weekly photo challenge: spare

Friday, May 27: Today’s Weekly Photo Challenge asks us to share photos representing spare:

(adjective) Additional to what is required for ordinary use.
(adjective) Elegantly simple.
(verb) To refrain from harming.

I’ve chosen some photos representing minimalist landscapes.  First, on a drive to the beaches on the south of Crete, I found this spare rolling landscape.

Southern Crete
Southern Crete

Anacapa Island, one of California’s Channel Islands is one of the most spare and desolate landscapes I’ve seen, except for the multitudes of seagulls dotting the horizon.

Anacapa Island off the coast of California
Anacapa Island off the coast of California

Weizhou Island in the south of China has some lava beaches that look pretty spare, yet elegantly curvaceous.

Weizhou Beach in the south of China
Weizhou Beach in the south of China

And finally, the marshland of Chincoteague Island in Virginia is spare, but beautiful.

Sea grasses on Chincoteague Island
Sea grasses on Chincoteague Island
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weekly photo challenge: jubilant

Saturday, May 21:  Jubilant is an adjective: showing great joy, satisfaction, or triumph; rejoicing; exultant.  So says the Weekly Photo Challenge: Jubilant, challenging us to “end this week on a high note, with images that say jubilant.”

Here are some jubilant moments from my life:

In Hanok Village, Jeonju, South Korea, some jubilant musicians inspired all the English teachers to join in with the festivities.

jubilant Korean dancers in Hanok Village, Jeonju, South Korea
jubilant Korean dancers in Hanok Village, Jeonju, South Korea

As we took a day-long drive down the King’s Highway in Jordan, my Japanese fellow traveler Minako and I felt jubilant at different spots along the drive.  Me at the Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve and Minako at Karak Castle in Jordan.

The traditional dancers in Siem Reap, Cambodia showed a more subdued kind of jubilation.

Traditional dancers in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Traditional dancers in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I celebrated my 57th birthday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at Yod Abyssinia Restaurant, probably the most jubilant celebration I’ve ever had.

Traditional Ethiopian dancers
Traditional Ethiopian dancers

And finally, on my month-long trip through Spain and Portugal, I was inspired by the jubilant flamenco dancers at Jardines de Zoraya in Granada, Spain.

flamenco dancers at Jardines de Zoraya in Granada
flamenco dancers at Jardines de Zoraya in Granada

the monthly cocktail hour (whether we need it or not): may edition

Sunday, May 15: Welcome to my disheveled home for my monthly cocktail hour.  I know, I can hear your protests already: But, Cathy, you haven’t been having your cocktail hour on a monthly basis!  Your last one was in December! Admittedly you’re right.  You all have probably figured out by now that my consistency is questionable.  I originally intended to do them weekly, then it dropped to bi-weekly, and now I’m lucky to have one on an every 5-month basis!  So, I’m going to stick my neck out and say it’s my intention to have one every month, around the middle of each month.  I’ll even write it on my calendar to be sure it will be a priority.  I really do miss hearing from all of you in a deeper, more open way; of course a sip or two of alcohol helps us to put down our walls and loosen our tongues!

Please, come in and have a drink.  I’m afraid things are a bit of mess here in my house as our renovation is in full swing and we have no access to the kitchen or the screened-in porch or deck.  I hope you don’t mind doing a lot of mingling as there aren’t many places to sit.  We have lots of wine of both colors, Bud Light Lime (what Mike calls my fake beer), and some New Belgian Fat Tire.  I’ve also got the makings for a dirty martini, which some people have told me I should try: Vodka, olives and some olive juice.  For the people who like to socialize on the straight, I have Coke and Diet Coke Vanilla, and some  peach-pear flavored La Croix sparkling water.

Have you been enjoying the spring? Have you gone on any fun excursions?  Have you started planning your summer travels to exotic lands or will you be having a staycation?    Have you gone to any outdoor concerts, plays, or book signings? Have you seen your children off to conquer new challenges? Have you reconnected with old friends? Have you accomplished any goals?  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 planted flowers and vegetables?  Have you been exercising and eating healthy? Have you been on any shopping sprees?

The weather here has been mostly miserable all spring, with rain and clouds nearly every day; when it’s not raining, like today, it’s cold and windy.  I can’t believe the swimming pools will be opening in less than two weeks.  It doesn’t seem at all like summer is right around the corner.  I know the rain is good for us, but I find it quite depressing when it never lets up.

You all know about my fun excursion to Philadelphia and then my later trip to Dallas and Oklahoma City for my friend Rosie’s wedding.  Though I haven’t finished blogging about them yet, I will soon.

We were originally planning to go to Prague and Budapest in late May for our holiday, but since we’re in the midst of our renovation and it won’t be done until mid- to late-June, we had to forego our May plans.  Instead, Mike chose to take our holiday in late August because of his work schedule.  We decided against joining the hordes of tourists on mainland Europe in August and opted to go to Iceland from August 13-25.

Mike and I ventured to into D.C. on the evening of April 20 to attend Bill Geroux’s book talk and signing at Politics and Prose Bookstore, one of the District’s longstanding independently owned bookstores.  He wrote Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler’s U-boats, just released on April 19. I was married to Bill from 1979-1986, and Sarah is our daughter. We actually lived in Mathews County, Virginia, where his book is set, for a year soon after we returned from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho in 1984. Sarah was a tiny baby at that time.  Bill has been a journalist for much of his career, working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and later for Maersk, the largest container-shipping company in the world.  Ever since we met, he’s longed to write a book, and now he’s done it, to great acclaim.  I’m very excited for him.

Before going to see Bill, Mike and I enjoyed drinks and pizza at Comet Ping Pong.  Though we asked Bill to join us, he was tied up with his publicist.  I enjoyed my wine with a pizza called The Smoky: Smoky Mushrooms, Smoky Mozzarella,
Smoky Bacon, melted onions, garlic.

I’ve still been trying to walk 3 miles every day; sometimes I also go to the gym to lift weights.  Oh, how I hate the gym!  With all the rain, I’ve been to the gym more than I care to. My eating habits have been atrocious, so of course I’m not losing any weight and my belly seems to be getting bigger by the day.  I sure hate some aspects of aging.

a walk around Lake Thoreau
a walk around Lake Thoreau

As for goals, I have too many of them, and most of them never get accomplished.  I’ve been considering starting a travel retreat business for fit solo travelers between the ages of 55-75.  I started reading Start Your Own Business: The Only Startup Book You’ll Ever Need by Entrepreneur and I’ve been slowly but surely working through the worksheets.  Last week I wrote a mission statement!  That was fun. I’m still a long way from solidifying my ideas.  Right now I’m just trying things on for size.

Azaleas
Azaleas

I’ve also been continuing to send out my novel, but I rarely get any response from the agents I’m contacting.  I’m not giving up yet.  I finally wrote a synopsis, still probably too long, but that was a great accomplishment as I’ve been putting it off for about 3 years!

gardens along the walk
gardens along the walk

As for books, I finished reading The Blue Between Sky and Water, the first novel I’ve read that tells the devastating consequences of the formation of the State of Israel on the Palestinians.  I also finished the Pulitzer-prize winning novel All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr that takes place during WWII France and Germany.   I enjoyed both books immensely; I also learned a lot from reading them.  I’m now reading Bill’s book, Mathews Men, as well as the novel, The Heart of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillipp Sendker.  It takes place in Burma, and since I traveled there in 2015, I find it engrossing.

Lake Thoreau condos
Lake Thoreau condos

I’m a real movie buff and I often find myself sitting in Cinema Arts Theatre for Senior Wednesdays ($5 admission for seniors!).  I’ve recently seen A Hologram for the King, set in Saudi Arabia (but of course filmed elsewhere), The Meddler, Mother’s Day, Eye in the Sky, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, My Golden Days, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Mustang and Hello, My Name is Doris.  Lately, I seem to find most movies just mildly entertaining, nothing to get excited about.  I enjoyed Mustang and Eye in the Sky, but also Hologram for the King because, having lived in Oman for two years, it brought back some interesting memories.

a walk along Lake Thoreau
a walk along Lake Thoreau

Because of our renovation, we’ve found ourselves sampling more restaurants than normal, probably accounting for my inability to lose weight.  Of course during my travels to Philadelphia, Dallas, Oklahoma City and several trips to Richmond, I’ve eaten at a lot of great restaurants.

Another day at Lake Audubon
Another day at Lake Audubon

I’ve been attending the “Commitment” Seminar Series of the Landmark Forum and am exploring what I say I’m committed to and, by looking at my actions, what I’m really committed to.  I’m also learning a lot about the character I play in life.  It’s an interesting journey, that’s for sure. 🙂

One nice thing for me is that I’ve reconnected with an old friend in our neighborhood, Beatrice.  I’ve seen her a number of times for lunch and walks; she and her husband had us over for dinner last week.  She always makes me laugh, so I’m thankful to have her in my life again. 🙂

It’s really disorienting but also interesting living through a renovation.   I have contractors in the house sometimes before I’m even out of bed; they arrive at 7 a.m. and sometimes before. They leave promptly by 3:30.  There’s never been a day when no one has shown up. Sometimes it’s just the foreman Morgan and his carpenter, Ron.  Other times the trade guys are here, Al the electrician and his son, the plumbing guy (name unknown).  This week it’s the drywall guys and on Sunday, the roofing guys came, much to our neighbors’ dismay. Next week, I think it will be the flooring guys, and then cabinet installation should begin.  Keeping fingers crossed on that. 🙂

The regulars, especially Morgan, Ron and the electricians, are the nicest guys imaginable; I’ve never seen workers having so much fun at their jobs.  There’s a lot of pounding going on constantly, as well as a boom box blaring, most regularly Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and most recently “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel, apropos considering there is a lot of sledgehammering going on. 🙂 Last week, I heard Depeche Mode singing “Enjoy the Silence:”

Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world

That pretty much describes my life right now.  I can tell you there’s not much silence around my house lately.  Though I love these guys, I’m so happy each day at 3:30 when they leave and silence settles over the house.

So far, they’ve demolished the kitchen & deck, cut out the wall between the kitchen and family room and built a knee wall, framed the pantry and the laundry room, wired the whole area, installed the plumbing, replaced the water-damaged roof, built the sub-floor in the laundry room, insulated all the walls, and now are doing the drywall. They have almost finished the screened porch but haven’t started the deck.  What a long and involved process!

Click on any picture to see a full-sized slide show.

On Mother’s Day, none of my children were here, but Mike took me out for a special treat at Green Pig Bistro in Arlington.  We figured we’d see them on May 14 for Sarah’s graduation, so there was no need for them to drive to northern Virginia.

me at Green Pig Bistro for Mother's Day
me at Green Pig Bistro for Mother’s Day
Mike at Green Pig Bistro
Mike at Green Pig Bistro

We enjoyed mimosas with the most delicious meals: for me, shrimp, andouille grits and poached egg; for Mike, scallops on cauliflower puree with brussels sprouts.

After our brunch, Mike wanted to go by Arlington National Cemetery to see his mom’s headstone.  Shirley’s headstone is shared with Mike’s dad’s, but Mike hadn’t seen the engraving.  Arlington National Cemetery honors those who have served our nation, usually in the military, by providing a place of serenity for survivors. The 624 acres of rolling green hills are dotted with trees that are hundreds of years old.  Mike’s parents are buried here because Mike’s dad was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and served in WWII.

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery

While at the cemetery, we thought we’d drop by to visit John Ryan Dennison’s grave.  Ryan was my friend Rosie’s son-in-law who died in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 at the age of 24. We sadly didn’t come prepared with flowers.  A father and mother were sitting on a blanket at a nearby grave celebrating their son’s May 8 birthday; he died also in 2006. She told us proudly that her son, unlike many young men who join the military these days for the college benefits, chose to join the military to fight after 9/11.  He wanted to be in the thick of the action and so the mother is proud of him for his service.  She has a bunch of flowers with her, and she gives us one to put on Ryan’s grave and another for Shirley’s.  What a special encounter.

For those of you who might have missed it, my daughter Sarah graduated from VCU this past Saturday.  I wrote a post about it here.

Thanks so much for joining for my cocktail hour.  I hope you’ll fill me in on what’s going on with you in the comments below.  If you prefer to write your own post with accompanying pictures for the cocktail hour, please feel free to do so and put a link here so we can read your post.  I look forward to hearing more about what’s going on in your lives.

Thanks for coming!  Drive safely and have a great week! 🙂

my daughter’s graduation

Saturday, May 14:  Today, we celebrate my daughter Sarah’s graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University.  This big day has been a long time in coming for Sarah and her two families.  We’re very proud of her for persevering over many years to finally get her B.A. in English at the age of 32.  She’s been supporting herself by working at Joe’s Inn as a waitress and attending school, paying her own way for her education during the latter years, not an easy feat living on tips from waitressing. She finally finished her degree without accumulating any student debt.

Mike and his sister Barbara and I arrive at Sarah’s house in Richmond at around 11:30 this morning to find a nice spread of bagels and toppings.  Sarah’s Aunt Barbara always provides the balloons for every celebration in our family.

Balloons for Sarah
Balloons for Sarah

Sarah has set up a spread of bagels with cream cheese, red onions, avocado, capers, roasted red peppers, tomatoes and bread & butter pickles.

the bagel toppings
the bagel toppings

Watermelon and cherries accompany our brunch spread.

watermelon and cherries
watermelon and cherries
the bagel spread
the bagel spread

When we arrive, Sarah’s father and stepmother, Bill and Kema, are already there, along with the youngest of Sarah’s half-brothers, Cody, 20.

The graduation for the entire university is scheduled for 10:00 a.m., but Sarah has opted out of that one to attend the English Department graduation at 2:00.  The larger graduation was going to be by department only, and no individual names were going to be called. She decided she’d rather enjoy quality time with her family rather than be stressed out having to sit through the two-hour larger graduation plus her English Department graduation.

We sit outside in Sarah’s backyard and enjoy each other’s company. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen the other half of Sarah’s family.

Mike, Kema, Bill, and Cody
Mike, Kema, Bill, and Cody

It’s been a rough and rocky road for Sarah.  Bill and I married in 1979 and we separated in 1986 after 7 1/2 years. Sarah, born in 1984, was only 2 1/2 when we separated.  Bill married Kema shortly after our divorce was finalized in 1988, and I married Mike at the end of that same year.  Sarah was 4 1/2 at the time Mike and I got married.

Over the years, Bill and I maintained a good relationship.  We were determined to try to make the best of the situation and do what we thought was best for Sarah and for us.  Maybe in retrospect, it wasn’t the right thing, but we decided Sarah would live in Northern Virginia with Mike and I for 3 years; then she would live for three years with Bill and Kema in Virginia Beach.  The next four years, Mike and I had her with us, and the last four years of high school, she lived in Virginia Beach. Whichever one of her families she lived with for the 3- or 4-year periods, both families would drive up and down I-95, not an easy drive, meet halfway in Richmond and exchange Sarah, so we could keep our relationship with her when she didn’t live with us.  We did this every other weekend at first; as she got older, we dropped to every third weekend and eventually to once a month.

Kema and Sarah
Kema and Sarah

It was very complicated, and probably very confusing and disorienting to Sarah, but we tried to emphasize the positives of having four parents and four brothers who loved her dearly and wanted to be vital parts of her life.  Her two families have loved and supported her through thick and thin.  We even spent weekends at each other’s homes when Sarah had special events such as birthdays, sporting events and school plays; in one, she played Alice in her high school’s production of Alice in Wonderland.  We tried our best, I think better than many parents do in divorce situations, but still, I know it was hard on our little girl.  I believe because of the hardship of going through a divorce, she experienced a lot of anxiety.

After high school, Sarah tried to go to school at James Madison University but for various reasons, that didn’t work out.  Finally, she took a hiatus from college, moved to Richmond and took a job at Joe’s Inn.  During some later attempts at college, she dropped a number of classes AFTER the add-drop period, causing both her families to lose a of money with nothing to show for it; in addition, she failed some classes.  I think her heart wasn’t in it for a number of reasons, some of which may have had to with living through a divorce.  I’m sure there were other factors as well.

Sarah eventually decided once and for all she would dive in and complete her education.  It’s been a challenging time for all of us, but in the end, I’m so proud of her for being strong and dedicated and for completing this milestone in her life, despite all the hardships.

flowers along the way
flowers along the way

This afternoon, Alex and Adam, my two sons, arrive in time to partake in the feast. After chatting and enjoying our bagels, coffee and orange juice, we walk several blocks to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church for the English Department Commencement Ceremony.

Adam and Alex
Adam and Alex

Our adorable redhead is all ready to go.

Sarah the graduate
Sarah the graduate

While she joins the other graduates, we go inside and take our seats.

Inside Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
Inside Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church

As the graduates walk in to the “Pomp and Circumstance March,” I catch a glimpse of my darling girl.

a glimpse of Sarah
a glimpse of Sarah

Sadly, the acoustics in the church are terrible.  We can’t hear the opening remarks of Dr. David Latane, nor can we hear the commencement address, titled “Reflection,” by Dr. Elizabeth Hodges.  It’s very disappointing.  Either the microphone was bad, or the speakers didn’t know how to use them properly and didn’t project their voices. It seems people should have training in using sound systems properly before such a big event.

Department of English graduates
Department of English graduates

Finally the ceremony begins, and Sarah stands in her row to wait for her name to be called.

Sarah getting ready to walk
Sarah getting ready to walk

She goes up to accept her diploma, but sadly, all I get is a blurred photo.  Hopefully we can later get a better professional picture from the hired photographer!

a blurry Sarah accepts her diploma
a blurry Sarah accepts her diploma

Outside the church we get pictures with the graduate.  Here’s the Geroux clan: Bill, Sarah, Kema and Cody.  Sarah’s other half-brother Nicholas is at a bachelor party and won’t arrive until 5:30 this evening for our family dinner.

Bill, Sarah, Kema and Cody
Bill, Sarah, Kema and Cody

And below is our clan: Alex, me, Mike, Sarah and Adam.

Alex, me, Mike, Sarah and Adam
Alex, me, Mike, Sarah and Adam

Our whole family is here, including Sarah’s Aunt Barbara, Mike’s sister.

Adam, Alex, Sarah, Mike, me and Barbara
Adam, Alex, Sarah, Mike, me and Barbara

And here’s me with Sarah and her dad, Bill.

me, Sarah & Bill
me, Sarah & Bill
the graduate
the graduate
Mike and Sarah
Mike and Sarah

After graduation, we head back to Sarah’s house to wait until our dinner reservations at 5:30.

a rooster in the garden
a rooster in the garden

While sitting in the backyard, clouds gather overhead and it starts raining, forcing us indoors.  This has been the rainiest May I’ve experienced in a long time.

Mike and Kema
Mike and Kema

At 5:00, we drive in two cars to Lucy’s Restaurant for a celebratory dinner.  We share a lot of wine, dirty martinis and general toasts all around.  Since Sarah also works part-time at Lucy’s, they bring out complimentary appetizers of FONDUE (creamy boursin and gorgonzola cheese fondue with fried cauliflower, sliced apples and croutons), OYSTERS & COLLARDS (Fried oysters over braised collard greens with bacon and lemon aioli), and a VEGGIE PLATE (Sauteed baby carrots, grilled zucchini pickled radishes with tzatziki style dip).  Of course, everyone orders a variety of entrees; I order grilled French quail glazed with an apricot barbecue sauce over a saute of farro, scallion, baby mustard greens, and sausage.  It’s all delicious and we have a fabulous time.

After dinner, we return to Sarah’s house for a fond farewell.  We take some more pictures of our extended family. Below is Princess Sarah with her four half-brothers.

Sarah and her four brothers: Adam, Alex, Nicholas and Cody
Sarah and her four brothers: Adam, Alex, Nicholas and Cody
Adam, Alex, Sarah, Nicholas and Cody
Adam, Alex, Sarah, Nicholas and Cody
the four half-brothers: Adam, Alex, Nicholas and Cody
the four half-brothers: Adam, Alex, Nicholas and Cody
Adam, Alex, Nick, Cody and Sarah
Adam, Alex, Nick, Cody and Sarah
Shenanigans
Shenanigans
Alex, Adam, Nick, Cody and Sarah
Alex, Adam, Nick, Cody and Sarah
Me, Adam, Sarah, Alex, Barb, Mike, Kema, Bill, Cody and Nicholas
Me, Adam, Sarah, Alex, Barb, Mike, Kema, Bill, Cody and Nicholas
the parents with their graduate: Mike, me, Sarah, Bill and Kema
the parents with their graduate: Mike, me, Sarah, Bill and Kema

It was a very special day for all of us, especially for her dad and me, who shed a few tears throughout the day.  It’s been a long road, but we’re beaming with pride today.  Sarah is a marvelous young lady, talented, smart, funny, beautiful and charming.  She has a marvelous life of possibilities ahead of her.  We truly love her and look forward to her next steps in life. 🙂

weekly photo challenge: face

Friday, May 13:  I’m taking a trip down memory lane today for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Face.  I loved the serene faces of Buddha seen all over Myanmar.

Buddha in Bagan
Buddha in Bagan
Buddha in Bagan
Buddha in Bagan

Of course, I carry close to my heart the characterful faces of the Omani people I met during my two years in Oman.

Fisherman at Al Musanaah
Fisherman at Al Musanaah
a fisherman at the beach at Al Musanaah
a fisherman at the beach at Al Musanaah
Omani girls on Jebel Akhdar
Omani girls on Jebel Akhdar
a local man at Misfat Al Abriyyen
a local man at Misfat Al Abriyyen

 

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weekly photo challenge: earth

Saturday, May 7:  The Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth invites us to share: On this day, between the global Earth Day celebration, and Mother’s Day in the United States, share your vision of our glorious Mother Earth.

To celebrate the earth, here’s a walk among the skunk cabbage carpeting the Difficult Run Stream Valley along the Fairfax Country Cross-County Trail.

skunk cabbage
skunk cabbage

Skunk cabbage is a flowering perennial that is one of the first plants to emerge in spring, especially in woodlands, wetlands and near streams.

The Difficult Run stream
The Difficult Run stream

Apparently, skunk cabbage gets its name from the unpleasant odor it emanates.  The scent attracts pollinators that are attracted to rotting meat.

I do have to say I didn’t smell anything unpleasant on our walk. 🙂

skunk cabbage galore
skunk cabbage galore

It’s amazing how the earth is a living, breathing system that abides on its own terms, beyond our understanding.

Difficult Run
Difficult Run
Skunk cabbage and tree branches
Skunk cabbage and tree branches

Happy Earth Day and Mother’s Day! 🙂