thanksgiving revisited

Wednesday, November 27:  Because I’ve been living abroad for the last three years, I’ve been absent from Thanksgiving since 2009.  This Thanksgiving, we try to cobble together as many of our clan as we can for the holiday.

I start by heading south on I-95 early Wednesday morning, along with the 1 million people estimated to be leaving the Washington metropolitan area for the holiday, to pick up my daughter Sarah in Richmond.  What is normally a less than 2 hour drive is nearly three hours because of the mass exodus.  After dropping Sarah’s dog Bagel at home, we go out for some pre-Thanksgiving shopping at Tyson’s Corner Center for her Christmas presents.  There is no way I will shop on Black Friday, and we won’t see her for the Christmas holiday, so it has to be today or never.

Before shopping we enjoy some conveyor belt sushi at Wasabi Modern Japanese Cuisine at  the mall.

Sarah at Wasabi Modern Japanese Cuisine
Sarah at Wasabi Modern Japanese Cuisine

Thursday, November 28: On Thursday morning, after preparing broccoli salad and kale and sun-dried tomato hummus spread, we pile in the car to drive to my sister Joan’s house in Salisbury, Maryland.

Driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
Driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Today, we celebrate with most of my sister’s family and most of my family, along with my father and stepmother. My brother, who is now working in retail because of his job loss during the economic downturn, has to work so is unable to come.  With the new Black Friday scenario, which involves stores opening on Thursday evening, he cannot make it to Maryland for the day.  This whole Black Friday scenario, which is now insidiously creeping into Thursday, infuriates me beyond words.  I don’t want to ruin my Thanksgiving by thinking, or writing (aka ranting), about it.

a welcoming table
a welcoming table

My son Adam is in California, just having finished his Permaculture Certification; he is spending the holidays with a fellow permaculturist and his family before he heads to Taos, New Mexico for a two-week Earthship Internship program beginning December 2 and ending on the 13th (Earthship).  When we speak with him, he says he’s really sad to be away for the holiday and really misses us, BUT if he were here with us, he wouldn’t be able to be in California.  After all, no one can be in two places at once.  I fear we are losing him to California, where his deep beliefs about the values of holistic coaching, permaculture, and radically sustainable housing are not as far-fetched as they seem to be on the East Coast.

Dad and Seth
Dad and Seth
Alex
Alex
Joan
Joan

My other sister, Stephanie, who lives outside of Los Angeles, never makes it home for the holidays because she doesn’t care to fly.  I’m sad to not see her, but we all talk by phone and I will see her on January 2, when I go to California for 10 days.  I look forward to that, as I’ve been promising for years to visit her and have never kept my promises. 😦

Shirley and Steve
Shirley and Steve
Seth and Alex
Seth and Alex
Dad, Seth and Lily
Dad, Seth and Lily

Finally, my niece, Kelsey, who just got married this past summer, spends the holiday with her new husband’s family, one of those things that happens once one gets married.

Seth and Joan
Seth and Joan
Alex and Lily
Alex and Lily

Despite the missing family, we have a wonderful holiday feast with Joan, Steve and my nephew Seth; my dad and his wife Shirley; Mike, me, Sarah and Alex; and Lily, Joan’s golden lab.  I am thankful for the laughs that are always a part of my family’s gatherings, for the wonderful feast my sister prepares, for the changing seasons, for the cold brisk November air, for my sister’s amazing hospitality and her warm, welcoming home.  Last but not least, I’m thankful for the traditional dishes of Thanksgiving: turkey, gravy, oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and the “slightly chilled red wine” that is my brother-in-law’s forte.  I have missed these foods in my years abroad.

Joan and her feast
Joan and her feast
a reasonable plate, don't you think?
a reasonable plate, don’t you think?
Shirley, Dad, Mike, Joan, Steve, Seth, Alex and Sarah
Shirley, Dad, Mike, Joan, Steve, Seth, Alex and Sarah

I’m thankful that I have 5 days off from teaching, and when I return to work on Monday, I only have two weeks remaining in the semester.  I’m thankful for nearly completing my 5-week Travel Writing course through the Australian Writer’s Centre (which I will finish on Saturday), and for the 8 chapters of my novel I did manage to revise during the November NaNoWriMo challenge.  Sadly, I didn’t finish the novel, but I will try to complete it in December, when I don’t have my teaching obligations.

the clan at Thanksgiving
the clan at Thanksgiving

Most of all, I’m thankful to be back home in America with my family.

me reunited with family :-)
me reunited with family 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving!

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weekly photo challenge: unexpected

Tuesday, November 26:  The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is Unexpected. Says Cheri Lucas: The world is an interesting place: we stumble upon unexpected things each day, like signs that are unintentionally amusing, bizarre sculptures, or even strange evidence of a miniature world on the side of a building.

So, your photo challenge this week is to capture something unexpected. You can also interpret the theme in other ways: a street scene or landscape that just doesn’t look quite right, an impromptu portrait of a loved one, or any other image that reveals a sense of surprise.

In my travels over the last three years, I’ve run across too many unexpected things to count, but I thought I’d show some of the surprising people I encountered along my journey.

I found this white-haired monk at Donghae Yonggung-Sa, a temple in Busan, South Korea.  I thought it was funny that we both had the same color of hair (an april jaunt to busan), especially in Korea, land of the black-haired people. 🙂

a white haired monk at  Donghae Yonggung-Sa in Busan, South Korea
a white-haired monk at Donghae Yonggung-Sa in Busan, South Korea

I unexpectedly met this famous Nepali actor shooting a movie scene in Pokhara, Nepal (pokhaha: a stroll around phewa tal & seeking shelter (& warmth) at moondance).  He says he plays a fighter in the movie, Kale, that should be released in January 2014. His name is Sagar Ansari and he has been in other movies, including Kalapani, which he tells me I can buy in a DVD shop.  He asks me if I think he’s handsome and I just laugh, thinking to myself that this is one scary-looking guy. 🙂

Nepali actor Sagar Ansari
Nepali actor Sagar Ansari

I also had an unexpected encounter at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Muscat, Oman with Joanna Lumley, who plays Patsy Stone on Absolutely Fabulous (absolutely fabulous: a surprise encounter with patsy stone 🙂).

Neziha, Joanna Lumley and me in Muscat, Oman
Neziha, Joanna Lumley and me in Muscat, Oman

And finally, one day when I was walking through Nizwa Souq, not far from my house in Oman, I came upon this unexpected group of old Omani men and their guns.

Omani men and their guns at Nizwa souq
Omani men and their guns at Nizwa souq

And I bet this vendor at Nizwa souq didn’t expect me to catch him napping on the job.

a sleeping Omani vendor at Nizwa souq
a sleeping Omani vendor at Nizwa souq

I certainly never expected to encounter this group of fishermen on the beach at Al Musaanah in Oman.

sardine fishermen at Al Musaanah Beach in Oman
sardine fishermen at Al Musaanah Beach in Oman
Fisherman at Al Musaanah
Fisherman at Al Musaanah

“If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.”   ~ Heraclitus

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weekly photo challenge: layers

Sunday, November 17:  The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is layers: Layers can reveal, conceal, and make something more complex. They can vary in size, texture, color, or functionality. Each layer can have its own story, meaning, or purpose. They can overlap, blend, or be distinctly separate. A layer doesn’t have to be a part of a single object but can even be a slice of a multifaceted image or scene.

Here are some layers I found this weekend on the Difficult Run stream feeder trails and the Fairfax Cross County Trail.  The world is looking browner these days; it won’t be long before it turns a hundred shades of gray.

layers of groundcover
layers of groundcover: I think it’s pachysandra 🙂
layers of colorful but dying leaves
layers of colorful but dying leaves
layers of brown
layers of brown
layer of a pine cone with layers of forest behind
layer of a pine cone with layers of forest behind
layers of roots
layers of roots
layers of dead leaves
layers of dead leaves
layers of leaves and ferns
layers of leaves and ferns
layers of leaves and rocks
layers of leaves and rocks
layers of dried grasses
layers of dried grasses
layers of moss-covered logs, plants and leaves
layers of moss-covered logs, plants and leaves
layers of leaves
layers of leaves

a november hike to mary’s rock

Sunday, November 10:  The hike from Jewell Hollow Overlook on the Skyline Drive to Mary’s Rock is about 3.5 miles each way, for a round trip of about 7 miles.  At this altitude, the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, but it’s a stunning landscape just the same.  I adore the gnarly trunks & branches covered in lichen, the lime-green bits of moss on the ground, the orange and yellow trees in the valley below, and the cold wind whipping across the ridge.

starting out at Jewell Hollow Overlook
starting out at Jewell Hollow Overlook
naked trees at Jewell Hollow Overlook
naked trees at Jewell Hollow Overlook
a little color left on the trees in the valley
a little color left on the trees in the valley
mountains, mountains... as far as the eye can see
mountains, mountains… as far as the eye can see
naked trees
naked trees

As we hike the trail, meandering from the east side of the ridge, where it is relatively warm, to the west side, where the wind is howling and bitterly cold, we take off layers, put them back on, and take them off again.  The trail is rocky and leaf-strewn underfoot, causing ankle-turning and slipping and sliding.  It’s hard to be surefooted on this trail.

moss & acorn
moss & acorn
moss & acorn
moss & acorn
moss
moss

We meet groups of Korean hikers decked out in the latest hiking gear, the Wanderbirds from D.C, and two young hikers who have been on the Appalachian trail since mid-June, Two-Liter and Fabio; they won’t be finished their hike of the entire trail until mid-January.  Brrrr.  Two-Liter complains that it’s the rocks underfoot on the trail that are killing them.  They went through all the northern states, beginning in Maine, and they tell us people they encountered along the way promised them that in the Shenandoah, the rocks wouldn’t cause them a problem.  She rolls her eyes: “Wrong!”

Appalachian Trail walkers Fabio & Two-Liter
Appalachian Trail walkers Fabio & Two-Liter

At the Mary’s Rock summit, we encounter quite a crowd of people, and their dogs, enjoying the view in the biting wind.

at the summit: Mary's Rock
at the summit: Mary’s Rock
view from Mary's Rock
view from Mary’s Rock
the valley from Mary's Rock
the valley from Mary’s Rock
view from Mary's Rock
view from Mary’s Rock

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.

I have dreams of hiking the Camino in northern Spain, but as my legs, knees, toes and back are aching from today’s 7 mile hike, I think I will have to get in a lot better shape in order to do 20+ miles a day, carrying a backpack, on the Camino.  Maybe I’ll put that dream on the back burner for a while.  Either that or get busy hiking longer distances to build stamina and strength.

October hikes in Virginia are always lovely, as fall color always peaks during that month, but November hikes are another treat altogether.

Chilled to the bone and sore and tired after our hike, we stop at Black Bear Bistro & Cellar in Warrenton for pizzas, wraps, beers and a warm and welcoming environment.

the bar at Black Bear Bistro in Warrenton
the bar at Black Bear Bistro in Warrenton
Black Bear Bistro
Black Bear Bistro
Black Bear Bistro
Black Bear Bistro
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phoneography challenge, the phone as your lens: nature (& autumn’s light and shadows)

Thursday, November 7:  On Monday morning, I went for an early morning walk with my iPhone and took some pictures of the beautiful fall colors in my neighborhood.  Then I ran across this phoneography challlenge by Lens and Pens by Sally: Phoneography Challenge, the Phone as Your Lens: Nature (and Autumn’s Light & Shadows).  Who can resist a challenge, even when there are not enough hours in the day?

2013-11-04 07.47.07 2013-11-04 07.52.49 2013-11-04 07.53.59 2013-11-04 07.56.45 2013-11-04 08.00.29 2013-11-04 08.04.38 2013-11-04 08.07.06 2013-11-04 08.07.50 2013-11-04 08.16.18 2013-11-04 08.20.53I still prefer photos taken with my Olympus PEN EPL-1, but if my iPhone is handy and my camera isn’t, I don’t mind using it.

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a trip to nellysford & “expanding horizons”

Saturday, November 2:  I drive to Nellysford, Virginia this morning to visit my old friend Susan, who lives near Wintergreen Ski Resort.  It’s still lovely in the mountains, with red leaves now brightening the landscape. 

This is the first time I’ve met Susan in her new home.  In the years since I’ve seen her, she’s retired from her job as a stockbroker, sold her Richmond house, and moved out to the country.  When I arrive, she takes me to Blue Mountain Brewery for lunch and then we head into Charlottesville, where we wander around the Downtown Mall.

Charlottesville's Downtown Mall
Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall
Susan at an outdoor vendor's table
Susan at an outdoor vendor’s table

We take a two-mile walk through the farmland around her house and, later, we meet a good friend of hers, Mary Ann, at a Nellysford bar.  Here a small cast of local characters huddles around the bar, listening to a trombone-playing astrophysicist and another electric piano-playing musician.  We enjoy Pinot Grigio from our convivial bar seats, and while Susan and Mary Ann eat tacos, I enjoy every bite of a smoked hot dog with chili, cheese & mustard.  I descend into my bad eating habits, as I do from time to time.  Never mind; it’s a great evening all around.

me, Susan and Mary Ann
me, Susan and Mary Ann
Susan and Mary Ann
Susan and Mary Ann

Sunday, November 3:  This morning, while Susan goes to church in Nellysford, I revise chapter 31 of my novel: “Expanding Horizons,” for a total word count as of today of 7,082 words for 3 chapters.  I know I need to cut more, as my goal is to have each chapter no more than 7 pages long; this one is 10 pages.  This is where an impartial editor would be helpful; this editor would probably have me cut out some questionable sections that don’t really move the story along.  I cut from 11 to 10 pages and my total page count for the novel at this point in the story is 237 pages for 31 out of 50 chapters.

Oh, it’s so hard to discard words you wrote so painstakingly.  I’m sure they’ll have to go in the end. 🙂

When Susan returns from church, we go out for brunch at Stony Creek; we both eat chicken sausages and French toast with bananas Foster.  Not very healthy eating this weekend!

Nellysford, Va
Nellysford, Va

I completed Module 1 of the Travel Essay writing course by Thursday night, since I knew I was going out-of-town this weekend.  This morning, I listen to our instructor evaluate our assignments.  We were supposed to find “niche” publications to pitch a story to; but sadly I didn’t have time to peruse niche publications at the bookstore to find ones that publish travel articles.  I used the Washington Post Travel Section for the assignment, which was not really what the instructor was looking for.  Hopefully, since I’m not going out-of-town next weekend, or probably for the rest of November, I’ll have more time to focus on the exact assignment (a travel angle for a story about Tasmania) by the due date.

Nellysford, Va
Nellysford, Va

Back to work tomorrow, after spending three hours driving back from Nellysford, and two hours marking essays for my Advanced Writing Workshop. 😦  Work, work, work, and only some of it is fun.

I’m afraid there won’t be much excitement happening in my blogging world for the next month. It’s all I can do to keep up with my challenges for the month!

novel progress: chapter 30 done

Saturday, November 2:  This morning I got up early and revised Chapter 30 of my novel; the chapter is titled “Glisser un Regard a Quelqu’un.”  Add 2,142 words, for a total of 4,056 words.

I still haven’t settled on a title for the entire novel; I’ve gone back and forth with all kinds of ideas.  Today I changed it once again to: As Sure as Far-Flung Suns.  I’m still not settled on it.  I may test out different titles as I post this month.

Here’s a short synopsis as posted on my NaNoWriMo account:

As Sure as Far-Flung Suns explores the way that yearning and grief rearrange people’s lives. The story is told from the viewpoints of four middle-aged characters in Washington, D.C. during the 2002 sniper attacks and the buildup to war with Iraq; these characters in their tangled relationships struggle to find happiness and meaning in a world full of uncertainty and turmoil.

Ian loses both of his parents in a tragic accident and comes to inhabit their world, and his abandoned adolescent life, in his grief. Taking up residence in his parents’ home, his old passion for astronomy is reignited. He explores his reawakened attraction to his old girlfriend, Lucie, who is now married to Ahmed, an Egyptian Muslim haunted by demons.

Lucie works at a suicide hotline. She is lonely and fearful, and tries, despite obstacles she places in her own path, to find courage and love. Ahmed, who reads a medical encyclopedia to improve his English, is convinced an insidious disease will kill him because of a horrific act he committed in his past. He tries to accommodate Lucie in her friendship with Ian, only to have the relationship become something more than he ever bargained for.

Audrey is torn between a calling to serve God and her earthly desires. Her son Peter is a troubled divorce survivor who struggles to come to grips with his own identity. She loves labyrinths, church history and architecture, but she also loves men. She struggles to come to grips with her growing feelings for Ian, her ambivalence about motherhood, and her yearnings to connect with God.

_______________________________________

Now that I met my challenge for today, I’m off to visit a dear old friend near Wintergreen, Virginia.  I haven’t seen Susan in two years; we used to work together as stockbrokers in Richmond, VA in 1986 and 1987.  She and I became friends as I was going through a divorce from my first husband, Bill.

This will be the third weekend in four weeks that I’ve driven south to the mountains of Virginia. 🙂

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