the august cocktail hour: sultry days & sunflowers {escape to iceland tomorrow!}

Friday, August 12:  Welcome to my almost-finished house for our final happy hour of summer! This is our last time to mingle before I head off to Iceland tomorrow.  Come right in, get comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink.  I’m sorry to say I haven’t graduated from my Moscow Mules (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer); I’ve been quite content to drink these since our last cocktail hour.  I imbibed on some strawberry daiquiris when I visited my sister in Maryland this month.  If you’d like one of those, I’d be happy to whip one up, or I can offer wine, beer, or even some soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

It’s been the most hot and humid summer imaginable, so I think we’ll just sit on our new counter stools at the bar. They finally arrived after our last happy hour. 🙂  It’s nice and cool inside, so it will be much more pleasant.  I’m sad to admit that we’ve hardly been able to use the screened-in porch because it’s been over 90 degrees and very humid every day.

Our counter stools are in!
Our counter stools are in!

Tell me about your summer. Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  How’s your garden?  Have you had any special family gatherings?

summer flowers
summer flowers

I’ve been to a couple of movies, some wonderful, and others not so Absolutely Fabulous. My favorite was the intense and moving Dheepan, about an ex-Tamil fighter who cobbles together a makeshift family to escape his war-torn Sri Lanka.  He becomes a refugee in France. His “wife” and “daughter” are strangers to him and to each other, but they must pretend to be a family in order to get papers to leave.  He ends up in France working as caretaker for a rough property where a lot of criminal activity is taking place.  He doesn’t want any part of it, so he keeps his head down and tries to avoid being noticed.  The movie shows what it’s like for a refugee family to arrive in a new country without knowledge of language or customs, and to be cast into difficult, and even terrifying, situations.  I think it should be required watching, especially for certain people who want to close borders and build walls, those who would prefer to ignore the suffering of others.  This kind of sentiment is running rampant in the U.S. these days, and I find it appalling, heartless, and sickening.

I went to see Absolutely Fabulous and though it was funny in parts, I found myself getting annoyed by its overall silliness.  Actually, the only reason I went to see it was because I had met Joanna Lumley in Oman in 2012, and I wanted to see her again. 🙂 (absolutely fabulous: a surprise encounter with patsy stone)

At home, on Netflix, we finally watched the cute movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, partly filmed in Iceland.  I always enjoy watching movies and reading books that take place in our holiday destination.  The movie was quite charming, and really got me psyched for our trip.

We also saw the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith as accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu.  He uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play.  Though I don’t often enjoy movies about sports, I found this exceptionally well done as it depicted the relentless attacks on him by the NFL, a powerful organization.  I’m always for the underdog!

On the last weekend in July, Mike went with his high school friends to Ohio, so I took the opportunity to visit Sarah and Alex in Richmond.  Sarah moved into a new apartment at the beginning of June and I hadn’t been able to see it yet, so after we met for lunch at Mom’s Siam, we went straight to her house to check it out.  She hasn’t gotten it fully furnished or together yet, but she’s slowly getting settled.

Mom's Siam
Mom’s Siam

Alex and Ariana met Sarah and I for dinner at The Black Sheep, mainly because I had a craving for their marvelous chicken and dumplings.  We had a great time.  Alex looked quite handsome with a new haircut given to him by Ariana. 🙂

Alex, Sarah, me and Ariana at the Black Sheep in Richmond
Alex, Sarah, me and Ariana at the Black Sheep in Richmond

By the way, we found out our prodigal son Adam is now in Maui.  We knew his retreat in British Columbia ended on July 11, and we assumed he was still in Vancouver until we got a call from him on Tuesday, July 19, telling us he had bought a one-way ticket to Maui on July 12.  He’d been there a week already and was working on a banana plantation for a room and fruit.  When he called, he had just started working at a hostel four hours a day in exchange for a room. He eats food from the free shelf, where visitors leave behind food. He’s always believed in living in a world without money, and I guess he’s doing just that, sort of!  I don’t understand it and never will, but he’s got to live life according to his principles and I have to say I admire him in some ways.  On the other hand, I know he has credit card debt, so he’s not fiscally responsible nor is he actually living without money!

Thank goodness, he’s been good about calling us once a week to let us know what’s going on.  He seems very happy and says he wishes he had gone to Hawaii back in October when he first thought of going.  I wish he had; he would have saved us and himself a lot of money and heartbreak.  Who knows what will become of him, but I’m happy that for the time being he seems at peace and is actually working, even if not for money.  This past Tuesday night, he called to tell us he is starting to work for a ceramic artist helping to sell his very expensive ceramics; he gets an hourly wage and some commission on any sales.  Slowly, slowly.  I’m trying hard to have no expectations and to continue to send love his way.

On Friday morning, Sarah and I went for a hike on the Buttermilk Trail along the James River.  The trail was quite muddy as it had rained overnight.  We then went shopping at Target, where I bought her some new bedding, a hair dryer, and bath towels, all of which she needed and was thrilled to have. We also had lunch together.

Later that afternoon, I drove an hour south and visited with my dad and stepmother in Yorktown.  We had dinner together and chatted until I went up to bed to read my book, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  I hardly slept all night because I was near the end and couldn’t put it down.   My lack of sleep made it hard to get off to an early start, as I planned, to drive to Salisbury, Maryland to visit my sister Joan on Saturday morning.

Here’s my review of State of Wonder on Goodreads: I loved this book about Dr. Marina Singh’s journey into the Amazon jungle to find her former professor, Dr. Annick Swenson, as well as to find answers to the questions surrounding the death of her colleague, Dr. Anders Eckman. They all work for Vogel, a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota, and Marina has worked with Anders for 7 years in a small lab. Forty-two-year-old Marina is involved in a kind of secret relationship with 60-year-old Mr. Fox, the CEO of Vogel, who is not a doctor but an administrator. She calls him Mr. Fox, which speaks to the type of arm’s-length relationship they have. Mr. Fox sends Marina to look for Dr. Swenson because her research to develop a drug in the Amazon is taking too long and Vogel is getting impatient with her lack of communication about her progress. Dr. Swenson is doing research on how the Lakashi women can bear children even into their 70s. Marina’s other mission is to find out what happened to Anders and to possibly recover his body to send back to Minnesota.

Of course, I love any kind of story that takes place in exotic locales, with characters I can understand. This is an adventure and awakening story, a kind of journey into the “heart of darkness;” I found it immensely compelling and I love Ann Patchett’s writing.

I’m now reading And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, which I’m enjoying, as well as a book my sister recommended by Dan Harris of Good Morning America: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  I’m also making my way slowly through The Mathews Men by Bill Geroux; though it’s well-written and interesting, my books of choice are not normally non-fiction.

In Salisbury, we sat out at Joanie’s pool bar, where my brother-in-law Steve served us up some mixed drinks.  My nephew Seth and his girlfriend, Julia, hung out with us too.  It was fun to visit with my sister and to hang out by her pool on Sunday too. 🙂

me, my sister Joan and my nephew's girlfriend
me, my sister Joan and Julia

On August 4, after a number of failed attempts to meet in May and June, I finally met with a lady who runs a wine touring company.  She asked if I’d like to try out being a tour guide for her company.  I agreed to give it a try on Saturday, August 6.  I went with tour-guide Jim, who showed me the ropes; we took a group of ten 30-something ladies on a bachelorette tour of 3 wineries.  Our first stop was Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, where the owner warmly welcomes guests into the main tasting room in the living room of her c.1820 house.

Zephaniah Vineyard's tasting room
Zephaniah Vineyard’s tasting room

Next we stopped at Stone Tower Winery, set on 306 acres atop Hogback Mountain.  This is a large more commercial enterprise, and though beautiful, was not as appealing to me as the other two more intimate wineries.

Stone Tower Winery
Stone Tower Winery
pond at Stone Tower Winery
pond at Stone Tower Winery
vineyards at Stone Tower Winery
vineyards at Stone Tower Winery

The tasting room was quite chilly, so we ate lunch in a cavernous and only a little-less-chilly room with live music.  We couldn’t easily sit outside as it was hot, humid and spitting rain sporadically.  The young ladies seemed to be having a wonderful time.  This venue is much less homey than the other two, although the setting is lovely.

Our last stop was The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards, a family owned and operated winery housed in a refurbished dairy farm. The restored hundred and six-year-old stone and wood bank barn has been transformed into a tasting room, surrounded by eleven acres of rolling hills and woods.

The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station
The Barns at Hamilton Station

The tour was fun and the owner has booked me for two tours in September.  It’s very occasional work, she has told me, which is fine by me.:-)

This week, we’re having our entire basement painted.  It hasn’t been painted since we bought the house in 1994 and it was sorely in need of refurbishing. Our boys grew up hanging out with their friends down there, and you can only imagine what disrepair it was in. There were several holes punched in the wall from some wild activities.  As soon as we return from Iceland, the whole basement will also be re-carpeted, and with a new sectional we just had delivered, it will become Mike’s “man-cave.” I’ve gently nudged him out of the living room, where I have my desk and computer.  Now we’ll both have space to work and not be crowded together into one corner of the living room. 🙂

The house projects never seem to end!  It seems they have been going on all year, but I guess it’s to be expected after so many years of neglect.

Several weeks ago, I received my refurbished Canon Rebel back from Canon USA Inc. and I hadn’t had time to try it out.  I’ve needed to decide which camera to take to Iceland, my Canon or my trusty old Olympus.  Wednesday, I finally took the Canon out to Burnside Farms, where the sunflowers are now in bloom.  I didn’t take my Olympus, because I’ve already taken sunflower pictures with it in the past at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area: an afternoon with light-crazed sunflowers.  Below are all the pictures I took with the Canon.  I’d love to know your opinion.  It seems to me that the pictures are sharper than they were before, but too many of them were overexposed and I had to adjust them in post-processing.  Any hints from the photographers out there?  I’d love to hear advice.

Below this batch of Canon pictures are pictures taken with my iPhone 6s.  Which do you think are better?  I think I’ve pretty much decided to leave my Canon at home and take my much-used and dependable Olympus to Iceland.

sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON
sunflowers CANON

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

Here are the photos taken with the iPhone.

Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)
Sunflowers at Burnside Farms (iPhone 6s)

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

It’s pretty sad when iPhone pictures are better than a camera for which I paid $400, as well as another $300 for a telephoto lens. 😦

Thanks so much for dropping by for cocktail hour.  It was sure great to see you all again.  I really haven’t had a very exciting or interesting month, but I hope to have more adventurous things to report when I return from Iceland.  I hope you’ll share what you’ve been up to.  I may not be able to answer you until after August 25.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!  I’m so ready for fall and cooler weather. 🙂

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12 thoughts on “the august cocktail hour: sultry days & sunflowers {escape to iceland tomorrow!}

  1. I know you are either tucked into your bed asleep in preparation for an early departure, or you are still packing, debating over this or that outfit or journal or pair of shoes! Make sure you leave room for some hand woven textiles in your suitcase as I know those are what you collect!

    The kitchen looks amazing! Wow! I do hope you put a montage together of the before and after, also the man cave, I love to see what people do to improve their living spaces! It seems so much is now falling into place, especially with Adam. Alex is indeed a very handsome lad, and Sarah looks exactly like you if you had red hair! Beautiful!! I guess the wanderlust gene really has settled with Adam, as he is making his dreams come true though yes, he will get a shock when the creditors come calling, if they can find him. Living off the grid so to speak is a dream of many of us, but most of us know it takes a lot of money to live a simple life.

    I do think the Canon shots this time were sharper than the iPhone shots, and I was impressed with the improvement. Trust your instincts with your choices and you will not be disappointed.

    Well, my drink (a white Zinfandel if you have some, preferably from California, please) is almost done though I will try to see if I can see the meteor showers this evening. We have the same horrendous heat here, it actually feels like Oman – the real feel was 43C here today, and tomorrow we will have the same, with 100% humidity and no rain. Our poor farmers are devastated as there has been hardly any rain this summer and nothing is growing apart from my cherry tomatoes and the odd beefsteak tomato at my garden plot. A few tired cucumbers demanding to be picked as soon as they reach a few inches in length, the onions have given up, and the lettuce has long ago gone to seed because it has just been too hot no matter how much I water. There are many thieves sadly who think it is okay to steal what little there is in our little community garden, but that comes with the territory I suppose.

    I have family from Germany here in Canada, they are now on the East coast until the 22nd and then they will come here for a few days before returning to their home outside of Mannheim and their summer home in Ste. Maxime on the French Riviera, thank God the next beach over from St. Tropez, which is overrun now with C-grade celebrities pretty much. Such a shame, but they are in a much more exclusive area, so far undiscovered by the great unwashed. I have a standing invite but despite having my pension renewed (thank God!!) I can never earn even a penny more than I do now (which is not much) or I will lose it. Now my boss and I are deciding how to legally improve my wage situation without actually paying me more. I am hoping for a reduction in hours and that he pays my monthly bus pass. We will see. I will let you know.

    For now, I wish you pleasant dreams and a wonderful, awesome and fantastic and yes, romantic trip to Iceland!! I think you go can leave without worrying about Adam for a change, or about anything else. It all worked out in the end, and you are very blessed in so many ways and you deserve this trip more than anyone I know!!! Take care, big hug and have fun above all!!

    I found this amazing quote for you:

    “Jump—a net will appear.” – Anonymous

    And this one for Adam:

    “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus

    This one is for me, so I don’t lose sight of the big picture getting lost in the mundane details of everyday life:

    “Cover the earth before it covers you.” – Anonymous

    Happy trails Cathy!!!!! xxxxxxx

  2. It sounds like a busy and exciting month to me! I have the Ann Patchett book downloaded and ready to read so it was great to hear you enjoyed it. I’ve read a couple of her books before and really enjoyed them, Bel Canto in particular. Have a great trip!

    1. I guess when I write about the month all at once, it might look like a lot was happening, but day in and day out, it seemed quite dull and uninspiring, Anabel. I’m glad to have something exciting to look forward to now.

      You’ll love State of Wonder! I also loved Bel Canto. I have more Ann Patchett books on my shelves, so I’ll space them out over time to get utmost enjoyment. 🙂

  3. Congratulations with you almost-finished house. And thank you for the cocktail invitation. I am sure your Canon will take better photos in difficult lighting conditions than your iphone. But it’s hard to judge without having them up next to each other in 100 percent. Anyway, good luck with and enjoy the trip to Iceland. That’s going to be a treat.

    1. Thanks so much, Otto. I ended up taking my Olympus to Iceland; someday I’ll have to get used to the Canon and its pictures, but after the sharp quality I usually get with my Olympus, it’s hard to switch. I wish now I’d bought a new Olympus rather than the Canon.

      Our Iceland trip was a treat. It was very active, so I’m exhausted now… it’s a happy and satisfactory kind of exhaustion though! Thanks for coming by to visit. 🙂

  4. I think the sunflower photos are wonderful, but no matter which camera you take I’m sure you’ll get great images. I’m so pleased to hear Adam is finding his way at last and has taken another step towards independence.

    I can’t believe it’s cocktail hour again already! Where did that month go? We are halfway through third term and the weeks are flying by. We are counting down now to our trip to England and everything is all organised.

    Enjoy your holiday in Iceland! Can’t wait to hear all about it.

    1. Thanks so much, Carol. I ended up taking the Olympus because I knew exactly what quality I’d get and because it’s less bulky than the Canon. As for Adam, I think he seems happy and maybe is figuring things out. He seems to love Maui, and already has a community there, etc. We’ll see how it goes with him.

      I can’t believe you’re halfway through third term. When is your England trip? What will you be doing there? Iceland was fantastic. I’m still there in my mind and am not ready at all to be back home, despite the fact that I’m here anyway. 😦

  5. So exciting for you to be off to Iceland tomorrow! Have a fantastic time, Cathy. It must be great to have your porch and kitchen all finished and looking good. Love your sunflower photos. It sounds like Adam is coping on his own okay, but I’m sure you’re still concerned for him. Lovely happy family photos with your sister. Take care and I look forward to your photos when you get back. 🙂 xx

    1. Thanks so much, Jo! It was fantastic! It is so great to have our kitchen and porch done; I have a family reunion planned here for September 17; the house should be in tip-top shape by then. We’re having more painting and re-carpeting done this week. I’m also glad you enjoyed my sunflower photos. As for Adam, he seems happy and we miss him, but I have to say, the dark cloud over our heads regarding his life seems removed slightly now that he’s halfway around the world. That’s sad to say, but when he was here, we were constantly worried about him. It’s not that we don’t think of him, of course we do, but it’s nice he’s got a community there and seems to be living into his dream of utopia! I’ll be catching up with you soon! 🙂

      1. I’m happy to hear that your daughter settled down, Sylvia. Hearing about other people’s struggles with their children helps me feel hopeful. I’m hoping the same for Adam. Right now, he seems to be happy, but I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I keep hoping for the best for him. xxx

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