cocktail hour on the mossy patio

Sunday, August 30:  I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve invited you over for a cocktail hour.  I’m so happy to see you!  It’s taken me a long while to get settled in back home here in Virginia.  Please come in and help yourself to a drink. I have some Bud Light Lime, which Mike calls a fake beer but I find cool and refreshing in the summer heat, and some Montes Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you prefer a cool glass of white wine, I have some La Granja verdejo viura, a Spanish wine I picked up at Trader Joe’s.  Though the weather’s warm (88 F today), we haven’t had humidity all week, so it’s quite pleasant outside this evening.  We’ll have a seat on my patio, covered in moss as it as, as there really is nowhere else to sit outside.

me on the moss-covered patio
me on the moss-covered patio

Our house here in Oakton is rather a mess, so I apologize.  Our kitchen and deck badly need replacing, and we’ll be embarking on a major construction project soon to redo the kitchen, possibly knocking down the wall between our family room and kitchen.  We’ll also tear down the deck and replace it with a screened-in porch, and change our laundry room into a mudroom/pantry/laundry room.  Because of this, the only good place I have for us to sit outdoors is on our patio, which is also in a state of disrepair and is covered in that moss.  It’s Virginia, after all, a state prone to damp summers and wild foliage growth, so the moss taking over our patio isn’t a total surprise.

Mike suggested I have the cocktail hour on the patio, and he quipped, “Unlike our mossy patio, no moss will grow on this rolling stone” (meaning me).  He is endlessly patient with me and my restlessness and my wanderings. I don’t know why he puts up with it; maybe he enjoys having a break from me after going on 27 years of marriage (with a 7 year break ending in 2013). 🙂  Anyway, he’s joining us tonight, so you can ask him yourself!

Please, tell me all about you.  Have you been enjoying the last bits of summer?  Have you traveled to exotic lands or had a staycation?  Have you gone to any outdoor concerts or plays?  Have you seen your children off to conquer new challenges?  Have you been on any retreats?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners?  Have you eaten at any good restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you harvested fresh vegetables from your garden?  Have you been to the beach, or gone swimming in a lake?  Have you been exercising and eating healthy? Have you been on any shopping sprees?

The one thing I have done most religiously since I returned home is to exercise every day.  I started out walking every day for 3 miles.  I’ve only missed two days since I returned home, so I’m quite proud of myself.  I gained 7 pounds when I was in China, and I was already heavier than I would have liked BEFORE I left for China.  Thus, I have been keeping track of my calories and exercise on my fitness pal, and so far I’ve lost the 7 pounds I gained in China and am working on losing more. Here’s a chart of my weight loss, which mistakenly states that I started at 150 lbs.  My actual weight when I returned from China and California (where I went a little crazy with American food!) was 152.2.  As of today, I’m at 144.8.  I’m really hoping to stick it out and get down to 135!!

Slowly but surely chipping away!
Slowly but surely chipping away!

A couple of weeks ago, I started going to Oak Marr RECenter twice a week to work out with weights.  Last week, I started going to a Zumba class.  I’m so hopelessly uncoordinated, but it’s a great workout and lots of fun! I sweat like crazy for an hour, so it must be doing some good.  I don’t feel so bad about being uncoordinated as there are a bunch of Korean and Japanese ladies in the class who seem almost as uncoordinated as I am.  I’m not going to let it bother me that I can’t get the steps right; I’m just going to enjoy it and poke fun at myself for my hopeless inability to keep up!

While I was in China, I had set up an appointment with a GI for August 3 because I had been so sick in China all year. However, as soon as I got home, all my stomach problems mysteriously disappeared. Hmm.  Since the appointment had already been set up, I went in to see the doctor anyway.  He was baffled as to why I had come in, and he told me to keep eating healthy and exercising and I would probably continue to feel fine.

I helped Alex, my oldest son, move to Richmond at the end of July.  He’s now attending Virginia Commonwealth University, where he hopes to get a degree in Exercise Science.  His sister, Sarah, already lives in Richmond and should finally finish her degree in English at the end of the fall semester.  Here is Alex’s new house and him in his room with his sister. Sorry the pictures are a little blurry, but my camera has been acting up.  I will need to be looking for a new camera sometime soon, possibly by my birthday on October 25. This will be my 60th.  Ouch. 🙂

Alex's new abode in Richmond
Alex’s new abode in Richmond
Alex's room
Alex’s room
Sarah and Alex in his new room
Sarah and Alex in his new room

Other than exercising, I’ve been working on a 5-hour free grammar course (more like 10+ hours!) and a pre-task for the course I’m taking beginning September 21 at Teaching House, which runs the University of Cambridge CELTA (the Certificate in English Language Teaching), the most widely accepted TESOL program in the world.  It’s a month-long highly intensive course. I think I won’t have a life during that month, or in the coming weeks, as I prepare for the course.

I was surprised on Thursday, August 6, to get a text message from one of my Chinese students, Christine.  She wrote that she was on a train from New York to Washington with her mother and they hoped to take me out to dinner in Washington.  It turned out that Mike and I trekked downtown and took Christine and her mother to the Lincoln Restaurant.  Christine’s English is not bad, and her mother could understand and speak limited English.  When the server tried to explain the complex dishes, such a far stretch from Chinese dishes, Christine said immediately that all she wanted was meat.  She ordered the plate of BBQ ribs, and we had to demonstrate how she should eat them! The plate was almost as big as she is.  Neither she nor her mother had any interest in the small plates Mike and I ordered: Ricotta gnocchi, Shrimp & Grits, and the Pennsylvania Chicken Pot Pie.  When the waitress put the Shishito Pepper Hush Puppies on the table, Christine asked tentatively: “Is that dog meat?” We were taken aback momentarily by her misunderstanding of the word “puppies,” and we all got quite a laugh out of it. 🙂

Christine, me, and her mom, Li
Christine, me, and her mom, Li
Li, Christine and Mike
Li, Christine and Mike
Me with Mike
Me with Mike

Our dinner with Christine was on Friday, August 7, and on Sunday, the 9th, Mike and I went downtown to Arena Stage to see the emotionally moving musical, Dear Evan Hansen. The play explores how far we’ll go to fulfill our need for connection.  According to the playbill: “In our social media world where ‘friend’ is now a verb, and we only share the highlights of our life, what happens when we reveal our true thoughts and feelings?”  The sets were wonderfully done, with columns displaying Tweets and Facebook posts and rotating sets of Evan’s bedroom and the living room of a family whose son committed suicide.  The opening number of the play brought tears to my eyes, as I know how isolating our digitally connected society is for young people, and frankly, for all of us.  It was a phenomenal performance.

The following weekend, August 14-16, I went to Richmond to have dinner with Sarah and Alex at a Greek restaurant called Stella’s and then drove from there to Monterey in southwestern Virginia, where I attended a women’s mid-life retreat organized by Annette of Beauty Along the Road. I stayed two nights at the Laurel Point Bed & Breakfast, a lovely place overlooking the mountains in Monterey.

Before attending the workshop, we were asked to take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths quiz on the University of Pennsylvania: Authentic Happiness Questionnaire Center.  It seems anyone can take this quiz, so you might try it yourself.  I found after taking the quiz that these were my top five strengths:

  1. Curiosity and interest in the world
  2. Love of learning
  3. Appreciation of beauty and excellence
  4. Fairness, Equity and Justice
  5. Humor and playfulness

We did a lot of interesting activities on the retreat, including making a timeline collage of our lives.  Here’s mine:

My timeline collage
My timeline collage

We also brainstormed as a group the issues women face in mid-life; we wrote a letter to someone who we feel has held us down in our lives and then we burned that letter; we did individual brainstorms in answer to the question: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? We also visualized what our life what will be like in 5 years and then we created a plan of action for the next year to achieve that goal.

To make ourselves accountable, we were asked to declare our intention. My intention is to have my novel published in one year, by August 16, 2016.  Here are the steps with a timeline to reach that goal:

  1. Research agents at the library and online and from books I like.
  2. Find at least 10 agents by August 31 and note what each agent requires: query letter, synopsis, number of pages/word count, format of 1st 50 pages or first 3 chapters.
  3. Finalize my query letter by September 20.
  4. Write my synopsis by October 31.
  5. Send out whatever is required to 10 agents by November 30.
  6. Repeat the process and find 10 more agents.  Sent next 10 queries to agents by January 31, 2016.
  7. Continue to repeat this process.
  8. If I can’t get anywhere, look into self-publishing.

Next we had to list the obstacles we might encounter.  Mine are:

  1. My word count is 107,000 and most agents won’t look at a novel over 100,000 words.
  2. My query letter needs work.
  3. I haven’t written a synopsis.
  4. I may need to edit the novel again.
  5. Procrastination.
  6. Lack of knowledge of the proper steps to take.

We also had to list some allies who might be able to help us achieve our goals.

At the end of the retreat, we each took a seat in a special chair while everyone said words about us that were recorded by a group member.  Here are the kind words that people said about me.  I was humbled and flattered by the whole process and will keep these words with me to look at whenever I get discouraged.

The final wrap-up
The final wrap-up

The retreat was a wonderful experience.  I learned a lot about myself and the issues other women are struggling with.  I hope I can stay on track with my big goal despite the time commitment of my upcoming CELTA course. I’ll be reflecting often on what I learned at that retreat. I highly recommend it for other women in the area.

Other than my constant exercising, household chores, de-cluttering, moving my kids out and onward, and attending the retreat, I’ve also seen some interesting movies in theaters, including A Borrowed Identity, Trainwreck, Samba, The End of the Tour, Phoenix, Ricki and the Flash, and Mr. Holmes. You can see I’ve been busy making up for the time I lost in China! I’ve also watched the last season of Last Tango in Halifax and have gotten involved in the Danish political series, Borgen. I’ve also been watching some of the series Rectify.

As for books, I’ve read I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum and Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, both of which I loved!  I’m now reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which I’m also enjoying immensely. 🙂

I’ve eaten at Lebanese Taverna, Cafesano (Italian), Saba’ Yemeni Restaurant and Guapo’s (Mexican).  I’ve been shopping for healthy foods at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and trying to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and watching my portion sizes. Other than an occasional treat of cheese and chili rellenos, I’ve been pretty self-disciplined!

Most of my friends know how I love to shop. I’ve been on a few shopping sprees mostly to buy various types of jeans and some cute tops, and even a kimono wrap thingy. I hardly wore jeans at all in Oman or China because it was just too hot, and I realized I didn’t have any that fit me.  So, yes, I’ve done a little shopping and I’ve probably gone a bit overboard.  Here’s me at some of my recent weights and wearing some of my cute purchases.  I do love fashion, but it sure helps if you’re tall and thin, neither of which I am!

As for reverse culture shock, I haven’t experienced it as much this time as the first two times I returned home from abroad. The main reason is that I’ve let go of all expectations.  I don’t expect any friends to contact me, and slowly but surely, I’ll make an effort to contact those people I’d like to see. I find myself weaning out my list of friends each time I return as I don’t feel like bothering to contact people who never make any effort with me.   After all, what’s the point?  There are people I love and care for: people who don’t judge me and people who make me laugh and people with whom I have a shared history; those people will continue to be part of my life.  As for anyone new I meet, I’ll be happy to share my life with them if they’re interested in doing so!

I’m so happy that you joined me tonight for cocktail hour on the mossy patio. I hope you feel relaxed, even though you had to listen to a lot from me!  I can’t wait to hear about what you’ve been up to; hopefully it’s something that has brought you laughter, peace, tranquility, and even adventure.  I’ll try to have a cocktail hour more frequently, so we don’t have quite so much to catch up on.  Please, do come back and join me again!

Hugs to each of you! 🙂