The Giant Raccoon

It all started a few weeks ago. We have a large, 4ft bin, known locally as “garbage can”, though it’s not really a can at all. Either way, we woke up one morning and discovered it had been knocked over and the contents were spilled in the back yard. Although puzzled, we didn’t think much of it and the incident was soon forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the day. However, the very next morning, what did we discover to our great surprise and bewilderment? The bin was once again, knocked to the ground.

Perhaps it had been the wind?

The weather has been mild, so that conclusion felt unlikely.

What then?

That was the question that was becoming more and more pronounced in our minds.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Now, Heather and I are members of our ‘Nextdoor’ online community. It’s essentially a community discussion board for people living in our neighbourhood. The message boards contain fascinating discussion topics from recommended plumbers, to reminders that dogs ought not to foul the neighborhood. Items for sale, services offered and requested, security issues etc. For me, the community was at the height of its brilliance last Halloween, when an interactive map of the neighborhood was made available and members were able to indicate on the map whether sweets would be distributed from their house. Welcome to Silicon Valley.

Anyway, on the day of the second bin incident, while at work, a message was posted by our neighbor, Jim, on the Nextdoor message board that began to unfold the mystery. I’ve pasted the message below:

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Gentlepersons,

Early yesterday morning I heard something splashing around in my back yard fountain: it was the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen. It didn’t scare away either. I have emptied the water out to eliminate that attraction for the wildlife. If people have animals they leave outside overnight, be warned.

Jim

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As I read this message, the full gravity of its implications began to unravel in my mind.

Could it be?

Given the evidence, there was no denying it. Our bin-pusher was in fact, the giant raccoon.

Over the coming days, further evidence came to light. Take, for instance, this paw print, captured in pavement chalk and discovered in our back yard. Heather’s Preschool class had been drawing with chalk on the ground and the GR (Giant Raccoon) had seen fit to trample over their artwork.

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Of course, we took evasive action, keeping the rubbish in the larger, more secure wheelie bins and moving the location of the said bins in an attempt to disorient the raccoon.

One day, we set a trap for the raccoon. Joshua and I set up a cardboard box, with a plastic cup on top. On top of the cup was a cherry tomato. “This ought to teach him”, we thought. The next morning, the cherry tomato was gone, but the raccoon was not caught in the box. I felt like he was taunting us.

Things took another turn for the worse when on one particular night, a few days after Joshua’s birthday, we made the mistake of leaving his brand new inflatable ‘wall ball’ outside overnight. Surely this would be a step too far, though?

Does the raccoon care that this ball was a little boy’s special birthday gift? That means nothing to him. He couldn’t care less. Not bothered. Out with the claws. Then off he schnuffles, into the night.

Exhibit D

Exhibit D

Exhibit C

Exhibit C

I wish I could tell you that there’s some sort of happy ending to this story, that on a second attempt, the box, cup and cherry tomato trap worked, but the truth is, we still live in fear of this giant nocturnal mammal.

I think the next step is to set up a hidden camera using my phone and lure the beast in with some tasty morsels. When he takes the bait, Josh and I will emerge from the shadows, armed with Joshua’s Nerf crossbow and deliver some foam-dart justice.

Other suggestions welcome in the comments below.

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Shortly after Mam and Dad’s visit, Auntie Kate arrived! She was on her way to study in Hawaii having recently completed her mission in St George. We were delighted to have her stop by and spend some time with us.

Kate's welcome message from Eve

Kate’s welcome message from Eve

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Chinatown, SF

Chinatown, SF

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Oakland Temple visitors centre

Oakland Temple visitors centre

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Redwoods selfie

Redwoods selfie

Olive's teddy bear pancake. Kids portion, apparently. Don't tell Jamie Oliver.

Olive’s teddy bear pancake. Kids portion, apparently. Don’t tell Jamie Oliver.

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Boudin Sourdough factory, Pier 39, SF

Boudin Sourdough factory, Pier 39, SF

Kate makes light work of clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

Kate makes light work of clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

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Heather and Kate catching up

Heather and Kate catching up

Sisters at the Oakland Temple

Sisters at the Oakland Temple

Father & Son Camp

This weekend, Josh and I went to a Father & Son church camp in Portola Redwood State Park. The campsite was in a clearing within a redwood grove with a campfire. We toasted hot dogs and marshmallows and made smores around the campfire in the evening. In the morning, we had hot chocolate and breakfast burritos. Some of the boys disturbed a beehive/wasps nest and paid the price! Fortunately, Josh escaped the bee attack but seemed excited by the happenings and went in search of bees later on. It was great to be just with Josh and have some boy-time together. With 4 sisters, I’m fairly sure he tires of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Barbie and Tinkerbell, so a couple of days of bee-hunting, sleeping bags and campfires went down a treat.

The Campsite, Portola Redwood State Park

The Campsite, Portola Redwood State Park

Campfire

Campfire

Double-marshmallows

Double-marshmallows

Josh roasting a hot dog

Josh roasting a hot dog

We recently had a brilliant visit from my Mam and Dad – it was their first time in California and the first time we’ve seen them in person since we moved here last year. It was so great to see them and to show them a lot of the places we go and things we do over here. The kids were incredibly excited and loved having them here. Olive took a little warming up, but before long she was clinging on to my Mam and calling Dad “Dada”. We had around 9 days together and managed to squeeze a lot in – some of the highlights are below. I’m lucky to have amazing parents who I look up to and admire massively.

We visited one of our favourite spots – Henry Cowell Redwoods and Roaring Camp Railroad. There’s a trail with some giant redwoods, as well as wild west style village where you can pan for gold, watch old films in a cinema, visit a printshop etc. They have a steam train that goes right down to the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

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Mam in the Redwoods

Mam in the Redwoods

Dad has horns

Dad has horns

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Lady Lucy

Lady Lucy

Olive in jail

Olive in jail

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Olive in the visitor centre

Olive in the visitor centre

After a morning in the Redwoods, we headed to Natural Bridges, one of our favourites beaches in Santa Cruz for a bit of paddling, frisbee and sandcastle-building. The kids made a ‘swimming pool’ by digging a big hole and sending us back and forth to the sea to fill their pool with buckets of water.

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On another day, we visited San Francisco, starting with a walk along the coast from Sutro Baths. Heather and I did this walk with Eve and Josh the first time we visited San Francisco together for my interview with Apple. It’s a lovely walk and halfway through you get a great view of the Golden Gate bridge.

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We then headed into the city for a boat tour of the bay, a walk along pier 39 and some clam chowder. Josh had been telling Mam and Dad about the boat tour in advance, as he’s done it a few times before. He explained how we go around an island with a famous prison on it – the prison is called ‘Alcohol’.

Alcatraz aka 'Alcohol'

Alcatraz aka ‘Alcohol’

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Sea Lions at Pier 39

Sea Lions at Pier 39

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Charlotte busting some moves to the street artist's music

Charlotte busting some moves to the street artist’s music

One day we went to Apple HQ in Cupertino for breakfast at Caffe Macs.

Breakfast at Caffe Macs, Apple

Breakfast at Caffe Macs, Apple

Eating apples at Apple

Eating apples at Apple

Apple HQ, 1 Infinite Loop

Apple HQ, 1 Infinite Loop

The visit was over Easter weekend, so we made Easter baskets for the kids and had a hunt in the garden.

Easter baskets

Easter baskets

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A visit to the San Jose Discovery museum where the kids painted their own faces(!) and did role-playing in fire engines and ambulances.

Riding in a fire engine

Riding in a fire engine

Charlotte on the stretcher

Charlotte on the stretcher

The ambulance crew treat Charlotte

The ambulance crew treat Charlotte

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Eve made this doll at the discovery museum

Eve made this doll at the discovery museum

Another day included a visit to Hidden Villa farm.

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Olive was saying

Olive was saying “duddle! duddle!” (cuddle) to the chickens

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…a visit to Shoreline Park in Mountain View…

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…NASA…

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…a Sunday walk at Rancho San Antonio…

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Eve finds the Geocache

Eve finds the Geocache

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…and ‘Home’ at the Drive-In!

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Thanks for coming Poppy and Grandma – please come back soon!

I came across this while digging around in an old hard drive recently. A lovely record of a particular point in time. Only a few years on, we’ve already been through a lot of changes!

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Family Photos

We’ve moved around a fair bit since Heather and I got married. From a flat in South Shields to a flat in Edinburgh, to another flat, a third flat and a house in Edinburgh, to Mam and Dad’s place in Billingham, to a house in Durham, to temporary accommodation in Cupertino and now to our current place in San Jose. 8 or 9 homes in just under 11 years.

Partly due to this constant moving around, one thing we’ve never managed to do is put some pictures up on the walls of our home. We always wanted to, but it just never seemed to happen. Recently, we determined to get it done. We read something about how it builds self awareness and self-esteem in children and I can understand that. We want the children to know that there’s nothing we’d rather have on our walls than their little faces – that they are the centre of our universe. We also want them to see the pictures and remember a lot of happy times. So, with a visit from my parents approaching, we determined to get the pictures up before Mam and Dad arrived.

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with Costco. We’ve got a big family, so the massive boxes of cereal, nappies and everything else work out pretty well for us. It’s an awful place to be though. It’s got the kind of vibe experienced at the NEXT sale, with elbows flying around etc, but this is all year round. Every Saturday the place is heaving and while the traffic on the roads around the Bay Area is pretty bad, its nothing compared to the shopping cart traffic at Costco, San Jose.

For all my deeply-seated Coscto issues, I’ve got to give their photo-printing service some respect. Upload online. Collect with your shopping 2 hours later. Glossy or lustre (lustre, obviously). Couple of dollars per print. Living the dream.

So, we did this and got phase 1 of the pictures on the walls. Phase 1 is living room and dining room and it’s me Heather and the kids. Phase 2 is the wider family. This is equally important, particularly as we are so far away – keeping family and friends in sight and fresh in the kids’ minds is what we want.

Since the pictures went up, the place feels different – more a home than a house now. I’ve posted the pictures that went up below…

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Providence & Boston

A few weeks back, I travelled to Rhode Island and Boston for work. Myself and a colleague were interviewing students and graduates for possible design opportunities. I’d never been to Rhode Island or anywhere else in New England, so I was excited to have a look around. Looking at the map, I noticed that New England lives up to its name with Cumberland, Lincoln, Bristol, Greenwich and Warwick all nearby.

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Like my New York visit, the first thing to hit me was the cold. Although I know it to be the case, it continues to surprise me just how different the weather can be in different parts of the States. I guess it’s understandable – coming from the UK where differences are relatively modest (although Southerners will tell you it’s always beautiful down there and freezing up north!), to a much bigger country where it’s hot in San Jose and Snowing in Providence.

Providence was nice – big stone buildings and a fair bit of commissioned street art. Because it’s by the water, there’s a lot of sea food. We returned via Boston and I had fish and chips in the hotel restaurant – eager to judge their authenticity.

Tasty, but where's my buttered bread wrapped in cling film?

Tasty, but where’s my buttered bread wrapped in cling film?

While it was tasty, it was more ‘French fries and Captain Birdseye battered Cod’ than ‘Magpie Cafe, Whitby’ or even better, ‘Barnacles, Billingham/Middlesbrough town centre’ (which is of course, the real deal – slice of buttered bread wrapped in cling film or a lolly with your nosh box? Answers in the comments below).

Home of the Nosh Box

Home of the Nosh Box

Although we were there to work, I got one or two hours to wander around and take a few photos…

Leaving San Jose

Leaving San Jose

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View of Providence from the hotel

View of Providence from the hotel

Light in the hotel

Light in the hotel

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A bit of hand-painted Didot

A bit of hand-painted Didot

Kurt Cobain at the Heartbreak Hotel, Providence

Kurt Cobain at the Heartbreak Hotel, Providence

Lonely shed

Lonely shed

Strange white stuff

Strange white stuff

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Power station on the water, Providence

Power station on the water, Providence

Brutalist car park, Providence

Brutalist car park, Providence

Street art

Street art

Shepard Fairey street art

Shepard Fairey street art

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Boston harbor from the hotel

Boston harbor from the hotel

Boston from the hotel restaurant

Boston from the hotel restaurant

Last week, Heather and I went out on our third date since moving to California! Heather’s sister Kate  is visiting and was kind enough to look after the kids while we heading up to San Francisco to watch Brandon Flowers play. It was a great show – the venue, which plays mainly Britpop, Madchester, mod and 60’s soul was very small – fitting maybe 200 people in. Brandon was on form – his new material sounds great and he threw in a good few Killers songs as well.

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Brandon

Heather forgot her ID so had to wear an X on her hand, meaning that she wasn't allowed to buy alcohol! "Errr, we don't drink"...

Heather forgot her ID so had to wear an X on her hand, meaning that she wasn’t allowed to buy alcohol! “Errr, we don’t drink”…

Selfie

Brandon Flowers photo by Torey Mundkowsky

Brandon Flowers photo by Torey Mundkowsky

Courage and Clubfoot: Part 2

Here we go again…

Our beautiful Olive has recently turned 17 months. She is a happy, calm, delightful baby. She has been walking whilst holding on to the tip of my little finger for some time now, but on New Years Eve took her very first steps. Four of them! Since then, we have all enjoyed counting how many she can do. I think the record so far is 11.

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Our many attempts to catch her walking on film have failed miserably, but here are a few shots where you can kind of get the idea…

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Enjoying her new ride-on, on Christmas morning.

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This new found freedom has been wonderful for Olive.

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She especially loved playing at the park on boxing day and being able to independently climb up the steps to the slide, then slide down the slide and repeat, and repeat, and repeat (you get the picture right?)

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I loved how Josh took care of her for me and that I could look on and watch the pure joy on her little face, from one, very still and very sunny spot. Big brothers are wonderful!

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In early December we visited a specialist doctor here, whose office was conveniently situated just a couple of blocks from our house, to check Olive’s feet. I was concerned about her left foot floating back out of position (Olive was born with bilateral talipes, or ‘clubfoot‘) and I thought she might need more surgery. The doctor we took her too told us that her right foot was perfect, but the left did need some surgery. He said it was unusual to see one foot regress but the other not. He described the operation to me and said he could do it before or after Christmas. We opted for after, so she could enjoy the Christmas season first. Olive also needed new shoes. When I asked the doctor about this he told me to just buy normal shoes for her now, and told me that after her operation she wouldn’t even need to wear her boots and bar again! Since her shoes were getting too small for her, we picked up some new ones at a Clarks shoe shop we found, at the outlets. She was thrilled with them! I was also excited to be able to get her, her first ‘proper’ or ‘normal’ shoes.

Olive enjoying her new shoes:

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Once the initial excitement of this news settled down, I began to feel somewhat uneasy about the doctors visit. It just felt too good to be true, and I had a nagging feeling inside that we needed to find another specialist to take a look at her. We found another doctor, this time about an hours drive away, longer in traffic, but he seemed to be just what we were looking for. We made an appointment with Dr Colburn, who we found through a list of worldwide practitioners that we have, of specialists in the Ponseti method, which is used to correct clubfoot.

As soon as we to to the Doctors office, I felt reassured about our choice to look around further afield for a doctor. He asked Dave and I lots of questions about Olive’s treatment in England and examined her feet and legs. He explained everything clearly and well to us, using a model of a foot. He has lots of experience and is semi-retired now, but was trained by Dr Ponseti himself. We listened carefully to him, then my heart sank and I had to blink away tears as he explained to us that he didn’t think Olive’s feet had ever been fully corrected. It was his opinion that her treatment in England hadn’t been carried out properly. Olive needed to start over with her treatment. This meant going back to the casting process again.

I shared with him my concern that Olive had one leg slightly longer than the other. It turns out that she does have a significant difference in the length of her legs. I’m glad someone finally listened to me and took the time to explain what that meant and how it can be treated in the future… and it can be very successfully treated when she is around 10-14, but it will involve a couple of months of nuts and bolts through her bone and daily twisting of them to lengthen the shorter leg. My poor baby!!!

We started the process off again, then and there. Her first of probably four weekly casts. Then we’ll see whether or not another operation will be needed on her tendons. She will need to wear the boots and bar again. Dr Colburn said that ideally she’d wear them all of the time, but with her age that is just impractical so she will probably be allowed around 4 hours off. She’ll also have to wear them at night until she is around 5 years old. (What a joker that other doctor was, eh?)

Here is Olive feeling sorry for herself after her first casting session. She wouldn’t let me stop holding her for about two days straight (and those casts are heavy!) Her desperate cuddles pull at the heartstrings.

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I can’t get used to hearing her feet or leg being described as ‘deformed’, but I suppose that is what they are. To me though, Olive is perfect. She is an absolute joy and I love her. She fills up my heart and our home completely. I am so grateful for modern medicine and technology that I know will completely correct her feet and legs. I feel blessed that we’ve found Dr Colburn. Despite the bad news we got, we came away feeling so happy that we’d found someone we trusted. I know there are much worse things we could be dealing with. Her treatment will probably last a couple of months this time around, and about the same when she’s older for her leg. In the grand scheme of things that isn’t much trouble for lifelong correction and the joy that will bring our little peach.

Her misery didn’t last long either, here she is a few days after her first casting enjoying the sun on Daddy’s shoulders as we wander around the farm. And she can hurtle up our stairs like nobody’s business, not to mention all the cool sliding she can do across our wooden floors!

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