making marzipan snowmen and stenciling frost on the loft windows. So maybe you can understand why we were too exhausted to send out cards that year, right?

Well, in 2000, we decided to do it all again...this year, it was a "starlight" party, and we did just as much work as the previous year. We re-themed the blue/silver/snowy tree to a gold/silver/starry tree, made 50 pop-up invites, etc., etc. The 1999 decision to lower the stress by letting our party invites be our Christmas cards carried over.

In November 2001, the first Harry Potter movie was released, and we had a party on premiere day. Heather made standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding for ten guests, finishing with a proper English trifle. Guests snacked on licorice wands, Pumpkin Pasties, Butterbeer, pumpkin juice and Chocolate Frogs (with cards portraying their wizarding selves and wizardly bios) while challenging their HP knowledge with trivia. This left us too exhausted to think about a Christmas party, much less cards!

We did it again in 2002. When the second Harry Potter movie opened, we had a Gilderoy-Lockhart-fan-club-themed party. (And once again, we put more work into the second party!) By this time, Heather's job had gotten extremely stressful, and the commute was killing her. She pretty much had to threaten her boss to get any time off around Christmas.

This brings us to 2003. Heather got to go part-time on her job (yay!). But in November, we took a fantastic ten-day trip to Japan. When we got back, Heather's job was so crazy that even part-time, it seemed like there was no time left. Nothing at all would have been done for Christmas if Michael's job hadn't evaporated when his company folded.

2. Heather works part-time? You went to Japan?? Michael lost his job???

Whoah, at a time.

3. OK, how was Japan?

Japan was AWESOME! The people are so gracious, the scenery is spectacular, the food is wonderful, and you can get hot canned tea at any time from the copious vending machines. And cheesecake crepes from vending carts! We really think cheesecake crepes could take off big here. We spent our time in Tokyo, Hakone (near Mount Fuji), Nikko and Kyoto. We also went to the amazing Tokyo Disney Sea theme park.

We saw a lot of beautiful temple and shrine sites (Buddhist temple, Shinto shrine) all over. We learned that when you enter a Shinto shrine, you need to clap your hands a couple times before you pray so that you can "wake up" the god that's there. I had always thought one of the weirdest things we are told about God is that He is a god who never sleeps. That seemed obvious to me...but now I understand why that verse is in the Bible — it was written for those following Shintoism!

A lot of the temples and all the palaces we visited had the most amazing gardens. Any Japanese-style garden you've seen here does not prepare you for the gardens over there. We fed some proper Japnese deer that actually bow to ask for food. We actually got to see Mt. Fuji, which is pretty rare...usually she is shrouded in mist. We went at just the right time to see lots of beautiful red Japanese maples (all the best viewing sites were so crowded, but we heard it was nothing compared to cherry blossom viewing!) and also chrysanthemum displays at most temples.

We got to see a festival with a parade and performers, and bits of Kabuki, Noh (the more dignified form...think Pixar movies versus "Shrek"), and Bunraku (absolutely amazing puppetry). We also saw the original "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" monkeys, which are on a 14th century horse stable. And we got to go to an authentic tea ceremony — one group-style one during the daytime, and one fantastic one at night with only about six of us. The leader of the tea house was an amazing man who had been all over the world. He had literally been to where everyone in our group was from — Atlanta to Czechoslovakia! We even saw Godzilla! (OK, he was a lighted Christmas display character, but he was about 10 feet tall!) We also discovered Pocky, an absolutely fantastic snack. Fortunately, we can continue our addiction, as we found a place in Atlanta that carries it.

4. Do you speak Japanese?

Nope. Well, now we speak a little; enough to thank people politely and profusely and excuse our bungling mistakes. It really wasn't a problem, though. A lot of people speak enough English so that we could communicate, and all the menus have lovely pictures to which you can point. It is kind of surreal to sit down in a restaurant and not understand a word that's said to you, though. Especially when ninjas keep popping out of the walls. We did a lot of nodding and smiling.

We went on a lot of tours, all in English, run by the JTB (Japanese Travel Bureau). We can highly recommend them (and they have offices in the US). The guides were all very knowledgeable, and the staff guides you each step of the way to get on the correct bus, etc. If they put you in a taxi to go somewhere, there will be another representative waiting to meet you when you arrive. And they are always on time! In fact, even the subway is always on time. And when we say "on time," we mean down to the minute. If the schedule says the Shinkansu (bullet train) is going to arrive at 10:32 after its 90-minute trip, it arrives at 10:32...not 10:31 or 10:33! One of the best things about the tours was that Japanese people who were trying to learn English would take these tours. Also, many Europeans who did not necessarily speak English! So it was fun to not be in a group composed completely of Americans!

5. Ninjas keep popping out of the walls??

This really only happens at a restaurant called "Ninja" in Tokyo. If you go there, you MUST order dessert!! It is written on a menu made of flash paper, so your ninja server makes it disappear in a puff of smoke.

This is Heather's favorite vacation yet, even above 2002's two-week London/Paris extravaganza (of course, that could have something to do with her being bed-ridden for two days in Paris due to a super-short and weak course of antibiotics she was given in London after spending the week in an allergy-inducing hotel. Mmmmm, socialized medicine).

6. OK, back to the jobs...Michael's company tanked?

Yup. The day he went back to work after our Japan trip, they told him he didn't have a job anymore. Fortunately, he got severance pay through January and did a LOT of contracting jobs the beginning of the year.

7. And Heather was still working part-time?

Yes, until the end of the year. She quit in January because the boss reneged on all their verbal agreements. Lesson learned: no more verbals!

8. So you were both unemployed?

Yes again, and it was fantastic.

We just wish it had been warmer! As it was, we went on several trips. We spent a few days down at Disney (we had leftover park days on our passes), and we also traveled to Charleston, where we just happened to hit the weekend of their big garden tours. One of Heather's needlework shows was there at the time, so she got to take a few classes in between touring gardens. We also went on an already-planned, already-paid-for cruise with another couple, which was an absolute blast. We stopped in Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Key West.

Everything was fun except for Michael's run-in with an unidentified Carnival Cruise passenger. Remember those stories about the "sick ships" at the beginning of the year? Michael was quarantined for the last day of the cruise, so Heather had to endure the closing night's "We Are the World" spectacle without his support. Fortunately, it was "just" a 24-hour thing. And we got a free cruise club membership out of the deal. But anyway, the cruising was fantastic, and we really enjoyed our "days at sea"…there are tons of fun activities the whole time...and the awesome food! Being only one deck below the 24-hour buffet was DANGEROUS!!

9. Are you still unemployed?

Well, in April, Michael made the mistake of applying for a job, thinking it would take a few months to find one. Unfortunately, he beat out the other candidates for the first one for which he applied. The worst part was that he was still doing three contracting jobs, and his new company would not delay his starting date! It all worked out eventually, though, and he likes his new job with Online Insight. Heather is starting a contracting job in January "for three months," but we all know that might mean six months or more. This year, Heather worked on things around the loft and actually had time to cook dinner instead of ordering and nuking her way through the year. As a result, she lost a lot of the weight that she gained while working at the very stressful job. She also found out that she's a nice person when she's not stressed out all the time.

10. Any family additions?

We do have a god-daughter now! Our darling niece Natalie was adopted from China in May 2003. She is very sweet (almost all of the fact, we once thought she never shed any tears!) and loves diving from furniture and playing in the bathtub. We hope that she will take gymnastics lessons soon…she is only two and half and can already practically do a front handspring unaided!! (Sometimes it turns into just a somersault, though!) We had so much fun baby-sitting her in October (and we had NEVER baby-sat before!) that we might actually do it again!

11. So why didn't you throw a party this year?

We did, but it was in June when Harry Potter III opened. The theming was a meeting of the "National Wizard Watch Institute," a takeoff on the "National Neighborhood Watch Institute" (or "Neighborhood Watch," as you probably know it). Of course, the NWWI was starting up chapters because Sirius Black had been spotted in the area. The invitation was a four-page "Muggle Mail" edition of "The Daily Prophet." We are hard-core for sure, so we make sure we only invite people who "like" Harry Potter as in "I like to breathe."

12. So what else have you been up to this year?

We've been taking tap lessons now for about a year and a half. Michael had to give them up recently because he injured his foot, but Heather kept taking them. We now know enough to be REALLY impressed by the shows we see with tapping in them! And enough to impress people who don't know that much about tapping. :)

In June we went to New York, where we appreciated the tapping in "42nd Street" and also saw "Wicked," "Wonderful Town" and "Forbidden Broadway." We also lucked out again by being there the weekend of a free performance in one of the parks - "Broadway under the Stars"! And Heather finally got to see the Statue of Liberty in person and walk through (some of) Central Park.

Heather also got invited along to her sister's time share near Orlando (two trips to Disney in one year!!) with her sister, niece and niece's friend. Ah…still hip enough to hang out with the teenagers!

In October, Michael's parents took us to Niagara Falls for his birthday. What a fantastic present! If you think it's "just a waterfall," you are wrong. There is no way to describe the power and the beauty of seeing both falls (the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls) in person!

The very next weekend, Heather went to Louisville for another needlework retreat. This one was at the historic Seelbach Hilton, which is absolutely gorgeous. Heather ate in the same dining room where Al Capone once ate!

We enjoyed visiting with friends and family that came in town. We also got a membership to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and have enjoyed seeing the orchids change, seeing the "corpse flower" that only blooms once every 90 years, and seeing Chihuly's glass displays in all kinds of light.

Oh, and how could we forget our season tickets to Georgia Tech's women's volleyball! These games are very fun, always packed, and our team is almost always victorious — a huge accomplishment for a Southern team. Last year they were the first ACC team EVER to make it to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. This year they made it to the Sweet Sixteen again!

We ended out the year with a very busy November and December, as Michael headed up our church's Christmas program. We took the traditional "festival of lessons and carols" format and blended it with Eastern-style music and shadow puppetry. Heather even got to wear a sari!

13. Whew! Sounds like a busy year!

It was! But we had such a great time, and look forward to next year when hopefully we can get back in touch with a lot of you! Have a blessed new year!